Reece’s Rainbow Report #40: Baerbock Family

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Sara Baerbock knew she had to move slowly.

It wasn’t just because she was very pregnant with her fifth child. It was also because she didn’t want to scare her husband Matthew with a slightly-crazy dream percolating in her heart: to adopt a daughter living in the Eastern European orphanage from which some friends had just returned. 

So she gave birth to baby Andrew and waited a few weeks. That’s when she showed him the photo of “Eloise,” a 10-year-old girl in Ukraine. Maybe we could be her family, Sara said. 

“I thought it was crazy at first, when I heard about this adoption from Ukraine stuff,” Matthew says. “But there was just something about the photo, like this was my daughter on the other side of the world. It was the weirdest experience.” 

After praying about it, the couple felt sure: they were being called to expand their family. Andrew was still just weeks old when the Baerbocks committed to becoming Eloise’s parents. After six weeks in Ukraine, Matthew and Sara brought home not only Eloise who became Elizabeth but also six-year-old “Philip,” now named Daniel in 2015. 

The experience went so well at home in Minnesota that the couple decided to adopt again, this time a sibling group. Matthew, an engineer, and Sara, a stay-at-home mom, adopted eight-year-old Jonathan, six-year-old Hannah and five-year-old Ruth in 2018, bringing their brood to an even 10. The oldest is 20 and just graduated from college, while Andrew is now eight. The adopted kids fall in the middle and are ages 18, 13, 13, 11 and 10. 

“I just love having a big family,” says Sara, who homeschools nine of her children in their five-bedroom home. “It’s chaotic but never a dull moment.” 

Part of the chaos comes from their adopted children having a wide range of special needs, including HIV, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), possible autism and cleft lips and palates. There are plenty of challenging behaviors stemming from half of their children spending so many years in institutions one child, for example, has broken three windows. 

Ten-year-old Ruth, meanwhile, was a “spirited tornado,” her mom says, when they first brought her home. 

“We could not control her,” Sara remembers. “We even talked about breaking the adoption and sending her somewhere else, because it was so bad.”

Thankfully, the Baerbocks found a doctor who was willing to listen to their concerns. When Ruth began taking ADHD medicines, it was a gamechanger. 

“We were finally able to connect with her and just start feeling like a family,” Sara says. “She was able to learn and be loving and kind.” 

Matthew agrees. “Even on Ruth’s worst days now, we still have that underlying connection we’ve developed,” he says. “We can try to reason with her even though she may fly off the handle.” Even then, the family has learned to make the best of it; the Baerbocks joke about creating a website called “The Ruth Insult-ometer” where people can purchase creative verbal slights for a buck. 

The other adopted children have similarly made huge strides since coming home. Hannah was once shy and hiding from the world; now, Sara says she has a developing sense of humor and has a “mommy heart” that loves to help others. Jonathan has learned to better control his aggression, loves a game of pickup basketball and is learning woodworking from a neighbor. Daniel is an old soul, his adoptive dad says, who loves chess, Legos and the board game Risk. And if you want something fun to happen, talk to Elizabeth. 

“I love all of their personalities, because they’re so different with their talents and strengths,” Matthew says. “Seeing them progress as well as they have it’s like, wow, adoption really is worthwhile in so many ways.”

One of those ways is how Matthew and Sara have changed as parents since doubling their number of children (as has their laundry schedule it’s two to three loads daily, and three to four times a day for their hardworking dishwasher). Both have become much more go-with-the-flow and less controlling of others, they say, and much more willing to see things from someone else’s perspective. 

“Sometimes these kids can’t help what they do, and you just have to step back for a minute, like, let’s talk this through,” Sara says. “I don’t always get it right the first time, but the kids seem to be very forgiving of me.” 

It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless: Matthew and Sara, both in their early 40s, grow the most when the kids are acting in incredibly challenging ways. So they’ll keep pressing forward, trusting that God called them to this life and will provide whatever they need to do it well including wisdom to parent many children from hard, traumatic places.

“I would totally pick this life over and over again,” Sara says. 

Matthew pauses to think. “So many people are called to adopt but don’t follow,” he says. “So despite the challenges, it’s awesome. God called us to it, and that makes it worth it right there.” 

A perfectly-timed life, after all.

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.
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