Today we welcome new contributor Gabriela, who writes about adopting a special needs baby.
Asked to consider writing a reflection on special needs adoption, my first reaction was shock – a special needs adoption would be so very difficult, and I could never even consider it. Then I had to laugh. Our adopted daughter, number two of two (so far), who is gifted with the extra chromosome of Down syndrome, is a classic example of special needs adoption. And yet, in our daily family life, which is bursting with joy and trials like any other, the Down’s is just one piece in a beautiful puzzle.
In some ways I think of adoption as a call within a call. I don’t mean that I’ve had a “Mother Teresa moment”, but that I simply believe that we are all called to fruitfulness within our vocations, and adoption is one way that we may then be called to bear fruit within the vocation of marriage. Following that analogy, a special needs adoption would be a call within a call within a call, so to speak, and one that I had never ever felt before.
In our case, after several years of marriage and dreaming of building a family together, we got to the bottom of the causes of our male-factor infertility. We were not going to conceive biologically short of a complete miracle. I have never ruled that possibility out for my Creator, but neither have I ever felt myself equal to demanding that of Him.
Of course, the news brought grief, stress, frustration, and confusion, but for us there was also some comfort in the zero total sperm count: I did not have to keep hoping and then dreading my monthly rejection – that dream was over. We could move on.
Still, I felt there was more asked of us. I agonized over the decision to adopt. Were we called? And if so, which agency or through foster care? Domestic or international? Infant, child, teen? The options were mind-boggling. Finally, I just had to make a choice and pull the trigger with our closest Catholic adoption agency, trusting the journey to God’s hands. I begged Him to guide us through every step and to close every door that was not ours to walk through. I resolved to be at peace even if adoption never worked out for us. And I resolved to persevere in each step if it did. I say all this in first person singular because while my dear husband was always supportive, I was the one taking the lead. Leading as a wife was a totally foreign position for me and unlike any other area of our marriage, but I’ve learned that this seems to be common among adopters.
In record time, we welcomed home our amazing, gorgeous first daughter, who was a beautiful gift for our family and exactly part of God’s perfect plan. We were overjoyed. And exhausted. After eventually returning to some balance with our new family member and reprieve from sleep deprivation, I began to consider that while I had come to peace with the possibility of not raising children, I had never really considered the possibility of raising an only child. My husband and I each have several siblings and we are all close; an “only” had simply not entered my consideration. So, we began to work towards another adoption when our first daughter was around 2 years old. This time, the entire process dragged behind endless roadblocks. When we finally finished our home study, we signed on with an agency that facilitates domestic adoption, mostly of healthy infants. And again, we waited and waited.
We received the call from our agency on the same date that 6 years earlier we had received the call about our first daughter – a birthmother named Laura was seriously considering placing her child with us. And on the next day, our first daughter’s 6th birthday, we had our first phone conversation with Laura. We connected immediately and mutually confirmed that we were moving forward with our match.
The next weeks were a roller coaster. Laura’s unstable mental health and difficult pregnancy led to a volatile situation in which we were on-again, off-again with the adoption. But we decided to weather the storm and to stick with Laura as no one else had; every time she came back around, we were there for her.
Laura eventually gave birth during a time when we were off-again with the adoption. We did not even know of her delivery until a week later. Our caseworker told us the baby was being tested for Down syndrome, and was in the NICU and in custody of foster care due to Laura’s extreme volatility. I held my breath. I prayed for that baby, but I never did ask my husband what we would do if we were somehow given the chance to adopt her and if she were, in fact, to have Down’s. I never even let myself consider what I would decide if asked. We were done with this opportunity, I thought, and it was time to move on to the hope of a different adoption. I felt some relief, really, at not having had to make that decision.
Two months later, Laura texted me out of the blue. She wanted to try again. This was her last chance to place her child with us before her parental rights were terminated and the baby continued in foster care. She wanted us. Her baby girl had Down syndrome. I hedged in my responses, and she saw right through me. Was I in this or not? I needed time to think. She agreed to give me the weekend.
My husband had always been a clear voice of reason in our adoption journey. I dreamed I could handle a myriad of adoption options and he always clearly pointed out, for example, that really, we were not good with handling certain medical needs and would not be able to offer a good home to a child with those needs. These heartbreaking considerations are part of the adoption discernment process. So faced with this new question, I was confident he would steer us clear of this situation and I would not even have to choose for myself whether to consider this placement. Yet somehow, he did not. If you think this could be a blessing, it will be a blessing, he told me. Still, I asked for more time. I prayed and cried and asked a holy priest. Do a novena, Father said. A flying novena to St. Ann, and if you don’t have nine days, pray for nine hours. Pray to St. Joseph. Ask for a sign. At the end of it all, we said yes, considerably against my top preference, and I knew the sign would be if the adoption went through. I later learned our birthmother Laura’s middle name was Ann.
There were still so many hurdles to face before our sweet daughter came home, but on the beginning of the pandemic-rushed drive down to Florida to meet Laura, sign papers, and pick up the baby, the rainbow I saw in the clear blue sky reminded me that God would be faithful to me in this journey.
Our baby is 20 months old now. She is my treasure and my joy, says our first daughter. I cannot imagine a world without her, she says. We all feel the same. God has been faithful in giving us His grace when needed. But more so, He has given us joy and blessing without measure.
Is it hard? Of course. After a few too many cardiology, audiology, and physical therapy appointments, I am worn thin. And we are just beginning. But where is the easy cross? When I lock eyes with a friend experiencing pregnancy-induced insomnia who has not slept for weeks with this her eighth darling on the way, when I embrace a friend who has lost yet another baby in miscarriage, this time in her seventh month of pregnancy, when I stand beside a friend whose adult daughter is back in rehab…I remember that there is no easy cross. The ones I am asked to bear are my only way to Heaven. The “perfect” families of others that I imagine, as I look in from the outside, are only glittering temptations distracting me from my one, perfect-for-me life. God gives me the grace I need. It is never what I expected, but it is the most perfect path for me.
Now Laura Ann tells us she is expecting again. Pray for our courage as we see where this journey leads. I will pray for you.
Gabriela and Will recently celebrated 15 years of marriage with their 2 daughters (7 and 1.5 years old), 60 chickens, 7 sheep, and 5 cows at their home in Maryland.