My husband and I talked about adopting for years. Years of waiting for the right time and the right amount of money sitting in our bank account. We felt called to international adoption, but from Africa not Eastern Europe, and we never really considered adopting a child with special needs.
However, because of the example set by some blog friends and a convergence of circumstances, we made the commitment to adopt two older special needs children from Bulgaria. If you're thinking about adopting a special needs child too, here's my advice:
First: Fall head over Heels in Absolute Love
When we first saw the picture of Nellie in the "newly listed children" page on Reece's Rainbow we knew she was our daughter. Not because she looked like us or hit our adoption criteria, but because we loved her immediately. And in times of uncertainty, struggle and frustration, it is this powerful emotional pull that helps keep us driven and focused.
As parents we love and we grieve. Grief is par for the course in parenting. We grieve for time lost and time used; we grieve for expectations that never come to light. Unlike other parents, whose excitement and love might have been mixed with grief when they were surprised to learn that their child is blind, we have known Nellie as a blind person from the start.
Blindness and our daughter were a complete package. Our grief was about the loss of getting to smell her newborn smell, kiss her newborn cheeks, and seeing her take her first wobbly steps. We grieve daily over not being with her to hold her when she cries.
But grief's antidote is love. So step one is always to fall head over heels in love.
Second: Build Community
Smitten as we were for this young girl (and also Marin, a little boy we met a couple months later through our adoption agency), we knew we needed to prepare ourselves and our family for life with her and we were also faced with the task of fundraising the entire adoption. We reached out to our local community and the vast community of parents of children with visual impairments for help.
We joined yahoo groups (like the blind homeschoolers group), searched websites (like WonderBaby.org) and purchased books. We started our Braille library. We began a blog, Bringing Nellie & Marin Home. We immersed ourselves in learning about the possible needs of our newest daughter beyond her needs as an adoptive child.
Community building was imperative for our fundraising attempts. Our local paper did a front page article on our family in the Amherst Bulletin that brought our cause to the masses. Checks came with messages of support for keeping our community a diverse place. Nellie (and Marin) have been welcomed into a community that loves them, even before they arrive.
Third: Wait, Dream and Find Projects
Nellie and Marin are welcomed, but the work is not over. Adoption is all about the hurry up and wait. You work diligently getting your paperwork together and signed and authenticated and then you send it off and wait. You set up an online auction, get donations, pay fees, and fundraise some more. My obsessive nature comes out in down times so I have to have a project or two to keep my sanity.
My current obsession is Nellie's lack of pre-literacy work. My daughter has never been to a zoo and smelled the animals; she's never heard a cat meow or a dog bark. She's never picked out her favorite soft shirt or chosen her special birthday meal.
I have a list of places I would like to take her and books to expand her experiences. Since we are a family of eaters, if I can expand on these experiences with food, I will definitely do it! In my finer moments, I have been known to sew a costume for a child, providing the chance to dress up like his or her favorite book character.
We have an open floor plan on the first floor so our play area is adjacent to the kitchen (where I spend the majority of my time). We already have a rug that delineates her play area so she has some tactile assurance while she explores her world. We have her bed without a toe-bumping frame in our room to attend to her nighttime needs and we purchased a bureau with easy-opening drawers that were not too deep.
Fundraising and inspiring others to consider adoption is an ongoing task. I maintain our blog and my Facebook page. Our local community has donated many gift cards and certificates that we've auctioned off online. We keep our story alive in people's minds and provide a model of what an adoptive family looks like. If we can do it, so can others!
One Step at a Time
Adoption is not for the faint of heart and no one would call it easy. But for our family, fulfillment is in loving and giving. Nothing else matches that.
Have faith, take it one step at a time, and adopt your own special kid. It is all so worth it.
Kimberly Schildbach LMHC, M.Ed. is trained as a family therapist but loves being a homemaker. She lives with her family of 6 (now) in Western Massachusetts where they tend a flock of naughty chickens and troupe of bantam ducks. Nellie and Marin will hopefully be coming home by December of 2013. Please visit her blog at: www.bringingnhome.blogspot.com for all the latest updates or to help them in their fundraising efforts.