I’m a mama to four heart babies. And this is our story of becoming a family… our story of going from no children to four children in 15 months.
This is our crazy, wonderful life.
It was a big day. It was the day my husband messaged me at work and told me that he saw a new little boy on our agency’s website. We had been scanning the website daily looking for new children to see if any were clearly ours. I’m the “bleeding heart” and want to adopt all babies. My husband is the “brakes” – bringing reality to the situation – which makes us a good pair. But this day was different: he said he was in love with this new boy, that he had a “heart defect”, just like Judah did, so he felt we could totally handle his needs.
(A little backstory: Judah is our first son. He was adopted from China just six months earlier, on February 15th.)
He is also a heart baby – he had Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) – and we were taking him to cardiologist visits here in the states. He also had amniotic banding syndrome on his hands and feet.
My husband and I knew from the beginning that we were going to bring home more babies from China after Judah, but didn’t actually know that we’d be ready so quickly.
At the time, China still allowed a dossier reuse, so we decided that would be the route we’d go. As the bleeding heart of the family, I begged my husband to consider finding two special focus children to bring home this time, instead of one. We had many long conversations, and lots of tears on my end (as I was sure that every child I saw was meant to be ours), and lots of prayers.
We requested this little boy’s file with the “heart defect” and saw that his heart condition was so much more than that – he had a Single Ventricle Heart with Heterotaxy and Asplenia. His birthday is Valentine’s day (a note from his biological parents told us so), the biggest day of the year for all things heart, which is extra special to me. Thankfully, by the time we researched and consulted doctors, my husband was far too attached to let a scary diagnosis change his mind. Liang Zai, who we would call Zander, was meant to be ours, forever.
Unfortunately, we had to wait for his official file to be able to submit LOI. At the end of that wait, we finally found our daughter, Fu Fen, who we would call Hazel. She was also a heart baby- she had a repaired PDA when she was 7 months old, and was also developmentally delayed.
It appeared meant to be that our children are heart warriors. We knew we would spend countless more hours in cardiologists/surgeons offices, getting labs, EKGs, ECHOs, and even time in the hospital for repairs and sickness. Then there was Hazel’s hearing loss and developmental issues which meant even more specialists and testing. It definitely seemed a little crazy to us, but nothing we weren’t prepared to do. I guarantee that others, even family, thought we were actually crazy.
If that is all the craziness that the next year and a half would bring us, life actually might have been a walk in the park. Seriously! But, God had other plans. We were just at the tip of our crazy life-iceberg.
Three weeks after we said yes to Fu Fen and submitted LOI, I got the biggest shock of my life: I was pregnant. I found out at a routine checkup and I just remember laughing, almost hysterically (my poor nurse practitioner didn’t know what to make of my reaction). I called my husband. He was so kind and supportive, saying, “Wow, children are SUCH a blessing. But WOW!” And then he started laughing, too.
We talked to our agency. They were nervous for us, asked us to pray and talk to other families, but said that ultimately it was up to us what we wanted to do.
We had a few options:
1. Wait to adopt. Have our baby in May, then re-evaluate.
2. Choose to only adopt one of our children.
3. Adopt both.
We spent a lot of time talking to other families who had a similar story to ours. They shared the hard truth of what life was actually like, but also said that they wouldn’t have changed a thing. Zander and Hazel were already a part of our family, and we felt the right option did not include leaving either of them behind. So, we chose the hardest – adopt Zander and Hazel, and have a baby in May – only 15 months after bringing Judah home.
Because of the severity of Zander’s heart condition, we fought tooth and nail to bring him home on an expedite, knowing that he could have a decline in his health at any moment. We were granted it from USCIS in October!
In November, we got a call from our agency that Hazel had been taken in to the hospital by her foster home to do a sedated Auditory Brain Response (ABR) test. The results showed that she was likely deaf, or very hearing-impaired. They, again, asked us what we wanted to do. We didn’t hesitate: Hazel is our baby and if she is deaf, we will learn ASL and explore hearing options to help her thrive and communicate in whatever manner possible.
Despite having the expedite, we ran into a few snags and a few holidays along the way, which delayed us about two months. By the end of Chinese New Year, early February, we were in China.
Zander joined our family on February 13th, one day before his second birthday, and Hazel joined us on February 14th. (How cool this is? Zander’s family day is 2/13, Hazel’s is 2/14, and Judah’s is 2/15. Each has their own special day!)
When we were back and “settled” in the states, I was put on work-leave due to Placenta Previa, and our baby girl had to be born by cesarean at 36 weeks and one day, just two short months after landing in the US with Zander and Hazel. Little Joslyn Li spent nine days in the NICU and while she was there, they found a murmur in her heart. So she became our fourth child to establish care with our local pediatric cardiologists.
Over the next few months, Judah, Hazel, and Josie would all be cleared from cardiology as their hearts were working great and no further murmurs were heard in any of them.
Zander was a different story. When we first got home, we planned on them wanting to operate very quickly. Thankfully, his heart was doing so well and his oxygens sats were decent enough that, after many conferences about his case, the surgeons and cardiologists opted to wait and see how he progressed over the next few months. This would allow him to bond with us more before having a traumatic open-heart surgery.
December 11th finally was the day. Ten months after joining our family, he spent 17 days in the hospital, including his first Christmas. He had a bit of a rollercoaster ride, including needing CPR at one point to get his heart to perfuse and get back into normal sinus rhythm.
It was challenging as parents trying to juggle the other kids and make sure that Zander had someone to love on him. At times, I wondered what we were doing…
Was it worth it to put Zander through all this?
Would he still love us after it is all said and done?
He definitely was very bonded to us before – have we broken that bond and lost his trust?
We are now almost two months past his surgery, about to celebrate Zander’s third birthday, Zander and Hazel’s one-year family day, and Judah’s two-year family day. I can say, without a doubt, it was worth it. Zander was worth it all. He’s had a slow recovery process and is just now starting to have restful nights. Last week was the first time since the surgery that he smiled at me when I came home from work. He’s even letting me kiss him goodnight again. He still loves us and the bonds are still there, even though they are weaker than before. I am confident that “this too shall pass”.
I’ve had such a wonderful, comforting resource in the Heart to Heart Facebook group. It has been so helpful to know that we are not alone in our struggles and that there is a wealth of been-there, done-that parents who are more than willing to come alongside us to pray, offer advice, check in, and rejoice in the little and big victories!
As I look back over the last two years, I can’t believe how much our lives have changed. We went from a family of two, to a family of six. Our kids are 3, 2-almost-3, 2.5, and 9 months old. We are constantly juggling schedules: early intervention therapists, doctors appointments, play dates, ASL classes, church, and a myriad of other events that come up.
Thankfully, we are blessed to have both of our parents very close by. They have been amazing support for us and are more than willing to come help, even at a moment’s notice if something comes up. They are flexible and forgiving of us when we forget to let them know something and ask for help at the last minute. We also have a wonderful group of friends that have loved on us over the last two years by bringing us meals, clothes their kids have grown out of, toys their kids no longer use, and by praying for us constantly.
I am so proud of my heart warriors, each with a different story. I’m so thankful that God has given us so much grace to get through the last year of major change, because without it, we would have crumbled. I’m so thankful that God didn’t let a scary heart diagnosis, a shocking pregnancy, and an additional scary diagnosis of hearing loss didn’t push us away from our babies (because it easily could have).
Life is busy. Life is hard. Sometimes we sleep, and sometimes we don’t. We change a shocking amount of diapers each week. We have a small pharmacy in our kitchen. But our family is beautiful and each child so precious. Each life my husband and I care for is 100% worth all of the good, bad, and challenging moments we’ve been through.
We’d do this all over again in a heartbeat.
– guest post by Carly