You know what they say about assuming…
I used to look at families who adopted children with significant
special needs and wonder what motivated them to do so. I assumed they must be extra special souls who were willing to
sacrifice everything for children who “no one else wanted.” I assumed that people like me, a
first-time mother with little motivation to make life harder for myself by
parenting a child with special needs, would never fall into that category.
In the first of many lessons I would learn over the next few
years, I soon found out that you can’t judge a person until you’ve walked in
their son’s supra malleolar orthosis or taken a ride on their daughter’s therapy
To make a long story short, 4 months after getting our nonspecial
needs referral and just days before getting on a plane to Korea, we were
informed (via fax) that our son had some pretty significant special needs that had become apparent during our 4 month wait.
One moment I was worrying about missing my 10-month-old’s
first steps, and the next moment I was worrying about my 10-month-old ever
being able to walk. I was terrified.
As a new
reality we were completely unprepared for loomed ahead of us, our expectations were suddenly thrown out the window. After some soul
searching and frantic research and armed with only the barest of information
but the resolve that we would do whatever it took for this child we already
considered our son, we took the leap of faith and flew to Korea to bring him
That was just over 2 years ago.
The last 2 years have been filled with constant adjustments
of expectations for me and my husband. We’ve been forced to learn patience and
humility. We’ve been forced to let go of expectations, over and over again. We’ve
had moments of anguish and exhaustion and frustration. We’ve watched other
families pass us by on their way to age appropriate life experiences. We’ve
stretched ourselves financially and emotionally. We’ve watched our son (the
hero in this tale) work harder than any 2 year old should have to work. We’ve
watched him be shunned by his peers. There have been tears…from all
three of us.
I won’t lie. It has been a hard 2 years.
Yet, we’ve also been able to watch the miracle of
development, not the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type we all take for granted, but
the hard fought, down and dirty triumphs that come with each new muscle
contraction, each new word, each new step, and each new social skill. We’ve
experienced utter jubilation at major milestones months and years in the
making. We’ve developed a deep appreciation for the little things in life. We’ve
had the honor of helping our beloved son as he blossoms into an amazing
individual with one heck of a life story.
It’s some seriously mind blowing, beautiful stuff. It's been the best 2 years of our lives.
I don’t want to paint parenting a child with special needs
as some secretly amazing, lottery-winning experience that everyone without a
child with special needs is missing out on. It’s hard….a lot of the time. For
the sake of the children, the decision to parent a child with special needs
should not be made lightly or without a serious reality check, plenty of
research, and a firm emotional and physical commitment. But the truth is that once
you take that leap and settle in to find your normal, despite the unconventionality that your normal might end up
espousing, it gets easier and more and more satisfying. This new normal becomes
a part of you, a part of your child, and a part of your family.
Someone recently told me that I was “meant to be a mom to a
child with special needs.” I don’t agree. My husband and I haven’t trudged our
way through IEPs and therapy and advocacy and doctors because we inherently
knew what to do; rather, as our son’s mom and dad, we simply do whatever we
need to do for him. Do we always enjoy it? No way. But is there any parent in
the world who doesn’t sacrifice for their child?
Simply put, it’s our reality as our son’s parents. It’s our normal. We found our groove, even though
it wasn’t what we had expected going into parenthood, and we are happy. Beyond
happy, we are blessed.
If you met my kid, you’d have to agree.
I have found that parenting my child with special needs is
no longer a matter of something I must
do day in and day out, but rather something I can do day in and day out. That shift in mindset has empowered me
and made all the different.
When we decided to adopt a second son, our hearts were eventually
drawn to a child on Rainbowkids, not because it was our calling or duty, but because
our minds and hearts were open. We now know our
strengths and weaknesses and limitations and available resources, and we look forward to the day when our
younger son will be home to teach us a whole new set of lessons and allow us to
share new challenges and triumphs.
I’m finally starting to understand when I look at the
families who seek to adopt children with special needs. They aren’t trying to
be saints or have some predisposition for sacrifice; they can simply see
through the scary unknown, self doubt, and hard times to the supreme honor and
joy of parenting truly beautiful souls. They are embracing their new normal. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about?
Parenting a child with special needs isn’t right for every
family, but it can be for many, whether they assume it is or isn’t.
It is for us.