Inspired by National Adoption Month: The Williams Family’s Road to Adoption
November 7, 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 Williams family for sharing their story with the community. We hope you are inspired by their journey!
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your family?
We are Wade and Bethany Williams. Bethany is from Fresno, CA, and Wade is from Austin, TX. We happened to meet online when we were teenagers, and our friendship turned into a long distance romance. Eventually Wade moved to CA, asked Bethany to marry him, and we’ve been married for almost 12 years. We now live in Anaheim, CA. Wade has a work-from-home job in the finance department of a bank. Bethany has been working as a university instructor but is currently a stay-at-home mom.
We have three children. Our oldest, Benjamin (age 5) was adopted from China in the summer of 2014. Peter (age 4), who has thalassemia, was adopted from China in the summer of 2015. Our biological daughter, Eleanor, was born a few months after we brought Peter home and is about to turn two years old.
When did you decide that adoption was right for your family? What made you make this decision?
The decision to adopt occurred very gradually for us. We knew several families in our church that had adopted or were in process. Every November during National Adoption Month our church would focus on the plight of the orphan and the fact that God calls us to care for those who are vulnerable and defenseless. We began to realize that we had been given so much, and if we were going to have children in our family, why not bring children into our home that desperately needed parents? In 2012, during National Adoption Month, we made the decision to begin our first adoption process.
How did you learn about thalassemia?
Once we decided to pursue the adoption of a special needs child from China, we were given a list of common special needs and asked to list the needs that we were open to. So we had to do a lot of research on various conditions to understand them. Thalassemia was one of these conditions, and we didn’t know anything about it, but as we researched, we felt very open to it.
Tell us a bit about your road to adoption. How long was the process? What were some of the challenges you faced?
Our thalassemia adoption was our second adoption. Because we began the process within a year of our first adoption, we were able to reuse some of our paperwork which expedited the process. While Peter did receive some blood transfusions in China, they were infrequent and we knew his hemoglobin was sometimes falling pretty low. This allowed us to do a medical expedite which further sped up some parts of the process. So while our first adoption had taken 18 months from start to finish, our second only took six months. Even then, waiting on paperwork to be processed and delays caused by paperwork errors were frustrating, as we were concerned for Peter’s health. A unique challenge (as well as joy!) that we faced was finding out during our process that we were expecting our biological daughter. We were fearful that we wouldn’t be allowed to continue the adoption, and knowing Peter’s medical condition, we wanted to get him home and on a regular transfusion schedule as soon as possible. Fortunately our adoption agency was supportive and we were able to welcome both children into our family that year!
What were the biggest questions, concerns and fears you had about adopting a child with thalassemia?
To be honest, thalassemia did not seem very scary to us. From our reading and conversations with parents we saw so much hope in the progress that’s been made in treating the condition. We did have some concern that Peter would be very sick when we arrived in China and that would make it more difficult to get him home on the airplane. But he was in relatively good health and had been transfused right before our arrival. I think most of our concerns revolve around how Peter will deal with thalassemia as he grows older and understands his condition more. How will thalassemia affect his mindset and outlook on life? Will he be responsible to manage his own care well? Will he feel singled out or isolated because of his condition? These are questions we will have to face down the road.
How did you find answers to your questions about adopting a child with thalassemia?
We had read some online articles written by parents of children with thalassemia to get some initial knowledge. Once we knew we were adopting a child with thalassemia, I was able to contact a mom who had adopted a child with thalassemia through our adoption agency. She answered many of my questions, and connected me to a Facebook group of parents who have adopted children with thalassemia. That group has been and continues to be an invaluable resource. I also contacted CAF, which was very helpful as well, and CAF put me in touch with the Thalassemia Center at CHLA, where Peter’s care is overseen.
What are the greatest joys of being an adoptive parent to a child with thalassemia? What are the biggest challenges?
Along with the many joys that simply come with the entrance of a child into the family, one of the unique joys for us has been watching transformations take place in our son. Many orphans in China with thalassemia are not able to receive adequate treatment for many complex reasons, including blood shortages and financial difficulties. Even though we believe our son’s orphanage was giving him the best care they could manage, he came home weighing only 20 pounds at two years old, pale, weak, listless, and barely walking. There was tremendous joy in watching him transform over the course of a year into a rather chunky, happy, energetic boy with the ability to run, jump, and climb stairs. Love and blood make a difference!
Surprisingly, the big challenges we’ve faced in our adoption journey are not uniquely related to thalassemia. Although some families do encounter big medical hurdles and challenges, Peter has had a very smooth journey medically so far, and transfusion and chelation became part of our routine fairly easily. Our biggest challenges with Peter have been related to the trauma that he endured early in life, something that is part of so many adoption stories. Peter has been through abandonment, lived in an orphanage, and then was given to us, total strangers who would be his parents, who took him to a new country to live. This inevitably leads to great emotional baggage, which can manifest in many different negative behaviors that stem from fear, anger, and a desire for control. We already have seen great emotional healing in Peter, but it is a marathon, not a sprint, that requires a new dose of patience and grace each morning.
How did you learn about Cooley’s Anemia Foundation, and what makes you support CAF?
A fellow adoptive mom told me about CAF. CAF has been supportive of us even before our child came home. We received a letter from the foundation helping us to expedite Peter’s adoption. CAF sent us helpful literature and keeps us informed of the latest in thalassemia research and care. We were able to participate in a CAF patient and family conference, which was very beneficial for our whole family. Having community is really important when parenting a child with thalassemia and we appreciate how CAF works to facilitate community for patients and their families.
What advice do you have for individuals who would like to adopt a child with thalassemia?
Usually when you are preparing for an adoption like this, you know very little about your child as a person, but you do have a special needs label—thalassemia. So you tend to do a lot of preparation for thalassemia. But once your child enters your family, he or she is so much more than thalassemia. I rarely think about the fact that our son has thalassemia, but every day I am dealing with his personality, positive and negative behaviors, charms, and quirks. So if the label “thalassemia” seems intimidating to you, know that you will deal with the medical stuff as a matter of course, but the way in which your child will change your life will be mainly because of who he is as a person, not because of his disorder. Yes, research the medical stuff, but spend even more time educating yourself about the effects of trauma on adopted children and preparing yourself to help your child work through the associated emotional difficulties.
I also can’t emphasize enough the importance of a support system. From grandparents who babysit our other children during blood transfusions, to friends who listen to our struggles and cook us dinner, to fellow adoptive parents around the country who share knowledge from their hematologist appointments, our support system has held our family together during difficulty and shared in our joys. Evaluate your support system, and if you don’t yet have one, reach out and begin building a system of people who will share in your journey.
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.