Inspired by his wife's passion, this father of six is grateful he faced his fears
Peter Murphy remembers the difficult discussions he had with his wife Katie about adoption — “energetic conversations,” he affectionately calls them now. Although he always believed adoption was good and important, when it came to adopting a child himself, he wasn’t so sure. For his wife, however, it was a different story.
“When Katie and I started dating, she talked about adoption, which I thought was a bit odd at first… Why wouldn’t you think about having your own kids, and then, if that doesn’t work out, consider adoption?” Peter says he recalls thinking to himself. “I thought it was nice thing, but that we’d probably get busy with our own kids and it wouldn’t come up.”
Peter and Katie, who live in Bowie, Maryland, went on to have three boys, but after medically complicated births, Katie’s life-long dream of adopting surfaced. After a great deal of research, and inspired by her work for an orphan-care center in China, Katie’s desire to adopt forced Peter to come to face-to-face with his fears about adding to their family through adoption.
“It was a real mix of concerns for me…. and finances were a big one,” he says. “I knew it was going to be at least $30,000-$35,000, and although we had always been good savers, we just didn’t have that kind of money sitting around.”
Peter was also concerned about how bringing home an adopted child would affect the family. “We already had three boys, things were going pretty well, we were comfortable, the boys were getting older and we could finally get out on dates and do more as a family; vacations were easier,” says Peter. “Do we just lose all that, and start over?”
Since they were considering adopting a child with special needs, Peter also worried about the demands this would put on Katie — such as increased visits to doctors and therapists — and again, the additional financial burden this could bring.
But his biggest fear was Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a condition more common in adopted children, in which they have difficulty developing healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. Peter had heard challenging adoption stories and they were enough to close his mind to the idea.
Eventually, however, things began to shift.
“As I began to pray about it, it started to make more sense.… Why wouldn’t it? It’s objectively a good thing, but it could be also be really good thing for me.”
Still, it took time. Even after a particular experience he had in prayer where he felt God was saying why not, it was still hard. “At first I thought my fears weren’t legitimate; then I realized that no, they were legitimate, but I needed to move past my fears and deal with them.”
About a year and half later, after a lot of paper work and fees, Peter found himself in China, holding his new daughter, Felicity. And a couple of years later, he went back with his oldest son—this time without Katie because she was pregnant—to adopt their new son, Thomas. Both children were young toddlers and considered “special needs” adoptions — Felicity had a cleft lip and palate and Thomas had a heart condition. On the other side of both adoptions, Peter says the process changed him for the better.
“It definitely made me more open… It went so well with Felicity that I was really open about adopting Thomas, and I had learned to trust better. I even joke now with Katie saying ‘until the next adoption…'”
He says the the second time around, the financial part was even more challenging because they had spent all their savings on their first adoption. “Spending our savings — and then spending money we didn’t even have — that was very challenging for me,” he says. But he’s learned that God works out the details. “We didn’t have enough for a new car — but then someone donated a van to us.”
He says finances seem to be one of the biggest concerns for men — because husbands and fathers want to protect and provide for their families. “But this is also the safest fear for us to talk about it… we can hide behind this one because it’s practical and easier to discuss.”
As for what he might advise other men and dads who are reluctant to adopt, he says that prayer makes the difference. “Pray about your fears,” he advises. “And realize that even if they’re legitimate, you may be called to move through them. It doesn’t mean they go away, or that they won’t happen, but you may be called to embrace them and say ‘yes, I will love, no matter what the needs are of this child.'”
Peter says even though it challenged him, he was inspired by his wife’s passion and love. “I wished I could be like her, but my fears were holding me back… I was afraid to love with the reckless abandon she had. I couldn’t understand it, but I knew there was something genuine there that I could’t dismiss,” he says. “Doesn’t mean it’s going to be a quick and easy journey, but you need to keep talking about it, praying about it.”
He admits that while some families really aren’t called to adopt, it’s an easy idea to dismiss. “We’re all so busy, and in Catholic circles, adoption is often considered a ‘back-up’ plan — if you can’t have biological kids and you’re open to life, then you adopt. But no, God may still call you to adopt. This was a foreign concept to me.”
And Peter has some advice for the enthusiastic spouse: “One thing Katie did was stop talking to me about it for a while. We kept fighting about it and this was muddying my own decision-making. She pulled back, telling me she trusted I would take it to prayer. She gave me the space to be and sit with it and that was a turning point for me.”