When Ann Schlenner and her family visit their cabin in northern Minnesota, one of the first things she, her husband, Ryan, and their four children do is raise two flags on the flagpole that stands in their lakeside yard. One is the American flag; the other is the flag that bears the seal of the United Nations. Together, the flags symbolize the origins of their family—Americans born of many nations.
When Ann and Ryan were married in 2001, they knew they wanted to have children right away. After unsuccessful treatments for infertility, they were drawn to the idea of building their family through international adoption.
The Schlenners attended an informational meeting at Children’s Home with great expectations. Ann recalls their hearts were hurting to have children. “The presenters said everything we wanted to hear—that children were waiting,” said Ann. “We started the process the next day.”
It wasn’t long before Ann and Ryan were matched to a child living in a Russian orphanage. Ann and Ryan traveled to Russia to complete the adoption of their daughter, whom they named Gabriella. At 11 months old, she was malnourished and underweight but had no major medical issues, and today is what her mother describes as an active, somewhat shy, high-school senior.
Being a multicultural family has brought a deep richness and joy to our lives.” – Ann Schlenner
Knowing they wanted to continue to grow their family, the Schlenners pursued their next international adoption. “It’s a 24-hour flight from Russia to Minnesota,” said Ann. “We started filling out the paperwork on the airplane!” By the time they landed, they had papers ready to submit to Children’s Home.
About a year later, they welcomed 6-month-old Jocelyn from South Korea. She arrived at the airport escorted by Mrs. Hyun Sook Han. Mrs. Han described Jocelyn to her new parents as calm, cuddly and unphased by the commotion of long-distance travels, which Ann says is true to this day.
Room for More
Ann and Ryan reached out to Children’s Home again in 2007. One year later, Ann traveled to Ethiopia to meet 9-month-old Ahnya. She describes their first meeting as love at first sight. “She loved to sleep and eat, and she had the biggest brown eyes that could ever fit onto a face!”
Now a family of five, Ryan was happy with three kids, but Ann convinced him there was room for one more. They had long hoped to adopt a child from China. They were matched to a little boy who had multiple medical issues. The Schlenners named him Magnus and welcomed him to his new home in 2011 when he was 19 months old.
Today, he’s a loving, healthy, active boy. “He was ‘go-go-go’ from the moment we saw him, and nothing’s changed!” said Ann.
Ten years after adopting Magnus, the Schlenners say their family feels complete. Ann says she often notices the looks on people’s faces when they see the family together—Gabriella (18), Jocelyn (16), Ahnya (12), Magnus (11) and two parents, none of whom look like each other. Ann and Ryan have made it a point to help their children feel comfortable responding when people ask questions or treat them differently. “They know their birth stories, and these are their stories to tell.”