Alternately titled: What I wish I would have known, and what I would like to share with other adoptive families
I first started out with adoption in 2004 when I was just 21 years old. It was the summer before my senior year of college when I got a job as an intern at All God’s Children International (AGCI) in Portland, Oregon. And after that, career-wise, I’ve never looked back.
I fell in love with adoption. It became my dream job. I worked assisting in the China program after graduation and within about five years I became the Director of the China program. I took one year off after the birth of my daughter, Elizabeth, who is now eight years old.
When I returned to work, the agency sent me to China for the first time. At the time I was also pregnant with my second daughter, Emily, who is now six. And that trip changed my life… after that I was never the same.
It was the first time I had ever visited an orphanage. I knew I wanted to adopt one day, and, as a mom, my heart really went out to the kids. I wanted a better life for them.
In the summer of 2013, AGCI signed their first one-to-one partnership with the Xiamen orphanage in the Fujian province. We were the first agency to ever have a partnership with an orphanage in Fujian, home to 57 orphanages, with (last I heard) less than 20 of these orphanages having paperwork for adoption. Xiamen is the second largest orphanage, next to the Fuzhou orphanage.
In January of 2014, Xiamen opened the first Fujian baby safety island for the province. This is where children could be safely abandoned. Xiamen is home to about 450 orphans, and over 200 have aged out of the system.
Since AGCI signed that agreement, they have placed many children with special needs from Xiamen. They have also helped improve the lives of the kids there by helping elevate the care and conditions of the orphanage. AGCI has been able to place kids from Xiamen that were born deaf, with cerebral palsy, brain cancer, heart defects, blood disorders, Down syndrome, anal atresia, arthrogryposis, cleft lip and palate, bladder exstrophy, etc. I am so thankful to God for the work that has happened there! Amazing!
Since my first trip, I have been to China six times. And always… I feel I leave a part of my heart there.
Over the years I have advocated for many children. One of them is now my son, Isaiah Wenqing. He was on AGCI’s list for nearly two years, and after seeing him still waiting after four trips to China, my husband I and prayerfully made the decision to bring him home.
We knew we were signing up for big unknowns. We were told he may never walk and his paper work said that had Down syndrome. We have since learned through a chromosome test that he did not have Down syndrome, but might have a different genetic syndrome.
Due to these unknowns – and the need to be with my family more – plus a longer commute to the office of AGCI, I resigned from my position in the spring 2016 after over a decade of working there.
Isaiah came home the summer of 2016, and we are in awe of what God has done. Within a couple of months, Isaiah, who was born with severe hypotonia, was walking. We recently learned from MRI results that he has a brain injury as well as a rare genetic disorder. He is also in physical, speech and occupational therapy.
In August, we celebrated his fourth birthday with him, in our home as a family. He loves Thomas the Train, anything to do with cars, books, noodles, playing outside, and watermelon. He has brought tremendous joy to our home.
We have started the adoption process again for another little boy, Levi, from the same orphanage. We are now awaiting immigration approval.
I advocated for Levi for almost a year. Levi was only a few months old when he was abandoned Christmas Eve of 2014. There was a penned note from his birth mom stating that due to a difficult birth, he had a brain hemorrhage and was given the diagnosis of HIE. I worked hard to place him when I got his file in early 2016, I even got video of him and Isaiah playing together.
I knew in my heart if no one said yes, and if things went well with Isaiah, I would love to adopt him too. We plan to travel during the summer of 2017 to adopt Levi.
So, after over 10 years of adoption work, processing nearly 400 adoptions, I can share the things that I have learned and that I wish I would have known for my own adoptions.
The wait is so hard! It is hard to wait after you see a face, after you say yes and have to wait about a year to travel. Families told me this, but I never felt that ache in my heart until I was waiting to travel to get Isaiah. But the wait is so worth it. On “gotcha day”, my friends said they had never seen me smile like that before. My heart was soaring!
I have filled out thousands of adoption forms, but when it came to filling out my own for Isaiah’s adoption, I was absolutely nutty! I triple checked everything and still felt like I was doing something wrong! At that point, I really sympathized with the families who struggle with the paperwork and ask a lot of questions. So all that to say, it does not matter how well you know it…just hang in there!
Updates on your kids are like Christmas morning! I absolutely loved getting updates on Isaiah. This is one of the things that got me through the tough wait. I never knew how much families loved this until I got it myself – treasure the updates you get!
Don’t be afraid of the adoption funding. God provided every cent of Isaiah’s adoption, and we already are seeing God’s provision on our second adoption. Apply for grants, make t-shirts, do garage sales, set up a Pure Charity account… and then share with friends and family. God provides!
One of the biggest issues families would call me about once home was sleep issues. I needed to ask for prayers about this issue for Isaiah… that he would sleep well.
Oh, how I wish I would have encouraged co-sleeping more to my families. Co-sleeping has been so great. We did not do this so much with our two girls, but it has been so wonderful for Isaiah. And he is sleeping through the night!
(Isaiah does kick a lot! Once he is asleep we put long pillows on each side of him from the waist down, then he will sleep through the night. I would establish a good night routine too, (like bath, books, bed) so your child comes to expect it at the same time every day.)
Another thing is that emotions can run high in the adoption process. I would say try to show grace to your agency, as they are only human and can sometimes make mistakes. I know I made some in my career at AGCI even though I had the best of intentions. I know the caseworkers are working typically for non-profits. They work long, hard hours and many time after hours for traveling families as they talk with foreign staff at night when they are awake, etc. So please be kind to the caseworkers.
Most of the families I worked with over the years were amazing, but some were very difficult and some issues were over things even out of my control. I loved my families and the kids I served… and I wanted to take care of them!
Attachment is a process… it takes time. It does not happen overnight. Try not to take it personally if your child doesn’t come to you right away. Often times they don’t trust you yet and are not ready for you to be their comforter.
We stayed home and kept others away from Isaiah as much as possible for three months. It was one of the best decisions we made in the adoption process. I would tell families this, but found myself in tears the first weeks home when Isaiah would sometimes push me away and call others mama, shake his head “no” when I said “I love you”. I knew in my mind this was normal, since he still did not know me, but my heart was hurting.
I used to tell families it can months, but the first three to six months are the most critical to focus on attachment. Now, six months home, it hardly is a concern at all! He gives me kisses, hugs, says “love you!” and stays close to me in public. I am not sure what I was so worried about, except I think I had too high of expectations as my mom put it.
He also preferred my husband, Mike, which was a little hard at first, but this is also normal. And honestly was a gift to my husband as my girls always preferred me. I am glad that Mike had this with Isaiah.
Time is a gift and brings healing! So don’t rush it, and be intentional especially with touch and eye contact. Almost daily, I try to hold Isaiah in my Boba baby carrier to keep him close, give him lots of eye contact and sing to him, etc. So if you have struggles the first weeks and months home, know that is normal. I have heard from some families it can take up to year after being home to feel really good about attachment. I have seen this to be true too.
I love these three Bible verses and quoted them to families at times and have clung to them myself over the last several months…
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.“ – Galatians 6:9
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” – Ephesians 3:20
I am so incredibly thankful that after over a decade of adoption work in China, I can end my career at this time with becoming an adoptive parent myself. I am so thankful for this new season to focus on my family.
One of the hardest parts of my job was searching over the database of nearly 2000 kids almost daily trying to find families for them. There are so many kids who are still waiting for families. I never dreamed my husband and I would say “yes” to two special focus boys within 12 months, and I’m so glad we did!
Isaiah has brought so much joy and meaning to our family. We adore him!
The other day in church, someone said to us how it is amazing that we are laying down our lives for these kids. But honestly, I don’t see it that way at all!
We are gaining joy!
We are gaining the gift of two sons!
It is interesting that when you align your life with God’s purpose and plan, He blesses you. I am not saying it is all sunshine and rainbows. We have good and bad days, but the hope and joy we find in Jesus in doing His will brings us great joy!
“The joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
“Be joyful in hope….” Romans 12:12