Bringing Sarah home

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tammie Moore
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
One mother in China prays for a good life for the baby girl she cannot keep. Thousands of miles away, an American mother in Germany prays for the daughter she hopes to hold. Both pray for the same child, Sarah.

Seven years before Sarah was born, Allen and Dawn had two boys and another on the way. Dawn had always dreamed of a large family and a daughter to adorn in dresses and ribbons. During her third pregnancy; however, they learned Dawn would not be able to have any more biological children. So shortly after their son's birth, they began talking about adoption to complete their family.

Both Dawn and Allen came from large families, a tradition they wished to continue. Dawn grew up in a family of six and Allen's family had five members.

Researching the options 

The Orahoods spent numerous hours on the Web researching adoption. Based on what they learned they made a decision to adopt a daughter from China, since it had the most stable adoption laws at the time. In addition, a typical adoption from China took about 8-9 months. Web sites they found helpful in their information quest were Shaohannah's Hope, founded by a couple who adopted three girls from China, and Families Thru International Adoption, that helped coordinate their two-week trip to bring Sarah home. On the Web they also found organizations that provided grants to help alleviate the cost of adoptions. In addition, they learned about financial institutions that offered loans specifically for adoptions.

"There are numerous organizations out there you can apply to get grants from, you just need to do a little research," said Allen, a master sergeant load standardization crew chief with the 52nd Maintenance Group.

In addition to looking for answers online, the Orahoods talked to people about their adoption experiences.

"Their stories and support put us at ease and gave us a good feel for what we would go through," Dawn said.

Taking the next step 

The couple started the adoption application process in August 2005; however, due to a back logged adoption system in China, the nine-month point in the adoption process came and passed, followed by more waiting.

The Orahoods said that the paperwork -- some of which they had to complete and pay for more than once -- was actually not the most frustrating part of the process; it was uncertainty that loomed over them.

And then the long wait ... "that time was the most challenging part," Dawn said. "Once we got the referral, time went by fast. In March we got a photo of Sarah. That made it all seem surreal. When we finally got the call that we had a daughter, the past 26 months just melted away. All we could think was 'We have a daughter. We really have a daughter.'"

After they received their referral, they were in contact with the other 11 families who would be traveling with them to China to finalize their adoptions.

"By the time we all met, we already knew each other fairly well," Allen said. "We also have very close friends stationed at Luke (Air Force Base, Ariz.,) who have four adopted children one of whom is also from China, so we were in constant contact with them for advice and support. Additionally, we met Lt. Col Mark Hedman and his wife, Julie, while we were in the process of collecting our paperwork. They also have a daughter from China and they have been extremely supportive and resourceful throughout the entire process."

Everyone in the Orahood family was thrilled at the thought of having a baby girl in the family.

"All three boys were excited from the very start, and at the same time were getting discouraged at how long it was taking to get her," Allen said. "They couldn't understand why it was taking so long. After a while they wondered if she was really ever going to come. Caleb, our oldest, stated that he 'hoped that she would be a girly-girl wanting to wear dresses and do girly things because he already has two brothers and if she was tom-boy, it would be like having another brother.'"

Preparing for the arrival 

Like with the birth of a new baby, part of the preparation process for the Orahoods was to pick out a name for their perfectly chubby-cheeked baby.

"All of our children's names came from the Bible and all of them have an 'A' for their middle initial: Caleb Allen, Joshua Adam, Daniel Aaron and Sarah AlisonMei," Allen said. "We capitalized both the 'A' and 'M' in Sarah's name because in Chinese, Mei-mei means Little Sister."

Even before being notified of their referral, the Orahoods had begun preparing for the arrival of their daughter with wispy-black hair.

"It's different preparing for a one year-old than preparing for a newborn," Dawn said. "With a newborn, your wait is seven to eight months after you find out you're pregnant, but with our adoption, our wait started out at eight to nine months and lasted 26 months. During that time, we tried to get familiar with her birth country and its customs. We also read about different things that she may experience, such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is a bonding issue some children experience who have been adopted. Sarah bonded with us by the next day, but some of the families in our group had a rough time for the first three to four days."

When the Orahoods boarded the plane to meet their daughter, they said a million different thoughts raced through their minds. They said they felt excitement and disbelief that their dream was finally coming true.

Love at first sight 

Even though there is no way Sarah could have known, the moment the Orahoods put their final signature on her adoption paperwork, the toddler's life would never be the same.

"We were in love with her from the moment we laid eyes on her," Dawn said.

During their stay in China to complete the adoption paperwork, the Orahoods received some unexpected attention.

"We got a lot of strange stares from the local Chinese people when we were traveling with Sarah and our in-country coordinator explained to us that they were wondering why Americans were holding a Chinese baby," Allen said. "Our agency printed up a letter in both English and Chinese that stated we adopted her, we promised to love her forever and never leave her. They were good with that and some even thanked us for adopting her."

When they first picked up Sarah at 13 months, she was unable to sit herself up or crawl; a typical baby can sit up alone between 7-9 months and begins crawling around 6-10 months. After working with Sarah for only two weeks, she was sitting up alone and walking with the assistance of others.

"She has adapted very, very well," Dawn said, about a possible language barrier. "We know she understands Chinese; we have a friend who speaks it to her. But she is picking up English words quickly. She is awesome."

When they reflect on the time that the adoption process took the Orahoods realize that the wait is what brought this sparkling brown-eyed toddler, who was not even born during the 8-9 month wait that they originally anticipated, into their lives proving to them that good things come to those who wait.

"The most rewarding part is knowing that we were able to make a difference in the life of one child," Dawn said.

Want to know more? 

"There is so much information out there about international adoption," Dawn said. "Each country is different and has different requirements. Anyone interested in more information can contact us directly. We have a wealth of information that is too much for an article. It does cost a lot to adopt, but look at it this way. The cost of adoption is about the same as having a baby without Tricare (or so we've been told). We like to say it's about as much as a new car, only the car will only last five-10 years, but a child will be with you for a lifetime."

The legal office and the Airman & Family Readiness Center also have information about adoption. Contact the legal office at 452-6796 and the A&FRC at 452-6422.