Ariana Joy: the Gift we Prayed For

Ariana

In December 6, 2015, our family welcomed the greatest gift we could have ever hoped for. That was the day our daughter, Ariana, entered our lives — and our hearts. But really, this isn’t our story. It’s the story of a remarkable, independent, curious and joyful child from a small village in China.

Ariana was born on Christmas Day 2012. A few days after her birth, she was discovered in the reeds by the bank of a river, where she had been abandoned. When she was found, she weighed less than two pounds.  Ariana is a survivor with a courageous and joyful heart, as we have found over this past year.

Ariana spent the first year of her life in an orphanage in China. At the age of one, she moved into a foster home where she was cared for by a loving and kind foster family.  Her foster mother was full of life and clearly loved are future daughter. Ariana was diagnosed with a heart condition, low birth weight, possible learning disabilities. Ariana’s heart turned out to be stronger than anyone knew.

While Ariana was living with her foster family, our own family was searching for the perfect child to share our home and our love. This search began soon after the birth of our third son, Cooper. Jaime and I had always wanted a daughter, and I wanted to experience the kind of unique, close relationship I’ve been fortunate enough to have with my own mother.

After much praying and soul-searching — and learning from other families who had adopted — Jaime and I decided that we had room in our home and our hearts for another child. We wanted to provide a family to someone who did not have a family of her own. There are an estimated 153 million orphans worldwide in need of a loving family and a home. If we didn’t do this, then who would?

We considered adopting a child from the United States, but after careful consideration decided to search for our daughter overseas. By adopting domestically, we knew we would open our family to the possibility of someday losing our daughter. We didn’t want to put ourselves or our three sons through that heartbreak. Each family builds itself in its own unique way. We chose to adopt a special needs child from China to be part of our family forever.

Choosing to adopt wasn’t just a personal decision for us; it was also a spiritual calling. We recalled passages from the Bible that spoke to us and reassured us we were doing Gods work. God draws near the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), extends grace generously (2 Corinthians 9:8), and loves lavishly (1 Jon 3:1). We considered Christ’s death and resurrection, how this miracle serves as an invitation to all of us to turn to God as our Heavenly Father.

We read in Ephesians 2:13 about God’s desire to bring near those who are far away, and in 1 Peter 3:18 about how God wants to bring us home to Him. We saw in our adoption of Ariana a reflection of this homecoming, and a connection to God’s love for all of us whom He considers His children. We encourage other families with strong marriages, financial resources, and abundant love to heed the call to share their families’ blessings with a family-less child as well.

After heading the spiritual call to adopt, we decided to go through a non-profit organization called Nightlight Christian Adoptions. And thus began the three-year process of finding and adopting a little girl from China. We completed extensive counseling, evaluations, and stacks of paperwork. And then one day — when we were least expecting it — we received an email and a photo of a beautiful little girl with bright, intelligent eyes and an infectious smile. We had a match!

Now began the process of finalizing the adoption paperwork and making travel arrangements for the arduous trip to China. At first, we weren’t going to bring our three sons with us on this long journey. But then we heard our boys praying for their new sister, asking God to make sure she was warm, that she had enough to eat and that someone was hugging and loving her.  Their prayers brought tears to my eyes, so simple and so perfect for our future daughter.  Those were exactly the things that mattered.  We instantly knew that our boys had to be a part of this incredibly important moment for our family, that they needed to be there too when we first met our daughter and their sister. It was the best decision we could have made.

We flew into Beijing on Dec 4. After a few days doing touristy things, anxiously biding time until we could meet our daughter, it was time to fly to the town of Guiyang. We thought we’d have another day to prepare for her; we wanted to bring her toys and look our best. But we ended up driving straight to the adoption agency from the airport — un-showered, unprepared, unbelievably tired but incredibly excited.

After being grilled by a very concerned, thorough and caring foster mother (we must have met her approval!), we finally got to meet Ariana face-to-face. She was just as excited as we were, and couldn’t stop giggling. She immediately gravitated toward Cooper our youngest and starting playing with him as though they had been friends since birth. She instantly connected with all our boys, and the feeling was mutual. It was a great day — one year ago today!

We spent that entire first day with Ariana, getting to know each her and introducing ourselves. We discovered that she loves books — more so than toys. When the new-ness of everything finally hit her, Ariana started to cry. It was Jaime who was able to console and sooth her to sleep by singing her Bible songs (“Jesus love me. this I know…”).

Over the next few days, we encountered a number of obstacles that nearly prevented Ariana from coming home with us as planned. For starters, her passport had the wrong baby photo. Then, during her health screening, it was discovered that she was running a fever. We thought, oh no is this the beginning of her special needs.  Without a proper passport and a clean bill of health, we couldn’t leave China with Ariana. So we waited, and prayed. Throughout this time, we got to know our daughter even better and fell completely in love with her.

God answered our prayers, and Ariana’s passport came through. Her fever was gone by the time we went back to the doctor for her second health exam. And before we knew it, our newly extended family was on the very long plane ride back to Huntington Beach. I won’t lie, the flight wasn’t easy. But we made it home — together.

Of course, when I say “home,” I actually mean a hotel room. Our house had experienced significant flood damage and was unlivable. While the repairs were being completed, we spent two weeks in a nearby hotel  —  Ariana thought that was where we actually lived. The upside to this temporary nomadic lifestyle was that we didn’t have to worry about the day-to-day chores of housekeeping, washing dishes, mowing lawns and cooking meals. Instead, we could focus all of our attention on helping Ariana feel loved as a part of our family.

We finally moved back into our home on Christmas Eve, just in time for Ariana’s first birthday with us. And what a gift she has been. She has quickly adapted to our chaotic, noisy home that is filled with energy and with love. And she holds her own with three older bothers. We’ve come to love her endless curiosity about everything, her sense of wonder, and her independent streak.

She is such a happy child, filled with a joy that spreads to those around her. She’s got Jaime wrapped around her little finger, and she’s definitely daddy’s girl. But I also cherish the special relationship I’ve developed with Ariana as her mother — just as I have with my own mother. Our friends and family have been instrumental in supporting us throughout this entire journey, and in welcoming Ariana to her new home. We couldn’t have done this without the love and help of the people in our lives.

We are a true family of six now, and it feels as though Ariana has always been here — as though she was meant to be here. We are blessed to report that despite being labeled as a special-needs child, she is as healthy as can be — no heart condition has surfaced. We honestly didn’t know what to expect when we brought Ariana home. Finding and adopting Ariana required a leap of faith, and God completely took care of everything. She’s the perfect fit for our family.

Occasionally, well-meaning people will tell me how lucky it is that we adopted her and gave her a loving home and family. Actually, we believe it’s the other way around. That we are the blessed ones to have found her. Ariana has enriched our lives in so many ways. She is the child we prayed for, and a gift we are so very thankful for.

Thank you for allowing us to share Ariana’s story, and for joining us in welcoming her home. Today, Ariana will have been with us for exactly one year. Your prayers made this dream possible.  You are our friends and family, we can’t think of anybody else we’d like to share and celebrate this special anniversary with us.

Blessings to All,

The Ramirez Family

Adoptee Legacy Fund

Nightlight Adoptees

Nightlight announces the creation of an “Adoptee Legacy Fund.” This is a fund where adopted people can give back to the mission of getting every child into a loving family. To make a donation, simply click here and select “Adoptee Legacy Fund” in the drop down menu. The best part is….adoptees get to choose where the money goes! The fund will be used for

• Adoption scholarships
• Orphan host program tour
• Aid to a specific orphanage

Each year, we will ask contributors to vote on where to send the funds.
We hope this sparks the beginning of a lifetime of sacrificial support for the cause of adoption.

Why foreign countries oppose adoption

Of the 192 nations in the world, 86 have signed the Hague convention on cooperation of intercountry adoption.  Signing the convention is not necessarily an indication of the desire to cooperate with intercountry adoption. Some non-Hague nations have robust intercountry adoption efforts, while the majority of Hague countries do not participate in any significant intercountry adoption efforts.  Furthermore, whenever a country does sign the Hague convention, history would show that adoptions are likely to decline or disappear.  Signing the Hague is often a pretense for blocking adoption in general.  When people hear this, nearly everyone who asks, “Why would a country block adoption?”

There are a variety of reasons that a nation may not cooperate in intercountry adoption.

National Pride.  Some nations fear that it does not reflect well on them to be a “sending nation.” And some countries do not want to be perceived as having a problem with orphaned children.  Political figures will use national pride as a means to rise in popularity.  They believe their reputation will improve by saying things like “We don’t need the United States or Europe to solve our problems.  We can solve our problems ourselves.”  While no country has been able to completely solve its orphan problem (even the United States has 400,000 children in foster care), the rhetoric gives an air of strength to a political candidate.  Unfortunately, the children end up being a political pawn.  It is national pride, rather than the best interest of children, that ends up being the heart of the rhetoric.

Political maneuvering.  We all know that Russia’s ban on intercountry adoption with the United States in 2012 was not motivated by the best interest of children.  The decision by the Russian Duma was in response to a US policy decision about the “Magnitsky Act.”  The US house passed a law stating that Russian foreign officials with human rights violations could not enter the country.  Russia’s response was, in essence, “we don’t have people with human rights violations.”  To retaliate against President Obama and Congress, Russia passed a law prohibiting international adoption from the United States.  In a rare instance of refreshing honesty, no pretense for child welfare was ever invoked.  It was a response meant to show Russians that they were strong, when the US attempted to make them look weak.

Bullying.  Some nations block intercountry adoption because they are bullied by the international community.  Adoption workers in Haiti, for example, informed me that UNICEF threatened to withhold funding of certain programs unless they reduced the number of intercountry adoptions.   You may ask, why would UNICEF block adoption?  The answer is that they are ideologically liberal.  By this, I mean they believe that all people are inherently good, and all people would make great parents if they simply had the education and resources.  The other side of the ideological spectrum holds to the notion that some people are inherently bad and not all people will ever be fit to parent.  These liberals have an academic view, rather than practical one.   In other words, their ideas sound good on paper, but in real life there is a disconnect.  If UNICEF is right, that all people can be good parents if they are given education and resources, then intercountry adoption should be replaced by in-country development.  But some parents burn their children; others throw them in trash bags.  Some starve their children on purpose, or abandon them because they are a girl, or disabled, or fathered by someone else.  And this is true in EVERY country, not just the developing world.  No amount of resources or education has enabled 100% of Americans to be fit as parents…that’s why we have 100,000 children in foster care awaiting an adoptive family.  So we cannot expect reunification to be the answer for all children in other countries.

These bullies have coined a phrase that has gained traction.  They say, “You are exporting your most precious resource…your children.”  Foreign officials don’t actually believe these children are their most precious resource.  Quite the contrary, many developing countries view these children as a plague, offer zero resources for their care, and have contempt for the parents who adopt them and give them a life in America.    Nevertheless, the “precious resource” phrase gains traction when spoken by politicians who want to use national pride to bolster their image.  In addition, some of these liberal aid organizations are very powerful and can force policy decisions.  Even if some foreign officials wanted to offer international adoption to their nation’s children, they are bullied by liberal-minded aid organizations that threaten to withhold funding fi they don’t subscribe to their ideology.  In addition, UNICEF receives funding to “care for orphans”.  Therefore, they may have a financial incentive for being able to report high numbers of orphans or orphanages.

Islam.  The Quran holds orphaned children in very high regard and has many verses imploring people to care for them.  But Sharia law prohibits adoption, so the practice is nearly absent from Muslim nations.  The Quran has a high regard for preservation of family lineage and inheritance of historic land boundaries.  Therefore, Muslim countries prefer guardianship over adoption.

Lack of need.  There is a direct relationship between decreased birthrate (through abortion and birth control) and economic progress.   Therefore, the most developed countries have far fewer children in need of adoption.  In fact, the number of hopeful adoptive parents is far greater than the number of children available for adoption.

Lack of Infrastructure. Some countries do not have the infrastructure to implement the Hague convention’s standards, so they are reluctant to sign or ratify a treaty with which they have no ability to comply.  In 2013, Haiti seemed to be moving in the direction of ratifying the Hague convention, but it appeared they would wait until they had the ability to comply.  In contrast, countries like Cambodia ratified the convention years ago, but the US will not process adoptions from that country because it has not yet been able to implement the required procedures.  In addition, the political condition of some nations is so “broken” that their inability to ratify a treaty typifies the inability to get any political work done.  So adoptions do not, or cannot occur either because there is no infrastructure to process cases, or because the bar has been set unrealistically high by the United States and there is no reasonable way to expect developing countries to comply.

It does not help that the Hague Convention itself calls for intercountry adoption to be “subsidiary” to other solutions.  In other words, intercountry adoption should be considered as a “last resort” to other options for children.  I have written elsewhere about the concept of subsidiarity and why it is misguided.

I wish I could end this blog post with a ray of hope but as it stands it appears we are still moving in the direction of decline in international adoption.  Meanwhile, the number of orphaned children abroad continues to rise.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President

 

Evaluating Risk: How to decide which type of Adoption is right for you.

Every adoption assumes some risk. One way to decide which adoption program is right for you is to look at which type of risk you are ready for. Let’s look at what the risks are in each type of adoption.

Domestic adoption. The primary reason people choose domestic adoption is that they want to adopt an infant. This way, they are avoiding the risk that comes with adopting an older child who may have incurred several lost attachments or developed complications from being in an abusive home, foster home, or institution. But in domestic adoption, you have to be chosen by a birthmother. So domestic adoption carries with it the risk of waiting (for a period outside your control) for a birthmom to choose you. Nationwide, the number of hopeful adoptive couples outnumbers the number of birthmothers 20 to 1, so domestic families should be prepared to wait to be matched. People who do not want the risk of waiting for a birthmom to choose them should consider other adoption programs. Domestic adoption also carries with it the possibility that a birthmom could change her mind about placing for adoption. Some couples cannot envision taking on this risk.  In addition, domestic adoption carries the risk of possible poor pre-natal care or health, including possible drug exposure.

Embryo adoption. The primary reason people choose embryo adoption is so that they can experience pregnancy. They are avoiding the risk of a birthmom changing her mind. They are also avoiding the risk of having an older child who may find it more difficult to attach to them. But embryo adoption carries with it the risk of miscarriage. Many couples who consider embryo adoption have just finished their own fertility treatment and have probably experience a few miscarriages. They must be willing to incur the risk of future miscarriage if they pursue embryo adoption. The national statistic for frozen embryos resulting in live birth are about 43% for each embryo transfer, and 82% of having a live birth after the third embryo transfer. There is little risk of not being chosen by a donor family. The number of donor families is roughly equal to the number of adoptive families, and matching usually occurs within a couple months of completing your home study.

Foster adoption. The primary reason people choose foster adoption is that the cost is either free, nearly free. In addition, families are paid a monthly stipend from the state for being foster parents. Foster parents are also motivated by the desire to minister to children in need from difficult backgrounds. But foster adoption comes with the risk of losing custody. Many foster parents must be ready to assist with reunification efforts with the biological family. Some parents feel they cannot envision bonding with a child and then losing custody. Our experience shows that this fear is somewhat unwarranted. Bonding is hard work, and it does not happen as soon as you think. It can take months or years to have a strong attachment with an older child. Furthermore, only half of the children in foster homes each year are reunited with their biological family, and many re-enter foster care again. So while foster parents should not view fostering as a “back door” to adoption, realistically, foster placements often do result in adoption. Ideally, foster parents should ready simultaneously to help with reunification and be willing to adopt. Foster parents are avoiding the risk of being chosen by a birthmom. All foster parents who are successfully certified as a foster home can expect to have a placement relatively soon. The number of children in need far exceeds the number of homes, so if your criteria are reasonable, you will have a placement.

International adoption. The primary reason people choose international adoption is that they do not want to run the risk of losing custody (through foster care). Nor do they want to run the risk of waiting to be chosen by a birthmom (through domestic adoption). Some families are also compelled by the overwhelming need to minster to children in foreign orphanages. International families are placed on a referral list for “first come, first served” so every family can expect to be matched in time. However, the wait time can be a few years in some cases. The main risk with international adoption is that countries have fragile adoption infrastructure or fragile commitment to adoption. Sometimes countries close the doors to adoption completely, overnight! Sometimes the US prohibits adoptions from foreign countries, overnight! These problems are sometimes resolved by waiting out the storm, or by switching to another country program. But international families should be prepared for the risk of foreign countries having a breakdown in the process. On the other hand, international families have the benefit of adopting a child who is old enough that their behavior is known and documented. Since children are almost always at least 2 years old, you have a better chance of knowing whether they have autism, ADHD, reactive attachment disorder, etc. than if you adopt an infant.

To summarize,

  1. If you are worried about not being picked by a birthmom, domestic adoption may not be right for you
  2. If you cannot envision having a miscarriage, then embryo adoption may not be right for you
  3. If you have a hard time seeing yourself helping with re-unification efforts, then don’t choose foster care
  4. If you want a baby, then you should not choose international adoption

Or to put it differently:

  1. If you are willing to help with re-unification efforts, and are open to a sibling set, or a child over 5 years old, or children with special needs, choose foster care.  If you can’t afford other adoption programs, or you don’t want to wait to be picked by a birthmom, choose foster care.
  2. If you are willing to wait to be chosen by a birthmom, and you only are open to adopting a baby, then choose domestic adoption.  If you don’t want to risk losing custody, choose domestic adoption.
  3. If you are willing to take the risk of miscarriage but want to give birth to your adopted child, choose Snowflakes®.  If you don’t want to wait to be picked by a birthmom, choose Snowflakes®.
  4. If you are willing to wait out what can sometimes be an international roller coaster, and you are open to older children, or infants and children with special needs, choose intercountry adoption.  If you don’t want to wait to be picked by a birthmom, choose intercountry adoption.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President

A Case for Older Kids

It is understandable that many families are hesitant to adopt older children.  By “older,” we typically mean children over 6 years of age.  But speaking from my own experience, and our agency’s experience, we know that adoption of older children can be very rewarding and successful.  I adopted a boy when he was 7, and he is now a 23 year old successful and well-adjusted young man.  In the last 20 years, our agency has placed over 1000 children over the age of 6 with families who are thriving.  Let me make a case for the adoption of older children.

#1, Older kids give you the benefit of observed behavior

Many problems that children face that are associated with institutional care begin at a very young age, but are not fully observable until kids get older.  For instance, oppositional defiance disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are nearly impossible to diagnose in a 2 year old.  Autism is also not typically diagnosed before a child is age 4.  But by the time a child is 6, we can observe whether a child has these disorders.  The childcare workers who live and work with those kids can vouch for their behavior and emotional health.  In a sense, you are actually taking on less risk when you adopt a child whose emotional health is observed and whose history is long enough that it can be documented.

#2, Older kids attach differently, not less

A compelling reason that parents want to adopt children as young as possible is that the strength and health of attachment is correlated with age.  People assume that a baby will attach sooner, and have a stronger attachment than an older child would.  But we have a saying, “Older kids don’t attach less, just differently.”  It’s true.  If you adopt a teenager, your relationship will be more akin to being a friend, than to being a care-giver.  It would be a mistake to think older children are any less dependent, however.  They still need love, friendship, direction, modeling and support.  Parents who adopt tweens and teens often express how satisfied they are in the relationship they build with their children.

#3, Older kids are still very young

Every summer when we bring a group of older children to the US for our orphan host program, we are amazed at how young these older kids are!  Age 6 in an orphanage is not equal to age 6 in a healthy home.  Children from institutional care are almost always smaller.  They look younger.  They act younger.  They are socially and academically behind.  They missed out on their infant years, and they long to be held, babied, carried, and make up for the nurture of which they were deprived.

#4, You are a parent for life

Some parents erroneously think that when they adopt, they are counting down the years until the child is 18.  They think they are adopting a remaining number of years, rather than a person who will live along life and be in their family forever, with a legacy lasting generations.  Children nowadays are living with their parents into their late twenties and thirties.  You are not only adopting a child, but the future grand children and great grandchildren.  You are not only making a difference in their childhood, but you will be there for them when they need parenting advise, help transitioning careers, or someone to walk them down the aisle at their wedding.

#5, Older kids need parents too

It’s not all about us, after all.  We are not adopting to fulfill our needs, but to meet the needs of God’s children.  Older children are no less in need of families, and our calling to care for orphaned children extends to all kid who lack a mother or father to care for them.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President

Asking the Right Questions

It occurs to me that many adoptive families ask the wrong questions. For instance, they may be short-sighted when they decide on their criteria for the types of child profiles they are willing to consider for adoption.  It is understandable why many couples initially think of race and age.   For some, it is important to have a child who looks like them.  And many assume that younger children attach better, have fewer behavior problems, and that parents have more years with them.  But looking back over our 30 years of international adoption, we have seen thousands of kids adopted at all ages and from every race.  We have also brought over 500 children to the United States on orphan host programs and observed their behavior and adjustment.  Knowing what we do now, we have begun to encourage families to consider a different criteria for assessing their openness to child profiles.  The best predictor of child behavior and adjustment is not race or age.  It is past behavior and adjustment.

Couples vary greatly in their ability and willingness to parent children with behavior problems or a difficult past.  If a couple told me they were hoping to adopt a child who will attach easily and not have behavior problems, I would recommend they look beyond race and age, and instead focus on indications of emotional health.  Emotional health can be observed now.  It is often documented over the past couple years.  And it is the best indication of future emotional health.

Dr. Daniel Nehrbass, President