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Deciding to Adopt a Child with Special Needs

From the series Uncovering a Hidden Need in China, an Adoption Story


The wide range of children with special needs can be easily viewed on any international adoption agency’s website. As our family began the process to adopt, we immediately went to the waitlisted special needs children, and quickly felt completely overwhelmed. What we didn’t know was that we’d be confronted with deciding which need we could adequately support while living in China. The needs seemed as vast and complicated as the galaxies. Almost as soon as we started the process, we stopped. We needed to pray.

One piece of wisdom we’d been given by a caseworker was to meet and talk with other families who had adopted. So I rang up an Australian expat, Dr. Julie Mallinson, known as Dr. Julie to us expats, and asked to meet. Her adopted daughter attended the same preschool as our son.

At my home, we sat on the sofa while I rolled out question after question until she stopped and asked me, “Do you know what special need my daughter has?” I looked over at her beautiful, healthy looking little girl with her flawless skin, long black hair, and happy demeanor and replied, “Does she actually have one?”

An Enlightening Story

Dr. Julie’s story brought to light a secret that had been hidden in the recesses of China’s bustling growth. Her daughter’s story is one of the first ones to reveal that children were being born, abandoned, and dying in China with HIV. After they left China, Dr. Julie wrote and published A Pearl from Ashes, the miraculous story of how her daughter came to be part of her family.

Standing in my doorway on her way out, Dr. Julie asked me a challenging question, “We have two babies the orphanages don’t want to care for. We will be picking them up in a month or so; would you be interested in fostering one of them?”

I paused. I had to ask myself, “Am I ready to bring a baby into my home? What would it be like having a child with HIV? Is it safe? Could we do it?” To be honest. I was scared.

The following week on Easter Sunday during our city-wide worship gathering, Dr. Julie’s husband shared about a ministry they’d begun in conjunction with local believers called Elim Kids. At Elim Kids they work to aid Chinese families with HIV-positive children, to educate those working in orphanages against stigmas surrounding HIV and how to give proper care, as well as to provide homes in situations where orphans with this virus aren’t wanted due to fear.

In that providential moment God spoke to me and my husband; we knew we had our answer. He was calling us to adopt a child with HIV.

The Facts about HIV

Although the year was 2011, our understanding of HIV/AIDS and its treatment dated back to the 80s. So we spent hours educating ourselves on the virus, treatment, daily living, and realities of HIV/AIDS because we knew if we still had fears about the virus, what would our friends, family, and neighbors in China think?

In a nutshell, this is what we learned: HIV is like diabetes; it’s a long-term treatable disease. People don’t die from HIV itself, but rather from other illnesses like pneumonia that attack an already deficient immune system. Treatment (called anti-retrovirals) makes it possible for a person with HIV to live a long, healthy, and normal life. And, not to forget, one can’t get HIV by sharing utensils, toilets, shaking hands with, or hugging a person with HIV. The virus is only transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids via blood transfusions, intercourse, and breast feeding. As of now, there are no known cases of anyone contracting HIV through day-to-day life activities in the home.

When Things Didn’t Go Our Way

Back to Dr. Julie’s question. God made it clear, we were ready. We decided to foster one of the babies she had mentioned in hopes of adopting her. We prepared our home, began the adoption paperwork, and waited. On the day of her arrival we jumped for joy at the prospect of meeting our new daughter, only to receive a call saying the orphanage director had changed his mind. He didn’t want the child in the home of a foreigner. Our hearts were crushed. We looked around our house at bottles, a crib, baby toys, clothes, her photo, and wept.

Coming next: “Finding the One.” After the devastating loss of one child, we continue the search for our daughter.

For more information about Elim Kids, please see their Facebook page. Or listen to Dr. Julie talk about Elim Kids here.

Beth Forshee

Beth Forshee

Beth Forshee studied journalism and public relations at Baylor University in Waco, TX and has been serving in various aspects of ministry to China for over 13 years. Her love for China’s culture and people started on her first short-term trip in 2001. Later Beth and her family served in... View Full Bio


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