Saturday, February 27, 2016

More about Mei

Last week we got to share with you a little bit about how God brought Mei into our hearts.  This week I'm so excited share more about her.

 At 8 years old, Mei is among the older children in her section of the orphanage (those eligible for adoption).  She helps out with the younger children, and enjoys organizing them for games.
And there's a glimpse of tiny Titus in the white!

The nannies describe her as very sweet and sensible; cheerful and open with her caregivers.  
She attends tutoring in the orphanage and is happiest when she is in class with her friends.

She enjoys singing, performing, and memorizing and reciting poetry.  Enjoy this sweet video from several years ago!  (bonus glimpse of Titus in the background at 5-7 seconds :D )
Oh, how I wish I could scoop her up and hug that tiny little girl!

As with most cases in international adoption, her special needs are not fully diagnosed or explained in her paperwork, and may take us a while to evaluate once she is home.  We suspect one of two specific conditions, which can both manifest in some of the physical characteristics she has, but are caused by very different genetic conditions with very different outcomes.  Or, as it seems to be the case with Titus, they may simply be physical differences without affecting her overall health.  Please begin praying for her, and for us, even now as we start planning and preparing.

She is very aware about adoption.  At least every month it seems there are children adopted out of her orphanage and she has seen many of them come through to tour with their new families.  Her caretakers say she is longing for the day that her mother and father will come for her.  We are too, sweet girl!

Next up: Our fundraising plans and progress to bring her home!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Journey to Mei

An ancient chinese belief states that "an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance.  It may stretch or tangle, but it will never break."

We announced a couple of weeks ago on Facebook the wonderful news that our family is growing again!  God has had this addition in the works for a while and now we'd like to share with you some of the details of this stretched, tangled, and beautiful story!

When we first started to pursue Titus we had truly only intended on one adoption because we had always imagined we'd have four kids.  We were just fine when we found out that our agency had a general policy against adopting two children at once, although it is a common decision amongst adoptive families with other agencies.  We had seen two or three pictures of Titus before making the decision to adopt him, but once we moved forward we were given his full "file", including medical information, social descriptions, and a handfull of photos.  This one was among those first pictures we saw of him.

Aren't they so cute?!  It is no secret that our famiy has developed a love for children with craniofacial differences.  I immediately started praying for her and for a family to choose her.  I supposed they had as close a relationship as my kids do with their siblings. 

She continued to show up in pictures we found or received of Titus.

Titus' Third Birthday

Last winter another mama who has adopted from their orphanage posted this picture and asked if anyone knew whether this little girl had a file and how we could join together to advocate for her.  (That mama's little girl is on the right, Titus is in the middle.)

Since I had worked hard to find Titus' file when we were ready to pursue him, I volunteered to try tracking down her file.  It was easier than I could have imagined, as the day after I emailed the agency who partners with their orphanage, they were able to tell me that her file was on the "shared list", a list of children's files who had been available for a long time without a family's commitment.  Families adopting with any agency can choose a child on the shared list.  

I began helping to advocate for her in various adoption related facebook groups.  I talked with potential families and shared my research about various craniofacial differences and other thoughts that the group of families who had met her offered.  One family I spoke with was very interested in adopting her and I thought I might get the joy of carrying over a care package for her when we traveled.   They were close to commiting but didn't feel God's peace that she was theirs. "What about your family?"  she asked.  My list of why not's went something like this:
I'd love to, but...
(1). Our home study is only approved for one child.
(2). Our income doesn't meet the guidelines for us to adopt two.

God said, "Are you sure?"

So I looked a little deeper.  When our home study was written, Eric had a side job with the school where our church meets.  After the home study was complete they had changed his position, resulting in an increase in pay.  We met the guidelines for our family to adopt two.

I contacted our home study case worker who let me know that he would enthusiastically update our home study to reflect that we are approved to adopt two children.  

At this point we were waiting for our letter of acceptance from China.  We contaced our placing agency and requested to see her file.  Unfortunately they would not give it to us, since our home study was currently only approved for one.  They gave us a number of additional pieces of paperwork for us to fill out before they would discuss with us the option of adopting two children together.  The paperwork took many hours, and asked a lot of good questions about services available in our school district, our family's support system, how much flexibility we have in our daily lives, etc.  I won't say how ;)  but we did manage to get our hands on a basic version of her medical file and submitted it to our craniofacial team, who drew up an incredibly manageable plan for beginning treatment for both Titus and Mei together, scheduling various appointments and surgeries together to place less strain on our family's schedule.  The craiofacial team was very supportive of our desire to adopt them both, and eager to be part of their care.  

We gave all of the above information to our placing agency, confident that they couldn't say "no".  God had confirmed for us through all of the additional essays and paperwork that we indeed desired to be her parents and felt that we could meet her needs.  Meanwhile, we sent a care package to Titus through another family who was traveling and we received back this picture.

Mei had been the one to lead them to his crib as soon as they said his name.  She watched somberly as she realized the gifts were from his future family.  We were told she grieves each time a child from her room leaves the orphanage - both because she will miss them, and because she was again overlooked and left behind.
  We continued to feel that they share a special bond and that it would be a beautiful thing for them to share the rest of life together too.  Adoption is a wonderful thing, and so is a child's personal history.  We desperately wanted to give both Titus and Mei the gift of a sibling with shared history.

With silence on the part of our agency, we began discussing the option of swithing agencies to one who would happily help us adopt them together.  We were ready to make that move if our agency gave a difinitive no.  However, our agency came back and said, "show us the money".  They wanted to be sure we could come up with the approximately $10,000 in additional funds it would take to adopt two at once.

We gave it to God.  If he could provide that (all in the timing before we received our letter of acceptance which we expected in about 2 weeks), we would know she was our daughter.  I told two good friends in the adoption community as well as the group of families who've adopted from her orphanage.  Thankfully, Mei already had her own grant account set up with a charity that provides grants for families who adopt children with special needs.  The grant funds stay with the child in order to make it easier for a family to say "yes" to that child.  The family receives the funds for expenses toward the end of the adoption process.  So, any additional funds raised to help us bring her home would stay with HER, no matter what family pursued her in the future if we couldn't.  We like the thought that at least if we couldn't bring her home, our journey could help her toward a forever family.  Our two friends and the orphanage group shared the link to her grant account and encouraged anyone who was led to donate.  

In ONE WEEKEND, I kid you not... THREE DAYS, God raised OVER $10,000 - more than $6,000 in the form of her grant acccount and $4,500 in pledges from others who would give if we were approved.

Unfortunately they strung us along without a final answer until we reached a point in our paperwork that we could no longer switch agencies.  I am not going to get in to the complexities of the politics that goverened the decision of our "faith-based" placing agency to STILL say "no" even after God's mighty hand moved a $10,000 mountain.   Let's just say that I don't believe those in authority always make the right decisions and I don't believe that God willed for Mei to spend another year in an institution rather than with our family.  But I do KNOW without a doubt that my God can redeem ANY broken thing and make it beautiful.  So, we look for the beauty on this journey back to China for our daughter.  

With the laws governing international adoption, a family is legally free to contract with another agency once they have received "Travel Approval" for the adoption in process.  With our social worker's blessing, we applied to a different agency and placed Mei's file on hold the day before we traveled to China.   With the hold on her file, we had 90 days to begin submitting more paperwork for her - time to settle in and bond with Titus before resuming the paper chase.  

It was a time of mixed emotions traveling to China for Titus knowing that we were also leaving our daughter behind.  We felt a triumph in completing his adoption, while also feeling defeated in our unaswered pleas on Mei's behalf.  The day we received Titus we asked the caregiver who brought him about how he sleeps.  She said he is a good sleeper, but every night he climbs out of his crib to sleep with the child next to him.  We thought this was good, as we were hoping he would cooperate with cosleeping for bonding.  The next day we visited the orphanage and the first thing they showed us in his room was his crib.  She pointed out "this is the bed that he climbs into every night."  and guess whose bed it was?!  Mei's.  Our suspicions about their close relationship were confirmed.  That night and two others during our time in China and a few times since he's been home, Titus has screamed out in the night "Yao Mei!"  I want Mei.  
Titus' bed is beneath the widow.  Mei's is the larger bed between it and the wall.  She is the one older child who sleeps in this baby/toddler room.

I can't really describe what it was like to see Mei and try to interact with her through the guide while not favoring her over the other children in the room or giving away our intentions.  It was sad to see where she was and get a glimpse of her life and wonder what another year there would do to her body, mind, and spirit.  It was a rare privilege that most adoptive parents don't get to be able to see her first on "her turf", even though with foreigners visiting it wasn't a true picture of her most natrual environment.  

We were able to give her a copy of the first picture we saw of her and Titus together and we thanked her for being his friend and told her we knew he would miss her.  We also brought along a small polaroid camera and took pictures of each of the kids for them to keep for themselves.  At one point Mei sat down beside me and I casually took a picture of the two of us together for her to keep.  I have no idea if she still has it, or if any of the kids were allowed to keep their pictures as a personal possession, but I thought that just maybe it may help her when we tell her that we are her family to remember that we had spent a little time together.  She sees foreigners come through there often with their new children and I wanted a way to stand out in her memory without giving hint of our plans.

As if we needed any more encouragement or confirmation of our plans to move forward with her adoption, take a look at this close up of the shirt she was wearing the day we met...

So now here we are on our way back to her!  We have had to re-do every single bit of paperwork that we did a year ago.  Our home study is complete and our dossier papers are nearly ready.  We are awaiting our immigration department fingerprinting appointment.  Please pray with us that our appointment will be soon and that our approval will come quickly so we can get our dossier sent to China!  

Now that you've heard how we came to the decision to adopt her, I look forward to telling you more about HER the next time I'm able to sit down and write!