WORTHINGTON, Minn. — When the Andrew and Jenna Bents family gathers for Thanksgiving this week, they will have a new addition at the table — one they are beyond thankful, grateful and blessed to have among them.
The rural Worthington couple completed a lengthy adoption process earlier this year to bring their daughter, Autumn, home from her native Thailand. While adding a nearly 3-year-old to the family has been an adjustment — she joins the Bents’ 6-year-old son, Samuel — they are enjoying life one day at a time.
Hopes for a big family
When Andrew and Jenna married in April 2013, they both knew they wanted a big family.
Their son, Samuel, was born in January 2015 and, just before he turned a year old, the couple began planning for another baby.
“We waited and waited,” shared Jenna. “We had not expected to go through what we went through.”
Months turned into years without another pregnancy, and doctors offered extensive treatment options to help them conceive. That’s when Jenna and Andrew took a step back.
“We both decided we were on board with adoption, and we started praying about it pretty extensively,” said Jenna, director of youth and family ministries at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Worthington. “We looked at all forms of adoption.”
They chose Holt International, a Eugene, Ore.-based adoption agency, and its Thailand program, and were able to complete much of the paperwork through the Catholic Charities office in Worthington.
“We fell in love with the Thailand program,” Jenna said. “Their children are primarily in foster care while they wait for their forever family.”
Waiting for the call
The Bents submitted their adoption application to Holt International on Feb. 2, 2018. It began a home study and paperwork process that lasted six months and included a lengthy dossier on their family. The dossier is required for international adoptions.
“Once we filled that out, we were officially put on the waitlist to be matched,” said Jenna. “The Thailand program does matches every four months. We were waiting to see who God picked for our family.”
On Sept. 16, 2019, Holt International called with news of a little girl ready for a family.
“We prayed about it and a couple of days later, we accepted the match,” Jenna said.
Still, there was much to be done.
Once the match was accepted, the Bents needed approval from the Thailand government — a process that generally takes four to 10 months. For the Bents, it took a year. During that time, though, they sent care packages to Autumn with pictures of their family and home. Packages were only allowed every six months. Meanwhile, Holt International would receive and send the Bents progress reports and updated photos every four months.
“The waiting was very, very difficult,” Jenna shared. “We were on target with everything, and then the global pandemic hit and it was a domino effect for all families waiting. Thailand’s border completely closed for 11 months.”
Families from across the U.S. who were waiting to welcome an adoptive child from Thailand were in turmoil. A private social media page specifically for them was a great comfort, as they could share their thoughts with each other.
“There were some families that were literally going to go in two weeks when the border closed,” Jenna said. “That was heartbreaking.
“The pandemic has impacted everybody in different ways. For us, it was a huge delay in going over there.”
Even before the pandemic, the couple was told their daughter could be two to three years old before she joined their family. Knowing they would lose more time with their daughter was difficult.
The Bents — including Samuel — spent some of that extra time taking online Thai language lessons in preparation for their journey. They also prepared Autumn’s room and marked special occasions — including her second birthday.
A Christmas gift
As Christmas of 2020 approached, Andrew and Jenna knew it would be difficult without their daughter home and no word yet on when travel would open. Their outlook instantly changed, however, when — days before Christmas — they received travel dates. They would get their daughter in just a couple of months.
Pandemic-related delays meant the Bents were one of 30 U.S. families notified of early 2021 travel plans. The families were grouped together to stagger trips, and the Bents were assigned to one of the last groups to travel to Thailand.
Prior to their flight, the family chose to quarantine for two weeks in order to make sure they had negative COVID tests before departure. Then, upon arrival in Bangkok, they had a mandatory 15-day quarantine at a Bangkok hotel.
Fifteen days in a two-room unit on the 30th floor with a 6-year-old — and three meals delivered daily outside their door — generated a variety of feelings for the couple. They were so close, and yet so far from their daughter; they were in a beautiful city, yet unable to experience it.
“The Thai government took the quarantine very seriously,” Andrew said. “We were picked up at the airport and were shuttled directly to the quarantine hotel. We took a service elevator to the room we would be in for the next two weeks.
“At first it seemed like a long time to be there, but looking back now it was a great time to be together as a family, with no outside distractions,” shared Andrew, a swine veterinarian for Hubbard Feeds. “The wait to meet Autumn was certainly made harder knowing we were so close, but we really had a nice chance to spend our time together as a family of three before she joined us.”
With Jenna’s extroverted personality, an elliptical machine added to their room also helped make the quarantine more bearable. The Bents also had Zoom calls with family and friends — and even Jenna’s church youth group.
On Day 7, the Bents were again required to take a COVID test, and when it came back negative, they could finally leave their hotel room for one hour per day, staying in a designated space on hotel property. A final COVID test was issued on Day 14. When that came back negative, they celebrated the end of their quarantine and were moved to a different hotel. They were also free to be tourists, exploring what they could within Bangkok’s city limits.
Nine days after their last COVID test, the Bents finally held their daughter. One day earlier, they met via Zoom with Autumn and her foster family to ask some questions.
They wanted to know her favorite snacks — chips and ice cream — and how she liked to be comforted. As a result, on meeting day, the Bents treated her to ice cream.
“Autumn didn’t know any English when we met her,” Jenna shared. “The nice thing about technology is you can Google translations.”
They spent a day adjusting — Autumn getting to know her new family, and them getting to know her.
“She was hesitant toward us at first, but she really opened up once we established our connection,” Andrew shared. “She was smiling and laughing, and generally enjoying the time together. As the first day went on, the reality of the change started to set in, and she became more quiet and mournful.
“We were very happy that she accepted our offer of comfort, and from then she really saw me as a source of comfort when she was scared,” he added.
During their days together in Thailand, they went to a children’s play area in a mall just down the street from their hotel, and also spent a day at the aquarium.
“Thailand wants you to adjust for a week and then meet with the Thailand adoption board,” Jenna said. “They just want to see how you’re doing and just be reassured that the kids are going to a loving family. They really take care of their kids over there.”
The Bents family spent an entire month in Thailand, returning to the U.S. in March. They are hopeful that by April or May, the adoption process will be completed in the U.S. To do so, they will need to travel to the Thai Embassy in Chicago.
Until the adoption is finalized, photos of their daughter’s face cannot be shared on social media. As a result, Jenna puts a little heart over Autumn’s image when she shares photos with family online.
Much to be thankful for
The Bents are extremely thankful to the foster family who had taken care of Autumn and helped to prepare her for life with her new family.
“They were just a beautiful, beautiful foster family,” Jenna said, adding that the worst part about getting Autumn during the pandemic was not being able to spend a day with the foster family. “We do hope in five to 10 years to go back — and Holt International is willing to make those connections again,” Jenna said.
Autumn thinks of her foster parents often, and she and her family pray for them daily.
“She was so well taken care of and we so appreciate that,” Jenna said. “She has adjusted remarkably well. I think it shows how well her foster family prepared her to join her forever family. She is a very smart girl with a lot of memories.”
Andrew said they are adjusting fairly well.
“Considering Samuel had six years with all of mom and dad’s attention, he has adjusted quite well and has really grown and matured a great deal since we came home,” Andrew said. “He is a great big brother, and it is really heartwarming to see them continue to develop their relationship with each other as siblings.”
Even when that means having difficulty sharing toys.
“She would rather wear a Hulk mask than a princess crown,” Jenna said. “They like the same things. We just cannot imagine her not being in our life.”
The Bents say they are blessed by the overwhelming support from their family, church family and the community as they worked through the adoption process.
“God hand-picked her for our family,” Jenna said. “She is a perfect fit. She is that piece to the puzzle to complete it.”
“Autumn has really brought a new piece of joy into our life through her smiles, her thankful prayers each night and her beautiful singing,” added Andrew.
“I like to tell both of our kids that God writes the best stories and he doesn’t make any mistakes,” summed up Jenna. “He put our family together for a reason. Everyone in our path is a part of that story.”