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Adoptions from Asia: Our Twenty Years of Adventure and Love – By Judy Wheeler

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November is National Adoption Month, and over the past three decades, Judy Wheeler of Roanoke, Virginia has raised 15 children, two biological and 13 adopted. Twelve of her adopted children were orphans from Vietnam and China. Many of her adopted children had special needs that were easily treatable in the United States, but would have remained untreated in their home countries. The following is her story, in her own words, of determination to love and help children in need. 

It was in the mid 1990's when I first heard about baby girls being abandoned in China, due in large part to the “One Child” policy, and my heart was deeply touched by their plight. In 1996, I traveled abroad for the first time in my life to adopt my baby, Rebekah, the first child I adopted from a foreign country. Traveling to such a foreign place was terrifying at first, but my faith and other members of my travel group kept me going, and it ended up being the greatest trip of my life.

Rebekah, who was 8 months old at the time, was very malnourished, weighed just 11 pounds, and was living in a loving but very overcrowded Chinese orphanage where many of the children were likewise undernourished. It was mid-winter and many of the children were sick.  Little Rebekah was handed over to me wrapped in layer after layer after layer of clothing. I was crying tears of joy when I held her for the first time.

Once I returned home with Rebekah, I told my husband, Patrick, what I had seen. We both felt compelled to adopt another child, but we couldn't go back to China due to the adoption center in Beijing being reorganized, allowing only childless couples to adopt.

From left: Judy, daughter Rebekah, husband Patrick

Another adoptive parent told me to look at adopting a child in Vietnam. Right away we saw our Seth, who was 8 months old, but he had a special need. He was born with a cleft lip and palate which was still unrepaired. My husband Patrick went to Vietnam to get him in 1997. Fortunately, we were able to treat Seth’s cleft lip and palate with a few surgeries which were easily accessible in the United States, but inaccessible to him in his home country.

From left: Judy, son Seth, and husband Patrick

Then the door opened up for us to go back to China in 2000. Patrick again traveled and brought home a 15-month-old baby boy named Nathan who also had an unrepaired cleft lip and palate. What touched our hearts is that after we accepted him, our adoption agency told us that nobody else would have adopted him. He is now 17 in the gifted program at his high school, takes college classes, and makes top grades in his advanced classes. His dream is to be a neurologist and he is fascinated by the human mind.

In 2014, we were very humbled and honored when our U.S. congressman selected us for an award called, "Angels in Adoption". We traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive this award with our children. At the time, we felt our family was complete with 10 children from China and Vietnam.

Then one day in May 2015, I saw a boy named Samuel in China. Samuel was about to age out of the adoption system.  According to China's law, once a child turns 14, he or she can no longer be adopted. I did everything I could to advocate for him, but nobody came forward to adopt him. I called several agencies to get their opinions, and each told me that there wasn't enough time to bring him home before he turned 14. 

Despite the obstacles and limited time, I was determined to press forward. With the help of a wonderful adoption agency, support from my friends, and the dedication of an "angel", a USCIS Officer named Brenda, I was able to make it work. With only days remaining, I was able to adopt Samuel. While I was working to adopt Samuel, a social worker told me I could adopt two children, and I decided to also adopt a 12-year-old boy named Aaron who had wanted a family of his own for many years. I travelled to China and completed their adoption process in two different provinces. When we arrived home on U.S. soil, our sons were U.S citizens. We feel so blessed to have Samuel and Aaron in our family.  And, as with the other children in our family, they are adjusting well to their new family, and their new lives in America.

What I want to tell others considering adoption is that if they have love in their hearts, adoption is a wonderful thing, and I hope that I can always encourage others to share their lives with a child in need.