Special needs children need families, too.
A beautiful little girl born in the Ukraine needed a home, but Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley and her husband Master Sgt. Ernie Valley didn’t know about her until they went looking for a special needs child to adopt. Their hearts had been touched by the many children who would grow up in countries where there are no provisions for the disabled. They had particularly investigated Russia, but were disappointed when, in 2013, it became law that no Russian children could be adopted by U.S. citizens.
Jamie said they then decided to investigate adoption possibilities in Ukraine because the process there was similar to Russia’s. Leaving their three children in the care of Jamie’s parents, they left for Ukraine to visit an orphanages in Donetsk, with the hope of finding the just-right child for them. That’s where they met two-year-old Oleksandra, whom they soon nicknamed Sandie.
It was frightening to be in a country where there was so much civil unrest. They were careful in their planning, making sure they knew where embassies were located, if needed. They were willing to take the risk, and it paid off.
“When they handed her to us, our dream became a reality,” said Ernie. “I was ecstatic.”
From that point on, it was just a matter of time and getting the paperwork done. Jamie said, “I loved her from the moment I saw her. I knew she was meant to be our child.”
They were not able to bring her home at that time. A few months later, Jamie returned, packed up their precious little daughter and headed for America. They were met at the airport by a daddy who could hardly wait to be with her again, and three biological children who were more than eager to welcome her into their family.
They knew there would be challenges. Sandy was born with a cleft palate and a congenital heart defect, both of which would require corrective surgery at some future date. They were realistic about what adopting this special needs child would mean. Of course, no one can know what the future will bring, but they learned as much as they could as they prepared to help their new little daughter.
In the orphanage she was only fed baby food that didn’t require chewing. She literally had to learn how to chew her food and feed herself. Jamie and Ernie patiently worked with her and in no time at all she had it mastered. If she experienced a problem in swallowing due to the cleft palate, Sandie seemed to know how to deal with it. They were impressed with her ability to handle her disabilities. The same is true with her heart problem. When she gets winded due to its not functioning normally, she simply sits down and rests. After a few minutes she jumps up and is on her way again. They are impressed with her tenacity.
The Family Dynamics
Their lives didn’t change as much as they thought they might. Jamie said, “Tell prospective parents that it’s not as scary as it may seem to adopt a special needs child. Things seems to go on quite normally.” She said it was no different than adding a biological child to your family. The dynamics don’t change.
Their twin boys adore their little sister. Ernie said, “They are very protective of her. If anyone on the playground treats Sandie unkindly, they better run for cover. These boys are always looking out for her.” Her 13 year-old sister is equally adoring. She loves picking out her clothes and helping in any way she can.
It took a while for Sandy to warm up to her new siblings, to know how to respond to them. Now she plays and has fun with them at every opportunity. And they seem to enjoy it as much as she does.
It’s a Team Effort
Jamie emphasized that it’s important for both parents to be fully on board with this decision. “Go into it with your eyes wide open,” she said. “It will be work and it will take both of you loving this child in order to have the best outcome.” She also clarified that learning all you can about the child prior to her joining your family is important, even if it’s only a little from those who cared for her in the orphanage.
They stressed the importance of having your child in the care of a physician as soon as possible. “Be open with him about any of your concerns.” Many issues will arise as decision are made regarding surgery or other needed physical and emotional care. Having trusted doctors on your team is vital.
They have found it helpful to connect with others who have adopted special needs children. Sharing experiences and learning from one another can be comforting and instructive. Also, friends are important. In the Valley’s situation (as members of the military), their extended families are far away. Though they have all been extremely supportive and loving, they are not close enough to turn to for hands-on help at the spur of the moment. That’s why having friends matter. Jamie said, “Your military friends become your family. We help them and they help us.”
If You Want to Adopt
Knowing how important it is for special needs children to have a good home, the Valleys are offering their help to anyone interested in venturing forth on this journey. Jamie said, “If anyone out there is thinking about adoption, please tell them they can contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
To gain an even greater understanding of Jamie, Ernie, and their adopted daughter, please watch this video. You’ll enjoy seeing them with their adorable little Sandie, and learning more of their story.