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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Adoption is a Blessing in Fort Thomas

Anna Grace and Elena
Some of the scariest risks in life can earn the biggest rewards.

Imagine you're a single woman in your early 30s, never married, and feel that your life won't be complete until you have your own child. This was where Wynne Philippe found herself.

Wynne and her two daughters, Anna Grace (4) and Elena (2), caught my eye when I was taking photos for the Fort Thomas Independence Day Parade. They were both decked out in their festive red, white, and blue outfits and tiny Elena was doing some serious waving at the parade as it went by.

After a friendly conversation with Wynne, I found out that Elena had only been in the country for two weeks and was adopted from China like her older sister, Anna Grace. I'm honored to tell the story of this special family.

Wynne woke up in middle of the night in January of 2013 with an intense feeling that God was telling her to start moving on her dream of adoption. A member of the Highlands United Methodist Church, she spoke with her pastor about her concerns of being a single parent. He told her she had his complete support and Wynne filled out the adoption papers the next day. She already had the support of her parents. Adopting a healthy baby can take years so she decided she would adopt a disabled child. She and her mom are both developmental therapists so she knew what she was getting into.

She had gone on some mission trips several times with her church to Uganda and decided to look there first. She went to Uganda and stayed with a friend, but the adoption program in Uganda was unstable and is hard for a single parent to adopt there.

"It just didn't feel right," she said. "I prayed about it and I felt it was God's will for me to adopt from China and he was leading me there."

China used to be a resource for adopting healthy baby girls, but the program has changed a lot in the last few years. Now 95% of the children have special needs and there are many boy babies available for adoption as well.

She saw Anna Grace's file and video in Oct. of 2013 and instantly fell in love. Unfortunately, another family was interested in her.

"By the grace of God, the family returned Anna Grace's file and I knew immediately she was meant to be with me," says Wynne.

After reviewing the file with her parents, she had a doctor review the file as well to get an idea of what kind of needs she might have. Anna Grace had a leg deformity. She was missing the lower part of her left leg and the file said she may never be able to walk.

Highlands United Methodist church was very supportive and even offered to help with money for the adoption. Between her church, family, and generous friends, Wynne was able to raise the final funds for the adoption. She handed out 150 photos of Anna Grace to the members of her church and they said they would pray for Wynne and Anna Grace.

Wynne and her mom got on a plane to go to China and on May 23, 2014, Anna Grace was in her arms. Wynne had expected Anna Grace to be motionless and was envisioning a wheelchair but was surprised to see her getting around on her stump leg.  As soon as they got home, she was fitted with a prosthetic leg and was soon running all over the place.

Wynne said, "It felt like Anna Grace was everybody's kid. She is a charismatic firecracker, people are drawn to her personality and she has a lot of confidence. She has taken a dance class and is going to do gymnastics. I'm just hoping she finds her niche."

Anna Grace had been home about two years, when Wynne started thinking about her being an only child. There are some advantages being an only, but Wynne wanted her to have a sister that shared her heritage. She went back and forth about the idea of adopting a second child before finally deciding to go ahead with it when Anna Grace was about four-years-old. Agencies usually want the first child to be six before starting the process again, but she got a waiver from China.

She started the process in September of 2015, met with a social worker, and filled out the paper work. She connected with specialists, but she didn't see any files that said to her, "This is your child."

Right before Christmas she saw some new files. One child was listed as having developmental delays with low muscle tone and was most likely premature. Wynne was concerned about dealing with a child with developmental delays, but there was something about her that called out to her. She showed her file and video to her parents and they instantly loved Elena.

Her father said,  "This is it, go for it."

Wynne, her mom, and Anna Grace got on a plane to go to China to meet Elena. But first, they stopped at the orphanage where they had found Anna Grace. The nanny that had taken care of Anna Grace for about a year had cried when Anna Grace had left the orphanage. She had told Wynne she hoped that Anna Grace would be able to walk and run like a normal child. She was thrilled to see Anna Grace running on her prosthetic leg.

When they met Elena they heard her more details about her story. Elena had been very malnourished when she arrived at the orphanage at almost a year old. Her parents obviously couldn't afford to take care of her and since she was premature, they probably had a hard time getting her to eat. She was moved to a foster home when she was about 13 months old where she could get better care.

China gave approval to adopt Elena two days after Christmas on December 27th 2015. Elena picked her up in China on June 6th 2016. Elena has been making steady progress and is walking now if she's holding on to something.

Wynne says, "The contrast between the two of them couldn't be greater. Anna Grace is spirited, spunky and strong-willed. She's picked up language quickly. Elena is very quiet, serious, and calm. She's observant, sensitive, and sweet, but determined to get what she's wants."

While Elena will laugh and smile sometimes for her mom, she really smiles for Anna Grace. "Elena adores Anna Grace." says Wynne.

"Anna Grace wishes Elena could play with her more, but she's very protective of her sister." Once when Wynne had to take Elena to get some blood work, Anna Grace watched as they took nine vials of blood from her little sister.  She told her mom later, "Today was just a stinky day. They hurt my sister over and over and there was nothing I could do about it."

Elena is starting First Steps in KY where Wynne works. She's getting speech and physical therapy, outpatient physical therapy, and may possibly get speech therapy later. As a developmental therapist, she knows where to find the resources and connections to get the help Elena needs.

Wynne has always felt empathy for the families she works with at First Steps, but now that she has a developmentally delayed child she feels it gives her even more understanding.

While raising two disabled children as a single mother can be a challenge, the support from her parents, her friends, and her church have made it a blessing.

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