In July of 1996, I made my first trip to China to adopt Aimee—a 7-month-old, healthy infant girl. During this trip, I learned as much as I could about the culture. It wasn’t long before I decided that I would return and adopt another child. As Americans, we have so much to offer and so much we can provide to others. I became determined to adopt a child with special needs. As a single mom, another infant was out of the picture. Instead, I focused on 3- to 5-year-old children.
As I stared at a picture of Leigh, a thousand questions ran through my head. The little face was filled with so much pain and sadness. Or was this anger? Was she mean? How would she act with my 9-month-old daughter? Was she capable of loving? Would she bond? How would the trauma of her past affect her? Would we all need counseling? I asked friends, family, coworkers, and others who had adopted an older child. Many of the comments were negative and only served to validate my fears. Almost everyone advised me to adopt another infant, but I just couldn’t see myself with two infants. In my heart, I knew I needed to adopt this child. And so the journey began.
On October 2nd, I boarded the plane for the long journey to China. Confident that I could provide this child with a loving home, a good education, and a safe place to experience the joys of childhood, I agreed to adopt. The trip went quickly and before I knew it, we were on the bus headed to the orphanage. Inside, the emotions began to bubble. Just having the opportunity to see the orphanage was exciting. I wanted to learn as much about her environment as possible and not many groups were allowed to visit the orphanages. Our group gathered in a large meeting room located near the center of the orphanage grounds. It wasn’t but a moment when in walked the little child I had waited so long to see. Immediately, she burst into tears and didn’t want to leave her nanny. Patiently, I waited, gently stretching my arms towards her. She just stood there crying. She seemed so small compared to the picture. I wanted so badly to hold her, but she wanted nothing to do with me.
Suddenly it hit. All my fears came rushing in. What in the world had I done? Why didn’t I listen to everyone? This wasn’t going to work. I felt I had ruined my life and my daughter’s life, and now the life of this poor little child. Why did I have to be so stubborn? Confidence shaken, tears began to flow down my cheeks. Her nanny insisted that she was ready for her new home. She was just afraid. Her nanny stood there unshaken and confident this child was ready to leave her home. I realized I was not alone; the group was trying to support me. The room was filled with tears of joy as parents held their new infant daughters. Yet they took the time to give me a hug or smile. It seemed like hours, but finally the nanny just handed her to me. It was a long bus ride back to the hotel. She cried most of that day and into the night.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night. So fearful she would try to run away, I had placed things against the door to wake me if she try to sneak out. The next day we began our bonding process. We spent time trying to get to know each other. Each day seemed to get a little better—a few less tears and a few more smiles. A few nights later, she asked to crawl into bed with me. Her little foot slowly moved until she was touching me. At this point, I knew in my heart we would make it.
By the end of the trip, this little child had touched the hearts of our group. That sad little child had turned into a giggle monster in a few short days. She laughed, tickled, and teased everyone; helped with the infants; and had even bonded with her new mom. Those strangers that we traveled with had become friends and family. Our group had united.
Nine months later, I find myself the mother of two healthy Chinese girls. Leigha is absolutely amazing. With all that she has gone through, she is so kind, happy, and affectionate. All she wants to do is please those around her. She gets along very well with children and adults, has no apparent anger, and has adjusted easily to the American lifestyle.
From time to time, I get calls from prospective families considering the adoption of an older child. It is impossible to share my complete joy with them and unfair to expect each and every child to respond as Leigha has. However, as I look back on my experience, it was fear of the unknown that created doubt. Who would have ever thought that beyond that sad face was such a happy child? No one can give you the “right” answer or make that decision for you; it’s a decision that must come from within. If you make your decision from the heart, then you will make the right decision.
Tracy is a single mom with two adopted daughters. Aimee was adopted in 1996 as a healthy, 7-month-old. Leigh was adopted in 1997 as an older, special needs child—she is an above knee amputee. They make their home in Colorado. The family has adjusted well.