“I do not think she will live long, and if she does, she will probably never live independently and you will be setting yourself up for a tremendous amount of heartache,” the doctor said.
I never thought my husband and I would ever hear those words. I never thought we would adopt a child with a complex medical condition and profound delays, let alone choose to adopt the very child the doctor’s dire words were describing.
It all began in 2009. We were so excited to be adding a fourth child to our family, this time through adoption. We enthusiastically filled out piles of paperwork, sat through hours of training, and read countless books on adoption and trauma.
We thought we were prepared, but we were not prepared. Not even close. It wasn’t our agency’s fault or even ours, really. Nothing can really fully prepare you for such heartache and loss like seeing and experiencing it firsthand.
We were not prepared to see rooms, filled wall to wall, with children in cribs.
We were not prepared to see children longing and wanting to be held.
We were not prepared to see children who self-soothed themselves because no else would.
We were not prepared to see the lifeless eyes of children who have not experienced the loving embrace of someone that cares.
We were not prepared to see children who were suffering from lack of resources, nutrition, and medical care.
We were not prepared to see and experience that much sadness; our world had been shaken to the core.
Our eyes had been opened and our hearts had been broken. We had no idea, at that time, that God was using that heartache to lay the foundation for us to welcome home a very sick little girl a few years later in 2013.
In the summer of 2012, we adopted again and welcomed home our fifth child, a girl. Shortly after, in January 2013, we heard about “Hope”. She was a two year old girl with thalassemia in desperate need of a family. Her condition was truly dire. After some praying, my husband and I decided we would pursue bringing her home.
Getting her medical file, so we could move forward in bringing her home, proved to be a challenge. But God was in every detail and in February we finally had her file in our hands. Sadly, her condition was much, much worse than we expected. At two and a half years old, she was barely sitting up, not walking or talking, and weighed about 15 pounds. Her file stated she had thalassemia, un-standard head and chest size, and developmental delays. And, to top it all off, she was not receiving the proper medical care and blood transfusions that she desperately needed to live.
We had three doctors review her file. Two of them told us that she would not live long, and if she did, she would require lifelong care and never live independently. The third doctor would not comment on her condition, but said if we could get her home, the children’s hospital could treat and care for her.
It is so incredibly difficult to look at a child’s file and know that we could say yes or we could say no. We had the power to change a child’s life forever. That power felt like a heavy weight on my chest, and I know my husband felt it too. Hope needed a family, and we knew that. We did not want to make the wrong decision, for her sake and for ours.
It really was life or death for her, but at the same time we were not her savior. She already had one. Hope did not need us to make a decision simply to “save” her. She needed a family to say yes to her because they loved her, wanted her, believed and hoped for her, no matter what her file said.
How do you adopt a child not knowing if they will be okay?
How do you adopt a child when every earthly part of you says, “What are you doing!?”
I wish I could put it into words, the peace that came with saying yes to Hope. We knew without a doubt that it was the right decision. We knew that she was created in His very image, and that nothing would come as a surprise to Him.
We knew that God was asking us to trust Him on a much deeper level. We knew that it would be hard and that it would stretch us thin, but we also knew that His blessings would far outweigh any heartache we faced.
We gave Hope the name Ayla. Ayla means strong oak. And while we knew that our girl was anything but strong, our prayer for her was that she would grow stronger, that she would be able to overcome and weather every season in life, and that she would become grounded in the love that we, and God, have for her.
On August 12, 2013, in a cramped and muggy hotel room, we met our beautiful Ayla. She was listless. Her eyes looked empty and she was just so tiny. My husband held his arms out to Ayla. She went from the orphanage director’s arms right into his and gently laid her head on his shoulder.
I watched my husband’s eyes well with tears. He cried as he held his tiny new daughter. He cried as he promised that he would protect her forever. At that moment it did not matter what Ayla’s prognosis was, because at that moment, she became a daughter and was loved for just being her. God had entrusted us with one of His most precious creations that day.
Ayla is five years old now (if you asked her she would proudly declare that she is five and a half). She has been home just over three years, and her transformation has been remarkable. She is still pretty tiny, but she is learning every day and defying the odds. She is walking and talking, and singing… oh how she loves to sing. She even learned to pedal her bike this summer.
She has a sparkle in her eyes now and she has even developed a bit of grit. She is one of the bravest girls we know. She still struggles with some medical issues, physical issues, and a few other things, but we have a great team of doctors and staff that care deeply for Ayla.
(She also has five older siblings cheering her on in everything she does.)
We will forever be grateful to everyone that has supported and cared for us on this journey.
Shortly after we arrived home with Ayla, we learned that she was the first from her orphanage to survive with beta thalassemia major. There is no doubt in my mind that God has big things in store for our brave, sweet girl.
God is at work and it is awe-inspiring. Changing lives is His specialty and we have had front row seats to his power, faithfulness, and goodness.
What an honor it is to be Ayla’s mama.
“Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
– guest post by Rabecca