How Adopting a Child After Age 50 Rewired a FamilyOther people mark their 50th birthday by taking a trip, throwing a big party, or checking off something on their bucket list. I entered my sixth decade with a growing sense that our family needed one more child to feel complete. My husband and I already had six children, the youngest of whom was 10, and I had a pretty crazy job as a newspaper editor. But in my heart, it felt like our family was missing someone.

Then a single friend in her mid ’40s adopted a child from Guatemala and another started making plans for a second trip to Russia to finalize her adoption. Listening to them describe the bleak, depressing conditions in the orphanages where their children were living started me thinking about whether it might be possible for us, too, to give a needy orphan a home.

When we first saw the photo from the adoption agency of a scrawny, unsmiling baby girl with sad eyes and a cleft lip and palate, we didn’t think twice about saying yes because it felt so right. My husband and I flew to China for two weeks to pick up our 21-month-old daughter.

I’d just sold a cookbook, so I had a small advance that we could use to finance an adoption. But when I first broached the idea with my husband, he thought I had lost my mind. It took a little convincing, but Steve (who, like me, is from a big family) slowly warmed up to the idea. Our kids were enthusiastic from the start—I think they missed having a little one in the house.

After some initial research, we decided on China, but in 2006, the wait for a healthy child was three years and getting longer. The waiting period was considerably shorter if you were willing to adopt a child with special needs, and we began to think this was the path we should take.

We live a short drive from some of the best children’s hospitals in the country. We have decent insurance, and at that point my job as a journalist was flexible enough that I could work from home at least half the time. When we first saw the photo from the adoption agency of a scrawny, unsmiling baby girl with sad eyes and a cleft lip and palate, we didn’t think twice about saying yes because it felt so right. My husband and I flew to China for two weeks to pick up our 21-month-old daughter. Mia wasn’t walking yet since she’d spent her entire life in an orphanage crib. Because the cleft lip and palate interfered with her ability to eat, congee, a rice-like porridge, was her main diet.

As she settled into our noisy and boisterous family, Mia gained confidence and began to thrive. Each of my children seemed to reach down into themselves to find something to share. They read to her, introduced her to giant Legos, and took her to the park…My older kids have learned to be unselfish, to see that they can live with less than their friends and be every bit as happy.

Those first few months back in the U.S. were an adjustment as Mia, of course, couldn’t understand a word we said. She communicated by crying or smiling, with the crying part much more frequent at first, but she soon began to steal our hearts. She skillfully copied what she saw other family members do, from dancing to holding a deck of cards to her ear and pretending it was a cell phone to dragging her high chair over to the table and doing homework like 12-year-old Madeline. She enjoyed all foods, was a great sleeper, and loved spending time with her siblings.

At first, Mia was afraid of everything from the sound of a toilet being flushed to our Cairn terrier. But as she grew more confident and more familiar with her surroundings, she grew more adventurous, learning to ride a bike, swim, and play hopscotch.

And as she settled into our noisy and boisterous family, Mia gained confidence and began to thrive. Each of my children seemed to reach down into themselves to find something to share. They read to her, introduced her to giant Legos, and took her to the park. Our grown children who have their own apartments often come home for a sleepover or for Sunday dinner. These days, they love to play Spot It! with Mia or exclaim over her latest duct tape creations. My older kids have learned to be unselfish, to see that they can live with less than their friends and be every bit as happy.

A reluctant soccer player when I first signed her up in kindergarten, Mia has become her team’s top scorer and just joined a travel team. She’s a natural athlete who also very much a team player—considerate, well-mannered, and loyal. Steve has dusted off his soccer-coaching skills and is loving every minute of being on the field again.

A self-confident nine-year-old with a big personality, an exuberant vibe, and a droll sense of humor, Mia has immeasurably enriched our family. And if we’ve given Mia a family that’s got her back, she has given our family so much more.

Mia has endured (so far) eight operations to correct a bilateral cleft palate and cleft lip and several surgical procedures to place tubes in her ears to prevent ear infections. She’s had speech therapy since arriving here eight years ago.

A self-confident nine-year-old with a big personality, an exuberant vibe, and a droll sense of humor, Mia has immeasurably enriched our family. And if we’ve given Mia a family that’s got her back, she has given our family so much more.

As for me, I was laid off from the newspaper where I’d worked for more than two decades and was lucky enough to land a new job as an editor at a digital health website. It’s demanding, and I have a long commute, and there are days when I look around and think about my friends who are now retired and taking trips to Greece and Italy. But my life is richer and happier than I ever could have imagined. I get the occasional “Your granddaughter is so cute,” but I’ve become good friends with the moms of Mia’s friends and I love spending my weekends at her soccer games and my evenings on homework and Harry Potter.

When someone asks, “Where do you get your energy?” the answer is easy. Mia has infused my life with newfound joy, given me a more relaxed perspective on the world, and shown me with certainty that, no matter how many children call you Mom, your heart just keeps getting bigger and bigger so you can love them all, forever and ever.

Click here to see Rose’s tips for healthy and happy relationships

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