Love that gives life a chance

Olivia Lewis
Their smiling faces show little sign of the ordeals these children have been through before they ended up in the loving embrace of a couple from the US.
Olivia Lewis

Shot by Zhou Shengjie. Edited by Zhou shengjie and Li Yetian. Subtitles by Wang Xinzhou and Andy Boreham.

Love that gives life a chance
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Ron Beaudreau, his wife Celese, their four foster children (from left: Noah, Erin, Tilly and May) and rescue dog Wyatt are getting together for a family photo at home. 

Ron Beaudreau, an American emergency room doctor at Jiahui International Hospital in Xuhui District in Shanghai, has a big family — his wife Celese, their three daughters May, Erin, Tilly, son Noah and a cute rescue dog Wyatt.

Noah is an early riser and most mornings he awakens the entire family at 5:30am.

The children then get themselves dressed and do all the things they need to do before being driven to school.

After their day at school, the children come home and do their homework, eat dinner, take a bath and get ready for bed.

Weekends, holidays and summer however allows plenty of time for their favorite activities, such as swimming, riding bicycles, various sports camps and travel.

There seems to be little difference between the Beaudreaus and other families of loving parents and sweet and lively children — sometimes a bit naughty, sometimes filling the house with laughter. It’s hard to imagine that the four children the foreign couple have adopted in China were all almost in danger of dying soon after they were born with serious diseases.

Love that gives life a chance
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

 Ron and Celese hold Tilly up on the way to their community playground.

Ron and his wife have given them a second life, and the children have given them their wholehearted love in return. Before the camera, every child was trying to show just how much they love their parents.

“Ron and I have been in Shanghai for about 10 years. I followed him to China,” said Celese. Before that, she and her husband were in Georgia in the United States. “We came here pretty soon after we were married. Here in Shanghai, through a lot of volunteer work that I was doing as a pediatrician, we met our children, and have ultimately adopted four children.”

They first met their daughter Erin, who’s actually the second oldest. “I met her when I was at one of the children’s hospitals working with a voluntary organization. She was in the hospital and sick,” Celese said. “I was helping to try to arrange medical care for her and we kind of fell in love with her. We ultimately took her home and started working on getting medical care for her. She’s had multiple surgeries and other things. And then we decided we were going to pursue adoption.”

Shortly after that the organization called her about another sick baby — that was May, who had congenital heart disease and had recently had heart surgery. “She’d spent a long time in the hospital and was not doing well. So they asked us if we would just be willing to foster her while they looked for another family. So she joined us about six months after Erin did.”

They were initially looking for another family for her, but she had complicated medical problems that would be scary for non-medical people. So May became Erin’s elder sister.

“They’re scary to us also. But anyway, she wasn’t in our home for very long when we decided that we would also try to adopt her,” said Celese. “She latched on to Ron, I’m sure you can tell from today that she’s a total ‘Baba’s girl.’ (Baba is how Chinese refer to the father.) As soon as Ron got back she kind of latched onto him and hasn’t let go since then. So we adopted them together. They’re now 9 and 8. They’re both in second grade.” More than a year later after the couple had finalized that adoption and were getting ready to go to the US to do the paperwork, somebody called Celese to ask her to come to the hospital and see a little boy.

“And so I went to see Noah. He had just had surgery. And he was getting ready to go back to an orphanage.” They brought him home and after they came back after one month in the US for Christmas holidays, they wound up falling in love with him and deciding they were going to adopt him as well.

To get medical care for the children, the couple went back and forth to the hospital and to Shanghai Baby’s Home, where they met their youngest daughter Tilly two years later.

“Every time we went, they would kind of put her in our arms.

“So we have May, who’s 9, Erin, who’s 8. Noah, who will be 7 in a couple of weeks, I think he’s told you that a lot, that his birthday is coming up, and then Tilly will be 4, also in a couple of weeks.”

Love that gives life a chance
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Erin is playing at a children’s playground in their residential complex with her father Ron.

Parents all want a healthy baby who can fill a space in their hearts with cheerful gurgles. But for Ron and Celese, it was natural to adopt the sick children when they were introduced to them.

“We were already working with children who had multiple medical problems and helping with that. Once you meet them and they’re in your home, fostering them, when you fall in love with them, it’s really more like they choose you, than you choosing them. So, when we were thinking about it, of course, you know, you want a healthier child, or children that don’t have a lot of medical problems. But when you fall in love with a child, it doesn’t matter what’s wrong with them.”

Erin and May have been the sickest of the four and the poor sisters both have diagnoses that on paper sound very scary. “Once we had them in our home, we realized that we can do this, we can take care of them,” said Celese. “Most of our day is not spent worrying about their medical problems but doing everything that everybody else does for their children.”

According to the couple, Erin has spina bifida and should have had surgery immediately after birth, or surgery in utero. But she didn’t have surgery until she was about seven months old because she had other significant medical problems.

She had a tumor on her hip that was growing and was causing problems with her blood so that had to be dealt with — she had to have chemotherapy to take care of that before she could have the surgery to repair her spine.

She got a urine infection and got very sick. Soon there was an opportunity to have the procedure done in Hong Kong, so the family went to Hong Kong and had her initial surgery. Erin had a subsequent surgery on her spine about a year later in the US after she was adopted. Since then, she’s had multiple other, more minor surgeries.

May has pretty significant congenital heart disease. Normally a baby with her heart condition would have had surgery shortly after birth, without which they normally would have died. She did not have such surgery at birth but rather had her first heart surgery around the 14 months old.

It is a miracle that she survived to have this surgery which was done at the Congenital Heart Center of Shanghai Children’s Medical Center before she joined the Beaudreau family. After the adoption was finalized, she ultimately had her final surgery in the US at about three and a half years old.

“If you’d asked either of us before we started fostering whether we would adopt a child that has Erin’s medical problems or May’s medical problems, we both would have said: ‘Probably not.’ But once they’re in your home, you fall in love with them and they fall in love with you,” Ron said. “You realize that you can help them, you can take care of the problems that they have, you can get them good medical care. They can have a long, full life. So, there’s really no choice. It just happens.”

Erin has had a lot of surgery and has spent a lot of time in therapy. “Ultimately we just decided that the best therapy for her was letting her be a normal kid. So she hikes and runs and climbs and drives her brother and sisters crazy and on a day to day basis, it’s all just normal kids’ stuff that we deal with,” said Celese.

Love that gives life a chance
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Photos of the children 

“When we first got May, everybody said: ‘She’s got a bad heart; you can’t let her do anything.’ They made her stay in a bed, they didn’t let her play or do anything. So when we got her at about a year and a half, she couldn’t even sit up. Like, she couldn’t even hold her body up, she was so weak. But then, Erin, who was younger than her, had started crawling and so they got this competition between the two of them and so she wanted to chase after her.”

The children sometimes raise questions about who their birth parents are and where they are from.

“Erin was two months when she came to our house. Noah was about two months also. Tilly was, we met her when she came home at about four months, and so, they didn’t know anything else at that time,” said Ron. “May was closer to a year and a half or two years, and so she has more issues related to anxiety and things like that related to her being abandoned by her original parents.”

“We’ve seen her dealing with attachment issues and anxiety issues, but she’s made a ton of progress. So I think it’s something we’ll obviously have to deal with as they get older. Actually, Erin, our second, really wants to find her birth mother,” Celese added. “She’s got a lot of questions about: ‘Why did my mom leave me?’ You know, she has medical problems, and she says, ‘Did my mom not want me because of some of the stuff she has to do every day?’”

The couple have started the process of looking for her biological parents, though it’s a little bit difficult. “We would love to know who their moms and their dads are.

The other kids have not expressed any interest in that in spite of being around us when we talk to Erin about it. But in the future, a lot of kids that are adopted want to know where they came from and it would be good to have family history and all of that,” said Celese, who thinks that’s a thing all of them should deal with.

The family has also gone through some hard times when it comes to the children’s education.

“Erin is someone who has the most medical challenges. She’s kind of at that age of recognizing that she’s different from everybody else and she doesn’t like that. And so she’s had a tough time with that. She says: ‘I don’t understand why I was made this way, why I have to do all of this stuff,’ and then it makes her different at school.

“School is difficult for kids who have medical problems, or are just different kinds of learners. Even the international schools don’t want kids that are, that have issues and so it was a problem. But we found a great school for them — it was a local Chinese school. Their teachers kind of embraced them and loved them. You know, we talked to the teachers a lot about making sure that people weren’t making fun of them and saying things to them, but I think in spite of that, the kids are normal kids and they say things and things happen.”

Love that gives life a chance
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Celese watches Noah showing what he learned from gymnastics class.

“There’s many people out there that live a very full life with disabilities so we try to stress that,” said Ron. He believes the children can do anything they want to do as long as they work hard enough at it and tries to show them role models, people who have had disabilities that have really gone far in life, to encourage them so that they can live their lives to the fullest. And the children are making it.

For instance, it took Erin a long time to learn to ride a bicycle. When she rode a bicycle with training wheels, her feet would fall off the pedals. “And then eventually when she got to where she was kind of riding the bicycle, I took the training wheels off,” Ron said.

They kept trying and trying and he thought it might be another six months before she can ride a bicycle. “But literally, the next time I took her out, she was riding! I let go and she took off and she’s been riding ever since. And it’s like, she was the fastest learner of riding a bicycle. So, you know, it’s all a mindset. We just try to help her work through that and to have a positive mindset, the mindset that ‘I’m not going to give up on something.’ And as long as she does that, she finds that she can do a lot of things.”

“Just seeing how much they fight. They’ve had some tough situations and they just, they keep pushing through. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when they’re strong and doing so great,” said Celese. She and Ron are also fighting for a better life and future for their children with their efforts.

“There are a lot of people here that are really actively working to take care of babies,” said Celese. “Three of our kids came from Shanghai Baby’s Home. And they’re a great organization. They’re providing medical care for kids, they have a ton of people that volunteer there. They’re always looking for people to foster and people to come in and help and so, there are a lot of things like that that are going on in China.”

“The Chinese government has done a lot over the past couple years to help with access to medical care. They’ve made huge strides from 10 years ago. And I think in general, there’s a lot more access to care, but that’s kind of once they’re in the state system, once they’re orphans. And what really needs to happen is to try and break that cycle of abandonment,” Ron added.

Love that gives life a chance
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The couple and their cute rescue dog Wyatt. 

The couple believes access should be given to empower parents to keep their children by giving them the resources to take care of babies with medical problems and special needs.

For the children who are already in orphanages, increasing the access to care and the type of care they get, the quality of care they get, and their day to day life is really important, the couple said. But what a child really needs is a family to love and advocate for them and measures to keep families together ensure the brightest possible future for these children.

“There have been changes in, like, school and access to education, and access to therapy and all of that so there are a lot of things that have significantly improved, so all of that helps,” said Celese.

Shanghai has more and more international hospitals and receives foreign medics from all over the world. At Jiahui International Hospital, there are 41 overseas medics serving both Chinese citizens and expats in the city.

The couple are passionate about medical care in China when they are working as physicians and trying to improve the quality of medical care here, as well as supporting people who are doing the same things they are.

According to their colleague, Chinese American Dr Alexander Lin, chief of the obstetrician-gynaecologist department at Jiahui, working as a doctor in Shanghai is a good opportunity for him to do something where he could really use his training to help more people.

“It’s education. A doctor is really a teacher. I spend a lot of time teaching students, teaching residents, younger doctors, giving them more experience. But most of my students are actually my patients. Every patient visit is really a teaching session.”

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