I can still remember the first special needs checklist we ever filled out. It was March 2005. We had just sent our first dossier to China. Our checklist was quite simple. We stated cleft lip and palate, female and As Young As Possible (AYAP). My husband and I signed it and I quickly faxed it to our agency. It took less than 5 minutes. Looking back on it I am sure the Waiting Child coordinator at our agency laughed her hiney off when she received it! The simplicity of it! Needless to say we were not called for a Special Needs (SN) child referral. Not solely because of the brevity of our checklist, but because our Kiah was in the Non Special Needs (NSN) program. But looking back, what was so important about that checklist for me was that it showed that at that point in time I was just not willing to take a chance, research the options and stretch my thought process. I knew about cleft lip and palate through some earlier research I had done about Smile Train and that was the extent of my interest in exploring other possibilities.
In early Spring 2006 we knew God was calling us to adopt again. Our new agency sent us a SN checklist to fill out. This time it wasn’t really a quick, simple process. The list was 2 pages long and for each special need listed you were supposed to check YES, NO or MAYBE. I poured over that list for weeks. I gave some thought to every special need on the list. I researched and researched. I wanted to be as open as possible while still trying to “protect the climate of our current family environment” as I so aptly put it. Essentially I was trying to figure out what special needs I could check that would give a child a chance at a new life… bless us with another child but…..without the special need being a total…..(gulp) inconvenience. There it is. I said it. This time around we checked YES to about 6 special needs listed on that checklist. Less than 3 weeks later our agency called us with the referral… of our son Luke… and he had a cleft lip and palate. I was so relieved! THAT was the original special need we had wanted way back in 2005! In the back of my mind I thought “whew….we were matched with a child with a special need that is totally manageable.”
We adopted Luke from China in May 2007. And here is where the story changes a bit. Yes, Luke had a cleft lip and palate. And both the lip and palate were already repaired! SCORE! But we soon discovered he had an abundance of other special needs that were undocumented and we were seemingly unprepared for. I felt overwhelmed, deceived, saddened and totally and completely 100% incapable of handling any of it.
And I had to face that question: CAN I HANDLE THIS???
Because truthfully, if you asked me back then to fill out a special needs checklist based on Luke’s issues….there is no way that I would have checked any of them.
Hypoplasia of the Corpus Callosum (brain abnormality)
Growth hormone deficiency
Strabismus and Amblyopia in BOTH eyes
Severe dental issues (caps and extractions!!!)
Global gross developmental delays in cognitive and fine motor
Multiple Processing Disorders
Because straight up…. they weren’t needs I THOUGHT I could handle or WANTED to handle. When I filled out that SN checklist prior to Luke’s adoption I was so afraid of being burdened and trapped by a need I couldn’t handle.
Now here is the truth…even though I thought I couldn’t handle all this…. I’m doing it. Every day. And there are times of struggle (as with anything) but overall… it is a JOY to parent this kid. And even though I didn’t directly choose to be stretched and molded in this fashion…. both Luke and I (and the rest of our family) are thriving, overcoming and we will definitely be better people for this experience.
We all are capable of handling so much more than we think. Imagine what we would have missed out on if Luke was not our son. Imagine what Luke would have missed out on if he had not been adopted. Imagine what I personally would have missed out on learning about MYSELF.
I think this type of knowledge should spur us forward to investigate further, research more and take a chance on a child that may not fit our “mental checklist”. Cause Luke certainly didn’t fit mine! I call my “mental checklist” the one I have that says you want to step out and help but you still want it to be relatively easy and carefree. Is there anything wrong with that? NO WAY. I applaud all families who adopt special needs children. However, how much more could you be offering a child and yourself if you stepped a little out of your comfort zone?