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You Belong

Some people know at a very young age that they want to grow their family through adoption; others may not realize it until a specific child touches their heart. However the feeling comes, it’s one that will change your life forever.

Here is a story that one of our adoptive moms shared with us about when she first realized that she wanted to adopt. This family participated in GWCA’s Orphan Hosting program this past summer, and they are currently working their way through the adoption process. We are eager to continue following their journey as they work towards bringing sweet Jett into their family forever.

whitten-photoI want to tell you how God introduced us to our youngest son. It started when I was a child. You see, I had asked for a pair of Asian dolls for my collection. My mother was surprised by my choice, but gave me the pair. They were my adopted children every time I played ‘house.’ I still have those dolls. My mother kept them safe until I became a mother myself. Adoption has always been on my heart, but I have three beautiful, wonderful children. I don’t have a need to adopt. As a teacher, there are often kids that I wish I could bring home, so I discussed fostering with my husband. He had reasonable concerns.

God connected me with Amanda via the internet and a mutual love of dog rescue. Well, Amanda’s family hosted a precious little boy from China last Christmas. I followed as she helped him get medical evaluations and gave him a loving break from his orphanage. God spoke directly to my heart through that precious little boy. I talked to my wonderful hubby again. A short term host program seemed more manageable for us. We would advocate for an orphan from China.

The first child mentioned to me by the agency was our sweet Jett. He was described as painfully shy. He had mobility issues. I worried that my boisterous family and playful dogs would terrify him. I said “no” to Jett and kept looking. God brought my heart back to Jett over and over again. Finally, we committed to hosting Jett. There is so much more to this story, but in the process of advocating, God showed each of us very clearly that this little boy belongs in our family. It is hard to explain the feeling when you look into the face of a child, not born from your body, but know without a doubt that God has made him your son. God loves you so much, Sweet Jett. He began preparing me for you when I was a young girl. He knew you then, even when you were not yet here on earth. He knew you would be our son. I can’t wait to bring you home! Your Baba, Brian Whitten, and I are working hard to make that happen as soon as possible.

Contact our international matching specialists today to learn how you can begin your adoption journey!

 

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One Month Home

One month ago, we followed one of our families’ journeys as they traveled to China to bring their host child home forever. It was a reunion that they had been anxiously awaiting, and it was every bit as incredible as they hoped it would be. Now that they’ve had some time to get settled in with their daughter back at home, they’ve provided us with an update on how their transition is going. Click here to look back at their trip to China!

swing31It seems crazy to think that our sweet daughter has been in her forever home for just over a month. We are constantly amazed at how well she is doing under the circumstances and the trauma she experienced in being removed from the only home (the orphanage) she has ever known and placed in a strange place, with unusual food and weird smells. She has adjusted extremely well and is picking up new English words and phrases on a daily basis. She understands so much English, much more than she can speak at this point, and her communication by hand motions is getting less and less. Some of her words sound similar and it can be a challenge to understand her pronunciation.

She knows her ABCs, her colors, and numbers to 10. When she arrived home, it was obvious that she had never done a puzzle before. She now wants to do puzzles on a daily basis and is getting faster at matching the pieces together. Most of them are 25 pieces but there is one that is 63. She is gaining strength in her legs and is getting much better at maneuvering the stairs. When she arrived home, she had difficultly with pedaling a tricycle. She has improved so much and now drives my pedal tractor on a daily basis. She loves to pedal as fast as she can. If you ask her her name, she can recite first, middle, and last names. She loves our dog, Bessie. She prefers when she is laying beside her or giving her kisses. She talks to her constantly about going outside to potty.

swing4She spent a few days at our church preschool to ease her into transition to all day school and has been attending Kindergarten for a few weeks. She loves going to school and and knows her teacher’s name is Mrs. V. She asks for “more school” all the time. Her writing continues to improve, and I’m sure with extra services, like ELL (English Language Learners) and Title I, we will continue to see great progress.

We have kept pretty busy over the last month spending time with close friends and family. We have done fun things like visiting Curtis Orchard and the Great Pumpkin Patch. We have gone “swimming” and enjoyed play dates. We celebrated “C’s” birthday and she had fun making the cake, singing Happy Birthday, and helping to blow out the candles. She regularly tells us “no airplane, ‘L’ home.” It is obvious she is looking for reassurance that we are not sending her back to China.

We met our friend, Joy, for dinner recently so that she could hear and communicate in Mandarin. You could see the little wheels turning in her head as she concentrated and focused. It was apparent that she could interpret and understand her native language and she answered many questions by shaking her head yes or no. For some questions that Joy asked her in Mandarin, she would turn to me and respond in English.

If you have had the privilege to spend any time with ‘L’, you know she is always happy and smiling. She has brought so much joy to our lives in such a short-time and it is hard to imagine life before her presence graced our lives. I would also describe her as brave, resilient, cheerful, polite, sassy, ornery, loving, and smart. We fall more in love with her everyday.

We may not update the blog as frequently but will try to post when we hit special milestones. Thanks for continuing to follow our journey. Enjoy some pics from the last month.

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DSD – A Family’s Insight

In adoption, many programs classify children’s files as either “healthy” or “special needs.” This classification has a life altering impact on each child, as it is determined from that point whether or not they will be considered “difficult to place.” Often, children who are deemed “healthy” have their files prepared quickly so that they can be matched with a family at a young age. Children who have been labeled “special needs,” however, may wait years and years for a family who can see them for who they are and not what their “need” is.

Below is an incredible story from one of our families who has been matched with a 13 year old girl through our China adoption program. Like many children in this program, her file was listed with a need that is often misunderstood. If your family is interested in learning more about adopting a child with DSD, contact our China matching specialists today!

Personal Insights: Adopting a Teen with Differences of Sex Development through Great Wall China Adoption

Just a few months ago, my husband, children, and I decided we were going to adopt a 13 year old girl from China.  I haven’t met very many people who have adopted older children, and even though many of our close friends might have doubted our decision, we are definitely looking forward to it and the possibilities of working with her, loving her, and helping her become a successful adult. Our story is a little different than most international adoption cases. We are adopting an older child, we are adopting out of birth order, and she has been listed with a special need.

Before reading her file, we hadn’t prepared for this. My husband and I had wanted to adopt, but had not spoken about adoption for several years. One look at her file and we knew she was a perfect fit for our family. We have two other children, 10 and 8 years old, and we were very honest about what they might expect. We had several open conversations and encouraged them to look at her file with us.  We read several handouts and articles about adopting out of birth order and what that might mean. We read blogs, connected with other parents, read books, and no matter what we found, we still felt she was meant to be in our family. We knew once we decided and made a commitment to apply, we were making a promise to her, and we would do all we could to make it happen.

jones2Eva was special in that she was born with a difference of sex development. In international adoption lists, these children often have very stigmatizing language attached to their descriptions and files. For this reason, they sometimes have a harder time being adopted. A difference of sex development, or DSD, can also be called intersex. This is where someone’s biological development doesn’t match what someone would usually expect for a girl or a boy. Many times in our society, if someone hears the word “sex”, things suddenly become taboo, and maybe awkward. In reality, the reproductive system has as many variations as there are for hair color or eye color. It’s just another way to be human. Most people have never even heard of it. That amazes me, because I was one of those people who had never heard of it, and it’s as common as being born with red hair!

DSD is an umbrella term for a set of conditions that can range from something like difficulty with fertility to something more complex, like being born with genitals that are really more in between what we expect for a boy or a girl. This can include the reproductive system, outward appearance (phenotype), chromosomes, and hormones like testosterone or estrogen. In our society, it is easy to confuse sex (physical development) with gender or sexual attraction. Gender can be affected by hormones and other chemicals, as well as social and cultural influences. However, most kids know their gender (how they feel on the inside) between the ages 3-7. Sexual attraction is also another category. Who you are attracted to may match your gender, or it may not. We see evidence of this everywhere. Having a DSD doesn’t indicate anything about sexual attraction, and doesn’t mean there will be a gender difference. It could just be the inability to carry a biological child, and no child should be considered un-adoptable for something that affects so many of us.

I totally get it. Adopting a child with a special need can seem scary, especially if that special need seems taboo. Adopting a child with a special need you have never heard of can seem even more overwhelming.  Let me assure you, there is absolutely nothing life threatening about these differences. With few exceptions, there are usually no cognitive or developmental delays, and there is a great opportunity to receive quality care here in the United States for these kids who would otherwise be left behind. There are so many great people who are intersex, and there are many support groups who can share tips and helpful information online.

Shortly after my biological daughter was born, at about two months of age, we realized something wasn’t right when giving her bath one night. She had a bulge in her abdomen that later turned out to be a hernia. While we weren’t overly concerned, it was pretty apparent it was causing her some discomfort, so we scheduled surgery to have it repaired. Handing your baby girl over to a stranger to be put under anesthesia is absolutely nerve wracking, but we trusted she was in good care. The surgery took longer than we expected and after about an hour, the doctor came out to speak with us. I still remember everything about the waiting room. The smell… the color of the carpet…the feel of the chairs… and the way the doctor couldn’t look at us in the eyes. I’ll never forget his words. Instead of ovaries, he had found immature testes and no uterus or fallopian tubes. My typical daughter, with all her typical parts, had something not so typical inside where her ovaries would have been.
After the hernia repair surgery was completed the healthcare providers ran a battery of tests. Her karyotype came back as XY. For most girls, the usual chromosome pattern includes XX chromosomes. For most boys, XY. I had seen my daughter though. Everything about her was female. I couldn’t wrap my brain around how this was even possible. While waiting for more blood work and test results, we returned home after an overnight stay in the hospital. I spent hours researching on the internet, and I came across a group called the AIS-DSD Support Group. They had a list of possible conditions that were easy to understand, resources, and a handbook. I printed everything I could and read for hours.

What I found out was that she had a DSD called complete androgen insensitivity. If she had not had the hernia, we would have not known until puberty when she didn’t have a period. She had XY chromosomes, which gave the instructions for testes to form. The testes secreted androgens (like testosterone) and because she was missing one tiny nucleotide on the X chromosome, which is comparable to one letter in a 600 volume encyclopedia, she couldn’t “read” what to do with it.  Her body might as well have thought the testosterone was water. So, without the androgens working, her body went along the typical pathway of female. To be more graphically specific, she had a typical vulva, clitoris, and vagina, but it would be like the vagina of someone who had their uterus removed because the uterus didn’t develop. Her immature testes, or gonads, made a lot of testosterone, but her body created a way to turn it into estrogen, so she was able to develop just like typical girls do. Most women with CAIS identify as female, and go on to lead typical, happy healthy lives. The only health concern would be to monitor her gonads (they can develop cysts and etc.) and to take calcium (because testosterone is what hardens your bones) to avoid osteoporosis. Most women need to do this anyway.
My daughter eventually grew, and we started teaching her with the knowledge that she could understand about her development. One thing I learned through the support group is that secrecy can cause shame. There was nothing to be ashamed of, and we think she is absolutely perfect! We don’t believe people are made with mistakes. We just know everyone is different in their own way. We know that she was born without a baby pocket (a uterus), and that there are many ways to grow a family. Through the support group we met the most amazing individuals, and many with similar traits. They go on to have all the opportunities any other girl would have. The difference is, I have changed. My understanding of life has evolved. She is still the same beautiful child I had on the day of her birth, but my understanding of how her body works has finally caught up, and without her, I would be missing out on the most amazing, welcoming community I have ever been a part of.

jones4It wasn’t long before I was finding ways to volunteer for the AIS-DSD Support Group and I learned about differences that are a little more complicated as well. I ran for the board, and then went on to be the communications coordinator and collaborative projects liaison. I helped organize conferences, develop collaborations to develop continuing medical education opportunities for pediatric specialists, and speak to others from around the globe. It is like going to a family reunion every year at our national conferences. I absolutely love it. Because I’m a teacher, I started to develop education sessions and ways to teach children with other moms. It isn’t often we find doctors that know a lot about these conditions, so we have developed a network with many specialty clinics. It has been an amazing to see the progress over the past few years. Most of the time, we have to be the experts so that we know our children are getting treatment that doesn’t complicate their feelings about themselves. It is a steep learning curve for a parent who may not have heard about these conditions before, and having each other to lean on, with the support of kind medical providers, has been so incredibly important.

My husband and I had always thought about adoption, and had even tried at one point, but because DHS is a bit broken where we are, we never received a placement. One day, when I was checking the email for the support group, there was a contact from Great Wall China Adoptions. They were seeking help from groups like ours to advocate for some harder to place children. This hit a chord with me instantly. Then I saw her face. I immediately emailed my husband and asked him to look. He knew it as well as I did that she was meant for us. This child had never been considered because of her biological difference. She is smart, talented, and tries so hard to help take care of the little ones where she is.  She deserves a family, and one that can understand her condition and get her quality care. We can do that for her. She would never have this possibility in China. Many of our support group members there still have to live in secrecy. Knowing she would be aging out in a few short months just encouraged us to try harder. The amazing advocates at GWCA have worked so hard to make sure our process is smooth and timely.

It is a large possibility that Eva has never had a file written for her to be considered for adoption, and she has been in the same special needs orphanage since she was two months of age. This can be the case with many kids orphanages feel would not be considered for adoption.  Without the GWCA advocate meeting her (Thank you so much Heidi!), interviewing her, asking her if she wanted to be adopted, none of this would have been possible. Another child would be living a life of shame and secrecy on top of being terminated from the social welfare system in just a few short months.
There are still many children with DSD available for adoption. Some have grants, some are younger, and some are older. The language used in translation can be difficult for anyone to read. It can be very stigmatizing and sometimes just completely wrong. It can be something as simple as having different chromosome combination for a boy and having XXY instead. It can mean hypospadias, which is really common. It can mean a little girl being exposed to a little too much testosterone in the utero and her genitals looking a little different. It may mean a little girl with no uterus or ovaries.  Or it may mean there is someone who is born in between that has to grow to tell you how the feel as far as their gender someday. In those cases, we have many resources to help. These are wonderful children, and it really isn’t as scary as it sounds. There are entire groups with support just for adopting these children, and they are full of amazing parents like you.

jones3The next time you look at a listing, consider searching for terms such as ambiguous genitalia. This term, though we don’t like to use it with people in the United States as it is not very kind, will pull up many children who are waiting that others have skimmed over. Some of these traits can be found it those with CAH (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia), CAIS/ PAIS (Complete or Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), Swyer Syndrome (Pure Gonadal Dysgenesis), Hypospadias, and many more. When you are reading their file, be prepared to read terms that are inaccurate from lack of funds for testing,  or be shown photos that are sensitive in nature. In translation you might see wording that is stigmatizing, but we can make sure to clarify it for you.  If you want to talk or learn more, you are welcome to talk with me, a clinician in our support group, or a parent with a child of that specific condition. What you will find is that these people know how to be accepting and understanding, the children are smart, happy, well informed, and absolutely beautiful. You can also contact the support group directly at www.aisdsd.org, or click on Intersex & DSD to learn more about some of the conditions under the DSD/ Intersex umbrella.

What I can also say is the GWCA team has been fantastic through our entire process. They are very understanding and want the best for these children, and do not judge them by their differences. Several have taken the time to become educated so they can better care for these children and answer questions. For Eva, it was the partnership that gave her and us this opportunity. Meredith, our agent, has gone above and beyond since the day we first emailed. She walked us through so much of the process and they even had our Pre-Approval back in just three days. That was an incredibly surprise! There are so many blessings we have received throughout this entire process, and having the opportunity to talk and write about this group of children is yet another. If it makes the difference for just one, it will have meant the world to our family and the community that serves those with differences of sex development. They are not alone, and there is someone who is waiting out there who is their forever family. They just don’t know it yet.

Contact our China matching specialists to learn about kids with DSD that we’re currently advocating for!

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Bryndal’s Story

October is the National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Before it gets away from us, we wanted to make sure that we featured one of our amazing  GWCA families and their little Bryndal. The power of unconditional LOVE shines through this family! Check out their story below and take a minute to visit their adoption website, as it is truly a touching story.

Adopting a child with special needs can be a difficult and intimidating process, but with blind faith and love it can absolutely be done. The road will never be easy. For a family like this one, they already knew the difficulty of bringing home a healthy child through adoption, but never a special needs child. Adopting a child with special needs was never in “their plan.” However, they have changed this little girl’s life forever all thanks to their family’s willingness to love. It doesn’t take an expert to see that she fits right in, and is right where she belongs!

Bryndal’s Story

In 2006, we traveled to China to bring home our precious daughter, Bria.  Exactly one year later, we submitted paperwork to return to China to adopt another Chinese Princess.  During the course of that year, the process to adopt a non-special needs child from China had gone from a one year to a six to eight year process.  We decided to leave our dossier in China knowing that God had another special angel for us in China, and we would wait on His timing to bring that child home.

bryndal31-300x203During our wait, we traveled to Africa twice to bring home two beautiful daughters and we completed one domestic adoption for our youngest jewel, a precious son. Throughout the years, we discussed our “future child” in China and wondered when God would finally introduce us and bring that child home.

In May of 2012, we opened our weekly email from Great Wall that introduced two special focus children of the week.  The moment the photos loaded in the email, our hearts skipped a beat and we KNEW this was the precious Princess we had been waiting on for years.  She was not a baby, she was not on the non-special needs track, she was not who we expected…BUT she was beautiful with a smile full of pure JOY and she was OURS!  We called Great Wall and quickly received approval to adopt a special needs child and were matched with our precious, amazing Bryndal!

As we flew through the steps to bring home our new daughter, we faced many days when we were scared to death about what the future would hold for us once Bryndal came home.  This was our first special needs adoption, and this was not really in “our plans.”  How would she react to us, how would our kids react to her, what would our family think, how would we communicate with her, what would the attachment process be like adopting an older child, how would we parent a child with Down syndrome…  We had to place these fears in God’s hands knowing that He had led us to this child at this time with this special need, and He would take care of all of these details.

On July 1, 2013, God calmed all of our fears when we finally met our sweet girl.  She walked through the door full of smiles, hugs and kisses, and her amazing love has continued to blossom each day.  Words cannot describe what a blessing this precious child is to our family and to everyone she meets.  She is FULL of joy, laughter and LOVE!

Our other precious jewels have enjoyed Bryndal just as much as we have.  They take turns sitting by her at meals and argue over who gets to sit by her in the car.  She has blended into our family as if she was with us since birth.  She has added so much love to our family…our hearts are truly overflowing! We expected to bless a child with a forever home, but we had no idea what love and blessings she would bring to us! We could never have dreamed of such a smooth transition and not a day goes by that we do not thank our Heavenly Father for bringing us to this child at this time with this special need…our forever Chinese Princess!

Each day Bria thanks God for giving her a family and she prays for all the orphans in the world to find a family too.  She is so happy to have Bryndal for a sister and refers to her as her “China twin.”  Bria is four months older than Bryndal.

To learn more about our journey to Bryndal please visit our site here! 

If your family is interested in learning more about the children with Down syndrome that GWCA is currently advocating for, please visit our China Waiting Child photo listing or contact our matching specialists today! 

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Ya Ya’s Story

I was innocently browsing through Facebook one day this fall when I saw the post. “Host families needed” it read. Intrigued, I clicked on the link and quickly requested a password to see the profiles of the waiting children. One smiling face stood out and I was immediately drawn in. I called and received more information over the phone and the anticipation set in; the anticipation of having a familiar conversation with my husband. “So, I was on the internet today and I saw this little girl…” it began.  We agreed to host Ya Ya over Christmas and advocate for her.

We drove through the night that cold December morning and arrived at O’Hare airport before the sun rose. We met with some of the waiting families and soon, a group of children, led by chaperones started towards us. And there she was! She was much, much tinier than we had imagined, full of smiles and not afraid.  I motioned to her and she came right over and gave us hugs. Our 9 year old daughter gave her a doll and she latched onto her right away. She was amazed by everything around her, automatic flushing toilets, doors that opened on their own, everything was new and exciting.

We arrived home and were greeted by the rest of the family. Ya Ya immediately was drawn to our son, Ashton, who shared something in common with her, Down syndrome.  They became good buddies over the month she was here. Ya Ya was sweet, gentle and kind with him. She fit in very well with everyone, after a few initial struggles between her and our almost 3 year old son. I believe he thought she was much closer to his age as she was so small. Once they (he!) worked out their “differences,” all was well!

Ya Ya fit in incredibly well! Everyone around us wondered how she would adapt, how would she understand us, what if she is upset, how will you communicate with her??? We used Google Translate and she understood very well! She is very expressive and we could tell by her reactions if she understood or not. Her English was pretty limited, but that did not stop her from playing and interacting.  She enjoyed showing us that she could count in English and liked to use the phrases that she picked up. We discovered her love of dancing around the second week here and dance parties were a regular happening around here!

Ya Ya is bright, inquisitive and catches on quickly. The fact that she had Down syndrome really wasn’t a concern of ours as our son has Down syndrome. She could do far more than we imagined! She was completely independent with her personal hygiene; showering, brushing teeth, getting dressed, combing her hair she did all by herself. Honestly, I think she trumps our 9 year old when it came to taking care of that independently! She enjoyed playing with dolls, our play kitchen, coloring and painting. Her artistic “skills” were a bit lacking, but she played well with toys.

As our visit drew to a close, I found myself panicked and a bit weepy thinking about sending her back “home.”  After some discussion, we made the decision to move forward with adoption. It just felt right, especially after being able to see how she fits in with our family. I have to admit that while she was here, I found a message board discussing hosting programs. Several people posting on the site were aghast that children with Down syndrome were being brought over as part of the host program. They wondered how they would understand what this was all about and how would they react when it was time to go back? I can say first hand that she handled it great! We started talking about going back to China about 10 days  before her departure. We talked about how excited her friends would be to see her and that she could share her new things with them.  At the airport, she played and interacted with her friends while waiting for the plane. When it was time to go, she gave Baba a big hug and boarded the plane waving with a smile on her face. We are so grateful for this experience and for this ray of sunshine we will now have in our home forever!

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NEW UPDATE: Back in Their Arms

finalizingEach year our Orphan Hosting team has the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing and kindhearted families in the world, as they work together to bring children to America with the hope that they will find their Forever Families. Among these families from our 2015-16 Holiday Hosting program were “K” and “C,” a couple that welcomed a little girl named “L” into their family for four weeks. During their time hosting “L,” the two fell completely in love, immediately beginning the process to bring her home. Now, less than one year later, they’re in China finalizing their adoption and welcoming their daughter into their family forever!

Here are a few of their most recent blog posts from their trip. Check back soon for updates!

Forever Family Day – 9.5.2016

 Today we were reunited with L at the Civil Affairs Office.  Our guide, Kelly, helped us with some paperwork and we waited with several other families.  She walked out wearing a beautiful white dress, pink headband, and pink sparkly shoes.  She was immediately happy and smiling and called us mama and baba.  We spent time looking at old pictures and videos on my phone.  She keeps asking for Kinsley and wants to call her.  We had to tell her she was asleep.  She keeps says, “sshh Kinsley sleeping.”  In the van on the way back to the hotel, she asked for jewelry and painted nails.  This girl didn’t skip a beat and we picked up right where we left 8 months ago.  Back at the hotel, she found her new shoes lined up against the way and immediately had to change.  She had some ramen noodles.  It seemed like she was starving and had two helpings.  I delayed showing her her drawer full of clothes knowing that would instigate a wardrobe change.  She pointed to the drawer all on her own and wanted to change.  She pulled out several outfits but settled on a jean jumper.  She also was focused on when we would be painting her toenails and fingernails so we accomplished that.  Only tears were when we were running down the hallway to the elevator and she slipped and fell.  The tears were pretty short-lived.  We ran up to the lounge so C and I could grab something to eat for dinner.  And she had a few snacks.  Our evening was spent playing Candy Land, taking a bath, and reading books.  A very successful forever family day!

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China Adoption Finalization – 9.6.2016

So today we finalized our adoption as far as China is concerned.  Today K’s sister, Lilly, was our guide.  She was very engaged with L.  Lilly asked her lots of questions and she answered.  This is by far the most we have heard her speak.  The great part is Lilly was able to translate for us during our van ride to the Civil Affairs Office.  She told Lilly that she wants to be adopted and live in America.  Sounds good to us kiddo.  We met with two different female officials who asked us questions and completed our paperwork.  We are approved and they are working to issue our final certificate.
After returning to the hotel, we let L explore the garden of the hotel, which includes the waterfalls and coy fish ponds.  She also walked by the pool and spent a lot of time the playground.  She loved going down the slide, especially if one of us startled her on the way down.  We walked to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  She ate some beef spaghetti like a champ.  It was so hot and humid today that we were all drenched in a short period of time.  The pool was calling us but we agreed that nap time was probably more important.  Unfortunately, it was raining with thunderstorms whenever she woke up so we had to delay it.  We played in our room and the beach ball I brought along was a huge hit.  The rain cleared so we were able to “go swimming” in the kiddie pool.
We had dinner in the lounge here at our hotel and we have found that our girl has a deep love for prawns.  We have no idea if this is something she had at her orphanage, but we doubt it.  This was the one thing she picked out as we walked through the spread.  So I spent most of my dinner, cleaning, peeling, de-heading, and deveining shrimp.  She is not a fan of cocktail sauce after trying it and telling us it was hot.  Last night, she had two shrimp.  Tonight she devoured four large shrimp.  We had a low key evening in the room and did some coloring.  I see significant improvement in staying in the lines.  We are also really impressed by her speech and vocabulary.

Medical Exam – 9.7.2016

Today was another great day of making memories. After breakfast, our official business for the day was having her medical exam completed which is one of the requirements to finalize the U.S. portion of the adoption. Our guide, Kelly, took us to the Guangdong International Travel Healthcare Center. First, L had her photo taken for her Visa. Then we went upstairs to the medical clinic where she made friends with everyone. The measured her height and weight, checked her eyes and ears, drew blood for her TB test, and did basic medical exam. Similarly to when she visited the U.S., she did not cry when they drew her blood. She has had a nasty, deep cough the last couple of days that we have been treating with over the counter meds. She was also a little lethargic this morning and has been running a fever on and off. Despite not feeling 100%, she has continued to be her happy and pleasant self. They prescribed an antibiotic because her throat was red and inflamed. She has had one dose so far and it seems to be helping.

We ventured out for lunch and went to the Noodle House near our hotel. Of course, she selected a picture with noodles and shrimp. She ate the best we have seen so far. We stopped by the playground to burn off some energy. When housekeeping came to clean our room, she watched intently and brought her one of the trashcans. She seemed concerned that they were removing the linens from our bed. She kept putting her hands on her hips and looking at me like “aren’t you going to do something?!” We have also noticed she is highly organized. Always wanting to put back what she has been playing with and straightening and organizing the shoes by the door.

This evening our hotel hosted a reception with food and live music for all adoptive families. L really seemed to enjoy the music. She “sang” along, danced, and bobbed her head to the music all night long. A few of the kids took turns getting pulled up on stage, and I could see she desperately wanted to be up there. We had to move closer and she eventually got her chance. I’m sure this was a highlight for her, but she did get a little shy once she was up on stage. She made some new friends and even shared some food with one of the little girls. It was great to mingle with other families although we see most everyone at breakfast. It was a great event and afterwards she thought we needed to eat again:)medical-exam

Free Day #1 – 9.8.2016

Today we had another free day. At breakfast, we were reunited with the new friends we made at last night’s reception. We spent time playing on the playground and hung out in our hotel room. The days are going so fast and yet we are so ready to be home. This afternoon our guide, Kelly, took us on a shopping trip. Our first two stops were to pick up some traditional souvenirs. Common purchases are jade and pearls. She took us to the pearl market which was a multi-level building with literally hundreds of wholesale vendors. All types of jewelry were available.

Our excursion turned from shopping to learning pretty quickly as she walked us through several local “markets.” We walked along a pedestrian only street that was filled with people. She said Guangzhou has a mere 16 million. The street was lined with clothing stores. We turned down a side street and entered the “pet market.” This consisted of a whole section of vendors selling cats and dogs in crates. Then we entered the “herbal medicine market.” We saw all sorts of things but the worst was the bins of creepy-crawly scorpions. I still have creepy-crawly skin just thinking about it. Next, we visited the “food market.” Shoppers could buy fruits, vegetables, and meat. We saw a lot of fish and black-skinned chicken which is used for soup. Our senses were on overload with all of the unusual smells. She said it is common for younger people to shop at Walmart but people her parents’ age prefer to shop at the local markets.

We opted for McDonalds for dinner and also enjoyed some ice cream. Our two extra value meals and happy meal were less than $10 USD. As soon as we got back to our room, L thought we needed to eat again so we headed upstairs for a nightcap of shrimp.

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Orphanage Visit – 9.10.2016

Today started out very early as we prepared to travel an hour and a half to Dongguan to L’s orphanage. It was an educating day and one filled with lots of emotions. We have been told it is one of the better orphanages which is mildly comforting. Due to the long drive, L had some carsickness but once we gave her some medicine she slept the whole way.

As we drove up, the main building looked very nice. L was an obvious favorite as many of the adults (nannies/caretakers) knew her and were excited to see her. As we walked around, we noticed how bright and colorful everything was. There was a lot of natural light and it seemed like a good environment for learning. We were able to see the sleeping area with bunk beds, bathroom, and classrooms. We saw a few older children but most were very young. We were told most of the school-age children were at the Sunshine Academy, a school affiliated with the orphanage but a few blocks away. One of the caretakers told a story that when L was younger, she would get up in the middle of the night and make her self a bottle when she was hungry (even when she was too old for a bottle). They all got a good laugh reminiscing about her.

L seemed to show minimal emotion during our visit. So we started asking some questions and learned that once the young children can take care of their own basic needs they are moved to a different building. Then they estimated that it had been three years since L had lived there. They explained that she was living in an outside dormitory. It isn’t a foster home but basically a small orphanage, maybe only 15 kids, with two to three nannies in a building offsite. Although we didn’t get to see where she lived most recently, we did see where she spent a lot of time.

L slept again on our return trip and we ate a late lunch at an Irish Pub. We both ordered cheeseburgers and ordered spaghetti for L. It wasn’t quite an American cheeseburger but the french fries were great. L didn’t want anything to do with the spaghetti and instead ate off of our plates. I even convinced her that coleslaw was noodles and surprisingly she ate it.

We decided it would be another great day to go swimming. The kiddie pool was closed today so we had to swim in the big pool. L was quite the fish. She loves watching the other kids and thinks she needs to put her face under the water too. She was much more relaxed and really seemed to enjoy kicking and splashing around.

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Free Day #2 – 9.10.2016

We had another low key day today.  We visited an H&M store right by our hotel and L enjoyed trying things on and having a fashion show.  We also walked to Martyr’s Park which is several blocks from our hotel.  Our hope was that L could play on the children’s playground.  It rained on and off but we still enjoyed our afternoon out and about.  The park was beautiful and the pictures do not really do it justice.  The park included monuments, temples, tombs, pavilions, and a cemetery.  There was live music playing in several areas, but the children’s playground was lacking so L just rode around in the stroller.

Tonight we went on a river cruise with two other adoptive families from our hotel and met several others there.  The cruise consisted of riding on a boat for one hour and twenty minutes up and down the Pearl River.  It included a dinner buffet.  The guide told us to eat as soon as we could and not to wait.  There was no organization or line formation; people would just go to the dish they wanted and often would remove the serving tongs to take to their next dish of choice.  It was crazy.  The food was okay but not anything special.  The kids all seemed to love it.  Leave it to my child to select chicken feet and proceed to eat them.  It was disgusting!  Our table was on the second level and after dinner, we were able to visit the open third deck to take photographs of the City at night.  There was also an entertainer which made the children balloon animals and juggled.  Many of the kids got to be part of the show.  L really seemed to enjoy the evening with friends.

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Free Day #3 Plus Sightseeing – 9.11.2016

Today was another free day for us. After breakfast, C and I got foot and shoulder/back massages. They applied much pressure but we felt very relaxed afterwards. L pretended to help and she was very patient. We grabbed lunch at OGGI which is a pizza place. It was a nice change and even L seemed to enjoy it. We did some boutique shopping near our hotel. L had fun trying on different dresses and twirling around. We were trying to kill some time because it was raining again. We were getting close to time on when we were supposed to be meeting our guide for sightseeing and it was not letting up at all. So we had to run several blocks in the pouring down rain back to our hotel. There were several inches of water in the road because the rain was coming down so quickly. By the time we made it back, we were all drenched!

Our guide, Kelly, took us and another family to the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall which is a family temple and not religious at all. It was one of the few activities we could do because it was partially inside to protect us from the rain. We toured the temple and viewed the intricate displays of wood carvings, porcelain painting, ivory carving and more. There were also several souvenir shops. After we were finished, we visited OneLink Plaza which is a multi-level wholesale toy market. It is a misnomer because they actually have many items in addition to toys (household, gifts, etc.). There were literally thousands of vendors. We wondered around and did some more souvenir shopping. It was great to be inside and out of the rain.

We stopped at the Guangzhou Friendship Store and ate dinner at a place called the Banana Leaf. They serve Thai food and L was thrilled to be eating noodles. This girl requests to eat noodles all day long and generally eats 3-4 servings per sitting.

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US Adoption Finalization – 9.12.2016

Today we had our U.S. Consulate appointment to finalize L’s adoption. We were there with many other families who have become friends. Unfortunately, our bag and phones had to stay at the security checkpoint so we were not able to take any photos inside. All of our paperwork is finally finished and we will receive her VISA tomorrow. As soon as she lands on U.S. soil, she will be a U.S. citizen.

Afterwards, our guide, Kelly, took us and another family to Yuntai Garden. The park was really beautiful and full of bright, vibrant colors. This was our first day here that it has not rained which was nice but it was extremely hot and humid. After a short stroll around the park, we were ready to be done with sightseeing. We decided to spend some time in the pool. L likes to “swim,” put her head under water, and today C taught her how to blow bubbles.

We headed to dinner with our favorite hotel buddies. We went to an Italian buffet and L ate really well (3 plates full). The kids had fun playing together and I’m sure are going to miss each other when it is time to part ways. Speaking of which, we begin our trek home tomorrow. It has been an enjoyable trip and great bonding time, but we are beyond ready to be home. L wants to ride the airplane home everyday although she is not too eager to see Bessie, our dog.

We are so appreciative of all of the thoughts, prayers, and supportive comments during this journey to bring L home as our child.us-adoption-finalization

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Mitchell (Feat)

Meant to Be

Every family’s matching experience is unique, we say it every day. Whether you’re matched with a child that you’ve hosted or a child that you find on our Waiting Child photo listing. The one thing that all families have in common, however, is that moment when all of the pieces fall into place and you know it’s meant to be. For this family, that moment of clarity came when their local medical specialists confirmed that they would be able to provide their child with the care they needed once they got home. If your family is interested in being matched through our China Waiting Child adoption program, visit our China Waiting Child photo listing today!

MitchellWe had been in the US process for a year, so we had already met with a social worker and answered some questions about age of child, etc. My husband travels 3-4 weeks per month for his job and I work fairly long hours–occasionally needing to take calls into the evening–so we were advised that an older child that might need therapy or with severe health issues might not be best for us as we are unavailable during the day. This led us to believe that a child under 3 years of age would be best. So as we evaluated the ‘special focus’ needs that we could handle, we knew we needed to look at things that could be corrected with surgery or which would not require a great deal of therapy. This meant needs such as cleft palate were okay but cerebral palsy was not something we felt we could handle. Heart issues and other needs that are more severe were considered on a case by case and would have to be evaluated by a physician before we could make a decision.Based on the age range that we were open to, and knowing that it might take 6-12 months to bring the child home, we looked at children 2 years old or younger so that the child would be less than 3 when we got home.

Generally, I did the first review through the GWCA website looking at the pictures and brief profile. The first review was for the children’s age and basic “correctable condition” analysis. Based on that, I would ask for more information from GWCA. If review of the additional information, photos and videos was positive, I would then ask my husband to review it as well. He usually had more questions. His initial pass on our son was negative based on our need to return the file in 24 hours so that we could look at another file too – the file indicated a possible developmental delay. I had seen a video of our son, however, and did not think he behaved like a child with developmental delays. So I asked a friend with experience in this area to look at the video. The friend agreed with my thoughts, so we decided to have a doctor review his file.

IMG_0238The medical review came back very positive — with a potential diagnosis of a primarily cosmetic birth defect and a recommendation to talk to a specialist in our city. The specialist reviewed our son’s files and concurred with the GWCA doctor’s diagnosis and said that if we brought him to our city he could perform surgery.At this point it seemed that this child met the profile of what we could handle and indeed that with a specialist for his condition in our city that it was “meant to be”! We immediately sent in our LOI and began the paper chase to bring him home.

Since then other families have asked us how to decide which special needs are “OK”. The best advice we can give is that there is no right answer. Each family’s answer is different based on resources (time, money and access to health care specialists in your area and people to assist the parents or give respite care when the parents need a break). If we had lived 10+ hours away from a craniofacial surgical center then we might not have been the best match for our son. I also think it’s a good idea for the parents to agree up front on the criteria and then let one of them do the initial searching/sorting and have the other be a check and balance (i.e. Not look at all the pictures on the website). It’s easy to get caught up in the sad stories of the children and to forget that as a family you’ll have limitations that might not fit their situation. By having my husband as the check/balance man he could reel me back in when my heart overstepped our agreed upon criteria because he had not spent the heart wrenching hours looking at all the children’s profiles. That may sound harsh, but it’s important for one parent to remain a little above the process or detached while you are going through it.

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Welcome Home, Naomi!

The Girl in the Pink Dress

When we were in the adoption process, my mother had a dream. She saw our daughter wearing a pink dress. She said our little Naomi was trying to be brave and was not crying. A sweet friend of mine had a dream that Naomi would come to us and she would know us.

We certainly did not expect either of these things to happen. We knew that the day we met our daughter would be stressful for her. She would likely cry and feel overwhelmed. Who knew what she would be wearing? In all of the videos I had seen of families meeting their daughters I rarely saw a pink dress.

As we were ushered into a room to meet our daughter, I said to my husband, “If she is in a pink dress, I am going to lose it.”

We could see several children peeking around the corner from a back room. They were waiting for their turn to come out and meet their parents. I looked that direction and that’s when I saw her. A tiny girl, in a pink dress with sweet little piggy tails. She was spinning around in a circle, dancing about while she waited. I grabbed my husband, “I can see her! She is in a pink dress!!!” We both welled up with tears. It was a moment we will never forget.

Naomi HomecomingAnd just like that. A little girl who was labeled a “foundling” was now a beloved daughter.
She was brave. She did not cry. She just looked at us like she was studying our faces. She liked the toys and snacks we brought. We just watched her in amazement. It was almost as though she knew us and we knew her. During the months of waiting, we prayed nightly that God would prepare her heart for us and our hearts for her. The first night was hard for her. That sweet little smile faded to sobs of grief and fear as we settled in for bed. We were so glad that she let us comfort her through her tears. Each night got better.

The days in China were full of lots of snuggling, playing and exploring. We met amazing new friends while we were there. Having other families with us gave us a sense of camaraderie. The trip felt long at times and we all got homesick for our children back home. Having friends to grab a bite to eat with or see the local sights was a blessing. In addition, our guide Kelly made our adoption trip smooth. She kept all our paperwork and appointments straight. She got us where we needed to go, answered all our questions and she was a joy to spend time with.

I searched high and low for just the right toddler carrier for my almost 4 year old daughter. I obsessed over it. I prayed she would like to be carried. I hoped that would encourage bonding between us. I was thrilled when she showed me immediately that she loved to ride in the carrier with me. We went all over the place in that thing!

We had the opportunity to tour Naomi’s orphanage and say goodbye to her friends and nannies. This visit was important to us. We want to be able to tell her about it when she is older. She will have so many questions in her future that we cannot answer. We know that will be hard for her. Two years of her life are unknown. We also went to Naomi’s finding spot. This place is sacred ground. It was powerful to stand with her in that place. She is restored to a family now.

When we arrived home, we were greeted at the airport by our family. The joy we felt when we saw their faces is indescribable. We were thrilled to have all our children together. It was precious to watch Naomi greet each of our family members. She knew they belonged to her.

The next few days were a blur due to jet lag. Thankfully, Naomi slept very well once we got her to sleep. I expected her to be up all hours of the night with the intense time change she was experiencing. This is just one of the many ways she has exceeded our expectations!

Mei Me 1Before we adopted, we read and researched the effects of orphanage living on a child. We were also prepared for severe grieving behaviors and general culture shock. We expected bonding to be a long, difficult process. We expected her siblings to struggle with the new arrival. We expected the worst but hoped and prayed for the best. We still cannot believe how smooth her transition has been. It is as though she has always been in our family. We can only assume that her infant hood with her birth family gave her the important brain development she needed to develop strong attachments. The word we were given from the Lord for her adoption was “restore”. Her heart was more than ready to be restored to a family.

This adoption has been an incredible journey of obedience and trust in the Lord’s leading. He called us on behalf of one tiny girl in China. Oh how happy I am that we listened!

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Finding Caroline!

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This past June, we heard from one of our adoptive dads, Jesse, as he prepared to celebrate his very first Father’s Day. Now we’re excited to share a bit from his wife, Lindsey, on their search for a child with special needs, their matching process, and how they came to find a beautiful little girl named Caroline!

Before we even married my husband and I talked about how we wanted to adopt a child with special needs.  We were initially inspired by the family of a friend who had just adopted two children with special needs from China.  One with spina bifida and the other with a cleft palate. Their children were beautiful and sweet, bright and loving, and so deserving of a happy home. It was incredible to hear their story of where these children came from and how they had thrived coming to a loving home. We recognized that we were fortunate enough to have the means to provide a happy and healthy environment for a child with disabilities to live comfortably, supported, and happy. When we tell people that our waiting daughter has Down syndrome, some are surprised and others say that they wouldn’t expect anything different from us. What I have learned from my occupation in working with individuals with intellectual disabilities is that they are always full of surprises.  Constantly challenging stereotypes and rising above the barriers placed before them in their own unique way. Just like any child, all they need is the love and support of a family who believes in them and wants the best for them. The only difference being that the journey might look a little different but it will be covered with more beautiful moments of joy and discovery along the way.

Caroline1-300x300After taking the weekend to do research, talk at length, and compile a list of questions, December 7th was the day we reached out to several adoption agencies to get more information as we anticipated this was a long and tedious process.   Almost as if it were fate, the first agency to call us back was “Children of All Nations – Great Wall China Adoption” and after speaking with their matching specialist, Meredith, for only a few minutes she couldn’t hold back her excitement at the feeling she had about us and an updated file that had just been received that morning.  Once Meredith shared this special little girl’s pictures and video with us and before even finishing reading her file and watching her videos, we had already fallen in love with her. We don’t see her as a little girl with special needs, we see her for her bright smile, adorable pigtails and the daughter we will call Caroline and love with every fiber of our being.

If your family is interested in learning how you can be matched with a Waiting Child in GWCA’s China adoption program, visit our China Waiting Child photo listing or contact us today!

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Welcoming Naomi – A Dream Come True!

naomiEleven years ago, we requested information from Great Wall China Adoption to learn more about their adoption program. At that time we had no children, but we were praying we would become parents soon. Our hearts sank when we realized that you had to be 30 years old in order to adopt from China. We tucked that dream away. Life began to move quickly as life often does. Before we knew it we had a busy household with six children! Four of our children are biological and two of our children were adopted domestically at birth. We assumed adopting from China would never be part of our story.

One morning our oldest son came out of his bedroom and announced, “Mom, I had a dream that you and Dad told us you are adopting from China.” We thought his dream was precious but we knew our hands were full. We had not considered adopting from China in over a decade. Sometimes the Lord whispers in our ear and sometimes He has to yell. Our second son, not aware of his oldest brother’s dream began to pray fervently for another little sister. He prayed all the time! I thought it was sweet and wondered if down the road we would visit adoption again. I had a long list of reasons why now was a bad time. Then it happened. Those whispers became yells right into our ears. We jumped right on it. Trusting the Lord to work out the details. The word He gave us in regards to our adoption was “restore.”

When we began to research adopting from China we learned that most of the children being adopted had Special Needs. The word restore started to make sense. These little ones needed to be restored to health. Also, in China all adoptions begin with abandonment. These little ones need to be restored to a family.

We wondered who our child would be. In our past experiences we have given birth or adopted at birth so we had no clue what future issues could be present in our children. We just had faith that it would work out. In this case, we were asked to give our matching specialist a general list of special needs we would be open to. We talked and prayed about this thoroughly. We researched, spoke to other families and consulted our doctor. We had six children at home who needed our time and attention as well. We felt it best if we chose special needs that would not require frequent lengthy hospital stays or overwhelming therapy appointments each week. We also knew that a medically fragile child would not be safe in our crazy, busy house full of active children.

Please know that we recognize that life has no guarantees and any of our children could experience an illness or accident that would change the way our family operates. We would do anything to meet the needs of our children. We selected needs that we felt we could manage as a family. We have a loving, supportive extended family that steps in when we need them. They have helped us through emergencies, surgeries, and therapies in the past. They have also provided support through family transitions as we have welcomed each one of our children home.

naomi2The website nohandsbutours.com offers adoptive families a look at the day to day experiences of families who have adopted from China’s Special Needs Program. This website was an invaluable resource for us. Also, we connected with other families through social media groups. There is no better place to start than with the people who have actually experienced these special needs. There is also a documentary called “Find Me” that we found encouraging and helpful. That film follows several families through the adoption process and offers a touching look at the women who care for China’s orphans.

The matching process was very exciting. We reviewed files of several different children. First, we reviewed the files of children who were waiting on the website. This gave us experience in reading a file. It felt a little overwhelming at first. How would we know which child was ours? We prayed about each child. We asked clarifying questions of our matching specialist. We tried to be realistic about what special needs we could manage as a family. Believe me, I wish I could bring home all the children and give them a family. We waited for our daughter, believing we would just know when the time came.

When we were presented with Naomi’s file something felt different. She was found at the approximate age of 2 in a public place. Once in the orphanage they discovered that she had a heart murmur. She was in need of heart surgery. She endured that heart surgery without her parents by her side. It is hard for me to consider how scary that must have been for her. There was something about the story of this precious little girl that screamed out “restore” to me. There it was, that word again. I poured over her file and shared it with my husband. By the time he arrived home from work I was a mess. He found me weeping on the laundry room floor. I wept for Naomi’s birth mom. I wept for Naomi. I couldn’t get over this little girl. She was now 3 1/2 years old. Only a few months younger than our only daughter.

I tried not to get my hopes up just yet. I asked our matching specialist a lot of questions about her file. Next, we needed to have her file reviewed by a doctor. We contacted an international adoption doctor and we also consulted our local family doctor. All the professionals agreed that Naomi’s heart report looked great. The surgery had been a success. She also presented with a couple of other minor needs that we felt equipped to handle. We have a plan to manage those needs once she is home. We will also follow up with our pediatric cardiologist.

Once the medical review was complete, we were relieved. We wanted Naomi to be our daughter. We prayed. We talked. We prayed some more. A peace came over us and we confidently moved forward with Naomi’s adoption. We are thrilled to say that we are just weeks away from meeting our daughter! The day we meet her face to face cannot come soon enough!

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