On the back patio of the Wilsons’ home in Eagle Mountain, Melanee watches her 4-year-old build an invisible machine, Branden looks after their crawling 1-year-old and Kalina Hudgins bottle feeds the 6-month-old.
After finishing the bottle, the baby starts to fuss. Kalina hands him to Branden, who stands and rocks him in a football hold until he falls asleep.
Seventeen-year-old Kalina is visiting the Wilsons to celebrate a happy occasion. A judge is finalizing the adoption between the Wilsons and the baby Kalina was feeding — the baby boy she delivered six months ago.
“When I found out I was pregnant I knew I wasn’t going to marry the birth father and I wasn’t financially stable,” Kalina says. “So I chose adoption.”
Just before getting married Melanee learned she couldn’t carry children, so Branden and Melanee knew they would grow their family through adoption — which comes with attorneys, caseworkers, background checks, home studies and potentially years of waiting.
Now, having adopted three boys (Westen, Kyle and Austen) Melanee and Branden don’t think twice about the process. It’s just the way they’ve created their family.
They applied for adoption after being married for six years, and one year later they received the news that forever changed their lives. A young woman picked them to adopt a baby boy. But they were hesitant to get excited.
“We had met with three sets of expectant parents in the previous year and none of them worked out,” Melanee says. “We had met the family of one of the girls, and she planned to come to our house and meet our family. She changed her mind.”
Melanee and Branden soon realized this time might be different. During their first meeting with the expectant mother and her mom, they were given ultrasound pictures.
“We kept wondering, ‘Is this official? Did she choose us?’” Branden says. “We had expected to ‘date’ her for a while, but we later learned she had chosen us even before meeting us.”
Melanee and Branden were in the delivery room when Westen was born. The next day the birth mom, Branden and Melanee signed the paperwork, shed tears together and the emotional couple came home with their baby boy.
“Placement at the hospital was difficult,” Branden says. “We love her and saw how hard it was, but it was a special experience for all three of us.”
THE TIES THAT BIND
Melanee and Branden openly recognize how difficult it is for any expectant parent to choose adoption. It makes them that much more grateful for the three times that they were chosen.
“Birth parents and birth families are absolutely incredible,” Melanee says. “Making the decision to place a child is probably one of the most selfless decisions a person can make.”
Though the logistics of their family aren’t identical to that of their friends and family, the Wilsons don’t lose sleep over it.
“We feel like our family is pretty normal,” Branden says. “I think some have an incorrect perception that parents might love their adopted kids differently, but that’s not the case. We have good and bad days and we’re doing the best we can, just like any other parent.”
On the drive home they captured their first video of Westen — his chubby newborn cheeks jiggling with the rumble of the road on the car ride home.
They started the process over again when Westen turned 1. After three years of handing out custom pass-along cards, promoting their adoption blog and meeting with potential matches, they were picked for Kyle, baby No. 2, with only a day’s notice. They flew to Michigan, signed the papers and came home as parents of two.
Barely home with a two-week-old, Melanee and Branden received an email from Kalina. Kalina had picked the Wilsons to adopt her baby boy.
“I almost fell off the bed,” Melanee says. “But Branden and I decided to be open about our situation. We told her we just barely adopted. We didn’t want to hog the babies.”
That didn’t change Kalina’s mind. As the oldest of nine kids in her own family, she believes “the more, the merrier.” Over the next few months they called, Skyped and traveled to see each other until Austen was born — just six months apart from Kyle .
“His birth was sad and joyful at the same time,” Kalina says. “I knew he wouldn’t be mine for very long. But I also knew that adoption was the right decision,” Kalina says.
Melanee and Branden have open adoptions with all three of their kids. They text, Facetime and visit with the birth moms because the more love they can have in their children’s lives, the better.
“We think of them as extended family,” Branden says.
Melanee jokes, “Kalina, I hope you like your choice because you’re stuck with us.”
Kalina loves her new extended family.
“Having extra family is the best thing in the world,” she says. “While there’s still some pain, it’s completely overcome by the joy that I feel.”