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Loving from half a world away


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The pandemic complicates the process of adopting from China

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 26th. So glad you’ve turned to WORLD Radio to start your day! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: adoption.

For decades, thousands of Americans each year added to their families by adopting children from China. But that came to a sudden stop in recent years

REICHARD: And that left some families waiting to find out if they’d get to bring home children they were in the process of adopting. WORLD’s Lindsay Mast has the first of a two-part story about one of those families.

SOUND: [Orphanage activity]

LINDSAY MAST: In a Chinese orphanage a little girl with a jet-black pixie cut sits on a tumbling mat alone. A video shows her using her left hand to do everything– playing with toys, taking off a sock. Her name is Mei. And for more than four years, an American family half a world away has loved her and wanted to call her their daughter.

CHINERY: Look at those eyes. Who wouldn't want to look into those eyes every day? You know?

Dianne Chinery and her husband Jeff have been married for more than three decades. They have four biological children and already had three more from China when they decided to adopt Mei. Those other adoptions had all gone smoothly. This one would be another story entirely.

Dianne first saw Mei, a then-6-year-old with an impish grin in 2018.

Jeff was still in China finalizing their son David’s adoption when Dianne saw her picture

CHINERY: I said Jeff, there's a little girl, she's got some more needs, more severe needs than what we have but there's something there. And he said, Well, let me get home.

Those more severe needs included Cerebral palsy–limited use of her right side. She was also non-verbal, and possibly autistic.

They prayerfully moved forward. They gained travel approval and got ready for Mei’s arrival. They bought clothes, a doll, and things to comfort her as she made her way to the U.S. with these strangers who love her.

CHINERY: So we were four days from leaving to get Mei. Everything was packed, gifts for the dignitaries were bought. Her clothes. The room was ready.

And then…

NEWS REPORT: New at 12:30 Several airlines including British Airways and Seoul airlines have suspended service to China with others to follow suit.

*static effect*

NEWS REPORT: An erie new video today shows what were once thriving streets in Wuhan China are now completely empty.

*static effect*

NEWS REPORT: This virus clearly can spread between humans.

It was January, 2020. The trip was delayed. That’s what they thought at first. That delay, though, turned into years of waiting. They weren’t alone.

Debbie Price is Executive Director of Children’s House International Adoptions. She says the pandemic stoppage left hundreds of families and children in limbo:

PRICE: It's just a shock. I think it's a shock to everybody. It's sad for those of us who work with children, because it's not that there's no children that need homes.

For much of the last 30 years, China was a top source of international adoptions for Americans. In the decade prior to the pandemic, Americans adopted more than 20,000 children from China.

Since the pandemic? The State Department reports zero adoptions for 2021 and 2022. Intercountry adoptions between China and the United States remain suspended.

CHINERY: We put it on a shelf. As in, we put part of our hearts on a shelf in a box and said, “Okay, we have to move on. But we know you're there.”

The family’s early time with their other children from China had been marked by the kids’ sometimes complex medical needs. One had needed craniofacial surgery. Another had digestive problems.

AUDIO: Hey Ev? What are you doing?

With those problems resolved, the kids started to grow. Their English improved. Dianne continued homeschooling the whole crew.

Jeff and Dianne Chinery

Jeff and Dianne Chinery Photo by Lindsay Wolfgang Mast

The family’s oldest girls both married and settled in different states. One son moved away, too. The house that Mei would’ve known slowly got quieter. The adopted children went from learning to ride bikes to learning Chemistry, making their own lunches.

AUDIO: Here you go big brother… Oh yes, peppers.

The years passed with no word from China. Adoptions were still on hold. the family received just two updates on Mei–one when she had a seizure in 2020.

Then, one day last October—news. A glimmer of hope. The family was told to fill out a questionnaire, updating their information. If approved, they’d be invited to come get Mei.

But now there was a new problem.

CHINERY: The person at our adoption agency said, I think that's going to be a deal killer.

Last spring, Dianne received a breast cancer diagnosis. She had surgery, but didn’t need chemo or radiation. Still, a recent diagnosis usually means rejection. There didn’t seem much point to rush to get the usual adoption paperwork done.

They were wrong.

Just before Christmas, they got approval to go get Mei, but they’d need to be there by January 29th. They needed visas, new fingerprints. They bought plane tickets. Refundable ones. The only thing that was certain was this: the turnaround would be almost impossibly tight.

CHINERY: We're either approaching a finish line or we're approaching a starting line and we don't know which end of the race. We don't know where we are. But two weeks from today, we’ll know.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Lindsay Mast in Tucker, Georgia.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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