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.


 


An Unfinished Family Portrait

March 25, 2017 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

Looking up from a pile of leaves, a young, beautiful blonde-haired college girl smiles while being kissed on the cheek by a “somewhat handsome” college-aged boy. That young, twenty-year old girl, now even more beautiful than ever, is my wife, Amber. That college kid, who has not graced the twenty years since quite as well, is me.

This twenty-year old picture is one of my favorites and hangs in our dining room to remind me of the beginning of our love story.

Back in 1997, two years shy of being married, Amber and I had many visions, plans, and ideas of how our love story and how our family story would go. Both of us came from families that had four or more children. And in 2008, when we had Sawyer, the youngest of our four biological children, we felt confident that God had finally brought our family to completion.

As our four children grew, so did our the collection of framed pictures and portraits. In our front room, up our stairs, in our dining room, and above our bed, we began and continued to hang beautiful snapshots of our four kids.

One of my favorites is of Logan, Scout, Quaid, and Sawyer walking on the shore of Lake Huron. Each picture proudly displays the pride we have in our four blessings. Several years ago, I began to take my kids’ school portraits. Each of the four 8×10 portraits fit perfectly along the mantle in our front room.

For eight years, more pictures were added to our beloved gallery around our house. Four children’s smiles beamed across our mantle. Our family portrait of six seemed perfect and complete.

But God knew better. His portrait of our family was unfinished.

In the summer of 2015, what had been the quiet desire of Amber’s heart to become a family to a child who did not have one to call his or her own had become the loud, clear voice of God. While Amber had mentioned a desire to adopt within the United States, a burden for China was steadily growing.

Me?

I was happy with our family of six. Life had a sense of routine. Four children, in my faithless opinion, were more than enough to keep us busy and on the brink of insanity. Our eldest son, Logan, was soon to begin high school, and that would mean rides to marching band and school events and youth group.

I could just point to all of our family pics and the photos shared on Facebook. Life looked perfect. Our family looked perfect.

Sadly, the only thing I was looking at was the selfish desire of my own heart.

But God persisted. He brought the right moments, conversations with people, articles, and movies into my life that kept shaking up my heart and my perspective over and over again.

At the high school where I worked, one of our office secretaries was adopting from China.

At the church camp where I worked, God brought one of the interns that had recently served at our church to my table at the camp cafeteria. In our conversation, she shared stories from the country where her parents had served as missionaries.

And what country did they serve in?

China.

And along the course of our journey, Amber asked me to go to our local movie to watch the incredible movie, The Dropbox, which once again challenged my heart for overseas adoption.

So in the fall of 2015, I finally surrendered not only my vision of what my family was supposed to look like, but I knew that God was calling our family to pursue an adoption in China.

In China, there is an abundance of boys abandoned for a variety of reasons. Countless children fill Chinese orphanages simply due to the fact that they were born with special needs.

That fall, the not-yet-ready file of a six year-old boy grabbed our hearts. Slowly our whole family fell for this young boy. His special needs were very mild. Through the Christmas season of 2015 and into early 2016, I began to have this new image of how our family would be made up in my head. This young boy would fit perfectly into our home as the youngest child of the McCulloch family.

Once again, God had a different idea as to what was to go on the canvas of our lives.

An almost nightly ritual for Amber was to look at the profiles of the many Chinese orphans still waiting to be found by their forever families. Amber’s heart of advocacy for these children would find her on the many social media sites and adoption websites. Often she would show me another picture or video of a child waiting for a home.

With each new precious face, I felt more and more helpless against this great need and more resolute that the six-year old boy we were pursuing was the one to complete our family.

In early February of 2016, Amber wanted to once again show me a profile she had come across. It was the picture of twelve year-old boy with hemophilia under the file name of “Liam”. Unlike any other picture I had been shown and in the most unexpected way, the smile and the story of Liam haunted me.

On the way to work, I could not get him out of my mind. One of the pictures was of Liam praying, as a ten-year-old, for a family to adopt him. My heart felt incredibly heavy for this boy. On that same exact day, Amber called me at work with the news that, on that day, Liam’s file would be released from the adoption agency we had been working with. At midnight, we would no longer have an option to bring this young man into our home and hearts. In a total leap of faith, Amber and I felt moved to put in a letter of intent.



Through much prayer, closed doors, and the decision of our home study agency, God led us away from the six year-old we had been preparing to adopt and to Liam.

And with this child, who we would name Jonas, we had to learn about what life with a child with hemophilia meant.

It was more than just a cut bleeding badly. We learned of the dangers of internal bleeding and how joints would bleed when damaged, bringing severe pain to someone suffering from this blood condition.

With Amber’s diligent study and discussion on Facebook groups, she not only learned more about what life with a child that has hemophilia would look like but also began connecting with a network of parents that were raising adopted children with this blood condition.

So as prep-work for bringing home our 12-year old son continued, we also continued to prep ourselves about what life with hemophilia would be like, including the need to give him infusions twice a week of the needed factor that would help his blood clot whenever he had a bleed.

The severity of Jonas’ hemophilia would remain unknown until we would later get him to Children’s Hospital of Michigan. What we did know for certain was that if his hemophilia was indeed severe, the treatment of this condition, especially for orphans, was very low. We had heard that most orphans with hemophilia in China went untreated and eventually died from not having the needed infusions of factor.

What we knew of Jonas’ story was that he had been abandoned in a train station at three years old. For almost a decade, he had most likely gone with little to no treatment for his condition.

On November 3, 2016, after nine long months of paperwork, stress, grant writing, prayers and raising funds, Amber and I eagerly boarded a plane for Beijing, China that would begin our journey to bring home our twelve-year old boy.

On November 8, 2016, in an orphanage office in Taiyuan, China, Zhao Huangyi was officially adopted as Jonas Timothy Huangyi McCulloch.



It was not even a few days into China where signs of Jonas’ hemophilia made themselves very apparent. Despite receiving an infusion early in the week, Jonas had many nosebleeds. Also, his ankle, from the walking and his first time swimming was hurting him. Amber knew immediately that we had to ice his ankle, compress it with a bandage, and elevate it. We spent much of our time in China in our hotel room to keep Jonas off his hurting ankle.

After completing the adoption process in Guangzhou, we finally headed back home on Friday, November 18. At Detroit Metro Airport, over forty friends and family members gathered to meet and welcome Jonas. Jonas’ four siblings now had a new brother! Immediately, this new picture of our family felt perfect.

Jonas immediately loved and took to his three brothers and sister.



Amber had already arranged for Jonas to see doctors in the Hematology Center at Children’s Hospital of Michigan that following Monday. There we met an extraordinary staff of people who wanted to help provide excellent care and to educate us on how to best address Jonas’ hemophilia. Dr. Chitlur and Missy and Annie, along with the many other doctors and nurses, have been such a blessing in their support and care.

Through her connections on Facebook Groups, Amber made the wonderful friend in Shari Luckey. Shari, whose adopted son Luke also has hemophilia, has been nothing short of an angel in meeting with us, answering questions, and even attending our first appointment at Children’s Hospital.

God, as in the beginning of this journey, continues to bring the right and perfect people alongside us on our journey.

As blood work was done, it was confirmed that Jonas had Severe Hemophilia A. Jonas would need infusions of factor twice a week. In China, he had only received one infusion a week for the past year. Before that he had never received any infusions.

He had been barely home for a few weeks when the long-term effects of hemophilia on his body became very real.

Having an immense amount of blood in his urine, Jonas was admitted in early December to Children’s Hospital. The complication came from not being able to give him the needed factor because it would cause a clot in his urinary tract. This would be very painful. Jonas wanted nothing more than to be home with his new family.

After four nights in the hospital, his bladder healed, he could again be given the needed factor, and his wish to come home was granted.



Another answer to prayer came with Amber’s cousin Tarra Steele and her husband Kyle. Tarra and Kyle are both RNs. They immediately offered to help assist us with the infusions Jonas would need twice a week. Instead of us having to drive over an hour each time to Children’s Hospital in Detroit, we’ve just had to drive across town to their home where they have done his infusions for us. Tarra and Kyle have even come to our house early in the morning to do his infusions as well.

Amber is determined to someday take this task on herself. She and I have both attended a class where we are learned more about hemophilia and how to administer the infusions. Amber, of course, is way braver than I when it comes to needles. Soon, Jonas will learn how to administer his own infusions at a summer hemophilia camp he is attending.

Despite infusions and needles, overnight stays in the hospital, and having to be constantly aware of bumps and cuts that would affect a child with hemophilia, the joy of Jonas’ presence in our lives makes these sometime stresses seem like nothing.

His adventurous spirit, genuine love and appreciation, never-ending gratitude and huge smile and heart have brought new chapters into our family’s story that far exceed the repetitious and dull story we could have been living.

There is certainly rarely a dull moment in our house now.

And there are growing pains for a family adjusting to now seven people instead of six. Instead of four children wanting the attention of two, sometimes tired parents, there are now five. Each day is filled with unexpected blessings that make the trying moments worth every conflict.



Amber and I will often look out our kitchen window and see Jonas playing with his brothers and sister. Today, we saw him dribbling a basketball down the sidewalk with Quaid and Sawyer. We will peer around our dining room table and see the smiles and hear the conversations of our newly remodeled family.

And we find a deeper perfection and joy than before.

I once had this idea of how our family would and should look like, but God reimagined and repainted the portrait of our family.

Now across our mantle, five beautiful faces smile.

Our prayer is that others will allow God to modify and change the portrait of how their families appear, opening hearts and homes to orphans around the world.



Trust in the LORD with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding… – Proverbs 3:5

– guest post by Jay: email || blog

Crying Over Cheerios: Overcoming Feeding Challenges

March 17, 2017 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

Where I grew up, food was a love language. I learned at a very young age that food was the center of any worthwhile gathering. I remember once in the sweltering heat of a Mississippi summer, we attended a family reunion. It was a potluck, and table after table was overflowing with plates of styrofoam and Corelle, casserole dishes and trifle bowls. Giant pickle jugs held sweet tea and lemonade. The food spread was so expansive, you couldn’t possibly even try a small bite of everything there. Your stomach simply didn’t have the capacity.

It was how we celebrated.

Bridal showers, baby showers, and birthdays were adorned with beautiful arrangements of appetizers, cakes, cookies and petit fours.

It was also how we grieved.

My father died unexpectedly when I was a child, and so many people brought food that we couldn’t even store it all in the kitchen. Dishes were stuffed into the refrigerator. They took up all the space on the countertop. After that ran out, people left them on the piano in our family room.

Food wasn’t just sustenance. It was love.

Although my husband and I moved away from the south, we took those roots with us. Food is still a love language to me. I delight in cooking for my family and having people over to eat with us. Our kids’ birthday parties are as much as about the meal as they are about the cake, ice cream, and presents.

And our kids? It must be in the genes. They love to cook too, and they love to eat. It is sometimes shocking the amount of food our family can consume. We have never left a restaurant with food on any plate. “You gonna eat that?” is practically our family motto.

Our adoption in 2015 added our fourth child to the family. Caleb was 12.5 months at adoption, and little dude could hang right with the rest of the family in terms of food consumption. The orphanage stated that he took four bottles per day, but on our first day together in China, he began eating quite heartily from our plates. He abandoned the bottle pretty soon after he came home in favor of drinking spicy salsa from the tiny bowls at the Mexican restaurant and eating corn on the cob.

Naturally, we thought that when we adopted again in 2016, this time a baby slightly older, we wouldn’t need any “baby” foods. Caston was almost 17 months old, and we expected a child that was a pretty independent eater. When we asked for a final update before travel, the foster home staff said his favorite foods were milk and cake. We laughed. Obviously! “He’ll fit right in,” we joked. I threw some toddler favorites, puffs, and packages of squeezy applesauce into our luggage for Caleb (then two years old) and Caston (then 17 months old). “Too old for bibs,” I thought, and tossed them aside.

When we met our newest son, it was evident that we had grossly overestimated his developmental age. He was very “floppy”, and his mouth hung open with a constant stream of drool trickling out… so much that my husband and teen son had to go out and buy several bibs. Caston soaked through them in a matter of minutes. We had to wash them mid-day and dry them with the hair dryer while we were in China.



My first attempt at giving Caston a bottle proved to be tricky. We couldn’t get the consistency and temperature of the bottle just right for him. Too thick, and he couldn’t drink it. Too thin, and he choked. When I tried to cradle him during feeding, he arched back with force. He wanted to be completely flat. He and I “fought” about this, as I (his mommy) knew this wasn’t good for babies. We agreed on a compromise of me holding him in an almost flat position and slowly trying to raise his angle from time to time. He was onto me. And he hated it.

We didn’t attempt food until the next morning at breakfast.

First, we got some soft, toddler-friendly offerings from the buffet and placed them in front of him. He arched back in the high chair with his arms drawn up by his face. He wanted nothing to do with it. So naturally, we tried feeding it to him. Again, a no-go. He threw a tantrum and cried. He didn’t even want to be in our laps when we were eating.

Now being parents of five kids, this was a new one for us.

At a year and a half, all our other kids were voracious eaters. They wanted anything and everything in their sight. We looked quizzically at our guide who was watching the marvelous meltdown in the hotel restaurant. “Try the congee. All babies eat congee,” he suggested.

We offered Caston the watery rice porridge as tears streamed down his face.

This baby, maybe the only one in China, didn’t eat congee.

We decided to back off and just make food available to him at all meals. He never took the bait. It was like he didn’t even know what to do with the food. We resolved though that while he wasn’t taking any solids right now, he was obviously not malnourished. His chubby thigh rolls spoke for themselves.



I was hopeful that when we were home, his food protest would end. Once we settled in a routine, I reasoned, and he saw the rest of the family eating, he would too.

So easy, right?

I had five kids.

So easy.

At two weeks home, I began by adding vitamin drops to his formula. That went unnoticed. Then I began mixing in some stage 1 baby food into the formula. Again, no resistance. The problem wasn’t flavor. It was the method of delivery and texture. Whatever I could get into that bottle while maintaining his preferred consistency, he would take with no protest.

Then we hit a standstill. While I could effectively give him more vitamins and nutrients, he still wouldn’t touch food or eat from a spoon. After a month of trying to feed him, he finally tried stage 1 baby food from a spoon.

It wasn’t much, but it was a victory!

Because of our feeding difficulties, we enrolled in feeding therapy at our nearby children’s hospital at five weeks home. But after the first few visits, it was evident to me that Caston would not thrive in that environment. He didn’t like the different high chair. The room was filled with distractions of laptops and toys and papers. He wasn’t comfortable with the feeding therapist offering him crushed Cheetos on the tray. As long as I was feeding him the stage 1 foods, he was ok. Anything else sent him into total meltdown.

(I feel as though I need to say that I know of many kids who have been successful in structured feeding therapy. In fact, if it were any of our four other kids, they would probably have responded better for the therapist than for me. But I also want to tell you that if this isn’t working for your child, you probably already know it, and it may be time to pursue other options.)

I did take away a lot of helpful advice from her that I implemented at home. We ultimately decided to use the services of therapists from our county’s early intervention program – Caston was far more receptive to change in his comfort zone at home.

At just over six weeks home, I began pureeing our meals and feeding them to Caston with a spoon. When I began making his foods thicker, he would tolerate it as long as there were no chunks at all. He even became receptive to the squeezy applesauce. However, he couldn’t suck it out of the pouch, so I had to squeeze it into his mouth. I didn’t care. I had successfully introduced something other than the bottle and spoon.

Around this time, it became clearer to me why Caston had such quirks… the excessive drool and the desire to lie flat to take a bottle.

He had never had to use his mouth muscles.

The cross-cut nipple that we were given in China allowed the formula and rice cereal mixture to just flow down his throat. He hadn’t needed to work to suck the bottle or to swallow his formula. Gravity did it for him. Thus, we had a new challenge. Caston needed to learn how to swallow properly.



Around two and a half months home, we hit a major milestone. He tolerated tiny bites of food: canned peaches cut into teeny tiny pieces served on a spoon. Until this point, we had never witnessed him touch a piece of food. He always held his arms away from the plate or bowl.

Then one morning, in the family room at church, he picked up his brother’s snack trap full of Cheerios. We all held our breath and didn’t move a muscle as we watched him slowly reach in and bring the Cheerio to his mouth. He rolled it around a bit and then tried to swallow it, which caused him to gag just a little. He moved it around a little more, breaking it down and eventually swallowing it.

He had successfully fed himself, and he went back for more.

I recorded the whole thing and, when I watch it now, I hear myself crying tears of joy quietly in the background. Our friends in the room teared up too because they knew the difficulties we had been facing with feeding.

This was a major turning point for Caston. Later that week, he fed himself a single grape that I had cut into twelve tiny pieces.

Our road was so painfully slow. It seemed like every step forward meant two steps back. On the days that he was successful in eating a small bite of food, he would regress and protest. There were many, many days that I spent an hour and a half feeding him each meal. His mealtime began before everyone else’s and it ended long after everyone had left the table.

There were times we ran errands a little too long, and he began crying because he was hungry after he finished his bottle. I was silently angry, thinking to myself, “Just eat the Goldfish, already!”

There were days that it was so very hard not to compare him to our other kids who snacked their time away at baseball games and cheer practice and grocery store trips. We joked that the theme of his second birthday would be Pureed Foods. We would serve up burgers and birthday cake in smoothie form for all our guests. We’d follow the lead of the birthday boy.

At three and a half months home, his diet was still mainly baby food, purees, and formula. He did eat some of his brother’s popcorn when he thought we weren’t watching. (He loves to be sneaky!) I could have never guessed at the time we sent our Letter of Intent to adopt Caston what a blessing it would be for him to have a brother only 9.5 months older. Caleb has been a huge motivator for Caston to try new things.



During this time of Caston attempting new foods, we had several scary episodes that were related to his inability to swallow properly.

Remember the ease of thickened formula making its way to his tummy? That didn’t work the same with actual solid foods. There were times during meals that he would appear to be choking, even on small pieces of food. His face would turn red and tears would spring out of his eyes. He had a very panicked look on his face. It was though he temporarily “forgot” how to swallow the food. I assume it felt stuck to him, and it scared him so much each time, that he chose to end his meal.

Over the next few months, Caston tried new foods and textures at his own (very slow) pace. I continued offering the old with the new and packing bags of baby food and formula for our outings until the day that I didn’t.

I know how silly that sounds.

The frustration and struggle just faded away as Caston made the decision to move to a completely typical diet. One day, I opened the cabinet and was surprised to see baby food and a container of rice cereal. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had reached for those.

I am thrilled to say that at ten months home, Caston will eat just about anything that we offer him. His snack trap is usually filled with pretzels, a food that, months ago, I could have never imagined him touching, biting, or chewing!

Caston enjoys meal time, and he delights in selecting his snacks.

I love seeing his little face scrunch up when he drinks lemonade from his sippy cup. He shivers a little from the sour shock, laughs, and then excitedly signs for “more.” He feeds himself about 75% of the time. No one in the house can have a snack now without sharing a little with Caston!

And the birthday party of Pureed Foods?

It wasn’t necessary. He was able to enjoy a big piece of birthday cake along with the rest of his family. It has been such a blessing to witness his transformation.


If I could offer advice to those of you going through similar struggles, it would be:

1. Find families that are going through this too. I found two Facebook groups to be particularly helpful: Pediatric Feeding Disorders and Adoption and Oral Aversion Support. Ask every question that’s on your mind. Someone out there can identify with you.

2. You are your child’s best advocate. Just because a feeding strategy works for one child, it doesn’t mean it will work for your child. Find the therapist that creates the most successful environment for your particular situation.

3. Celebrate even the smallest of victories. Even if it’s just one Cheerio.

– guest post by Brandie, mommy to five mess makers

© 2017 No Hands But Ours

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