5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Adopting a Child with Special Needs

Michelle, an adoptive mom and Orphan Warrior who has worked with GWCA to help advocate for countless children in need, recently wrote a post for Beautiful in His Time, sharing her advice for parents who are considering adopting children with special needs. Read the post below to see what Michelle wishes she could have known when she began her first adoption journey:

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Adopting a Child with Special NeedsThree and a half years ago, my husband and I fell in love with an 18-month-old boy from China.

He was precious. He was perfect. And he had medical special needs.

Having two biological children of our own at the time, we had no prior experience with caring for children with medical needs. And although my sweet hubby was a physician assistant very eager to love on a child he could provide for in our home, both of us, at times, wondered if we were really equipped to care for a child who would require multiple surgeries and daily assistance of some sort, especially when we had two other children in our home already.

Distant friends told us this would too drastically change our lives. Acquaintances told us our biological children would be ruined. People who heard our story asked why we would choose to disrupt our comfortable life — the life with two children in a comfortable home and no health issues to worry about. Especially when we had no idea what we were doing.

There were seconds, moments, throughout the adopting process when, even as we LONGED to hurry the process and hold the sweet man we had nicknamed Superman in our arms, we wondered if these people were right. If God really knew what He was doing. If we were really the Kents for the job.

It turns out, we didn’t know what we were doing. And God did. And those people with their sweet protective hearts and their very good intentions — their opinions, combined with our fear, could have robbed us of one of the greatest blessings of our lives.

THIS is what adoptive parent Michelle knows now that she wishes paper pregnant Michelle would have known then. Because the world was very good at preparing us for the HARD parts of adopting a child with special needs … and very silent on the topic of the BLESSINGS.

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Adopting a Child with Special Needs

1. Special needs aren’t scary.

Not when you fall in love with the face and the personality and the little spirit of the soul behind them.

The second I held that sweet 2 ½-year-old hand, Superman moved from a photo of a child “with medical special needs” to MY SON. And when the child is your SON, not a file or a case number or a medical record, there is nothing you wouldn’t do for him.

God replaced my fear with fierceness and my concern with courage, and suddenly, almost overnight, the scariest thing about our situation of caring for a child with medical needs was that WE ALMOST LET FEAR ROB US OF THE PRIVILEGE OF DOING IT.

Because perfect love casts out fear. God’s perfect love poured into our imperfect hearts for HIS perfectly wonderful son drove out our fear. When Superman became a FACE and not a FILE, special needs became not scary. Because we quickly discovered that what the world called “special” needs were actually some of Superman’s greatest superpowers —and what MADE him the spirited overcomer that he is.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t scary times — when Superman was waking up from anesthesia for the second time under our care and he asked with his eyes because he had a tube down his throat, “Am I going to be okay?”

When he was lying in a hospital bed on Day 6 of NPO — without any food or water for nearly a week — and all I wanted to do was sneak him a cherry tomato and a sushi roll, because I knew his favorite foods of all time would instantly cure the grumpies I’d been facing for days.

When he was in the operating room a little longer than I had imagined, and I sat twitching, waiting with other kid-less parents in the waiting room for someone to call my name.

But when the child is a FACE and not a FILE, a son or daughter and not a photo, fear goes out the window. And the only thing scary is the thought that you might have missed out on the most beautiful blessing of your life had you let some Latin words on paper define your future.

2. If God calls you, He will equip you.

We’ve seen it in our own lives. God doesn’t call equipped people; He equips the called (Hebrews 13:21). Because frankly, NONE of us are prepared and mentally, emotionally and physically equipped to parent children who require care we’ve never performed. Not biological parents who deliver children with needs they had never imagined; not adoptive parents who God calls to bring home children with needs they had to Google.

But just like God equips parents who DELIVER children with special needs — parents who research and study and devote hours upon hours to learning how to provide the very best care for the children God has given them — God equips parents who BRING HOME children with those same needs.

In His goodness and by His grace, God turns parents from WORRIERS into WARRIORS.

Biological parents.

Adoptive parents.

Parents who worry that they’re not enough. That they don’t know enough. That their patience and their skills and their temperaments and their knowledge are all not enough.

He equips. And in OUR WEAKNESS, He shows up STRONG.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

3. Hospital stays make great bonding opportunities.

In his lifetime, Superman has had 14 casts and 10 surgeries, most of them inside our home. He’s spent several overnight visits at children’s hospitals across the country, and two years ago, he spent an entire week in a hospital without food or water following an intense surgery that made me quiver.

Before his last hand surgery, I asked Superman, who is missing a radius in his right arm, if he knew what we would be doing the next day. His reply:

“Yes. Doctor turn my finger, cut off my thumb and then Mommy and me watch Frozen and eat popsicles. Ready?”

This then 4-year-old boy wasn’t concerned about IVs, anesthesia or amputations; after numerous surgeries, he was concerned that he would get his Mama time. The time that I have learned is more precious than almost any other time we have in our chaotic, busy worlds. Because when we’re in the hospital together, we get to turn off our loud and noisy lives. We get to turn off our responsibilities and our phones and eat mediocre hospital food while we watch Frozen marathons (I can sing “Let It Go” in my sleep) and play checkers and read piles of books and snuggle day in and day out.

And even though I dread the pain and the tears that follow each surgery, I now treasure that special bonding time that the two of us get together.

4. Special needs are not a burden for our biological children; they are a BLESSING.

Perhaps more than any other concern our friends had when we shared we were bringing home a child with special medical needs was the concern that our biological children would be negatively affected.

That they would have to sacrifice too much.

That this would become a burden for them.

That they would get the “short end of the stick.”

The truth is, they do sacrifice. And it’s good for them.

They do give up occasional outings and fun things for doctor’s visits and medical appointments. And it’s good for them.

They do hear “we can’t eat that” or “we can’t do that” because of the medical needs or attachment needs of their little brother. And they’re fine with it.

In a culture that is raising children to believe life is all about them, that life is all about tailoring every schedule and every minute to their every need, our biological children are learning that life is NOT all about them. That sometimes the needs of others, like their brother, requires some sacrifice on their behalf. That loving others sometimes means giving up that school festival or that extra sport for the good of the team that still wants to maintain nightly family dinners and margin for important family conversations between doctor’s visits and guitar lessons. That their little brother gives up his time (and his sanity) to sit in copy rooms and class parties in order to serve THEIR needs. And that ALL of us in this thing called “family” do give and take in this life to make this family unit work.

And frankly, we haven’t heard once why it’s unfair that they’ve had to alter their lives after bringing their little brother home.

They adore this boy. They treasure this boy. They tackle this boy like he’s been part of their team their entire lives, and they are the first to dote on him and run to him and make him get well cards before and after every surgery.

They adore him. And loving a little brother with physical deformities and medical needs has taught them not to run FROM those who look different or spend more days in hospitals that the average person — but to run TO them.

So that this summer, when we hosted a 10-year-old orphan from China who had no fingers on his right hand, our children never even noticed. They never even asked. They tackled him with hugs and smiles and immediately invited him into their world to play for a month.

Compassion is worth far more than a few more extra-curriculars on our calendar.

5. Although we, in our selfish human nature, thought WE would be the ones blessing a child with medical needs, it turns out that HE was the one who blessed US.

I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture. There are definitely hard days. When my husband was deployed, Superman was on cast No. 14 and driving back and forth to our ortho specialist an hour and 20 minutes each way with three kiddos crammed into the back of a Prius was not the joy of my life.

When our calendars are dominated by doctor’s appointments and occupational therapy assignments and we have to say no to birthday parties and playdates because we’re driving back and forth to children’s hospitals.

When we still deal today with some of the very same medical issues we faced the day we brought this precious man home, even after surgeries to correct them.

The difference is our attitudes. The difference is our perspective. The difference is that, ON THIS side of adopting, we know that it’s all worth it. So very, very worth it.

Superman was worth it.

The 132 million orphans still waiting for forever families to call their own — adopting them is WORTH IT.

If your family is open to adopting a child with special needs and you’d like to learn more about GWCA and CAN’s Waiting Child adoption programs, visit our website or contact us today!

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From Found to Forever: A Life Changing Trip to China

“On my way from the hotel to meet DJ at his hotel!!…”  This proud mom wrote only moments before meeting the first of her two boys in China. “…A whole range of emotions right now. I can’t imagine what he is going through since he will be leaving everything he knows to come to America as our son. Praying that his precious heart is protected during this time of excitement, but also grief. It’s crazy that after all these months of paperwork and prayers, that I am finally picking up our son!!”

After participating in our Orphan hosting program and saying a difficult goodbye to one of her soon-to-be sons (“SC”), this amazing mom and her family have been hard at work to complete their adoption process and bring him home forever. During their adoption process, they fell in love with another amazing boy who was hosted by an advocate family, and their family grew by one more! Now, they’ve finally reached the part of their journey that they’ve been longing for – the trip to China to bring their boys home.

Below are the stories from both of the boys’ Gotcha Days, as well as an emotional visit to SC’s finding place. Check back soon for an update on this incredible family’s journey!

DJ’s Gotcha Day

God is so good and has answered so many specific prayer requests. The transition has been amazing so far with DJ. When we arrived at the hotel, both of us were a little unsure of what was going on. The orphanage staff told me that he had been asking every few minutes when I was arriving because he was ready to go. So much for less luggage, he came home with 2 backpacks and another bag full of toys! I need to buy another suitcase already. He had a whole backpack of just snacks for me. He told the staff all morning that no one else could eat the snacks but his mom! When we first started talking between us and the translators, he started to cry. He quickly told my guide that they were happy tears because he was so glad to finally have a family. He said that he has wanted a mom and dad of his own, forever. He has totally won my heart and already has me wrapped around his finger.

Showing me a book full of pictures from his childhood. What a HUGE blessing this is. They also gave me the outfit he came to the orphanage in as a baby. Both of these are invaluable gifts!!

After leaving the hotel meeting where we signed paperwork for guardianship for the night (our adoption will be official tomorrow), we headed to get our family photo. As we walked, I held DJ’s hand. At one point I had to let go, he quickly grabbed my hand again as we started walking. When we got back to the hotel, I gave him his Lego set and that kept him busy for over an hour. He is very inquisitive and asks a lot of questions, which has been difficult with the language barrier. We are slowly figuring things out though as we go. He is already working on English words and I’m learning more Chinese.

SC’s Gotcha Day

After months of work and prayers, I was reunited today with SC. before SC went back to China, Wayne and I told him that every time he saw the moon, he was to remember that we were in America praying for him. We were not able to tell DJ that (as we were not his host family), but we were praying for him as well. God has continually been gracious and merciful to us throughout this entire process. Today was no exception. I was blown away once again by God’s grace and compassion. He truly loves these children.

I had so much trouble sleeping last night. I was so excited for today that I felt like a kid going to Disneyland. Even DJ woke up and the first thing he asked was, “SC?” We ate an amazing breakfast and then piled into the van to drive to SC’s orphanage. Originally we were going to have the family day at the Civil Affairs Office, but it got moved to the orphanage. What a blessing that was! It was amazing to see where SC has lived the last 10 years. The orphanage was beautiful and colorful. You could tell that the workers genuinely love the children.

We were ushered into an office after meeting one of the chaperones from the summer hosting. DJ loved seeing her again. We did some paperwork for temporary guardianship (adoption is finalized tomorrow). I was blessed with another photo album book with baby pictures and pictures of SC’s childhood. We even have a note from his birth parents that they left with him and he was abandoned! After a few minutes, SC finally arrived.

It was so wonderful to see his sweet smile and to hug him again. We were able to catch up and talk a little with all the workers. We then all proceeded to walk through the orphanage to SC’s foster parents’ home, which was on the same property.

SC got to show me his bedroom, his awards from school, introduced me to his foster parents, and even played the piano for us. It was such an amazing opportunity. I feel so blessed to have seen and experienced this part of his life. At one point his foster mom started crying. She has cared for SC for 6 years and helped him when he had surgery on his foot. She also just said goodbye to another foster daughter last week. She was adopted as well. I was able to hug his foster mom and tell her how much we appreciate all that she has done for SC. It was beautiful, heart breaking, and surreal all at the same time. So many emotions in the room.

SC has been non-stop smiles. DJ and him are getting along as though they are long lost brothers and best friends. We spent the afternoon playing Legos, transformers, and we also took a little walk. One cannot forget food. Both of these boys can eat!! SC shared his snacks from his foster parents with DJ in the car. It was so sweet. He also brought out a bag of cookies and said it was for Baba and his sisters. He is so thoughtful!!

This evening we went to a Chengdu Opera where they have the famous mask changing show. Both of the boys had a blast.

SC’s Finding Place

Seeing SC’s finding place was special, but it also stirred up a ton of emotions. I happened to see a mom feeding her small baby and I wondered what went through SC’s parent’s minds when they sat him in an area they knew he would be found and could receive help. They had cared for their sweet baby boy for three months. They left a note on him. I still have to have someone translate it for me all the way, but they explained that he needed help with his foot. I cannot imagine the anguish they experienced leaving behind this baby they loved in order for him to get the medical help he needed.

Visiting this spot not only stirred up emotions for me, but it must have stirred up emotions for SC as well. It is one thing to read about and take training on trauma and loss, it is another thing to experience it first hand. About five minutes after we got into the van, I looked back to talk to the boys and I saw that SC didn’t look well. He looked distressed. When I asked him what was wrong via the guide, he told her that he was experiencing car sickness. This surprised me because he never once was car sick over the last two days or over the month he was with us this summer. Emily (our guide) quickly surmised the situation and said that he was probably experiencing a lot of emotions that were making him sick, and he didn’t want to admit it but say it was just car sickness. SC told me he felt nauseous and very dizzy. I looked it up and emotional distress can make people feel physically ill, including feeling nauseous and dizziness. It broke my heart to see my son hurting so deeply that he felt sick. I encouraged him to always feel free to express his feelings to us and I also told him how much we all love him. I told him that we would always be there for him and he can tell us anything and we will listen. It took him about 20 minutes to feel better.

It breaks my heart to know that our boys will probably always have questions, experience hurt and pain from their past, and feel lost at times. This is one reason I have tried to hard to document everything I can about this trip through pictures, saving memorabilia like newspapers, taking pictures of foster family members, and even taking pictures of finding places. All of these pieces will help me answer future questions, to the best of my ability, to help them through their struggle. This is why I also feel so blessed to have important things like DJ’s outfit when he was found, a copy of SC’s finding letter, baby pictures of the boys, etc.

We are now in Guangzhou, where we will finish the last of the paperwork for the US side. In the end, we will have the boys’ visas so that we can travel to the United States. When the plane lands, they will be US citizens. We have really enjoyed being adventurous this trip. Our guide told us where McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut was located. I avoid those places in the states and I don’t plan on eating Western food while in CHINA!! We ventured out tonight and found a Japanese restaurant that had amazing ramen. SC took charge and placed the order for us in Chinese. He ordered the noodle dishes and coke for me, DJ and himself. I had to fake liking the coke because I really don’t like it. SC caught me making a face when I drank it. Oops! The boys LOVE their noodles and are so fun to watch. While we were waiting for the bill, the boys entertained themselves – SC found creative ways to use his wipe and DJ figured out if he put coke in his soup spoon, he could drink it backwards.

Some pictures from the journey:

Resources:

– Learn more about the China adoption process
– Learn about Orphan Hosting
– Contact GWCA’s China matching specialists to learn how you can be matched

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Lena Yi Yi’s Journey – An ‘Older Child Adoption’ Story

We LOVE receiving updates from families that have come home. Not only is it incredible to see how far a child can come in a short amount of time with the love and support of a family, but it’s a great reminder that adoption is so much more than the process we help families through each and every day.

Lena Yi Yi was adopted at the age of 12, and welcomed into a loving family. Now, six years later, she is absolutely thriving, living out her dreams and exploring her passion for dance! Here is an update that we received from Lena Yi Yi’s proud mom:

unnamed (4)Lena Yi Yi will be 19 on March 28th. It goes fast when you adopt them at an older age. Overall we have had a smooth ‘older child’ adoption. Knowing that she bonded with her Chinese adopted family from very early infancy I know helped. She’s very much fit into our family. She is actually so much like her dad in so many ways that except for her appearance one would not know she’s not our biological child. She is still home-schooled and will graduate either in late May or early August depending on how fast she completes her work.

She speaks English well but still struggles with reading and writing English although it’s improving slowly but surely. She is also still 100% fluent in Chinese. I had her take one semester with a native Chinese teacher, who immigrated to the US from China and settled in Nevada. This woman is a certified teacher and the super advanced Chinese lessons were via Skype. The teacher said Lena was very intelligent and read quite well and grasped new concepts in advanced Chinese very quickly.

Lena Yi Yi’s goals after graduation range from continuing to improve in English so she can work as a translator, to being a missionary and work in orphanages all over the world, and to continue training in dance and work in a Christian ballet company.  She is applying to be a part of Wichita State University’s International Intensive English program. Although she’s a US citizen and this program is normally for international students, they do occasionally work with US citizen’s where English isn’t their first language. Regardless of all of her other goals, Brad and I agree this would give her a huge boost in anything she tries to do in life.

Speaking of dance, this has been Lena Yi Yi’s passion her entire time here. Ballet is her favorite although she has also trained in jazz, tap, contemporary, and has been a part of a studio ‘funk team’ and was selected to be a part of a competitive dance team in Wichita. This year she was chosen to be a part of the Nutcracker in Wichita. I am sending an article that ran in our small town newspaper about that.  I am also sending some pictures and Facebook stories.

I feel her story is a good one to share as I know many with older child adoption have had struggles. We are thankful for all the help we had at Great Wall as well as that things really have gone pretty smoothly for us.

If your family is interested in learning how you can adopt an older child through China’s Waiting Child adoption program, visit GWCA’s Waiting Child photo listing or contact our matching specialists today!

Share YOUR Story with GWCA today by sending it to ana@gwca.org!

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Eight Months Home – Learning Our Dance

YourdonFamily-2016.10.27-NealDieker-278It was eight months ago today that we brought our daughter home and began our life as a family of nine. I will never forget the day we met that little girl in the pink dress. The look on Naomi’s face during those first moments together is etched in my memory. She was so brave and clearly intrigued by us. At the same time, she had the “blank look” I have come to recognize as a sign that she is overwhelmed and nervous.

You see, 8 months ago, we were total strangers. I was already in love with her or at least the idea of her. She had seen our photographs but could not be fully prepared for what was to come. We were instantly mommy and daughter, all the while still strangers to one another. The dance of attachment was beginning for us but we were nearly four years late to the party. I didn’t know her cries, her looks or her needs. When you bring home a new baby from the hospital, you study them. You ask yourself countless times a day, what does she need? I found that the same was true for our little Naomi. I needed to become a student of her, study her sounds and her actions. I would love to tell you that I did this perfectly but I did not. There were times we were both in tears from sheer frustration. There were times I was not as patient as I should have been and lost sight of what was really important. I have had to apologize and ask her for forgiveness more times than I like to think about.

The beautiful thing about a family is that we just keep loving and moving forward. There have been countless victories in these eight months, reasons to celebrate and solidify the bond that we have created. We parent our seven children in a way that gives us the great gift of time. We home school so there is no need to rush off in separate directions each morning. Granted, Daddy has to go to work but we are all excited when he walks back through that door! Learning the rhythm of our family has been accelerated for Naomi as she watches the way I interact with all her siblings on a minute by minute basis. Giving her a solid foundation of what family means is our priority. We know that her little heart still has plenty of healing to do. A child who was abandoned at the approximate age of two certainly needs time to feel safe and secure. She asks me often, “Momma, gonna go bye bye?” I rarely leave the house without my children but the thought of being separated from Momma is still unnerving for our little girl. On the rare occasion that I leave the kids with Daddy or Grandparents, I remind Naomi, “Momma comes back. Momma always comes back.” We have a little song we sing with these words. It is an important ritual for us.

YourdonFamily-2016.10.27-NealDieker-178Naomi’s big sister, Izabella, is just a few months older than her. Izabella was our only girl for four years. We had no idea how their bonding would go but we prayed fervently that they would be a gift to one another. Their relationship has exceeded our wildest hopes. I will never forget one of their first nights together, Izabella hugged Naomi tight, looked at me and said, “Mom, thank you so much for my sister!” They take great joy in spending time together. They are little mommas to their baby dolls. They love to color and make crafts together. They sit next to each other for every meal. They are taking a weekly ballet class together. The sight of them in their little tutus is more than this momma’s heart can stand. They attend the same art class and story time class at our home school co-op. They are precious little shopping buddies and love it when we have girl dates. They often say, “girl power!” when they accomplish a difficult task. I am grateful to have a front row seat to watch their relationship develop. A sister is truly a gift.

YourdonFamily-2016.10.27-NealDieker-260We have been amazed by Naomi’s patience and kindness with all her siblings. She has learned to stick up for herself when she needs to. We think this a terrific sign of how comfortable she has become in her family. Her adoption was our first experience with adopting out of birth order. Naomi is older than our two youngest sons. They were two years old when she arrived home and she was weeks away from turning four. We felt that Izabella would keep her identity as our oldest daughter and the little boys would keep their identity as our babies. We were right. The transition has been seamless.

Every night when I tuck Naomi in bed she says, “Momma, sing Jesus!” She snuggles her teddy bear and baby doll and settles in for this comforting nightly routine. I rub her back and sing this song, “Jesus loves Naomi this I know for the bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong. Yes, Jesus love Naomi. Yes, Jesus loves Naomi. Yes, Jesus loves Naomi. The bible tells me so.” Then I lay my hand still on her back and whisper a prayer in her ear to the King of Kings. I thank him for her life. I praise him for the restoration he has done and will continue to do. I ask him to continue to bind our hearts together. I pray for her best friend from the orphanage who is happily home with her family. If I forget this part, I am quickly reminded. I ask God to draw her heart to his. I pray that she will grow up to boldly walk in the calling he lays on her heart. I have no doubt his plans for her are great. When I say amen, I kiss her little face and tell both my girls, “Goodnight my princesses.”

In the past eight months, there have been challenges to overcome, memories to make and milestones to celebrate. We are no longer strangers. We are well on our way to forever. Not only do we know the steps to our dance, we are tearing up the dance floor.

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Lillian’s Matching Story

Our China Waiting Child adoption program gives families the chance to play a role in their own matching process, meaning every family’s experience is unique. While some may look at many files before they find their kiddo, other families may move forward with the very first child whose file they review. Either way it seems that more often than not when a family finds their child on our Waiting Child photo listing, they have a moment of realization and know that their search is over.

Below is a post from one of the families in our China adoption program about the importance of photo listings and how they came to find their daughter:

HendersonI am a big believer in photo listings. I know from personal and professional experience that getting children’s faces seen is the key to getting them families. My husband and I did not set out to adopt a child that was paralyzed or that had spina bifida and hydrocephalus. But when we saw our little Lillian, we just knew that she was ours.

When we first submitted a request to learn more about Lillian, our China matching specialist, Heidi, did a great job of providing us information on the child and on the process (if we decided to move forward). She was supportive and informative without being pushy. We took some time to pray about our daughter and get some advice from medical professionals and from other parents who had adopted children with the same special needs. Once we were ready to commit to our daughter and start the process to bring her home, Heidi seemed genuinely excited and happy for us and helped us get the ball rolling.

I can say too that we originally inquired about a different child, and after reviewing her file we just new that she was not the right child for us. It was very difficult to say no to a child and ask to see a different child’s file, but Heidi never made us feel guilty or bad in any way. She was very understanding and supportive.

We had not decided that we were going to pursue another adoption or that we were going to adopt from China specifically, but seeing the children waiting and finding our daughter was the push we needed to commit and move forward.  There are so many children waiting for families and we are so grateful to GWCA for helping us find out daughter.

If you’re interested in learning how you can be matched through our china adoption program, visit GWCA’s Waiting Child photo listing or contact our matching specialists today!

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Welcome Home, Caroline!

Mullis2comp-209x300One year ago we announced that Caroline, an adorable little girl who rocks her extra chromosome, had been matched with a Forever Family. Her family had fallen in love with her the first time they’d seen her photo, and from that moment on they knew she was theirs.

Since then, we’ve continued to follow their journey and shared in their joy with each surprise along the way. Throughout their adoption process they’ve shared several stories with us, including Finding Caroline the story of how they came to be matched with their daughter, and First Father’s Day. Along the way we’ve been so impressed by their diligence in completing their dossier paperwork and wrapping up the final steps of their adoption. Now, we’re so happy to share with you the moment when all of the pieces came together as they welcomed the newest member of their family, Caroline.

One month ago, Caroline’s dad traveled to China to finalize her adoption and bring her home. The video below shows the moment when the two of them arrived home and Caroline got to meet her mom for the very first time.

A word from our China matching specialist about working with Caroline’s family:

There are few things as incredible as getting the chance to be involved with a family’s adoption process from start to finish. With the “M” family, I had the unbelievable chance to get to work with them from the time they began the adoption process until they left to pick up their darling girl. They were one of my first families to match, and will always be in my heart as one of the first times that I felt as though I was truly making a difference for the kiddos that we advocate for. I have loved looking at their little girl’s photos since the time we received her file, so to now see her home and in her parent’s arms feels like such a blessing. Throughout all of the emotional ups and downs of the adoption process, it is moments like these that make it worth every minute. 

Caroline and her dad arrive

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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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