The following post from a family is intended to shed light on what it is like to decide to adopt a child with severe medical needs and to pursue this adoption with a medical expedite. Adoption, in any of its iterations, is unique to every family. This post reflects their experience adopting a waiting older child from China. It is their hope that it will help families who are considering adopting a child with severe medical needs.
I do not know what it is like having a child with a severe, life-threatening medical condition.
But I soon will.
The weight of parenting a child with a complex medical need will soon sit firmly on my husband’s and my shoulders. Some parents face this reality in the doctor’s office after an ultrasound—that event so many expectant parents await with nervous-yet-joyful anticipation. Or they hear the news shortly after their child’s birth. Either way, it can be devastating news. Either way, that moment forever alters those parents’ lives. Their lives will already change because they have a new child. However, now they have a child with special or medical needs, and they must learn in a HURRY about the need and how best to care for this precious child.
Adopting a child with medical or special needs is different and backwards. It is a surreal experience looking at a list of medical conditions and determining what conditions you think you could handle or not. In a crude comparison, it is like choosing the features on a new car. It made us feel uncomfortable. That said, it is a crucial exercise because not every adoptive family is prepared for or able to handle every condition.
This step in the process requires a lot of soul-searching and reflection. It requires researching a variety of conditions ahead of time in order to understand what each condition will require in terms of medical or therapeutic intervention.
Adopting a child with medical or special needs is also a transformative act of faith and love. It requires considering all the risks involved—the unknowns of the condition, the questions of life expectancy, financial and emotional hardship, long-term medical care needs, surgeries, medication, many sleepless nights, being misunderstood by family or friends, feeling isolated, alone, and afraid—and making a choice.
Choosing to say yes to adopting a child with a severe medical condition means weighing these risks against what would happen if you said no. It is an important decision to consider carefully and prayerfully.
We were contacted on a Friday about whether we wanted to adopt a five-year-old boy with a severe congenital heart defect. Our agency did not pressure us into adopting him because they knew there were a lot of unknowns about the severity of his condition. One family backed out of his adoption because of the unknowns. Keeping that in mind, we requested his medical records to get as much information as the adoption agency could provide, and we set out to research all the terminology pertaining to his condition. (They had records from his hosting trip to the U.S., which not all waiting children will have.) All I can say is thank goodness for the Internet! Search engines were our friends that weekend because heart experts we are not.
We discovered that his heart condition was quite serious and complicated, which explains the devastation his host family felt after his pediatric cardiologist appointment during the hosting trip. It explains why the other family felt unprepared to pursue his adoption. I will be honest that after researching the different aspects of this child’s condition, we were scared. We doubted not whether we could love him but whether we could risk the heartache of truly knowing him, holding him, celebrating birthdays with him, and raising him up as our son in addition to going through all the doctor’s visits and surgeries only to face the possibility of losing him too soon. That thought is enough to stop anyone in his or her tracks when considering adopting a child like this. Were we strong enough to face such a devastating loss if it happened?
In the midst of this fear and doubt, I did a Google search for 'adopting a child with severe congenital heart defects.' I came across a blog post written by an adoptive mother who had adopted not one but four children from China all with severe heart conditions (not all at the same time mind you). She wrote that she questioned whether they should adopt one special little girl whose condition was truly life-threatening. This mother was not sure their family should risk adopting her because it seemed too hard, the risks too big for them. She wrote that she confided her doubts in a friend, and this friend asked one simple yet loaded question that changed everything for this adoptive mother: 'Doesn’t every child deserve to be mourned?'
After reading that post, we knew unquestionably that we were chosen to adopt our boy. We knew he was meant to be our son, and we already loved him as our own. We resolved that the risks were worth loving him and giving him a forever family. We had faith we would be given the strength to do whatever needed to be done. We heard a whisper of hope that was loud enough to be heard over the shouts of fear, hopelessness, and uncertainty threatening to overwhelm us. We had to ask ourselves whether we would let fear change the decision we felt we were meant to make?
The next day, we contacted the agency to tell them we absolutely wanted to adopt this boy. Our agency would be pursuing a medical expedite for the adoption. A medical expedite adoption means the overall adoption timeline will be shorter in order to bring the child to the U.S. and receive the needed care for his urgent medical needs. How much shorter remains to be seen since we are still waiting to travel to China. Typically, adopting through the waiting child program can take approximately 12-14 months. As I am writing this post, it has been about 8 months since we applied with our adoption agency and began the dossier phase. We hope to be on a plane to China before the end of this year, so that is a shorter timeline than what is typically estimated. In the time remaining before we travel, we have some practical and heart preparations to make.
Even though it is an expedited adoption, not every step in the process can be expedited. We can go only as fast as the adoption systems in the U.S. and China will allow. Certain stages have gone much quicker, while others have gone no faster than a typical adoption. The whole process can feel very hurry-up-and-wait at times. Honestly, it is unbearably hard to wait for the next step in the process when all we want to do is bring our son home to start loving him in person and getting him the medical care he needs! The paperwork can be tedious and redundant.
The encouraging thing to know is that adoptive parents seeking to adopt through the waiting child program and especially with a medical expedite will not be alone in the process.
We have had an incredibly knowledgeable and compassionate group of people at the adoption agency helping us along the way. They have been honest, realistic, and completely supportive the entire journey, so we have not had to navigate any of this on our own.
Adopting a child with a serious medical condition is especially challenging and is not a decision we took lightly. The fortitude and resolve necessary to go through the process seems super-human at times. Yet, I will ask prospective adoptive parents to think about it this way: some of these children have been waiting for a family for one, two, six, thirteen years… Many of these children will never know the love of a family. They sit. They wait. They die. They age-out at fourteen in China. Considering that overwhelming reality, adoptive parents waiting ten, twelve, twenty-four, or more months is a drop in the bucket compared to the endless years of waiting for a family that may or may not ever come. What would it really take to love these children? Doesn’t every child deserve to be mourned? Doesn’t every child deserve to be LOVED? The truth is that not every adoptive family is a good match for every waiting child. But we would not have known what was possible unless we made ourselves available, step out of our comfort zone, and open our hearts to love.
We were not merely opening our hearts to the love we could give. Adoption requires a supernatural kind of love—a love that cannot be accomplished through sheer human determination. Our hearts and love are too weak to conjure up that kind of love. If we all possessed that type of love, these children would never have been orphaned. There would be no orphan or foster crisis in the world. Many of our world’s problems would not exist if we humans possessed such perfect, beautiful love. But there is a love like that out there. A love that is perfect and so much greater than any form of love we can imagine or demonstrate to others.
It is this love that is being worked out in our adoption process. My husband and I were called to let a power greater than ourselves work through our imperfect, impatient, easily frustrated lives and open our hearts to something so much bigger than ourselves. So much bigger than two people loving one child who has no one else. We were called to be available and to be willing to love someone more than we love ourselves. To love a child more than time, money, sleep, comfort, ease, and control. We have had to risk being misunderstood and looked at like we are crazy when we tell our story, but this kind of love is crazy!
Will it be easy? I seriously doubt it. It is, after all, adoption. Adoption means accepting a stranger into your family and forming trusting, loving relationships (I am referring to the much-dreaded adoption word: attachment). These relationships are not formed from the beauty and tenderness of holding your newborn child moments after he or she is born, though. No, this process begins in utter brokenness and abandonment. In adoption there will be tears, some of which will be joyful. However, mostly they will be tears of fear—the adoptive child’s and the adoptive parents’—born from the uncertainty of the future and the pain of the past.
Our pale, weak love cannot pick up these broken pieces and put them back together. Only the supernatural love of God is capable of that. It is armed with our confidence in this greater love and the miracles it can wield that we said yes to adopting our son. It will take A LOT of time. A LOT of prayer. A LOT of support from our family and friends. But when faced with the question of whether we could or should adopt a child with severe medical needs, we really felt there was no question. Only the answer: yes."
Great Wall China Adoption is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Austin, Texas. Since 1996, Great Wall has placed more than 8,000 children with forever families. Between the headquarters located in Austin, Texas and the sister office in Beijing, China, we work on behalf of families each day to be experts at exceeding China’s requirements and adoptive families’ expectations by staying updated on aspects of China adoption.