Amazing Grace

Grace hitches a ride with new mom Mindy shortly after their first meeting in Zhengzhou, China.
by Mindy Henderson on September 1, 2007 - 9:54am

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 5

I believe in miracles. I look at her face every day. Her name is Grace...and she is our miracle.

Living life from a wheelchair, and knowing each day the physical limitations I have, it was no surprise when doctors confirmed that for me to go through pregnancy and a natural childbirth would be dangerous. It was no surprise, but it was devastating to face the reality that I’d never experience this. Michael and I were married in 2003, and it broke my heart to know that I couldn’t give this wonderful man a child.

But then I learned some things (and remembered some things that I already knew, but had forgotten). I learned that families are made in all sorts of ways. I learned that the surefire way to get me to accomplish something is to tell me “no.” And I learned that none of us is alone and that we can help each other make things possible.

After being married for three years, Michael and I knew that it was time to add the “pitter-patter of little feet” to our life. We began to talk about our personal circumstances, what our challenges would be, what we had to offer, what made sense for us, and what would make for the easiest transition for both us and for an adopted child.

We loved each other so much, and had so much love spilling over that we could give to a child. We had an extended family and lots of friends who would welcome a child with open arms, and love and support him or her as much as we did. We had good, stable jobs, a home, two dogs and a cat, and the desire to raise a good person and to give a child a chance at a life they may not have otherwise had.

Because of my disability, we chose to adopt an older child. The care of a baby or infant would have been difficult for me. So much of the physical responsibility would have fallen on Michael, which to me, felt unfair. And, I knew myself: Having a limited ability to care for a baby would have made me feel terribly left out.

We decided that a child between 4 and 6 years old would work best for us.

She’s the one

Grace and Mindy Henderson
One of Mindy's early attractions to Grace was her "genuine smile" and "this light in her eyes that told us she was happy."

Now that we knew what we were searching for, we began to talk to lots of people and to investigate our options. I believe that when you’re going through this process, the most important thing you can do is to listen to the little voice in your head. When we found the thing that was right for us, we knew it in our hearts.

After watching a DVD on Chinese adoption, Michael and I looked at each other and said, “OK, this is it.” We learned of the great need for families for children in China, and that the children were very well cared for.

Our adoption agency showed us a list of “waiting children” in China, and when we saw Min FuShan, we knew she was ours — it was love at first sight! We knew that she was 5 and had been abandoned. She had a heart condition that had been corrected with surgery in Beijing. We were told she was happy, bright, sweet … She liked music, was focused and had good concentration, liked vibrant colors … She was compassionate toward children who were younger or were ill. In photos, her smile was genuine and she had this light in her eyes that told us she was happy.

Much like the finality of becoming pregnant, we knew that our little girl was in China and that all we needed to do was to go and get her.

A word of caution: Once we knew in our hearts that this was our daughter, this wasn’t a fast process. Because we were adopting an older, “waiting” child, much of the process was expedited, but it still took 10 months from beginning to end. By the time we went to China, I felt like a pregnant woman who was four weeks overdue!

At her foster home, the children had English lessons and we asked them to call her Grace. This helped a lot with her transition to our family, as she became Grace Susan Henderson. Susan is my mom’s name, and the beautiful name Grace got to the root of who she was in our hearts.

We were able to send Grace cards and pictures of us, her dogs and cat, her grandparents, and eventually, her house and her room. At the foster home, they first showed the children our pictures and introduced us as friends, people who loved them and who could be trusted. Apparently, Gracie latched onto our picture before she knew we would be her parents, and told the other children, “this is mine.” They didn’t tell her that we were to be her parents until very shortly before we traveled to China.

Scrutiny and persistence

With any route we chose for adoption, we knew that my disability would be scrutinized. We knew it, but when it actually happened, it was agonizing.

Initially, we were denied for adoption. This got my dander up in no way I had ever experienced. By then, I knew my daughter was in China waiting for me, and “no” simply wasn’t acceptable.

This was when my faith in humankind was renewed. I’m usually optimistic to a fault. But what we experienced over the next 10 months taught me much more about kindness, generosity and faith.

We found people who were willing to believe in us. We found people who stuck their necks out for us and put themselves on the line for us. We found people everywhere who were moved to action for us.

Individuals at our adoption agency became our family. They worked the phones and made miracles happen. There was an overabundance of paperwork to be done and documentation to be obtained from all over the country. Things had to be notarized, certified and authenticated.

We felt the urgency of it at all times, so we worked through it as fast as we could. I called people across the country trying to speed things up. Most people fell over themselves to help us … people we had never met and would never meet.

In the end, we got our family. We got the call Sept. 30, 2006. We had our approval to travel to China and bring our little girl home. From that moment, it was fast and furious.

Journey of 16,000 miles

Travel to China for me was logistically very challenging. The ADA doesn’t exist in China. We thought about every tiny detail … twice. We made travel plans quickly but thoroughly.

I worked closely with our adoption agency’s travel specialist, asking questions that she’d forward to Beijing for answers. For example, we had them call each hotel we were staying in and ask them to measure doorways to the bathrooms, make sure there were elevators and an entrance with no stairs. There’s no way to rent a van with a wheelchair lift in China, so they assured us that wherever we went, a minivan or van would pick us up, not a car.

We had to be sure the airports would be equipped with jetways and that we wouldn’t have to board by going up steps from the ground. We had to explain to our guide that we’d be the last ones off the plane in Beijing so she wouldn’t give up and leave us.

We’d asked my parents to come with us to China to share the experience. Having them there was priceless, emotionally and practically.

We boarded the plane at 7:40 a.m., Oct. 26, and traveled over 24 hours to Beijing. Grace was in Beijing when we arrived, but the rules state that you have to receive the child in the province of the orphanage that has custody of her. So, two days later, we flew 400 miles to Zhengzhou, capital city of the Henan province.

No more waiting

Michael, Mindy and Grace Henderson
Michael joins Grace and Mindy for one of their first family portraits.

The morning after we arrived in Zhengzhou, the four of us waited in our hotel room, quietly, for the phone to ring. About 10:15 a.m., we got word that Grace had arrived. We rode the elevator down to the lobby, the doors opened, and I saw her. Sitting on the floor, knees tucked up to her chin, hair in a pony tail, everything she owned in a backpack next to her on the floor.

My breath caught in my throat. I couldn’t believe she was there in the same room as us. It was like meeting a celebrity — we had seen pictures of her and had heard about her life, but now she was there in front of us.

I’d been coached by our guide on how to say, “I’m your Mommy” in Chinese. I rolled up next to her, made my best attempt at the phrase … and the room erupted in laughter. It was the perfect moment, and I will always remember every single detail. It was the moment we met our Amazing Grace.

American girl

Grace, who turned 6 in July, was everything we’d been led to expect and so much more. Within the first five minutes, she was calling us Mommy and Daddy, playing, sitting in our laps. She was up for anything, and we did lots of exploring around the cities we visited.

She’s sweet, affectionate, bright, curious. She loves to laugh. She is a perfectionist, and gets frustrated if she can’t do something right away. She loves books, drawing, puzzles, watching cartoons, playing with her dogs, riding her bike.

The addition of Grace to our family was much easier than I expected. She’s a brave, amazing little girl and I can’t imagine life without her now.

Mindy Klussman Henderson, 34, lives in Austin, Texas and is an account servicing manager for a technical division of Bank of America. She has spinal muscular atrophy type 2. Mindy was profiled and sang on the MDA Telethon in 1997, 1998 and 2000.

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