Rees and Jonah joined their family in the fall of 2015 at 5 and 6 years old. Before they were adopted by their parents, Brian and Kimberly, they were living in the same Chinese orphanage.
The best of friends, the boys stuck together at their orphanage, finding a common bond in the significant facial differences they each had.
When Brian and Kimberly first read Rees and Jonah’s profiles, they read about two waiting children that needed to be adopted together, saw two boys that needed special medical care, and recognized two faces that needed love their family had to give.
This month, during National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness Month, Kimberly and Brian tell their story, from Rees and Jonah coming home to the reconstructive surgery they’ve had. And Jonah and Rees, in their own words, share just how far they have come … with the help of their friendship and their family.
Rees and Jonah’s Story
by their mom, Kimberly
As I scrolled through WACAP’s “Waiting Child Listing,” I knew what we were specifically looking for: a child with a facial difference.
Ever since we adopted our daughter in 2006, having gone through surgical corrections for something we really didn’t understand or know much about, we have been drawn to facial differences as a special need.
But the moment I saw the photo of Jonah on the waiting child listing—WACAP was advocating for him under the name “Billy”—my breath was taken away. His condition was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I immediately knew we needed to consider this boy. However, just near Jonah’s photo was Rees’ information (under the advocacy name “Alan”)—another boy with a serious facial difference that appeared similar to our other children.
We didn’t know how we would choose between these two boys who both needed not only the love and security of a family, but also specialized medical treatment. Reading more about them, we discovered the two boys were not only on the same listing, but they were in the same orphanage and (it was noted in the description) they were best friends.
We believed these two precious boys were best friends because they shared a common bond in their severe facial differences. We couldn’t imagine what it would be like for one or the other if they were separated, so we sought to adopt both boys.
Today, they are best friends and brothers!
Jonah has had several surgeries to align his upper and lower jaws as well as create and revise the palatal and pharyngeal structure to aid with his speech. He has absorbed so much information in such a short time, and he has had to work so hard to be able to perform at the level of his peers, all while trying to be able to express himself verbally, which is often a challenge.
He continues to receive speech therapy in school and also outside of school, and he will have more reconstructive surgery in his future. But Jonah has really come a long way, and he has made amazing progress.
Rees’s medical diagnosis was much more severe and complicated than we anticipated. Due to multiple complications and other underlying medical conditions, Rees has had over a dozen surgeries and will be followed over the next ten years or so, until he has full nasal reconstruction.
Rees is so brave and so strong. He has a great memory and he pays attention to details. He is not one to complain, and he is rarely found in the middle of a disagreement among the other children. He has grown emotionally and become quite comfortable among our family. It is a blessing to experience his true affection … which had seemed for some time, to be fueled by fear of being rejected.
Jonah and Rees are truly the best of friends, and we are so glad that they have each other. They do practically everything together and often have the mindset that whatever the one does, so does the other.
It took them several months before they would speak English because they just kept talking to each other. Over time we could tell that they were understanding quite a bit of English and they seemed to find it quite amusing as they would refuse to say English words when engaging us in conversation.
Going to school is what really caused them to start transitioning to an English vocabulary. They started out together in kindergarten when they first arrived in the U.S.; however, because Rees missed so much school due to surgeries that first year, he repeated and now they are a grade apart, which suits the fact that they are a year apart in age as well.
Jonah will be in third grade in the fall and Rees will be in second grade. They are currently 9 and 8 years old, although, intellectually they are a bit younger than their ages, and our family would say they’re ‘typical boys’ in so many ways.
Earlier this year, both boys had surgery for tissue transposition and grafting—on the same day—and they both did really well.
They have proven to be so resilient with all that they have endured. We are so proud of how they handle it all.
They interact and make friends with other children very well. There is sometimes some hesitation or caution from kids new to meeting our boys, but Jonah and Rees’ personalities and openness usually break the ice pretty quickly. We have been very fortunate to not have had to deal with anything too emotionally detrimental as of yet.
This duo can be very helpful and interested in learning; they love to do whatever we are doing (cooking, gardening, cleaning) and they are so eager to dive right in to whatever the task is.
There’s only one activity that will pull them away from shadowing us: their beloved 30 minutes a day on an electronic device.
It’s worth saying again that our boys have worked so hard to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time. They continue to strive towards understanding and functioning at the same level as their peers, and most wouldn’t really know that just three years ago, they lived in China and spoke only Chinese.
When I asked what my boys liked about being in a family:
Jonah said, “I get to be safe and eat a lot of noodles.”
Rees said, “I love my family and I love that I get to have fun with them. I love when Baba plays ‘tanks’ with me.”
They love that their sisters, Molly and Brynn, allow them to come into their room. Brynn says she loves how “Rees cracks himself up all by himself!” And Molly says, “They make me laugh. I like playing with them because then I can act like a kid.”
Although adopting two older boys with severe medical needs at the same time admittedly came with its challenges, we love that they get to experience and enjoy this life together. They were truly meant to be together, and we are more blessed and even braver than we were before our lives combined.
To learn more about WACAP’s adoption programs or how to get started, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.