As their long-anticipated trip to China to complete an adoption approached, Beth and Jason Chandler started hearing about the coronavirus outbreak, but they didn’t think it would affect their plans.
A week before the scheduled departure Jan. 30, the couple from Lowell, Indiana, found out their trip might be in jeopardy. On Jan. 27, they learned they wouldn’t be able to meet their new daughter as planned.
Three days later, the State Department raised its travel advisory for China to level 4, meaning: Do not travel because of the fast-spreading virus.
“It was crushing,” Beth Chandler said. “It’s just so sad.”
That’s a feeling shared by dozens of families who spent the better part of a year making arrangements to adopt a child from China. The State Department didn’t provide an estimate for how many families had to delay trips to complete the process, saying adoptions haven’t been put on hold because of the outbreak but that U.S. citizens are advised not to travel to China.
There have been more than 45,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 1,000 deaths in China, most of them in Hubei province, especially the city of Wuhan.
The Chandlers said they got the bad news from their adoption agency. Since then, Beth Chandler has been in touch with other prospective parents through a Facebook group. Some are taking part in a prayer chain for the 25 children they hope to adopt.
The expectant adopted parents share their anxieties about waiting, concerns about the children’s health and uncertainty about when they’ll be able to go.
“Usually, we have anywhere from one to four families travel every month, so we know this is going to start snowballing until some more of this gets under control,” said Anna Graham, chief operating officer of America World Adoption in McLean, Virginia, which the Chandlers are using for a second time. “We’re trying to calm our anxious families who have fallen in love with children they hope to make a part of their family.”
U.S. adoptions from China dwindled in recent years as the world’s most populous nation rescinded its one-child policy in 2015, imposed new restrictions on international adoptions and became more open to domestic adoptions. Most Chinese children eligible for adoption have special needs and are 2 or older.
Still, China remains a popular option for Americans seeking to add to their families.
According to the most recent State Department report on inter-country adoptions, Americans adopted more children from China than anywhere else by far in 2018: 1,475 of 4,059 total adoptions. The next closest: India with 302.
Jodi Miyama, vice president of adoption services for All God’s Children International in Vancouver, Washington, said her agency places 25 to nearly 50 Chinese kids a year with U.S. families. All have special needs.
“The children who are eligible for adoption now in China definitely often have a combination of more complex needs and are typically older than in the past,” Miyama said.
In 2018, the Chandlers adopted a 3-year-old girl from Beijing they named Cora. They say she had developmental delays but is doing fine. The sister she eagerly awaits to meet, who will be named Sophie, is 3 years old and has Down syndrome.
“She may not be what the world considers perfect, but, to us, she is,” said Beth Chandler, the mother of three biological sons. “We want to give her a beautiful life and every possible opportunity.”
The State Department advisory took a difficult decision out of the hands of families who faced the dilemma of either going to China and risking contracting the virus and exposing their new child or waiting and hoping their new family member wouldn’t get sick in the interim.
Toni and Dayton Puckett, of Farmville, Virginia, were set to fly to China Jan. 30 to adopt a 3-year-old girl they plan to name Vera Riese.
“It feels like such an understatement to say that weighing the sides of that decision was a completely agonizing experience,” Toni Puckett said.
The Pucketts, who have three biological children, planned to take their 15-year-old daughter on the trip. They were supposed to meet their new daughter Feb. 3 and return on Valentine’s Day — the 22nd anniversary of the day they got engaged.
They were heartened when they heard from the orphanage that all of the kids there are healthy.
“I just have to have faith that she will be OK until we can get to her,” Toni Puckett said.