Tavis and Tiffany met in student ministry classes. They pretty much always knew, even before they were married, that they would want to adopt someday. Tiffany had been on multiple mission trips to Brazil and Tavis had spent significant time overseas in places like Tanzania and Kenya. They both had an unfiltered glimpse at what life is like for some of the orphans in other countries. Once they were married and had three children (Ian, Nate, and Clara) they knew they were done with pregnancies, but their family wasn’t complete. They were ready to adopt! They weren’t sure where they were adopting from but they were really hoping for a sister for Clara so that helped determine some of their options. Tiffany explains “When you adopt your agency will literally give you a sheet with little boxes on it and it’s a checklist and they tell you to check what medical issues you are willing to deal with, and that is a very sobering thing to ask what are we willing for God to give us?. You don’t normally get to make that choice. But for us, we already had a child with a bleeding disorder very similar to hemophilia, it’s called type 3 von Willebrand disease. It’s very severe and demands a lot of care. Clara was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and it was so bad that we almost lost her.” Since they were juggling two serious medical conditions with their own children they looked at the list from the adoption agency and they checked nothing. They considered it to be irresponsible to even try to take on more at that time.
I asked Tiffany why they chose to adopt from the Democratic Republic of Congo and she explained that the adoption laws are constantly changing as some countries open and close and the guidelines are very inconsistent. Currently, you can’t even adopt from Congo! So when they were ready to adopt she said “We looked at all the options and at the time it looked like we had tons of different countries to choose from, but once you factor in your financial status and then how many children you already have and if you have a request for gender or age it narrowed it down to basically two options for us.” The two options were Ethiopia or Congo and at that point, it was basically the flip of a coin, but they looked at Congo and the conditions for the orphans were so terrible they were moved with compassion. The cost of getting their child home was an immense amount of money. Tavis is an administrative pastor and Tiffany is a full-time homeschooling mom so just the financial aspects alone were going to take a miracle! Then they watched as God performed miracle after miracle. One time they turned in a significant payment (I won’t give exact details but we are talking thousands of dollars) and they thought they would have months before the next payment was due but they got a call two days later saying “We have a name for you but we can’t give it to you unless you can make the next payment and if you can’t then we have to move on and give her to somebody else.” They immediately knew they wanted that little girl but they didn’t have the money! The Lord provided though, and within a day the money was donated for them to give the payment in full! Tiffany told many stories like this about how the money came in and they received confirmation after confirmation that the timing was right and that they were the family this little girl needed and that she was meant to be their daughter!
The day they met their daughter (Livy) they were standing in the Cincinnati airport. There were about 5 liaisons each holding the hand of a Congolese child. One of the liaisons called out “McNair” and then they just handed her over. After all the paperwork and hoops that they jumped through it was that quick! They signed a piece of paper saying they got her and that was it!
After everything they had been through in the adoption process, they thought the worst was behind them, but they were about to find out that this was only the beginning of a very challenging lesson in patience and trust.
One of the first things they did was bring Livy to a clinic for testing only to find out that she was malnourished, had scabies, giardia, and tuberculosis and these things cannot even be treated at the same time. The medication used to treat tuberculosis will make the giardia worse. So you have to treat the giardia first before you can take out the tuberculosis and the tuberculosis treatment is a 9 month treatment. They had to give Livy crushed pills multiple times a day every day for 9 months and if you miss a day you have to start all over. On top of all the medical issues they were dealing with, there were the behavioral issues. Livy was lashing out in a physical and harmful way. It’s normal for there to be attachment issues with adoption but this was a special case. Livy was three years old at the time and still not making any strides in communication. Not only has Tiffany done extensive research and training for international adoption but they also have many friends who have adopted from 3rd world countries so she knew what to expect. The other children she had observed had caught on to at least some of the English language much quicker. Something was not right here.
At Livy’s doctors visits they had a translator for her and he couldn’t understand anything she said. He said she was talking gibberish. Six months into the adoption the behavior was improving but the language still didn’t come. Tiffany would call her name twenty times with no response. She turned to Tavis and said, “She is either the most disobedient child in the world, or she can’t hear.” They took her to get a hearing test and that’s when she was diagnosed with severe hearing loss. They began speech therapy with little progress. They worked on the word carrot for weeks and got nowhere. Her therapist had the audacity to say she thought that Livy had a “loose screw”. They knew their daughter was intelligent and that she deserved better so they did everything in their power to advocate for her. Over time this would mean fighting insurance to get her a cochlear implant and finding a therapist that would actually help Livy instead of making excuses for her lack of progress. Tiffany describes how challenging that season was “At this point, Livy had been part of our family for almost 2 years and still only had a handful of words. We had never had a conversation with her about her adoption or Congo because she couldn’t understand us nor could she tell us anything. It was a DIFFICULT two years. We knew we had to do whatever it would take to help her.”
That was when they learned about Ohio Valley Voices school for the deaf (OVV). They took a tour and left both excited and disheartened. It was amazing to see deaf children speaking but the school was 45 miles away and she would need to go every weekday. Even then the conversation on their ride home that day wasn’t whether or not they would bring her to the school but how.
The one thing that they were concerned about going to the school was that it made the bonding process that much more difficult, but at the end of the day they looked at the overall goal which was that this child would have the gift of knowing Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. This is when Tiffany can barely get the words out through her tears she said: “so we sacrifice four years of bonding to be able to communicate with her that we love her and that she has a Lord and savior that loves her”. They knew what they had to do.
The first year Livy attended OVV Tiffany would bring the whole family everyday and homeschooled the other three children in the conference room at the school.
During her first few months at OVV Livy experienced an explosion of vocabulary and learned hundreds of new words! When Livy would learn a new concept, her teacher would run her down to the conference room so she could show them.
The next year they sold one of their cars to get a more fuel-efficient vehicle and drove to the school twice a day. Over the four years that they were there their family spent approximately 1,605 hours on the road.
“It was all worth it” Tiffany says and adds, “A couple of years after Livy started school, I was tucking her into bed and she started telling me about memories from Congo, things I had never heard before. She told how the mamas would carry baskets on their heads and that once, some bricks had fallen on her. She has some scarring on her arms, feet, and legs that we think might have been from this. I walked out of her room that night with tears rolling down my face. We had waited 4 years to hear those things.”
A week ago Livy graduated from Ohio Valley Voices and can now join her brothers and sister and experience homeschooling. There has been a lot to celebrate in the McNair home as this next chapter begins.
On paper Tiffany and Tavis requested a child without any special medical needs, but God saw through to their hearts and knew that they were the perfect fit for Livy and that she was meant to be a McNair. The puzzle pieces are all coming together and what a beautiful picture is being revealed.