When Mike and Yana Powers became licensed foster parents and accepted their first placement shortly afterward, they knew that life would change. But they didn’t know just how drastic that change would be.
In March 2018 Yana received a call from CFS, asking if she and Mike would be willing to take immediate placement of two young children; an 18 month-old girl, Rachel, and 3 month-old baby boy, James. The children were being removed due to medical neglect. James, born with a cleft lip and palate, had been admitted to the hospital after concerns of dehydration and malnutrition. He weighed a dangerously-low 8 pounds, and had been days, if not hours away from death had medical intervention not occurred. Mike and Yana agreed to take placement of both children, and picked them up from the hospital later that day.
The first few weeks were exhausting and terrifying. James was hospitalized twice more, and was seen by multiple specialists in Grand Rapids. There were times when everyone involved feared that he might not survive. He cried nonstop—a devastating sound accompanied by uncontrollable muscle spasms. James would become rigid and stiff, and couldn’t be set down at all without screaming and appearing to be in pain. Mike and Yana seemed to be the only ones able to soothe him. It was determined that James had suffered a brain injury sometime after birth. He had a vision impairment, hearing impairment, and inexplicably stiff muscles. James underwent test after test at DeVos Children’s Hospital. Mike and Yana worked tirelessly with feeding therapists, occupational and physical therapists, and many others to help James overcome his limitations. Unfortunately, no amount of intervention could have prevented James from being diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy just after his first birthday. Mike and Yana sat in the exam room at DeVos Neurology, heartbroken, as they heard doctors explain that with this most severe form of cerebral palsy, James’ motor functioning and cognitive ability would be severely impaired for life. They learned about the surgeries he would endure, the wheelchair and braces he would need, and the specialized therapies he would always require. Mike and Yana leaned on one another for support, processed, and eventually came to terms with the reality of James’ diagnosis. As much as they wished that things could have been different for him, and that life would not be so hard for him, there was also a sense of relief that came from knowing what he would be up against.
Through it all, Mike and Yana devoted just as much care and attention to Rachel. While thankfully she had no major medical concerns, she struggled in other ways to overcome the trauma she had endured. She continued to have parenting time visits, which were stressful and confusing for her. Mike and Yana worked with an Infant Mental Health therapist and developed their own techniques to address Rachel’s motor functioning and verbal challenges.
Without hesitation, Mike and Yana said they would adopt both children if reunification with their biological parents was determined to be impossible. They never wavered; not after months of sleepless nights with James and even more exhausting days, not after endless medical appointments, emotionally taxing parenting-time visits and frustrating court hearings. While they fully understood the intensity of the care they would have to provide throughout James’ lifetime, never once did they consider that this wasn’t what they were meant to do. They just couldn’t imagine their lives without their amazing, resilient children.
In September of 2020, Mike and Yana began the process of adoption. There was just one problem— although they’d been together for the better part of two decades, they weren’t married! That meant that only one of them would be able to adopt the children. When approached about this dilemma, Yana said, “It’s not that we’re opposed to getting married, we just never really got around to it.” And so they made the
easy decision to tie the knot. They were married in their backyard, with James, Rachel, close friends, and family on January 21, 2021. Rachel, who used to shy away from adults, rarely spoke or sought out affection, is now a bright, outgoing, sassy 5-year old who loves to show off her gymnastic moves for anyone who comes through the door. And now James often has a smile on his face and enjoys being read and sung to and being in the action of friends and family activities.
When Yana and Mike look to the future, they see adding on to their house, so they have room for more kids. That’s right. They’re ready to do it all over again. In Yana’s words, “We feel that if we have the capacity, the financial ability, and the emotional resilience to foster, then why wouldn’t we? It’s part of being privileged and using our privilege to the advantage of our community and those in need.
Story by Emma Smith