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When you check “yes” to special needs in adoption…

I have thought about this post for a few weeks now–mostly as I drive in the mini-van to and from therapies…and many times in a mad dash from house to house to rescue each of my mommy friends who have graciously offered to watch one of my older children so we can go. I have gotten emails from families asking me what made us check “yes” and how “we” knew what and how much “we” could “handle”. (Like all my quotations? Everything is relative…as none of us truly has the grace and strength to do this on our own.) I have often failed at responding in these emails as I would want to…simple because I want to be encouraging and don’t always know how to say it…and because right now…I’m tired. Our social worker was over a couple of weeks ago for our first post-adoption visit. After I told her what life was REALLY like–she encouraged me to be honest on my blog in hopes that it might help others set realistic expectations and be prepared. Our social worker/home study coordinator has older ones; she laughed telling me that even SHE catches herself DREAMING of adoption after reading my posts!!! So funny.

Some days, Richard and I also laugh at we call our “naive-ity” (that is totally not a word by the way)–we have definitely had some “culture shock” at the added craziness in our lives—YET at the same time for us–saying “yes” to special needs was a complete God calling. God always equips who He calls–and He does call us in different ways. Some of us feel the calling prior to the process and we actually “check yes” while others realize their calling when and after they actually bring home their child. I have heard really hard stories of families who adopted and were told their baby was healthy (and that is what they “thought” they were equipt to handle)–and later they learned their lives would forever be radically changed by wheelchairs, walkers, therapy and such. I’ve also heard the opposite–the stories of families expecting special needs, and then much to their surprise–after therapies and being well nourished–the special needs seemed to fade away and there they have a healthy child (the frustration this causes a family on the other end to watch can be frustrating and a battle on many fronts also). Time will tell for our case–as it does for all cases…and just as we are not promised a healthy biological child–anything can also come up in adoption. This post is not to talk you into or out of or scare you with the words special needsit is to encourage you

I want to encourage you to be open to God’s plan for your family. I want to encourage you to not feel quilty if special needs is not something the Lord lays on your heart. I want to encourage you if you get a really hard surprise when you come home…and you feel like this isn’t what you signed up for. I want to encourage you if you are naive and want to save the world (you can’t by the way–and I also believe that God some times uses our naive nature so He can show more of Himself in His provision and being the Great Physician when we feel called but really have no idea what we are truly being called to). I want to encourage you if you thought you knew what you were getting into, and you are just now TIRED–and feeling like you need a break…only a break is no where in your horizon. I want to encourage if the Lord has given you the gift and desire to parent what I will argue is a group of little ones that I believe are HANDS DOWN some of His most special and incredible creations of all. They, my friends, were perfectly and wonderfully made. Our Creator makes no mistakes–in His creation or in His choosing children for families. He can be trusted.

So bare with me…as I do my best to be real–yet at the same time…I want you to see how God’s power is also quite real through the hard parts as you follow Him. I want to share 3 things that I think every family who checks “yes” needs to have in order to be prepared and run this race well. (Also remember–God some times chooses to throw curve balls for His ultimate purpose…I mean, you have gotten one of those before–right? Just as the mommy carrying the baby in her belly has no control of the special needs of her unborn child–there is really not as much control as you might think when adopting–so even if you say you desire a healthy child (who DOESN’T desire this?!) it is also wise to consider what MIGHT BE so you are prepared.) I hope in the process this ALSO answers some of those emails…”how did you KNOW to check special needs for your family?”…”what can we expect?”…”what were some things you wish you had known?” while I’m at it because they can be a little complicated to answer when you are following a God that doesn’t always make sense to our little earthly minds.

1. Before anything else–the most important of all…over being or feeling equipped–and really this is the thing that ultimately only matters: to have a God calling. This is always where you start. The same God who called you to grow your family…is the same one who called you to adopt…and is the same one who created you perfectly with His hands to care for this child…and created this child you will care for possibly all your days on Earth. It doesn’t take long to see how perfectly God places children in families…and how EACH one is a PERFECT fit for the family He places them in. He knew from the beginning of time which child He would place in which family.

(Time out for a moment. For the families reading this that got the hardest curve ball of their life–who realized upon coming home that their child has a life-long, life-altering special need…and for the families reading this that don’t even know a curve ball is ahead for them yet–BUT GOD DOES…it is so important to remember God’s sovereignty and the truth in His word. Over and over and over–declare His truths. Does God want you to be filled with fear? Absolutely not. Perfect love drives out fear. Is God able to equip you to care for your child? Absolutely. Through His strength can you do it? Absolutely. In your weakness-He will be made strong. Will it be hard? Absolutely. Will you be mad, confused, tired, want to quit? This one is hard for me to answer-because I really believe Isaac will be one of those in 5 years you are shocked we ever did therapy–but for many…this is NOT the case. And it is just plain hard. Back to truth. BACK to TRUTH. BACK TO TRUTH. “In this world there will be tribulation, but be of good cheer–I have overcome the world.” Back to truth…”I can do all things through Him who gives me strength”…Back to truth…back to truth…because it will only Him that carries you through. There is really so much more I would want to say to those AMAZING parents that God has anointed with the ability to care for severe special needs–it IS a God calling. And although it may not always feel like it–I believe it is one of the HIGHEST callings any parent could receive. And through tears as I right this thinking of some of these families who have received this calling…can I pretty please be at the gates of heaven with God grabs their shoulders and says, “WELL DONE!!! WELL DONE my good and faithful servant!!!!!!!” Take heart parents with THIS calling. YOU have much to teach us—and we are HONORED to encourage you just a little bit…and to watch you run this race that you minister to US as parents as we watch!)

Ok…dry eyes–finish post this mommy has to do carpool in a minute;) and only baby here will wake up soon.

First and foremost–checking “yes” is a God calling. Richard and I both felt VERY sure the Lord was calling us to check yes, yes and yes. I would encourage families as they are in their home study process to do LOTS of research and pray over every special need they read about that is typical in the country program you are adopting from. This is a time to pray over and ask for PEACE over each one. Listen to the Lord as He calms your heart. Listen to the Lord as you feel uneasy about others. And commit to follow Him no matter what (even through curveballs).

When we got Isaac’s referral–he was 8 months old and not even able to hold his head up. At 10 months he had just started to hold his head up, BUT almost every picture I got of him, he looked like this…(these were taken by moms visiting the orphanage while they were picking up their newly adopted children)
I would stare at these pictures and wonder what in the world we might have ahead of us. Really, we had NO idea. And these pictures of course would get me thinking. But I had to daily give my guesses and assumptions back to the Lord and tell Him I was going to trust Him through it. One thing I did know when I looked at these pictures—he was MY son and I had PEACE.

2. You will need discernment and wisdom. As you pray over which special needs your family will be open to–be realistic: How much can you handle? Make lists of those special needs you felt ultimately the Lord gave you a peace about–and do LOTS of research so you are setting realistic expectations for what your life might be like. We, personally, ended up with a rather lengthly list–we are one of those crazy families. We ended our list with “open to all unknowns” just to cover almost anything else. Richard and I both feel this is our God calling–and because we also see Isaac may very well surprise us in the years ahead–our hearts feel as if this is just the beginning. (I’ll stop there because family and friends read my blog and I don’t want anyone to panic;). It’ll be AWHILE. If what we believe God is calling us to is really God’s calling–then there will be no action on our adoption front for quite awhile.

Be WISE and take your time as you walk through these special needs. FOR EXAMPLE–let’s consider just one special need that is on every adoption list. So lets say you feel a peace about a cleft palatte? That does seem easily correctable with fewer needs for special needs therapy…right? And that is INCREDIBLE you feel called to this special need. Before you check “yes”–talk to other families who have journeyed this road to find out about the different surgeries, severities and according to age–speech therapies and feeding therapies. If you are able, just ask your pediatrician (or a specialist if you are able) what you could expect. Find out how often, at most, you would go to therapies and sit down and look at your calendar–pretend all of the sudden you need to throw in two therapies each week…do you have other children? what childcare is available for them? And then do this for each special need you and your spouse feel open to. Of course there will be curveballs–but the more you are prepared the easier your transition will be.

Some realistic questions to answer for specific special needs:

What care will you need?
How accessible is that care to you?
How many therapies and extra appointments can your current schedule add? How many max might your child need?
What are state-funded programs available for those needs in your area?
What is your insurance coverage for those needs and how much will you need to plan to save or spend after you meet the max in therapies each year?

Once you are home, you will also need the gift of discernment of when to push through sessions or when to even say no to therapies. Remember when you adopt you also have attachment and bonding in process. There will be times when therapy may push attachment back and you have to cancel. You will have to decide what is best for your child and access how therapies effect bonding and which to encourage more at different times. You will know when to chose to slow down physical development for attachment and bonding–and when to tell therapists the session is over because bonding is being compromised. I know this may sound confusing to some of you now pre-adoption–but when you are in a physical therapy session and your child is screaming and he has only been in your arms for a couple of months…picture him staring at you and wondering why a stranger is pulling his arms and legs–WHY AREN’T YOU STOPPING THIS?! And you just stand there and cheer him on…and then a light bulb goes off…you pray for discernment of when to say, “If it’s okay that we end our session early. I think our therapy session needs to be over now. Could you please tell me exercies to do at home this week while I calm him down and reconnect?” And in the back of your mind…you just have to bite the bullet you were only half way through with the session…and all the coordinating it required with other moms helping with your older kids to pull yet another session off…and you are losing one of your few sessions covered by insurance as you leave early. BUT you know it is the right thing to do. Yes, discernment and wisdom you will need!

3. You will need a STRONG support network. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT especially if you have older children. As I pulled out of my children’s school yesterday–I wished that I could invite the world to “Isaac’s Emmy Awards” at our Gotcha Day Ceremony next June;). (Are you laughing at me yet?) So…I pictured myself behind the podium saying my thank you’s. Then…out came the awards. Okay, so I’m not doing a ceremony–but I am SERIOUSLY going to give out trophies just to make me and my precious friends smile. “This award goes to Liz Olson for always taking Frank for me at moments notice…whether it be carpool or nap time so I could go to the doctor…” (because we ALL know that Parker and Laney could hang…but FRANK could NEVER hang and be quiet during a therapy session!) “This next trophy goes to Christy Elphick…who picks up Parker and Laney from school and even some times on Wednesday mornings so we aren’t late for therapy…and she even some times takes ALL THREE kids…and she does this stuff EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.” And wanna hear something crazy about these two award winners? I have only known both of them for just a couple of years! God’s perfect timing in my life!!! Truly, with the ages of my little ones–there is absolutely no way we could have said “yes” without a solid support network and servant, sacrificial friends. And the crazy thing is…I still have like 10 more awards to give out;). SO THANKFUL for our support network.

If you do NOT have this–and you have older children–you really need to consider what you will do for doctor visits, etc. You must have a plan!!! I of course thought I had a brillant plan with Laney and Parker being in school from 8-12 and Frank going 2x a week to preschool. We’d set up ALL our therapies for those two days RIGHT? Um. Wrong. Doctors are not on MY time-table and I have to take the opening they have. Even when it’s on Tuesday from 1-3pm (that is when Christy Elphick has my back!) There are friends that the Lord has provided to HELP US be able to follow the Lord in this process. They have told me, “Andrea, we are not called to adopt right now–but we feel called to support you and help you. We’re in this together.” Just as foster care has respite families…families who adopt internationally (many times with special needs) also need other families called to join them. I AM SO THANKFUL FOR THE FAMILIES WHO HAVE LOVED ISAAC, SUPPORTED HIM, WHO HELP US MORE THAN WE COULD EVER RETURN THE HELP. I must also say to be very careful of setting expectations of any family and friends. I will also say that you will be very surprised at the families that He DOES bring to your family to support you. PRAY for Him to provide. TRUST Him to provide. And when friends tell you to PLEASE ask for help when you need it (although for me it is REALLY hard asking for help)–learn to ask and allow them to fill their calling in this amazing, beautiful way. (I’m totally getting that it takes a village these days).

NOW…THOSE are the things I think you really must have in place to move forward with special needs…and of course if this is the Lord’s will for your family–He will provide. I do want to add on a WOW inspirational note (Are you still reading this Donna?? You know this is going to make you want to adopt;)!) You KNOW I always have to do this…

There is SO, SO, SO much joy with every milestone when you bring home a baby who has “special needs”. Our Isaac has hypotonia making it difficult for him to learn to do normal milestones. He has aversions to food because of his negative eating experiences. He has a huge swollen belly making it difficult for him to do things that his hypotonia is already making harder, He has been classified on a 4 month scale for eating, 6 month for physical (gross motor)…and time will only tell his cognitive delays due to severe malnourishment. I am a realistic but I’m also a dreamer. AND I truly believe HE WILL DO ALL THE THINGS MY OTHER CHILDREN CAN DO. It will require maybe years of work and therapies…but I really believe he will get there. This little guy is a fighter and so determined!

Although his setbacks make our lives a little busier and I’m juggling what feels like a dozen kids instead of 4–there is so much joy in each milestone as it took him longer to get there! Yesterday at feeding therapy, at 13 months he ate a little piece of a rice cracker for the first time without throwing up. I started crying which made the therapist start crying…and I was cheering like a crazy person at the same time! Oh…it was SUCH an amazing moment!!! And THIS I took for granted with my other 3 children. I had no idea what a miracle the little things were–and what a big deal this was. It is SUCH A JOY to experience the little milestones…and the BIG milestones like sitting by himself…OH MY–I just wanted to have a party for!!! While we waited in the waiting room yesterday–Isaac actually stood by himself holding on to a side table and he was holding himself so perfectly that I even had time to snag a picture. Oh if you could have HEARD my squeaky voice cheering for him (the secretaries and waiting room people had to have thought I was a nut!) And he is so proud…

AND FINALLY…(Really…he can’t pull up YET…those first two pictures were just after his knees gave way and he fell—BUT he was STILL holding on!!!! And he is able to balance standing now for a few seconds…some times up to 30 seconds!!! He is getting there!!! This is something our international pediatrician said might never happen–and he is just blowing us away by what he is proving us all wrong!)

Our boy is SUCH a miracle ALREADY!!! I told Richard that this was a good “start” for us as I really think Isaac is going to miraculously exceed everything we expected upon bringing him home. All the while I think he may run circles one day around my older children–my heart is still so broken for those children who desperately need homes and families to care for them, to tell them THEY CAN DO IT and to love them whole heartedly. I can’t help but think so often of the little 5 year old girl at Bethzatha who had been there for 4 years…just laying there…waiting. When I sang to her–her eyes would move quickly all over the place, and I knew she heard me. I BELIEVE THE LORD WANTS THESE CHILDREN IN FAMILIES–AND I BELIEVE THERE IS A FAMILY SOME WHERE HE IS CALLING. I came home and tried my best to paint her story for Richard–and as I wiped away tears–I was filled with joy that my husband and I share the same heart and desire for what our future might hold for our family. Whether you follow Him in this calling because you are called in this most high way OR you get that curve ball…you are given an unexplainable JOY as you see your little one take baby steps in milestones. I feel like I’m beginning to “get it” in a completely new and deeper way–and I’m thankful for the gift you receive in learning more what life is REALLY all about when you follow the Lord NO MATTER WHAT. And when we, Lord willing, graduate from therapy–I hope to be able to give the gift my friends have given me in serving moms who have children with special needs. I have a NEW RESPECT and awe of what they do—and truly, it would be an honor to serve and support them in any way that I can. This too…is a very special, overlooked, needed calling. Truly, we are all in this together…and what an opportunity to love and serve one another on this earth!

Alison - September 8, 2010 - 3:50 pm

Oh, Andrea…this post is so beautiful! Love your heart! Love that God called ya’ll to check yes to special needs…and I LOVE the miracles that HE is performing in Isaac’s life! Amazing!!

Tiffany - September 8, 2010 - 5:23 pm

I am just sobbing. I cannot go into all of the details, but my husband and I just recently changed our request from a healthy infant to a child with special needs child. We actually know who he is, as we found him on the waiting child list, and now we wait for all the details to get worked out to get to him. Thank you so much for posting this.

Mandy - September 8, 2010 - 5:33 pm

Love your heart. God knew this was the post I needed today, as we just checked “yes” to our special needs babe on our application yesterday. Thanks for sharing. I LOVE the look Isaac has on his face looking at you cheering him on!

julie@Flitterbugs - September 8, 2010 - 6:18 pm

Love this post.My youngest brother, who is 13, has major, major special needs. When he was born, people…even wonderful people told my parents he would make the other 4 of us kids “angry and bitter for life” and “destroy us”. Hum. Guess it has, because all of my sisters and brothers, and now their spouces, are not only NOT afraid to have a special needs child, but even want and LONG to adopt them! God gives a strength and love that connot be described! Thank you for sharing your heart!

Makenzie - September 8, 2010 - 6:43 pm

Wow… those pictures really touched my heart! I didn’t even recognize him! It is amazing how love can change a child. Just look at the light in his eyes in those last pictures! I think he just needed to be home with his family to bring out his true joyful spirit. 🙂

Rebecca Maas - September 8, 2010 - 7:18 pm

Thank you for such a wonderfully written post about Special Needs adoption. We have three adopted children with special needs which we were aware of prior to the adoption. You are right on and I believe that God equipped my husband and I to parent children with special needs. The very first picture of your son looks just like my Jacob’s referral picture. He has now been diagnoised with Quadriplegia Cerebral Palsy.

Elizabeth Olson - September 8, 2010 - 8:15 pm

I was totally tearing up after reading the rice cracker part!! YAY for your miracle boy!!! Love how you poured your honest, heartfelt wisdom into this post! So good to read, even for those of us not checking “yes” or “no” on an home study right now. So important to remember that God only gives us as much as He KNOWS we can handle! And by the way, Kylie has a huge crush! She kept looking at the extra carseat all day pointing (trying to say “Frank”) and laughing 🙂 He’s such a sweet boy! Thanks for letting us “adopt” him from time to time!!!

Mary Broussard - September 8, 2010 - 9:04 pm

Andrea, Thank you for this thoughtful reflection on special needs adoption. I just wrote a blog on Monday called The Unloveable on this topic from the perspective of a family that is trying to discern how we are called to adopt. Your post is SO helpful with those tangible action steps to wisely determine what special needs your family is being called to. I truly appreciate learning for those who have gone ahead of us! PS Sewing more pads tonight 😉

Shannon - September 8, 2010 - 9:15 pm

great POST!! And yes. COntinue writing like this! You will be amazed at the HUGE strides that happen all at once. And the personality changes that coincide with physical strength. It is literally… AMAZING to witness! Hugs to you all

Staci - September 8, 2010 - 10:14 pm

Beautiful post. What an exciting week of developmental progress! I share in your joy and thank God for using you to help alleviate others’ fears of raising children with special needs. You are right on when you share that watching a child with developmental delays achieve baby steps towards milestones really makes us appreciate all the things we take for granted with our “typical” children. It is nice to be “made” to take time to savor the small joys and gains in the midst of our busy world…

amy beyer - September 8, 2010 - 10:39 pm

your vulnerability makes you beautiful. love you!

Tiffany - September 9, 2010 - 8:44 am

Such a beautiful post Andrea…wiping tears as I type. You have so wonderfully presented an honesty picture…but never forgetting that God will give us the grace we need in the midst of the circumstance. I look at those early pictures of Isaac…I have never seen them…they are gut-wrenching…and then I look at him now – that sparkle in his eye. The transformation is amazing…truly amazing. Glad we can all pick in as your family travels this journey. Adoption has changed us…certainly…I think we finally “get it.”

Dawn - September 9, 2010 - 12:15 pm

I LOVE your post! AMEN!!!!! I think in the beginning we were pretty open, but now even more so. We have taken in special needs- which have healed. Some more than others. Thank you LORD we did not miss our children!!! It may be hard, but soooo worth everything!

Lisa - September 10, 2010 - 12:21 am

Andrea,I feel the same way! I think that is why GOD sent me to work with special needs children in the schools. I love them and it is what he has called me to do for now. Love reading this and your obedience to follow GOD has been a blessing to me. Let me know if I can help you in any way. I work(PT)with all kinds of God’s children. Lisa Wilson

Megan - September 14, 2010 - 12:41 am

Thank you for your heartfelt honesty! Beautiful!

Karly - December 30, 2010 - 12:37 am

Hi Andrea

BEAUTIFUL post! Do you mind if I copy some of your post here? Of course, I would give you full credit and link back to your blog. Several people have asked us how adopting families “pick” what kind of special needs they are willing to consider. You very eloquently explain the information and emotions behind it I think. Thanks for considering it and blessings either way! 🙂