Recently, our own Josiah Tombley interviewed Curt and Jami Cook of West Plains, Missouri. Curt and Jami were high school sweethearts, and earlier this summer (of 2021) they celebrated 24 years of marriage. They have four kids, Eli, Zoe, Ayn and Mya. The Cooks adopted Mya, when she was eight years old, in February of 2019.
Why were you interested in adoption?
“Adoption is something we had always talked about,” Jami said. Both her and her husband Curt’s career paths had taken them into areas helping children, and adopting a child was a topic they frequently discussed.
However, their daughter Ayn was born with spina bifida, a neurological condition where the spinal cord, brain or their protective covering does not develop fully. Often, a sack of fluid grows outside the body of the spine. Ayn is now fourteen. Curt said, “Ayn is an amazing young woman, and she has taught us about faith and stamina and perseverance.”
When Ayn was born, Curt and Jami focused on caring for her as well as their other two children, Eli and Zoe, and so they hit pause on adoption for several years. “Once we realized Ayn was going to be fine,” Jami said, “we started approaching our goals and mission for our lives as a couple and a family.” Given their special knowledge of spina bifida, they prayed about how they might be of service to others.
A couple of years later, Jami and Curt received a photo from Rachel Cobb, wife of Real Wood Floors’ CEO Sam. The photo was of a Chinese girl, Mya, who had been diagnosed with spina bifida, and she needed a family. Jami’s initial reaction was, “No way.” Curt and Jami laughed it off, but within a few days, it was apparent what needed to be done. The Cooks said, “God wouldn’t let us let that girl go.”
The Cooks had a family meeting with their three kids, and they agreed to pray for two weeks about adopting Mya. The clarity came in about a week’s time. The Cooks saw Mya’s medical diagnosis and felt like they could care for her. Mya needed them, and the Cooks wanted to provide her a good home.
What were the most difficult challenges you faced prior to picking up Mya?
“Waiting,” Curt said. The Cooks saw pictures and videos of Mya, which made the waiting all the more difficult as the family was anxious to bring the eight-year-old girl home. They prayed for her, for the orphanage and the staff. Curt and Jami also battled fear because they were concerned that Mya’s orphanage might lack resources or that she wasn’t being cared for well.
“At first we were scared about the money,” Jami said. “That was the initial battle.”
So the Cooks started researching funding resources. Their adoption agency’s website featured a list of their top10 adoption grants, and Jami also found state and local opportunities, some for special needs. The Cooks spent a solid week filling out funding applications. Jami worked on them during the day, and once Curt came home from work, he continued the process for a few hours before bed. Their hard work paid off, and the Cooks received four of the five grants they applied for. As well, one organization that did not fund them happened to pass their name on to the Tim Tebow Foundation, which ended up sending them a grant without the Cooks even applying for it! If you are interested in adoption and would like more funding ideas, please listen to the lengthier discussion on the podcast.
What was it like meeting Mya?
The entire Cook family traveled to China to pick up Mya. Their daughters Ayn and Zoe had never been on an airplane before, so it was all very exciting.
When the Cooks arrived at the agency, they were aware that Mya would be wearing a red dress. And sure enough, they spotted a girl in a red dress pop out of a van and prepare to enter the building.
“We all melted,” Curt said. Once inside, Jami put her arm around Mya and showed her some affection, but it was apparent that Mya was incredibly scared. She had only visited with the Cooks on two occasions through video chat, so this first meeting was awkward. “It wasn’t rainbows and butterflies,” Jami said. “And after we left, we were nervous, just curious about how this was going to look.”
However, their second meeting with Mya was at the hotel room, and there weren’t a large group of social workers, which seemed to ease the young girl’s mind. She started to warm up to the Cook family. “She just played,” Jami said. “We had brought toys, and she really relaxed.” After that meeting, the relationship kept improving.
Unexpected challenges at home.
Given the Cooks’ experience working in the mental health field and in the school system, they knew about possible familial and social difficulties that might come with Mya’s adoption, and friends told them, “Be prepared for the worst.”
“So we wondered if chaos would ensue when we got home, but she adjusted great,” Jami said.
“Jami and I are pretty laid-back, and so we let some things slide,” Curt added. The Cooks joked that their biological kids were a bit surprised at the sudden laissez-faire attitude of their parents! With plenty of parental experience, Curt and Jami knew that some little things were just that—little things that could be let go.
“There was some jealousy from Ayn because she had been the baby of the family and had been so for so long,” Jami commented. In time though, Ayn handled it well. She was forthcoming with her parents and talked to them about her feelings. The Cooks felt that Mya was supposed to be with them, so the addition of Mya felt like a natural way for their family to continue. “It was like she’d always been with us and was supposed to be with us the whole time,” Jami said. “That was a little bit of a surprise.”
What changes did you have in family life?
“I like to say that we were really boring before we got Mya,” Jami said. “She livens up the party. Always.”
Having Mya at home made the Cooks press pause on a lot of things and focus on being a family. They had to teach Mya what a family was and what it looked like, since she did not know, and this made the Cooks a stronger unit. Curt and Jami noted that from adopting Mya, they all have learned about family and have turned that around for compassion for other people.
“The buzzword is trauma-informed, but our kids have seen first-hand how trauma affects things,” Curt remarked. He believes this has allowed their kids to be more empathetic toward others and to show more grace.
What resources helped you the most?
“First thing, we sought out two families we knew who had gone through the adoption process,” Jami said. “That was probably the most influential resource for us.”
Before adopting Mya, Curt and Jami visited a family who had recently adopted a child only six weeks older than Mya. They had a similar makeup in terms of biological kids in the house. The Cooks shared a meal and asked about how everyone was doing and how everyone was adapting. While the parents discussed this in the living room, the kids discussed the same topics in the kitchen, evident of how important the adoption process was to all involved.
Jami read blogs and found some Facebook groups with people who were going through the process a couple steps ahead of them. This was important because the families the Cooks knew had adopted quite some time ago, and many of the programs and protocols had changed (and they can change as quickly as six months). As mentioned in our other podcasts, a vital resource is the Karyn B. Purvis book, The Connected Child. “I feel like I pick that book up almost every day,” Jami remarked.
What advice do you have for others?
“Any sacrifice that we had to make to bring Mya here was minute compared to how much joy she has brought to us. She has taught us so much. She has changed our lives for the better,” Jami said.
The Cooks said you will have to fill out paperwork, you will likely have to raise money, and you will have to wait longer than you’d probably wish, but ultimately it won’t compare to the rewards from adopting a child.