This post is a little lengthy, but I thought some of you would get a kick out of seeing some of my journey in regards to adopting special-needs children. Four years ago I was interviewed by a friend, Anthony Salem about adoption from a man’s perspective. A lot has happened in the last four years, including adopting our son Cole. When I read this article that I wrote I have to laugh at myself, especially the part when I talk about my concerns of how having lots of children would get in the way of my life plans. The reality is my children have been instrumental in helping me see and know what I am supposed to do with my life and that is to simply help children in need, any way I can. My eyes have been opened and I refuse to look away.
Tell me about how you started your adoption journey.
My wife and I have always toyed with the idea of adoption even in the early years of our marriage, but I must admit, at that stage it just seemed like a nice idea and a good thing to do. I could say that I’ve always had a tremendous desire to fill my house with lots of children because they needed a family, but that’s not necessarily true. I used to feel if you have children in abundance, meaning more than two, that your life would be so much centered around them and their needs that it would be difficult for you to continue to live your life and to fulfill your dreams.
In September of 2000 my wife gave birth to our second son. Our excitement soon led to a very scary event. Rachel began hemorrhaging uncontrollably and almost died right in front of me. After four hours of emergency surgery, she was okay, but her ability to have any more children was lost. I vividly remember sitting at her bedside the next day saying, “We always talked about maybe one day adopting.” We then smiled at each other and were encouraged at the thought of “maybe one day”, turning into a real possibility.
In 2005 we began the process of adopting a healthy girl from China. This is something that I never thought I would do. When we initially discussed our “maybe one day” scenario, I thought it would be a child from the U.S., or maybe Russia, someone that looked like us and wouldn’t stick out as much. This seems like a ridiculous and almost comical thought considering where my wife and I are at present, but I feel like I want to be as honest and open as possible.
There was something about China that I felt connected to. My grandmother grew up in China and my great-grandparents were missionaries there. I’ve always been fascinated with the culture and the people and have a deep respect and admiration for them. The only way I can explain it is that it was the right fit for our family, and once both I and my wife agreed, I never thought anything else about it.
Were you and your wife in agreement about adopting from the beginning? If not, who hesitated the most and why? What changed that person’s mind?
For me I always thought adoption was a great idea for others to consider, and I would support and admire them for their efforts. But for myself, I was hesitant. When you jump off the cliff of a special-needs adoption, there are a lot of unknowns and what-if’s to consider.
But after waiting more than a year for a referral we decided to adopt a special-needs child with a cleft lip and a cleft palate. This was scary for me, as a man who is not a medical person; I had a lot of fears and apprehensions. My wife was completely the opposite. She dove right in.
After prayer and a lot of discussions with my beautiful Australian wife, we agreed, held hands, and jumped. We have never looked back with any regrets.
We even traveled to China to adopt a second special-needs daughter, Lily.
How did you pick the orphans you have adopted? And how did you know these two were the ones?
Every child in our family is different. They all have a unique story that defines who they are regardless of their birthplace. Mia, my amazing little princess/ninja warrior was our first adopted child. As I said, after waiting more than a year, we filled out the paperwork for a special-needs adoption, checked the appropriate boxes, and within a few weeks the agency sent us a little picture of our daughter with a massive cleft lip. Rachel fell in love with her immediately. Me? I was so scared at first. But after about four hours, something happened when I saw that photo again. I just knew that little girl was our daughter!
Our second daughter Lily came about much quicker. We knew we wanted another child with a medical need so we pursued that immediately. My wife felt that we should consider a cardiac baby this time, and yes, I was scared, but from our previous experience I had an overwhelming confidence that we could overcome any obstacle in our path. We received two referrals we turned down. This was hard – to say no to any child is not easy, but we didn’t feel like they were ours. When Lily’s referral came, we knew immediately – her medical condition was more serious than anything we ever thought we would have to deal with, but it didn’t matter.
Why did you adopt children with special needs?
With Mia it started off as a practical option to receive a referral sooner, but it grew into more than that. The more we began to understand the situation of special-needs children and how desperate some of their situations are, it became clear to us that we just needed to do it.
Why did you choose those particular special needs?
I would like to make this very clear for others who are considering this process. You have to know your limitations and what is right for your family. What we decided to take on as parents is not necessarily right for everyone. We chose a particular special need after many conversations with each other and as a family before taking the jump. We also did a lot of research and made the most informed decision possible.
Often what you’re told about a child medically may differ from what the child actually has. You need to know that once you commit to a child, whatever ends up happening, that child is yours. Just like when my wife delivered the boys, if something had been wrong with them, we would still have loved them just the same.
Our daughter Lily has a lot going on. She is very developmentally delayed, something that was not in the original referral. Her heart condition is also non-repairable right now. We don’t even know how long she will live, but it doesn’t matter. Lily is ours. She knows what it means to have a family, and we will do everything we can to help her. We love her unconditionally.
Something just happens to you as a father when you hold your daughter in your arms for the first time. I remember holding both my daughters for the first time and introducing myself. Tears running down my face, I told them over and over, “I am your daddy.”
What would you say to other men reading this blog who have the same concerns you had about adoption?
One thing that I feel is most important for fathers to realize is that you make the decision to commit to this lifelong change, out of a place of peace and reassurance, that you’re leading your family in the right direction. I’m not saying that you should only make this choice if everything is completely spelled out and revealed to you, because frankly that is completely impossible. When we decide to be parents—via adoption or birth—there are no guarantees as to how things will turn out. You should at least feel this is the right path for you and understand enough about it to know that you are up for this journey.
Also, be open and honest about all your fears and apprehensions with your wife. Talk about it with her as much as you need to, even if she seems so confident. You both need to get there. If you’re reading this and you don’t have that type of relationship with your wife, fix that first before you consider adoption.
Now that you have your children, what do you realize now that you didn’t realize before you got them?
With the addition of these two children, our lives have been enriched beyond words. Our two daughters have not only been a blessing to us as a family, but they have also been a great joy to our extended family and our friends. I cannot imagine my life without Mia and Lily. I have grown tremendously as a person, as a father, and as a man as a result of the tremendous privilege of being called daddy by them.
My original fears about adoption, and having lots of children distracting me from fulfilling my dreams in life, were so wrong. What I have learned is that being a father to these children is what has enhanced my purpose in life, and I couldn’t imagine it being any other way.