Disruption. It is a word that sends a chill down my spine. It’s also one with which I am all too familiar.
When I heard the November focus was “Preparing for Adoption” I knew I needed to share my family’s story. I knew… and yet I hesitated because, although I don’t hide our story and have shared in my own circles, three years later the wounds are still raw.
I initially put the thought of sharing our story aside. But – as I was listening to the radio one day – I heard the announcer say, “Don’t hide the dark parts of your story, it is just what someone else might need to hear.” This is why I have chosen to share our story in the past; and why I share it with you now.
I share to shed light on what can go wrong and potentially prepare others for what we were not prepared for and I share, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:4)
In August of 2012 we started the journey to adopt our daughter from China. Our youngest of three sons had just turned one and that had been the day I had been waiting for to submit our adoption application. It was a day we had talked about for years and I was over the moon to take this first step towards our baby girl.
I dove into the process of filling out forms, scheduling home study visits, driving two hours to our state capital to expedite paperwork, writing down all of the important dates so that I could track how our timeline was moving, reading all the adoption blogs, stalking all the waiting child pages I could find and joining all the adoption groups on Facebook. I was fully immersed in the adoption world and I could not wait to have our daughter home.
When we received the medical needs checklist, I remember being very diligent about researching all the different special needs. It was not something we took lightly and even though we had no experience with any special needs in our family we ended up feeling confident with a list which was fairly open to a good amount of mild to moderate needs.
As we went through all the pre adoption training videos and books we became educated about all the difficulties we could potentially face through the adoption process but never fully faced and talked about the prospect of what we would do if this became our reality.
We kind of tucked all that hard stuff away and thought “We’ll pull it out one day if we need to, besides look at all these other amazing families blogging about their adoption stories, if they can do hard things so can we.”
When I look back now, this was our first mistake.
2014 was the start of a new year that brought so much excitement because I knew our time to be matched was coming and this was going to be the year we would meet our baby girl. At the end of January that much anticipated phone call came,
I was in tears on the phone with our agency because I just knew this was our daughter as she was describing her to me even before I saw her face. Even though this little girl’s medical need was not something we had initially considered, we moved forward in complete confidence that God had revealed himself to us and this was the daughter we had been waiting for.
The next few months flew by as we prepared for this child and dove into researching more of her specific special need and other family’s stories who had adopted children with the same need. I found that it was difficult for me to find a lot of information about her need,,, but I assumed that we would figure it out one day at a time once we had her home.
I remember during this time hearing about a family in one of my Facebook groups who had gone to China for an adoption and left without completing the adoption. I wondered how in the world this could happen and thought that would never in a million years happen to us.
By the time May rolled around this child had been named after my grandmother, had her own pink room in our house with a closet full of dresses, three big brothers excited and ready to meet her. And she was going to be in my arms around Mother’s Day.
Things could not be more perfect.
On the day of our journey to China I documented every step with a picture and settled in for the long flight reading the adoption books I had brought along, I was truly the picture of prepared – at least in my head. Our first few days in Beijing were spent sightseeing and while we enjoyed it there was an underlying feeling of nervousness due to being in a foreign country so far away from our boys and the anticipation of our lives about to change as we would meet our daughter in just a few days.
Finally, Gotcha day arrived. Everything happened so quickly after we got off the plane in province. Our guide picked us up and the clock started ticking towards meeting our daughter. We made a quick stop at our hotel to organize ourselves and then we were off to the civil affairs office. I remember trying to take everything in and could hardly believe after watching so many others share their gotcha day stories that it was now our turn.
There were several other families waiting to meet their children in the office that day but none that were with our agency and so we watched as each of these families met their children for the first time. There was a small room with a curtain over the doorway where the children were waiting and one by one they came out to be introduced to their families, it was an emotional scene to witness. For some reason the bus that was carrying our daughter and her nanny was delayed so we had to wait and just took in the scene of all these newly created families getting to know one another which seemed to all be going very well.
Finally, the elevator door opened and a woman carrying a curled up child rushed in past us and behind the curtain. I caught my breath and looked my husband in the eyes, she was finally here and we were about to meet our daughter!
Not a minute went by before they were calling for us to come meet this child we had been anxiously waiting and praying for. This was the moment I had been waiting for and dreaming about for so long – but this fairy tale was about to take a very unexpected turn. Her nanny quickly brought her out and placed a very scared, distraught child in my arms. Our guide began translating what her nanny was saying and I started to hear information that was not consistent with what I knew in her file.
As I was trying to hold and comfort a very confused child I was also trying to comprehend the inconsistencies in what our guide was telling us while at the same time feeling like something had gone very wrong inside of me.
Instead of joy I was feeling suddenly very overwhelmed.
In an instant, I could feel my whole world make a very dramatic shift and everything from this moment started spiraling out of control. I don’t even know if I spoke during this time or was just trying to process the entire scene in my head. I felt like the whole room’s eyes were on us – I could feel my body heat rising rapidly and my stomach starting to knot up.
My thoughts became very jumbled and I couldn’t think of anything I had prepared to do. I think my husband asked the nanny some questions I had written down but I really don’t remember at that point. I just knew I needed to get to the bathroom quickly because I was going to be sick. I tried to breathe and pull myself together but from that moment on I truly felt like I had entered the twilight zone.
I will not go into the details of the next few days but what I can recognize now is that I had a full on panic attack. At the time i had no idea and was completely unprepared emotionally to handle it.
If you’d have asked me before our trip who might panic I would have said – if anyone would – it would be my husband. Not me: the one who had dreamed about adopting for years, the one who was so prepared and who knew without a doubt that this was orchestrated by God.
Simultaneously this child we had been waiting for was having her own panic attack. Fear had taken over and paralyzed each of us. It was the perfect storm. Our guide was clearly ruffled by our initial meeting and quickly left us in the hotel room with, “See you tomorrow to finalize paperwork.”
We were alone and overwhelmed. No one in our group was in our province to ask for help and we felt worlds away from our boys at home. We called our agency and social worker immediately. We emailed our doctor, family, friends and pastor. We prayed and read scripture. We did all the things you’re supposed to do in crisis… but nothing felt right anymore.
We found ourselves in a place we never imagined we’d be.
You may be wondering – how does this story help or encourage those in the adoption process? Can anything good come from this? Without question, I can tell you that yes, good has and will continue to come from the dark parts of all our stories if we allow God to use them. I could write pages and pages of all that God has done after I found myself in that pit.
Here’s what I think would have helped prepare us more for our experience in country.
1. Prepare. Don’t just read the books, take the classes and then store that information away thinking you will deal with it if needed. Really talk about and discuss the hard things now as if they will happen.
2. Plan. Make a plan ahead of time for what you will do if you find yourself in a crisis situation. Do not expect that you will be able to handle everything in the moment. Fear is an extremely powerful force.
3. Engage. Have a few friends or family on call that you have prepped ahead of time to counsel you if needed. Most of our friends and family didn’t know what to say and were just as caught off guard by this situation as we were.
4. Reach out. In the event your guide is not helpful in a crisis and you are not traveling with a group, reach out to whoever you can in country. I think this would have been the most helpful thing for me. In our situation I didn’t even leave the room to eat and – since we had no one in our group – there was no one to notice we were missing or that anything was wrong.
Isolating ourselves was probably the worst thing we could have done. It would be helpful to find another family ahead of time who will be traveling at the same time and staying in the same place. Facebook groups are a great resource to find and connect with someone ahead of time.
Do I think that planning ahead will solve the problem of disruption across the board? No, I don’t. However, I do believe it can help us to be better prepared to respond and not react to situations we may encounter. This is why I am committed to not keeping silent about what we went through because those of us who have experienced disruption are truly the only ones who can speak with any authority on this topic.
I can tell you no family invests their whole hearts, spends years of time and tens of thousands of dollars to leave empty handed. It is truly heartbreaking for the child and the family. And I am calling adoptive families to step up and show compassion to all involved. So many who have walked this path are shamed into silence by the adoption community. I assure you God does not shame and neither should we.
Let’s not abandon these families but reach out to them and try to learn from their experience what went wrong so that we can be better educated to help others as they prepare for the often difficult road of adoption.
I know this is a heavy topic but there is a light at the end of the tunnel in this story. As Elisabeth Elliott once said, “God’s story never ends in ashes.”
This child, who we thought was going to be our daughter, is now a beloved daughter thriving in a family who truly seems to have been made just for her. And you know what? Maybe they were.
After all God’s ways are not our ways and no plan of His will be thwarted. Thank God for truly working all things out for the best.
– guest post by an anonymous mama