We hear those words so often in so many places; schools, adoption agencies, the work place, fast food restaurants, and facebook. Adoptive parents who choose to love and seek after and bring home a child diagnosed as having “special needs” are inundated with all sorts of language and ideas and methods to succeed at parenting a child who has “special needs”.
I remember searching this website for answers on what different “special needs” meant. Everything from blood disorders to orthopedic issues to cardiac defects. Many words linked to blogs linked to stories of family after family who was living with “special needs” and how they managed to live with them and in spite of them. I would go from this site to our medical check list of what we would “accept” and sometimes things I assumed were scary turned out to seem not so scary after reading about them on this site. I am forever grateful.
I remember checking the line for “cardiac defects”, “GI defects”, “blood disorders”…imagining what it would be like to morph from a family with zero “special needs” into a family with them. Unknown special needs, in fact. What if there was more than one…more than two…good heavens – more than three? No…that would be too much to handle. I could never be that mom. I don’t have what it takes to be that mom.
Today I am that mom. Today our youngest daughter, home just 8 months exactly, has rocked our non-special-needs family into one with special needs galore. Although, it’s not how I imagined special needs to look. At all.
Her medical information listed: tetralogy of fallot, repaired tracheo-esophageal fistula, possible hyrdonephrosis, and hospitalizations for chronic pneumonia. As we researched these “special needs” we felt confident this was something we could handle, help heal, and provide for. Today those special needs aren’t really part of our daily life; not really. Her heart is repaired and has been for 6 months. We monitor how fast she eats and what she eats because her esophagus isn’t as efficient as it should be. Her kidneys are normal. The needs we discovered after meeting her are barely noticeable as well. Her crooked spine has improved some and her tracheomalacia (a result of her repaired fistula) is unnoticeable most days.
There is one special need, however that is noticeable most days. No doctor can prescribe a procedure or a prescription to heal or to help. It wasn’t listed in her referral information, nor is it something you would notice in a photo or physical exam.
There isn’t a school, or drug or teacher that will be of help, and there isn’t anything I can do to speed along the healing.
The need to feel attached, secure, loved…those are the special needs we notice always with Grace. They surface in the first waking moments. They are revealed when I leave her side at times to throw something in the garbage or use the bathroom. They color the way we do nap-times and bedtimes and doctor visits. They are displayed in the joy she feels when all of our family is together in the same room and no one is missing. They are obvious in the middle of the night when she wakes and cries and instantly relaxes at the warmth of her hand in mine. The process of attaching isn’t complete once your plane arrives or six or twelve months later. There is no alarm to sound when the magic number of days have come and gone. There’s no graduation day, completion ceremony or degree. It may be a life long process with continuous testing even after we think “we’re good”.
We read about it, we studied it, we did the work and imagined the scenarios and grieved over the reasons, the many reasons why children like Grace, live with this “special need”. It’s the part of adoption that we work at long after the paperwork we completed has expired and long after we are home and unpacked. Years of gotcha day anniversaries later we will look back and remember how far we have come. I look back after 8 months and marvel at how she panics less when she wakes from a nap alone in her room. I give thanks and praise when I can go use the bathroom alone because she isn’t a puddle of tears on the ground in the fetal position after I walk ten feet from her into the bathroom. It is a marathon, not a sprint and every mile of this marathon is sprinkled with victories to be won.
Why? Why is it that these children we have sought after, fought to bring home, wanted and traveled the world for test and question our love and loyalty and devotion? I don’t know; but then again I’ve never been abandoned. I’ve never dealt with chronic loss. How many times was she abandoned? On paper – once. In her reality – dozens and dozens of times. Every time she lay in hospital bed, left in a room alone and strapped to a bed, perhaps just when she was used to one nurse there was an inevitable shift change and it translated to loss. How about the time she was left with a stranger only to a few hours later be given to new strangers, us. Strangers who hugged her and love her like crazy… only she wonders if we might leave her too.
Attachment might be the greatest special need of all; and the most challenging need to meet because to us, it doesn’t always make sense, and it isn’t always convenient. You won’t find it on your referral paperwork when you adopt, but make no mistake – it’s there. The signs of attachment, the progress, the celebrations of smiles where there used to be tears and peace where there once was fear…there’s nothing quite like it. We are not alone in this process. The Healer, the Great Healer promises to equip us for every good work. Our daughter came to us with a very broken physical heart, but as it turns out – that was only a minor and short-term special need. Healing her emotionally broken heart, teaching her to trust and love with reckless abandon and security is a life long special need and one we work at every day.
It is so worth it, it is such a privilege to be the one who will never leave her.
It’s an amazing honor to be the one who gets to teach her to trust, to love, and to be secure in the love of her family and most importantly – her Creator. What an amazing work He does in the hearts of His children. He heals what is broken, He even knows the stars by name, He is almighty, and He understands.
“He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” — Psalm 147:3-5