If you have read any adoption account they all contain transformation stories. Most are pretty dramatic. How could it be anything less?
Family makes a difference.
The love of family brings healing physical, emotional and spiritual. It is no different in our story.
My family was in line to be matched with a child in Ethiopia. But not long after beginning the process, Ethiopia basically slowed all adoptions to a halt. We were devastated as we waited four long years to bring home our child.. one that we loved even though we had never seen his face.
While we waited, we prayed. Prayed should we just wait and wait and wait? Or should we look into adopting from another country?
One date night at a booth in Panera, we sat with our laptops open to our agency’s portal that lists waiting children. We scrolled through so many with special needs we felt we could handle – and some we thought we couldn’t. Then we saw the face of a little one year old boy that tugged at our hearts. He was wearing blue pants and a red sweater. Bald and looking around at the others around him, he had a cleft lip and palate and was post-op for tetralogy of Fallot.
I have friends who had adopted children with cleft lip and palate, we could do that, I thought to myself.
We requested his file and showed it to medical professionals. In our hearts – each step that we took towards this little boy – we knew he was our son. We asked our agency to match us with him, that we could get the chance to be this little one’s family. We prayed and prayed and stared at his picture and video for two long weeks while we waited on approval from the agency. During this time we memorized his face and marveled at the way he wiggled his socked feet and held onto his toes.
Finally one night while grocery shopping, we got the call that he was indeed ours! Pure joy.
It took a full year to finally hold him in our arms. During that year we prepared ourselves as much as possible for his arrival. We have three other children – who during our long adoption process had all grown into teenagers!
We were starting over.
We needed everything.
Tiny clothes etc.
But the Lord provided and although it seemed like it took forever to get to him, before I knew it we were kissing our big kids goodbye and boarding a plane.
I will never forget walking into the courtyard of Samuel’s orphanage. It was hot and humid beyond belief. The orphanage was huge and looked like a children’s hospital. As we walked through those first sets of doors, I looked over my shoulder at my husband and managed to whisper, “Do you think we will recognize him?”
My mind was racing and my heart pounding as they brought us and the other families adopting that day into a large room. There was a row of nannies all holding babies. The very first face I saw was our Samuel’s. I knew him instantly.
Right then and there our former lives ended, and our new lives began.
After a few minutes of coaxing him into my lap with puffs, he came into my arms and has been ever since. Within those first few minutes of holding him, I knew Samuel was a very sick, very malnourished little boy.
He felt hollow. If you have ever held a feral kitten, that is what he felt like. He didn’t know how to receive hugs and kisses. But that did not stop me from showering him with them. All the while my mind raced with thoughts of, “Oh my gosh he is so sick, can I do this?” “Jesus can I bear this?” Even though I had done some research about cleft lips and palates, I had no idea their ears could leak infection and smell worse than anything I had ever smelled.
The rest of our two weeks was spent traveling from place to place, completing the adoption process, while trying to keep his ear from running all over him and me. In those first weeks, Samuel could barely walk. He was incredibly weak and quiet. Samuel attached instantly to me, but was much slower attaching to my husband and my oldest son.
It was physically and mentally exhausting transitioning from a mother of teens to a mother of a sick, needy toddler. I was not prepared for that. But I don’t think anything could have prepared me. Samuel was so sick and malnourished that our first pediatrician didn’t even know what to do with us or where to begin. So we found one who had experience with internationally adopted children. We were then thrown into one doctor appointment after another. Each appointment leading to more bloodwork and another specialist.
Meanwhile Samuel began having night terrors. He was an unbelievable champ, who went through the day smiling and adapting to each new situation or person he encountered, but by night it was like his brain was on overload. He would wake around midnight and scream anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. He would arch his back, fight me, and shake his head no no no over and over. There was nothing I could do but wait and try to hold him until it was over.
I would pray and sing hymns over and over, begging God for strength and for peace and for healing. It was like Samuel and I were doing battle together. And sometimes I did not think we would make it through. But God! His loving hand got us through each day and bonded our hearts stronger and stronger through every hour of screaming, even though sometimes I would hold him and think, “I don’t like him very much!”
At the end of each one Sam’s terrors his eyes would clear, he would take a deep breath and look at me and smile. As if to say, “You’re still here Mom. Good.” And he would fall back to sleep as if it never happened. But I struggled to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Would we ever sleep through the night again?
We arrived home on August 20 of 2015 and in December of that same year Samuel had another surgery to repair his lip. The surgery only made the night terrors worse.
Around the same time we were referred to a geneticist who told us she most assuredly believed Samuel had a syndrome. Before more blood work was done, she told us she was positive he had it. Samuel had several characteristics that she felt indicated one particular diagnosis. I was terrified. I had never even heard of the syndrome she described.
As we waited on the results of the bloodwork, things began to be split into two categories in my mind. Things Samuel would be able to do and things he would never be able to do, according to what Google had said about this particular syndrome. I was in a sleep deprived fog.
Depression settled in as I mentally listed things like:
He will never learn to walk.
He will never learn to feed himself.
We will never sleep.
He will never be potty trained.
He will never attach to my husband and oldest son.
At that time, Samuel could not do any of those things.
I allowed a doctor’s prognosis to knock the joy out of me.
But he did so many other things:
He could light up a room with his smile.
His passion for life and all things family was contagious.
He made me want to love everyone more and better.
His tenacity to smile even though he was in pain encouraged us.
His endless curiosity renewed our wonder at God’s creation.
One night while rocking for yet another hour, God reminded me of these things. He whispered to my heart He would give me what it takes to be the mother Samuel needed and deserved. It did not matter the results of the bloodwork. Samuel was our son and he had a purpose and a future and a family.
We had to wait two very long weeks until the results from the blood work. I will never ever forget the words of our geneticist when she called to say she had received the results. Her exact words were, “Carrie, Samuel has been cleared of a million things.”
She went on to say that though Samuel was very sick and behind and malnourished that with love and family and food she felt like he would grow and develop just fine.
I do want to add that she sent us for a bone scan for him. China had estimated Samuel to be two and turned three shortly after arriving in the states. On all the growth charts Samuel wasn’t in any normal range in any area at all. The bone scan revealed that his bones were more of a 18 month old than a three year old.
She advised that we had two ways we could go: To continue with the age China had said and assume the difference was due to lack of good nutrition, or we could just say he was two. Either way she said to wait a year and see how much he grows before we decide.
This has been a major issue in my mind. For Samuel’s sake when people ask his age we say three, even though China said he would be four now. This saves us from, we have found, a lot of questions and speculations that can sometimes come across as very rude.
Most people do not mean to be rude, they are just very uneducated regarding international adoption. We will continue to watch him grow and develop before making any final decisions on his birth certificate. I share this simply because this isn’t something I had heard of before. Most people I talk to find their children pretty close to China’s estimation.
Samuel has been home for 15 months. He is a rambunctious, curious, and wonderfully loving little boy who is fully attached to everyone in the family… including my husband and Caleb, my oldest. He weighed 18 pounds when we arrived home and today weighs almost 30 pounds. Samuel not only walks but runs…. everywhere, all the time. He talks and sings every day, all day. And while potty training still isn’t complete, it is in progress. He feeds himself.
And I’m so happy to say he sleeps through the night.
My family and I have learned so much throughout this process.
1. God is incredibly faithful. When He calls you out into the unknown to do things that you were terrified of, or things that you said you would never do, He always supplies what you need. He always has your back. And He indeed works all things out for the good and glory of His name.
2. The current season you’re in might feel like it will last forever, it most assuredly won’t. The Father uses time to heal so many things and it does wonders for newly adopted babies and their transitioning struggling families.
3. Give your newly adopted child time to grow and attach and heal. Don’t try to rush it and don’t panic when you hit a bump. These are words I wish someone had said to me.
4. You may mourn your old life. And that’s ok. But once you settle into a routine with your new addition you will find this “new normal” is so much better in every way.
5. Go slowly. We thank God for the many doctors and specialists who have crossed our path, but proceed with caution when it comes to jumping into the plethora of appointments that follow when arriving home with an internationally adopted child. After the routine check up to assess your child’s health, take your time. If he or she doesn’t have a condition that requires immediate follow-up, allow your child to enjoy the medicine of good food and the deep power of consistent hugs and kisses before visiting specialists.
We stand in awe of the Father and all He has done for us and through and in spite of us.
Adoption has been the most powerful way God has revealed Himself to my family. And I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for the world.
– guest post by Carrie