The Meaning of Family

A story about two boys with special needs from India, Holt’s work to improve their lives and the permanent loving families that welcomed them home to stay.

Hudson in care at VCT

Hudson in care at VCT

Hudson’s Story

They were just words on a blog, a small story about a little boy in India who needed a family. No endearing photos to accompany the text, no cute videos. Just 383 words that sweetly described a little boy called “Hudson.” “Although he is unable to move his legs,” the blog read, “Hudson is quite active. He loves to play and is quick to engage the world… He is described as a friendly and cheerful boy by his foster mother.” The blog went on, saying that Hudson had been relinquished by his birth parents and was in need of a loving, permanent family. On the day the blog was posted, a woman in South Carolina sat and read it intently. “We know there is a family waiting to welcome Hudson into their arms,” she read. “Do you know this family? Maybe it’s you.” As the woman finished those final words, she wondered — she wondered what her future might hold, and she wondered if it included Hudson.

Beth Anne Schwamberger’s longing to adopt began after she volunteered at an orphanage in India at the age of 20. “I knew, from that point, that adoption would be a part of my life,” Beth Anne says. “I still think about the kids I left behind, and pray for them often. The one thing I realized is that every child is so incredibly precious, and every child deserves a family to love them unconditionally.” Beth Anne’s husband, Chris, a jet pilot in the Air Force, was also interested in building their family through adoption. After many discussions, the couple eventually chose international adoption and began their journey with Holt International. “We knew that Holt helps keep families together first and foremost,” Beth Anne says. “This fact gave us a sense of security.”

While the Schwambergers were confident in their decision to adopt through Holt, they were less certain about the country. “At the time, my husband and I unfortunately didn’t meet the age requirements to adopt from India,” Beth Anne says, “so we chose Thailand instead.” Their decision made, they settled in for a long wait, learning all they could about Thailand in the meantime.

Then, in 2012, a story posted to Holt’s blog about a little boy in India changed everything.

“I connected to Hudson right away,” Beth Anne says. “Because of India’s privacy restrictions, I didn’t get to see a photo of him on Holt’s blog, but I was so drawn in by his story, and how he was described.” Although still aware of India’s eligibility guidelines, Beth Anne decided it couldn’t hurt to check the country’s adoption resource website once more. To her surprise, the minimum age requirement for married couples had recently changed from age 30 to 25. “I almost fell out of my chair,” Beth Anne says. “I called Holt right away to find out if it was true.” Holt’s waiting child manager confirmed Beth Anne’s hope. They would be able to adopt from India and had their sights set on Hudson, the cute and energetic 15-month-old little boy with lower limb paralysis who they saw on Holt’s blog. “Even though I was sad that he might never walk,” Beth Anne says, “I never thought he wasn’t meant to be our son.” The couple applied to Holt’s waiting child program, and were matched with Hudson in January of 2012.

Born on October 26, 2010 in Mysore, the third largest city in India, Hudson was relinquished by his birth parents when it was discovered that he had clubfoot and a hip deformity. “Not only do unwed mothers carry a stigma with them in India but so do children with special needs,” says Dean Hale, Holt’s director of services for India. After spending four months at a child care center in Mysore, Hudson was transferred to Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT) in Bangalore, where he could receive the quality medical care and physical therapy offered by one of Holt’s oldest and most cherished partner agencies. In Bangalore, Hudson saw an orthopedic surgeon at St. John’s Medical Hospital, received casting for his feet and started VCT’s infant stimulation program, a structured plan that would help him meet developmental milestones. Fortunately, Hudson showed no delay in cognitive development, but, because of his particular special need, he would require extra help developing his gross motor skills.

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While Hudson benefited greatly from the specialized care offered at VCT, the staff eventually determined that he would benefit more from the individualized attention of foster care, a program Holt initiated in India in 1982. “India doesn’t really have foster care, but VCT, and our other partner in Pune, Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra (BSSK), are the exception,” Dean says. “Over the years, VCT has figured out the individual gifts of theirfoster mothers, and they try to match a child with a foster family that would be best suited for that child’s needs. They really know their foster families.”

As the VCT staff suspected, the love and nurturing care of a foster family proved vital to Hudson’s growth and development. VCT strives to equip foster families with specialized skills needed to care for children with special needs. To that end, VCT’s physical therapist taught Hudson’s foster father a few exercises he could use to help Hudson develop his motor skills. And every morning, Hudson’s foster father worked with Hudson on his physical therapy. While he still couldn’t move his legs, Hudson’s mobility improved significantly while in the care of his foster family. “He scoots around everywhere, and is learning to crawl,” Hudson’s social worker mentioned in a progress report. “He is energetic and is loved dearly by all members of his foster family.”

In June of 2012, Hudson also learned that he would soon join a permanent family in the United States. At not yet 2 years old, Hudson relied on his foster family to explain this concept to him. They thoroughly prepared him for the dramatic change that was about to occur in his life. “These foster families take such great care of the children entrusted to them,” Dean says. “They want to make sure the children are ready, as much as possible, for their new life, with their new family.” Hudson’s foster family showed him photos sent by the Schwambergers and reminded him often that he would soon have a mom and dad.

While Hudson prepared in India to join a family in the U.S., the Schwambergers busily prepared to bring Hudson into their home and their lives, addressing some concerns along the way.

“I had a lot of questions,” Beth Anne says. “As a military family, could we guarantee that every location we might be stationed would have what he needed? That everywhere we go we could find a wheelchair-friendly house, and wheelchair-friendly activities for him? And what about the specialists and therapies he will need?”

Seeking answers to her questions, Beth Anne learned of the multitude of services available for children with Hudson’s special needs in their area. She even learned about resources in cities where her family might be stationed, such as the Challenged Athletes Organization in San Diego, providing wheelchairs for athletes with disabilities and free mentorships for children over 8. “I also learned that the Air Force will never station Chris anywhere that doesn’t have adequate resources and care for our child,” Beth Anne says. “That was such a relief.”

One by one, Beth says, God addressed all her concerns. “I grieved for the things our son might miss out on if he couldn’t walk,” Beth Anne says. “And I grieved for him feeling different from his peers and struggling to do what came so easy to everyone else. This whole time, though, I felt God whispering to my heart, ‘He is yours, I’ll be with you every step of the way.’”

In December 2013, the eager couple flew to meet Hudson for the first time. “Seeing him was like a dream,” Beth Anne says.

After a week with Hudson, the couple returned to the United States, and continued their preparations to bring Hudson home to stay.

Aram’s Story

In the summer of 2010, a young woman named Savani and her boyfriend, Arjun, approached the office of Holt’s partner agency in Pune, BSSK. Five months pregnant, the woman asked that her baby be placed in BSSK’s care after he was born. Then, she said, she would like her baby placed for adoption. Fearing the social backlash, the couple had yet to tell anyone about her pregnancy, including their families.

Although India has progressed in many ways in the years since Holt first came to the region, a strong stigma against single mothers endures. Over half the children who have come into Holt’s care in India have been relinquished by single mothers. For this reason, many children are also abandoned. Whatever the case, Holt is always prepared to do what’s best for every child that enters our care. “If a child is found abandoned and brought into our care in India, we first find out what the child’s needs are,” Dean says. “We often send them to the hospital, with a caretaker always by their side. Then our partners in India work with authorities to determine where the birth parents are, often posting ads on TV, working with local law enforcement as well as contacting outside agencies. We really do all that we can to locate [the child’s] family before considering other options.” If a family member cannot be found for the child, then domestic adoption is considered — an option that allows a child to grow up in the country and culture of his or her birth. Only if our staff in India fails to find a family in India does Holt turn to international adoption.

Savani, however, chose not to abandon her child. Instead, she came to BSSK with the firm decision to relinquish him after his birth. “In this situation, BSSK always informs mothers of their choices and tries to counsel them,” Dean says. “Sometimes the mothers choose to parent their babies. Sometimes, they don’t.”

In November of 2011, Savani gave birth to Aram, and, with a heavy heart, handed him over to BSSK. Soon after his delivery, it was discovered that Aram suffered from spina bifida meningocele and hydrocephalus. “Luckily, BSSK provides a multitude of services for children, including medical care. They have a doctor on staff,” Dean says. Aram received a shunt to treat his hydrocephalus, and plans were put into place to find him a permanent family.

Within a few months at BSSK, Aram’s personality began to show. “He has started to smile and make delicate cooing sounds,” Saguna Pawar, BSSK’s child admission program director, said in one of Aram’s progress reports. “He is a social baby and likes to have personal attention. In spite of all his health conditions, he keeps smiling and responds well all the time.” Like Hudson at VCT, Aram also began receiving quality physical therapy services. “BSSK provides these services in a special therapy room,” Dean says. “Interns will often assist the professionals, therefore the next generation learns how to provide services for these children.”

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Although Aram was thriving in BSSK’s care, his mother continued to agonize over her decision to let her precious son go. And on Aram’s first birthday, she returned to BSSK, tears rolling down her cheeks. She came with a card that “overflowed with all of her feelings for her child,” Saguna said. Savani remained at BSSK, hugging Aram, and then, once again, she left.

The separation, however, didn’t last long.

On February 14th of this year, Aram received another special visit, this time from his father. He came, according to BSSK, with a firm decision to take back his child, completely aware of Aram’s special needs. “He held him and loved him,” Saguna said. “This day gave Valentine’s Day a new meaning. The day that brought love and belief to a beautiful child.” After his return, BSSK encouraged Aram’s father to come back with the Savani. “It was obvious that these parents loved their little boy,” Saguna said. “We could tell they were willing to sacrifice the little things in life and wanted to commit to their child.”

BSSK counseled the couple, and while Aram remained in the care of BSSK, his parents worked to provide a stable life for him, which included reaching out to their families. “We knew that they were going to need both of their families’ support,” Saguna said. While shocked to learn that Savani’s pregnancy had been kept a secret, both Savani and Arjun’s parents accepted their new grandson and committed to helping their children raise him.

Mary Paul, director of services in India, places Aram into his parents arms.

Roxana, director of services at BSSK in India, places Aram into his parents arms.

On July 2nd of this year — after Savani and Arjun had created a stable environment for their son and received training from BSSK on how to care for him — Aram was placed back into their arms. “All present could not hold their emotions back on this day,” Saguna said. “Nothing delighted Aram more than the sight of his parents. It was an unforgettable event, a day to rejoice.”

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On April 7 2012, Hudson — who the Schwambergers decided to name Holden — united with his parents. Chris returned from deployment, and Holden has been home in South Carolina for 18 months now. “Hudson was calling me ‘mama’ on the first day,” Beth Anne says. “VCT did an amazing job of preparing him to come home to us. His foster mother was the sweetest, kindest lady. At VCT, every child is valued, every child matters. Our son is happy because of them. He already knew what it meant to be loved unconditionally.”

Holden and Beth Anne greet Chris upon his return from deployment.

Holden and Beth Anne greet Chris upon his return from deployment.

Today, Holden is still the determined little boy he was with his foster family, a trait the Schwambergers try to encourage as much as possible. “We bought him a walker thinking he would use it to stand, and we would just work on that,” Beth Anne says. “Within two days, he was taking a step. As parents, we want to encourage independence, but know there is always a balance.” In the coming years, Holden will require knee surgery that could grant him greater mobility. “We’ll see,” Beth Anne says. For now, Holden gets around in a wheelchair, a characteristic he understands makes him different than children his age. “Playgrounds are the toughest,” Beth Anne says. “He’s left sitting and crawling, while others run around him.”

Soon, though, Holden will have access to more activities geared toward those in wheelchairs, like wheelchair basketball and tennis. “It’s fun to think about what he might be doing in 20 years,” Beth Anne says. “Along with a possible increase in mobility, we hope that he marries and has a family of his own.”

Holden gets a little tennis time in with Dad.

Holden gets a little tennis time in with Dad.

While excited about what their son’s future might hold, the Schwambergers, for now, are just enjoying being a family of four. “The joy that he brings us is incredible. Eighteen months later, I feel like the luckiest mom in the whole world. He amazes us. Life with Holden is much more laughter, much more fun.”

And as for Aram in India, he, too, is thriving. According to BSSK, he is adjusting well to his new life, in his new home. “Savani and Arjun feel very proud,” Saguna says. “They will happily overcome any trials and tribulations together as a family.”

Holden and Aram — two boys from India. Two different stories. But what makes for a Holt success story? It’s the foster families in the countries where we work who offer their sacrificial love. The caregivers and therapists who help children reach their full potential, and, of course, the families, both birth and adoptive, who provide stability and lasting love. Today, the child welfare organizations VCT and BSSK, both of which Holt helped to establish in India, continue to grow and diversify their services. They remain a significant part of Holt’s history and legacy, helping children like Holden and Aram join their families.

“Holden went to a loving, wonderful family in the United States. This is good news,” Dean says. “And Aram stayed with his family in India. This is good news too.”

In the coming years, it will be up to Holt to ensure that no matter where children find their homes — whether in the United States with an adoptive family or with a family in their birth country — that we continue to offer life-changing services to children and families, helping us achieve our vision:

A world where every child has a home. A home in India, a home in the United States.

A loving and secure home.

Ashli Keyser | Staff Writer

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A special treat:  Watch Chris Schwamberger’s return from deployment video below…

 

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