When Samantha was born, our life changed. I knew during my pregnancy that something was wrong, but beyond that, there was very little we knew. I loved her so much and love was enough. As the months passed, however, I realized that love was a great foundation and starting point, but taking care of her needs took a whole lot more than just love.
Samantha opened up a brand new world I had never imagined entering. All of a sudden I was a part of the special needs community. So, from my experience as I mother my daughter who has special needs, I share with you some insights about what it means and what to expect when entering a special needs adoption. Though our situations will be different, I feel I have some light I can shed on the topic.
1. You may feel overwhelmed.
Samantha has severe microcephaly, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. Things have definitely gotten easier as she has gotten older. I have found our rhythm and some of her issues have evened out. However, there are certainly days when I feel overwhelmed. I wonder if we are doing enough. Other days I wonder how we can possibly get it all done. Between doctor appointments and various therapies, our schedule is completely full. Logistically, you need to either be organized or work on becoming organized. I’m a work in progress.
2. You may feel alone.
When Samantha was born, I felt so alone. Surely no one knew what I was feeling. And yet, I was shocked with how many people had a special needs child or sibling. It seemed like they were coming out of the woodwork. It was comforting to know that there were others out there doing this too, but I often felt the loneliness that comes from not being able to attend parties, dinners, or even go out with friends because getting a babysitter is far more difficult when there are potential seizures, medications to give, and diapering a growing child. I felt, and sometimes still do, feel very isolated.
3. Money may always be on your mind.
My parents taught me a lot about finances from a young age, so I’ve always had an internal budget running…thinking of ways to save, etc. However, since Samantha was born, and knowing how much everything costs to keep her healthy…money is always on my mind. I have become creative in ways to earn extra money. We have fundraised for her as well. But money is always on my mind, and I’m not sure that will go away as I think about her future and making sure she has what she needs if something were to happen to us. After all, she can’t just work and try to find a job like our other kids. She will require care, as she is 100% dependent.
4. You will appreciate the little things.
I remember watching other babies Samantha’s age. They were rolling over, crawling, beginning to walk and saying words. Samantha didn’t do those things alongside them. So the day she rolled over? It was a party in our house. When she started to walk?! We were elated. She is almost 11 years old and we celebrate when she is able to feed herself. Her small victories have taught me to slow down and really appreciate the little blessings in our life. A good night’s sleep. A tantrum-free afternoon. A song that comes on and we all dance to. Those moments mean so much more than they used to.
5. You will need help.
I tend to take on a lot by myself. And there is actually not a lot that others can do for Samantha. It’s really either my husband or me. However, others are able to help with my other children and as I’ve allowed others to do that, to serve our family, my load has been lifted and my relationships with those who help us feel so much richer.
6. You will be stronger than you think.
Love is a great motivator. And I have found that the things I thought would be most difficult, I’m able to do. As a family we figure it out.
7. You will be tired.
I don’t think I need to elaborate here. Just know you’ll be tired.
8. YOU will become the expert on your child.
Samantha is non-verbal, yet I know when she is sick. I know when she is happy. I know before she will have a seizure. I know when her laugh takes that little turn into a cry…something other people don’t pick up on and think she’s still just laughing really hard.
9. You must be careful with advice.
Doctors are your friend. The really are. I had a doctor tell me horrible things about Samantha’s future when she was born. I didn’t forgive him for that for a long time. I was hurt that he would so plainly and bluntly list off all the things she would never be able to do. I have come to realize, however, that doctors really are great. They are. They don’t have all the answers, but they have some pretty good insights. And if you get a great doctor, cherish that. Great doctors are the ones who know that each child is different and progresses in a way we can’t always predict. That doctor, though he could have told me in a different way, shared with me what he felt I needed to know. I value the doctors we’ve had and have. I’ve had friends give me great advice…but the advice they’ve given me about how to treat something that we are struggling with Sammy? Well, no offense, but I appreciate the gesture, but often it just doesn’t apply to her.
On the flipside, especially when going into an adoption and wondering if it’s right or not…many people will say, “Oh, _____ and _____ isn’t a problem. My child was born like that and ___________ happened. No problem. Don’t listen to what others have to say.” I’m so happy for YOUR child, but we have NO idea what will happen with THIS child. So take all the advice and counsel you get from friends, family, and professionals, and listen to the voice in your heart AND brain. Lead with both! Otherwise you could miss out on a lot. It takes love and smarts. It’s a balancing act that you’ll learn.
10. Your heart will ache.
I feel like our life is so blessed because Samantha is just how she is. I see how our life is so much fuller because of it. And honestly, at this point, I’m not sure I would change anything. But there are days when I’m still sad. When I want to have a conversation with her. When I want to go to her games and cheer for her on the sideline. When I wish I could share one of my favorite childhood books with her and she could tell me what she loved. When she could just walk to the car instead of me getting her out of her wheelchair, picking her up, and buckling her into her 5point harness car seat. On those days and in those moments, my heart aches for the little girl I thought I’d have…even though I love the little girl I do have.
11. Everyone has special needs.
Yes, Samantha’s needs are obvious. We have adopted three other children since Samantha was born. Though none of them are classified as “special needs,” I can clearly see how each of them has needs that are special and unique to them. These needs require extra time, attention, and care. We are all walking around with our own special needs and if we understand that, it kind of helps open our eyes to what is all around us and open our hearts so it can be filled with more compassion.
Yes, when you adopt a “special needs” child, there are obvious things that you will need to think about and do. I look at my life, however, and see how mothering Samantha isn’t much different than mothering Callie, Micah, and Levi. I often feel overwhelmed with each of their personalities and needs. I sometimes feel alone. I have to decide what advice to use and what to drop. I’m an expert on each of them and I’m OH SO TIRED! Like, all the time. I didn’t choose a special needs life. I’m not sure if I would have chosen it on my own. I’m not sure I’m that good of a person. But I can confidently say that I’m so glad this life has chosen me.