The Big Build-Up

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what in the world I would post on this beautiful blog. Don’t yall LOVE this blog? It is a big ol’ blessing to so many…Kris, your post below stole my heart.

Anyway, yesterday I attended a travel information meeting my agency hosted. It was for families who are getting ready to make the trip to China to meet their child! It was the second time I’ve heard the details of the process, by the same sweet social worker, but I felt that no matter how many times I adopt, there will always be something to learn about the journey, amen? ;)
I’m so thankful I went, because it confirmed what the subject of this post would be, something that I’ve been thinking a whole lot about lately:

The Big Build-Up to The Big Trip

If you have traveled to China, or if you are thick in the paperchase to adopt your child, or if you are about to get on that plane in three days, or if you are just thinking and dreaming about adopting one day…I think you will agree with me on this one point: there is so much anticipation, so many butterflies in our stomachs, so many dreams and scenarios played out in our heads of “THE TRIP”.

As our social worker presented all the glorious details leading up to “Gotcha Day”, I felt those familiar emotions of anxiety, nervousness, and extreme excitement that I was getting closer to the day I would meet my son. Who, by the way, is the CUTEST thing you ever did see, don’t you agree? ;)
I’m off track. Looking at him does that to me! ;)

So I’m getting excited as she talks about the moment your child is handed to you…which is really how it happens mostly. They just hand you your child after checking your passport and paperwork. And then she went on to talk about attachment and adjustment, and the wide spectrum of issues that go along with that.
And I was reminded (and brought back down to reality, frankly) that this TRIP, this marvelous, long-awaited trip….well, that’s all it is…a TRIP. It is not the end-all, be-all of my journey. Certainly not! Yes, it is important, because it is the vessel used by God to bring me my child. But in the big picture, it is all about getting through the trip to the other side…home with our son!

Both times we’ve gone to China, I get wrapped up in the preparation of this trip. It does seem huge, looming before us. The packing, the buying of gifts for Chinese officials (don’t let this stress you out like I have done!), the tizzy of ordering plane tickets, the details of who will keep my other children while we’re gone. (Don’t tell anyone, but our first trip to China….I consumed myself with making sure everyone had matching outfits. And then Gotcha Day came, and we were handed two 2-year olds, and how ’bout those matching outfits? Do ya think I cared one bit about our clothes after that? ;) It’s easy to let the trip consume our thoughts, of course. And certainly we should relish every bit of our child’s culture and birth country while we are there… taking in the sights, smells, sounds, and people of China. But this trip is two-three weeks long. In the big scheme of a lifetime, that’s pretty short. It will be full of bumps, unexpected surprises-some good, some bad, and we will survive it and get our son home, and then new life will begin.

The REAL TRIP will begin…getting to know him, establishing a new normal and a good routine, cleaning up his messes, taking him to doctor appointments, comforting him through major heart surgery, and prayerfully one day taking him on vacations, watching him walk across the stage at graduation, smothering his children with my kisses. That is the trip I want to prepare for…and it is a wonderful trip called LIFE!

John 10:10 “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”

I Do Not Want to Be Afraid

Cheeky has a favorite song.

She announced that fact a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about her announcement and her choice of favorite songs since then.

You see, Cheeky loves many songs. She sings all the time. All the time. She has told me over and over again that she loves all the songs she hears on the radio.

And that leads me back to her favorite song.

We’ve been hearing it on the Christian radio station for a few months, but I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics until Cheeky started singing them. The more she heard the song, the more of the lyrics she was able to sing. Until, finally, she had great chunks of lyrics and was belting them out in her sweet soprano.

There were a few words here and there that I didn’t quite understand. As a matter of fact, the whole gist of the song was lost on me.

Except the parts that Cheeky was singing.

Those were clear as a bell, and every time the song played and she sang, I got a lump in my throat. Two weeks ago, she began singing the parts she knows around the house. I’d be washing dishes, and she’d be doing her daily chore of wiping down the table after meals, and she’d sing the words she knew, and I’d glance over at her and see that she was completely engrossed in those words and in that song. And there were moments when I wanted to cry, because I do not believe this song was chosen randomly.

I finally looked up the words because I really did not understand the song.

And when I read them, I did understand.

It’s actually a shocking song, but I suppose that’s what it was meant to be.

Here are the lyrics. It’s called Cut and is by Plumb. I guess it was a soundtrack for one of the vampire movies (or t.v. shows. I don’t know which as I’m not familiar with the programs). The sections in bold are the ones Cheeky sings. Words in parenthesis are words she uses that are not original to the song.

I’m not a stranger
No I am yours

With crippled anger
And tears that still drip sore

A fragile flame aged
with misery
And when our hearts meet
I know you see

I do not want to be afraid
I do not want to (cry) inside just to breathe in

I’m tired of feeling so numb
Relief exists I find it when
I am cut

I may seem crazy
Or painfully shy

And these scars wouldn’t be so hidden
If you would just look me in the eye
I feel alone here and cold here

Though I don’t want to (cry) die
But the only anesthetic that makes me feel anything kills inside

I do not want to be afraid
I do not want to (cry) inside just to breathe in

I’m tired of feeling so numb
Relief exists I find it when
I am cut

I am not alone
I am not alone

I’m not a stranger
No I am yours

With crippled anger
And tears that still drip sore

But I do not want to be afraid
I do not want to (cry) inside just to breathe in

I’m tired of feeling so numb
Relief exists I found it when
I was cut

Cheeky does not, of course, understand what the song is about, but the words she does understands mean something to her. And, so, they must mean something to me.

I’m not one to look at Cheeky through the eyes of adoption. I treat her as I do my other children. She is, after all, my daughter. Not my adopted daughter. What I’m realizing as I travel this road with my little girl, is that not everything is about her past but some things are about her past.

This thing, this song, is.

My mother’s heart acknowledges what my mind would rather ignore. When Cheeky sings this song, it is a story about her life. It is a story about meeting strangers and of being afraid. It is a story about acknowledging where she belongs and who she belongs with even as she fears that place and those people.

It is her story, and I embrace it even as I embrace her.

I share this only as a reminder that grief and joy can coexist. That one does not always outweigh the other. Cheeky is the child in the photo at the top of this post, but she is also the one in the photo below. She is both lost and found. Both in love and in mourning. She is a complete package whose present can only truly be understood in light of her past.

She is my daughter. My blessing. My pure joy.

I grieve with her, but I will not grieve for her. Instead, I will do what I always have. I will sit her in my lap and I will tell her the story of her life. The story of strangers who are no longer strangers and of a love that will never leave her lonely. A love that was and always will be much greater than fear.

the best laid plans

I was married for 6 years to the man I believed to be the absolute love of my life. We had a good relationship, although looking back, I see so clearly the flaws that were ignored (in both of us) to keep that relationship afloat. Four years into our marriage, we decided to adopt- and since he was of Chinese descent, and China was the place I’d wanted to adopt from since I was 17, the choice was obvious. Three months shy of that infamous “call”, he dropped the bomb. The “D” bomb, that is, asking for a divorce. In July, 2 months before the calls came, I phoned our agency and canceled that adoption. To say this was the most painful period of my life is actually a gross understatement.

Never once did I truly think I’d adopt on my own. I mean- I joined the singles-adopt-china group, you know, just in case. I kept up with my original DTC group, even celebrating with them (as bittersweet as that was), on the day they got their referrals: September 3, 2005. I wondered on that day what my girl would have looked like. Who was Gracen? What happens to her now? I fantasized about how it might have felt to get that “call”. And for 2 years, I continued to blog surf, (creating my own blog in fact- under the guise of honoring my mom who died 7 months after ex asked for the divorce). It wasn’t an adoption blog because I had no plans to adopt on my own.

Except that I couldn’t leave the darn thing alone. The yahoo sites, the websites, the research, the contact with other single moms who urged me forward in answering the big question: could I? I decided I’d leave it open, knowing I needed time and distance from all that I was suffering. I needed “me” time- to grieve, to seek solitude, to come out on the other side.

Only, it didn’t really happen that way.

Just one year after the divorce, much sooner than my “plan”, a wise person at CCAI advised I apply now (the end of 2006) rather than waiting another year as I’d hoped. Their reasoning? “The wait times are already up to 16 months and climbing, so you’ll still have time to work through all that you have had to face”. I had a lot to grapple with: the loss of the marriage, my daughter, my mom. But I said… okay, okay. Not what I’d envisioned but that is a lot of time. Plus hey, I can always… back out! And what a blessing CCAI’s advice was, since the doors were closed to singles just 4 months later.

Three years ago on this very day, I was granted the singles slot I so desired with CCAI. Since I’d worked with them the first time around and they were absolutely amazing in handling the cancellation of Gracen’s adoption, I wanted to be with an agency I felt close to and trusted.
And they proved the second time around to be worthy of that choice.

When I was married, I brought up the topic of adopting a child with special needs once during our wait. He said he wasn’t ready for that, that he’d consider it if we adopted a second time. So, there in the back of my mind brewed another option. Though, being single, I decided there was no way I could handle adopting a child with special needs. Except… well, could I? On my own? Because truthfully, deep down, I wanted to share this with a partner. Since day one receiving that singles slot, I hoped for that. For me, I was a “single mom to be” by circumstance, not really by choice. And I wasn’t willing to “wait” for the right guy to come along to realize this dream, even though I felt numb and paralyzed during that second paper chase. In truth, it just seemed like I was going through the motions at the time.

I put the special needs topic on the shelf for almost a year, but much like coming into this process on my own, it kept popping up. In my head, my heart, and on my computer- of course. I’d find myself reading all the blogs of those who had adopted children with medical needs, and I constantly went through CCAI’s medical conditions checklist… you know. Just looking it over. Just in case.

And in January of 2008, almost a year after my LID (4.4.07), some kind of crazy fire ignited inside of me. I mean mad crazy. It was as though I went from considering this idea to feeling it was absolutely imperative. My MCC needed to be completed that day, right then, that very minute, and be on its way to my agency immediately. Because somewhere, deep down, I knew she was here already, in this world. I even blogged that- and that I sensed she was “a bit older” (also something I’d never once considered, and still didn’t despite that prediction)! I was still clutching my baby dream: that precious moment when a rather tiny bundle is placed in your arms and everything stands still in that room. All the other cries during those precious first moments fading into the background- it’s just you and your new little one. I even had the song picked out for this moment, that was going to be featured on the DVD I planned to create for her one day.

And on the night I turned in my MCC… I saw this amazing shooting star. Some of you know that story. It burned for so long in the sky that it changed colors. It was brilliant. And it brought fresh tears to my eyes, because I hadn’t seen a shooting star since the night of my mother’s death, January 17, 2006. I knew it was a sign that I’d made the right decision, that God, the universe, my very mother- were shining down on me, giving me their blessing.

At one point, I ran into an old friend after a special mass at church. She hadn’t seen me since the divorce and was so excited at how much I’d “changed”- I thought she was just thrilled my hair had grown out, but she pulled me aside and said, “Oh no Kris. You just look happy. I sense your greatest joy is coming”. And I just balked. How could she know? I asked: “OH! Did someone tell you I was adopting again?” and she, wide eyed, replied, “NO! That’s fantastic. But Kris, I have to tell you, it’s even bigger than that. God has great plans for you”.

In October of that year, I reunited with my old best friend from high school, Garth, and we rekindled that friendship. It’s been a whirlwind romance and I was (and am) happier than I’d ever been. With anyone. He was open to this adoption and jumped in with both feet and met me exactly where I was. He’s an amazing man.

garth and kris

And then “our” wait started, though now I was certain it would be significantly shorter since I was adopting a waiting child, and was convinced we’d be parents much sooner than either of us were prepared. We both recognized that we needed to nurture this “new” (and yet, old) relationship. But at the same time, after 5 years of waiting (if you factor in Gracen), I just felt ripe for this next chapter of my life to unfold. But God knows better and the wait for this little one, yet to be named at the time, extended well over a year.

And that long awaited “call” … it never came. Because, you see, once again, I was being consumed with a new obsession: checking the children who are listed on CCAI’s website. Those that are more difficult to place, that have complex or multiple medical needs.

And on one particular day- May 13, 2009, to be exact- not long after coming to peace with the wait, I became restless again. So restless in fact I was (yet again) looking at my medical conditions checklist and debating about certain needs that as a single, I wasn’t so sure about, but with a partner, I wondered if we could manage together. I had even drafted an email to my contact in the waiting child department that day (though I never sent it), inquiring about spina bifida and letting them know it was a need I was considering.

When Garth got off work that night, he stopped over for dinner and I brought it up with him. We decided we’d sit on it through the weekend. And since I had been checking our waiting child yahoo site and CCAI’s waiting list of children ALL day, I gave the computer a break and we enjoyed a wonderful evening together, the topic of adoption tabled. For like… an hour or two tops. At least until after dinner, when I found myself saying, “I just want to check one thing. One last time. I’ll be right back”… and headed to the study and my second best friend: the computer! Only to find this message on the CCAI waiting child yahoo board: “I can’t believe how many children are on the website! Over 20! Hope they all find homes”…

What? But there were only a handful just a few hours ago…

Of course I was compelled to look, and quickly logged into CCAI’s website. Scrolling down that page, searching each face, but without any expectation: there she was. I couldn’t even speak. There she was. And I whispered aloud to the room, to anyone who would hear- my dog- my cat-”My God that’s her. It’s Ellis”.

FuGaoMei referral photo

I clicked on her file and saw her date of birth: January 17, 2006. The night I saw that first shooting star, around 4AM U.S. time- 3 hours after my mom died. I yelled for Garth to come and look. And her information had obviously not been fully translated, it was so sketchy. Just her name, birth date, and needs: “repaired meningocele, brittle bone disease (later found she did not have this), obstructed leg movement, large hairy nevus”.

And as we read each one, I’d say “Okay. We can handle that, right?” until we landed on obstructed leg movement. What did this mean? Is she paralyzed? Can it be… UN-obstructed? I looked at Garth and then rambled off, almost to myself, “If she’s in a wheelchair, I’m not sure I can deal with that- I mean, that takes serious resources and special equipment in our house and we have a 2 story house and…”…. he just looked at me, softly replying, “Really? Well, one thing at a time. What do you want to do?” and naturally, I called my big sister. My go to person. Who was so excited she could barely contain herself. So we asked for the file, which came the very next day.

The first thing we opened were more of her photos, and these are just a few that were sent to us:

Gao Mei, March 2009

Gao Mei March 2009 New Hope

Gao Mei, March 2009


The tears came. It was immediate, that rush of feeling- was it love? Not yet. But it was that seed that had already been planted being watered. Look at her bright, beautiful smile. Look at her! SO full of life! But could we do it? Meet her challenges with her?

It took a little over 2 weeks. We wanted to be her advocate. We aren’t rich, at all. We live paycheck to paycheck and have a fair amount of debt. But over and over, even on the days we were leaning toward saying “No”, our hearts just kept saying Yes.

And so, yes it was. An exuberant, terrified, triumphant YES.

And instead of getting that long awaited call, the one where your agency says, “I am looking at your daughter and she is so beautiful” or “We have your daughter for you!”… we had the privilege of making our own call- the one that said we know this is our daughter, and that we can’t wait to adopt her.

Was it the way I had envisioned it for so many long years? No. Has anything turned out the way I expected? Hell no.

It’s just turned out exactlyperfectly… the way it was always meant to be. And she is the best kid. The easiest, happiest, most courageous little girl I’ve ever known. With just the right amount of stubborn- which will serve her so well in this life. And all those extraneous factors that seemed like challenges? Not nearly as challenging as we imagined. You find your groove. You realize you too are so much stronger than you imagined. And that it doesn’t take any energy at all to love. You are filled as soon as you spend an ounce giving all that you can to this girl you are blessed to call your daughter.

sweet pea

The day before we left China, in front of the consulate, just after the swearing in, Garth- my long lost friend from high school, got down on one knee and proposed. How fortunate are we each to have found one another. How blessed I am.

Tomorrow I turn 42. And I already have every single gift I’ve ever wanted. Right here. In our home. And not at all the way I planned:

This family.
happy family

Road To Recovery …

I am sorry that I am late in posting today, but it has been an emotional day and trying to find the right words that will be honest, encouraging, and from the Lord often takes some time when you are in the midst of a trial … You see we got news today that our daughter’s skull/ scalp replacement surgery was canceled for next week … The specially made expanders that were ordered over 3 months ago won’t be ready … This is just another road block in our journey to physically healing Maggie … I am sad for her that yet again she will have to WAIT … I am exhausted from mentally preparing for next week only to be told to WAIT …

I hope to always paint a true picture of the journey we have been on to bring home our special needs angel … It is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those seeking to become closer to the almighty Father and for those who want their SOCKS blessed off … My Maggie is a miracle to us … She shows us what it means to be a true survivor …

So we will gear up for yet another curve, detour in the journey or I guess if I choose it could be just the scenic route (that may be my attitude tomorrow) …

As you are deciding to adopt a SN angel always look at the journey God and your child have you on, not the JOURNEY YOU WANT TO BE ON …

Blessings !!!


Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I would be a Mom to many. I also knew that my big ol’ happy family would include adopted children in addition to biological ones. Adoption is something that has always been on my heart. As a little girl, I was the one in my family who was convinced that we could, and should, bring home every featured “Wednesday’s Child”. (Wednesday’s Child was a weekly television news feature in my hometown that advocated special needs children for adoption.) There was also a period in my life when I tried to convince my dad to build a “Children’s Home” in our backyard. As the story goes, I was certain that between myself, my siblings, and a few other caring families I would round up to move into the home in our backyard, we could somehow find a way to be one big happy family for each and every child who needed a home. Unfortunately, that dream never came to fruition. I recall it had something to do with zoning and labor laws, fire codes, and other related impossibilities of an underage day-dreamer. ;) The point is, God planted the seed in my heart for “those who wait” long before I had outgrown playing Mother to my Cabbage Patch dolls. It wasn’t something I ever really decided or had to think about, but rather something I just “knew” was meant to be.

My husband also grew up with a vision of what his family would look like one day. He had four people in his family, including Mom, Dad and a younger sister. They were a “picture perfect” American family. My husband was very comfortable with this picture. It was familiar to him, and he had been very happy growing up. To him, this was the ideal.

By the time we had married, we had already been dating for 7 years and had had plenty of “couple time” to get to know each other and plan out our lives together. Therefore, we began our family fairly shortly after we were married. Our first child, David, was born just before our second wedding anniversary. Our second child, Katelyn, was born two years later. A little under five years into our marriage, we had realized Jeff’s “picture perfect” family. ;)

If wasn’t until about a year after Katie was born that we started talking seriously about adoption. While Jeff was completely comfortable with the idea of a family of four, including “one of each”, he knew about my passion for adoption. As a result, he was open to stepping out of his comfort zone to help me explore what I felt was my calling. What I knew in my heart was our calling. We prayed and sought God’s direction for where our next child would come from. For us, it was not a question of “if” we would adopt, but rather “when” and from “where” and “how”.

As we continued to pray for direction, God showed us that we would indeed continue to build our family, but not yet through adoption. We were blessed twice over with the birth of our son Matthew and then a few years later when we welcomed our daughter Alexandra into the world.

It was only a couple of months after the birth of Allie, that God revealed to us that our next child would indeed be adopted. A little girl was waiting for us in China – our daughter Grace.

Jeff was relieved once God revealed His plans for Grace to us. He was certain that it was Grace that was on my heart all these years, and that she must be why the seed for adoption had been planted so long ago. At the time, Jeff thought that once Grace was home that I would feel whole…that our family was complete. Truth be known, I spent many hours looking at and praying over SN waiting lists and other children while we were waiting for Grace’s referral. I prayed those little ones home to their forever families. I also prayed for God to reveal to us our next child.

During and through our journey to bring Grace home, God quietly opened Jeff’s heart to the idea of expanding our family through adoption again. Every time Grace snuggled in next to her daddy to read a book, every time she grabbed his pinky finger with her little hand, every time she looked past her chubby little cheeks right through him, and flashed him one of her big beautiful smiles – another seed was planted.

As God had prepared his heart for the possibility of “more” , Jeff was not too caught off guard when only eight months after Grace was home, God revealed to us another child. A second little girl was waiting for us in China – our daughter Hannah.

Jeff traveled to China with his Mom in September 2007 to bring home Hannah. And let me tell you, she was and still is Daddy’s Girl. They were buddies from the moment they met one another. Hannah slept next to Jeff in China with her cheek pressed against his. When she came home, she would wait for him to come home from work, and would not leave his side until bedtime. She even shared her coveted snack bowls of ketchup only with him (don’t ask). She called him her bestest buddy. Again, more seeds were planted.

In February of 08, Jeff was surprised, but not shocked, when I woke him out of a deep sleep one night to tell him I believed that I had just seen a picture of our son who was waiting for us in China. It later turned out that God had indeed shown us our son Johnathan. Nine months later, Jeff and his Mom were back in China to bring home another blessing. Another little one would have a forever family.

The conditions Johnathan endured during his first eighteen months in China were, by far, the worst of our three adopted kiddos. Before Jeff came to bring him home, Johnathan spent every day in a small dark room in his crib. Occasionally he would get a toy to play with. However, it was usually the same toy, as evidenced by every picture we were blessed to get of him prior to the adoption. At 19 months old, he did not know how to chew solid food. The food just rolled off his tongue when Jeff put it there. He was expressionless in all the photos we had received, as well as for the first 24 hours he was with Jeff. He would not move if you sat him down on the floor to try to play with him. It was heartbreaking.

After only a few days of undivided attention from Jeff and Grandma, Johnathan made remarkable progress in all regards. It wasn’t long until he had learned not only to chew, but to feed himself. The smiles would not stop coming and he would giggle up a storm. He learned how to crawl and walk after only a week with his Daddy and Grandma. By the end of the trip, Johnathan was climbing up the play structure and racing down the slide at the park in Guangzhou, stopping for a minute between trips to hug his daddy. More seeds were planted.

Three months after Johnathan came home, and one year to the day that we first saw Johnathan’s picture, God revealed to us that we had another son waiting for us to bring him home. This was to be our first adoption of an older child, and our first time adopting out of birth order. This time, my husband didn’t even flinch. Samuel would be coming home.

Jeff brought our son Samuel home from China in late October. Samuel amazes us daily with his resilience and bravery. He fits in with our family as if he has always been here. He started school shortly after coming home, at his request, and he is learning English at a furious rate. He adores his brothers and sisters and could NOT be more loving, kind and thoughtful toward them. He is hardly ever not wearing a smile. He is just so happy…so loving…and so loved. Seeds continue to be planted.

God has taught me so many things through the journeys to our children. One thing I have learned through the experiences is that just because someone has not always felt called to adopt does not mean that God is not calling. I believe we are all called to care for the orphans in whatever capacity he shows to us. For reasons only known to Him, sometimes he is slower to reveal our calling than at other times. Either that, or we are just slower to take notice. To me it has been such a beautiful thing to witness my husband’s heart be opened further and further to the plight of the orphans. To see God’s plan unfolding right before my eyes as God is revealing to him His calling…our calling.

Eight children later, we continue to pray for God to reveal to us what he has in store for us next. I smile big at the thought that this time, it may be my husband waking me in the middle of the night to show me a photo of our next little one.

James 1:27 “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for the orphans and widows in their troubles and refuse to let the world corrupt us.”

One of Millions

When my oldest was in kindergarten, each child in his class was assigned a number and asked to show that amount. If they had the number 50, they could bring in 50 M&M’s or 50 marshmallows, or 50 whatever. Somehow we landed the big kahuna–one thousand. My son hopped with excitement, waving his paper in the air, but his excitement soon waned as we spent what felt like an entire Saturday afternoon stringing one thousand pastel-colored beads onto a very, very long rope. We came away realizing that a thousand is a lot. A whole lot. So when I think of a number up in the millions, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it.
Here are some numbers that boggle me–350 million people living with chronic Hepatitis B worldwide, with an estimated 130 million in China alone. Just as a basis for comparison, the population of Japan is 127 million. If a photo-taking satellite zoomed in on that super power country, and every man, woman, and child stepped outside and waved for a massive group photo, they would still be outnumbered by Hepatitis B carriers in China.
I’ve heard that there’s safety in numbers, and to a certain degree, this number gives me a strange sense of comfort. My daughter is hardly alone and the great majority of those 130 million Chinese with Hepatitis B will live long lives, but I’ll be honest; more than providing comfort, that number infuriates me. For well over 20 years an effective vaccine has been available for Hepatitis B, but not until very recently has this pandemic been taken seriously in China. Instead of education, there has been shame and denial and discrimination. My daughter’s birth mother probably never knew that in 95% of cases, a series of shots given to her baby in her first 24 hours of life would have saved her forever from the virus. But then again, my daughter’s birth mother may not have even known she had the virus herself.
I recently spoke to a Chinese immigrant to the U.S. who was shocked to learn after she’d donated blood that she tested positive for Hepatitis B. She immediately phoned her mother in China, assuming she’d be shocked as well. Instead, her mother said simply, “Oh, yes. Liver problems run in our family.” China has failed to educate their population on the causes, the dangers, and the prevention of hepatitis. As a result, one of the most common special needs on any agency’s Waiting Child List is Hepatitis B.
There are so many things I could say about hepatitis; that these kids aren’t slowed down by it, that parenting a child with hepatitis is like parenting any other child, that these children will most likely live long lives and die of something unrelated to their livers, but what I keep coming back to is this: When it relates to my daughter, I feel hesitant to talk about any of it. I am in no way ashamed of her; she fills us with pride, but I know that the stigma of HBV is not restricted to China’s borders. Universally, people are afraid of what they don’t understand and can easily dehumanize a disease without a face.
When we first brought our daughter home, we kept a vow of complete silence and the word hepatitis was never uttered outside the walls of our home. Cholita’s own grandparents thought she was a non special needs adoption. Soon after her arrival in the United States, we learned that she wasn’t a typical child with Hep B and that she’d require treatment. We wanted the support and prayers of our extended family and as we would have guessed, they were unfailingly understanding and loving. End of disclosure.
Then one Sunday morning, Cholita was asked to give the opening prayer in her church primary class. Among other things, she said quite clearly, “please bless my liver.” The teachers raised their eyebrows and looked at me. I laughed nervously and stammered, “probably next week she’ll be praying for her heart….maybe her spleen….” It wasn’t the smoothest recovery.
In a play group, Cholita picked up a doctor kit and proceeded to give her friend’s mom a very professional blood draw, complete with an imaginary tourniquet. “Wow,” said the mom, “She knows what she’s doing.” Cholita held out her own arm. “Here’s where I got my blood test yesterday,” she said. “Do you see the dot?” I pushed her arm down and offered her gum.
A neighbor once asked Cholita how she was doing. He wasn’t asking about her health; he had no idea there was anything health-wise to ask her about, it was just a casual question. Cholita said, “Good! No Neupogen this week, just Interferon.” Our neighbor looked at me for translation and I felt my cheeks burn hot. “Umm. I didn’t quite catch that either.” Cholita squinted her eyes at me in a confused expression; obviously her mother had become hard of hearing. She took a deep breath and yelled, “I SAID NO NEUPOGEN THIS WEEK! JUST INTERFERON!”
So people started asking questions–not nosy, rude questions, just concerned questions, “Is Cholita O.K.?” “Is there anything you need to talk about?” My twelve year-old daughter came home from school one day with worry in her eyes. “Mom,” she said, her voice shaky. “I’m so sorry. Mrs. H. asked me why I needed a ride home yesterday and I said you were with Cholita at the hospital. Then she asked me why Cholita was at the hospital and I didn’t know what to say. I’m so sorry!” She was near tears.
It was clear to us that in our situation, with a chatty little girl getting at least two needle pokes a week, our non-disclosure policy was weighing on the whole family. That night we role-played. We still didn’t plan to introduce our daughter with, “This is Cholita; she has hepatitis,” but in certain situations and with certain people, we began to talk. And as we did, our family let out a collective sigh of relief. As it turns out, we’d been underestimating people. All around us, we felt love and support.
The reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that I was shocked when a friend called me one evening in a panic. I was making dinner, at the stove breaking apart ground beef with a wooden spatula. My friend’s words tumbled out faster than I could even process what she was saying. She’d just heard about Cholita’s hepatitis. Since she hadn’t known, she’d held Cholita on her lap the day before and read her a story. She’d already left a message with her doctor. She told him it was urgent. She’d heard there was some sort of shot she should get after an exposure……
I signaled to my son to take over the ground beef. As my friend ranted, I went upstairs to my closet where I have a two door barrier between myself and my kids. Sitting on the floor with my back against the dresser, I had one of the most awkward conversations of my life. I’m sure it stands out in my friend’s memory as well. She was so misinformed. Thinking about it now, she was laughably misinformed, but at the time it wasn’t funny at all. She didn’t know that Hep B isn’t transmitted casually and that our daughter couldn’t cough it at her. She didn’t know that HBV is spread through blood to blood contact, and not spread like the flu. She didn’t know that HBV is a vaccine preventable disease. So we talked and she cried; her tears a mixture of relief and embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s just that I’ve never met anyone with Hepatitis.” I assured her that she had; she just didn’t know it.
For my friend, the turn-around was instantaneous. She’s no longer afraid. She hugs Cholita. She kisses her. She can never again dehumanize hepatitis because for her it’s now more than just a word or a mind boggling number. This virus has a face. As a matter of fact it has hundreds of millions of them. But for me, it all comes down to one. One happy face that I get to see every morning at the breakfast table. One face that will always be imprinted on my heart.

Virtual Twins (Artificial Twinning)

Six months after we came home from China with our first daughter (Gwen), someone on our Agency’s message board announced their 2nd referral: A cute baby with a beaming smile and a very minor cleft palate. A few days later, they updated to say that they’d refused the referral because she was only 2 weeks younger than their first daughter.

I called our agency to find out more about Special Needs adoptions and got a referral right on the spot when they offered us this same little girl. Now we had our own questions about adopting a toddler who was just 5 weeks younger than our (newly adopted) Gwenny. We spent the weekend searching our heart and the internet about the merits and perils of virtual twinning (aka artificial twinning) and we got plenty of advice. More than we could actually process! But, in the end, we weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided that having virtual twins wasn’t that much different than having actual twins. We understood that all children require a leap of faith so we took the leap and called our agency back and accepted her. Six months later, she was home with us.

You can see pics from Maddy’s adoption <here>. That was summer of 2006 and here’s a picture from just a week ago (that’s Gwen “helping” Maddy clap her hands). This is the only life they know and even though we remember what life was like before our “twins”, they can’t remember a time that they weren’t sisters.

600 20091118-clap hands

Obviously we can’t imagine making a different choice and wouldn’t ever wish to go back and do things differently. But that doesn’t mean we’ve not learned a thing or two.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • We thought it would be cool to have twins.
    Wrong. It’s interesting but it’s not cool. It’s not even, especially, fun.
  • It’s annoying when people ask if they’re twins because it either requires that we lie (and say they are twins) or explain that they’re adopted and not biologically related. That’s more information than we’re comfortable sharing with strangers but we don’t like to lie so we’re stuck. The other option is to say “No, they’re not twins” and walk away before they can ask the obvious follow-up question.
  • Even though it’s fun to dress them alike, it makes the twin question come up even more so we don’t usually do that. At age two, they were the same height and weight but now they’re five years old and Gwen is 25 pounds heavier and four inches taller than Maddy. But people still ask if they’re twins — and it’s still annoying.
  • Every child deserves to be the baby of the family but Maddy never got that and I feel bad about it. I think she’d have been happier if her “big” sister was at least one or two years older instead of just 36 days older. I think I would have cut her more slack too. This isn’t a minor point — it’s HUGE.
  • Bonding with Maddy was harder because she was the same age as our Gwen. Love isn’t something that happens immediately so there was a gap because I already loved my other kids. I was, understandably, very protective of them and that interfered with bonding because Maddy was frequently mean to her “twin” (biting, hitting, etc). Oh boy — we had LOTS of that! I found that many of my maternal instincts were working overtime against eachother for the first six months that we were together. When I wasn’t actively angry at Maddy, I was consumed with guilt over ever having been mad at her in the first place.
  • For better or worse, I find that I’m constantly comparing the girls. My expectations of what one “should” be able to do is based on what the other is doing. Whether it’s coloring inside the lines or knowing her ABC’s or reading words or riding a bike or being dry all night – the skill comparisons and expectations are there so I have to constantly struggle to not send signals that I’m disappointed when one can’t do what the other is doing. They each have wonderful strengths that are uniquely their own. But they also have shortcomings that are amplified because their sibling is a living breathing walking measuring stick of what a kid that age can do. Even though I’m very aware of this “comparing the kids” trap, I fall into it often.
  • It’s really convenient to have the kids in the same grade at the same school and in the same age league for sports (even if they’re not in the same class or on the same team). It’s soooo nice not to have to run all over the place to get a kid to school (or home) at different times.
  • I don’t think I’ll ever put my virtual twins in the same class or on the same sports team and their teachers and coaches will thank me for that.
  • It’s fun that they are the same age because it’s easier for them to share interests and play together. Although they fight pretty constantly at home, they get along better when we’re away on vacation and that makes it really fun to go places with them. This is in sharp contrast to our son, Michael, who was an “only child” for almost all of his childhood and was bored to death on family vacations.
  • All the stuff we thought they’d share, they don’t. They don’t wear the same size clothes or shoes or want to share a room and they have polar opposite personalities and interests. Even so, if we buy one of them a toy, we’d better buy the other one the same toy or they’ll fight over it until our ears bleed and we weep for mercy.
  • When we buy two identical toys, they usually show no interest in them at all. I think the battle over the toy is half of the fun? Hmm… well I guess that makes them more like SIBLINGS than twins, huh!

We can be family and not look the same

The other night we were preparing to visit friends of ours that adopted from Ethiopia (a sibling set of four children that includes twins!)

As I was reviewing the names of their children with my 5-year old LeighAnna, she said that she remembered playing with the oldest (bio) daughter. I reminded LeighAnna that now there were two older girls to play with and that they were sisters even though they looked different… just like we look different as mother and daughter.

My daughter’s absolute understanding of this was made known in her following statement:

“Oh Mom, I know we can be family and not look the same. Lydia and I are sisters and we don’t look anything alike… because she has short hair and I have long hair!”

There isn’t a strand of DNA among us that is the same.

We are four completely different individuals, but we are one family.

This is marriage.

This is adoption.

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.

Good News Doctor’s Appointmentadoptive momma (China) Sally at Bryson Makes 8!… a wonderful visit with Bryson’s doctor during the week of Thanksgiving

Heartbreakingadoptive momma (China) Sandra at The Daily Grind… describing her daughter’s recent expressions of emotions about being deaf

Orchid Childrenadoptive momma (China) LMGNYC at La Bicicleta… describing the difference between an “orchid” child and a “dandelion” child, especially when looking at adoption

Sensory Processing Disorder, Sloan and Sunny San Diego (My Most Important Post)adoptive momma (Russia and China) Tisha at Privyet, Mei Mei!… a mom details her son’s difficulties transitioning into first grade due to sensory issues, then describes how they are overcoming those difficulties

Pre-K Thanksgiving Partyadoptive big sister (China) Monica at Journey With Reese… a recent visit with the eye doctor to check her optic pressure

a few ideas

I’ve spent the last month working up a Christmas list. Not of my own ideas, but of ideas from other moms. It’s been really fun, and even more than that, it’s been really interesting.

I’ve found some things I had no idea were out there: some I just had to have… and some others I was glad I’d missed ;)

But here are a few that I thought I’d mention. As we all hustle and bustle to get ready for Christmas, these are a few things I think are worth checking out.

Paper Lantern Personalized Necklace

If you’d like more ideas, check out the full list here.