lesson in love

ellis

I knew I loved you last night when I was returning to bed, and found your legs dangling out of yours, half way to the floor, and scooped you up to move you back to your pillow and for a moment, watched you sleep in the glow of the streetlight peeking through our blinds. Or 7 hours earlier, when I whispered for the third time, “gai shui jiao la” (it’s time for bed) until you drifted off peacefully without a sound. I knew it last night when I was cooking dinner listening while you and Baba quietly scribbled a masterpiece on the living room floor- making art and building bonds. And yesterday afternoon, when you squeezed me tight around my neck in that toddler bear hug. I knew it on Monday when they drew your blood and repeated that TB test, and I watched your tears fall. I knew I loved you a week ago (my god, was it only a week?) when you first reached out and touched me, willingly, with your hands, first my nose, then my eyes, lips, neck, chest, shoulders- as I named all my parts.

I knew it when my heart was clouded with fear in China. Yes, even then. When you first smiled, and giggled, and made those funny faces just days before we left the country that birthed you- your first home. I knew it when the only thing you wanted was indicated with the determined thrust of your whole hand- a hand that pointed and demanded, “take me outside, out of this room- back to where I came from”. I knew it when I broke down too, exhausted, after you grieved for hours, even though my heart felt only the fear of getting through the next moment. I knew I loved you when on that second day, I already recognized the tell-tale sign you were tired or falling asleep- that little flex of your left foot. No yawning, no rubbing your eyes, just that little foot slowly rising and falling. I’d smile with you in my lap knowing it wouldn’t be long before your body would give in and I’d feel your head against me- something you couldn’t do in those first days awake. I knew it each time you’d shake your head “no” when we’d call ourselves “mama” and “baba”.

I knew I loved you when you screamed for those who nurtured you for the first years of your life. Even when your grief overwhelmed me and I wanted to take you back so you could have a moment of relief from your pain, I held you and told you how brave you were, how courageous and beautiful and strong. You could barely hear me over the sound of your tears, but you heard, I think, the love under my fear.

I knew I loved you the first time I saw you, walking into that civil affairs office. Even though I was numb. Even though I’d never been a mother before. Even though you were not at all what I expected yet everything I’ve hoped for- I knew.

You might wonder how.

Well, I’ve learned that love is a choice, sweet and perfect little one. A decision and a commitment. It’s not at all a feeling. You, most of all, have taught me that.

And how I am coming to love you. How my heart is blooming under your spell. You, who I call daughter. Ellis Gao Mei.

Can I handle this????

I can still remember the first special needs checklist we ever filled out. It was March 2005. We had just sent our first dossier to China. Our checklist was quite simple. We stated cleft lip and palate, female and As Young As Possible (AYAP). My husband and I signed it and I quickly faxed it to our agency. It took less than 5 minutes. Looking back on it I am sure the Waiting Child coordinator at our agency laughed her hiney off when she received it! The simplicity of it! Needless to say we were not called for a Special Needs (SN) child referral. Not solely because of the brevity of our checklist, but because our Kiah was in the Non Special Needs (NSN) program. But looking back, what was so important about that checklist for me was that it showed that at that point in time I was just not willing to take a chance, research the options and stretch my thought process. I knew about cleft lip and palate through some earlier research I had done about Smile Train and that was the extent of my interest in exploring other possibilities.

In early Spring 2006 we knew God was calling us to adopt again. Our new agency sent us a SN checklist to fill out. This time it wasn’t really a quick, simple process. The list was 2 pages long and for each special need listed you were supposed to check YES, NO or MAYBE. I poured over that list for weeks. I gave some thought to every special need on the list. I researched and researched. I wanted to be as open as possible while still trying to “protect the climate of our current family environment” as I so aptly put it. Essentially I was trying to figure out what special needs I could check that would give a child a chance at a new life… bless us with another child but…..without the special need being a total…..(gulp) inconvenience. There it is. I said it. This time around we checked YES to about 6 special needs listed on that checklist. Less than 3 weeks later our agency called us with the referral… of our son Luke… and he had a cleft lip and palate. I was so relieved! THAT was the original special need we had wanted way back in 2005! In the back of my mind I thought “whew….we were matched with a child with a special need that is totally manageable.”

We adopted Luke from China in May 2007. And here is where the story changes a bit. Yes, Luke had a cleft lip and palate. And both the lip and palate were already repaired! SCORE! But we soon discovered he had an abundance of other special needs that were undocumented and we were seemingly unprepared for. I felt overwhelmed, deceived, saddened and totally and completely 100% incapable of handling any of it.

And I had to face that question: CAN I HANDLE THIS???

Because truthfully, if you asked me back then to fill out a special needs checklist based on Luke’s issues….there is no way that I would have checked any of them.

Severe Plagiocephaly
Hypoplasia of the Corpus Callosum (brain abnormality)
Growth hormone deficiency
Strabismus and Amblyopia in BOTH eyes
Autistic behaviors
Severe dental issues (caps and extractions!!!)
Global gross developmental delays in cognitive and fine motor
98% Non-verbal
Multiple Processing Disorders

Because straight up…. they weren’t needs I THOUGHT I could handle or WANTED to handle. When I filled out that SN checklist prior to Luke’s adoption I was so afraid of being burdened and trapped by a need I couldn’t handle.

Now here is the truth…even though I thought I couldn’t handle all this…. I’m doing it. Every day. And there are times of struggle (as with anything) but overall… it is a JOY to parent this kid. And even though I didn’t directly choose to be stretched and molded in this fashion…. both Luke and I (and the rest of our family) are thriving, overcoming and we will definitely be better people for this experience.

We all are capable of handling so much more than we think. Imagine what we would have missed out on if Luke was not our son. Imagine what Luke would have missed out on if he had not been adopted. Imagine what I personally would have missed out on learning about MYSELF.

I think this type of knowledge should spur us forward to investigate further, research more and take a chance on a child that may not fit our “mental checklist”. Cause Luke certainly didn’t fit mine! I call my “mental checklist” the one I have that says you want to step out and help but you still want it to be relatively easy and carefree. Is there anything wrong with that? NO WAY. I applaud all families who adopt special needs children. However, how much more could you be offering a child and yourself if you stepped a little out of your comfort zone?

-Nicole
bakerssweets.blogspot.com

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.

I’ll be your voice and What we want you to know about our childrenadoptive momma (China) Colleen at The Crazy Eight… Colleen offers up several informational posts during October’s Sensory Processing Disorder Month

Tough Parenting Moment
adoptive momma (domestic USA, now living in Australia) Kohana at Growing Family… navigating her very young child’s reaction to another child who has a facial difference

W-sittingadoptive momma (Taiwan) Sarah at Journey to Taiwan for Hannah Claire… what is w-sitting, why does it occur and why your child needs to change the way he or she sits

My how time fliesadoptive momma (China) Marla at Life With 4 J’s… a quick look back at her daughter’s adoption day four years ago (older child adoption)

I forget sometimesadoptive momma (China) Snapshot at Somebody Needs a Nap… navigating the maze of multiple medications and dietary restrictions

Simple and True

I have been praying for over a week what God would have me share about our adoption of a sweet angel from China, who had been burned, neglected, and shunned because of her outward appearance … In the first moments of meeting our sweet daughter I could see the woundedness all over her face and I immediately thought, “Lord, you have picked the wrong mother here. I am not nearly strong enough or prepared enough for this child.” Quickly, my sweet Lord showed me I had all I needed to be the mother He needed me to be … I will admit I am not one of those people who runs out and buys all the adoption parenting books or seeker of specialists when it comes to psychological issues, abandonment issues, or attachment behavior. Now please don’t take this wrong way because there is nothing wrong with all of these avenues and I have sought counsel from many who have gone before me in these areas when we have needed advice and help, but what I am about to share completely changed me as a mother and has made our journey smoother, blessed, and changed our entire family …

God showed me the most perfect parallel of adoption and His love for us on my journey to be the mother he wanted me to be to all my children … If you will simply try to become Jesus to your child and put yourself in the child’s place then your journey will have a much deeper meaning and could actually change everyone’s life you touch … When my daughter was rejecting us in so many ways, I simply remember all the times I had rejected God’s free gift of love. I thought about how hurt she was and that before she could understand my love for her, she needed to know I would care for her, provide for her needs, and not turn away no matter what she did … ISN’T THAT HOW WE TEST OUR LORD … We show Him all of our ugliness and just know He will turn, but He never does … We reject Him and yet He still offers love, and we wait for Him to care for our needs until we realize that all we need is Him …

So the best advice I can give any new parent is to dig deep into the word and see how Jesus treated others, watch Him sacrifice, hear His heart for the least of these, see how He loves on the unlovable, watch Him love unconditionally, focus on how He meets the need of the person without needing a reason on how they got there, and absorb how deeply He understands us … All adoptive children will have a sense of abandonment whether small or large … Fill that spot with the LOVE of Christ …

Blessings ….
Gwen Oatsvall
oatsvallteam.blogspot.com

Three Strikes


Her name meant beautiful, and the cheeky little girl who smiled out from my computer was. There was mischief in her face and a joy that leaped off the screen and straight into my heart. Her eyes were closed, but I knew what color they would be. Just as I knew that in the eyes of the adoption community this beautiful girl had three strikes against her. She was over the age of five. She had a visual impairment that could not be corrected. She did not look like the dark-haired, dark-eyed Asian doll most people dream of when they begin the journey to adopt from China. She’d been born with albinism, and everything about her was different.

My hands shook as I forwarded the referral to my husband who was waiting anxiously at work and who was on the phone with me.

“Her hair is very white, and she is so beautiful,” I typed.

And then I hit send, and the referral we’d received less than a week after submitting our SN paperwork zipped to my husband’s computer. We both agreed that the blond-haired child was the daughter we’d been praying for, and we accepted the referral a few hours later.

In the days that followed, I printed off the photo of my cheeky new daughter, and I carried it in my wallet. I brought it to church, to the dance studio where my older daughter took lessons and to the college where my son took piano lessons.

“Did you hear?” I’d ask with excitement. “We got a referral for a beautiful little girl.”

And I’d pull out the photo and pass it around.

How old is she? Can she open her eyes? Are her eyes pink? Is she blind?

Those were the questions I was asked over and over again, and I always answered calmly, “She is almost seven. She can open her eyes, but they are very light sensitive. Her eyes are blue and she may be legally blind, but she can see.”

And the more I said it, the more I wondered….Can I do this? Can I parent this child? How will I incorporate a child who may be legally blind into a house with four active kids? She is almost seven, what if she doesn’t want to be adopted? Can I deal with her anger, her acting out, her aggression if that is what she comes home with? How will this impact my other kids?

Can I do this?

Can I?

The question haunted me as we waited for LOA. I knew Cheeky-girl was my daughter but I was so afraid I could not be her mother. Supportive friends and family would often say, “It is so clear that God intended her to be your daughter. Look at all the things that happened to bring her into your family.”

And I would agree, but, while my heart knew that Cheeky was mine, my head kept throwing out questions.

I am a practical person by nature, a planner, a person who likes to know what’s coming. It was not practical to adopt a child with three strikes against her, and I couldn’t plan when I had such limited information. As for what was coming, I had no idea, and that scared me more than anything.

I prayed. I really did. All the time. Every day. “Please, Lord, if this isn’t the right thing, slam the door shut, don’t let us make a mistake.”

And the door stayed wide open, beckoning for me to step out in faith, to step through the open door and to whatever waited on the other side.

TA seemed to take forever, but was really very quick. Before I knew it, I was on a plane, flying to China and my new daughter. As we waited for her to arrive at the civil affairs office, my stomach was sick with dread. I was sure I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. Every horror story I’d ever heard about older child adoption filled my head, and I was almost speechless with fear. My husband was rock solid and confident, and I envied him his calm assurance.

And, suddenly, Cheeky was walking around the corner, carrying a strawberry ice cream cone and wearing a huge, happy grin. I called out to her, and she looked up. Even from across the room, I knew she saw me. Her smile grew wider, and she waved. The two women who were walking with her said something, and Cheeky hurried forward, threw herself into our arms, into our lives, with hugs and kisses and “I love you”.

She’s been home three months, now, and things have gone better than I ever could have imagined. Cheeky’s vision is poor, but her functional vision is great. She runs and jumps and plays like any other kids. She does not trip over things or bump into walls. An outsider would never know that Cheeky has a visual impairment.

Three weeks ago, Cheeky had surgery to correct strabismus and to dampen her nystagmus. Both procedures were successful, and Cheeky came through with flying colors. She takes ballet class, attends Chinese language school, and is already pre-reading in English.

And she loves. With her entire being.

She adores her sister and her brothers. She loves my husband. As for me…. we click, Cheeky and me. She is that hole in my heart that I only half-realized needed to be filled. She is my second girly-girl, my “I can do it!” kid, my child who never, ever gives up.

All those fears and worries, all that wondering I did, it helped me prepare for the worst, but in the end, I got the best – a child who can love and be loved, who is bright and vivacious and funny, and who has no concept of the limitations the world might want to put on her.

Three strikes against her?

Not my sweet, cheeky girl. All she has are gifts and a path of opportunity stretching out before her.

What a blessing, what a joy to mother her along the way!

Shirlee

Not Fitting in the Mold

First of all, this is my first time to guest-post on No Hands But Ours blog. I always knew Stefanie was a little crazy but now I KNOW she is, since she allowed me to post directly to the site. Other guest posters will be sharing as well, so please check back often. As I have thought about, struggled, written, revised, and started completely over with this post, I keep coming back to the same purpose. I am writing this post for No Hands But Ours because I really long to see waiting children with the two needs of heart defects AND cleft lip and palate be adopted into loving families.


I desire to speak only of what I know and hope that in doing so, I can educate people to our reality of parenting a child born with multiple defects which may very well affect life span and who is so full of life that she radiates joy everywhere she goes.

It is that simple for me. I do not want a gold star. I do not want a pat on the back. I do not want anyone to think any less or more of me and my family because we chose a child whose medical conditions leave us with many unanswered questions. Honestly, I do not want this post to focus on me or our daughter, but I must speak of what I know because quite frankly I am not comfortable with all of the speculation I am seeing these days about what it will be like to parent this child or that. So often lately, I see talk on various adoption forums of how there are no more SN files of children with minor heart defects or with minor needs at all. I think if we are all honest, we all have various opinions of what minor and major is so that is not what I want to discuss here. That is a very personal decision, and while I might see one need as minor that someone else sees as major, the reverse is true as well. From that jumping point, I want to just share about our experience adopting a child whose special needs would be considered major and possibly even severe by most people. I would also like to encourage people to consider further the needs of heart defects with cleft lip and palate present.

Our journey since coming home with our daughter a year ago has not been like any other parenting journey we’ve faced. We have been by our daughter’s side as she has endured 4 hospital stays and 3 major surgeries, 2 of which involved her heart. She has spent 21 days in the hospital in the last year since coming home and has had countless doctor visits, taken medicine twice daily which will continue her whole life, and still is facing another major surgery within the next 6 months. Were my husband and I prepared for this or do we feel like we can handle this? Well not really. We tried to prepare ourselves, but honestly we had never had a child who is sick or needed surgery or had even spent one night in a hospital. So we just take it one day at a time, and most days are just typical days with grocery runs, taekwondo lessons, homeschooling, Bible drill, scraping dinner together with some pasta and whatever else I can find to throw together, and making PB&J sandwiches for the third day in a row because I haven’t made the grocery run yet.

I feel strongly that it is each individual family’s choice, and yet I also feel that none of us should comment on what we have never experienced and based only on what we believe to be about a particular set of needs. Truly, unless any of us has parented a child with this need or that syndrome or whose immune system is compromised, how do we really know what that would be like? With heart defects, multiple systems can often be affected. The reasons are many, but one can be because of a genetic syndrome. And there are literally hundreds of named syndromes that involve the heart. While I believe it is one’s responsibility and logical to seriously research and consider how a syndrome may be related to a child’s needs, it should not lead one to make a blanket assumption about the child’s abilities or inabilities. There are so many factors involved and so many unknowns as there are with any parenting journey.

I know many waiting parents might paint upon their minds and hearts the mold of a child they feel they can’t parent because this child has too many needs, needs too many surgeries and therapies, has needs which may be syndromic, or the child may not live past 25. I know we did that. But the fact is … that mold painted upon one’s heart is not just a mold to me. Before my husband and I got The Call about our daughter, we never even talked about the possibility that our little girl would be born with multiple needs. We had done enough research on heart defects to know it could be coupled with other needs affecting cranial areas, urogenital areas, and neurological function but we never even once asked ourselves to consider what we would do when we got The Call if the child referred had more than one need. Of course, that was not exactly responsible on our parts, but I can say we had done our research: we just never posed the question to ourselves of the possibility that she might present with more than one need. Even after we sent in our LOI knowing she was the daughter for whom we waited and prayed for, I was scared. I really was.

She was precious and she needed a family, but she had more needs than I had planned for. In all of the waiting to travel, I will tell you there was so much fear at times in my mind and heart. The two updates we received were not very promising. And I suddenly found myself the parent of a critically ill child, who was far away in another country. I had never known that before. So this was and still is new territory for me and my family.

I do not know that I’ll ever be fully prepared for this path, for the questions that invade my mind at times about her life expectancy, and yet I believe God intended for her to live with a family for whatever time He allows her to live on the earth. I believe He intends that for every child: for the child who is HIV positive, for the child whose heart cannot be repaired to the point that his or her life expectancy is normal, for the child who will never walk, for the child who will not talk, for the child whose level of normalcy in this life is based not on what the world sees as a burden but is instead based on what God says is a gift.

Our daughter is simply our little girl. She is not a sick child or a special-needs child. To us, she is as typical as any other child including our two other children. We don’t limit her by labeling her. We don’t hold our breath for the next surgery or doctor’s report. We simply live life with her and her two brothers. She is certainly not hindered by the medical needs with which she was born. If she could tell you in understandable words, she would tell you the only reason she is special is because so many people love her and most especially because God loves her.


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She runs … into our arms.
She jumps … on a trampoline … and out of a swing.
She plays CandyLand and Wii Bowling.

She smiles … and it will melt your heart.
She hugs … without abandon … those whom she has received unconditional love from.

She laughs … at her silly big brothers.
She draws flowers … and herself … and shapes.

She swims … and swims … and swims.
She cries … when her feelings are hurt or her Baby Doll’s pants won’t go on just right.

She amazes us … everyday … with her willingness to talk when no one seems to understand.
She thrills us … with every new word she does say clearly though her hard palate never formed and is yet repaired.

She astounds us … with her will to survive and thrive in this world that handed her a difficult start in life.
She is intuitive … well beyond her nearly 4 years of being on this earth (her birthday is next week!).
She loves … with her special heart that is physically inferior but I dare say is spiritually superior to many of ours.

She is … our daughter.

And she does not fit a mold, a perception, that many may make of children just like her, when they have never known being the blessed parent of children with multiple needs that may limit their life span, and yet who just need a family willing to first and foremost LOVE them for the unique individual he or she has been purposefully created to be.

I hope to persuade just one person reading to reconsider how a special child born with the multiple congenital defects of the heart and lip and palate and/or other systemic functions might just be your son or daughter. That is what I hope to convey in this post: the true reality of life with a child whose needs are considered major, multiple, syndromic and life-threatening. If I can ever be of any assistance or encouragement to anyone considering bringing home a child born with multiple defects of the heart and/or cleft lip and palate, I would be honored to share what I know or just to listen and be there.

time is up for non-Hague agencies

The CCAA has announced that, beginning December 1, 2009, all prospective adoptive families will be required to work with a U.S. Hague accredited adoption service provider for both transition cases and Convention cases.

This could have huge implications for any in process family who is working with an agency that is not Hague accredited. Please confirm that your agency has received their accreditation.

Read more on the Joint Council site here.

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Sophia and her brother Eli on their first day of preschool.
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Kimberley Girvin/RMJ

http://www.seventhdiamond.blogspot.com/

I have a passion for adoption. I have one child adopted from China. I don’t know if I will ever go back. But I want to do more. I want to be a part of helping children come home. I want to be an enabler. This is where I am right now and I have heard from a lot of women in the same place.

This is the story of how people enabled me to bring my daughter home. This is how I know that I can still play an important role in the lives of families and children. These are some things that can be done to support the families who are still on the journey to their child:

When we first started talking about adoption, I didn’t know very many people who had adopted. My blog changed all of that. It became a lifeline for me.

I was a little nervous about telling our family when we made the decision to adopt. I didn’t know how they would react. I thought that they would be supportive but I didn’t know for sure. My anxiety was a waste of energy because our family has been wonderful, but some families are not as accepting. If someone in your family makes the decision to adopt, be their supporter and champion to the rest of the family.

I didn’t know a lot about what to expect or how the paperwork flowed, or what I needed to do. My agency was helpful, but truthfully my information came from women on-line. When I had a question, I would post it and I would receive the information that I needed.
This was a tremendous help and kept me on top of the things I needed to know. Reach out to adopting families and be a source of knowledge to those who are following in your footsteps.

I am a working mother with a large family, so I need help to care for my children and to keep my household running the way that it should. The key to my success in this is one woman. One woman who cares for my family and believes in Sophia’s adoption. Daycare person is not an adequate title for Lynn. She is my friend and enables me to be the type of mother that I want to be. When I approached her about the adoption, she was so positive about it and willing to take care of our new daughter. As time marched on and we decided to go the SN route, I talked with her about it and again her response was so positive. She was willing to be there for our family and care for Sophia, special needs was not an issue. When I received a file that we were looking at closely, I would go over it with her. She always had an open heart. She was willing to get her family vaccinated for hep B if we went that route, she was willing to care for a child with spina bifida. It brought me such peace to know that my new little one would be in wonderful hands while I was working. I needed Lynn’s support to be able to make this work. If you are in a position to play a role in the lives of families by providing care for their children, please be open to adopting families and understand that these little ones may need special concessions.

We waited a long time for Sophia. It was not a happy journey for us. Our agency kept changing the rules and providing us with information that honestly was just plain untrue. There is no doubt that I had to fight to bring my daughter home. I was in constant contact with my social worker. I was always two steps ahead of my agency in knowing what changes were coming down the pike. I knew so much more than they wanted me to about what they were doing (thanks to all of my waiting moms in blogland). There were times when I didn’t think I could make it to the finish line. There were times when I just sat and cried. My children had lost hope that this would ever happen. If it were not for my friends, the women who came out of cyberspace to support and love and pray for me, I don’t know if I could have made it. I was infused with their strength and it kept me going. Some of my closest friends now are a result of this experience. When you sit in a restaurant face to face with another woman just as sad and desperate for her baby as you are and she reaches for your hand and through her tears tells you she hopes you have your child first (and you know she truly means it), you are bonded forever. If you have the opportunity to pray for, befriend or emotionally support someone who is waiting for their child, please do it. They need you.

After we received our referral, there were so many things that we needed to do…it was just a whirlwind. We had a lot of fees that we were not aware of initially that came to light and had to be paid immediately. We didn’t have the cash to cover all of these fees. We needed to raise funds and I decided that an on-line auction was the best way to try to do it. I had never used my blog to ask for funds for myself, so I was a little nervous about it. The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming. A dear girlfriend of mine designed a gorgeous site exclusively for the auction. Women flooded my e-mail with offers to help and items to be sold. . I received so many donation items to auction, so many beautiful things. I also received checks in the mail from women I had never seen face to face. I put them in a box in my room and cashed them when we had a fee due. There were times when I was so touched that my eyes just filled with tears. All of these women wanted to help. They wanted to be a part of enabling us to bring our daughter home. And they were. We raised close to $5.000. All of our up-front fees were covered. It was such a weight off of my shoulders, the stress just left me and I was able to focus on getting things ready for travel and for our daughter. The only way I can re-pay these women is to pay it forward. If you are in a position to help a family raise funds for their adoption, please do it. No effort is too small, everything adds up to a miracle.

Sophia turned four years old shortly after we came home. I could tell that she was very intelligent, every bit as smart and able as her four year old brother Eli. I had Eli scheduled to start preschool and soccer in the fall and I thought Sophia could be in preschool and an activity too. It has been my hope that she will be ready to start kindergarten on-schedule. For this to happen, I would have to get her into preschool. I didn’t know if they would take her, she didn’t speak much English and I did not know what level she was at as far as education was concerned. There was also the issue of separation anxiety which we were dealing with. I called the preschool and explained our special situation. Without hesitation, they told me they would let her in. They had never had a child who did not speak fluent English, but they were willing to try. I will be honest, the first week of preschool was rough for Sophia, but after that she has had a wonderful time and her language skills are unbelievable. She is picking up English very quickly. Next came the issue of an extra-curricular activity. Sophia’s gross motor skills needed work. I don’t think she ever spent much time off of the floor of her orphanage. When we first got her, she took steps one at a time like a toddler and was a slow runner and was very cautious on play equipment. The dance school in our town has a class for 4 year olds, ballet/tap/tumbling. I called to see if they would be willing to work with Sophia and her special situation. Miss Kelly who owns the school agreed to allow Sophia into the little girl’s class and pays special attention to helping her. Sophia loves her ‘ballerina school’. Last night I sat with tears in my eyes while I peaked through the studio door and watched my little girl walking on her toes and trying to plie. If you are a teacher or a coach, open your heart to these kiddos.

People on the ‘front lines’ of adoption need people behind them to support them and help them. If you are done growing your family, it doesn’t mean you can’t play a vital role in the adoption movement. Enable the people around you to complete their journeys, sponsor children who need help. Donate to organizations to pay for supplies and surgeries for children in need. Someone paid to heal my daughter’s heart, a surgeon somewhere in the world volunteered his time to give her a fuller life. I don’t know who these people are, but I owe them a debt that can never be paid. All I can do is pay it forward. I can be an enabler.

The wanted one


Possibly the most unexpected revelation in the course of our special-needs adoption came when the three of us, my husband, our daughter and I, waltzed in to our first cleft clinic at the hospital we had chosen for our daughter’s surgeries, eager and full of anticipation. At the time, we had been home for just five months and our daughter had been through only the first of two major surgeries to begin repairing her clefts. During the clinic, her first surgery would be evaluated by five or six different specialists, and a plan laid out for her future surgeries, speech therapy, and dental work.
QQ during her first two months at home.

When we met QQ, she was 11 months old with a very broad unilateral cleft lip and palate. Rather atypically, she had not had her lip surgery done while still in China, so her entire cleft was still wide open. When she smiled, which she did frequently, the gap was nearly an inch wide. Once home, our chosen surgeon felt the timing was optimal to close her palate as soon as possible, and so we had her first surgery done just two months after coming home. That first surgery included a complete closure of the hard and soft palate (very successful, with no fistulas or tears post-surgery) and a partial closure, or “tacking” of the lip. Our surgeon chose not to close the lip entirely on that first visit in order to let the muscles relax into their new position, thus hopefully allowing for a more successful closure on the second visit. Our surgeon felt this was the best method based on the rather extreme width of our daughter’s cleft and the fact that it had remained unrepaired for almost a year. Her second surgery, and the full closure of the lip, would happen in the early spring, some six months later.

QQ after her first surgery, lip still only partially closed.

When we walked into that first cleft clinic, it was with a giddy sense of anticipation. We were almost goofy with the joy of our new family and the plans we were making for the future. The first surgery had been difficult for all of us – a long, sleepless night in the hospital, and three solid weeks of medication and sleep deprivation to follow. In spite of that, the whole adoption journey had been such a wild, spinning, joyful adventure that even something as grim as planning for future surgeries made our cheeks ache with spontaneous smiles. It isn’t that we didn’t take the process seriously – oh, we did! Like avid freshman on the first day of college, we were eager to take copious notes, do thorough research, pay attention to every detail, and carry out the doctors’ orders like the good students we so genuinely hoped to be.

So it was a bit of a shock to us to walk into a conference room and find ourselves in the thrall of a distinctly funereal atmosphere. Immediately, we tried to adjust our faces and sober our attitudes to fit the general mood. Something was definitely amiss, but, in the haze of our post-adoption bliss, we were hard-pressed to put our fingers on what it was.

As the discussion portion of the clinic began and progressed, we quickly came to realize that this portion, prior to the surgical consultations, was something like a supervised therapy session. Hospital employees were scattered among the families at the long conference table, opening up topics and venues of discussion. For comfort, a banquet table was set with sandwiches and juice bottles. Grievances were aired, and families were encouraged to share their struggles and fears.

In the thick of that forum, my husband and I found ourselves at a loss for words. As other families talked of their turbulent therapy sessions and post-surgery snafus, their grief over their child’s condition, and the long process of coming to terms with it, we found we had nothing to add. We would have been well-prepared to share the vast and myriad pleasures of our early months with our new daughter, our amazement at our good fortune and the rampant joy that she had brought into our lives. But our contributions seemed irreverent in the face of the angst that we saw in the grim, exhausted faces of the parents around us. For these families, giving birth to a child who would need years of surgeries and therapies was profoundly traumatic. For us, having chosen this child and her condition, it was the greatest gift of a lifetime. What a contrast! What a revelation.

We were, on this particular occasion, the only adoptive family in the group. All of the other children attending the clinic were biological, and many of the parents had been unprepared and even unaware during the pregnancy that their child was afflicted with a medical condition. Some of them spoke of the easy time they had had with their first “healthy” children, and what a shock it had been to find that their youngest was to be born with medical issues. Some of them spoke of the initial shock and subsequent lengthy grieving process they went through when they were informed of their child’s condition.

This was the first time it had ever occurred to me what a vastly different experience it is to deliberately adopt a child with a medical need, as opposed to giving birth to such a child. I had never considered the variance in perspective, and it took me by surprise.

To be honest, my husband and I made the decision to adopt a special needs child without a great deal of struggle or deliberation. Though we began our adoption journey in the “traditional” program, we switched into the special needs program just days after our dossier was logged in to the Chinese system. We had not initially researched or even been aware of the special needs program, and it had never occurred to us that children with medical needs would be separated into a different category. Once we learned of the medical needs program, we made the switch within a matter of days. It seemed right. It seemed logical. If children with medical needs were going to have a more difficult time finding families, and if we were prepared to do so, there was no question in our mind that we should choose one of these.

We had good medical insurance, a terrific support system, medical professionals in the extended family, and a stable home life. We knew that, even if we were to adopt through the traditional program, we would run the risk of our child having undiagnosed medical or developmental issues. We also knew that, had we chosen to give birth to a child, we would have run a similar risk. I myself, healthy and vigorous and athletic as I have always been, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29. No one could have predicted it. It was a rough year of surgery and chemotherapy and several months of recovery, but I survived it. It was not the end of my world…far from it. So to adopt a child with a preexisting medical condition, one we had researched and were prepared for, seemed to us a very sane and logical route.

When we saw our daughter’s photograph for the first time, we felt incredibly fortunate. Yes, her cleft was wide and might present some surgical challenges, but she was otherwise healthy and vigorous, and the grin on her face in those first photos foretold her joyful and open nature. When we made it through the process, the paperwork, the wait, the red tape, and actually found ourselves in China with this amazing child placed in our arms, we felt like we had won the lottery.

I really had never stopped to think what it would feel like to give birth to a child with such a condition, with no preparation, without having chosen that route, done the research, understood the consequences.

I do understand that not everyone who adopts a child (with or without medical needs) has as easy a transition as we have had. I do know that we are fortunate in many, many ways. We bonded, the three of us, without a ripple. Our child is a happy soul, confident, social and loving. She walks lightly on the earth and sees the best in life. Not every adoption goes so smoothly for all involved. But I do see our daughter’s condition as a great gift – the one thing without which she might never have entered our lives. Why her birth parents were forced to give her up we will most likely never know. It may have been a cultural stigma that made it difficult for them to raise a child born with a cleft. It may have been the medical system in China, and their inability to afford the surgeries and therapies involved. No matter what the reason, I can’t help feeling incredibly, profoundly, miraculously fortunate that this particular child calls us her parents.

Our daughter will, at a conservative estimate, need a dozen surgeries (both major and minor) before the age of 20. She has currently been in speech and eating therapy for more than six months, and will most likely need therapy for months and even years to come. But far less than being a burden to bear for us, her condition is the one element that made it possible for her to be our daughter, and for that I will be forever, infinitely, and joyfully grateful.

- Maia

You Belong

Several years ago I visited an elderly great uncle in California. Uncle Frank was one of my Grandpa Kelley’s 4 brothers. I’m sure I’d met Uncle Frank when I was a young girl, but it had been many, many years. When he opened the door to the adult woman who’d come to visit, he stood silent on the doorstep for just a moment, and then gathered me up in a hug saying, “Oh, sweetheart. I’d have picked you out of a line-up as a Kelley.” He knew me instantly.

When we were in the waiting phase of our adoption I probably saw hundreds of referral pictures. Each time I’d think, Could I look at that baby and say, Yep, she’s mine? When we finally got Cholita’s referral, Lyle and I first read through all of the written information that had been e-mailed to us. We knew that her pictures would be at the bottom and I wanted to kind of sneak up on them, casually take her in starting with the tip of her head and then I could work my way down, stopping to process each bit of information. Somehow I scrolled too fast and suddenly there she was–a round-faced, healthy-looking 6 month old, sitting in a walker, jauntily kicking up one little bare foot into the air.

She literally took our breath away. I knew her. It was like looking at the face of a long-lost friend. I would have picked her out of a line-up, I know it. I noticed her beautiful Chinese features, but I also thought she looked like her siblings. I put our 4 kids’ baby pictures together and made friends and family tell me they saw the resemblance too. Don’t you see it? She so belongs with this group.

Cholita has been with us for three years now and has noticed that not everyone sees the resemblance. When she was two, she was told by a little girl in Kinko’s that I was NOT her Mommy. The girl’s father was obviously mortified and told her, “No, honey. That is that little girl’s Mommy,” but his daughter would not be swayed. “No, I KNOW that’s not her Mommy.” Cholita’s chin quivered and she pointed to me and said, “Dat my Mommy right dare.” For a good week afterward, Cholita would tell complete strangers, even before they had a chance to say hello, “Dis is MY Mommy. MY Mommy.” She wanted to make sure they knew from the get-go, just in case they didn’t happen to notice.

As Cholita grows older, my hope is that she’ll feel like she belongs exactly where she is and that she can always find something of herself in the faces around her. Right after she came home, I had my two youngest girls in a double cart at Costco. A man in line asked five year-old Rose if she liked shopping with her friend. Rose told him that Cholita was her sister. “Sister?” said the man. “She doesn’t look like your sister.” Rose crinkled her eyes in a confused expression, shrugged her shoulders, and answered, “Well, we’re not twins.”

I snapped their picture just moments after the exchange. Nope, obviously not twins, but we would have picked her out of a line-up just the same. She’s one of us. She belongs.