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January01

Noa and Zoe’s Story

On November 6, we learned about a Stampin’ Up! fundraiser for a couple adopting twins from Tonga. Find out more about this amazing family’s experiences here.

We had been married eight years when my husband, Paul, had a stroke. He was only 32; I was 28. It was one of those freak accidents. Paul’s an athlete. He played football and basketball in high school, then went on to play football and rugby in college. Prior to his stroke, he was a correction’s officer at the Salt Lake County jail. Paul went from complete independence to total helplessness in a matter of minutes.

Paul’s stroke was a bit of a mystery when he arrived at the hospital’s emergency room on July 18, 2008. He had collapsed in the parking lot after a rugby game. Hours later, the ER team discovered that during the game, an opposing player—in an attempt to retrieve the rugby ball—grabbed Paul’s jersey at his neck and pulled on it so hard that it pinched his carotid artery, forcing the blood into the walls of the artery and causing a bulge which eventually stopped the blood flow to his brain.

{Paul getting a visit from our friend and her therapy dog, Skylla.}

It’s been 5-1/2 years post-stroke, now, and Paul is still recovering. Physically, he is in excellent condition; it’s communicating that he struggles with. He continues to get speech therapy and works on it everyday. Through a mixture of words, gestures, and writing, Paul and I are able to communicate with each other very well. In fact, I think we communicate with each other better than many couples . . . just in a more colorful way.

The plan had always been to have kids. We even talked about someday adopting a child, too. In April of this year, we were told that Paul was not able to have kids. This wasn’t a huge surprise—we figured that after 13 years of marriage and no kids—one of us had an issue (if not both). So, we decided that we were 100% on board to adopt!

Since Paul and I are both Tongan—he’s full blooded, and I am half (my dad is Tongan), it was important for us to first reach out to our families in Tonga. My dad made some phone calls, letting family and friends know that we are looking to adopt and to please keep us in mind if they hear of anyone who is unable to care for their child or expected child. The idea of being parents in possibly a year or two made us nervous—excited, but nervous.  It was only two weeks later, on May 1, 2013 that my dad called me at midnight with unexpected news. He had just spoken with his great-niece in Tonga, and she had 6-month-old twins she was struggling to care for. She told my dad that she’d like Paul and me to adopt them both. A boy and a girl. We were ecstatic!

During the next three months, Paul and I completed all of our required paperwork and were working on building up an adoption fund. We started by going over our budget and eliminating anything unnecessary, like cable TV and frequent date nights. We cut back on everything we could think of and were slowly building up our adoption fund, but not fast enough. Our neighbors, who also adopted five years earlier, told us that they had done an adoption yard sale and it really helped out. So we got the word out to friends, family, and Facebook, and started collecting items for our adoption yard sale. And boy, did we have yard sale items pouring in! In a matter of weeks our home started looking like a house of hoarders. I used the babies room as a central hub for yard sale items, but quickly it filled up and seeped into the hallway, down to our living room, into the kitchen, and out to the carport. The last week leading up to the yard sale, I couldn’t even cook a meal; items were covering my kitchen counters! But it all paid off because our yard sale was a success!

A week later, my sweet and AWESOME co-workers here at Stampin’ Up! had an adoption bake sale. About 25 people supplied baked goodies and tons and tons of people bought them! In only a couple hours of selling baked goods, we made around $1700 for the adoption fund! It was amazing how many people came out to support the cause (or just buy yummy sweets). Either way, we were happy! I seriously have the greatest co-workers ever!

We were well on our way to getting the adoption complete—except for one major hang-up. Our family in Tonga was struggling to complete all of the necessary paperwork. So, after speaking with my husband, we decided that I should go to Tonga and try to get things moving. This wasn’t part of our original plan or budget. I spoke with my manager about taking a week off and it was granted. After all, they had put in so much of their own effort in helping us adopt—they wanted the twins home as much as we did!

I arrived in Tonga late Saturday night, August 24, with a carry-on bag of my clothes and a 50-pound check-in bag packed with baby supplies. I also brought every single piece of paper that I thought could possibly be helpful during my stay—including my home study report, Paul’s and my birth certificates, marriage license, financial records, etc. I had several goals in mind for my one-week stay: First, to take the twins to the doctor for a medical exam and make sure they were up-to-date on their immunizations; second, to get their birth certificates; and last, to find out what Tongan adoption laws required, including obtaining forms, applications, etc.

Even though it was late, the birth mom brought the twins over to my cousin’s house for me to meet. They looked different from the pictures I had seen. And not a good kind of different. My daughter, Zoe, seemed to have a decent amount of energy, was able to crawl around, but had sores on the top of her head. My son, Noa, was pale, covered with bug bites, and had the same head sores. When I held him he felt limp in my arms and his head fell to my shoulder. The birth mom laughed and said he was a lazy baby. But I knew that wasn’t the case.

First thing Monday morning my cousin, the twins, and I all went to the Supreme Court to find out what we needed to do to adopt the twins. We were told that the first step was to get their birth certificates—and then we could apply for the adoption. The lady who helped us was kind and genuine. She saw the condition of the kids and told us she thought we could have the adoption done within a month. We were surprised and excited about it!

The next step was to go to the registrar’s office and find out when we could get the birth certificates. The office assistant helping us told us to wait. So we did. We waited and waited. She’d give us excuses and tell us to wait some more. Six hours later we were told to come back the next day. It took several more days, but we finally got them!

Later that night, when the medical clinic opened, we took the twins in. Zoe seemed to be in overall okay health, aside from the head sores, which turned out to be infected cradle cap. He also thought she seemed small for her age. Noa, on the other hand, was in bad shape. He was nine months old yet couldn’t even sit up or roll over, let alone crawl. He, too, had severely infected cradle cap. The doctor confirmed what I had suspected. Noa had been neglected and was severely malnourished. He was confused as to why the birth mom would only breastfeed one of them and not the other. He was happy to hear that I came to work on the adoption and said that with the proper care and food, the twins could catch up and be healthy. He mentioned that if Noa continued on the path he was on, that it was very likely he would have died.

I left the clinic crying, confused, and angry. Why were they not being taken care of better? I had been sending them care packages and still, they were practically starving to death. And why hadn’t anyone taken them to the doctor when they saw the sores on their heads?

I spent the night making phone calls to my parents and trying to decide what to do. I was supposed to leave in six days and the twins would have to return to their home with people who neglected them and couldn’t feed them. Tonga doesn’t have orphanages and I didn’t have any family who was in the position to take care of 9- month-old twins. The only option was for me to stay, get them healthy, and get the adoption done!

I called my manager at Stampin’ Up! to explain the situation. I had only been working here for 9 months and didn’t have much PTO time or qualify for FMLA, yet. They were understanding and granted me a leave of absence so I could complete the adoption. I was relieved. After all, I am the sole income earner for my family—and aside from that, I LOVE my job! Without my job I couldn’t support the twins. So it was a huge relief that they were so flexible with me. It was one less thing I had to worry about while in Tonga.

Five days later, my mom arrived. She put her life and job on hold to come help me care for her first grandbabies. It was a relief to have her there with me.

The heart of Tonga is called Nuku’Alofa. We found a place to rent, there—a guesthouse just two minutes from town. The rooms are rented out and common areas are shared. We met some great people from Fiji and Australia during our stay. Guests were typically there on business, so at the end of the day they loved coming home to play with the twins; we loved being able to get to know each other. The guesthouse wasn’t luxurious by any means, but it had hot water, a washer, and wifi.  

With my mom there, I was able to focus all my energy on getting the adoption done. Many days, mom would be home watching the babies alone while I was out for hours at a time running from one building to another getting paperwork done and waiting, waiting, waiting on government workers to do their part. Everyday was a roller coaster. Some days we’d get a lot accomplished and would feel as if things were looking up, then the next day would be a waiting game . . . waiting on someone to do their job, make their mark, then pass our case file onto the next person. Everything had to be in writing. If I wanted a copy of something, I had to request it in writing—on paper in an envelope.

Unlike most people, we hated the weekends, because that meant two days of not making any progress on the adoption. We’d go on long walk or take the twins to the beach to pass time. They loved the beach and our long walks on the waterfront.

On October 1, 2013, Zoe, Noa, my lawyer, the birth mom, and I appeared in the judge’s chambers for court. It took 15 minutes and the judge said, “The twins cannot return to their home; it’s intolerable.” He granted the adoption.

That weekend we flew to Fiji to get Noa and Zoe’s visas—thankfully a smooth and quick process. Days later, on October 10, we arrived with the twins in Salt Lake City, Utah. Paul was anxiously waiting along with my sister, dad, stepmom, and stepdad. It had been the longest seven weeks ever, but to everyone’s surprise (including my own), we were able to get the adoption done in record time. And most importantly—we had Noa and Zoe back safe and sound—and they were ours!

We’ve been home nearly two months now, and though life is very different and chaotic, we are loving every minute of it. The kids have some health issues we’ve been working on with our new pediatirican and they are on the path to being completely caught up with other kids their age.

Speaking of age, we celebrated their first birthday on November 4! They got to meet their great-grandparents and uncle for the first time that weekend. My sweet co-workers at Stampin’ Up! hosted a super-cute baby shower, where Noa surprised us all and started crawling!


{Just showing off for the ladies.}

I’ve been able to return back to work with slightly reduced hours while Paul and I figure this parenting thing out. Really, though, does anyone ever “figure it out”? We’re trying, and I am so grateful to have such a great family-friendly employer who has allowed me to take the time I’ve asked for. It really is the best job ever!

Paul has been doing an exceptional job at being a new father—which is no surprise to me. He has always been great with kids and has 24 nieces and nephews whom he is very close to. Noa and Zoe have been keeping him busy and he’s loving every minute of it. Paul’s been a super dad and gets up in the middle of the night to tend to crying babies. At first he would get up 4–5 times every night! He’s a pro at putting them to bed; in fact, I’m a bit jealous that he can get them to sleep in a fraction of the time it takes me!

Noa and Zoe simply adore their dad. And they’ve been the best therapy yet! They’re teaching each other how to talk. They’re a good source of speech therapy for him. He sings to them at night or to soothe them when they’re not feeling well. It’s really amazing to see the improvements he has made during these past seven weeks, and it’s even more amazing to see how Zoe and Noa have grown and improved since we’ve been home.

Julie A.
Production Designer

 

 

 

comment

  • Robyn Powell

    Dec 21

    Thank-you Julie for sharing your amasing story. It encourages our hearts as my daughter Anna and her husband Gary journey down this road. Robyn NZ

  • Ana Folau Lomu

    Dec 21

    Love this Julie your hard work paid off I am soo happy for you n your cute lil family there is no greater joy then to have your family feel complete! Love you guys n bring the kids over more often

  • Kerry Phillips

    Dec 21

    Thank you for sharing your pictures and beautiful story! God Bless you, Paul, Noa, Zoe and your incredible family/stampin' up family!!