how we began pursuing Cai Qun

So – I promised that once we received our LOA, I’d share more about the specifics of how we came to be pursuing adopting our little Madeleine Cai Qun.

Many of you likely know that the timing of our adoption process was significantly affected by the timing of my 30th birthday. China requires adoptive parents to be 30, so we could not officially be matched with a child or submit our dossier to China until that date (August 18, 2012). We started the process to begin putting together our dossier in February, hoping to have it on its way to China on my birthday. Of course, the fact that we ended up moving mid-process delayed our dossier by about a month. However, we would still be eligible to be matched with a child as soon as I was 30.

Our agency asked that we submit a Medical Conditions Checklist (MCC) with our application to work with them, so we did that, but we knew that it was essentially irrelevant until I reached my birthday. Since it was really only a place-holder anyway, we simply marked that we would be interested in adopting an HIV+ child. China has only recently begun listing HIV+ children as being available for adoption – the social stigma for HIV in China is still tremendous, and for a long time it seemed that they considered these kids essentially unadoptable. We have been – and continue to be – very interested in being part of the process of beginning to adopt HIV+ children from China and hopefully paving the way for more and more kids with that medical diagnosis be welcomed into families. It’s such a manageable medical need, and there are so many HIV+ children living without parents today.

As my birthday approached, though, we talked about it more and decided that we would update our MCC. While we want to see more and more HIV+ orphans be welcomed into families, our primary desire for ourselves in this adoption process is to be a family for a child who would not otherwise have one. Because China is only beginning to list HIV+ children for adoption, and we have pretty narrow age and gender parameters (we are seeking to maintain birth order, and Matt really wanted us to adopt a little girl), the likelihood of there being a little girl younger than Miranda who was HIV+ listed for adoption soon after my birthday was pretty small. When there are so many kids whom we would LOVE to parent waiting for families right now, we didn’t feel right about waiting for months and months when we could be moving toward bringing one of them home.

And so, my refining research began! We had already done a lot of investigating, but we needed to nail down exactly which special needs to tell our agency we felt comfortable with. At around the same time, toward the very end of July, I began looking at our agency’s waiting child website, where children for whom our agency has not yet been able to find families are listed. We were still a little while away from being able to be matched, but agencies usually have children on their designated lists for 3 months, so a lot of those children would likely still be waiting for a family by the time I turned 30. I was also continuing to receive e-mails from Rainbowkids any time an agency listed a child there who met the parameters to which we were open. Generally those kids were listed with other agencies besides ours, so I often didn’t even look at their profiles closely – I didn’t want to get too attached to a child we might not be able to pursue anyway!

However, one day at the very end of July, I got an e-mail from Rainbowkids advocating for a little girl listed with our agency. I took a look at her profile at Rainbowkids and at CCAI’s waiting child website and felt like maybe we should ask to be added to the list to review her file. CCAI only allows one family at a time review a child’s file, so that it’s not a race to submit the first Letter of Intent – the family reviewing the file really is considering whether or not they feel prepared to parent that child and seeking to make a wise decision. At the same time, though, CCAI maintains a list of families interested in reviewing a child’s file so that if the first family chooses not to proceed with seeking to adopt that child, they can immediately send the child’s file to the next family on the waiting list, and hopefully the child will soon have a family lined up!

One thing particularly striking to me about the pictures of this little girl that were posted online was that she actually reminded me of Miranda in how she looked. I know that’s odd – Miranda is obviously not Asian and doesn’t have the classic cropped-as-short-as-possible orphanage haircut. But still…there was something about her that reminded me of Miranda and melted my heart.

Of course, this was happening while I was in Wisconsin Dells with Miranda and with my whole extended family…and Matt was in Missouri, finishing up summer teaching and packing to join me for leg 2 of our summer travels – not ideal circumstances for life-altering conversations about whether or not to ask to review a child’s file and then if we should proceed with seeking to adopt her. But we’ve had a long history with doing the long-distance thing, so I went ahead and sent Matt an e-mail with a link to this little girl’s listing on Rainbowkids and asked him whether he thought we should ask about reviewing her file and then followed up with sending him a link to her profile at our agency’s website and a note, “i do wonder if she could be our daughter.”

We e-mailed back and forth a bit about what it would mean for us to review a file and whether we should ask about this little girl, and then I e-mailed our agency to ask if we could be added to the list to review her file. They responded that her file was actually available, and we could look at it right away, and they sent it over to me! I wasn’t expecting to be able to see it that quickly, so I was pretty surprised, but I read through it and sent it on to Matt and called our pediatrician and social worker to ask them to review, as well. They gave us their feedback, and I had connected with another adoptive parent online who is very familiar with what was listed as this little girl’s special need, and she reviewed the file, too, and gave us her thoughts.

The next day, Miranda and my brother David and I were driving from Wisconsin to Cincinnati, where we would meet up with Matt, who was driving out from Missouri, and then Matt and Miranda and I were heading out to New York to visit his family. Since Matt and I couldn’t talk all that much during our separate travels, I had some time to read my Bible and pray about how we should proceed.

I remember starting to read through Psalm 1 and being so struck by the image of someone who delights in God’s ways –

“He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.”
(Psalm 1:3 ESV)

Those are the things that matter – following God and bearing the fruit that comes accordingly. Could we care for this girl? Could we meet her physical needs and provide any medical care she would need? Could we teach her about God and the world in which she is living? Could we encourage her to grow to the best of her potential, to live out a life of following God and bearing good fruit?

Even though there were still unanswered questions about her file, I felt like the answer to all of those questions I was pondering was yes. Then I just needed to wait until the next day when Matt and I would actually be in the same place for a sustained period of time and have the opportunity to connect.

We headed out from Cincinnati to New York and began to talk more. We agreed that, as both our pediatrician and social worker had said, it would be SO nice to have more current information (isn’t that always the case in international adoption?). Our agency had told me that they could request an update, but there was no guarantee they would get one, and we really needed to be prepared to make a decision based on the information in her file. We went ahead and asked them to submit a request for an update but knew we couldn’t count on that. They’d asked us to let them know by the end of the week what our thoughts were, so that if we were not planning to pursue adopting this little girl, they could continue to look for another family for her.

We talked and prayed more during our drive and during the next day or so while we were in New York with Matt’s side of our family, and neither of us saw any reason not to move forward with seeking to adopt her. We believed we could be a good family for her, and she needed a family, and in so many ways, it really was that simple. We felt some nervousness about the weight of this decision – no matter what we decided, we knew it would change our lives and Miranda’s life forever, as well as the life of a little girl halfway around the world – but we also felt a sense of peace. There would be unknowns, but that is always the case in international adoption and really in any attempt to bring a child into your family. And regardless of any unknowns, we wanted this little one to be part of our family, we wanted to experience life with her, to walk through hard times and celebrate good times.

We e-mailed our agency first thing Friday morning to tell them we wanted to commit to seeking to adopt Dang Cai Qun, and they were thrilled for us and for her! It was so fun to be with Matt’s family that week and be able to share our excitement with them, too. To top it off, later that morning, we actually got another e-mail from our agency saying that they were shocked that it came back so quickly, but they had an update for us! The updated information was all encouraging, and it was so nice to have another set of photos, too.

dangcaiqun-8-3-20122

Our “matching” with our little one wasn’t necessarily a typical experience, but that’s how it happened for us! We feel so blessed to be pursuing adopting little Cai Qun, and we can’t wait to go get her and bring her home!

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. Did you know that? I can tell you that a few months ago, I wouldn’t have known, and had someone pointed it out, I probably would not have had much of a reaction – perhaps thoughts of Magic Johnson or the book I read in middle school about Ryan White or the tv movie telling the story of Ali Gertz (with whom I felt a kinship based solely on our shared first name) that I’d seen around the same time or the movie Philadelphia.

As we’ve entered into this world of special needs adoption, though, I’ve begun to learn more about HIV and AIDS. It turns out that my knowledge was pretty out-dated (and I suspect I’m not alone in that – according to a 2009 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans’ levels of knowledge about HIV and AIDS have not increased since about 1987). But things have changed a great deal since then, since the days of people like Ryan White and Ali Gertz.

For instance, did you know that –

  • today HIV is considered a chronic but manageable condition
  • children who are HIV+ and receive medical treatment are expected to live a normal lifespan
  • HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact
  • if a pregnant woman who is HIV+ is receiving treatment, the chances that her child will be infected can be reduced to approximately 1%
  • with treatment, a person’s viral load (the amount of HIV in their body) can be reduced to undetectable levels

Check out this video from Project Hopeful (an amazing organization that advocates for the adoption of children who are HIV+ and does other work to support people living with HIV):

I didn’t realize how much the advances in treatment of HIV and AIDS had changed what life can look like for people who are HIV+. The news isn’t all good, though. Treatment is not always available for people who are infected with the virus – and even when it is, the social stigma may be so great that people choose to live without treatment instead of taking the risk that their friends, families, and neighbors will find out that they have HIV. It is estimated that there are 15 million children under the age of 18 who have been orphaned by AIDS. A great number of these children live in Africa – but did you know that there are AIDS orphans in China, too?

During the 1990s, a large number of farmers in Central China sold blood to supplement their income and in so doing, contracted HIV through unsanitary blood collection centers – in some villages in this area, it is estimated that 60% of the adult population is HIV+. One organization estimated that there would be 260,000 AIDS orphans in China by 2010. Some of those children did not contract the virus from their mothers – but others did and are now HIV+ themselves. There is still great social stigma associated with HIV in China. I came across a recent article the other day about a little boy who is HIV+ and whose parents had both died of AIDS, and he then lived alone, taking care of himself, at the ripe old age of six. No one – not his grandmother, not the local orphanage – would take him in for quite some time. Even orphanages that will accept a child who is HIV+ may not have staff who understand the virus or how to care for children who are HIV+. For fear that they may contract it themselves if they even touch those children, the staff may leave them alone in their cribs by themselves as much as possible. Can you imagine that existence? And then, if you receive proper medical treatment and you live to reach your 14th birthday, you age out of the system and are left totally alone in a society in which you will face the double stigma of being an orphan and being HIV+.

And yet, with treatment, those children who are HIV+ can live long, healthy, wonderful lives. Talk about diametrical opposites.

Matt and I are strongly considering requesting specifically to adopt a child who is HIV+. We obviously don’t know for sure whether that’s the path God has for our family – but we’re definitely open to it. And to be totally honest, I am really hoping and praying that we’ll be given the opportunity to welcome one of these little ones affected by HIV into our family. I know that may initially sound a bit scary, but we’re truly excited about this possibility and would love to talk with you more about it if you have any questions, concerns, etc.

Note: Facts and statistics in this post were taken from the following websites: Project Hopeful  and China AIDS Orphan Fund. I’d definitely encourage you to update your knowledge about HIV and AIDS…and do feel free to ask me questions about any of this!