First came love. Jeff Radtke knew the day after their first date Karen was the one.
Then came marriage. But the baby carriage? The divorced father of one knew Karen would want to have kids one day even though he’d already done that and both were pushing the outer edge on what society considers old for just starting a family.
"For me it just didn’t go away, the longing to be a mother," says Karen Radtke, who celebrated her sixth wedding anniversary with Jeff over sushi and a movie last month. Two years ago, while in India with The Hunger Project, it hit her just how much she and Jeff have to share with a child and how much she wanted to be Mama.
Within months, they started the adoption process through Lutheran Social Service of Illinois. "We call ourselves global citizens so let’s put our actions where our mouths are and we looked internationally," says Jeff, 54.
Their search for the child of their dreams began in India where Karen, 44, had fallen in love with the children, but a year ago turned to the country that in their minds had the greatest need: Ethiopia.
There, they found not one child of their dreams, but two, 3-year-old twins Mari and Mesfin, who have upended the Radtkes’ quiet life and routines and added a bit more chaos to their surroundings. It’s also changed their time as a couple. "How do we manage our relationship with this new life that we have?" Karen wonders. "I think if there’s been anything that’s been surprising to us, it’s that."
Yet, Karen and Jeff—now Mama and Papa—say they wouldn’t change a thing.
"I kid people, they are either going to make me young or kill me," Jeff says with a laugh.
The twins will always know their birth parents—they will return to Ethiopia for a visit when they are older—and their culture. "We’ll say, you have two mamas and two papas. They totally get it," Karen says about the adoption, beaming at her very active toddlers as she scolds them for the fifth time in an hour to share.
Building a strong support system of family and friends is key to making this family work, both say.
"I think we’re just really fortunate," Jeff says.
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