FULTON — Just six months ago, 3-year-old Leah Grace wouldn’t walk. Speak her native language. Look people in the eye. Play with other children.
She was one of China’s “waiting children,” those with special needs who live in the country’s orphanages until an adoptive family brings them home. But now, she’s a Fulton County resident with three rambunctious older brothers.
Fulton residents Aaron and Christi Rush adopted Leah in April the day after they met her. On “gotcha day,” the family wrapped up a process that began 18 months before, and realized a dream they’d had for more than a decade.
Around the time the Rushes married about 16 years ago, they had discussed adopting a child from China — but put it off. Christi Rush had just finished college and began working as a teacher with the Caston schools. Aaron stayed on at the Logansport Sears store, where he’s now manager of the clothing department. The couple went on to have three sons. Then the question of adoption resurfaced.
“Aaron came home one day from work and said there were these two little boys that needed a home,” recalled Christi Rush. The boys eventually found a home with another family, she added, but “we decided that was our hint from God.”
They began looking into adoption from China through a U.S.-based adoption organization, Bethany Christian Services. Its Indiana office facilitates 10 to 20 adoptions per year, according to staff there. However, the wait to adopt a Chinese child usually stretches six or seven years.
“We wanted our kids close in age,” said Christi Rush. “We thought there was no way we’d do that.”
The couple almost gave up on the idea, instead looking to adopt from Haiti. However, their caseworker brought up an alternative route to adoption: the “waiting child” list.
That list is made up of children with slightly different needs: Some have a deformity of the hands or feet, a birthmark, or a cleft lip and palate, and others may have developmental delays or more severe physical issues. And adoptions of “waiting” children normally take much less time — an average of one or two years.
“Families in China just aren’t equipped to take care of children with these special needs,” said Melitta Payne, coordinator of international services for the Indianapolis office of Bethany Christian Services. “These are the type of children we are seeing referred for international adoption, moreso than young, healthy children. And not just in China but in other countries, too.”
Aaron and Christi Rush discussed the idea. And the more they thought about it, said Aaron Rush, the more they felt that was the direction they would go.
Within two months of agreeing to adopt from China’s “waiting child” list, the couple was matched with Leah, who adoption staff said was born with a cleft lip and palate and may have had some minor developmental issues. The Rushes received her picture Sept. 26, 2012, then flew to China with six other families working through the adoption organization’s Indianapolis office.
When they met Leah, the couple and their Indiana caseworker realized her needs were a bit more involved than they had previously believed.
“Two months shy of being 3 years old, she couldn’t understand any Chinese,” recalled Aaron Rush. She tended to stay at the edge of a room, by herself, and would look someone in the eye only in private — not in the common rooms in the orphanage, where most of her life had been spent.
Leah was born with a cleft lip and palate, explained Rush, and a specialist now believes she exhibits signs of what’s called institutional autistic disorder, indicating that her early childhood environment may have shaped her development toward autism.
The couple spent their first night with her in what the Rushes termed a “trial run,” allowing them to determine whether they were really up to the challenge.
“Bless her heart, she was scared to death and she cried and screamed for two hours,” said Christi Rush.
The Rushes decided to bring her home.
They spent Leah’s first two months as a U.S. citizen adjusting her to life in a small family rather than a large orphanage. Gradually, she began to attach to the couple and their sons, and learned to express what she needs or wants.
“She looks at us more — she laughs for no reason,” said Christi Rush.
Leah lunches from a high chair, where her new mother spoon-feeds her or hands her a small plate of cut-up food. When Leah has finished, Christi Rush waves her hands back and forth, moving them at the wrist with palms open toward Leah, to sign what she’s saying — that she’s “all done.”
Leah underwent surgery July 23 at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis to finish repairs to her cleft lip and palate, which has since proven successful. A follow-up surgery to reopen part of her nose is scheduled for Oct. 28.
Christi Rush draws on her experience with autism-spectrum children she has taught to raise Leah, and family, friends and anonymous donors have helped the couple handle about $36,000 in expenses related to the adoption.
The couple feels the adoption has been worth the considerable time and resources they’ve put into it.
“There’s so many kids without a family,” said Aaron Rush. And if it were up to him, the couple would do it a second time.
Christi Rush isn’t quite there. But she might be persuaded someday, she said.
“I hope that if there’s somebody else wondering if it’s hard — that it is,” she said. “But it’s worth it.”
The Logansport Mall is hosting a benefit fish fry to offset the Rush family’s adoption and medical expenses from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in the mall’s community center. Advance tickets will be $9 for adults or $7 for children ages 6 to 12 and are available at the Logansport Mall office or by calling 574-721-6900. Tickets at the door will be $9.50.
Sarah Einselen is news editor at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151. Twitter: @PharosSME
If you go: • WHAT: Dan's Fish Fry benefit for the Rush family • WHEN: 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 26 • WHERE: Logansport Mall community center • COST: Advance tickets will be $9 for adults or $7 for children ages 6 to 12; tickets at the door will be $9.50 • INFO: Brandt Carmichael will perform during the dinner. For tickets, visit the Logansport Mall office or call 574-721-6900.