Katelyn and Chad Fuson share about their daughter, Willa, and some straightforward advice to families who are considering adoption — do it.
When people ask Katelyn and Chad Fuson about adoption, and whether or not they should do it, they don’t sugarcoat their response.
“You should do it,” Katelyn says — serious, but with a smile. “That’s usually my response to people. I have a hard time saying, ‘Well, you should do whatever you feel led to do…’ I just think you should do it! It’s the greatest thing.”
As they share, their 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Willa, plays behind them, moving her toy tiger family through different floors of her dollhouse. By “the greatest thing,” Katelyn means adopting Willa — adopting Willa from China.
Like many adoptive families, the Fusons’ road to parenthood and growing their family was not what they expected. But today, they couldn’t be more grateful for their story.
“We thought we would have biological kids first,” Katelyn says. “But it didn’t happen quickly for us.”
Since early on in their relationship, and even as far back as childhood for Katelyn, they wanted to adopt “someday.” But after several years of wanting to have children biologically, they began to rethink their plans.
“It was December and I was kind of numb to all decisions pertaining to children,” Katelyn says. But within one week, everything became clear.
On a Friday night, at a Christmas concert, they heard an adoption message from the stage, followed by an offhanded suggestion to adopt from a friend. That Sunday at church, the message focused on James 1:27 and “caring for orphans.” After church, Chad and Katelyn went to lunch and had a breakthrough conversation about wanting to adopt. Mid-conversation, they noticed another family sit down four feet away from them at the restaurant. To their amazement, it was music artist and adoption advocate Steven Curtis Chapman and his family, including two girls adopted from China — the ones who advocated for adoption at the Christmas concert.
They knew all this couldn’t be coincidence. So the next day, they called Holt.
But within minutes of the phone call, they learned you have to be 30 years old to adopt from China. Both of them were just 28.
“There were other options, but we felt such a clear calling to China,” Chad says. “We thought, ‘Let’s just wait.’”
Over the next two years, they traveled, grew even closer in their marriage, and prepared for adoption and parenthood. And on the day of Katelyn’s 30th birthday, they submitted their adoption application.
While they stayed the course with wanting to adopt over this two-year period, there were some moments of questioning.
“At times,” Katelyn admits, “I wondered, ‘Am I going to be as fulfilled by this? Will this be the same as if we had built our family biologically?’”
She hesitates a bit before sharing this former apprehension, as she and Chad never want Willa to feel like adopting was their second choice — or that their love for her is any less than it would be for a biological child. Especially because this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I mean, I don’t want to say that adopting is better than having bio kids,” Katelyn says, laughing. “But when you follow the Lord’s plan for your life and you are able to experience that redemption, it’s the most life-changing thing that you could ever go through.”
Seeing Chad, Katelyn and Willa together today, it’s hard to imagine their family looking any different. Sitting on the couch in their Tennessee home, Katelyn pulls Willa’s hair back into two low pigtails, then adds a big pink bow. Willa tries her best not to squirm away before bounding off to play again. All three of them radiate joy and a sense of deep contentment.
“In the beginning,” Chad says, “I was kind of surface-y and thought, ‘We’re going to adopt a child and give them a family.’” But the reality was different than he expected. “It’s the exact opposite. She gave us a family and changed us in so many ways.”
Their stories started out one way — Katelyn and Chad not being able to have biological children easily, and Willa living in an orphanage without a family for her first year and a half — but they found mutual redemption when they came together as a family.
“Seeing the way that God had a plan to make this beautiful story, just this masterpiece of a story, out of brokenness,” Katelyn says, “you feel so humbled to be part of it.”
This, they say, is the biggest reason why they think others should adopt.
“I want everyone to get to experience what it’s like,” Katelyn says.
An unexpected component of their adoption story, they say, is how they’ve become adoption advocates. Katelyn shares their story at church and different events, she shares about adoption through social media, and they as a family find themselves sharing about it at the grocery store, restaurants or anywhere they go.
They want to show a real picture of what adoption can look like. And while they don’t want to focus on the difficult parts, they know the realities of adoption are important for prospective adoptive families to understand.
Willa’s transition from China to the U.S., and to having a family, was generally smooth. But, like for all adopted children, it included grief. All adoption includes loss, and Willa definitely experienced that.
Having lived with food scarcity in an orphanage for almost two years, she — like many children — struggled with food control, some days holding for hours onto a rotten apple core or McDonald’s chicken nugget. And once home in the U.S., some of Willa’s tantrums went beyond what typical 2-year-olds exhibit. But for a 2-year-old adjusting to an entirely new life in a new country where nothing is familiar, they were completely normal.
In these moments, Katelyn and Chad took her to the buffet at their hotel in China or opened the fridge door at home, allowing her to take and hold onto whatever she wanted until she understood she wouldn’t go hungry. Or, they just sat on the floor next to her during tantrums, showing her she was loved and not alone.
Today, just two years since Willa came home, you would never know she experienced these difficulties in the beginning.
Willa bounds around her house, with a sweet raspy voice that calls for whoever is around to “Look at me!” or “Come play with me!” Right now, she’s excited about ballet starting up, and excitedly puts on her tutu and twirls around the room. She takes to their fireplace hearth like a stage and confidently sings the ABCs.
“Willa is an amazing kid,” Chad says. “She’s a little bit of everything.”
One minute all she wants to do is snuggle on her dad’s lap, and the next she’s wrestling with him. And parenting a child who had a difficult beginning? Chad says that for him, it mostly came naturally.
“There’s just this unbelievable amount of perspective and grace that you give when you adopt a little girl,” he says. “You just have all the emotions and all the feels.”
He, too, recommends families thinking about adoption to look into it.
“There’s probably a reason that you’re feeling something towards adoption,” he says. “It’s definitely worth exploring. It’s the coolest club we’ve ever been a part of.”