Sandia LabNews

Building a family their own way

The calls that changed everything for two Sandia families

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DOWNTIME — Sandian Rebecca Sanchez relaxes with her son Emilio, 11, as he does his homework. The Sanchezes began fostering the siblings, and eventually adopted, Natalia and Emilio when they were 2 and 3 years old. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

When Matthew McDonough and his wife signed up to become foster parents, they planned on easing into it by taking in one child at a time. Likewise, when Rebecca Sanchez and her husband started their fostering journey, they were almost exclusively taking teenagers.

But as Rebecca, a Sandia business operations analyst, puts it, as parents, biological or not, you can never really predict what’s going to happen.

So, when Rebecca got a call from their caseworker that they needed placement for 2- and 3-year-old siblings, Rebecca and her husband got to toddler-proofing their home and learning how to install car seats.

Matthew, a Sandia electrical engineer, said when his wife got a call from their caseworker asking whether they’d be willing to make an exception to their no-sibling rule to take in 2-month-old twins, his wife looked to him for confirmation while simultaneously telling the caseworker, “Yes.”

“Families are built a lot of different ways,” Rebecca said.

And these unexpected turns of events were how these two families built theirs.

The Sanchez family

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ALL IN THE FAMILY — Natalia Sanchez, 9, gives a little love to her donkey at her family’s home in Belen. Rebecca and her husband adopted Natalia and her brother Emilio in 2016. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

Fostering and adopting had always been on the table for Rebecca and her husband, Ernest.

“We were just dating when the topic first came up,” Rebecca said. “It was casual kind of like, ‘would you consider it,’ and neither one of us were opposed to it but we didn’t look into it any further.”

And then they got married, and their friends started having kids.

When Ernest brought up adoption again, Rebecca started looking into the process and discovered the Heart Gallery project, which raises awareness about adoption and works to find homes for older children and sibling groups in protective custody with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

The first step to adopt through the Heart Gallery is to become a licensed foster parent through CYFD, so Rebecca and Ernest got to work. After becoming certified, they attended a few events and met a 15-year-old boy they came close to adopting, but it ultimately fell through, and they decided to take a step back.

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NICE CATCH — Sandian Rebecca Sanchez waits for her son Emilio, 11, to come out of the bushes while playing in the backyard after dinner. The Sanchezes began fostering siblings, and eventually adopted, Natalie and Emilio in 2016 when they were 2 and 3 years old. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

“The house felt so quiet,” Rebecca said. “So, we started to think through, were we doing this because of one specific child, or are we willing to move forward with any child God puts into our home.”

Working with their caseworker, they decided to ease back in as foster parents.

“We started doing respite care and emergency placement, mostly for teenagers and sibling groups because that’s where we saw the biggest need,” Rebecca said.

In 2016, Rebecca’s caseworker called with a new request.

“She said, ‘I have siblings, but they’re a little younger than you usually take, but we really need a place for them,’” Rebecca said. “They were 2- and 3-years-old, and our house was definitely not toddler proof.”

Rebecca and Ernest spent the next day and a half getting electrical outlets covered and safety gates installed, ready to welcome Emilio and Natalia home.

“Initially, it was just supposed to be for a few days, but then a few days turned into a few weeks, and then a few months, and it became clear this was headed towards adoption,” Rebecca said. “Our caseworker asked if we’d be interested in adoption. We said yes.”

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HOMEWORK HELP — Emilio Sanchez, 11, left, discusses his reading homework with his mom, Rebecca, while she and Natalia, 9, center, unpack her backpack. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

It took a year and a half to finalize the adoption. In that time, Rebecca said things still felt very much up in the air.

“Will their parents change their mind? Will a relative pop up out of the blue?” Rebecca said. “There was no way to know, but we just reminded ourselves that no matter what happened, each day we had was just another day to love these kids.”

This one-day approach is how Rebecca has looked at every foster child that has come through her life.

“During our CYFD training, an instructor who had been in foster care shared her story with us — awful situations in her biological home, abusive relatives and foster families — but then she told us about one foster home she had spent just a couple days in, and it was there that for the first time, she saw what a good family looked like, and that family became her example for what she wanted her own family to look like,” Rebecca said.

“As foster parents, we’re not in control of these kids’ destiny or their future. We have a day to show them that they’re loved and cared for. Maybe it goes further, maybe it’s the last time we see them, but we have one day where we can make a difference in their story.”

The McDonough family

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BUILDING FAMILY — Electrical engineer Matthew McDonough and his wife Leslie adopted twin daughters from foster care. Matthew helps coordinate the foster and adoption cohort of the Sandia Parents Group. (Photo courtesy of Matthew McDonough)

Matthew and his wife, Leslie, had always planned on having a large family. And after having their first child, and learning that they were pregnant with their second, things appeared to be on track.

But after their second baby was stillborn, they decided to take a break to heal both emotionally and physically.

“We had talked about adoption sometime in the future before, but after losing our daughter, we decided to start looking into fostering,” Matthew said.

Together they started the process to get certified as foster parents, attending trainings, completing background checks, interviews and home visits.

“At the time our son Nathan was 2 years old, so we were good with younger children, but we did not want siblings at that time, because we wanted to ease into fostering,” Matthew said. “And then the call came, and suddenly it didn’t matter.”

“We were sitting around the kitchen table one weekend when our caseworker called and said, ‘I know you don’t want siblings and its totally up to you, but we have twins,’” Matthew said.

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DREAM COME TRUE — Sandia electrical engineer Matthew McDonough’s children, from left, William, Selena, Nathan, Teresa and Sarah, center. Matthew and his wife adopted Selena and Teresa two and a half years after they were placed in their home through foster care. (Photo courtesy of Matthew McDonough)

And just like that, they went from a family of three to a family of five.

“I don’t think we could have done it without our church family,” Matthew said. “They really wrapped their arms around us and helped with everything from baby stuff and clothes to providing a real sense of community.”

Early on, it became clear adoption was on the table, and that “sometime in the future” was suddenly right in front of them.

Two and a half years after baby Selena and Teresa came home, the adoption was finalized.

In that time, Leslie found out she was pregnant, and the couple welcomed their second son, William, and they continued to foster, something Matthew says allowed them to “serve their community.”

“Initially I was nervous about fostering, but luckily God paired me with someone who wasn’t,” Matthew said. “For those who might be interested in fostering and feel scared, I would want them to know that CYFD really helps guide you through the process. You can ease into it and if you need to, you can stop, or take a break. But for us, it’s been incredibly rewarding.”

“Awhile back we were caring for a 5-year-old boy. He was pretty delayed developmentally. We had this jungle gym structure in our backyard and the first time he slid down the slide, he got to the bottom and just kind of crumpled up like a wet rug. He had never been on a slide and didn’t know you’re supposed to stick your feet out to stop yourself,” he said. “I can’t quite describe the joy we felt after he had been in our home a week and was suddenly able to do something so simple and pure, like slide down a slide, land on his feet and climb back up to do it all over again.”

In January, the McDonoughs became a family of seven with the birth of their third daughter, Sarah, making those dreams of a large family a reality.

Fostering and adoption at Sandia

Matthew is the coordinator of the foster and adoption cohort of the Sandia Parents Group, of which Rebecca is also an adviser.

The group provides a community of support for adoptive and foster parents at Sandia.

They have a recurring open forum, led by Matthew and other advisers within the group, and provide information about Sandia specific benefits available to foster and adoptive parents. The group also has a website where they publish information about additional resources available and upcoming events.

Sandia offers several benefits to foster and adoptive parents including time off for baby bonding which includes up to 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and up to six weeks of time off at 70% pay. Sandians can supplement the remaining 30% with accrued vacation, bought vacation or flex time.

For those looking to adopt, Sandia will reimburse up to $2,500 per child for adoption-related expenses for children under the age of 18 through the Adoption Assistance Program.

Additional benefits, including incidental family care, the new Sandia Childcare Fund and life and family support services, are also available to foster and adoptive parents.

“It’s hard to find a place that’s more flexible to work for than Sandia,” Matthew said. “The work environment here really values work-life balance and a big part of that is giving us time to be involved parents and caretakers, whether the children be biological, foster or adoptive.”

Fostering and Adoption Lunch and Learn

The Sandia Parents Group and New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department invite anyone interested in becoming a Resource Foster Parent to a virtual lunch and learn April 16 from noon-1 p.m MT. Check Sandia Daily News for a Teams link to the event.

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