By Liana Jacob
MEET the inspiring MUM-OF-NINE who has adopted SIX children with medical complexities to give them a loving home and to let them know that there is nothing in the world they cannot do.
Stay-at-home-mum-of-nine, Hope Feliciano (53), from Connecticut, USA, has always dreamt of adopting children since she was a child herself.
She got married to her husband, Cesar, in 1988 when she was 23-years-old. Despite having three biological grown-up children their own, they both had a desire to foster and adopt children that needed a home.
In 2002 they went to an open-house that gave information about foster and adoption. Being accepted into the classes, they learned about the option to take in children with special needs. They were inspired to do just that. Following the long and gruelling process, they fostered their first child, Antonio (16) and adopted him three years later in 2005.
“I personally have always wanted to adopt since I was a little girl, I love kids, I love babies and I always hoped to hopefully adopt,” Hope said.
“Even when I grew up, got married, and had children of our own, I still wanted to adopt and low and behold, that’s what we did.
“Our intentions initially were to do foster care and hopefully adopt a child through the foster care system. At this time, we resided in the state of Connecticut.
“My husband and I had to go to attend foster and adoption care classes. While taking the classes, I heard the instructor mention children with special needs in the foster care system. That just peaked my interest, because our own children had some medical issues.
“There aren’t many medically complex foster homes in CT where these children can go. We actually received a call about our first child before we finished our classes.”
Their first adopted child, Antonio, was born premature and suffered with mild subglottic stenosis. He was later diagnosed with spasmodic chronic croup, which affects breathing and he also has scoliosis.
In 2006, they adopted their next child was Aubree (13), who was born with a condition called diaphragmatic hernia; a birth defect in which there is an abnormal opening in the diaphragm.
While most children with this condition don’t survive, and despite Aubree having cerebral palsy, she pulled through and is now a gymnast.
The third child, Alana, passed away in December 2009 the same year they adopted her due to a critical condition called gastroschisis, in which the intestines and other organs are found outside of the body.
The loss of Alana, who was only two-and-a-half-years-old at the time, was too overwhelming for Hope and her family that they took a break from fostering for a year.
“Her liver was very poor, and her intestines did not function, so we went to several doctors in Connecticut and New York, who said she would need a transplant,” Hope said.
“So, she was put on a transplant list to receive a small bowl transplant. We got a call in April 2009 to get the transplant.
“They did the surgery, but she didn’t do well at all and she passed away in December 2009 due to her condition.
“It was so hard to foster children again after she passed away. She was the most joyful little girl anyone has ever seen.
“There were people literally all over the world praying for us and crying for our loss. It was about a year before we continued to take in more children.”
Despite feeling heartbroken over Alana, Hope and Cesar decided that they had to continue to foster and adopt. They then proceeded to foster and adopt their son, Aedan (eight-years-old), in 2012, who spent the first eight months of his life in hospital. He is known as a ‘short-gut-kid’, which means he is missing at least half of the small intestine. He has another condition called septo-optic dysplasia (SOD); a rare congenital malformation syndrome featuring underdevelopment of the optic nerve, pituitary gland dysfunction and the absence of the midline part of the brain.
They then adopted Alec (four-years-old), in 2016 who was born with caudal regression syndrome, also known as sacral agenesis, a congenital disorder in which there is an abnormal foetal development of the lower spine. He wears leg braces and has only one kidney due to his condition, because of this, his urinary tract is not working, making him incontinent, which means he wears a nappy.
They adopted their sixth child, Ava (two-years-old), in 2017 who was born with a rare condition called Moebius syndrome, characterised by weakness or paralysis of multiple cranial facial nerves. The condition means that she cannot blink or smile.
Hope has three biological children; Ashlee (26), Aaron (28) and Austin (30), who were all born prematurely resulting in various medical issues.
Hope credits her biological daughter, Ashlee (26), for getting through the ups and downs of the adoption process and losing Alana.
“We are a very close-knit family; we have a great support system, I don’t know if we could have gotten through this without the support of our older children, people outside our home, and our church at the time. It was a big undertaking,” Hope said.
“We had other children in our home in between all of this – we had many foster kids come to our home, even kids who weren’t sick. We even took in children in the middle of the night.
“Sometimes we would get a call from a social worker in the middle of the night, letting us know that the police had removed a child from their home. We would then take that child in and then the next day, the social worker would come and take the child to another foster home.
“What we have done and continue to do has been beyond rewarding. It is beyond a blessing, it’s what I feel like we were put on this Earth to do. Our children know that they’re adopted. The courts had terminated the parental right but if they ever want to seek out their families when they’re 18 years of age, I will be there for them.
“We have always been open about their adoption, they have a right to know where they come from and why they ended up here.
“Before we would take in a child, we talked about it first with our children and discussed how they would feel about it. It wouldn’t have worked if we weren’t all in agreement with each other.
“Our three biological children were amazing, especially our daughter, Ashlee, I can honestly tell you, I wouldn’t have survived this if it wasn’t for her.
“During Alana’s hospital stay in New York, our daughter, Ashlee, who was a senior at the time, took care of Antonio and Aubree in my absence along with my husband.
“It was a very disruptive time in our lives. Ashlee is the most wonderful young lady a mother could ever want, she just did whatever she needed to do without us asking. She would never have changed her role in all of this.
“The older boys did their part also and were there when needed. Their support of care of the adopted children was beyond helpful.
“If you choose to do foster and adoptive care, you have to do it as a family. If you already have a family, you have to make sure that the whole family agrees to it.
“It’s a big undertaking; there’s ups and downs, you just have to be prepared and you need to have a support system, you can’t do this by yourself.”