By Retta, mom to Maddie Rae from China with cleft lip and palate
I am often asked, “Why did you decide to adopt?” and I normally sit there racking my brain for a clever and inspiring answer. Something that will sum up our adoption journey in one short sentence while motivating that person to check out international adoption. But in our case, it wasn’t a short sentence kind of process. It was a four year soul searching that ended in us holding our screaming daughter in a loud civil office in Guangzhou, China. This is our story.
I was the mother to two boys. They were born healthy, but the process of getting them there was a long one filled with preterm labor, bedrest, hospital stays, drugs, and lots of needle sticks. After our second son was born, we knew that we wanted more children, and I knew that I wanted a little girl. I began researching international adoption. I gathered as much information as I could from as many agencies as I could. I learned everything I could, and the one country that I continually came back to was China.
Fast forward two years. Our boys were now 4 and 2 and we were beginning to think about when, where, and how we would add to our family. The small wrench in the plan? We were moving to China. My husband’s company offered him a position in Shenzhen, China, and we decided to go for it. As the boxes were being packed and our lives were being turned upside down, I haphazardly sent out a few emails to a few agencies asking them if they would consider working with us while we were actually living in China.
One agency stood out, and they answered all of my questions thoroughly, quickly, and with care. That agency was called Dillon International, and they were happy to go the extra mile to work with us while we were overseas. But life took over. We had to adjust to a new country, figure out how to haul all our groceries home on a bus, and try to navigate around a city of 7 million. After our first year in China, we were feeling ready. We were about to go home for the summer, and in May of 2006 we decided to contact Dillon and tell them we were ready to begin the process. That same month in Shaoguan, China, our daughter was born, abandoned, and taken to the Shaoguan Social Welfare Institute.
We spent the summer furiously gathering the paperwork we needed so that we could go back to China and do our homestudy. When we got back “home” we met with our social worker Megan. She discussed the possibility of doing a special needs adoption, and my husband was all for it. I, on the other hand, was scared. My boys were only 5 and 3. How would I handle a baby with medical issues while we were living in a foreign country ourselves? So we sent our dossier in for a healthy, as young as possible girl.
Over the next few months, the Lord began to change my heart. The wait for healthy children from China was climbing. We were supposedly eligible for an expedite since we lived in China, but the CCAA would not confirm or deny our status. It could be a year wait or a 5 year wait. The uncertainty was difficult, and my husband was still convinced that our daughter would be in the special needs program. We went away over Easter to Singapore, and I took our agency’s special needs checklist with me. I poured over that list while we were there, and as we sat at a Starbucks one morning on the streets of Singapore, I felt like special needs was the right direction for us. Rather than asking the questions “why” and “how”, we began to say “why not?” We had been blessed with so much, and we could do it. We had great hospitals available to us, we had excellent global insurance coverage, and we had the heart for it. When we returned home, my dear friend and fellow adoptive mom had just returned from a trip to Hefei to visit her daughter’s former orphanage. Every single child in that orphanage had a special need. While she was there, she felt like she needed to tell me that we should consider special needs. As we sat on a bench sharing the details of our trips, we both realized a connection. Both of us had been “told” the same thing: we should consider a special needs adoption.
Just two months later, I got an email from our agency stating that they had just received 10 new special needs referrals. They were in the process of praying through them and contacting families. And then my phone rang. It was Megan, our social worker. She had something to talk to me about. There was a little 13 month old girl in Guangdong. Guangdong! That’s the same province where my husband worked. It’s right there. We’re right here!
She was born with a unilateral cleft lip and cleft palate that were both unrepaired, but otherwise she seemed very healthy. She forwarded me the medical information, and I got to work meeting with a plastic surgeon to discuss her treatment. He explained to me that she would need two initial surgeries. The first one would repair her lip, the second one would repair her palate. Once she was about 10, she would need a bone graft in her gum where the cleft occurred, and she could have a final lip and nose revision once her face was fully grown as a teenager. In addition, she would likely need speech therapy for a while.
There was never really any question at all that this was our daughter. We were ecstatic. We went home for the summer and bought all sorts of cute clothes, bows, and pink. When we returned to China, we had to wait another excruciating 2 months before we were finally cleared to go get her. On October 30, 2007 we boarded a train to Guangzhou, took a taxi to the Civil Affairs Office, and were handed our beautiful daughter.
Her cleft was still wide open at 18 months. This surgery is normally completed by the time the child is this age, so we had some work to do. We took her to the plastic surgeon and he booked her surgery for the following Monday. She went into surgery to repair her lip and gumline just one week after we brought her home. Her first words when she came out of surgery and reached for me? “Mama.”
Her lip healed beautifully, and we waited another 6 months for the palate surgery. In May of 2008 a few days before her second birthday, she went into surgery to have her palate repaired and tubes put in her ears. After this surgery she had to be on a liquid diet for 10 days, which was difficult, but she recovered quickly once again. She will need a few more surgeries throughout the years, but the main issue with her special need on a daily basis is her speech. Her speech is very delayed due to her cleft, and she is in speech therapy once a week. She has trouble articulating sounds, and speech will not come naturally. She will have to learn to speak and overcome her disability. We have confidence that she will overcome it. She will speak, blossom, and grow.
She is a healthy, happy, persistent, determined little girl, and we thank God that he chose us to love her, protect her, advocate for her, and belong to her.