Couple Adopts Baby Against the Odds

by Nancy Vande Hey


            When Vern and Debbie Sumnicht married almost 17 years ago, they shared the dreams and excitement most couples have on their wedding day.  But they knew one dream would never come true - giving birth to their own baby.

            Vern was in a serious car accident four years before their wedding which left him quadriplegic.  Their only hope of becoming parents some day was through adoption, but they faced big odds.

            “It’s hard for people to see past the wheelchair,” Debbie says.  For twelve years, the couple sought to adopt a baby.  “Basically every option available we tried.”

            Their perseverance, prayer and faith paid off as on January 8, 1997, Debbie carried their daughter, Michaela Megan Marie Sumnicht, home.

Road Block After Road Block

            The Sumnichts treasure their daughter, but maybe even more so because it took so long to arrive at this point.  They began their search for a child through Catholic Social Services.

            Debbie says they continued to be rejected by birth parents, frequently because they questioned Vern’s ability to be a good dad simple because he uses a wheelchair.  She admits Vern was in slightly worse shape a few years ago, but people really misunderstood quadriplegics.

            The second biggest reason they were rejected was because they are Catholic and intended to raise their child in the faith.  At one point when they were very near to adopting a baby, the birth mother changed her mind when she learned they were Catholic and did not want her baby raised in “the church of the Anti-Christ.”

            Debbie says facing these kinds of prejudice hurt, but they trusted God all along.  “We really gave it to him,” she says.

            Because a domestic adoption did not seem possible, Debbie says they decided to try a foreign adoption.  They began working with Lutheran Social Services because they had a foreign adoption program, but they ran into more road blocks.

            “We were turned down again because a lot of cultures have a bias against people with quadriplegia,” Debbie says.  The only country that would consider them as parents, the Philippines, has a strict age cut off.

            Vern and Debbie are both 41 years old and because the process to adopt can take three to five years in the Philippines, they would have been too old by the time the adoption was finalized.

The Miracles Begin

            After more than a decade, Vern and Debbie started to think that maybe they just weren’t meant to be parents.

            “Frankly, we thought God had another plan for us,” Debbie says.  As they had done countless times before, they put the situation in God’s hands.  They decided to end their series of disappointments by terminating the adoption process.

            When Debbie called their case worker at Lutheran Social Services, the woman urged Vern and Debbie to think about it over the weekend.  If they stood by their decision, they could sign the papers the following week.

            The next Monday, a woman in her late twenties walked into Lutheran Social Services and said to the Sumnicht’s case worker, “I want you to pick who the parents should be,” for her baby.

            The birth mother had certain characteristics in mind: a couple who had been married at least 15 years, were at least 35 years old, and who were unable to have children on their own.

            “She wanted this baby to be her special gift to them (the adoptive parents),” Debbie says.

            The birth mother also wanted a closed adoption, which Vern and Debbie preferred, so she wouldn’t feel any biases against the adoptive family.  The match was perfect, but even the social worker couldn’t know how perfectly the two couples would match.

            “It is so beyond circumstances,” Debbie says when she considers how well things turned out.

            The birth parents both had previous experiences with adoption.  The birth mother is adopted herself and recently met her own birth mother.  The birth father, also named Vern, has two adopted nieces and so also knows the blessings adopted children bring to families.

            The couple asked Vern and Debbie to suggest a name for the baby before she was born.  “We said we liked Michaela Marie --- after St. Michael and the Blessed Mother,” Debbie says.  They couldn’t believe it when the birth mother said that was the exact name she was considering.

            Vern and Debbie did not mention their Catholic faith because it had been an obstacle previously.  But when the birth father asked them directly, “What part does God play in your life?” they were open about their strong religious convictions.

            Instead of being rebuffed, Debbie says they were astonished to hear him say, “Oh thank God!  My mother was worried sick the baby wouldn’t be raised Catholic.”

            “It was everything we ever prayed for,” Debbie says about the adoption.

            As the court date approached to finalize the adoption, the Sumnichts faced more obstacles.  The birth mother mentioned she was part Native American and learned her tribe in Alaska had to be contacted.  Without their permission, the adoption could not proceed.

            The original court date had to be postponed while they tried to contact the tribe’s chief.  Coincidentally, on the day they would have been in court, Vern went into emergency surgery.  Debbie says they were thankful God had postponed the court date.

            The tribe did not contest the adoption and a new court date was set.  Unfortunately, Vern was in the hospital again with more health problems and the birth father started to waiver.

            At the exact time Debbie was in court for the final adoption hearing, Vern went into another surgery - the third in less than a month.  Because they had been disappointed so many times before, Debbie says she refused to get her hopes too high.

            But on that January day, the dream that had begun 12 years previously became a reality when Michaela Megan Marie legally became Vern and Debbie’s child.

            “After years of disappointments and rejection, I didn’t have a thing ready for her,” Debbie says.  Michaela’s foster mother gave Debbie some diapers and formula.

            Vern was in the hospital, and needed Debbie’s help, so Michaela spent her first three weeks in the Sumnicht family in the hospital.

            “It was pretty intense to have to take care of him and her at the hospital,” Debbie says.

            Since then, things have settled down for the family.  “I can’t imagine my life before her.  I’m more than happy to deal with the difficulties,” Debbie says.  “It’s most exciting to see Vern with her.”

            Friends and family have overwhelmed the Sumnichts with love and support, Debbie says.  After praying with them for years, knowing they would be excellent parents, everyone is sharing in the excitement.

            “I can’t count the number of people who have called, sent cards or gifts,” Debbie says.

            It took patience, prayer, and faith to get where they are today, but the Sumnichts agree little Michaela was well worth the wait.