A family’s 3-part story of three generations of adoptions.
Holt International’s China Adoption Program is in need of families interested in adopting from China. Click here to learn more!
By Jenni Halstead-Joedeman
Part of our adoption story dates back to 1958. There was a darling young couple named Lavern and Wanda. He was a blue-eyed farm boy and she was a teacher. They fell in love, got married, and set about the business of starting a family. Only something went wrong. For reasons that I may not know until I get to heaven, Lavern and Wanda, my maternal grandparents, were unable to have children. They had conceived many times, and each time they had lost the baby. I believe my grandmother had upwards of seven miscarriages. Seven. I simply cannot begin to imagine the heartache. I don’t know all the events that led to their decision, but at some point they chose to pursue adoption and in November of 1958 (during National Adoption Month) they brought home my mother. Then, a few years later, they adopted my uncle.
I’m telling you this backstory because I want you to understand, that for me, adoption has been a part of my life. I’m so very thankful for that. Along with both my mom and my uncle being adopted, I ended up having several cousins that were adopted. It was such a normal concept for our family. It wasn’t something we talked about all the time, but it was always there. There was always this little part of me that thought that it was so cool. I was so thankful that my mom had been given the opportunity to grow up in a loving home. I was so thankful that they found her, and that she found them. I knew that someday I wanted that. I wanted to give someone a chance to be loved.
Forty years later, another school teacher fell in love with another blue-eyed farm boy. Same song, second verse. They get married, and set about the business of starting a family.
While my husband, Kris, and I were dating and even after we got engaged, I used to tell him that I wanted to adopt. He was fine with that. In fact, not long after I met him, one of his brothers adopted twin boys from the Ukraine. How cool is that? I was excited to become part of yet another family that was familiar and open to adoption.
Like a lot of young couples, we assumed that we would get married and start popping out babies left and right. We put adoption on the backburner. It was on the “someday” list of things we wanted to do. Kris comes from a family of 13 kids and we both liked the idea of a big family. Maybe not quite that big, but big nonetheless. We naively assumed we’d have a few biological kids and then adopt a few more.
But something went wrong. Very wrong. We tried for about 2 years and nothing happened. Meanwhile everyone around us was having babies. And I mean everyone. Nothing feels worse than wanting something so very badly and watching everyone else around you get it. People kept giving us really helpful advice like, “Just stop trying. As soon as you stop thinking about it, it will happen.” Do you have any idea how hurtful that is? Do me a favor, if there is someone in your life who wants to have a baby and it’s not happening, do not, under any circumstances, offer them unsolicited advice. Just love them. Maybe love them with actions, but not words. Because words, no matter how good the intentions are behind them, can be ever so cruel. Especially if you have no idea what their particular pain feels like.
I went to the doctor and was told I most likely have something known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, PCOS. Among other really fun things, one symptom of PCOS is trouble getting pregnant. I immediately felt like damaged goods. I absolutely hated the idea of being labeled as having a “syndrome.” Nothing was conclusive and my doctor suggested more tests. She sent me home with a mapped out plan of what our options were. I cried all the way home. I brought “the plan” home to Kris, and we cried and we prayed and we cried some more. This did not mean we could not get pregnant, it just meant that it was going to be an uphill battle and it would more than likely involve some serious medical intervention.
It is at this point that I want to tell you how much I love my husband. I will never stop being thankful that we were on the exact same page. We had reached a fork in the road. On one side lay tests, medications, treatments, and the fear of turning our most intimate act into a science experiment, and on the other side lay something else altogether. For us it was never really a choice. We chose to pursue adoption. We said no to the further testing, no to the medications, no to the treatments. We said yes to the idea of bringing home a baby that someone else had, but for whatever reason couldn’t keep.
I want to be very clear when I say that this is a very personal choice. I do not begrudge anyone that has struggled with infertility and has chosen to go the medical route. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using modern technology to help you
So on June 2nd, 2009, our 3rd wedding anniversary, we sat down and filled out the online application to Holt International. And thus began the most amazing adventure of our lives.
One of the questions we get asked most often is, “Why China?” The short answer is this: We didn’t really choose China, China sort of chose us.
Here’s the long answer…
The year was 2001. I was a junior in college. The college group at the church I was attending had just hired a new pastor and I introduced myself. His response was this, “Hi, Jenni. I’ve heard a lot about you. Wanna go to Vietnam?” For real, those were the first words out of his mouth. And being the kind of girl that I am, I quickly responded with, “Sure!”
My church was interested in sponsoring an orphanage in Vietnam and they wanted to send a team of people over there to check things out. They chose people of various ages and backgrounds to be a part of this group, and I was one of them. We spent about a week and a half in and around Hanoi. We did quite a bit of touristy things, touring the Hanoi Hilton, wandering through several villages. We also toured a couple of different orphanages. I thought I was prepared to walk through those gates and see those children, but I am here to tell you that nothing prepares you for that. I wanted to show you a picture of those kids, because there is no way my ramblings could do them justice. They were beautiful. They were curious. And they broke my heart. They were so desprate for someone to touch them, for someone to play with them… for someone to love them. We sang songs and played games. We gave one million piggy back rides. We drew them pictures. We had packed several bags of Smarties to pass out and the kids gobbled them up with abandon. It was fun to watch them squeal with delight as they tasted the sugary treat, but it made my heart ache because it felt so small, so trivial. These kids didn’t need candy, they needed a home!
As we got back into the van and drove back to our hotel that afternoon, I sobbed my guts out. Sometimes God opens your eyes to something and you know in your heart that you will never be the same. Part of me was annoyed. I could have lived my whole life without ever having known those kids existed. But now that I knew they did exist, I felt like I needed to do something about it. But what? Any thoughts I had felt like a very small drop in a very large ocean. So I filed those memories in the “Think About It Later” part of my head. I came home, went back to class, and resumed life as a somewhat normal college kid.
Fast forward a few years and I am smack in the middle of my very first year of teaching. Some friends of mine had moved to Thailand and were helping to start an international school for missionary kids and they invited me to come join the teaching staff. I thought about it for a while and here’s what I came up with: I was single, I loved to travel, and had already left a chunk of my heart in Asia. So why not give it a shot?
The only downside to the whole thing was that right before I left the States I had been set up on a blind date. The only reason I said yes to the date was that I knew I was about to leave the country. I was confidant that if it went badly, as most blind dates tend to go, it was no big loss because I was headed off into the wild blue yonder. The problem was that it went well. Really well. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that blind date was with a certain blue-eyed farm boy that stole my heart and refused to give it back. After our 2nd date, as he was asking me for a 3rd, I told him that I was about to leave the country. His response? “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
I spent a few months raising support and then that summer took off for The Land of Smiles. The next 10 months were the most magical months of my life. I fell completely in love with my students, my collegues, and the country. I taught first grade and my students came from all over the world: Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, New Zealand, Canada… the list goes on and on. In December of that year (2004) was when that horrible tsunami hit Southeast Asia, including southern Thailand. I had the opportunity to do a little bit of relief work during the months that followed. I was exposed to images I will never forget. The wreckage and destruction was unimaginable. I also saw things like this…
I was reminded, again, that this world is full of children that desperately need someone to love them.
There was a big part of me that wanted to stay in Thailand and live and work forever. But there was a bigger part of me that knew that my heart belonged to a Dodge-driving, field-plowing, corn-growing, dimple-flashing hunk of a man back in Nebraska. Even though he told me that he would wait indefinitely, I was not about to test the limits of that. When you find someone as wonderful as my husband, you do not let them slip away. You do not pass go, you do not collect $200, you go directly to them and marry them. And that’s exactly what I did.
When we made the decision to pursue adoption, I knew I wanted someone from Asia. I had been there, I had seen the need. I had held those children in my arms. I had wept for the life they didn’t have. Now was my chance! But we needed to cover our bases. I am only half of this marriage, there are two of us. This decision needed to be something we both felt right about. Also… adoption is expensive, no doubt about it. And international adoption? The numbers are downright discouraging.
Once we dove into the murky waters that is adoption, it took a while for us to get our sea legs. We spent about 6 months making phone calls and searching the internet for adoption agencies and programs. We started with domestic programs and when none of those doors seemed to open, we turned towards international, all the while wondering how in the heck we would swing it financially. We collected a stack of applications that would make you weak in the knees. Some agencies were rude or unhelpful or too vague in their answers. Some wouldn’t even give us the time of day. Some simply didn’t return our calls.
This whole time we are praying and praying and praying. We felt clueless and we were desperately hoping that God would somehow give us some answers. Door after door kept closing and we kept hoping for a window to crack. Finally one did. We knew of a handful of families that had adopted with Holt International. They all had nothing but good things to say about their experiences. Holt had been around long enough to have a very solid reputation. So on a whim and a prayer, we filled out the online application, half expecting to get the same brush-off we’d received from other agencies.
They called us the very next day. They were kind and professional and knowledgeable and encouraging. For the first time in two and half years we felt hope.
One of the first questions they asked us was what country we were interested in. And we honestly didn’t have an answer. We just wanted a baby, we didn’t really care where he or she came from. We told them about my experiences in Vietnam and Thailand and they responded with, “Have you considered China?” They went on to tell us about the China special needs program — a program that matches families with kids that have manageable or correctable medical needs. If you are open to a child with some sort of special need, the wait is a fraction of what it could be for a 100% “healthy” child. My husband and I mulled this over for a while. We looked over the list of medical/special needs. Again, we were overwhelmed and completely unsure about how to proceed. At the end of the day all we knew was this: We have love to give. Somewhere out there is a baby that needs love. And if that baby needed some sort of extra special medical attention, so be it. God had brought us this far, who are we to say no now? All other doors had shut, our only choice was to climb through the window.
This whole thing, this whole adventure of infertility and the adoption process has broken me. And it’s only when we are broken that we truly understand what leaning on God really feels like. I am ever so prideful, and God has used this to soften me, to make me more compassionate, more empathetic. I also share this because I want you to know that I’m human. God didn’t choose me for this because I possess some sort of ultra-goodness. I’m just as naughty as the next girl. I’m stubborn and neurotic and jealous and angry and I don’t clean my toilet as often as I should. I mess up all the time. If God can use me, He can most certainly use you.
You now know why we chose adoption. You now know why we chose China. I’ve done quite a bit of blogging about the actual process, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself. If you are new and are interested, feel free to browse through my archives. Before I shut this baby down, there are a couple of other things I want to touch on:
Money. It’s always the elephant in the room. If people don’t outright ask about it, they are thinking about it. I mentioned this before, and I’m going to say it again: adoption is expensive. It can feel overwhelming and at the beginning we honestly thought we might be getting in over our heads. But we truly believed that God was pushing us in this direction and we had no choice but to trust Him. He has provided for us again, and again, and again. Every time we get an invoice in the mail and there is yet another fee to pay, the money always appears. I can’t even really explain it. We have seen money come in from the most bizarre of places. The only explanation is that if God wants you to bring home a little person from somewhere far away, He can provide the means to do so. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some sacrifice on your part. The Hubbs and I have agreed not to tell anyone how much we actually paid in fees and expenses and here is our reasoning: it’s private. And, we never want our daughter(s) to feel like they came with a price tag. The only person in the world that knows is our accountant, and that is only because it was necessary. Someday when the girls are older and start to ask questions about the process, we will tell them. But only them. I bring up this topic for this reason: if you’ve ever considered adoption and didn’t move forward only because the money thing freaked you out, give it some more thought. God is able to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, and that includes covering adoption expenses.
Luck. While we were in China we constantly had old Chinese people coming up to us saying, “She is so lucky. She is so lucky that you came to get her and are taking her to America.” Since we’ve been home we’ve had lots of people say similar things, “Oh, what a good thing you are doing. Her life will be so much better. Good for you.” This sort of annoys me. We need to be really careful that we don’t adopt what I like to call the “Savior Complex.” Look at us, we saved this poor little orphan! Ummmm… no. We did no such thing. Jesus is the only One that can actually save someone. Is her life different because we brought her here? Absolutely. But don’t you think for one second that she is the lucky one. The truth is that we are the lucky ones. She has blessed our lives abundantly. Before she came home we were lonely and sad. Now our home is filled with love and laughter and princess dresses. She is the blessing, not the other way around.
So what now? We brought one spicy China doll home and we’re about to adopt another one. Will that be the end of the story? I have no idea. We do not know how many kids we will adopt. Some days I want to bring home a dozen munchkins. Some days the thought of going through the process yet again makes me want to drink a whole bottle of wine. By myself. Before noon. The truth is that we don’t know what God has is store for us. But this journey, this adventure, this roller coaster of emotions… we are all in. For better or worse, we’re in. It’s been an incredible ride and we’re not about to hop off until God makes it abundantly clear that we’ve reached the end.
Thank you for following along. And from my little family to yours.
Holt International needs family for our China adoption program. Learn more about the children in need of families by clicking here.