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By guest author, Michelle Cuthrell
Three and a half years ago, my husband and I fell in love with an 18-month-old boy from China.
He was precious.
He was perfect.
And he had medical special needs.
Having two biological children of our own at the time, we had no prior experience with caring for children with medical needs. And although my sweet hubby was a physician assistant very eager to love on a child he could provide for in our home, both of us, at times, wondered if we were really equipped to care for a child who would require multiple surgeries and daily assistance of some sort, especially when we had two other superheroes in our home already.
Distant friends told us this would too drastically change our lives. Acquaintances told us our biological children would be ruined. People who heard our story asked why we would choose to disrupt our comfortable life — the life with two children in a comfortable home and no health issues to worry about. Especially when we had no idea what we were doing.
There were seconds, moments, throughout the adopting process when, even as we LONGED to hurry the process and hold the sweet man we had nicknamed Superman in our arms, we wondered if these people were right. If God really knew what He was doing. If we were really the Kents for the job.
It turns out, we didn’t know what we were doing. And God did. And those people with their sweet protective hearts and their very good intentions — their opinions, combined with our fear, could have robbed us of one of the greatest blessings of our lives.
THIS is what adoptive parent Michelle knows now that she wishes paper pregnant Michelle would have known then. Because the world was very good at preparing us for the HARD parts of adopting a child with special needs … and very silent on the topic of the BLESSINGS.
5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Adopting a Child with Special Needs
1. Special needs aren’t scary.
Not when you fall in love with the face and the personality and the little spirit of the soul behind them.
The second I held that sweet 2 ½-year-old hand, Superman moved from a photo of a child “with medical special needs” to MY SON. And when the child is your SON, not a file or a case number or a medical record, there is nothing you wouldn’t do for him.
God replaced my fear with fierceness and my concern with courage, and suddenly, almost overnight, the scariest thing about our situation of caring for a child with medical needs was that WE ALMOST LET FEAR ROB US OF THE PRIVILEGE OF DOING IT.
Because perfect love casts out fear. God’s perfect love poured into our imperfect hearts for HIS perfectly wonderful son drove out our fear. When Superman became a FACE and not a FILE, special needs became not scary. Because we quickly discovered that what the world called “special” needs were actually some of Superman’s greatest superpowers —and what MADE him the spirited overcomer that he is.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t scary times — when Superman was waking up from anesthesia for the second time under our care and he asked with his eyes because he had a tube down his throat, “Am I going to be okay?”
When he was lying in a hospital bed on Day 6 of NPO — without any food or water for nearly a week — and all I wanted to do was sneak him a cherry tomato and a sushi roll, because I knew his favorite foods of all time would instantly cure the grumpies I’d been facing for days.
When he was in the operating room a little longer than I had imagined, and I sat twitching, waiting with other kid-less parents in the waiting room for someone to call my name.
But when the child is a FACE and not a FILE, a son or daughter and not a photo, fear goes out the window. And the only thing scary is the thought that you might have missed out on the most beautiful blessing of your life had you let some Latin words on paper define your future.
2. If God calls you, He will equip you.
We’ve seen it in our own lives. God doesn’t call equipped people; He equips the called (Hebrews 13:21). Because frankly, NONE of us are prepared and mentally, emotionally and physically equipped to parent children who require care we’ve never performed. Not biological parents who deliver children with needs they had never imagined; not adoptive parents who God calls to bring home children with needs they had to Google.
But just like God equips parents who DELIVER children with special needs — parents who research and study and devote hours upon hours to learning how to provide the very best care for the children God has given them — God equips parents who BRING HOME children with those same needs.
In His goodness and by His grace, God turns parents from WORRIERS into WARRIORS.
Parents who worry that they’re not enough. That they don’t know enough. That their patience and their skills and their temperaments and their knowledge are all not enough.
He equips. And in OUR WEAKNESS, He shows up STRONG.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
3. Hospital stays make great bonding opportunities.
In his lifetime, Superman has had 14 casts and 10 surgeries, most of them inside our home. He’s spent several overnight visits at children’s hospitals across the country, and two years ago, he spent an entire week in a hospital without food or water following an intense surgery that made me quiver.
Before his last hand surgery, I asked Superman, who is missing a radius in his right arm, if he knew what we would be doing the next day. His reply:
“Yes. Doctor turn my finger, cut off my thumb and then Mommy and me watch Frozen and eat popsicles. Ready?”
This then 4-year-old boy wasn’t concerned about IVs, anesthesia or amputations; after numerous surgeries, he was concerned that he would get his Mama time. The time that I have learned is more precious than almost any other time we have in our chaotic, busy worlds. Because when we’re in the hospital together, we get to turn off our loud and noisy lives. We get to turn off our responsibilities and our phones and eat mediocre hospital food while we watch Frozen marathons (I can sing “Let It Go” in my sleep) and play checkers and read piles of books and snuggle day in and day out.
And even though I dread the pain and the tears that follow each surgery, I now treasure that special bonding time that the two of us get together.
4. Special needs are not a burden for our biological children; they are a BLESSING.
Perhaps more than any other concern our friends had when we shared we were bringing home a child with special medical needs was the concern that our biological children would be negatively affected.
That they would have to sacrifice too much.
That this would become a burden for them.
That they would get the “short end of the stick.”
The truth is, they do sacrifice. And it’s good for them.
They do give up occasional outings and fun things for doctor’s visits and medical appointments. And it’s good for them.
They do hear “we can’t eat that” or “we can’t do that” because of the medical needs or attachment needs of their little brother. And they’re fine with it.
In a culture that is raising children to believe life is all about them, that life is all about tailoring every schedule and every minute to their every need, our biological children are learning that life is NOT all about them. That sometimes the needs of others, like their brother, requires some sacrifice on their behalf. That loving others sometimes means giving up that school festival or that extra sport for the good of the team that still wants to maintain nightly family dinners and margin for important family conversations between doctor’s visits and guitar lessons. That their little brother gives up his time (and his sanity) to sit in copy rooms and class parties in order to serve THEIR needs. And that ALL of us in this thing called “family” do give and take in this life to make this family unit work.
And frankly, we haven’t heard once why it’s unfair that they’ve had to alter their lives after bringing their little brother home.
They adore this boy. They treasure this boy. They tackle this boy like he’s been part of their team their entire lives, and they are the first to dote on him and run to him and make him get well cards before and after every surgery.
They adore him. And loving a little brother with physical deformities and medical needs has taught them not to run FROM those who look different or spend more days in hospitals that the average person — but to run TO them.
So that this summer, when we hosted a 10-year-old orphan from China who had no fingers on his right hand, our children never even noticed. They never even asked. They tackled him with hugs and smiles and immediately invited him into their world to play for a month.
Compassion is worth far more than a few more extra-curriculars on our calendar.
5. Although we, in our selfish human nature, thought WE would be the ones blessing a child with medical needs, it turns out that HE was the one who blessed US.
I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture. There are definitely hard days. When my husband was deployed, Superman was on cast No. 14 and driving back and forth to our ortho specialist an hour and 20 minutes each way with three kiddos crammed into the back of a Prius was not the joy of my life.
When our calendars are dominated by doctor’s appointments and occupational therapy assignments and we have to say no to birthday parties and playdates because we’re driving back and forth to children’s hospitals.
When we still deal today with some of the very same medical issues we faced the day we brought this precious man home, even after surgeries to correct them.
The difference is our attitudes. The difference is our perspective. The difference is that, ON THIS side of adopting, we know that it’s all worth it. So very, very worth it.
Superman was worth it.
The 132 million orphans still waiting for forever families to call their own — adopting them is WORTH IT.
Milspouse Michelle Cuthrell is an author, speaker and coffee-drinking, cape-organizing, chaos-embracing boymom with a special love for superheroes who have yet to find their forever families. Follow her blog, Of Capes and Combat Boots, at www.michellecuthrell.com/blog, or at www.facebook.com/ofcapesandcombatboots.