The Birth Day Surprise

February 17, 2018 bilateral cleft, cl/cp, Craniofacial, Family Stories, sibling perspective, virtual twins 16 Comments

As the doctor performed an emergency C-section and delivered our sub-four pound premie son, I heard her whisper to the nurse, “Did they know he would have a bi-lateral cleft lip and palate?”

Without pausing to let that birthday surprise sink in, I responded, “That’s ok! So does my three year old sister!”

“So this is a genetic, family trait?” I heard the doctor clarify.

“Not exactly,” I paused. “She is adopted from China.”



It was August 2014 and I was thirty years old. Ryan and I had been married for three years and had had no reason to suspect we would become parents to a child with medical needs. We spent that first month living at the children’s hospital two hours from home and then a very long first year going to countless appointments, seeing Nixon have three surgeries and beginning our path of OT, SLP and feeding therapy.

Today he is three and a half and wild. We still have countless cleft surgeries ahead, he is in early childhood intervention preschool for childhood apraxia of speech and feeding issues that still require a g-tube, but this is our normal.

However, we were able to be with him every step of the way. That – that right there – really was hard for me. The first six months I cried while rocking him to sleep every night.

You see I am the oldest of eight, five of those siblings being adopted from China. One from the now mostly-defunct traditional program and four from the special needs program. I have four cousins from South Korea and Vietnam. I volunteered for six weeks with my best friend in 2007 at a foster home for medical babies in Xi’an, China. And, before our son’s birth, it had never clicked for me how hard that must have been for all those birth families to give up their childespecially when the medical need came as a birthday surprise.

It shocked us for sure – we had no reason to think that would be our story – but we had the ability to get the resources he needed to thrive. My new mama heart couldn’t even process the reality for those families.

With my background, we always knew we would adopt from China. It was just a matter of when. Nixon’s challenges made the process seem like something that would take place in the far future when we had gotten rid of his g-tube and life was easy and money was flowing. Right!?

Plus, I just didn’t know if I could take on another child who had medical needs – I had barely started feeling confident in everything Nixon needed, how to deal with insurance, IEPs and help him become his best self. However, last spring God told us He had a different plan.



My husband is always one step ahead of me and when he saw how much fun Nixon was having with my family visiting us, especially with his “cousin-aunts” who are 3 and 4 years older than him, he said, “I think it is time to seriously start the adoption process.” In all my adoption wisdom I told him it often takes several months to find a child on the shared list who you feel is yours and even longer to be matched with one through an agency, so we could start looking and getting our toes wet but I was more focused on getting us to the beach in the summer.

Two days later we found Nolan. Needless to say, the beach trip was put on hold.

We had to wait seven weeks for his file to be transferred to the adoption agency we wanted to use. In those seven weeks I started to tell myself that this probably wasn’t really the child that was meant for us. That maybe we shouldn’t be getting ourselves into the world of a totally different medical need. That things were going pretty well at home, and maybe Nixon would be happy being an only child. That having children whose ages are 10 months apart is just a little borderline crazy.

Once we were able to lock in the file and submit our LOI we got a tender mercy from God that Nolan truly is our child and we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing right now in our lives. We discovered that Nolan shares a birthday with my best friend who traveled to China with me a decade ago. And our new son just happens to be from Xi’an. The ugly tears fell hard that morning and I haven’t looked back.



We are just about to leave to go pick him up. I don’t feel like we need to explain that we are feeling all the feelings. But boy are we. We are trying to be realistic, almost borderline cautious and at the same time just trying to enjoy the journey. It’s a funny line to walk.

But you had better believe that I’ll cry for all those birth mamas who had birthday surprises they weren’t able to raise, and for all those nannies who have sacrificed and loved my son, my siblings, my cousins, all the babies and children they have cared for over the years, only to say goodbye to them.

Adoption is tricky. It has no word, just all the emotions. But I have seen and will see for our little family that it is so worth it.

– guest post by Rachel



16 responses to “The Birth Day Surprise”

  1. Christine says:

    Congrats on your new addition! 🙂 We will pray for your family and your new son. Safe travels, and God bless! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth Ledford says:

    It is such an exciting time filled with so many different emotions. I “found” our son on a SN waiting list after about 40 hours of combing through the sites and praying over several kids who I just didn’t feel like God was telling me was “the one” He intended for our family. We went to Henan China two years ago next month and our lives have never been the same. Our lives are so enriched by our amazing son. Best wishes for you and your sweet little family💙

    • Rachel says:

      Isn’t it amazing how you pray you’ll find your child (because let’s be honest, all the kids are cute and you want to give them all a good life) and then boom! God answers that prayer and you find your child and life is never the same.

      Thanks for reading and for the wishes! I’d love to go to Henan some day – lots of families from our adoption agency go there to pick up their children!

  3. Rachel says:

    Thank you for this perspective!

  4. Melissa says:

    I will be praying for you as you prepare for the next few months ahead. We went to Xi’an in September 2016 to bring home our son, whom we named David, our beloved. God has mighty, mighty plans for these families and children.

    • Rachel says:

      Love hearing from another Xi’an family! I hope you loved the city as much as I do. Congratulations on your addition and thank you for your prayers beyond just the travel – we will need them!

  5. Julie says:

    We’re praying for you guys! Congratulations!!!

  6. Renee Keller says:

    Sweet Rachel—I shed tears of joy for you when I read this post. What a wonderful positive person you are as well as your husband. Good luck to you as you travel to once again be a beautiful mother to a precious child. Sending love and prayers your way!

  7. Rita says:

    Beautiful. God writes the most amazing stories. Have a wonderful journey to China and congratulations!

  8. Andrea Forsyth says:

    I for real deal want to talk to you sometime about this. We have been fostering for the past couple years, and currently have two bonus kids. 🙂 It’s taught me a lot about all the emotions involved in adoption.
    We know we want to adopt sometime, but aren’t sure when/where/how/how many. So I LOVE hearing other people’s adoption stories! But I’m so happy you found Nolan. He is so darling. All my love and prayers for y’all during the transition!

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