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A Tale of Two Families

April 22, 2020

Family comes in all different shapes and sizes for everyone. Reporters Alexis Kieninger and Gaby Heredia share their own family experiences.

Adopted into Love

Adopted. When most people hear this word, they assume the worst. That is far from the truth. While yes, there are downsides. For me, being adopted has been the greatest thing to ever happen to me. 

Pam Kieninger never thought she would want kids. Until one day she found herself wanting to complete her family, and was able to do so through adoption. 

This is our story.

Alexis Kieninger hugs her adopted mom.

At seven months the process of being placed into a new home began. By placing me up for adoption, my birth mom was making the best decision for me she could. I was given wonderful opportunities, and a family like no other.

When my mom first arrived in Alabama to start the adoption, I had to be taken to the emergency room. I was sick from the lack of care I had experienced in my original home. I also could not hold my head up properly, my mom had to be patient and work extra hard as I was trying to master abilities I should have already learned. 

When my mom got to bring me home, she always told me nights were hard. I had night terrors frequently. I would scream and cry, and they could never get me to wake up. She would just wait them out with me.

“I had never seen anything like it before, I didn’t know what to think, you looked so different from the happy girl we saw during the day. At first it was terrifying, then it was hard. We didn’t know what to do or what was going on.” Pam Kieninger said. 

Growing up, having the label adopted was not always easy. My mom made sure I grew up knowing it was a positive thing and that it made me unique. That did not mean the experience was always easy, it often brought me down. 

“You were [a] fighter, you’ve always been a fighter. You have a cunning desire to thrive, not just survive. You have always just been a force to be reckoned with.” Pam Kieninger said.

Alexis and her sister Autumn smile for a picture.

I remember being in kindergarten the first day, they asked me what was something that made me unique, and immediately I told them I was unique because I was adopted.

It was easier when I was younger, I never paid attention to what the adults said and children did not know what it meant yet. However, as I started growing up, I heard the talks more, and I started to get looks of pity from my classmates. Adults would talk about how I looked nothing like my mom or dad, and about how the situation must have been really hard for me. 

That stage was the hardest, when I was taking all those comments to heart, and I could not let those looks just roll off my back. I wanted to scream, tell all of them I was happy with my situation, and how great it was. 

However, I was not the only one going through this, my sister Autumn had comments said to her about being adopted as well.

“I always remember people using it as a joke. For example, we would play never have I ever, and they would always say “been adopted.” They never realized it wasn’t something we could help or ask for. People who have used it as a joke upset me the most because it’s not funny,” said Autumn.

It is not always easy, but we were both placed in loving and supportive families who helped us through all the hard times.

My mom is my best friend. She tells me all the time she made my initials ARK because I was God’s promise to her when she found out she could not have children of her own. She reminds me all the time we were put together for a reason, and I could not agree more. 

“The day the judge signed the adoption papers God put his hands on me and said “Child, this is what I have given you all of your strength for, good luck!” That day is still the best day of my life. I found the love of my life that day,” Pam Kieninger said.

(From left to right) Alexis, her aunt and her sister stand for a photo.

My mom is the one who raised me, loved me, held me when I was crying, she is my mom in every sense of the word. My family has been nothing but supportive and kind. They have loved me and accepted me and raised me like I was their own. That is what family is truly about.

Family is love and loyalty. Being adopted has blessed me with the chance to see just how beautiful that is first hand. No matter what happens, I know they will have my back, and that is more than I could ever ask for.

While being adopted has had downsides, that does not change the fact that it was the greatest thing to ever happen in my life. Being blessed with a family who loves and cares about me and educational opportunities that I would not have had, is something I will never take for granted. So, yes, being adopted does make me different, but in the most amazing way I know.

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Half-Related, Semi-Separated

Seeing them for the first time implanted a strange connection into my memory. I figured that since they were my half-sisters, I would know everything about them or have some immediate attachment to them. Instead, we could barely communicate with each other and had no idea what was going on in each other’s lives. 

The Heredia family smile behind an alligator in Cancun, Mexico.

Mirza and Mariela Heredia, my two older half-sisters, have lived in Tezonapa, Veracruz, their whole lives. Crossing the Mexico-United States border and heading just over 2,000 miles north, there lived their second family. Roberto Heredia, my dad, had come to the United States, specifically Pennsylvania, at the young age of 28. He left behind his family consisting of five sisters and four brothers, parents, ex-wife and his two children to find better work. He worked as a mushroom picker alongside his fifth brother, barely paying enough to survive alone. Deciding to continue to look for a better future, he turned his journey to Indiana.

“Leaving everything behind was hard, but it was an option to support my family back home,” Roberto Heredia said.

Not long after, he met my mother, who was Gail Robison at the time. He worked for her dad on a farm, eventually leading them to be newlyweds in October of 2007. My two full siblings and I were already born and living in Columbus, Indiana when they got married, not aware of the half-sisters we were related to. 

Our half-sisters did not become a part of our lives until the summer going into my sixth-grade year. My family and I had decided to take a vacation in my dad’s hometown. Before this visit, we had had no communication with them, no texts, Skype calls, or letters. During this trip, all seven of us took a mini-vacation to Cancun, Mexico. That was the first time Mirza and Mariela had ever left their home, and that is when the realization of it all came into play. Everything we did had both the Mexican and the American perspective, which are very different and affected how we got along.

Living in two completely different countries with opposite cultures, beliefs, and the most apparent, languages, made it tough to really get to know each other. They cannot speak any English and, besides our parents, we could not speak any Spanish. It is hard not to be able to have normal conversations with your older sisters, as older sisters are known to be there for advice and to be there to listen to any news happening in your life. 

“It was and still is kinda weird because we can’t talk about everyday things or ask simple questions,” Laura Heredia, my full sister, said. 

Five years ago, when we first went to visit them, the idea of having two older sisters did not really affect me as much. Today I would say that is quite different. Although I do not think about it daily, it creates this sense of curiosity in me. To this day, I do not know a lot about either of them, so there is an unconnected string between us sisters. I hear a lot of bits and pieces of what they are like and what they do, but other than that, I never have asked questions about who they really are. 

Laura Heredia (left) and Gaby Heredia (right) get their picture taken after Easter dinner.

Thinking more in-depth into the topic, I realize my younger sister Laura has her older sister, me. She frequently asks for my advice, what she should wear for an event and always has someone to do any activity with. My older sisters, who I could have a chance to do all these things with, live thousands of miles away and have an entirely different life than I do. The thought that I have gone all this time without people who could impact my life significantly brings up another idea that my whole life would be different if the connection was there and strong.

Today my half-sisters living in Mexico do have an impact on my family here. My parents are the reason Mirza went through college and is currently working her dream job as an engineer. We are also helping Mariela get through college right now, as she is majoring in psychology. The city that they live in rarely has job offerings or even jobs to offer, whether that be at stores, business or schools, making it extremely hard to make sure they have enough money at times.

“We send a certain amount of money down each month just to make sure they have what they need,” Roberto Heredia said. “Even if getting to know them is hard, they are still family and need our support.” 

Around the holidays, my family here in Indiana likes to send gift boxes filled with a lot of lotions, perfumes and makeup that they are unable to get in Mexico. In return, my half-sisters make homemade gifts, giving it a sentimental meaning. 

“We have gotten butterflies made out of plaster, notes with pictures, and small things like that. Since we can’t talk to them, this is our way of sort of getting to know each other,” Laura Heredia said. 

As much as we hope that Mirza and Mariela can visit or even possibly live here with us, legal papers and documentation make it next to impossible. All they have ever known is Tezonapa, Veracruz and their immediate family, besides their half-siblings. Wishing life would be different in that sense, knowing what my two full siblings and I know are the best it will get, and that is the reality we have all come to know.

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