Maryland parents-to-be Michael and Karen Faherty are awaiting an inspection from the agency dealing with their adoption. But suddenly, a commotion brings them to their front door. It seems a gang of firefighters are gathering in the yard. And as an ambulance pulls up, Michael and Karen are wondering whether something has gone wrong with the adoption process.
By now, the couple were no strangers to stressful situations. They were, after all, both veterans of the American armed forces. Yet no amount of military training could really prepare them for the shock of all those firefighters gathering outside their home. What on Earth was going on?
Michael and Karen were at home that day so that they could welcome an inspector into their household. This person, the pair believed, would ultimately help to decide whether or not they could finally become parents. But that, of course, didn’t explain why a bunch of firefighters were standing outside.
That fact notwithstanding, Michael was himself a member of the fire service. So, perhaps that had something to do with whatever was going on? In fact, if he had studied the faces of those outside, he would have recognized that they were actually peers from the academy where he’d received his own training.
Of course, none of this accounted for why all these firefighters were outside the Faherty home. But as they fell into a sort of guard of honor, the gravity of the situation started to become clear. You see, a figure began to slowly walk in the direction of the couple’s front door.
The man approaching the Fahertys’ home was Dr. Dean Kirschner, a social worker and adoption agent. Kirschner had been involved with Michael and Karen for over a year by this stage. Throughout all that time, he’d been trying to help the pair with their attempts to start a family.
Michael and Karen had first met as students of the University of Scranton. After respective careers in the military, they eventually made Baltimore, Maryland, their home. Sadly, though, their dreams of making their family bigger had fallen foul of infertility. But after four years or so of struggling with it, they decided to adopt instead.
The Fahertys are just one couple out of many in the U.S. who have become involved in the adoption process. Indeed, according to the California-based Adoption Network, “Adoption is all around us, even if we don’t see it. Every day, there are children being adopted into loving families all across the country.”
On its website, Adoption Network has relayed a number of statistics related to adoption in the United States. These figures have it that somewhere close to 2 percent of American citizens have undertaken the process. Yet, as the service has claimed, over 33 percent of the population have at least thought about it.
Adoption Network claims that for every 25 American families, at least one will have an adopted member as part of its unit. Of the adoptions which have taken place domestically, roughly between 60 and 70 percent are supposedly considered “open.” By that, it’s meant that there’s been some manner of communication between the biological and prospective parents.
However, domestic adoptions don’t account for every case. International adoptions are known to occur in the United States, too, though at a more limited rate. In fact, the number of such instances slipped by about 10,000 between 2007 and 2011, settling at a little over 9,300 cases. This was because of more stringent regulation of the practice.
Apparently, an average of about 140,000 kids are adopted into American family units within a given year. Overall, then, close to seven million U.S. citizens are said to be adopted, of which about 1.5 million are still minors. This amounts to something like one in every 50 kids having adoptive parents.
In one form or another, almost 100 million U.S. citizens are thought to have experience of adoption within their families. This could refer to close relatives adopting kids themselves or having their biological children placed within some other unit. In contemporary American society, then, we can say that it’s quite a common practice.
Children can be officially adopted into a new family at any age. Having said that, though, the majority of cases occur when a child is in the early stages of infancy. In fact, according to Adoption Network’s statistics, more than 60 percent of adoptees were placed into their new units before turning one month old.
As for how many prospective parents are seeking to receive a child through adoption, it’s not entirely clear. After all, there are no official figures gathered or collated in order to work this out. There have been estimations, however, which suggest that a million to two million couples hope to adopt.
As we can see, then, the Fahertys were far from unusual in their desire to adopt. Nonetheless the time between the decision to undertake the process to actually welcoming a child into their home was a long one. But over the course of a year – and with the help of Dean Kirschner – they eventually neared the end of the process.
Kirschner officially became a social worker almost 30 years ago, back in 1991. He moved into the field of adoption specifically three years later. That year, you see, he took part in the process himself. Kirschner now has two kids from adoption, and so his professional interest in the practice is a rather natural one.
From both his working and his private experiences, Kirschner has built up an extensive understanding of adoption. He’s had experience with people taking in a child as their own, as well as with those giving their biological child away to someone else. Both perspectives are vital for a person working in the field.
As we’ve seen, Kirschner is well positioned to work with people undertaking adoption, as he himself has done so, too. But as he elaborated on a blog post for his Adoption Makes Family agency, the connection goes much deeper. His own big sister, you see, had herself been adopted by his mom.
Kirschner explained, “When my mother died in 1967, she left a legacy of love for children that transcended any biological connection. Having been only eight years old at the time of her death, I do not recall hearing specific words about adoption from my mother. However, through the years… I have learned so much about my mother’s feelings toward children, toward adoption.”
Kirschner went on, “Personally, the experience of adoption has been in my life since my own birth. I’m the little brother of an older sister who was adopted at birth. Adoption was never a big deal in our family. We were all treated the same. Biologically conceived by our parents or adopted, there was never a sense for me that we were loved any differently.”
Turning his attention to his own children, Kirschner suggested that families containing adoptees were no different to any other unit. In fact, he claimed, he and his sons were proud of the circumstances by which they came together. The process of adoption was merely a step toward the creation of their clan.
On the Adoption Makes Family blog, Kirschner proclaimed, “I laugh with my sons. I play with my sons. I parent my sons. Some days there are frustrations. More days, there are fun and joyful times with my sons. Some days, I have had to be a disciplinarian. More days, I am the supporter, the advocate, the fixer, the helper, the confidant, the teacher, the guide, the safety net, the protector. To sum it up, I’m Dad.”
Apparently, nobody in Kirschner’s family – be it his children or his sister – has shied away from the fact that they’re adoptees. Everyone is happy to discuss the subject, to break down any questions that somebody might have about it. Their approach, it seems, has been to celebrate and promote the process.
Drawing on his own experiences growing up, Kirschner wrote about his relationship with his sister. He explained that the pair had sometimes come to blows with one another, while at other times they’d played happily. In other words, they’d interacted with one another in much the same manner as all brothers and sisters.
Kirschner then wrote of his own children. “My sons have the same type of relationship,” he said. “They love like brothers. They fight like brothers. They protect each other and look out for each other. They are not biologically related. They are related through adoption. But, above all, they are brothers.”
There’s absolutely no denying, then, that Kirschner’s life has largely been defined by adoption and all that it brings. Given his experiences growing up and as a parent, he understands the process at a fundamental level. And so his involvement with it in a professional capacity is hardly a surprise.
It was through his work with Adoption Makes Family that Michael and Karen Faherty first crossed paths with Kirschner. You see, the agency is active throughout the state of Maryland, where the couple had set up their home. So, for over 12 months, Kirschner and his agency sought to help bring a child into their lives.
Even after a year, though, the Fahertys still had no indication of when they would become parents. But Kirschner has developed something of a reputation among his clients. As the social worker himself put it to TV station NBC Washington in 2019, “They know that Dr. Dean comes at weird times and surprises them with a baby.”
With this reputation in mind, it seems that Kirschner wasn’t prepared to allow the Fahertys to become parents without a dose of drama. So, he got in touch with several different fire brigades and services. With their help, he was going to thrust the Fahertys into parenthood with “great fanfare.”
As Kirschner explained to NBC Washington, “I thought, let’s get fire trucks, let’s get ambulances. We’re going to come down the street with screaming sirens and race to the house with the baby.” And that’s exactly what ended up happening. In the video clip, outside the Faherty household, a crowd of noisy first responders gathers.
The noise from outside brings Karen and Michael to their front door, where a host of firefighters are assembling on their front lawn. As a member of the service himself, Michael recognizes the song that they are singing. It’s “Little Red Wagon,” a tune that he’d learned at the academy.
With Karen and Michael now at their door, the next phase of Kirschner’s plan begins to fall into place. Someone in the crowd excitedly shouts, “We got something for you. A delivery!” And from there, Kirschner starts to walk towards the couple. And he is holding onto something rather precious.
The bundle inside Kirschner’s arms is Karen and Michael’s new adopted child, a boy named Michael Terrance Faherty III. Naturally, the shocked new parents can’t quite believe what their eyes are telling them. Far from responding to a disaster, the firefighters had gathered to welcome the baby Michael to his new forever home.
As he reaches the flabbergasted couple, Kirschner tries to make things clear. “Here’s your baby boy,” he tells Michael and Karen. The latter is understandably reduced to tears as she thanks the social worker. She then kisses her new child, who has been safely cocooned in a blanket and headwear.
In addition to the delivery of their new son, the firefighters and Kirschner also have another gift for the Fahertys. You see, inside the ambulance which was parked outside the house, the generous people have placed baby supplies for the couple. Michael is visibly at this point, too. But he manages to say, “Thank you guys so much. I don’t even know what to do.”
The footage of the surprise showed that Kirschner didn’t actually hand the baby over to the Fahertys right emotional away. Yet there was a very important reason for this. You see, Kirschner has learned that people can be induced into shock when they’re first introduced to their new child. As he put it to NBC Washington, “Your brain is on such overload.”
Of course, Kirschner eventually relented. Once they were all indoors and able to sit down, Michael and Karen could finally take their new child into their arms. Remembering the special moment, Kirschner said, “I said, ‘I’m going to hand you your baby.’ It was just awesome. It was just beautiful.”
This isn’t the only time in which Kirschner has gone to elaborate lengths when introducing families to their new child. In fact, he even has a term for such occasions – “Gotcha Day.” It seems that he just can’t resist the opportunity to make an already special moment even more memorable.
Other Gotcha Day events have seen families meeting their children in the midst of a parade soundtracked by bagpipes. On another occasion, a pair of popular mascots associated with Baltimore were involved in the proceedings. Who knows what else Kirschner has in mind for adopting families down the line?