By: Ivy Shaffer-Marks
When a tiny, sweet 11-month-old baby girl was placed in my arms, she quickly looked back at the only faces she had known and started to cry. I wrapped my arms around her tightly and tried to console her soft whimpers. My emotions took over, and tears of joy streamed down my face. At that moment I knew that this was my daughter.
Two months after we switched to Holt’s China Child of Promise option we had a child. Her cleft lip had been repaired, and she still needed her palate repaired. Other issues such as hearing and speech were not a big concern because of reassuring medical updates. To us, this baby was the most beautiful child we had ever seen.
Since her arrival home a year ago, we have had many more wonderful moments as we watch our daughter learn to speak and grow into a spunky toddler.
There is so much to say about the China Child of Promise option; I simply do not have enough accolades for the program nor the staff that seemed to hold my hand during the entire trip. For me, a dream had come true; I finally had a child, a little girl. We named her Kira.
I can only encourage future parents to consider this option as a wonderful means to find your forever child. Our lives are so full of happiness and love for our daughter; we would definitely choose this option again.
Journey Through Adoption (April 2007-March 2009)
April 2007–Dani and I are ecstatic about this very personal decision to adopt and elated beyond words that one day in our future a little girl, born half way across the world, will wait for us to become her forever parents. This is a journey that involves love, patience and finding the inner strength to endure the seemingly endless months of waiting. Currently we are six months since our dossier was sent to China, and every month brings us closer to our little ladybug!
Why do I call her our Ladybug? It’s easy. One day this past fall, I came home from work and found all these pretty little ladybugs flying about our front door. I smiled to myself as I know that ladybugs bring good fortune and hoped that this was a Red Thread Connection to our daughter. Yes, there are definitely connections that only those of us in this process can relate to.
July 2007–I am going to try and mark this month as a true milestone in our adoption process. As I said earlier, most women would have already delivered at nine months, while those of us in the adoption journey endure a longer pregnancy. However, with a bit of humor, faith and patience, we are all hoping this wait shortens up.
August 2007*–My husband came home to tell me that he had called Holt to let them know we were willing to consider a child with medical issues. This meant that we would not lose our place in line for a child who had no identified special healthcare needs, and our dossier would be pulled from the waiting pile and reviewed in this new light.
We told Holt that we preferred a younger girl with cleft lip/cleft palate. We anticipated a referral anywhere from three to six months after Holt received their next dossiers of waiting children, and we could only hope that there would be a little girl waiting for us. Truthfully, I could no longer bear watching the standard match wait list get longer every month.
September 2007*–I got a call from my husband saying that Holt had offered us a referral of a little 8-month-old girl from Hunan province. She had a repaired cleft lip, but would need palate surgery. I remember laughing and crying at the same time while trying to remain calm. Of course Dani couldn’t wait to open the file and see her picture, and after he did, I made him describe every detail. He said her face brought tears to his eyes and that “this was our baby.”
We reside in New Jersey and have access to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), their International Adoption team and the cleft lip and palate team. We had the doctor review our daughters’ medical documents before we signed the final paperwork. We also asked Holt if they had another adoption specialist we could run questions through and indeed we were provided with a physician in Chicago, who listened to my concerns and said: “Go get your daughter.” With that said, we started to pack!
*Excerpts from the Winter 2008 edition of Holt International magazine
January 7th 2008 (Gotcha Day)– Dani and I set out on a 2-hour flight to Changsha, Hunan in the early afternoon. The Assistant Director of Kira’s orphanage brought her to the Civil Affairs office which was a 3-hour long bus trip, so I wasn’t expecting a very happy “hey Mom, where have you been all this time”, a smile would have sufficed.
Needless to say, we were prepared for Kira’s anxiety as well as ours. I could see Kira with her caretakers as we approached the office. She seemed so content after a long day…then the “hand off” took place.
It took two caretakers to pry Kira away from them and give her to me. She just cried and cried and kept looking for the only familiar faces she knew. I knew how much we loved her, but she had no idea who we were and why she was leaving the only people she knew. At one point I handed her back to the caregiver.. As Kira calmed down, another caregiver showed me the original note that Kira was found with, as well as the hat she was wearing. I couldn’t believe they saved them; it will be such a special keepsake for Kira. The little hat and note took me completely off guard and made me think of her birth mother, who knew she had to relinquish her because of her cleft lip and palate. Well, obviously that’s a story to tell Kira when she is older.
Now as I sit and write this journal a tiny little girl, our daughter, is sleeping soundly in her little crib behind me. It feels so good; I just can’t believe she is ours!
January 16th 2008–We had to get up very early this morning to fly back to Beijing where we will leave for home tomorrow. We are so exhausted and happy and can’t wait to get home. We have met some of the most incredible people along this journey, most of whom I will always remember. We feel that not only did we adopt our daughter, but an entire group of families and their children as well.
March 2008–Today all I could do is watch as the nurse took my baby girl back to the operating room to have her palate repaired. All I know is that despite the fact she got “giggle juice” she wasn’t giggling and just stared at me with those big brown eyes as I tried not to cry.
Though this is a much-needed surgery that will allow her to speak and eat properly, I was still worried and couldn’t wait till it was over. The moment the doctor came out and said he was finished, I think I finally unclenched my teeth. All I can say is the Cleft Lip/Palate Team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are incredibly gifted professionals and knew not only how to treat Kira, but her parents, as well. Our plastic surgeon was wonderful and so was the staff.
October 2008–Just a few minutes ago I spotted a ladybug in the window. I pointed it out to Kira who loves ladybugs and she stared at it till she crawled all the way up out of sight! The oddest thing is that today I am participating in Holt’s Webinar to talk about my process in the China Child of Promise program. In addition we are considering a sister for Kira, just not sure when the timing will be right. Perhaps that little ladybug was trying to tell me something.
Currently my delightful child does not like to share my attention of affection. She is also very speech delayed and gets frustrated trying to communicate. However, I believe every child is unique and different and will speak when they want. I mean hey I do enough speaking for the two of us! She is saying a few two-syllable words, which is great. She absolutely understands everything and sometimes she amazes me with the funny things she does. Like today, she put her little socks in her shoes just the way I do for her. She dresses herself, puts her shoes on and combs her hair. She watches attentively at everything I do and tries to be a big girl by imitating me. You are such a beautiful child Kira.
February 2009-I am consumed with love for Kira and can’t help but admit it! While she does the funniest things to entertain herself and me, she’s starting to talk also, which is a big milestone for her. She can clearly say “no” in the dainty voice of hers, and has a vocabulary of about 28 words (very good from ten in September). She knows her colors, shapes and can do calculus without a calculator (just making sure this isn’t a boring post). I am a proud momma, knowing that Kira’s cleft palate isn’t standing in her way of verbally making her point known.
March 2009– Kira continues to amaze us everyday! She’s a bright, engaging child, who is now well on her way to speaking. After an early intervention evaluation determined she didn’t need speech therapy, we took the suggestion of the CHOP Adoption team to seek out a private medical speech evaluation as Kira was displaying immense frustration at her inability to communicate. We made the appointment and wouldn’t you know it…she started imitating more and more sounds and words.
Normally children have a vocabulary of about 200 by age two. Her speech evaluation determined she fell in the average range compared to children who have only heard English for 15 months. In just a short couple of months her vocabulary is now approaching 90 words and she’s making two-word sentences.
It’s been a little more than a year since the day we met our daughter. She has come a long way, from her growth and nutritional status to her overt connection and bond with me. I love her so much; I simply can’t put it into words. She’s the center of my life, my world and a dream come true. We are so happy we chose this path to adopt our daughter and now look forward to providing her a normal, loving and happy life!