NEENAH — Michelle and Stevie Pingel first met on their baptism day when they were infants. Nine years later, Michelle participated in softball under the direction of her coach, who just happened to be Stevie’s father.
“We were really great friends all throughout our childhood,” Michelle said. “When we came back from college, we started dating. We got married in August of 2013, so this August we will have been married for 10 years.”
The couple wanted to start expanding their family and both were interested in adoption.
“Even before we were married, we talked about how we always wanted to adopt,” Michelle said. “We wanted to have children of our own, but also adopt one or two children. We found out it was unlikely we would be able to get pregnant on our own. We began our adoption journey officially the day after we found out.”
At the beginning, their path through the adoption process was fairly straightforward and quick. For their first adopted child, Bentley, they worked with Lifetime Adoption, a Christian agency based in California. The Pingels had to do a local home study in order to work with Lifetime Adoption, which is how they met Chelsea Baucom- Young with Catholic Charities. Baucom-Young added them to the Catholic Charities adoptive family list for a possible future adoption.
“With Bentley, we decided to adopt in November and, by Jan. 1, we were connected with a birth mother and Bentley was born Feb. 17, 2016,” Michelle said. “It all happened within a short couple months.”
When they were ready to adopt another child, the road became more difficult.
“Our second adoption took a lot longer,” Michelle said. “We started out through Lifetime (Adoption) and, after four years, we still were not matched with a birth mother. We experienced a few failed adoptions during this time so it was more challenging for us. Then Chelsea called and we were matched through Catholic Charities.”
For both adoptions, the birth mothers were located in Wisconsin, so the Pingels were able to be present at the births of their children.
“The hospital staff at both places were so kind and gave us a room right next to the birth mothers’ rooms, so we were able to stay with our children throughout the duration of their hospital stay,” Michelle said. “We were able to hold them both right after they were born. We were able to bond with both birth mothers and support them the best way we knew how. As you can imagine, that is an extremely difficult time for any woman, so just being present with them and sharing stories with each other really set the stage for our relationships with them in the years to come.”
Both birth mothers still live in the area and are involved with the Pingel family.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Michelle said. “They are two of the most courageous, selfless people we know and we love them both more than you could ever imagine. We talk with them regularly and see them often. We have amazing relationships with them, but also their families, so our children know their biological grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins very well.”
Bentley (7) and Parker (2) share a birthday, and each year the Pingels celebrate with a big party and invite the biological families as well as Stevie’s family and Michelle’s family.
“We truly are one, big family,” Michelle said. “Many people are skeptical about having birth moms in the lives of their children when they adopt, but in our circumstance, for both relationships we’ve never felt any form of jealousy or felt they were overstepping. We all just want what’s best for Bentley and Parker. The birth moms have become a part of our family. I think our children will be lucky to know it wasn’t that their birth mom didn’t love them or want them, but they were just not ready to be a parent at that time in their lives and made a very selfless decision to give them to a couple that was ready to be parents.”
The journey has been long, difficult and expensive, but the Pingels said faith is what made it all possible.
“Faith has played such a big role in growing our family,” Michelle said. “Our option that our faith supports was adoption. We are so glad that we did because it brought us Bentley and Parker.”
They are grateful to Catholic Charities for guiding them throughout the adoption process and continuing to stay connected with them today.
“Catholic Charities is so supportive in all aspects of adoption,” Michelle said. “We had a couple failed adoptions and we talked to Chelsea at Catholic Charities every day throughout that process. She was there for us every step of the way, giving us guidance and support. It was also helpful to see the support they provided (the birth mom) as she gave Parker up for adoption. That was such a challenging time for her and Catholic Charities was there for her when she was making the decision and after she had made the decision.”
The Pingels attend St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Neenah. As a family, they enjoy playing sports, camping, baking cupcakes and having popcorn movie nights. They are open to adopting more children if that’s what God has in store for them.
“Adoption is a good thing!” Michelle said. “Especially in this day and age, children need stable, faith-filled families. We want women to know they have a better option than abortion. Open adoption is an amazing thing and a great option to being a part of your child’s life while granting couples who cannot have children of their own the greatest gift ever.”