Jackie Mastromatteo, a professional photographer, has been volunteering as a MARE Heart Gallery photographer for over a decade. The Heart Gallery, a series of waiting child portraits, debuted in 2005 as a contemporary way to connect the public to adoption, and Jackie was one of the first photographers to join the volunteer program.
All it took was an email to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) asking about opportunities to lend her time and talents to. The department pointed her to the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) where she initially met with Executive Director, Lisa Funaro. As one of the first photographers involved in the Heart Gallery, Jackie has driven across the state and back to capture stunning images of children seeking a loving, permanent family.
While Jackie and her husband, Jay, had always wanted to adopt, it wasn’t on their radar screen when Jackie started volunteering with MARE. “We always thought we would have biological children first and adopt children after,” explained Jackie. “That is not the way things turned out.”
After many years of infertility struggles, they decided to attend The Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) training and start the adoption process. Just two weeks after certification, their daughter, Erykah, finally blessed their home in 2012; they instantly fell in love. Erykah moved in two weeks before Thanksgiving, just shy of her first birthday. Their initial court date was scheduled for January, and what they believed would be a smooth process with the date just around the corner, quickly became complicated.
Jackie grew up in a town where everyone knew each other, and it eventually came to light that she knew Erykah’s biological mother. This changed things, and she reached out and built a relationship with the biological mother. During court dates and meetings, Jackie would sit with her - a somewhat rare occasion during an adoption process.
Through all of this, Jackie continued to volunteer for MARE. She built rapport with the social workers she was working with as a photographer, as well as the social workers she was working with through her family’s own adoption process.
While Jackie and Jay waited for the finalization of their daughter’s adoption, Erykah’s biological brother was born. Jackie and Jay decided to keep the siblings together, and Cole came home to the family directly from the hospital at two weeks old, about a year and a half after Erykah entered their lives. Though saddened by the recent loss of Erykah and Cole’s birth mother, Jackie feels blessed for the special bond they had and grateful she is able to tell the kids how much their birth mother loved them.
The adoption process was quite lengthy and at times grueling. Their case was anything but easy and it seemed they hit every obstacle imaginable, from a retiring judge, to the loss of their very loved social worker, Wendy. Despite it all, they were over the moon excited to make it official almost four years later.
To this day, Jackie still volunteers with MARE as a photographer. In addition to raising her two beautiful children with her husband, she is able to capture portraits of children seeking permanent families, not unlike her own children early in their lives. Jay and Jackie provide unconditional love to their two children and could not imagine their lives any other way. They are so grateful that adoption has given them the gift of becoming parents to two amazing children who have given their lives so much purpose and meaning. They celebrate adoption and hope by sharing their story, they can encourage others to consider adopting as well.
“As an adoptive parent you will encounter things that other parents don’t understand,” Jackie said. “When it comes to the adoption process, keeping your faith and trusting your instincts and social worker is imperative. Every bump whether big or small is worth the fight!” While adoption can be difficult, every story is unique – and worth it. The Bratton family, at the end of the day, is just like any other family that enjoys travelling, cheering on the Patriots, bedtime stories, kitchen dance parties, and family movie nights.