I’m often asked, “Why did you start Graceful Adoptions?”

The answer is, after years of driving revenues for corporations, life events changed me.

They changed who I was and how I wanted to spend my time. And, after my personal experiences with adoption it became clear to me that there had to be a better way. Creating that agency became my passion. Years later, we are still creating families. It is not a job or a career, it’s my life…

From Washington DC to Iowa

I was living the good life in a Washington DC suburb and working in the District. It was late August. I had just moved into a house that I had saved for years to purchase. One day out of the blue, my dad called to ask me to move home to Iowa. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer years prior and had already outlived the doctor’s projections. I was not prepared for this question or to move to Iowa. I had only been in my new house for a couple weeks.

My dad continued to ask. He was the kind of father that never asked you to do anything for him. So, when he asked the fifth time, just a few weeks later, I knew I had to go.

Graceful Adoptions - Karen Nissly
Graceful Adoptions - Karen Nissly

Life Changes in an Instant

Eight months after arriving in Iowa, my mother became ill and was hospitalized. The moment I walked into her hospital room I knew she was going to die. My first thought was “Life is so short.” She was only 68 years old.

While she taught me so much during her life, it was her death at such a young age that inspired me to adopt. I had always wanted a family the traditional way – you know, get married and then have a child with my husband. Given my age and the fact that I was still single, I understood having children the traditional way probably wasn’t going to be the way it would happen for me.

I researched many options and settled on an international adoption from Guatemala working with an adoption agency that had values consistent with my own.

Getting Matched

Two years into the process I was matched with a beautiful baby girl when she was just 10 days old. During the holidays that year, the card I sent to family and friends included a picture of the child I would adopt.

When she was five months old, on a cold and snowy night, I heard the phone ring and ran into the house from shoveling my driveway. It was the director of the adoption agency I was using. She never called. I instantly knew something was wrong.

She quickly explained that there was a problem with the DNA test, that the woman who placed my child for adoption was not biologically related to her. The U.S. wouldn’t approve a Guatemalan adoption if the DNA between the child and the mother didn’t match. I couldn’t move forward with the child I thought would be mine. Confusion and Frustration

They were convinced that they would never find the child that was biologically related to the mother and the U.S. was closing to Guatemala adoptions soon. I insisted that there had to be an error somewhere because the child was born in a hospital.

Each week, for five weeks, the same discussion took place on the conference call.  Agency representatives told me all the reasons that I needed to select another child, and I asked, “What have you done since the last call to find my child?” This went on week after week.

I really wanted “my daughter” to meet my father, and my father to meet his granddaughter before he passed away. I wanted just one picture of them together.

Several weeks after eliminating switched DNA as a possible scenario, the agency explored if my daughter had been switched at the hospital. By this time the last snow had fallen long ago, summer was just around the corner.

What did they discover? There were two girls born two days apart at the same hospital and they had gone to different foster families upon discharge. They thought that perhaps they confused their paperwork. They were going to try to find the mother again and run a DNA test between the mother and this other child. The girls were now about 8 months old.

In late June I was notified that, indeed, when the children left the hospital, their paperwork was switched. The child I was approved to adopt was the “other” child, the child that I had bonded with via pictures and videos, and had sent holiday cards out with her picture, wasn’t my child and never would be.

Meeting My Daughter

The first week in July I flew to Guatemala to meet the child that would become my daughter. After spending five amazing days and nights with her, it was time to leave Guatemala and return home. I handed her back to her foster mother, not knowing when I would see her again. As I walked through the hotel lobby to return to my room, I sobbed. Just when would I see her again?

When I got home, I framed a picture of my daughter and I, and took it to my dad in the nursing home where he was now living. This was his first glimpse of his newest grandchild. My dad’s health continued to worsen. I was in a hurry to get my daughter home while he was still alive.

By this time, I started to manage my adoption from Iowa. While I still had much confidence in the local office in Iowa, I had lost all faith in the Guatemalan office of the agency. 

I used every contact I had to understand what was missing and what still needed to be done to bring my daughter home. Soon I began calling offices in Guatemala that would schedule the court date for the adoption there. The number was programed in my speed-dial. For days, each time I called the line was busy. I found that if I called at specific times of the day the phone would be answered, but I would be put on hold until the next available person could take my call. Two days in a row this happened. Each time I had to abandon the call to go to a meeting. I needed to call from home so there wouldn’t be any interruptions. Court Date Scheduled

Wednesday, August 29 I went home mid-afternoon to try again. While I was speed dialing the Guatemala office, a Fed Ex envelope was delivered from the private DNA lab. I pulled the two pieces of paper from the envelope – the DNA results and a picture of my daughter and her birth mother. I didn’t need to look at the results, the two people staring back at me looked exactly like one another.

At 3:50pm I tried the number in Guatemala again. Someone on the distant end answered and said her name was Jennifer. I told her I wanted to know if my adoption was approved and if they could assign a court date in the Guatemala courts. Jennifer put me on hold and after a couple minutes came back on the line. She told me that they had everything except the DNA and I should call back in a few days. In a rush before she could hang up, I told her that I had just received a copy of the DNA and I was in Iowa, and that I was sure that it was sent to their office prior to being sent to me. Jennifer put me on hold again. After a few minutes she came back on the line and I heard her voice, “I found it. Your court date is September 5.” Absolutely stunned that after three years I was hearing these words. I said, “What did you say?” Jennifer chuckled and repeated what she had just said, “Your court date is September 5.” I explained to her the impact of what she said and how long I had waited to hear those words. Crying, I thanked her and hung up. For a moment, I sat there staring at the phone.

Graceful Adoptions - Karen Nissly & her daughter Grace

Bringing My Daughter Home

Just a few days later I flew to Guatemala – I was going to see my daughter and bring her home. I called her foster mother to tell her I was coming, as we had maintained communications since we met in July. Shortly after I arrived at the hotel, they arrived too. We spent several hours together. Her foster mother held her in her arms, rocked her to sleep, and kissed her goodbye. She handed her to me for the last time. One of my best days was one of her foster mother’s hardest. She had parented her for a year and was going to miss her greatly.

Wednesday, September 5 we went to court in Guatemala. The Guatemala side of the adoption was done. Our 18-hour trip back home began. As we touched down on U.S. soil, I cried with relief that the three-year process to bring home my daughter was almost over. When we passed through customs, Grace became a U.S. Citizen. The next flight was from Los Angeles to Denver. And, at 10:45pm we touched down in Des Moines. As my daughter slept in my arms, I sat in the plane and cried. I finally had my daughter home; she would turn 1 years old in two days.

My dad had died just three weeks before leaving for Guatemala to bring her home. He would never meet his granddaughter, and she would never meet her grandfather. Before I left to bring her home, I knew she would be named to honor her grandfather.

Finding My Purpose

My life had forever been changed. I took off a few months from work to spend time with my daughter. Once consumed with corporate revenues, expenses, distributors, competitive positioning, market share, etc., I returned to work a lot less interested. In three years, I had lost my mother and my father, and had gone through a heart wrenching adoption experience. My life would never be the same.

Over the next months and years, I wrestled with the questions many of us ask. “What is the purpose of my life?”  “What will my legacy be?”  “How can I make a difference in other people’s lives?”

A couple years later, one early May morning I woke up with a start. The answer to these questions was very clear. I would start an adoption agency.  I would help others through the process. I would help others create their family.

Accomplishing this became a full-time job, my legacy, Graceful Adoptions was formed. August 1st, Graceful Adoptions was state licensed as a child placing agency. 

Since that time, I have adopted a son as well. This time using my own agency and adopting from the U.S.  Just as my daughter was named after God’s grace, which is the only way I got her home, my son was named after the angel Gabriel. 

My life would be dedicated to my children and to helping others bring home their own children.

Graceful Adoptions - Karen Nissly & her son

Our Team

As your partner, it is the mission of Graceful Adoptions to deliver services with kindness, respect, honesty, and integrity. By staying focused on our mission, the adoption experience really will be the personal experience it should be.
Graceful Adoptions - Karen Nissly

Karen Nissly

Founder and Agency Director

As a two-time adoptive parent, my initial experience with adoption was challenging to say the least. I remember thinking that we should be able to do better…the experience can and should be improved.

After spending more than 20 years driving revenues for corporations, life events changed me. They changed who I was and how I wanted to spend my time. After my personal experiences with adoption it became clear to me that there had to be a better way. Creating that agency, Graceful Adoptions, became my passion.

I established Graceful Adoptions out of the love and respect I feel for my daughter, her birth mother, and everyone else who offered assistance and support during my three year struggle to bring my daughter Grace home.

Years later, we are still creating families. It is not a job or a career, it’s my life…


Farrah Bonde

MSW, LISW - Service Director

Farrah is a Licensed Masters Level Independent Social Worker with over fifteen years of professional experience in the Mental Health field. At Graceful Adoptions, Farrah works with every client – adoptive parent and expectant parent – to ensure they are emotionally ready for the life-long commitment of adoption.

Prior to starting her private practice and leading Graceful Adoptions’ Services, Farrah was one of the founding members of a specialized attachment and trauma treatment center. She has completed extensive training on bonding, attachment, and counseling services for adults and children. Her experience also includes work with children in residential treatment and at a substance abuse treatment facility helping patients with addictions. For 2 years Farrah was a Registered Attachment Clinician through ATTACh. Farrah also received an award of excellence in 2007 for her work as a counselor.

In her spare time, Farrah enjoys being with her husband and two children and often volunteers with her family to aide local homeless families. She’s an animal lover and loves horseback riding and spending time with her two Labradors. Farrah also enjoys reading, boating, kayaking, and being on the lake.

Graceful Adoptions - Rachel Stage

Rachel Stage

MSW - Program Manager

Rachel is a Masters level Social Worker with more than twelve years of experience in the field of adoption. At Graceful Adoptions, Rachel provides support to adoptive families as they navigate the journey of adoption. 

Prior to joining our team, Rachel served as an Adoption Coordinator at a private, non-profit agency in Virginia where she oversaw adoption and foster-to-adopt services. She has worked closely with birth families and adoptive families, providing supportive counseling, adoption education, and connection to needed resources. Rachel also has experience in public child welfare through previous employment as a foster care and adoption social worker at a Department of Social Services agency. Through each of these positions, Rachel has gained invaluable insight into the importance of communication and teamwork to facilitate successful placements of children into their adoptive homes. 

Rachel enjoys spending quality time with her husband, three children, and pug. When she is not chasing around her three kids, she enjoys practicing yoga, reading psychological thriller and suspense books, and spending time outdoors.

Graceful Adoptions - Angela Stark

Angela Stark

Certified Adoption Investigator

Angela is a Certified Adoption Investigator (CAI) licensed in the state of Iowa to complete adoption home studies. She’s the only CAIs in Iowa recommended by Graceful Adoptions.

Angela has worked with families and children for over 30 years. She has helped many families achieve their dream of becoming parents through adoption and is committed to helping families get the support they need to be successful. Angela has worked in the child welfare field throughout her career and has developed resources and training for adoptive families. Angela and her husband are parents through birth and adoption. She is happy to share her firsthand adoption experience with families.

Angela is honored to be working with Graceful Adoptions because, “They are a unique adoption agency with a strong commitment and understanding of all aspects of adoption.”