by Michelle, mom to Mia from China with Atrial and Ventricular Septal Defects
For this particular story, I will focus on our second adoption, which was a Special Needs adoption. But I only feel it appropriate to shed some light on our first experience with adoption. When we first decided to adopt, we had an infant in mind. However, the moment we saw a video of our then two-year old Leila, it was love at first sight. We used International Family Services (IFS) to adopt Leila from Russia at 32-months old. She was considered healthy, although she had been diagnosed with rickets, a weakening of the bones as a result of Vitamin D deficiency. Her hair was thin and bare in spots and she was undernourished, but we began to see an immediate change in Leila’s appearance after introducing her to a healthy diet. Her hair grew in very thick and she never again showed any symptoms of rickets. Leila quickly flourished in our family and within weeks, showed no signs of the shy, introverted young girl we first met in that Russian orphanage in March 2004. Our experience with adopting a toddler/nearly pre-schooler was extremely positive.
Fast forward more than a year after returning home with Leila, when my husband and I began to feel the timing was right to start the process of bringing home our second child. This time, we felt pulled to China. In Fall 2005, we started the paperwork for our China adoption. We talked to our adoption coordinator at Families Thru International Adoption (FTIA) about our desire to adopt an older child, somewhere between 3-5 years of age. After learning that we would most likely get a referral of a younger child through the non-special needs program, we applied for the China Waiting Children (aka Special Needs) program. We were in unknown territory. We were not sure what type of special needs we would be able to handle, but we researched the medical conditions as best as we could on the Internet and informed our coordinator of a range of medical conditions inside our comfort zone. Our log in date was January 4, 2006. We faithfully reviewed each new Waiting Child list, but had not yet found our match. On July 14, I received a call from our wonderful coordinator, Maury, at FTIA. Maury told me that she had just received information on a little girl she thought we might be interested in, although she warned me that she was younger than we had requested. “Are you interested in seeing her photos and medical information?” asked Maury. “Yes, yes!” I quickly replied. Moments later, I was looking at the most precious little girl on my laptop screen. At seven-months old, she was much younger than we had originally desired, but once again, we experienced love at first sight. We wanted to learn more about her congenital heart defect, VSD, so I immediately scheduled an appointment at the Columbus Children’s Hospital International Adoption Clinic the next day. I gathered all the facts and we prepared ourselves for the possibility that she may require heart surgery one day. We were glad to understand her condition, but there was no turning back. We were in love. I quickly called Maury and gave her another big, “Yes!” and immediately submitted all the additional paperwork.
We brought our then 13-month old Mia home on December 4, 2006. I honestly cannot imagine our lives without her. She brings so much sunshine and joy to our family. I must say, however, that the first two weeks with her were emotionally challenging. We were so excited to finally be united with our daughter, yet she didn’t want anything to do with me. She only wanted her daddy to hold her, to change her, to feed her, to bathe her, to comfort her. Although I didn’t have much sympathy for my husband at the time, it was equally difficult for him, just in a different way. He ached from exhaustion and from seeing me hurt. Although Mia wanted me to keep my distance, I continued to be the one to prepare her bottle and bring it to my husband to give to her; I became the “fetch” girl who got anything and everything that she needed, making sure that she saw that I was doing this for her. I didn’t force her on me. My heart ached so badly to hold her in my arms, yet I respected her need for space at that moment in our new lives together. Thankfully, the day came when she turned a corner. It took exactly two weeks from the day Mia was first placed into my arms for me to gain her trust. It happened to be the same day that Nolan returned to work. We were very worried about how she would react to spending the entire day alone with me, but it was as if she awoke that morning and thought, “Yeah, this just feels right. This feels like my family.” I can’t explain the pure joy that I felt in my heart that day. We had such a great day, and each day thereafter has been equally wonderful. Since that day, she has shared a firm bond to both me and my husband, and to her big sister.
I know that her adoption came with a title: “Special Needs.” But to me, I know that Mia is just plain special. Her health is fine. She still has an opening/hole in her heart’s two lower chambers (VSD), as well as one in the upper chambers (ASD) that was discovered after we returned home to the U.S., but neither are causing her any complications at this point and her cardiologist believes that they may both still close on their own over time. They performed an ultrasound immediately after bringing her home from China and an EKG on her second year check-up. Because both holes are relatively small, Mia is only required to have an annual check-up. Initially, we were told that the greatest health risk for her would be if she had to have dental work or emergency surgery. Her risk of heart infection in these two instances would be great, but could be avoided if she simply took an antibiotic prior to the procedure. According to her cardiologist at our most recent visit, new research has shown that the antibiotic is no longer needed and therefore, we really don’t need to treat Mia any differently than any other child.
The bigger struggle for us since returning home has not been her health, but rather with sleep issues. We are very big on routines and schedules, so she has always been on the same schedule since returning home. We simply had a daughter who didn’t like to sleep. During the day, she has the energy for ten children. During the night, that didn’t seem to subside. For the first year, she was up anywhere between one to five hours nearly every night. She also suffered from night terrors, during which we were unable to provide her any comfort. We had many difficult, sleepless nights during our first year together, but thankfully, she has improved greatly in this area and now sleeps well most nights. As difficult as this was for both my husband and me, the night’s events would quickly be forgotten when the sun rose each morning and we caught a glimpse of Mia’s beautiful smile.
My biggest piece of advice for parents considering a Special Needs adoption is to pray, collect all of the facts… and then follow your heart. Share the child’s information with experts who deal specifically with internationally-adopted children on a regular basis. It’s ok to seek advice from your pediatrician, but I would recommend using them as a second opinion. Some Children’s Hospitals now have a dedicated International Adoption Clinic. There are also a number of doctors who specialize in this area. Doctors that specialize in international adoption are more likely to see the big picture. They will be able to explain the specific medical condition, as well as prepare you for other potential developmental and medical issues common to the child’s birth country.
If I could provide at least one general piece of adoption advice, it would be to remain flexible. We had planned for an infant with our first adoption and ended up adopting a girl nearly three-years of age. We desired an older child with our second adoption and fell in love with an infant. I praise God every day for choosing us to raise these two, amazing children. His plans for us were far better than our own.
Michelle, Nolan, Leila & Mia