Adopting a Child with Burns

Adopting a Child with Burns

Brian and I are a couple that met in our mid 30's, married a bit later and started the parenting journey with our biological son Mac just as we were dancing around the rim of our 40's. And yes, our 40's have proven to be a strong cup of coffee that we gulped down, having no idea of the temperature or knowing the jolt that it would bring!

Mac had just turned one and sleep was still an unfamiliar luxury in our house so the smart phone came in handy for nightly insomnia.  One night as I was thinking about our family's future, feeling that little tug that has always been in my heart to adopt, I started snooping around on, a website that is kind of an umbrella that catches pretty much all things adoption, the waiting kids, the country programs, the special needs info, everything in one place.  I was on the website, messing around with the photo-listing criteria and before you do the "search" you are supposed to pick what special needs your family could best handle. Being a burn survivor myself and having had the past experience of working with kids that were burn survivors, I wondered if there were any burn survivors children availalbe for adoption.  I unchecked every box except "Burns" and hit the SEARCH button.

In exactly 2 seconds I had a set of black eyes staring back at me and a very strong voice in my heart that said: "There is your answer, she is your WHY."

Let me back up a bit and explain. I'm one of those people that believe in finding a purpose in the twists and turns of life.  If something great happens, I want to translate it into a future purpose.  If something bad happens in my life, I can usually keep a pretty good attitude about it if I can manage to find a positive direction or up-side as a result. I know this strategy doesn't always work and some tragedies never reveal a purpose or up-side. Good or bad, it is the way my brain processes life. And because my life held a serious and unresolved "tragedy", there remained, until that moment when I first saw my future-daughter's eyes, a inner-conflict that kept me from finding true peace in my life.

As a 34 year old single woman, I found myself looking in the mirror and seeing a person whose neck, torso and arms literally looked like red, brown, black and bloody, half-cooked,
half-raw ground beef. I wasn't able to find much purpose or up-side in that state of being. I had cadaver skin stapled to my back and covering half my face and neck. My torso and lower arms were one giant open wound. I found it hard to even look at myself, changed forever, without getting woozy.

Months after my accident, searching to find the golden lining, I comically joked with my doctor at a bandage change appointment that I was really lucky since the accident could have taken my eyesight. He guffawed and replied, "Lucky! You may be the unluckiest person I know. You were on a beach with over 10,000 people and you were the only one that got blown up. I would say that you are remarkably unlucky!"

After my recovery I spent a few years working with a camp in Georgia for children who were burn survivors.  I fell in love with these little soldiers, they were so brave and resilient! They taught me how to move past a random accident and get on with life and most importantly: do it with a smile on my face! Those little angels turned me around and got me back in stride and I will treasure them forever for that gift.  I was able to move forward and see the good in my world at every turn but I still had restlessness inside of me about the WHY.  I know God must find me exhausting at times and surely wants to just shake me and scream "GIRL JUST LET IT GO and MOVE ON!"

I frequently had conversations with God, asking the same questions over and over: Why did I get burned? and What do YOU want me to do with this? and Did you really just want me to stop wearing a bikini?  Oh please let there be a purpose, a reason for me sitting here in my car and scratching my insanely itchy scars until blood runs through my shirt, wondering if I will ever be able to date again, ever get married, or ever have a family.

And as you know, I did get married and start a family and we had a life that gave me a thousand things to be thankful for every single day.  I didn't have my WHY yet and sometimes I thought it was just one of those things that happen for no reason and I would have to stop picking at it; let it heal and move on.

Those years of struggle and frustration, trying to find the WHY were important. They preparred me for the moment when those dark brown eyes would meet mine, if only through that first photo. So that I would have perfect clarity. In truth, I also felt relief. As if my soul exhaled and with great calm I finally knew WHY.

She was the answer, she was the WHY. Her eyes were not begging (though her heart might have been), they were strong, they were certain; it was as if she was staring back at us saying, "Okay, so what are you waiting for?  I need a family that can love me the way I need to be loved: are you in or are you out? Yes or No?"

Holy WOW! My husband was going to die of a heart attack at age 41, I was 100% sure of it! I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was asking our family to step forward for this little girl. He put her front and center because he knew that our life experience would be what she needed to conquer life in spite of her burns.

I emailed the adoption agency, just an innocent  inquiry and BAM!, her whole file was there the next morning with instructions for moving ahead with the adoption. HA!! The adoption that was 100% non-existent in the mind of my husband.

I knew from my own recent experience that it would be hard for a child to overcome significant physical differences in our society saturated with perfect looking Disney princesses perched on every corner. Then doubt started flooding in like a tidal wave. We were 40-something new parents; a little late to this game!  Were we even capable of this type of parenting?  This isn't patty-cake parenting we are talking about here. How would we help her navigate those really hard times that were guaranteed to come her way as she tried to grow up in a world surrounded by all things superficial. Maybe we would be horrible at meeting her needs and she would be better off with someone else, someone else that had parented a child with physical differences.  Heck, someone that had parented a child period!  We were total rookies.

Then I read her whole file. She was amazing, she was perfect, she had personality and charm and was loved by all! And then I came to one line in her file that made this a "no turning back" situation. The file was very detailed about her great progress in the orphanage school. She was the child that hit all her developmental milestones without a worry. She never got sick, she memorized poems and songs, she was very loved by all of her caretakers, they nicknamed her "Little Sweetie".

And then this one little comment leapt from the paper. Put there during a developmental evaluation in her country of birth, someone thought that it was important to point out:

"She is a smart girl although she is not pretty."

Excuse me? Did someone honestly feel that it was necessary to put that in writing on a permanent medical record? Who does that!?

That was it, I was done. I gathered the information and gave it to my husband, this train needed to leave the station and soon!

After his head stopped spinning from trying to find out where exactly this freight train came from, he took the file I had printed out and read it and deliberated for about a week. Then finally one night he walked out of the bedroom and slapped the folder down on the table and said, "I think this is insane but I know it is what we are supposed to do. Let's get going."

We started the paper chase and met many great new friends in the adoption world that helped us navigate the steps. We sent about 6 care packages over to Luci during that year-long wait and we usually received pictures back of her surviving well in the only world she had ever known: the life of an orphan. A life where you share clothes, share food, share care-takers, share attention, share beds. Nothing belongs to you, and you belong to no one.   A child would have to really fight to develop their own personal identity when every aspect of their life is a generalized group endeavor from eating to sleeping to basic acknowledgement from an adult.

The first thing I learned about my little girl: She's a fighter. When my mother and I arrived to meet Luci for the first time it was obvious that she was her own person.  That little 4-year-old girl, dressed in pink from head to toe, stood there and sang us a song, did a dance, flashed her dimples: she was no shrinking violet!  There was of course some crying when this little brave one realized that her orphanage caretakers of 4 years were actually speaking the truth when they told her that I was her mommy and she was going to the USA.  She tried to put on a brave face but I think she realized that this day wasn't a song and dance, it wasn't a performance to get someone to smile at her. It was very real, and it scared her.

After some consoling she decided that the funny sounding ladies that gave her candy and a much loved pink cupcake purse were at least tolerable and we all walked out of that room and went on with our lives.

She got a crash course in what it means to be a daughter in a real family that loves her and I got a crash course in being a 40 year old mom to a very creative and smart daughter. This was a new gig for both of us.

Luci has been a part of our family for a little over two years now and you may wonder why my recollections of our history include very little about her burns.  That is her "Special Need" after all. But honestly, that is only just the label that her country chose to use to identify her.  Burned Orphan.

That's not who Luci is!  Not even close.  Luci is bright and vibrant, she is filled with joy!  She is colorful and funny and strong.  When her life got hard she didn't crumble, turn to dust and blow away in the wind. She found her resolve and put on a brave face and moved forward, scars and all.

No her special need is not her burn scars that cover her head and face.

Her special need is that she is a funny, artistic, drama queen, that had the misfortune of being stuck with a mamma that is unsympathetic to drama, lacks creativity, and is a very bad artist.  Her special need is a dad that is incapable of saying "no" when he sees her dimples and a little brother that wants to play with her non-stop and always puts a big dent in her sticker collection. Her special need is that she is always quick to share candy with her brother and he hasn't quite grasped the concept fully.

I will always be partial to kids that are burn survivors because they seem to have a strength and resilience that I don't see in most adults.  They are the skills that we all really need in order to do this life well.  Traits that they were forced to develop at a very young age as a result of a tragedy that was no fault of their own.

Unfortunately without a family that loves them and gives them the support and strength they need, these little warriors will never reach their potential and that is the real tragedy.

A horrible accident early in Luci's life resulted in her being an orphan and ultimately becoming a part of our family.  I wish I could make her burns go away, I wish she could have grown up in her birth family and shared with them her joy, her love, her sparkling eyes and sweet dimples.  That is the way her life was supposed to be.  The truth is, life doesn't happen for anyone the way it is "supposed" to happen. We are all carrying scars, hurts, and painful experiences in our hearts. For Luci and I, our scars also appear on the outside.

Adoption is a life lesson in moving forward, scars and all.

Our family can't give Luci back the family and life she lost as a result of that horrible accident.  We can decide to move forward with her and try every day to give her the love and patience she needs to move forward herself. To help her have the strength and confidence in who she is and not see her scars as the attributes that define her.

Our whole family is so thankful that we were able to see clearly and truly see LUCI in that photo listing picture and say YES when she needed us to step in and be there! Every day she goes about the business of being a happy little girl with no idea how much she is teaching everyone around her valuable lessons in strength, confidence, and patience. We needed her in our family as much as she needed us.

I think need to drop my burn doctor a little note telling him how very wrong he was about me being the unluckiest person he knew. I am the luckiest woman in the world! I am Luci's mom!

This story was written by Luci's loving mom, Tara and contributed by the Gladney Asia Program. Thank you for inspiring others to consider a Waiting Child!

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