Reece’s Rainbow Report #31: Obenauf Family

“Your twins are so cute!” 
It’s a phrase Stephani Obenauf hears regularly. She usually smiles, looking down at her daughters, then tells the strangers, “Thank you.” 

The 36-year-old Michigan mother’s simplistic response stems from not always feeling the need to explain a few facts. First, Octavia and Coralie are not twins. Two, they’re not the same age ― though they do share a birthday. Three, they’re not related biologically. And finally, Octavia and Coralie aren’t even from the same country. 

“They are different in so many ways, but they get along so well,” says Obenauf. “Octavia is adventurous, silly and creative. Coralie is cautious, stubborn and kind.”

As their mother, Obenauf can easily identify her daughters’ differences. But in public, it’s the similarities that draw attention: the dark, almond-shaped eyes, the full-throttle smiles, the perfectly-arched eyebrows and straight hair. Both girls have an extra copy of their 21st chromosomes ― it’s that Down Syndrome diagnosis, in fact, that led them to becoming Obenaufs. 
“I always knew international adoption was a thing and wanted to adopt internationally when I was a child,” she says. She discovered Reece’s Rainbow in 2011 through a friend who was adopting a child with Down Syndrome from Ukraine. 

“Until then, I hadn't realized that international special needs adoption was such a big thing,” says Obenauf. “It was then that I decided I would adopt a child with Down syndrome later in life.”
Obenauf, a 36-year-old purchasing assistant for a tire wholesaler, didn’t have a husband back then ― or now. That fact seemed less important than the scores of children with disabilities around the world who needed out of an orphanage and into a family, whether it was with a single parent or not. 

“I know that I have more than enough room in my heart and home to care for more children, and I've always wanted a big family, so I won't let being single stop me from achieving that,” Obenauf says. “I can see how people think it's courage, but it's just love.”
Indeed. Love was one of the first emotions Obenauf felt when she saw Octavia’s listing photo taken at an Armenian orphanage. “Peaches” was just a baby, only 13 months old when Obenauf brought her home to the Great Lakes State in 2015. Orphanage workers had been feeding Octavia through a bottle, but it wasn’t long under her new mother’s care until she transitioned to solid food. 

“She loves to explore, make people laugh and draw, color and write,” Obenauf says. “She's now able to be herself and hasn't had anything hold her back from her development.”
The experience of parenting Octavia solo was going so well, in fact, that Obenauf’s mother decided to take the plunge, too. Kathy Rice adopted a 15-year-old Armenian daughter who also has Down Syndrome in 2018. Obenauf had a new sister with the same diagnosis and ethnicity as her own daughter! 

“It's nice to have someone I'm close to who understands the adoption process and what adopted children need when coming home,” Obenauf says. “We bounce ideas off each other, help with childcare, etc.”
The entire experience left Obenauf wanting more. So she adopted again, this time in the nation of Georgia. “Lola” was five when she came home in 2021 to a new family and name. Obenauf had advocated for her for over a year before realizing she was staring at the solution all along: she was meant to be Coralie’s mama. 
Coralie was quiet when she became an American. Slowly, however, she came out of her shell. A year and a half later, she laughs loudly and often. Despite her speech delays, she chatters to everyone about everything, or at least tries to. 

If she could talk with perfect diction, she certainly wouldn’t place her mother on a pedestal, as most people do when hearing the little family’s story. 

“I'm not a special person because I have children with special needs,” Obenauf insists. “I'm a normal parent who grew to become what her children needed, just like I suspect parents of children without disabilities do.”
In that vein, Obenauf is growing again, this time to Bulgaria. Though the country will be different once more, the diagnosis and gender will remain the same. Girls with Down Syndrome are what she knows, and she’s sticking with them. 

“The best thing about both of them is their ability to make you smile regardless of how you're feeling,” she says. “The love and smiles I receive from Octavia and Coralie everyday are more than enough to get me through tough times.” 

Obenauf has been in this adoption lifestyle long enough to know that those tough times will certainly come. Octavia is eight and Coralie is seven now, happily ensconced in family life, but Obenauf knows she will not be able to guard them from every pain coming their shared way. 

Even so, she marches on, never truly alone. She has to ― and she wants to. 

“Children with special needs deserve the love and affection of a family just as much as everyone else,” she says. “It's not always easy, but the rewards are infinite.”
Challenges coupled with eternal dividends. Perhaps those are the true twins in the Obenauf family. 
Crystal Kupper
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.