Expect the unexpected.
Can that even be accomplished?
Doubtful, but with preparedness, an open heart, and faith in God’s greater plan, we can accept the unexpected.
Our adoption journey began by filling out a medical conditions checklist with mostly surgically repairable needs. Phillip and I were expecting to adopt a baby girl someday, until we were told most files were for boys over 12 months old. Fine by us, we already had one son we adored. So we completed applications, signed contracts, and began our home study. Documents to China in six months, right?
Delay after delay meant a login date after ten long months. However, the expected six month wait to be matched with a toddler boy ended after one month when we received the phone call that changed our lives forever. We anticipated excitement, of course. And then, the immediate affection for the sweet boy in the file filled our hearts beyond belief!
Our new son had an adorable smile and lots of potential. We didn’t expect the overwhelming feeling that the child in the photo truly belonged in our family, and the peace that occurred when we knew he was our son.
Elijah’s special need was isolated cleft palate. We received amazing support from family and friends who had been following our journey. We were told to expect travel in four to seven months, yet we boarded the plane less than three months later. We expected our few days in Beijing to include rest, time zone adjustment, and tourist attractions, but there was so much more in store. We headed to our next destination with funny stories, newly formed friendships, and a greater appreciation for the culture of China.
After landing in Zhengzhou, we learned our son recently had palate lengthening surgery. I cried and cried knowing that Elijah had to endure that painful surgery and recovery without us. But at least it was done, and we could bond without surgery looming over us.
We expected Gotcha Day to be like a reunion with a beloved family member. In reality, it is a beautiful and emotional mess, mixed with grief and loss. For the parents, it was as amazing as being handed a baby after labor and delivery. For the children, I imagine it was like being slowly kidnapped by people that don’t look or sound like those you know. However, through the power of prayer and snack food, Elijah bonded with us right away and we felt a closeness like no other.
Elijah’s notes stated he could be put to bed awake and would fall asleep on his own. Having gone through significant change, we expected him to “sleep like a newborn” with his new family and surroundings. Instead, he was terrified of cribs, suffered awful night terrors during naps, and woke up at least every hour at night. No one could have prepared us for the sleep deprivation for months to follow.
We expected the people of China to look at us with curiosity. We didn’t expect pictures taken like we were of celebrity status, waitresses to take food from our chubby cheeked boy, and grandmothers to judge his clothing while yelling at us in Chinese. But we also met lovely locals who helped us order food and buy children’s shoes. Some kind Chinese nationals even offered their seats at malls and airports when I wore Elijah in the baby carrier.
After returning home, we received some documentation from Elijah’s orphanage. We learned that Elijah had been to a local hospital three months prior to Gotcha Day, but they refused to perform his surgery. We learned he spent over a month at a children’s hospital in Shanghai for his surgery and recovery, likely leading to his night terrors and fear of cribs. We also learned that his former physicians suspected Elijah to have Pierre Robin Sequence. This includes a recessed chin during embryology which leads to a cleft palate. While we did not expect a syndrome, it wouldn’t have affected our decision to adopt Elijah.
We hoped Elijah did not require additional surgery, but our craniofacial team in North Carolina discovered the repair was not complete as expected. We learned that Elijah’s hard palate had been repaired but the soft palate still needed closure. During the second palate lengthening surgery, tubes were also placed in Elijah’s ears by the ENT.
We hoped the surgery would help Elijah’s hearing and speech, but improvement happened even faster than imagined. Just one short day later, still in the hospital, Elijah said “Mama” for the first time. My heart melted as all the expectations fell away, and I heard my son speak a word he didn’t know until being adopted.
Few things on our journey went as we expected, but not much in life does. No one could have anticipated all the ups and downs, yet God knew exactly what a blessing Elijah would be to our family.
We are grateful that we took a leap of faith into adoption and followed God’s will, for our lives as well as Elijah’s.