***This is the story of how we came to be matched with Sui Feng Lan, our Sarah Ann. As with all international adoptions there are a lot unknowns and blank spots. Some things may seem vague or left out, sometimes this is intentional in order to give her some privacy other times we may just not know.
Several weeks before we first noticed "Susan" on our agency's website, Lifeline had taken a trip to China. We have a wonderful agency that not only works to place children in families but also does so much work in orphan care ministry. They have partnered with many orphanges in China doing all kinds of work with them. The purpose of this trip was to evaluate children and also help educate nannies and to put feet to the gospel. I emailed some of our family and friends and asked them to pray for the people on this team. I knew we were interested in partnership files and I knew it was possible they would be working with our future daughter-whoever she may be!
Fast forward a few weeks and there was that face:
She was at Suixi Welfare Institute. One of Lifeline's partnerships. The one with the scary warning. That didn't seem to matter to me anymore. I put her face on my homescreen and Shane and I decided if she was still available after we were logged in we would ask to see her file. We had our home visit the Monday of spring break and it went great. Later that afternoon the phone rang and it was our China specialist social worker calling from Birmingham. She was letting us know that she was leaving her postition and we would have a new social worker and that we would be in good hands. We talked for awhile and then I called Shane and told him about the change.
Now I decided early on in this process that I would rather be embarresed than regretful and I think I have embarresed myself a couple of times, but the deeper we get in the more I realize that all these mammas are just as crazy as I am! I can only hope I'm not the craziest!! When our new social worker emailed the next day introducing herself she asked to please let her know if we had any questions. What the heck, I decided! And I asked if we had to be LID in order to see the orphanage partnership files and she said as long as they were labeled special focus we could match at anytime! I was wrong- we could look at her file, provided she wasn't on hold for another family.
Now we had asked to see several other files, most of which were already on hold. In fact, only once had we asked about someone and she wasn't on hold. It was more than likely that she was already being consedered by another family. But in my heart I knew she wasn't. There was such a sense of peace, not a sense of urgency. I asked Anna to check and see if the file for Susan was on hold. It wasn't-would we like to see it? Yes, we would.
All of these conversations took place over several days. We left on Friday morning to head to Oak Mountain State Park to camp with some friends, the Webbs. We loaded up and headed out. I checked my email and we still didn't have the file. I emailed Anna and asked again and in just a couple of minutes her file was in my inbox. The kids both had headphones on and so I opened it. I knew in my heart that there was very little it could say that would change my mind, but I tried to be objective. Along with the offical file we had a report the Lifeline team had done on her a year ago when they visited. There was also another file that I couldn't open on my ipad. For the next several hours we talked about it and I read and reread that file. We got to our campsite and while we setting up the tent we decided to put her file on hold. I went and held my phone just so in order to get a signal and sent Anna an email. Over the next several days in the quiet of camping we took several walks and talked about her. There were several things that stood out to us:
*Her need was one we had just talked about being one that we really felt good about.
*She was the age we had talked about.
*And lastly, we started to go down this road about 5 years ago. We didn't. I have struggled with the fact that we were looking for a child about 5 years old. What if we hadn't waited-would she have had to wait for so long. "Susan" was not available for adoption until this summer. Right about the time we started really feeling God leading us down this path again.
When we got home from our trip, I emailed Anna again and asked if the team that had gone to China in March had seen her, was there an update? There was and she would work on getting it. I also emailed the International Adoption Clinic in Birmingham asking them to review her file as well. I recieved an email back from Dr. Chambers saying that she had been the one to examine "Susan" and she would be glad to review her file and talk with us about her. We were also able to open the file that we couldn't get to open before. It was no less than about 50 pictures of her from a year before. What I saw was a sad, scared little girl. We were anxious to get the update from the team that had just come back from Suixi.
Also happening that week was the release of the shared list. Families matched from the shared list have a major time crunch- 72 hours- to make their decision, get medical reviews and write their letter of intent. We had 2 weeks, so we told the Adoption Clinic we would wait for our review in the hopes we would get the updated information. It would be another week before we got the update and it held some unexpected news.
I got the email with the updated medical report and teachers report and updated pictures. I was able to open the pictures, but could not get the report to open. This was the first picture I saw.
Precious! More hair! Shane emailed a minute later with the news that her file had some unexpected things in it. I could tell that maybe we were going to have to walk away from this file. All my objectivity went out the window. Shane came home from work that night and I just cried on his shoulder. We were both so sad. We agreed to go ahead and talk with Dr. Chambers. It took several more days and a few missed calls but we finally were able to have a conversation with her. Actually I was the one who had the conversation.
We had a good and frank conversation about our "Susan." She talked to me about the orphanage, the conditions there. She talked to me about Susan's future and what her needs would be when she got home. I read the teachers report to her, Susan has a sweet smile and a sweet spirit. She concurred that this was a quiet, timid, child. We talked about lots of things. She said that there was a video of her walking that she felt like we should see before making our decision. I thanked her and emailed Anna asking for the video. I then asked Shane to meet me for lunch.
I relayed to him all that Dr. Chambers had told me. We knew that she had only been there for a year and she declined some in the year she had been there. We talked about Dr. Chambers view on her needs and what her future would hold. I told Shane I didn't know what the answer was but I felt a peace about her. We made the decision to wait for the video and then to release her file. We would revisit things once were LID and if she was meant to be ours she would still be available and if not then we would have our answer. I fully expected to have that video by that afternoon. It would take another week to get it.
Our 2 weeks were up and we still had not seen the video. Anna assured us that the deadline would be extended until we had all the information available to us and that they were working on getting it to us. I was getting pretty frustrated. Not at anyone, just at the situation. I really wanted that video!
One week and a day later the video came through as I was leaving preschool on Friday. I raced home and called Shane. He was going to meet me at home for lunch and to see it. Once I got home I tried to wait for Shane but I just couldn't. I clicked the link and it would not work! I couldn't get to the video! AAHH PANIC! I quickly emailed Anna and prayed she wouldn't be gone to lunch yet. She answered right back with a new link and I clicked it. And there she was. Thirty three seconds of her walking away from the camera and then back again. Shane came in about that time and I played it for him. Wow! Was all he said. We were shocked at how well she walked! So much better than we anticipated. Her grin at the camera was precious. We watched it a few times and then had lunch and went on with the day. We would need to let Anna know on Monday and the decision had been to release the file.
On Saturday we decided that the 2 of us would go to dinner that evening and discuss things. We needed some time to talk things over again. We went to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants. There was a giant elephant in the room as we tried to make small talk and talk about other things. We finally got around to the reason we were there. What do you think? I don't know- what do you think? I asked you first. This went on for a few minutes when Shane finally looked me in the eye and said, "I think she's the one." And I cried in the middle of El Potrillo. Desicion made. She is ours.
We both knew that the Lord had given us the gift of an extra week to pray and process and become sure of what we both knew.
We settled on a name as well during that dinner. I knew I wanted Ann as a middle name because Will and Jenny have a family middle name and Ann is my mom and Shane's mom's middle name.Jenny had picked Sarah out awhile back and was pushing hard for it. So it was settled.
As we walked out into the parking lot Shane gave me a hug and said, "I think we just had a baby!". It sure felt like it!!
On Monday I called Anna and told her we were ready to move forward with "Susan". She was excited for us and sent us everything we needed. I worked on it on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, April 10 we submitted our Letter Of Intent to adopt Sui Feng Lan. One year to the day after she entered the Suixi welfare institute.
Six days later we received our premilinary approval from China and introduced the world to our precious Sarah Ann.
A week later all the files listed on her orphanage page with Lifeline were released back to the shared list so while it is possible we could have still gotten her, another agency could have easily snatched her file up. We got her just in time!
We are still hoping to travel before the end of the year and we should be DTC in just a few weeks!