A number of years ago when I was a single nurse working a summer job at the Easter Seals camp in Colorado, I was introduced to a story written by a mom of a child with a disability. The story was entitled “Welcome to Holland.” It is a bittersweet metaphorical story of what it’s like to raise a child with a disability. The main character was diverted in-flight from a well-planned for trip to Italy, to a totally unprepared for, permanent destination in Holland. Holland was nice, but it wasn’t Italy.
After two summers working at the Easter Seal camp, one thing I knew for sure was this: I did not want to raise a child with a severe disability,or any disability for that matter, as if I had a choice in the matter. I had lived for thirty-five years as the center of my universe. I knew raising a child would be challenging enough, but a child with a severe disability would have thrown me curves for which I didn’t possess the agility to catch. I want to make it clear that I loved my job at the camp. The experience of working with counselors who specifically chose to be at a camp for kids with disabilities was among one of the most memorable experiences of my career. The children and adults who attended the camp were just that: children and adults who happened to have a disability. Most were simply sweet kids who required adaptations to live within a world designed by able-bodied folk. Some were behaviorally challenging; rarely sleeping; producing zombie-like parents with dark circles under their eyes and resigned to holding nightly vigils to keep their child safe. Some of these children would require rigorous one to one supervision, rarely allowing a parent to venture through the rites of passage that were celebrated when raising a typical child. Some were born with their disabilities, or acquired them through a difficult birthing circumstance. Some unfortunates were born as perfectly healthy babies, only to later become disabled thru severe illness or injury. None of us are perfectly immune from disabilities.
Later in my life, my experiences at the Easter Seals’ camp influenced my decision to adopt. My husband, whom I met at camp, and I chose adoption early on in our relationship as a viable option through which to start a family. He had a mature vasectomy, and I didn’t want to risk fate by trying to become parents the traditional way. In my naïveté, I assumed I could control my destiny by the “type” of child I would accept through adoption, thereby reducing the risk of bearing a child with a severe disability. I must add that I had also felt “led” to adopt. God placed adoption upon my heart. He knew my heart; knew what I was capable of; and knew the healing that would take place through these adoptions and I trusted him explicitly. I still do. Recently a friend and I were discussing the calling of Peter and Andrew into discipleship. Jesus said “Follow me,” and at once they put down their nets and off they went. Seriously, what were they thinking? They trusted that calling without question. At times I feel like that adequately describes the process through which we brought home our second daughter. LiLi called to us through cyber-space, and we jumped boldly into the process to become her parents.
We adopted a healthy child through our first international adoption, and two years later expanded our family through a child from our adoption agency’s “waiting child” list. A waiting child is one who is older or has special needs. We chose a child who fell into both categories. She was seven years old and had cleft lip-palate. I thought cleft-lip palate was a special need I could manage. I believed God had led us to this little girl, and that she was the child to complete our little family. We had begun to wade into the waters of special need parenting. Little did I know we were about to crash-land into Holland.