Doug and Deanne Walker have 19 children, 10 of whom are adopted. These loving parents have been up and down and all around adoption, and seem to me to be an endless bucket of adoption knowledge and wisdom. On top of that, the Walkers are welcoming, inviting, and friendly! This series of articles covers everything from being an organized home executive to failed adoptions to finding the right agency. So as you read, imagine taking a comfortable spot on Deanne’s sofa as she openly shares her insight into each topic. This topic is on adopting a drug-addicted baby.
In preparation to adopt a baby born addicted to cocaine and marijuana, Deanne took over 40 hours of class instruction to become knowledgeable about drug-addicted babies. The education scared her and left her feeling concerned. But this was only booked knowledge–the real learning has taken place as the Walkers have raised their precious, amazing, willful, and sometimes irrational and rebellious son. What adoptive parents of drug-addicted babies need to know boils down to this: They will have issues. You see, when a birth mother is using drugs while pregnant, these drugs affect brain functioning as the brain is being developed. And so, although the drugs work their way out of the child’s system over time, there are longer-lasting effects because of behavioral habits and thought processes developed during the time of addiction. This takes a lot of undoing, a lot of patience and consistency, and a lot of love.
When the Walkers’ baby was small he didn’t cry a lot. In fact, he was a fairly easy baby. But as he grew his thought processing became evident–he didn’t understand cause and effect, he didn’t understand boundaries. And he didn’t have good logical social thinking skills. By the time he became mobile his parents began to see challenges. At the age of two, he seemed out of control, damaging things in the home to the tune of about $3,000 just that year.
Most children have a healthy fear intuition, but that didn’t exist in their son. One day he climbed to the top of the swing set and jumped off, breaking his arm. As he’s gotten older they have had to deal with angry behavior from him. He’s pretty good at dishing out teasing, but when teased back, he may lash out. At these times, or times when he is hurting another, they pull him aside and explain, “This is partially you choosing to react and partially what’s going on inside of you. You get to decide what you’re going to be. You are more than this! You’ve been given this challenge so you can be made strong. In all weaknesses, there can become a great strength. You are made to be more than any weakness that you have through the drug addiction. You do not have to succumb to that. Be the person who you really are inside. With the drug addiction inside, you can actually be even better than you would have been without this to overcome.”
The Walkers know that all people have their own challenges–and challenges are real growth opportunities. As with their other children who have their own unique challenges, they have taught their son that the circumstances he was born in created a different way of thinking and a different set of challenges for him.
“This is the challenge set that you’ve been given. Your responsibility is to overcome the challenges you’ve been given. Each person has challenges. All of us need to overcome our challenges, regardless of what they are.” In the Walker home, being born addicted to drugs is not an excuse for bad behavior. They have another child born without any fingers on one of her hands, and with three fingers missing on the other . . . and true to their principles, just because she doesn’t have complete hands doesn’t mean she doesn’t need to write her name. She has to learn how to live with it and how to conquer it. Similarly, their drug-addicted child needs to overcome his challenge so he can live appropriately in society.
Deanne explained that with a physical challenge, society gives allowances. But no one sees the chemical and physical changes in the brain, so there is no “pass” given. This is what the Walkers know is best for their children anyway: “My children need to give their best. We all fail at times, but it’s all about picking ourselves up and doing it all over again.” A common phrase in the Walker home is YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS.
When asked what Deanne would like to share with other parents of children born addicted to drugs and adopting a drug-addicted baby, she said, “Tell them there is hope. They do get better. Some days I have no hope and I think this will never end, but other days I absolutely know he will grow to be an exceptional man. I believe that, not despite, but rather because of the drug addiction, he will be the greatest example of kindness, charity, and leadership. He works daily to overcome his challenge and that makes him strong.”
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