When contemplating the adoption of a child with complex medical needs, particularly those needs that may very well result in a shortened lifespan, families are often confronted by well-meaning friends and relatives with a variation of this question:
“How will this adoption affect this children already in your home? How will this affect your marriage?”
Those are fair inquiries. The needs of all family members should respectfully and conscientiously be considered when taking steps to grow a family. But in my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the easier road is the right choice in the long term. There is great growth to be made in facing challenges together as a family, and immense compassion can grow from battling in the trenches together.
Every family is different. Every individual within a family processes difficulties, anxiety, and loss in unique ways. Our reactions to stress, financial challenges, long separations, hospitalizations and uncertainty vary greatly from one person to another. Even something as seemingly trivial as how we respond to returning home to a messy house after having been at our child’s beside hours away can have ramifications.
But in all of this, if we humble ourselves and face the not-so-attractive truths about our weaknesses, there is the opportunity for maturation. Recognizing the fissures that may expose themselves when under great stress allows for reinforcement and repair.
Of course, one must be willing to do the hard work. One must be willing to have their heart broken. That, I believe, is the paramount question to ask.
“Am I willing to do it?”
Am I willing to open myself up to difficulties and challenges? What about the chance of losing my child? Can I risk change? Am I ready to stop believing in the idea of the right child for our family and consider becoming the right family for a child?
As we have worked intensely at stabilizing after an onslaught of medical trauma, we’ve grown closer and more cognizant than ever of our devotion to our family. I have also grown in my compassion for families as they struggle to determine the path to take. Through my position at Little Hearts Medical, I speak to many families considering the adoption of children with complex congenital heart disease. Often during our conversations, people will say, “I just don’t know if we can do it,” to which I respond, “I know you can do it. Where there is a will, there is a way. But the question is, do you want to?”
For some families, the answer is “no”, or “not now”, and there is no shame in that. But for others, the road less traveled may very well turn out to be paved in gold.
My family’s road over the past six years has not been easy, and there are definitely things I would do differently. I would have listened more and by that I don’t necessarily mean to spoken words. Rather, I would have listened more intently to the silences, to the behavior stemming from anxiety, and to my own and my loved ones’ physical and emotional manifestations of stress.
During this time of respite from medical chaos, we have reflected upon all the changes that have taken place within ourselves. My husband and I are brought to tears by the tenderness and compassion that our children display towards each other and humanity in general. Listening to our 5 year old, post cardiac transplant daughter reassuring her 6 year-old sister about her upcoming cardiac cath. was stunning to me in its beauty.
“Don’t worry, Scarlett. I’ve had lots and lots of caths. You will be asleep during the blood draw. And after you wake up, Mommy will be there and then you get to have a sleepover with her at the hotel!”
And watching my 8 year old son, also born with CHD, gently rub his sister’s back while saying, “It will be okay,” made all of the struggles of the past years take on a new layer of beauty.
I look back at our family photos and see so many unscripted images of tenderness between our children. There is a benevolence that stems from shared experiences. I have faith that the difficult path we chose for our family will continue to result in a bountiful harvest of love, understanding and compassion.