The discernment process for this adoption was different than when we were gearing up for domestic open adoption. To be honest, this was completely outside of our comfort zone. We hadn’t really thought much about international adoption and we never considered adopting a child with special needs. When we filled out our “range of acceptance” for domestic adoption, we didn’t include too many physical and mental disabilities. Seeing as how there are so many families waiting to adopt in the United States, I guess we just figured that every child would find a home. When you consider adoption, you have to be realistic about what will work with you and your family, especially if you have other children. At the time, we didn’t think we would be the best family to adopt a child with significant delays. We made the decision out of prudence, like many prospective adoptive parents do. (And so we’re on the same page, despite a sometimes pejorative understanding of “prudence”, it is actually the highest cardinal virtue.)
I say all that because I really have no judgment of families who make those decisions. They are difficult. We were that family and I completely understand it.
But something changed for us. The reality of orphans in countries that I wouldn’t even consider “developing” is heartbreaking. Both children with and without special needs have little future. When typically developing children age out of the orphanage system at 16 (by the way, have you met a 16 year old lately? They are so young…) with about $30 in their pockets and no support system, the boys usually turn to crime and the girls to prostitution. Their societies place a stigma on “orphans” which follow them everywhere and as a result, they have a hard time getting jobs to support themselves. Their futures are bleak.
And for the children with special needs? Bleaker. Five year olds are transferred to adult mental institutions, no matter their disability. This means that a 6 year old with Down Syndrome is neglected, head shaved and teeth decaying, among adults with mental illness. It also means that a cognitively normal 6 year old who perhaps can’t walk on his own due to Cerebral Palsy (so picture your average kindergartener, just in a wheel chair) is at the same institution and never taken out of his crib. These children usually do not live very long in such conditions.
We just didn’t know this happened. Most people don’t.
So while the decision to adopt Justin was difficult and took time, in other ways, it was very simple.
It was difficult because we had to work through our reservations and our fears. We were afraid…maybe we still are a little. The Scripture verse at the top of the blog is so fitting: Do not be afraid, for I am with you… Another one that I used a lot was There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear which is 1 John 4:18. Whenever we would talk about adopting Justin and our fears would crop up, we would remember this verse and we knew that we didn’t want our decision to be based out of fear. We just had to work through it and we needed time to do so.
Was there really a good enough reason NOT to adopt him? Especially when we consider his life as it is now and his likely future? We face a slew of doctor visits and costly therapies, stress, potential heartbreak (what if we lose him during his inevitable heart surgery?), the fact we will probably never have an “empty nest”, the difficult adoption process, the time consuming and costly travel, any negative effects this may have on Ben, the changes in our day to day life. And looking ahead, we always wanted to have a lot of children and adoption is the most realistic way that will happen for us- if we ever decide to pursue open adoption like we had before, I believe our chances of being chosen by a birth family will be significantly decreased. It is a rare birthmother who chooses to place her infant with a family that has a child with Down Syndrome.
But all of those things, don’t they pale in comparison to Justin and his life? Even if he were to grow old in an institution and die a natural death (as opposed to one brought on by malnourishment and neglect), his human dignity will have been violated every step of the way. He has no family. He has no one to love him, invest in him, help him reach his full potential. So what if, in deciding to bring him into our family, we suffer? Christ suffered and He gave meaning to suffering. And isn’t giving of ourselves for others what life is about?
In the end, all our reasons not to do this just didn’t seem good enough.
Thank God they weren’t, because I know that He has great things in store.