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A Beginner’s Guide to Special Needs Adoption: Post One

May 3, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Becoming a parent, no matter how it happens, is never easy. But for those just looking into the possibility of adoption it can seem positively overwhelming. It is our hope to change all that. This 7-post series will go step-by-step through the process to adopt through the special needs program for those of you who are just starting out on the adventure of a lifetime. Join us.


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Here are the topics that will be covered:

1. Why China?
2. Special Needs and the Medical Conditions Checklist
3. LID vs. Special Focus
4. Picking an Agency
5. The Steps of the China Adoption Process (Acronyms Decoded)
6. Beginning the Paper Chase and Homestudy
7. Things to Read, Do and Study While You Wait

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I have a Chinese son — a beautiful boy whose big black eyes crinkle when he smiles at me, whose shiny black hair and soft brown skin look nothing like my own. This boy of mine has become fully immersed in American culture and life as weeks and months fly by at breakneck speed, and despite our struggle to find meaningful ways to honor his heritage in our home, he remains at the core of him wholly Chinese. My boy lives for the tastes of congee, rice, and perhaps most of all, for Asian oo-dohs (his word for noodles). (As an aside, he eats said oo-dohs by holding them high above his head with his tiny, greasy fingers, letting them drop into his mouth, and erupting into near-constant giggle fits at the dinner table. He’s pretty hilarious.)

He is the joy of my lifetime, and yet even a few years ago, I never would have dreamed that a little boy from China would call me mama. Visiting China was not on my bucket list. Adopting a child with special needs was more than my husband and I could possibly handle. The truth is, I just didn’t know. I’m so very grateful for the friends and resources that put us on the path to China and our amazing little boy.

And now, I am here to share some of what I’ve learned along the way with all of you.

This will be the first in a series of posts about how to get started with an adoption from China, so if you’ve already decided that this is the path for your family, I will try to provide some more practical advice in the posts to follow. In the meantime, for those of you who are still unsure or stuck trying to figure out if China adoption is for you, this post is for you.

I remember how overwhelmed my husband and I were when we started to research adoption. We didn’t know how or where to begin. I scoured the internet for resources, and wished for a knowledgeable friend to break it all down for me. I stumbled upon some things on my own, but remained fairly clueless until well into our own process. I don’t want this to happen to you. And while I won’t even attempt to fully dissect the gigantic topic of adoption for you, I will try to walk you through the beginning stages of the process as best I can, first by trying to explain, from my perspective at least — why China?

I should start with who China adoption is for. China adoption is for the couple who has struggled for years with infertility, and for the family who has four biological children and thinks it might finally be time to add a fifth through adoption. It’s for the single woman who yearns to experience motherhood, and yes, it has recently become for the single man who dreams of becoming a father. China adoption is for those who feel that God is leading them to an orphanage on the other side of the world, and it is for families that have never set foot inside of a church. It’s for the mother who worked in a Chinese orphanage in her teens, never forgetting the faces of those lonely little babies, and for the mother who has never had a passport. It is for the family who has saved $35K to bring home their child, and it is for the family that will fundraise every penny of their adoption fees.

You might think that I mean to say that China adoption is for everyone. It’s not. First there are China’s requirements: You must be 30. One parent must be a US citizen. You must be married for a certain amount of time — this varies depending on whether you’ve ever been divorced. You must meet basic income requirements. You cannot have a substantial criminal history. You must generally be in good health. You must complete a home study complete with adoptive parent training, and go on to complete a dossier — a stack of documents summarizing the lives of every member of your household.

After you find your child, you must wait for final approval by both the United States and Chinese governments, and finally, travel to China for two weeks during which you will meet your child, complete the adoption, and gather the final documents that will allow you to bring your child into the United States. (You can find lists of these preliminary criteria on most adoption agencies‘ websites. A good place to start is assessing whether you meet those criteria, and if you don’t meet one of them, contacting an agency to see if you qualify for a waiver, which are commonly granted. The one category on which a waiver is never granted is age, both parents must be 30 to adopt from China.)

In addition to the guidelines established by both the Chinese and United States governments, there are also the practical considerations. On the lists of reasons many of my friends have chosen China adoption as opposed to either domestic adoption or a different country’s international adoption program, the number one reason is this: the China adoption program has been around for a long time, and it has the reputation of being predictable, stable, and reliable. Other things that ranked high on our own list: you are only required to travel to China once, for about two weeks at the end of your adoption process. At the end of that trip, you will return home with your child. Additionally, China adoptions can be completed relatively quickly; most families complete the process in approximately 12 to 15 months, and sometimes much more quickly than even that. They’re relatively inexpensive — most are completed for between $28K and $35K depending on many factors including your agency and the time of year that you travel.

In addition to all of those reasons, there is: China… the land of a Great Wall and Forbidden Palace, of beautiful people and ancient history, of amazing food and fantastic scenery. China is a country filled with a cultural richness that permeates even the new construction of seemingly infinite skyscrapers, bigger and grander cities, and always more, more, more. There’s something intangible about the wonder of China — once China grabs a piece of your heart, it tends to take up residence there, and its presence grows in ways that you wouldn’t have dreamed. I think you’d be hard pressed to find an adoptive mama who doesn’t long to return to China as soon as possible, if not to adopt her next child, to experience more of its magic.

And if, after reading all of the above, you’re feeling ready to jump in, know this: this process will cause you to be brave — braver than you ever imagined you could be. It will grow your patience enormously. At the end of mounds of paperwork and months of waiting, you will meet your China boy or girl — maybe a toddler, maybe a tween or even a teen. You will become your child’s forever family and they will become yours. Your child will bring with him all of the wonder of China, he will make you work to be a better mom or dad, and he will enrich your life in countless ways.

While it is very easy for me to get carried away writing about the beauty of China adoption, the bottom line is, it’s all about these sweet children. It’s not all about our China trips, or our personal growth. It’s about the children. We can’t ever lose that perspective when we are trying to figure out how to grow our families. These children are beautiful, and they are amazing. They are the bravest little things, and they need moms and dads. Orphanages are no places for these little ones, and what a gift it is to be able to provide your child with proper medical treatment in the US.

Special needs do tend to cause people the most trepidation at the beginning of the China adoption process. If this is the case for your family, stay tuned to read more about special needs and filling out the Medical Conditions Checklist in the next post.

– image courtesy of Krissi Trusty
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15 Ways to Prepare During the Wait

May 2, 2016 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

Those who have adopted, as well as those currently knee deep in the adoption process, know all about a little thing called waiting. Only it really is not a little thing; it is a big, difficult thing.

The good news is that although the wait is hard, it gives families the opportunity to prepare for their upcoming adoption, so today I would like to share a great checklist designed to help families do just that.


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This list outlines important steps, programs, services, and resources available to families built through international adoption.


1. Contact the closest International Adoption Clinic or children’s hospital for a thorough evaluation of the child’s file and a list of specialists relevant to the child’s special needs. (For an informative overview, read The What, Why and How of International Adoption Clinics written by a pediatrician, adoptive mom, and founder of the UAB International Adoption Clinic, Jennifer Chambers.)


2. Make an appointment with the international adoption clinic for a comprehensive exam, evaluation, and testing (as needed) for the child for two to four weeks after arriving home. Ask the international adoption clinic or the hospital’s patient services department if their office has a staff person or social worker that helps families navigate local resources and community service providers.


3. Schedule an appointment with local pediatrician for an initial exam and evaluation of the child. Bring a list of questions with you about local supports he/she would recommend. Ask the pediatrician if their office has a staff person that helps families locate and access resources and services. Also check out the From the Pediatrician:10 Things Parents Should Know written by pediatrician and adoptive mom, D. Youngblood.


4. Connect with one or more of the many online adoption groups as well as groups that are specific to the child’s need(s). There are many groups on Yahoo! Groups and Facebook for adoptive parents and parents of children with special needs – we have a page dedicated to pre-travel adoption specific websites here. An excellent starting place is the Facebook group Special Needs Resources – China Adoption.


5. Look for local adoption-related support groups or mom’s groups to plug into for “real life” friendships and support.


6. Contact your health insurance provider, ask to speak with an advocate or benefits representative, and have a discussion with him/her regarding your insurance plan and coverage. Ask questions regarding the process required to add an adopted child to your plan, when coverage will begin, information on deductibles, copays, and coinsurance, and details regarding specialists and covered services including any exclusions/limitations.


7. Contact your local Early Intervention and/or Intermediate Unit for a thorough in-home evaluation of the services offered by the county/region/state and those for which the child can or will qualify. The Center for Parent Information and Resources website is a great place to start.


8. Contact your local state or county adoption/foster care entity and find out what post-adoptive services they offer and how to access them.


9. Contact your state health department and find out what supplemental services (including potential supplemental insurance) a special needs child may qualify for including requirements and application procedures.


10. Contact an experienced adoptive family to have as a “mentor” for the remainder of the adoption process. Having a mentor who is parenting a child with the same special need can be invaluable. The special need specific groups and the NHBO Mentoring Mom program are both good starting points.


11. Compile a list of supportive family and friends to call when feeling overwhelmed or near crisis. Having a close family member or friend to call when you need to step back and take a break is so important. Actively work to build a support team that you can call upon at a moment’s notice when you are in the trenches.


12. If the child is school age, contact the local school district and begin gathering information regarding enrollment, services, and therapies (including qualification requirements and access information).


13. If there are children already in the family begin preparing them for the adoption and addition of a new sibling. A quick internet search will turn up lots of information, ideas, and resources, but here are a few to get started: Preparing Children for the Adoption of a Sibling, Preparing Big Sister for Our Second Adoption, NHBO Blog Series – Siblings, and if you are a New Mom Through Adoption there is a Facebook group for you.


14. Contact your social worker and home study and placing agencies for additional help navigating any of these resources. Ask what resources they might have experience with and/or knowledge of that might be of additional support.


15. Read! Read everything you can get your hands on that involves adoption including books, blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc. Being prepared for what you may face when meeting your child and during your first hours, weeks, and months together is so important. Learning about attachment and bonding as well as looking at the entire adoption process from the child’s standpoint is also vital and. Here are few suggestions to get you started (and then be sure to head over to the NHBO Before Travel and First Year Home resource pages): The Connected Child, Attaching in Adoption, Dear Parents-To-Be, and the must-read for every adoptive parent, Realistic Expectations.
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Being well prepared for an adoption is vital and we hope this checklist will help families better prepare for the adoption experience and all that comes with it.

Be sure to check out the newly expanded resource section here on No Hands But Ours.

Special thanks to Tracy Whitney for creating and sharing the original version of this checklist.

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8 Questions Frequently Asked About Our Large Family

May 1, 2016 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

May is here and this month on NHBO we are focusing on Large Families. The China special needs program has changed significantly over the years, and one of the big ways is that family size is no longer an issue for those in process to adopt a child with special needs. Gone are the days of “family-size waivers” for families with more than 5 children at home and many large families are choosing to grow through the China special needs program.

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We are a big family and attract attention everywhere we go. People are floored so many children can sit through a meal or doctor’s appointment with manners and good behavior.

They also believe they can ask any question that comes into their curious little brains. Today I am sharing a few of the crazy questions and comments we hear regularly.


Family Photo- with CA


1. “How in the world do you handle all those children?”

God is First. We don’t handle them. We love them with God’s help. First and foremost, a relationship with God is foundational to all successes in life. Being in step with God’s will brings strength, guidance, and assurance all is well. Everything begins with prayer and as long as Scott and I are praying together, God keeps our hearts, thoughts, and actions aligned. Each time we have gone forward with an adoption, we BOTH had to know it was the right decision for our family and the only way we knew that was communication with God and each other.

It is NOT easy to move forward. We usually describe it as an elephant in the room. We know it’s there but we don’t discuss until we’ve prayed and have a decision. My prayer is always for God to press on Scott’s heart what is right and true. All in time, we come to the decision by allowing God to be First!

We can handle all God has called us to because it is His plan and He is First!


2. “How do you love so many at one time?”

Love each other like crazy. Scott says all the time we are able to love all our children because we love Each Other like crazy!!! Marriages need to be strong to handle the many facets of adoption. There is no way we could do this without each other. Complete submission and dedication in our marriage comes before the needs of our children and after following God. We are best friends and share everything. There are times when you feel you can’t go one more second and it is in those rough patches, a spouse can make all the difference.

I have sweet precious friends that are single and raising beautiful families too. I know they are surrounded by amazing people that support them in their journey as well. It boils down to putting your trust in the One whom has called us to this life. He gives all of us what we need for each day we wake up.

Scott and I certainly give God the glory for the Love we are able to pour out on so many and love each other well!


3. “Well you all certainly had to be called to adopt all those kids!”

We are ALL called. James 1:27 teaches to look after orphans and widows. That can look so different for you and me. Our family was called to birth and adopt our children. You may be called to foster, support an orphan or orphanage, support a family adopting, or whatever you hear God telling you. The bottom line: You have to be Listening and Willing!!! We adopted our Chinese children because God showed us their faces, and they were waiting for us to come. We will go until they are all home, and we will know that being completely surrendered to God’s will.

We certainly did have to be called to birth and adopt all our children because God ordained it all!!!


4. “You sure do have your hands full!”

Our hands are full but mostly our hearts. When you are living a certain life, it’s not something you think about in tiny parts and decisions. It is a daily flow and rhythm of living and loving. It is being and doing the necessary things for everyone to stay alive and thrive. As basic needs are met, love begins to bloom because everyone is learning to be a family and feeling secure. When we are out and about, it does look like my hands are full especially walking through Target with six kids riding on the shopping cart, but there is strategy behind that practice and a whole lot of work back at home that brought us to this place. Love does not come easy or fast. Lots of blood, sweat, and tears come first.

Yes we have our hands full, but our Hearts are the fullest and our life meaningful.


5. “How are you going to send them to college?”

Educating our children is a one day at a time adventure. Two of our children have graduated college and living beautiful productive lives. One is in college now chasing the destiny God has laid before her. Six are home learning as we do life, and I don’t worry about their future. God meant for them to be in our family, and He is molding them into what He wants them to be. When the time comes for everyone to go to college, God will help meet every need. Right now we are called to get them home.

I LOVE our home life and confident God has their futures all figured out… I don’t have to be concerned with that just now. (Jeremiah 29:11)


6. “Well you won’t ever retire, will you?”

Where in the Bible do we ever see someone retired? Choosing to have children is a lifelong commitment. It isn’t a choice made that ceases once they graduate college or get married or have their own kids. We are still extremely involved in our big kids’ lives and wouldn’t want it any other way. When we brought our children into our family, we committed our lives to them. Our family hinges on this amazing scripture: 1 Peter 4:10, ”Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace.”

Scott and I will probably never have the retirement most people will enjoy but we will live our lives completely and fully to the measure God has set for us through our retirement years.


7. “What do your big kids think about all these little kids?”

Sacrifice. We tell in our adoption story the amazing way our big girls (little then) wrapped their hearts around bringing home little EK when she was just 11 months old. None of us imagined we would bring home 7. There is no way adoption would have worked had they not been FOR it. Being for it doesn’t mean easy either. It is hard to be a child in a family and more being adding yearly, but God covers that too. Our big girls have changed and matured so much through watching and accepting their little siblings into our family. Our littles are SO very blessed to have their big sisters in their lives. ALL of our children are SO very blessed to have so many to love them.

God did a mighty work in our big girls’ hearts when He brought us to adoption, and we can’t imagine life any other way!


8. “You sure are blessing those kids and just so proud of you!”

The opposite couldn’t be more true. As much as we are blessing our children choosing them for our family, THEY are blessing us more than we can even put into words. We are different because of them. There are days when we think what if we had missed life with them, and other days we wonder what in the world did we do? But when all settles down and we remember the calling, we are the ones being blessed just for saying yes!

Blessings always abound when you say yes to God!


In the end, we can’t imagine standing before God and Him saying, “What in the world were you doing choosing all those children?”

What’s your biggest fear in raising a big family? Trust God. He is over it all!

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Shay Ankerich is mom to nine going on ten kids (seven from China), wife to Scott, and a homeschooling mom. She loves Jesus, adoption, blogging, reading, photography, and long walks. You can find her writing at A Beautiful Symphony about Family, Home, Adoption, and School.

FB: Sharon Ankerich
IG: Sharonankerich
Blog: A Beautiful Symphony

Sensory Processing Disorder and the Tween Years

April 30, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

The most difficult thing about parenting a tween or young teen with sensory processing disorder is constantly reminding oneself that people don’t outgrow SPD. It may feel that way for a few years during upper elementary because it’s likely by then that your child learned successful coping strategies for most age-appropriate sensory experiences. But then …Read More

Urgent Aging Out Child: Rebekah

April 30, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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Rebekah is 13 years old and will age out of the adoption system on her 14th birthday in November. Rebekah is an HIV carrier and lives in a group home setting with other children who have also tested positive for HIV. She was with her birth family and cared for by the community until she …Read More

International Adoption Clinics: Services and Locations

April 29, 2016 by nohandsbutours 4 Comments

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I can still remember getting ‘the call’ during our first adoption process. Our agency coordinator was on the phone and they had a file for us to review. I remember the many different emotions I felt as we opened the file and photos and began to read. Within an hour of opening the file I …Read More

We’ve Got This: Parenting a Child with CP

April 29, 2016 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

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My son has Cerebral Palsy. Mild Right Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy to be specific, which means only the right side of his body is affected. If you see him running by on the playground or the soccer field, you might never even notice he has physical difficulties. If you have an idea in your mind of …Read More

Sensory Bins 101

April 28, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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Over the years, we’ve had a lot of fun with sensory bins. A few of my little loves are sensory-seeking (often craving sensory input of all kinds), so these bins can be a super interesting way to get them what they need. The great thing about sensory bins is that the possibilities are absolutely limitless. …Read More

Find My Family: Jade

April 28, 2016 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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Jade has resided in a foster family since birth. She is fond of playing with other kids, and shares toys with them. She pays attention to keeping clean, she likes wearing pretty clothes. Jade was born with a cleft palate which was repaired in 2009. She has delayed language and cognitive development. She goes to …Read More

I Never Felt Called to Adopt

April 27, 2016 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

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I never felt called to adopt. For me, adoption was simply the way God chose to build our family. In 2011 we adopted our son Sean who is now seven years old. In 2013 we adopted our daughter Elliana who is now five. When people first started saying that adoption was a beautiful thing for …Read More

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The content found on the No Hands But Ours website is not approved, endorsed, curated or edited by medical professionals. Consult a doctor with expertise in the special needs of interest to you.