Parenting

A Journey of the heart

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A young girl embraces the dream of being a big sister as a Gwinnett family prepares for the trip of a lifetime

by Dana Urrutia

Ejna Mitchell and her daughter, AnnaBeth, can”t wait to have another girl in the household. For Ejna, it”s the realization of a dream that began when she was a young girl herself. "This has been in my mind and in my heart for a very long time."

Growing up in Augusta, her family belonged to a refugee mission church that served many families from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam. "My mother became very good friends with four boys in particular, tutoring and mentoring them," she recalls. "They were at our house a lot, and I enjoyed the Asian culture."

With this blending of cultures almost a part of daily life, high school student Ejna (pronounced Ina) would often plan ahead, thinking, "One day, I”m going to adopt a little girl from China."

As a young woman, now married to Keith, the causal comments continued. "We”d say, “we could always adopt a child,” but we never took any serious steps."

Then the couple”s two children, Jake and AnnaBeth, were born, and life pushed forward. The Mitchells built a home in Buford on family property then considered "way far out in the country." Ten years later, booming development has brought neighbors within easy walking – and playing – distance. Keith is a business owner – an auto parts distributor – and a real estate agent, while Ejna has worked for over a decade as a coordinator for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment programs. Jake is a quiet, 13-year-old seventh grader with a love of golf and some minor hesitation about the upcoming gender shift in his household. AnnaBeth, 10, is queen of the cul-de-sac, busy with school and basketball, and brimming with big plans for a little sister.

Three years ago, those casual comments about adoption came closer to home when friends of the Mitchells adopted from China, and Keith and Ejna followed the process from a closer vantage point.

Two years ago, the tsunami hit, and as the world watched a tragedy unfold on television, Keith told Ejna, "I wish we could adopt some of those children without parents."

Ejna”s response was immediate … and sure. "I said, “I would do that” and that”s when it became serious."

The “Paper Chase” Begins

The Mitchells connected with Bethany Christian Services, the largest national adoption and family services agency in the U.S., and attended a seminar for those interested in adopting. Americans adopted more than 7,900 children from China in 2005 – more than 95 percent of them girls – freed for adoption because of China”s "one child" population control policy and a cultural preference for males. The Chinese government legalized international adoption in 1992, with all adoptions now coordinated through the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA) in Beijing.

Keith and Ejna also watched a tape about Chinese adoption, "and we pretty much knew," recalls Ejna, "but we still didn”t say very much."

Off almost immediately on a business trip to Alaska, Ejna "Googled" every spare moment, reading with a cautious eye about international adoption in general and adoption from China in particular. While she was surfing the Internet, Keith was also planning. Almost as soon as she arrived home, Ejna remembers, "Keith said, “I had lunch with mom and told her we were going to adopt.”"

Early in January of 2005, the Mitchells filed their application with Bethany, and the waiting began in earnest.

No one is more cognizant of that wait than big-sister-to-be AnnaBeth. She has started a story book about the process and the first line rea