I’ve often sat in front of a blank computer screen and wondered what in the world to write. What do I have to say to you? Each and every one of you readers: pre-adoptive parents who are wading through the trenches of paperwork and up to their necks in notarizations and acronyms; traveling families who are getting a very, very good idea at what trauma looks like in the scared eyes of a child… or in the way-too-open arms of a toddler who runs up to every single stranger; post-adoptive parents who are cocooning because they’re supposed to but other than that everything that is going on in their household is NOT by the book… and then the even-farther-out-post-adoption families who wondered what in the world they did wrong because it was just supposed to be a simple case of attachment, bonding, love and happiness.
Ya’ll are successful. Just let me say it… sit down. Lean back. Realize it. No matter how you feel at this moment… you are a hero. I know that you hate to hear this word associated with your name. Hero. It’s grandiose, rather pompous… and you’re just living life, doing what you feel like you were called to do, and it’s hard. But hard is a part of life; hard isn’t wrong. It’s just hard.
The definition of “hero” is: A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.
…especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.
There may be adoptive mamas and babas out there who consider themselves heros, rescuers… saviors. But I’m pretty sure that those mamas and babas reading this right now are the ones who cringe whenever someone pats them on the back for adopting. You’re right, it’s not all about you… but you probably need some encouragement nonetheless.
I have three sisters, adopted from China in 2003, 2005 and 2012. The first two were non-special needs adoption. I remember when I traveled with my parents to bring the oldest home, and we were all shocked that in our travel group of about a dozen families one was bringing home a boy and one, a 2 year-old. It seemed so strange. We didn’t get it. There are boys and older kids waiting? Now, a dozen years later, things have changed drastically.
Why? Because China saw that families were interested in adopting little baby girls and so they did their paperwork.
Did you know that it takes a lot of work on the part of orphanages to do a child’s paperwork for adoption? In some of the larger orphanages it’s a very streamlined process, when all of the experienced folks are working. But, as is often the case, people get promoted or laid off and so the folks that know how to stamp approvals aren’t in the office and the new staff aren’t so sure about this whole “international adoption” thing and papers pile up on someone’s desk while babies become delayed toddlers and delayed toddlers become really delayed big toddlers. And in other orphanages the process goes along at a shuffle because nobody knows which paper needs to be notarized by the government and which needs to be signed by the boss and which blood test needs to be done and… you get the point.
But when families in America started showing that they were willing to bring baby girls into their families, orphanages jumped and moved and now we have middle-schoolers who read mysteries and brush back long, thick black hair.
About four years later the baby girls in China seemed to start “running out.” This was probably accurate for the larger orphanages who figured out the system, but not at all for the smaller, poorer ones who still didn’t even know that adoption would ever be a possibility for their babies. But, in an act of faith, the orphanage staff began doing paperwork for children with minor special needs.
And those children began being adopted. Sit back and try to imagine what must have gone on that day in a random orphanage when the staff found out that the first special needs child they had ever prepared for adoption was matched. I bet that their mouths fell open and their minds started cranking as they thought of the little ones just down the hall who might just have hope.
Horizons opened. Children found families. Lives were changed.
What about the day when a sick child, one without a “repairable” special need… with something like a palliative heart condition, anal atresia, or even hearing loss, joined their forever family? The orphanages “in the know” about how the whole adoption process on their end worked must have gotten busy, inspired… excited.
I think that it has only been in the last few years that children with special needs such as Down syndrome and cerebral palsy have found homes. Do you know how huge this is?
It just takes one… I remember sitting on the mat in the toddler room of a smaller orphanage who has very little experience in adoption, telling the manager about a family I knew. “They have many children adopted from China… one has cerebral palsy.” I told her. Her eyes got big. We both looked over at the happy, smiling eyes of Xing, a lovely 8 year-old who can’t walk because of her tight muscles but who can communicate and tells the nannies, “I want more milk!” or “I want to go too.” when they forget about her in the business of tending to others.
Today, because of the testimony of others, Xing’s paperwork is being begun for international adoption.
We were sitting at a big, important lunch around the director’s table and the vice directors and managers were talking about the children who had arrived in the orphanage over the past year. “One day, because of international adoption, ” one of the ladies commented, “the only children living here will have cerebral palsy.” During the next month I did some research and found out that little girls with CP can find families… I told that to the orphanage, and they started listing off names of children whom they would have to begin paperwork for. Nothing has started yet, but these little girls are planned for “the next batch.”
And when one orphanage we work with saw that, through advocacy, two of their beautiful girls with Down syndrome had been adopted, they decided to begin the paperwork for all of their children with Down syndrome. And they want me to help advocate for each of them when the paperwork is completed.
I have so many more stories about how the testimonies of families opening their hearts to a child and a special need has helped to change the culture in orphanages.
So you are successful, not just because you’re doing the nitty-gritty of child-rearing (although all parents are pretty awesome for doing just that!) but because you have changed the world.
You don’t have to save all of the children… you haven’t because you can’t. But you can love dangerously; sacrificing even your own lives, and by your love – proving that life is worth it, that children are gifts and that each breath is sacred and something worth fighting for – you are changing the world.