Tina Daniel-Reasey had a lot to be thankful for with two teenage sons, a daughter in college and a supportive husband. There was just one little thing missing, and a year ago that missing piece came home in the form of a bubbly little Chinese girl the Reasey’s named Ava.
A year ago, 5-year-old Ava Lang Reasey was just another number, one of the many Chinese girls languishing in orphanages — possibly a product of China’s one-child policy. The government uses the one-child policy as a way to control the population and a violation of the law can result in fines to the parents. Additionally, female children are at a risk since male children are favored in China.
Ava also had another strike against her, she was diagnosed with spina bifida, a birth defect that is caused by the incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube which leads to the spinal cord remaining open and not fully formed. It is a condition that can be remedied by surgery, but it is a costly procedure.
But for Tina, the cost was secondary to the reward. Adopted herself, it had always been important to Tina to adopt a child as well.
"Being adopted has been a major influence in my life," she said. "It shaped who I am in many ways. It was never a secret in my home growing up and it was always a part of my life. I remember crying and saying ‘no one wanted me.’ My parents were available and said the right words about being chosen. One thing, though, for people who are adopted and chosen, the adopted person had to be ‘unchosen’ by someone to begin with."
After finding her birth mother and learning about that part of her past, she said it made her love and appreciate her adoptive family even more than before.
"I was fortunate to have the family I did and they gave me a wonderful life," she said.
That positive experience undoubtedly influenced Tina’s desire to adopt a child. Unable to have any more children herself, she and her husband Mark decided that adoption was the way to go. They knew they wanted to add a girl to the mix and even things out. Tina has two sons – Zach, 13, and Will, 15 – and daughter Amelia, 19 from her first marriage. It seemed that another little girl would be the perfect fit.
The couple started looking at their options and decided that adopting a child from China fit their needs. The process was a lengthy one, according to Tina. On top of the immense amounts of paperwork, there was a wait to have the paperwork processed as well. If they had not decided to adopt a special needs child, they would probably still be on a waiting list. But that decision was not one they took lightly. Tina admits that some of the special needs descriptions made her "nervous." When they read about Ava, they requested her file and photo, just to see if she might be a fit.
"My husband and I were both at work when we received the file. He called me, and when I opened the picture, I cried. She was precious and had such an engaging smile," remembers Tina. "We had her medical folder reviewed by a doctor specializing in international adoption, and we had 48 hours to decide if we would commit to her. We committed to her in July 2008, after waiting for over a year for a log in date. We then waited to hear if China accepted our commitment. On October 31, 2008, we were granted approval to adopt her. We received word on December 3 that we would be traveling on December 8 to China. We would meet her and take her with us from the orphanage on December 9."
Nearly a year has passed since Tina and Mark made the long trip to China and brought Ava home. When they first took her from the orphanage where she had been since being found left outside a subway gate at Tiananmen Square when she was about 15-days-old, she had never worn a dress or had a bubble bath or even had a piece chewing gum. Since then she has had surgery for her spina bifida, developed a fondness for McDonald’s French fries and become a princess.
"Do you want to see my room," asked Ava, just a hint of a Chinese accent still audible. "It’s pink!"
She has lost most of her Chinese language, according to Tina, but will sometimes surprise everyone and say something in her native tongue.
"It’s sad that she has lost so much of her Chinese," said Tina. "But the other night we were looking at the stars and she starting singing in Chinese. She surprised herself… When she and I play baby she will say ‘call me Lang Fan’ and we will talk about her China mom (foster mother at the orphanage). It’s important to give her the information we have about her past to help her understand where she came from."
To that end, Tina and Mark elected to keep part of her Chinese name. When she was brought to the orphanage in China she was named Lang Fan. "Lang" was the surname given to all females who entered the orphanage in 2004 and "Fan" conveys the wish that she will "run smoothly in the future and grow happily."
Her new sister Amelia adores Ava but is away at college most of the time. Will and Zach are "O.K. with it," according to Tina, but have found getting used to an energetic younger sister who needs a lot of attention a little difficult at times.
"I can say that life without Ava would be quieter!" said Tina, when asked how things have changed since bringing her into their family.
"Ava learned how to charm people and I am sure this is how she survived. She loves to talk and receive attention, but I could not imagine life without her. She is our child as much as any of the other children. Her brothers, being teenagers, view her as the annoying little sister. Her sister, called say-say in Chinese, adores her, and Ava loves her wholeheartedly. Ava has a bubbly and engaging personality. Watching her experience things other children would take for granted has been so inspiring. Little things, taken for granted by most children in our country, bring her such joy."
"Look! I have a flower for you," exclaimed Ava. "And one for you and you…" Tina watches her youngest daughter pass out artificial flowers with a smile. When Ava crawls into her siblings’ laps and stretches out laughing, while Will and Zach roll their eyes and Amelia smoothes down Ava’s bangs, Mark chuckles. The transition may have been rocky at times, but the looks on Mark and Tina’s faces prove that it has been worth it.
Knowing you made a personal and life changing difference in a child's life is the best part about adoption," said Tina. "Knowing she has a family now that will always be her family. Mark says it truly is the gift that keeps on giving and it is. We will always be each others family. Nothing will ever change that."