Beautiful Life

Hey child up and go; A big world is out there waiting for us to live in every day. Outside you will find, there is love all around you; Takes you, makes you wanna' say; That it's a beautiful life and it's a beautiful world and it's a beautiful time to be here, to be here, to be here. -Fisher

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Homegrown Kids!

Paul and I have 4 wonderful "homegrown" children that we are so proud of. Our eldest is Elizabeth Hope, Lizzie. She is Paul's from another marriage and she has never lived with us. But, she has always been a huge part of our family through consistent monthly, holiday and vacation visitation. I met her when she was 2 1/2 years old and she stole my heart with her precocious and loving personality. Next come the twins, Parker and Noah. I had wanted twins since I was in first grade and always said that I would have a set. Paul laughed at this.....little did he know! Parker was born first, by 15 minutes, and Noah has spent all their lives trying to be first at everything else! They are fraternal twins but everyone thinks they are identical because they look so much alike. Our youngest is our sweet Isabel Lee. She is a combination of my sass and Paul's humor so she keeps us on our toes!
There are things we don't have and things we do have because of the life we have chosen. We don't have a lot of spare time or spare money. We don't have much peace and quiet either. We do have plenty of laughs and a whole bunch of love. And, we've always got room for one more!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Update

We recently asked our agency to find out if Claire was able to walk yet and if she has hydrocephalus (an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain). Today our agency received an email from their Beijing office with an update from her social welfare institute.

They report that she does not have hydrocephalus! This is great news and hopefully it is accurate! We know that our neurologist will carefully evaluate her once we get her home. Unfortunately, she still can not walk. This may be due to the condition of her feet or may be related to her spina bifida. We believe that she has a variation of the club foot deformity (talipes varus) in which her feet invert so that only the outer side of the soles rest on the ground. This could certainly be the reason she isn't walking.

She is reported to be speaking only simple words and not complete sentences but she plays well with the other children and can play with toys. Of course, we were hoping for more progress but we feel fortunate that her condition is not worse than this. Our prayer is that we can get her home soon so she can receive the medical care that she needs and the therapies that might make a big difference in the quality of her life.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Spina Bifida

I have come to realize that many people do not know what spina bifida is. Spina bifida is a neural tube birth defect in which there is abnormal development of the backbone, spinal cord, surrounding nerves, and the fluid sac surrounding the spinal cord. This sounds very scary, I know! This defect can occur anywhere along the spine. We believe, based on information in her records, that Claire's defect is at the base of her spine, which is the more common place for it.

There are several forms of spina bifida that range in severity from mild to serious. Spina bifida occulta is the mildest form and may not be diagnosed right away because there are not always signs of it. A meningocele is a fluid filled sac visible outside the back but not containing the spinal cord or any nerves. Claire has one of the more complicated forms. She was born with myelomeningocele, which means that part of her spinal cord and nerves developed outside her body and were contained in a fluid filled sac. Some common issues with this form of spina bifida include weakness and loss of sensation below the defect, problems with bowel and bladder function and hydrocephalus.

Another issue with this diagnosis is tethered cord. This is when the the spinal cord becomes tethered or attached to the bony spine. Sometimes this happens because of scar tissue after the surgery is done to close the spine. Obviously this will cause tension on the spinal cord and can cause permanent damage to the muscles and nerves that control the legs, feet, bowels and bladder. It can be surgically untethered but early detection is the key. Foot deformities also occur with the form of spina bifida that Claire has and according to her records she has what appears to be a type of club foot of both her feet.

Spina bifida can be caused by genetic and environmental factors. It is more commonly seen in teenage mothers and lower socioeconomic families. Poor nutrition and lack of vitamins is thought to contribute to this and research has found that folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Exposure to hazardous chemicals and infections can also be risk factors. It is not curable but it is manageable with proper medical care.

Claire's records stated that she has "slightly increased muscular tension" and "slightly poor nervous reflex". The good news is that she still has muscle tension and reflex so she is not paralyzed! As you can see in her picture, she can sit up and her growth report said that she could stand. It is unknown at this time if she can walk and if she can't is it because her legs aren't working or because her feet are deformed.

There is nothing in her file indicating that she has any form of hydrocephalus but we will still need to have her checked for this. The treatment to alleviate the build up of fluid in her brain would be to put a shunt in. Since she does not have a shunt, she may suffer more neurological damage from untreated hydrocephalus.

We have many concerns for our new daughter but our hope is that her quality of life will be greatly enhanced once she is surrounded by the love and support of her new family. It is obvious that she needs the attention of a neurologist and an orthopedist and probably a urologist. She will likely need numerous therapies and possibly some surgery. But, we know that we were chosen for each other for a reason. We pray everyday for her safe keeping and her physical healing and we can't wait to get her in our arms and bring her home!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Other Family

On Wednesday I made a post to our agency's yahoo group that included a small amount of information about Claire. On Thursday, I received some emails that I wanted to share. There was another family that saw our Claire on the lists and they actually requested her file before we did and had it for the week before we were allowed access to it. They chose to pass on her and that is why we were able to review her file. I wondered at the time why they decided not to pursue her adoption but I did not think I would ever know. Now I do. I received permission from them to post their story here. I was contacted by the wife and this is what she said~

"I was wondering if little Claire is by chance MA 137 (or Wei Kangtong) on the WC list.
She stole my family's heart immediately and we were able to review her file the day her info was posted. We were SO excited and began making plans to bring her home as soon as possible, but then I began to feel like we were keeping her from her real family. It is so hard to explain and it probably sounds crazy, but we kept praying for a complete peace about our decision, and we never found it. We knew her real family was still waiting for her and it was not us. We were truly heartbroken when we made that call to CHI and I wasn't sure how I would feel about seeing her placed with another family, but I was overjoyed. I knew then for sure, she had found her family."

This is part of a second email from her~

"I had no idea our situations could be SO similar. Would you believe that I too, saw Claire on GWCA website first? I was trying to see what agencies participated in the multi-agency lists, and I just love looking at all the beautiful children. I couldn't believe that, at that time, no families were pursuing her.

Next day, there she was on our list! I just knew it was it had to be God (& I still do). I didn't even call
(Name) before submitting a form. Around noon, I almost fainted when I saw CHI pop up on our caller ID. It was so surreal and exhilarating. We immediately faxed her info to our pediatrician and had my brother-in-law, who's a doctor, review it, also. We then sent out an urgent prayer request to friends and family. We had so many prayer warriors bombarding heaven's gates with our petition, I knew we would get our answer. At first, I also found her condition daunting. Well, I guess it was more of the unknowns and lack of specifics about her condition. But the more we looked into it, the more it looked like her diagnosis wasn't nearly as severe as originally thought. Anyway, we had to prepare ourselves for the worst, and I told myself we could and would face any challenge that this situation might bring.

Just as I began to accept this, I began hearing a whisper in my ear, "She's not your daughter." I really didn't want to listen, so that's when I began praying for a complete peace and maybe a sign that another family was waiting for her. On Saturday night, I again looked at GWCA site and saw the "pending" over Claire's picture. I knew I had my answer. (Even though we both know now, that wasn't her family either) At the same time, a dear friend from church had an overwhelming feeling come over her telling her that this is not the right time for us. She felt such an urgency, that she had to fight calling us in the middle of the night. When I saw last week, that CHI had placed her, I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe it! She had a family and from our agency!!

I now feel that we experienced all of this for a purpose. I believe that God was showing us to seek Him prayerfully and faithfully in all situations, and He will provide us with the confirmation we need. Like my e-mail was affirmation for you, yours was for me. I SO needed to hear your story. I have been pouring over the CHI boards everyday, looking for some hint pointing me towards your family, and today I found it!! I was so excited!! You and your family will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Oh, and guess what book my husband has been reading, lately? Yup, Wild at Heart. Just another little sign from above. I get so excited when I see God working!!
" (I told her that Paul had been reading this book and just finished it when God spoke to him that night)

I still can't read this without tears. Hearing their story was so much confirmation for us. I truly believe that all things happen for a reason and that the way things happen is God's providence. We will forever be grateful to this family and our hearts go out to them during their wait and search for their daughter. We will be praying for you!

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" ~ Proverbs 3:5

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Her Name

Our Daughter's Chinese name is Wei Kang Tong and it would most likely have been given to her by the director of the welfare institute she was placed in. In Chinese it is written as three characters with the surname first and then the given name.

Children in orphanages are often given surnames names after the orphanage, region, or the director of the orphanage. The last name “Wei” is part of the official name of Tianjin in Chinese. It means “protect” or “defend” and is the first character is “hygiene”. We have come across other families online that are adopting from Tianjin and have found that their children carry the Wei surname as well, which would be expected. But, Wei has only been used as the last name for all the children since 2005, the year Kang Tong was born. We also found out that Before 2000, the children were named according to their handicap. Their family name (first character) denoted their handicap, and their given name (second character) was unique. Rarely did any of the kids have three characters in their name. The names most commonly used were:
Wang – cleft palate
Wu – cerebral palsy
Guo – spina bifida
Ma – Down's Syndrome
Ma Yang – various deformities of the four extremities
Xia – heart problems
Gong – insignificant handicaps not limiting their intelligence
(Understand that 90% of the children in the Tianjin Children's Welfare Institute are special needs children.)
A new director came in 1999 and so a new naming system was put into place in 2000. With the new naming system the first two names used (the child's family name and generational name) changed every six months until 2005 when they changed only every year. Either the family name (first character) or the given name (second character/generational name) is the same for every child in that six months. The other name is the same for boys, and one for girls. The last character of the child's name is unique to the child (for that six months) and is the main name used in the orphanage to refer to the child (apart from official documents when the whole name is used). The American volunteer that provided this information said that he could not confirm this but he was told the family names are chosen according to a "special book" of Chinese last names, which he assumes is a book of the order of the most common Chinese last names.

There is a tradition in China that is often still used where you give children a generational name. This would be a name given to all the girl or boy children or all children born in the same generation in one family (siblings and cousins). So, when three names are used in Tianjin the second name is the generational name and would be shared by others. However, the names the children get in this orphanage are not according to age, but according to the time they entered the orphanage. Because of this, a generational name might actually be shared by children of different generations.
Kang, the second name and character in our daughter's name is her generational name. This character has been translated for us and means "healthy". We have cyber "met" several families also adopting from Tianjin that have girls with that share the name Kang with her.
Since the year 2000 the naming pattern has gone like this:
Jan-Jun 2000
Boys: Qian
Girls: Zhao
Note: This is the only time since 2000 when most children only had two characters. After this, everyone has had three
Jul-Dec 2000
Boys and Girls: Sun Fu
Note: This is the only time since 2000 that boys and girls were given the same names.
Jan-Jun 2001
Boys: Zhou Fu
Girls: Li Fu
Note: This is the beginning of another minor system that lasted for two years. The official name of the CWI is Tianjin Shi Er Tong Fu Li Yuan (lit: Tianjin City Children's Welfare Institute). The Fu Li Tian Jin characters ("Welfare" and Tianjin") were used as the middle characters of both boys and girls. Confusingly enough, sometimes different characters were used, but with the same pronunciation. For instance, Li in Fu Li means "sharp" or "acute" while the Li in the boys names means "stand" and the Li in the girls names means "Pretty"
Jul-Dec 2001
Boys: Zheng Li
Girls: Chen Li
Jan-Jun 2002
Boys: Wei Tian
Girls: Shen Tian
Jul-Dec 2002
Boys: Han Jin
Girls: Yang Jin
Jan-Dec 2003
Boys: Zhang Han
Girls: Zhang Zhao
Note: Having gone through all the usable characters in the name of the CWI, they switched again to give the children a consistent family name, rather than a middle name. The middle name then changed to identify their gender.
Jul-Dec 2003
Boys: Jiang Zhao
Girls: Jiang Xiao
Jan-Jun 2004
Boys: Xu Qing
Girls: Xu Chun
Jul-Dec 2004
Boys: Lu Wen
Girls: Lu Xin
2005Boys: Wei Jian
Girls: Wei Kang
Note: From 2003-2004, there was no real pattern to the first character of the given names, at least not that I know of. However, the word "Jian Kang" in Chinese means "healthy". Also, it is the same characters as used in the new names.

Boys: Wei Cong
Girls: Wei Ming
Note: Cong Ming means “intelligent” or “smart”

Boys: Wei Ping
Girls: Wei An
Note: Ping An means “safety”

Boys: Wei Jun
Girls: Wei Jia

Note: Jun Jia does not mean anything. However, Jun means “handsome” and Jia means “beautiful” or “excellent”.
I find this "naming system" both bizarre and very interesting. I can not imagine having to name about 100 children every year! We have trouble just picking a name for one child! I am glad that her SWI used a generational name for the girls of 2005. This common name has already linked me with 2 other moms I've "met" online. Maybe one day this link will be special to Claire as well.

Our daughter's other given name is Tong. This is the name that is different from other children in the orphanage. She would either be called Tong or Kang Tong but never just Kang. She is referred to as Tongtong in her growth report at least once. We believe that Tongtong is her nickname because it is customary to double a child's name for their nickname. We were first told that Tong means "the name of a big tree"! Then my husband met a woman at a company function that he could tell was Asian. He told her of our adoption and as Providence would have it, she went to school in Tianjin! She looked at the characters and said that Tong is actually the name of a very popular tree in China. She said that many cities like Tianjin plant this tree because it grows big very fast and that she got the feeling that whoever gave her this name wanted her to grow up fast, strong and healthy!

We have decided to keep Kang Tong in her name because it is part of her culture and therefore part of her. One day she may want to use this name to feel connected to her roots and we want her to have that option.

We are naming her Claire Hope Kangtong Gour. Claire is a name we chose around Christmas 2006. We had been discussing names for months and this was a name we both liked and we liked the meaning of it. Claire means "bright and clear". I was recently contacted by another mother that is using the name Claire and she sent me this.
Meanings of Claire

Inherent meaning: Brilliant
Spiritual connotation: Shining Light
Scripture: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Psalm 36:9"
We have since had adoption Christmas ornaments made in 2006 and 2007 that both say "Waiting for Claire" so I guess we should stick with it! We chose Hope just in the last few days since we found our girl. We find ourselves saying "we hope..." about her all the time and using the name seems like a way to project our hopes on her. It just so happens to be a name she will share with her big sister, Elizabeth Hope. Now both our little girls have been named after her (Isabel is Spanish for Elizabeth) and this time we didn't even plan it!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Where in the World is Claire?

Claire is waiting for us in the Children's Welfare Institute of Tianjin City in China. Unlike most cities in China, Tianjin is not in a province, though it used to be the capital of Hebei province. It is one of four municipalities that are directly under the central government and have the status of a province. It is located in the northeast of the North China Plain. Facing the Bohai Gulf in the east, it is bordered on it's other three sides by Hebei province. It is only about an hour train ride or two hour bus ride from Beijing. It is marked on the map with the red dot in the North. The other red dots represent the other municipalities and the capital, Beijing is marked with a red square

The name Tianjin means "the place where the emperor crossed the river". It is also known as the Diamond of the Bohai Gulf and the gateway to the capital of The People's Republic of China. It is one of biggest industrial and port cities in China. In 1404 it became a military position of strategic importance and construction of city walls began. Later it was called Tianjin Fort.

The summers are hot and humid (sound familiar) and the winters are cold and dry. I wonder if she will miss the winters?
The population of Tianjin Municipality is over 9 million permanent residents most of which are Han Chinese. The municipality has both urban areas and rural areas as well as port towns along the coast.

The 2008 Summer Olympic Football (soccer) games will be held in Tianjin at the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium.

The terrain is generally flat and swampy so she should feel right at home here in the Low-country! There is a mountainous area to the north which boasts one of the ten most visited sites in Tianjin, the Huangyaguan Great Wall. This is considered to be a miniature of the Great Wall.

When we go to China we will come into Beijing, spend several days there and then travel to Tianjin to receive Claire. We will spend a few more days in Tianjin to do all our paperwork and then fly to Guangzhou where we will stay the rest of our time in China (7-10 more days). It is in Guangzhou that Claire will get her visa and we will fly home from there!

Friday, February 15, 2008

What's Next

Well, we got our PA pretty fast! The CCAA implemented a new computer system recently that is helping moving things faster. This is great but at the same time a little scary. With the old system you pretty much knew that you would wait a month to two months for pre-approval and then another two-three months for a "Seeking Confirmation Letter" which is your official referral. Your TA (travel approval) would come about a month later and you would travel 4 to 8 weeks after that. But with the new system things are happening very quickly for some families. The families that are moving the fastest are those that have already been reviewed and approved by Department 1. As it turns out our documents are in Department 1 right now and most likely have already been reviewed! Our agency specialist, Ann, called me last night to discuss the possible time frames for us. Some families that had already been reviewed got their SCL two weeks after PA! She wants us to be prepared for this possibility! However, she thinks we will get our SCL around the end of March and our TA in April. Travel is not allowed at the end of April due to a big Trade Show that books all the Hotels in Guangzhou (where we have to go to get Claire a medical exam and her visa). Also, there is a Labor Holiday the first week of May and everything in China shuts down that week. Therefore, it looks like we will be traveling around the middle of May. Of course, you never know how these things will play out!

What's the Diagnosis?

Unlike some families that are able to keep their child's special needs private, we will not likely be able to do that. Our daughter, Wei Kang Tong, or Claire as we will name her is 27 months old. She was born with a form of spina bifida called meningomyelocele. This is one of the more severe forms of spina bifida and it comes with many complications but she doesn't appear to be as severely affected as she could have been. 90% of the children born with this will also have hydrocephalus at some point and need a shunt. There is nothing in her medical file to indicate that they suspect her of having hydrocephalus but that does not mean she isn't affected. Tethered cord is also common with her diagnosis and she has a form of club foot (talipes varus) which will need treatment. All that being said, we believe she was "fearfully and wonderfully made" just as it says in Psalm 139:14.

Claire's last known evaluation was when she was 18 months old. At that time she could sit up and stand alone which are good signs because one of the complications could be loss of function of the lower extremities. But, she was said to have "slightly increased" muscular tension and "slightly poor" nervous reflex so that indicates that she will most certainly need physical therapy for her legs. Of course we will still have to wait and see if and how well her legs work. Also, at her evaluation she was said to be able to use her fingers and thumb deftly and she was imitating words. She is described in her growth report with these words: "Wei Kang Tong is a very active and lovely girl who likes to communicate with familiar people. When she exposes her emotions, she will dance for joy at pleasant things..." These are all good signs that give us hope!

We have requested updated information about her progress and we hope to get some feedback soon. Until then we will pray for her healing and continued progress. Just the fact that she looks so good in her photo and was able to do some things shows just how strong she is. She is a miracle!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


On January 30th, I saw this picture on the website of another agency. We are not allowed to switch agency's, not that I'd want to, so I muttered to myself, "Why couldn't she be on my list, Lord? I'd snatch her up!" I mean, look at those cheeks and that face! Well, He heard me! The next day I was checking out our agency's list because they posted that they got a few more "Hard to Place" children added to the list and THERE SHE WAS! I screamed for Paul to come look and I explained what had happened. Then I fumbled with the computer keys to get a request form filled out. I wasn't fast enough though because one other family beat me to her. But, I was pretty sure we would still get the chance and sure enough on February 6th the agency called to see if we were still interested in looking at her file! We got the file that afternoon and scrambled the next day to find doctors that could help us figure out what her medical file meant. Paul had to fly to Atlanta that afternoon for a National Sales meeting so we were in a hurry to get some answers. He made as many calls as he could and left me to wait to hear back from the Doctors. The nurse from our pediatrician's office called to say the PA had looked and he gave us a long and daunting list of all the issues this child may face- everything from hydrocephalus to tethered cord syndrome to Chiari II Malformation. It was a very clinical conversation void of much emotion for this child but, it was something we needed to hear. Later that evening another Doctor called me and this conversation was much different. She began to look over the file while she was on the phone with me but only the good things seemed to jump out at her. She even said she was having a hard time looking at this from a clinical point of view. She kept looking at the picture and saying how good the baby looked! It was not what she was expecting. All of the sudden she stopped and asked if she could pray for us right then. She did and we talked for a very long time about all the possible outcomes for this baby. Later she was able to sit and look at the file clinically and emailed me a list of definite and possible issues. I'll get into all that later. What is important to know is that while I was listening to doctors tell me what could be wrong, Paul was in Atlanta praying for God to tell him what to do about it. Late that evening, God spoke to Paul and made it clear that this was the child we had searched for and we were now to trust that He would provide us with the resources to care for her. Just before midnight he called me. On February 8th I called our agency and began the process of requesting this child to be placed with our family! Our Letter of Intent was submitted to the CCAA at around 10pm EST on February 11th and amazingly we received PA (pre-approval) from the CCAA within 38 hours instead of weeks or months!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Why Adoption? Why China? Why Special Needs?

These are questions we are often asked. We have four beautiful, healthy children and we should be happy, right? Well, we are! We feel that we have been extremely blessed, and that is exactly why we are on this journey!

We have always known (okay, I have always known, but it didn't take Paul long to realize it too!) that we would have a large family. We have been discussing adoption since the beginning of our marriage and through the years we have researched all the options numerous times. We felt certain that at some point we would adopt and in 2006 the Lord made it clear to both of us that it was time.

We had done so much research on the topic that we pretty much knew that we would go the international route. Yes, there are children in this country that need homes too. But, there is not a shortage of parents waiting in the line for healthy American infants and we knew we were meant to provide a home for a child that might not otherwise have one. When we looked into the Social Welfare system we found that most of the children only needed a temporary home. We also knew of foster families that were not allowed to adopt the children they fostered and had become attached to. So, for these reasons and more, we felt that our child was out there somewhere in a country other than ours. Now, to find her. Yes, her. That was also something we felt pretty certain of, our next child would be a girl.

After much prayer, I got online again and this time I came across an agency I had not seen before and could not take my eyes off now. No matter how many agencies I looked at I kept coming back to Children's Hope International. I just knew that they were going to help us find our daughter! They had five programs at the time: Columbia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and China. I had had an inkling for a while that China was our country but I was trying to stay open minded and wait for God's confirmation. Suffice it to say we were given plenty of confirmation over a short period of time and it made us certain that our daughter was waiting for us in China. Thousands of children are abandoned in China each year with the majority of them being girls. China has a "one child policy" making it illegal to have more children. Boys are preferred over girls due to the fact that it is culturally believed that a son will provide for his parents in their old age. Girls are abandoned in an effort to try to have a son and many of the children are abandoned due to medical need or economic reasons. They are usually institutionalized until they are adopted and have little hope for a "normal" childhood without families to come forward and bring them home. So, our journey began!

During our home study we discussed possible special needs that we might be open to. We leaned towards considering the mild and correctable special needs. Our thinking was that if these children needed a family then we could certainly provide for a child with mild needs without disrupting our other children. Our agency gets a list of special needs children every few months and so for the past year and a half we have looked at the list and put our names in for young girls with mild needs. But we have found that we were one of many families that would jump at the chance to parent a mildly affected child. When the list began to include some harder to place children, I began to find myself considering them. If no one looks at their files then they will not get a chance at a life with a family, right? I began to think, "is it too much to ask to have us step out of our comfort zone and think about parenting one of these children?" What if I had given birth to a child with a major disability? We know we wouldn't turn our backs on that child so why were we limiting ourselves just because we had a choice?

Once we removed the limitations we had set on God's blessings we found our long wait over, for God has blessed us again!