Families trying to adopt from China are facing indefinite delays due to coronavirus: ‘It’s heartbreaking’

Ivy and Noah Cleveland of McDonough, Ga., are set to adopt a Chinese girl named Ruby, but the coronavirus outbreak has put their plans on pause. (Photo: Courtesy of Ivy Cleveland)

One week before Ivy and Noah Cleveland were to fly to China to adopt their 3-year-old daughter Ruby, their plans were indefinitely canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), now a global health emergency that’s infected 15 people in the United States and almost 64,000 people in mainland China.

The news in late January was a blow to Ivy, who had already purchased mommy-and-me outfits, celebrated her soon-to-be daughter’s birthday and the Chinese New Year, and scheduled doctor appointments for the 3-year-old, who was born with hydrocephalus (a build-up of brain fluid) and has speech delays. The family had also arranged for six rotating babysitters to care for their sons, ages 3 and 6, during their trip. And they planned to take personalized luggage, signed by hundreds of family supporters, to Ruby in Guangzhou.

“Devastating is the word I’d use,” Ivy, 30, who runs She Is Ministries from McDonough, Ga., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’ve been through a lot in life, but nothing like this. I went to Ruby’s bedroom, laid down on her bed and wept.”

The Clevelands had spent two and a half years mired in the application process to adopt Ruby, who was abandoned behind a toilet inside a hospital at six months old. “Because of our Christian faith, we have always wanted to care for orphans and giving money wasn’t enough,” says Ivy. “China was the only country we pursued because it allows you to choose the sex of the baby and we wanted a girl.”

Ivy and Noah Cleveland have a pink bedroom waiting for their adoptive daughter Ruby, 3, who remains in China amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: Courtesy of Ivy Cleveland)

In February, the U.S. Department of State issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory to China, warning that transportation in and around Wuhan — and U.S. flights to and from the city — is suspended in an attempt to contain the virus. The U.S. government also advised that families traveling to China for adoption consult with their respective agencies.

In a letter addressed to the Clevelands, which the family provided to Yahoo Lifestyle, Christian adoption agency Holt International said that travel to China at this time would be “neither reasonable nor responsible”

Susan Cox, vice president of policy and external affairs at Holt, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that of the 250 families applying for Chinese adoptions, 10 have already purchased plane tickets to China to pick up their children and five were on the verge of making travel plans. “A mother recently told me that today was the day she would have met her son,” says Cox. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Because Delta, American and United airlines have temporarily suspended flights to and from China, and many Chinese government offices are closed, Cox says it is futile to process late-stage adoptions, although cases in earlier stages will continue. “There is no one available to process adoption paperwork, so parents can’t meet their children,” she says.

From photos she’s seen, orphanage workers are wearing protective suits and handing out masks to the children, although the available gloves, masks and medicine are dwindling. To that end, Holt has been fundraising for supplies to send to its partner orphanage in Wuhan, which houses 600 children.

Cory and Allison Singleton of Summerville, S.C., will have to wait to adopt their daughter, soon-to-be-named Lottie, due to the coronavirus in China. (Photo: Ricky Hartzog)

Cory and Allison Singleton are also being prevented from meeting a new child. On Jan. 29, they were scheduled to leave for China to officially adopt their soon-to-be daughter Lottie, 7. However, a phone call from their agency Lifeline Children’s Services postponed the trip.

Even before having their children, ages 16, 13 and 9, the couple had dreamed of adopting, and 18 months ago, they started the application process. But 10 days before leaving, Lifeline advised pausing the trip. “At that point, going wouldn’t move us any further down the line,” Cory, 44, paster at Journey Church, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Cory and his family, who say they’ve spent almost $60,000 on the adoption, considers the delay a “plot twist.” He tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “As Christians, we don’t live without hope and our concern for Lottie’s safety is our number one priority… it’s just not our window of opportunity now.”

The Singletons have never met their little girl, who doesn’t speak English, and have communicated only through a video call several months ago. When Lottie does arrive, she’ll have a bedroom full of Barbie dolls, a sister for a roommate, and an adoptive mother who teaches English online to Chinese students.

Karla Thrasher, Lifeline’s director of international adoption, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that eight adoptive families are awaiting the green light to fly to China. “It might have been more if the virus hadn’t peaked during the Chinese New Year [Jan. 25] when the focus is typically on respecting the holiday,” she says.

“We hope families understand that China needs time to care for people without the added layer of processing adoptions and bringing children out into the cities,” adds Thrasher. In the meantime, Lifeline is collecting donations on its website for children’s vitamins, face masks and hand sanitizer, provided much by prospective families. “People feel like it’s a tangible way to help,” she says.

When it’s safe to fly, both families are ready with packed bags. Ivy and Noah’s adoption day of Feb. 11 has passed, but they haven’t lost hope and would still fly if allowed. “My mission is to get my daughter home,” Ivy tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “and I will do whatever is takes.”

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