This Family Adopted Kids from Foster Care, Internationally and with Special Needs — All in One Year

"There's an adoption saying I read that it wasn't about whether or not our family needs more kids, it's about whether more kids need our family," says mom Holli Beckett "So bring them on!"

Beckett Family Children Back Row: Zeke, Lizzy, Jovan Front Row: Maria, Jose, Oma
Photo: Holli Beckett

When Holli Beckett was 12 weeks pregnant with her third child, her doctor couldn't hear a heartbeat. But at an ultrasound before the scheduled D & C, the technician asked, "Why are you here?" and turned up the volume playing their daughter's heartbeat loud and strong.

"She was such a miracle," says Holli, 40.

After their daughter, Oma, was born, the couple decided to grow their family through adoption.

"We felt that we were blessed, and we need to spread that love," says Robert Beckett, 44.

The Williamsport, Indiana couple have been married for 20 years and have three biological children: Lizzy, 18, Zeke, 14, and Oma, 5. In the past year, they adopted three more children. Robert is the principal at Seeger Memorial Junior-Senior High, where Holli teaches Language Arts.

Listen below to Me Becoming Mom to hear Jillian Michaels' adoption journey and her unique road to motherhood.

In November 2020, the couple adopted a teenager who was a student at the school where Robert and Holli both work. At the same time, they were attempting to adopt an HIV-positive child from Africa, but that adoption fell through.

Because they felt prepared to welcome a child with special needs, they were introduced to 10-year-old Maria, who has Klippel-Feil Syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the congenital fusion of two or more cervical (neck) vertebrae. This summer, they travelled to South America and adopted both Maria and her 5-year-old brother, José.

"I wanted to grow our family," Holli says. "So we did."

The couple received a $5,500 grant through the #RAREis Adoption Fund, provided by Horizon Therapeutics through a partnership with Gift of Adoption, which helps families like the Becketts fund the many expenses involved with adopting medically fragile children (in their case, it paid for the kids' travel and the Becketts' stay in Colombia). To date, Horizon has supported the adoption of more than 40 children through the #RAREis Adoption Fund.

In celebration of World Adoption Day, Holli and Robert share their adoption journey with PEOPLE, this is their story in their own words.

Beckett Family
Laura Greene

Holli: When Oma, our youngest daughter, was a year old, I felt inspired to adopt and to grow our family. I said to my husband, "Tell me this is postpartum, or that I'm crazy, and just tell me no." And he said, "Let me think about it," and then he came back and he said, "If you feel moved to do this, then let's do it."

We started our adoption journey in 2017, looking to adopt a child from Haiti, and we waited about a year to be matched. But we got a list of children waiting, and felt drawn to an HIV-positive girl we saw in Malawi, so we switched programs. But there were complications, and that fell through.

Robert: We changed to our third program, and we found Maria who has Klippel Feil Syndrome along with a couple of other physical impairments. She has one kidney. She has a deformity in her shoulders, along with some cognitive limitations too. We found out that she had a little brother too. So we said, "Let's go get them both." It was really fast — we'd already done all the paperwork for the previous programs, so it was easy.

Holli: While we were still in the Malawi program, there was a student at our school named Jovan Robinson, who suddenly was in desperate need of a foster home.

Robert: I've been working with Jovan as a principal since he's been in junior high. When the pandemic hit, his foster care got a little rocky. His social worker and therapist showed up at the school. I was the only one in my office. They said, "I got Jo with me, and he doesn't have a home." So I walked out my office door and picked him up.

Holli: That was March of 2020, which actually worked out well, because we were all at home then, and it allowed us to have time to bond. Because we have 10 acres, we didn't have that crowded-together feeling. So we could enjoy working together on our farm, getting to know each other on a more personal level.

Initially, he said he never wanted to be adopted. That had been promised to him on more than one occasion, and denied to him, and he was burned. We said to him, "If you ever are interested in being adopted, you let us know — because we would love to officially call you a member of our family. But you're a member of our family no matter what."

Robert: There's a lot of red tape when you have a kid that's been in a ward of the state – and he was turning 18. So we were with his judge and his child advocate on a Zoom meeting, and the judge asked Jovan off-the-cuff, "Do you want this family to adopt you, Jo?" and he's like, "Yeah." We were absolutely in. When he turned 18, he wanted to go to the military. I said, "He's got to have a mom to write home to."

We adopted him that November. He's now in the Navy, stationed in Norfolk. I knew I loved the kid. I knew I was always going to be there for him, as a principal and as a mentor.

Holli: There's an adoption saying I read that it wasn't about whether or not our family needs more kids, it's about whether more kids need our family. So bring them on.

November is National Adoption Month, and PEOPLE is celebrating by highlighting the many extraordinary ways families can grow via adoption, featuring real stories from celebrities, everyday parents and adoptees, as well as information on the varied ways to adopt. For more heartwarming, heartbreaking and happy-ending stories, visit our Adoption page.

In July 2021, we flew to Bogotá, Columbia to adopt Maria and José. It was amazing; when we met the kids, Maria just jumped into our arms. José was a little hesitant, but then it kind of flipped. He totally latched onto us full throttle, and she has been harder at connection, but that makes sense, given her traumatic experiences. According to the paperwork, their biological parents weren't able to care for them. Their dad had issues with alcohol and domestic violence and mom had some mental health issues.

Maria and Jose
Nightlight Christian Adoptions

Maria's Klippel-Feil Syndrome is congenital. You can tell, physically, that she has a deformity in her shoulder and her spine has a little bit of scoliosis. Basically, her bones will continue to fuse as she continues to get older. Her biological parents were ashamed of her, because of her disability, and so she was shunned. She was not allowed to go to school. She was hardly spoken to. She had to take care of herself and then later, when her brother was born, she took care of him.

Robert: Her dad was very abusive to her physically. She's 10 years old and she really hasn't had any education. We have two 5-year-olds in our home, José and Oma, that are more advanced educationally than what Maria is at 10, some because of her cognitive ability, but most of it is because of the exposure. There wasn't anything that they would do with her.

Holli: Maria never attended school and no one asked why. She never got medical assistance, and no one asked why. It wasn't until José ended up being severely malnourished and he had to be treated for worms that someone noticed. He was in a really poor condition himself, physically, and so they were taken and they were given some good help and medical care at the orphanage until they were able to be placed for adoption.

We took our 5-year-old daughter, Oma, with us when went to South America. We knew it could be a month-long trip and a long time for a 5-year-old to be away from their parents.

Robert: We wanted to introduce her first. We knew they would have a special bond.

Holli: We got custody of Maria and José on July 14th, and then it was two weeks later, the paperwork was processed. Rob and Oma were there for three weeks, and I stayed on an additional two weeks.

We flew home on August 12th. About two weeks after we returned home, Jovan was able to get a leave from the Navy, so he came home for two weeks. We had our whole family together. When Jovan, whose dad is from Honduras, came home, José said, "Oh, his skin is like mine. He has brown eyes like mine." It was such a wonderful thing for them to have a member of their family who looks like them.

Maria and Jose meeting Rob, Holli, and Oma for the first time

We've become a modern day Brady Bunch. We have three blondes and three brunettes and three boys and three girls.

I stayed home from work through September to help everybody adjust. José jumped right into preschool with Oma – they're in the same class going to half-day preschool three days a week.

Maria is homeschooled now, and she's being evaluated for special education. She has private tutors and she helps her grandma, who runs a little coffee shop. We do private lessons with her at home as well. We're teachers so that's in our wheelhouse.

We take her to experts in treating Klippel-Feil at Cincinnati Children's Hospital -- it's a three hour drive from our house -- we've been going monthly, but she may have some surgeries coming up so we may be going a little bit more frequently.

Robert: The biggest hurdle that we've faced with these kids is attachment. At first, they were just waiting for us to leave them. In their mind, that's what they thought: This was just two more people in their lives that were going to someday be gone. … They needed to know that we weren't going anywhere….Any time when they felt like that they had done something wrong, they would say, "Are we going away now?" or, "Are you leaving us?"

Holli: It was pretty tough.

Robert: It's sad. As adults, we don't like to walk on eggshells – but when you're seeing a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old thinking that these adults are just going to leave them, it breaks your heart. The only thing you can do is reassure, "I'm not going anywhere. I love you. This is a lifetime commitment for mom and me."

It's good that we're still in the pandemic, because we have slowed down a lot. So seven nights a week we're eating supper together. If we go to Zeke's football game, or to Lizzy's swim meets, we're all going together. When Jo comes home, even though he's 19, he can't be out running around all the time because not everything's open right now, so they get to see their big brother at home and they get to fish with him, they get to ride mini-bikes with him, they get to watch TV as a family – simple things that we take for granted, these kids have never experienced.

Maria and Jose
Holli Beckett

Holli: There are kids that need to be adopted, kids like Maria especially that have special needs. José, to be honest, had he been an independent child, he would have been snagged up real quick. But those older kids, they need families too, and the ones with special needs especially need to know that God made them perfect the way that they are and that is okay.

Robert: Maria, I call her my Mariposa which is butterfly. She's a social butterfly. She's beautiful. She loves music and makeup and playing with dolls, dancing. She loves to cook with grandma and she loves friends. And José is a Tasmanian devil.

Holli: He's super active. Other families that have adopted have been around him recently and they're like, "Oh my goodness. I can't believe how much English he is speaking." He seems to understand everything that you say. I very rarely ever have to translate anything anymore and he is speaking English himself. He's soaking it in. It's quite extraordinary. Maria's English is coming along, though not as fast.

Robert: It's pretty intimidating, to try to wrap your brain around how you can love an adopted kid the same as you can your biological kids and I still don't know how it happened, when it happened. But I know it happened. It feels the same to me. … It makes me so happy.

Holli: We feel like we are the ones that are lucky.

Robert: We're the lucky ones.

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