‘I gasped in the CVS parking lot. The file read, ‘Child Reserved.’ My hands shook as I waited for my husband. I tried not to peek. Then, we saw the face that took our breath away.’: Couple adopt special needs child, ‘She has forever changed our hearts!’

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“I married the love of my life in 2008 when I was just 19. Nick and I dreamed of the family we’d have, talking about names for our future children, and said ‘one day’ we’d like to adopt. Between 2010 and 2015, we experienced the heartache of 4 miscarriages and the joy of 2 miracle babies, Addy and Jude. Adoption was still casually mentioned as something we’d like to do one day, but in October 2017, that ‘one day’ became a reality.

Nick is a worship leader in a band called BROTHERS ABIDING. While leading worship at a church, a group called ‘Ugandan Thunder’ came to perform and they changed our lives forever. The group is a children’s choir from Uganda comprised of orphans who rotate coming to the U.S. every 6 weeks to sing, raising money for their orphanage. Watching them on stage with the most joyful expressions on their faces despite their unimaginable circumstances inspired us.

We had recently moved into a new house, which was Nick’s childhood home, and we were comfortable with how things were. In my mind, our family was complete. After the concert, we saw our world differently. We signed up to sponsor a child at the concert, but we knew God was calling us to something more. The ‘one day’ we’d adopt became ‘right now.’

We began researching adoption. Because of the children’s choir, we initially thought of Uganda but learned that adopting from a country in Africa is becoming increasingly difficult. Ethiopia has shut its door to adoption completely, even though there are millions of children who need homes. The realization of the global orphan crisis rocked our world. Our eyes had been opened, and there was no going back.

Courtesy of Julie Akin

I called an adoption agency to talk about every possible option and the social worker asked if we had considered India. She encouraged us to look into it. We learned that India has an estimated 31 million orphans, which more than any other country in the world and larger than the population of Texas. The more we learned, the more attached we became to these precious children and we knew our child was in India.

Adoptive Parents who don’t live in India are only eligible to adopt a child with special needs. Our agency gave us a ‘special needs checklist,’ which for us, was the hardest part of the process. Looking through an extensive list of needs, some we had never heard of, and having to simply say ‘Yes, No, or Maybe’ to each one felt like we were shopping for a child from a catalog. While I understood why it was a necessary step, it was heartbreaking. And frankly, it was scary.

We had no experience with special needs and didn’t know what we were equipped to handle. We prayed over the list for weeks, knowing that no matter what boxes we checked, God already knew our child. We were open to whoever was meant to be in our home and didn’t want a checkmark to shut the wrong door. The weight of that responsibility was excruciating.

In March 2019, about one year after officially beginning our adoption journey, we were visiting family in Florida. Nick had to run inside CVS, and I waited in the car with Addy and Jude. I logged into our adoption portal and gasped when I saw something new. ‘Child Reserved,’ was written in our file. I knew that at the click of a button, I would see the face of a child that our agency coordinator thought could be a good match for us. I knew I had to wait until Nick came back to the car before peeking, and my hands shook as I waited, staring at those words.

Once he was in the car, we hit the button to view the file. The face we saw took our breath away. We prayed we’d be able to say yes to the first child that was presented to us but we still wanted to be cautious, guarding our hearts until we had all the information. But, something in us knew we were looking into the big brown eyes of our daughter.

I called our agency coordinator and said, ‘YES, we’re interested! Tell us all you can.’ She told us this little girl had some special needs that weren’t fully understood, but she would need surgery. The biggest concern was that she was unable to sit up without support at 13 months old. Being presented with a child who might never walk was one of the hardest things we’ve faced. Our agency was incredibly supportive, always encouraging us not to take on more than we could handle, reminding us that if we got in over our heads, we could do more harm than good for this child. There might be another family better equipped to care for them.

India allows families 30 days to hold on to a file before having to release it back into the system. We were not taking this decision lightly and took the full 30 days to pray and seek advice from doctors. To put a complicated issue simply, we found out the lower portion of her body did not form properly in the womb. She was also missing her sacrum and bottom three vertebrae. Many tears were shed as we knew this decision not only affected us as parents, but also Addy and Jude. But we continued to pray, and already felt as if this precious girl was ours.

The orphanage gave her the name, ‘Tanvi,’ meaning ‘beautiful’ and ‘delicate.’ One day during this time, my mom called to tell me what she had read in her morning devotion as she prayed over our decision. In Acts 3, Peter and John went to the temple to pray when they encountered a man who had been lame since birth sitting outside the gate of the temple called ‘Beautiful.’ He was there begging for alms and asked Peter and John for money. Peter told the man, ‘Silver and Gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus, stand up and walk.’ Peter lifted the man up, and the man’s feet and ankles strengthened. He walked into the temple with them, leaping and praising God, through the gate called ‘Beautiful.’

That moment, it was as if God confirmed what we already knew in our hearts. Tanvi was our daughter! We knew no matter what the future held or how scary the unknowns were, He had led us to this little girl. So, we told the agency a resounding YES! We continued to pray for Tanvi and asked all of our friends to pray for her, too. Three months later, we received an updated video of Tanvi sitting up all by herself. A miracle!

After that, there was so much waiting…but all that changed quickly on October 23rd when we got a call asking if we could be in Delhi in four days to get Tanvi.

Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin

Throughout our entire week in India, including the 20 hour flight home, Tanvi never smiled or cried. We played with her, tickled her, and did all we could to make her smile, but she only stared at us. We had learned in our adoption classes most children react one of three ways during the transition to their new families–they will ‘Fight, Flight, or Freeze.’ Tanvi was 100% a freezer. It was heartbreaking to see the grief and fear she was experiencing. The morning after returning home, we put her on the floor with Addy and Jude for the first time and watched as she completely transformed. She laughed, made funny faces, smiled, and played. We were overjoyed and thankful.

Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin
Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin
Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin

The next day, she began crying any time she tried to use the restroom, and we were very concerned. We took her to the ER at Scottish Rite in Atlanta and an x-ray showed that her little intestines were blocked from her hips up to her chest. Her amazing surgeon cleaned her out and gave her a temporary colostomy bag.

Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin

Eleven days of needles, a surgery, and an MRI, and Tanvi never shed a tear. One of the doctors believed she had been in so much pain before, she had developed an unbelievable pain tolerance. Every kind of specialist at the hospital saw her that first week. Nick became teary when he stepped into the hall one day and listened to all the different doctors, each on their cell phones, talking about Tanvi. She had a team rallying behind her, doing everything they could to help this ‘beautiful and delicate’ little one thrive. She was the star of the 4th floor and it was amazing to watch how she impacted so many people.

Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin

At this time, Tanvi was 21 months old and only weighed 14 pounds, so they monitored her nutrition closely. She was put on a high calorie formula and her weight was checked daily. She came extremely close to needing a feeding tube, and we were scared to add more trauma to her first weeks home. Thankfully, that step was avoided as her weight began to slowly increase, and she was finally sent home still facing at least two more surgeries.

Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin
Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin

Since then, we’ve had the joy of watching Tanvi go from being a 14-pound, fragile and scared child who could barely sit up, to becoming a 20-pound, strong, outgoing, energetic toddler who scoots on her bottom all over the house. We call her our ‘human emoji’ since she has a different funny expression every minute. She’s constantly smiling, and if we’re in public, she waves and says, ‘Hi,’ to everyone she meets. It’s been an amazing journey. She has forever changed our hearts.

Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin
Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin

She now has two surgeries behind her and has one more to go this year to help correct her main special need. Her next surgery will be to reverse the colostomy. Once these are finished, she may face spinal surgery to help strengthen her back and legs so she can begin to walk. We have a long road ahead with therapies and surgeries, but are so thankful for the progress she’s made. We wouldn’t trade this journey for anything in the world. In fact, we gave her the middle name ‘Journey’ because this has absolutely been a ‘beautiful and delicate journey.’”

Courtesy of Nick and Julie Akin

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nick and Julie Akin of Hampton, Georgia. You can follow their journey on Instagram here, here, and hereSubmit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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