Alternative families: Airman finds love through adoption

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stephanie R. Plichta
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
"I went through various fertility tests to try and get pregnant but it just wasn't happening," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Julie Dandaneau, 633rd Surgical Operations Squadron surgical services flight chief. "I always wanted a big family, but no matter how hard we tried I just couldn't get pregnant."

After unsuccessful attempts to start a family and months of consideration and research, Dandaneau decided to find an alternative way to have the family she always wanted.

"We have a saying in our family that their biological mothers are the most generous women I've never met," Dandaneau said.

While maintaining a military career and a family seemed challenging, Dandaneau knew she wanted children and found hope through adoption. She often reflects on positive moments her family has spent together.

Dandaneau worked closely with an international adoption agency that helped her adopt her first two children, Paige, now 13, and Jack, now 10, from Russia in 2003.

The adoption process lasted months and began with a home inspection to gain the approval from the agency. Once the process was complete, Dandaneau and her husband traveled to Russia to pick up Paige and Jack.

"When I first met them, I was overcome with emotion," said Dandaneau . "Suddenly I went from being a person to being a mom, and everything I was hoping for came true."

Shortly after adopting her first two children, her marriage became distant, said Dandaneau. While Dandaneau said she enjoyed being a parent, her husband didn't agree.

"I realized we both wanted different things out of life," said Dandaneau. "[After the divorce,] the children depended on me, and I remember thinking 'Alright Julie, time to get it together. It's not just about you anymore'."

Despite the challenges of single parenthood that lay ahead, Dandaneau was determined to provide the best life possible for her children.

"It becomes real when you have such responsibility," said Dandaneau. "[The children] are counting on me and it's scary being the only adult around to make those decisions."

She attributes most of her decisions to the fact her and the children remain resilient by maintaining an open relationship with understanding and without secrets. Dandaneau believes by not keeping secrets about her childrens' adoption, it strengthens the bond with her children.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month and it is a special time for the Dandaneaus. They use the month to remember how they became a family and celebrate a holiday popular among adopted families.

"We celebrate 'Gotcha Day' for Paige and Jack in November," Dandandeau said. "It's the day we all met, and the moment I fell in love with them."

Dandaneau, who came from a small family with only one sibling, always wished to be part of a large family. In January 2013, Dandaneau thought perhaps they could add a fourth member to their family.

"We were the 'three amigos' for such a long time. It was almost like we were on 'auto-pilot' because we had such a routine," Dandaneau said. "When I began considering a third adoption, I knew it was time for a family decision."

As a family, the Dandaneaus decided adding a fourth member would complete their family.

Because it was a family decision, Dandaneau brought Paige and Jack to Russia to adopt the newest member of their family, Cooper, who was just a week shy of his first birthday.

The trip also offered Paige and Jack an opportunity to understand their past by visiting their old orphanage and learning about their culture.

"I think it was important for them to travel to Russia with me," Dandaneau said. "I felt like Jack got the most out of [the trip] because when I adopted him he was too young to really remember."

In an effort to preserve the children's heritage, the Dandaneaus practice speaking Russian and own a vast collection of cultural mementos in their home.

"[When we traveled to Russia], the children were able to see where they came from," Dandaneau said. "I want them to always embrace their culture."

While Paige and Jack are often encouraged to continue learning about their culture, Dandaneau never lets them forget they are children. She said that the most important rule in her home is for her children to have fun and not to worry, because that is a parent's duty.

Dandaneau admitted being a single parent isn't easy, but she knows every hardship is worth it.

"Some days aren't as easy as others, but I always knew that I could [be a mom] because I always wanted to," Dandaneau said. "I just want them to look back one day and say, 'We really had it good and our mom really loved us.'"

Dandaneau offered advice to Service members, married or single, who want to start or expand their family to consider adoption. Dandaneau believes love is the basic foundation for every family, and there is no wrong way to have one, whether it involves natural conception, adoption or fostering.

"It's the most rewarding thing to see a child grow and develop into the world, and I get to experience it every day," Dandaneau said .