“I can’t tell you the story of how our beautiful daughter Mila joined our family without telling you how it all began—how another little girl we also call our daughter brought us to Ukraine and lead us to Mila. She is the reason we even began the journey of international special needs adoption. So, to honor her, this is really her story. And how she lead us to her little sister.
One day, in June of 2019, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a Reece’s Rainbow advocacy post for a beautiful 3-year-old girl, listed as ‘Kristen.’ I had actually seen this sweet little girl’s face before, but this time was different. I immediately knew she was MY little girl. And that was crazy! We had just finalized the adoption of our two boys through foster care, and had decided to renew our foster care license. We had been battling through the process for months—background checks, renewing training. And it had been a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did. But, when I saw her sweet face, I knew why all of this had been happening. It was because God had a bigger plan. He planned for us to pursue HER. It seemed crazy, but I had never been more certain.
I sent a text to my husband with her photo and listing. I said, ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ Of course, he said yes. I was hesitant to really tell him what I was thinking, because I knew he wasn’t ready to adopt a child who had special needs. We already had a son with special needs, and he wanted to wait a while before adding another kiddo who had more significant needs. He knew what was going on, though, and asked, ‘Why?’ I asked, ‘What if God has slowed down our foster care renewal because we are supposed to adopt her?’ I sat in the car and waited anxiously. I thought I knew what he would say. My phone buzzed and the text read, ‘Babe, if you believe we are supposed to travel around the world to bring home a beautiful little girl from Ukraine, then that is what we will do.’ In this moment, she became my daughter. And I fought for her every single day thereafter.
Unfortunately, our home study process took much longer that expected. Our social worker was only working part-time hours, and due to my husband’s previous military service, we had a lot of background checks to run. And those take time. But I continued to fight for our daughter. We continued to fundraise in order to bring her home. We held a giant yard sale for her, where complete strangers came just to donate to our beautiful girl. It was such an amazing experience. Shortly after our yard sale, we got the call we had been waiting for! Our home study was completed and the draft was being sent to our team for approval. I jumped up and down, screaming with excitement! We were finally making progress. We weren’t there yet, but we were closer than we were before.
But then one morning, in January 2019, I woke up to see a message from our facilitator. It just said, ‘Call me.’ I shushed the kids and pressed the audio call button on Messenger.
It rang once or twice and our lovely facilitator answered.
‘She’s passed,’ she told me.
I covered my mouth and held back tears. I felt like the entire earth had dropped out from underneath me. I looked up at my husband. He knew something wasn’t right.
‘What?’ he kept whispering.
All I could do was shake my head and try to focus on what our facilitator was telling me.
I did my best to hold it together in front of the kids. They were all watching intently. They knew something was up. But the tears came anyway.
‘She’s gone,’ I said.
I just kept shaking my head. I couldn’t believe it. I knew this happened, sometimes. I knew orphans died before their mamas and daddies could get to them. I had heard the stories. In the beginning, it was one of my biggest fears. I had cried as I told my family about Anastasia when we first told them we were going to adopt her. I told them sometimes babies die before their families make it.
But, if I’m being truthful, I never thought it would be MY baby.
My conversation with our facilitator was brief. She had very few details. They were calling her baby house to check that the special needs we had listed in our home study were accurate. That is when they were told she had fallen ill and passed away, only weeks before.
I sat down my phone and my husband came over to hold me while I sobbed. My oldest daughter, Lorelai, walked over and started crying too.
I wish I could tell you what happened after, but the next few days were a blur. I did a lot of crying and talking to the Lord. I immediately knew this was not it for us. I knew the Lord wanted us to continue. I never, not even for a second, doubted it. We were called to this fight. I knew the Lord had a reason for taking our girl home before we could meet her. I knew there was another child who needed us to fight for them.
As we were praying and processing, our facilitation team shared five waiting children—all baby girls who had Down syndrome. I looked at each little face and wondered if they were our daughter. But, the last little girl I saw left me breathless. ‘Isla’ was her listed name. She was beautiful. Nothing was known about her other than she had Down syndrome. But I couldn’t stop staring at her photo. It was the same mama-feeling I had about Anastasia. She was ours. It took my husband a little while longer. He was still processing it all. It was so much to work though all at once. But we contacted our facilitator and told them we would like to commit to her. And again, the fight was on to bring home our daughter.
In our family, names are really important. We give all of our children—biological or adopted—a name as soon as possible. We believe the Lord gives beautiful names with beautiful meanings, representing the story of the person they belong to. So, we chose the name ‘Mila Hope’ for our new little girl. It wasn’t her legal name—but, to us, it was so important she have a name. It means ‘gracious hope,’ and she was exactly this to us.
You would think losing a child would be the hardest part of this story, but it isn’t. Because, not only were we trying to adopt a child with special needs after a loss, but now, we were fighting against an entire global pandemic. COVID-19 hit the world and adoption screeched to a halt. We had just submitted our home study to USCIS (US Immigration and Customs). When COVID started, all processing slowed to a crawl. But I continued to fight. I contacted our state representative and our senator. I wrote emails and sent photos. I begged people to help me, anyone who would listen. I told them what had happened to Anastasia and begged them not to let this be the fate of our Mila Hope. I wrote ‘URGENT ADOPTION’ in red Sharpie marker on everything. And people listened.
It still took months and months to get our approval through USCIS, and when it finally came it was a giant celebration! But it was short-lived. Unfortunately, due to all of the time which passed because of COVID, the documents in our dossier had begun to expire. And, believe it or not, we had to redo the entire thing. So, we feverishly worked to get each document redone and sent to Ukraine. With a lot of help from a lot of people, we got it done. And a little over a month later, we received our call—we could travel to meet our sweet Mila Hope.
Our trip went amazingly well. We officially accepted our daughter’s referral and traveled to her region to meet her. Despite quarantine restrictions, we were able to visit Mila every single day. We sat before a judge in a tiny little Ukranian courtroom and told her (through our translator) we wanted her forever. And she said YES! Mila is home with us now and is adjusting to life in a family better than anyone could have every imagined. And we just can’t wait to see how she grows!
Mila wasn’t the little girl who stole my heart. She isn’t the little girl who changed our plans for foster care to an international adoption. She isn’t the one I pictured rocking to sleep. But, God always knew. Anastasia now has such beautiful story. She warmed so many hearts to special needs adoption as I shared her story and worked toward bringing her home. So many people know her name now. They know her face. And they see the beauty she brought into our lives through her sweet little sister, Mila. Without her, I wouldn’t be getting ready to rock Mila down to sleep. My heart aches for the day I can hold her, too. For now, she dances with the King in Heaven. And her life has changed ours forever.
We love you, Anastasia.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heidi Garrett. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more amazing stories about special needs adoption here:
‘The family stopped answering. ‘They’ve backed out of the adoption.’ They wanted a healthy baby, not my son with a disability.’: Mom of 5 adopts special needs child after rejections, now in beautiful open adoption with birth mom
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