The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

Last year, there were four kids bouncing around the house Christmas morning.

This year there were five.

But there almost weren’t.

I was thinking about that this morning. Thinking about how I didn’t even know Cheeky existed on December 25, 2008. That Christmas morning, I had a vague image in my mind of the daughter that would one day be. She was around five years old, had dark hair and deep brown eyes. I think God must have smiled at my imaginings. I think He must have chuckled as I searched stores for Asian-looking dolls and worried about whether or not my dream daughter would wish she had light hair and eyes like her siblings.

This morning as Cheeky woke and came out of her room, her white hair mussed, her arms reaching for a hug, I remembered how I hesitated as I filled out the special needs checklist for our agency, the pen hovering above albinism. We’d requested the file for a girl born with the condition the summer after we began our paperwork. A little red-haired, blue eyed doll on our agency specific list. We were too early in the process to be matched with her, and I hadn’t thought much about her until I began filling in the special needs paperwork.

And then she was all I could think about.

My husband and I discussed albinism. We decided that as long as our daughter wasn’t completely blind we could handle the visual impairment that went with the condition. Then my husband, being him, told me that I should go ahead and mark albinism if that is what I thought God was leading us to.

That’s the part of the story everyone knows.

What they don’t know is that I didn’t mark albinism on the initial form. My mind was set on that little dark haired dream girl, and I sent the form in marked with minor special needs and a few moderate ones.

But not albinism.

That very day, I received an email from our former social worker. I hadn’t heard from her since we’d moved from Maryland. The email said that the special needs program needed families willing to adopt children older than six. It said that these children were the ones who waited longest for families and that our agency was looking for families who felt led to adopt an older child. The email ended with the admonition to not jump into older child adoption just to move the process along more quickly but to carefully consider whether or not one of these children would fit into our home.

My husband and I had requested a child between the ages of three and six.

I told my husband about the email, and his response was quick – So, let’s change our age specification. Let’s tell them that all we care about is that the child be younger than Sassy.

And it felt so right to do that. It felt like what we should have done from the beginning. I contacted our social worker and told her our plans, and she asked that I resubmit the checklist with the new age range. I reprinted the form, filled in everything as I had before, then wrote on the bottom that we were requesting a child born after 2/12/01.

And that should have been the end of that.

I had the envelope addressed and stamped, had that SN checklist in hand, was ready to shove it in the envelope and mail it off, but a sick awful feeling kept me from doing so. Every time I thought of putting the list in the mail, I felt physically ill. It wasn’t changing the age that was making me feel that way. It was that word, that condition, that moderate special need that I had hesitated over before.


It was as if God were whispering in my ear, “Let go of your dream. Accept my dream for you.”

Before I could second guess that thought, I checked albinism and shoved the paper into the envelope.

She won’t have albinism, I thought as I mailed the SN sheet. Only one in 17,000 people are born with it.

But my dream was already changing. I was beginning to picture a very different little girl. This one with light eyes and fair skin. With blond or light brown or strawberry hair.

Three days later, my social worker called. She said that our agency’s China team wanted to know if we understood the eye issues that went along with albinism. I assured her that we did. I explained all that I had learned about albinism and actually told her that if the team felt uncomfortable with our request, we’d take it off the list.

Yes, I really did say that.

She assured me that the China team was just making sure we understood, and then she asked me questions about the age range, about a few other needs we’d listed and that was that.

That was Friday, February 6th. On Tuesday, February 10th, I was out shopping with my kids. I’d forgotten my cell phone but didn’t think much about it. When I returned home, I saw that my caseworker had called. I hit play, thinking she wanted to ask more questions about our checklist.

When she said she had a referral for us, I nearly fell over. My hands were shaking as I dialed her number. She answered immediately and said she was relieved I’d called. We had less than twelve hours to make a decision about the referral. We had to let the main office know by the end of business.

I didn’t hear much after that. Just a few words – Six years old. March 31, 2002. Chongqing. Albinism.

And then I was looking at the picture on my computer. Looking at that cheeky face and that happy smile and that white, white hair.

And my heart knew what my stubborn head had once tried to deny. This was my dream daughter. This blond-haired, blue eyed child was the fulfillment of all I’d been hoping and praying for.

Last year, we celebrated Christmas as a family of six.

This Christmas we celebrated as a family of seven.

Cheeky was excited and bouncy and exuberant.

It didn’t occur to me until today that this Christmas almost wasn’t. That things could have been much different. Four kids instead of five or a brunette instead of a blond. Dark eyes instead of blue. Five years old instead of seven.

My dream instead of His.

It is true that I would not know what I’d missed out on if I hadn’t checked albinism on that list. It is true that I would not know the feel of Cheeky’s arms wrapped around my waist, the sound of her silly laughter, the scent of her purple shampoo. It is true that I would only know my own dream, and I would probably be very satisfied with that.

But I did listen to that whispered thought. I did check albinism.

And I do know all those things.

Sometimes we must give up our own dream to have the best dream. That is the lesson I have learned from my journey to Cheeky.

And I am so very, very thankful that I did.


By Michelle, mom to Kara from China, adopted as an ‘older child’

December 21st marked six-months since we first met Kara. I struggle to believe it has been six months. On one hand, it seems like she has been a part of our family for far longer than that, but on the other, it seems like such a short time ago that we were in China to bring her home.

Kara Family Day 062309 (1 of 1)

Does anyone remember this lovely photo? I look at it and remember how we were dripping under those masks that we were required to wear due to China’s fear of spreading the H1N1 virus, barely able to breath because the ones that we purchased had too many heavy layers of cotton gauze, not to mention we were wearing them in late June in southern China in a non air-conditioned building. It was the memories that took place after leaving this room that were the fond ones for us.

So much has changed since this picture was taken. I often get asked how everything is really going. I can honestly say, it is really going great! I am amazed every day at our daughter who lived 11 years in another country, in a vastly different culture, spoke a completely different language, communicated through complex characters and not our alphabet, ate different foods, lived in a very large city, etc. etc. Her ability to transition into her new world with such ease is beyond comprehension – and truly, EVERYTHING about her new world has been new. I know I will not be able to do this justice, but I am going to attempt to highlight our first six months together. This is probably going to be a long post, but I hope it highlights our journey for anyone who might be interested in older child adoption.

Kara (1 of 1)-2

Kara knew no English prior to her adoption. And I really have no way to explain it, but communication just happens. We didn’t speak the same language, but we were able to communicate through our own little form of charades, just enough so that we would each know what we wanted.

I am sure Kara was processing the changes in her life inwardly, but she was not showing any outward grief or aggression in any way. She seemed to fit into our family with ease, just with a few minor bumps in our first month together as a result of some jealousy and vying for mom and dad’s attention among all three girls – but primarily Leila and Kara. Leila knew that she would be giving up her role as the oldest in the house, but how can one – especially an 8-year old – really comprehend and prepare for this? They can’t. She became very jeolous and hurt by the amount of attention we had to give Kara early on and started acting out with her behavior. In fact, this started while we were still in China. Nothing too drastic, but a lot of negative attitudes and talking back. This lasted less than a month before Leila adjusted back to her sweet self and went back to becoming best buds with Kara.

I had worried about all of the possible “what ifs”, such as violence and severe emotional outbursts, but our biggest difficulties with Kara early on were brief pouting episodes that primarily resulted from saying “no” to her – mostly to her requests to buy her something or to write her name in black sharpie all over her new belongings. These were brief and they were minor. None of the worst-case scenarios that I had envisioned in the months leading up to our adoption every came to fruition. Praise the Lord!!!

Our most heart-breaking moment in those first few days together came not from Kara, but from Leila, who had difficulty sleeping the first few nights home and would come into our room crying. Leila has NEVER had problems sleeping. She is our rock sleeper from the moment her head hits the pillow. I knew something really had to be bothering her, so I put myself in her shoes. Here Leila had just seen us travel to China to bring home Kara at age 11, after Kara had been living with a foster family for nearly five years. In Leila’s eyes, if we could take Kara away from her family, what would stop someone from taking Leila away from us? It just broke my heart to think that Leila had been worrying about this for who knows how long. I sat her down and explained the difference between Kara’s foster family and us, her forever family. From that moment on, Leila went back to sleeping peacefully. This is deeply personal and painful for Leila, but I share this in hopes that it might help another family have this conversation beforehand. I only wish I had.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kara felt uncomfortable with hugs and kisses our first few days together. Openly showing affection is not common in Chinese culture. Kara quickly became comfortable with receiving, as well as showing affection. It took Kara a month or two to become truly comfortable with Nolan, but he has proven time and time again what an AWESOME dad he is and I know that Kara realizes that now, too. Kara wouldn’t even think of getting on the school bus or going to bed without a big hug, kiss and “I love you” – or lots of them. While other 11-year olds might think it is uncool to blow kisses to their mom, Kara waves frantically and blows kisses to me from the bus every single morning. And I love it, and by the look on her face, she does, too.
Our summer was filled with making many fun memories -many of which were firsts for Kara. I am so thankful that our travel dates to China allowed us some bonding time together as a family before Kara had to start school. Witnessing every one of Kara’s “firsts” has been such a joy for all of us. The summer also gave us time to hire an ESL tutor to come to the house and help her at least three days/week. That was a huge help to prepare her for entering school.

Kara has adjusted to American food very well. She loves anything with meat or fish, so it’s pretty easy to find something on the menu that she will like. She is not a fan of most breakfast foods, so I bake a lot of banana bread around here, which she likes. I do look at the school menu every day and if there is something I know she will not like (anything with American or cheddar cheese, brunch for lunch or lunch wraps), I will make a noodle dish for her to take. She only uses chopsticks when she eats noodles or Chinese food. Sometimes she even puts those down and grabs silverware.

Kara (1 of 1)-4

Our decision to place Kara in the fifth grade was not one I took lightly. There were many nights of lost sleep over this decision. She is pretty small for her age and her emotional maturity tends to fluctuate greatly, depending on who she is with. After five months, it has proven to be the right choice. Kara’s classmates have been supportive from day one, just as the school principal had predicted. Never once have I heard that any of her classmates have been unkind because she spoke another language or came from another country. (And there is VERY little diversity in our [public] school.) In fact, it was quite the opposite. Her first day at school left her feeling like a little rock star. She continues to teach the girls in her class Chinese characters and seems to fit in just fine.

Early on in the school year, homework was a nightly challenge. Not because Kara didn’t want to study. On the contrary, she was a very willing student and would sit and do what was asked of her as long as it took – often taking up to two hours every night. (It was obvious she was painfully bored, but she did it without complaint.) As Kara’s language gradually improved, so did the homework. It still, however, requires either my or Nolan’s undivided attention, as she needs us to help read and explain the directions to her.

Kara had attended school through the fourth grade in China. It broke my heart when, on one of our first days together, I told her she was very smart. “Smart?”, she asked our translator. “Nobody has ever called me smart before. I always talked in class and didn’t pay attention to the teacher.” It broke my heart that this bright, inquisitive 11-year old girl did not know how smart she truly was. She does admit to me now that she never learned pinyin in school because she was too busy talking. That may have been the case in China, but she has really been focused on her schoolwork and learning here in the U.S … at least for now. Maybe things will change when her language skills improve, but I have high hopes for our little fifth grader!

Kara’s math skills have improved greatly since the beginning of the school year. Addition, subtraction and multiplication came relatively easy for her, but I do not believe she had ever seen any fractions or any of the other math problems that fifth graders are charged with learning. And to be honest, I am learning again right along with her. I often joked with her teacher, “Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree, yes I have a successful career, but NO, I am NOT smarter than a fifth grader!” Sadly, I wasn’t really joking. :) Kara can now work on more of her math independently, but still requires our assistance with word problems and instructions.

Kara (1 of 1)-3

She is a great reader in her native language. We go to the library and rent a stack of Chinese books and she often has them read before we reach our house. She writes her Chinese characters beautifully. As for English, she is reading at a kindergarten level and writing is a challenge, as she still has difficulty pronouncing many of the sounds that were foreign to her only six months ago, therefore the “sounding it out” strategy is more of a challenge for her than most non-ESL kids. e.g. “Red” is “renda.” I have frequent communication with her primary literacy teacher and we are both impressed with her effort and her progress. She has worked very hard and does the best we can ask of her. Her teachers and her classmates adore her, as do we. Because she is graded on her progress and effort and not based on knowing many of the same things that her peers do except math, she earned a “meets” level on her first report card, and I am very happy with that.

The amount of English that she has learned in just six months is nothing short of amazing. There are many things she still does not understand and we cannot yet hold many complex conversations, but she impresses everyone she meets with her language skills. Not everything has a proper name, but we can understand. e.g. The other day she shouted from the shower to tell me, “Number two is over.” I knew exactly what she meant: we were out of conditioner. She also has problems with pronouns. No matter how many times we have told her, men are always “Mrs./she/her”; never “Mr./him/his”. I try not to correct everything she says. She is trying so hard and I know what she is trying to say. I often try to put myself in her shoes and I think I might still just know a few Chinese words by now. Probably the most frustrating thing for me, however, during the past six months is her constant questioning of “what is that?” and “why?”, when I know she will not be able to understand the answers that I give her, but that is my problem with limited patience and not a problem of hers. She has many questions of God and Jesus, as she is active in Awana and Sunday School, but we do not yet have sufficient ability to explain it for her full understanding. Soon, though. Hopefully, very soon. (And she has a new Chinese bible. Hooray!!)

Kara loves music. LOVES music. She loves to sing, try to play any instrument she can get her hands on and dance. She used to put on dance performances at the orphanage, so I signed her up for Chinese dance class here. She seems to like it and she will put on her first performance during the Chinese New Year celebration next year. I can’t wait to see her on stage! (Mia will be taking stage, too, with her younger class.) Kara also takes an advanced Chinese language class and serves as the teacher’s helper since she is further along than the other students in the class.
Because Kara loves music so much, we signed her up for the band early in the school year. I spoke with the band director and explained our situation and she said she would give it a try. I was thankful Kara chose percussion, as I am able to help her with bells since there is much similarity to piano, which I took for 14 years. She is doing great and seems to love it, except for the heavy weight of carrying the bells to and from school. She sometimes complains that she wishes she would have chosen the flute, as it is small and light. :) Oh, and she has asked Santa for a guitar, too.

Christmas 2009-15

I thought Kara was doing well retaining her language, but just today we went to the Chinese grocery store and then to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. I was trying to get her to speak to the people working at both places, but she acted shy and would only say the basic, “hello, goodbye, thank you, and Merry Christmas!” I told her, I can say those things. Say something more. Later on, she told me she was forgetting some of her Chinese. She said she can read and write it just fine, but she is gradually forgetting how to say some words. She and her two friends from China (now adopted in the U.S.) Skype every 1-2 weeks and speak primarily in Mandarin and I have asked her dance instructor and Chinese language teacher to only speak to her in Chinese, but I will need to step up our efforts to help her retain her language, as that is very important to all of us.

She gets along great with her sisters. I love seeing their special sisterly bond – something I never knew growing up without sisters. Along the way, Kara has gradually changed her once dislike of dress-up and all things “girly girl” to that of much enjoyment, as shown by one of their latest fashion shows below.

Kara (1 of 1)

As a I recently wrote to a friend… during the past six months, there may have been difficult moments within a day, but I can honestly say we haven’t had any truly bad days. All days end with super big hugs, tons of kisses and lots of “I Love Yous”. Although adopting Kara wasn’t our plan, I am grateful that God led us to her. She is our daughter, no doubt. I don’t know if we will ever adopt again. I thought we were done at two, and now we have three, so I don’t know what God has planned for us. Adopting an older child isn’t easy, but in so many ways it has been easier than I had expected. I had prepared for the worst, but prayed for the best. God has been faithful.

I am also grateful to her foster family. I still know little about them, but I believe that they provided her a loving home and showed her the best that they could what living in a loving family was like.

Since we have been working so much on fractions and percentages with Kara at school, I will close with this: Kara has spent 52% of her life thus far in an orphanage; 44% in foster care and just 4% with us. It will take a long time for us to gain the majority in this mathematical equation, but our small, growing percentage is made up of many magical, wonderful moments with our amazing daughter whom we love with 100% of our hearts.

Feel free to visit our family blog here.


I will be leaving in 2 weeks to bring home our new daughter, Vivienne.

And I am scared.

She is 26 months old, 30 inches and 22 pounds. And she seriously scares me.

This will be our fifth adoption, so you might think I know enough about adoption not to be scared.

The truth is, I know enough to be scared. I know enough to be realistic. I know enough to be prepared.

Our second daughter, Sophie, was 27 months at adoption. And she was, and still is, one smart cookie. One very, very smart cookie. She might have just been a toddler, but she read me like a book from the word “go”.

Our other adopted kiddos were younger and much more delayed than Sophie. Less aware. Less able to peer right into my soul. Less able to chew me up and spit me out like the shell of a sunflower seed.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that our Vivi is much like Sophie. She’s been in a foster family. She’s been loved, she’s been attended to, she’s been part of a family. And I don’t think she’s going to like me coming in and breaking all that up. No, not one little bit.

I don’t think she’s going to like me to help her, feed her, dress her, carry her. But I have every intention of insisting on these things, as I fully believe they are the basis for understanding the difference between care-er and care-ee.

I’ve got two weeks in China to focus completely and totally on her. Little Bitty Miss Thing. And I plan to use every moment of that time to get off on the best foot possible. Even if that means making her really, really mad.

In light of the fact that she is, well… two, is leaving everything she knows, and has most likely been properly spoiled to death by her foster family, you might have an inkling as to why I’m scared.

Why I might not be sleeping so well at night…
wondering how our first meeting will go.
wondering if she’ll be able to see right through me.
wondering how long until she knows she’s got my number.

And I can hardly wait.

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.

The Eyes Have It
adoptive momma (China) AmFam at American Family… discussing visual processing disorder, its therapy and how it relates to her daughter’s life pre-adoption

Surgeryadoptive momma (China) Leslee at Finding Lilly Grace… her daughter’s surprisingly bad breath leads to a surprise – and quite necessary – surgery

Ellie’s Medical Update
adoptive momma (China) at Bringing Home Di Di… more about vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) and how it effects her daughter Elise

Letting God Dreamadoptive momma (China) Shirlee McCoy at And Then There Were Seven… about her biological child’s special needs and accepting him for exactly who God made him to be

Yingy and Yangyadoptive momma (Haiti) Christine at Welcome To My Brain… parenting a child through reactive attachment disorder

my little chatterbox
adoptive momma (China) Andrea at Adoption Road… her daughter’s hearing loss does not seem to be slowing down her ability to learn and understand language

Surgery: One Year Agoadoptive momma (China) Kim K. at Musings from Kim K… a look back on her daughter’s hand surgery a year ago

In The Midst of Chaos

**I wrote this blog post prior to leaving for China to get our new daughter Ava. This topic weighed heavily on my heart. I hope that it speaks immediately to whoever needs it.**

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the d-word. The big yucky word that no adoptive parent or professional wants to have to speak about: DISRUPTION. Recently I heard about 3 separate adoption disruptions which occurred just a few days after each family received their child in China. To hear about this was heartbreaking. And although we have never actually disrupted an adoption in China, we have walked through the chaos of receiving a child so sick, so grossly delayed, so not what we expected, so far from what we wanted…. that it was pure absolute gut-wrenching agony and chaos.

And that chaos immediately leads you to a state of panic where fear takes over and you question everything you were sure of just 24 hours BEFORE meeting this child.

And then you speak to yourself in absolute statements:

I can’t parent him.
His needs are too much.
His needs are overwhelming.
His care will tear our family apart.
This is not what we signed up for.

And you’re confused because just the day before you were floating on a cloud of anxious excitement dreaming about Gotcha Day. And now you are wondering how the heck we got to “this place”.

And then the guilt takes over:
I thought I was more loving.
I thought I could handle anything.
I thought I could parent any child placed before me.

I suck.

And then back to here again:
I can’t parent him.
His needs are too much.
His needs are overwhelming.
His care will tear our family apart.
This is not what we signed up for.

And please believe me that I am not making light of this at all. This is truth. This is what happened to us. But somewhere in the 2nd round of “I can’t parent him”, God took a hold of me. And I let Him. He reminded me that He doesn’t make mistakes. He is not surprised or perplexed. God ordained that specific boy to be our son.

But GOD, did you see how he is acting? Did you see his delays? Did you see how sick he is and how he can’t even sit up? These aren’t “normal delays” God. It is clear there are many many things wrong with him and we…. Ok…. I can’t handle it. I can’t parent him. I can’t.”

And at that moment it was clear to me that I had a very serious decision to make.

I could stand in front of my husband, my guide and the Civil Affairs office and tell everyone how my heart and mind were feeling. How this was impossible. How his needs were far beyond anything we could deal with. And looking at Luke, all of these thoughts and feelings would have been accepted and validated by the guide and the Civil Affairs office. He WAS delayed. He WAS neglected. There were obviously many other things wrong with him. But there was that constant voice of God whispering to me. Whispering how this adoption was not a mistake. How this boy was a part of our family.

And I responded to God: “This is going to be a huge sacrifice for us God. A huge sacrifice for ME God and I don’t know what the heck I am doing! I’m not the person you *think* I am.“ And that’s the moment when He gently reminded me that this whole thing wasn’t about ME. It was about Luke. And most of all…it was about God.

On May 22, 2008 we signed the official paperwork in China to adopt our son Luke.

I firmly believe that the only reason that we came home with Luke was…. our belief in God. Because mentally and emotionally I was so stunned, so angry, so upset that I was not in the game. It is our belief that God doesn’t make mistakes. That He wants to bless us but it’s not about it being EASY or COMFORTABLE. It’s sometimes hard and painful. And this was painful. Lots of painful.

Anyone following Luke’s story on our family blog knows that after 2.5 years of searching for a diagnosis, we finally received it. Luke has an Intellectual Disability. This was our worst case scenario that has become reality. And even in my mind when I rewind to those painful days standing in the Civil Affairs office feeling conflicted, angry, resentful, deceived, hurt and sad…. even knowing what I know now…. I would STILL make the same choice over again.

Was it easy? No.
Was it scary? Yes.
Was I still conflicted in China even after we adopted him? Yes.
Was I sure we made the right decision months later? No.
But we did.
And our God walked us through it. And He is still walking us through it.

All this is just to say that I know how hard it is to come to this crossroads…to have to make the hard decision whether to disrupt an adoption in China. I am just putting our story out there. Our chaos, our experience, our lives… so that if 1 person reads this and then experiences the questions, the confusion and the pain…. maybe that person can feel that they are not alone, that their feelings are validated and most of all that God is there to be the guide.


By Linny@A Place Called Simplicity

I am sitting writing in our dark hotel room in Guangzhou, China. Emma (our 16 yr. old) and I came to finally (!) meet and bring home our Jubilee Promise who we have been in the process of trying to adopt for over 600 days.

I was just reading my Bible (by cell phone light) and felt the need to share some thoughts. Many who read No Hands But Ours are considering special needs and many have already “taken the plunge”.

Our Jubilee has multiple special needs. Cleft lip/cleft palate (repaired), estropia (repaired), ear deformity – just for starters. There are other things too. We will wait on those till we see docs in the states. We knew there were some unknowns when we pursued adopting Jubilee. We knew that there was chance she would be with us for life. My husband, Dw and I, were good with all that. We have never liked the idea of an “empty nest” (actually sounds soooo boring to us!!). Having Jubilee in my arms….I am smitten. Whatever the doctors find? She’s ours! Forever and we are thrilled.

Anyway, yesterday we had Jubilee’s medical exam in the Guangzhou clinic – a wonderful chance to talk to other adoptive parents. While there I was talking to a couple who were adopting their 8th child (3rd adoption). The mom was sharing with me that they have a down syndrome son, which they birthed. In the midst of the conversation, the mom said something about having a son with DS. It is a wise (Biblical word)…..and I just had to mention it.

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.” Matt. 6:34

Yes, tomorrow is not even a given. Today is all we have. Enjoy it. Love your kids. Love your spouse. Special needs kids? Today is all we have. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. And really, who knows what 20 years from now will bring. We have a faithful God who will meet each need tomorrow. He is working the night shift on your behalf, your kids behalf, Jubilee’s behalf, etc. He loves these precious treasures far more than any of us could dream or imagine. His plan for them is good. Just take one day at a time. It’s all we have.

Blessings from China,

Our Waiting Son!!

I just wanted to share OUR NEWS!!! I have shared about our journey thus far to our waiting older son here on NHBO. Today, we received the wonderful, God-size news that China said YES once again to our family for which we are so grateful and thankful. Today, we received our LOA for our newly-turned 10-year-old SON!!!!! Hopefully we’ll be traveling sometime this Spring to bring him home! I’ve posted a picture over on our blog! OK, just had to share here too … so excited!!!

Passport Pictures–Then and Now

I could have also titled this post, Where did my baby go?
Cholita (yes, I’ve changed her name–not legally, just on-line!) needs a U.S. passport, that was made abundantly clear to us at the Canadian border, but I’ll admit that I’ve been reluctant to get it done, reluctant to file away the last tangible reminder of Cholita’s life as Jin Qiu Ju.
The picture for her Chinese passport was taken before we met her, probably when she was moved from the foster home where she’d lived for a few weeks and put back in the orphanage. It breaks my heart. And those eyes. It’s the shell-shocked look she sometimes got during our first few weeks together, when she felt overwhelmed and would simply shut down. Enough of the English. Enough of the Caucasian faces. Enough of the changes.
We were in the food court at the mall yesterday and she pointed to a man behind a counter. He was cooking at a wok, speaking Mandarin to his co-worker.
“I think he’s Chinese,” she said.
“I think you’re right,” I told her.
“I used to be Chinese,” she said.
“You’ll always be Chinese.”
“Hmmm.” She smiled and crinkled her nose. “Kind of.”
So it’s time for her U.S. passport. She’ll always kind of be Chinese. Always kind of be Jin Qiu Ju. But that baby with the scared eyes is not the sassy little girl who sauntered up to the white screen at the Costco photo center. She’s her own unique blend–a little China, a lot United States. A little Qiu Ju, a whole lot Cholita.

The worst moments of the heart

(This is Q today – I had to post this picture first so as to remind myself how healthy and strong she is before launching into my story)

In March of 2009, our daughter went in for her second cleft surgery. She had had a full successful palate repair the previous October. With no fistulas to repair, her second would be a relatively simple surgery compared to the first. It would entail the cosmetic completion of the closure of her lip, which had been “tacked” in October to partially close the wide gap.

After only about 2 hours of surgery (the first surgery had taken four hours) our surgeon came out to tell us that the surgery had gone beautifully. As before, we breathed a huge sigh of relief. But moments later, we learned from the anesthesiologist that she had stopped breathing while they were bringing her her out of anesthesia. She stopped breathing again in my arms just minutes later in the recovery room. She would stop breathing four times before they were able to stabilize her.

This is something that can happen when small children go under general anesthesia – even in a simple surgery. We never thought it would happen to us. Honestly, it’s too painful for me to retell this story (or even re-read my post) so I’m just going to reprint my post from that day. I have never been so mortally terrified, or cried so hard, or felt so utterly bereft in my entire life.

We will, of course, have this fear in our hearts during each future surgery, lest it could happen again to our strong, healthy child. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Every single terrifying minute was worth it, for the privilege of living with this amazing child every day.

- Maia ( is me and Q at 5:30 am, bundling up for our trip to the hospital. Mostly, she was excited for an “adventure” at this point, and even at the hospital she was happy and calm – clearly she didn’t have bad memories from last time, which is nice to see.

As some of you already know, we had some pretty serious complications after general anesthesia, and it was touch and go for a while in the recovery room. These were the longest hours of our lives, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so scared. Fortunately, the team at the hospital did a good job of stabilizing her and pulling her through.
The surgery itself went perfectly – the plastic surgeon was thrilled with the result, and QQ is doing much better after a long day and night in the hospital.
Q and daddy in the waiting room.

Some people have asked me in the past why I share things like this, and actually I have a very specific reason: To the uninitiated, it often seems like an insurmountable thing to adopt a child with medical needs. Naturally, it’s frightening to contemplate the ramifications. No one wants to voluntarily undergo moments of terror like we did during this surgery, the fear of losing a child. But the fact is, these are not risks specific to children with congenital conditions. Children break bones, they get pneumonia, they choke on things, the risks are there for every one of us. This is just life.
I describe the process in detail in the hopes of demystifying it. What you see here is our life – the actual balance and heft of it. There is nothing I’m hiding, no dark secrets, no hidden dismay. The reason I describe both the good and the bad is because I want people to see that we live a very normal life. Our life doesn’t center around Q’s medical condition, nor does her condition define her. If anything it makes her a bit tougher, a bit more resilient in spirit. Children who go through things like this learn to take it in stride, and to focus on the best parts of life. They bounce back.

There are tasks that come with a medical condition, of course there are – extra checkups, a larger team of doctors, that sort of thing – but those quickly become routine. Like anything else in life, you adjust, you make room and time, you make it work. It’s really a very ordinary process.

The biggest thing about our life with Q is the joy she brings, and that is the part we see every day. That is the thing that stands out. The rest of it just comes around every now and then, a chore, like doing your taxes or getting annual checkups.
As you can see, even in the prep room with both Q and daddy suited up for surgery (M got to carry her in and watch her go under this time) there’s no hint of fear or alarm in her. They tell you that kids don’t remember the bad parts, and they don’t.
The surgery lasted about an hour and a half, including new ear tubes (one of her old ones had become blocked), inspection of the healed palate, and the full closure of the lip. When the plastic surgeon came out, she was radiant and delighted. The surgery, she told us, had gone perfectly. She was thrilled with the results. She also told us that the palate appeared to have healed beautifully and that no further work was necessary at this time either on the hard or soft palate. This was what we had hoped to hear – the best case scenario.

After that, however, the anesthesiologist came out, and I could tell as soon as she started talking that something had gone wrong.
M and I caught a pretty nasty upper-respiratory flu of some sort while we were in San Francisco, and it was a tough one to kick. It was so hard on us that I was pretty certain they’d have to reschedule Q’s surgery. It seemed hard to imagine that she had spent days in a small hotel room with two people as sick as we were, and not catch anything.
Time passed, however, and she appeared healthy. I was nervous because I knew that a respiratory tract infection poses danger during general anesthesia. We were careful to tell the surgeon at our pre-op appointment about our illness. But Q had no signs of cough and her lungs sounded clear, she had no fever and all seemed well. Both the ENT and the plastic surgeon gave us the go-ahead to proceed with the scheduled surgery.

It was only after they removed the breathing tube post-surgery, we were told, that they discovered some congestion had been present deep in the lungs. It was very slight – her illness was mild, but even that was enough, in a child this small, to cause her airways to close up with anesthesia.
The anesthesiologist told us that they’d stabilized her, and that she was in the recovery room doing fine.
The first minutes in the recovery room.
As it turned out, however, her issues were not so easily resolved. The narcotics in her system exacerbated her breathing issues. She was taking juice from me just moments after surgery, but after several swallowed she suddenly gave a kind of hoarse ghasp and her eyes glazed over. Then I could see her heaving for air, and within moments her lips started turning blue.
We were immediately shuttled back out of the room while the medical team converged on her. There is no possible way to describe the bottomless fear of a moment like this, so I won’t try. It was the worst moment of my life.
I have M’s mom to thank for having the presence of mind to document this process with my camera. This is the shot she took of the lonely hallway down which we stared, petrified, for what felt like hours as they worked on stabilizing her again.
Back in the recovery room. The team had given her drugs that would reverse the narcotics in her system so that her natural functions could take over again. But the narcotics can’t be reversed too quickly, and while we were back in the RR, she stopped breathing a third time. As we waited in the outer foyer this time, I have to admit I really thought we were losing her.
Back in the recovery room and this time no seizing…but by this time I was too gunshy to hold her again. I can’t tell you the horror of feeling your only child seize up and go bloodless in your arms. I had to step away and let M do it this time. Fortunately, her airways did not seize again.
Neither, however, did she wake up. After a length of time, I could see M getting worried that maybe she had gone into some sort of coma. The doctor came in and looked at her pupils, and then nurse did a reflex test on the bottom of her foot – at which point her foot gave a good, healthy, annoyed kick – that was when I knew she was OK. It did take her a while to regain consciousness, but the doctor explained that the narcotics were still in her system, and that since the surgery itself was not a terribly painful one, the narcotics just knocked her out. Her little body had some recovering to do as well, after all that trauma.
It took a while for her breathing to return to normal and it was terribly difficult to watch her little torso heaving so unnaturally. But you could see when it ended, and it ended quite suddenly.
Her body relaxed, her eyes popped open, and she looked around at us alertly. You could see her craning to see people walking downt he hall, looking around the room for things she might want to touch. She even gave a chuckle and a little dance-jiggle when she saw the Pooh Bear decals on the glass wall. You can see the difference in her face in this photo.
There’s the alertness back again as we load up for the trip to our overnight room in the pediatrics ward.
Reaching for Daddy’s hand.
Rolling into our room. The tube I’m holding is her free-flowing oxygen, which helped to increase the oxygen saturation in her cells while her airways and body recovered.
Visiting with grandparents in the room. Once she recovered from the narcotics, you could see how much easier the actual surgery was on her system than the first one. With no cartilege involved, she was in very little pain, alert, chipper and active.
It was still a long and mostly sleepless night – the trauma had left her whole system oversensitive and she was having allergic reactions to the adhesive used to stick on her monitors, and particularly to the tape which had covered her eyes during surgery. This left her patchy, red, and extremely itchy. She also hates to have her hands and feet confined, so the IV in her hand and the oxygen monitor on her foot were a source of unending fury for her.
Still, the difference was marked from October’s rough recovery. She was even exceptionally affectionate this time, giving out kisses, flirting, hugging, and trying to giggle even through her tape and stitches. Late in the night, as the three of us piled into the narrow hospital bed, she got particularly schmoopy and started getting M and I to give eachother kisses by turning our faces forcibly toward one another with her hands. This made her smile and chuckle every time. As she was sinking into a blessed (if brief) latenight nap, she grabbed my hand and M’s and linked them over her back before falling asleep. Can you even believe that? The way her mind works never ceases to amaze me.
This morning, as we packed our belongings to go home. A whole new QQ. She was beyond delighted to be freed from her tethers of monitor cords and IV tubes, and toddled manically around the room collecting all the toys she’d been loaned.

Here she even backed up against the changing table to “pose” for me. And what’s that in her right hand? Yup, a box of Cheerios. Munchkin decided to use this particularly traumatic occasion to start eating cheerios by the handful, as well as applesauce from a spoon – stitches be damned. I can see that progress will happen by leaps and bounds once she’s healed. And you could already hear her making new sounds whith her mouth (her “mama” changed and became much more crisp and round-sounding overnight, and she was making little “Puh” puffs with her new lips, which is thrilling!), so I am excited to hear how her language progresses over the next weeks.
QQ’s lip does in fact look seamless -as much of it as one can see around the bandages and glue. I can’t wait to see what it looks like once healed and uncovered. What you see in her nose are plastic tubes that hold the nostrils in a widened position. These will stay in for a week (we hope) or as long as we can get her to keep them in. The idea is that a bit of scar tissue will form around the tube and bolster the cartilege where her nose is naturally flatter on the cleft side.
It did our hearts good to see how happy she was to find herself back at home. She actually crowed outloud when we pulled up to the curb, and wanted to parade up and down the sidewalk in the unseasonably warm sun for a while before going inside for her long-delayed lunch.
We gave her an episode of her beloved Yo GabbaGabba, and then put her down for her nap, where she was palpably radiant with joy to be back among her own things. So happy was she, in fact, that she didn’t even complain when we put on the hated arm braces that she railed so bitterly against after the last surgery.

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.

annually easyadoptive momma (China) mama d at and i am like the ocean… cleft is an easy special need… or not

Disclosureadoptive momma (China) Raina at Faiths and Illusions… disclosing her new daughter’s Hepatitis B status

Speaking of attachment, Part 3
adoptive momma (China) The Gang’s Momma at The Gang’s All Here… describing how they shrunk their world the first year home with their new daughter

Pondering the Pons (and a little fun, too)
adoptive momma (Russia and China) Tisha at Privyet, Mei Mei… describing brain reorganization of the pons at a San Diego clinic

An HIV Adoption Storyby Leslie Goldman for… a day in the life of a family who adopted a child who is HIV positive [HAT TIP to Thankfulmom at A Bushel and a Peck]

Three Therapeutic Tips for a Merry Christmasadoptive momma (Ethiopia) Lisa at the group adoption blog Grown In My Heart… three tips for helping a child newly home or who struggles with attachment issues through the holiday season

Purple Hair, Purple Eyesadoptive momma (China) Shirlee McCoy at And Then There Were Seven… using a new hair product to keep white hair from turning yellow

No Longer An Orphanadoptive momma (China) Jean at There’s No Place Like Home… after someone sent a photo of her daughter when she still lived in an orphanage, one momma looks back at how far her daughter has come since being adopted at age eight

Status of Adoption from China:
BOYS the executive director of Love Without Boundaries and adoptive momma (China) Amy at A Life of Giving… gender statistics surrounding international adoption from China

A Special Needadoptive momma (China) Maryellen at A Beautiful Mess… how the wait effected their decision to adopt through China’s special needs program

Sunday Snapshot: Avery
adoptive momma (China) Chris at Layers of Life… a glimpse into the world of the special needs adoption process AND their soon-to-be-adopted daughter Avery

The Brace Shuffle
adoptive momma (China) Annie at Cornbread and Chopsticks… a video clip from last year of her daughter walking to the Christmas tree while wearing a special brace