How do we choose?

One of my biggest concerns in adoption was choosing our child. I worried that allowing us to be involved in picking a child would bring my fears and anxieties into the mix and somehow mess things up. When we adopted our oldest daughter through the non-special needs (NSN) program in 2005, China did the matching. I never even considered saying no to her referral. In my eyes, the process seemed like a very “divine” way to choose a child since it was out of our hands.

When we switched to the special needs (SN) program for our second adoption, we knew the referral process was going to differ greatly from our first adoption. Although we had a more proactive role in our second adoption, we discovered that our daughter Lydia had also been chosen for us by God’s providence.

Although the special needs checklist had initially seemed daunting, we found we were open to quite a few conditions. However a medical definition takes on a whole new meaning when it is connected to a specific child with a unique history. But I still wondered how we would be able to choose when the very nature of the shared list required speed and certainty.

A month after switching to the SN program, we got our first referral call. It went NOTHING like I expected. There was no warning of being “on deck” for referral. Instead I was caught completely off guard. After three long years of waiting, I was surprised to find little impulse in accepting this referral, and we declined. Our agency completely understood and set to work matching the child with another family on the list.

We were content to wait until the next month when more children would be released to the list, which explains why I was again caught off guard when the second referral call came the very next day! But before our agency could even send us the email, the file disappeared off the list to another agency.

I could now see how different this process was going to be from our first adoption. But despite how unpredictable it seemed, God was using these circumstances to guide our decision.

Just when I thought I was prepared for everything, we got a third call. Unfortunately the call came as I was driving my husband home from the hospital. He was sick as a dog and completely unable to talk with me about this very important decision. The little girl was older than we’d expected and had multiple needs… some being very unclear in her paperwork. We asked for 24 hours to review her file even though we knew that her file could disappear at any moment.

By the next day, after my husband’s fever broke and we could talk and pray, we had resolved to say yes. We called our agency to accept her file, however just 5 minutes prior to that, she was locked in by another agency. Instead of disappointment, I was so thankful for every second of that day we had spent reviewing her file and praying over her. Instead of seeing it as a loss, we rejoiced that she was going to be adopted! But we did begin wondering if we would EVER find OUR child on that list!

The day after our 14th wedding anniversary, our agency called again. I guessed who was calling at 6:30am, but was hesitant to answer the phone. This time together for the call, my husband and I poured over the file of an 8 month old girl in Jiangxi province. I didn’t allow myself to even look at her pictures until we thoroughly read her bio. Her special need was unilateral microtia and aural atresia. She also had a diagnosis of possible Hepatitis B. After a quick call to a doctor friend, we made a decision to accept her file within 15 minutes. There was not the same doubt and hesitation we felt with the first three referrals. We knew this was our daughter. Although the path to finding Lydia had been a very new and different experience, we had as much confidence in accepting her referral as we had with our first adoption.

In a few weeks, we will celebrate one year with Lydia! We rejoice daily for this wonderful child growing in our home and in our hearts. We see more and more how she was designed for our family… and we for her!

I wish there was some formula I could give you to explain how to confidently choose a child from the special needs list, but there is no formula. It’s such a varied and complex process because each child and each family going through this process are unique. Some may not feel an affirmation in their decision until after the child is home. Others will “just know” the moment they lay eyes on a picture (perhaps the story we hear most often).

My conclusion is that deciding on a child is a very personal and unique process that combines both practical and emotional considerations, assessing one’s motives and most of all trust.

All I can offer is our unique story of how we trusted God to guide our decision. Regardless of how our children come home… on the special needs list or NSN list… domestic or international… birth or adoption… we have been chosen to be their parents.

Whether they are healthy or in need of care… whether they love us readily or struggle with attachment… God has chosen us to be a family. We can find confidence in knowing that he has been purposeful in bringing us together.

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.

Failure to Thriveadoptive momma (China) Sally at Bryson Makes 8!… a recent visit with the doctor rules out Celiacs, Cystic Fibrosis and Thalassemia, but WHAT is it?

You Have Probably Already Read This Storyadoptive momma (domestic, open, transracial) Dawn at this woman’s work… spreading the word about a child in need of a very specific family

W Sitting Revisited adoptive momma (Taiwan) Sarah at Journey to Taiwan for Hannah Claire… exercises suggested by the pediatric physical therapist that can help build core strength

First of Many to Comeadoptive momma (Siberia, Russia and Ukraine) Christine at Smiles and Trials… x-rays and MRIs, with more to come

The Gastro Experienceadoptive momma (China) LMGNYC at La Bicicleta… an appointment with the Gastro Enterologist leads to more questions

Reading Up adoptive parents (China) the Straights at Straight Talk… reading up about another’s experience with p-flap surgery has this momma understandably nervous

update adoptive momma (China) Simply T at Just Add One Chinese Sister… huge progress after just four months of therapy and love

Sunday snapshot: Isabelleadoptive momma (China) Stefanie at Ni Hao Y’all… an update on her daughter’s progress after a recent IEP meeting

B Here for Ur PeepsAsian-American Diana at Disgrasian… stats about Hepatitis B among the Asian-American community and ways to help

SPD and Meadoptive momma (China) Tonggu Momma at Our Little Tongginator… describing the major sensory issues faced during their first year together

Fun with Prostheticsadoptive momma (domestic, transracial) Mary Dell at Torrefaction… one moment in time leaves her knowing they need to schedule another appointment with their prostheticist


As a mom to three special needs children from China (one CL/CP, one microtia/atresia, one radial club hands), I am learning to see things in a different light. With each adoption, I learn the art of looking at life through the eyes of a child more and more. As they are growing older and becoming increasingly aware of the differences in their physical appearances, I learn new perspectives on what the world sees as a deformity.

I learn THEIR perspective on their own special need.

Case in point:

When a mom of seven children takes a shower, you never know who is going to burst in the bathroom with an earth shattering proclamation. Today it happened to be my four year old, Kimmie.
“Mom? When Candie goes to Heaven, will her ears be wike mine ears?” Stunned by her question, I mumbled something profound like “….uh….yes”
“And will my hands be straight?” Pulling myself together (as much as one can do with shampoo running down one’s face), I explained that yes, your hands will most likely be straight in Heaven. Jesus will give us new bodies and we will have no more boo-boos or tears or pain.
“Well…I wike my hands, cuz dem make a good turkey when I trace dem.”

Oh Lord have mercy. I wike those hands too!!!!!!!!!!! Who knows…maybe all our hands will be turned inward in Heaven. ;)

May we all have that child-like perspective when we encounter those around us who are “different” from us, seeing the blessings and purpose in what the world may see as a pity or pain.

Joy in the Journey

The alder trees along the coastline were just beginning to show a hint of autumn color when I took my daughter on her first ferry boat ride across Puget Sound. She held the railing, her sparse baby hair blowing in the salty breeze. We were traveling from our home on the peninsula to the big city of Seattle for her first appointment with the pediatric gastroenterologist, or the liver doctor as Cholita calls her. I didn’t realize at the time how much a part of our lives those ferry boat rides would become or how well we’d get to know “the liver doctor”.
Far East meet Northwest. The first of many ferry boat rides
And who would have guessed that these trips full of blood tests and waiting rooms and exams would be looked forward to with gleeful anticipation by my daughter? To her, they’re the ultimate mommy-daughter date and her obvious joy in them has caused jealousy to creep into the ranks at home. “She’s so lucky,” pouts her eight year-old sister. “She gets to go to Seattle while I’m at school and she gets a milkshake!” Ahh, the blessings of a chronic illness.
But I’ll admit that I too have savored this time with my baby. She makes it easy, rolling up her sleeve for the blood draws, and giggling, “that tickles!” when the doctor feels her liver. And yes, the milkshakes at Burger Master make up for a lot.
The obligatory photo on deck with the Seattle skyline in the distance

But some ferry boat rides have been harder than others. My husband came with us nine months ago when Cholita was scheduled for her first shot of interferon. I’d planned carefully for the trip, packing everything she might need: Tylenol for the fever she’d get after the shot, her blankie for comfort, and books to distract her from the side effects of the medication. I planned so well that we got on the ferry boat without the cooler of interferon sitting at home on our counter. I was nearly in tears telling the ferry boat worker that my daughter was starting a year-long medical treatment that day, a difficult medical treatment, and that she had an appointment at Children’s Hospital in Seattle and I needed to get back home. It all came out in a flood, an emotional torrent laid at the feet of a complete stranger in a fluorescent safety vest. She hugged me, and then jumped into action. We’d just gotten to Seattle and she directed the cars around us and then helped us get turned around so we could be the first car off on the way home. “The trip is on us,” she said. “And when you come back through, just tell them at the booth that you talked to me and you’ll be the lead car off the ferry once we get back to Seattle.” Then she rubbed Cholita’s back and said, “Bless you, little one.” Her kindness rendered me speechless and I could only nod.

Day one of interferon treatment, before we realized we’d forgotten…ummm… oh yeah, the interferon
Cholita now finds that the upside of treatment is that she gets to take more ferry boat rides. More milkshakes, more uninterrupted mom time. She loves her doctor. She bats her eyes at the nurses who give the best stickers. She’s named several fish in the waiting room fish tank. She knows that on doctor appointment days, if she asks for french fries with her milkshake, she’ll probably get them. And she knows that her family adores her. I can’t take away her illness; it will most likely always be with her. But we can put on a smile, breathe in the salt air, drink a milkshake, and find joy in the journey.

our first winner!

Congratulations to Jill from Life at Killeny Glen!

You’re our first Wild Olive Tees winner!

Contact me at and I’ll hook you up with the shirt of your choice.

Thanks for playing, everyone! We’ll have another winner next week…

And the next!

good stuff

Amie and I are buds. We’ve partnered up on a few things, God-led things. One is No Hands But Ours, and the other is Wild Olive.

Since she and I both have a passion for both, we came up with a way to combine the two…

For the next five weeks, we’ll be giving away one tee a week. And all you have to do to be entered is click on that little button in the upper left corner and become a ‘follower’.

Amie and I will choose choose our first winner tonight, October 24th, out of the list of ‘followers’, and we’ll continue to do that weekly... with the last winning name being chosen on November 21st.

P.S. Amie and family just brought home their 8th child! Crazy stuff!! His name is Sam, he is 7, adopted through the SN program, and positively charming. Be sure to stop over to Heart Smiles and congratulate them on the newest member of their family!

Fear Itself

During the time between our official application to the SN adoption program and our referral, I went through a lot of stress and angst. It isn’t that I suffered from doubt. Quite the opposite – if anything I was wildly over-confident, even cavalier in my certainty that we had made the right decision, in spite of everyone (and there were a few) who doubted us.

But I did vacillate quite a bit over our choice of conditions and what we could or couldn’t handle. I changed our list of conditions at least half a dozen times that first year. I worried that we would somehow have made the wrong choices – too many conditions on our list or (more often) too few. I never once erased a condition, but I added several…so many, in fact that I feared the SN department would write me off as loony. I worried that, by some careless mark on a piece of paper, some space left blank, we would somehow let the exact child that was meant for us slip through our fingers. I worried sometimes about finances, of course, and insurance. I worried about health and survival rates. My greatest fear – the bogeyman in the closet, the hulking shadow that loomed over me when I woke with a start in the night – was that international relations would suddenly take a turn for the ugly, and the whole program would come to a screeching halt before we ever made it to referral.
But here’s the thing: all of the worries, fears, concerns both valid and hysterical, all of the restless, sweaty nights, the self doubt, the stress manifestations that crept into my daily life (oh, yeah, I was pretty crazy by the last three months), all of the moments when panic swamped me like a swift and toxic tide, all of that disappeared as soon as we brought our daughter home from China.

OK, well, that’s a slight blurring of the facts. I’m rounding down. The absolute reality is that they all disappeared….well, approximately three and a half weeks after coming home. It’s tough for me to remember precisely when, what with the sleep deprivation and the intestinal parasites.

But the point is that they never returned. Not one. Never again did a single one of those fears, doubts, or worries darken my door. Now, in fact, they seem laughable – the ravings of a fever dream. What on earth was I so worried about?

Surgeries? Meh. Sleep deprivation? Maybe I don’t get quite as much as I once did, but I don’t miss it. Speech therapy? You know what? I really kind of enjoy it! Health insurance? Well, it’s no secret that that’s a big pain in the posterior. So what else is new? Public reaction to my child’s (very visible) condition, before, during and after various surgeries? Hahah! She’s the most charismatic kid I’ve ever met. I actually have to turn away requests from friends and family for QQ time. She’s a freakin’ rockstar. She has fans all over north Denver. What am I saying? She has been featured on children’s fashion sites in both the US and Europe. And yes, that’s in spite of the fact that her corrective surgery is far from complete.

Ever boy between the ages of 3 and 10 stops in his tracks and goes out of his way to ask about her and meet her. I swear, pre-teen boys never spoke to me before I had QQ by my side. We are in big, big trouble when she’s of dating age.

So, you might wonder, do I live a life of sunshine and roses? Does a dark cloud never pass over my sun? Well, no. Almost no. 99.9% no. OK, the truth is that there is on overwhelming, slightly hysterical and often crippling fear that comes over me, oh, maybe 5 or 10 times a day. I am terrified, humbled, brought to my emotional knees by the fear of the fragility of life – the fear of losing her.

My daughter is vigorous, charming, bright, loving, energetic, athletic, talented, and shining with life and joy. She is healthier than your average bear. In the first year that she was home, she barely had so much as a sniffle. When she finally succumbed to Swine Flu, very early in the new season, she came through with flying colors and barely a whimper. Her development has been judged above average by her therapists and doctors, and she grows like a weed. And yet I fear daily for all of those little things that can erase a person from your life unexpectedly. Throughout all my obsessive pre-adoption research and soul-searching, I thought of many a pitfall, but I never considered the possibility that my one and only issue would be that I would love my child so wildly, helplessly, unconditionally and profoundly that I would live for the rest of my life in mortal and constant fear of the possibility of losing her.

So here is the one piece of advice I have for any prospective adoptive parent of a child with medical needs: All of your concerns are for naught. I know it’s impossible to just let them go without a thought, but in fact that’s what you should do, because none of them will count a whit once you become the parent of that child.

Fear only that you will love that child too much, because that is the only true danger.

When they say that all you have to fear is fear itself, believe it. And learn to live with it.

- Maia, lucky and desperately infatuated mommy of QQ

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.

building attachmentadoptive momma (China) Lori at Joy Unspeakable… thoughts on building attachment with a newly adopted, older child

Cheeky Speaksadoptive momma (China) Shirlee at And Then There Were Seven… learning the English language after experiencing international adoption as an older child

Our Storyadoptive momma (Korea and China) Colleen at The Nut House… looking back on five plus years with their daughter, who has sensory processing disorder

Better Days We Have Had
adoptive mom (China) Jenn at Love Like Our Crazy Family… an update after her daughter’s second eyelid surgery

Cardiologist Checkupadoptive momma (China) Erica at Praying for You You… a six-month post-op visit with photos

thankfuladoptive momma (China) Stefanie at Ni Hao Y’all… grateful for the work of Dr. Ponseti, who revolutionized the treatment for club foot, while she watches her son Jude run like the wind

Confusing the Diagnosis: Developmental Delay or Disability?adoptive momma Judy (China and Guatemala) at the group adoption blog Grown In My Heart… defining and differentiating between these two terms

We’ll See How This Goes…momma to a child with special needs Heather at The Extraordinary Ordinary… always expecting the not-so-good news at doctor appointments, this mom realizes that everything – big and small – that her son goes through is shaping him to be the very best version of himself

Living with SPD adoptive momma (Korea and China) Colleen at The Crazy Eight… describing daily life with her daughter, who was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder

long story shortadoptive momma (Liberia and Ethiopia) Jennifer at To Africa and Home… a must-read that is just three sentences


Are we making adoption too hard? Too overwhelming? Too complicated?

I make an effort to read as much as I can about adoption, specifically trans racial adoption. Being the mom of 4, almost 5, Chinese children, I think it’s part of my job description to be informed and aware. And I’ve been reading a lot lately, specifically articles and blog posts written about the effects of adoption, and how an adopted child might struggle to reconcile their past with their present. The hardships that they might endure. The weight of the losses they might have known. And I can’t even begin to imagine. Many times I get wrapped up in these unknowns as I consider my own children and what their future holds… will they be filled with sorrows? will they feel broken and unloved? will they too struggle with never feeling good enough?

But in reading lately, I’ve been left with this question, “Aren’t we making adoption too complicated? Isn’t it really simpler than all this?”

It’s endless, truly it is. A slippery slope. One fear-filled thought leads to another and another, and you’re left, without answers, mentally exhausted. All for naught. Who knows what the future holds? Who knows how our children will face the knowledge that they were abandoned, adopted and are now not only Chinese, but Chinese-American? Will they embrace it? Or shun it? Or both?

And will any of my worries take away one moment of sorrow for my child? Will walking on eggshells keep their hearts from breaking in two at the realization of what adopted truly means? Will my love for them ever replace the love of their first mother?

I have no answers for my children as to why they were abandoned. Or why their first family could not keep them. And I won’t even make an attempt at creating a list of possibilities for them to consider. No matter the possible scenario, it is too overwhelming for a child to comprehend: not enough money to afford a child? a medical condition that was too complicated? a desire for a son over a daughter? I mean, I’m an adult and the possibilities honestly blow my mind. And for a child, even if they knew why they were abandoned, is there ever a reason good enough to justify their loss?

The truth is, I will tell my children, I have no answers. And chances are that I will never have any of the answers for the questions they might ask surrounding their birth and abandonment. Oh, how I wish I knew something, anything to say to fill that heartbreaking silence when my child asks if they grew in my tummy. All I have to offer my children is the truth, what I do know, what I don’t know. And the promise that they will never be alone to endure sadness or loss or heartbreak again.

We all suffer losses in this life. God doesn’t promise us that there will be no pain and no suffering. In fact, as Christians we are reminded by Jesus Himself that suffering is a part of life, to be expected. And that through our suffering He also grows us, brings us closer to Him, and helps us focus less on ourselves and more on the Big Picture. The picture God intended when He created man: us loving Him with our whole hearts, and us loving others as ourselves.

Is that oversimplifying things? I don’t think so. If we are focused on Him, and His plan, and walking as closely as we can to Him, then we won’t stumble and fall. We may stumble, but He will be there to catch us. And it is through loving Him and being loved by Him in return, that we are able to love others as ourselves… unselfishly, wholly, with abandon.

That is the best I can do for my children. Reflect God’s love for them in all I do. Love them, care for them, be there for them. With abandon. Without thoughts of myself. And I think that’s enough, because God told me so.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
~ Matthew 22:38-40

More (and his are really good) thoughts on this topic here.

lesson in love


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

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

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

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

You might wonder how.

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

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