Ruby Faith Cleveland’s new room in Georgia is ready for her. On one side of the wall is a board with her name in pink letters. Another board reads, “Sweet girl, you are so loved.” The corner of her little bed is heaped with baby dolls and toys.
The 3-year-old girl from China was set to be welcomed into her new home on Feb. 21, ending an arduous two-year adoption process for parents Ivy and Noah Cleveland. Then the deadly coronavirus outbreak put a sudden stop to the family’s plan to travel to China and bring Ruby home.
The Cleveland family, like many others in the US who had planned to fly to China and complete the adoption process in January and February, are now grappling with the heartbreak of not knowing how long it will be until they meet their new sons and daughters and bring them home.
“Just knowing that you have a child out in the world that you can’t get to," Ivy Cleveland, 30, told BuzzFeed News. "It’s devastating,”
The Clevelands began the adoption process more than two years ago, wading through stacks of paperwork and opening up their lives to scrutiny. But Ruby was finally going to be officially theirs on Feb. 11.
The couple booked their tickets to China as well as Ruby’s ticket back to the US. They were set to fly to China on Feb. 7 and had made hotel arrangements for a 14-day stay. The Clevelands, who do Christian ministry work full-time, had taken the entire month of February off. Ivy Cleveland, a stay-at-home mom and founder of She Is Ministries, had lined up six babysitters to take care of their two other children while the couple was away.
She had scheduled doctors’ appointments for Ruby and had packed her a suitcase scribbled with the names of all the people who had donated to help fund the adoption. Cleveland also ordered a little bear that was customized with Ruby’s name and her official adoption date of Feb. 11.
Then last week, the couple’s adoption agency sent them an email stating that all adoption-related travel was being postponed until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Cleveland canceled the order for Ruby’s bear because Feb. 11 is no longer her adoption date.
“For us, that is the biggest heartbreak,” Cleveland said. “Nobody can give us an answer as to when we will be able to go get her.”
Several adoption agencies in the US are now dealing with the same uncertainty and limited information about adoption-related travel.
“No one really knows how much longer it’s going to be an active virus,” said Susan Cox with the faith-based adoption agency Holt International. “There’s so much that’s unknown about it.”
Cox said that her adoption agency had 15 families who were immediately affected by the outbreak, including 10 who had already purchased their tickets to China and were ready to fly out. While families were disappointed and concerned for their soon-to-be-adopted children in China, Cox said they were also understanding and respectful of the protocols in place.
There are currently more than 28,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally, almost all of which are in China. The outbreak has so far claimed more than 500 lives within China with two additional deaths reported in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
The US, with 12 confirmed cases of the virus, declared the coronavirus a nationwide public health emergency last week. The State Department has warned Americans not to travel to China and has barred most foreign nationals returning from China from entering the US.
Lynn Huang, the director of operations at Living Hope adoption agency, estimated that the adoption process for families would be delayed by at least two months. Because of the outbreak, transportation of the children from their respective orphanages to the provincial civil affairs department in China where adoptions are finalized would be a risk, she said.
During a recent teleconference with adoption agencies that have China programs, the State Department assured them that adoptions are a high priority for their foreign embassies, both Cox and Huang said.
Huang said her agency has two families whose adoption process has been immediately affected by the outbreak.
One of their clients is Heidi Redmond, who along with her husband and their four children was set to leave for China on Jan. 31. They were excited to meet the newest member of their family: a 21-month-old boy in China whom they have named Kai, which means ocean.
“I thought it was extremely appropriate since we were going to cross the ocean to get to him,” Redmond, a registered nurse and stay-at-home mom in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, told BuzzFeed News.
But a week before they were to fly out for the 15-day trip to China, the family had to cancel all six tickets (which were refunded) as news of the outbreak became progressively worse.
“We were supposed to meet [Kai] on Feb. 3. He should have already been in our arms right now,” Redmond said.
Like Ivy Cleveland, Redmond too has everything set up for the family’s fifth child. They had purchased little musical toys for him because they were told that Kai loves to dance and responds well to music.
“We have blankets ready to go,” Redmond said. “We have coats and clothes ready to go. We just need a little boy to fill them.”
The indefinite delay and uncertainty has been difficult for the family, who started the adoption process in November 2018.
“We don’t know if we’re leaving in two weeks or two months or six months,” Redmond said. “Our hearts are certainly with China and everything the people there are going through. But of course our hearts, on a more personal level, are with this little boy who is ready for his family and now has to wait.”
The uncertainty has also been hard for Thomas Mitchell, his wife, and their three daughters who have never met or spoken to John Tao Mitchell, a 3-and-a-half-year-old Chinese boy with special needs who will soon be the sixth member of their family.
The Mitchells had just received their travel approval in January and were planning to fly from Tennessee to China in three weeks' time. Then news of the outbreak surfaced and a few days later they were told to bring their travel plans to a halt.
“It’s been sad for my wife and I and our daughters in that you really just have no control whatsoever,” said Thomas Mitchell, 41. “We are just in a waiting game.”
The family is now making do with a few photos and a couple of 30-second videos of the little boy that were sent to them over the past year.
Mitchell also said he understands there may be a significant wait until they can complete the adoption process in China and get John home.
“If that’s the case, we are going to do whatever it takes and wait as long as it’s necessary to bring him home," he said.
When Heidi Redmond broke the news to her two oldest children that they would have to wait a little longer to meet their new sibling, she said there were lots of tears.
“But when you put the emotions and the ups and downs aside, the reality is that he is worth the wait, whether it’s a two-day wait, a two-week wait, or two months,” Redmond said. “As long as we get him home, that’s what matters.”
Ivy Cleveland only gets a new photo or video of Ruby every nine months. Her three most recent photos are screensavers on the family’s phones. She shows them frequently to her three young sons, who were excited to meet their sister. “And now they’re like, 'Are we even getting her anymore?’” said Cleveland.
Cleveland is waiting to do simple things for Ruby, like giving her a hug. The child was abandoned in a hospital in China when she was 6 months old and has been in an orphanage her whole life, Cleveland said.
“Ruby has never experienced the love of a mother,” Cleveland said. “So that has been my biggest anticipation...to be able to give her that.”