After having four biological children over 11 years, former Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and his wife, Christa, decided to expand their family through adoption. In 2007, they adopted a sister and brother from Ethiopia, and two years ago, adopted a girl from the Charlotte area. In town for a Gift of Adoption fundraising event, Muhsin spoke with RedEye about his adoption experience.
What made you consider adoption?
MUHSIN MUHAMMAD: Initially, I had a hard time thinking about adoption. I found a lot of reasons why it wasn't right at the time for us. We were in transition as a family. I was playing for the Bears, and my family part-time was living in Charlotte, so there was this distance. I made that a reason why adoption probably wasn't right at that time for us.
And then on the outside of that, I really enjoyed the core of our family and having our biological kids. I wasn't sure if I could love outside of the family structure as much or equally. And boy was I wrong.
So I prayed on that, and any time I pray on something, God has a way of talking to me and revealing certain things to me. There was a radio show that I used to listen to all the time, and after my prayer, there was continuous stories on there about adoption. I started running into people who I found out were adopted and I had no idea were adopted. And every single story, every single interaction with someone who was adopted, they were all positive. That told me something.
Then in 2007 after the football season was over, I was actually watching a program that was on during the NFL playoffs. We weren't in the playoffs that year. And the program was about a guy who I played football against in college. I went to Michigan State, he went to University of Michigan. And our fathers happened to work together. The guy's name is David Bowens. And during this program I found out that he and his sister were adopted. I had no idea they were adopted. I think for me, that was the tipping point. I was ready to, as my wife says, close your eyes and run through the fire.
The next step was finding the right agency, and then deciding if we wanted to do domestic vs. international, and what fit our family. That led us to Ethiopia. We decided to go with the agency called All God's Children, International. That started our adoption process. We began the paperwork. It's a long process. You have dossiers, family stuff, home studies, background checks. Just a lot of paperwork in order to be cleared to participate in an adoption.
CHRISTA MUHAMMAD: A 5-year-old boy with a baby sister: that was the age group we were looking for. And the adoption agency called us one day – I'll never forget it – and said: "We don't want to put any pressure on you, but we have a brother and sister." There was a sister with a younger brother. Journey was about 8 at the time and Maddon was 4, so it kind of flip-flopped as far as the sex of the children and the ages.
They said, "There is something about them that we feel would fit right into your family." So we looked over the paperwork before we saw the pictures, because you know, once you see the pictures you get kind of hook, line and sinkered. But we read over their paperwork, their history, their medical stuff, and that was it. I feel like God chose them for us and God chose us for them. I can't imagine life without them now.
So what was the conversation like with your four biological children?
MM: Our kids were part of the adoption process the whole time. I think for my son, the conversation was about having a brother. At that point, he was the only boy. For the girls, it was about adding to the family. They were all for it. They embraced the opportunity to give back. I think we've raised our kids that way, to always have an open heart.
Once we all decided as a family that we wanted to adopt, we wanted our kids to experience the culture of the country we were going to adopt from, so we took a family trip to Ethiopia. We got to experience the culture first-hand. We got to experience the poverty. It really made [our kids] embrace it and be more involved in the process, and they were excited about this brother and sister that were coming from this continent of Africa and this country of Ethiopia.
What were the surprise challenges of the adoption?
MM: My adopted daughter was very protective of her younger brother, because they were in an orphanage for over a year. She was somewhat of a matriarch. And it took some time for her to be a kid again and not the mother to her brother. That was a challenge for us to allow her to be a kid again, and not be a parent to her younger brother.
She's 13 now, and wrote a children's book. The name of thebook is "Journey's Promise." It's about her promise that she made to watch over her brother. It's based on her adoption story. It's an amazing accomplishment for her to learn the English language and then as a 12-year-old [write] a book.
Any other challenges?