‘Don’t you want a child of your own?’ I do have a child of my own. She’s our child in every sense of the word.’: Mom shares grief and anxiety in international adoption journey

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“‘One day this will all make sense.’

Someone said this to us in the midst of an extremely emotional and troubling time. At that moment, I clung to those words as if they were a life raft and I was stranded in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. We had just been told we lost the referral of a beautiful baby girl only days after our pup, my soul dog, lost his fight with kidney disease and Cushing’s Syndrome. In the midst of our grieving, we had received the referral of a beautiful baby girl, only to have her ripped from our grasp just days later. The feeling was completely irrational, but I was suffering from so much grief at the time and I truly felt this way.

Ashley and her 'soul dog' smile for the camera.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

It was the first time a referral had been taken back in the program’s almost 10 year history, and I was completely devastated. My poor husband felt powerless to help me get through the grief. He watched me mourn for the pup who made me a mom, albeit a fur mom, and now had to tell me we lost the little girl we thought was going to be our daughter. I know how selfish I sound here. Looking back on it now, I am so thankful this sweet girl’s mother was able to change her mind and raise her daughter. I truly am. This is what adoption advocates pray for. But at the time, my emotions had control of me, and they turned me into a complete mess. Anxiety and grief are crippling sometimes; I now understand this. I am beyond blessed with my family, and feel so honored to not only have witnessed, but experienced our story unfold firsthand.

In order to understand our adoption story’s ending, I must fill you in on the beginning. My husband, Vince, and I were high school sweethearts who also attended the same university, and majored in education together. After graduating, we both found great jobs teaching what we loved, then married a few years later. We began talking about starting a family, and I felt drawn to adoption. I’d been drawn to adoption for a very long time, but never truly understood why. After discussing this with Vince, we began researching domestic and international adoption.

High school sweethearts on their wedding day.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

In May of 2012, I happened to have an amazing opportunity thrown my way. My brother and mom were headed to Japan for a week, and my dad couldn’t go. I worked through the anxiety that sometimes holds me captive and jumped on the plane to take his place. I have no other words to describe the way Japan made me feel, except I felt connected and drawn to it. While I sat on a plane flying home on May 11, 2012, (remember this date), I felt as if I left a piece of my heart on the streets of Japan. I could not make sense of the feelings overtaking me. I promised myself I would be back; I felt it in my heart and soul.

Once home, I researched Japan adoption, only to be disappointed by the lack of information. I found two agencies with Japan programs, but both were closed to new families due to how small the programs were. I reached out to both agencies through email in the fall of 2012. One agency told me they hoped to open back up in 5-6 years, and the other said 1-3 years. Knowing my husband and I wouldn’t be ready for at least 1-2 years made the latter program seem like a possibility.

I stayed in contact with the amazing woman who ran the program for over four years. Finally, in April of 2016, we reached out to her and informed her we would like to join her China program, since it seemed Japan may not be opening anytime soon. We were then told the Japan program would actually be opening in May of that year, exactly four years after leaving Japan on my first visit. We knew that was our sign. We applied, were accepted, and by the beginning of June, we were looking for an agency to complete our home study. For those who are not familiar, a home study is basically a screening of a prospective family. This includes, but isn’t limited to, their home and family life, religious and cultural beliefs or practices, and much more. No topic is off the table when it comes to a home study interview.

The Banion's and their dogs take a picture in front of a patch of sunflowers.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

Over the next year, we filled out mountains of paperwork, started a blog, set up several fundraisers, were fingerprinted approximately 82 times (okay… three), and waited for the phone to ring or an email to be sent telling us we had a baby waiting for us. Throughout all of this, we’d take our pup, Stormy, to appointments, and pray he would meet his sibling someday. And as you already know, that wasn’t meant to be.

After losing our referral in May, we were told of many other little ones who were born and could possibly be our future children. But for one reason or another, none of these babies were to be our little one. In some cases, they were able to stay with their biological families. I am incredibly thankful for that as an advocate for adoption. My one thought through this journey was I wanted us to be the ‘last resort’ for a family choosing adoption. It was hard sometimes, and of course family preservation is the main goal, but if that can’t happen, then domestic adoption is the next best option. And if that can’t happen, or the first family is preferred, international adoption would be the last resort. That would be us.

Some little ones were adopted to waiting families in Japan or Canada, and two passed us by for other families that were a better fit in one way or another. The fact this program gave first mothers so much say in the families and countries their babies would grow up in is the most amazing part, and why I loved our agency and this program so much. It was so unique in the international adoption world, wherein first moms usually reached out to the agency in Japan while they were pregnant and the babies were matched rather quickly with waiting families. The Japan program has since ended, as Japan has been encouraging more domestic adoptions, which is wonderful news for the future of adoption in Japan. While we are thrilled to see domestic adoption becoming more prevalent in Japan, we are grieving the hope we once had of bringing home a sibling for our daughter so our children could share the same culture. It is possible to feel both emotions at once.

On July 24, 2017, I emailed our agency and told the wonderful director of the program, who I’m honored to now call a friend, we didn’t want any new updates until a referral was ready. It was hard being in the dark, but it was even harder thinking over and over again we weren’t good enough to be chosen. Once again, I am aware and even ashamed to admit these feelings. Looking back now, I am elated to know these beautiful babies are being cared for by their biological families or are exactly where they were always supposed to be, with loving families chosen by their first moms. But I was in an emotional state, and in all honesty, still mourning my Stormy and our lost referral. Grief and anxiety cause irrational fears and feelings of unworthiness, which was exactly what I was tackling.

But, on July 27th, we received a late-night email stating the mother of a 2 1/2-month-old baby girl was looking for an adoption plan for her. They wanted to know if we were okay with a baby a few weeks older than the traditional 4-8 weeks at placement. What? Of course we were!

One of the first pictures of their baby girl received in their referral email.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

The next two weeks were a whirlwind. The paperwork was done in record time, and on August 9, 2017, we were looking at photos of the most stunningly perfect baby girl, our baby girl, while reading a social report with tears streaming down our faces. After reading her life story, we felt so humbled our daughter’s first mom chose us. She chose us, whose hearts were aching to love her daughter, while her own heart was breaking with what I can only imagine was the toughest, most selfless decision of her life.

One of the first pictures of their baby girl received in their referral email.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

Just three days after our girl turned three months old, she was placed in our arms in a small hotel room in one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo. The smile that lit up her face the day we met will forever be etched on my heart and in my memory. It quite literally took my breath away. I can’t describe the conflicting feelings we had that day and for the rest of our time in Japan. We were completely overjoyed and in love with our daughter. At the same time though, we were heartbroken for her mom. Yes, her mom; it is a title we will forever share. Our daughter will always have two moms, which makes me smile.

The Banion's meet their baby girl for the first time.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion
The Banion's tour Japan with their new baby girl.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion
The Banion's tour Japan with their new baby girl.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

Now, after being home just over four years, we’ve been able to reflect on this humbling journey. In May 2017, after losing our first referral, it was hard to describe at the time, but I felt as if my daughter had been born and was out there. It was so confusing because I knew most babies were placed only a few weeks after birth, with paperwork completed. As the days and months passed by, I knew that feeling had to be wrong, but yet, I still felt her. Now I know why — because my heart and soul knew she was there on the other side of the world. It just wasn’t time for us to meet.

I am so thankful her first mom had those months with her. I am thrilled we have photos and memories to share with our daughter of her first mother when she gets older. I hope they will meet again one day. I am so blessed that in some way, my life, my husband’s life, and our daughter’s life, are all woven together with another family thousands of miles away. I pray her first mom can feel the deep love, admiration, and respect we have for her. I am honored we have been chosen to be her parents by fate, God, the universe, or whatever you may believe. We will never take being her parents for granted, not for one single second. We chose adoption, not as our last option, but our first choice. And I can say with complete clarity I am so thankful, honored, blessed, humbled, and thrilled we chose this journey.

The Banion's baby girl smiles for a Happily Ever After photoshoot.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion
The Banion's baby girl wears an adorable tutu dress.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

We witnessed firsthand what can happen when God, or the universe, or fate step in and orchestrate exactly what was always destined to be. We filled out our paperwork on May 11, 2016, exactly one year from the day our girl was to be born. In August of 2016, we had our home study visit, while on the other side of the world, our daughter’s first mom found out she was pregnant. On May 11, 2017, our daughter was born in Japan, and here in the U.S., Stormy had one final amazing day before passing on May 15th. We were informed on Monday, July 24th, that another baby we thought could be our little one, wasn’t going to be. If you remember from earlier, that’s the day I told our agency we didn’t want anymore updates until a referral was ready. Coincidentally, the very same day in Japan, our daughter’s first mom reached out through email to the Japanese agency inquiring about an adoption plan.

The Banion's smile for a family picture with their new baby.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

On July 27th, here in Ohio, I wrote our future child a letter, and that very night, we received the unexpected late-night email from our agency. We received a referral on August 9th and hopped on a plane August 12th, exactly 15 months to the day we mailed out our application packet to our agency, bringing our journey full circle. And I fully believe the reason this didn’t all happen sooner is because I was meant to dedicate my time and heart to Stormy in his final months, weeks, and days. I am forever thankful I was able to give him all of me until the very last minute, as he gave me all of him every single day of his life.

This journey and our girl have taught us how to give up control, be more patient, trust, have faith, and most importantly, how to love unconditionally. When we first announced our decision to adopt, a few people had their doubts and wondered (sometimes aloud to us) whether this was a well thought-out decision. ‘Don’t you want a child of your own?’ I can answer this question now without hesitation and without an ounce of doubt. I do have a child of my own… she is our child in every sense of the word.

The Banion's smile for a picture with their adopted daughter.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion
Everly sits with her new pup, Sadie.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion
Everly sits on a blanket, wearing a traditional Japanese outfit.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

Now I completely understand what never used to make sense. I understand why I felt so compelled to adopt several years ago. I know why when I left Japan in 2012, I felt as if I would be back and that I left a piece of myself there. I can now comprehend why so many potential little ones never made it into our arms. Our daughter was always supposed to be our little girl. I won’t say meant to be, because we all know adoption starts with unimaginable trauma. And yes, even though our daughter was a mere three months old, she did suffer a traumatic loss of her first family, birth country, and culture, which we try to embrace and teach her about. How can we say she was meant to endure that loss? But everything we have experienced has led us straight to her.

Everly picks a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion
The Banion's smile for a family picture with their adopted daughter.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

Today, our daughter is loved by so many. Everyone who meets her falls in love with her strong, confident, sassy personality. She is incredibly kind and thoughtful. She has helped us to see anything is possible, and because I want her to know she can be and do anything, I went after a dream of my own. I recently wrote and published a memoir about our adoption journey and my struggle with anxiety and grief during the process. In a way, it is a love letter to our daughter and to her first family. I hope and pray her first mom always knows how unconditionally our family loves the daughter we share.”

The Banion's smile for a family picture with their daughter and their dog.
Courtesy of Ashley Banion

This story was submitted to Love What Matters  by Ashley Banion of Ohio. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. You can also check out Ashley’s memoir here. Submit your own story  hereand be sure to  subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and  YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories about international adoption here:

‘We saw the beautiful face of a precious 2-year-old. It was as if our souls knew, deep down, she was ours. We said YES.’: Couple shares international adoption story, ‘It’s surreal’

‘He cried by the door. He was hoping we’d take him back. Our anxiety levels were through the roof.’’: Mom shares international adoption journey, ‘We can’t imagine life without them’

‘That was my son. This precious boy was going to become OUR boy. We thought our hearts would burst.’: Woman shares international adoption journey, ‘We love that we get to be their parents’

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