Episode #219: Elsie’s Adoption Story

This week, we’re doing an episode that has been requested for years, and Elsie is finally ready to share it. This is our adoption story episode. Elsie is going to share the story of how she ended up adopting two children from China.

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Show Notes:

Nova’s Girl Scout Cookies

Why adoption is complicated:

-Many adoptees suffer horrible experiences

-Our culture is quick to paint adoptive parents as heroes

-People have outdated opinions on adoption

Stereotypes encountered when telling people:

-Asking if you will be telling your children that they are adopted

-People’s thoughts on China

-Having special needs children

Things to remember about adoption:

-It can take a long time

-All adoptions are different

-People will say mean things about your family

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Episode 219 Transcript:

Elsie: You’re listening to the A Beautiful Mess podcast, your cozy comfort lesson. This week, we’re doing an episode that has been requested for years, and I finally feel ready to share it. This is our adoption story episode. I’m going to share the story of how we ended up adopting two children from China. 

Emma: Yeah. I’m excited. So Elsie I can’t believe we haven’t done this before. 

Elsie: I know why ’cause it’s scary. It’s scary for me. It’s just kind of a big topic. 

Emma: She thinks she’s going to piss someone off. I don’t understand that honestly. Every story of your children is different, you know, whether it’s adoption or birth or whatever. They’re all different. Like, I don’t know. 

Elsie: That is like, the greatest takeaway, Emma just said it, to remember that all adoptions are different. And I’m not trying to speak for anyone else, but I do kind of think I’m excited to share our story, because obviously it’s, like, one of the greatest things that’s ever happened in my life. Yeah, I feel ready now, finally. I’m gonna start with a disclaimer. You had to know. You had to know. Right? Okay, so before I jump in, I feel like it is important for me to acknowledge that adoption is a complicated and even kind of messed up subject. The reason why I never wanted to do this episode was because I was terrified of saying something wrong or speaking for my children, speaking for other adoptees, speaking for the adoption community, and I don’t want to do that. So before we begin, I want to clearly say that I’m sharing our experience. It doesn’t represent any other adoptive families or adoption in general, and I really hope I can do the topic justice because it’s really a special important topic to me. I do think that more awareness and compassion are needed in the adoption world. There’s a lot of bad information that just goes around unchecked seemingly forever. So hopefully this episode will be, I guess, if nothing else, a good story. 

Emma: Yeah, I mean, it’s a story of a family coming together, so it’s beautiful. And I don’t know, I think I’m not as much in the adoption world as you, because I’m not a parent who has adopted children, so I don’t know of all the bad things that you likely see or that people probably say to you from time to time, or Whatever. So I just, I’m like, Oh, this is the story of your family. Let’s hear it. That’s all I really have for me. 

Elsie: True, true. Yeah. I think you probably speak for almost everyone in that way. So, okay. I’m going to give a little bit of background about just like why adoption is complicated. 

Emma: Yeah. It’s complicated. Okay. Yeah. Let’s do that. 

Elsie: So the first one is there are many adoptees who suffer horrible experiences, so there’s a large community of adoptees who think adoption should not happen, specifically international adoption. There are lots of adoptees who would call their experience like being trafficked, and they felt that they went somewhere into a family that they didn’t want to be in. So I just want to like leave space for that completely because that is very valid and honestly, I’ve seen it myself in the adoption community like It’s just a mess. The second thing is that our culture is very quick and aggressive to paint adoptive parents as heroes. I was not expecting that when we first announced we were adopting. It was just like an onslaught of people complimenting me in ways that were not appropriate at all, and it kind of never ended. So, I do want to clearly say that the adoptees are the heroes. My children are the heroes in our story. My husband and I, we’re the lucky ones in our story. So, I think that’s just a misconception that is unfortunately just so prevalent. 

Emma: Yeah. And I think that kind of speaks to some of the, what I would consider outdated ideas about what adoption is, that it’s like a second choice or, you know, something along those lines that you once in a while hear people say, and it’s like, whoa, let’s update that. So, yeah, there’s a lot of old information as well. So let’s all keep our hearts open to change. 

Elsie: Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. And I guess that’s, this is a good time for me to say, l myself, have used the wrong terms and misspoke about adoption before, too. It’s very easy to do, and when I realized I had done it, I, like, lost sleep over it. It’s a horrible feeling, and I think that learning all the correct terms, just like the, you know, best practices of a new subject is something that everyone has to learn for the first time, and there’s, I think, a grace period, and, you know, like, no one’s born knowing this information. 

Emma: Yeah, it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you’re open to change and growth, I think. Because how else can you live? You have to be right all the time, which no one is. 

Elsie: Okay. And then the last thing is there’s so much good information now. When we did our first adoption, we had a lot of required courses that we had to do which were training for trauma and special needs adoption and international adoption. And there’s so much proactive work being done to make things better, but there’s still just a lot of problems. So I think that it’s kind of important to let both things be true that there are a lot of people out there trying to make it better as quickly as possible and there’s also a lot of people who just sort of like refuse to learn or change in my lifetime It’s one of the most strangest communities I’ve ever been a part of.

Emma: Yeah, I could see that. Yeah, I also think in a broader sense, I hope this doesn’t diminish adoption in any way because I don’t mean it to. I just think that parenting is kind of a weird area where a lot of times you encounter just other parents generally who are doing it very differently from you. And that can be kind of hard sometimes when you don’t agree with the approach someone else may be taking or the views they have on it. 

Elsie: Now that you mention it, it’s very similar. It’s just hard when you see someone else saying or doing something that you so passionately disagree with and you feel like it’s pretty common knowledge and like an outdated belief or behavior. You’re always going to see people doing things that you wouldn’t do probably in any area of life, but parenting sort of like brings it out because there’s an innocent child involved, which is very complicated. So yeah, that said weirdest community I’ve ever been a part of, but also I have some of like my best friends in the world, our fellow adoptive parents, and people who I met through the process. And it’s not all weird people, but it definitely, for me, was like a culture shock. I loved it. I’m so glad we did it. We are certain now that our family is complete and our journey is over. Another reason why this is a good time to do this episode is because we, for a little while, I was like, Oh, maybe, you know, no, no, no, no, no, no, we’re done. 

Emma: Yeah, I think to like, I always have more perspective on something the farther I get away from it. And I think that can even change like 10 more years from now or when your girls are adults, you know, and I think that’s really normal. I think it’s kind of good to be always reflecting, and I don’t know, growing from it, hopefully. Okay, so when did you first know that you wanted to adopt? And also, was this, like, something that you and Jeremy both felt at the same time? Because I feel like that’s something that a lot of partnerships deal with, too. 

Elsie: So yeah, when we first got married, I was always, like, someone who was open to adoption or dreamed of adopting. It’s just something that, since childhood, I thought was interesting and seemed cool to me. When we got married, I definitely communicated that to Jeremy, and he didn’t have strong feelings, which is pretty typical for him. He’s not much of, like, a strong-feelings kind of guy, would you say? 

Emma: Yeah, he rarely has, like, a super strong opinion about something. 

Elsie: Yeah, he’s pretty chill. He is the type of person who does not plan ahead compared to me. We’re very different in that way, so he’s not planning his life. He doesn’t have a 10-year plan. But I do. So I made sure that he wasn’t against adoption because I think that could have been sort of a deal breaker for me. When we were first married, we followed someone on Instagram who adopted a child from China. And it was like when we were living in our first house in Missouri, we were probably married for two years or three years, and we followed this adoption story. It just, like, got us. It just, like, you know, went into our hearts and, like, it was like a seed was planted, and he said, that he felt something like maybe he could be open to it someday, and I took that as like a blood oath, you know, how I do. Yeah, so I kind of always knew. So, then we formed a plan. We were trying to get pregnant and conceive. And we tried for a couple of years, but like, okay, I’ll just be like, honest, whether this is weird or not, we didn’t really try that hard. We were rolling the dice. Yeah, we were trying on like, the low level, like, there’s no birth control, and there’s no worries about contraception.

Emma: You weren’t like testing for when you were in your window?

Elsie: I think I did. I think I did that a few times, but like just not really. And then the other thing was at this time in our lives, Emma and I were traveling all the time, every month we had a trip. So we were off and unsynced a lot, just like logistically that went on for, I think, I don’t even remember now, but I think it was like one to two years. It might’ve been like two years, but with a break in the middle or like, you know, whatever, like if we were moving or something, anyway, we had said like, okay, well, if we don’t become pregnant by our fifth anniversary, then we’ll just start our adoption process. At the time, I felt like I would be happy either way. I felt like we could have biological children and adoptive children. I kind of didn’t care, honestly, which is very uncommon. And like, I like to acknowledge that because they feel like when, like a lot of people have these very traumatic experiences around conception, like, and I just didn’t have that at all. So I don’t want to like, seem like I did. So yeah, the fifth anniversary rolled around and I was like, let’s start our adoption tomorrow. Like I was so happy and it just felt right. It felt good. 

Emma: Why did you pick the China program? It sounded like you followed a story earlier in your marriage together that was a Chinese adoptive family. But did you consider any of the other programs? Did you consider domestic or were you like, well, we connected with that story, so we’re going to just roll with that and see how it goes? 

Elsie: So, historically, the China adoption program was one of the, like, larger international adoption programs in the US. 

Emma: It’s a very big country. 

Elsie: Yeah. It was really, really big in, like, the 1990s. And by the time we adopted, for the first time, our first adoption was in 2017, I think. The program was, like, significantly, significantly smaller by the time we began our adoption. When we got into the program, they immediately told me, I remember my first phone call, like it was yesterday, they immediately said, this is a special needs adoption program only. So, like, think about that. There were people, I think, still on a waiting list from, like, years before that, like, five years before that, who were waiting for children without special needs. And like every once in a while there were children without special needs, but it was a special needs program, and the story we had followed was a special needs adoption with a cleft lip and palate. So we knew that, and I think at the time I had the impression that that was very common. I don’t think it’s as common as I thought it was. I had it in my brain that we were adopting a child from China with a cleft lip and palate because of the story we followed. And I know many families, like after us had it in their mind that they were adopting a little girl with albinism, you know? And then it turned out differently for them as well. We did explore a bunch of programs. We did talk to an adoption attorney to do domestic infant adoption. And we talked to the people at Holt. This is the program we used and they facilitated a lot of different countries, international adoption. So we were able to, like, hear an overview of all the different programs at that time. And China was the program with the shortest waiting period at that time. So that was why we picked it, I think, primarily. And also it was just the program that we had, like, been exposed to and knew the most about. So yeah, it felt like a good program.

Emma: Did you encounter a lot of stereotypes when it came to your adoption? Like, I guess when you started talking about it online or while you were in the process of it with other people in the program or family members or friends who you had told, you know? 

Elsie: Everything you think could happen when you say you’re adopting does happen. Sooner or later, all the stereotypes about Adoption in general, including really old-fashioned ideas. Like, are you going to tell your children they’re adopted is a question that people ask me. As far as I know, I don’t know anyone in the 2020s who doesn’t tell their child they’re adopted. I think that’s like an idea from the 1950s or something.

Emma: It’s pretty tricky with your girls.

Elsie: I love the way we do it where it’s like we’ve always celebrated the adoption and let it be a part of their story. I mean, it is a part of their story. Like, yeah, it just is. Yeah. And then also stereotypes about China have been alarming. I know that racism is real. I never thought that it wasn’t real, but I didn’t know how drastic it was until I adopted children from China and I had the new filter in my brain of not wanting them to hear people, even people in our lives, talking about China. It, like, it hurts. It hurts, and it’s horrible. And, you know, I hope it changes, but it’s, it’s worse than I thought it would be, and then stereotypes about special needs adoption, probably out of all the categories, like I don’t think you should talk someone into adoption who’s not interested. Like I think if you don’t want to adopt, don’t adopt, great. But for people who are interested in adoption, I do like to spread awareness about special needs adoption because it’s just so varied. It’s just become such a wonderful, big part of our lives, and I’m so glad that we had the information and we’re open to it at the time when, you know, it all happened. I think it’s something that people can be fearful about without information, and those fears can be, like, very easily eased with more information. So, yeah, I think that that’s definitely a stereotype in the adoption world that, yeah, hopefully, will get better over time. 

Emma: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the process of when you were matched with Nova?

Elsie: So both of our adoptions were very different in the timeline. For Nova’s adoption, we were told that it was an 18-month program. So we kind of started our process. I wish that I would have had someone who was, like, very type 1 sit down with me in the beginning and sort of explain to me, like, these are the things you can do to stay on your timeline and make it go faster. Like, the proactive things because at that point in my life, I was ready to be a mom and adopt a child. Like, yesterday, I was, like, real emotional about it. And I think anyone who’s been through that understands, like, I was definitely in a hurry. We had a social worker. I think she was at the end of her social working career. I’m sure it’s a hard job. And she just wasn’t very proactive or on top of it. The paperwork that you have to turn in. She gave me a lot of extra stuff that we didn’t have to do the second time and that a lot of people, other families have never heard of before. It was just like a big extra, like a lot of extra homework. And then she also gave me a very long timeline. And the second time I did it, I did it all in two weeks. Cause I knew that you could. And the first time, I think I took like months, like maybe three to six months like I took months to get it all done. Cause I thought that was normal, and I thought I was on track. So then when we were about a year into it, we had these phone calls and stuff where they told us like, you’re not on track, like for an 18-month program anymore. And I was like devastated. And I was like that we’re going to go through another Christmas and it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I think that that was a part of why we were so open-minded. And, yeah, our special needs checklist, I think, it’s a checklist of 30 to 50 conditions, and we had checked, like, 20 of them. And it seemed like we had checked everything we were open to, but we hadn’t checked off albinism. Like, we were intimidated by the legally blind status, and it’s intimidating. Like, a noncorrectable medical condition is more intimidating than something you can remedy with surgery, right?

Emma: I also think it’s really okay to like be open to some things and not it’s kind of the same thing. It’s like if someone’s not open to adoption or they are, I don’t think you should villainize someone for those types of things. I also think if, by the way, you don’t want to have Children at all. That doesn’t make you a bad person. It is okay to have different. 

Elsie: That’s a really good point. There are so many families who only put like five things on the list or ten things and there’s nothing wrong with that. So yeah, we should be very clear about that. There’s kind of nothing wrong with anything. One of the awkward things about adoption is that, at least in our program, you have to say preferences. 

Emma: Which you don’t do if you’re doing like biologically conceiving, but you probably still have some things inside you. You just don’t have to fill out a form.

Elsie: Yeah, it’s awkward. We were kind of unsure about it. We had the great fortune to have, reconnected with an old friend who is living only a few hours away from where we were living in Nashville, and she came to visit us with her daughter who was adopted from China and has albinism. So like, what kind of a miracle is that? Like, it’s a very rare condition. 

Emma: Quite a coincidence. Maybe the universe knew. 

Elsie: In my whole life, like, just out in public in life, I’ve only seen a person with albinism, like, less than ten times. And I’m, like, very aware about it now. Like, most people wouldn’t be.

Emma: Ever since you adopted, same. Very aware of it. And I think it’s only happened twice. 

Elsie: I looked it up when we were first researching and it seems like in the entire world, the population of people with albinism is about the number of people that live in our medium-sized town in Missouri. 

Emma: In the whole world. Wow. 

Elsie: So it’s very, very rare. We were very lucky to be able to meet a child with albinism in person before having the match and stuff. Okay, so how the match happen? It was a long emotional summer, and we were waiting and waiting. We were having lots of, like, extra calls being like, but please! And they were like, we’ll do our best, but no, there’s no hope for you. You know what I mean? 

Emma: I remember being in the phase of longing. That’s when I wrote my murder book because I went a little crazy. Yeah. I think most parents who remember that phase, it’s a hard time when you’re just longing and longing.

Elsie: Yeah. So the way we’re matched is in addition to. All of the families who, you know, have their checklist or whatever, they have all that on file. They also will send email updates to the families who are in the program with pictures of children who are in the China Adoption Program, who are logged in, who are ready to be adopted, and just kind of in the hopes that someone will see the picture and like have a connection. And so that’s what happened to us. We saw this picture of Nova. They have what they call an advocacy name. They give the child-like kind of a random white person’s name. Yes. And her name was Molly. And it was just like Molly. And it was a picture of her with this little like paper hat on her head.

Emma: And I have it on my phone. You know what your phone is like. The album, it makes albums of, that’s the first one in the Nova folder because with the hat. 

Elsie: The first picture we ever saw. And I think I immediately was like, Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy. I remember him saying like, oh, she’s so cute. And then he kind of didn’t like to bring it up to me anymore. He’s very reserved. He thinks about things for a long time. He’s very thoughtful. He’s very different from me. I’m very impulsive and sure of a decision and he’s like very, like, I’ll think about it for an extra few weeks. Sometime within the following few days, Emma and our friend Jackie were visiting. We were all at the house together and he called me into the basement and it sounded kind of like urgent. So I went down there and he had his computer pulled up and he was like Okay, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I sent an email to Holt and asked for more information about this child, and they just sent me the whole file, like, as if we could be matched, like, today. And I was like, what? And I started, like, bawling. Like, we’ve read the report, the information on the documents is, like, it’s translated, and it’s pretty sparse information. 

Emma: Yeah, it’s a little vague. 

Elsie: Yeah, a little vague. It will leave you with more questions than answers. It had a couple of photos and it had a video and I think the video, I don’t know like it was like the greatest moment of my life seeing the video and knowing that this like possibility had just been opened to us, I think it was July or August at that time. So like my brain, it was just going so quickly, like maybe we will be together at Christmas. You know, it was like the thing I was obsessed with.

Emma: At the time was she one and a half, two, I’m trying to remember cause she’s over two and you went together. 

Elsie: She was two. He had to think about it. After that, so I didn’t tell my sister, I didn’t tell Jackie, it was the hardest thing ever, we were like hanging out, and I was like all giddy, but also like nervous, and like, I couldn’t tell anyone, and so we waited, I don’t know, it was maybe a week or not even a week, and it was the day, I don’t know if anyone remembers this, but it was like a very big lunar eclipse in Tennessee in 2016. So we went out to our friend’s house in the country and, you know, we had the little glasses. And he told me, like, when we were on our way there in the car, it was a memorable moment that I’ll never forget. You know, it changed everything. Like, from that moment on, we knew we were going to be a family with this specific child. It was a very, very beautiful moment. 

Emma: Speaking of beautiful moments, let’s talk about the first time meeting Nova. And then, maybe just, generally your first year at home. Cause we’re also, we gotta talk about Goldie too. We wanna talk about both these beautiful little angels. Let’s talk about meeting Nova for the first time.

Elsie: Okay. The first child, it’s like the moment you become a parent. It was a very, very big deal. So, we Officially, knew we were going to adopt Nova in August, and then we eventually got our travel dates for December. So it was a pretty short amount of time to have to wait. Traveled to China, it’s one of the most surreal moments of my life. Just every single thing about it, like the hotel breakfast, Emma went with us on our second trip so she understands, it’s like these very specific sensory memories. It’s Like you never forget it in your whole life. Like the Western hotels in China breakfast buffets are incredible. And they’re like, just different from anything you ever see in your entire life. 

Emma: You can get dumplings. You can get hash browns. Oh, it’s the best. 

Elsie: It’s like some food from McDonald’s and also like a full bar of like full Chinese food. And it was a wonderful travel experience. We loved China. The day we met Nova, we woke up so early, and then we had to wait till like 10 am for our guide. We always had a guide because, you know, we don’t speak Mandarin, yeah, we can’t get around. Like, yeah, having a guide was, like, really wonderful and fun too, cause it’s like someone who can, like, explain everything to you, and you can ask any question, and you kind of become friends. We went to this building like we had heard so many adoption stories because you know It’s like a thing you do while you’re adopting is you read other people’s stories, right? And we knew that it would probably be in like a civil affairs building Which is kind of just an office building and usually people will say you’re just like sitting in a room and then all of a sudden they bring in a bunch of children and everyone’s just like matching with children. Our situation was kind of different because Nova’s province didn’t have a lot of adoptions, and there was only one other family there with us. When we got to the building, we like, went up an elevator, and as soon as the elevator opened, we could see she was already sitting there on the couch, and it was just the most stomach-dropping feeling you can ever have. We tried to say hello. We tried to give her this little toy. She was like, you know, not into it. And she had had a long three-hour van ride that morning where she was bawling the entire time and very scared. It was difficult and challenging, but it was nothing that we weren’t prepared for or expecting based on the training and stuff. It was just all the things that we were told could happen, happened, and it was difficult in the moment. Like, in the moment, I would have said it was, like, one of the hardest times of my life. But then, in hindsight, it was over so quickly, and she adjusted so quickly, and we were, able to be having fun together in, like, a matter of weeks.

Emma: Yeah, I mean, it’s a big adjustment for her. That makes a lot of sense. It seems very natural and normal. But also, I’m sure, very scary. And I think becoming a parent for the first time for anyone, all the different ways it happens, is a big adjustment. 

Elsie: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Like, thinking from a child’s perspective. Like they don’t know what an orphanage is. They don’t care. They just know that this is like my safe place with people I know and things I like and like all my familiar comforts in this whole world. Yeah, if you think of it that way you can understand why children can’t or won’t be like excited or grateful most of the time on the day they’re adopted, and like that’s just like normal and we weren’t expecting it to be any other way. 

Emma: I don’t expect my kid to be grateful till he’s in his 30s. I think it takes a lot of perspective. So I didn’t even feel like I fully understood everything our parents did for us until more recently. And then you’re like, Oh, wow. 

Elsie: It’s true. It’s true. I know I didn’t appreciate our parents until I was an adult, basically. I was at least in my 20s or 30s, yeah. 

Emma: So, no, kids don’t have to be grateful all the time, that’s too high a standard. 

Elsie: Yeah. But yeah, it was a beautiful time. Yeah, we had a lot of fun in China. The first year, was definitely one of the greatest years of my life. It was so, so much fun. I don’t know what it’s like to have an infant. I have had lots of friends or family members with infants, and I love infants. But adopting a two-and-a-half-year-old and starting from that point was, like, so fun because we were communicating in less than a week. She was learning English. 

Emma: Yeah, that’s Oscar’s age now. And it’s a very fun age. Very, like, personalities blossoming. Yeah. Imagination. Yeah. You can communicate so much more than an infant. 

Elsie: We were able to do a lot of things really quickly. We were making crafts. Like, we got home, I think, in December. 15th, maybe. And we were making like Christmas crafts and we were decorating the Christmas tree and, you know, so it was a very magical time. I love the toddler age. You know, we were going through all of these first. One of the things that’s kind of unique about China adoption is pretty often the children have, like, their head shaved, that’s, like, very normal. Boys and girls alike, everyone has their head shaved just to, like, I think to make things easier. So Nova’s first haircuts and, like, her little, like, first, like, little twiggy pigtails were such a moment for us. It was the best year ever. I can’t say enough good that it was, you know, the biggest life change, which it always would be, but I feel like we jumped into just, like, a dream life. It really was, like, just an amazing life together. And it’s been great. It’s been wonderful. 

Emma: Okay, well, tell us a little bit about when you started thinking about doing a second adoption. Like, did you know right away? Or you were like, we’re going to take a few years.

Elsie: For our second adoption, we knew how long the process could take, and we knew the 18 months, we had heard people from Holt say, oh no, it’s 24 months. And like, as the number of adoptees was going down every year, obviously the waiting periods went up every year. So we were like, okay, it’s already like two years, plus we had decided that we wanted to adopt another child with albinism. Which, I would love to explain that, because I feel like this is probably one of the things I’ve been criticized for that I think people just don’t understand. Albinism is so rare that we thought that it would be wonderful for these two children to grow up together and have this shared experience. To have someone in their family who looks like them, and, you know, have all the same doctors, all the same challenges, and that alone, I think, is more than worth it, and like, a wonderful reason. Why not give them someone who looks like them in their family if you can? So, that was our reason. I will say a hundred percent I’m glad that we did it, and obviously things could have turned out differently and we could have adopted a child that didn’t have albinism. We were open to that too, but that’s just like not how it turned out. So, that’s the reason why. So when we started the paperwork, we wanted to start really early because we thought that the waiting period would be very long because specifically asking for a child with albinism. And for a younger age than what NOVA was. So that’s just a thing that’s recommended in adoption to keep the birth order if you can. Those were the specifications that we asked for and we just felt the likelihood that that would happen would be so small. So we were wrong about that. And I think we started our paperwork in the fall and we had gotten our home study approved. And one month later in January, we got a call to be matched with our second daughter, who was one year old, when we, were matched, and she had albinism, has albinism, like, we just couldn’t believe it, I can’t explain strongly enough what a miracle it was, like, children who were one year old, It’s pretty rare in our program. It’s just very, very rare. 

Emma: Like that’s very young?

Elsie: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a very young age because there’s all this prep work and process that the child goes through on the China end to be eligible for adoption that sometimes like takes a very long time. And like, it’s just not normal for one-year-old babies to be in the program. So that was pretty special. And then, you know, a child with albinism. It was just, like, the perfect moment. But we were surprised, to say the least. We were shocked because the second part of our paperwork wasn’t done yet. We had a longer waiting period before we could travel, so we had to wait six months. So we were matched in January and we traveled in July.

Emma: July, 2019?

Elsie: Yeah, it was 2019. We got ready to travel again. I will say that I had a little bit of grief. I think that second-child grief or fears are very extremely common. 

Emma: What! No, I’m just kidding. I definitely feel that every day. 

Elsie: Yes. Emma’s pregnant with her second child right now. I had a lot of grief that I didn’t feel like I had enough time with just Nova, and we really didn’t. We didn’t have as much time as we were expecting to. But you’ll see by the time the story’s over why it like was meant to be, it had to be this way, and we’re so grateful that it happened this way. But it was very soon. 

Emma: And I was like, so, you know, the concept of a third wheel, I would like to do the biggest third wheel ever. Can I come on the adoption trip? And they were like, yeah, you can go.

Elsie: We traveled together to China. Side note, we got to go to the Great Wall and it was so fun. We got to take an, what do you call it? Like a ski lift up to the top of the wall. 

Emma: That was terrifying. 

Elsie: And then, it was terrifying, and then ride this little slide all the way down.

Emma: I think they call it a toboggan. 

Elsie: Yeah, if you ever go to the Great Wall, try to go to the part where the slide is, because it’s so worth it, it was so cool. And yeah, anyway, it was definitely like a very different vibe from our first adoption trip. It was more of a party vibe because Nova was there. It wasn’t like the same feeling as going from not being a parent to being a parent. It was just like a big party. It was just like very exciting and Nova was excited. She was four years old at the time. 

Emma: Yeah, she was making cards for her.

Elsie: She had just turned four, and yeah, she had understanding. It was small but there. She understood what was going on. Yeah, it was completely magical. We knew that Marigold was going to be a year and a half old. I was expecting a typical one-and-a-half-year-old. But when we met her, she had the appearance of a six-month-old baby, like the size and weight of a six-month-old baby, and she also had like a lot of development markers of a six-month-old baby, but she had the dental of a one and a half-year-old, I think she really was one and a half, but it was kind of hard to believe. She didn’t walk. 

Emma: She seemed, yeah, more of an infant than a toddler. 

Elsie: Yeah, she didn’t walk at all, she didn’t talk at all, so from that moment on when we met her, it was night and day difference between our experience with Nova. So I kind of alluded to it earlier, but our initial first few weeks with Nova had like trauma and like adjustments.

Emma: She was old enough to have opinions.

Elsie: Yeah, she was going through grief and pain and Marigolds didn’t express anything. It wasn’t that she didn’t express, like, even grief and pain and trauma. She didn’t really express anything. She kind of was a very blank child, and it was for, like, more than a year. So the good thing about it was it was she was very, very easy. Like, it was all just pleasant, easy, and fun from day one, like on night one, it was like a party. We were having fun, but I think the thing that was hard about it was that like our initial just like bonding. Also, we were just worried about her for a long time because she did early intervention when we got home and she just had like a lot of catching up to do. Which, thankfully, everything was great and she caught up to her age level before she started school. Now that I know her personality, I kind of also understand that she’s not a people pleaser. She never performs for someone else. 

Emma: She’s a bit more of a loner, yeah. She’ll go play by herself more, like, that’s just her personality, yeah.

Elsie: So yeah, she was like a tiny baby. We were feeding her bottles, and she could crawl a little bit. It was very shocking, and confusing. 

Emma: Yeah, they brought her in, and I was like, Oh, you got a baby! This is not, this is not a toddler, this is a baby. I hope you brought baby stuff, because Whoa! 

Elsie: This is very memorable, on the night that we adopted her when we were having dinner, one of the other guides came up and sort of criticized us for not having formula and we were like, she’s a year and a half old, she can eat food. And they were like, you should have brought formula with you. And I was like, okay, we’ll get some tomorrow. Like and I was very rattled by it. It was a trip, for sure. It was just like, expect the unexpected, and they always say that. I don’t know, I still wasn’t prepared. 

Emma: You can’t really do that, though. That’s like, logistically, you can’t actually prepare for the unexpected. Just hear that sentence. You actually can’t do that. So, and then also, like, thinking about, like, packing for an international trip with a child you already have to adopt another child who you’re going to meet there. There are whole women who freak out about what we’re going to put in our hospital bag. You know what I mean? And that is to drive down the street to the hospital. Like, we could go, you know, to Walmart after, you know what I mean? It’s just a whole different, it’s like, this is a hard thing to prepare for. So, I don’t know how you could prepare for every scenario. 

Elsie: Yeah, shopping and everything in China is super duper different. It was fun, but like, I think that’s what the guide is there for though. As they helped with every single thing, everything worked out. It was great, but we had kind of a hilarious situation on the way home where we think Jeremy, like, took the wrong dose of cold medicine. And he was like, he was high when we were going through the airports. And like, super paranoid. And it was funny now, but at the moment it was like, not funny. Going through all the airports with two little kids and a double stroller and like passports and like, you know, the guides don’t come with you after they drop you off at the airport.

Emma: I had no kids with me and I had a hard time She was like you walk up to someone, and you don’t speak their language, I just hand them all my documents. Like where should I go? 

Elsie: Yeah, I think he actually I don’t know took a double dose or too much in the middle of the night or didn’t realize what time it was or something happened. 

Emma: That can happen, you wake up in the night, and you think, oh, I didn’t take it yet, but you did.

Elsie: Yeah, it was a beautiful, wonderful trip. And yeah, we’re really thankful that Emma came with us. I can’t wait to go back to China. 

Emma: China is very cool. I only saw a tiny part of it, obviously, but it’s very cool. One of the most interesting places I’ve ever been, for sure. Well, so that was the summer of 2019. So how did the China program change in 2020? Did anything happen that year? 

Elsie: So the program closed completely. I can’t remember if it was in December or January, but it shut its doors and didn’t have any movement at all for more than three years. That was kind of like the biggest mindfuck of my life was the idea that we almost could have missed it. Like we almost missed the window. We have a close friend who was matched and planning to travel right at the beginning of 2020 and she just traveled and adopted her child a couple of weeks ago this year in 2024. Many families didn’t make it through that long waiting period. They changed programs or, you know, they weren’t able to sustain a four-year wait, which is understandable. 

Emma: None of us knew how long any of that was going to last.

Elsie: During the beginning of the pandemic, it’s understandable that people thought they were about to travel. There are people who had their bags packed, who had their visas, who had, you know, like their travel itinerary. They had their tiny little clothing in their bags. The way that the weight was like rolled out, you know, obviously it was no one’s fault but at first it was like we hope that it will be in a few months and then later on It would be like we hope that it will be next year, and then it just kept being like we hope that’ll be next year. We hope that’ll be next year, we hope that’ll be next year. During all that time, it was very hard for people in the China adoption world to like, we already knew that the program was becoming smaller and smaller and was likely inevitably going to close. That was already a pretty common thing that people knew, but it was like, closed overnight. You know, now there are a few families who were matched before the pandemic who are traveling. But as far as I know, it’s not going to reopen again in the future. So that’s like a devastating loss for, I don’t know, it’s devastating in so many different ways. This is what I would say from a mom who has children from China. Please don’t tolerate people just blindly saying mean stuff about China. Like, say something when you hear it, because I just wish that it wasn’t, like, all the time. I think that, like, people need to learn that that behavior isn’t acceptable. 

Emma: Yeah, well it’s just, it’s not solely politics. I think sometimes you just want to say your political view and you kind of forget that there’s a lot of other things around that. Maybe just like, don’t say your dumb views. I don’t know. 

Elsie: Yeah, maybe just don’t. So yeah, the China program, that’s also another reason why I don’t share as much adoption stuff anymore, any adoption stuff is because the program’s been closed for four years, and as far as they’re not accepting new families to begin the program. I feel immensely grateful for the rest of my life for the miracle that we had our second adoption so quickly we were able to be together through the pandemic. I can’t imagine Nova being an only child for four extra years. I can’t imagine meeting Marigold when she was five years old instead of one, and it could have so easily happened.

Emma: She just turned six. So it’s hard to think about. Do you have anything you want to share about what it’s like being a Chinese American family living in the South the Midwest or the US? generally? 

Elsie: Being a Chinese American family is wonderful, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world. And also, it’s like a life-changing awareness of how mean people are. Mean, racist, yeah, intolerant. Yeah, comments about immigrants, migrants, comments about China, comments about any foreign people. Just like, hit very differently now. It’s definitely one of the issues that I vote for, you know, it’s at the top of my voting priorities. I just wish that people would have a lot more compassion, like love and generosity towards immigrants. I don’t know, it’s something that I wish I could shield my kids from, but it’s gonna be a big part of their life, no matter where they live in the US, but especially in the South and the Midwest. I want people to be more kind towards immigrants. So the funniest things people have said to me in public. Oh my god, like, oh, It can be so weird very often I would say once a month or more people ask me if the children’s hair color is natural. I always just say like, yes, it’s natural. It’s natural. Like, but like, you’re asking me if I dye a four-year-old’s hair, like, can you think like, or bleach?

Emma: Marigold would want you to do her hair. She like would get those permanent extensions if you would let her. If Marigold got to pick her own hair color, it would be pink for sure. 

Elsie: So that’s not the problem, but yeah, and I guess I can understand that because I think that like the way that a person with albinism looks, I like can’t see it anymore. I don’t notice that there’s anything different about them anymore because like, and you can’t like, it just kind of goes away, but I get it that like, when you’ve never seen a person, like a lot of people also act like seeing us in public is like a big opportunity for them to come and ask me a bunch of questions? It makes me mad, honestly. Like, I don’t want to be mean, but like, I just can’t imagine going up to a family and asking more than three or four questions about their children in front of their children. Like, it’s so rude, but people think that they’re being nice. That’s very awkward. Okay, but the worst thing of all time was that someone said to me, this is so bad, it was a checkout grocer in Nashville, and he said to me, is she from your seed? And I said, What? And he said, is she from your seed? And I said, she’s adopted. And then I left. 

Emma: We were like, number one, women don’t have seeds, we have eggs.

Elsie: Oh my god. Yeah. That’s a funny question. I know. Okay, and then one last thing I’ll say is that people come up to us kind of every time we go in public, and address the children and say, oh, you are so beautiful. You’re just so perfect. You’re so pretty. 

Emma: Which they are beautiful. 

Elsie: They’re gorgeous. They’re beautiful. Yeah. Like they know that. But the thing that’s weird is that it happens to us every day. And I wish that people knew what they’re saying isn’t special and like, isn’t really helpful. It happens every day. So it’s, it’s weird. Now the kids are just like, thanks. They can’t have a reaction to it and I feel like they’re getting like weird information from those comments and like, I don’t know It’s never gonna stop their whole lives, and an adult with albinism, when Nova was an little baby She explained to me like the best advice that was just like my mom taught me how to respond graciously to people, so I try to always have that attitude and be as gracious as I can but I do wish that people would stop acting like they’re the first person to ever give our kids a compliment about their appearance.

Emma: It’s hard not to notice, I will say. They’re gorgeous. So, on one hand, I get it, but on the other hand, getting stopped all the time when you’re trying to run errands. And yeah, I think, you know, little kids, it’s hard to know what they’re always taking in and how they’re interpreting that in their child’s brain. Just generally, I think not commenting on appearances can be a good move and just wait till you, like, have a kid in your life that you, like, know them a little better and you can compliment them on, you know, how focused they are. How hard they work, their courage, their love for others. 

Elsie: Literally anything but their appearance, yeah.

Emma: Yeah, I think commenting on someone’s appearance can just, can just backfire in ways you don’t mean it to, but it can. And so it’s like, well, you know, it’s not the best option. 

Elsie: Yep. Okay. So we’re going to go now to a joke or a fact with Nova. Hey Nova, what do you have this week? 

Nova: A joke. 

Elsie: A joke? Okay. 

Nova: Why did the cookie go to the doctor?

Elsie: Why?

Nova: Because he was feeling a little crummy.

Elsie: Oh, I like that one. That’s a good one. 

Nova: Thank you for having me. Bye. 

Elsie: Have a good week. All right. Thank you so much for listening I appreciate you so much and you feel like family, especially when we’re able to do an episode like this, that’s so deeply personal. We would love to hear your suggestions for future episodes. Email us at podcast@abeautifulmess.com. You can also leave us a voicemail question. Reminder, make them short and concise because we often play them on the podcast. The phone number is 417-893-0011. We’ll be back next week with a listener-question episode.

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