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.

"I Didn’t Think They Gave Away Their Boys"

I’m sorry if that title offended anyone or made your heart jump. To be honest, it offends me and makes my heart POUND. I hear it so often when I share about our waiting son in China, and often this comment is followed up with a question or more of a comment: “Oh, you aren’t going back for a little sister for your daughter?” “No,” I say, “in fact, her brother is older; he is 9.” At this point, I am either met with a blank stare or a laundry list of opinions and pitfalls we may face from people who in most cases have never adopted any child much less an older child. I know I’ve shared a bit of background here that is not pleasant but I felt it necessary. It seems like there is such a lack of unity these days in adoptive communities, even within the community of Christ-followers who are led to adopt. Back on November 20, 2008, I posted the following comment over at NiHao Y’all in response to THIS POST (go and read it; it is worth a few minutes of your time; and then come back here if you want to here me ramble; it is therapeutic for me :)).

Stefanie, You are a gifted writer! Yes, my heart is being tugged by the boys too. We definitely wanted a little girl as we just had two boys. Now, we have a girl and I just don’t think we could specify the next time but who knows. I do know our boys are praying for another brother, and I KNOW God hears their prayers! Thanks for posting what a lot of us think about but don’t have the courage to say.

So now as I sit here on November 20 2009, hashing out this post, I realize I have been thinking a lot lately about a whole lot of stuff. Well, now, that was profound. Can anyone relate? I feel like sometimes I am thinking all the time about all kinds of stuff, or I am not even able to think about anything at all. *scratching head at this point*

The thing is that I feel like I’m continually reminded of how what we are in the process of doing is not something many would consider to be wise. It is not even so much the not-so-well-thought-out comments or even the fumbled words, but it is the overriding thoughts I see lately within the Ch*na adoptive community of the risks of older child adoption, and to add to that: older BOY adoption.

What about bonding?

What about your other children in your home?

What if he resents you taking him away from China or *gasp* giving him an American name that he did not choose (none of our children so far got to choose their own name:)?

How old is too old to be adopted?

Does he even know about you yet, and what does he think?

And on and on the thoughts go, some of my own making.

I KNEW if we went back to Ch*na again, we would be bringing home a son. I can’t really explain it other than the Lord supernaturally impressed this thought so strongly in my mind that I couldn’t get it out of my head, and more importantly, my heart.

As we are now awaiting our Referral Acceptance (61 days today), I am getting into that 2nd trimester of this wait, where quite frankly, I don’t like the places my mind tends to wander. And lately, as I see disruption story after disruption story, I just get so worked up. What if this? What if that? What if this or that? Is it just me or are there more and more disruptions taking place in China lately? Or maybe people are just becoming more and more open about it?

I wonder if part of it is the rush to send in a Letter of Intent because of the way the shared system works? I will say that I love a lot of things about our agency, and one thing I love most is that they will NOT allow a family to send a Letter of Intent (this is a piece of paper stating a family wants to formally ask for permission from China to adopt a specific waiting child) until their Home Study is finalized. Our SW was thorough and she asked us some tough questions, ones we needed to be asked and ones we needed to ponder and really digest. I am grateful for that.

Of course she does not have all of the answers and neither do we, but we consider the Letter of Intent to be one of the most important steps on our part. It is a promise. China requires some specific wording in that contract if you will, and The Prez and I don’t take those words lightly. Because The Prez will be traveling to China while I stay home with our Li’l Miss and her big little brother, we have had some deep discussions about my what if scenarios. It would be irresponsible on our part not to have those discussions. The Prez does not have what if scenarios swirling in his head. I don’t get that, but I am grateful for it. When we waited to go and bring Li’l Miss home, I must have driven The Prez crazy with my worrying. I remember I was fixated on her smile … or the lack thereof in her three referral pictures. I asked him, What if she never smiles? What if she can’t? And if she can’t, what will we do?

He responded: I believe she can, but maybe she just doesn’t have much to smile about. And even if she can’t smile, we’ll see her smile through her eyes. I already do.

Well, melt my heart and convict it all at once, will ya! But he was right. And I knew it. He truly had that measure of faith that I was lacking SERIOUSLY at that point in our journey. I am so thankful God works like that in a marriage partnership. When one of us is lacking in an area … say, like in faith … the other usually is overflowing with a huge measure of it. You might think this time around it’d be different, but not so much. I’m the one lacking, and The Prez is the one overflowing … with faith. I remember saying the words right before we left for China last fall, even still. And God was faithful.

I have no reason to doubt He’ll be faithful this time around too. No, He absolutely does not promise us it will always be rainbows and sunshine. In fact, He says it rains on the just and the unjust. But He also says in Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” I think the key … at least for my understanding of it, which could be way off … is the word succeed. I wonder out loud here: what does God think is success? So I had to look up the original word used and what it means in the original language. Here is a link to Strong’s Concordance on-line if you want to read the entire definition and original meaning and root. For me, this jumped out: the short Definition is certain. And words from the longer definition: to be erect (i.e. Stand perpendicular); hence (causatively) to set up, proper or prosperous), prepare (self), make provision, be stable, (e-)stablish, stand.

In short, I can know that God’s plans for this journey to our son will be certain, that God will help us to stand perpendicular, that He will give us the provisions we need, and establish His plans in our family. That gives me great hope in the future–both near and far. It makes my heart sing to think of the plans He has for our family and this precious child. No, the path has certainly not always been sunshine and rainbows for our son thus far, and that will always be a part of who he is. And the path will not be all sunshine and rainbows for him once he becomes our child. Even still, God is. Yes, we have been led to our older son in China, and yes, we have already thought of all the looming questions many feel the need to point out to us. And no, we don’t have most of the answers, but we know the One who does. That brings with it a huge measure of success.

And I have to end this post with a plea: if ANYONE has any feeling that your son is waiting in China, I am claiming God’s certainty over the life of this 4 1/2-year-old boy whose file is waiting for his family to find him at Small World Adoptions, who has him listed by the alias “Frank.” Please pray with me for his forever family, whoever they may be.

Whatever Wednesdays

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

adoptive momma (China) Cheri at Infinite Love… sharing the progress that her daughter, diagnosed with multiple special needs, continues to make

Session 2
adoptive momma (China) lighthousegal at Lighthousegal’s Scrap Shack… describing her daughter’s second session with an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory issues

11.16.2009adoptive momma (China) Kris at Tell Her This… detailing their recent visit to a specialty hospital following/ treating her daughter’s spina bifida

What should an IEP do?
adoptive momma (Russia and Guatemala) Marcie at the group adoption blog Grown In My Heart… a concise description of an individualized education plan for children with special needs

Mainstreaming adoptive dad (China) Johnny at So, it comes down to this… a recent conversation with his daughter about a new boy in her class, who was recently adopted from China and speak no English

Post-surgeryadoptive momma (China) La-La-Liene at Never a Dull Moment in La-La-Land… a description of the day’s events, especially the goofy juice

Just for a little while adoptive momma (China) Shirlee McCoy at And Then There Were Seven… a first date night after older child adoption

Update on Recoveryadoptive parents (China) The Straights at Straight Talk… an update on her daughter’s recent sphincter pharyngoplasty

Surgery Day
adoptive momma (China and Vietnam) Lala at Ladybugs and Dragonflies… about her daughter’s surgery to remove a preauricular pit

USCIS changes filing procedure

As of 11/10/2009, the USCIS has made some changes to filing procedures affecting applications for adoption-based immigrant approvals: forms I-600A, I-600, I-800A, I-800.

See the whole update on the Center for Adoption Policy bulletin page.

Denying the Homeland…

Denying the Homeland….The Americanization of Ma Weihong

On June 16th, 2009, I stood in a guard shack in a foreign land where I was handed one of the four greatest gifts of my life. I was surrounded by people who did not speak my language. They were having me sign documents filled with writing that I could not discern. In my arms was a child whose looks were so very different from mine. She was crying hysterically, calling out in Mandarin for a woman I did not know. I had been in China for one day. It was chaotic, emotional and bittersweet.

We stayed in Beijing for two weeks. We toured all of the national treasures, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Ma Weihong struggled some, but overall seemed comfortable with us. We had decided to name her Sophia a long time ago, and she was responsive. But whenever someone asked for her name, she would say “Ma Weihong”. Of course she would…she was almost four years old and this had been her name all of her life. I had very limited knowledge of Mandarin, but I knew how to say I love you. So I would l say “I love you Ma Weihong” in Mandarin and then “ I love you Sophia” in English. Sometimes when I held her at night I would call her Ma Weihong. I wanted her to know that even though I was calling her something else, I knew her Chinese name and that that name did not need to disappear.

After we returned home to the United States, I became dedicated to helping her learn English as quickly as possible and also to helping her maintain her Mandarin as much as I could. We have friends who own a Chinese restaurant near us and also a neighbor who is Chinese who all speak fluent Mandarin. My father had a Mandarin tutor on retainer to help Ma Weihong keep her native language.

At first, she talked with our friends who spoke her language. She was shy, but she would speak with them. She became very excited when Ni Hao Kai Lan came on television. She would talk along with the show and loved it when Mandarin words came through. She would count in Mandarin along with the characters. She would sing beautiful songs in her native tongue in the car when we were driving.

After about a month, things started to change. She was learning English very quickly and was becoming more comfortable with her American family and American life. And with each step that she was taking bringing her closer to us, she was decidedly leaving her past and China behind. My father bought her the Little Mermaid in Mandarin, she barely paid attention to it. She started shying away from the Chinese people we would come into contact with. She would not speak with our Chinese friends in Mandarin anymore. She made it very clear that she only wanted to speak English. I would count along with Ni Hao Kai Lan in Chinese and she would say “No Mama, one, two, three, four”. When I called her Ma Weihong, she asked my “Why Ma Weihong?”. When people asked for her name, she said, “Sophia”.

I was riding in the car with her the other day and I heard singing. I have always loved to hear her sing. I turned off the radio so I could hear her sweet words and my heart just sank. In place of her beautiful Chinese songs, she was singing over and over in English, “yummy yummy tummy chicken”.

As time passes, she has become more and more like all of the other children around her. She now calls Mandarin “China Talk”. She still refuses to speak it. She told a friend of mine that she won’t speak Chinese because she doesn’t want to be different. This saddens me, but I understand. She just wants to be like every other child in her home, her preschool and her ballet class. If you ask for her name today, she will tell you, “Sophia Jane Weihong”. She is comfortable with that. I guess I am too.

giveaway winner: week 5!

How can it be? It’s already week 5 of our Wild Olive giveaway.

Which means this is our last winner….

Congratulations Amy Jo!

Email me at and let me know what Wild Olive Tee you’d like!

Be sure to check out our site, we’ve got a brand new design. Just in time for Christmas.