Meet Jess Coughlin, our Cherry Hill, NJ Adoption Counselor. Her story is a truly unique journey that opened her mind and her heart to adoption. She grew up next door to a family with adopted children, three of whom were her best friends. The family’s connection with one another inspired her work at AFTH and widened her knowledge of the adoption process.
As a friend and neighbor of an adoptive family, what about the family’s dynamic inspired you and your career?
My best friends’ family was kind of crazy, and I loved it. Their family was somehow completely traditional yet very non-traditional at the same time. My neighbors – my friends’ parents – were extremely family-oriented. By the time I knew them, they already had 5 adult biological children. Because my neighbor was fluent in American Sign Language, they often provided foster care to deaf children. They had a long-term foster child who was deaf, whom was never fully adopted by the family only because she had a very strong relationship with her birth mother and did not want to be formally adopted. Her family respected her wish and provided her with a loving home anyway. She is an adult now and still visits home often. The family also provided short-term foster care to four siblings, three of whom were deaf, and fostered 2 other deaf children, at different points in time, for a few years before they those children reunited with their birth families.
The family also adopted 3 daughters, two of whom were biological siblings adopted together; the third was a transracial adoption. They also adopted a son. Some of the children visited with their birth parents and had open adoptions, while others knew nothing about their birth families. Some struggled with the fact that they were adopted, while it seemed to not impact others at all.
Growing up so close to this family was a huge learning experience for me, because their family really exemplifies the fact that every adoption story is unique, and every person handles their adoption story differently. When I was a kid, my decision to adopt children of my own was such an obvious choice. I saw how much love was in that house and knew how grateful I was to their family for adopting their children, because they were my best friends and I was so happy to that they were all one family. I wanted to be part of that family building process and I am now very excited that I get to do that in the work I do each day.
Do you feel inspired by your life-long friends to adopt children of your own?
I don’t even remember when I decided that adoption would be a part of my future. Since my youth, I always knew that one day adoption would incorporate itself into my life. I hope to adopt a child or children of my own, but even if I don’t, I’m beyond grateful to be able to help others build their families through adoption.
What values related to adoption did you learn from your family friends? What knowledge have you shared with them since working in the field of adoption?
I was lucky because as a child, I was able to view both the good and the bad sides of adoption. My neighbors adopted 3 girls, all of whom were only a few years apart in age. I met them when I was 5 years old and have been best friends with them ever since. Because we lived next-door to each other and were so close, I really got an insider’s perspective on the struggles that children who are adopted sometimes face. My best friend really struggled with feeling abandoned by her birth mother at one point, even though she had a huge, loving adoptive family, and communicated with her birth mother via open adoption. At certain points, she loved seeing her birth mother; at other times, she hated visiting her. Through it all, her parents were very supportive, patient, and encouraging. The best thing an adoptive family can do is realize that, just like with any child, you can’t always understand exactly how your child feels, but you can be there to support them through those struggles.
What would you like to share to people who may not understand the foster care system and the dynamic of adoptive families?
I think that, like with anything, people should really do their research. Adopted children, whether placed through the foster care system or via private adoption, do face unique challenges and question certain aspects of life that biological children may never have to face or think about. Educating yourself is important.
What aspects of working at AFTH impacted you the most on a personal level?
Working as an adoption counselor is a very emotion-heavy job, and I feel like something new hits me every week. From meeting birth parents choosing adoption with a heavy heart and seeing them fall in love with an adoptive family to watching adoptive parents hold their new baby for the first time, I love getting to know families and watching their families grow.
Thank you for sharing your adoption story, Jess!