A Mother’s Choice in China

Can you imagine the heartbreak of having a child with a medical need that no one would treat?  Maybe one that would kill your baby?  It’s already so sad to see families in the U.S. struggling through the pain of their children’s illnesses, but at least we can usually trust that they are being cared for as much as is humanly possible.

For many rural Chinese families whose income may be less than $1,000 per year, expensive treatments are just not a financial option.  Medical costs in China have gone up dramatically in the past few years.  Tragically this impossible dilemma often leads to the abandonment of medically frail babies!  No mother should ever have to leave her child at an orphanage in the hopes that it would give him his only possible chance at survival.

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An intestinal malformation surgery like Chen Ze (shown in the photo) needs will cost about $3200, depending on the province and hospital.  A heart surgery, depending on the severity, can be around $10,000. A cleft lip or palate surgery would cost around $1500.

The Love Without Boundaries Unity Fund helps families meet these needs by committing to raise a portion of their total bill.  The family will usually also look to friends and extended family for help, along with other charities.  So far our Mother’s Day fundraiser has raised over $800 through the sale of our “Love Crosses Oceans” t-shirts (which you can purchase here).  Thank you so much to all our wonderful friends who have helped little ones like Chen Ze!  We are so grateful to be a part of changing the life of at least one little one in China!

Update:  Our final total was $1,505 raised for Love Without Boundaries!  Thank you everyone!!!

Help a Mother Across the Oceans for Mother’s Day

Chinese Mother and babyIn honor of Mother’s Day, please join me to help mothers in China that have children with serious medical needs keep their families together!

Adoption is beautiful and amazing.  It fills hearts and makes dreams come true.  But when you pause and think, adoption comes from a place of pain and loss.  Always, the child has suffered the loss of its biological parents.  Often, the biological parents have endured pain and suffering of their own choosing, sometimes, a life-saving choice for the child.

Having adopted from China, we’ve learned that the biological parents of our children may have wanted more than anything to keep them, raise them, and love them.  It is so sad to imagine what might have led these women to walk away from their beautiful babies.

According to Love Without Boundaries,

Family after family… told us they had considered leaving their babies at the orphanage so that their children might receive medical care. It was then that we realized that by providing medical care to families living in poverty, we could possibly prevent children from becoming orphaned. What an amazing thought that was!

Since that time it has been LWB’s honor to help many families stay united with the children they love so dearly. We have provided heart, spinal, and cleft surgeries to families who would otherwise face the difficult decision of how to get the medical care needed by their children. It is truly humbling to think that we have played a part in keeping families together, and it is our dream to help many more rural families with medical care in the future.”

Read more about Love Without Boundaries’ Unity Fund here.

You can help today in two ways:

  1. Make a donation through our link at https://www.lovewithoutboundaries.com/donate/donation-love-crosses-oceans/
  2. Buy one of our “Love Crosses Oceans” T-shirts at www.bringinghomeoliviajade.com/tees.  We will donate $5 for each T-shirt sold between now and the end of May to the LWB Unity fund!

UPDATE: We raised $1,505 for Love Without Boundaries.  Thank you everyone!!!

A Little More Family….in China

One of the highlights of our trip to China was growing our family, not just in the obvious way by adopting Olivia, but by adding Julia’s foster family.

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Way back before we knew a lot about adoption we liked the idea of adopting from a place where our children’s birth families would never enter our lives  to create confusion and disruption.  After years of reading and learning we know things are complicated no matter how you slice it.  Our children’s birth families ARE important but with China it’s unlikely that our kids will ever fill those holes in their hearts.  I’m sad to think of each of their birth mothers and the pain they must have experienced to let go of these beautiful babies.

Both Julia and Rion were fortunate enough to be loved thoroughly from the time they were babies until the time we adopted them.  With Rion we had almost immediate email contact with his foster family.  Though our communication is somewhat limited due to rather poor computer translation, we often receive pleas for pictures so they can see the “baby”.  When we adopted Julia we were told we could not have contact with her foster family (who cared for her for well over a year).  We just knew that it was a mom and a dad with two almost grown children, a boy and a girl.  We also knew that they had loved her through and through.  She was such a happy little girl and almost immediately showed us the love and affection that only a loved child can even understand.  We sadly accepted that we would never know this family. After Rion’s adoption the possibility of meeting them began to nag at me.  Julia often drew pictures of her foster mother just based on her imagination.  Her foster mother was much more of a reality and had left more of a hole in her heart that even her birthmother.  About a month before our China trip I finally contacted the orphanage for information.  They once again said that contact was not allowed, but for some reason gave me the foster mother’s name.  So I found a researcher and asked if he could find her.  Twenty-four hours later we had an address and over the next few weeks we established contact and found a guide who would introduce us in China!

Julia was excited and nervous, as I think we all were.  We were to meet the foster family at their home in Guangzhou.  After an adventuresome two-taxi drive where we managed to lose Phil and Rion (who had no phone, no address, and no phone number for our guide) we finally managed to all get to our destination.  The foster mother met us out in the rain with umbrellas and I could see the excitement in her eyes when she spotted Julia.  Over the course of the morning and early afternoon we enjoyed getting to know and love this amazing family who loved our little girl.  The mother was so sweet and caring.  Since Julia was feeling a bit shy, the mother turned her attention to Olivia who I think was hoping she had found a new family.  (We had to deal with quite a traumatic good-bye for Olivia later in the afternoon.) Julia soon warmed up to the daughter “Zoe” who is in her early twenties and speaks pretty good English.  The father was kind and quiet offering up tea.

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We learned that they had chosen to foster a child when the mother thought the house had grown too quiet as her kids grew up.  She went to the orphanage and was allowed to choose from the children and she picked Julia.  Later they also fostered a little boy (who we’ve now seen in a few pictures with Julia).  He was also adopted (supposedly by a family in Sweden) and they haven’t fostered since then.  She said it was too painful to lose the kids.  I can only imagine how heartbreaking that must have been.

One thing that surprised us was that Zoe is the younger of the siblings.  We asked about the one child policy and they told us that after they had their boy they wanted a girl so badly that they became pregnant again and paid the large fine so that they could have their little girl.  In a country that so often de-values girls it was so nice to know that Julia’s foster family treasured both their children!

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Maybe not so surprising was the way they were deceived about Julia’s adoption.  I don’t know if the orphanage was just trying to make sure they wouldn’t look for us, but they told the family that Julia had been adopted in Brazil!  So when the family got a call from America this spring they were somewhat scared and wondered if we had kidnapped Julia!  I wonder if that foster brother is really in Sweden or here in the U.S. somewhere?

We also learned at lunch that this is what a real Chinese take-out box looks like.  Zoe was very confused about our explanation about Chinese take-out boxes here.  🙂

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It was good to fill in some holes.  One sad thing that I noticed soon after Julia came to us was her reaction when put in a room full of children.  One day I brought her to a little gymnastics class and as soon as I put her in the circle of children her head dropped, her shoulders slumped, and she became incredibly sad.  My heart just ached as I realized that that was probably how her foster family had left her at the orphanage two months before her adoption.  I asked and the foster mother told me that the orphanage made her leave Julia in a room full of kids and didn’t allow her to say good-bye.  My heart still breaks for her mother’s heart and also for my sweet girl who had no idea why the only mother she had ever known abruptly disappeared from her life!

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One of the most wonderful gifts of the day was getting pictures of Julia as a baby.  Until then we only had 3 blurry pictures of Julia. Zoe quickly uploaded pictures onto our camera card and now we can enjoy pictures of a tinier Julia than we ever knew!  We even have a great video of Julia playing with her dinner (that is playing with a bowlful of live crawdads who would later become dinner!)

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Love Crosses Oceans T-shirts

Love Crosses Oceans (and the Great Wall)

Love Crosses Oceans (and the Great Wall)

Wow, this fundraising thing was an adventure…to be continued!  It turns out that purchasing a large amount of shirts has resulted in a small amount of funds towards our adoption and a pretty large number of shirts under my desk.  Yes, we HAVE sold quite a few and we’re very grateful for everyone’s support.  Also, sales are still trickling in.  The funny thing is that I keep selling the very sizes that we don’t have in stock, so I actually am doing a re-order of adult China shirts.  If you want one, today is a great day to place an order so that I can add it to this order!

We also still have lots of children’s shirts for China and Africa and adult shirts for Africa.

Official Adoption Day in our official adoption shirts :)

Official Adoption Day in our official adoption shirts 🙂

What I love about this beautiful shirt is that it is spreading a message.  Our dear sister-in-law Julie Gumm came up with a great phrase that means so much to so many people.  I have enjoyed getting to know many of the people who are buying our shirts.  I’ve connected with moms who are just starting the international adoption process and are full of excitement and questions.  Others are just about to travel to get their little ones home.  I had no idea when we started this that our shirts would be a way to connect with more of our China family, but every purchase is another relationship to me!  It has also been fun to see how closely knit our adoption community is.  Each new person I find on Facebook seems to be connected to multiple friends of mine (so much more interesting than our connection to Kevin Bacon!)

A day in Guangzhou

A day in Guangzhou

We’ve decided to keep our sales open and will be contributing some of our proceeds to Love Without Boundaries and other wonderful organizations that help Chinese orphans.  Also, we’ll be allowing other adopting families to use our T-shirts for their own fundraisers.  It’s a win-win for everyone!!!

If you’re interested in ordering a shirt, just click on the link to the right of this post and it’ll take you right to the T-shirt page.

Thanks again to all of you who have supported us in so many ways!  Olivia is a joy and an absolute gift to our family!!!

 

Baba and Olivia

Baba and Olivia

 

 

 

Baba and Julia

Baba and Julia

 

 

 

 

Baba and Rion

Baba and Rion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Rollercoaster Ride For Sure

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We’ve now had Olivia in our family for 7 days. It’s a bit hard to explain how the transition is going. Moment to moment it’s sweet, crazy, sad, funny, frustrating, expected, unexpected, and sweet again. Last night after some really naughty dinner-time behavior Olivia gave me this little grin that I swear said “Yeah, you bought it hook, line, and sinker. I worked two years to create this narrative on the ‘An Orphan’s Wish’ website and you bought it. Hah! You thought I was this sweet quiet little girl, but this here is the real deal!” The thought totally made us laugh.

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Yes, our little Olivia is a total sweetheart. She has the cutest smile, the most infectious raucus little girl laugh, and the most beautiful eyes. She is also a little person with a very strong mind of her own and a screaming voice to back it up. When she’s playing with Julia and Rion and doesn’t get her way I’m sure most people in our hotel know it. When she starts to get bored with breakfast she likes to throw noodles and other food items at the waitresses as they walk past. She is rough and tumble and even though we keep fussing at Rion for being too rough with her, she’s usually still laughing.

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She has mostly warmed up to the kids and gets along with them like most siblings do, well at times, and not so well at others. Her relationship with us seems to be on a constant uphill slope, but with little dips in between that sometimes confuse and surprise us. With everything we’ve learned about adoption over the years and with two behind us, you’d think we’d just roll with it, and we mostly do, but there’s still this strong desire to feel the love back. We know it’ll come in time and we’re certainly seeing a little more each day.

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Phil is out of the doghouse now and she’s starting to give him a lot of smiles and likes to play games with him. At first she was terrified of him and every other white male she encountered. We’ve been working on having him give her little snacks and things to help gain her trust.

Olivia seems to have figured out that I’m her mom and she comes to me when she’s hurt or needs to be held. But, I think ours is the most back and forth relationship in the family, and from what I hear from other families here that seems to be so common. I think it’s because I’m the one replacing her former caregivers and people she loved. She wants my attention and affection, but will often shove my hand away angrily when I try to stroke her. One minute she’ll grin at me and flash those twinkly eyes and the next moment she’ll glare at me like I tried to hurt her. The good thing is the happy moments are happening more frequently. The other good thing is that the angry moments show us that she had some sort of attachment in place before we came along. And that’s so important for her future bonding process with us.

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At the moment we’re just trying to follow her lead and let her go as far with us as she is comfortable to do. She won’t let me kiss her, but she’ll now follow my lead, kiss her own finger after I kiss mine and then touch fingers, bringing a sweet smile to her face. I let her moments in my arms be as short as she wants them and then she’ll usually come back for more. So we’ll just keep enjoying the moments as they come and rejoice over each new victory! Can’t wait for a big grin, a giant bear hug and a kiss for those sweet little lips though!

 

Day 5? 6? 7? – We’ve Lost Track

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As much as any place, Guangzhou feels like home to us in China. We’ve stayed here, in three different hotels, a total of about four weeks over the past three adoption trips. Guangzhou feels very welcoming. Trish and I both feel drawn to it more than anywhere else in China. I wish I had a week to just get out with shoes and a subway pass to explore the city randomly.

It’s a very cosmopolitan city. Lots of Westerners live here, and lots of immigrants from Africa and other countries live here as well. It’s far enough away from Beijing that it’s isolated from the politics of China. (Think Texas compared to D.C.) People here seem to have a bit more freedom, although it’s still very much communist China, one-child policy and all.

The city is huge, and if I could get to Wikipedia, I could tell you how huge. (But, you can’t get to everything on the internet in China.) Everywhere direction you look though, dozens of tall buildings dot the landscape, most seemingly apartments.

Guangzhou is tropical, and very lush, and it’s the middle of the rainy season here. It’s been quite a nice change from the sweltering heat of Hefei in Anhui province. But it’s supposed to get hotter over the next few days.

Thankfully, Guangzhou is also honk-free! Whoever runs the city has outlawed honking. Seriously, I know it’s not uncommon in countries other than the U.S., or New York, but Chinese drivers honk for everything. You might as well build a horn button into the driver’s seat. Traffic seems a little more orderly here than some cities in China.

Guangzhou’s also probably China’s greatest commercial city. You can buy almost anything made in China here in the city. Every October, Guangzhou hosts the world’s largest import-export convention and businessmen from all over the world flock here. It has a long history as a commercial city and all the Western trading powers and companies established outposts here in former Canton as early as 125 years ago.

For us, it’s also the central clearing point for every U.S. family adopting from China. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou processes all the immigration paperwork for Chinese children adopted by U.S. citizens. Every family must meet personally with Consulate officials, swear an oath to raise the child (beats me what I’m swearing to), and wait a day or two for final immigration paperwork. Without this, you cannot bring your Chinese child into the U.S. legally.

So, in every major Western hotel in Guangzhou, you’ll find at least a dozen or more adoptive families from all over the U.S. It’s always fun to talk with them, compare backgrounds in the U.S. and their experiences all over China. Every family usually compares how well the bonding process is proceeding. You’ll hear some interesting stories, such as one family adopting an 11 year old girl whose foster mother apparently told her she’d get to come back in a couple weeks after her visit to the U.S.

As reasonably intrepid travelers, Tricia and I enjoy meeting other people as much as anything. I’m lucky (as an introvert) to have my extrovert wife Tricia who’ll strike up a conversation with almost anybody. Without the kids, we probably would have had dinner last night with a group of Fed Ex pilots all speaking Tricia’s former lingo.

We’re enjoying and surviving the trip. It’s Sunday morning in Guangzhou, so we really only have a few more days here. We’ll catch the train to Hong Kong late Thursday afternoon, stay overnight, and fly out to San Francisco around midday Friday. Everybody misses home sweet home after 11 days of travel in three different cities.

Day 3 (and 4) – Introducing Olivia Jade!

After a good night’s sleep in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province where Olivia was born, we went to the civil affairs office. Trish and I waited with butterflies in our stomachs for Olivia’s arrival. An eternity later, she walked thru the doorway in the arms of the orphanage nanny, and burst into tears. But, Tricia has the best smile on her face holding our sweet little Olivia for the first time.

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We banished the nanny that brought Olivia to us from the room as quickly as possible (with the help of our wonderful guide Ting Ting). Without that distraction, she settled down a little with the devoted but somewhat smothering attention of Julia and Rion.

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Once we left the commotion of the civil affairs office, Olivia calmed down quite a bit. She lay contented in the arms of her new mother, who looked great for just “birthing” a new child.

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She giggled for the first time at lunch when she poked at Rion’s eye with her chopsticks. (As I’m writing here Tuesday late afternoon, the three kids are running around our hotel room shrieking and laughing.) We can already tell Olivia won’t have any problem holding her own against Rion and Julia.

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Finally, after one of the most traumatic mornings of her young life, Olivia fell fast asleep at nap time.

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After dinner at Pizza Hut, Tricia gave the girls a bath together. Julia loved brushing Olivia’s beautiful long hair afterwards. Olivia played with mom’s sunglasses, and she looked too cool for school already.

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For the most part, Olivia’s been scared of me because she just hasn’t had many men in her life yet. At first, when I tried to approach her, she started crying and shied away. But, she didn’t seem to mind if I gently touched her arm or her back while Tricia held her. She’s very observant though, and she’s watched me interact with Julia and Rion. This morning, at the civil affairs office again to finalize paperwork, Rion fell and bonked himself hard. Tricia set Olivia down to comfort Rion, I held out my arms a few feet away, and without much hesitation she walked over and climbed up on my lap. This afternoon, we finally had some hands free to snap a picture.

 

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Overall, we’re so pleased with how quickly Olivia has adjusted. In many ways, she’s adjusting faster than Julia did four years ago. She loves Tricia’s doting, and the comfort of either of our arms. She loves playing with Julia and Rion, and she has a great little chortling laugh. We’re just so incredibly happy that we get the privilege of being this darling little girls’s parents forever.

Day One – Beijing

imageDespite the flight and a lack of sleep yesterday, we went on a very full day tour of Bejing.  We went to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.  (There are about five or six different places you can go to the Great Wall around Beijing.  Mutianyu was spectacular.  We rode a cable car to the highest section, and then did some up and down climbing.  It’s just staggering to think of the manpower involved in building the wall during the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1404.  We also enjoyed the drive through the lush green countryside.

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Next, we stopped quickly at the jade factory for lunch (Chinese food of course).  After lunch we stopped at the silk factory.  We’ve never been there before.  It was really quite interesting to learn how they make silk bedding and silk thread from the cocoon of the silk moth.  The kids enjoyed it, and the parents did too.

After that, we took a short rickshaw tour of the old hutong neighborhood pictured below.image

In the hutongs, the Chinese lived in rooms surrounding a central courtyard.  They’re very old Beijing neighborhoods, and more and more of them are being destroyed for newer construction.

For dinner we had Mongolian hot pot (think fondue Chinese style), a very traditional Beijing dish.  Julia wasn’t a big fan, but the rest of us enjoyed it.  Then we visited the night food market, where you can buy almost anything on a stick from fruit to more exotic fare like tiny ducklings (head and all), frogs, and many other “yucky” items, as the kids said.   After twelve hours of touring, our excellent guide Stephanie put a very exhausted Rhodes family in the car for our hotel where we crashed.

Prayer time for Olivia and our family

We just got notice that Olivia has left her foster home “The House of Love” to go back to her orphanage in Fuyang.  Her transition to her forever family has begun.  She is leaving the only home and family that she knows, being taken by a stranger on a train to an orphanage she doesn’t remember, and left there on her own with more people she doesn’t know.  In about 10 days, some other person she doesn’t know is going to take her on a train or in a car to the city of Hefei.  Then she’ll be handed to her new family.  But as a two-year old who has never had a mom or dad, can she even understand what that means?  We pray that she’ll remember what her caretakers at The House of Love told her when they showed her our pictures.  We pray that Jesus will fill her heart with peace and let her know she’s in a safe place and that she is loved.

We ask for your prayers for the transition that will come once she is with us.  We hear on occasion that we’ve got it easy since we’ve already made it past the newborn stage.  But adoption is not a painless process.  Some children transition extremely well, like Julia did.  Others deal with a great amount of grief and confusion, like Rion did.  Still others are very traumatized by the losses they’ve experienced and by the neglect and maybe abuse they’ve suffered.  They are never able to attach and bond with their families without years of therapy. Even then, they may not ever relate the way most people do.

We have every reason to believe that Olivia has been cared for so that she will attach to us well and that she will accept love from her family and give it in return.  At The House of Love they not only take care of the children’s physical needs, but also provide as much of a family environment as they can. Still it can be a hard road.  We pray for a smooth transition, but know that it may not be easy.  Yes, Olivia’s two and might sleep through the night, or she might cry out in fear and sadness and suffer from night terrors.  I read a post the other day from a family who adopted one of Olivia’s little friends a few weeks ago.  She seems to be doing well, but spent at least one of her nights in China sleeping on the floor right next to the hotel room door, trying to get as far away from her new parents as she could.

We have to ensure Olivia feels secure and loved.  At the same time, we have to provide structure and discipline appropriate for a 2-year-old.  With Rion that was often a tough balance to strike.  Especially as a rambunctious 3-year-old, we had to respond to some of his inappropriate behaviors, but that didn’t always seem to create an environment that helped his attachment.  In an established family, the structure is part of the loving environment, but in the case of a child that has been raised by different people, in a different culture, and is perhaps acting out due to grief and sadness as opposed to general “terrible twos or threes” behavior, it’s not always easy for parents to know how to respond.

Newborns come with a natural inability to move about (and they sleep quite a bit), whereas toddlers may spend the majority of their days in full destruction mode.  Newborns might occasionally seem “boring” to their siblings, but toddlers come ready to fight for their toys (yelling in Chinese by the way).  We’ll need (and want) to spend a lot of time holding Olivia, who is weighing in at impressive 28 lbs, so our back muscles will be challenged.

The blessings of adopting a toddler are numerous though!  We get to go through about a thousand “firsts” in just the first few days, weeks and months.  First smiles, first giggles, first hugs, first kisses, first games with her siblings, first English words, first “I love you”, and so many more.  It’s like a fire hose sometimes, but then it’s also the most amazing, rewarding experience you can possibly imagine!

Health Care in China

We are not getting sick in China.  Thankfully, Tricia’s been three times and I’ve been twice now.  Neither of us have really had any health issues in China, and our digestive systems have handled somewhat adventurous eating fine.  So, knock on wood.

We know a couple (through the magic of Al Gore’s internet) that’s adopting a Chinese girl about Olivia Jade’s age that also lived at the House of Love with Olivia.  They’re arrived home from China just recently, and she’s been recounting their China adoption trip on her blog.  While there, she had a health issue that required a hospital visit in Nanning, China, a city of more than 6 million people.  Here’s her story about her hospital visit.  It was quite a bit different from a U.S. hospital.  But, it seems the prescribed treatment cured the problem.  And, the price was right–$80 for the hospital, the doctor and several medications.