The Perfect Blend
Stacey Valley always knew she wanted to be a mom. Her journey began in 2009 as a foster mom to an 11-day-old baby who she would later adopt. When she married her husband Anthony, a senior database analyst in marketing at Windstream, in 2013, she gained two stepdaughters. After a year of marriage, the couple decided to begin the adoption process and continue to grow their blended family. Today, Stacey and Anthony have four daughters—Kennedy, 16, Madison, 12, Maya, 6, and Quinn, 1. The story of how they became a family is one of strength and struggles, tears and triumphs, and the power of unbreakable bonds.
By Mel Jones / Photography by Lily Darragh
SAVVY: WHAT IS YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIKE?
STACEY VALLEY: Most days are busy juggling work and home with kids’ schedules and our volunteer and church activities. We try to relax on Saturdays.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE WORK, FAMILY AND INTERESTS? Although it’s not a perfect system, we rely heavily on scheduling to make sure the right people get to the right places and do the right things at the right time. Anthony and I are a good team. Communication is crucial.
HOW DID YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND, ANTHONY, MEET? I was living in the DC area and was home visiting family in North Little Rock. My brother introduced us. But little did Anthony know that he had already caught my eye while he was playing the piano at church.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO FOSTER, AND ULTIMATELY ADOPT? I became a foster parent in 2009 as a single person. I knew the need was great for foster parents, and I really wanted to be a mom. Maya was my first foster placement. I didn’t know when they placed that precious little 11-day-old baby in my arms that I would adopt her a year later. When Anthony and I got married in 2013 we discussed becoming foster parents together. Anthony comes from a large family, so having lots of kids around is normal for him. At our one-year anniversary, we started the process. Quinn was placed in our home in September 2014 at two weeks old, and we adopted her this past summer. We went through The CALL (thecallinarkansas.org).
WAS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU TO ADOPT A CHILD HERE IN ARKANSAS? Yes. There are about 3,500 children in the foster care system in Arkansas at any given time, but only about 1,100 approved foster homes. About 500 of those children are eligible for adoption. There really is no reason to look anywhere else—the need is right here in our own state.
WHEN DID YOU ADOPT YOUR FIRST DAUGHTER, MAYA? January 2010, a week before her first birthday.
WHEN MAYA WAS 6-YEARS-OLD, YOU AND ANTHONY ADOPTED HER BABY SISTER, BUT NOT WITHOUT SOME MAJOR OBSTACLES AND STRUGGLES. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT PROCESS? We have a beautiful relationship with Maya’s birth family, especially her grandmother. When we found out that Maya’s birth mom was pregnant again, we started the process to become an open foster home in case the baby came into the Division of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) custody. Our DCFS resource worker knew our history and that we were opening our home as a “fictive kin” home for this child. Birth mom asked me to be in the delivery room with her and stay in the hospital with her and the baby. It was truly special, but also complicated. I was shocked when DCFS placed the baby with another foster family. I petitioned to have her placed with us, and ultimately that happened. But it wasn’t an easy process. (To us, they were sisters by blood. But to the legal system, they were not sisters because we had adopted Maya.)
WHAT HELPED YOU STAY STRONG AND NOT GIVE UP ON ADOPTING QUINN? Honestly during those 11 days she was with another family, I wasn’t very strong. I was a sobbing mess. But I knew that her birth mom wanted her girls together and that despite the obstacles, she was worth fighting for.
DESCRIBE THE DAY YOU AND ANTHONY OFFICIALLY BECAME QUINN’S PARENTS. Going to court is stressful, but adoption hearings are a celebration. We had lots of family there with us. It was extra special because we had the same judge who had done Maya’s adoption five years earlier. It was a huge feeling of relief when the judge declared her our forever child.
IN ADDITION TO YOUR TWO ADOPTED DAUGHTERS, YOUR FAMILY INCLUDES ANTHONY’S BIOLOGICAL DAUGHTERS FROM A PREVIOUS MARRIAGE. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO GROW YOUR BLENDED FAMILY? Surprisingly it has been a very easy transition. Kennedy and Madison are with us every weekend, and they are sweet girls. Maya loves having big sisters. As a stepmom, I think it’s important to let the children set the pace of relationship. They have a mother, so I serve a different role. Anthony’s take: As their dad, I see the four girls as the same. I don’t differentiate between how they arrived into the family because we are one family. Stacey’s a great mom. She gives plenty of space for each child to develop a healthy relationship with her. It’s wonderful work of grace unfolding.
WHAT DO YOU ALL LIKE TO DO AS A FAMILY? HOW DO YOU SPEND TIME TOGETHER? When the weather is nice, we like to take family walks together. We live near the Lakewood lakes, so that’s our favorite spot. Family meals are an important part of our lives as well. We love to laugh. We often spend time sitting in the living room, watching TV and adding witty commentary to whatever we see. As parents, we use our family time to teach the Valley girls how these moments relate to loving God and loving your neighbor.
DO YOU TALK TO MAYA ABOUT HER BIRTH STORY? WILL YOU DO THE SAME FOR QUINN? I made Maya a storybook about her birth story. She will pull it out from time to time, and we’ll read it together. She knows that she and Quinn have the same “tummy mummy.” I don’t hide anything from her, and she asks tough questions sometimes. I’m working on Quinn’s storybook now.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE GIRLS’ BIRTH MOTHER? Her story is hard, and for her protection, I won’t disclose much here. But I will say that I talk to her on occasion, and I have an open relationship with her and her family.
WHAT DO YOU WANT READERS TO TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR STORY? WHAT SHOULD THEY KNOW ABOUT ADOPTION AND BLENDED FAMILIES? Fostering and adoption is not for “the special.” Anthony and I are just normal people. God has called us all to care for the orphans. EVERYONE. If you can’t foster or adopt, you can support someone who is or be an advocate for fostering and adoption. You don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom or have a big house. Children in Arkansas need loving homes. That’s it.
In addition, I’d like people to learn how to talk about adoption and blended families using loving language. Yes, these are my “real” children. No, I don’t love some of my children more. Please don’t ask silly and hurtful questions. What’s a silly or hurtful question? If a question seems too awkward to ask a biological family made of only biological children, it is out of place to ask a foster or adoptive family. Mostly don’t make foster and adopted children feel different. They are just kids who needed a loving family.