“One day this will all make sense.”
This was told to us in the midst of an extremely emotional and troubling time. At that moment, I clung to those words as if they were a life raft and I was stranded in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. We had just been told we had lost the referral of a beautiful baby girl only days after our pup, my soul dog, lost his fight with kidney disease and Cushing’s Syndrome. We fought like hell for almost a year to keep Stormy with us, and to this day I would give almost anything to spend just five more minutes with him. In the midst of our grieving, we received the referral of a beautiful baby girl, only to have her ripped from our grasp just days later. It was the first time a referral had been taken back in the program’s almost ten year history, and I was completely devastated. My poor husband felt powerless. He watched me mourn for the pup that made me a mom, albeit a fur mom, and now had to tell me we lost the girl we thought was our daughter for three days. I know how selfish I sound here…looking back on it now, I am so thankful her birth mom was able to change her mind and raise her. I truly am. But at the time, my emotions were controlling me, and they had me a complete mess. I am beyond blessed with my family, and feel so honored to not only have witnessed, but experienced firsthand our story unfold.
In order to understand our adoption story’s ending, I must fill you in on the beginning. Vince and I were high school sweethearts who attended the same university and majored in education. Once graduated, we found great jobs teaching what we love and married a few years later. We began talking about starting a family, and I felt drawn to adoption. After discussing this with Vince, we began researching domestic adoption and international adoption. In May of 2012, I happened to have an amazing opportunity literally thrown at me; my brother and mom were headed to Japan for a week and my dad couldn’t go. I worked through the anxiety that sometimes holds me captive and jumped on the plane taking his place. I have no other words to describe the way Japan made me feel, except that I felt connected, I felt drawn to it, and while I sat on a plane flying home on May 11, 2012, Ohio time, (remember this date) I felt as if I left a piece of my heart on the streets of Kyoto. I promised myself I would be back.
Once home, I researched Japan adoption, only to be disappointed by the lack of information. I found two agencies with Japanese programs, but both were closed to new families due to how small the Japan programs were. That did not stop me. I reached out to both agencies through email in the fall of 2012. One agency told me they hoped to open back up in 5-6 years, and the other said 1-3. Knowing my husband and I would not be ready for at least 1-2 years made this program seem achievable. I stayed in contact with the amazing woman who runs the program for over four years. Finally, in April of 2016, we reached out to her and informed her we would like to join her China program since it seemed Japan may not open anytime soon. We were told the Japan program would actually be opening in May, exactly four years after leaving Japan on my first visit; we knew that was our sign. (There are several more coincidences along the journey that I will mention.) We applied and were accepted, and by the beginning of June, we were looking for an agency to complete our home study.
Over the next year, we filled out mountains of paperwork, started a blog, set up several fundraisers, were fingerprinted approximately eighty-two times (okay…three), and waited for the phone to ring or an email to be sent telling us we had a baby waiting for us. Throughout all of this, we took Stormy to appointments and prayed he would meet his sibling someday. As you already know, that was not meant to be.
After losing our referral in May, we were told of many other little ones who were born and could possibly be our future children, but for one reason or another, none of these babies were meant to be ours. In some cases, they were able to stay with their biological families (and I am more than thankful for that), some little ones were adopted to waiting families in Canada, and two passed us by for other families that were a better fit in one way or another. The fact that this program gives birth mothers so much say in the families and countries their babies go to is the most amazing part and why I love our agency and this program so much. It is so unique in the international adoption world, wherein birth moms usually reach out to the agency in Japan while they are pregnant and the babies are matched rather quickly with waiting domestic, US, or Canadian families.
On July 24, 2017, I emailed our agency and told the wonderful lady, who I am honored to now call a friend, that we did not want any new updates until a referral was ready. It was hard being in the dark, but it was even harder thinking over and over again that we weren’t good enough. Once again, I am aware and even ashamed to admit these feelings. Looking back now, I am elated to know these beautiful babies are being cared for by their biological families or are exactly where they were always meant to be, with loving families chosen just for them, but I was in an emotional state and was in all honesty, still mourning my Stormy and our lost referral. Grief and anxiety cause irrational fears and feelings of unworthiness, which was exactly what I was tackling. On July 27, we received a late night email stating a mother of a 2 1/2 month old baby girl was looking for an adoption plan for her. They wanted to know if we were okay with a baby a few weeks older than the traditional 4-8 weeks at placement. What? Of course we were!
The next two weeks were a whirlwind. The paperwork was done in record time and on August 9, we were looking at photos of the most stunningly perfect baby girl…our baby girl…and reading a social report with tears streaming down our faces. We felt so humbled after reading her life story that our daughter’s birth mom chose us. Yes, we were next on the list and had been since the end of February, but she could have said no. Instead, she said yes to us…she said yes to us. She chose us, whose hearts were aching to love her daughter, while her own heart was breaking with what I can only imagine was the toughest most selfless decision of her life. Just three days after our girl turned three months old, she was placed in our arms in a small hotel room on the other side of the world in one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo. The smile that lit up her face the day we met will forever be etched on my heart and in my memory.
Now, after being home just over six months, we have been able to reflect on this humbling journey. It is now “one day” and yes, it does all “make sense.” In May, after losing our first referral, it was hard to describe at the time, but I felt as if my daughter had been born and that she was out there. It was so confusing because I knew most babies were placed only a few weeks after birth and paperwork was completed. As the days and months passed by, I knew that feeling had to be wrong, but yet, I still felt her. Now I know why, because my heart and soul knew she was there on the other side of the world. She just wasn’t ours yet. It wasn’t time for us to meet.
I am so thankful her birth mom had those months with her. I am thrilled we have photos and memories to share with our daughter of her first mother when she gets older. I am so blessed that in some way, my life, my husband’s life, our daughter’s life, are all woven together with another family thousands of miles away. I pray her birth mom can feel the deep love, admiration, and respect we have for her. I am honored that we have been chosen by fate, God, the universe, whatever you may believe, to be her parents. We will never take being her parents for granted. We chose this route…adoption was not our last option…it was our first choice. And I can say with complete clarity that I am more than thankful, honored, blessed, thrilled that we chose this journey.
We witnessed what can happen firsthand when God and fate step in and orchestrate exactly what was always destined to be. We filled out our paperwork on May 11, 2016, exactly one year from the day our girl was to be born. In August of 2016, we had our one and only homestudy visit, while on the other side of the world, our daughter’s first mom found out she was pregnant. On May 11, 2017, our daughter was born in Japan, and here in the US, Stormy had one final amazing day before passing on May 15. We were informed on Monday, July 24, that another baby we thought could be ours, was not meant to be. If you remember from earlier, that’s the day I told our agency we did not want anymore updates until a referral was ready. Coincidentally, the very same day in Japan, our girl’s birth mom reached out through email to the agency in Japan inquiring about an adoption plan. On July 26, here in Ohio, I wrote our future child a letter, and the very next night, we received that late-night email from our agency stating they may have a daughter for us. We received a referral on August 9 and hopped on a plane August 12, exactly 15 months to the day that we mailed out our application packet to our agency bringing our journey full circle. And I fully believe the reason this didn’t all happen sooner is because I was meant to dedicate my time and heart to Stormy in his final months, weeks, and days. I am forever thankful that I was able to give him all of me until the very last minute as he gave me all of him every single day of his life. How can we deny these coincidences? How could we ever again wonder if God had His hand in bringing us together? We can’t, and for that I am so grateful.
This journey and our girl have taught us how to give up control, be more patient, trust, have faith, and most importantly, how to love unconditionally. When we first announced our decision to adopt, many people had their doubts and wondered (sometimes aloud to us) whether this was a well thought-out decision. “Don’t you want a child of your own?” I can answer this question now without hesitation and without an ounce of doubt. I do have a child of my own…she is my child in every sense of the word, and now I completely understand what never used to make sense. I understand why I felt so compelled to adopt several years ago. I know why when I left Japan in 2012, I felt as if I would be back and that I left a piece of me there. I can now comprehend why so many potential little ones never made it into our arms. Our daughter was always meant to be our little girl, and everything we have experienced has led us straight to her. Today, it all makes perfect sense, and for that, I am more than thankful and completely blessed.
Ashley Banion lives with her husband of seven years, Vince, and daughter, Everly. They also share their home with a high-spirited Sheltie named Sadie, an older Jack Russell named Jackie, two lively horses named Jasmine and Gracie, and five independent cats (Aspen, Raven, Maple, Lunar, and Salem). Ashley is an eighth grade English teacher and high school cheer coach. Vince teaches computer technology and coaches high school boys basketball and golf. They live in the small town of South Charleston, Ohio, where they grew up together and became high school sweethearts. Ashley is currently working on completing a novel chronicling her family’s adoption journey.
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