As a foster and adoptive mom of children with special needs (both medical and behavioral), there are a few frequent misperceptions and questions that never fail to elevate my heartrate and trigger an internal heated monologue.
One is “Can you tell me what we should be worried about when we adopt a child with insert diagnosis here? What’s the hardest part?”
Another is “These poor kids – they only have insert diagnosis here. That’s so easy, people!”
One more is “We chose to adopt a healthy baby/toddler because we just don’t have the resources that a child with special needs will require.”
I know that I speak from a place of bias. I firmly believe that waiting children with medical and special needs should be the very first children that families are taking placement of through foster care and adoption.
I can tell you that it is a rare thing when I meet a post-institutionalized, post-trauma child who does not have significant cognitive or behavioral challenges resulting from their life experiences. And I can tell you that the majority of parents I talk to who are parenting adopted and foster children with medical needs will tell you that the day-to-day impact of their medical needs is often overshadowed by the impact of their life experience on their day-to-day behavioral and cognitive functioning.
Both of our adopted children and some of our foster children came home to us with significant and lifelong medical diagnoses. I researched each diagnosis endlessly and felt that we had a good handle on their medical care, their prognosis, the impact of their diagnoses on their quality of life, potential risks and side effects of their treatment – and on and on. What we didn’t know then is that they would gather numerous more unrelated diagnoses over the next several years that are a direct result of their early life traumas.
We have had children in our family with HIV and another child who has had hospital procedures under full anesthesia ninety times now, with no end in sight. And, still, the weight of those medical diagnoses is often far less than the weight of living with the effects of trauma and neglect.
Trauma impacts developing brains in significant ways. And you will witness its impact day-in and day-out in your home when you bring home a child who has experienced trauma – and any child in need of adoption or foster care has experienced trauma and is still experiencing it when they enter your home. And, you will encounter it when you adopt a “healthy” child. Anyone who tells you that this is easy and that love is all you need is, I am sorry to say, wrong.
Becoming a child’s second family (or third, or fourth…) is hard work, it is self-sacrificing, it is life-altering, and it is not to be undertaken lightly.
We should not avoid hard work or self-sacrifice – we should seek to have our lives altered and our focus shifted away from our selves. And for many of us, God will use adoption and foster care in our lives to accomplish these things. It’s profound and beautiful, and it is a gift.
But it is not easy.
We do a huge disservice to adoptable children and to the families who are making them their own when we “sell” adoption as if it were easy. When we minimize the impact of a child’s history of neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss – we minimize and disregard their story, and we falsely elevate ourselves as their rescuers.
Let us be honest with these children’s stories and with their needs.
God rescues; and He redeems neglect, trauma, abandonment, and loss. But let us not pretend that it is not sometimes hard and wearying work being in the middle of His rescue and redemption.
Please – consider adoption. Consider foster care.
Please – tell your friends to consider adoption. To consider foster care.
Please – use your voice to bring attention to forgotten children waiting for families.
But please don’t say it is easy – or that love is all you need.
with hope and gratitude,