What it’s Like to Adopt a 5-Year-Old with Special Needs from China

Let go and let God. That’s what Angela Murray-Brent learned from the adoption of her 5-year-old son, Enoch. Angela, a special education teacher, and her husband Jason Brent, a children’s pastor, always thought they’d adopt. After meeting at Manhattan Christian College, they married and had two biological children, Henley, 8, and Athan, 7. Not long after, they opened their hearts again to the idea of adoption. Plans were made and they began to pursue international adoption through All God’s Children International. When the Brents began their adoption journey four years ago, they thought would adopt a baby, without any major disabilities, from Ethiopia. That’s not what happened.

Their adoption journey wasn’t what they expected, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. “We didn’t care about gender, or country or anything like that,” Angela said. “The only thing I knew was that I really wanted a young child. I was totally set on adopting a child under two.” They pursued adopting from Ethiopia, becauseImage 1
they thought that was their best chance of adopting a baby or toddler. “My fear with adopting an older child was that he would never attach to us,” Angela said. They were on the path to adopt from Ethiopia for two years. They later realized that it was going to be a very long time before they would be able to bring a baby home.

A little heartbroken, they decided to transfer to the Xiamen waiting child program in September 2013. Angela remembers the moment she saw Enoch for the first time, around Thanksgiving of 2013. “I will never forget this. I was sitting on the couch one night and there was an email I didn’t think I had ever seen about a 5-year-old little boy,” Angela said. “My husband and I were like, why haven’t we considered this child?” They contacted Tiffany Williams, China Program Director, that night. “Everything we read about him talked about his sweet demeanor and that he was such a little charmer. Tiffany raved about him,” Angela said. “It took about a week for the process to start because we had to wait for an evaluation on his arthrogryposis from an international doctor.” Arthrogryposis is a condition in which a child is born with joint contractures. For Enoch, it affected his ability to walk and confined him to a wheelchair at his orphanage. They decided to move forward with Enoch’s adoption from China. “It was hard because we had chosen him, but he couldn’t come home until almost a year later,” Angela said.

In September 2014, Angela and Jason traveled to China to meet their son for the first time, and bring him home to Kansas. It was much harder than they expected. While they knew the reality of Enoch’s condition, Angela still remembers being surprised to see a wheelchair waiting for Enoch. “This isn’t a disability that we ever thought we would be dealing with,” Angela said. “I would never have thought that we would have a child in a wheelchair.” When they met for the first time, the level of grief that Enoch felt shocked them. “He burst into tears crying, ‘I don’t want to leave with them.’ He was angry with us,” Angela said.

special needs china 1At first, Enoch was scared of Jason, who is much bigger than Angela, but then a few days later, he pushed Angela away instead. While Enoch is a joyful child, the time in China was very hard for the Brents. “He didn’t want to be called Enoch, he wanted to be called his Chinese name,” Angela said. “He was grieving for his orphanage, his food, his language.” Angela recalls dealing with an emotion she didn’t expect to feel after adopting a child. “I felt so guilty for taking him out of China. He was bone-thin and in an orphanage, but I felt guilty.”

Once Enoch was home, things improved, but continued to be a struggle for the next four months. Enoch worried that his new parents would leave him and checked the house often to make sure they were there. The children now get along great, but there was a little initial tension with Athan. “I knew it would be hard for Athan because he was our youngest, but I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be for him that his brother couldn’t participate in physical activities with him,” Angela said. Despite arriving in a wheelchair, Enoch is now able to walk with the aid of leg braces and his siblings have learned to play in ways that they can all take part in. “Our older children now have compassion that they didn’t have,” Angela said.

Every day, Enoch gains more confidence and becomes more at ease with his family. “When he first met us, he didn’t know us. It’s so cool to see his fun side coming out. ” Because of his limited life experience in the orphanage, every day is a new experience for Enoch. “He had never seen snow before. It’s so cool to listen to him and see how he interprets the situation. He’s very expressive,” Angela said. As the pieces continue to fall into place, she feels nothing but love and appreciation for her youngest son. “We had all been together all these years and it’s different to figure out how to include this new person. It’s so awesome once it all clicks,” Angela said. “Things are so much better now, and 6 months from now it’s going to be a world of difference.”

Angela thinks often about what might have happened to Enoch if he was still in China. In China, they saw a lot of people with severe special needs begging on the streets. “I just thought, that could be our son,” Angela said. “I look at him every day and think what if he was still there? He was bone thin. I think about these kids that age out of the system. He deserves so much more than that.” Enoch often mentions to Angela and Jason that he was hungry in China and very much aware that he had no mom or dad. While it’s heartbreaking to hear, it reminds Angela that their struggle has been worth it. “Even when I was in the midst of my despair, I wouldn’t change it,” Angela said. “This has been the hardest thing that we have ever done, but it has also been one of the most rewarding things that we’ve ever done.”

Angela’s message for other families considering adoption? “Do it, for sure. It’s not just helping the child. He has also brought this whole new world into our family. All of these experiences that we never would have had,” Angela said. “I also want to say to people, you may think you can’t handle a child’s disability but you can. Our son has so many opportunities now that he wouldn’t have had in China. I have no doubt that he will grow up to be a successful adult.”

Go here to learn more about how to adopt through AGCI. Find out more about China adoption and our partnership with the Xiamen Social Welfare Institute here.