In this social media age, it’s easy to amass a lot of “friends.” But how many people will really take the time to listen, to walk with you through the thorny places you wish didn’t exist? To help you make peace with decisions you can’t take back, and face the troubling realities -we all have them- that rob you of sleep at night? Define “friend” that way, and the list narrows considerably, doesn’t it? Most of us have just one or two, or maybe -if we’re really blessed- a handful. But what about men and women who are incarcerated, working to rebuild their lives and make good on an eventual second chance? Sometimes people in the criminal justice system lack even one helpful, trusted voice to whom they can consistently turn. Befriending those who often feel all alone is the life’s work of embryo adoption dad Michael Fatula.
In The Blood
Helping others just seems to be in Michael’s blood. He served our country in the Army National Guard, a commitment that spanned virtually all of his college years (both undergrad and graduate). During that time, he was studying to become a mental health counselor. “I had always dreamed that I would open my own private practice, be my own boss, and maybe teach at the collegiate level,” Michael says. “However, when I was in my second year of graduate school, I interned for a public behavioral health agency, and that experience changed the course of my career.”
That internship opened Michael’s eyes and weighed heavily on his heart. He felt a restless pull to come alongside his fellow veterans, the homeless, and prisoners as they battled mental health and substance abuse challenges. Michael still went on to become a licensed professional counselor, but he never opened that private practice. His work has been solely in public, community-based mental health. It’s a career that takes him to places where a lot of other people won’t go, including behind bars. Right now Michael’s a full-time mental health clinician with the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Truth be told, Michael’s work is a team effort. His wife Lucy serves as his support system, keeping him strong as he cares for men and women navigating harrowing ups and downs. The road hasn’t always been easy for Michael and Lucy, either.
Their relationship got off to a storybook start. They met online in 2010, got married a year and a half later, and shifted their thoughts to raising a family. That was when the pages in their storybook began to tear. “After countless visits with different doctors, we were told we would be unable to have any biological children. This was devastating to us at first,” Lucy remembers.
After learning to live with what they couldn’t change, Michael and Lucy decided to check out adoption as their potential road to parenthood. Deeply devoted to their Christian faith, they particularly sensed a tug from God toward embryo adoption. “How incredible would it be to carry our adopted child and begin bonding with them before they are even born?” Lucy thought.
She and Michael headed South to the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville for their frozen embryo transfer. “From the very first time meeting [President and Medical Director] Dr. Jeffrey Keenan and his wonderful staff, we knew we were meant to be there,” Lucy remembers. “They were all so incredibly welcoming and understanding. After battling so many years of infertility, their kindness was just what we needed.”
Michael and Lucy’s second embryo transfer with the NEDC resulted in the birth of their “miracle”, as Lucy puts it: Abraham, their son. “Abraham is now one year old and is a sweet, energetic and outgoing little boy,” Michael and Lucy say. “He loves going on walks in the park where he plays on the playground and ‘quacks’ at the ducks. And he loves our extended family, which is filled with 14 cousins for him to play and grow with.”
A Ray of Hope, Deepened Understanding
Michael and Lucy call Dr. Keenan “a ray of hope”, and they’re excited to remain with the NEDC as they prayerfully pursue siblings for Abraham.
Of course he and Lucy never would have chosen to endure the trauma of infertility. But Michael feels their grinding journey has deepened his empathy for the people he helps every day. He’s a better therapist now. “Even though I don’t specialize in working with those who’ve experienced infertility or are going through adoption, my personal experience with both gives an additional level of understanding for those living through similar trials,” Michael says. “I’m thankful for Lucy’s and my experience, as it has taught us about patience, resilience and hope, three of the many aspects vital to therapy.”