Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Itinerary

Our trip to China will be approximately two weeks long and take place in three different stages, each in it’s own city.  Although personally I think that we might consider taking this guy through air transit for 18 hours will be a trip all by itself:


We will depart from the US on Wednesday morning and arrive in China on Thursday afternoon. Matt’s mother is going with us, and I know we will really appreciate having an extra set of hands along to help with the children.  We will begin in Beijing for two days of sight-seeing.  Beijing is in the northern part of China, about the same latitude as Philadelphia, PA.  It has a population similar to Chicago.


This is mostly to let us all adjust to the time zone, because it’s not a good idea to hand a kid over to very jet-lagged parents.  We will keep awake during the day by visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.  Someone in our party was very excited to hear that our hotel is very near to Snack Street, which is a street where you can buy fun Chinese street food such as starfish or scorpion on a stick.  Only we won’t actually eat any of the snacks because we don’t want to get food poisoning.


                                                           Mmm, snack street!—–>

Time to make this adoption thing happen!–

On Sunday, we will fly to Nanjing, which is the capital of Leo’s province.  It’s about the same latitude as Montgomery, AL.  It is best known for being the capital of China during the Ming dynasty.  Leo is not currently residing there, but will be transported to Nanjing to meet us because adoptions must be finalized at the Provincial capital.  We don’t have much planned for Sunday except traveling and getting settled into a new hotel.  No snack street at this place, but I hear there’s a mall with a Starbucks!


We will meet Leo on Monday morning, known as “Gotcha Day” in adoption lingo.  He will come back to the hotel with us, and we will return on Tuesday to officially adopt him.  We will stay around Nanjing until Friday, because his passport will need to be prepared.  He will fly home on a red Chinese passport which will become void once he reaches US soil.  We will pass the time getting to know Leo’s home province.  I hope to visit Leo’s orphanage and possibly meet his foster parents during this time.  My agency says “Orphanage and foster family visits are prohibited but sometimes allowed.”  Leo’s orphanage welcomes visitors and families are usually given permission to visit if they request to do so, which makes me optimistic that we will be able to travel there.

On Friday, after we receive Leo’s passport we will travel to the southern part of China to Guangzhou, where the American consulate is located.  It’s hard to find an East Coast city on the same latitude, but Key West, FL is closest.  We expect warm weather!  It is the 3rd largest city in China.


You can see in this map how close Guangzhou is to Hong Kong.  Many families will travel to Hong Kong and fly out from there.  We will be flying from Guangzhou up to Shanghai for our return.


Friday is just a transportation day but on Saturday Leo must have a medical visit.  Then we have another break on Sunday and Monday.  Tuesday is our appointment at the US Consulate where we will receive his US adoption paperwork.  We will receive his visa to enter the US on Wednesday and we are free to leave after that.  For various transportation related reasons we will be flying home on Friday morning.

We will fly from Guangzhou to Shanghai where we will catch the long flight home.  From there we will enter the US in Seattle, where we will be detained for a few hours as Leo journeys through customs to become an official US citizen.  At that point we will travel to our “home” airport of Cincinnati, arriving home on the same day             ^My dream of the entire trip home  that we left thanks to the time difference.

I’m expecting it to be twenty hours of cozy bonding on the uneventful flight home.  Just let me live in my dreamland, okay?

Internet access in China can be unpredictable.  I will try to post once a day while we are in China, and I have a friend who can post an update for me as long as I have e-mail access.  I hope to post additional pictures to Flickr, so you can click through to the right if you want to see more than I put in the posts.  Squatty potties, Nanjing duck blood soup, and crazy Chinese traffic with no seat belts–here we come!

Special Needs Adoption

Continuing from my last blog post, I wanted to answer some of the common questions and comments regarding adopting a child with special needs.

As I mentioned in How Did You Get A Boy?, while the common perception is that most people adopting from China will get a healthy infant girl, things have changed in China.  There are approximately 3000 adoptions from China to the US per year, 90% of which are special needs children.  This is because birth defects have risen 70% in China in the last decade.  Because people are curious when they hear that Leo is a part of the China special needs program, they often ask–


What’s wrong with him? What is his special need?  He looks so healthy!

I do hope that you will avoid asking “What’s wrong with him” in his presence, because although I know you’re asking about his health, it is easy for a child to perceive this in the same negative way as being referred to as unwanted and abandoned.  Adoptees often feel that there must have been something wrong with them for their parents to abandon them, and hearing people ask what is wrong with them reinforces that idea.

The term “special needs” can sound scary, which is kind of ironic because it came into use to sound less scary than other words like handicapped or disabled.  Special needs is a very broad term, and the children available for adoption have a wide range of special needs, from birth marks to complex heart issues. Sometimes these needs are immediately evident, such as albinism, Down Syndrome, or a missing limb.  Other times the needs are not visible.

I don’t mind telling you that Leo has an unrepaired cleft palate, but no cleft lip.  This means he has a hole in the roof of his mouth, and so when he’s eating sometimes food will drip out of his nose.  He also has been diagnosed with a “malformed left auricle” which is a medical way of saying he has a funny shaped ear (visible in the above picture).  We consider these needs to be minor, and they don’t make him unhealthy.  I guess our definition of an unhealthy child would be one who needed a lot of medication, or who is in and out of the hospital a lot.  To us, kids who are missing a limb, are deaf, or have any number of other special needs are often perfectly healthy.  Leo will probably need multiple surgeries over several years for his cleft palate.  Assuming there are no undisclosed issues with his ear then we probably won’t do anything about it should work just fine.

Something thing to keep in mind is that some parents prefer not to share their child’s special needs for several reasons.  One is privacy because some special needs are of a sensitive nature.  Does everyone need to know that little Bobby was born without an imperforate anus or that Suzie had a vaginal fistula repaired?  Other diagnoses such as being HIV or Hepatitis B positive can still carry a stigma.  Sometimes times the needs are rare or hard to explain and it might be easier for a parent to decline to share than to get caught up in a flurry of follow-up questions about Thalassemia or what it means to lack a corpus collosum, especially if the person asking questions is a random stranger in the grocery store or someone who is a casual acquaintance.

Lian Yu Qiang June (2)

Why did you have to get a special needs child?  Weren’t there any healthy ones?

Matt and I were never bothered by the idea of adopting a special needs child.  In the dozen years that we’ve been parenting, we’ve had many friends or neighbors who ended up with a child with special needs.  We’ve known children with alopecia, hypospadias, cleft palate, or anal atresia.  Some of our friends who had infants born healthy later ended up with them getting diagnoses like Autism, diabetes, or even cancer.  And you know what?  They were all just kids.  Cute and adorable, funny, with their own personalities and just as perfect in their own way as “healthy” children.  They weren’t scary at all.  They needed extra trips to the doctor or therapies, but that doesn’t make them any different from our biological children who have “special needs” that require them to visit the optometrist or orthodontist regularly.  I guess what I’m saying is that we have learned that life is short and unpredictable, so if you’re set on waiting for perfection then you’re probably going to be missing out on the fun and beauty of life, which is anything but perfect.

It’s just so great that you would do that! [adopt in general or adopt a child with special needs]

We didn’t adopt because we wanted people to think that we are super-awesome.  We don’t want people to look at Leo as a charity project or for him to feel that is why we adopted him.  While Leo may have joined our family in a different way from our other children, it doesn’t make him any less a part of the family.  As much as we appreciate the kind words, we don’t expect or need people to thank us for adopting him any more than we expect or need people to stop us in the grocery store to say we’re great parents for buying groceries to feed the children.  It’s not any more heroic than any other kind of parenting–except maybe for all the paperwork we had to conquer to get him here!


Using Positive Adoption Language

Doesn’t the phrase “positive adoption language” just make you want to scroll on past this blog entry?  How about “What not to say to an adoptive parent”?  The problem with that title is that you might have said one of these things to us already and I don’t want you to feel bad!  It’s okay, we understand because we’ve said a few of these things ourselves!  But now that we have logged in several hours of required adoption education and know more adoptive families, we thought we’d pass along some tips on what to say or not say to an adoptive family.

1. What happened to his REAL parents?

It’s awkward to know how to refer to Leo’s biological family, especially since “biological” doesn’t roll off the tongue in conversation.  But it’s best to avoid referring to them as his “real” parents, unless you’re talking about us.  I remember I once asked a friend if her two adopted children were biologically related.  Now I wonder why I cared!  There are many people out there who were raised by a grandparent or step-parent that they consider their “real” parent.  A parent is someone who raises you, and who is there for you during the good times and the bad times.  Along the same lines, Leo is going to be the “real” brother of all of my children, even though he looks different and he wasn’t born into our family.

Lian Yu Qiang (5).JPG

2. How much did he cost?

The sale of children is strictly prohibited.  There were costs associated with having Leo join our family, but I assure you that the many days of hospital care I received for preterm labor which ended in a c-section with my firstborn was also not cheap.  It’s generally not polite to ask about money, but adoption agencies are very open about how adoption expenses break down, so if you’re really curious you can click on through to our adoption agency on the right and read the information they have on the topic.

3. You must be rich to be able to afford that!

This question is related to the one above, but I want you to know that you do not have to be rich in order to be able to adopt.  Adopting from foster care is usually free!  If you adopt internationally, there is a tax credit to help with the costs, in addition to grants and loans that you can apply for.  I have met many dedicated families who struggle with small or single incomes and have been able to adopt through working a 2nd or even 3rd job, being creative with finances, and often with the support of friends and family through fundraisers.  What better way to to spend some money than to help a child have a family!

4. Why didn’t his real parents want him?  What’s wrong with him?  I thought they wanted boys!  IMG_3837

It’s difficult for adoptees to grow up hearing themselves referred to as “abandoned” and “unwanted.”  Those are hard labels for person to have.  As I mentioned before, the reality that leads a child to need a family is often much more complex than merely being unwanted.  Even if we knew for certain that Leo wasn’t wanted by his birth parents, he is very much wanted by us.  It is better to phrase the question “Do you know anything about the circumstances that led to his being available for adoption?”

5. He’s so lucky! or God created him to be your child!

As I mentioned previously, every adoption begins with a loss.  Yes, he is ultimately better off in our family than he would have been if he stayed in China.  But especially as he grows older, he might inwardly roll his eyes and think “Yes, I’m super lucky to have been abandoned by my parents!”  Adoptees often have conflicted feelings because as much as they love their family, part of them will always wonder why they couldn’t have been raised in their birth family, or why they were unwanted.  They really do not feel lucky to have ended up without a family but they feel that society tells them they can’t mourn the loss of the their birth family, they should just be happy that they didn’t grow up in an orphanage.  As much as we appreciate the sentiment of saying that he’s lucky, it might be better just to say “You have a beautiful family.”

DSC01201This might be my theological background, but bringing theology into things can get tricky.  Do you believe that God causes everything in our life to happen for a reason?  Is there one perfect plan for our life?  The idea that God had a hand in the adoption is wonderful.  I think we all have the desire to know that God guides us in our life.  But at the same time, I think we would all be uncomfortable in saying that God somehow caused Leo’s parents to abandon him so that he could end up with our family.  I think that God intends every child to be raised in their family of birth, but sometimes bad things happen and the ideal isn’t possible.  We are still blessed to have him in our family, regardless of how he came to be here.

6. “My neighbor’s cousin adopted a child, and they tried to burn the house down!”

Just like the compulsion to tell a pregnant woman labor horror stories, adoptive families often get told about every adoptee who ever became a serial killer.  The good news is that studies have found that adoptees fair, in general, about the same as everyone else.  Some adoptees will struggle in life because of the trauma, abuse, or malnutrition they suffered early in life.  But so will many people who grew up in their family of origin.

I decided to make a separate post to discuss questions and comments on adopting a special needs child, so look for that on Thursday.

Talking about names

I had no idea before I joined the adoptive community, but when you talk about naming your adoptive child the conversation can sometimes get heated.  I remember when Angelina Jolie adopted three year old Pax, I thought “Isn’t he a little old to be getting a new name?”  That’s pretty much the crux of the issue.

When you adopt from China, you usually don’t know what the birth parents might have named the baby.  There is no way to legally relinquish a child, so most are secretly abandoned.  This isn’t the case in other countries where the child you adopt usually comes with their birth name.  Sometimes these children are true orphans, perhaps from disease or warfare.  Other times they are relinquished because of poverty and you might send updates to a family member back in Haiti or Ethiopia.

Lian Yu Qiang (2)

So why am I telling you about abandoned versus relinquished?  Because those who feel a child’s name should not be changed usually say that changing the name does not respect their past or their culture.  They already have names, why do they need new ones? It might give the child the idea that they aren’t “good enough” as they are and their identity needs to be changed.

However, adoptive parents really like giving their child a new name.  Most couples love to discuss names that they might one day give a child.  Adoptive parents might want to change the child’s name to help them to feel a part of the family, to fit in better in their new country, or perhaps because their name is either hard to pronounce or has a negative meaning in English.

Matt and I were open to keeping our child’s name if we adopted an older child.  Like most babies from China, Leo was given a name by his orphanage, so it doesn’t have any connection to his family of origin. We might feel differently if we were adopting a child that we knew still had the name given to him by his birth parents.  Since Leo was very young, we didn’t feel he would have any of the mixed feelings that an older child might have.

Many adoptive parents today keep the child’s original name as their middle name, and that is what we chose to do.  He will be Leo YuQiang.  Like many other adoptive parents before us, we felt he would fit in with our family better with an American name, and we thought he might get tired of having to tell people how to spell or pronounce it.  We knew many Chinese students from Matt’s days in graduate school and most of them went by American names for this reason.  But if he were to decide one day that he would rather be called YuQiang, then that would be fine with us.

When we were deciding on Leo’s American name, we had a list of names and Leo was toward the middle of it.  We had a few nudges that Leo was the right name for him.  First, he was listed on Holt’s website right around the feast day of St. Leo the Great, who talked Attila the Hun out of sacking Rome.  Look at what name he was listed as on our agency’s website!


When we received his file, it was clear why they had him listed as Leon, because it was very similar to his Chinese surname.  All of the children at his orphanage are given the same last name.  His file said that he was given the first name YuQiang to express the desire that he will grow to be strong.  Leo is Latin for lion, and so it has a connotation of strength for most people.  Now we can say that his name means he is strong like a lion!

He is called Qiang-Qiang by his foster family and the nannies at the orphanage.  Although that’s kind of a mouthful to American ears, we will start off calling him that, and then transition to calling him Leo over the first few weeks.