On My Own

When many people think of an orphanage, I think they often envision babies and toddlers. I used to be one of those people myself. On my many trips to China, however, I began meeting and falling in love with the older children who have grown up in institutions, many who never had any true chance of finding a permanent home. Their faces and stories are in my heart forever now, and sadly many of my memories of these great kids involve tears. Tears from Jenny, who broke down on her 14th birthday when she realized that she had aged out of the adoption system without being chosen. The final realization that she would never know what it meant to have a mom or dad of her own caused her to fall into a deep depression. Tears from Lily, a 17-year-old girl whom I had given my jacket after she admired it. When she refused to accept it initially, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “But of course you have to take it because you are like family to me.” And it was at that one word, “family,” that this normally stoic young lady broke down and sobbed uncontrollably, as it is the one thing that she longed for.

By far, however, the most emotional moment of my time in China came one night when I was able to meet with a group of older orphaned teens I had watched grow up over a five year period. Every time I would visit their orphanage, I would enjoy getting to know them more. They all seemed so close, such good friends, and they always had smiles for me when I arrived. That night, however, was a night when the kids finally let their guard down. It was a night of real conversation and sharing what it means to grow up as an orphan. Toward the end of the evening we were all in tears. Afterwards, one of the older boys stayed to talk with me privately. I am hesitant to even write of it now as it was such a deeply personal and emotionally raw conversation. I will share, however, that he told me that growing up without a mother or father “hurts more than death.” Children aren’t supposed to raise themselves. They are not supposed to grow up alone, which I know sounds impossible when you are growing up in a crowded orphanage. The reality, though, is that hundreds of thousands of orphaned children feel utterly and completely ALONE. I held this incredible and wonderful teen in my arms as he sobbed about how much he wanted a mom, and I can’t think of it now without great pain.

Why was I given the opportunity to be born into a family who could take care of me, while millions of children are born into situations so sad and filled with hurt that many people don’t even want to hear their stories? I have struggled with that question for years with no answers. But I do know that all of us who have been blessed to know what a family really is should make every effort possible to help those who are orphaned. If not us, then who?

The theme song for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was a song called “You and Me.” It has been sung to me by children in orphanages many times, and it always makes me cry. The words haunt me… especially for the older children who have grown up feeling so alone: “Put your hand in mine. You and me, from one world. We are family.”

How I wish those words were true in every person’s heart. How I wish everyone believed that we need to treat people as family and share our ever shrinking world. What a wonderful place this would be if every adult took the hand of a child in need and didn’t let go. To all of the older orphaned children who have aged out of the possibility of ever finding a family, I send my heartfelt prayers. You are not forgotten. And we will continue doing our very best to help in every way possible.

Amy Eldridge is the Executive Director of Love Without Boundaries.

Love Without Boundaries proudly advocates for adoption but is not an adoption agency. We invite you to contact [email protected] with questions about a child we have featured and encourage you to contact your local adoption agency for more information about China’s Waiting Child Program.

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24 Comments to “On My Own”

  1. Karin F 27 January 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Wow. Thank you Amy for giving us insight into the minds and hearts of the children who age out of a chance of being adopted. My heart is so heavy for these teens. Their stories need to known and shared to wake us up from apathy and a “as young as possible” mentality sometimes desired when adopting.

  2. Jocelyn Scott 27 January 2011 at 10:13 am #

    What a crazy world! I would have loved to have adopted a school-aged child after my two (bio) kids grew up and left home, but my husband wouldn’t agree. Now I’m 67 and even if my husband changed his mind, no adoption agency would accept me, I’m still waiting for grandchildren, and my heart aches for a child to love. And there are children longing for love–but on the other side of the world. Doesn’t make sense. Jocelyn in Toronto, Canada

  3. […] from one of my favorite charities: Love Without Boundaries.  To read more about what they do, click here. Girl waiting for […]

  4. Suzanne Buchko 27 January 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I sit, reading and sobbing. “Hurts more than death.” I know what death hurts like, more than that, I have no idea. Of course, you know that I think of one girl in particular, but I hurt for all those others too. The thought cracks my heart wide open. Would that those words touch so many more. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Alyssa 27 January 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Amy, As always you have spoken eloquently and brought me to tears. Thank you for continuing to fight and advocate for these children. I posted about this on my blog today – I challenge everyone who reads this to pass it on.


  6. […] wait and wait and wait and never get a family.  Amy Eldridge of Love Without Boundaries just wrote On My Own an article about older children who […]

  7. PandaMommium 27 January 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Oh for the means to adopt more. Adopting an older child is such a scary prospect but my husband and I have found that the transition of the adoption of our six year old went so much more smoothly than the adoption of our fifteen month old. These children are amazingly resilient and brave and they love so much having a family!

  8. Colleen 27 January 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Nothing but tears…could barely finish reading it.

  9. Leigh Stevens 27 January 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Very emotional post for me because we are 16 days away from our 8 year old son’s Gotcha day. How bittersweet the day will. Extraordinary,because we become a family forever but heart wrenching as his friends and other orphans are left behind….

  10. Caroline Lewis 27 January 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    I’ll post this on my Facebook page. Heartrending, there’s no other word for it. I hope these kids find families, and if not, then eventually make their own families filled with love and happiness. Please let them know they’re in our hearts, always.

  11. […] to do with being Buddhist. As Buddhists, we are called to care for all. And that is what I think this post from Amy is all about; caring for one […]

  12. llsgroi 27 January 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    My husband and I adopted an 13-year-old girl from China over the summer. We got her home just 9 days before her 14th birthday. She is such a blessing. This was our second adoption from China (our first came home as a baby), and I can tell you that older-child adoption is a very different experience, but no less rewarding. I love my 2 girls very much.

  13. Tracie 27 January 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    What a powerful post. Thank you for sharing it and being a voice for the most vulnerable among us. My heart yearns to do more…

  14. sheilablasertemple 27 January 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    I am the mother of 4 adoptees from China and adopted all of them at a late age. One was 3 years old, one was 6 years old and the other two, were 12 at the time of their adoptions. Even the ones that are adopted find it really difficult to grasp that someone could or would care about them. Many hold us at arms length until the time passes that they think they can let down their hair a bit and let us love them. I pray for the kids there too that are older and have no hope of adoption. Thanks for such a reminder of helping those that are left behind. Sheila Temple

  15. Sammy 27 January 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    I almost forget that at one time I was afraid to adopt an older child. God lead me gently into it. By the time we actually got Arden she was almost almost 12 y.o, but when I first saw her I told she was 9 y.o. Then, I few months later I hear “oh she is 10 y.o. It took another year to get her. Four years later she almost has a 4.0 and is a 9th grader. She makes us proud as peacocks. Since, her we went back and got one they said was a 7 y.o. boy, but he was younger. Then, we got a 10 y.o. girl and 8 y.o. boy. I shamelessly brag about them on my blog all the time.

  16. Mike Mahathy 27 January 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Thank you Amy for posting from your heart! The phrase “hurts more than death” says so much; I can never know the pain of a child that longs for a family. Let’s us never forget children longing for a family and may we renew our commitment to help them even if what we do only adds one drop of water to the ocean.

  17. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by tasha aburto, Danielle Bernier. Danielle Bernier said: What a wonderful place this would be if every adult took the hand of a child in need and didn’t let go. – Amy Eldridge http://tiny.cc/qiru0 […]

  18. […] The full article is titled, “On My Own” and can be found by clicking this link http://www.lwbcommunity.org/on-my-own.  It is heart wrenching to hear from the orphan about what it means to them to not have a […]

  19. ashmilford 1 February 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    Thank you for writing this. Oh how my heart hurts for these kids. Do you have any information on the older kids that are available for adoption? If so I would love to receive some information. Thank you, Ashley

  20. chinalwb 2 February 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Hello Ashley. Please feel free to browse through our blog to see many of the older children we have featured. Children in LWB programs who are available for adoption on the shared/individual list will have this byline at the end of their blog: Love Without Boundaries proudly advocates for adoption but is not an adoption agency. We invite you to contact [email protected] with questions about a child we have featured and encourage you to contact your local adoption agency for more information about China’s Waiting Child Program. Our Adoption Assistance coordinator will be able to help you determine if a particular child is available on the shared list. We have also passed your request along to our Adoption Assistance coordinator. Best of luck, and let us know how we may help!

  21. Carmi 10 February 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    Our family has been so blessed by Zane, our son adopted at 13. I can’t imagine our family without him and I can’t imagine the pain of knowing you would never have a mom or dad. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes after reading this. Indeed if not us then who?

  22. Barbara 12 February 2011 at 9:45 am #

    This is heartbreaking. I am wondering how this takes place. If a child is in foster care and turns fourteen does the family pack his bags, pack a lunch for him and send them out the door? Must he deal with the world on his own at that point? How can that be? Does he just go live on the street? How can this be?

  23. trish 31 May 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Is this girl that is pictured witht he pig tails already aged out??

    Please let me know. [email protected] I am interested.

  24. Rachael 19 October 2012 at 10:47 am #

    I think I’d like to adopt someday, I just don’t really know if it is something my husband and I could ever afford. I hope someday it is in the cards for us, I’ve always wanted to have kids but I’ve also always wanted to adopt :) very touching article

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