CHASSELL - Mark and Joan Gockenbach have been through it all when it comes to adopting three children: unexpected delays, arrivals, incredible joy and even the unthinkable - losing their adopted son David to leukemia.
Yet through the soaring highs and tough lows, the Gockenbachs wouldn't have done anything differently as November, National Adoption Month, slowly passes by.
"If anybody even has a glimmer of wanting to consider adoption, I'd encourage them to pursue it," Mark said. "It does cost money, and it costs time and effort, but it really is worthwhile to see the kids be happy and have a chance to be happy, cared for and to thrive."
Photo courtesy Mark Gockenbach
The?Gockenbach family, which has adopted three children and in the process of adopting a fourth, is shown.
Although they had been considering adoption for a long time, they did not start the process until Joan heard an interview on the radio that would change their lives forever.
"I heard an interview about a family that had several children already and decided to adopt from Ethiopia," said Joan, who with Mark also has seven biological children. "We've always had a heart for the orphans in Africa because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic ... so that caught my attention.
"It sounded like something we could go ahead and do, so we talked about it and decided to start pursuing it."
The couple then took the necessary steps toward giving a child a stable, healthy home.
"We sent in an initial application, then the next step is getting a home-study done, where they want to know everything about you," Joan said. "Then it was a matter of gathering a lot of documents, like birth certificates and a marriage license."
After some of the paperwork was finished, the most exciting part of the whole process was the next step, according to the couple.
"(Our agency) puts out a video every other month of waiting children, and that's where we saw our children," Joan said.
"That was the exciting part of the process, seeing children that were available and that need families," Mark added. "We then put in a request."
That request brought 8-year-old David and his sister, 6-year-old Bikiltu, into the Gockenbachs' life, although at separate times. Both were primed to leave Ethiopia in June 2006, but Bikiltu developed tuberculosis and wasn't allowed to arrive until November of that year.
Less than a year later, the couple adopted another boy, Abraham. With three more kids in the house, there was definitely an adjustment period for everyone involved.
"It's not always easy for the biological kids or for the adopted kids," Mark said. "I'm really proud of our adopted kids and how resilient they've been and all the changes they've had to go through and how they've dealt with those."
"Our biological kids are all also growing in amazing ways," Joan added. "Their capacity to love and have compassion has grown tremendously."
Making the adjustment even more difficult was the fact that David developed leukemia only four months after coming to the United States. Despite losing David after having him for only three years, the couple still feels blessed.
"I am so happy we had him as part of our family for that time," Mark said. "It was very sad to lose him, but he was a great kid, he was very enthusiastic and he made an impression on a lot of people.
"For him to have that opportunity to be part of our family and to be happy for those years - even when he was undergoing chemotherapy ... he was a happy kid - he made the most of his life and it was completely worthwhile."
Even now, the Gockenbachs are close to adopting another child - a four-year-old boy. Although the process has become more stringent with more hoops to jump through to adopt, the Gockenbachs are happy to go through it all.
"It's so exciting to see the adopted kids blossom," Joan said. "We've had our struggles, and it's kind of been a long haul, but even in the last few months, they've really blossomed. They're such great kids."