Monday, September 26, 2011

We got our TA!!!!!

We got our TA (Travel Authorization) from China today! This was the last thing we were waiting on! Now we are busy making our travel arrangements and setting our in-country appointments. We expect to leave on Nov 1st, get Hannah on Nov 7th, and return around Nov 17th. All of this still needs to be finalized, but it's close to accurate!

To make today even greater, it was Travis' 8th birthday! Chris was "Father of the Day" in Travis' class today. Chris and Travis talked about China and adopting Hannah. Hailey and I joined them for lunch and had cupcakes with his class. Not even an hour later we got the email from our agency that they expected our TA to arrive today!!!

Travis had decided weeks ago that he wanted to go to the Cheesecake Factory for his b-day dinner. Right before we left, he changed his mind and picked PF Chang's (mommy's favorite) in honor of our TA. What a great place for a duel celebration!!! It was a wonderful dinner! The boys and Hailey ate great! We had some yummy desserts, sang to Travis, and he opened his gifts!

We are blessed beyond belief with the 3 kids we have and so thrilled for the extra blessing we are going to get! God's goodness astounds me and I'm so grateful. We will keep you posted on our plans as they get set.

Also, I haven't forgotten about the last FAQs. I'll eventually post Part 3. We have been so busy with Chase's bday on 9/14, Travis' today, the boys bday party 2 weekends ago, and marrying off Chris' brother Joel this past weekend! All this celebrating has left us exhausted!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

FAQ - Part 2

Here are a few more questions we get often. These relate more to the orphan crisis/abandonment of kids in China. I spared you from a really long blog post yesterday, but today it's a long one. Take it in bits or grab a snack and settle in for awhile.

1. Why are there so many abandoned babies in China?

There are many factors that contribute to the orphan crisis is China. I hate to answer this question too simply and make it seem like the orphan crisis in China is less complicated than it really is. That being said, I'm sure you would rather the reader's digest version than a thesis (because on question #4 I give you a thesis), so, here goes. Here are some general reasons children are orphaned in China.

Due to the One Child Policy, that began in the 1970s, couples are only allowed to have one child. The cultural pressure and the desire to have a boy leads to the abandonment of many girls. Although it may be due to long time cultural importance of having a son first, sometimes the reason is much more practical. Boys stay close to their families and help them when they are older. Girls leave and join their husbands' families. In some ways, boys are China's version of Social Security.

If a baby (male or female) is sick or has a defect at birth, they may be abandoned. Parents who will only have one child don't want to settle for a less than perfect one. Also, the Chinese are not very kind to people with physical disabilities. Often it is perceived that a family is cursed if their child has a visible abnormality. This makes schooling for the child and employment for the family, quite difficult. People do not want to hire someone that is cursed or allow that child to attend their child's school. The child, when grown, will also struggle to find employment.

Also, even if the child is very loved and wanted, they may be abandoned if they are sick and the family is unable to pay for the child's medical care. Medical care must be paid for upfront in China, and this is very difficult for many Chinese families to do this. Couples may abandon their child so that they can be taken to the orphanage and receive better medical care than they can provide. There are many boys and girls (of all ages) available for adoption through the China Special Needs Program. The severity of the needs range from minor or already corrected to more severe.

2. Do you know anything about her birth parents?

No. It is illegal to abandon your child in China. In fact, it's a crime punishable by jail time. Hannah's parents kept her until she was 2 weeks old and then they let her go. She was very sick when she was brought to the orphanage, so we assume she was abandoned because her parents were unable to provide for her medical condition. We have learned some interesting details about her abandonment/finding that would prove that she was very loved by her family. We hope to learn more when we go to China. These details are precious to us. They allow us to provide more information to Hannah as she begins to understand it all and ask us questions. This is her story so we will keep these details private and we will let her decide how much she wants to share with others.

We pray often for Hannah's birth mother who loved her enough to let her go. My heart breaks for the mothers that have the terrible decision of abandoning their children to provide them with the much needed and expensive medical care they need. I can't imagine the lifetime of sadness that comes from such a heart wrenching decision. We also pray that cultural and governmental changes will take place in China to prevent parents from having to make the difficult decision to leave their children.

3. I've heard that it takes many years to adopt from China. How did you guys complete a China adoption in less than one year?

China Non Special Needs (NSN) adoptions have slowed considerably over the last 5 years. Currently China is matching children with families whose dossiers arrived in China in June 2006. WOW! All agencies strongly warn families of the massive slowdown, and some have halted accepting new families into the China NSN program.

China has said that they are focusing their efforts on placing orphans that have special needs. The Special Needs (SN) program is a little different than the regular program. In the SN program you discuss the needs your family is open to with your agency and social worker. You are offered referrals based on that and you can either accept or decline the child. It is a tough part of the process, but it is important for families to be aware and prepared for the needs of the child they are adopting. Many of the needs are minor or correctible and many of them are more severe. The children that wait for a forever family range from very young (6 months old) to 14 years old, when they age out of the system. These kids are smart, adorable and so in need of the loving arms of a mommy and daddy. My heart breaks for the many left unclaimed.

4. What is Hannah's Special Need?

Hannah special needs were listed as Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) of her heart, Pulmonary Hypertension (blood pressure in her lungs) and growth delay. Her VSD was a 10 mm hole between her heart ventricles that needed to be surgically closed. It's the most common congenital heart defect and it would require open heart surgery when she came home. The doctors that reviewed her file all felt like the surgery would be pretty straightforward. They also felt like the pulmonary hypertension was caused by the VSD and would most likely reverse when her VSD was fixed. She was labeled as having a growth delay because she was teeny tiny and at about 3% on the growth chart for both height and weight. All the doctors felt like this was most likely due to how sick she was during the first few months of her life. VSDs allow newly oxygenated blood to mix with oxygen poor blood and so instead of the heart pumping out freshly oxygenated blood to the body, her heart was pumping out oxygenated blood mixed with some oxygen depleted blood. This causes a child to get winded easily or struggle to do physical activities. Here is a quote from Hannah's file relating to her condition at admission. We first read this info about her on May 8th, 2011 - the day we first saw her sweet face. Her nickname at the orphanage is Nini....

"Little Nini was just 15days old when she came to the welfare institute, she’s a born beautiful baby: Roman nose, round face, she’s very weak on admission because of congenital heart disease, two big eyes were glassy and trembling and curled up in the swaddling clothes. The caretakers love this little very much and gave her the best caring.

Nini’s appetite was poor and besides she’s a child with congenital heart disease. She couldn’t suck when the caretaker put the soother into her mouth, she tried hardly but still couldn’t suck in the milk, the caretaker had to squeeze the milk into her mouth."

Oh how thankful I am for this person that worked so hard to nurse my sweet baby back from the brink. One month after God caught our attention and we began praying about adopting, our daughter was struggling to live, but was cared for and loved. As God was restoring her, he was filling us with this new vision for our family. I love it!"

When we reviewed her file, she was 14 months old but the file had been written when she was just 7 months. We felt comfortable that she was "the one" and decided to proceed with adopting her. We wanted to get her home ASAP to have her heart surgery so that she would have the best chance at getting her pulmonary hypertension (PH) to go away before it caused permanent damage that could lead to her having PH issues throughout her life. 2 hours after we decided she was the one, we received an update with new pictures and the news that she had already had her much needed surgery! We were so thankful! We still don't know the date of her surgery (although we can determine that it occurred when she was between 8 and 10 months old) or the circumstances that led to her having it done in China. We hope to learn more details of her surgery when we go to get her. Obviously she needed it, but many children in orphanages need heart surgery and don't get it. Sadly, it's unusual for heart surgery to be done in China unless a child is very very very sick and it is feared they may not survive without it. Many children must wait until they are selected for adoption and can come home to get the care they need. Sadly, many will die due to complications related to their conditions and others struggle for years with the debilitating effects of their damaged heart while they wait for a family.

It is no surprise, that with her rough start, she was delayed in her growth. We were pleased to read in her file and subsequent update that she was hitting all of her development milestones (crawling, walking, etc.) right on time. Hailey has always been around the 5% for height and weight, so we were comfortable with Hannah being on the small side.

The truth is that when Chris and I prayed about her the night of May 11th, we knew she was the one God had intended for us. She was ours and nothing we could have learned about her medical condition at that point was going to change that we were going to pursue her and bring her home. Imagine our giddy excitement and joy when we discovered that the surgery our little girl needed so badly she had received 4-6 months earlier. Honestly, God continues to overwhelm me with His goodness! When we get her home, we will take her to all the doctors she needs to see. China does a great job at heart repairs and we expect she is doing great. When we get her home we will take her to all the doctors she needs to see and we will tackle whatever she needs together, with a thankfulness for the gift she is to us.

I've given you a lot of info about Hannah's physical needs. I know it is important and we don't take it lightly that she did, and may still have, physical issues that need medical care. These were all listed as her "Special Needs" but honestly they aren't really her special needs. These may be the reasons she was abandoned or the reason she needed extra attention when brought to the orphanage, but her special need is simply that she needs a family. She has the same needs as Travis, Chase, and Hailey - she needs a mommy and a daddy to love her, to be her advocate and to treasure her. A family is her primary need and the rest is just the details.

When Hannah was between 8 and 10 months old she went to the hospital for open heart surgery. Orphanages cannot spare a nanny to accompany a child to the hospital. She was alone without a caregiver, without someone to cradle her or to stroke her head, all the while reassuring her that she was okay. It breaks my heart to think about my daughter going through such a major surgery and recovery (roughly 2 weeks in the hospital) all alone. It is simply unimaginable to all of us, but it is the picture of the unclaimed child.

I'm so overcome with the MILLIONS (163 million by the latest estimates) that are fatherless. I've looked at detailed files of some of these children and I've looked and the pictures of hundreds more that wait for a family to claim them. 163 million is such a giant number, but when you start to see the faces of so many of them that are represented by this staggering statistic, I know that no matter how helpless I feel in being able to do anything to change it, I am still responsible. In so many places in the Bible God tells us to care for orphans. It is clearly not optional in God's eyes. So, as we get ready to go get Hannah, and see the faces of the fatherless up close at her orphanage, I'm overcome by the orphan crisis in our world. I beg you to pray for these children and to ask God how you can play a part in their care. Can you foster a child? Can you help an adoptive family raise the funds needed to adopt? Can you visit orphans on a mission trip? Can you be a monthly sponsor for a child? Or, to risk sounding crazy, can you adopt? Can you get beyond how crazy it sounds and all the reasons not to and just for a second consider it?

I stood in my kitchen one day in April 2010 and told God I knew it was crazy we were considering adoption, but asked him to guide us in the decision. I remember looking around and thinking, we have enough room in the house, enough room in the Tahoe and enough love, so maybe I wasn't sooo crazy. Then the fear of how we would afford it took over and I was sure I must be crazy. I'll tell you, we didn't have a penny saved to adopt a child. We opened a bank account specifically for this adoption and God has proven faithful. HE FUNDS WHAT HE FAVORS and he cares deeply for the fatherless. Remember that he rarely calls the equipped, but instead equips the called. He has amazed us with his provisions. We aren't there yet, but I have no doubt he will complete the good work he has started. No doubt! I know that it is unrealistic to think that all 163 million orphans could be adopted (although NOTHING is impossible for God) but I really believe so many more of these children could come home to a family. I hope I didn't offend any of you, but these faces cry out for someone to ask the uncomfortable question on their behalf. If you ever want information on adoption, foster care, sponsorship or how to visit orphans, please let me know. I'd be glad to point you to some resources.

Here are some pictures of the kids that wait...

And this is our Hannah, but her wait is coming to an end soon...

If you are still reading, you have great endurance! If you have questions, anything at all, leave me a comment or send me an email. I have a few more questions that we are often asked, but I'll save those for the next few days.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

FAQ - Part 1

We get a lot of questions these days about our the adoption process, Hannah, and China. So, I thought I share some of these questions and answers with all of you.

1. I think the most asked question we get is "WHEN do you go get her?"

On Sept 1st our Article 5 was dropped off at the US Embassy in Guangzhou China. This paperwork includes our US Visa application for Hannah. The Embassy will review it and verify that everything is in order for Hannah to be issued her Visa when we are in China. It takes two weeks for the US Embassy to issue our Article 5 letter. So, our agency will pick up our letter on 9/15. They will overnight the letter to the Center for Adoptions in Beijing. This completes all of the paperwork necessary to adopt Hannah. At that point we wait for the office to see that we have completed all the necessary steps and issue our TA (Travel Authorization). TA is the formal invitation for us to come to China and adopt Hannah. It takes about 1-3 weeks after they receive the Article 5 letter to issue our TA. After we get our TA we can start making our travel arrangements. Most people travel to China about 2 weeks after getting there TA. So, a recap: 9/1 - 9/15 we are waiting for our Article 5. Then TA should arrive sometime around 9/25 - 10/6 and we should be able to travel in October or November.

2. How long do you have to be in China and who will make the trip?

We will be in China for a little over 2 weeks. We are planning to take the boys with us. They are old enough to understand what is happening and not be jealous of the special attention we will need to give Hannah. From the very beginning, both boys have been so excited about adopting a baby sister from China, so it will be nice for them to experience meeting her in China and being a part of easing her into our family! We think Hailey, at just over 2, would really struggle with understanding all of it, so she will hold down the home front with Mimi (my mom). Hailey and her Mimi are best buds, so I'm sure Hailey will have a wonderful time on her Mimi vacation.

We will fly into Beijing and have a few days of fun sightseeing with the boys - Tienneman Square, Forbidden City, Sumer Palace, Olympic Park and of course, The Great Wall of China. After that we will travel to Hannah's city, Chengdu. We will be in Chengdu for about a week. We will have our "Gotcha Day," sign adoption paperwork that will make her officially a Halvorson, we will do other paperwork and gov't office visits to acquire her passport and we will tour Chengdu. Chengdu is known for its spicy food like "hot pot", beautiful brocade embroidery, and the Panda Reserve and Research Center where we will get to see more than 50 giant pandas and some rare red pandas too. We are anxious to tour her birth city with her. After that we will go to Guangzhou. This is where the American Embassy is located. We will go here for her health inspection and to receive her US visa so she can COME HOME!!! We will either fly back to the US via Guangzhou or Hong Kong, which is a short train ride away. In China, Hannah will be sworn in as a US citizen because as soon as her little feet touch US soil, she will be an American!

3. How old will Hannah be when you get her? and What will the age difference be between Hannah Hailey, Travis and Chase?

We should get Hannah when she is 19 months old. Hannah is 8 months and 3 weeks younger than Hailey. If both girls start school on time, they will be one grade apart. Chase is about 4 years older than Hailey and Travis is 2 years older than Chase. So, by the time Hannah comes home we will have an 8 year old, a 6 year old, a 2 year old and an almost 2 year old.

4. Where is Hannah and what are her current living conditions?

Hannah lives in Chengdu China. It's a city of about 14 million people and it is the capital of the Sichuan province.

Hannah lives at the Chengdu Children's Welfare Institute (or orphanage). Her orphanage is affiliated with Half the Sky Foundation (HTS), a charitable orphan care organization. Because she was so sick on arrival, she qualified for a HTS foster care program that provided her with a dedicated nanny. She has had the same nanny since she was admitted to the program, about 2 weeks after coming to the orphanage. Her nanny is in charge of the care of Hannah and 3 other children. Having this dedicated nanny has allowed Hannah to develop and personal relationship with her caregiver. I can only imagine how difficult it will be difficult for her to leave her nanny, but the fact that Hannah has received love and given love is critical in her development. We expect that she will grieve the loss, but this relationship will help as she learns to accept our love and eventually reciprocate it too. Oh, I so hope we get to met her nanny and thank her face to face for caring for our Hannah!

By the latest reports of others who have visited Hannah's orphanage, it is very clean, colorful and much like a nice day care center. There is a playground outside and it seems the children get to go outside each day. I've heard that over 600 children are at her orphanage and that there are approximately 50 cribs in the baby room. The cribs are metal with a thin grass mat at the bottom - no soft mattress or cushy covers. It's sad, but typical of institutionalized care in China. We will get to receive Hannah at her orphanage, which is rare in China. Most gotcha days are at civil affairs offices. I'm not sure what our opinions will be of her orphanage or how much of it we will even get to see, but I do know that there is not one momma I know that would want her child to be in one of these places. Not one! Frankly, we are getting antsy to get her out of there and get her home.

I will post more questions and answers tomorrow. I don't want to bombard you with a never ending blog post. If you have questions you want answered, I'd absolutely love to hear from you. If you have a question, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer it!