Bob and Sandy Close stand with daughter Emma on her Baptism day in May in St. Mary Church, Barnegat. Photo courtesy of the Close family
Bob and Sandy Close stand with daughter Emma on her Baptism day in May in St. Mary Church, Barnegat. Photo courtesy of the Close family

Sandy Close and her husband Bob, members of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, have two biological children and five adopted children (the oldest four are adults and two daughters are in high school). Their most recent addition is an 11-year-old girl, Emma, now a third-grader in St. Mary Academy. The Monitor shares Sandy’s reflection on their unique adoption experience, and how it has shaped their lives.

Bob and I have been married for 31 years. I have always wanted a large family, and from an early age I also knew that I would one day adopt a child. 

There are so many children in this world without families. In Emma's province in China, there were over 100 orphanages. It is not common for children to be adopted domestically in China, so many children languish in orphanages just waiting for a family from another country to adopt them.

It is truly heartbreaking when you learn about the thousands of children who will never find their forever families. Every child deserves to be loved and cherished and know the love of a family. They deserve parents to give them unconditional love and be there to support them and help them reach their full potential.  I was blessed to have incredible, loving parents and grow up knowing I was loved.  I have a difficult time sleeping at night knowing that many children will never know that love, and they may be living in conditions that many of us could not even imagine.  

Our decision to adopt from China came during my time in graduate school while working on my social work degree.  I did a yearlong project on the "One Child Policy" that was in effect at that time in China. This policy, which was created by the Chinese government, limited each family to only being able to have one child. Second children were often abandoned at birth. Families preferred boys, so even healthy baby girls were abandoned, or worse. I knew at that time that we would someday adopt a little girl from China.

We adopted Emma from China in November of 2019, just before COVID shut everything down across the world. We were able to travel to China to complete the adoption only a few months before China closed its borders to all international travel and adoption, which meant adoptions were halted, and as of today, they have still not resumed.  Emma would still be there waiting for a family if we were not blessed enough to get that travel date when we did. It was truly a miracle for us as we had been waiting for many months up to that point to travel to pick her up.

I will never forget the first time we met, here was this tiny little 32-pound, seven-year-old girl, sitting on a bench by herself in a large office.  She was so nervous but so very brave.  She did not know what her new life would look like, but she knew she wanted a Mommy and Daddy and was hoping for a better life than the one she knew at the orphanage.  

Although she did not receive an education in China and did not start school here in the U.S. until she was almost eight years old, she learned to speak English fluently after only being home for four months and has continued to amaze us in her ability to learn and catch up to her peers.

We are so blessed to be part of the St. Mary family, and for Emma to receive her Catholic education there.  We have been so impressed with St. Mary Academy, and Ms. Coyne, the principal, is absolutely the best. She cares so much about each student and has created such a positive environment for learning and growing within the school. Emma loves going to school every day and has learned so much already. … She especially loves learning about God and Jesus and she was excited recently when we celebrated her Baptism. … COVID delayed Emma's baptism for a while, but we were finally able to celebrate this special day with her at St. Mary Church in Barnegat and we were all so happy to be part of such a beautiful ceremony …

Emma is especially excited to know Bishop O’Connell because they have something in common. Emma had to have her right lower leg amputated shortly after being adopted, due to a medical condition called fibular hemimelia, that she was born with. The fibula in her right lower leg and her foot did not form properly while she was developing in the womb. She learned to walk on a prosthetic leg only a few weeks after the surgery and at five weeks post-op she was able to skip! She has showed us that she can overcome any obstacle and is always determined to try new things. We will continue to encourage Emma to reach for all of her dreams, and that this disability will not slow her down.

She is a little bit anxious about what others will think about her leg, so when she learned that Bishop O'Connell also had a prosthetic leg, she realized that she was not alone and was so excited when he shared his story and photos with her. They are framed and Emma is proud to tell people the story about what they have in common. 

Emma was also able to meet Bishop O'Connell's brother [Daniel O’Connell] who came to visit her at her school. That was another very exciting day for her, and she was so excited to tell me all about it when I picked her up from school. We are so grateful for all that Bishop O'Connell has done for our daughter, he helped her feel better about herself and showed her that being different does not have to slow her down or limit what she can accomplish in life.