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Truly a Bundle of Joy: Darla and Glen’s Down Syndrome Adoption Story

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we asked some of our families who adopted kids rocking an extra chromosome to share some of their stories! Here, Darla shares about her family’s journey to adopt their daughter from Bulgaria.

After having a biological daughter with Down syndrome and experiencing the amazing amount of joy that she brought to our family, the Lord placed on our heart to adopt again. We reached out to Reece’s Rainbow, because we knew of their focus on helping people adopt children with Downs.  We found a beautiful little girl and the team at Reece’s lead us to Madison Adoption Associates to learn more.

We learned that our future daughter was currently in Bulgaria, and she had recently turned 2 years old.  Over the course of the next few months we learned more about her and spent lots of time praying for her.  It was fun to share the videos and pictures we received with our children, and we all grew in our excitement and anticipation to welcome her into our family.

Our first trip to Bulgaria was in late summer, and we were blessed with spending a week with our new daughter and the wonderful foster mom and social workers.  She was full of joy and enthusiasm, and oh so, so cute!  She was just learning to walk, so we spent a lot of time at parks and playgrounds and toddling around in the sand.  We laughed and laughed.  She loved swinging on swings, and sliding down slides, and climbing up steps, and being hugged and carried and fed.  She was very joyful and active, and walked and played with abandon.  Everything in life was met with smiles and giggles.  She was accepting and bright-eyed when engaging us, from the start and through the whole week!

Back at home we had weekly video calls to stay connected and continue to see and hear each other.  The language barrier at times made these calls seem slow and a bit long, but looking back we could see that this was a highly beneficial way to have our daughter continue to know us and bond with us, including seeing and hearing her new brothers and sisters.

We went back for a second time to bring her home 3 months later, and this time brought three of our other children.  The travel there was impacted by winter weather and had more than its share of surprises and adventure, but the Lord’s favor was on us every step of the way.  In great anticipation, we awoke on our “Gotcha Day” so eager to see our daughter again.  Through many hugs and tears we were able to welcome our daughter and with deep thanks to the foster family and social workers we set out to spend a week together finishing the adoption process as a family.  She welcomed us right away and seemed especially comfortable to be with us from the start, which we believe was due to the time we spent together 3 months earlier and the ongoing connections we made through video and talking while we were apart.

Back home all of our children have loved spending time with her.  Who wouldn’t want to spend time with an excited, joyful, eager, driven, fun-loving little sister that loved to give you a hug and smile and snuggle with you?  Teaching can take longer and with more repetition.  Growing can be slower and expect more practice and patience.  Some have commented that we’re doing a great thing for her, but we know that the truth is she is doing a great thing for us in ways we cannot even always put into words.  We are blessed beyond measure, and we wouldn’t change a thing.

Adopting a child with Down syndrome may not be for everyone, but for those who do we would say you will love more than you can imagine.  And while at times we do think that it would be great if our daughters did not have the limitations or challenges that come with Down Syndrome, when we think about what is most important to all of us – to experience and share joy, love, grace, peace, friends, family, contentment and have great faith – it is clear that those of us without Down Syndrome have the greater challenges in life.

Thank you to Glen and Darla for sharing their family’s story! If you are considering adopting a child with Down syndrome, fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an Adoption Specialist and learn about the children waiting for adoption!

They Will Amaze You Every Day: Nate and Kelly’s Down Syndrome Adoption Story

In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we asked some of our families who adopted kids rocking an extra chromosome to share some of their stories! Here, Kelly shares about her family’s journey to adopt their son Jonah from the Philippines.

How did you come to the decision to adopt a child with Down syndrome? 

Since I was a child, I have loved spending time with people with special needs. I taught special ed before having our first biological daughter and worked with adults with intellectual disabilities between school years. I have always found people with Down Syndrome to be especially kind, loving, and fun. We chose to adopt because we wanted to bring a child into our family from the special home finding list who would be less likely to be adopted than a young developmentally typical child.  

What was the adoption process like for you? 

Our adoption moved quickly compared to the average for the Philippines. We submitted our Dossier on December 22, 2018 (my 27th birthday, the age requirement) and we picked up Jonah in August of 2019. The 8-month guardianship phase actually lasted about 14 months due to Covid delays but that wasn’t too difficult for us since Jonah felt like our son as soon as we brought him home. Sometimes all of the paperwork and bureaucracy felt overwhelming but taken one step at a time it was all manageable and of course, worth it. Katie and Diana at MAA were so helpful, kind, and knowledgeable, which was invaluable. We also met many wonderful people in the Philippines that we are still in contact with and I am grateful to know them. 

What were your first days of meeting your son and taking custody like 

Our trip to pick up Jonah was the adventure of a lifetime! Nate had served a two-year mission for our church in the Philippines so he is fluent in Tagalog and familiar with the culture which allowed us to socialize and explore. With two young children at home (2 and 4 at the time), Nate and I let loose for the first time in a long time and we had SO MUCH FUN!  

The first morning that we woke up (for the 18th time thanks to a doozy of a time-zone change) we were so excited to meet Jonah. We got ready, ate breakfast, then requested a tric (motorcycle with sidecar used like taxi). Only standing on the residential road outside the hotel did we realize that we had no idea how to get to the orphanage. We showed the address to our tric driver and he got us closer to the area, then we hoped from tric to tric until we were close enough that someone recognized the address and could take us to the orphanage which was still unrecognizable right in front of us as it was a nondescript building behind a wall, tucked away with homes on a dirt road. Meeting Jonah was a joy, we now know he has a certain flair for making everyone feel special, but we were no exception. We were able to play and bond at the orphanage and eventually travel nearby with Jonah and even some of the teenagers he lived with, eating street food, sightseeing, and playing in rain downpours thanks to the encouragement of the older kids.  

We weren’t sure before arriving whether or not Jonah, who was 4.5 at the time, would be potty trained. On our second day when we were going to take him outside of the orphanage for the first time, I asked one of his caretakers. She answered “yes, he’s potty trained, I don’t know why someone put a pull-up on him today.” In hindsight there may have been a language barrier. We got him dressed sans pull-up and hopped on a tric, with him on my lap. We weren’t yet to our destination when I got a more accurate answer to my question. Our next stop was a change of clothes for Mr. Pee Pants.  

Jonah is the opposite of our daughters who need routine and consistency, making him a great travel companion. Where ever we were he would happily take in the new sights and when he needed a nap, he would power down for a few minutes in our arms or on our laps and pop back up ready for action. His on/off switch was very beneficial on our 14 hour flight home. It was sort of a strange feeling taking Jonah from the life he knew and the people who had cared for him and loved him, but he was eager to go with us. The hardest part for me was taking him away from the only remaining “baby” in the orphanage who has Cerebral Palsy and was close to Jonah. They had come in together in a group of ten babies about 3.5 years earlier. The eight others with no disabilities had been adopted, so they would have been like brothers. 

In terms of taking custody, the first few days and weeks were a honeymoon phase. I remember at the two-week mark saying, “wow, he always listens right away when I say “no” and he never cries.” Then the very next day the flood gates or tantruming opened up. I wish I could say that after two years we’ve figured out exactly how Jonah fits into our family and that parenting him has become completely natural. I’m sure others would disagree and every adoptive parent has a unique experience but to me, adoption feels a lot like marriage. The beauty of Jonah’s unique personality is that every moment is a new moment. You’ll never meet a person who lives more in the now. So, while he may not be considering the consequences of sneaking out of bed at 2am to test out the handheld bathtub sprayer, he will also totally forgive you for losing your cool about the bathroom carnage, 75 seconds later. 

What has been the biggest joy in parenting a child with Down syndrome? The biggest challenge? 

Jonah’s joy is infectious. At the orphanage they told us he brought sunshine wherever he went. It’s true, and he brings a smile to other people whenever we are out. He doesn’t know the meaning of self-consciousness or discrimination on the basis of…anything…so he will attempt to make friends with anyone he can. He’s easy going and flexible, I joke that if he was our only child, we could live traveling aimlessly in a camper van with no structure or routine and he would thrive. He’s a total dandelion, flourishing in his own way under any circumstances.  

The biggest challenge of parenting Jonah has been figuring out how to respond to his negative behaviors. As a parent with both biological children and an adopted child, I want to feel I am treating all of my kids consistently and equally. For example, with my girls I might say “if you put your pajamas on all by yourself, we’ll read an extra book” or “because you didn’t do what Mommy asked, you lost a warm fuzzy” (a jar they fill up to earn fun experiences). Jonah doesn’t grasp a lot of language, abstract concepts, or future consequences. He is non-verbal and by cognitive assessment standards, on the low-functioning side of the Down Syndrome spectrum. I call him my patience sensei because he understandably feels the need to assert control on a regular basis and I am constantly deciding which battles to choose and how. His stubbornness and impulsive behavior have forced me to face demons in myself I previously didn’t know existed. 

What is your advice to parents considering adopting a child with Down syndrome? 

First of all, I am no expert. I would say be excited for the magic that awaits and be realistic about the challenges that will come with it. For us it means having a child who is the majority of the time delightful, hilarious, and sweet, and it means waking up to the poopy pull-up of an almost 7-year-old and hoping he hasn’t committed any major crimes in the middle of the night. Before adopting Jonah, I had spent plenty of time with individuals with Down Syndrome but they were mostly teenagers and adults. You may want to seek out parents of children in the age range you are considering to adopt for a better understanding of what to expect. Then there’s the adoption variable. Jonah didn’t have the same early interventions and optimal pre- and post-natal care that children in an ideal situation would have. I have my suspicions that if he had, he would be different in many ways. That might sound scary and undesirable but it’s not meant to. Jonah is in many ways our easiest child and he brings happiness to everyone he interacts with. In good moments he makes me laugh and smile and in challenging moments he teaches me patience and compassion. There is a pre-natal genocide being waged against individuals with Down Syndrome. My message to anyone faced with the possibility of parenting a child with Down Syndrome is that they will amaze you every day with their goodness and unique intelligence and you will feel privileged to have them as a part of your family. If you are considering adopting a child with Down Syndrome, there is a child worthy of your love and your last name, waiting for you to be brave enough to take the leap. 

Thank you to Nate and Kelly for sharing their family’s story! If you are considering adopting a child with Down syndrome, fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an Adoption Specialist and learn more about the children waiting for adoption!

Mighty Micah

Mighty Micah ~ And the ‘For Micah’ adoption grant

When our staff met him on an advocacy trip in November 2016, we knew this boy was special.  His advocacy name was ‘Bernie,’ and he was all smiles from minute one.  And my gosh, was that smile infectious!  Little did we know that while we were enjoying his smile and silly little giggle in person, across the world a Mommy and Daddy (HIS Mommy and Daddy) were also falling in love.  In honor of Mighty Micah Smith, we are humbled to share his story.  Though his time here on earth was brief, his impact on those around him will last forever.  Rest in peace Mighty Micah.

Micah’s Adoption Story

Our journey to bring Micah home began in 2016. God opened the door for us to adopt Internationally from China, and we begin praying that God would lead us to the right child for our family. We already had two kids, one boy (age 6) and one girl (age 9). We had a heart to adopt an older child after some involvement we had with a foster child in our church.

I soon learned that a group of advocates were going on a mission trip with Madison Adoption Associates to some of the orphanages in China, and I immediately started following their journey. I became drawn to one of the boys in the pictures/videos. This sweet boy would later be known as our Mighty Micah. We locked in the paperwork to adopt Micah in November 2016, and begin the long journey of paperwork to bring him home. I prayed frequently that God would show him our faces in a dream or a vision so that we would not be total strangers when we arrived.

God honored that prayer, and when we traveled to China in November 2017, Micah was full of giggles on Gotcha Day. He laughed and giggles so much that the adoption worker who was with us could not translate much of what he was saying. He told us “I think something may be seriously wrong with him. If you want to give him back, now is the time. After you adopt him tomorrow, he’s your child and he has the same rights as your other children.” That was a very scary moment. I couldn’t speak Mandarin and Micah couldn’t speak English. This was the only translator we had, and I trusted what he said. However, I also knew what I had prayed for the past year and a half. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt (before I ever got on the plane) that God had orchestrated this journey, and I trusted that more than I trusted what he was telling me. As an Occupational Therapist, working with disabilities was not foreign to me. However, my husband would think differently. We had agreed hydrocephalus was something we could both handle, and we were determined to bring Micah home with us.

We adopted Micah the next day, and he officially became a Smith. It was a great day! Micah came home just in time for Christmas 2017, and begin life with a forever family. People always ask how we communicated in the beginning, and I explained it’s just like talking with a toddler. Lots of pointing and shaking your head. Eventually the language develops slowly but steadily, and ever so cute with his little accent attached. Over time, he grew physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He LOVED people, especially kids. He never turned down an opportunity to play and was happy in every situation. The more he became familiar with our home and our routine, the more he laughed and smiled. He was happy with the simplest things and always said thank you. He liked to eat and could eat more than a grown man which eventually leveled off when he began to realize the food would always be there and he would always have access to it.

Micah loved his siblings and bonded to them very quickly following there lead in almost everything. He was always their biggest fan. He didn’t like us to be separated and would ask a hundred times for the missing person until they returned. He loved to go to school and church, and enjoyed being around all the other kids. Micah never met a stranger.

I suspect Micah was born with hydrocephalus. However, he was never shunted. His head was larger than normal (which I grew to love). We brought him to the Neurosurgeon once we adopted him. She said his head grew to accommodate the extra fluid. Subsequently, the problem had resolved itself so no need for a shunt. Micah’s hydrocephalus was maintained for years, and he lived a relatively normal life (with some developmental delays).

Then, one day he began having symptoms that were intermittent. We made him another appointment with the Neurosurgeon to follow up. She said “in my experience, hydrocephalus does not have good days and bad days”. She agreed something was going on and wanted to do an MRI, but it would be 3 weeks before she could do it. That was on a Monday in June 2021. That following Saturday, Micah symptoms suddenly worsened and he became unresponsive passing away July 2021.

Our time with Micah was cut way too short, but those were some of the best days of my life. I would adopt him again and again if I had it to do all over. He brought so much love, laughter, and joy to our family. We loved him so much and are so grateful for the time we had. He left a mark on our hearts that nothing can erase. He became known as Mighty Micah who not only left an impact on us, but on an entire community. I pray that Micah’s story inspires others to adopt a child with hydrocephalus, and provide a forever family to a child. I wouldn’t trade the time we had for anything, and I would do it all over again. Adoption can be scary especially when it’s international and there are so many unknowns. But at the end of that scary road, there is a sweet precious child longing to be loved. The simplest if things…love. I know Micah is in heaven singing in the angels choir and playing with all the other kids who left too soon. I know we will see him again and what a day that will be. Until then, I will strive to share his story and honor his memory in any way I can. Choose Joy. Choose Love. Choose adoption.

During this Hydrocephalus Awareness Month, we are humbled to honor Micah by announcing an MAA grant for children with hydrocephalus. The ‘For Micah’ grant is a $1,000 grant available to any eligible family who commits to adopting a child with hydrocephalus. To learn more about our programs, and eligibility, please complete a free Prospective Adoptive Parent form, or email lindseyg@madisonadoption.org

MAA Summer Family Picnic!

We are so excited to be able to have our family picnic again this year! We have missed all of our MAA families and hope to see many of you there. Details below!

Sunday, August 8th, 2021, 1-4 pm CST
Rochester Community Park (pavilion by the playground right off of Wild Rose Lane)
Rochester, Illinois

Please bring your own food and drinks. We will provide activities for children (water balloons, bubbles, etc.). Come celebrate your family and connect with other adoptive families! Contact Misty or Bailey with questions (217) 498-9700

PAUSED

Why MAA Has Temporarily Stopped Accepting Applications for the China Program

This week MAA made the painful decision to pause accepting applications from families hoping to adopt from China. Travel to China for adoptive parents has been on hold since January 2020, so you may question why now stop accepting applications? And what does this mean for the future of the program? At the start of the Covid19 pandemic, no one could foresee exactly what was coming. As things changed, we at MAA made the best decisions we could with the information we had at the time, and updated families in the program and those inquiring accordingly.

At first, the adoption process all the way up until travel continued to move forward, so we were transparent with inquiring families about the halt on travel, but still welcomed them to apply. By July 2020, the CCCWA stopped issuing Letter Seeking Confirmation (LOA) and stopped releasing newly prepared files of children eligible for international adoption. As this came to light we advised families of these facts. For families who wanted to wait for referral of a young child we encouraged them to consider other programs where there was more movement, when they were eligible, but for families who hoped to adopt a specific waiting child we accepted their application, knowing they could still get through a good portion of the process and be closer to bringing their child home when travel finally reopened.

Then in the early months of this year 2021, we saw a massive slowdown in translating and reviewing dossiers, and finally this week learned that the CCCWA will no longer issue pre-approval for families who submit Letter of Intent for a specific child. Knowing that now families can get through so little of the process, it no longer seems wise or fair to accept families’ money, time and energy, even for those who understand the difficulties or hope to adopt a waiting child. This was not an easy decision, knowing how many children sit on the shared list waiting for a family. We want every child to know the love of a permanent family, but while the child is our primary client, we also have responsibility to look out for the welfare of our families.

As a final note, we want to emphasize that we consider this a pause, not a stop, because we continue to have faith that adoption travel to China will reopen. Chinese officials have emphasized to the US Department of State that they see the value of international adoption for children who can’t find adoptive families in China, the delay in adoption processing is due to the pandemic, and that they fully intend to reopen when they feel it is safe for the children to travel. So we have faith that this pause is just for now, and continue to look forward with hope to the day that families who have waited so long will be united with their children and we reopen the program to new applicants.  

Despite the pandemic, adoptions continue moving forward in all of MAA’s other programs, including Colombia, Bulgaria, Thailand, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. If you are interested in adoption please complete our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form or email Lindseyg@madisonadoption.org to learn more.

All About Adopting from Thailand!

MAA recently opened our newest adoption program in Thailand. While it is new to us, it is not new to Program Director Lindsey Gilbert, who previously ran a Thailand Adoption Program for almost five years. Here she shares more about the process and the children in need of adoption!

Thailand is a beautiful country, called the “Land of Smiles,” and when you visit it’s easy to see why! The people of Thailand are so friendly and welcoming, with warm hospitality and generosity. Like all countries, it has its challenges, and this includes vulnerable and orphaned children who are in need of adoption. MAA is partnering with the Thai Red Cross (TRC), a small children’s home in Bangkok that is part of a large hospital complex. The TRC provides comprehensive child welfare services, assisting families who are struggling to provide care for their children by connecting them with support. When the challenges a child’s parent is facing can’t be overcome, the TRC will see if any extended family can care for the child. If that isn’t possible, then at that point they will turn to adoption. While there is some domestic adoption in Thailand, there are still many children who do not find a family within their country and are in need of international adoption to provide permanency.

Families who meet the eligibility guidelines can submit their dossier to the TRC requesting the referral of a young child or toddler. The youngest children are around 12 months at time of referral, though most are 18-48 months. Families typically receive a referral within 1-2 years. From match to travel is about 7-12 months, and that long wait is probably the most challenging part of the program! Occasionally families slightly outside the eligibility guidelines may receive an exception from the adoption board, so inquire even if you are not sure you are eligible.

Children referred to waiting families are considered healthy by the TRC’s adoption board, however, most will have some background risk factors or minor concerns, as children coming from difficult history and living in an institution. The most common include:
– Prematurity
– Prenatal exposure (most commonly drugs, amphetamines or opiates, though this can also include tobacco or alcohol exposure)
– Birth parents with mental illness or cognitive disability
– Birth mother testing positive for HIV, syphilis, or Hepatitis
– Respiratory issues/recurrent respiratory infections
– Recurring ear infections
– Medical needs that have been treated or resolved (hernia, undescended testicle, tongue-tie, heart murmur)
– Mild developmental delays (speech, motor, cognitive)

There are also a small number of waiting children at the TRC, who have more complex medical or developmental needs, or may be medically healthy but older (age 7 and up). We see a range of special needs, but some of the common ones include heart defects, respiratory issues, cerebral palsy, ADHD, developmental delays and other neurological diagnoses. The children are not yet listed on our website, but contact us to learn more about the children we are advocating for! The adoption board considers families case by case for waiting children, and are open to matching waiting children with families who don’t meet all the eligibility guidelines.

Travel to Thailand is one trip, typically about 10-16 days, and both parents must travel. Adoptions are not finalized in Thailand, families must complete post-placements reports until 6 months after placement, and then can finalize the adoption in US courts.

While it is a small adoption program, it is a wonderful option for some families! Contact us to learn more about Thailand and whether it could be the path for your family. Email Lindsey or complete a free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to learn more!

Searching for Birth Family: Mia’s Story

We are so grateful to share this story with you all. Mia is an adoptee from China, and has written about her experience searching for her birth family. We hope it will encourage other families and adoptees as they consider if and when to search.

As an adoptee, one question people always ask me is, ‘do you know who your real parents are?’ What they mean, is, do I know who my biological parents are. For me, and other adoptees I’ve spoken to, our ‘real’ parents are simply our adoptive parents, and the parents who are blood related are our ‘biological parents / birth parents’.

Growing up, I had always thought about my birth parents, but the idea of ever finding them never entered my mind. Why not? Because of the situation in my birth country, China. I knew there was a strict One Child Policy in place, which was most likely why I was given up, and I also knew that China was, and still is, the most populated country on earth. Therefore, the possibility of finding birth parents seemed impossible.

However, when I was 18, I decided not to focus on the impossible and began the process of searching. I wanted to see if I had any birth family out there, whether it be parents, siblings, cousins – just anyone biologically related to me. For me personally, I realized that I didn’t want to look back in years to come and regret not having done anything to search for my birth family. Even though the chances of me finding anything was very low, I wanted to know that I had at least tried. So that is what I did. Firstly, I told my parents, who were very supportive and understood why I wanted to search. (I also have an older sister adopted from China, and my decision to search also encouraged her to do the same) As a family, we ordered DNA kits from Ancestry and 23AndMe. Unfortunately, there were no close matches, but I expected this. I also looked on Facebook to see if there were any groups for Chinese adoptees, and to my surprise, I found a group dedicated to birth parent searching in my province, as well as a group for adopted children from my orphanage and many more groups! It was through these groups I realized there was a large community of adoptees and adoptive parents who were also searching for birth family. I soon came across a well recommended searcher in China, who had successfully found birth parents. We hired her to conduct a search for me, and gave her the little information I had about my birth, (where I was abandoned, who found me, my foster parents). The searcher then went to my area, hung up searching posters, and found my foster parents and the man who found me. I received a package from the searcher containing many photos, souvenirs, and letters from the people they found.  

Mia and her family walking with their searcher

Around a year later, my family and I made the trip across the world to China where we continued our search. I was very nervous about going back as I wasn’t sure what to expect. Once we arrived in the area I was from, we met with the searcher and within the hour, he had arranged for me to meet my foster parents. We went for dinner with them, and they were very friendly. There was a language barrier, as I don’t speak Chinese, nor do they speak English, but luckily our searcher also acted as a translator. Originally, I believed that I was fostered outside of the orphanage, like my sister had been, however after speaking with the foster parents, I found out that I was ‘fostered’ within the orphanage, and they looked after many babies there.

Over the next few days, we met my sister’s foster mother and hung up many searching posters in both of our areas. We covered much ground and hung up posters in public places such as the bus station, inside the busses, noticeboards, lampposts and more. Many people crowded around our posters, and spoke to us, wondering if we were the daughters they had left. There was one instance where we hung up my poster in a food market when an old woman came up to my mother and I, in tears. She told us that she had left a baby long ago, and then gave us a hug. She thanked my mother for looking after me. It was a sweet, yet sad moment and another reminder of all the pain that many birth parents had suffered.  

The crowds gathered around Mia’s family

A big part of the trip was meeting the man who found me. We met him and his family, who were kind to us and we ended up seeing them five different times whilst we were there. One night, we were invited to their home for dinner. After we ate, they took us to the town square, where there was to be dancing. However, no dancing happened and instead, my sister and I were surrounded by well over 100 people who were curious about us. We handed out our searching posters, and I had all these strangers taking photos of me, grabbing my wrist to look for birth marks and asking me questions. This lasted for over an hour, and even the police came out to see what the commotion was about. It was fantastic exposure for me; however, it was also a sad reminder that so many people in China had been separated from their babies and had no idea where they were. 

My sister and I also were interviewed by the local news station. They filmed us and our parents in the park, as well as doing a sit-down interview, asking questions such as, ‘Why are you back in China?’ ‘Why do you want to search?’, ‘What would you like your birth parents to know’. The interview was then broadcast onto WeChat, where tens of thousands of people in the area saw it. Interestingly, there were comments under the news piece. Some people wished us luck, whereas others were angry that we were trying to search. They thought we should be grateful for being adopted, and not try to search. It was hard to read comments like this, however I had to remind myself that the people who thought like that, were most likely people who had the privilege of knowing their biological family and their background. As well as being on the news, we also went to the police station where we gave our blood to be processed into their database, and if a DNA match was found, they would contact us. 

Whilst out there, we had many people get in touch via WeChat to see whether we were related. We even met up with 2 different families. One of the families went to the police station to give their DNA, which was very brave, however they turned out not to be my birth family. A hurdle we faced was that many of the birth parents were unsure of when they left their children. They didn’t know the exact month, or even year in many cases. However, we were sure to keep in touch with them and left China with many contacts. My mother was even able to find the biological daughter of one of the birth parents we met out there.

It has now been over a year since we were in China. Unfortunately, I haven’t found my birth parents yet, but I am still in contact with my foster parents and finder, via WeChat. I am eager to go back and continue searching.

The area of China Mia is from

Maybe one day when I go back, I’ll find them. Maybe I’ll open an email from 23AndMe saying that a close relative match has been found. Or maybe none of that will ever happen, but I haven’t given up hope. If anything, the search gave me more hope as I realized just how many birth families were looking for their birth children. Everyone we had spoken to had either left a child or knew someone who had. I am very thankful that I was able to go there and search. Being in China, and walking through the area where I was born allowed me to connect to my past in a way I had never been able too. Even though I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, I feel like I found a part of myself.  

Thank you again to Mia for sharing your story with us! For families interested in learning more about searching for birth family in China, read the previous post by Erin Valentino of Nanchang Project where she gives advice on how to get started.

Advocating.Again

That title was hard to write. Two simple words that mean so much. Here at Madison Adoption Associates we take advocacy very seriously. It is so very often life or death for these children, and the advocacy work we do over the course of several months can mean a whole different forever for a child. We rejoice each and every time we find a family for each and every child we advocate for!!! So when we find ourselves having to advocate for a child again who we had previously rejoiced for, it is a hard pill to swallow. But we do it. We press on. And we advocate again. Because he is worth it. He is worthy of a family. And worthy of a forever.

You may recall The Best Update I’ve Ever Seen. And if you don’t, go read it. Now. And meet Seth. This kid is amazing. Smart, funny, kind, loves reading, especially Harry Potter! Likes math, doesn’t so much like learning English….but he’s trying! He has expressed that he wants to be adopted, specifically by an American family. And he came so close to living out this dream! But then the pandemic hit, and for reasons having nothing to do with him, he no longer had a family. So we are advocating. Again. And we will continue to advocate again and again and again, until we find Seth his family. Because he is worthy.

Seth is 11 years old, with his only medical special need being a possible inguinal hernia. If you are interested in learning more about Seth, and about the China adoption process, please complete our Prospective Adoptive Parent form, or email LindseyG@madisonadoption.org.

Changing the Story for Maddox

Maddox is an active kid who loves to spend time outside, playing soccer and swimming. In many ways he sounds like a lot of ten-year-old boys, but he has been through more than any ten-year-old should. He first came into the child welfare system in Colombia in 2014, and after reunification efforts failed he came into care again in 2016. Through all of this, he had his brothers by his side, but that is about to change. Colombia is separating Maddox from his two brothers for adoption, so that they can all get their needs met the way they deserve in their adoptive families. While we are saddened by this we trust the judgement of the social workers in Colombia, who always try to keep siblings together if it is in their best interest. So we turn to the goal of finding families for all of them so they can continue their relationship, even in separate families. Maddox’s brothers have a family interested in adopting them, but sadly we have not yet found a family for Maddox. Our hope is that he can find a family quickly so they can be adopted around the same time and will not have to watch his brothers leave, not knowing if a family is coming for him.

So who is Maddox, and what kind of family does he need? He is a shy boy, and can be insecure, so he needs a family who will take the initiative to bring him out of his shell and help him find areas he can shine in to build his confidence. On the occasions where he has been able to interact with animals he is calm, friendly and playful, and would probably love a family with pets! He is careful, kind and protective of younger children, and equally respectful of teenagers, as long as they are respectful to him, and he would likely do well with a small number of siblings, older or younger, but not close in age to him.

Maddox is diagnosed with ADHD and has had many of the challenging behaviors common for kids with this diagnosis. However, he has really grown during his time in care and is making improvements! He has had surgery for a cleft lip and palate, and while his speech is on target for his age in terms of building sentences, expressing his feelings and needs, he does have some challenges with pronunciation. He has been teased by peers for his cleft palate and speech, and is sensitive about his appearance as a result.

Maddox has been through a lot in ten years, but this isn’t the end of his story and it doesn’t define him. We imagine a story for him where he is embraced by a family who gives him affection and nurture, structure and opportunities to boost his confidence, and we see a future where he is happy and loved. Could your family play a role in that story? Maddox has a $2500 Grant available for families adopting through MAA. Email Lindsey Gilbert or complete a free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to learn more about this sweet boy!

Searching for Birth Family: Nanchang Project

We are so grateful to be sharing this piece today from Erin Valentino, co-founder along with Faith Winstead of Nanchang Project, an NGO working to connect adoptees from China with their birth families and culture, along with other educational and awareness work about the complexity of adoption in China and internationally.

Our first article in a Chinese newspaper was published after our press conference in 2018.

My name is Erin, and I am the co-founder of a nonprofit called “Nanchang Project”. Our goal is simple, to assist Chinese adoptees in reconnecting with their birth families in China. I, along with my friend and fellow adoptive mom Faith, started Nanchang Project in 2018 as a group video featuring 32 searching adoptees from just a single orphanage (Nanchang SWI, Jiangxi Province). The video went viral in China, and soon we were being interviewed by The Beijing News and being contacted by a well-known journalist who offered us a press conference if we were able to visit Nanchang in person. Within 6 weeks of the video premiering on Weibo (Chinese Twitter), we were on a plane to China. 

Tina, one of our volunteers, handing out flyers in a public park.

Since that time, we have added over 200 Jiangxi adoptees to our group, we have been able to provide free DNA testing to approximately 50 birth parents (from all parts of China), and we have assisted in 15 reunions. We believe it is a fundamental right for adoptees to have access to their roots. Our group is 100% volunteer-run by both adoptive parents and adoptees. We offer assistance with utilizing Chinese social media to increase searching efforts and free DNA testing for birth parents. Yearly, we visit China along with two adoptees (we have been able to cover the costs in full for our adoptee travel mates since 2019). These trips have become the soul of Nanchang Project. We spend each day of our visit meeting people in parks, markets, and squares, handing out posters, and hearing their stories. Our initiative has been covered by many major Chinese media outlets, including South China Morning Post, Tencent News, iFeng News, and Jiangxi TV. Phoenix TV featured our story in a two-part documentary that aired throughout mainland China (for those of us outside of China, the series can be viewed on YouTube). 

I have learned a lot in the years I have spent privately assisting my daughter with her search and since forming Nanchang Project. I will share with you some key takeaways for anyone who is considering searching but may feel overwhelmed by where to start. 

A birth father showing us a picture of his daughter, during the filming of our two-part documentary in 2019.

The Basics
The very first thing I recommend doing is gathering all of the documents you would have received in China, along with the adoption file sent to you by your agency. Have them retranslated. It wasn’t until I went back through our paperwork that I realized my daughter’s finder was listed by name. Things like this can easily be missed or forgotten if you haven’t read through it in detail. From there, I connected with others from the same orphanage (there are many Facebook groups dedicated to specific SWIs, cities, and provinces in China, join them!) to compare our information with other adoptees. Was the finding spot unique or were there many babies “found” there? Did my daughter’s note appear to be similar to other notes? Was our finder also listed in other adoptee’s paperwork? Comparing this info with others will help you draw a more realistic idea as to what you are working with.

Hiring a Searcher
Coming from a smaller town or village and/or if your information appears to be “unique” compared to others from your SWI, will increase your chances of success utilizing a private searcher. Typically, the searcher will visit the area you are from, they will try and make contact with the police officer who filed the paperwork, and they will try to contact your finder. They may attempt to check hospital records in the area, and they will most certainly hang posters in various public places. The price to hire a searcher will vary greatly, much of the fee is their travel costs as many searchers will search in any part of the country. I would expect to pay a searcher around $500-$800 for a 3 day search.

DNA Testing
While I know there are lots of different thoughts and opinions on doing DNA, ultimately a DNA test will need to be done in some manner as a way to confirm a biological connection. I will provide you with some basics to get started searching with DNA, and then it should be up to the adoptee how he or she would like to move forward. 

We held a DNA event during our 2019 trip. Multiple families showed up to test.

Two main types of DNA tests should be considered, the first one is known as a CODIS test in the US or STR DNA globally. This is a very simple test, similar to a paternity test. It works best for parent to child matches (although some sibling or other close relatives have been found this way) and is the most prevalent type of DNA test currently used in China. For any Chinese adoptee starting their search, I highly recommend obtaining this test. Currently, we are partnered with MyTaproot.org for CODIS testing. From their site, “MyTaproot is the first large-scale, internationally-coordinated effort to provide an opportunity for Chinese adoptees to potentially reconnect with their birth families”. In addition to MyTaproot, there are multiple localized family reunion efforts throughout China. Historically, these groups have focused on domestic cases, but as we have been able to bring greater awareness to the sheer number of children who’ve been adopted overseas, many of these groups have started welcoming International adoptees to join their databases as well. Currently, they all are working with the CODIS style test, so you will need this type of test to be added.

The second type of test is an autosomal test. This type of test takes a much larger sample and more complex look at the DNA and can provide biological relatives going back multiple generations. The most common autosomal testing company for Chinese adoptees is 23andMe. Doing this type of test will not only allow you the opportunity to potentially connect with siblings or cousins that were adopted but in some cases, birth parent DNA has been added there as well. *Please note, 23andMe does not operate in China, so you can expect that most of your matches in this database will be people living in various countries outside of China, mainly in America. Like all of the various CODIS databases existing in China, the same is true for autosomal tests. ICSA (https://www.icsachina.org/adoptees) has a detailed breakdown of all the places your DNA results can be added to, increasing your chances of success. 

Please keep in mind, although “surprise matches” do occur, most families are reunited by utilizing a mix of search efforts including hiring a searcher, visiting China to search in person, and Chinese social media, in addition to just doing DNA. 

Chinese Social Media
In the absence of being able to travel to China, utilizing social media can be a very powerful tool to help spread your search info quickly. I do recommend hiring a searcher first to conduct a private search (as finances permit of course), but there is no denying that social media has allowed us to connect quickly and conveniently with people all over the world. Most adoptees who utilize Chinese social media are using a few main apps including WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, and Youku. There are so many apps and platforms to look into, I couldn’t possibly list them all here, but these are some of the most popular ones to start with.

On a personal note, many of our matches with Nanchang Project originated from social media. In fact, our very first match occurred because someone shared one of our digital posters to a local WeChat group, and as luck would have it a family friend saw the girl’s info and thought it sounded a lot like their friend’s daughter. They sent the family the poster, and DNA was confirmed a few weeks later. After being separated for 20 years, it was just a single post to social media that helped reunite a family. Miracles do happen!

Our 2019 travel mates Rebecka and Julia were both featured in multiple newspapers and TV programs.

Cultural Expectations
One of the most common questions we get is, “Will there be legal ramifications for Chinese parents by coming forward”. No one can know for sure what the future holds, what I can tell you is, to my knowledge, there have not been any documented cases where this has happened. In fact, in recent years, China has really embraced these reunions. In 2017, all of China (like much of the western world) become swept up with Kati Pohler’s story, “Meet Me on the Bridge”. Since then, many reunions between adoptees and their birth families have been showcased both locally and nationally in the media. There is no doubt in my mind that Nanchang Project’s success is in part due to the changing public opinion of searching and reunion within China. 

Rebecka was swarmed with press when she visited her hometown during our 2019 trip.

Final Thoughts
Searching can take a huge emotional toll on you. Make sure you have a good support system in place both during and after your search efforts. It’s ok to take breaks as needed and start back up when you feel like you are in a good place to do so. Some people search for years, including visiting an area multiple times, going on TV, using social media, etc., before the right connection might be made. Some people get lucky with a single poster. Searching is not “one size fits all” and realistic expectations are important. It seems like most databases or searchers who are open to sharing their success rate, all sit at right around 10%. I also feel like this is a fair representation of what we’ve seen with Nanchang Project.

There are many Facebook groups dedicated to sharing information about searching in China. Many have existed for a number of years now and provide a wealth of information.

For general searching information, start with Family Ties: Chinese Adoptee Birth Family Search , from there you can connect with more regional based groups. If you happen to be searching in Jiangxi, please also join us in the Jiangxi Province Birth Parent Search Group.

Any searching adoptee needs to keep in mind, if a birth parent comes forward, even if the info doesn’t match yours, they are someone’s parent. Submitting DNA will increase their chances of success in eventually being reunited with their child(ren). Please refer them to our group so we may provide them with further assistance in locating their child, including a free DNA test.

To learn more about Nanchang Project’s work, or to donate to help keep DNA testing free for birth parents in China, please visit their website or connect with them via social media below:

NanchangProject.com
facebook.com/NanchangProject
IG: @nanchangproject
nanchangproject@gmail.com