PARKSTON — The addition of two children have made Chris and Amber Friedel’s family whole.

But their path took a detour along the way, and it started with a birthday Chris will never forget.

The Friedels had been married five years after meeting through an online dating service and were trying to have a baby. Fertility issues prevented natural childbirth, so the Parkston couple turned to adoption.

On Christmas Day 2015, less than six months after the adoption process began, they received a phone call that the adoption of a 2 1/2-month-old boy from Sioux Falls seemed imminent. Four days later, on Chris’ birthday, they brought Chase home.

Fast forward nearly three years and Chase’s birth mother was once again pregnant, but during her pregnancy, decided it was not practical to keep the child. She contacted the Friedels, and shortly after, brought Kamber home from the hospital on Dec. 17, 2017.

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Adopting two children was not how the Friedels imagined growing their family, but they now feel it was their destined plan. On Sept. 23, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) nominated the family for the Angels in Adoption award, presented by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and they were among 95 honorees during the virtual gala on Sept. 30.

“The return in the end is a blessing,” Amber Friedel said. “We know that this is the way that God planned for our family, even though we didn’t plan it in the beginning.”

Since 1999, there have been 2,700 honorees through Angels in Adoption who are nominated each year by Congress members in their for contributions in adoption or foster care. The gala is typically held in Washington, D.C. annually, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the ceremony to be done virtually.

“I’m honored to nominate Chris and Amber for this year’s Angels in Adoption award,” Rounds said. “Like so many couples, Chris and Amber always knew they wanted to expand their family, but had fertility struggles. I am so happy that they were able to grow their family, even if it wasn’t how they had originally planned.”

Unusual circumstances

Like many women, Amber Friedel, who is originally from Wall, dreamt of a natural pregnancy and childbirth. But by the summer of 2015, it became clear that it was likely not going to be an option for Amber and Chris, a veterinarian originally from Fort Atkinson, Nebraska.

Their doctor suggested psychological counseling, who then recommended an adoption agency through Hughes Law Office in Sioux Falls.

Unfamiliar with the adoption process initially, the Friedels went through a few failed matches before being matched with Chase, who had been cared for by his birth mother during the first two months of his life.

A portfolio based on the first five years of the Friedels’ marriage is sent to each possible match and they were eventually selected to adopt Chase due in part to the fact that they did not have prior children.

After meeting with Chase’s birth mother, they were told they would be the choice, but it happened sooner than expected. Rather than waiting a week as planned, Chase was in their arms the next day.

“We didn’t mesh with our first match, but at the same time, it was a learning curve because we had never been through the process before,” Chris said. “It can be quite an emotional roller coaster.”

The adoption process did not end when the Friedels brought Chase home, however. After six weeks, his birth mother officially relinquished parental rights and four months later, the Friedels were able to change his last name legally.

South Dakota adoption laws require a child to live in the home of the prospective adoptive parents for six months before a court will grant the adoption petition.

During that stretch, Chase’s birth mother occasionally asked to visit, putting the Friedels in an unusual position. They had some concerns that she would reverse course on giving him up, but they also decided to take an understanding approach.

“We always maintain an open relationship,” Chris said. “Amber talks to her a little more than I do through text, but it could also go six months or a year where we don’t hear from her. We don’t see her every day, but we don’t push her away."

Three years later, the Friedels took another crack at natural childbirth, but infertility once again did not take. But Amber believes there was a reason beyond fertility that the treatments did not work.

Chase’s birth mother — who has still occasionally chats with Amber — informed them she was pregnant on Mother’s Day 2017, but originally planned to keep the baby. By September, she split with the father and decided to change course.

Wanting a two-parent home for her daughter, the Friedels received another call from the adoption agency and they hurried to file the necessary paperwork by December for Kamber’s birth.

“We got (Kamber) right from the hospital,” Amber said. “I missed her birth by about a half hour. We brought her home basically home from day one. We stayed one night in the hospital and we were home.”

Future children

The Friedels’ adoption story reached the desk of Rounds through a staff member who also went through the adoption process, and had gone to church with Amber when she lived in Rapid City.

When they began the adoption process, the Friedels simply wanted to add to their family, but being honored was still a fun experience.

Currently living happily with their two kids, the Friedels are still seeking to grow their family. They have not decided whether to utilize the adoption pool again or attempt to become foster parents.

“In my work as a nurse, you see the best of the best and the worst of the worst,” said Amber, who works for Avera St. Benedict Health Center in Parkston. “Being able to better a child’s life, but with the aspect that they might go back to their parents, might be an OK thing.”