by Kelly, mom to Ella from China with a congenital heart defect
The decision to pursue a “special needs” adoption when we were ready to bring home our second daughter, our fifth child, was an easy one for us to make. In fact, we never even considered ‘getting back in line’ for a NSN (non-special needs) adoption.
At the time we started talking about adopting again, we had four children at home: three teenage sons and a toddler daughter, adopted in November 2006 (a NSN adoption). Blessed beyond measure at the incredible kids we were parenting, I was reminded of a verse of scripture (one that I quote frequently to my children): “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48.
Acknowledging that we had, indeed, been given much, and we understood that we were expected to give back as much, and our second adoption plan began with our focus to adopt a child with an identified medical need.
About six months after returning from China with our first daughter, Katie, I started perusing “special needs” lists of various agencies. I didn’t have a clear idea of who I was looking for; I just jumped in with both feet and started looking at beautiful little girls who needed families.
Over the course of the next five months or so, I probably looked at the files of six or seven little girls. At that time (2007), there was no “shared list” — each agency who did Special Needs adoptions had a list of 10 – 20 kids and most of those lists were available to the public (sometimes after requesting a password), but you could “find” your child before choosing an agency. And that’s what I was trying to do.
I was pretty random in requesting files. I looked at children with CL/CP, heart defects, strabismus, clubbed feet, medical needs all over the proverbial map, if the truth is told. After looking at so many files, losing a little bit of my heart to each one of these precious children, my wise husband finally questioned me about how I was approaching my search, and suggested we narrow our focus by investigating medical issues we could ‘handle’ as a family. By that, I mean the type of medical needs wouldn’t be terribly invasive on day-to-day schedules of our large family with the busy schedules of three teenage sons. We understood that there are unknowns with every adoption, and that the medical referral information is not necessarily 100% reliable, but wanted to plan for every scenario, that the number of necessary doctor appointments for our new child wouldn’t negatively impact the time we spent with the four children we already had in our home, and that if corrective surgery were necessary, there were specialists in our geographic location so that we wouldn’t have to travel far for any medical procedures and follow-up appointments.
Together, then, my husband and I determined that we would seek another little girl, one who was about a year younger than Katie, with an ASD or VSD, as we have a fantastic children’s heart center here in our city. We were also inspired to choose a heart baby by our then 12 year old niece, Rebecca, who was born with a serious congenital heart defect,”Transposition of the Great Vessles,” and had open heart surgery at 9 days old. Today she is a teenager who is vibrant and beautiful and a living testimony to God’s power and the qualified medical experts in our city.
At 3:06 pm on September 21, 2007 I saw our daughter’s darling face for the first time. She was one of 20 children on a new list that was sent to us from Christian World Adoptions (we had requested information on a different child earlier in the summer and our names were on CWA’s email list). Since I happened to be on the computer shortly after this email was sent, I quickly looked at the children and felt my heart stop when I saw child 07-9-8 on the list. One look at her precious face, then a quick skimming of the accompanying text which described her current physical measurements and the diagnosis of a VSD… and I knew.
Something just clicked when I saw the very brief snippet of information on our daughter (her name, date of birth and a brief description of her finding and medical information). All in all, it took me fewer than 30 seconds to email the agency back requesting information on the child identified as number 07-9-8 (my email program tells me it was just 13 minutes after the list arrived in my inbox that I hit the “send” button).
Immediately after sending the email to the agency I called my husband at work and told him to check the email and open the attachment and find 07-9-8’s information. I told him I thought that child was our daughter. His first comment to me was something along the lines of “why are you on the computer in the middle of the day?” but he thought she was precious, and happy that I’d requested the information. I had to tell him it would be a few days before we would receive her file as the agency had to have the medical files translated into English first.
Four days later, on September 25, we received an email from the adoption agency informing us we were first in line to review our this little girl’s file, and that it would probably be through translation and sent to us by the first week of October. Later that week, we flew to Seattle, Washington to visit my sister.
On October 1, 2007, we received the translated medical file via email, and since we were only given five days in which to have the medical files approved by our pediatrician and specialists, we were a bit frantic to be dealing with something so important so far away from home and in a different time zone! I think our pediatrician’s office is the only one in America who doesn’t use computers, so I had to fax the referral file and photos (about 15 pages) to his office, and also emailed the information to our chosen pediatric cardiologist and another cardiologist who happens to be a good friend of the family. Less than an hour later our pediatrician called me on my cell phone and gave us his blessing on this referral. It took a few days longer to hear back from the cardiologists, but they also were encouraged by the information they had reviewed and told us to accept the referral if we so wished (oh, we wished, all right!).
So while standing on the sidewalk in front of a store on Bainbridge Island, Washington, on October 5, 2007, I called the adoption agency in North Carolina and gleefully accepted Ning Jiao Jiao as our daughter. That day will forever be etched in my memory — the day we became parents to our fifth child, our 2nd daughter! Aunt Karen mentioned the coincidence that Jiao Jiao’s case number was the same as my birthday just a few weeks before — 07-9-8. During that phone call with Carol at CWA, she mentioned that Jiao Jiao had had 15 families express interest in her the first two days the list was out — and because I happened to be on the computer at exactly the right time, we were first in line and, if we “wanted her,” she was ours! There was never a doubt in my mind that Jiao Jiao was our daughter.
Our families were thrilled for us, but no one more so than our beautiful niece, Rebecca. When we told her we had identified her newest cousin, showed her the referral pictures, and told her that our baby had a VSD, she looked at us with tears in her eyes and said, “You chose a baby with a heart defect? On purpose?” All I could do was smile and nod at her, her shining eyes full of joy at our acknowledgement that heart babies were every bit as loved and desirable as babies who were “perfectly healthy.”
We went on to paper chase and then wait for the slow wheels of the USCIS and the CCAA to turn and approve our paperwork, and finally received the okay to travel to China again. We took our four children with us to meet their little sister, and became a family of seven on June 23, 2008, in Nanchang, Jiangxi.
Our precious Ella has been home for over seven months now. She has grown by leaps and bounds, from an emaciated, wobbly rag doll-like baby to a full-fledged running, jumping toddler. The effects of living in an institution for 19+ months are slowly receding, being replaced by a vibrant, happy child with silky hair and shining eyes.
As for her heart condition, she still has the VSD we were informed of in her referral information. A battery of tests (including a sedated echocardiogram) verified that the hole in her heart is still there, but is her heart is trying to repair itself by growing “aneurismal tissue” over the hole. Her pediatric cardiologist painted this word picture of Ella’s heart: “instead of a solid wall, she has a “screen door” growing across the hole between the chambers of her heart – this tissue is slowing the passage of blood from the left side to the right, but has not stopped it.” But her blood pressure is good on both sides of her heart, her oxygen levels are where they need to be, and the cardiologist will re-evaluate her in a few more months to see if the tissue is still growing and if surgery will ever be necessary to correct this congenital heart defect.
I know that all children with heart conditions are not as fortunate as our daughter is, and that many of those families who have adopted CHD children have had surgeries and hospital stays. We may have that in our future, only time will tell.
But in the meantime, we have a vibrant, happy, joyful little girl who copies everything her slightly older sister does, clomps around the house in mommy’s way-too-big shoes, hugs (and bugs) the dog and loves spending time playing with her big brothers. A little girl who, with her sister, loves being outside, playing with PlayDoh and reading books, and who loves to snuggle with her pink stuffed puppy, “Bubba.” This little girl completed our family.
11 months after arriving home, and 10 1/2 months after an echocardiogram and testing to evaluate her heart, we are overjoyed to announce that Ella’s VSD is closed! No surgery was necessary, God chose to heal her heart, and we’re giving Him all of the glory!
by Kelly, mom to:
Katie, a. 11/8/06 Yangdong SWI, Guangdong
Ella, a. 6/24/08 Ningdu CWI, Jiangxi
and their three teenage brothers