Lundstrom mothers her 3 adopted children with unconditional love and graceJun 04, 2021 12:55PM ● By Karmel Harper
The Lundstrom family hanging out with Mickey. Photo courtesy of Gari Lyn Lundstrom.
Someone once said that however motherhood comes to you, it is a miracle. Gari Lyn Lundstrom of Kaysville could not have biological children of her own. Shortly after her marriage to Robert Lundstrom in 1988, the couple discovered their inability to have children when Gari Lyn experienced menopause at the age of 23. Her doctors believe this was due to her mother having the German measles while she was pregnant. Because of this, Gari Lyn’s reproductive organs did not fully develop and she is deaf in one ear. When the couple accepted this reality they immediately began the process of adoption and submitted their paperwork to LDS Family Services to assist them. However, as the process with this organization was slow, the Lundstroms turned to private organizations. Gari Lyn said, “We had to find our family.”
They found their first child, Melissa, in 1991, when the baby was 6 weeks old. As Melissa is Native American from the Rosebud Sioux nation, the Lundstroms traveled to South Dakota and participated in tribal court to adopt her.
“We were pretty naïve at the time,” Gari Lyn said. “We got her when she was 6 weeks old and she was over two years old before we finalized the adoption as we had to go through the Native American process. We had a Native American social worker and attorney. We did not realize the risk because although we had guardianship, the birth mother could have changed her mind at any time and we could have lost her.”
Lundstrom explained that because the tribe is a matriarchal society, the support of Melissa’s biological mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother for the adoption was key in the tribal judges’ decision to rule in favor of the Lundstroms. This adoption ruling that favors a family outside the tribe is rare. Melissa, now 30 years old, and married to Britain Bybee, lives with the Lundstroms in their basement apartment with their son, Spencer Zane Bybee, who is 7 years old.
After Melissa joined the couple, the Lundstroms continued to search for more of their children and unfortunately experienced two failed adoptions in the coming years. The first failed attempt happened when Melissa was around 3 years old. They were expecting a native Alaskan baby. The Lundstroms followed the birth mother’s pregnancy for six months, paid for all of her expenses and flew to Alaska for the birth. Tragically, the baby boy was stillborn.“That was hard because we had no legal claim on the body so we could not take him home and bury him,” Gari Lyn said. “His mom did not have the funds for a funeral so he was buried in an unmarked grave.”
A couple of years later, when Melissa was in kindergarten, the family took guardianship of another Native American girl from the Navajo nation when the baby was 3 months old. After bonding with and raising this infant for nearly a year and Melissa enjoying a baby sister, the birth mother changed her mind and took the baby back, leaving the family bereft and devastated.
However, a year later, in 1996, the paperwork that the couple submitted to LDS Family Services finally materialized when Spencer was born. The family took the baby home when he was 2 days old. Yet when Spencer was not hitting the developmental milestones that healthy babies achieve, the Lundstroms discovered that Spencer was born with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease, or PMD. PMD is a genetic disorder that affects the central and peripheral nervous systems and part of a group of genetic disorders called Leukodystrophies. Leukodystrophies are characterized as diseases that cause deterioration of the myelin (sometimes referred to as white matter) in the brain. For Spencer, this means that his brain and nervous system development has peaked to that of a 3 – 6 month old, even though he is now 24 years old. Spencer has never talked or walked or sit up. He was born with poor eyesight, has been completely blind for three years and has a feeding tube. He has endured many surgeries including a tracheostomy when he was 18 years old. Spencer requires breathing treatments 3 – 4 times a day and full-time care which a nurse assists with. With typical life expectancy for PMD patients being in the mid-teens, Spencer has lived much longer than expected. Robert Lundstrom, Gari Lyn’s husband said, “No one can ever appreciate what a mom with a fully dependent special needs kid does. Yet my wife manages his care so well she has made him one of the oldest living people with his condition.”
As Robert and Gari Lyn became entrenched in the care of their two children, Melissa and Spencer, adopting a third child became a low priority. But LDS Family Services continued to send them prospects.
“As we were in our 40s we had talked about taking ourselves off of their database but if we were to adopt again we wanted an older child like a toddler,” Gari Lyn said. But then, Eli was born in 2009. Born with a diaphragmatic hernia, Eli’s intestines, stomach, and spleen moved up into his lungs, affecting his ability to breathe. The newborn was on heart/lung bypass and in an induced medical coma until he was stable enough for reparation surgery. Eli was originally matched with a Canadian family but due to his medical condition this original adoption could not continue due to Canada’s socialized medicine which prevented him from receiving the immediate care he required. Even though Robert had just lost his job, they felt like Eli was part of their family. The Lundstroms met Eli in the NICU when he was 6 days old. Eli had surgery when he was 8 days old and the adoption was final when he was 9 days old. In a matter of days of learning about Eli, Melissa and Spencer gained a baby brother.
“It was so sudden and I thought we were already out of the baby stage that we had no more baby stuff at all,” Gari Lyn said. Eli remained in the NICU for 2 months before he could come home. Today, Eli is a typical 11-year old boy who plays competition baseball and soccer, is involved with school plays and other activities, and continues to keep his parents busy.
Even with a full house and a very busy life, Gari Lyn works part-time in the custodial department of the Bountiful temple, a job which she loves and has had for over 12 years. Gari Lyn said, “I think I love it there because it is so peaceful.” She also volunteers for her church teaching 4-year old children in the Primary. Although the pandemic limits physical meetings, she drops goodies off to her Primary children every week.
“I guess I was just like everyone else,” she said, regarding motherhood. “You get married, you start a family, and you expect your kids to come because they naturally will come. And it hasn’t been that way. It’s been a struggle to find our family and try to make things work. But with all the experiences you go through, you sure appreciate what you have. And there are always other people who have it harder than you. After meeting people with great challenges I think, ‘I am not sure I can do your stuff so I will just do mine.’”
Gari Lyn's husband, Robert, who is her biggest admirer and support, said, “She runs our family and home with amazing grace.”