Adoption Family

Tracy and Todd Darland and their family were at Lake Sara recently, celebrating a reunion. They were one of seven families that adopted little girls from China at exactly the same time a little over 11 years ago. Front row (left to right) are Elizabeth, Henry, Gus and Leo. Back row are Thomas, Audrey, Todd and Tracy.

By Steve Raymond

News Report Staff

It’s been more than 20 years since Tracy (Wegman) Darland made a memorable business trip to China.

It wasn’t her first visit. In fact, while working in Chicago for a product development firm, owned by Bob and Karen Wolters, of Effingham, she made numerous flights to the large Asian country.

But during this 1996 trip, Tracy saw something that she still remembers with perfect clarity.

“I was riding in a car on my way to a meeting,” she recalled. “We were on a busy, six-lane highway. Then I saw a little girl sitting in the median of this highway. She couldn’t have been more than two or three years old. She was all by herself and she was crying.”

How did she get there? Had she wandered away? Had she been abandoned? There was no way for Tracy to know.

“But I noticed her and that stuck with me,” Tracy noted.

Now fast forward 10 years.

Tracy’s husband, Todd, was on his way to work one morning. He was listening to the radio when he heard an advertisement for Adoptions of Indiana. The business was promoting an informational meeting for those interested in adopting an international child.

The couple already had two children, but adoption was something they had discussed even before they were married. And both were receptive to the idea.

Todd told Tracy about the meeting and she decided to attend.

“That actually peaked our interest even more,” Tracy admitted. “I learned about the process of adopting internationally. They explained how that process was different for every country.”

That proved to be the final “nudge” Tracy and Todd needed. Soon after, they began that adoption process. And two years later – after all the required home studies, background checks and paperwork were completed and approved — they brought home their daughter; a 14-month-old little girl from China.

Tracy is the daughter of Tom and Connie Wegman, now of Effingham and formerly of Teutopolis. She moved here when she was just one when her father took a job at Stevens Industries in T-Town. She graduated from St. Anthony High School in 1987 and then from Illinois State University.

Todd was born and raised in Michigan. They met while both were living and working in downtown Chicago.

“At that time, both of our jobs required us to travel to Asia quite a bit,” Tracy said. “We had just started dating when I saw that little girl sitting on the highway in China. Before we were married, we talked about raising a family and the possibility of adopting.”

After the information meeting, Todd and Tracy informed Adoptions of Indiana they were interested in pursuing a child from China.

“China has very clear-cut procedures,” Tracy explained. “As far as the steps to take and the paperwork needed, they are good to work with. It’s very predictable.”

Adoptions of Indiana partner with Adoption Associates, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, for international adoptions. The Michigan firm conducted a home study and determined the Darland home “was a healthy, stable environment for a child to be adopted into.”

That report was sent to China, assuring the Chinese government this home would be a good one for a child.

The next six months was spent gathering information and completing the mountain of paperwork required. Once that was completed, the wait began. For nearly 18 months, Todd and Tracy, plus their two children at the time – Audrey and Thomas – waited to hear if they had been approved.

“It was frustrating,” Tracy said. “The likelihood was high that we would be approved and that it would be a girl. But we didn’t know that for sure. It was totally out of our control. We wanted to be matched with a child and bring her home. We just had to remember that everything works out according to God’s will.”

In February 2007, the notification they had been waiting for came through. They had been approved and would receive a packet of information within a few days.

“There was excitement, elation and relief,” Todd recalled. “Audrey and Thomas ran around the house screaming. They were excited about seeing their little sister. And we were all anxious to get a photo of her.”

Tracy and Todd traveled to Guangzhou, China. It is also known as Canton. It is a large city of 13.5 million, located in the southern portion of the country along the Pearl River.

The day after they arrived, they were introduced to Zi Kang Nan, their new 14-month-old daughter. In Chinese, her name meant “healthy southern tree.” Todd and Tracy named her Elizabeth.

“She was a robust, healthy little girl,” Todd said.

The couple stayed in China for two weeks as mom, dad and Elizabeth got accustomed to each other.

“She responded to us quickly,” Todd remembered. “Obviously, we were strangers at first. We smelled different and we talked different. She was quiet and was probably wondering ‘What’s going on?’

“We had a great time with her,” Todd added. “One night when we were giving her a bath, you could see she was starting to have fun. By the time we left for home, we were feeling like a family.”

Elizabeth was greeted by lots of hugs when Todd and Tracy returned to Indianapolis. There were the normal challenges any family faces when a new sibling becomes a part of that family. There was also the time required to begin the bonding process.

“All that happened quickly,” Tracy noted. “She wasn’t talking yet, but she picked up English liked she had heard it since birth. It was amazing.”

Today, Elizabeth is 12 years old and will enter the seventh grade at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Carmel, Indiana. Her favorite sport is lacrosse, but she also enjoys water skiing and snow skiing. She is an honor student, an avid reader and hopes to be either a doctor or engineer.

Todd and Tracy now have 6 children – Audrey, 16; Thomas, 15; Elizabeth, 12; Gus, 10; Henry, 6; and Leo, 4. Leo is also adopted. Tracy is a stay-at-home mom and Todd handles marketing for a company in Indianapolis. The family resides in Carmel.

 

The rest of the story

When Todd and Tracy were in the process of adopting Elizabeth, there were six other families – all from Michigan — working with Adoption Associates to adopt a Chinese girl at the exact same time.

These families were introduced to each other and have become friends. They even flew to China together and each brought home a new daughter. Four of the little girls were from the same orphanage, while the other three were from a different orphanage.

Beginning that very first summer 11 years ago, they have held a reunion the third weekend in June each year. Through the years, they have camped in both Michigan and Indiana, rented a large home and even spent the weekend at Todd and Tracy’s home one year.

This year, they all came to Lake Sara and stayed in Tom and Connie Wegman’s home. They enjoyed the nice accommodations, plus all the fun on the lake, this past weekend.

“It was such a significant experience going through all that together,” Todd said. “Through that, we all found a common bond. Tracy and the moms got right tight real quick. The dads went into social mode, but the moms kicked into mom mode.”

“They all live near each other,” Tracy added. “If any of them come through Indiana, they stop by to see us. It might be for a few hours or for a night. We’re just good friends.”

The seven Chinese girls are more like sisters than just friends.

“All seven of the girls were born within four months of each other,” Tracy explained. “These Chinese girls have a special bond.”

“They’re like family to me,” Elizabeth admitted. “We stay in touch throughout the year. We text every day. And we love seeing each other.”