If you haven’t read our other posts in this series, you can find them here and here.
Come with me on a journey for a few minutes. This is my personal journey full of triumph and failure, pain and joy.
It’s 2011 and despite the fact that my husband and I were not looking into international adoption I happened upon the face of an angel. She resided in China, but her face just stole my heart. I prayed for a family for her and secretly I stashed her picture on my computer.
It was January of 2014 before we found her file again and it would be April before we had approval to adopt her. There was not one ounce of doubt in our minds that she was our daughter. Her needs didn’t even scare us any longer, even though we knew they were severe. She was born, according to her file, with both eyes missing.
In July we heard there may be a twin, and one adoption quickly became two. The “other” twin, whom we have named Everlyse, was failing to thrive and dying very quickly. We prepared for the worst. We prepared to bring home, smiling, twirling Ellie and rush Everlyse to the hospital. Everlyse’s file was sparse at best and we honestly thought she may very well have severe needs beyond being blind.
The end of January 2015 saw our oldest child, nine years old, and myself on a plane to China. It would be a long trip because we couldn’t beat the Chinese New Year, but knowing that our daughter was fading we decided to go and stick it out in country rather than risk her life and wait another month. We would be there for four weeks.
We picked up the tiny one, whom we named Everlyse, first. She was shockingly small at only eleven pounds. There was no preparing for that moment. She survived through much work and many prayers. She giggled, babbled, and even showed signs of starting to stand on her own. We were on cloud nine. The one we thought might have severe needs was improving so fast we stopped counting her successes. She was and is a rock star.
And we got on a plane to head to the next city for our angel, Ellie. Three years all came down to one moment in time. All the hidden pictures in my phone made sense at last. God’s timing was vastly different than my own and I was more than ready to hold my daughter.
The last update we had on her was excellent. The pictures showed her twirling, playing with toys and smiling. A video from the previous year showed her walking with the assistance of a chair and playing the piano. We were told she had a few words, was a picky eater, and was potty trained. She had started talking at four months old and most of her milestones were reached within a normal time frame. She was just “quiet” and the size of a three year old.
There was a knock on our hotel door and I opened it. My first words were, “She’s huge!” She was so much bigger than I thought she would be. 3T’s were not going to work. And in the back of my head I noticed they were holding her hands, but she was leaning very heavily back as if she couldn’t stand on her own. She came to me in what I would later recognize as a miraculous moment and leaned into me and kissed my cheek.
I was holding her and realizing she was leaning heavily on me and was very wobbly. She was making some very strange groans as she wobbled back and forth. As I continued holding her and hugging her I realized she was soaking wet. It was then that my eyes met the eyes of my guide and I must have had questions starting to form in my eyes because she started telling me such strange things. Things like, “she doesn’t speak at all,” and “she cannot walk.” And when I asked if she was potty trained the answer was no, simply no with no explanations. And they handed me a can of baby rice cereal and said that is what she eats.
And they all left.
They left and I had Everlyse screaming, Ellie falling to the ground, my nine year old asking what was wrong with Ellie and I was just going through motions in that moment. I stripped her of her wet clothing and gave her a bath. I cut the feet out of her 3T pajamas that I brought and realized they still wouldn’t zip all the way. I threw my nine year olds shirt on her for the night and called it good.
And I sat there and literally looked into her face to see if maybe they had dropped off the wrong child. I compared all of her features to the ones I knew by heart. I even checked if she really was a girl! I just kept thinking this could not be my Ellie. But my heart was sinking and the mother in me would have known this child anywhere. She was the same girl, but not who we thought we were adopting.
Everlyse screamed all night. Ellie put her head down on the bed and never picked it back up. She wasn’t asleep, she just couldn’t move. When I picked her up she was as limp as a rag doll. Eventually, Ellie started screaming as well. And the sound made me want to bolt. It wasn’t so much a cry as it was growling and hissing. And drool was sliding down her chin into a puddle beneath her face.
I held her and stood her up and she became jello and fell to the floor. I stood her up again and told her, begged her, cried to her to please stand up. Just stand. I talked to her. I told her to stop growling, just stop. Surely, she was just tired. Right?
Now, let me pause. My husband and I have talked through many, many conditions and there were only two things we were not comfortable parenting. HIV? Bring it. Cancer? We live at oncology/hematology anyways. Blind? Check. Deaf? Check.
Severely mentally disabled? Not quite sure.
Wheelchair bound? We would need a new house.
I watched my daughter that I had loved for three years growl and hiss and my heart sank so low. The pit of my being knew she was both of those two things. I felt tricked by her file, videos, and frankly, God. He knew our two “no’s.” He knew!
And there are 24 hours to change your mind. The ironically named “Harmonious Period.” Most parents are tired and dealing with trauma, but glowing inside. Finally a whole family, they peacefully pass the night texting family back home because jet lag still hasn’t released them from its clutches anyways.
But. I. was. terrified.
I was tired already. My emotions were drained by Everlyse. I hadn’t slept in a week. I had already been listening to a child scream for a week. I had already saved one life and spent hours spoon feeding liquids and praying for miracles.
It wasn’t so much that I was unsure of her as much as I was unsure of myself. She was everything I didn’t think I could handle. Could I even survive three more weeks without my supportive husband and in a foreign country that is not equipped for the handicapped? How would I even get around the cities?
In my deepest, most secretive moment, I texted my husband in the middle of the night and asked him which one he wanted me to give back. This is my moment of complete failure, my doubt, my weak and selfish moment. Those words shame me and do no justice to the God that equips the called, but I want you to know how desperate those hours were. I really didn’t know the end of this story.
My husband didn’t even respond to those words. He figured I didn’t really mean them. He gives me more credit then I deserve. But he also knows me well, and he knew Ellie had been in my heart a very, very long time.
I had never understood why God allowed it to take so long for us to get to Ellie. Three years. I had guilt that I had left her for so long. I questioned so much. But that night I knew that He had been mercifully preparing my heart and giving it so much time that I knew the answer.
I woke up the next morning after about two hours of restless sleep and I knew the answer.
She was ours. She was different than we had thought. She was not the same girl from my dreams. But by’golly she was my daughter and no power on earth was going to take her away from me. I had no clue what was ahead, but I knew whatever it was we would figure it out together, as a family, as God intended us to do. I put on my fighting gloves, so to speak, and got us all dressed to go sign those papers and make it irreversible.
The next few days had me realizing just how much this would require. Ellie didn’t know how to eat or drink. I have no clue how they were feeding her. She didn’t even know how to open her mouth for food. It was unreal. We sped through breakfast each morning because we had it timed to 10-15 minutes for my nine year old to eat and for me to stuff Everlyse with food before Ellie came unglued. Ellie unglued means immediate evacuation. Always.
Every day was a grieving process. I was grieving the daughter that I had been holding onto in my heart for so long and trying to replace her with the real Ellie. And all I had to go on were a few growls and a lot of screams, and some rice cereal that had been spit in my face.
At the visa medical exam I had a good picture of things to come. I saw multiple doctors shaking their heads as they examined her. They told me she was severely delayed. Yah….I got that. They asked if I had witnessed seizures, which send another shock through my system. Nope, never seen them, never knew they existed for her. Apparently, they do.
At the consulate appointment they asked if I understood she was most likely permanently paralyzed. I lost a little of myself as I lifted her limp body for identification and told them that I understood this was most likely permanent.
The twirling girl was long gone. The girl playing the piano seemed to have disappeared and we have no reasons why. We were never told her condition had changed before we picked her up. When we had asked for an update all they sent were those pictures and a repeat of her 2012 paperwork.
Blindsided is the best way to describe what happened.
Doctors here in the States believe she most likely has a degenerative disease, which is why she used to walk, used to be potty trained, used to…
“Sweet Jesus, it hurts. I miss the Ellie of the video and the twirling girl. Help me, even now as I grieve this loss. Help me to fall in love all over again with the exact same girl who is now so very different.”
I pray that prayer so often it has become as natural as breathing in and out. “Let me love her. Let me love her. God in heaven, help me now.” And I find myself slowly, and miraculously, loving her sloppy kisses, the way her limp body hangs in my arms when I lift her, and I even find myself growling back to her and understanding what she means. I am learning to love who she is, and let go of who she was. And it is hard. Gosh this is hard, y’all.
Bitterness sits and breathes on the very edges of my happiness. How can happiness and sorrow coexist in such a manner? How does one fall in love and let go all at once? How do you love and grieve for the same person? Grief has added to the extreme exhaustion of this ordeal, for all of us.
Those are all the words that come to my mind when I think of this journey. It is truly tragically beautiful.
I didn’t understand disruptions two months ago. I had a sense of pride in my heart. God has a way of humbling us. I get it now. I have been there in the darkest moments of realizing your longed for child is gone. I have empathy. I don’t call is sympathy. Friends who are going through it or have walked this dark road, I feel your pain. It is my own. I recognize your grief. I am living with that grief. I don’t know what made you decide that the best thing for this child, whom you love, is to walk away, but if you were in my living room right now I would have a good cry with you and give you my love. And I would say, I am so sorry for your loss, so incredibly sorry.
Can I suggest something? Let’s stop the cruelty. Stop painting these women as villains. Stop making them hide in shame. They are our sisters and they have suffered a huge loss. If you know someone coming home from a disruption do something radical. Make a meal sign up for them. They are not only jet lagged and have duties at home, but they are grieving so completely. Their pain is unimaginable. Let’s listen to their stories and find something to learn in it. Let’s surround them with love. Please, please, let us stop the vicious cycle. You can disagree but be kind. You can have a different opinion without being cruel. You can be against someone’s choice and still hold out your hand in love.
What made my choice? What made me not disrupt?
I’m not sure I have a great answer for that. It certainly wasn’t anything heroic or worthy of praise. I heard the questions of my soul asking me if I could do this. And I knew that I could not. I was so broken in that moment. I just knew that God was telling me she was ours and so that surely must mean He would allow me to taste His grace a little more. I couldn’t do it, but maybe He could. That was literally all I was going on in that moment.
Ellie and Everlyse have taught me much.
There is beauty in pain.
I don’t have grace for tomorrow. I only taste His grace for today.
God not only gives love, but He creates loves. He breathes its newness into our hearts.
Expectations can betray us, but love is possible in the most unlikely of places.
And Love is what makes everything beautiful.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. — Matthew 6:33,34
Be Blessed, My Friends.
— guest post by Katie
Thank you so much for sharing, Katie. Such a beautiful story. I appreciate the graciousness with which you handled such a difficult subject. Prayers for both of your girls!
Thank you. God bless you. It is abundantly clear to me He has just spoken through your words and your pain. Your paragraph that begins with “Can I suggest something?” should be required reading for EVERY adoptive
Thank you for sharing your experience and your heart! This is so important for every single adoptive parent to read, and I would go as far as for every parent to read. I cannot wait to see how God shines through your story!
I LOVE your post. I could have written it myself. We adopted our first daughter from China in December of 2005. We were told she had a small heart condition that had already been corrected and “developmental delays she was expected to overcome.”
As soon as we met her, we knew she had severe developmental delays. I remember the doubts I felt that first night in China, grieving the child you thought you knew. Trying to love the actual child. The way you describe your medical visit is eerily similar to our experience. Devastating.
I too told God I couldn’t handle a child with severe developmental delays. He must have been laughing when I said that! 😉 Because now I have a child with severe developmental delays!
I want you to know that that same little girl (Grace) turned 11 last month. She can walk now, but she can’t speak. She’s not potty trained. She has seizures. But she’s MY little girl though I was hollowed out by grief at the beginning of our journey, now she’s just Grace. My daughter. I don’t even see her needs any more
As someone who walked this road before you, I promise that you will get through this. And years from now, you’ll love your little girl even more than you do now.
If you ever need the shoulder or the ear of someone who’s been there, please email me. I’m happy to talk.
P.S. – I love that you growl back to your daughter. Grace shrieks and grunts. So I shriek and grunt along with her. When I do, she laughs, these great big belly laughs!
P.S.S. — We’ve since gone on to adopt four other children from China, all with special needs, (one of whom is in a wheelchair!) so the fear, anger, grief, etc. does dissipate!
This is so well said. We just returned with our son 2 1/2 months ago. He is not as much of a special needs case, but when we picked him up there were so many more delays than what we expected. I had so many of those same feelings and it is nice to have it eloquently put into words. I’m learning never to tell God what I won’t do 🙂 In His humor as a parent I think he says “Oh really?” I know He is doing beautiful things in our hearts and showing us His wonderful love for these dear children. Blessings to you!
I met you on ZZ. I was the one with the extra pacifier. I remember your awesome 9 year old daughter! What a remarkable girl.
Thank you for sharing such raw emotions. It is refreshing to know we aren’t alone in our fears and doubts.
Oh, Katie. I had lost track of your journey to your girls in the busy-ness of our own difficult season. I had no idea. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing truly, deeply, and honestly. AND with such a beautiful challenge – that should be heard by all: “Can I suggest something? Let’s stop the cruelty. Stop painting these women as villains. Stop making them hide in shame. They are our sisters and they have suffered a huge loss.”
I so appreciate your heart. Praying for you and your family!!!!
Thank you for beautifully sharing your story. I love how you are leaning on God’s grace.
Thank you for sharing.
I have 5 kids from China my 4th dtr was from a disrupted adoption in China. The Mom who was not able to complete her adoption was actually the person who lead me to her. I was headed to the orphanage that month anyway to adopt another child so thought I’d check in on this child. People are always so quick to judge the parents who disrupt the adoptions in China We need to all be more empathetic. We have to support people in painful places many of the times these children have been misrepresented to the adoptive parents> My daughter was presented as a healthy non special needs child when in fact she has a harrowing first year and had even been in a coma. I feel for her first set of adoptive parents. Thankfully they told me about her and I was able to meet her in person and get
help and rehab for her. Today she’s a healthy happy 11 year old girl in 6th grade. I can not judge her first adoptive parents I don’t know that i wouldn’t have done the same thing they did if I met her in the condition they found her in. Lets all just love and support each other no one spends thousands of dollars and travels around the world just to be picky some people find the child they were presented is a totally different person than the one brought to their hotel room. God bless you for your strength and love for your little girls.
i remember meeting you in China. Thank you for sharing your story. I will join you in prayer!
Weeping. Tears are pouring down my cheeks right now. Sobbing. Thank you. Katie. Thank you. A friend sent this to me last night. I am sitting in Guangzhou right now with a daughter who was not what we had seen with our referral. All the doctors and specialists here have looked at her file. Her true condition was hidden from us. I have been here for 9 days weeping every night for the daughter I thought I was getting. So many feelings. Grief. Anger. Hurt. Betrayal. Just reading your words has opened my soul to the fact that I am not alone in this. I am so scared. Her condition was the one thing I didn’t want to say yes to. It was our one no. And we have it. My heart has been broken like I never thought possible. And as I am away from my other babies and my family I have been hurting for so many days. Clinging to Truth – even though I don’t feel it at all. Say a little prayer for us if you would. And thank you for that Truth – Matthew 6:33-34. Today. I have all I need for Today. Grace for today is what I’m holding in to. Thank you
Sarah, know you are being prayed for!
Prayers for you Sarah!
Thank you for sharing, Sarah, and so grateful that you were able to read this at just the right time! We will be praying for you and your new daughter!
Praying for you right this minute Sarah. The timing of you receiving this post right when you needed it is not lost to us at No Hands But Ours. His hand is in the details. And His hand is on you and your daughter. Please know the NHBO team is praying for you!
[…] is doing a month long series on dissolutions and disruptions. They posted a new article titled, When it isn’t harmonious, about a momma who just got back from China after what one could only describe as an absolutely […]
Thank you for sharing your heart and for reflecting Jesus’ love through your words!!! Thank you for pointing me to Him.
Thank you for transparently sharing your heart: your attitudes, disappointments, and wrestlings. Your example is an encouragement to me! God will give the grace we need to live the life He has called us to…I needed to be reminded. Thank you, my sister in Christ! May God strengthen you today for all that this days holds, Katie!
Oh Katie, I’m so sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this. As you know, we (your DTC sisters) have prayed you through this journey, but my heart still breaks for you, especially as I read it all spread out in one place. You have taught me so much over the last several months as I’ve watched you follow God’s plan for your family. I’ve watched you fight to bring them home and I know you’ll now fight to get them the care they need. Thanks for reminding us, in your own pain, how to love and nurture those around us.
I found this post through a comment your husband left on the Washington Post article. Thank you for your words and sharing your story.
Sending vibes of peace and love. Saying prayers for strength and courage!
What a beautiful story of love, dedication and courage in the face of the unknown. God bless your family and these little girls.