38 Kids and Counting: Why This West Virginia Couple Keeps Adopting Children and Doesn't Plan to Stop
When the Briggses adopted their first child, they couldn't have imagine they'd one day have 38.
It’s 7 a.m. in the Briggs household. Paper plates with 25 names written in black marker rest on the large kitchen island before breakfast gets underway in the West Virginia home.
Jeane and Paul Briggs run a tight ship. With 38 children, 32 of whom are adopted and 25 still living at home, everything has to be scheduled to a T.
There are set times for the kids’ homeschooling, playtime, and nap time. There’s a method to how they do laundry and a chart for whose job it is to walk the dog, help cook meals or clean.
It's the only way the parents, and their dozens of children, can stay sane.
“We do have a system in place to help us take the burden off of how we manage these kids,” Jeane, 62, told InsideEdition.com. “I'm probably very OCD and need to organize. And organization is good in a large family. The children, when they've come into the family, pick up on that. And they all know it's necessary to be extremely organized or we'd have chaos.”
A full house is an understatement, but Jeane and Paul, 64, embrace the life they’ve built for themselves and their family. It wasn't one they initially expected, but now they couldn't imagine it any other way.
They know the futures of their children — adopted from Ghana, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia and Bulgaria — would have been very different. “For many of our children, we've given them the opportunity to live,” Jeane said.
“They would have died.”
The Road to 38 Children
Each day at home starts with breakfast and then it’s straight to homeschooling.
Jeane has been teaching for years and the older kids help the younger ones with their education so that Jeanne also has time to take kids to doctors' appointments, grocery shop and run other errands.
One of Jeane’s biological daughters, 32-year-old Mary Kate, lives nine houses down with her 11 children, some of whom are also adopted. She brings them over each morning for lessons as well.
For Jeane, the decision to homeschool the kids comes down to spending time with them.
“I don't not think they couldn't get academics at school, I know they could,” Jeane said of her kids. “I'm not afraid of what they'll pick up or learn. I love being with my children. That's the bottom line. I only have them for so much time.”
Although Jeane said she never expected to have as many children as she does, she dreamed of adoption from a very young age. She just wanted to find the right partner to do it with.
Jeane met Paul at Christian summer camp when she was 14.
“It was a week long … and at the very first day, first workshop, I noticed her. She noticed me, and we found reasons to talk and from that very first day, we've been together,” Paul said.
Early on, Jeane wanted to make sure the man she’d married liked children, so she didn’t hesitate to put Paul to the test.
“My first date with him was a babysitting job so I could tell if he would be good with kids,” Jeane said. “He was and the rest was history.”
The pair were married in December 1976. They had three biological children before they adopted their first child, then-2-year-old Abraham, from Mexico in 1985.
It wasn’t something they had planned. Jeane visited the country on a mission trip and came back to tell Paul the story of a blind orphan who “tugged at her heart.” They adopted the boy, Abraham, and never looked back.
“I never really thought we would do this many children, but it just worked out because we'd hear of a child, pray about it and then felt like we should bring him home,” Jeane said.
Mary Kate remembers new kids constantly coming into the family throughout her childhood and beyond.
“I had always wanted more younger siblings, so I always enjoyed it,” Mary Kate said. “Just like anything, it was an adjustment. The family dynamic was ever changing with each new child they brought home, but it was always amazing to see my new brother or sister know what it was like to be loved and cared for, as they became a part of the family.”
Inspired by her own parents, Mary Kate has followed a similar path. She has seven biological kids and four adopted.
Many of the children that come in to the Briggs family have special needs. Jeane started her career as a nurse and she has a passion for taking care of those who need it most. Many of the children she simply stumbled upon when an adoption agency would ask for medical advice on specific cases.
“We’ve had heart surgeries, significant orthopedic surgeries where I did all the PT because there was no other resource here,” Jeane said. “That’s probably why we have so many kids because an agency would send and say, ‘Well, this child has this tumor,’ and I’d look at it and say, ‘Mmm hmm, maybe send that to the cleft clinic at [the nearby hospital.]"
For many of the kids, Jeane felt no one else would want to adopt them, whether because of their ages or medical issues, so she and Paul stepped in.
The children's issues range from severe autism to cleft palates to heart problems.
For 29-year-old Joseph, who was adopted by the Briggses from Ukraine at the age of 15, entering the family altered the course of his life. He was born with a cleft lip and abandoned by his biological parents.
“When you have a family, it's different. You know you have somebody who loves you, cares for you, makes sure you are safe, you’re not hungry,” Joseph said. “In the orphanage, it was opposite. You were on your own a lot of times.”
The journey hasn’t been without many struggles for the Briggses. In 2014, as the Briggs were in the middle of adopting two of their children from Ghana, Sandra and Zeke, they heard about another boy with no legs or arms, Jabin, who had been abandoned in the country.
They traveled to visit Jabin and “immediately” fell in love. A week after they returned from meeting him for the first time, Jubal, who has no legs, was also found abandoned.
Jeanne and Paul planned to adopt both of them, but Jabin got sick and died before they could bring him home. They feel as though doctors didn’t give the boy a fair chance at life because of his condition.
“Of course after that we expedited the process for Jubal, fearing that the same fate would happen to him,” Jeane said.
They brought the now-4-year-old boy home in May 2015. “God who moved every mountain to bring Jubal into our family,” Jeane said. “What a joy and gift he is too.
"It breaks my heart to not see Jabin alongside his brother.”
Growing Up Briggs
As their family has grown, the Briggses have adjusted their home to accommodate the changes. They’ve expanded their house from 2,400 square feet to 5,000 over the years. They’ve added bathrooms and modified the kitchen several times. On their property, there are two swimming pools and two trampolines, as well as a basketball hoop in the driveway and a soccer field in the front yard.
Upstairs, there is a dorm-like room for the girls, equipped with several bunk beds and “a lot of mirrors," Jeane said. The boys are spread out across two rooms.
While Jeane stays at home to teach the children, Paul works in IT but is usually home for dinner by 5:30 p.m. He said his job has helped a great deal with funding the kids’ adoptions, giving him $10,000 for each one. The family also takes advantage of the adoption tax credit each year and say they don't receive any government assistance.
Still, the expenses add up. Their weekly grocery bill is $1,100. They rarely go on vacation or eat out much because of how much it would cost, but it’s clear that they all feel happy to just be at home with one another.
“Being in a family with a lot of siblings is fun because there's more kids to play with so you're not always bored,” said Isaiah, 12, who was adopted from Ghana.
Isaiah and two of his adoptive brothers, 15-year-old Zeke and Levi, 14, who were also adopted from Ghana, are soccer stars who play on traveling Olympic development teams. Twice a day, they run together on the long scenic road where the Briggs home is located.
“It's fun hanging out together, playing sports,” Zeke said.
The kids are thankful for what the Briggses have done for them.
“If I was in Russia, I probably would have died because I have had 12 families that rejected me because of my polio, and I know God brought them into my life for a reason and they have helped me this far,” said Mya, 17. “They are amazing people.”
While many are shocked at the amount of children the Briggses have, most people are supportive, they said.
“We answer to what we believe our call upon our lives is,” Jeane said. “We’ve carefully considered and prayed about each child in our family even our biological children. It ultimately is our choice.”
Jeane and Paul’s No. 1 hope is that they can provide a life for their children that is fulfilling.
“Even people will say, ‘Well, how do you love that many kids? How can you have enough time?’ Well, whatever we can give is way better than they ever would have had,” Jeane said. “So we base on that premise. But we also see their lives changed. We're feeding them. They didn't all have good nutrition. We're getting medicine for them. They didn't get any kind of medical care.
"And we love them. And they know we love them. I have no doubt even the ones who struggle know we love them.”
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