In June 2011, 15-year-old Emily Edwards journeyed to China through an international adoption organization called Show Hope.
Her mission: To seek out a two-year-old Chinese orphan named Sophia Grace with whom Emily and her family had fallen in love over several months of interaction via the internet.
Emily was successful in that goal, telling the Daily News in a November 2011 interview that, upon meeting the quiet, sweet-natured Sophia for the first time, “I knew I’d met my sister.”
A year later, Emily and her parents, Rob and Rachel, returned to China to finally take their new little girl home.
That first meeting between Rob, Rachel and Sophia — a reunion for Emily and Sophia — played quite a bit differently than the Edwards family expected.
Seated at her dining-room table Tuesday night with her husband, daughter and son, Rachel Edwards told the Daily News, “Sophia is a special-needs child. She was born with a genetic condition called tuberous sclerosis (TS) and needs specialized medical care. When Emily first met Sophia, she was living in a facility called Maria’s Big House of Hope which provided her with excellent care.”
After Emily returned home, however, Maria’s treated Sophia until she was stabilized and until it became clear she’d be adopted. Then, in February 2012, she was placed into a state-run orphanage.
“Her treatment was strikingly different there,” Rachel said. “For the four-plus months she was there, she received no medication and only minimal care. Whereas she was fawned over and treated like a princess at Maria’s, the state orphanage was an entirely different story.”
As a result, the baby girl who greeted them at a government registration office on June 18, 2012 was virtually unrecognizable.
“She was like an animal let out of a cage,” Rachel recalled. “She was biting, screaming and kicking. We had almost no control of her.”
According to Rob Edwards, the registration office’s environment, which was tumult of activity and chaos, worsened the situation. Seven other families had accompanied the Edwards on their China trip, all for the purpose of adopting a Chinese baby. All were present on that June day, as were their adoptive babies, along with a multitude of orphanage workers and others.
“I didn’t expect all the chaos,” Rob admitted. “The adoptive parents were all getting emotional — some were laughing, others crying; babies were crying, and Chinese was being spoken all around us. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ It was really hard.”
Added Rachel, tears welling, “We were so in love with her before we met her, and that trumped the awful behavior. It broke our hearts to see her that way, but we loved her so much, there was no way we were going to give up on her.”
Rob sighed, shaking his head. “Internet parenting is a whole lot different than the real thing.”
When the Edwards were finally able to get little Sophia out of the bedlam and back to the hotel, she began to settle down.
According to both Rob and Rachel, in fact, it wasn’t long until Sophia “wanted only Rachel.”
“She bonded to Rachel pretty quickly,” Rob said. “She’s still like that to a degree.”
“She’s definitely a momma’s girl,” Emily agreed.
Although Sophia’s behavior began improving before leaving China, for the Edwards, the real challenges were only just beginning.
According to www.mayoclinic.com, TS “causes noncancerous (benign) lesions to grow in many parts of the body, such as the skin, brain and kidneys. The signs and symptoms of TS vary — from patches of light-colored skin to seizures or behavior problems — depending on where the lesions develop.”
Wikipedia adds, “A combination of symptoms may include seizures, developmental delay, behavioral problems, skin abnormalities, lung and kidney disease.”
According to the Edwards, Sophia’s TS has most significantly infected her heart and brain.
While the lesions on Sophia’s heart have improved as she’s become healthier in the care of both the Edwards and the multitude of doctors and therapists they’ve taken her to, those on her brain have proven far more problematic.
“When we first brought her home,” Rachel explained, “it wasn’t unusual for her to have 5 seizures a night and sometimes that many during the day.”
Those seizures, Rachel added, were of both the petit and the far-more-serious grand mal varieties.
The Edwards, however, were determined to do everything possible to help their new baby girl.
Since coming home to Indiana, Sophia sees a speech therapist and an occupational and a physical therapist once weekly. She’s also been on regular medication, with dosages still being adjusted for optimal efficacy.
Six months later, by all appearances, Sophia is a happy, normal little girl, and her seizures have decreased significantly. She’s gained six pounds and grown an inch. Plus, she’s started to become wise to the ways of America.
“She loves McDonald’s food,” Rachel said. “To her, the drive through is the ‘magic window.’ Anywhere we go now that’s got a drive-up window, she expects food.”
“She likes to sing and dance and play, and she runs all over the house,” Rob said. “She’s a normal little girl.”
“She’s our daughter,” Rachel added.
The past six months haven’t been without their scares and close calls, and the future isn’t without its challenges, but the Edwards will never give up, and they’ll certainly never stop loving their daughter.
“Our neurologist told us he has another patient in her 20s with the same disease, and that she’s living a normal life,” Rachel said, “She’s got a college degree and a job, so that gives us hope for Sophia.”
The Edwards overwhelmingly agreed that their adoption of Sophia has strengthened their faith (Rob is pastor of Buena Southern Missionary Baptist Church in Laurel, and the Edwards are a deeply spiritual family).
“That first week in China was pretty awful,” Rachel said. “I cried a lot, but I never lost this overwhelming sense of peace, because I knew we were in the right place. I’ve never felt closer to God than I did in that awful place.”
“Three days after we brought Sophia to the hotel,” she continued, “we prayed over her, and she started to get better. She’s been improving ever since. We know there’s still a long road to go, but Sophia’s worth it. She’s not just an extension of our family, but she’s also an extension of our faith.”
The Edwards expect Christmas 2012 to be like none they’ve ever experienced. In addition to Sophia, the Edwards also recently finalized adoption on two young brothers who aren’t much older than Sophia — Isaac and Samuel — making for a full house year round.
With their oldest son having recently started college, the Edwards wouldn’t have it any other way; a house full of young children precludes any possibility of “empty nest” syndrome.
“It’s Sophia’s very first Christmas,” Rob said. “There will be so many new experiences for her. As a family, she’ll allow us to approach Christmas from a whole new perspective. What greater gift could we ask for? She’s the ultimate gift for us, and we’re just as much of a gift to her.”
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.