I like to say our son, Bo, is an answer to a prayer I didn’t even know I had until we began the process to adopt him.
In 2004, my husband, Peet, and I became parents for the first time in a courtroom in Tomsk, Siberia, to a beautiful baby girl. Then in 2010, we found ourselves in Siberia again, this time in Krasnoyarsk, and became the parents of a spunky 3 ½ year old little girl. We left Russia with the dream in our hearts of returning to the country that we held so dear for a third child, someday. Those dreams came crashing down when Russia banned all Americans from adopting in December of 2012.
That left us wondering where God was leading us. Russia seemed so natural. We knew it. So much so, I could practically complete a dossier in my sleep (ok, maybe it’s not that easy), and we wanted to work with the same wonderful coordinator from our second adoption.
For years we wrestled with what to do, and we waited to hear God’s voice in the midst of it all.
We eventually submitted an application for a domestic adoption, but we were having trouble getting the paperwork done; it just was not moving along very quickly. Shortly after that, I went to a friend’s house as she was packing to leave to adopt a child from China. I supposedly went to help her pack, but being an extremely organized person, she was already packed. We sat and talked about adoption (this was their first adoption) and specifically the unknowns associated with a special needs adoption. As I sat on her bedroom floor, a voice in my head said, “You could do this.”
China had never even been a part of our conversations about a third adoption. A few weeks later, I saw a blog post on Facebook about the need for families to adopt boys from China, specifically in the Waiting Child Program.
I felt a stirring in my heart right then and there.
That Friday, my husband and I were out on our weekly “date.” He is the Rector (head pastor) of a growing Anglican church, and he was in the midst of a very busy, stressful time at work. While I was hesitant to even mention a change in our plans to him that day, thinking that it would be more than either of us could bear, I could not ignore the stirring in my heart. So I told him what had happened over the last few days, and we both immediately knew that God was calling us to adopt a boy from China. It could not have been a clearer call. So we set off down the path, once again, of paperwork, waiting, and the inevitable hiccups that happen along the way.
As we were completing the part of the paperwork that dealt with medical and special needs, I kept having a “sense” that we would be matched with a child with cleft lip and palate. My father is an orthodontist, one of our best friends is a pediatric dentist, and we already knew how to navigate the therapy system in our town. We had an automatic support system in place for a child with this specific need.
In August of 2014, for the third time in our lives, we got the phone call that changed our life forever. “We have a file for a baby boy with unrepaired cleft lip and palate, and we think he would be a good match for your family.”
We opened our email to get his file and saw his precious face for the first time. His eyes were so bright, so alive, so curious, so piercing; we fell in love. After reviewing the file, we excitedly and nervously accepted the referral, and continued along in the process to bring our son home. Throughout the long and winding journey, our calling was affirmed. At no point did we lose our resolve, and there were numerous moments when we saw and felt the hand of God so clearly.
Finally, on March 15, 2015 in our hotel room in Lanzhou, China, we were handed our beautiful, albeit exhausted and fairly uneasy, little boy. Our older daughter traveled to China with us for the trip of a lifetime, and she and her new brother bonded almost instantaneously.
Adopting a child with unrepaired cleft lip and palate has been an amazing experience with joys and challenges that we would not trade. I was worried most about feeding him while we were in China and after we returned home. I asked many questions of mothers who had gone before me and adopted children with unrepaired cleft conditions, and we went to China prepared for every possible scenario.
As it turned out, our son was only drinking bottles filled with formula and cereal. He would not eat any solid foods in China or for the first few months home. We tried all of the baby foods, noodles, and soups, and he refused all of them.
We worked with an occupational therapist on his feeding in the first few months we were home, and he eventually began to eat solid foods. We had tried many things to get him to eat, and low and behold, the first thing he ate was tiny pieces of a Cheez It! Who doesn’t love a Cheez It?!
What I have learned in the year we have been home as I am getting to know others in the adoptive cleft community, is that there is a wide range of experiences when it comes to feeding when a child first comes home. Some children are eating anything and everything, and for some it can be a struggle with numerous feeding challenges. That being said, there are so many excellent resources and specialists all over our country to help overcome these challenges and work with families along the way. Eating is now one of Bo’s favorite activities! He is by far my least picky eater, and he has doubled his weight since coming home.
The second worry I had about his unrepaired cleft lip and palate was communication. Anyone who goes into an adoption of a child with cleft conditions knows that speech can often be the biggest challenge. We continue to be amazed at how Bo communicates with us, and lets us know what he wants, even though he still has few words that would be recognizable to anyone else. He had surgery in July of 2015 to repair his lip and nose, and then his palate was repaired two months later. He has been in speech therapy, and is making some progress, but we discovered that he is in need of a surgery to lengthen his palate to further improve his speech. This surgery will happen in August, and once he heals, we will continue with speech therapy.
Any worries and fears I had about his special need before his adoption have been overcome by the immense joy he brings to our family. I never dreamed that in my early forties, I would be given a gift like this. One of Bo’s “best” traits is his smile, which he gives freely to all he meets.
In all of the photos we saw of him before we went to China, he was not smiling. I was so curious about what his smile was going to look like. Friends had prayed for us, and prayed specifically that he would be filled with joy even during the adoption trip, which is full of unknowns, fear, and transitions for these little ones.
Those prayers were answered when on the first day, we saw and fell in love with the most precious, widest smile and amazing dimples we had ever seen! It was contagious. We brought him home, and everyone else fell in love with that smile too.
My daughter who traveled to China with us burst into tears the last time she kissed her baby brother before his first surgery because she, like all of us, was going to miss that gorgeous smile. We do miss the wide smile, but his new smile is just as adorable.
Parenting a little boy after years of only knowing girl-parenting has been an experience beyond my wildest dreams. It is a little noisier, messier, and smellier, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Yes, he has a significant need that he will have for the rest of his life, but it is not something we dwell on every moment. It is a part of who he is, and it has changed us all for the better.
I just saw the movie, “Miracles from Heaven.” The movie is about a dramatic miracle, but the mother in the movie talks about all of the “little” miracles that occur along her family’s journey. That is how I would describe the journey of adoption.
Yes, a gigantic and earth-shattering miracle occurs the first time you hold your child.
But the journey is full of “little” miracles along the way…
a conversation on the bedroom floor surrounded by packed suitcases
a Facebook post
a wide, contagious smile
the community of adoptive parents, doctors, and therapists
And a little boy who is now a treasured son, brother, grandson, and nephew – the answer to a prayer I did not know I had.