It was St. Patrick’s Day 2010, and Susan Gould was in China for the first time in her life, sitting in an austere administrative office outside of Guangzhou. Beside her sat Patrick, her partner since the mid-1990s. International travel was nothing new to the couple, veterans of far-flung excursions to Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. But this was their biggest adventure of all: they were about to meet their child for the first time.
The couple had been waiting for this moment ever since they had placed their names on a list of interested adoptive parents in 2006. After a couple wearying years spent mucking through the ever-changing and byzantine rules of the international adoption complex, they had changed tactics, offering themselves as candidates for a special needs child. In late 2009, notice came that a little Chinese girl born the year before would be available in six months. The couple immediately began preparations to travel overseas.
As they got organized, Gould, an account executive in Ad Sales, received a surprise: Viacom offered an adoption assistance program, offering up to $10,000 to offset the gigantic cost of bringing a non-biological child into their family.
“I was so grateful when I found out about this program,” Gould, who has been with the company for 23 years, said. “When you have a natural birth, insurance will typically cover almost the entire cost. With adoption, they don’t cover anything.”
Administration of the award was streamlined and simple. Among other expenses, it helped the couple cover cost of traveling from New York to the clanging, chaotic streets of Guangzhou.
Which is how they came to that administrative office where their future daughter had lived for most of her life. An office worker explained that before meeting the little girl, they would have to give her a name. Thinking they would have time with her before making this major decision, the stunned couple huddled and agreed on the lyrical Ava Shai. A few minutes later, a nanny walked in holding the tiny child whom they had so far seen only in pictures.
Starting with two hectic and wonderful weeks in China, Gould had the next three months to bond with and dote on Ava. The family needed every day of it: distressed from 22 months of cold institutional life, Ava had rickets and giardia and had been medically categorized as “failure to thrive.” She weighed only 17 pounds and had never eaten solid foods or seen a bathtub. She couldn’t speak in her native tongue. In a not uncommon reaction for newly adopted toddlers, she shut down emotionally the moment the staff placed her in her mother’s arms.
But Ava could walk and, as Gould soon discovered when she inadvertently tickled the little one, she could laugh. Once they arrived home in Manhattan, the new parents immersed Ava in speech therapy and had her medical issues attended to.
“The time off that Viacom allowed made me feel really supported,” Gould said. “They treated me just as they would a mother having a natural birth, and they recognized how important that time was for us. Those three months really changed Ava’s trajectory.”
Today, Ava is a joyous, healthy seven-year-old who loves to skate and ski and dance, who takes Chinese and piano and loves to tell jokes. She has so much energy that she hardly sleeps. The kindergartener’s principal passion, however, may be art, which her parents used to help her communicate when she was young and still learning to speak.
Gould recommends Viacom’s adoption assistance program to anyone who is considering it. “It’s the best thing you’ll ever do,” she said. “As far as this company goes, they treat adoptions and natural births as being equally important. This speaks to me about Viacom being a place that’s inclusive of different lifestyle choices, and it’s not just rhetoric, its’ true.”