“The first time we met our son, he was a stranger. At the tender age of 10 months old, the foster care system had hung several labels on him. A baby with no known family history, born to a mother on drugs who received no prenatal care, he had already undergone several tests, MRIs, and 3 types of long term therapies. He was given the diagnosis of severe infantile cerebral palsy and a prognosis of ‘probably never being able to walk, talk, or become a productive member of society.’ That label haunted me as we considered if this baby should be brought into our family. What does that even mean? I can’t think of a fate worse than those cold words. Before he celebrated his 1st birthday, his whole life was outlined in forms and checklists and stuck in a folder. Not one of the hundred papers in this folder mentioned his big brown eyes that can light up an entire room, or his smile that melts your heart and makes it impossible not to return a smile of your own. There wasn’t one indication of the precious baby the folder represented, or one glimmer of hope about his future.
I stood at the door of his current foster home with his folder in my shaking hand, about to meet the baby I had read about. I was 95% sure I was making a mistake that would forever affect my family and possibly cost us everything. My husband squeezed my shoulder and knocked on the door as I tried my best to choke back tears of fear.
We had gotten the phone call only a week before. There was a baby in foster care with a complicated medical history. Several adoptive families had declined placement because of his condition. The social worker quickly added that he had started walking in a walker earlier that week, so maybe things weren’t as bad as they originally thought. I thanked her for the call, but said no. I wasn’t interested. We couldn’t give this child all that he needed. It would be irresponsible for us to take on all the appointments and therapy sessions with a 2-year-old at home. There had to be another family out there better suited for his situation. My pride wouldn’t let me say it out loud, but deep down I knew the simple truth was that it was not in my plan to have a high needs child.
My children were still young enough, and I was still naive enough to not understand that we don’t get to control much about our children’s lives. Children, biological or adopted, are going to have hardships and issues that were never part of your plan for them. There are going to be battles, pain and struggles. They will face loss and tragedy. They will make reckless choices and behave poorly at times. The family we dreamed of as children, is probably not going to be our reality as adults. And if we could see the big picture, I doubt we would even want it to be. This was a lesson I had yet to learn. So, in my ignorant naivety, I continued on, protecting my vision of my perfect future family.
After a long conversation with my husband, I was reminded that children in the system often have lots of unnecessary labels, misdiagnosis, and missed diagnosis because of inconsistent medical care, and government systems that are overwhelmed and under educated. We had just been told in our adoption classes that this happens fairly often. My husband saw the prognosis as bogus given that the baby was using a walker. He told me of several people he knew of with cerebral palsy, and how he thought we would be able to handle it. With some convincing, I finally agreed to drive a couple hundred miles to meet this baby. Surely if he was ‘meant to be ours’ I would know it as soon as I saw him. There would be music in my head and my heart would skip a beat. Right?
Wrong! That is how it happens in movies, but not the way it happened for me. I looked into the eyes of this soon to be toddler, and he was a stranger with a scary start to life and a future with no guarantees. I was also a stranger to him, and we were both terrified of each other. I was ready to go home and call this whole thing off. I excused myself to the restroom, and when I came back my husband was holding the baby. From the look on my husband’s face, he did know right away. His heart did skip a beat. He heard the music. This was his son. He had the same prideful gleam in his eye as he had when our biological children were born. This, of course, compounded my fear. And my guilt. What was wrong with me that I wanted to run for the hills?
My husband was so sure of everything. Having come from a less than ideal childhood himself, he was anxious to help a child in need. He was positive this was the right thing to do. He was less scared of all the messy ‘what ifs.’ Without even trying, he was inspiring me to be better, to want to do better. Somehow, just the right amount of his confidence rubbed off on me. I reluctantly agreed to a few weekend visits to spend more time with the baby and consider the possibility of adoption.
Over the next several weeks, we spent all of our weekends getting to know our ‘maybe baby,’ as I started calling him. He melted my heart with his sweet demeanor. With each bit of baby babble we heard, my husband would look over, smile, and tell me that this baby would talk. With each little step he would try to take, my husband assured me that this baby would walk. But, a crazy thing happened. I stopped caring. Of course, I wanted life to be easy for him. I wanted all the promises of a tough future to be a lie, but no matter his outcome, he was ours. I fell in love slowly, but my love for this little baby was as strong as any I had ever felt. Whatever he needed in life, we were just as prepared to give him as anyone else would be. We would do everything in our power to give him the best life possible. He had our hearts, and we couldn’t wait to give him our last name. Let us sign on the dotted line and take our baby home!
Fast forward a couple of months, and our sweet boy had begun talking and was walking everywhere. We were in awe! At this point, he had seen specialists all over the state and had tests galore. Not one doctor could find anything wrong with him. Not the slightest sign of anything. They explained how he could have been misdiagnosed. The test could have been misread. They chuckled and joked that maybe it was a miracle and he was healed. Maybe it was. If God is in the business of performing miracles, that innocent baby would have been the very best candidate to receive one. We didn’t need to understand the how. We were so excited and hopeful of all that would be possible for him. Just like that, all of the doom was lifted. He was released from all his therapies and no follow up visits were scheduled.
Our little man is now 6 years old. He is the fastest runner in our neighborhood, the best dancer in our family, and is smarter than any Kindergartner has a right to be. But guess what? Even if he had struggles and even if his life was tougher than we would have hoped, he would be worth it. Not one soul on this planet can be reduced to a folder of notes and checklists. We are all more, and children with their whole life ahead of them are certainly more.
People often ask me why we adopted. If you asked me this question before we brought our son home, I would have told you how I wanted to share our home with someone less fortunate. I wanted to make a difference in the life of a child. But now, 5 years in, when I’m asked this question, I share what we have gotten from the experience and why they may want to consider adoption. That little boy who was once a terrifying stranger to me, is now the light of my life. He has brought sheer joy to our family. Our house is filled with more laughter than I could have ever imagined. I say with zero hyperbole, that my family is the dream I never knew I had. My boys are months apart. These brothers have more fun than should be allowed. They spend hours playing LEGOs and digging for bugs. They struggle through timeouts together when sharing potty words they heard at school. They stay up whispering and giggling at bedtime every night, after arguing only minutes earlier about whose turn it is to sleep on the top bunk. They have a brother and a best friend that they may have never known. Both of their lives are better because they have each other. All of our lives are better because we have each other. He has taught me not to be so scared, and not to fight for some imaginary control. Sometimes there is so much love and so much beauty behind that big scary door.
Recently, my boys came home from a fun-filled weekend at my parent’s house. My oldest son ran in and with excitement said, ‘Look! I lost a tooth! Bubby kicked me in the mouth to get it out! He’s such a big helper!’ The boys ran off to play while my husband and I laughed until there were tears. This is why you should adopt, and this is why we went on to adopt again. Not just to give a child in need a family, but maybe because that child will give you a family. Very soon, those labels of ‘foster child’ or ‘adopted child’ will fall away, and what you will be left with is a child you couldn’t imagine living your life without.”
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