Party of Eight: A Growing Virginia Family’s Adoption Journey

November 27, 2017 – CAF is proud to celebrate National Adoption Month throughout the month of November! Our goals are to bring attention to the need for permanent families for children with thalassemia both in the U.S. and globally, to provide the greater community with resources and information on thalassemia adoption, and to share the stories and perspectives of adoptive families. CAF thanks the Hawkins family for sharing their story with the community. We hope you are inspired by their journey!

CAF: Could you us a little about yourself and your family?

Adam and I (Heidi) live in a sweet little town called Floyd, Virginia tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our love story began as high school sweethearts. We were both afterschool a lot with me cheering for him as he played football and basketball. Our friendship during that time developed into a relationship when he asked for my number and stole a kiss as he ran out of the front doors of our high school to catch his ride home one evening. We became pregnant teenagers and while terrified, committed ourselves to pursue our educational and career goals and raise our child as well. Our oldest has grown up learning about psychology as I studied and worked through three degrees. She was educated in the world of business and finance as my husband worked toward his degree. We both were able to persist through challenging times and now both have careers in our dream fields. I am a Licensed and Nationally Certified School Psychologist with my own private practice and he is a supervisor at a local corporation.

Our early start at parenting means we have the benefit of being younger and have plenty of energy for our six, almost seven, children. We grew our family biologically four times and through adoption, two (soon to be three) times. Our oldest, Taylor, is now 18 and a first year student at the University of Virginia. Our oldest son is 13 and an eighth grade student at our local high school. Our middle son is ten years old and flying through fifth grade curriculum. Our middle daughter is seven years old and loving everything about second grade. Our youngest son is five years old and attends preschool by day and masters the art of Legos by night. Our youngest daughter is four years old and is also in preschool with her brother. We are currently in process for another precious daughter who is ten years old. We hope to travel soon after the New Year to embrace her into our family.

CAF: When did you decide that adoption was right for your family? What made you make this decision?

We always dreamed about adoption but thought it was out of our reach and impossible. We both have family members who have adopted domestically and internationally so our definition of family was already defined by love, not DNA. However, the process seemed so overwhelming and unrealistic that we never did more than dream about it. After our fourth biological child we experienced some medical complications after birth that made us feel we were complete as a family and done. Our love for children, though, left us always dreaming of more kids. It was like dreaming of being a famous singer one day or playing in the NFL. It was our big, never expect it to really happen, type of dream.

Then in 2014 it all changed for us. My husband’s grandfather had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was undergoing a biopsy to determine if it was cancerous. We took the kids and drove the hour down the mountain to visit with him the night before the procedure. On our way there our oldest daughter, out of the blue, said that if we were going to adopt we should do it soon before she goes off to college. We both wondered where that comment came from and then giggled a little. As we drove into the parking lot of the hospital my phone dinged with a message from my aunt. I opened it and it was a post on Facebook of a little girl waiting in an orphanage in China. My aunt has adopted three girls from China and knew it was a dream of ours but never before had she sent us a direct link or child! We thought it was a wild coincidence and as we walked into the hospital we tried to open the link to read more but because the internet would not work in the elevator, we decided to look at it later once we got home. We had a wonderful visit and then started the long drive home.

On the drive home my husband and I both felt God pull our hearts in a way I can’t really accurately describe. We both started talking about what ifs and maybe it was time to just check into adoption processes. After we put the kids to bed that night and settled into bed we tried to open the link, more out of curiosity than anything else. When we opened it up and watched a little video we both wondered how we could learn more about adoption and then as we scrolled to the bottom the link said, “for more information contact Heidi Hawkins. “ We both looked at each other shocked. That was MY name. How funny, another coincidence we thought. Then in attempt to learn more about adoption, we looked up a nonprofit organization I had heard my aunt speak highly of called Love Without Boundaries. As I clicked the “follow” button on Facebook to their page, a photo loaded up onto the screen of a little girl in a China healing home and under it a caption that said “baby Heidi.” Wow. We decided to call my aunt the next day to learn more about where to start the process. That began our first adoption, our journey to our third daughter, and then the journey to our third son the next year.

CAF: How did you learn about thalassemia?

In an attempt to learn more about what adoption was like I began to find blogs and follow families that had adopted as a way to grow their family. I did not pay much attention to their children’s special needs but several had mentioned thalassemia. I didn’t understand anything about it other than the name. Part of the adoption process includes completing a medical checklist of special needs that your family is able to meet the needs for. The list included thalassemia. We went over the checklist with our family physician and briefly discussed thalassemia. At first we felt like it sounded overwhelming, mainly due to the blood transfusions. But then as we pondered it more, it occurred to me that my father has juvenile diabetes and needs insulin, shots, and a pump every day to live and at any moment his life can be in jeopardy; yet, that disorder does not define my dad, he’s just my dad. And in comparison, thalassemia seemed very easy to manage with good care and diligence. We realized that the disorder with the big name really wasn’t as scary and checked it on the list. Then once we were matched with our daughter we were added to a support group on Facebook and learned so much from the families in that group which just happened to be the same families that were the blogs I followed. They recommended Cooley’s Anemia Foundation as a great resource to learn from and from then on we spent many sleepless nights up reading everything we could.

CAF: Tell us a bit about your road to adoption. How long was the process? What were some of the challenges you faced?

We contacted two agencies, one recommended to us for international adoptions and another that completed home studies in our state. The first step was completing a home study process that took us around four months. The paperwork details and financial fees around adoption were the most challenging hurdles in our processes. Nearing the final details of the home study I connected with another adoptive mom who added me to a group on Facebook where advocates shared information on children that were waiting to have a family. The same day she added me to the Facebook group, a post was made about a little girl with the most precious dimples who had thalassemia. We contacted the agency that was listed and made the decision to switch agencies to them, which took about an extra week. The switch was seamless and both placing agencies were supportive and helpful. Once we added the new agency to the home study it was finalized and we were able to rush and expedite through the rest of the process since it was critical to get our little girl home quickly. The whole process took us a little over seven months from the day we signed on with an agency to the day we met our daughter. Our second adoption for our son, who also has thalassemia, was quicker because we were able to reuse some of our paperwork that was still valid. We saw his face at the end of June when our agency contacted us and said he had the same disorder as our daughter and was living in the same orphanage. We met him four months later, the day before the one year anniversary we met our daughter the year prior.

CAF: What were the biggest questions, concerns and fears you had about adopting a child with thalassemia?

At first we felt overwhelmed thinking about blood transfusions every few weeks. It sounded scary. We also were not sure how we would balance time off from work to make those doctor visits. Another fear we had was the cost for medical care and how much our insurance would cover.

CAF: How did you find answers to your questions about adopting a child with thalassemia?

We read everything we could find on the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation’s website, asked questions and read on topics like chelation, labs, annual specialist evaluations in our support group. We were also supported by the team at the thalassemia satellite center in Atlanta who answered our questions via email and helped us navigate our children’s medical files. We asked how other families scheduled visits around work and figured out how to make it work for our family. A call to our insurance provider and reading over the manual carefully helped us determine what the medical expenses would likely be as well.

CAF: What are the greatest joys of being an adoptive parent to a child with thalassemia? What are the biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenge initially was the learning curve for knowing the labs that needed to be done, figuring out how often our children needed transfusions, understanding how iron overload works in the body, and making sure our local providers understood the standards of care and current best practices for treatments. Now that we have a few years of experience and two sweet little ones, those are no longer challenges and our days are mostly all joy. Our children are simply our children and we sometimes forget they even have beta thalassemia major until we hit a day when they are nearing transfusion and running low on energy or a day they have to miss something fun at school because they have to get transfused. Those days bring us back to the reality of the disorder. Every day they make us smile and laugh, bring us pride in how they have overcome so much in their little lives, and exude so much more bravery than I ever could. Our kids bring so much to our family that we did not even know we were missing. They are playmates and best friends with their siblings and teach us about resilience and grace. They are our heroes.

CAF: How did you learn about Cooley’s Anemia Foundation, and what makes you support CAF?

Another family in our support group referred us to CAF. We have learned so much, used the resources, and received emails of support from CAF, sometimes just checking in on our children. CAF even wrote letters for our adoptions supporting the need to get our children home promptly to begin appropriate treatment. We print their resources often and share with medical providers and school staff for our children. We rely on updates they send including regarding new guidelines around fever and chelation medication to help provide us guidance on caring for our children and keeping them healthy and safe. The amount of resources and support we have received is priceless.

CAF: What advice do you have for individuals who would like to adopt a child with thalassemia?

If you are considering adopting a child with thalassemia I would suggest checking out the CAF website and the No Hands But Ours website searching for thalassemia in the search bar. I would also recommend connecting with other families that have adopted children with thalassemia who can answer some of the tough questions and fears that are often present at first when it all feels overwhelming. Know up front that thalassemia does require staying on top of labwork, potential blood transfusions, and close monitoring by specialists for complications.

Also, don’t try to learn it all at once but do try to learn as you go along. It can be overwhelming and feel impossible at first, but thalassemia treatment is a marathon, not a sprint, and that is okay. You will learn as you parent all the terms and what they mean. After reading those resources, talking with another family, and checking into your insurance plans to make sure they cover things like blood transfusions, I would suggest not letting fear make your decision. I am the girl who was terrified of needles and had a deep phobia of them who now assists blood transfusions every three weeks, regularly donates blood, and helps organize blood drives. If you would have told me five years ago this was going to be my life I would tell you no way! Now, I could not be more grateful or imagine a happier life than the one I am living with our precious children.

CAF: Is there anything else you would like to share with the community?

Thalassemia sounds like a scary big diagnosis but really it is only one tiny piece of these children who are better described as brave and wise, creative and fun, playful and artistic. I can think of a hundred adjectives that I would put as adjectives for my children before their diagnosis. It does not define them and does not define our family life. It is just a sidekick to our life that tags along and sometimes requires more attention around transfusion week or specialist visits. Mostly, we are just a family with a lot of children who like to learn and play who just happen to be the bravest kids I know.

Check the CAF website throughout November for interviews with adoptive families, FAQ’s about adoption, and resources available to those going through the process of adopting a child. For more information, visit this link.

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