Carolyn and Tyler Preul of Hallsville were determined to have a family.

They married in 2004 and within a couple of years found they were having trouble conceiving. Fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization, didn’t work.

So, what did they do? First they took a vacation to Hawaii to soothe their grief at being unable to have a child naturally. After returning, the couple contacted Lutheran Family and Children’s Services with an eye toward adoption.

"Our families didn’t have a long history with adoption, and I didn’t really know how to start,” Carolyn said. “I felt so lucky to have Lutheran Family right here in our backyard.”

She learned about the organization in 2008 while working as creative director for Inside Columbia magazine. She is now associate director of alumni relations at Columbia College. The magazine was a sponsor of the Lutheran Family Festival of Trees fundraiser.

"By placing the event ads in the magazine, I found out that these services were available in our community,” Carolyn said. “Even though no one knew what my husband and I were going through, I made a mental note to check it out."

 

Lutheran Family receives community support through United Way donations. In 2017, that support totaled $50,340 of the agency’s overall budget of $12.8 million.

Donors can designate their United Way contributions directly to the agency. For those who want to do more, Lutheran Family is always in need of essentials for infant care such as diapers, wipes and other baby and toddler supplies, Executive Director Heather Wall wrote in an email.

“Specific monetary donations ... assist us in helping families with expenses such as rent and utilities in times of need such as being in between jobs, maternity leave [and more],” she wrote.

Among this year's donors is Columbia College, which contributed $1,000 to Heart of Missouri United Way and urges the community to match.

Carolyn and Tyler contacted Lutheran Family in January 2010 and took their daughter, Audrey, home a year later. A couple of years later, they again began the adoption process and welcomed Dylan into their home in May 2014. Audrey is now 8 and Dylan is 5.

A Lutheran Family office in Columbia serves the Mid-Missouri area. The agency, headquartered in St. Louis, was founded in 1868 as the Lutheran Orphans' Home in Des Peres.

Today, in addition to adoption, it provides a foster parent program, pregnancy and parenting services, behavioral health and counseling services.

"You don't have to be Lutheran to use Lutheran Family and Children's Services for adoption or any of their support services," said Carolyn, who now is a member of the Mid-Missouri Advisory Board. “There is a faith-based aspect to the organization, of course, but everyone is welcome."

Prospective parents create a scrapbook for the birth mother or parents. The Preuls spent around six months creating theirs, which included details about their lives as a couple and what their home is like.

"Who we were, what our views were, how we wanted to raise our children, everything about us was put into the scrapbook and that was then presented to birth parents," Carolyn said.

The couple included information about their travels, information on extended families and details on their childhood homes.

They were matched with Audrey and the birth mother Jan. 18, 2011 and brought Audrey into their home Jan. 26, calling it their "gotcha day." The Preuls celebrate Audrey's "gotcha day" each year at Shakespeare's Pizza.

"My husband got the call from our social worker and she said, 'Hey can you get Carolyn over to the agency this afternoon?'" she said.

Tyler and the social worker pulled a slight subterfuge on Carolyn, as her husband said they were going to meet friends for dinner. When they passed the agency on the way to the restaurant, Tyler said they needed to stop in to sign some paperwork.

"I had no idea what was coming. I couldn’t believe they were in cahoots and surprised me, but it was really fun," she said. "It's something I'll never forget."

The Preuls opted to go with an open adoption, which means Audrey’s birth parents could interact with the family if they so choose. Her birth mother can contact Lutheran Family for updates, but no longer has direct contact with the Preuls.

The Preuls were more hands-on in the process with Dylan. The birth mother, Jessica, was around 35 weeks when they received the placement. They visited with her in Springfield and Carolyn attended one of Jessica's appointments and was part of the ultrasound examination.

"Even though I had been a mom for three years, this was my first time getting that experience," Carolyn said.

The two women had an instant connection and were very comfortable with each other, Carolyn said. Jessica gets to see the daily family ins-and-outs as they now are Facebook friends.

“We shared cell phone numbers after our first meeting and have always been in close contact," she said.

The entire Preul family was present for Dylan’s birth May 9, 2014, in Springfield. He was born around 3 a.m. and Audrey refused to sleep until she met her new brother, Carolyn said.

Audrey and Dylan's names were chosen by Carolyn and Tyler. Audrey is Tyler's grandmother's middle name.

Raising adopted children is no different than biological children, Carolyn said. Audrey and Dylan already know how they came to be a part of their family.

"In general, it's life with kids. They rule the roost and they're funny, sassy, ornery and keep me and my husband on our toes,” Carolyn said. “We're just amazed at how much their personalities shine through. They are us and we are them. Adoption is how our family was built, but in our day-to-day lives, they're just our kids.”

While the Preuls went with infant adoption, they were open to adopting toddlers or older children. The couple thought a baby would allow them to build a family from the ground up, but only knew for certain that they wanted to eventually adopt more than one child.

"You have to have an open mind going into [the adoption process] and really consider what you are comfortable with. The process can take longer the more restrictions you put on it, but ultimately you know what is best for your family," Carolyn said.

To do more, give online at bit.ly/UnitedWaySpecial, by calling 573-443-4523 or by mailing a check, payable to Heart of Missouri United Way, 105 E. Ash St., Suite 300, Columbia, MO 65203.

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com