Living into Hope

July 31, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Today’s post finishes out our feature this month on craniofacial needs. So grateful for all the moms who willingly shared about parenting a child with a craniofacial need – you can find all the posts in this series here. If you would like to share your family story, just complete this short form and we will be in touch with you shortly!



I didn’t sign up for this.

There’s something about international adoption that tricked me into believing I had some modicum of control over my life. It’s funny because with our first two babies, both homegrown, I remember being terrified that they would be born with challenges or delays I didn’t have the skills to navigate.

But somehow in our adoption process with our third baby, I felt like I was holding the reins. We carefully poured over the list of special needs, researching each one, compiling a list of the needs we were willing to say “yes” to. We prayed that God would guide us through this process, and when we presented our list to our adoption agency, we did so with a confident sense of control and security.

We were quickly matched with a beautiful 12-month old baby boy with an unrepaired cleft lip and palate in southern Guangdong Provence. Six months later we traveled to meet our son Matthew, and even though that trip was emotional and exhausting, the path seemed straight and steady, just as we’d expected.


I suppose it was a few months after arriving home that my husband and I had the first of many hard conversations:

Matthew isn’t catching up like everyone else’s kiddos are. He’s not talking. He’s struggling with social communication. Something isn’t right.

We survived a round of surgeries: lip repair, dental surgery, palate repair, placement of ear tubes (twice), and nasal stent removal. Looking back now, all those hours we sat in the Seattle Children’s Hospital surgery waiting room seem like a blip on the screen of time. They were exhausting and anxious days, but our boy came through each one like a champ. Healing happened, and little by little his cleft lip and palate were knit back together.

But what has been slower to “repair” are the developmental delays, particularly in the social realm, that Matthew likely sustained due to lack of stimulation and healthy brain growth while in the orphanage.

For our family, the developmental challenges have been hardest. We signed up for cleft lip and palate, but we didn’t sign up for the host of other diagnoses we’ve received: Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Expressive Language Delay, Sensory Processing Disorder, possible Apraxia of Speech, and general delays in the cognitive, adaptive and gross/fine motor areas. It’s a long list of disorders and delays, and some days I don’t feel up to the challenge. It’s certainly not what I asked for and definitely not what I signed up for.

We’re now under the care of a craniofacial team, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician, a geneticist, a behavioral psychologist who specializes in Autism, a family pediatrician who manages Matthew’s medication, an OT who specializes in Sensory Processing Disorder, and two different speech therapists – one who works with Matthew’s oral motor delays and one who works on play and communication skills. I’m sure it sounds like a crazy list of people, but I’m deeply grateful for each member of Matthew’s team.

I’m not writing this to scare anyone considering international adoption – I firmly believe God called us to this journey, and we have seen His faithfulness literally wrap itself around us during some very hard times. But I do wish before we had adopted, someone had told me that adoption doesn’t always go like you expect it to go. Loss, uncertainty, fear and anxiety are part of the path. And sometimes kids come home and end up having some pretty significant developmental delays.


But I will tell you that because of Matthew’s adoption, we’ve felt the presence and love of God in ways we never expected. God has shown up in the least likely places, giving us courage and strength to take each next step. Sometimes my faith has been the only thing getting me from one day to the next.

In addition to being an adoptive mama and a college professor, I’m also a songwriter. In the thick of Matthew’s many unraveling challenges, I wrote a song called “These Days.” One of the verses goes this way:

I have changed a lot these days
Lost some of my innocence and stopped being so afraid
And in the empty spaces
Comes a kind of hope I’ve never known before these days

There are so many things I’ve learned about God, about myself, and about Matthew because of this adoption path. I have learned to let go of my need to be in control and simply take one step at a time, trusting that we’ll have what we need for each next step. I’ve also cultivated, deep in my soul, the most incredible sense of hope I could ever imagine. It’s a hope that trusts in the provision of a loving God – a hope that is buoyed by the love and support of those who walk this path with us.

One of the biggest gifts our family has received from Matthew is the ability to love someone who doesn’t function and interact in a “typical” way. We’ve worked hard to cultivate a place of welcome for Matthew – in our family, in our home, and in our larger community. Almost every day I learn something new about myself because I’m Matthew’s mama. And I also have the incredible privilege of watching him grow and develop – at his own pace, of course.

I’ve also connected with some other families who like us brought home a child with many more developmental challenges than expected. I’ve exchanged messages and phone calls with some incredible adoptive mamas – women who have shared their stories and their challenges with me. Rather than feeling isolated, I’ve felt supported and heard. God has provided for me, even in this.

These days I can’t imagine life without Matthew. He makes us a complete family, and being his mama is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced. Recently someone asked me this question: “Knowing what you now know, if you could do it over again, would you adopt a child with special needs from an international country?”

Yes, I said, without hesitating. Yes, I most certainly would.


Despite his imperfections (or perhaps because of them), Matthew is wonderful and beautiful to me, and I’m grateful to have him in my life. Delays and challenges abound around here, but I’m also head-over-heels in love with my boy. Every kid needs a mama who loves him just as he is—who creates a place of welcome and who holds hope in her heart. In our family, that’s me: the one who holds hope.

Hebrews 6:19 tells us, “hope anchors the soul.” I’m grateful that nothing can take that hope from me.

Annemarie Russell is a mama to three beautiful children, one of whom is adopted from China and came home with an unrepaired cleft lip and palate. She’s also a college English professor and a singer-songwriter. She lives in Washington State and blogs about adoption, life and parenting.

Going to China: the Long Flight Home

July 31, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

The China trip looms large in our adoptive parent hearts and minds. We daydream about Gotcha Day, pray for the moment we can snuggle in the hotel with our little love, hope for that once in a lifetime walk along the Great Wall, plan for an afternoon spent shopping in Guangzhou, and imagine ourselves eating noodles from brothy bowls with chopsticks. But the flight? Oh the flight. There is no glossy anticipation there.


The flight to China is a beast, but the flight home with our new little one, who we are just getting to know, who probably has never flown or been seat belted, and who quite possibly might be sick, congested or constipated? That flight is an exercise in patience, a test of our survival skills. We don’t plan to savor the moment or make memories. The goal is to push through and make it to the other side of the ocean where our loved ones await us at the airport.

Begin with expectations. I love that adoptive momma, Lindsay Esco, suggests that we “manage our expectations”. You don’t need to expect the worst of the worst. Many of us have had long and tiring, yet easy, flights home. Prepare your bags carefully, but don’t let the looming flight home take any joy from your last days in China. Simply manage your expectations. Plan ahead to dispense heavy doses of grace to yourself, your child and husband and/or family.

Since private jets typically aren’t an option, here are some survival tips to help you keep your sanity and a bit of dignity. These are taken from the collective wisdom of the adoption community, from blogs and FB threads, and advice from adoptive parents who have gone before us, blazing the trail at 40,000 above the Pacific. Like I’ve done, take the packing tips and advice, and make it your own.


What to Pack:

• Extra diapers and Pull-Ups, even for potty trained older kids.
• Extra parent outfits
• Electronic devices with chargers
• Water bottle
• Adoption paperwork
• Passports
• Money
• Ziploc toiletry bag: disposable toothbrush, soap, and wipes
• Meds
• Melatonin
• Snacks
• Books
• Your own earphones for watching movies.
• Child carrier for walking aisles and speeding through airports.

Food and Drink:

• It is easy to get dehydrated, so drink only water. Avoid all caffeine. (This also helps with jet lag.) Ask the flight attendant to fill your water bottle.
• Bring your own snacks in case you don’t like the food.
• Squeezable baby food items for toddlers (applesauce, etc.)
• Puffs, Cheerios or Goldfish for small children
• Bring Chinese snacks familiar to your child, such as rice crackers.
• Protein bars or energy bars might be just the boost you need.
• Lollipops and other treats. Although it would be ideal to minimize sugar, this might not be the time to obsess over nutrition.


Rest and Comfort:

• Take melatonin, kids as well.
• Attempt to sleep during the night of the time zone you are headed too.
• Pack a neck pillow. Might look a little silly, but oh the added comfort.
• Cozy socks. Take your shoes off quickly and get comfortable.
• Take lavender oil or other essential oils to help you relax.
• Bring chamomile or “sleepy time” tea bags.
• Compression socks for those who tend to have swelling in the feet and ankles.
• Blanket and stuffed animal for kids.


• Mylicon (simethicone) drops. The gases in your intestines expand when you are in the sky, these drops help relieve pressure. Use before meals and every four hours.
• Use vitamin C packets in your water every 4 hours.
• No Jet Lag is recommended by many experienced travelers.
• Ear drops for kids. The pressure can be quite painful and frightening.
• Pain reliever
• Pepto/Immodium
• Prescriptions


• Water Wow books. Fill the pen with water and your child can “paint”.
• Travel Color Wonder pads
• Small packs of Play doh
• Wikki Stix for older kids
• Coloring books and crayons
• Notepads and markers
• Cards (UNO, etc.)
• Stickers and paper
• Small action figures or dolls


Finally, along with heavy doses of grace, push yourself to find the humor in your situation. You are on a crazy parenting mission involving planes, trains and automobiles, and that deserves a giggle. Our last China flight, with two newly adopted kids, is one of family legend. Our daughter was very, very sick with a scary spiked fever. She also needed medical care (involving medical equipment that was new to her mom and dad), so we held her the entire time, served her mystery meat sticks given to us by her nanny to calm her, walked the aisles, administered Chinese antibiotics with Mandarin direction labels, and earned our nursing badges in the minuscule airplane lavatory.

Then, just in case we were getting too intense, our son had a massive blowout diaper through two diapers and all his extra clothes and onto me. As I stood up to carry our stinky selves back to our well used lavatory, I see the whole plane covering their noses and diverting their eyes. When we arrived in Tokyo, along with wrangling carry-ons, we had to carry him through the airport wrapped in a tiny, orange airplane blanket. He eventually wore his sister’s too small “jeggings” while I scrubbed out his pants in a bathroom sink and dried them under a hand dryer, while a contingency of fascinated Asian travelers stood watch.

So, future travelers, laugh with us, think of our experience, triple diaper your kids and pack extra clothes! The good news? We survived and have a tall tale to tell. And, on our other adoption trip, our new daughter slept every hour of the long flights. My husband and I watched movies, played Sudoku and chatted with other travelers.

Those plane flights home are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. So, pack well, pray for travel mercy, “manage your expectations’ and hold on hard to your sense of humor.

Contributor Q and A: Moments!

July 30, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

At some point on your China trip, something silly, something embarrassing, or something crazy will happen. You are away from home, out of your comfort zone, adopting a new to you child, and traveling in a unique culture. You can bank on some family giggles. The No Hands But Ours contributors have accrued their share of these laugh-so-you-don’t-cry type of moments. Have a laugh with us as we recount tales of mysterious white powder, escalator falls, diaper blow-outs, airsickness and fainting on the Great Wall!


Your most embarrassing or amusing travel moments?

Desireé: Passed out cold on the Great Wall of China with a bit of heat stroke. Had to lay with my shirt up and belly against the stones of the walkway until my blood pressure came up enough to stand up. 100,000 of my newest Chinese friends got a good look at the crazy american laying half naked on their wall. Sheesh. BRING WATER TO THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!

Mandy: My husband and I got a Chinese massage before we adopted our daughter. It was very forceful and not very relaxing. It hurt so much, that while grimacing, I farted. 

Whitney: Too many to count. We laughed our way through that trip and laughter saved our sanity.  We still recount many of those memories. In our Shanghai hotel, they played the same round of songs every morning over the intercom… really old, really obscure songs! We still break out into song occasionally. 


Rebecca: While traveling the million hour flight home with two newly adopted kids, our son had a massive STINKY diaper blowout through two diapers and all his extra clothes. When we arrived in Tokyo for a layover, we had to carry him through the airport wrapped only in an airplane blanket. He eventually wore his sister’s also dirty, too small “jeggings” while I scrubbed his pants in an airport bathroom and then dried them under a hand dryer with a large contingency of Asian women crowding around watching and pointing. All this while his sister had a scary high fever and her parents were learning to play nurse, also in the airport bathroom, administering mystery Chinese meds with Mandarin direction labels and using medical equipment that was still new to us. We left our pride in Tokyo and also certainly earned some in the field, honorary nursing and parenting badges. 

Amy A: I fell down the stairs at the wholesale market with my son in 2013 (embarrassing). We laughed a lot in 2015…it was good for the soul!

Stefanie: Funny: In 2008, my oldest daughter (then 15) and I traveled to bring home our son Jude. He was just 16 months at the time, had uncorrected clubfoot and was cute as a button. But we got a LOT of stares, due to his “abnormal” feet. By the end of our trip we had grown quite weary of the pointing and laughter directed at him, and us. At the Guangzhou airport on the way home, we stopped in the bathroom and while in line, a few ladies waiting in front of us began to comment, laugh and point at Jude’s feet. I turned around to Victoria, behind me in line, and whispered for her to just start laughing with me. And boy, did we ever. Our fake laughs turned into real laughs and then full-on belly laughs. And it completely caught the commenters off guard. Still makes me smile to think about it.

Embarrassing: In 2010, I traveled with my son Asher to bring Vivienne home. He’d never been on an airplane and was beside himself with excitement to go. He had trouble falling asleep on the long flight over, but eventually he did. All seemed to be going well until he woke up and was horribly airsick. He vomited all over everything. Every. Thing. We managed to limp off the plane, in China at last, and I hoped that would be the end of his nausea. While we were waiting in line to officially enter the country, with security cameras seemingly everywhere, I looked over at him and his face was positively green. We, as discreetly as we could, stepped out of line and he threw up in an airport plant. Thankfully we passed the temperature scan and the entrance checkpoint – it was a travel moment I’ll never forget, but kinda wish I could.


Amy S: Getting a shot of Epi in my “hip” was a trip. Having a doctor ask me if I usually have heart arrhythmia was scary. The consulate closed two days before our appointment because of a mysterious white powder in the mail and we had to delay our return trip by 2 days but we managed to negotiate out of extra charges. It was an insane trip – but we returned with a living child and that was the goal.

Jean: Embarrassing – Paying the fees when your suitcase is too heavy and other are waiting for you… 

Funny – When people in China remember you from your last couple adoption trips! It’s like meeting up with old friends! I was in the ladies room in the hotel in GZ and a woman walked up to me and said “Jean?” – I had no idea who she was! It was Ann from Redthreads! She recognized me from the photos we had sent (through her) to our new child! We ended up doing a shopping day with her – she was wonderful!


Waiting Child: Ethan

July 30, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Ethan is a handsome boy, who is 4 years old. He is listed with Hawaii International Child. He was found abandoned when he was 3 years old, and brought to the orphanage. They found him to be in good health, with the exception of low muscle tension in his legs. The doctor diagnosed him with …Read More

What Should I Pack for China?: My Best Attempt at a Comprehensive Packing List

July 29, 2015 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments


One of the questions I see most often in China Adoption Facebook groups is “What should I pack for China?” Naturally, I had this question the first time I adopted from China. When I approached this task, I did what I always do: I researched. Every time someone posted in a DTC Facebook group a …Read More

Waiting Child: Kim

July 28, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Kim is a precious and beautiful girl who is 6 years old. She is designated special focus to Lifeline through an Orphanage Partnership. Her special need is listed as abnormal bone development. This little girl is absolutely precious! She is a polite and loves to greet others! She can walk unassisted, go up and down …Read More

Going to China: Carry-On Only

July 27, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Being that my husband is in the airline industry, we have been a family that takes full advantage of the flight benefits. Therefore, since we fly stand-by, we hardly ever check bags – because one is never totally quite sure IF we will get on the said flight until the last minute – major bummer if your …Read More


July 27, 2015 by nohandsbutours 7 Comments


China. Whether you’ve been there and back again 10 times or are anxiously awaiting that call telling you it’s time to call your travel agent, you can feel very much a foreigner in a foreign land. As we’ve been those foreigners, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that may be helpful …Read More

Contributor Q and A: “I Wish I’d…”

July 26, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


With more than 50 adoption trips behind us collectively, our contributor team reflects on their journeys and what they might have done differently. The consensus? Less worrying, less formal touring and more soaking up authentic daily life in China. And, we wish we’d bought a few more coffee mugs!   I wish I’d spent more time… Desireé: Visit your …Read More

Waiting to Be Chosen: Jenny

July 26, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Is this precious little one your daughter? Jenny is simply adorable and has waited far too long for her family. Her orphanage fee has been waived and she has a growing grant on Reece’s Rainbow.  Jenny, born March 2008, is a cutie with a big smile from a well-run orphanage. Her update says she is sociable, easy going, …Read More

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