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Open Arms

How One Avon Couple Built Family Through Faith and Adoption

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing

Brad and Christee Deardorff were driving down Dan Jones when suddenly Brad told his wife, “I think God wants us to adopt.”

They had been married for six years and were eager to start a family. They struggled with infertility for several years. Through much prayer, they decided not to pursue fertility treatments.

“You’ll have a 15 percent chance of conceiving,” she was told.

“I didn’t like those odds,” says Christee, a nutrition services employee with the Brownsburg school system. “I wanted a 100 percent chance to be a mommy.”

So, when Brad suggested adoption, she was immediately on board. After checking out several agencies, the couple began the arduous process of international adoption, filling out scads of paperwork and providing financial and health records, birth and marriage certificates.

“I made copies so that when the kids are older, we can show them this stack of papers and tell them this was our labor pains,” Christee says.

Next came the waiting game, but when the 9-11 terrorist attacks happened, the Deardorffs wondered if the process would be put on hold. When the phone rang on September 16 and she saw it was the coordinator of the adoption agency, Christee braced herself for bad news, but that is not what she received.

“Are you ready to meet your daughter?” the coordinator asked.

In October 2001, they traveled to Russia to meet 13-month-old Anna, though rules stipulated that they must make two trips before they could bring her home.

“We got to see her, hold her and love her in person,” says Brad, Director of Operations at Kingsway Christian Church. “But then we had to leave, which was torture.”

On Christmas Eve, they got word that they could return to Russian to bring Anna home. Though it was thrilling to be able to take their daughter home, the couple was faced with the same frightened feelings all new parents experience, which can best be summed up with the words, “Now what?”

“It’s awesome and terrifying all at once because there we were with a 16-month-old who has no idea who we are, and we’re on an airplane and not in her familiar surroundings,” Christee says. “Being brand-new parents, we were like, ‘What are we doing?’”

They quickly settled into bliss, however, and in 2005 they chose to adopt again — this time, a special-needs child from China.

“It’s not that we were purposefully wanting or not wanting a child with special needs,” Brad says, quick to point out that the term “special needs” is misleading since every child has special needs of some sort. “These kids with medical needs like cleft lip and palate, hand and feet deformities and heart defects are waiting for homes and not getting one. We were eager to provide a home for one of them.”

Their second child, Aly, came home with them in 2006 at 19 months old, weighing just 19 pounds. Thin and dehydrated, food wouldn’t stay down and no one knew why. The family was frustrated and fearful as they searched for answers from baffled doctors whose final diagnosis was a congenital birth defect.

Aly had surgery to repair the problem as well as surgery on her cleft lip and cleft palate. She also is considered profoundly deaf but has adapted by using a special bone-anchored hearing device.

“She was terrified the first time she ever heard water come out of a facet because she had no clue that water had a sound,” Christee says.

Though she started out tiny, she has blossomed beautifully.

“She’s tough,” Brad says. “What she went through in her first few years of life, including two operations in kindergarten, is astounding.”

Being bombarded with one medical issue after another has, at times, been overwhelming.

“I remember telling Aly, ‘There’s nothing wrong with the way you are. We’re just trying to help you hear better and eat better,’” Christee says. “As a parent, you want to take away their hurt.”

In January 2009, while waiting to go to China to adopt their third child, the Deardorffs got the surprise of their lives when they learned they were pregnant. Soon thereafter, they brought 3-year-old Zachary home to the U.S. He also bore health issues, including a cleft lip, cleft palate and Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

When their son Nate was born in September 2009 and they jumped from two to four kids in a short span of time, life got really crazy, real fast.

“But it’s our crazy and I love it,” says Christee, grinning from ear-to-ear as she and Brad describe their crew.

Anna, currently a high school junior, is creative, quiet, strong-willed and adores animals and playing sports.

“At three years old, she could hit a ball across the room with a foam bat,” Brad says.

Aly, now in seventh grade, likes dancing (tap, ballet and jazz), cooking and baking.

“I foresee her being an entrepreneur,” Christee says. “In fact, today she pointed out a building and said, ‘That would be a good spot for me to open my bakery/dance studio.’”

Zachary, a fifth-grader, is known as the “Puzzle Master” as he’s inquisitive, intuitive and intensely smart. Though his body is weak due to DMD, his mind is razor sharp.

“He wants to become an astronaut or engineer,” Brad says.

But for now, he’s their go-to guy whenever the television isn’t working. Or if they need info.

“There’s no need for Google with Zachary around,” Christee says. “He’s our Zachopedia.”

Second-grade Nate loves to engage in sports, play board games, sing and dance. His favorite pastime, however, is hanging out with his siblings.

As one might imagine, some days are harder than others at the Deardorff home. But the family navigates each one by relying on God’s strength and provisions. They recently built a house with wider doorways and hallways to accommodate a wheelchair, which Zachary will need in the future. They also praise God for the grants they received to help pay for hearing devices for Aly and a power chair at school for Zachary.

The Deardorffs biggest piece of advice to families who are considering adoption is to go for it. Seek out support groups and surround yourself with others who have navigated the process. Most of all, battle through apprehension.

“Fear can overcome you, but persist through that and let God lead,” Brad says. “It’s totally a trust thing.”

People frequently tell the Deardorff children how lucky they are, but Christee insists that luck has nothing to do with the way their family was formed.

“This wasn’t our Plan B,” Christee says. “This family was our Plan A all along.”

About Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is an award-winning writer and columnist who writes human interest stories for national, regional, and local magazines. She is also the author of the book “Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat” (www.cabinglory.com).

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