Over the past few weeks, I have been asked to tell the story of how Giovanna came to be in our family. It is hard to tell that story without recognizing the many ways in which the hand of God was present and directing all of the details of that adoption! So for those who have heard the story before, you can ignore this post – but if you haven’t, grab a cup of tea and enjoy marveling at the hand of God – I still do every time I tell this story!
The backdrop leading up to adoption;
It was in the spring of 1998 while we were house sitting in down town Minneapolis, that I got pregnant. We had miscarried about a year earlier, so it was a bit of a surprise – to us, not God. I was in my late 30’s and the whole idea of being pregnant again was a bit overwhelming to me. The pregnancy started off with a bit of morning sickness, but nothing like my first pregnancy! My kids were 7,5 and Caleb would be turning 4 in December when the baby was due. Since the first two share a birthday in June 2 years apart, Caleb was very insistent that this baby would be born on his birthday! I kept telling him not to plan on it, since the due date was about a week later.
Twice while the baby was in-utero, we were told we were having a girl. I was thrilled to hear that news and was very excited about a second girl. As the due date got closer, the baby continued to grow and was getting large enough that there was some concern as to whether I would be able to deliver the baby naturally. Garrett was 8 pounds 6 ounces and I barely got him out. We went in right before Thanksgiving and the doctor thought we could wait until after the holiday for the delivery. I was not as convinced as she was, but set another appointment for shortly after Thanksgiving.
On that appointment it was decided to induce labor by breaking my water – the date – 02 December – Caleb’s birthday! He got his wish and after a rather difficult labor and delivery, baby Ayers was born. This labor was hard because the baby was large – 9 pounds 5.5 ounces and was stuck for about 30-40 minutes with neither the doctor or my husband believing me when I told them the baby was stuck! I was frustrated with both of them and once they realized I was correct – this was my 4th delivery – I should know when the baby is NOT moving, things got intense.
The doctor kept telling me to push even when there weren’t contractions! Not a good idea – it is painful enough with contractions and without them, well let’s just say it was not a pleasant experience! Somehow this baby finally made the grand entrance and I was very thankful to have this part over with.
Once I got my brain functioning again, I asked Gary, “So what did we have?” totally expecting to hear – a girl. I heard in response, “A boy.” In total disbelief, I said, “Look again.” To which I got the same answer. I was not happy with that bit of information and really did go into a small depression. It did take some time for this to pass, but it didn’t slow the bonding process, for which I am thankful.
When I came home from the hospital, still sore for all that pushing to get this little one out, Garrett met me in the kitchen and with all the wisdom of a 5-year-old says, “Mom you have to have 2 more babies and they have to be girls.”
“Over my dead body,” was my response. I was not going to consider giving birth again – I was much to old for this and still much to sore to even want to consider it!
However God has given me very persistent children and all of the older ones consistently requested two more girls! Since I had 4 pregnancies and only 1 girl – it did not make sense to me to “keep trying until we had an even number of girls and boys.” – as the kids were insisting!
Over time we had many discussions about babies and adoption. Finally I said something like, “If we truly want girls, we would have to look into adoption and into countries like China and India where girls are generally more available for adoption.” To which I received the following answer, “Yes – one of each.” I was expecting this to be a hard sell – instead God had prepared their hearts for more siblings!
The China Connection:
It was the summer of 2000 when my friend was going on a trip to Thailand and then over to China. She and her husband were exploring the possibility of long term life in Thailand. The man leading the team had friends that were working in an orphanage in China and was taking the team into China and checking on his friends. Prior to leaving for this trip, I “bumped” into my friend at church and in a joking manner said, “If you see a baby at the orphanage that would fit into our family, let me know.” I did not give it a second thought as I knew that there would not be any chance that they would find a baby for us.
Well upon her return from the trip, I received her post trip report letter and she had hand written a note for me to check out a paragraph on the back page of the letter. In this paragraph the words seemed to come alive for me. It was a short paragraph with about 3-4 sentences telling about an infant girl who was described as having bi-lateral club feet and hands which would require routine surgery, in the US. In China, nothing would be done for her. After I finished reading this paragraph, I looked at Gary and said through tears, “Here is our daughter.”
Now my husband is a very patient and compassionate man, but he was a bit taken aback by that statement. He was not opposed to adoption, he just wasn’t sure that it was right for our family or that this child would be a good fit into our family. However he did give me permission to go and talk to my friend and get more information – which I did as quickly as I could.
I saw a picture of her from my friend’s photo album, but because babies always have long sleeves and leg coverings, I could not get a good look at her hands or feet. My friend gave me the email address of the couple in the orphanage. When I saw Gary and told him about the picture and the email, he encouraged me to write – mainly to gather as much information as I could so we could be praying in an informed way.
I did write to the couple in the orphanage and they gave me some information, but told me the best thing would be to contact the agency that works with them to place children from their orphanage into homes. So I have one more person to contact and Gary is still letting me pursue information, but has not said yes to the adoption. When I contact they agency, they are surprised to hear of a special needs child – they were not aware that there was one in the orphanage at this time. The adoption agency sent us a package of information to start the adoption process. I was in a holding pattern since Gary had not said yes to the adoption at this point.
It was September 2000 and in my heart she was already my daughter, waiting for all the pieces to fall into place was very hard on this mother’s heart. Thankfully I have a very good friend who would listen to me as I waited – sometimes not so patiently for God to change my husband’s heart. We prayed for protection for this little girl that we now knew as “Ming”. As I was waiting, we did ask the adoption agency to send in a medical team and gather as much medical information as they could.
I got the medical report in early November 2000 and took the x-rays and PT report to my pediatrician and a friend who works with special needs children. This was the first time the condition of “arthrogryposis” came up. My friend said that kids with this condition are really smart and figure things out on their own. She really loved to work with these kids.
Thanksgiving day 2000 Gary finally said yes to the adoption. As we gathered with friends, I was able to tell my friend who had seen her that we were going to pursue the adoption! We were both thanking God for the work that He was doing.
Then in December I received a phone call from the agency, actually from the head of the China program. She had recently returned from China and had visited Ming’s orphanage. Her first words to me were, “Are you sure you want this child? She is pretty severe!”
“Severe” what did that mean? I could not believe I had just heard those words used to describe this little girl. However it was a good chance to talk with her since we had not really talked over the phone, just via email. She was concerned that we might be getting in over our heads. While I appreciated her concern, I also knew that God was in all of this and if it was meant to be, it would happen – no matter what. I did have the chance to explain about my church where there are a lot of adoptions and several of my friends had already adopted cross culturally. I also was able to give her a brief overview of the medical community and she was fairly impressed. She was thankful that we would have a support network of both friends and medical. She did have pictures and said she would send them to me.
The first pictures I received of Ming were not all that impressive. She was so somber, but since God had already given me a love for her, it was just good to have a face to have in front of me when I prayed for her.
It was about this time that I began to think about obstacles that could derail this adoption. With adoptions from China – you are not to pre select a child – we just did in going after Ming. This was a huge thing and yet I was at peace because God had already seemed to indicate that she would be coming home soon!
The Paper Trail
Paper work for international adoptions is overwhelming and ours took some time to get all the required items tracked down, certified and sent to the agency but all the paper work was done and ready for translation by April 2001. The agency had a Chinese national that worked for them and did all of the phone calling to China. She made a call to inquire about a little girl named Ming in an orphange in the Yunnan Province. The folks in China were surprised that anyone outside of China knew about this little girl. They were asking a lot of questions about how we knew about her. Once those questions were answered to their satisfaction, they wanted to know why we were interested in her – she was considered to severely handicapped to put on any adoption list. It was found out that there had been nothing done in China to get her ready for adoption. We would have to wait until her paperwork was done before our paperwork could be sent to China. If it went too early, we would just be assigned another child.
So our paperwork sat on a desk in the adoption agency for 5 months while the paperwork for Ming was going through the system on the other side of the world. I never lost hope, but it was a very long wait. God was still at work because during this time the Chinese National kept calling back to China and talking with the lady who was actually doing the matching up of special needs children with families. As they were talking one day, she made a suggestion that one sentence be changed in our request letter. The wording in English was a bit strange, but still acceptable, but when it was translated into Chinese, it would signal this lady that we were the family waiting for Ming. So we made the change and got the letter recertified by the state of Minnesota and sent to the agency as quickly as we could.
Finally the day came when our paper work was sent to China – it was early in 2002. Ming would turn 2 in March – I was praying that I would have her home by her 2nd birthday. God had other plans.
We did not receive the phone call with the referral for her until early April. When the call came, I was speechless – the call I had been waiting to receive finally came and I was in tears. The lady from the agency waited for a bit and when she didn’t hear my answer, she asked, “This is the child you wanted right?” “Yes,” I said through the tears.
The next weeks were a flurry of activity – getting all the things on the checklist was a major task. I finally went over to my friends house and we went through the list and marked off some things we knew would not be needed or that I could possibly get while in China. About 2-3 weeks prior to traveling, we decided that Courtney, who was 10 at the time, should travel with me. She didn’t have a passport so we had to rush it through and it just barely made it in time to get a visa – but again God was at work and I had a friend who could walk it through the embassy in Chicago and sent it back overnight express!
The Long Journey
Courtney and I were on a plane to China just after mother’s day. It was a long flight and Courtney’s first overseas flight. She had a few difficulties, but really did very well for a first time international traveler. While en-route to China, we were able to meet up with a family from Chicago using the same agency and going to the same place. It was great fun to have another family to travel with!
We arrived in China on Sunday and in Kunming late Sunday evening. We had dinner at a Korean restaurant during which Courtney and the son of the family we were with fell asleep. Monday afternoon Ming was expected to arrive -so off to bed we went and slept as much as we could given jet lag!
When they brought Ming to our hotel room, it was quite the ordeal. Ming had the same caregiver for the 2 years that she was in the orphanage. She was holding on tightly to her and began to cry instantly when she saw Courtney and I. It was so hard to watch them pry her little fingers from the caregiver and then put her into my arms. Ming was not wanting to have anything to do with this little/big exchange and screamed for 2 hours. I finally sent Courtney out for lunch with our friends and put Ming into the crib. She finally cried herself to sleep.
Later it was time to go and get the paper work signed. Ming was quietly accepting some of this, but once we got to the building where I was to sign the paperwork and she saw the director of the orphanage, she began to work at getting his attention. He never gave her eye contact and she was very sad. I think she knew that something very big was happening and she had no way to communicate to anyone to find out what was going on. She had not smiled at all during this whole ordeal.
Back at the hotel room, Courtney and I were working with her trying to understand her and let her know that we loved her. Courtney was still pretty tired and went to sleep early. I put Ming on the bed with some fruit snacks and she began to play with them. She played with them for a very long time and as she played, she relaxed and began to smile. She had the most incredible smile that just seemed to light up the whole room. She was beginning to warm up to her “new” family even though she didn’t seem to understand much of what was going on around her.
We spent the week in Kunming getting her passport, finishing up paperwork and doing some sightseeing and shopping. It was a fun week and Ming seemed to warm up – at least to me over the course of the week.
Then it came time to pack up and fly to Guangzhou where the American Consulate is located. Time to finish up the paperwork and then fly home. However getting Ming onto the airplane was an exasperating ordeal. Once we hit the doors of the Kunming airport, she started to scream and no matter what we tried, she would not stop crying/screaming – until she was in the seat on the airplane. Then she was very quiet and finally fell asleep. Once we landed, she was fine going through the airport, but once we were in the van driving to the hotel, she started screaming again and screamed the entire 45 minute ride! Once we were through the lobby doors, she stopped crying. I sure wish I knew what was going through her little mind.
I had an appointment at the consulate and found out there was an issue with my paper work. They were not going to accept it which would increase my time in China and in particular Guangzhou. I was ready to be going home. Later when we were back at the Consulate to finalize the adoption, I was able to talk with the director of the program and explain to him the situation. He told me to follow him upstairs and he looked over my paperwork. He said the formatting was not correct. I explained to him that it was the format that had been used by the state for several years! He seemed surprised, but then asked if he could copy the paperwork so they could keep a copy at the consulate to avoid this type of misunderstanding in the future. I was fine with that – it meant that God had granted us favor and we could start the long flight home as scheduled.
Given Ming’s current track record with traveling, I was not looking forward to the 14 hour flight over the ocean. During our week in Guangzhou, Ming had taken a liking to Courtney and did not want anything to do with me. So Courtney carried Ming through the airport in a front pack – Ming did not cry and Courtney was exhausted by the time we reached the plane! Ming did not like seat belts and struggled continually trying to get out of it. I ended up giving her some Tylenol and she calmed down. Once we were in the air and could loosen the seat belt, she went right to sleep and slept almost the entire 14 hours!
We landed in LA around 7 PM and made it through customs and immigration without any issues. We had hotel accommodations in LA and were settled in by 9 PM. Ming loved McDonald’s French Fries and there was a McDonald’s near the hotel. She filled her stomach and then both of the girls were asleep by 9:30. They slept until 3 AM and then both were wide awake! It was all I could do to try to keep them quiet until 6 AM – our flight left at 11 so we had plenty of time to have breakfast, shower and get the taxi to the airport.
It was a quiet flight home as both girls slept. We were delayed in Denver but made it home by 7 PM after a very long day. Once we landed, Gary and the boys met us in baggage claim. I had taken pictures of Gary and the boys to China and showed them to Ming every day. She seemed to recognize them when they met us and as you watched her you could see a physical “settling” as she seemed to take immediately to the male contingent that met us as the airport. It was a very loud ride home.
Ming now goes by the name Giovanna Hua Ming –
Giovanna means Gracious gift from God
Hua is China
Ming means bright or intelligent.
She is our gracious gift of God from China and she is very bright.
Once she got “home” she has never looked back. She has endured many surgeries and has thrived. We are thankful to God for working out so many details. We are thankful to all who prayed us through the 18 months of paperwork, waiting and traveling to bring this precious child into our family.