When Qian (pronounced CHI-ehn) McCoy learned she’d been adopted by an American family she thought they’d be blond, stylish and rich and wouldn’t love her. She was 7 and didn’t want to leave China.
“I was kind of nervous. I thought Americans have blond hair,” Qian said. She laughed and shook her striking white hair, then looked at her mom, Shirlee McCoy. “I thought you weren’t going to care about me.”
Qian jumped up and hugged her mom. “I didn’t blame her,” said her mom, hugging her back, hard.
Born with albinism, a congenital condition where the body doesn’t produce melanin so there is little to no pigment in the eyes, skin and hair, Qian spent her first three years in an orphanage. Then she lived with a Chinese foster family for four years before meeting the McCoys, her forever family.
They’d been waiting for that moment for two years.
Shirlee said she and her husband, Rodney, had always intended to adopt. Then they had three boys in three short years. Life was busy. Soon they added daughter Emma to the family. When Shirlee’s younger sister adopted two Ethiopian boys, the McCoys started adoption paperwork with Bethany Christian Services.
Already open to a child with special needs, when the McCoys saw a picture of a child with albinism they were intrigued. “She had red hair and blue eyes. She looked so much like our other kids. We decided to add that once we finished our paperwork,” said Shirlee.
Then the adoption agency found 5-year-old Qian. “They chose Qian for us. She’s a perfect fit for our family.” Shirlee looked her daughter in the eyes. “God spoke to our hearts. He meant you to be in our family.”
Listening to their mom talk about building their family, Qian and Emma leaned together, legs overlapping as Emma unconsciously stroked her sister’s fair hair. They’ve been openly affectionate since the day they met two years ago.
“It was late at night,” recalled Qian, who is now 9. “I ran and hugged her.” On the living room floor in their Otis Orchards home, the girls hugged again to re-enact their instant bond, which has only grown stronger.
With a rush of words punctuated by giggles, they talked about sharing a room, making up dances together, doing each other’s hair and playing zombie makeover. Their mom watched with obvious pride.
“Rodney and I were nervous. You don’t know what to expect,” Shirlee admitted. “The biggest surprise to me was how easily a child who’s 7 can adapt and grow into being a family member. I worried that she wasn’t a baby. I always knew I would love her but didn’t know she’d love us in return.”
To nurture their bond Shirlee did many of the same activities she’d done with her older children, baking, playing, reading and teaching. “It’s not about adoption, it’s about building a family,” she said.
Now Shirlee blogs and advocates for other waiting children, especially those with albinism, to get their own forever families. “Qian’s story will hopefully impact people to open their hearts to older kids. A 7-year-old needs love, wants to love and can give an endless amount of love.”
According to Marjorie Toeset, adoption coordinator for Bethany Christian Services, more children with special needs are being adopted as people become aware of the need and realize they have the resources to help. In 2010, of the 166 Chinese children placed by the agency, 141 had special needs.
“Every child is special. Every child has value,” said Toeset. “If a child is in a loving, caring home they can become so much more than if left on their own. A loving, caring family can make the difference between just existing and becoming a proud member of society and proud member of the family.”
Like the McCoys, families choose which special needs they’ll consider. When a child is referred they have two weeks to decide. Toeset said she encourages parents to research, talk to doctors, and check out available resources for that child’s unique needs.
Qian, for example, needed eye surgery to address problems related to albinism. The surgery immediately improved her vision and balance. Then she began ballet as a fun way to further improve balance and strengthen weak muscle tone from a vitamin D deficiency.
With the McCoys, Qian has the security and love to be a child and dream. “I want to be a dancer and singer for the rest of my life,” she said.