Hello Home Vol. 7 - The Britt Family
They waited seven years until they were old enough to adopt a child from China, and when some fertility challenges arose during that time, Dustin and Katie’s calling became crystal clear. What began as a work trip to an orphanage in 2004 stayed on their hearts for years and years until it became their reality. Gah…if this is God at work, I’m not sure what is. Kramer and I met the Britt’s through mutual friends and became close as our kiddos started getting together every Saturday morning (a group of Dads and kids formally termed “Playground Summit”). It’s been really cool to see how this has brought them all closer and an incredible gift for the moms to have their morning. I literally plan all week for the 5000 things I’m going to do during that time.
Our lifestyle shoot went down in their cozy apartment as they wait for their Decatur home renovation to complete. And side note: if you’re up for one killer Zumba class, this girl right here will teach you up. Keep reading for one amazing story…
Tell us a little about you and Dustin before Isaac (your upbringing, where you live, your work, how you met, etc).
I grew up in Fort Lauderdale Florida in a family of four. We were not a Christian family until I was fourteen years old and my mother decided to follow Jesus and began taking my sister and I to church. I was very involved in my church youth group throughout high school. I did not attend a Christian school and the difference I experienced in friendships with my church friends versus my school friends gave me a strong desire to choose a Christian college setting, which is how I ended up at Samford University in Birmingham. I was a total fish out of water! “The South” was very different than the area of southern Florida where I’d grown up and it was a bit of a culture shock, but I adjusted. I did consider transferring to FSU but then I met Dustin :).
Even though he was a “southerner” he just seemed to get me and even appreciate that fact that I was a little less traditional than other girls from the South. We clicked and on one of our first dates we shared that we’d both always seen ourselves adopting a child one day. I didn’t think that much of it at the time but it was definitely the beginning of our journey because, years later when out of the blue, a small non-profit agency called Dustin to ask if he would consider a job managing their international adoption program, we both felt a distinct leading to do it even though it was not his field of expertise at all! We agreed it seemed like the direction God was leading us as a couple and he took the job.
Within the first year of his employment he was asked to travel to China to walk through the adoption process as an observer and to meet with some government officials. I was invited also and we went to China for about 8 days in 2004 and did just that - we toured orphanages, saw families meet their children for the first time, saw foster homes etc. It was an incredibly eye opening experience, walking through rooms filled with cribs and babies just lying there on their backs, meeting little kids who were simultaneously desperate for attention but had a hollow stare in their eyes, hearing stories about what happened to the children once they aged out of the system and were released from government care.
At one foster home, we walked into a room full of toddlers and a little boy came up to me and held up his arms for me to pick him up. He’d recently had a cleft lip repair and was scheduled to be adopted soon. I was only 23 and you have to be 30 years old before you can even apply to adopt from China, but I wanted to take him home! I knew then I’d be back someday to bring one of my own babies home from China, and I strongly suspected it would be a boy. We knew we had at least 7 years to wait until that time, but I remember telling Dustin I wanted to do it shortly after that trip.
What led you to adopt and specifically, from China?
Mostly the story above. Also as I got older I ended up with a few health issues that made getting pregnant quite challenging. When it came down to a decision of whether to invest time and money into fertility treatments or adoption, I had a complete peace in my heart about choosing adoption and I knew for sure I wanted to adopt from China because of our experience in 2004.
How did you get started with the adoption process and what were your most helpful resources? Did you work with an agency, consultant, or another 3rd party?
Our agency, Chinese Children Adoption International, was absolutely wonderful and held our hand through every step of the process. I can’t say enough about how well run their program is and we had a really great experience because of their procedures and their knowledgeable staff both in the US and in China.
What were the hardest decisions you found yourself making during that application phase?
With China you have to fill out a “Medical Conditions Checklist” at the very beginning of the process. It’s basically a list of hundreds of medical conditions and you say yes or no that you’ll accept a match that has a condition. Most of the children abandoned in China have a least a minor condition, it’s often what leads to the abandonment because families know they can’t afford medical care. It was very hard knowing that we would automatically be turning down children just by checking no to any condition. It was also scary to Google the names of the diseases and realize your child could end up as a worst case scenario like you would see in the Internet descriptions.
Tell me what happened when you got the notification that you were matched! What happened next? Describe the scene when you met Isaac for the first time.
We actually chose him! One day I was at my work computer and I decided to browse our agency website for the waiting children pictures. These files were normally extremely severe medical issues that couldn’t be matched due to the severity and the agency would place the child’s picture on the website one last time before they returned the file to China unmatched. I saw Isaac’s little face! I had a feeling almost immediately that this was “him”. I emailed the agency and asked if he was still available, all the while wondering how this little cutie had seemed to slip through the cracks and not get matched yet! I held my breath waiting for the response and his file came through! We had about 48 hours to decide if we would take his file. In some ways it was hard because he did have a medical condition that we had checked “no” to on the checklist (mostly because we didn’t know what it was and Google made it look scary). We consulted with a couple of doctors and had them review the information but the file didn’t provide many details. We had to take a leap of faith that we’d be able to care for his specific medical needs. After praying and sleeping on it that night, we both woke up feeling that he was our son.
When we met him for the first time it was like we were the only three people in the whole world. At least that’s how I felt. They brought him to us at a city council office near his province in China. His nanny gently nudged him toward us and he hesitated for a moment but then he walked right into my arms and my heart just exploded with joy and love. We held him and kissed him and I was over the moon, feeling so much love, joy and amazement. He was a little shell shocked but he was calm and he seemed very enamored with Dustin. He was immediately playful with Dustin and they bonded right away. It took much longer for him to bond with me since he’d had a woman caring for him almost exclusively his whole life at the orphanage and he was attached to her.
The Britt’s had a professional create one amazing video of their journey to bring Isaac home. Grab the tissues, turn up the volume, and view it here.
What have been the greatest challenges & greatest joys since bringing Isaac home?
Attachment and bonding were really hard for Isaac and I at first. You’d never know it now! Today we have a bond that I imagine is as strong as any parent and child could have. But the first six months were tough. Like I mentioned above, he’d been cared for exclusively by women and he seemed unable to grasp that any one woman (his mommy!) was different than another. He was tolerant of me and would play and let me hold him thank goodness, but it took awhile before I could tell that he really knew my role in his world. It broke my heart of course! But once the bond clicked it was a major turning point and now it’s the most beautiful connection I could imagine.
What advice do you have for families thinking about adopting a child of a different cultural background or ethnicity?
Well for us it’s been incredibly positive. There were very few cultural challenges because Isaac was so young and he wasn’t verbal yet so he was able to pick up English just fine. I’m sure when children are older the cultural differences are something to be very prepared for and patient through the adjustment phase. Our agency director had a preparatory video we were required to watch before we traveled to get Isaac and one of the points he made was that the most important thing the child needs to understand at first is that you love them. So no matter what, at first, the response and reaction is I love you, I love you, I love you. That’s a message that transcends culture and ethnicity and was helpful to remember when things were hard and we were transitioning to a family.
How did your families respond to your decision to adopt and how did you navigate any challenges there?
Both sides of our family were thrilled and supportive from the start. Isaac has two grandmothers, two aunts, and several cousins that couldn’t possibly love him more! Our families have been awesome.
The financial costs of adoption I’ve heard are very high. Are you open to sharing your overall investment? How did you navigate the financial hurdles?
The overall investment was about $30k. We raised about ten thousand dollars through our website and through a couple of intentional fundraising events, a Zumbathon and an auction. We also received a $10k tax credit for adopting. So I guess you could say the “out of pocket” cost was about $10k. It IS daunting on the front end when you look at the numbers and you have to be prepared. But once the adoption is complete you forget the cost. It seems like nothing in the long run, or at least that’s how I’ve felt about it.
What other advice do you have for families interested in adoption?
Find a good support system, a group of families or people who have adopted or who have been around adoptive families. Prepare your family and friends with as much information and specific “do’s and don’ts” as possible so they know how to navigate the process with you. Adoption is different than traditional family dynamics in the first year, so seeking out support, and resources is key. You are enabling your family and loves ones to help you by sharing the information with them proactively.
ABOUT THE SERIES
"Hello Home" is a photojournalistic blog series about the ins and outs of the adoption process and a celebration of adoptive families in Atlanta. Over the course of this year, we will meet about 8-10 families who have adopted internationally, domestically, fostered, adoptive families with biological kids, multiracial families, children with special needs, you name it. I'm so excited to learn more about some of the rarely told truths around the adoption process and to celebrate those doing this amazing work. In exchange for these families sharing their stories and answering some tough questions, I'm giving them a free lifestyle photography session.
Note: these families have been asked to share as much or as little about their story as they feel comfortable. All sensitive information has been freely and graciously volunteered.
Stay in the loop by following along on Instagram: @hayleyjophoto.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hayley Johnson is the owner of Hayley Jo Photo - an Atlanta based newborn and portrait photography business. Hayley is an award winning photographer and was named one of Atlanta's Best Newborn Photographers by expertise.com in 2016, 2017, and 2018. She was also named a Top Family Photographer by atlantaparent.com. Hayley is a member of the National Association of Professional Child Photographers and Clickin Moms, and her work has been featured by Beauty & Lifestyle Mommy Magazine, TheBump, and Pottery Barn Kids.