Thursday, February 6, 2014

Where is the Disconnect & How Do We Bridge the Gap?

I don't fault her for her honesty, although I admit the words stung a bit when I first read them. She is dear to me and has been a wonderful support as a fellow adoptive mom. We were conversing on a message board for adoptive mothers about adopting children with special needs. Her journey to adoption began, like many, with infertility and the desire for a family and she has two wonderful, now grown sons. My journey began differently, of course, and sometimes there is a struggle to understand the other's point of view because of it. 

Her comment was an offhanded one buried deep in a post about fundraising but directed at the idea that not everyone is called to adopt a child with special needs. 
"We weren't looking for a mission, but a child to be a part of our family." 
It got my dander up, to be sure. "Bo is not a mission. He is a child and he is very much a part of this family," I stewed. But I had to be honest with myself and admit that, while I very much hate the term "calling" when it comes to adoption, we did respond to a need on his part and not a desire on ours. In other words, we didn't go into this out of a deep desire to have more children. We had seven. That's a lot. No, we started this adoption because we saw a need and felt compelled to fill it. In a sense, it was a mission for us. 

But let me be very clear, we may have started out on this journey as missionaries, but we became in the process simply parents. We don't feed him, clean up after him, read him books, take him to therapy, tickle him, etc, because he is a project. We do all of that and so much more because he is our beloved son and part of our family. 

I responded to my friend on the message board:
My beef with making it (the adoption of kids with special needs) a "calling" is that it showcases them as somehow less than. It shows our true bias. While we give lip service to the idea that kids with special needs are valuable and equal and were created in the image of God, we don't actually want one. Rather than potential offspring and adored children, they become, instead, "ministry".
I believe there is truth there in what I wrote. But, I simply traded the word "calling" for "need" in the post I linked. My original point in that post is valid. I wanted people to realize that adoption is not just for a select few, for those who are holy or qualified. It's simply for those who can meet a need and who are willing to rely on Christ to do it. I stand by that. I want those who would never consider adoption to do just that. 

But what about those who are already considering adoption? Who desperately want to add a child to their family? Have we so emphasized the calling or need or mission aspect of special needs adoption that we've put these children into an entirely separate category, so that they aren't recognized as children, at all? 

As an adoptive mom, I frequently run across Christians who are hoping to adopt, as we now have that in common. I'm always very excited for them as I think it's an amazing way to grow a family. But it seems they fall into two distinct camps. 

The first is the "mission camp." They generally have other children in the home, they see a need and are filling it. They are adopting from foster care, across races, with special needs, older kids, sibling groups, etc, wherever the need has led them. 

The second camp is the "family camp." They want a child to grow their family. They struggle with primary or secondary infertility. They are usually looking for an infant. While they may be open to crossing races, special needs are not really on their radar or have been discounted altogether. 

And I wonder if, in part, it's because we've emphasized the "special needs" over the "child." 

It breaks my heart. 

I can only speak about Down syndrome because, as the mother of two little boys with Down syndrome, it is all I know. 

But I want you to know, there is nothing "less than" about our boys. There is nothing "less than" about our parenting experience with them. They are fully children, fully boys, fully family. Please, don't doubt that. The joy we have in them is full, the delight we have for them is full, the frustration we feel toward them is full, just like their typically developing siblings. When you adopt a child with special needs, you are getting a child...not a mission, not a calling, not a list of diagnoses...a son or daughter, a part of your family. 

Every parent I know that has a child with Down syndrome says the same thing. All of us adore our kids. In fact, an actual study was done in which 79% of parents reported their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down syndrome. Other studies have shown that the divorce rate among families with a child with Down syndrome is lower than among families with only typically developing kids. 

And yet, the family camp doesn't usually consider a child with special needs to grow their family. Why not? Where is the disconnect? I wish the family camp and the mission camps could blend. I want to hear more people say, "We really want a/another child and know there's a need for parents willing to take kids with disabilities. We're researching and praying with open hearts and minds." Oh, what God could do with that!

Please know that I am not laying the blame at the feet of those in the family camp. I don't think the burden lies solely on them. I think it started long before they began planning their family. Why in the body of Christ do we have this subtle bias that I mentioned earlier? Why are we afraid of special needs? Why are people with disabilities not an included part of our congregations? Why do parents of kids with special needs feel isolated and unwelcome in our churches? 

How do we bridge the gap? 

I don't have the answers to these questions. I wish I did. I know there are large, age-old prejudices and social injustices at play, as well as spiritual issues, to be sure, but what can I do? What can you do? What small step can we take to show that disability is natural, that people are people regardless of needs?

I have a few friends that are the exception to the norm. I adore them, of course. If you are not a follower of Courtney over at Pudge and Biggs, you are just missing out on sheer fun! She and her long-suffering husband started their family with the adoption of a kiddo with Down syndrome and then another "surprise" adoption (if there were such a thing) of another kid with Down syndrome before they had a home grown typically developing kid and then another surprise home grown kid (see a pattern to their family planning, or lack thereof?) You can read the beginning of their story here. The Squibs are all kinds of entertaining and I promise you will not be disappointed if you spend time on her blog. 

My closer-to-home friend, Andrea blogs over at life at mannchester estate. While she and I have belatedly realized we were walking the halls of the local children's hospital at the same time on more than one occasion, we have yet to actually meet in real life. She and her husband are parenting two daughters with unique chromosomes, by choice, although her story started with a twist. You can read it here. She is full of wisdom and humor and you will enjoy her take on life, as well. 

I hope you comment on this post. I hope you share your thoughts and your heart as you respond to my questions. Maybe, as community, we can figure this out together. 


  1. I guess we are in the family camp. We have 6 kiddos, all biological, but after that many c-sections, no more pregnancies for us. I want more children very much, so we have chosen adoption.

    I am approaching it a bit differently in that I already have a heart for the birth mother who is facing an unwanted pregnancy. I want to stand up for her and her choice for life. I want to honor that. I want to help in that "mission" (the right to life mission). I want to be there... literally. It's a perfect match for me because not only am I passionate about that, but I want more children.

    We are open to special needs babies, but I will be honest and say that DS and some others scare me in the financial realm. Meeting the adoption fees is already daunting, but adding to that lots of expensive, invasive, and complicated medical procedures scares me and I don't feel we are prepared for that. I feel like I would be "signing up for" something I can't pay for at all. Does that make sense?

    I also will admit that I want to adopt a baby because I don't want to "sign up" for RAD. I've done that already and I don't want to do it again. Could God change my heart on that? Sure. He might. So far, He hasn't.

    I think it's understandable for people to be scared, honestly.

    I think the key to breaking the fear is to expose people to children with disabilities as much as possible. To take the unknown aspect of it away and connect them to the people part.

    Lastly, I don't fall in the "calling" camp at all. It's a loaded word to me and I know people use it differently, but I often see it as a word that puts others in the "can't speak against this" area. Ex: If a couple says, "We are called to the mission field". Well, if godly friends and family and elders see you as not equipped or prepared, standing on the "calling" aspect makes it something to where others are suddenly defying God if they challenge you. KWIM?

    Are we "called" to adopt? Depends on what you mean by that. We don't have a special spiritual pull or anything like that, BUT we do want to. We are ready. We are desirous of more children. We have giftings we believe we can use for additional children. We want to grow our family. Our entire family wants to. Etc...

    So.. those are my rambling thoughts. :)

    1. I love your rambling thoughts. :) I do wonder, while I have your ear, how it works in the event of a surprise diagnosis of special needs. If a birth mom chooses you, then has a baby with a heart defect needing surgery, do you pass?

  2. I was never in the mission camp. I hate the whole "adopt an orphan - it's the Christian thing to do" clarion call of Dr. Dobson et al. I do know what you're saying about the family camp, though, because it took a while for us to embrace bringing kids with special needs into our family. But once the first one came, the other two were easy-peasy. As I've said in my own writings, I TRULY feel sorry for people who don't have a child with Down syndrome. Truly. They don't know what miracles they are missing.

    I don't know how to answer your questions, though. I don't know how to get others to see what you and I now see. I think that exposing others to the awesome parts of our own lives is one way we can help, but beyond that, I just don't know.

  3. If a birth mom chose us and then the baby had a heart defect, needing surgery (I haven't asked Paul), but I would guess that we would then see it as the LORD's obvious leading. Different than seeking it out, ya' know?

    Granted, I haven't done this yet... we are just getting ready to turn in our app, so I'm a newbie :)... but I think I would feel "pregnant" once a birth mother chose us. Does that make sense? And I would view it the same as when my baby was born: disorders (which one of my kiddos has) and all. :)

    1. Makes perfect sense to me. Thank you!

  4. P.S. And we'd wonder how we were going to pay for it, but trust the LORD. Just as He provided in an amazing way for our Phoebe's bone disorder issues.

  5. Those are a lot of thoughts to respond to. Many of them I've had myself. I think I started out in the family camp of sorts. I knew God encouraged his people to care for orphans so that was the missional side but really the reason I first started thinking about adoption years ago was because I didn't want to be pregnant ever again, not after the terrible pregnancy I had with my daughter. But I said no way to special needs adoption. I wanted an adorable infant I could bond with who wouldn't have attachment issues. I might as well have adopted a puppy. But God, just like he's able, took that tiny seed of availability and grabbed my heart. I think some people start in the family camp, like I did, but with maturity, discipleship, and the vision of God broaden their perspective to include all children. God had to confront the natural human tendency of my heart to fear the unfamiliar, to hate the uncomfortable, to run from different and hard. Every generation has to learn mercy, acceptance, value, etc. Every single one. Because we naturally fear the unknown, we quickly vilify what is different. It's all part of the journey to becoming like Jesus, we don't start out there we grow to that place. Now my desire is to adopt whomever God put's in our life and my preference is a child with a disability. I know it's not the right time for us yet though, but I know God will show us when it is. Right now God is birthing a dream in my heart to teach my community about inclusion, mercy, and valuing all people, starting in the schools. There are lots of ways to bridge that gap I think.

    1. I love this, Beck! And I actually laughed outright at the puppy comment! :)

  6. I think it's good to remember that every adoption involves loss and grief. Even newborns are taken away from the heartbeat and voice that they spent 9 months getting to know. Any adopted child, whether they have "special needs" or not, can have difficulty bonding and grieving their loss... And any biological child can have emotional and physical issues as well!
    If you are brave enough to love, you will be vulnerable to heartbreak. But loving is worth it... We love because He first loved us!
    All this to say. Adopt because you love! Newborns, teenagers, children with special needs, etc etc. God will bless you and provide for your needs!

    1. Loving is worth it...indeed. Good points!

  7. For us personally, my hubby & i didn't know how much either of us had a heart for adoption until Rubina came & we seriously prayed & discussed it for a few weeks until we felt like we weren't called to adopt her & were so thankful when the Yoders' were & were relieved she'd be taken care of...but just from that & a couple dreams i had afterward, i looked around at adoption agencies around us & my hubby & i talked for a good while & feel pretty open to adopting. i wrote them & everything, but of course, we'd have to go through the different classes & such & my hubby said it wasn't the right time because it was at the beginning of his ref season & he's super busy & it's the time of year we need help the most financially with Christmas & such, but also where we save up for other times (since there's not a lot of time for another job during his little bit of summer & he wants to be able to spend more time with us then with how often he's gone during ref season).

    i know that when we were checking, we were open to all ages, though looking more in the 10 & under section since i'll only be 27 near the end of this month-(i told him, i'm just afraid if we got any older than that, i might feel like we're just having an exchange student like i grew up with & not so much like they're my kids, especially since after 10, a lot of kids are taller than me & can be a little intimidating sometimes for me ;) ), but we were hoping for one (or more-i saw a few with 3 kids as something happened to their parents & they didn't want to break up family & i literally bawled reading about them to my hubby) with not a lot of medical expenses...not because we wouldn't love them completely, but because we're already trying to make it on one teacher's salary (they don't make a ton in case you didn't know) who also refs for some extra. We feel super blessed with how much God has provided for us when we've been in harder situations though & i think we definitely would be open to adopting any kids with any situations if we felt specifically called to it because we know God would provide, but just at this moment at least, we aren't "seeking" out a lot of expenses because we don't know if we could provide the extra care a child with disabilities would need financially.

  8. obviously, a child-no matter the circumstances-would be a worthy cause. my hubby still has to convince me sometimes to not pick up every homeless person i see &/or take care of them & having kids in the car & being a woman has helped me not put myself in unwise situations, but i have a hard time not wanting to love anybody i see with a need-so basically everyone since we all have needs, & i think my hubby has really grown in that way too, so i know that personally, if we saw a child with any disabilities or needs (like Grace said, we all have needs & we're aware of that), & knowing that they wouldn't be taken care of or loved, we would want to do that no matter what the circumstances. so again, i guess we just haven't "sought" someone out with disabilities only because we're afraid we wouldn't be able to take care of them financially as much as they might need...but at the same time, knowing that they're not being taken care of when they're not adopted, breaks my heart & makes me want to adopt any & every one we could. like i said, right now though, i think financially is what's holding us back...& waiting for my hubby to feel like it's the right time or just until he has more peace about it.

    i don't know if that's answered your question or not? i don't know about how to bridge the gaps so much. i know that sometimes i fear even what people think about me & how i'm raising my kids now (more so with how i grew up & my dad apparently already doesn't think we spank enough or i'm controlling enough & tells me often) or just feel like a burden & i know i have a personality that's often really misunderstood & don't feel like i fit in even with most of my family so i often feel like there's a gap between me & others just because of that. so yeah, i guess maybe because of that, i have a heart to help others feel connected & part of family & wanna love everybody, but i don't know how to bring that about at times? if you can think of ways, i'd love to help if possible. as always, sorry for my ramblings. just trying to share where we're coming from since you asked for people to respond. :) i love your heart though & that you've made people more aware of the needs there are. i read a Henri Nouwen book in college (i can't remember the book name now -maybe "In the Name of Jesus"?) that really opened my heart for kids with down syndrome & your posts always remind me of that & just warm my heart. haha. that sounds really cheesy, but it's true. i'm a bit socially awkward if you haven't noticed. :-P normally i'm a little better when i write things out, but not so much in reply to people since i normally type how i'm thinking at the moment in an effort to be more real...which results in more awkwardness. ;) i definitely don't think of kids with down syndrome as less than at all though...& as with all kids & people, think they're worth any amount of expenses or hardship one might have to go through in caring for them. i mean, if people are worth Jesus' blood, then they're certainly worth anything short of that. :)

  9. just so you know, i may or may not have had to divide my comment because i'm really good at posting rambling novels on people's posts. sorry! just trying to be as real as possible! i just think in greater length than a lot of people in an effort to be more understood-which often has the opposite effect of what i'm aiming for. i'm aware. no need to tell me. ;)

    1. Dear Rachel,
      You make me smile, hugely. :) I love your big ol'sappy heart. You remind me of me.

    2. thank you! :) i take that as a HUGE compliment as i'm really fond of you! ;) & i just got done reading your comments to Amy! i would love to watch Bo sometime if you'd like! at church or other times too! :) sometimes i feel like when i offer things like that, that i'm intruding or something. i offered to take my cousin's daughter to the state park with us one day because she's a single mom & i figured i could give her a break & she unfriended me on facebook & never responded to me so it's made me feel a little uncomfy sometimes. ;) (there were other issues with our parents though in the past so maybe it had more to do with that & her taking it the wrong way, but still hard to shake that feeling & thinking maybe people would take it the wrong way. i definitely don't think i can do a better job than the parents with their kids in any way. just would love to give other parents a break sometimes as i know what it's like to not get one at times & i love hanging out with kids-well, you know, except for times i need a break. ;) ) i work in the purple room tomorrow & next week & know you mentioned 1 on 1 & i know Maddie sometimes gets jealous when i hang out with the other kids when i'm in there anyway, but i'm off 4 weeks after that...i would love to watch him any of those times! please don't feel like you'd be burdening me at all! :)

  10. I love you. And I'll keep chewing on this.

    I'll say I also see the comment
    "We weren't looking for a mission, but a child to be a part of our family."

    from the world looking in, even in adopting out boys they weren't a mission but wanted a family. There are people that can't even imagine adopting and loving a HEALTHY NORMAL child and loving them as a bio child.

    1. So very true and I forget that! It seems so foreign to me that people would think that love could be different or less than for a child adopted. Huh. Good point! So glad you love me and are willing to ride out these rabbit trails with me. ;)

  11. I think the biggest thing is whether as parents we feel full of love, and out of that fullness, want to serve the children that God gives us, by birth or adoption, or whether we feel lacking and hope that children will fill those empty spaces. This definitely makes a difference in how people approach parenthood and adoption and how they view children.