Feature Mama of the Month

The Moment We Knew He Was Ours

Mamas transform into their role in incredibly different ways. Where some carry and deliver their child, others have a more intense journey that involves other obstacles. This was the case for Ondrea and Dan Stachel. The couple, who live in Minnetonka, MN, were married in 2012. Ondrea told me that she feels unique in that she’s never had an internal desire to carry a baby and give birth, although she was open to it. She had, however, always wanted to adopt. The couple settled on a plan: to first try for a child naturally and then adopt a child. However, as many Mamas know, it doesn’t always work out the way you plan. The two tried for a couple years and after being unsuccessful, determined it was time to begin the adoption process.

They began their research in late 2015 to determine what adoption entails. They compiled a list of adoption agencies in the Twin Cities. Their list came from Google searches and recommendations from friends who had gone through the process. Next, they met with a few different agencies. Ondrea commented, “Each agency has a slightly different approach to how they operate. In the end, it came down to a numbers game. One agency we met with typically does 3-5 placements per year and the agency we chose does upwards of 60. Another important factor to consider is the relationship with the staff at the agency as you end up spending a ton of time with them. They are your trusted guide through the process. We made our decision: Wellspring Adoption Agency (aka Adoption Minnesota).”

Ondrea shared that once you’ve selected the agency you’re going to work with, the paperwork begins and the initial check is written. In addition to page after page of paperwork, you also sign up to take classes at the agency, schedule the home study, visit the government center to get fingerprinted, and create a profile to showcase yourself. An adoptive parent counselor is assigned to you and acts as your representation throughout the process. Your counselor is also the person who’s designated with the task of questioning: your financial health, relationship status with your spouse, family, and friends, what type of preparation you’ve done to become a parent, what are you looking for in a child, what types of things (i.e. mental illness, boy vs girl, age, race, etc.) you are or aren’t willing to accept both for child and the birth parent, the list goes on and on. She expressed, “Although this was grueling, we were excited and optimistic about building our family through adoption. We learned that our attitude towards adoption was unique. Through stories shared in classes we learned most other couples had experienced some type of loss which is what brought them to this decision. This was a very bittersweet process for them.”

“From the day we chose the agency to the time we had dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s and were approved to be “in the book” was six months.” Each profile goes into a three ring binder. This book is sorted in chronological order from oldest to newest. Additionally, your profile goes on their website in the same order, top to bottom. Birth moms can find families via the website or within the book when they visit the office.

Once approval is granted to be in the book, life transitions back to some state of normalcy and the waiting game begins. “You know how great the two of you are, which naturally means everyone else does too and you won’t be waiting long for a call about a potential baby. But then days go by. Weeks go by. Months go by– until one day you get your first call and any feeling of doubt that may have surfaced, disappears. This is your chance to shine and prove to the birth mother why YOU are the best parents they could choose for their baby.” Ondrea and Dan experienced this type of call five times. “After the first couple didn’t pan out, our attitude toward the calls shifted into that of a business transaction: here are the facts and we will get excited if, and only if, it becomes a reality. Actively removing our emotion from that step numbed any pain we might experience due to rejection or letdown.”

The fourth call the couple received was the Wednesday before Christmas. The baby was born and Ondrea and Dan were asked to get ready to drive to Bemidji, MN (about a 5-hour drive from where they live). The birth mother had screened 3 different families. She had gone to the hospital after birthing the baby in her bathtub at home as she had not known she was pregnant! The couple thought this was their light, and what perfect timing because this news was in the wake of two of their close friends passing away too young. Sadly, for them, they got a text later that night… the mother had chosen another couple.  This devastation was hard on them, but in the end they knew that particular baby was meant for another couple. “As hard as it is to not be the chosen couple, you are happy for the other family because they have been waiting like you have. This is their time.”

More time passed and their profile was up for renewal. They felt like, “If we don’t get picked, in the end, we will be ok.” The couple had made their decision not to renew their profile. However, shortly after, they received a blessed call: a couple who was making the choice to put their child up for adoption had looked through every [single] profile and Ondrea and Dan were the only couple they were interested in talking to. They wanted to talk immediately so they had a phone conversation the same day they found out about them and decided to meet for dinner a couple days later. Ondrea and Dan prepared for, as Ondrea put it, “…sort of like a first date!” She teared up as she described the birth mother as… incredible, selfless, and knew that she wouldn’t be able to give her son the life he deserved.

By the end of dinner, the couple asked Ondrea and Dan if they wanted to have their baby. This is unique in that it almost never happens this way; typically, the birth mother will go back to the counselor and they will relay the news. The stars had aligned for the couple who had waited so long. Ondrea shared that, “Our counselor called and said, I have some good news! They chose you!” Ondrea beamed, “We already knew, they told us at dinner!”  

Once you’re chosen, a new round of paperwork and planning begins. You work through details such as: who names the baby, who’s allowed at the hospital, when you pick up the baby, will there be future contact between the birth parents and the child, everything you can imagine. Lawyers are hired and you start preparing your home and your life for the new addition.

In the few months leading up to the birth, the birth mom provided Dan and Ondrea with updates. One of those updates was that she was being induced on Thursday, August 9. On August 12, 2018 after what Ondrea described as the longest weekend of their lives, their son, Owen Neil Stachel was born. Healthy, safe, and ready to meet his new parents. Their first interaction with their son was via Facetime and, “it was a beautiful moment we’ll remember forever.” Dan and Ondrea got to pick up their son from North Memorial in Robbinsdale, MN upon discharge to take him to his new home.

The new parents could see the finality of their adoption journey in sight. They were able to, as any adoptive parent, take the baby from the hospital on a temporary custody order. The next step is for the birth mother to sign her rights away. This is a) not something that can be done within 72 hours of the birth and b) must be done at the adoption agency with the counselor, lawyer, notary, and witnesses present. Once she signs her rights away, the state of MN gives her an additional 10 days to change her mind. Beyond that, there is a home visit for the new parents and a court date to finalize the adoption. They were ready to be the deserving parents they had waited so long to be.

On December 13, 2019 Dan, Ondrea, and Owen, along with family and friends, attended the adoption finalization hearing where Owen was pronounced their child. A new birth certificate was issued listing them as the parents, and the original put into a protected file.

Ondrea had this to share about her experience, This experience – our experience – was incredible. We feel so blessed–Everyday. We often ask, How are we so lucky? Not only is he adorable, but he is ours. He was, without question, born for us! I honestly believe that everything happens for a reason. Everything we do and experience makes us better people and having all those calls before him made us stronger and better prepared to be the BEST parents we can be for him.

It’s often hard to wrap our heads around What’s mean to be, will be, but Ondrea & Dan’s story proves just that. Sometimes as Mamas, we try and control so much of what’s in front of us. I was reminded, from this amazing couple’s journey, that sometimes it’s ok to sit back and be patient. I just might learn something while I wait 🙂



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Feature Mama of the Month

Twenty-Three and Carefree

Twenty-three and carefree… that’s what life was like for Janine Heule until the day she became a Mama. Most Mamas have nine months to plan for their child to arrive. They get to experience the joy of the first ultrasound, baby’s kicks, and beautiful showers while they prepare for their little bundle to join this world. But Janine’s journey was quite different. 

She was living life like an average college student in an apartment with her younger sister Kimberley and a friend, working full time, and going to college. During that time their family received joyous yet unexpected news: her older sister was pregnant! Although feeling a little blindsided, Janine remembers thinking how exciting it was that she was becoming an aunt. Time passed, her pregnant sister moved back to Minnesota to live with their Mom, and the beautiful baby arrived in March–her bouncing nephew, Jaxon.

Her sister had been struggling with a number of things that, together, made her unfit to take care of Jaxon. Then one day in June, a day that will forever be burned in her mind, Janine’s life changed forever. Her sister came to her for help: I need you to help me get back on my feet. That day she left Jaxon with Janine–in her college apartment–along with some diapers, a small bag of clothes, a bit of formula, and a carseat. This temporary help, she thought, would give her sister the time she needed to get her life in order to be able to take care of her son. But at that moment, her life was swept out from under her. She knew that ultimately, her goal was to keep Jaxon safe–not even from a Mom perspective but as a caregiver–to give him a home with stability. Janine remembers, “I figured it would be thirty or so days–temporary, but it continued to extend gradually; she would cancel plans or not be able to visit on scheduled dates, and then ultimately she just quit checking in. I felt trapped. I have to help you now because I have no choice.”

Coincidentally, Janine was nannying at the time. The home she worked in allowed her to bring Jaxon to work with her. She felt fortunate because they also helped her by giving her advice, guidance, and support through this transition. Additionally, a family she previously nannied for had passed along clothes and car seats that their boys had outgrown. Both of those things, she said, helped her tremendously and was so thankful for their role in her life. Aside from these resources, Janine noted, “My younger sister Kimberley acted as a stand-in coparent for me during this time as well. She traded off nights with me and watched him while I worked at a liquor store. I would not have survived the first year–financially or otherwise–without her there helping me!”

Although her older sister had left Jaxon with her, there was some difficulty navigating who was in charge. Should Grandma help? Aunts? Janine had to establish her role as his Mama as soon as she could. They were additional support as she would need help from time to time when she needed a sitter. After all, she was working full time, going to school, and essentially had taken on the role of single mother. After several months, Janine began to see that it was a permanent plan. She added, “I didn’t want to deny him that closeness of a parental figure, but it was weird the first time someone else referred to me as Mom. I started to realize permanence then. It’s kind of weird because when she dropped him off I thought, Don’t get too attached and I tried to be respectful while trying to establish a routine.” She remembers one day she called her mom, sobbing. She’s not coming back. How could she do this? But she quickly learned that her sister’s addiction just didn’t allow her to make those decisions for herself. She was in so deep.

So, Janine packed up Jaxon and they moved back in with her Mom. Although difficult because she felt as if she was backtracking, she knew it would be the best outcome for them both in the end. Additionally, Jaxon was able to create a special bond with his Grandma during that time. She explained, “We grew up a lot together and really fast. It was a whirlwind… my entire world was flipped upside down in one day when normally it’s a slow transition. I was young and not making a lot of money, so I had to budget and make it work! We qualified for WIC & insurance through the state, and I was thankful for those resources. Oh, and Target!” she laughed. Janine, in all her selflessness, felt guilty because she didn’t remember a lot of Jaxon’s first year. Other than, We survived! She beamed, “I became so dedicated at some point. I pride myself on the fact that I made all his baby food. I had support people around me, but I did this. I often wonder how I did all that with no help!”

Shortly after their move, Janine met someone special: Zack. As Jaxon called him, Wacky Zacky. Zack quickly became a permanent and important figure in their life. Janine had been very careful not to confuse Jaxon with men leaving in and out of her life; she was cautious. But this man was different. They began spending time together and moved in together in the summer of 2018. Janine had nothing but praises to sing of Zack taking on his new role in their relationship. “It’s been fun to watch Zack morph into a parent. He’s really good with him and it’s fun to watch him grow into the role of Dad, which Jaxon now calls him. We were really careful about that too because we didn’t want to push that on him, but eventually Jaxon made the shift on his own.” Jaxon is now a school aged four year old. He goes to school with Janine everyday as she is working at a preschool in Minnetonka, MN. When they’re not working or learning at school, the family of three spends time outdoors, visiting new places, and enjoying the laughter and opportunity that comes with “Not having to spend all his time with Mom. Zack brings such an important side to our relationship that takes the pressure off me.”

Their situation is nothing short of amazing. At times though, it can be tricky because Jaxon can understand things and they are now considering starting some of those those difficult conversations. They have looked into different things like family or play therapy because he doesn’t know the full story yet. He knows his mom is family but he doesn’t understand why they have a bond. She came to visit once in his first year and has now chosen to get a little more time with him when she chooses; however, through her temporary decision which turned permanent, she got her sobriety. Janine had difficult decisions to make during that time: Do I choose to be supportive of her and her sobriety? Or do I cut that out and focus on what’s best for Jaxon, even if that means the he won’t stay in close contact with her? She didn’t want to put him through that or let him see her in that state; if she was using, Janine felt as if she had to force her hand more. Now that she is sober it is easier to agree on things. Her sister’s sobriety opened up an incredible opportunity: it allowed her to give Jaxon up and put him in safe keeping while making it ok for a mother to give up her son. She made the best choice; ultimately, she knew Janine was his keeper–his Mama.

I was lucky to meet Janine through my husband Ross, who graduated with Wacky Zacky. This story has been beautiful to watch as it unfolds. I can’t wait to see what their future has in store for them!



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Feature Mama of the Month

Heart Strong Mama

The Rocky Mountains create the most beautiful backdrop for this heart strong journey. Born and raised in Minnesota, Heather Siegel met her husband Andy and the two settled in Lone Tree, Colorado. Both Heather & Andy work for energy companies in downtown Denver. The two fell in love and next in their plan was to have kids. They had a healthy and beautiful baby girl, Alanna, and shortly after, Heather got pregnant with their second child. Everything was moving along according to plan. The 20 week ultrasound was near perfect; however, as she moved into week 25, the doctors found that the baby was significantly small. They scheduled an ultrasound where the tech looked in depth at the heart and specifically, one of the valves. The doctors concluded that they would monitor for IUGR, a growth restriction, and that one of the heart valves would need to be examined by the high-risk doctors.
As with any of these conclusions, the wait began–it was only Tuesday and they would have to wait until Friday. The suspense was warranted, though, because the doctors found something wrong with the baby’s heart. Children’s Hospital in Denver would give the official diagnosis the following Monday. And until then, as Mamas do, Heather began questioning: What could be wrong? She shared, “We went in on Monday and they informed us that the baby’s condition was called Ebstein’s Anomaly, which is a congenital heart defect of the tricuspid valve. We went into this thinking our baby was totally healthy and now here we are with all these unknowns. The doctor was hopeful that our baby would not need surgery right away, but her heart was also showing signs of dependence on an extra duct in the heart called the PDA, which all fetuses have but closes after birth. Our cardiologist was worried that once it closed after she was born, our baby wouldn’t be able to pump enough blood to her lungs without it. We would have to wait and see.”

Heather and Andy spent the rest of her pregnancy visiting the doctor at minimum 2-4 times a week: Non-stress tests on Tuesday, ultrasound tests on Friday, high-risk doctors, and Children’s Cardiology. They were worried about the heart but also her growth restriction. She had moved from the tenth percentile down to the first, and they had learned that 14% of these IUGR babies don’t make it past 37 weeks. The cardiologists wanted the baby (whom they named Natalie) to grow and stay in as long as possible; but because they didn’t want to take unnecessary risks, the team scheduled an induction for 37 weeks. What seemed routine became a long, drawn out process which ultimately led to the baby’s heart rate dropping and they had to do a c-section. Heather remembered, “That was scary. It turned out the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Once they got her out, they assessed her, quick brought her over to me so I could look at her for a minute, and then whisked her down to the CICU at Children’s.”

A rough four weeks began with staying in the hospital, sleeping in the recliner, and waiting. It turned out Natalie was dependent on this PDA and would eventually need surgery, but she would need to get bigger first. Despite Heather’s attempts, nursing was difficult amidst the cords and fragility of sweet little Natalie, whose weight had dropped down to four lbs. Being this small makes this heart surgery more risky. They decided to wait one more week to let her grow. Heather said, “I was on the verge of breaking down and losing it.“I was pleading with the doctors to try letting her PDA close one more time. To everyone’s surprise, she finally was able to do it on the third and final attempt! We were able to go home. It was a miracle. She was able experience the outdoors for the first time and we were so happy. We knew that surgery would be in our future, but we were finally able to bring our family home.”

Going home, though, was hard. Heather shared, “The surgery just loomed over us. We got in touch with Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which has one of the best surgeons in the world for Ebstein’s Anomaly. He was sure they could do the the Glenn Procedure–they would take one of the main veins, detach it from the heart, and go directly to the lungs. He thought he might also be able to repair her tricuspid valve, but that Natalie would need to be at least 13 lbs and near 6 months old.” Heather was pumping around the clock and learning how to feed a cardiac baby–they can only eat for 30 minutes at a time because beyond that timeframe they burn more than they take in. With all of these stressors came postpartum depression for this strong Mama. She reflected that she would break down sobbing because of the constant pressure of Natalie’s life being in her hands. She sought medical support and began taking medication to help with the stress and anxiety she felt.

Ultimately, Heather and Andy’s hard work and dedication to help little Natalie grow, paid off. Miraculously, around five months her heart started working better! In turn, she was able to push off surgery until she turned two! They felt fortunate to have made it to this point, but with this came a wave of bad news. Their sweet firstborn, Alanna, had the same heart defect. Both girls have Ebstein’s Anomaly and an ASD, which is a hole between the top two chambers of the heart. This news hit them hard knowing that another surgery would be in their future while Natalie’s surgery was right in front of them.

The family packed up and went to Minnesota and the doctors at Mayo Clinic scheduled her surgery. With this came the anxiety and fears leading up to it. They did all of the pre-op stuff and Heather laughed as she remembered, “Fasting with a two year old is so much fun! We cuddled up the night before and just loved on her. We went in first thing in the morning and of course… surgery was delayed! She was just a little cranky from being so hungry. In turn, I also remember thinking, You know these surgeons are so good at their job, but there is still that small chance that this is the last time I see my child aliveThey had to saw open her sternum, stop her heart, put it on bypass, and basically redesign the right side of her heart. Six hours went by and we waited. Andy and I both remember feeling this strange, overwhelming sense of calm, though. We could feel people praying for us and for Natalie.”

The doctors successfully repaired her valve using the Cone Procedure, rerouted the blood flow from her heart to her lungs using the Glenn procedure, and performed a partial ASD closure – made the hole between the top two chambers of her heart smaller. She was only in the hospital for 4 days after the surgery, which Heather remarked, “… was insane! Our long road to this surgery had finally met its end. Natalie was discharged from the hospital and you would never know. That same day of release she was running in the backyard of my parents’ home in Minnesota, jumping on furniture, and scaring me to death—I mean, she just had heart surgery!”

This amazing Mama had a few parting words. “It was hard not having any family in Colorado when we found out all of this information. I was so thankful that the surgery was in Minnesota so we could have support. Long distance support is great, but being near those people just helps so much more. When Alanna has her surgery, we know how many people we have to lean on! I feel like it’s going to be more challenging with her being an older child who is completely aware of what is happening and will have real fears. But we will deal with that when we get there. I’ve seen a lot of families go through so much worse than us. I can’t tell you how many Ebstein families I’m connected to on Facebook who have lost their babies. It’s so heartbreaking, and that’s just Ebstein’s Anomaly. There are so many heart defects that take so many lives. It’s a different world with so many struggles. We really are the lucky ones!”

What a beautiful and encouraging story that shines light into such a heart strong journey! Band of Mamas sends best wishes to any of these cardiac kids and families facing the struggles, procedures, or even surgery in their future. 



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