For A Family Adopting From China, Coronavirus Adds Another Dimension Of Anxiety A family from Northern Virginia hoped they'd be traveling to China this month or next to pick up their newest family member. But coronavirus has thrown their adoption plans into limbo.
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For A Family Adopting From China, Coronavirus Adds Another Dimension Of Anxiety

For A Family Adopting From China, Coronavirus Adds Another Dimension Of Anxiety

Dash Dunk, 8, looks at photos of Esme Grace, the 18-month-old baby his family is adopting from China. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU

Ophelia and Adam Dunk were expecting to welcome a baby girl into their family next month. They've already chosen a name for her: Esme, which means "beloved," and Grace, "a merited favor or gift from God."

They've started to set up her room — but there's no crib.

"Even if she is in a crib now," says Ophelia Dunk, "she probably won't stay in a crib very long."

In part, that's because Esme is already 18 months old.

But mostly it's because the Northern Virginian couple doesn't know when they'll be able to bring Esme Grace home.

They're adopting her from China. And as the region hunkers down to stem the spread of coronavirus, the Dunks are doing a different kind of worrying and waiting, which started in the summer of 2018. That's when they decided to adopt their second child from China.

The coronavirus epidemic means all adoptions from China — which accounts for the largest share of international adoptions in the U.S. — have come to a grinding halt. And families like the Dunks are in a state of limbo, with no idea when adoptions will pick up again.

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And even when they do restart, the family's application will have to make its way through a backlog of paperwork, court appointments in China and medical exams. That will further delay when Ophelia and Adam, and their 8-year-old son Dash, can travel to China and finalize the adoption of their newest family member.

"It's kind of hard to prepare ... when you don't know exactly how big she's going to be," Ophelia says. "Right now, we're registering for 2Ts and 24-month clothes. But then, we might not be able to travel for a long time. So we're just holding off on buying everything."

"There's only so much we can do. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," she adds.

Dash Dunk, shown here with his father Adam and mother Ophelia — was also adopted from China. As of now, the Dunk family doesn't know when they'll be able to meet their newest family member, Esme Grace. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU

It was in January, right around the Lunar New Year, when Adam and Ophelia got a call from their adoption agency about baby Esme Grace. They had two days to decide. They said yes.

A week later, they received approval from China. Things were proceeding apace.

Lunar New Year was also when news about the mysterious new strain of coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, began making headlines.

The Dunks were aware of what was happening. But they were familiar with the adoption process, having adopted Dash, and knew they had a few months before they'd be ready to travel. They still needed approvals from the U.S. side, as well as logistics, appointments and other paperwork to sort out.

So Ophelia and Adam tried not to worry too much. They hoped things would be OK in time for them to travel in March or April.

And then, the coronavirus outbreak exploded: Hubei, the province at the epicenter of the outbreak, was put on lockdown, and the State Department banned travel to China.

There were some families set to fly out at exactly the same time the State Department issued its "do not travel" advisory — and airlines canceled flights.

On top of all of this, the Dunks are facing another complication: Adam is an astronautical engineer with the military and is scheduled to change posts in August. The family has to be out of their current home in Virginia at the end of June — the landlord is moving back in.

If they aren't able to pick up Esme Grace by then, they'll face even more setbacks and delays. For instance, they'll need to renew paperwork and their new home will need to undergo inspection.

"We're a little anxious about that as well," Ophelia says. "Because the delay — if we were to move — would not be just a few weeks. It could be months."

These kind of worries are playing out across the U.S. In 2018, the last year data is publicly available, there were about 1,500 adoptions from China. That accounts for just shy of 40% of the total number of adoptions from overseas that year.

Adoptions from China have changed a lot in recent years, creating additional challenges. For instance, the majority of children are older or have medical needs.

According to Chinese regulations, adoptions have to be completed before a child turns 14. The coronavirus delays mean some of those children are in jeopardy of aging out of the adoption system forever.

As of last month, there were 266 children at risk of aging out in 2020, according to America World Adoption, the adoption agency based in McLean, Va., that the Dunks work with.

That number doubles if 12-year-olds are included, says Kristen Hamilton of the National Council for Adoption. Adoptions from China usually take two-to-three years to complete.

Other children may have urgent medical needs that aren't being met.

And while she's aware of some cases that are being accommodated right now, Hamilton says there's no indication so far that Chinese authorities will ease restrictions more generally.

The Dunks are grateful that Esme Grace doesn't fall into these categories. She's a toddler, and not at all close to aging out. As for medical needs, she has a small hole in her heart. But it's a common condition that they'll have a cardiologist look at when she arrives in the U.S. — and not an urgent medical concern.

They received an update about Esme Grace a couple of weeks ago when they were told that everyone at the orphanage was healthy.

If the Dunks have learned anything through their experience adopting Dash from China, it's that there's nothing predictable about it.

"It's a rollercoaster. There's a lot ... that is unexpected. And you kind of have to expect the unexpected, that [you're] gonna be surprised at one point or more."

So for now, they keep in touch with their adoption agency, and they wait.

"It's all up in the air. And we're just kind of taking things as they come," Ophelia says. "It's not going to be easy. We're just trusting that God will get us through it, and everything will turn out fine."

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