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From China with Love: Dearing family completes adoption process

They were born a half of a world and several decades apart, but in only three months, the two have bonded as one.

"I never knew I could love such a tiny person so much. ... I had no idea how big, big, big this kind of love can be," said Shari Upchurch.

Mrs. Upchurch and her husband, Todd, traveled to China at the end of February to bring their new baby daughter, Elizabeth Ann, home to Dearing. The couple had been talking about adopting since before they married in 1998. They felt burdened for orphan girls in China because of the country's "one-child policy" that reportedly cause many people to keep baby boys who will grow up to work and help support the family.

When they married, Mrs. Upchurch adopted her husband's two children from a previous marriage. The youngest, Joshua, 19, still lives at home.

"I love Joshua like I had given birth to him," Mrs. Upchurch said. "But I've never known what it's like to love a little one."

Joshua is a full-time student at an online university and works a full-time job. And these days, he's added playtime with his little sister to his list of activities. Joshua, who always has been the youngest, said being the big brother has changed the order of life for him. He said he feels a responsibility to protect Elizabeth.

"Our relationship goes deeper than skin and blood. She will always be my little sister. I will do everything in my power to make sure that little baby has the most wonderful life," he said in an online message.

Mrs. Upchurch said Elizabeth adores her big brother; and, when she wants to play, she goes looking for him.

"I love playing with her. She's a blast," Joshua said. "And you wouldn't know she wasn't born here. ... I don't see her as Chinese. It's almost hard to remember that she's adopted, because it's like she's always been with us."

But the journey to bring Elizabeth home wasn't easy. The Upchurch's sent their application for adoption to the Chinese Children Adoption International Agency in April 2005. What followed was "mountains and mountains of paperwork," two home studies and finger printings. When they began, they were told it would be only a six-month wait after their approval until they received a match. But the big day did not come until January of this year, on Shari's birthday. It was all downhill after that, with photos and details of their daughter arriving via the internet, Visas arriving via mail service, baby showers and celebrations.

Then came what seemed to Mrs. Upchurch to be the worst part of the entire process - the plane trip to China. As if describing the agony of childbirth, Mrs. Upchurch said the trip was worse than she thought she could handle. But finally being able to hold her baby erased all the bad memories.

"The plane ride there was bad. It was claustrophobic and I was nervous, and I thought I can't handle this," she said. "The whole way there, I wondered how other people do it. ... and I thought I'd never do it again. But after I got Elizabeth, it was so wonderful. I thought, 'I'm coming back and doing this again.'"

The road still had some bumps, though. Mr. Upchurch said Elizabeth had been in the orphanage for 10 months, where all the babies have to stay in a crib or occasionally sit in a walker and they only see the four gray walls of the orphanage. Elizabeth didn't know how to crawl or sit up independently. But within two days of living with her family in their hotel room in China, she was crawling.

"Several days later she was pulling herself up, and then walking, and now she's all over the place," Mrs. Upchurch said. "She loves vacuuming. She gets all excited and follows behind me and holds the cord up."

Spending all of their days in the same room of an orphanage with many other babies has an even deeper impact on a young one's emotional development.

"It's been neat watching her personality come out. When we first got her, she didn't have a personality," Mr. Upchurch said. "She was very stoic ... cried inconsolably. ... She was angry and upset. But after three days, she came around. She changed like night and day."

"Now she's the life of the party. She's so talkative," Elizabeth's proud mother said. "God definitely made her for us. She's crazy like the two of them, and she's talkative like all of us."

After doing research on the emotional development of orphans, the Upchurch's aren't allowing anyone else to hold their new daughter until they've been able to establish proper attachment. This is not easy because Mr. Upchurch is the pastor of a small church where the congregation has been praying and waiting for Elizabeth along with the rest of the family.

But mother and baby have bonded quite well. Mrs. Upchurch said when she gives Elizabeth her bottle, they snuggle real close together.

"And she puts her hand on the side of my face and looks into my eyes, and oh, I just melt," she said.

Web posted on Thursday, June 28, 2007

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