Medina family adopts children with special needs from China

| October 25, 2016 | 2 Comments
The Mulvahill family of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina includes 14 children adopted from China. Posing for a photo on the front steps of their home are, front row, from left: Joey, 8, and Luke, 7; middle row: Ben, 10, Madeline, 9, Abby, 10, Sam, 10, Melissa, 10, Jenny, 11, Anna, 10, and Ellie, 14; back row: Emma, 16, Sarah, 16, Jim, Jean, Mia, 14, and Ava, 11. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The Mulvahill family of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina includes 14 children adopted from China. Posing for a photo on the front steps of their home are, front row, from left: Joey, 8, and Luke, 7; middle row: Ben, 10, Madeline, 9, Abby, 10, Sam, 10, Melissa, 10, Jenny, 11, Anna, 10, and Ellie, 14; back row: Emma, 16, Sarah, 16, Jim, Jean, Mia, 14, and Ava, 11. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Jim and Jean Mulvahill are enjoying a quiet conversation in a small room tucked away in the southeast corner of their Medina home on a fall Sunday afternoon.

The solitude won’t last. It never does. One or more of their 14 adopted children could come waltzing in at any moment.

They wouldn’t have it any other way. Members of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, they chose to start adopting children from China as their five biological children were growing into adults and leaving the nest. What started as an attempt to expand their parental love has turned into a string of adoptions that could set a Guinness World Record if there were such a category.

And, perhaps most amazing of all, each child has some sort of special need, either physical, emotional or developmental.

Yet, their explanation of how it all started in 2006 is matter of fact, although their daily lives are anything but.

“The [biological] kids were going to college, and so the house was getting quieter,” said Jean, 58. “We just felt that we had more to give. We really enjoyed being parents and we enjoy children, we enjoy doing things with our children. And so, we felt like maybe God had more plans for us.”

They first tried to scratch the itch to fill the house by getting a dog, a golden retriever named Sissy that lives with the family to this day. But, that wasn’t enough. By fall 2006, they were taking classes to learn about adoption.

One thing they discovered was that few countries welcome adoptive parents approaching age 50. China was on the short list of willing countries, so they turned their attention there.

After watching a video about a well known Christian musician who adopted a child from China, they decided they should do the same.

Jean Mulvahill works with her kids to make afternoon snacks in the kitchen. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Jean Mulvahill works with her kids to make afternoon snacks in the kitchen. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

But, there’s not much to go on when it comes to researching children available for adoption in China. Prospective parents are able to see a picture and a short writeup, and that’s it. Fortunately, that’s all it took in the case of the first child from China to join their family.

They looked at pictures of children through an agency called Children’s Home Society. One stood out.

“There was this adorable little girl with cleft palate,” said Jim, 59, who is part owner of a pharmaceutical company.

“A wide open lip, a wide open palate,” Jean said. “But, she was just absolutely adorable. And, those eyes were just. … It was like, ‘That’s it. That’s her.’”

Now 10, Anna arrived in the Twin Cities to join the Mulvahill family in August 2007. She has had several surgeries since her arrival, and her cleft palate now is barely noticeable.

The next child, Sarah, 16, came in December 2008. She is one of two 16-year-olds in the family, and has gone back to China on several adoption trips to help ease the language barrier.

The family has taken seven trips to China to bring home children. The most prolific year was 2013, when they brought back five children on two trips — Mia, 14, Melissa, 10, and Madeline, 9, in February, and Ben, 10, and Luke, 7, in December. That was one of three years in which they picked up more than one child.

Generally, the process of discernment is simple. They see a picture of a child, then God puts it on both of their hearts to bring the child home. Part of their attraction to  adoption is thinking about the child’s future in China and a possible future in America.

“I can’t imagine saying no to a child that needs a home,” said Jean, who was a school nurse at Providence Academy in Plymouth before retiring so she could stay at home with the kids. “How can we close our door on a child that needs a home? Honestly, if someone was at my doorstep right now: ‘Absolutely, come on in. We can pull an extra chair up at the table; we can get an extra bed, no problem.’”

That attitude is precisely why they are set to welcome two more children in November — Jacob, 9, and Grace, 8. Their target date to go to China to get them is Nov. 16, which means they will have a grand total of 21 children at the dinner table for Thanksgiving.

The 16 adopted children join Matt, 32, Katie, 31, Billy, 28, Mark, 26, and John, 23. Mark and John still were living at home when the first adopted children arrived from China. All five have bonded with their adopted siblings.

“Before we adopted, we talked to all [five] of them,” Jean said. “And, they were on board. Johnny had to think about it a little longer because he was the [youngest] one home, so it was going to affect him the most. But, once he gave us the green light, we were, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ He was eager because he could see it getting quiet around here.”

It’s not quiet anymore. The house is bustling with activity almost nonstop, as Jean home schools the kids and will do so all the way through 12th grade. And, they take their act on the road, hauling kids to soccer, gymnastics and many field trips both for education and for fun. On top of that are the countless visits to hospitals and clinics for the many appointments to address physical needs.

They will add one more medical condition to the list when Grace arrives.

“Grace was born with Spina Bifida and a club foot, which is probably partially due to the Spina Bifida,” Jean said.

Perhaps, the most dramatic adoption story from a medical standpoint involves Luke, 7, who arrived in December 2011.

“His heart was in horrible shape, and no one would do surgery on him, especially being an orphan,” Jean said. “People in China want to keep their healthy boys. But, if there’s a boy with a disability, they can’t afford the medical attention for the child, so they abandon the child.”

That’s how Luke ended up an orphan. They found out about him from a friend who had a special needs orphanage in China, where Luke was living at the time.

“I saw a picture of a little boy [Luke],” she said. “And, I heard God say, ‘He is your son.’ And, I was in shock. I said, ‘No, God, he’s too young. He’s only 18 months, Lord. Jim and I are older. This can’t be.’”

Then, while they were contemplating adopting Luke, Israeli doctors offered to do surgery on 18 Chinese orphans as a gesture of good will.

Luke was the 18th child selected. But because his heart condition was so serious, he could only have the surgery if he was flown to Israel.

“He got a visa, which is unheard of, and a passport for a Chinese orphan, and a nanny went with him, and he had lifesaving surgery in Israel,” Jean said.

When the two new children arrive in a matter of weeks, the family will have to up-size their vehicle. They currently own a Mercedes Sprinter that seats 17.

“It’s a FedEx truck with windows,” Jim said.

The question is: Will they stop at 16 adopted kids?

“I think we’re done,” Jean said. “But, people say, ‘You always say that … .’ It’s more likely that that’s accurate now. But, God’s in charge, so we’ll see what happens.”

Whether they keep going or stop at 16, Jean has achieved her dream, which unfolds every Sunday at Holy Name, where the family lets its light shine for all parishioners to see — filling an entire row in the pews.

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  • tschraad

    God please bless the work of this wonderful family.

  • AM

    We adopted from China 8 years ago I wish we could afford to do it again, please pray on it for us. We pray all the time and ask the good Lord to grant us another child from China and help us find a way to do it. God bless this family, AnnMarie