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Building Roots Through Adoption
Adoption has played a huge role in Barb Pearson-Cramer’s life. She was adopted as a newborn; she and her husband, Trevor, are parents to three adopted children and one biological child; and she runs a private adoption agency.
Pearson-Cramer grew up on a ranch in rural Thunder Hawk, South Dakota. Her parents, Don and Phyllis Pearson (pictured above with the Cramer family), had waited a long time to have a child. “My dad had a farming accident and lost an arm, and they didn’t know if they would still be approved to adopt,” she says. “Thankfully, they were, and they ended up with me.”
Her mother, Phyllis, recalls, “Two weeks after she was born in December 1968, we were given that beautiful baby girl. We got home with her on Christmas Day. It was a year of heavy snow and blizzards, and people came on tractors to see her. Her formula and medicines were brought by airplane. What a blessing Barb has been to us, and now we have four beautiful grandchildren. God has been so good to us.”
“Life growing up was so wonderful,” Pearson-Cramer says. “I learned all aspects of the ranch and did all the things it took to be a part of a ranching family. We did everything together.”
The way she came to be with her parents was never kept a secret. “I always knew that I was adopted, and that wasn’t the case with a lot of adoptees at the time,” Pearson-Cramer says. “From a professional standpoint, I see what a benefit it was that my parents were progressive in that area. Some people really struggle with their identities when they find out later in life.”
Creating a Family
After Pearson-Cramer and Trevor were married, they tried for quite some time to have biological children. “At one point during our fertility treatments, I called Trevor from the parking lot and said, ‘I’m done.’ By the time I got home, he had printed out the paperwork to begin our adoption process,” she says. “Even before we were married, we had discussed adoption because of my history. We were OK with however we grew our family, and eight months later, we got Taylor.”
Taylor’s adoption was arranged through a private agency in South Dakota, and it’s an open adoption. “We see her grandparents and brothers all the time,” Pearson-Cramer says. “They come to our house; we go to theirs. They are part of the family.”
Soon, she started thinking about adopting again. “I didn’t want Taylor to grow up as an only child because I always wanted siblings,” she says. “Two-and-a-half years after adopting her, we started the process and were blessed with Teralyn.”
Because they wanted another transracial adoption, they used a multistate agency and were matched with an expectant mother in Utah for a semiopen adoption. “We know who she is and vice versa, but we don’t have a relationship,” she says.
When Teralyn was 9 months old, Pearson-Cramer was shocked and overjoyed to discover she was pregnant, and the family grew once again when Trisha was born.
A month and a half later, with a young child, a toddler, and a newborn keeping her busy, Pearson-Cramer received a phone call from Teralyn’s biological mother. She was pregnant again and wanted the baby to grow up with his sister. She asked the Cramers if they would adopt him, too. “We thought about what we would say if we went to visit him years later and had to tell her we didn’t adopt him. We knew we had to do it,” she says.
They traveled to Utah and spent a few days with the birth mother. “I was able to be in the delivery room when Garrett was born,“ Pearson-Cramer says. “He completed our family.”
Today, the family resides on an acreage near Faulkton, South Dakota, where the kids raise chickens, work on neighboring farms, and show pigs, cattle, and sheep in 4-H. They have spent weeks of summer vacation staying with the Pearsons and helping on the ranch. “It’s such a great life,“ Pearson-Cramer says.
Clockwise from top left: Taylor, Teralyn, Garrett, and Trisha Cramer show livestock at the Faulk County (South Dakota) Fair as part of their involvement in 4-H.
Following a Calling
While on the long drive home after adopting Teralyn, Pearson-Cramer did a lot of thinking. “The company I was working for was closing, and I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life,” she says.
The agency they had used for this adoption was started by two adoptive moms. “It was such an amazing experience, and it showed me that a person could start an adoption agency,” she says. Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming, she looked at Trevor and said, “I think I know what I want to do with the rest of my life.” He said, “Do it.”
Pearson-Cramer founded her first adoption agency in 2006. After building that agency, she set out on her own again in 2015 to form Building Forever Families, an agency licensed in South and North Dakota (building4everfamilies.org, 888/296-0879). “My goal is to take care of all members of the adoption process: the birth families, adoptive families, and the child,” she says. “I want to ensure that everybody gets the things he or she needs.”
Today, she is the executive director of the agency and a licensed social worker in South Dakota. The agency also employs a licensed social worker in North Dakota, an office assistant, and a social worker supervisor. “We don’t take on a huge number of clients because we like providing one-on-one attention and really getting to know our clients,” she says.
Educating her clients is a high priority. “With Taylor, the social worker said parenting an African-American child would be no different than a Caucasian child. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” she says. “I had no education on skin care, hair care, or nutritional needs. We had to learn that for ourselves. In Utah, the social workers took us shopping for the products we needed and actually showed us what to do. Having that support was one of my major motivations. I wanted to educate and provide that support for families.”
When an expectant mother contacts the agency, she is taken through a counseling process, and her needs are mapped out. “Some have very sad stories,” Pearson-Cramer says. “There’s a reason these women are considering adoption, and it’s usually because their life is hard and they don’t have support.” The women tell the agency what kind of family they want for their baby, like whether they should live on a farm or in a city.
Adoptive parents have to go through a barrage of state-mandated paperwork, background checks, physicals, and interviews. The agency walks them through the process and visits them at home. If approved, they create a picture book, and that’s what’s shown to birth mothers, who then choose prospective parents. The agency arranges meetings and finalizes plans.
“Rural families are very attractive to women seeking a match,” Pearson-Cramer says. “They have beautiful outside pictures, and the lifestyle offers so much. There are so many great experiences for kids growing up in the country.”
Pearson-Cramer stresses that families don’t have to be wealthy to be approved to adopt. “There are grants, loans, fund-raising opportunities, and adoption tax credits,” she says, and a reputable agency will help with those. “The average family can absolutely adopt a child.”
Throughout her career, Pearson-Cramer’s agencies have placed more than 130 children with adoptive families. So far this year, they have placed 10. “It’s such a blessing to me,” she says. “I enjoy helping all of the parties. All I do is just push the paper around, and God’s plan takes over.”