Seven Rhinos: One Family’s Story of Their Journey through Adoption by Sonja Schaefermeyer
Reviewed by Tamary Shoemaker
What do rhinos have to do with adoption? When adversity comes, a rhino plows forward. Difficulties and trials only toughen its thick skin and prepare the rhino to face even harder conflicts. This book leads readers through the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of the adoption process as one LDS family has experienced it.
Plenty of “rhino experiences” along the way have built their faith, taught them endurance, and prepared them for each new obstacle.
Readers who are familiar with adoption, either from personal experience or that of friends or family, will no doubt recognize many of the feelings and frustrations Sonja Schaefermeyer candidly shares. For those readers who do not have much prior knowledge about adoption, this book is like an engaging tutorial in the love, patience, and acceptance that it requires and the setbacks and worries it can involve. Ultimately, though, this is a story about faith and trusting the Lord.
The story begins early in the Schaefermeyers’ marriage, when Sonja and Brad were told that they might never conceive children:
Pregnancy was not going to be achieved easily, if at all. What a blow. We were both numb at the news. (11)
As the couple tried to deal with this unexpected turn in their lives, Sonja tells of their experiences (and humiliations) with medical treatment for infertility, and how she struggled with her feelings when an acquaintance gave birth:
Will it be this way every time someone I know has a baby? … What am I supposed to do, pretend I’m fine and happy about it? I’m not! It hurts more than anyone knows and I don’t know how to talk about it! (19)
Later, Sonja asked their bishop to give them each a priesthood blessing.
My blessing was first. I listened carefully to every word, hoping beyond hope that he would say, ‘I promise you that you will bear children.’ But he didn’t. I was blessed that I would be a blessing in comforting others, and that I would find peace, and that at the proper time answers would come. Though slightly disappointed, I had to admit I did feel more peaceful .
Our visit lasted a little longer but had a much more serious tone. Bishop Hadley seemed to be more thoughtful and selective in choosing his words of counsel.
“I felt impressed, through these blessings, that you would eventually have a family. Whether or not you would actually conceive and give birth to these children I couldn’t say.”
Brad and I were puzzled. What he said felt comforting, yet what exactly did it mean? He paused, letting it play in our minds a little, then asked, “Have the two of you considered adoption at all?”
The question was completely unexpected. Both Brad and I had been so enveloped in our own versions of this tribulation that this possible answer had eluded us. (21-22)
The Schaefermeyers decided to pursue adoption through LDS Social Services (as it was called then). They quickly learned that adoption requires a lot of money, paperwork, and time – especially time. Eventually they were able to adopt their first little girl, Jayd:
As soon as the door shut, Brad reached over and took the baby from my arms. As he held her close, his head bent next to hers, I could see him studying her face intently. I knew Brad was looking for the face in his dreams.
“Brad,” I said softly, “is she the one?” He glanced up at me and then again at the baby, but not before I noticed the sparkle of moisture in his eyes.
“I think so,” he whispered.” (32)
Little did they know that this was only the beginning of their journey. Ahead were three more adoptions, each with new challenges, and the surprise of conceiving and giving birth to one child themselves. The adoptions, each different in some way, and the separate but also trying process of seeking medical help to conceive a child come to life through Sonja’s details. Also included are many experiences where money or help was given just at the right time as a direct answer to prayer.
Three of the Schaefermeyers’ children have ancestry other than Caucasian. Sonja describes this decision, too:
A strong feeling settled in on me that it didn’t matter in the least what race my child was. The child would be a son or daughter of God just as I am. All that really mattered to me was that the baby made it here, was healthy, and was meant for our family. (41)
Yet she also shares the disapproval they faced from some friends and family members and the trials, as well as the joys, that came from this decision.
One of the most poignant sections of the book tells of the time when the birth father of the Schaefermeyers’ fourth child decided to contest the adoption. For more than a year, Sonja didn’t know whether they would be able to keep their baby. When she learned that they would have to go to court and face the birth father, she nearly despaired:
The image of a courtroom appeared in my head. I sat in the witness box, crying, as I became overwhelmed by the twisted questions thrown at me. How can you prove you’re the best option for this child? How will you deal with the differences of this child being African-American when most of the rest of the family is Caucasian? Whatever else Brother Jankins said was lost after that point. I was consumed with the thought of possibly losing our baby girl, whom we’d now fallen head-over-heels in love with. (83-84)
Frantic with worry, Sonja finally called her bishop. His wise words gave her the peace she needed:
“There are times in each of our lives,” the bishop continued, “when we have done everything we could possibly do to accomplish something specific. Yet it’s not enough to gain the prize. That is the time we have to rely on our faith in the Lord to fill in where we are not able.
“Now, the question is, do you have enough faith that the Lord knows the best outcome, and it might not be the one you want? Will your faith allow the Lord’s answer, which may possibly not be the same as yours? Are you able to completely give it up to the Lord?”
In that instant, for the first time I clearly knew what I really wanted. I wanted to know without a doubt that Jolynne’s happiness and well-being came first … It would hurt a lot for a long time to have her gone, but I’d still feel peaceful in her behalf. I thanked the bishop and hung up. I then knelt down and talked to my Heavenly Father. This time it was much different than my previous begging and pleading. (90)
This book is a joyful celebration of adoption. Sonja honors birth parents who want what is best for their baby: “I thank the Lord that our precious birth mother chose to give her baby life and then chose to give her more: a mother and a father for forever.” (35) She tells of the beauty of taking each child to the temple to be sealed:
I glanced around at the faces, the chandelier, the mirrors, the beautiful lace covering draped over the altar; everything was exquisite but just one thing was missing. A woman entered, holding Jayd. Now the scene was complete. The room filled with a soft buzz of whispers, and smiles adorned the many faces. I felt my soul light up also as our daughter looked toward us. (39)
Sonja’s book offers to let us walk for a while along the path of her family’s journey. Their story vividly illustrates that in the midst of every trial, peace and happiness can come from putting our trust in the Lord.