Family Stories

At No Hands But Ours, we love family stories. Since our inception in 2008, we’ve featured a wide variety of family stories – and we continue to add new stories regularly. Please use the links in the right sidebar to click through to stories on specific special needs, or you can scroll down this main page to read all our family stories.

If you are home with your child from China, and would like to have your family story featured here, just use this form to let us know.


Walking His Road

July 21, 2017 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

It was Memorial Day 2012 the first time my husband, Robert, told me he wanted to adopt. We lived in a delightful little suburb of Dallas and had spent the afternoon watching our three young boys play at the splash park. We were all hot and sticky as we drove home and he said, “I’d like to adopt a little girl.” I was shocked. I told him I was all done with children… our youngest was just 6 months old at the time and sleep was finally returning to my life, I was not up for adding another tiny human.

“Will you pray about it?” was his response to my avid rejection of his idea. I think I said yes, but I was thinking “Not a chance.” Life was starting to feel easier. I was afraid of change.

I was afraid I didn’t have what it took to adopt.

In October of the same year, as we folded clothes in our living room, he said it again. “I’d like to adopt a little girl.” Unbeknown to me, the Lord had been working quietly in my heart and this time I considered it. We talked about it. We prayed about it. We got excited about adding a girl to our family. And then we got stuck on the finances: how would we ever get started? We were paralyzed into inaction.

We had no idea how to come up with that sum of money.
We doubted.
We stopped.

On Christmas Eve, my parents gave us a generous monetary gift. As we pulled away from their house to go home that evening, Robert whispered, “Now we have enough to get started.” And it was from that moment on that the Lord has consistently, over and over again, shown us that by following Him and listening intently to His direction, He will guide us along the way He has prepared for us. It won’t be easy. It won’t make sense to the world sometimes. But it will be His way and it will be blessed because we will walk with Him as we go along the road less traveled. The road He has prepared for us.

Our adoption process was full of stops and starts and redirection. We were blessed with a surprise pregnancy, a job change, and a move across the country before we were finally matched with our daughter. With every road block or delay, we would pray again: “Should we be adopting? Is this really the right thing to do?” and again and again, the words of Paul came back to us, “…my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me…” (Acts 20:24) The Lord was faithful to whisper (and sometimes shout, in His own way) that this was a work He had put before us, that we had a daughter in China and we would eventually have her in our arms.

Then, in July of 2014, we saw her face for the first time and both of us knew without a doubt that she was ours. In October of 2014, I traveled for our Laura Cate and I knew before I left China that I would be back again.

Laura was born with a cleft lip and palate. In the world of China adoption, hers is considered a “minor” need. And, truthfully, we thought it would be minor as well: a few surgeries and some therapy for her speech. For our Laura, her needs are not what we would consider minor. Her delays are greater than we anticipated and her emotional and attachment needs are also ongoing.

She has been home almost two years now and has five words we can understand. She communicates more with gestures and noises than with words. She is slow to attempt to speak… every word and phrase learned is a great victory that comes after many, many weeks of work. Emotionally, she is fragile. She needs constant reassurance that we are permanent, and when she lacks that assuredness, she seeks love and attention from inappropriate people.

However, our Laura Cate was also born with a smile that will light up a room and a contagious giggle. She is a timid soul who will watch cautiously from the safety of mommy’s side before deciding whether or not a new activity is fun. She is a tiny little thing that works hard to keep up with her sister. Her fine motor skills and reasoning are off the charts. She can beat her sister and brothers in puzzles and puts together a great train track. She loves Sofia the First and swinging at the park. She delights in swimming and hates to be cold. She carries purses around everyday, filled with that day’s little random assortment of treasures.

We love her deeply.

With our sweet Laura, the Lord has again taught us that our easy path is the wrong path. I am deeply ashamed to say, if I had seen only her needs, we would not have brought her home.

We would have said it was too difficult for us.
It was too daily.
Too hard.

But, in God’s infinite grace and wisdom, He put in our lives a beautiful girl, created by Him and for His glory, for us to care for and love. He has changed our hearts that we might see children are not defined by their needs but by the fact that they are children of the Lord and deserve a family who loves them… a family to fight for them, teach them, cheer for their victories, and mourn for their losses.

When Robert and I decided to go back to China to adopt again, we felt less fear. Because our “minor needs” adoption had turned out to be a lot different than we expected, and because we saw how the Lord graciously provided all we needed to care for our sweet girl, we knew He would continue to do the same as He led us to another child.

We adopted our Howie in April 2017. His special need was labeled as hydrocephalus. Ironically enough, we got him home only to find out that he just has a little bit of a big head. His brain is perfectly normal. He is a healthy three year old boy with no medical needs at all. He still has some emotional needs that come from living in an orphanage for the first three years of his life but, medically, he is very healthy.

We are so thankful the Lord gave us the courage to say yes to him… he is such a sweet addition to our family! His rough and tumble nature fits right in with our other boys.

People always ask us if we will go back again and, until just a few weeks ago, I thought we would. We had started talking about going back for another daughter and had even submitted our Medical Checklist to do so. However, with the new CCCWA regulations, our family no longer qualifies for adoption from China because of our family size. The news of the new regulations was a blow for our family. However, we continue to look forward and know God has a plan that is perfect and good. If and when we decide to adopt again, it will just have to look a little different than what we had planned. I am not sure what the new plan will be, but I know God knows and He is working quietly to prepare our hearts for His road ahead.

For now, I am not trying to figure it all out. I am letting go and letting God handle it. Currently, we are in the middle of another big move to a new city and state and we are looking forward to settling into our new home.

As we settle, though, etched in our hearts and minds are the memories of transformation for our daughter and son as they went from orphans to precious children and siblings. The Lord’s road may be less traveled but it is filled with joy. And though we may feel ill equipped, He is always there, providing for and equipping those He calls to act.

We will also never forget the faces left behind, the rooms full of tiny beds and those tiny beds full of waiting children. We will continue to say no to the easy road… for it was down the Lord’s winding, beautiful road that we said Yes to adoption, Yes to our daughter and Yes to our son. And were blessed a thousand times over.

We can’t wait to see what is in store further down His road.

– guest post by Amy

Trusting My Instincts

July 19, 2017 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

My husband Derrick and I had been married for almost eight years when, in the summer of 2015, our path to parenthood ultimately led us to adopt from the China Special Needs program. Up to that point, we had never considered what life would be like for our growing family outside of the “typical” narrative. We knew that our journey would rewrite the definition of normal for us… we just didn’t know how much.

Almost seven months to the day we submitted our application, I was sitting at my desk at work when my agency’s number appeared on my cell phone. My hands shook as I tried to write down everything the agency rep said about the “lovely and handsome” 18 month old boy from Xinxiang. His file indicated he was born prematurely and had developmental delays.

When considering the medical conditions early on in the process, we tried to anticipate what we thought we had the resources to handle while knowing that nothing in life is certain. Through extensive research we were able to determine that, while developmental delays come with so many unknowns, we were in a position to accommodate this particular need.

We only had three days to make our decision, so we needed to find a doctor to review the file as soon as possible. I had already been collecting names of international adoption specialists, but I hadn’t anticipated needing one so soon. Being part of the online adoption community, I knew one doctor who was known for having a fast turn-around-time, so I sent her the file.

I don’t even think an hour had passed before the phone rang and her number showed up on the caller ID. I felt my chest tighten up when she skipped the niceties and got right to it: “So, can we talk about this baby?”

I listened intently while the doctor listed all the seemingly catastrophic outcomes that could come as a result of his circumstances. I can still hear her voice in my head saying over and over: “It’s never good to be 1.4 kilos.” She had major concerns about his head circumference, his weight, and his unknown prenatal history. She left me with a list of warnings about possible neurological disorders and cognitive issues, and I thanked the good doctor for telling me what I needed to hear. This particular doctor had a reputation for giving the worst case scenario. Being a realist, I knew myself well enough to know that the worst case scenario was exactly what I needed. I knew I needed to approach this with a level head, but my stomach was in knots.

When I recounted the conversation with my husband, I was almost certain he was going to be deterred by all of the possible red flags. Thankfully, I was wrong.

The following morning, we received an update with a more recent photo. At that point, the decision had already been made and within a few minutes I was emailing the agency to lock his file.

We had found our son.

Prior to match, I had spent hours researching anything and everything related to adoption and attachment. I read The Connected Child and The Weaver’s Craft every night on my iPad and kept a copy of Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child next to me on my nightstand.

Once I knew we would be welcoming a little boy with speech and motor delays, I dove into that realm with the same level of determination bordering on obsession. I spent my free time punching numbers into online growth charts and reading about developmental delays in premature and low birth weight babies. I had already joined every Facebook group I could find that had to do with China Adoption and Special Needs.

Every now and then, I would still hear that doctor’s voice in my head: “It’s never good to be 1.4 kilos.” I was scared, but more driven than ever to prepare to help our little one with whatever challenges he would have to face. I remember fighting back tears in Target when the reality hit me that my almost two year old was probably wearing 6-9 month clothing.

The week before we were set to travel, I filled out the online referral form with Missouri First Steps (our state Early Intervention program) to set up an evaluation upon our return. I have heard of families waiting until their children were home for a while to help facilitate attachment, but I was leaving nothing to chance. I set up doctor appointments and prepared our home for an unspecified period of cocooning. We did the best we could to ready ourselves for our new arrival with what little information we had.

Less than three months after that phone call, we walked into the Civil Affairs office in Zhengzhou and I saw a tiny little boy sitting in a chair across the room. Once I realized it was him I was practically climbing the walls as I anxiously waited for someone to call his name. After about thirty seconds that felt like an eternity, the orphanage officer placed him in my arms. He seemed okay with us holding him, but it was obvious he was in shock. At 20 months, he was so small that he was swimming in the clothes we had brought him.

During those next two weeks, we were able to better assess where he was developmentally. He was crawling and learning to stand unsupported. After a week of refusing anything other than formula and rice cereal from a bottle, he finally accepted solid foods. He did not know how to chew, but at that point we were just happy to see him eating. He did not know the first thing about how to play with toys. We knew we had work to do, and I made a promise to our little guy that day: we would never stop fighting for him.

Our first few months as a family were turbulent times. My husband was starting a new job, and I was a new stay-at-home mom. Our son struggled to attach to us. I floundered through each attempt to apply all of the attachment techniques that I had gathered over the months of waiting, only to find that our son seemed to be the exception to every rule.

He actively avoided eye contact and pushed us away when we tried to comfort him. He did not want to be held by either of us, yet he happily cuddled up to any new stranger that came along. We were helpless when he woke up screaming with night terrors. Any and all parenting advice thrown at us was completely irrelevant and thus ignored.

Meanwhile, every insecurity and past trauma that I had buried deep in my soul found its way to the surface. I wandered through each day in a haze before recognizing that I was in desperate need of self-care in order to be the version of myself that my son needed me to be.

We continued to live one day at a time in survival mode until one day, a small sliver of light broke through and light became brighter each day. We celebrated the tiniest victories: when he began to come to us for comfort, when his body no longer stiffened up when we tried to hold him, when he started to realize that we were his forever and our “shift” was never going to end. Over time, his big personality blossomed, and we were fully introduced to the most extraordinary little man.

Edison is a loving, hilarious, strong-willed and resourceful little boy. He is also quite stubborn and insists on living life on his own terms (just like his Mama!). As we continue to get to know him, it has become easier to meet his needs. We are also better equipped to determine which behaviors are trauma related and which are due to his sensory issues. It is still, however, very much a game of trial and error.

We have come such a long way, yet we still recognize that building attachment is like running a marathon. We will always be a work in progress.

While we attributed most of his behaviors back then to trauma and institutional life, even then I could see an ASD diagnosis in our future. I knew it was too early to be certain, so I hesitated to bring it up to my husband. We were able to start speech and occupational therapy (OT) through First Steps almost immediately after coming home, which helped us to address his feeding and sensory issues as well as provide us with a plan to work on his speech and motor delays.

His OT created a “sensory diet” for him that included Therapeutic Listening®, swinging, bouncing and deep pressure touch. I researched anything and everything related to sensory needs and read from The Out of Sync Child every night. Throughout this time, Edison saw several doctors and specialists. Before reaching his first year home, he had ear tubes placed and strabismus surgery to correct his exotropia.

Meanwhile, I found myself awkwardly flailing through social situations. His indiscriminate affection had me snatching him out of strangers’ arms and laps whenever I wasn’t wearing him. The more we stepped out into the world, the less I could avoid addressing his delays as people only seem interested in what children are able to do. Being honest about his challenges made some of them visibly uncomfortable. My primal instincts to protect him became even more powerful and habitual as the world became more invasive. I grew more protective of him through each interaction until I morphed into a mother grizzly, ready to maul anyone who dared set forth their own expectations of him.

Once I felt enough time had passed to where a doctor would consider evaluating him, I was already convinced that he had Autism. At that point I was already mentally prepared for it (thanks in part to our “worst case scenario” file review), so it was more of a means to an end. All that was left was to make it official in order to get my son the help he needed.

Almost one year after coming home, we found ourselves in a Pediatric Neurologist’s office. The doctor observed Edison as he threw oversized legos around the office while I filled out the M-CHAT-R™ (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised), hoping to leave with a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder for my son. After a relatively quick exam, the doctor very matter-of-factly stated that it was “fairly obvious” that Edison has Autism. It felt strangely perverse to breathe that sigh of relief, but after months of feeling like we were spinning our wheels, it was comforting to have answers.

The moment we got home from the neurologist, I contacted First Steps to add Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) services. Our insurance company assigned us an Autism Case Manager and I found that all autism related services were 100% covered. Within weeks, we started ABA and I also added private speech therapy and OT services to his schedule. During the course of my research, I also found a Reggio Emilia inspired daycare/preschool that caters to children with developmental differences.

The changes in Edison were immediately apparent. We noticed improvements in just about every area: communication, play skills, eating, behavior, attention, etc. In addition to the extra speech and OT, the combination of behavioral therapy and the classroom environment made a world of difference. He is still not using words other than “Mama” and “Dada”, but he has become much more communicative using signs and we are learning to use pictures. Overall, he is becoming more independent each day.

I came to realize the real fight for us was not about getting a diagnosis or services. We are fortunate that we live in a state and school district where all of his required services are relatively accessible. Our IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting went better than I could have imagined after reading so many horror stories from other parents.

For us, our biggest challenge is figuring out how to deal with other people. Even in 2017, there appears to be a major stigma surrounding autism.

Sadly, our society still perpetuates notion that autism is something to hide, fix, or be ashamed of. On the opposite end is the equally damaging tendency to treat people with autism as a novelty. All of these negative connotations become especially problematic when it discourages parents from seeking out an early diagnosis that could end up being a game changer for their entire family. After missing out on his first 20 months, I hate to think of how much more time we would have wasted had I not followed my gut. Had we allowed our insecurities and the fear of our child being “labeled” to dictate our actions, it would have cost us valuable time and resources.

Our son’s autism diagnosis opened the door to a world of opportunity that I am forever grateful for.

Parenting a child with autism comes with it’s own set of guilt-inducing pressures from the outside world that can be soul crushing if you don’t find your balance quickly. We will always question ourselves and worry that we are not doing “it” right or doing enough to help our child. I have learned to accept that I can’t possibly be prepared for everything. Nevertheless, I know I am doing everything in my power to give him the best possible outcome.

Despite the occasional awkward looks of discomfort we may receive when sharing Edison’s diagnosis with others, we have always found it more effective to be open and honest. We often hear that we should not let our child’s autism define him, but for us, that advice feels reductive and disingenuous; it implies that autism is a separate entity that has invaded our lives. It is part of him and without it he would not be the same person.

The reality is that autism affects my son’s experiences every day of his life. In some ways, we are living in a different world than everyone else. Denying that reality does nothing to help Edison, and it sends the wrong message by reinforcing the sense of otherness. In my efforts to raise my son to be a compassionate, confident human being, I have tried to cultivate an atmosphere of openness and acceptance as my own small way of fighting the stigma.

Edison has changed our family in so many ways for the better. He has brought more joy to our lives than we ever imagined possible. His smile is an everyday reminder of how thankful we are that we did not give in to fear during the adoption process. As I watch him approach each challenge with that quiet determination of his as the world goes on around us, I am thankful that fear did not stop us from getting the early diagnosis that helped him to get to where he is now.

He continues to amaze us every day. Our family may do things a little differently than a “typical” family and our lifestyle may not look “normal” to some, but this is our normal. This is my perfect family.

I wouldn’t change a single thing.

– guest post by Valerie

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