Adoption can be a blessing for people who can’t – or choose not to – have children themselves. Lynn and Tim Brusnahan know all about the process, having gone through it more than once. In fact, their experience of adoption is extra special, given the unexpected link between two of their children.
Lynn and Tim Brusnahan are from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They are no strangers to adoption, but as they both approached retirement age they decided to call it a day and not to take in any more children. By that time, after all, they already had a full and happy family unit.
By 2018 Lynn and Tim had successfully raised three children, who were all by then in their 20s. They have one biological son, whose name is Collin. Their two adopted children are called Devon and Katie.
When Collin was five years old, the couple found out that he had autism. They never discovered what had caused Collin’s autism or whether it was hereditary. So they decided that adoption was the best route for their next child, eventually adopting Devon.
But even with her two boys, Lynn couldn’t ignore how much she wanted a girl. And so they became foster parents to Katie, who was just one year old at the time. The infant had come from a turbulent home, her birth mother having been addicted to drugs.
“Her birth mother received no prenatal care,” Lynn explained to Today. “Katie was born on a living-room floor.” She was soon taken away from her mother and put into foster care. By the time Katie reached the Brusnahans, she had been with four other foster families.
Being born to a drug addict naturally had an adverse effect on the baby’s health. “Katie was born addicted to drugs and her kidneys weren’t fully developed,” Lynn told Today. “She was a special-needs foster care child.”
As soon as Katie arrived, the Brusnahans knew that she was there to stay; they adored her immediately. “From the moment Katie was in our house, we were in love with this child,” Lynn recalled. Fast-forward two years and the couple had adopted her into their household as one of their own.
Tim also spoke to Today about the couple’s conviction in wanting to adopt Katie. He simply said, “We wanted Katie, we fought for Katie, we raised Katie.” But many years later, with Katie out of school, Lynn and Tim were looking forward to enjoying a quieter house.
Indeed, with both their 65th birthdays looming, Lynn and Tim were planning their retirement together. Lynn had been a flight attendant for 25 years, but later changed careers to take on a role as a college professor. Tim, on the other hand, enjoys a senior position as the vice president of a consulting company.
Lynn wanted to travel during her retirement and the pair also began to think about downsizing. After all, Katie had left for college and so now they had no kids to look after. But one phone call soon put all their plans in jeopardy.
In fall 2018 Lynn received a call from a social worker. With her experience in looking after children with autism and her history of successful adoptions, Lynn presumed she required advice. However, the social worker had a much bigger favor to ask of her.
She had actually called because she had a baby girl in her care who desperately needed a foster home. And she wasn’t just any little girl. In fact, she had strong ties to Lynn’s family already.
It turned out that this newborn was Katie’s half-sister, as the two shared the same mother! She had gone through the same ordeal as Katie and was born addicted to drugs. She was also premature, weighing a tiny 4 pounds 2 ounces. At just 5 weeks old, she had spent her life so far in hospital.
But Lynn was adamant she wouldn’t take the little girl in. She was in no way prepared for another child; she had no diapers, bottles or countless other things she needed. “I had a list of ten no’s off the top of my head,” Lynn recalled to Today. “I said, ‘I can’t do this.’”
The social worker simply asked if she and Lynn could speak. Lynn agreed, but the social worker ended up bringing along everything Lynn needed. In addition, she brought 5-week-old Lulu to introduce to the family.
But by this time, of course, the Brusnahans had agreed not to adopt any more kids. Lynn told Today that, during the meeting, Tim had texted her messages like. “No. No. Don’t say yes. Say no.” But despite everything, Lynn ended up agreeing to take Lulu in until a suitable, permanent home was sorted.
Lynn transformed the couple’s living room into a temporary nursery, waking every couple of hours in a night to feed Lulu. The baby herself was actually such a big hit with friends that one couple even offered to adopt her. And it was a tempting option for Lynn and Tim.
If someone they knew could have adopted Lulu, her sister Katie would always be able to see her. They desperately didn’t want to break apart the siblings, but the process of adoption isn’t always so simple. Indeed, one rule was proving particularly tricky.
Unfortunately for the Brusnahans, foster parents have no power in deciding who adopts a child. After all, foster care and adoption are two very different things. Adoption involves legal parental rights, whereas foster care is temporary with the aim of finding a permanent home.
This made things more difficult for the couple to decide what to do next. “It broke our hearts,” Lynn admitted to Today. “We were given a choice. We could consider adoption, or she would go back into the system and the state would decide.”
The prospect of separating Katie and Lulu weighed heavily on the couple’s minds. “What if [the] person who adopted her didn’t want to stay connected?” Lynn posed to Today. “[What if they] didn’t want the siblings to stay connected? If we didn’t adopt Lou, we very well could have lost her forever.”
Of course, they had Katie’s feelings to consider too. “What would that say to our daughter?” Lynn asked. “That her sister was disposable, and it didn’t matter where her sister was?” It was an impossible situation, almost seeming destined to end up hurting someone.
Lynn and Tim were also worried about their age. Were they too old to take on such an enormous responsibility? “We kept saying, ‘We’re too old to do this,’” Lynn recalled. They worried about whether it was irresponsible and self-centered of them to adopt Lulu.
But there seemed to be no way to tell Katie that they refused to adopt her half-sister. Indeed, Tim recalled to Today that he couldn’t come up with a good enough reason to give Katie for not adopting Lulu. “That made up my mind that we needed to take Lulu and make her a part of our family,” he concluded.
Katie reassured her parents that whatever they decided to do, she would still have a relationship with her sister. She is studying to be a special education teacher at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. But nonetheless, she seems confident that she could bring up her sister, should anything happen to her parents.
Indeed, Katie has no plans on losing touch with her half-sister. “I want her in my life. I want to watch her grow up,” Katie told Today. “I’ve always wanted a sister. Even though it’s 20 years later, it’s just as fun. Probably more fun.”
Sharing the same birth mother and experiencing the same mistreatment, Katie can relate to Lulu’s early days. “I understand everything that she’s going through,” she said. “I’m excited to see where she goes.”
The Brusnahans ultimately made a decision and legally adopted Lulu on November 16, 2018, National Adoption Day. Speaking on behalf of his family, Tim stood in front of the court and said, “This is really about bringing two sisters together.” Indeed, Lulu and Katie had officially become sisters forever.
The family’s journey to adopting Lulu was so touching that it even affected the judge. Footage of her at court sees her holding back tears whilst saying, “This adoption is in the best interest of this child.” And so the court made it legal, with the help of Katie and Lulu who both brought down the gavel.
Needless to say, Katie was overjoyed that Lulu was officially part of the family. “Ever since she came into the house, she’s felt like family,” she told WISN News. “But now that it’s official we’re so happy and so thankful, excited. We’re ready.”
Lynn and Tim were also thoroughly thrilled to welcome Lulu into the family. “We’re very excited to provide Lulu a permanent home and for Katie to have a sister,” Lynn stated to WISN News. So retirement could wait a little longer after all!
“We were just on the cusp of being empty nesters,” Lynn laughed to Today. “I was soooooo close. So close.” But Lynn and Tim have absolutely no regrets. According to Lynn, they weren’t exactly looking for a cozy retirement anyway.
“I’ll never be able to live in one of those retirement communities because they don’t allow kids under 18,” Lynn conceded. “I’m never going to be one of those carefree seniors. I’m starting all over again. Preschool. Kindergarten.”
That doesn’t mean it isn’t daunting for the couple. “I don’t want to get in the swimming pool and swim again – because it’s cold. But I’m going to,” Lynn said. “The truth is, this has been a joy. My entire family adores this child. Foster care has given us two wonderful gifts, not just one.”
Adoption can bring so much happiness to families and couples. For another couple, Dennis and Carita Chen from Texas, it brought them the thing they wanted most after nearly nine years of disappointment. After Carita had been diagnosed with fertility issues, the couple looked into foreign adoption and found a mother who wanted an Asian couple to adopt her child.
However, things took an unexpected turn when the mother decided she wanted a family member to adopt her child instead. The couple were devastated, but when the child was born, the mother’s arrangement collapsed. The Chens were asked again to take custody of the child.
The couple were asked to travel to California to meet the baby boy, but things still weren’t finalized. Still, they went with bated breath. Dennis described the trip as, “closing the distance between us and our son.” All their loved ones were praying for success.
When they saw the baby for the first time, the Chens burst into tears. And upon meeting his son, Dennis whispered, “It took so long to meet you. Hi Jacob. I’m your dad. You have no idea how many people have prayed for you.” After nine long years of heartache, the Chens had finally become parents.
So for both the Brusnahans and the Chens, adoption brought happiness beyond measure. Lynn and Tim decided not to move house in the end, because they lived near some great schools for Lulu. And Katie, after two decades without a sister, could now see Lulu enjoy the same love and care that nurtured her throughout her own formative years.