When you adopt, you fill out an incredible amount of paperwork! A lot of it is very personal; I specifically remember having to answer what I would change about my spouse if I could. Yikes.

However, we found the hardest part to be this big checklist of medical issues. As a couple you are supposed to check which medical issues you felt you could or could not parent. It was terrible for us. We sat with a doctor and she talked us through each diagnosis.

Remember, this is your family’s journey. It may not be the same as others’, but it will be filled with incredible joy!

After much discussion and prayer, we finally realized if we could get pregnant we wouldn’t get to choose, and so we felt we wouldn’t make a yes/no list for our adoption either. We were happy with that choice, but I think it would have been even easier if there was a page with helpful hints and wisdom from special needs parents. I asked some of my special needs mom friends to help me out preparing the “additional information” section of the medical issues check list.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

You need to know that becoming a special needs family means you are on a journey completely different from anyone you know. You will find great joy, but you will also encounter sadness. At the time of adoption a doctor cannot tell you everything you need to know about your child’s diagnosis. There will be disappointments. There will be great joy.

Nikki Ty, a special needs mama, recommends, “Take it day by day. Don’t get caught up in so many ‘what if’s.’ You will learn a whole new way to look at life, and all of the littlest things will become the biggest celebrations. You’re going to cry and that is okay. You cry because your love is so deep and you want to be able to do your best you can for your child.” Remember, this is your family’s journey. It may not be the same as others’, but it will be filled with incredible joy!

Build your tribe. 

This is huge! Parenting is lonely for everyone, but parenting as a special needs child is complex. Between doctors visits, the research you’ll do, daily tiny miracles, and more, there are times your friends and family won’t understand everything. This is where your special needs tribe comes into play!

“My best friend is an adoptive mom to a special needs daughter. It’s amazing how much harder I thought this was before we became friends.”

Stephanie Wilson says, “Parenting a special needs child can leave you feeling hopeless and alone in a room full of family. A perfect stranger a week ago can become your best friend because you both seem to have the same ailments going on with your kiddos. My best friend is an adoptive mom to a special needs daughter. It’s amazing how much harder I thought this was before we became friends.”

Brandis Goodman added, “It has been a hard road, but one of the greatest blessings we have gained are the friends who understand the special needs life because they are living it too. Having my daughter and meeting so many other kids with all types of special needs has given me the ability to see the beauty that lies deep within each soul, no matter how differently-abled they may be. I have learned that ‘normal’ means nothing, and what is truly important is honoring the individual strengths and abilities of each person for what they are, rather than trying to normalize something that will never fit into that perfect idea of what normal should be.”  These are the types of people you want in your tribe: honest, uplifting, and supportive.

Lifetime of Advocacy

Prepare yourself to be a lifetime advocate of your child. Annice Larkin said, “There are so many fights and challenges that we have. We have fights to get help for our child via the school system, from doctors, insurance companies, and more. They can be frustrating and disheartening, and it’s okay to have a good cry. But, don’t spend too much time on being discouraged. Pick yourself up and use all of that energy to become more determined in getting what your child needs. Push as much as you need to.”

I have seen special needs parents fight for years to get what their child needs. Determination, dedication, persistence, and ferocious love will become your strongest skills.

Keep your cup full. 

Being a mom is exhausting. You truly can’t understand that until you are a mom. You make
choices every day that change the quality of life for your child. Add on top of that an incredible amount of doctor’s appointments, therapies for your child, using medical equipment, and you can easily burn out. Nikki Ty advises, “Make sure you take a break. You can’t pour from an empty cup if you aren’t taking care of yourself.” Dedicate time once a week for refill time. Get your hair done, see a movie that isn’t animated, take an extra long shower. You will find this time fills you and you come back a better, happier mom then before.

“There is no remedy for love, but to love more.” -Thoreau

I have never felt love as strong and as pure then the love that comes from my special needs son. Jamie Lynn Veprek says, “The doctor will focus on the diagnosis but that will just be one part of your child. They won’t tell you about the smiles, the love, the determination, and the countless moments of joy you will be blessed with.”  We are truly so blessed and feel lucky to love and be loved by our son.

What does it mean to love a special needs child? Rebecca Connerly Barlow answers it beautifully: “That’s a pretty profound question. I think it means you are going to grow. This growth will be excruciating and wonderful at the same time. It means that the most tender and vulnerable part of you is walking around independently in the world and you have to endure letting it. It means that you will feel loneliness and exclusion from the ‘normal’ world while feeling an extraordinary instant kinship with those who are walking the same path. It means you will slowly grow to understand the depth of that commitment each painful and wonderful day. It is the greatest challenge and privilege a parent can partake of.”

If you are considering adoption, click here to connect with an adoption professional who can answer your questions.