August 1st will mark 1 year since we received a call about our son, Abel. Our story to finding one another began long before that. When we got home with our first 2 children, in July 2011, we were so overwhelmed and couldn't imagine adding another child to our family. It was a bit intense for awhile, actually plain hard;). But, things marched on and the dust started to settle around us. Life became mundane and although we were still going through HUGE adjustments all around, adding another child didn't seem so crazy.
While in Ethiopia, our eyes were opened to the opportunity of adopting children who were HIV+. I met a family who was adopting a sweet little girl who was positive. They told me their story and I was blown away by all they shared! As summer faded and fall rolled around, I couldn't shake this idea that we should pursue an HIV adoption in Ethiopia. I threw the idea out to Nate and he was all for it. We started researching, talked to other families who had journeyed the same road, and were in contact with a ministry called Project Hopeful. They were extremely helpful and have GREAT info on their website. We learned so much about HIV: like how it can/cannot be transmitted, what daily life looks like in the USA, what daily life looks like in Africa (specifically Ethiopia), the adoption process for an HIV+ child, the life-span for a person living with HIV, where things stand medically, and so much more. We sought council and prayed about it for a few months. We wrestled during those few months with a lot of fears and God met us graciously right where we were.
Orphan Sunday rolled around that November and we had a great service at church, dedicating our two children to the Lord. We were once again overwhelmed with a brokenness for the fatherless and a stirring to adopt again. We went home that Sunday and made the decision to move forward with another adoption from Ethiopia, pursuing a child who was HIV+. Everything wasn't all neat and tidy-our hearts were still working through some things, finances weren't lined up, we still felt deeply in the trenches of bonding/attachment, but we felt very excited, nervous, and peaceful all at the same time about this venture. One thing was clear to us...we felt God simply said, "just say yes and I'll take care of the rest. All I'm asking of you is to say yes." So we did. We said yes and moved forward, committing to take it one step at a time.
We found an awesome agency to work with who was specifically starting an HIV adoption program with the governement orphanages in Addis. With our first adoption taking so long, we thought we'd have a pretty long wait for a referral. But, once we got on the waitlist, it was barely 5 months before we got Abel's referral call! I actually forgot to ask if Abel was HIV+ when we were on the phone with our case worker. We were so completely taken with him; he was just our beautiful son, Abel, and that was all that mattered. We just wanted to get to him as soon as possible!
We geared up to travel in October. While in Ethiopia, and planning to go meet Abel the next day, we got an email from our agency saying Abel had a negative test come back. What?!? Crazy! Now we knew with infants that HIV antibodies could falsely say a baby was positive until 18 months of age. But, we learned that the tests being done at this point on our son were not testing antibodies, but much more specifically, the very genetic material of HIV and the viral load itself. Our agency warned us though to be very cautious and that he likely could still be positive. They said the HIV testing through the US embassy would give us a clear answer. But, when we went to the transition home to meet Abel, the Ethiopian staff told us they believed he was negative and he seemed SO healthy. So, we just started thinking he was negative.
Then embassy testing came and went and we never heard results and really DIDN'T CARE, lol! We were just so thrilled to clear embassy that we didn't think much about his testing results and assumed they were negative since we hadn't heard anything. At the embassy window, they started going through all these waiver forms about HIV. I asked why we were having to sign these papers and go through this if he was negative. They then told us that Abel was indeed HIV+ according to their tests which are much more "reliable", the blood actually being sent away to one of the best labs in Nairobi, Kenya.
Ok, so we switched back again...Abel is positive. Our love and commitment to Abel was unwavering dependent on his being HIV+ or not, but we just wanted to know to make plans for how to best care for him. We went home and began several rounds of testing, mandated through the Dept of Health. Poor baby was stuck SO many times to get all this blood drawn over the first 5 months he was home:(. Our pediatrician and Abel's case worker at the Dept of Health told us Abel's positive testing at embassy was most likely accurate as they'd never had a child test positive at a US embassy and come home to be negative. We just wanted a definite answer so we could move ahead with a specialist.
Well, Abel was the exception. Since coming home, he's had 3 negative tests and the Dept of Health has officially signed off on him as being negative! Praise God!
We had a very clear sense and peace about Abel belonging to God from the time we got his referral. We didn't even stress about the whole HIV thing because we knew whatever the outcome, positive or negative, GOD WOULD BE GLORIFIED in his life! We wanted to share more intimately about Abel's life, but felt we couldn't until we had a "definite" answer on his being positive or negative. Had he been positive, this post really wouldn't sound that different:). Abel's one special kiddo and his life is marked beautifully by a Heavenly Father who cares deeply for him and has been working on his behalf. We feel so honored to have Abel as our son. Him being negative or positive is not his identity, but this is a part of his story. Some may feel that we shouldn't share something so intimate about our son. But, we want to give God the glory for the work He's done in Abel's life and testify to it! When our pediatrician called with his final test result she said something like this, "HE IS NEGATIVE! There's no explaining how he was testing positive at the embassy and has come home to be negative. The Dept of Health is quite baffled by your little guy and said they've never quite seen this." I don't know exactly what's transpired in Abel's little body his first year of life, but I do know that God has been ever-present in our son's life and faithful to him!
We also feel deeply compelled to help educate others about the truth surrounding HIV. Throughout this adoption process, we learned so much about what living with HIV looks like today. And boy oh boy, how misinformed we were!!! We had so many fears and uncertainties that were based off of things we'd been told that simply are not true, though they may have been thought to be true at one point. And sadly, many of these misconceptions were never set right. I've even heard of medical professions who still believe many untruthful things about HIV and who discouraged families from adopting a child who may be positive. Check out the link below for some very important truths about HIV. It was a lot to copy/paste in, so I just included the link. http://projecthopeful.wordpress.com/category/about-adopting-children-with-hiv/
We don't believe God's calling everyone to adopt or to adopt a child who's HIV+, but we do feel He's calling all of us as believers to be loving, truthful, and to care for the fatherless (which can look extremely different in various families: adoption, foster care, sponsorship, supporting an adoptive family, providing respite care, prayer, donating items to orphanages, making a meal for a family who just got home, and so much more). People living with HIV face incredible stigma all over the world. I've heard stories lately of God's people leading the way in speaking the truth concerning HIV and caring for orphans who are positive. This is so exciting! We simply didn't know the truth; we were naive and scared. The issue of whether or not a family discloses their child's HIV status is a very personal and important decision. I believe both decisions can be completely right for different reasons. I've gotten to "know" (some in person and some I just found their blogs) other awesome families who have adopted children who are HIV+ and they've been such testimonies to me as they've shared their stories! Check out their blogs...their families are inspiring.