How Adoption Changed our Christmas Card List

December 8, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Make fun of me all you want, but I addressed the last of my Christmas cards and sent them out the day after Thanksgiving. We missed sending them out last year in the midst of the last minute paper push. We had LID December 1, and were in the midst of sorting through files and advocacy sites, and I had no bandwidth left to give Christmas cards.

But this year we have a new addition to show off. To experience firsts with. The things my heart longed and ached for last year are now a reality.

Two years ago our lives looked completely different. We were at a different church, with different friends, and serving in different ways. The people who we hung out with were different, and our Christmas card list was different. As I sat sifting through the addresses, I was amazed at how adoption has changed the trajectory of our relationships.

When we started adoption, I guess I was somewhat naive. I didn’t expect it to have the impact it would. We were mostly content with our relationships. Being transplants living far away from family, our friends became like family to us. At least, that’s what we wanted from our relationships.

When we announced our adoption, we were kind of surprised by the people who showed genuine excitement for us, and who acted as if it was nothing or, even more challenging to deal with, said nothing.

Our process was anything but easy. Filled with country changes, appeals, lots of money lost, and a change in agencies… there were challenges at every turn. It was one of the most challenging periods we have faced as a family. I produced two dossiers in nine months which left me with not much left to give.

As we started to face these hurdles it became quickly apparent we were going to need community like never before. The problem was, the one we thought we had, seemed to not be there when we needed them.

Through lots of prayer and processing we decided to make some big moves.

We dropped out of just about everything we had been serving in, or attending. We changed churches. Mostly through natural drift we changed most of our friendships, although some ended in a giant chasm.

This was one of the biggest heartaches of adoption. I lost friends I thought I would have forever. My kids lost friends they’d had since birth. Who we spent Halloween and Fourth of July with changed. One of my best friends since college dropped me like yesterday’s news. I didn’t understand it at the time, and almost felt like God had betrayed me.

I prayed for real, deep, authentic community in our lives.

Now, just over two years after starting the process, I see so much grace.

My Christmas card list includes families we were lucky to train with and travel with. Families we hope to keep in touch with for years to come. It’s a joy to watch their kids thrive and grow in the love of a family.

There was a handful of people that walked through the fire with us and stayed by our side, turning acquaintances into deep abiding friends, which were some of the first cards addressed this year.

There was a small group of women that I gathered for dinner with monthly during the long adoption process that helped carry me through… their cards include long overdue thank you notes.

And cards sent to people that were strangers two years ago, but turned out to be our biggest supporters and cheerleaders, truly being the hands and feet of Jesus to us.

Our new church has brought us some of the most real and authentic, genuine relationships I’ve had since college.

For the first time in a long time I have people around me that inspire me and challenge me. If I put out a call for help, I know I’ve got people that have my back. Just about every Sunday I thank God for bringing us to the house we call our church home.

As I busily collected addresses from these new additions, each one was a sweet reminder of God’s grace.

In the trials, when we felt so alone and like no one was there… God was. That when we thought we could go on no more, He brought someone to help us keep going. As the old friend abandoned, or the car broke down, or the oven broke, help and hope was just around the corner.

As we prayed for the kind of relationships we so desperately longed for, He brought them, even if it meant we had to go through the painful process of loss first.

Our cards look different this year, with our newest addition, but the real difference I see is in the list of recipients. Our daughter was hard fought for, but so was the place of grace and love we find ourselves in this holiday season.

– guest post by Kate

Child Who Waits: Peter

December 8, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Peter was born in July 2009 and due to nerve damage in his ears he is deaf, however, he uses body language and gestures to express his needs. Peter is described as active, friendly and energetic. They say he is very thoughtful and caring and will often help out a blind child by accompanying her to the playground and back to the classroom. He is also very tidy and after cleaning his own things will go on to help other children.

Peter is said to be a very curious boy and loves to play with new toys such as puzzles, cars and beads. He will watch his teacher first and study the way she plays with the toy so that he can then learn how to play with it. He loves to participate in many types of activities. Peter is very independent and can dress and undress himself and knows how to use a spoon and fork.

Please go to WaitingChildInfo for more information about this child or about pursuing his adoption.

Embracing the Unknowns

December 7, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Our son is adventurous, affectionate, good-natured, and strong. He loves playing outside, blowing bubbles, reading books, and playing with anything with wheels. He is absolutely amazing and the perfect addition to our family.

I want the world to know all of this about him.

What I choose to keep private is information about his special need. Only the people closest to us know that when we received his referral, we did not know for certain if he was a boy or a girl.

We started our (second) adoption journey feeling called to adopt a child with a special need from China. We were open to a variety of what we considered “mild” special needs, in either a boy or girl under age three. One of the needs we were open to was hypospadias – a birth defect in which a boy’s urethra forms somewhere other than the tip of the penis. One of our friends had recently given birth to a son with hypospadias, and he had had it corrected by a relatively simple procedure.

I’m going to be honest here – after our dossier was “logged in” in China, we received and declined two referrals before accepting the referral for our son. Saying “no” to children who needed a family was excruciating, and we prayed that both of them would find families who would say “yes” to them.

In both cases, our international adoption doctor found that the children’s special needs were considerably more complex than their files indicated, and we didn’t feel we were the right family for those children.

I share this for two reasons:

1) I think a lot of people feel guilty about saying “no – we are not the right family for this child” even when that is the best decision for their family and the child and allows another family, who is a better fit for that child, to say “yes” to her or him.

2) if we hadn’t said “no” to these two children, we wouldn’t have been able to say “yes” to our son, with his difficult-to-place special need of ambiguous genitalia.

In fact, our two previous referrals had left me feeling deflated about our adoption from China. I wondered if we were wrong – perhaps our child wasn’t in China after all?

Only a few days after our agency told us it could be months before we were matched again, they called and asked if we’d be willing to review a file for a little boy whose diagnosis was “hypospadias”, but who was also described as having “ambiguous gender” and “hermaphrodism” in his file. Since we had not indicated that we were open to ambiguous genitalia – but had said we might be open to needs that were not on our medical checklist – our agency wanted to check with us before sending us the file. My husband and I agreed to take a look.

As soon as I saw our son’s picture, my heart melted.

Here was an adorable toddler boy, sitting on the floor surrounded by toys, looking into the camera with big, sad eyes. He appeared perfectly healthy. His file also contained a photo of his genitals, and yes, they did appear different from what would be considered typical male genitalia. I looked back at his little face and saw a perfectly healthy child who needed a family and who was simply a little different “down there”.

Our International Adoption doctor confirmed this. Everything about this little boy appeared healthy. And, we knew from basic genetic testing in his medical file that he was a 46XY, which is considered a “normal” male. However, our IA doctor let us know that sometimes genetic testing in China is not accurate, and that regardless, our son would need much more sophisticated genetic testing beyond the limited chromosome test from China.

Our IA doctor indicated that yes, this little boy probably had hypospadias, but with the severe degree of hypospadias he likely had – based on the limited information and poor quality picture we had – he almost certainly also had some type of Disorder of Sexual Development (DSD).

She gave us examples of possible DSDs that might lead to our son’s genitals looking the way they did. In addition to more sophisticated genetic testing, he would need hormonal testing and imaging in order to try to determine his likely gender identity. According to our IA doctor, the diagnosis of a specific DSD is “the question” that must be answered for a child with ambiguous genitalia. And, we would ideally take our son to see an experienced Disorder of Sexual Development team, which usually consists of endocrinologists, urologists, gynecologists, geneticists, and psychologists, among others, in order for the diagnosis to be made. For us, that would mean travel out of state.

After that, the treatment for the DSD our son was most likely to have would probably be available locally. Most importantly, our IA doctor told us that children with DSDs thrive in families who are both able to handle their potential medical needs and willing to remain open to potential gender assignment.

Now it was time for us to do a lot of research as well as soul-searching. And actually, we quickly realized we would be a great family for this child. You see, we have always been committed to avoiding gender constraints in the raising of our children. We present our children with lots of options and let them decide where their interests lie (so, for example, our daughter loves learning about space and how engines work and equally loves arts and crafts, and so far our son loves trains and cars and also loves cuddling and caring for his baby doll).

Being people of faith, we believe that all people are created in the image of God and are equally valued by God, whether they fit a societal “norm” or not. While we knew all of this intellectually and spiritually, the idea of adopting a child for whom we didn’t know the sex and didn’t know a future gender did seem daunting. We needed to make sure we were ready to be open to the unknown with regards to this child’s sex and gender identity.

We are blessed to have a friend who is both an endocrinologist and adoptive mom, and at this point we were ready to involve her in our decision-making. She discussed with us some of the possibilities for our son – that he could be a boy genetically, hormonally, and both internally and externally, with a severe hypospadias that needed to be repaired. (A pediatric urologist friend of hers reviewed our son’s file, too, and felt that this would be the case for him, but our IA doctor was much less certain).

On the other hand, this child could have a more complex DSD that might be difficult to diagnosis and/or that might require ongoing treatment. And, with some or even many DSDs, only the child should be able to decide whether or not to have surgery, meaning that treatments would need to hold off until the child was old enough to make such a decision for him or herself.

Both our endocrinologist friend and our IA doctor told us that once a diagnosis is made (i.e. a specific DSD is identified), there is nearly always an indication of whether the child would likely identify as male/female, so that helps parents decide how to raise the child in the interim (while staying open and flexible to all possibilities). We learned that with the help of an experienced DSD team, we could determine the best course of action for our child.

As my husband and I discussed the possibilities together, it became clear that there was no “worst case scenario” to be prepared for – that all possibilities would be okay with our family. We continued to view this child as a perfectly healthy child who would need unconditional love and support, and these were things we knew we could give.

This was our child, and we eagerly claimed him as our own.

That being said, while we waited to travel to China to bring our son home, we were anxious with not knowing all that we didn’t know!

How would we share our news with family and friends?
What clothes would we bring?

We decided a few things during this time of preparation and waiting, based on the idea that we would not and could not know our child’s sex and gender identity for some time.

First, we decided to let people know we were adopting a son. We told only a few people who were closest to us that his sex and gender identity were unknown, both to prepare those closest to us and to seek their support. We figured that we could explain otherwise publicly later, only if we needed to; in the meantime, we wanted to maintain our son’s privacy.

During this time, we also chose a name for our child that was gender neutral to allow flexibility for our child in terms of his/her identity. And, we purchased only a few items of clothes, trying to remain as gender-neutral as possible in our selections.

After thinking so much about our son’s special need… when we finally met him in China, it was actually far from our mind. As soon as we met him, it was clear that he was feeling traumatized. He could best be described as catatonic at our first meeting, and all our energy was invested in helping him feel safe with us. During his first day or two with us, it became obvious that he had been quite neglected. However, over the course of the next few days, he slowly began to trust us and to accept our attention and affection, and his cheerful and adventurous personality began to emerge.

As we got to know him better, we found that – at least from our perspective – his “ambiguous genitalia” was not nearly as ambiguous as it appeared in his medical file. He genitalia appeared male to us. In addition, he exhibited many stereotypically “male” behaviors (he seemed to be very physical and active and was immediately drawn to any toys with wheels).

At least for now, we remained comfortable with the idea that we was our son. We felt he was perfect just as he was, though we did find that he was rather unnecessarily and invasively (in our opinion) poked and prodded by the curious doctor at his visa medical appointment in China. We began to feel some of the societal stigma that was directed at people with genital differences and remained committed to protecting our son’s privacy the best we could.

We wanted to visit our son’s orphanage so that he could know more about the place where he’d lived since he was only three days old. However, it was clear that if we brought him back there, that would traumatize him further, so my husband travelled there alone.

It’s a good thing we didn’t bring him.

While it was clear that the orphanage workers cared for our son the best they could despite being woefully under-staffed, they asked my husband (through our guide/interpreter), why would we want to adopt a child with this type of “disfigurement”? One orphanage worker motioned to a sweet little boy in a crib with a different special need and asked (roughly translated): “Why not adopt him – at least he is intact?”

Hearing this negativity from the people who had cared for our son was heartbreaking.

I share this to give readers a glimpse (perhaps) into why so many children with “ambiguous genitalia” are waiting to be adopted. Our guide explained to us that most Chinese people do not believe anyone like our son could lead a full, “normal” life.

Fast-forward almost a year…

Our son absolutely leads a full and “normal” life and is thriving. Our main focus for the first several months at home was attachment and helping him heal from his traumatizing early life. Thankfully, he quickly attached to me, and although it took many more months and a lot of work before he was securely attached to my husband, we now feel our attachment to our son, and his to us, is strong.

We travelled to visit our IA doctor after being home only a couple of weeks, and our son was indeed found to be healthy. Due to his time in the orphanage and the neglect he had experienced there, he was delayed in all areas of his development, but the IA doctor and her team expected he would catch up quickly in our family. In fact, when we had his development reassessed six months later, he was on target in all areas! What a miracle!

During our first weeks at home, we also travelled to visit a Disorder of Sexual Development Clinic, as our state does not have one. While we could have seen several different specialists at our local Children’s Hospital, we wanted the team approach and expertise that only a DSD clinic could provide. And, with a DSD Clinic, we only needed to make one appointment to be seen by a team of experts who would evaluate our son for a potential DSD.

At our first visit, the lead endocrinologist told us she did not view our son’s genitalia as “ambiguous” at all, confirming our first instincts in China. Then, over the course of months and through various tests, we found that our son was indeed genetically male, had a “male brain” (due to male hormones he was exposed to in the womb), and showed normal hormone levels for a male his age. Further testing has not revealed any abnormalities, so we still aren’t sure why our son developed the way he did. The team confirmed that our son is unambiguously a boy, and they recommended we surgically repair his hypospadias.

Honestly, we were very surprised by this news. We had prepared all along to hear that any surgical treatments should wait until he was older. However, the testing, and the advice of the DSD team at the U of M, gave us confidence that we would have our son’s hypospadias repaired in a two-part surgery.

So far, he has undergone the first stage of the repair. The surgery went well, without any complications. We worried before the surgery that our son would feel frightened and that surgery would further traumatize him. But at no point did our son seem frightened prior to surgery, and he did not know he was separated from us thanks to the good work of the surgery team at the Children’s Hospital associated with our DSD team.

When he woke up, he saw me and reached for me, ready to cuddle. He had no pain until several hours later, at which point things got harder for a while. The first few days were difficult, mainly because our son had a catheter and frequent bladder spasms. After having it removed a week later, he immediately felt better, and his healing has been smooth.

In a few more months, he will undergo stage two of his repair. We are hoping for an equally uneventful surgery, and we are praying for no complications, although the complication rate (the likelihood of fistulas, or small leaks in his new urethra) is higher for this second surgery. If that were to occur, he would need another, smaller surgery to repair the fistula.

Our son’s genitals may never be completely “normal,” but what does that really mean? It’s also possible that our son’s body might react differently from what’s considered “normal” at puberty. The DSD team will monitor him – we will likely visit them once a year – to make sure he grows appropriately and to see if he needs help in the way of hormone treatments to help him fully mature during puberty.

We don’t know what the future holds for our son or his body, just as no one knows what the future holds for their children. What we know for sure is that we love our son for who he is, and nothing in the world will ever change that.

There are so many children waiting to be adopted with a diagnosis of “ambiguous genitalia.” This seems to be a blanket diagnosis for any type of genital difference. I know that children with this blanket diagnosis can be “difficult to place” in adoptive families, probably due to a lack of information and perhaps due to fear of the unknown.

I want families to know that these are healthy children whose bodies are just a little different, who are waiting for a family to love and accept them for who they are, and to provide them for the care they need.

These children, like all children, are created in the image of God, and will lead full and wonderful lives in the care of families willing to give them the unconditional love all children deserve.

We took a leap of faith, embraced the unknowns, and we are blessed every day because we did.

Some resources that really helped us as we considered our son’s referral include:

Special Needs Resource group (closed Facebook group)
Families of Children with Urogenital Differences (A Secret Facebook group – ask at the Special Needs Resource group who to contact to join)
The Handbook for Parents by the Consortium on the Management of Disorders of Sex Development

Family story:

Five Facts about Ambiguous Genitalia

Sample list of DSD clinics:

Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care
University of Minnesota’s Leo Fung Center for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia and Disorders of Sexual Development

– guest post by an anonymous mama

Love Beyond Sight

December 6, 2016 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

I have always been a planner, always been cautious. I had even been planning this adoption since I was 12! What I hadn’t planned was that China would become a special needs adoption program by the time my husband and I were able to adopt. It was daunting looking over the Medical Checklist. I could …Read More

Child Who Waits: Oliver

December 6, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Oliver is an adorable little toddler boy who is waiting for a family to call his own. He was born November of 2013. In his medical file, he is listed as has having post-operative congenital cataract as well as being diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss and chronic otitis media. However, he received surgery for Cochlear …Read More

Then and Now: Selah

December 5, 2016 by nohandsbutours 5 Comments

One year ago we were sitting in a hotel conference room waiting to meet our daughter for the first time. One year ago the minute hands on our watches seem to stand still. One year ago we watched families meet their children for the first time. One year ago our daughter was finally brought into …Read More

Beautiful Unknowns

December 5, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Medical needs adoption is one you have to walk into with your eyes wide open. Though prospective parents may have a medical history presented to them before saying the biggest “yes” of their lives, you have to know this: there are unknowns. There will always be unknowns. We knew about the unknowns before saying our …Read More

Waiting to be Chosen: Jameson

December 4, 2016 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

This is Jameson. His file is designated to AAC through an orphanage partnership. Isn’t he just the most precious little guy ever? Jameson is 22 months old — he was born in January of 2015. He is described as plump, lovely, and very nice. He likes listening to music, and playing with toys — especially …Read More

Then and Now: Deklan

December 3, 2016 by nohandsbutours 12 Comments

I find myself consistently caught in the deceptive trap of a compare and contrast representation of the last 345 days. Through the lens of retrospection, milestones can be simple to compartmentalize. I quickly disregard the messy tentacles that stretch from each “attained” behavior and stamp it “victorious”. I am learning that adoption carries an oceanic …Read More

We Thought We Wanted a Girl

December 3, 2016 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

When we started our journey to China, we wanted to adopt a little girl. When we filled out our Medical Conditions Checklist, we specified girl only. I had visions of picking out a glorious name for my daughter-to-be, dressing her in the most beautiful clothes, and decorating her room. This baby girl would be my …Read More

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