The Nickel family consists of Jen and Shelby, and their 10 children, ranging from ages 6 to 25. They have been through the adoption process many times, starting in 1999, and there’s not much about adoption that the Nickels haven’t been through. Jen Nickel, the matriarch of the family, shares some insight into their lives and the adoption process.

Can you tell us a bit about your family?

My name is Jen and I have been married to my husband Shelby for 25 years. We currently have 10 children, with a few more permanent part-timers that we consider part of our family circle. Our kids range in age from 6 to 25 and we are a tri-racial family with Indigenous, White, and Black family members.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience with the adoption process overall?

Our first adoption, back in 1999, was the smoothest, yet at the same time most unnerving. We had no idea what we were getting into. Waiting as “pre-adoptive” parents and looking forward to placement of some future, imaginary child, is a very different experience than parenting a foster child and proceeding with adoption after sometimes years of parenting.

Do you have any advice for families considering adoption?

My best piece of advice is to surround yourself with experienced adoptive parents and read the voices of adult adoptees. These are ones who have walked the journey of attachment, trauma, special needs, before you and will have the most pertinent advice. Those voices will be key for you as you learn and grow. Every time you think to yourself “well that won’t happen to me,” remind yourself to instead think “what if that happens to me.”

Can you tell us one high point in your adoption journey?

Nothing quite compares to the moment of finalization when all the what, ifs, and maybes are over, and the child is a permanent part of your family. Whether it’s adoption, a 54.01, or a transfer of custody and guardianship, when that final moment comes and that constant low level of adrenaline and fear wash away, and you go home and it’s truly all done.

Maybe it’s a 6-month-old baby in your arms, or maybe it’s a 15-year-old hulk of a teenager eating you out of house and home, but either way, there is a complete sense of awe that the process is finally DONE. And shockingly that feeling isn’t necessarily all joy. It is an awe-inspiring process of loss and gain, and aching joy and aching grief. A family is born through labour and adoption is a form of labour.

And one challenging point?

A challenging point of any adoption experience is if you get the phone call saying the adoption, YOUR adoption of a child you may only have seen in pictures of, or maybe the one who you just tucked into bed, is not going to happen. We have been there, and it is truly the death of many hopes and dreams and so hard to explain to those that have never walked the path.

How has the Belonging Network made a difference in your life?

The Belonging Network has been a key sponsor of many of the support activities we believe has held a key to our family success over the years. Harambee, the Indigenous parenting groups, AKOMA all play a part in our lives and we are thankful for that.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

My last note-I did not fully realize before adopting that it involved so much more than just a child becoming my child. I am part of communities and families I would have never otherwise been touched by. Through openness with cultural communities, families of origin, adoptive families of siblings, we are ALL a million times richer and greater in every way that counts.