‘I’m getting a mummy and daddy?’ I begged God to let me spend his birthday with him. I’d missed seven already.’: Mom shares international adoption journey, ‘He’s ours, forever and always’

“I was 18 when I got the call that ultimately changed my life. I was walking through the Juniors section at Target when my mom called me to tell me the couple in our neighborhood (who I had babysat for numerous times) was finally home with their daughter from China. What she told me next and my response changed the trajectory of my life. The details are vague, but I remember hearing the little girl became very ill once they arrived here in America. I immediately remember thinking how amazing God’s timing was ‘right on time.’ I remember saying to my mom, ‘Wow. God literally gave her a second chance at life.’ From then on, I knew I wanted to adopt.

On my first date with Jesse (my now-husband), I asked him if he was open to adoption, plainly stating it was a dealbreaker. And he crazily said yes. The next year was a bit of a whirlwind. We met and fell in love quickly. We got engaged 2 months later, eloped 3 months later, and had our big wedding another 5 months after that.

Once the dust settled from wedding planning, our thoughts immediately turned to adoption. Thinking we were moving forward with adopting a girl from China and with the waitlist around 6 years at the time, we knew we needed to act fast. Within a few weeks, both Jesse and I felt in our hearts stirring for something very different, though. For over 10 years, I was convinced God’s plan for me was to adopt a baby girl from China. He quickly showed us it was actually a little Ugandan boy. I was sitting in church one day and on the screen showed a bunch of children from an orphanage our church sponsored. I just knew. ‘My son is in that picture.’

In April of 2014, we contacted another couple who had adopted from that orphanage to figure out the next steps. We were then put on the waiting list at the same adoption agency and assumed we wouldn’t get a call for at least another year. I was busy in my career in education, finishing up my Master’s degree, and Jesse had completely switched careers as a Project Manager to working for our church. So we would wait. We knew we had time. In fact, we needed time to save money, as international adoptions are very expensive.

We got the call in January 2015, a few days after my birthday, we were off the waiting list. The question that came next, we weren’t expecting. Our social worker needed to know our age limits. Looking at that on a piece of paper, how could we tell God who our son was supposed to be based on biological age or health conditions? We agreed we would do the max-age Uganda would allow. The law there states the parents of the adoptee have to be at least 21 years older. Yes, we will take a boy up to the age of 8. We then had to sign off on all the health conditions we would allow: HIV, sickle cell, missing limbs, the list goes on and on. And again, who were we to tell God what our son looked like?

It was crazy and exciting all at the same time. After we signed those papers, she then told us of a boy, who was 7 at the time. They were finishing up some things in Uganda to determine his eligibility for adoption. I was on the orphanage’s website constantly trying to figure out, of the four boys who were that age, who he could be. Which picture was my baby? It drove me nuts. Finally, on spring break, we got THE CALL! I drove to the church where Jesse was so we could get the news together. We were given his file, his name, his picture, everything they knew. We wept with joy. We were matched. We cried together as our social worker shared the news. I was shaking. I was finally going to be a mother. We were going to be parents to a 7-year-old boy. It was finally happening.

December 3, I was covering another class and the door swung open, ‘DeClue, where have you been? Your husband’s been trying to reach you. You got the CALL!’ I froze. I literally started scrambling, basically throwing papers in the air trying to find my phone buried under the mess on the desk.

I remember almost dropping my phone as I was trying to call Jesse. He informed us we had 24 hours until our flight left and our court date was first thing Monday morning. It takes at least 31 hours to get there. If any flights got delayed, we wouldn’t make it to court on time. By the time I was able to calm down and wrap my head around it, he told me flights were already booked and he had started packing. I wrapped up work as best as I could over the next few hours and said goodbye, not knowing when I would return. That night, our adoptive friends brought over dinner and prayed with us. Other than that, the rest of the 18 hours before we left, was a blur. We also found out he was finally given the photo album we sent over a few months earlier. This album had pictures of us, our house, his school, basically detailed pictures of what his new life and family looked like. He finally knew about us, about me. We were sent a picture with the caption, ‘I’m getting a mummy and daddy?’ We just couldn’t believe it. It was finally happening.

The next day, my friend, Rebecca dropped us off at the airport. We would fly to Frankfurt and have a small babymoon, 9 hours to tour the city and then make our way to Dubai, eventually landing in Entebbe. Frankfurt was amazing and the last bit of calm in our life. When we arrived back at the airport, we were on cloud nine. Excited and ready for the next flight, we were informed it would cost an additional $400 for our luggage. We didn’t have that. We didn’t know how long we were going to be in Uganda. We couldn’t spend that money. I sat on the floor of the airport sobbing, as I had to decide what was significant enough to take and what had to be left. Many of the items left were gifts for our son. As I finished sorting through everything, I looked up and saw a homeless man walking by. We gave him everything we were leaving: tons of food, toiletries, and men’s clothing items. God’s timing again was perfect.

At this point, I hadn’t slept in over 31 hours. I crashed on the short flight to Entebbe and awoke exhausted, but eager to meet our son. It was a 3-hour drive to Masakka, where we were staying. We finally arrived, quickly dropped our stuff off, and rode over to the orphanage.

In the waiting, I had begged God to just let me spend his birthday with him. I had missed seven already; I didn’t want to miss another, and you know what? We arrived the night of his eighth birthday. The van pulled up and all the kids at the orphanage gathered around us. I walked into the building where he was, and it was there I laid eyes on him. He was perfect. Chubby cheeks and tiny, the size of a 4-year-old. Jesse and I both asked to hug him. He hugged us back and both of us had tears streaming down our cheeks. Our son then ran down the hall and brought back the photo book, asking us to read it to him. I constantly was choking back tears as I read those words to him. The last page says, ‘And you will live with us. We will be a family. We promise we will always love you, Fred. We promise.’

The next 9 weeks were a constant picture of God’s grace and provision. His adoption was approved the morning that the new law officially passed. He became ours in the ‘nick of time.’ We stayed with some missionaries (Erin and Clark, introduced to us through our adoption worker) in Kampala as we waited for his passport and visa. When Jesse left to go back home after only being in the country 2.5 weeks, it was them who became my family. I sobbed for hours on the way back from the airport as our son slept in my lap, wondering how I was going to do this alone. All I ever wanted was to be a mother but being thrown into motherhood in a third-world country became instantly overwhelming. I prayed through my tears God would somehow give me the strength. I dove into a routine, hoping that would help. I created a schedule of schooling and theraplay, spending time each day doing English lessons, Luganda lessons for me, and just snuggle/TV time.

We finally got the call after 8 weeks, to have his grandmother and I meet at the American Embassy for his visa appointment. I had never met her before, but she felt like family. I never imagined myself going through open adoption, but here I was promising to stay in contact and to visit again. I printed photos of them together and bought frames at the mall for our son to give to her. While our conversation was difficult because of the language barrier, we both cried and hugged. Mother to mother, something special happened. We knew in our spirits what occurred that day and I was eternally grateful for the gift she had given not only me but us and our family.

We boarded the plane and said goodbye to our son’s country, vowing to return again together one day. We flew to Denmark and then New York. There was snow on the ground, and we took full advantage of our layover to build a tiny snowman. ‘Mummy! It’s cold!’ It was so amazing to finally be able to experience a first with our son. Our friends and family were waiting for us once we landed. I missed my friends and family. I was so happy to finally be home, to be back with my husband, and ready to finally sleep in my own bed.

Adoption is beautiful, but it’s also very messy filled with loss and grief. To say the next year was hard is an understatement. We found out quickly love does not conquer all. After a few weeks of being back home, he was enrolled in school and I slowly began going back to work. Our son had experienced so much in his little life. It seemed everything we tried was constantly five steps forward, three steps back. We found out he had sensory modulation disorder and a regulating disorder. It was extremely difficult for him to calm down after anything exciting and small noises in America like the vacuum or the dishwasher sent him over the edge. He was a sensory avoider which for the most part was fine for his life until he came here, where something is always making noise.

Within a few months, everything went downhill fast. It became evident I had to quit my job and stay home with him. For the next 8 months, our days consisted of homeschool, theraplay, naptime, gardening, lots of lots of board games, and anything else we could do that was fun. My world revolved around trying to figure our son out. He was my onion and I was determined to peel back those layers. But it took a toll on me, our family, and especially our marriage. Being in crisis mode 24/7 is exhausting and by the end of summer, our marriage was on the brink of divorce. As seasons change, sometimes hearts do, too. Within those next few months, something began to shift. Jesse and I knew we had to start putting our marriage first. We couldn’t just keep living in survival mode. Slowly, the tone in our house began to shift. We started working and parenting together and our son slowly began to adjust to the role in our family.

On September 26, the judge slammed the gavel and he officially and forever became a DeClue. After 3,193 days, our son would never again have to wonder who his family was. He was ours, forever and always. That December, all he asked Santa for was a baby sister. And because our life always seems like a weird movie sometimes, we found out Christmas morning I was pregnant. 9 months later, we welcomed our daughter into the world. She brought another level of healing for him; a gentler side began to emerge and he thrust himself into the big brother role.

All I ever wanted was to be a mother and all he ever wanted was to be a big brother. The day he held her for the first time is a memory we will never forget. ‘I am 100% happy, Mama. 100%.’ He was made to be a big brother and he knew it; their bond has only grown since. He’s the best big brother to both our daughter and now our son. When we had our son, this past year, he said, ‘Mommy. Why did I only want a sister? God knew I needed a brother, too. I would have totally missed out.’ It’s funny, I feel the same way. I thought I was supposed to have a baby girl, but God knew I needed a sweet boy, instead. I can’t imagine missing this.

We wanted to make sure we honored our son and his story, but also kept his privacy intact. Prior to releasing this to the internet, my son gave full approval of this article and everything covered in it. In 2019, Ashley DeClue and Rebecca Harvin cofounded Haven Retreats, a nonprofit that offers therapeutic retreats for foster and adoptive families. They knew the need of caregiver burnout firsthand and wanted to help other families develop sustainability in parenting kids from hard places.”

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