Unspeakable Joy: adopting a child with complex special needs

December 19, 2014 cognitive delay, Family Stories, hypothyroidism, non-verbal 3 Comments

Sometimes life takes us places we never expected to go and in those places God writes a story we never thought would be ours. — Renee Swope

I never viewed myself as “special needs” parent. Our biological daughter was born healthy and our adopted son has a complex heart condition. I believed special needs to be a condition related to cognitive delay. As a teacher I am ashamed to admit that I have favored intelligent students and been very frustrated with “low kids”. As if there were some magical way that children could will themselves to be smarter. I admired people who enjoyed working with children with cognitive delay but I did not see the gift in it.

We found our daughter Savannah on Rainbow Kids website in May of 2011. Savannah was listed as having delays but nothing else specific. I imagined that she was delayed because she was in an underfunded orphanage in rural China. I didn’t give it much thought and just assumed at some point she would catch up.


Her adoption process was long and arduous. During the 18 month wait we received several updates.
She is not adoptable.
She can’t,
she won’t,
she doesn’t….

Every picture we received revealed a rapid decline in her development and her health. We were not sure what the cause was but we were still certain that she was out daughter.

When we finally made it to China Savannah was 3 years old, 11 pounds, no teeth, no hair, no suck reflex, no head control, with a raspy cry, beyond dry skin, and covered in scabies. She was so vacant and weak that she didn’t even react when I took her from the nanny. I fell in love with her immediately.

But I was so scared.

I was afraid for her life and how I had most likely wrecked mine. I kept telling God I am not a special needs parent. You have picked the wrong mother for this little one. I am not enough.

The adoption trip was difficult due to feeding issues and transporting her around. She didn’t have enough strength to hold herself up in a stroller so I carried her the entire time. My arms were burning and my mind was racing. The physical and emotional defeat I began to feel made me desperate for God’s help. With each step through Guangzhou I repeated the verse… I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.Phil 4:13.

When my biceps were at the point of giving out I tried to imagine that the pain Savannah had endured was nothing compared to my physical weakness. God took over and he made it possible for me to care for her in China while completing the paperwork. The officials suggested that we return Savannah to her orphanage and come back in a few months for a “better baby”.

Even in my weakness and small mindedness a fire started in my heart. I had been in the adoption community long enough to have witnessed many miracles. I just needed to believe in one for Savannah. Each time someone looked at her with pity and fear I said, “Prepare to be amazed”.

Upon coming home Savannah was immediately diagnosed with congenital hypothyroidism. The cure is one pill of synthriod a day, starting at birth. Since she never received treatment in China her cognitive and physical delays were severe. Doctors could not say what the long term prognosis would be because they had never started treatment on a three year old.

Even though I was asking others to prepare for amazement I was imagining being locked inside forever with a lifeless child. Little by little with the combination of food, love, and medical treatment Savannah started to come around and I was the one who was amazed.

After a month home she was smiling. I never imagined it. After 2 months home she was sitting up in a Bumbo seat playing with toys. At 5 months home she began to crawl. I felt like I was witnessing God’s miracles every day in my living room. Even with all that God was showing me I still doubted. I just knew she would never walk.

At 20 months home Savannah started walking.

And now she can run!


Savannah is not lifeless. She is completely full of JOY. I am convinced that only the angels in heaven have as much joy as Savannah does. She laughs all day long, every day. She has about 20 different laughs. There’s the loud blast followed by a deep belly laugh, one that sounds like a kitten purring, and one that seems like a courtesy laugh. It’s impossible to be around her and not feel the JOY that she exudes. Unspeakable Joy.

Savannah has been home for 2 years now. She is 5 years old, nonverbal, and has significant cognitive delay. She attends an awesome special needs program though our school district. She has come so far and continues to amaze us every single day. I am not the same person I was before adopting Savannah. My heart and my mind have been transformed. Savannah has taught me to live in the moment, to let go of resentments, and to appreciate relationships above all else.


Miracles happen and hope is real. Special needs is not a burden, it is a gift.

I am honored that even in my weakness and small mindedness God chose me to be a “special needs” mom. Savannah’s Mom.

Savannah’s adoption took me to a place I never expected to go and God wrote a glorious story that I’m so grateful to say is mine.

Savannah’s family is in the process of bringing home two more children from China with special needs. If you would like to support this family in prayer and/or financial support, visit their fundraising site to learn more.

guest post by Amy Meeker

3 responses to “Unspeakable Joy: adopting a child with complex special needs”

  1. Rebecca says:

    We are currently reviewing a special focus 27 month old girl with pretty hefty cognitive delays (or so it seems according to her file). We are praying for some guidance and this post gave me encouragement. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength, I have to keep remembering that we are talking about a LIFE, a beautiful life he created. Thank you!

  2. ALD says:

    Wow. I needed to read that! A year ago we brought home our 3 year old son. He was not quite as severely delayed but we were still shocked. And, like you, we assumed that with nutrition and love he’d quickly catch up. Despite multiple therapies and specialists he just hasn’t made as much gross motor or speech progress as we expected and I was beginning to despair. Some regression in October prompted a brain MRI and we discovered (almost a year into the adoption) that he’d had a stroke, probably at birth. I’ve spent the last month trying to wrap my mind around why God chose me to be this child’s mama, and feeling very ill-equipped for the long haul. Thank you for your encouraging story! Like your daughter, our son exudes an other-worldly joy and I know it’s contagious!

  3. Tracy says:

    Thank you for this. I completely relate to the unspeakable JOY you mention. Our son oozes it. Its infectious and I’m convinced given to these kiddos in double portions. We are now in process for his sister who had a stroke at birth and has CP. Its a significant need we never would have imagined signing on for. But God has a different plan and keep a sending me articles just like this to remind me who He is and who I am in Him. Thank you for your heart!

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