Why This Huge Colorado Family Is So Special

The Mayr family. Photo courtesy of the Mayrs.Kelly Nixon Mayr of Colorado has birthed five children, adopted one troubled teen and fostered several special-needs infants. On Tuesday, she and husband Paul announced, through their family blog, that they had finalized their adoption of Angie, a 2-year-old who was born drug-exposed and clubfooted, whom they had fostered on and off since she was 1.

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Now they are preparing for their next adoption—of Rita, an 8-year-old Eastern European orphan with arthrogryposis (a rare syndrome causing unbendable joints) and a case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But Nixon Mayr, 45, who speaks about her close-knit brood with equal parts passion and humor, insists that she and her husband are not extraordinary.

“I yell at my kids, and I think one might have had Goldfish for breakfast the other day,” she tells Yahoo Shine with a laugh. “The only thing we are is willing.”

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But the Mayrs are also rare, at least by default. They are among a small number of people who foster infants, as only 6 percent of this country’s foster children are less than a year old. And the number of foreign adoptions has been on a steady decline: In 2012, a total of 8,668 Americans adopted children from foreign countries, down every year from nearly 17,500 in 2008. The last official record of adoptions from Rita’s country (which Nixon Mayr says she cannot disclose at this point in the process) was in 2009, with a total of only five.

The couple is also particularly empathetic when it comes to children in need. Nixon-Mayr explains that kids in many countries who have physical disabilities wind up getting institutionalized for life, and are often so neglected that they die of malnutrition. As she writes on her family blog, “Once you know about special-needs orphans, you can’t ‘unknow.’”

Mayr, a former special education teacher and flight attendant, is now a stay-at-home mom; her husband, whom she describes as a “big gruff military guy” who keeps saying, “OK! One more!” to their new additions, is a network security architect and a former marine. They never planned on having a large family—and did, in fact, almost stop with child number two.

When their now-15-year-old son Jack was 2, Nixon Mayr gave birth to Grace, now 13, who has Noonan Syndrome. It causes short stature, heart defects and unusual facial characteristics. “It was devastating,” Nixon Mayr admits. “I bawled for a week straight.” Still, while they were initially worried about having children, she adds, “We decided to take the risk.”

Next came Daniel, Michael and Maggie—all three of whom, as well as Jack, have been diagnosed with and take medication for ADHD. Still, even with such a full plate, Nixon Mayr recalls, “I felt like I had more to give. And volunteering at school just wasn’t my thing.” They trained to become foster parents and, as practice, fostered a series—hundreds, actually—of animals through the Humane Society, in order to teach their children the concept of providing “a safe place until a forever-home is found.”

They quickly wound up with a teenager named Rose, who had been adopted from Vietnam in a situation that was not working out. Next came two foster infants in a row—one of which was Angie—both born exposed to crystal meth. “It’s awful,” Nixon Mayr admitted about the pain of getting attached to a baby who will most likely move on. “How do you not fall in love? But we believe in the system, and how we were going to bridge the gap. But most of the time they never go back home.”

Angie brought with her a slew of attachment issues, leaving Nixon Mayr unable to be out of her sight for a while. “I remember thinking, ‘What did I do to my family?’ She was very primal,” she recalls. Then came the complexities of moving toward adoption, which involved a range of relatives and opinions on the little girl’s side. “I liked the idea of ‘Oh, I can hold babies,’” she says, explaining what she’s learned about fostering. “I never thought of all the people who are part of the little person’s life.” On the day of Angie’s adoption, all nine family members huddled together for a photo,

In September, before Angie’s adoption was finalized, Kelly and Paul made their first emotional trip to Eastern Europe to meet Rita (not her real name), whom they found through the adoption-grant foundation Reece’s Rainbow. Based in Maryland, the organization helps match families with foreign children who are awaiting adoption, who have Down’s Syndrome or other special needs, and helps them raise money for the pricey process (which is costing the Mayr family $28,000). Nixon Mayr says she stumbled across the organization, spoke with other adoptive parents, and learned about children and orphanage conditions she could not turn her back on. Once again, they were not looking to expand their family more, but could not stop thinking about how they could help another child in need.

“I thought, ‘If not us, who?’” she explains, quoting Hillel. “I am already networked into this community. I know people. I’m older, and it’s much less scary.” After learning about institutionalized, disabled children who lay in bed all day, covered in infections, picked up only once a day to be changed, she thought, “I know I can do better than that.” But she also wants others to know that they are well equipped to do it, too—more than they may believe.

“People will often try to find a reason why they couldn’t possibly do it,” she says. “They say to me, ‘You must have family nearby, you must have lots of support, you must have lots of money.’” But for people with huge hearts and the wherewithal to locate the multitude of adoption grants that are available, she says, it’s possible for just about anyone.

Through extensive online research, the Mayrs found Rita. Now they simply wait for the day they will be able to bring her home, as the adoption process in the country they are dealing with is mysterious and controlling. They hope to go for another visit in February. And when they become official parents of their eighth child, there will be great joy.

“I think with adoption there is more of a sense of relief when the adoption finalizes. Then you know for sure that no one can take her away. So in that way it is pretty different then birth. But there is the same overwhelming emotion,” Nixon Mayr says. “All in all, every time a child joins our family we are overwhelmed with excitement.”

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