by Leslie, mother to Susannah from China with complex unrepaired heart defects and unrepaired cl/cp
Our journey to Susannah began years ago as God was birthing the desire to adopt in both of our hearts. It is very hard to pinpoint a specific date as I can look back at so many moments when I felt God whispering. My husband Charlie too felt that ever-present restlessness that God so often uses to speak to our hearts. He often would say that we were done “having” children. I would often say that I thought our family “was not complete.” We were both right!
Though I did not “have” Susannah, she could not be anymore my own than if I had carried her in my womb for nine months. And her Daddy, well he does not say we are “done” anymore. Adoption has changed both of our hearts and it has changed Susannah’s as well. We officially began this journey in the summer of 2007. In July, Charlie gave me the go-ahead I had so desperately wanted to apply to America World Adoption Association. I can honestly say that I had been on their website several times and we were introduced to them through another family who had recently adopted their child and used this agency. From the first moment, I was struck by the Special Needs program as it was called then.
When I first got up the nerve to mention the “Special Needs” program to Charlie, he simply wanted to know more. I was sort of surprised. I think if the tables had been turned and he had brought this up to me, I would have been very hesitant but he just wanted to hear more about it. In early August, we mailed off our application to our agency and within a few weeks we had been accepted as a family. Around that same time, we sat down on the sofa and just started looking over the Special Needs checklist, which I had printed off the website. There were so many needs, many of which we did not even understand. We were using my laptop to type in some of them, and I remember us both becoming frustrated and just feeling sort of defeated.
One other area where Charlie and I just could not seem to come to unity on was the age we were open to on our application. For our agency, they had ranges starting with 0–2 years and then 3–4 and so on. I really felt that we needed to be open up to age 2 years. However, Charlie felt that we needed to go ahead and mark the next box, 3–4 years. In fact, he felt very comfortable in checking the next box for 5–6 years. Our youngest son was already 5 at the time and we both felt that we did not want to disrupt the birth order, but we also felt that he would most likely turn 6 before we received a referral. So Charlie and I committed to praying together about this as well.
After some more time, we came back together to discuss age again. Charlie still felt comfortable in going up to age 6, and I still felt that 2 years old was the right choice. We decided actually very easily that we would compromise and go with 0–4 years of age since it was right in the middle. I don’t remember who of us suggested that, but I believe it was Charlie. It seemed right and so we went with that. Charlie even predicted that she would be “exactly 3 when she came home.” I thought that odd at the time, but it was yet another moment that would later be part of our confirmation that Susannah was the one whom God had intended for us since time eternal.
I am so thankful that I opened up my heart to an “older” child or we would have missed out on the blessing of Susannah. She was 31 months old at the time of her referral to us, which would have made her out of our age range had we not marked 3–4 years. She turned 35 months old just 4 days before we met her in China. As it turned out she turned 3 years old just 4 days AFTER she “came home” from the hospital, which she had been in since the day after we arrived home from China! Again, God was in the details!
Going back to the special needs checklist, we continued to pray over it and came back to complete it in late August, and this time we felt that things were much more in focus. There were many needs that we simply had to say No to and that was very difficult. We did not come to any of those No decisions lightly. We also had marked several Maybes, but I remember clearly that our agency shared with families that they would only make contact for a Maybe in rare instances. As it turned out, we did not honestly have very many Yes boxes checked. For our particular agency checklist, there were two lines for heart defects. One was for repaired heart defect and the other for congenital (or unrepaired) heart defect. We had chosen to mark repaired with a yes and congenital (unrepaired) with a maybe. And so it was done on August 31, 2007.
As the end of the year neared, we finished our dossier and it was mailed to China on December 7, 2007. We were overjoyed to finally have it done, and we were hopeful that it would be logged in before 2007 was over. It was a bold prayer at the time but one that God would later answer as we learned in mid-January that our Log-In Date was December 14, 2007! Our official wait had begun, but for us it really began on September 10, the day we were approved for the Special Needs program.
Around that same time, the China Center for Adoption Affairs implemented many changes in the Special Needs program and even renamed it the Waiting Child program. I was admittedly upset that our agency would most likely no longer receive files of individual children and that most likely our wait time would increase. I felt like I was losing all control of the adoption process, and I did not like it. Charlie on the other hand remained calm and at total peace, reminding me that God had already chosen our daughter and that if we truly believed that then we did not need to worry about the process in which she would come to us. I can honestly say that he believed this and his faith in that truth never wavered. Mine wavered like a seesaw at times.
After we turned in our dossier, I thought we could relax and just enjoy the wait. Yet Charlie became restless in his spirit about the adoption, not in a worrisome or anxious way like I had become, but namely that our special needs checklist was not totally in accordance with God’s will for our family. When he expressed to me that he felt we should change our maybe to a yes on one particular need, I knew which one he meant: unrepaired heart defect. He even mentioned a little girl by name that we know very well and whom I had been teaching in Sunday school. One Sunday as this little girl walked out of the classroom and skipped off down the hall with her Mommy, Charlie said to me, “What if we were saying no to her?” That struck a chord with me. Charlie was in no way trying to convict me, yet his heart was so heavy and he needed to convey to me how heavy this burden had become. I finally understood and honestly, I knew no fear and felt a total peace about the decision to change our checklist.
So on the afternoon of Sunday, January 6, 2008, at 3:47 PM, I sent a simple email to our coordinator at AWAA asking her to make this change to our checklist: maybe to yes for congenital heart defect. It would be just two months and two days later that our coordinator would call me on a Thursday with the possibility of reviewing the file of a little girl with an unrepaired congenital heart defect!
At around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 8, 2008, my phone rang as I sat at the computer most likely surfing adoption blogs or boards. I remember her words clearly: Hi Leslie, this is M calling from America World. How are you doing today? I think I answered back but I can’t be sure because I knew instantly why she was calling. My heart felt like it leaped right out of my chest. Then she said: Well we a have file that we thought you and Charlie might like to review. I started crying silently and explained to her that Charlie was not here, that he was in Nicaragua on a mission trip working in an orphanage and in a poor area helping to construct housing. She then said she wanted to double-check some things we had stated on our application and checklist and that she felt it would be OK for me to give a verbal yes to send the file. I explained to her that I would do my best to contact Charlie through the emergency number I had. As she began sharing about the little girl, all I remember her saying is this: She is 2 1/2 and she has third degree cleft lip and palate. And Leslie, she also has an unrepaired heart defect. At that point, I heard no more. I do remember saying, Yes, yes, please send us her file.
The next few days were a blur of activity as I consulted doctors and Charlie made his way home a day early. That weekend, we just prayed for peace and clarity and God gave it to us through many small nudges and some big confirmations too! Though THE CALL did not go as I had thought it would because Charlie was not able to rush home and open the file with me, it went perfectly. I was able to share with him over the cell phone about our little girl, and he just kept saying this was our daughter. I was sure too, but I was very scared. Her little heart was very defected if the paperwork was accurate. And I had lots of what ifs swirling around in my head. I still worried about the shared list and the locking of her file. We would find out later that Susannah’s file had been on the shared list at least since mid-April. She had been waiting for us all along!
The following Monday morning on May 12, 2008, Charlie and I sent in our LOI to our agency asking China to grant us approval to adopt this little girl. It was a huge leap of faith— unlike any Charlie and I had ever taken in our live. We had been very blessed with two healthy sons already, and our extended family had been blessed with healthy children on both sides as well. This was new territory and a place we could have never imagined walking even when we first began the adoption journey. God had led us to this place—for our daughter. For us, it is that simple and the simplicity of it all became more and more focused as we journeyed ever so closer to her. As the summer began and the days turned into weeks, those swirling thoughts of doubt came back to me again. Again, God gave Charlie a peace unlike any he’d ever known and God reassured me through the comforting words and prayers of my husband. I still worried but at the same time, I thanked God for Charlie and for this little girl who I knew already deep in my heart was VERY SPECIAL.
I want to also share that we do not have any grand suggestions or monumental advice on how we came to the decision to say Yes to a child with complex, unrepaired congenital heart defects as well as another significant need (cleft lip and palate) as so many have asked me to share about. We simply said Yes to God when He asked us to step out onto that particular path, and it is only by His grace that we could. Your path may be different or maybe He is asking you to say yes to that particular need. I do not know, but what I do know is that our God is always faithful to the end and that He knows the end from the beginning.
It is amazing to look back and see how God was preparing us for what we needed one day at a time. Our adoption trip itself would prove the very awesomeness of our detail-oriented, mountain-moving, miracle-making GOD! Our trip was different and supernatural and glorious. On September 16, 2008, we met Susannah An Yanwen in a hospital in China and on September 23, we arrived home to a yard full of family and friends who were very thankful to have her HOME! As it turned out, she went into the hospital the very next morning and had open-heart surgery just one week after arriving home on September 30, 2008. We had prayed all along for God to HEAL her heart and He did through the miracle of modern medicine. Finally, on October 8, 2008, just 4 days before her third birthday, Susannah came home to stay and we have been so blessed beyond our wildest dreams with this precious child. Though our journey to Susannah was not for the faint of heart and our journey since coming home has been EVENTFUL, we love our little girl infinitely and thank God for CHOOSING us to be her family and for CHOOSING her to be our daughter.