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Herndon couple's adoption journey intertwines suffering and joy

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Joy and Vini Granados believe in miracles — they’ve even experienced a few. 

They also know better than most couples how joy and suffering are so often intertwined.

I always wanted to get married and be a mom, but I didn’t know if I would live long enough.” Joy Granados

After getting married in 2016, they wanted children — they’d both been married before and knew they were getting a late start. But Joy, 39, didn’t think she could get pregnant. She has cystic fibrosis — which, thanks to recent medical advances, can now be treated by drugs that control the disease’s thick, sticky mucus, which can cause life-threatening respiratory problems. 

“My life expectancy when I was born was 18,” said Joy. “I always wanted to get married and be a mom, but I didn’t know if I would live long enough.”

So she and Vini, 46, parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Herndon, approached Catholic Charities about adopting, but were told they had to be married two years to adopt through the agency’s infant pool. At their ages, “we didn’t want to wait,” he said. 

They worked with Catholic Charities on the home study and background documents required for adoption, but also explored other agencies that match young women facing unplanned pregnancies with couples who want to adopt. Over many months, they were matched with birth mothers eight times. Each time they got their hopes up, in some cases meeting pregnant women and paying for housing, living expenses, maternity clothes and other pregnancy-related expenses for several months — only to be told at the last minute that a birth mother had changed her mind and decided to keep the baby after all. 

Meaghan Lane, program director of Pregnancy and Adoption Support at diocesan Catholic Charities, says there are many “sketchy” adoption practices out there; the agency’s commitment to fostering healthy adoptions includes counseling clients on how to evaluate ethical adoption practices that focus on “genuine counseling and assistance” for women and families and not just marketing, she said.  

In 2019, Joy and Vini joined Catholic Charities’ infant adoption pool, where information about their family life and backgrounds, such as Joy’s job in social work and Vini’s in business development, could be shown to birth moms to facilitate a match. They also considered interstate adoptions that Catholic Charities coordinates through other agencies, as well as “Waiting Child” adoptions of older children from the foster care system. At the same time, they consulted with Tepeyac OB/GYN, a pro-life medical practice in Fairfax, to see if natural techniques could increase their chances of conceiving. They felt God was calling them to be parents — they just didn’t know how it would happen. 

Then in July 2020 they had to put adoption on hold — amazingly, Joy was pregnant. 

But they soon learned the baby had a genetic abnormality, later identified as Trisomy 18, associated with serious birth defects. Doctors said the child had a 50 percent chance of dying in utero or being stillborn; if he survived the womb, the likelihood that he would die before his first birthday was 90 percent. Outcomes for such a pregnancy were so bleak that most couples opt to terminate. 

“But termination was not an option for us,” Joy said. She had seen medical miracles in her own life and the life of her brother, who also has cystic fibrosis controlled by medicine; now he is a priest in Maryland. 

Joy and Vini share the details of the roller coaster ride of the pregnancy, how she went into premature labor at 33 weeks and five days, and their white-knuckle midnight drive to their high-risk pregnancy specialist at Johns Hopkins, where tiny Mateo was born by emergency C-section Feb. 18, in distress and not breathing.

The baby was put on a ventilator in the neonatal ICU at Hopkins, where he remained for 36 days. Joy and Vini stayed across the street at Children’s House, visiting every day to hold him in their arms. Not knowing how long he would live, Vini baptized Mateo when he was two days old. “That was one of the best days,” he said. 

After a week, doctors tried to remove the breathing tubes, but had to reintubate him. In another three weeks they tried again but that night the hospital called to say he had to be reintubated yet again. Joy knew he was going to die.

Suddenly it was important to bring him home, where family could come meet him, where they could sing him songs and read to him. “I wanted our family of three in our home,” she said.

The hospice team moved mountains to make it happen, juggling complicated medical requirements so Mateo could be at home with his family for his last hours. He died in Vini’s arms March 26, and his funeral was a week later; he is buried in a cemetery down the street, where they visit often. They plan to be buried there with him someday. 

“I can see God’s hand through all of that,” Joy said. “We had so much joy in those 36 days. The pain of burying a child is indescribable. But the joy of being a parent is also indescribable."

And now, “we have a son in heaven who we can pray to, to intercede for us.”  

In June, they traveled to Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago, something Vini had always wanted to do and that Joy arranged. They prayed at the tomb of St. James, one of Vini’s favorite saints since his childhood in Guatemala. 

“I felt very lost,” Joy said, adding that she prayed, “Lord, what are you doing? Do you not want us to be parents? You keep saying ‘no.’ Do you want us to have a family? If this desire is not of you, take it away.” 

In July, Catholic Charities determined that Joy and Vini were ready to go back into the adoption pool. Soon after, they were notified they’d been chosen as a match by a young unmarried couple facing an unplanned pregnancy, who wanted the baby to be raised by a married Catholic couple. “They were perfectly suited to us,” said Vini.

Lucas Nicolas, a healthy baby boy, was born in August; Joy and Vini brought him home after the required waiting period. Their open adoption agreement includes monthly photos and letters and occasional visits by the birth parents. 

Lane said most infant adoptions in the United States today are open adoptions, now considered a “best practice” in the field. “Children are much better adjusted, with better self-esteem in their own identity, rather than unknowns,” she said.

“We don’t want them to be strangers in this guy’s life,” Vini said, gazing down at Lucas on his lap. He added that the birth parents “made a selfless choice,” when they realized they couldn’t give Lucas the stability they wanted for him. “They made the right choice for their child.”

Joy and Vini clearly dote on Lucas, but they haven’t forgotten Mateo, whose photos are all over the house. They call him Lucas’ big brother and attribute the adoption to Mateo’s intercession. 

In Spain, “we talked to him every day,” Joy said. One of the reasons the birth parents said they picked the family for the adoption was Mateo.

“They saw how much we loved him.”  

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021