Family Stories

At No Hands But Ours, we love family stories. Since our inception in 2008, we’ve featured a wide variety of family stories – and we continue to add new stories regularly. Please use the links in the right sidebar to click through to stories on specific special needs, or you can scroll down this main page to read all our family stories.

If you are home with your child from China, and would like to have your family story featured here, just use this form to let us know.


More Than I Could See: Adopting a Non-Verbal Child

September 22, 2018 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

It was sentiment we shared for 15 months: we were way in over our heads with this adoption.

We had said “yes” to a seven and a half year old daughter who was deaf and had never received the gift of language.

There were no schools available to teach her in her province. Consequently, she lacked basic preschool skills. My husband studied American Sign Language in college and beyond, and as a family we had taken classes to attempt to grasp as much language as we could while we waited.

In spite of this (and the hundreds of hours spent reading books and attending conferences), we did not feel equipped.

We anticipated this journey would force us into a new level of dependency on God, but we couldn’t have seen how until we began walking it.

He made it evident that He was leading us to Noel and evident that He wasn’t just along for the ride. He would navigate the journey (as broken and as beautiful as it would be) as we looked to Him.

One of the best lessons I could have learned happened in China…

It was when I came to the end of myself. It didn’t take long! Less than 24 hours after meeting this sweet gift, I was completely overwhelmed with trying to assist her without language or relationship.

The first morning we woke up with her, as I got ready for the adoption appointment that would make her “officially” a Russell, I quickly uttered this prayer: “God, I don’t know what she needs… her needs are so great. Help me to be what she needs.”

I wasn’t talking about the obvious needs of love and family… I was seeing “her big picture”.

I reminded myself that I could not be her savior. I could not undo seven years of language deficit. I could not make her love or accept us or Jesus and in that particular moment…
I wasn’t even sure what to feed her for breakfast.

But honestly, instead of falling into despair (a common pattern of mine), I felt freedom.

Freedom to cast myself onto the all sufficient One.
Freedom to know that I didn’t have to have parenting “a new daughter who is deaf” figured out before we went to sign forever papers.

Even in this new place of freedom, those weeks in China were such challenging times. They say, “Just survive those first few weeks”… and survive, we did! It was long and hard.

A sweet and smart girl marched into our lives that day. She was a headstrong, 50-pound package of raw determination.

Although small for a typical seven year old, she was strong enough to challenge our ability to protect and lead her. As is the reality for many adoptive families, we were on a crash course getting to know our new daughter by trial and error – in the midst of trekking through all of the appointments and new beginnings into our family.

We were due for our first flight only 72 hours after meeting our little girl, and at the airport she wavered between extreme fight mode and shut down.

Security patted her down, sending her into hysterics and she clung to me (nails in neck) for dear life. I could sense the fear and almost shut down of my little girl, and it forced us both into tears as we left the security area.

I can’t remember my exact monologue with God, but it went something like this: “This. Is. Too. Much. This is so wrong. Hasn’t she been through enough? This is where I draw the line. Do we have to get on this plane? She just needs to go home and get away from these crowds and expectations and we can’t even communicate to her. I feel so powerless to protect her. It’s not fair.”

Intertwined in my desperate prayer were subtle accusations… that He wasn’t doing enough, He didn’t care, and that obviously He’d missed what just happened moving through airport security.

In response, He softly spoke to my heart. “Don’t you know I’m hiding her in my shadow?”

Psalm 36:7 ran through my head: “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

God was telling me as mama bear that I could stand down. Because He had her.

I certainly didn’t “see” this at the time. But His words of truth were enough to comfort and free my heart to trust Him again.

As the days turned into weeks and we were soon home, His perspective began to sink into my heart. He really did have her in His shadow. He always had.

Even before she was a prayer request on our lips or in our hearts, He had her. She was in His sovereign shadow of protection, love, and grace.

He met my mama-heart in China. He proved His commitment and care for our daughter to me, not because He was obligated to, but out of His lovingkindness.

He showed me that He will fill in the gaps and, even more, be in the gap, come what may. I’m learning the freedom and sweetness that come with taking God at His word day by day.

God has always used my kids as a means of revealing His character, and with this new daughter it is no different. His grace and mercy flood in like a tidal wave… if I’m just willing to see.

– guest post by Angela

Special is in the Eye of the Beholder

September 11, 2018 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

It was only a couple of months after we were married that my husband and I started researching adoption. We both wanted a family, and with me being over 40 and having a history of endometriosis, conception without major fertility treatments seemed nearly impossible.

We decided, for us, it was more important to parent a child than to biologically reproduce.

Our first endeavor was domestic adoption. We joined a local adoption support group, the Adoptive Parents Committee (APC). We attended monthly meetings and their yearly conventions. We looked at agencies, hired an attorney, advertised our desire to grow our family.

Two years passed. Both my parents passed. Our living situation had changed dramatically from when we started the journey.

On the suggestion of a friend. I started looking into international adoption, specifically China. Having heard that “special needs” were common, I was very apprehensive at first. My friend assured me that the concept of special needs in other countries was vastly different from what we would consider special needs. She was so right. Many of the conditions of which I read seemed very manageable.

Armed with my new knowledge, I signed up with RainbowKids, an advocacy site for special needs waiting children around the world. One of the first profiles I clicked on was that a cranky looking toddler with a shock of platinum blonde hair. This little cutie was 1.5 year old, in China, and had a condition called albinism.

I had no real life experience with anyone with this albinism. My thoughts went to Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird, and to the white alligator I saw at the aquarium in New Orleans. I started scouring the web to read all I could about it and about adopting a child with this condition. I kept going back to this photo. I somehow knew this was our daughter.

They say not to fall in love with a picture, but I couldn’t help it, I was smitten.

I already knew that people with albinism (PWA) had light skin, hair and eyes because their bodies produce little or no melanin. So there is sun sensitivity and an increased risk for skin cancer. I didn’t realize all PWA have some degree of visual impairment. Melanin is involved with the development of the optic nerve. There can be photosensitivity of the eyes, extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness, astigmatism, poor depth perception, nystagmus (rapid, involuntary movement of the eyes from side to side, sometimes called “dancing eyes”) and strabismus (crossed eyes).

Albinism is considered Special Focus in China, which denotes children who are harder to place for adoption because their conditions are not correctable by surgery or they have more moderate to severe special needs. It is a genetic condition so there is no treatment, and the visual impairment is considered a special need. Intelligence and life span are not affected by albinism on its own. However, there are two very rare genetic disorders that can be present with Albinism, Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome and Chediak-Higashi Syndrome. These have more severe symptoms and affect life expectancy.

I discovered that culturally in China, albinism has been considered unlucky and individuals with this condition have been ostracized from mainstream society.

I contacted the agency that was holding the file to find out more about this fair-haired munchkin. After giving them some general information about our family, we received more photos and a history and medical file to review. Ellie had been abandoned when she was a day old, but left in a place where she was certain to be found. I could only imagine someone saw the fair hair when she was born and believed that this was the way for her to have a better life. She seemed to be “cranky” in her photos because of her photosensitivity.

My husband Dennis took a little convincing to pursue international adoption, especially for a child considered to have special needs. The home study was a lot more involved – we would have to apply to USCIS, and would have to spend about two weeks in China to complete the process. I explained that we had no prospects on the domestic front and that this child was waiting for a family; she wasn’t perfect but she perfect was for us. After much discussion, Dennis came around.

After having Ellie’s file reviewed by an adoption doctor we had met at the APC annual adoption convention, we decided to take the plunge and move forward with the process. We received pre-approval in November 2016 and had six months to submit our dossier to China.

Fast forward a year almost to the day and we were in China meeting Ellie for the first time. In the space of that year we received occasional updates and photos, cherishing any tidbits of information about this beautiful baby girl. We sent a few care packages including a birthday cake for her 2nd birthday.

Did she know we were on the other side of the world waiting to meet her?
We had fallen in love with our soon to be daughter, but what if she didn’t even like us?

It was more nerve racking than a first date.

After a few days of sightseeing in Beijing, we arrived in Hefei City. Our guide brought us to the civic office and a woman from the orphanage brought in this blond little girl, all bundled up in a winter coat. She was wearing the sunglasses we sent to her in a care package. She seemed a little dazed but friendly. There were a few other children meeting their families for the first time. One little boy wouldn’t stop crying. Ellie went over to console him and give him a hug. What a sweet girl!

The next two weeks were a blur of adapting to life with a new child, and Ellie’s special needs seemed very minor. The staff at the hotels in China were always surprised to hear Ellie say things in Mandarin. With her blond hair and sunglasses, they thought she was an American child.

We have been home for almost 9 months now and the challenges we have encountered have more to do with being first time parents and raising an active toddler than Ellie’s albinism.

Sunscreen is a must, daily and frequently if we are spending time in the sun. We cover as much skin as is comfortable. Luckily Ellie loves wearing hats, so we let her pick one before leaving the house. We try to stay indoors when the sun is highest in the sky on particularly sunny days. We have taken Ellie to the beach and she loves it. We hang out under a large umbrella. Luckily rash guard shirts, which are long sleeved swim shirts that offer protection from the sun, are easy to find.

Our pediatrician referred us to a neuro-ophthalmologist. We had an initial exam and two follow up visits so far. Since Ellie was not yet 3 years old for her first visits, her vision couldn’t be assessed with the standard eye charts and asking which letters were clearer. The doctor could measure the curvature of her eyes, and said she had a pretty significant astigmatism. The doctor was able to prescribe corrective lens. I wear glasses myself, so Ellie was thrilled to be able to wear “sassies” like Mama. Our daughter has transitions lens in her glasses, so they become like sunglasses when the light is bright. A definite must with her light sensitivity.

Ellie has nystagmus, but it may lessen as she gets older. Her eyes tend to “dance” more when she is tired. She is a very active toddler and she sometimes trips and runs into things. We are not sure if this from poor depth perception or just being a toddler running around not paying enough attention to her surroundings. She likes playing and watching videos on a tablet and seems to see pretty well, although sometimes she holds it closer to her face. She will be starting pre-school soon and visual problems may become more apparent in a classroom setting.

I have always been a non-conformist and celebrate unique qualities in other individuals. I try to see beyond what lies on the surface. Right now, people see Ellie and she is just a vibrant toddler.

Light blond hair at her age is not uncommon, and with her sunglasses her Asian features are not apparent. We often hear the comment that many women pay a lot of money to have hair her color. As she grows older, I imagine, she will realize she looks a lot different than her classmates. We will be mindful of self-esteem issues, even though she is more than perfect in our eyes. We plan to help her connect to others in the albinism community, if this is something in which she shows interest.

I am thankful for all those who have contributed stories concerning special needs adoption. Hearing the experiences of others really made the difference in our decision.

We may have missed out on a beautiful daughter by thinking that special was scary. I’m happy to answer any questions about our adoption process at

– guest post by Marianne

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The content found on the No Hands But Ours website is not approved, endorsed, curated or edited by medical professionals. Consult a doctor with expertise in the special needs of interest to you.