How growing up with an adopted sister inspired Katherine Heigl’s diverse family

After growing up with an adopted older sister, Katherine Heigl knew early on that when it came to expanding her own family, she wanted to create the same kind of diverse, loving brood that she herself was raised in. 

And it would appear the Firefly Lane actress, 43, has more than managed to make her dream come true, judging from a recently-released family portrait that she shared on social media this week, when she offered her fans and followers a very rare insight into her home life with husband Josh Kelly and their three children. 

The laughter-filled image sparked something of a frenzy among Heigl’s four million followers, who were quick to flood the comments section with praise, branding the brood a ‘wonderful’ and ‘beautiful’ family.

Heigl, who shot to fame while starring in Grey’s Anatomy, and her husband of 15 years are the proud parents to three children; adopted daughters Nancy Leigh Mi-Eun, 13, and Adalaide Marie Hope, 10, and their biological son Joshua Bishop Jr, five.

The actress has been vocal about the importance of adoption, speaking out on occasion about her own experiences of raising adopted kids. But her emotional connection to the adoption process actually extends back far beyond the arrival of her first child to her own childhood alongside her adopted older sister, Meg, now 43, who was born in Korea before being welcomed into the Heigl family. 

Heigl’s close bond with her adopted older sibling has permeated her own family; when Heigl and her musician partner Kelly decided to start their family together back in 2009, they also looked to Korea, having chosen to adopt their first baby from the same country where Meg was born all those years ago. 

‘Josh and I started talking about it before we were even engaged. My sister Meg is Korean, and my parents adopted her three years before I was born,’ she explained to Parent & Child magazine in 2011.

Katherine Heigl has created the family of her dreams with her husband of 15 years, musician Josh Kelley, and their three of their children

After growing up with an adopted older sister, Meg (pictured left) the actress knew she wanted her own family to ‘resemble the one I came from’

Katherine’s mother (center) adopted Meg from South Korea before Katherine was born

The star continued: ‘I wanted my own family to resemble the one I came from, so I always knew I wanted to adopt from Korea. We have talked about having biological children as well, but we decided to adopt first. I just wanted to be a mom.’

Growing up with an adopted sister meant the actress learned from a young age to look beyond what was seen as the ‘norm’.

‘I just believed that love is love — it doesn’t matter what we look like,’ the Suits star told Parents magazine in 2021. ‘But then when I asked my sister, Meg, if she had been treated one way when she was out in public without our parents and a different way when she was out by herself without them, she said, “Oh yeah, all the time!” That made me realize I had been so naïve.’

Though the star never expected to adopt domestically, that’s exactly what happened when she and Josh welcomed daughter Adalaide to their brood in 2012.

Next the happy couple revealed Katherine was pregnant with their third child in 2016, and welcomed their biological son that same year.

Here, FEMAIL reveals how Katherine’s own family dynamics shaped her choices when it came to raising her own brood.

Adopting her first child Nancy Leigh in 2009 

Katherine always knew she would adopt a child from South Korea because of her sister (bottom right)

In 2009, Katherine and her husband became the parents of daughter Nancy Leigh Mi-Eun after a lengthy adoption process

After meeting singer Josh Kelly in 2005, the pair became engaged one year later. Having decided they would adopt their first child, the couple began making the steps to become parents following their 2007 wedding. 

In a chat with Entertainment Tonight in 2017, the actress recalled: ‘When you’re a kid and growing up and you’re like, “I’m going to get married someday and have a family,” I knew for certain that I wanted to adopt from Korea.

‘My sister’s Korean and she’s my big sister and hugely important to me and my best friend. I just knew I wanted my family to sort of look like the one I came from. So I always knew I was going to do that.’

As for how her husband felt about adoption, she told Parent & Child: ‘Anyone who doesn’t have experience with adoption wonders, does love for a child come through DNA? I knew it didn’t.’

‘My mother had biological children and an adopted child and said it made absolutely no difference. They’re yours. You love them the moment they’re put into your arms. Josh had to learn that, but he was so gracious and accepting.’

After a lengthy adoption process, the couple officially became Nancy Leigh’s parents in 2009.

‘She was actually born the day before me in November, which I thought was really serendipitous and just kind of like a sign,’ Katherine gushed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show at the time.  

Bonding with their little one proved to be a tougher challenge that Katherine had anticipated, but she urged adoptive parents to push through the challenging moments

Katherine has since revealed that she had a ‘tight bond’ with her eldest daughter

Their little girl had a congenital heart defect at birth and underwent surgery for it before traveling to America. 

‘Her heart is 100 percent fine now. She has a scar, so she won’t be wearing bikinis, which is fine by us,’ Katherine quipped after the surgery. 

She explained to Harper’s Bazaar at the time: ‘A lot of children don’t find forever homes because they’re on that special-needs list, even if it’s because of something as simple as her mother smoked cigarettes for a month, not knowing she was pregnant. That’s not so huge that you couldn’t handle it.’ 

Meanwhile, bonding with their little one (also known as Naleigh) proved to be a tougher challenge that Katherine had anticipated. 

‘She felt really comfortable with Josh and they bonded quickly. It was harder for me,’ the actress told the publication. ‘Our social worker told us that it’s pretty typical for kids to react differently to their new mother. It was a struggle for me because all I wanted to do was bond with her. 

Katherine gives fans occasional updates about how she is raising her daughter with sweet posts on social media

‘But it takes time for a child to trust this new situation and to trust you. My advice is don’t be discouraged. The reward is so great.’

Two years after the adoption was completed, Katherine later revealed that she had a ‘tight bond’ with her eldest daughter. 

To celebrate Nancy Leigh’s 13th birthday in November 2021, Katherine shared heart-melting snaps of her daughter through the years – and penned an equally moving tribute on Instagram. 

‘The first two photos are the first two photos @joshbkelley and I received of our beautiful baby daughter Nancy Leigh Mi-Eun as she waited in Seoul Korea to come home to us and we waited in LA to hold the baby we already loved,’ she wrote. 

‘I’m not gonna lie…I’m tearing up a little…ok a lot…looking through these photos, reaching back in time grasping at the smoke of memories that still hold this gorgeous, spectacular girl at 9 months,’ Katherine added. 

Nancy Leigh had a congenital heart defect at birth and underwent surgery for it before traveling to America

Katherine gushed about her ‘extraordinary girl’ in 2021 when marking her daughter’s 13th birthday

‘All folds and rolls and chicken fluff hair. Then mists of memory that hold her at 2. All gap toothed grins and endless giggles and girly sass. The memories drift in and out like the ebbing of the tide and I keep trying to chase them, grip them tight in my hands, hold them still so I can live it all just one more time,’ she spilled. 

‘This girl. The girl that made me a mother. The girl that gave my life purpose. Meaning. Direction. Boundless eternal love. This girl turns 13 today. 13. She is officially a teenager. I can’t seem to process it,’ Katherine marveled. 

‘How did this happen. Wasn’t she my silly, giggling, gap toothed, rolly polly baby just a few years ago…just yesterday?’ 

Katherine gushed: ‘God am I grateful. For yesterday. For today. For tomorrow. For every memory that drifts in on a breeze and flutters across my heart. For every new memory I have the privilege of making with this extraordinary girl.’ 

She concluded: ‘I love you Naleigh. I love you with every fiber of being, every cell in my body, every wish in my heart. I love you. Happy Birthday my beautiful girl.’ 

Adding to her brood by adopting a second daughter Adalaide in 2012 

 Katherine never planned to adopt from the U.S. but the couple found themselves adopting daughter Adalaide at birth in 2012

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According to reports at the time, the couple adopted their daughter from Louisiana eight days after she was born

Gushing about her daughter in later interviews, Katherine stated that Adalaide is a ‘spit fire’

In 2012, Katherine and Josh privately underwent the process to adopt their second child, Adalaide.

The actress later admitted to Entertainment Tonight that she hadn’t planned to adopt a child from the United States.

‘I never thought I would adopt domestically, but that just sort of gracefully happened and it did feel like grace,’ she explained.

According to reports at the time, the couple adopted their daughter from Louisiana eight days after she was born.

Gushing about her daughter to ET, Katherine stated that Adalaide is a ‘spit fire’.  

‘She’s going to be seriously running the world one day. She’s terrifying,’ she noted. ‘Fierce little girl.’

In recent years, the star has been open about the challenges of having adopted children

Katherine has stated that she doesn’t shy away from having conversations with her daughters about their origins

In recent years, the star has been open about the challenges of having adopted children and revealed up about how she navigates the conversations with her daughters about their origins.

She explained: ‘We have said to them, “This is your story. We don’t have any information about your biological fathers, but we do have a bit about your biological mothers.

“‘If you guys want to talk more about them, you can have as much or as little information as you want. Tell us what you’re comfortable with knowing.”‘ 

Katherine added: ‘I need to protect my daughters and prepare them for the world, because I can’t change society in one fell swoop.’

 Then in 2020, Katherine penned a powerful message about the difficulties talking to her black daughter about systemic racism.

In 2020, Katherine penned a powerful message about the difficulties talking to her black daughter about systemic racism

The actress has spoken publicly about how she tries to educate her children about the challenges they will face as they get older

The actress took to Instagram with two lengthy captions about how she is struggling to explain the current state of America and addressed her own ‘white bubble’.

Reflecting after the killing of George Floyd, Katherine admitted she’d been naive to issues of race in the past but called for a reckoning for racists.

The Knocked Up star wrote in the caption that it has been challenging to find the words to properly inform her children of the protests that took place at the time. 

Katherine wrote: ‘I can’t sleep. And when I do I wake with a single thought in my head. How will I tell Adalaide? How will I explain the unexplainable? How can I protect her? How can I break a piece of her beautiful divine spirit to do so? 

 ‘I can’t sleep. I lay in my bed in the dark and weep for every mother of a beautiful divine black child who has to extinguish a piece of their beloved baby’s spirit to try to keep them alive in a country that has too many sleeping soundly.

‘Eyes squeezed shut. Images and cries and pleas and pain banished from their minds. White bubbles strong and intact. But I lay awake. Finally. Painfully. (sic)’ 

Nancy Leigh and Adalaide appear to have a strong bond as seen in sweet photos shared by their mother

Katherine went on to say she feels ‘hopeless’, but knows she must speak out for the sake of her family. 

She added: ‘My white bubble though always with me now begins to bleed. Because I have a black daughter. Because I have a Korean daughter. Because I have a Korean sister and nephews and niece. It has taken me far too long to truly internalize the reality of the abhorrent, evil despicable truth of racism. 

‘And now I weep. Because what should have changed by now, by then, forever ago still is. Hopelessness is seeping in. Fear that there is nothing I can do, like a slow moving poison, is spreading through me. 

‘Then I look at my daughters. My sister. My nephews and niece. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. The hundreds, thousands millions more we haven’t even heard about. I look and the fear turns to something else. The sorrow warms and then bursts into flames of rage. (sic)’ 

Getting pregnant with her first biological child in 2016

Katherine gave birth to her only biological child in 2016, after previously stating she wasn’t planning to carry a child naturally

The actress admitted she had been revealed to find out she was giving birth to a boy

When Katherine first opened up about choosing to adopt her first child, she clearly stated that she had no intention of having her own children.

‘I’m done with the whole idea of having my own children. It doesn’t seem like any fun. I don’t think it’s necessary to go through all of that,’ she stated in 209.

However, 2016 saw Katherine and Josh announce that she was pregnant with their third child in 2016, and they welcomed their biological son that same year.

At the time, the 27 Dresses star told the Parents magazine that she was ‘so relieved’ when she learned she was having a baby boy.

‘It was actually a big reason why I was vacillating between trying to get pregnant or adopting again, since with adoption you can specify the sex,’ she said.

She then added jokingly: ‘I just thought, another girl could mean lifelong therapy for all of us.’

After the birth of her son, Katherine gushed that being the mother of her three children is ‘better than I could have ever imagined’

The star has made it clear that she has no desire for her family to grow any time soon

After the birth of her son, Katherine told Entertainment Tonight that being the mother of three children helped her live her most fulfilled life.

She gushed: ‘It’s so much better than I could have ever imagined, my life and family. It’s just trying to remember that and be grateful and try and hold onto it ’cause you do get caught up in the minutiae.’

However, it seems like the star had no desire for her family to grow any time soon.

Speaking about her family plans in 2021, the actress admitted she had been set on becoming a mom again until the coronavirus pandemic happened. 

Katherine revealed to Parents magazine that she and Josh had initially ‘thought that we needed one more child to complete this home,’ and they were considering whether that would be biologically, via adoption or foster care. 

‘I have completely changed my mind,’ the Unforgettable star explained. ‘I am very content with my three!’

The couple and their children live in Utah with a menagerie of foster dogs, horses and chickens, after leaving the bright lights of Hollywood behind.


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