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Road to Joy: The Wells Family Journey

Posted Aug 26, 2012




Moments of pure happiness and joy are hard to come by in life. And when they do come along, they are to be grabbed and held for as long as possible because the thing those instances have in common is that they are always hard earned.

Few can testify to the value of a perfect moment better than Rams center Scott Wells. Upon signing a lucrative contract with the Rams in March, Wells’ whereabouts were shrouded in mystery as he missed part of the team’s offseason conditioning program.

Some feared that his surgically repaired knee was a crippling ailment. All sorts of conspiracy theories were being tossed around as to what, exactly, Wells was doing with his time.

The answer is nothing nefarious, quite the opposite actually. Wells and his wife Julie were walking the final steps on the hard road to a moment of unadulterated bliss. The moment came little more than a week ago, August 18 to be exact.

That’s the day Wells was finally able to have the moving parts of his new family form a whole. It’s the day when Julie Wells returned from Uganda with her and Scott’s three adopted children in tow. It’s the day when the Wells’ three biological children got to meet their new siblings and see their mother after a 10-week separation.

It’s the day that was years in the making.

“That was right up there all time,” Wells said. “That was special. One, seeing my biological children’s reaction to seeing there mother again after not seeing them 10 weeks. That really showed the love. My 8-year old broke down immediately. It was pretty special.

“Then seeing my 5-year old daughter really take to the girl we had adopted and holding her hand, showing her around and when we got home immediately going to her bedroom, playing dress up. Just seeing my 2-year old taking the other two up to his room and showing them everything…But it was a special moment. And I am very, very thankful to have an organization that understands and allowed me to go home and be a part of it. That was huge for my wife to have me there and we had about 50 people at the airport to welcome them back.”

PICKING UP THE PIECES

The road to the joyful moment started six years ago on Thanksgiving Day, a day that’s supposed to come inherently equipped with a certain level of happiness and family of its own.

That day brought devastation to the Wells family, though. Already the proud parents of son Jackson, their planned family expansion was stalled when their incoming twins were stillborn.

“Since that moment, we kind of started talking about adopting,” Wells said. “And we had a lot of friends adopt, and it kind of seemed like it was something God was pushing us towards. The school my kids attend in Nashville, there's a lot of adoption at that school. We'd started talking about it, we'd read a couple of books on it, and then we said, 'Well, that's something we'd like to do some day.' And then it was almost like everywhere we turned there was somebody who had adopted. And I felt like God was really hitting me in the face with it.”

Scott and Julie Wells didn’t go the adoption route right away, though. Wells said losing the twins isn’t something you just get over but he and his wife agreed that they wanted a big family and were intent to keep trying.

A year later, their daughter Lola was born and about three years after that, their son Kingston was added to the mix. Still, there was something tugging them toward adopting so they began looking into countries they could adopt while sorting through the red tape that comes with intercountry adoption.

The Hague Adoption Convention of 1961 set forth a list of countries with which the United States could work on adoptions with more limited paperwork and a somewhat expedited process.

What that convention didn’t allow for was the opportunity to help kids in the countries most in need of better family situations.

So, about a year and a half ago, when the Wells’ sat down to evaluate the country options, they didn’t limit their scope to so-called Hague countries. Instead, they relied on conversations with their friends who had adopted and went looking for the kids in the worst situations rather than just finding the easiest and quickest possible process.

They narrowed it down to Uganda and Haiti, places ravaged by everything from hurricanes to HIV to Malaria to tuberculosis. In Uganda, for example, the life expectancy of the average person is just shy of 53 years old, which places it 167th of 191 countries according to the CIA World Factbook of 2011.

“That was a big deal, the need,” Wells said. “In a lot of these third-world countries, this is my own view, kids that grow up in an orphanage, don't have as many opportunities as say domestic kids. And so we really felt that the need in Uganda or Haiti, countries like that, was greater.

“So we really just felt there, and again, having the number of friends that we've had that have gone through the process in Uganda, we kind of felt like that's where we were being led.”
Wells and his wife turned their focus to Uganda, knowing full well it wasn’t going to be an easy or short process in front of them. After getting the stamp of approval from oldest son Jackson, the Wells’ began their journey.

Not wanting to deal with some of the corruption and bribery that goes with expediting such a process, Wells and his wife were careful not to get involved with any agencies looking to grease the skids.

They had decided that they wanted two kids, both of them three or younger with a preference toward a boy and a girl or two boys. When they got a response from a reputable orphanage, they were told there was a 2-year old boy and a 3-year old boy that would fit the bill.

Imagine their surprise then, two months later, when the previously agreed upon package got bigger.

“They said, 'By the way, the 2-year-old, we found his sister. And kind of put it to us as what do you want to do?’” Wells said. “She's 5. So we felt that - again this was all God's plan - that had we been paired with the boy and the girl initially, we would've said no because she's 5. We wanted under 3. And we just decided to keep the brother and sister together; keep the boy.

“I think it worked out for a reason that way, and I said, 'What's the difference between five and six kids?' It's zone defense.”

A ‘HODGEPODGE OF VIOLENCE’

Tucked away near the eastern border of Africa, Uganda is an agricultural area by trade with a long history of violence and corruption, even amongst its political leaders. Originally occupied by the British, it got its independence in 1962.

But less than 10 years later, after much infighting, dictator Idi Amin took control and began a reign of terror that lasted eight years and killed what has been estimated at 300,000 of his own people.

Things have improved in Uganda since, though political corruption and violence is still prevalent, particularly in the northern parts of the country. More concerning, perhaps, is that Uganda is landlocked by some of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Needless to say, an extended trip to Uganda wasn’t exactly a trip to paradise.

“Uganda is stuck right in the middle of a lot of turmoil,” Wells said. “You have Sudan north, you have the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Kenya had been going through a drought at the time. So you are right there in a hodgepodge of fighting so it’s important to stay in certain areas which we were in the south which is a safer area.”

Wells signed his contract with the Rams on March 17. Upon arriving in St. Louis for the first veteran minicamp and the offseason program, he felt a twinge in his knee that had never bothered him before.

With a trip to Uganda planned, Wells quickly went to Florida to have Dr. James Andrews perform his knee scope. Because of the various possibilities of infection, Wells needed to have the sutures from his surgery out before he and Julie went to Africa.

“Infection is obviously a threat so you want to make sure that the wound is healed and the therapy and the rehab is on schedule going in, so there's no surprises once you get there,” Wells said. “That's not where you want to be when you have an emergency.”

On June 13, the Wells’ departed for Uganda, leaving their three children Jackson, Lola and Kingston in the care of their grandparents. They stayed near the orphanage in town of Jinja, located about two hours east of Kampala, the capital city and the place where the court appearances would take place.

The adjustment to life in Uganda wasn’t an easy one.

PRACTICING PATIENCE

The way the adoption process was set up was that the Wells’ would have a hearing concerning the two siblings and then a separate one for the other boy they were adopting.

The first court date was initially set for June 18th, only a few days after the couple arrived in Uganda. As they quickly found out, a court date in Uganda isn’t like one in the United States, it’s written mostly in pencil or in some cases invisible ink.

That first court date was pushed back not long after the Wells’ arrival. A process that on paper seemed poised to take a week or two became a much longer ordeal though they were prepared for the wait by their friends who had gone through similar adoptions.

“It’s not like court in the US where they are punctual,” Wells said. “They say we are going to hear it and have a ruling by the end of the day, they basically came in and said come back tomorrow. Then the next day we were supposed to have it at 10 a.m. and we got in at 3. Once we got in then he decided to extend his review process.

“Instead of getting us a quick ruling, it took two weeks for the first ruling. Then it was two days after he said he would address it. That’s just the way it works over there. Everything works a little slower. The infrastructure is not what it is here. If you need a signature, you have to go get it yourself. It’s not like you can fax somebody something or email it and they will turn around and overnight it back to you. It’s just a process and so the first case was for the siblings and it took about three weeks and then the second case took about three weeks also, it was staggered.”

In the meantime, Scott and Julie had plenty of ways to keep occupied, not least of which was spent getting to know the newest additions to the family.

Each day, they’d head to the orphanage and begin the process of helping the kids get comfortable around their new parents. As part of the process before the trip to Uganda, Scott and Julie sent a photo album to the orphanage so the house mother could show the kids pictures of the people they’d be going to live with.

That helped some of the kids warm up to their new parents almost instantaneously.

“The 3-year old warmed up immediately,” Wells said. “It was hilarious. As soon as we got to the orphanage, he ran up and wanted a hug.”

Aside from that heart melting moment with son Elijah, daughter Caroline and 2-year old R.J. took just a bit longer to get used to their new parents.

“You don’t see a lot of white people over there so you stand out,” Wells said. “They say fair skin, red hair; you don’t see that much at all.”

When Wells wasn’t spending time with his kids, he was doing his best to rehab his knee and get back in shape. Armed with his iPad playbook, Wells spent his evenings studying up on his new offensive scheme.

Likewise, he traveled with bands and a stimulus machine to help keep his recovery on track. After a month of time overseas, Wells returned to the U.S. so he could spend some more time with his Jackson, Lola and Kingston before returning to St. Louis for training camp.

Julie stayed in Africa to complete the adoption process and, with a little help from a family friend who just happened to be working on a missionary trip, she returned to the United States with Elijah, Carolina and R.J. last weekend.

“She’s amazing and I have been blessed to have her,” Wells said of Julie. “This whole process has really increased my level of respect for her and how strong she is to be able to go through what she did because she was there twice as long as I was.”

TEAM WELLS REUNION

The schedule for Wells’ return to action has actually been right on target. Before training camp, coach Jeff Fisher had hoped Wells could return about midway through the preseason.

Sure enough, Wells began practicing in team drills last week and got his first action in Saturday night’s game against Dallas. That schedule worked out well not only in terms of his health but in terms of his family.

When it was determined that Wells would not be playing in last week’s game against the Chiefs and his wife and three children would be returning from Uganda that same night, the stars aligned just right.

With about 50 family and friends in tow, Wells arrived at the Nashville International Airport eagerly awaiting the arrival of his wife and kids. When they arrived, tears were shed, hugs were exchanged and introductions of siblings were made.

The Wells crew, now rolling eight deep, returned home and just did what a normal family might do on a Saturday night. The girls played dress up while Kingston showed off his room to R.J. and Elijah. Jackson, the oldest and team captain of the group, proudly shared his toys and made sure the ones that were inappropriate for his younger siblings were put away.

Wells returned to St. Louis in time for practice last week and the whole family making the trip to St. Louis to spend the season here on Friday. The kids that are old enough will be home-schooled during the season and attend private school back in Nashville during the offseason.

Eventually, the Wells’ two dogs – a boxer and a great dane will be integrated back into the mix of what would surely make a terrific reality show. And, if all goes according to schedule, the whole family will be in the Edward Jones Dome on Sept. 16 for the home opener against Washington.

“That’s the plan,” Wells said, a grin creeping across his face. “With this many kids, it’s hard to make plans.”

It is that very randomness that can turn a moment in time to a wonderful memory. 


 

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