Matters of the Heart

It is no secret that I advocate for children waiting in China, for children waiting who have unrepaired and complex congenital heart defects.

I do not advocate to ever pressure anyone into considering the adoption of a child out of guilt. I advocate for the child. Period.
I have recently had my heart broken nearly in two as I stepped out to advocate for a child waiting and fell in love with the child in the process. I did not intend for that to happen. I have advocated for many of these children and have felt love for them and an urgency to advocate and pray. I guess it is a chance one takes, but I’m not entirely sure I am willing to take that chance again.
At times, if I am being completely honest, I would like to rewind my life to the place where my eyes where shielded and my heart was guarded. But if I could even truly do that, then I would surely not be the Mommy of an amazing little girl, a little girl who is as typical as the next and happens to have complex congenital heart defects. And I would not be waiting to bring home our son, who also had unrepaired heart disease when we asked Ch*na if we could be his forever family.
Right now, I do feel beaten down and at times beaten up. I wonder why I bother to advocate when it seems so many people who’ve never known what it is like to parent a child with complex CHD want to tell me what it is like. I wonder why I stick my heart on the line as I see the files of these children and try to read between the lines and see that glimmer of courage and God-given strength that most of us don’t have … and then I am reminded why.
I KNOW the blessing of bringing home one of the children who is labeled as unadoptable, too risky, severe special needs … I KNOW because she is my daughter.
I so wish … one of my greatest wishes … is that these children who wait could be seen through the eyes of God … through His lens … by more families. While I often hear the many risks associated with these children … open-heart surgery, shortened life expectancy, undisclosed needs, learning disabilities, too time-consuming, burdensome, syndromes … I wish I heard more of the unique blessings they are … so near to the heart of God, courageous, strong, miraculous, SURVIVORS, and … simply a CHILD who needs to know the love of a family as much as the next child.
We can always come up with many reasons not to take a chance on a child whose condition is serious and severe, but we’ll never know what might be if we don’t take that step. And if we do take that step, we might just come so close to the very heart of God that we will be forever changed.
I don’t know if I’ll continue to advocate for these children. I don’t even know what to do next most days right now. I have known firsthand the unknowns of stepping out: coming to Ch*na and finding our daughter clinging to life in a hospital, finding out that our waiting son had emergency open-heart surgery in December and still feeling like we’ll never get to Ch*na to bring him home, and even allowing myself to dream that just maybe I might be blessed with an unexpected blessing in the process. I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I know that as long as these children wait I will dream and wish and pray and hope. And repeat again and again.


by Karin, mom to Chloe from China with a SN of a limb difference

Years ago, God very clearly led us to start down the adoption road for a little girl in China with a special need that was not considered ‘adoptable’. At the time, CCAA had never allowed a child with this SN to be adopted. We had just returned home with our second daughter from China, and having four kids was sending us over the edge (haha). I had no desire for any more kids!!

But God….

There was no SN list back then and rarely were any pre-id adoptions allowed. However, we knew we were to try. We had a contact in China — at the orphanage where ‘our little girl’, Chun, was living. She was trying to help from the China end. Over the next two years, God led us down many paths — up high mountains, low valleys. There were moments of extreme awe and happiness as a roadblock was removed, only to be replaced with a long dark valley as another loomed in its place. We sought the Lord at every turn and were told to continue on.

We finished our dossier, only to find out that because of the quota placed on agencies that year, our agency no longer had a slot available. (A mix-up — but nothing could be done.) So we had a dossier with no way to get it to China. And the clock was ticking on our paperwork, as you know.

For eight months it sat. In the meantime, CCAA started it’s first SN list. Finally our agency found another agency with available slots and we were able to send our dossier through that agency. But let me tell you… it was a long eight months!!

Our new agency had a director who was — well, less than honest. He kept telling me that our case was going to be presented to CCAA in person… that the person (QS), doing so was on his way to China at that very moment. I would wait on pins and needles for QS to return…. send emails… get no response… finally call and call and call. My insistence for an answer would finally grant me an opportunity to talk with the director — only to be given the cryptic response… “No news this month.”


This went on for months. We could do nothing but wait and pray. All of our friends were praying with us for little Chun and that CCAA would relent and allow her to be adopted. Her paperwork was at CCAA.

During that time a personal friend of mine started some charity work in China. She miraculously — amazingly — was using QS to facilitate the beginnings of her work there. QS was part of a teeny, tiny, never heard of agency… the same agency that we were using!!! She asked QS about our case and he had never heard of us! (So much for him presenting our case numerous times to CCAA like the director had said…. grrrrr…..)

QS eventually presented our situation to CCAA and we were matched with Chun… I cannot begin to tell you the euphoria we felt when we were contacted with the news that we had been matched!! We were beside ourselves!! We were told that our file still had to be given approval by the director there, but that things looked pretty good.

A month later, we were contacted again with devastating news. QS had been told that the adoption would NOT be approved. CCAA would not approve a child with her special need for international adoption.


We were told that we would be getting a referral and that it would not be Chun. Well… I knew that I served a big God who could change hearts and I didn’t want to give up on Chun. She needed a family. I had been praying for almost two years with a Mama’s heart for that little girl. I couldn’t give up on her now.

A few weeks later, our referral came. It was not for Chun.

We were devastated. I don’t know what was worse… knowing that Chun wasn’t coming home, or wondering if I had heard God wrong all those months. Could I really hear from Him? Why had He led us down this path? Had I only THOUGHT He wanted us to try to adopt her? How could we come to the end of a two-year road and not get her?

My heart was broken. What should we do about the sweet little girl we were referred? I wanted her. She was a beautiful 12 month old. She could fill the place in my heart that was so empty and grieving.


While we had waited for Chun, God had given me a name. Chloe. That name was supposed to be for a little girl who was ‘lame.’ Don’t want to make this sound too weird, but all the verses that He led me to were about ‘the lame’ so I knew she had a leg or foot problem. And one day in the fall of that year, I had been so burdened for ‘Chloe’ that I wondered if she had been born then??

The little girl we were referred was not lame. I wanted her anyway. What if CCAA got really mad at us for turning down a perfect referral? Would they just dump our dossier in the trash? We had already been waiting 2 years. Would we walk away empty-handed? How could God ask us to walk away from this precious baby girl?

Our agency was sympathetic, thankfully. Jeff and I prayed earnestly and felt that the little one we were referred was not our daughter. We had to check the box that said we were rejecting the referral. Ohhhhh…. so hard. I thought I would die. How could we reject her? With the rejection, we sent a letter saying that we thought she was beautiful and perfect but we had originally asked for a child with special needs and wondered if they would please allow us to wait for the next waiting child list to arrive at our agency so that we could chose a child from that list?

Thankfully… CCAA agreed to this weeks later.

Three weeks later, we received an email from our contact in China saying that a Christian family in China wanted to adopt Chun. Since they were Chinese, CCAA had willingly sent Chun’s paperwork back so that the domestic adoption could take place. All of our prayers for Chun to have a Christian family were miraculously answered!!! And who would have thought that God would provide such a perfect family for Chun?!?!?!

It was with great relief that we felt released from advocating for her and could move forward with an adoption of a different child.

Our agency was small, as I said. Back then, waiting child lists were fairly small. What were the chances that our agency would get a list with a ‘baby girl born in the fall, who was ‘lame’?”

A few months later, I learned that SN lists had been sent to agencies. Of course… it was a holiday. New Years. Agencies were closed. The suspense was intense.

When the offices opened, I called. Our agency had gotten a list. There were six children on it. I so clearly remember asking, “Do you have a little girl with a foot or leg problem, born in the fall on the list?”

“Just a minute. Let me check,” she said. LONG PAUSE while my heart thumped out of my chest. “Yes. We do! One little girl. She has some missing toes and a leg that is shorter than the other.”

“When was she born?” I asked.

“Nov. 30th,” she responded.

“Put her on hold for us! She is our daughter!” I said.

“Don’t you want to see her picture?”

“NO!! I know she is ours!”

And she was! She was our Chloe.

For all those months, between losing Chun and finding Chloe, I struggled so much with, “What was that all about? Why did you lead us down those paths…seeming like you were leading us to Chun, and then at the last minute, jerked the rug out from under us? How could You be so cruel?”

His answer came in many different ways — but the bottom few lines are this:

* We are very goal oriented. We think that the goal is the purpose, when actually it is sometimes the JOURNEY that is the purpose. The things we learn on the journey are the things He wants to teach us.

* We need to stay close to Him and listen carefully at all times… not assume that once on the path we know the destination. He is in the driver’s seat and if He wants to change course, we need to be paying attention or we will head off in the wrong direction. So if we start in Florida, and He takes us on all the necessary roads to Ohio so that we think that is the destination, He might keep us on that highway until we get far enough north to turn toward New York. :)

I grieved deeply when we lost Chun and the little girl we were referred. Not only did I grieve the losses of both girls, but I grieved what I thought was my relationship with the Lord. It was humbling to say the least. Eventually, He showed me that I COULD hear from Him, but that I should not assume I knew the end — nor doubt my ability to hear just because He changed the destination from what I had thought it would be.

To meet the rest of our family, visit us here.

first words

Adoption is a roller coaster.

And meeting and spending those first few day getting to know your child can be one of the most wonderful times of your life.

It can also be pretty tough.

One of the issues we’ve encountered with almost all of our adoptions is difficultly in the department of communication. Obviously, when you adopt from China, your new child speaks and understands a completely different language. And even if your child isn’t verbal yet, they definitely have wants and needs. And a need to express those wants and needs. So, regardless of your new child’s age, communication is certain to be an issue.

One thing that has been a huge help to us as we have navigated those days, weeks and sometimes months of not quite understanding each other is ASL. American Sign Language. We learned about ASL and it’s benefits as we were seeking out answers for speech issues with our oldest biological son, over ten years ago. We were intrigued and so invested some time and a few dollars in this book:

And we were not disappointed. The signs were easy to learn, logical and easy to remember and use. And they covered basics: “mama”, “daddy”, “more”, “eat”, “drink”, “bottle”, “bath”, “play”, “boo boo”, “outside”, and the very necessary “no no”.

When we traveled to adopt our daughter Isabelle, we used these same words we had learned to use with our son years before. And although she was only 11 months at adoption, it didn’t take her long to catch on to a few signs and begin signing herself. Some of her first “words” were the signs: “more” and “mama”. And yes, it is definitely just as sweet seeing a first word as it is hearing it.

Eventually we purchased some signing flash cards that had additional words for her to learn, and she enjoyed looking at and playing with the cards as much as she did learning the new words.

In fact, all her older siblings enjoyed learning the new signs as well. Learning to sign a few basic words was more fun and functional that any of us could have imagined.

Now, as we navigate the weeks and months of being home with our new daughter Vivienne, we find ourselves depending on these signs again to ease the lumps and bumps of communication breakdown. Two at adoption, she has a wonderful grasp of Chinese and even though we’ve been home a month, she isn’t about to let go of her native tongue.

So signing has been a blessed compromise and although Vivienne has yet to spontaneously sign to us, she does love to imitate us when we sign to her. Teaching her to sign “please” was one of the first things she and I worked on in China, for our family this particular sign has been a lifesaver over the years. If Vivienne wanted something, but couldn’t stop crying over it, I’d insist she at least try to sign it (“please” is a circular motion on the chest) and, in order to sign, she’d have to stop crying. Sort of like chewing gum and patting your head at the same time, you can do it, it’s just not very easy. So just like that, our impasse was resolved. She’d stop crying and ask nicely (if even by just making an attempt to imitate the sign) and I would be able to give her what she wanted. Not necessarily rocket science, but it sure has helped us keep our sanity on numerous occasions.

I hope this might be helpful to someone preparing to travel to China for their little one.

If you have a travel tip of your own, please leave a comment, I’d love to compile and post a list to help future travelers :)

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

adoptive momma (China) AmFam at American Family… detailing the progress her daughter has made because of vision therapy

Thirteenadoptive momma (China) Sister Carrie at Jiaozi… her daughter, adopted just four years ago, becomes a teenager

Jacinda’s Follow-Up Appointmentadoptive momma (China) Sherry at Our Adoption Journey… a doctor’s assessment just two weeks after her daughter’s cleft palate surgery

gorgeous — adoptive momma (China) Stefanie at Ni Hao Y’alla cardiac check-up four years after open-heart surgery

Josie’s Heart Appointmentadoptive momma (China) Kim at Musings from Kim K… a report after her daughter’s twice yearly cardiology appointment

Boundaries, Part 2 — adoptive momma (China) Wuxi Mommy at Our Wuxi Girl… establishing boundaries amidst attachment struggles

Older Child Adoption: The Decision (Requested Post!)
adoptive momma (China) Jean at There’s no place like home… how she and her husband reached the decision to adopt an older child

No more teasing…adoptive momma (Guatemala) Michelle at Michelle Smiles… a recent experience with medical testing for her (biological) daughter

“I Can Say My R’s!!!”adoptive sister who is like a momma (China) Missy at Live Big and Laugh Often… quoting the first words her sister spoke after a recent lingual frenectomy

Does it feel the same? Bio and Adoption

Does it feel the same? Bio and Adoption

I remember when I was pregnant with my oldest son Zachary. I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no idea of the scope of the emotions that motherhood would evoke. I was on the verge of the greatest love of my life.

I remember looking at him after he was born. I loved to just look at him. I would check on him all of the time while he was sleeping to make sure that he was still breathing and that everything was ok. His smell was the sweetest. I would hold him and look into his eyes and he would run his little fingers through my hair. I loved him in a way that I had never loved anyone. My heart was consumed with him.

When I discovered that I was pregnant again with Tyler, I worried. It was a secret worry. I wondered how I could ever love Tyler as much as I loved Zachary. I could not imagine loving two people that deeply and completely.

My worries were completely unfounded. When Tyler was born, it was like my heart grew and Tyler had his special place filled with all of the love and joy that Zachary’s place in my heart held. I was doubly blessed with my two beautiful sons.

Elijah was a surprise for me. I had not truly intended to have more children. He came to me later in life. I was an older and more mature mother. It was a very stressful time in my life though. Tim and I had not been married for very long and had a lot of new family issues to deal with. My job was shaky. I was put on bed rest for six months due to uncontrollable bleeding. It was a tough time. But when he was born, he brought us such joy.

Shortly after he was born, I started to think about the gap between him and his brothers. There are 10 years between him and Tyler. I didn’t want him to grow up alone. I was already re-living the baby years and truly enjoying them. I knew that another pregnancy was not advisable since I had had such a tough time carrying Elijah. Tyler had been a very difficult pregnancy too. I started to think about adoption.

Tim and I started working on our adoption of Sophia on our second anniversary. I was very excited about it. But the secret fear came back. Can I love her the same? Will the fact that she is adopted make a difference? My mind said, “absolutely not, it will make no difference”. But I still had the secret fear.

Our journey to Sophia was a very long and emotional one. Sometimes it seemed as if she would never come home. But after three and a half years, it was our time. We were going to China to meet our daughter.

The feelings I had when I first saw Sophia were not the same as was when I first saw my sons. I was completely overwhelmed with sadness and anger. I was unprepared in my heart to meet a child who had no one. I could not believe that there was no Aunt, Uncle or Grandparent who would come forward for this child. To be looking into the eyes of a beautiful child who has no one in this world will literally stop your heart. How could this happen to this baby? How could there be no one? Looking abandonment in the face was devastating to me.

And then my heart kicked in. I was no longer looking at abandonment. I was looking at my child. Right at that moment she became my child. No longer an orphan. No longer with no one. We had come forward and with us Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and loves ones in America came forward too. We were now her family.

My heart grew Sophia’s place where all of my love and joy for her lives. It is every bit as real and alive as the love I have for her brothers. The secret fear was unfounded again. For me a child is a child no matter how God brings them to you and I am so happy that I can say that. I am so happy that I love her the way that I do.

My relationship with her is uniquely its own. There has been a lot of bonding and growing and changing over these past seven months. My relationship with each of my children is unique. They each have their own personalities that interact in different ways with my own personality. They are each uniquely loved by me, their mother. I feel so blessed to have the motherhood experiences that I have had. I am so humbled by the gift of my children. They are pure magic to me and I thank God for them.


by Lyn, mom to Addie from China with an SN of psychomotor developmental delays

My husband Bob and I got married in 1995, and by 2001 had two beautiful daughters. We were content with our family and had no plans to have any more children. However, in December 2005, God showed us that He had other plans for us.

That December, we attended a play at our church that was put on by a group of orphans from the Ukraine. The purpose of the play was to draw attention to the plight of orphans and to try to find adoptive homes for some of the kids who were in the play. I enjoyed the play and felt led to give money to help these children find homes, but I did not feel led to pursue adoption in any way.

A few days after going to see the play, however, I attended a Christmas party with a gift exchange. I received a DVD that included an adoption extra which told the story of Christian singer and songwriter, Stephen Curtis Chapman, adopting Shoahannah from China. It was a story that Bob and I had both heard before at an adoption fund raiser that we had attended a few years before. This time however, I couldn’t get adoption off of my mind. I was specifically drawn towards the adoption of a little Chinese girl. I prayed that if adoption was God’s plan for us, that Bob would be willing to pray with me about it. A few nights later we discussed adoption together and Bob suggested we begin praying about whether it was something we should consider. God had used the play at our church to prepare his heart to consider adopting. This answer to my prayer was the first of many times that God specifically guided us toward adoption.

I started researching adoption and found out that although we met the adoption requirements for several countries, we didn’t meet the salary requirement to adopt from China. We realized that it would take a miracle from God to adopt from there. We knew God performed miracles, and He could make it work, but we also realized that Bob would probably need a different job. He enjoyed his job as Program Director for a Christian retreat center and summer camp, and he didn’t want to leave it. We started praying for a miracle raise.

In January 2006, as we were waiting to see how God would provide a larger salary for us, we found out that some supplemental income that we had been receiving for several years would come to an end as of December 2006. We realized that without this extra money it would not only be impossible for us to adopt from China, but Bob would also need to find a different job in order for us to make ends meet. So, Bob gave notice in January 2006 that he would be leaving his job at the end of that year. Although we were discouraged about this, we soon felt sure that this was God’s way of providing a new job for us with a salary that was acceptable to China.

During this time when we were job hunting and unable to begin the adoption process, we received a phone call from some old friends of ours. They called to tell us that they would be giving us $5,000 towards the adoption! This was further confirmation that not only was God in this, but He was already funding the adoption – before it had even begun!

In the fall, to our surprise and delight, Bob was offered a new job at the retreat center where he worked, that – in combination with housing and benefits – met the salary requirement for China! The day the board met to approve the new job, we received $2500 in the mail from our friends. With this confirmation, we applied to adopt in September 2006 and began the long adoption process.

We turned in our paperwork on January 26, 2007, and China logged us into their system on February 12. We decided to name our daughter-to-be Addie. On March 1st we hosted a spaghetti dinner fund raiser for friends and family. We told our story – which was a wonderful reminder of all God had done to lead us to begin this journey to Addie. God provided over $7000 from the dinner! We were amazed.

Meanwhile, the process for receiving a healthy infant had begun slowing way down, and it began to look like we would maybe have to wait 2 years to get a referral call. In March we decided to sign up to be considered for a special needs child. I had been interested in this from the beginning, and after praying about it with me, Bob finally agreed.

In signing up for the special needs program, we said we would be willing to take a child with corrected special needs or minor correctable special needs, but we did not feel we were ready to deal with major issues like cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, etc… We also said we were interested only in a girl from birth to 2 years old. Most of the 80 – 100 people who were on the special needs list had also signed up for the same things, and only a few kids in each group of referrals fit that description, so the chances of receiving a special needs referral quickly were pretty slim.

We started to pray that God would allow us to have Addie in 2007 even though we knew it would take a miracle, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

During this time God also continued to provide the finances for our adoption. I assumed that we would need to apply for an adoption grant, but by the time we were ready to travel to China, God had given us over $21,500 through donations from family and friends!

Our agency received a group of special needs referrals in October 2007, and we were hoping to receive a phone call. I was tempted to go back through the special needs application and change some of our answers to give us a better chance at receiving a referral. However, I realized that God had already picked out Addie for our family, and there was nothing that we could do to make our chances of receiving her any better. He would give her referral to us on the exact day that He had planned, and nothing could thwart His plans. I didn’t need to manipulate the situation to help Him get her to us! He is almighty and sovereign and self-sufficient. In Isaiah 46 God says, “My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” When I went back to scripture and was reminded of what an all-powerful God we serve, I was peaceful again. We did not receive a phone call in October.

On December 6th we received an email saying that AWAA had received an unexpected group of special needs kids and that they would begin making phone calls the next day. After several days of hoping for a referral call, however, we got an email saying that they had made most of the phone calls. There were a five children left that did not fit into a specific category though, and they would email their information and pictures the next day. One was a 21 month old little girl described as being shy, quiet and introverted and having psychomotor delays. They also said that she had had a CT scan and some areas of her brain were expanded slightly. I had been hoping that I would know Addie as soon as I saw her. When I looked at this little girl though, there was nothing that made me think she was our daughter.

I had a 40 minute drive soon after seeing these referrals, and I used that time to pray for her and whether or not we should ask to be considered for her referral. As I was driving and praying, I started thinking about the type of family that would be good for a quiet little girl who could possibly be delayed her whole life. I realized that maybe our family would be good for her. We homeschool and she would have two older sisters and constant stimulation at home. I could work with her at her own pace and she wouldn’t have to receive any negative educational labels. By the time I got home, I was convinced that we should ask to be considered for this little girl. Bob agreed with me, so I contacted our agency and asked to be put on the list with the others interested in her. We knew that if this was Addie, we would be chosen; if not, He would give her to us at the right time.

The next day we received the phone call we had been waiting for! The special needs team had decided that this little girl was a good match for our family! We prayed that if this was Addie, God would confirm it by giving us peace no matter what. After only a short time, Bob and I felt very sure that this was our daughter. After consulting with a doctor about her medical information, we accepted the referral. One interesting thing that we noticed about her after receiving more detailed information about her, was that her measurements were almost exactly the same as our daughter Megan, both at birth and at 16 ½ months! She was born on March 19, 2006, the day before Megan’s 5th birthday.

Finally, in May 2008, our entire family traveled to China together to get Addie. We found, to our surprise, that instead of the quiet, shy little girl we had been expecting, God had given us a beautiful, spunky two year old with a strong will, a wonderful sense of humor, and no signs of any delays. In fact, she was very bright!

God had one more surprise for us. The week that we returned home from China, we found out that Addie had been given to another family the year before on her first birthday. However, she was exhibiting so many delays that they took her to the hospital in China to have her examined. She was given a CT scan and the family was told that she had severe brain damage. They were told they could receive a different child. They had an older child with a severe heart condition and didn’t feel that they could handle the unknowns of another special needs child. After an agonizing two hours, they gave Addie back. Their guide later told them that Addie would never speak in sentences and would need extreme care her entire life.

Did God heal her or did they get the wrong information? We don’t know the answer to that, but here are some things we do know:

We serve a God who is powerful enough to heal a damaged brain, or even to cause a healthy baby to seem brain damaged when she isn’t, in order for His purposes to be accomplished. We know that God has the right and the wisdom and the power to do all that He pleases, and that many times we don’t understand the reasons for what He does. We know that He is trustworthy, and that He has a good plan.

Obviously God chose Addie for us before she was born, and He picked out another precious child for this family. We don’t understand why they had to go through such a difficult situation, but we are thankful for the time they spent with Addie and how they have loved her and prayed for her since then. We are also very thankful that Addie shows no signs now of brain damage. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Addie has been home with us for close to two years now, and we can’t imagine life without her! She is determined to grow bigger so that she can, “cook, drive the car, and be a mommy”. She is sure that she could run the household if only I’d step aside and let her take over. We are now in the process of bringing home our son Lucas, who is 10 months older than Addie and living in Guangdong Province, China. We can’t wait for our new adventure!

Feel free to visit our family blog here.

And our travel journal for Lucas here.

Not So Different

At church Wednesday night, there was an argument between several girls and my older daughter. I was home sick with a migraine, and I heard about the problem Saturday morning while driving to a meeting with the pastor’s wife. Hearing about Sassy squabbling with an entire group of girls over rules to a game they’d made up wasn’t the way I wanted to start my day. But hear about it I did, and I returned home an hour later with my patience worn thin and the desire for an explanation simmering in my gut.

I barely managed to keep the anger out of my voice as I asked Sassy to tell me about the problem. Sassy is, after all, sassy. She tends to speak first and think later. She has quick-fire responses to everything, and she isn’t one to let an affront (perceived or real) go unchallenged.

In a nutshell, I believed that the problem and the resulting argument was her fault, but I wanted to give her a chance to prove me wrong.

To my chagrin, she did.

You see, the argument was about Cheeky.

There is a wonderful little group of eleven and twelve-year-old girls who have taken Cheeky under their wings. They adore her, and I appreciate the sweet attention they send her way.

Wednesday night, those girls decided that the rules of the game they were playing needed to be adapted to suit Cheeky’s visual impairment. They outlined the new rules, and Sassy went along with them until they decided that no one could toss a ball to Cheeky. The ball had to be walked to her and then handed over.

Sassy wasn’t keen on this idea. “We can toss the ball to her,” she said.

“No. She can’t see it,” was the response.

“She can see it fine. Just throw it gently,” my daughter replied.

And that’s when things heated up. Sassy, according to these sweet young girls, was mean to not consider Cheeky’s special need.

I asked my daughter what her response to that was, and she said, “I told them that Cheeky isn’t any different than any other kid. That she wants to play the game the same we do and that she doesn’t want people always talking about how she’s different. Just because her eyes aren’t so good doesn’t mean she’s different.”

And I could see the tears in my daughter’s eyes. She was angry and hurt and confused about all the extra care and attention paid to her little sister.

You see, we don’t treat Cheeky differently at home. Everything the other kids do, she does. She jumps, climbs, runs. She plays ball, tennis, badminton (albiet poorly). She does chores and is expected to do them well. There are points when we must consider her visual impairment, but we never make a big deal out of it. We expect that she will be able to achieve anything any other child can achieve, and Sassy knows it.

As I looked into my oldest daughter’s eyes, I felt two things- pride in her ability to let everyone know that Cheeky isn’t so different and relief that we’d discussed Cheeky’s SN and people’s responses to it with our older kids long before we brought her home.

Adoption, you see, is not only about the bond between parents and child. When there are other children in the home, it is as much about the bond between siblings. Bringing home a child with a very noticeable special need puts the entire family in the spotlight. It isn’t only Cheeky who is impacted by the stares and comments of others. It is all my children. Before Cheeky entered the home, I talked to the other kids about the questions they might be asked. We role played different scenarios and practiced responses to comments and questions. I wasn’t sure until this week that the things we talked about and the plans we made had sunk into my children’s brains.

But they had.

And Sassy was prepared to stand up for her sister’s right to be treated just like anyone else. She was prepared to be labeled mean in order to give her sister the chance to be labeled normal. She was prepared to argue her sister’s right to be seen as typical rather than different. At just a week past her ninth birthday, Sassy handled a difficult situation with courage and passion.

She has learned what many never do – that physical differences don’t limit a person’s ability to achieve great things.

And I have seen once again how knowing and loving Cheeky has changed us all for the better.

Birthday Realities

*** I originally posted this on my blog in Oct 2009.
Our son Luke came home from China in May 2007. ***

Monday was Luke’s 4th birthday. I had planned a light airy post about Luke’s party and how far he has come since arriving home. However, that was not what the Lord laid on my heart.

There is something special about Luke… and I’m not talking about all his “special needs”. There is a certain knowledge. One that we can’t ignore.

See, when we adopted Luke…. his life was truly saved.

Now, most times when people talk about adoption they talk about “saving a child’s life”. And in the larger sense that is absolutely true. You are providing an orphan… a child that has nothing, with a family, medical and dental care, education, food, a warm bed, etc.
And you are “saving a life”.

But what I am truly talking about are the orphans in critical medical condition. The kids with complicated special needs or that have just been ravaged by the orphanage system. Kids that will most definitely die if they are not adopted. Luke was one of those kids. However, we didn’t know this fact until we received him in China. Up until Gotcha Day we thought he was a typical orphanage cleft kid who had acclimated to his life at the orphanage and was doing “OK” waiting for us to come get him. He wasn’t. He was struggling, he was barely hanging on.

He was slowly withering away.

We were told by several medical professionals that if we hadn’t traveled when we did that Luke would not have seen his 2nd birthday.

He would not have LIVED.

He was that dehydrated, mal-nourished, delayed, compromised and frail.

When I think about this my heart is simply….heavy.

Luke’s adoption was when I truly understood what “saving a life” was all about. It wasn’t something we were prepared for. It was something we were thrust in to and it was a big burst of reality for us. To me it was the “other side” of adoption. The side that’s not all fairies, rainbows and ponies. It was the heart-wrenching reality of child desperately struggling. And the knowledge that the child was desperately struggling for a long long time. With no relief.

Jake and Kiah’s adoptions had been very typical. Jake and Kiah were both loved, fed and cared for. They were doing well in their respective environments while waiting for us to come get them. Same with Logan and Ava. Logan was in a great orphanage in XuZhou, Jiangsu and Ava… she is at the fabulous Philip Hayden Foundation.

But kids like Luke…. kids who are in desperate situations at their orphanage, kids with diagnosed and undiagnosed special needs….every day is a struggle for them. Every day is spent withering away. Everyday their little spirits get more and more crushed.

Every day they become weaker.

Even though we didn’t know what we were getting into, there is an overwhelming sadness knowing that your child was that compromised and there was no escape for them until you came. So on Monday when we celebrated Luke’s birthday it was with happiness that we have this boy but also with a heavy heart. My heart is heavy for the knowledge and reality of all the children who are in desperate need of a forever family. DESPERATE NEED.

I pray that each of these children find their way to a forever family sooner rather than later. And that God directs all of our hearts to these waiting children so that these sweet young ones can find love, comfort and relief.

The wisdom of elders

This is a bit of a roundabout story to explain a little something about what lead me to the Special Needs adoption program in the first place, so bear with me. This is a story that begins with a moment between my own mother and I, just after I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29. It bears mentioning that my mother had suffered from the same kind of cancer at about the same point in her young life, and had survived it. I had been in fourth grade when she was diagnosed, and after watching her go through surgeries and chemotherapies, the poisoning, the wasting and the hair loss, I had come to believe that this was the worst and most barbaric manner of thing in all the world. All through my childhood I secretly swore to myself that if I ever found out I had cancer, I would just let my life end, rather than suffer through anything like what I’d watched my mother go through. (But, oh, when you are very young, you fear death so much less).

On the day that I was diagnosed, I really couldn’t believe it. I felt the bottom dropping out of my world. I felt trapped. It’s one thing, after all, to think in the abstract about a diagnosis like this, and about the possibility of just letting your life come to an end with that diagnosis. I sat at my mother’s table and I felt that, meteorlike, I weighed several tons. Like I might just drop right through the crust of the earth and out the other side into the stratosphere. I felt like I might spontaneously combust, or just drop dead on the spot. But none of these things happened, and there I sat – just me and my life sentence, my worst fear made real.

What I did, of course, was start to cry.

“But what…?” I whimpered. “But how…? But, I can’t DO this!”

My mother, sitting across the table from me, didn’t get up and hug me, or even take my hand. Instead, she said four sharp words: “Snap out of it!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. She might as well have slapped me in the face. I felt like I had just experienced the ultimate betrayal – as if at the moment of my greatest need, when I had hit bottom and all of creation had abandoned me, my own mother had turned the cold shoulder to my grief and panic.

Let me just say that this is not at all like my mother. She is a loving and gentle person, a person who will do anything for anyone. Yes, she is strong and athletic and independent, fearless, practical, adventurous. But my mother wouldn’t hurt a fly, and has the habit of apologizing whenever someone is angry with her, even if she would be better off standing up for herself. So it turned my world upside-down when she said those words to me. I was deafened by them. I could hear nothing else for weeks. Those words made me angry. They sparked a thermonuclear rage in me. They ignited a firestorm of self-righteous fury which hardened my skin into a carapace and honed my mind to a sharp and deadly point. I had no mission left in my mind but to show her that I was too tough to be hurt by her belittling words.

Can you see where this is going? Naturally, the anger that my mother had stirred in me was the one and only thing that made it possible for me to make it from the day of diagnosis through my first dreaded chemotherapy treatment without losing my mind with fear and panic. It got me through my first couple of chemos, determined to show that I could be as cold and tough as she had been at that moment. By the time I began to simmer down and agree with my then-boyfriend who had tried to reason that maybe, just maybe she had a point, I was in the swing of treatments and realized that not only could I survive this, I already had begun to do so. No point in turning back now.

There is a survival instinct that comes into play at the darkest of moments, and this carried me through the year of treatments (which become worse and worse as you go along). And before I knew it, as things happen in life, my year was done and I was set free from my shackles again, astonished to discover, as the months passed and my hair grew and my skin lost its chemical pall and regained some luster, that I was capable of rebirth.

It was only much, much later that I got over my anger with her, and realized that those four sharp, seemingly heartless words: “Snap out of it!”, were the only words that could have carried me to a point where I had the necessary will to survive.

Ultimately, though it took some time (maybe two years after the end of treatment) to find my feet and my confidence in life again, my experience with cancer changed me for the better, and drastically so. I also think that without that experience I would most likely not have considered applying for the Special Needs adoption program. (and I think I should mention that Special Needs adoption relates to the adoption of any child with medical needs, surgical, medical, therapeutic etc) With everyone around us saying that we wouldn’t be wise to take on a child with medical issues, I probably would have given in to the fears of others were it not for the fact that I myself, an unusually hearty and healthy child with no medical conditions whatsoever, had turned out to have an indicator for cancer in the prime of my life. No one could have predicted that, certainly not my parents (no study has proved that our type of cancer is genetic or transferable in any way). So I figured, even if I had given birth to a biological child, or adopted a seemingly healthy child, I would have run the unknowable risk that that child might have an undiagnosed and potentially life-threatening condition. Why, then, would I want to reject the adoption of a child with a known quantity of medical needs? What made me think that the choice of a “healthy child” was mine to make? In my experience, it was not.

I am endlessly grateful for that early experience, then, no matter how traumatic. Without it, there is every chance that I would never have had the privilege, the unmeasurable joy of having the Q as my daughter.

footnote: I fully believe that my survival instinct would have kicked in, even without my mother’s very wise and well-timed wakeup call. I do not believe that I really would have let my life end at the age of 29. I am an optimist to the core, and the base instinct for survival is built in to the human condition. We are capable of suffering so very much more than we can ever imagine in our rational mind (as has been proved time and time again in the aftermath of the Haiti quakes). That said, I shudder to think how I would have made it through those first few weeks without the anger that my mother gave me from the depths of her own experience. Having been through it herself, in an era when the cancer treatment was far more barbaric, random and unrelieved than it is now, she knew in some part of her what I most needed at that moment. She must also have known that I would react with anger, and that she herself would have to suffer through my wrath in addition to her own fear for the life of her only daughter. Her act, albeit instinctive, was one of the greatest and most unexpected gifts that she has ever given me. I can only hope to repay it by giving my own understanding of the world, and how to survive it, to my daughter as the years pass.

- Maia

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

One Year Ago Todayadoptive momma (China) Shirlee McCoy at And Then There Were Seven… describing the day she and her husband first saw photos of the girl who would become their daughter

Andrew’s Surgeryadoptive momma (China) Steffie at Never Too Many… insurance frustrations during the weeks leading up to her son’s open-heart surgery

Next Surgeryan adoptive momma (China) at Room For At Least One More… discussing her daughter’s surgery history and her upcoming cleft-palate surgery

Spinal Defects Clinic
adoptive momma (China) Kris at Tell Her This… detailed news after meeting with her daughter’s medical team at the spinal defects clinic

Good timing, bad timingadoptive momma AwesomeCloudMom (China) at Zhe shi wo ying… discovering the date of her son’s next scheduled surgery