Guest Post from....

Awhile back we wrote about the cause which we are passionate about and asked you to write in and tell us about yours.  We are honored that Maia Chavez Larkin, artistic mind behind our beloved shop on Etsy The Voyagers is willing to share her family's story.
(Author of article and Artist,  Maia Chavez Larkin and her Husband in Beijing awaiting adoption of their daughter.)
In 2008, my husband and I traveled to China to adopt our first and only child, an 11 month old girl with a wide, un-repaired cleft lip and palate. From the early pictures that we received, it was clear that Q was a happy child. The broad, shining grin and mischievous glance, so characteristic of the girl we know today, were evident even in those early shots that were sent with the paperwork from our adoption agency. No wan, worried little face like those one sees in so many referral photos.
 Q came from rough beginnings, granted. Born with a condition that made it difficult for her to survive without feeding assistance, abandoned at the age of three days (for reasons we will most likely never know) on the steps of a local building, wrapped only in a small pink quilt. Taken in by the Social Welfare institute where she would spend the first 11 months of her life on her back in a crib in a crowded room. When we met her, she was undernourished, undersized and atrophied (due partly to the SWI’s limited means, and partly to a rollicking case of  intestinal parasites, which she almost immediately passed to me) and with a bad sinus infection that made her clutch the sides of her head in pain. Still, even in the first days, confused, in shock, unhealthy, that smile we’d seen in the pictures broke out now and then like sun through a storm cloud, and dazzled us.
(Maia and Q on adoption day!)
(Q and her Daddy, Mike )
I should say right off the bat that my husband and I did not set out with the intention of adopting a “special needs” child. It was not a mission we were on. Adoption for us was a conscious choice, yes, not a last resort. It was what we most wanted to do. But we had never even heard of the SN (special needs) adoption program before we began the adoption process. It had never occurred to us that infants with medical needs might be separated out into a different group from the “healthy” ones. When, several months into the initial paperwork of international adoption, we learned of the SN program, it took us less than a week to make our decision. It was clear from the start that we both felt it was the right route for us to take as a family. At the time we had good medical insurance, and relatively little debt. We weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we were stable, childless, employed, and we felt prepared to take on the medical needs of a child who needed that sort of assistance.

Switching from the “traditional” adoption program into “special needs” required us to submit a second set of applications, this one slightly less lengthy than the first. We were required to prove to a social worker that we were mentally, physically and logistically prepared to take on a child’s extensive and ongoing medical care. In addition, we had to look through the long list of possible medical conditions and decide which we would “accept” and which we would not.

This in particular, this “list”, was a very unnatural and disturbing mental exercise. What we immediately realized is that had we given birth to a child, we would not have had any such choice. That hypothetical child could have been born with almost any condition on that list, no matter how much we hoped otherwise, and it still would have been ours to love and care for. Here we were, in a sense,  “playing God” - saying “yes” to this child, “no” to that child based on a condition that child was saddled with from birth. It left us shaken, humbled and, in some deep way, ashamed. We did our best to be as open-minded as possible, consider our means and what we could logically take on. In the end, after much intensive medical research, we checked “yes” to cleft conditions, congenital heart conditions, and various others. 
 ( Q today)
A year and a half after coming to the US from China, Q has had two lengthy, multipart surgeries on her clefts, and is currently in weekly speech therapy to help her learn the use of the newly-connected muscles of her mouth. A cleft is not a life-threatening condition unless the child’s caretakers are not properly trained in feeding techniques, since a  baby born with a cleft cannot necessarily eat on his or her own at birth. Without proper feeding assistance, the baby can easily starve. It is a condition that requires extensive and numerous surgeries. Q had a very wide cleft, but no additional complications. She may  have a dozen or more surgeries, from the minor to the major, by the time she reaches adulthood. I met one boy (a biological child, born in the US) who had had more than 18 surgeries by the age of ten.
But as shocking as that may sound to the uninitiated, surgeries and therapy are not the primary concern of our life with the Q. In fact, on a daily basis, they register very little on our radar. The array of surgeries, checkups and therapy sessions quickly become routine, much like paying bills and keeping tax records. On the forefront is, I would say, that smile - the same smile we saw in those early photos. It is ubiquitous and infectious. That smile drops us to our knees and draws us in. That smile that lights up our life. 
Above all, as the mother of a child born with medical needs, my hope is to demystify this condition and others like it. Understand that our daughter is, at two and a half, a talented athlete, a music lover, and a social animal. She is magnetic and attracts friends wherever she goes. Her surgeries do not hinder her in any way. She goes to gymnastics and music class, plays soccer and worships basketball. She is a terrific little swimmer and can already mimic chords on the guitar. She has what appears to be a photographic memory, loves to count, and can already recognize words on sight. She is above average developmentally in every way except for those areas related to her cleft, ie pronouncing high-pressure sounds. She makes up in sign language what she can not yet pronounce. 

If you are considering SN adoption, my advice would be to do your research. Consider all the aspects. Delve into every question you might have, and all those you never thought to ask. Know that some people (including some adult adoptees) stand against international adoption, and believe that the ultimate goal should be to work towards eliminating the need for international adoption altogether. Know that any abandoned child will carry a primal wound which will surface at some point in their life, a disconnection not only from their birth parents, but from their birth culture. Understand that a native culture is important to any person’s life, and must be respected and honored throughout life. Know that parents who give birth to children with medical needs ought to have resources to help them manage those conditions if they cannot afford to do so on their own, and that there are ways other than adoption to help families who give birth to children with medical needs. Imagine giving birth to a child with major medical needs, wanting to parent and care for that child, and not having the means to that child the medical care he or she so desperately needs. This could easily have been what Q’s parents faced, so I think about it often. Look into the organizations that help people around the world to get their children the medical attention they need, and think about how you can help. 

If your decision is that SN adoption is right for you, do thorough and comprehensive medical research. Also know that the international adoption world is a troubled place right now, and that it probably always has been. There are unethical practices. There are circumstances, social implications, historical precedents in other countries that we will find hard to understand. Know what you’re taking on and educate yourself. 

Understand also that not all adoption agencies are created equal. Do your research before you choose an agency. Think about what your family is able and willing to take on. If your health insurance is dependent on your job, think about what your options would be if you were to lose that job. Know that a medical condition may require a lifetime of care. Understand that a child institutionalized in the formative years will be in some way wounded, and that that wound will come out in ways which you never expected and will have a hard time understanding. I am not here to tell you which stance to take on the issues of intonation adoption and medical needs adoption. I hope that I’m here to raise the right questions, and leave you to think about them. I don’t have the answers, but I do believe that we should all ask the questions.

You can find out more about Maia, Q, and their life on her delightful blog Une Envie de Sel.
Love Without Boundaries (www.lovewithoutboundaries.org) is an organization that provides various forms of assistance to orphaned and impoverished children in China. They also run a cleft home in China that provides surgeries and care to orphaned children born with clefts. Maia gives a portion of the proceeds from her shop to LWB.


  1. Maia and her husband are not only amazing parents but people that entered into adoption very well prepared. Q is a happy and beautiful little girl.

  2. Thank you for such a beautiful story! When I first discovered Maia's blog, I read it all the way through to the beginning. She has such an inspiring story to tell.

  3. Maia is a blog friend of mine and this is the first time I read the whole story of her adoption of Q. I am so touched by her story, their love and kindness. They are amazing family, Q is wonderful. Thanks for sharing this. Yanyan

  4. Thanks so much for posting our story. I hope it will make people think more deeply on this subject, one that is not so well known in today's world.

  5. Wonderful and heart moving. Thank you Maia for sharing this. Q is as adorable as can be and surrounded by so much love! that is extraordinary.

  6. Maia and her husband are incredible souls, and Q is one lucky little girl to be so adored and loved by them! Of course, they are extremely lucky to have Q touch their lives every. single. moment of every day.
    Beautiful story....


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