We adopted our son from an orphanage in Hong Kong. Later, we found out about his best friend, so we adopted him, too.

The Piper family
The Piper family. From left, Colton, Riley, Francis, Troy, Jocelyn holding Oaklynn, and Jaimee in front of a photo of Nolan.Courtesy of Rylee Mills, RRM Photography
  • Jocelyn Piper expanded her blended family through transnational adoption.

  • One of her sons had significant medical needs and was so loved when he died. 

  • This is Piper's story, as told to Janet Manley. 

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jocelyn Piper. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Going into our marriage, my husband, Troy, had two kids, and I had one. Early on, we decided that if we were going to expand our family, we would adopt. It's something that Troy had always wanted to do.

We live in Illinois, and one of Troy's biggest fears, if we adopted domestically, was the chances that the birth parents would have rights to their child — which, rightly so — but he was worried about his heart and how he could handle that.

Researching Hong Kong's adoption system, we found out that of the children up for adoption, many had significant special needs. That pulled on our hearts. We applied and were sent a file right away of this beautiful little boy who had quadriplegic cerebral palsy and other, undiagnosed issues. We saw his picture and fell in love.

In 2015, we brought our son Nolan home, and he was the light of all our lives. The connection our older children, Colton, Riley, and Jaimee, made with him was life-changing for everyone.

When you met Nolan, there was something in his soul that you could just feel. He changed people — he made people smile without even being able to say a word.

The other boy in the photos

After we had brought Nolan home, we were reading through some files that the agency gave us and came across tons of pictures of a little boy with Nolan. The description for one of the pictures said this little boy would call Nolan his "little brother."

We thought we would reach out to the agency and see whether we could locate the family that had adopted him. When I reached out to Lifeline, a religious group that helps families adopt children, they told me that no one had ever inquired about this little boy. He had been moved to an adult institution and was still up for adoption.

He was 8 years old at that time, and that is our Francis.

Jocelyn with her two adopted sons
Jocelyn Piper adopted Francis, left, after seeing him in photos of Nolan from the orphanage.Courtesy of Rylee Mills, RRM Photography

After I told my husband about his situation, he was like, "Well, we have to bring him home." There was never any hesitation because they clearly had that special bond, so in 2018, we brought Francis home. Francis is more independent; he has a rare disorder called WAGR syndrome and is autistic, but he walks and talks.

When the boys were reunited, they definitely recognized each other, but it was a funny story. Nolan's name in the orphanage was Tony. On the first morning, Francis came downstairs and looked at me and looked at Nolan and went, "Tony, bye, bye." He was not ready to share his new family with this little brother. They were so funny together. Even though Nolan couldn't talk, he expressed himself with his facial expressions and different movements and actions. They had that brotherly rivalry, and it was so cute.

But financially, because we did two adoptions back-to-back, it was very, very, very hard on us. We are not wealthy, just regular people.

Growing the family one last time

Gift of Adoption, which provides financial assistance to families who adopt, gave us the largest of the grants we received with Francis' adoption. Those grants allowed us to bring him home. During that process, we were contacted by Lifeline Children's Services Hong Kong about this little girl who was very much like Nolan. They needed assistance on how to advocate for her and how to write her file. We started helping them advocate for this little girl, and everyone was getting the kickback: "No, she's too severe."

That's when I found my passion: advocating for these kids who have so much worth and bring so much joy and value to our family and getting everyone on board to see that, whether that's doctors or school administrators.

Francis and Oaklynn spending time together.
Francis and Oaklynn.Courtesy of Jocelyn Piper

About a year later, we were told that the government was going to move Oaklynn, the little girl, to an adult institution. She was 4 years old, but they saw her as unadoptable.

I looked at Troy, and he was like: "Absolutely not. We cannot afford to do back-to-back."

I finally got him to agree, but his conditions were that we could not spend one penny.

Gift of Adoption helped again. We brought her home in November 2021, in what was a hard year.

Nolan had been diagnosed with a seizure disorder called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. It's a very rare and progressive seizure disorder. It eventually takes over you. He died in May 2021. We were all holding him.

The brothers and sisters left behind

With Francis, it's still hard because he misses Nolan, and because of his cognitive delays, it's even harder for him to process and for us to explain.

Francis' special-education teacher in elementary school wrote him a social story to help him process the different stages of grief. It's a book about knowing and losing his brother and his best friend.

Francis and Nolan had a cute form of sibling rivalry, says their mother Jocelyn.
Francis and Nolan had a cute form of sibling rivalry, their mother said.Courtesy of Jocelyn Piper

He carries this book around every single day, and sometimes we know that he's really missing Nolan because he'll just, out of nowhere, start reciting the book.

What I want people to understand about adoption

My biggest pet peeve about adoption is hearing how "lucky" kids are to be adopted. They're not lucky to be in the situation that they were given. It's not always about saving the child; we, as a family, are lucky to have them.

The thing that helps me get through each day after losing Nolan is knowing that he knew he was loved up until his very last breath. He changed everything, and he saved two other children, because without Nolan, we wouldn't have Francis or Oaklynn.

Colton is a paraprofessional at a high school and works with kids with special needs. Riley is now a special-education teacher. Jaimee is a senior in high school and helps out in the special-ed room. She also has this heart that treats everyone as the person that they are. The kids all have a different understanding of and, I think, love for people than I think they would've had if we hadn't brought these children home.

We might smile. We might have tears run down our face remembering Nolan, but it's not upsetting to us because he deserves to be remembered. He changed everyone.

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