When one couple adopted a little girl, they could not have been happier. To see her flourish in their home was one of the biggest rewards imaginable. But when they discovered an old photograph of the little girl, they had to question whether it was their daughter at all.
Laura and Mark Tatum were high school sweethearts. Over the years, their relationship flourished until they finally became man and wife. And, eventually, they decided they were ready to start a family.
However, rather than going down the conventional route of conceiving, the Tatums decided to do things a little differently. They started by adopting a little boy called Jay from the U.S.
However, not long after they welcomed Jay, their local church in Lubbock, Texas, ran a campaign to help people in Thailand. As a result, the couple started weighing up the option of an international adoption. And, before long, they were starting proceedings to bring a child home from the Southeast Asian country.
Then, in late summer 2015, the couple discovered they’d been put on a waiting list until agencies could find them a child. However, they were told it would be close to a year before they would have a match. So, for now, the family would have to wait.
Then, after what must have felt like a lifetime, the Tatums received the news they had been waiting for. In March 2016 an adoption agency phoned Laura to say they’d found a girl who could be perfect for them. Furthermore, the agency had pictures to show them.
The family couldn’t wait to see the images. And when they did, to them, their future daughter appeared perfect. “Her eyes are big, round, and dark brown,” Laura wrote on her blog. “Her skin reflects her Thai heritage. She has the cutest ten fingers and ten toes [and] she looks very healthy and chunky.”
Over the following months, these kind of emails became the only connection the Tatums had with their daughter, Malea. Every three or four months they would receive updated photographs of their little girl. And they cherished every one.
In fact, these images kept Laura and Mark going until they were finally able to collect Malea in February 2017. That month, the family – including Jay – traveled to Thailand to finally meet their new addition in person.
When they arrived in Thailand, the Tatums decided to film everything. Their hope was that their little girl could one day watch their journey back. And the footage they captured showed the first tender moments they met their new baby.
Later that month, the couple flew their two children back to the U.S. And it didn’t take long for Malea to settle into her new life. “She has started to find her role in our family,” Laura said in a YouTube video filmed two and a half weeks after they got home. “To say that she is thriving is an understatement.”
In fact, it was a pleasant surprise to the Tatums that 19-month-old Malea didn’t seem to mourn her old life. As a result, it was easy for her parents to push her time at the orphanage to the back of their minds. But in May 2017, something happened to make it all come flooding back.
In a video on her YouTube channel, Laura revealed the adoption agency had sent some unexpected pictures of Malea. The images were from the days before the Tatums met her in Thailand. However, she was simply unrecognizable in them.
Laura titled the emotional video, in which she was visibly upset, “That’s not my daughter!!” She went on to explain how she and Mark received regular pictures of Malea before finalizing the adoption. At the time they “lived and breathed” them, but they had come to view them in a different light.
“You don’t know your kid’s personality when you’re looking at these pictures,” she explains in the video. “You’ve never met your kid. But you look at them and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re so adorable.’”
“Now that I know her spirit and her personality and the joy that she has, I look at these pictures and I… I just see sadness in her eyes,” a tearful Laura adds. “Our daughter’s spirit wasn’t able to come out in that environment.”
To explain what she means, Laura shows the final batch of images from the orphanage to her audience. In them, there’s no denying that Malea looks far from happy and slightly withdrawn. “I look at these pictures and my heart breaks,” her adoptive mom admits.
“I had this moment with Jay,” Laura then recalls. “We were looking at a picture. It was one of the first few days he was with us. Their eyes… the eyes of an orphan, that’s what I see. The eyes of an orphan that needs a mommy and a daddy.”
“Malea’s sleeping right now. When she gets up I just want to hold her extra tight and love on her extra tight,” she reveals. “And look at her beautiful eyes – they have joy in them now. In a few months, I can’t even imagine the amount of joy that’s going to be in her eyes.”
So although they were upsetting, the images confirmed Laura had done the right thing by adopting Malea. “If you’re thinking about adoption… please continue to pursue that,” she urges her followers. “You could bring a kid from this,” she adds, while showing the images of Malea, “to the little girl we see dancing around in our living room.”