When we started our journey to become parents in the autumn of 2000 we were like a lot of first time adoptive parents (back then). We requested an healthy infant, as young as possible. No special needs. I couldn't handle that! I already had an almost blind diabetic husband. I didn't need anything else "special" in my life. I just wanted my perfect little bundle of joy (and secretly hoped for a girl). When the call came for our perfectly healthy, perfectly pink baby GIRL life couldn't have been better!!
A year later we were still living a perfectly pleasant life with our beautifully healthy baby girl. So perfect, in fact, that when an equally perfect baby boy was sitting in Vietnam with no family, we were ready to go when the Lord called. [Hopefully we would have been ready to go even if everything weren't perfect at home, but it helps when things are going well.] I was working with an agency at the time and was the coordinator for this Vietnam program. I couldn't understand why this beauteous 2 month old baby boy was WAITING! Well, turns out he was waiting for us to say yes, because he was our son. =-)
Two months later--yes LITERALLY two months after the day we said we would adopt him--we were in Vietnam holding our new son. And from the first day we held him we knew he was perfect, but also "special" in that not-so-healthy way. Enter the world of special needs parenting. I won't go into Samren's whole story here. Been there, done that. But there were near death experiences, and weeks in the hospital, and drugs with life-long consequences (thus his short stature), and gtube, and amino-acid diet, and a prognosis that was something like "most kids don't live past 10 years old." Thankfully, the Lord mercifully and miraculously HEALED our son from his horrid disease (autoimmune enteropathy). The disease he once had is no more. He has physical and psychological scars from his disease, but that is a small price to pay. We never asked to parent a child with Samren's special needs, but the Lord must have thought we were the right team for the job because He placed Samren with us. And after parenting Samren's special needs, it didn't seem so hard to actually be OPEN to adopting a child with some special needs the third time around.
When Bright's adoption came around I don't remember if there was a form where we checked special needs we were open or not open to. I just know that we were open to quite a bit. As it turned out, what the Lord put in front of us was a child who was severely--as in "on the brink of death"--malnourished. It's a long story, but I was in Ghana with our agency director and went to an orphanage. When I told them we were hoping to adopt a boy 0-4 they said, "Oh, you can have that dieing baby!" They had turned Bright away a week before because they didn't have the resources to care for him. But if we would adopt him, they would be able to put him in the hospital and (hopefully) save him life. We knew when we accepted the opportunity to adopt Bright that we were also accepting whatever damage may have been done to his little body by the neglect and starvation his first year of life. His BODY healed so quickly. And we really thought for a while that he had gotten away without any long-term damage. But that's not the case. And our son has a lot of trauma from the neglect. And not just a little bit of brain impairment from the lost nutrition in his first year.
When we decided to go forward with Kendi's adoption Bright was still pretty young--about 4 years old. We knew about the trauma part but weren't so clear on the brain impairment part. Still, I knew there were four Gillispie kids in this world. By this time Eric was on dialysis waiting for a kidney transplant and lots of special needs seemed pretty darn easy. What's one more at this point?! HIV was definitely on the E-A-S-Y list. Doctor visit every 3 months and meds twice a day? Pshaw! Pa-lease! Mark me down as a yes I can! Yeah, she's still young at 5 years old and we still have a lot of HIV to live. I know that. She's only in Kindergarten. Kendi was exposed to a lot of alcohol and drugs in her mom's stomach. I worry that will affect her much more than the HIV.
The purpose of this post? Well, it just hit me the other day that some would say I've been very "unlucky" with this adoption stuff. Even my first "healthy" kid, it turns out, has some issues. She is my most attachment-challenged child, with ADHD and sensory integration dysfunction. Samren had his disease, and has his scars. He also deals with dysgraphia. Then Bright with his super trauma and mental impairment that may mean he never lives on his own. And Kendi with her pre-natal exposure and HIV. I had to laugh the other day when I first realized that 3 of my 4 kids are on IEPs or 504 plans (with Kendi probably headed that direction)! I wonder if people think I'm one of those moms who gets a high off their kids being sick/having special needs? If they only knew how much I do NOT like working with "the system!"
I am not "unlucky" with this adoption stuff. The way I see it, I've adopted 4 incredible--really MIRACULOUS--survivors. My kids are the toughest of the tough. My friends in Ghana tell me that they didn't think Kendi would live all the way down on the bus ride from Bolgatonga to Accra Ghana. She wouldn't wake the entire way and Auntie Ruth (who brought her) was afraid she was carrying a dead baby to Accra. But they didn't know Kendi's tenacity and grit! That is the same grit all of my children have. They all have battle scars from the various things they've had to do to survive. And the world might see those scars as imperfections. I see them as hard won beauty marks.
If you are just thinking of entering this world of adoption, and are considering what special needs to be open to, this is my way of encouraging you to mark "could consider" more than "could not consider." My children are not defined by their special needs. When you meet them, you'd just think they are pretty normal kids. That's because they ARE pretty normal kids. Is it really such a big deal to give medicine a few times a day, or to have a one-time surgery to correct something, or to have a kiddo that has weakness in one limb? I can tell you from experience, adopting the super-gritty survivor kids is an experience you won't regret!