Every day, Matt Baerbock drives home from his marketing job at Best Buy’s headquarters and hugs his wife and kids.
All 10 of them.
Matt and his wife, Sara, have 10 children, between the ages of 3 and 15. Five are adopted, including a trio of siblings that the Baerbocks just brought home from Ukraine to Minnesota a few weeks ago.
That’s twelve people under one, three-bedroom roof.
“I know a lot of people think we’re crazy,” Matt said. “But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”
Growing a family
Neither Matt nor Sara expected to have a large family. While dating, they talked about having three or four kids. They ended up with five biological children (Lydia, Rebekah, Abigail, Aaron and Andrew) —more than their original plan, but it seemed like the right fit.
Around the same time the Baerbocks were expecting their fifth child, Sara found herself deeply engrossed in the journey of a family friend who was in the process of adopting two children with special needs from Ukraine. The friend forwarded Sara and Matt a photo of young girl she had met in an orphanage.
“We just couldn’t shake the feeling that this was our daughter,” Matt said. “It’s hard to explain, but we felt this calling to become parents again.”
Weeks after their son Andrew was born, the Baerbocks committed to adopting this young girl. After a few more months and piles of paperwork, they flew to Ukraine, newborn in tow. They spent six weeks in Ukraine completing the process and returned home with the girl from the photo – Elizabeth Evgenia – and a little boy, Daniel Thomas (Daniel kept his birth name, and the Baerbocks’ other adopted children have kept their Ukrainian names as middle names to honor their heritage).
The four Baerbock children who remained at home welcomed their new brother and sister.
“There’s always a process of adjustment in introducing new family members, especially with kids with varying needs and limited language skills,” Matt said. “There’s a lot of patience that’s needed from every single person. But in the years since, their relationships have blossomed.”
In fact, the older Baerbock children responded so well to the adoption process that they were key instigators in pushing Matt and Sara to consider adopting again. This past winter, the Baerbocks took three trips back to Ukraine, accompanied each time by one or two of their four oldest daughters (including Elizabeth, who made her first trip back to her birth country). At the end of another emotional round of the adoption process, the Baerbocks welcomed three Ukrainian siblings into their brood: Jonathan Vitaliy, Hannah Olena and Ruth Nadiya.
Making it work
Caring for 10 children is a lot of work, but the Baerbocks make it look easy. Matt built specially designed bunkbeds that help all the kids share space in the family’s three-bedroom home. They have an extra-long dining room table where the family gathers for meals together, and there’s a school room where Sara homeschools the children.
Group outings take a little more work, but a large 14-passenger van makes it easier. Matt does most of the grocery shopping and other errands alone on his way home from work, and the kids have chores to help around the house.
“There are times we don’t get everything done, and things are often chaotic,” Matt said. “We have to schedule things like showers to not overload the water softener. But, you know what? We’ve made it work.”
Adoption, especially international adoption, can seem overwhelming. Many people are involved, from agencies and home inspectors to interpreters and government agents. There’s also a lot of time needed. Matt worked with his Best Buy manager to create a leave of absence that worked for his family and coworkers.
It’s also an expensive process. Matt estimated that bringing home Jonathan, Hannah and Ruth this winter cost about $45,000. The Baerbocks mitigated that with a combination of loans, donations and assistance credits, including one from Best Buy’s adoption assistance program.
There are also substantial support grants for adopting older children or children with special needs. The Baerbocks worked with a program called Reece’s Rainbow to help coordinate their process and help with the fundraising process.
“There’s such a need out there for kids to find families, both through foster care and adoption,” Matt said. “There are kids that are growing up without a concept of family. Kids struggling with malnutrition, lack of love, lack of help with medical and educational needs. We get to help change that.”
The Baerbocks have documented their adoption journey on a blog, hoping to help others who are considering the process.
And Matt says they might even consider adoption again in the future, though he admits they’re a little maxed out right now.
“You never feel ready to take on more kids,” Matt said. “There’s always fear in trying anything new, be it a new job or adding to your family. But you just have to have faith in the process. I know my entire family is better because we’ve done this together.”