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‘She’s not going anywhere’: Nurse celebrates first Christmas after officially adopting daughter

By Maddie Augustine

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    OMAHA, Nebraska (KETV) — Throughout the Denich household, signs 2-year-old Athena has been here: cars, dolls, and of course, miniature puppy dog slippers.

This Christmas holds a bit more meaning for the Denich family.

“It’s so nice to move into the holidays and, like, really know that we can forge our own traditions and these get to be ours,” Mackenzie Denich said.

On the first holiday Athena and her mom Mackenzie share the same last name.

“It’s just nice knowing that she’s not going anywhere,” Mackenzie said. “So, a big relief.”

Mackenzie officially adopted Athena, or Mena as they call her, in July. Nearly two years after first meeting her.

“She’s not lucky to have me, but I am so lucky to have her,” Mackenzie said. “She’s a kid. She’s a baby. She deserves, you know, every baby deserves care and love.”

Mackenzie said in 2021, a couple at her family’s church told her mom, Brenda, that their daughter was going to have a baby they might need help with. With 16 years of experience as a neonatal nurse practitioner, Brenda offered Mackenzie, but they never heard much more. Until, October 2021, while Mackenzie was at work and a call for a baby came in.

“I was sitting next to the intake physician, and I was like, I know that baby,” Mackenzie said.

The next day…

“Her [Athena] grandmother called me to see if I would take her home,” Mackenzie said.

From that day forward Mackenzie spent every day visiting Athena in the hospital. She took her home when Athena was just three weeks old, initially as Athena’s foster parent.

Something both Mackenzie and Brenda never imagined happening.

“I think that was always our greatest hope, right?” Brenda said. “Like did I think that it would happen? No.”

Now, officially Mena’s legal parent, Mackenzie says she works to build a foundation with Mena’s biological family through sharing important milestones, incorporating some of their traditions and likes into Mena’s life and also visiting with Mena’s biological grandparents.

“I think it’s important for her to always know,” Mackenzie said. “I don’t want her to ever have like a day that she finds out that she’s adopted. I just want it to be a part of who she is and her story. If I can maintain those connections and that contact and a positive relationship, then as she grows she gets to choose what kind of relationship she wants, but she never has to initiate it on her own.”

While still celebrating Mena officially becoming a Denich.

“It’s just very emotional,” Brenda said. “We’re just happy each day that we have her.”

Mackenzie urges anyone thinking about adoption, from either side of the process, to talk with adults who were adopted as children, learn from their stories and remember her mantra. “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

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