WASHINGTON — With a handmade sign — “I’m smiling because my birthmother chose life!” — and a big smile on her face, Natanya Stark, 18, proudly walked with her family during the annual national March for Life on Jan. 24 in Washington.
“I find the pro-life movement very compelling. My birth mother was very young when she had me, and I was very inspired by her courage,” Natanya, the adopted daughter of Adam and Marisa Stark, said.
“I wanted to show people my [activism], and to talk about supporting adoptions, because I have a lot of siblings who are also adopted. I want to spread the word that adoption is an option and the best thing to do.”
The Starks, who live in Pound Ridge in Westchester County, have seven children, six of them adopted, including three from China. The family’s story shows another facet of the pro-life movement: adoption.
“It’s very important for them to see that there are lots of people who share our beliefs and to know they’re not alone,” said Adam Stark, the father, who’s a real estate manager. “Going to the March for Life was very important for our kids, especially for our kids who are adopted and even our biological son. It’s the whole idea that there are no unwanted children. There are always families these children belong to.”
Over the course of almost 15 years, the Starks, who are Jewish, adopted three children from the United States — Natanya, David and Maya — and then three from China — Jessica, Ella and Celia.
Adam Stark, who married his wife, Marisa, in 1998, said the couple “just always knew” that they would adopt.
“We wanted to create a big, special family, and it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We have the means to give a child in need a family. I wouldn’t have done it any different way. To benefit from having that child as part of your family, it’s created a very special dynamic for us,” he said.
My children wouldn’t be here if their birth mother decided against life.
– Marisa Stark
Natanya, their first child, was adopted from an agency the couple found in Kansas. After doing the routine paperwork and social worker home study, they were paired with the birth mother, a teenager who “wasn’t able to support her baby” but who wanted the child to “grow up with a good life and a good family,” Adam said.
Adam and Marisa flew to Kansas and met Natanya on the night she was born: Jan. 21, 2002. Adam remembers the very first time he held his adopted daughter, and later taking her home to New York. “She was very tiny,” he recalls. “She was the smallest baby ever on that plane.”
The Starks knew that they wanted their child to have siblings of her own to play with, and in 2004, with the help of another agency, they brought home twins from Texas: David and Maya, who are now 15.
In April 2007, their biological son, Zachary, was born, but for Marisa, four wasn’t enough. She read articles about foster care and learned about abandoned children in orphanages in need of homes, especially in China. She saw a photo of Jessica, who was burned as a child and was only a couple of months younger than Natanya.
The process of international adoption took about 13 “frightening” months, Marisa says. By the time the Starks completed the paperwork, Jessica was already seven years old when she came to live with the family in 2009.
“There was this little girl on the other side of the world stuck in an orphanage; I was beside myself because of all the quarantines and delays,” Marisa said. “But we brought her home, and I remember Natanya ran up to Jessica screaming, ‘Jessie, I’ve been waiting for you my whole life!’ She was so happy to have a sister her own age.”
After Jessica, whom the parents describe as the “easy, artistic one,” the Starks wanted to continue to add to their family. A little over a year later, in 2010, Natanya and Marisa went back to China to pick up their fifth toddler, Ella, who was born with one eye.
Then five years later, Celia came along after the Starks participated in a Chinese government-led temporary host family adoptee program. Under the program, Celia went to live with the Starks in late 2015 for four weeks. She had cerebral palsy and “the biggest grin we’d ever seen,” Marisa said. “We always called her ‘Ms. Happy.’”
Marisa described Celia as “the sweetest, happiest, most cheerful kid in the whole world … Adam and I and the kids knew, we couldn’t let her go.”
They went through the adoption process once more and brought Celia, then 9, home in late 2016. Now 12 years old, she is enrolled in a special education program.
“She has certain developmental challenges, but everyone knows and loves her,” Adam says. “Celia lights up a room.”
“My kids are all so different, and it’s so nice to be a part of that,” Marisa says. “One day I can be in the theater with Maya, to watching debates with Zachary, or cheering David at cross-country meets. Or Jessica, who came into the States not speaking any English, and now she’s a top student and into photography.
“My children wouldn’t be here if their birth mother decided against life. All of them understand that,” she said.