written by Mike McDonell
“To adopt a child is to broaden the life of everyone who is touched by the experience.”
Almost five years ago, lives were changed forever. In a nine-story institutional high rise, in the heart of a crowded Chinese city called Xiamen, in a small room filled with beautiful children who were abandoned by fate, I found my son, Michael.
My wife, Peggy and I took some time away from a business trip on the Mainland to volunteer in a state-run orphanage. There on one of the floors, tucked away in two rooms, was a special wing dedicated for children with complex medical issues. Their challenges varied. Some children suffered from neurological diseases, others heart malformation, or a myriad of other conditions. All of them had been abandoned.
We spent our time playing ball, laughing, and helping feed the kids. At the end of the first day, a new child was whisked into the room in the arms of a caretaker. Crying inconsolably, we were drawn to him. At only six months old and weighing less than 10 pounds, he was lost within the small arms of the caretaker who held him. We affectionately nicknamed him Peanut.
The next morning upon returning we asked about Peanut. Having ‘dealt’ with him all night, they were happy to place him in my arms and give me an opportunity. I was more than happy to oblige. We held him the rest of that day. A little over a year and a half later, my wife and three kids stepped off a plane in Austin, Texas with the newest member of our family, Michael Bennett.
Adoption is hard. It is messy, frustrating, emotional, and taxing on you. But then again, all that frustration and emotional stress can’t come close to what so many of these children must experience without parents, adequate love, and emotional stability.
Yet, as frustrating and emotional as the journey of adoption can be, it pales in comparison to the joy and love you and others experience because of it. The greatest things in life, derive from the greatest sacrifices. This has never been truer than in our adoption journey. If adoption is something you have considered, I would like to urge you to follow your heart.
To adopt a child is to broaden the life of everyone who is touched by the experience. After bringing our boy home, I see how adoption has changed our family. I would like to share with you five ways that experience has reshaped our lives.
A Saved Child
The obvious here is that a child was given a home, a chance to thrive, and the opportunity to reach his potential in life. In the case of my child, it was also essential for his survival. A plethora of complex medical challenges and illness required the care of doctors and surgeons not available to him in his orphanage in China.
DNA Isn’t a Requirement for Love and Family
There is no distinction between the love for my biological kids and that of my adopted child. Family comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes, color, gender and composition. What makes family meaningful isn’t where they come from, it’s where they end up.
Michael’s Brother and Sisters Are Better Because of Him
Adoption is a family act. Everyone is a participant in the emotions, the struggles and the joys of the process. From every step on the journey to bring Michael home and through the care of his illness, my biological kids have been active and essential partners. That makes them better. They have a deeper understanding for the lives of other people, they have learned to care for other’s needs, and have developed a sense of humility I don’t believe I could have ever taught them on my own.
I Am Pushed to be Better
Adoption is stressful and hard at times. It requires an understanding and patience that tend to fall off as you get older. Michael has become my teacher. He keeps me young, he forces me to slow down, to speed up, and be a better father.
To know my son is to know a kid constantly full of energy. He slows down only to sleep, and is one of the strongest people per pound I have ever seen. Yet, all that outward stamina and relentlessness hides the fact that inside, my son is chronically sick. He has had numerous surgeries, maintains a regiment of medications, and is fighting now to keep a solitary kidney from failing. How can a child so sick inside, be so outwardly active and tireless? Perhaps in some way, he understands that life is worth fighting for. Perhaps the experience of loss in his very young life has forged a deep desire to not lose again and to make the most of every day. For this and so much more, Michael Bennet inspires all of us.
Our adoption story is only one of thousands. Each day we wake with the goal of being better parents, and a stronger family. We laugh, we cry, we struggle, and celebrate each day. We aren’t close to perfect, but perfect isn’t what an orphaned child needs or wants. It’s just love and the opportunity to love back. So many children lie in unfamiliar places and search for the meaning of their emptiness. All the while so many others possess this unlimited capacity to love an adopted child.
Adoption isn’t for everyone, but everyone should be adopted. Think about it for your family. I am always personally available to share our story and provide a little insight on how it might make the life of your family and a special child greater than ever imagined.
A father to four kids, Mike McDonell is the founder of Kidventure. To learn more about Kidventure or read about Mike’s journey through fatherhood, visit www.kidventure.com.