Eleven years ago I was living the life. I had recently bought my first home, had a job I loved, a coaching gig that was fun, and spent all of my free time doing whatever I wanted. Nice. Before you get too jealous, know that this carefree lifestyle was about to come to a screeching halt. Screeching.
The reason I chose today to run this blog is because it just happens to be the anniversary of my daughter Jazmine’s adoption, a very special day in our house that we refer to as our “Gotcha Day.” Think about it. How many families get to celebrate the exact moment when they took an oath to become a family? We stood there together and made the commitment in a court of law. After the official business was done, the formality of the courtroom eased and the judge asked us if we wanted to take pictures. Hell yeah, I wanted to take pictures. Although my TMR nickname would never suggest such a thing, I *may* also be referred to as the “picture whore” since everyone can rest assured that if I am around, the event will be well documented. Sorry – I digress. Back to our Gotcha Day . . . It was without a question the most life-altering day of my existence.
The next day when Jazmine returned to school, her teachers asked her why she was not in school the day before. Although they knew the answer, they were curious as to what Jazmine would say. She told them that she went somewhere because her mommy was going to keep her forever. Yes, baby. Perfect answer. I promised to keep you forever.
Each year since we became “official,” we have done something special to commemorate the day. This has included taking days off from school to attend Broadway plays and taking trips to American Girl Place. Last year was a bit different. Even though life was hectic and I had not made any big plans, it ended up being one of the best Gotcha Days EVER! Sunshine and her family came to town that weekend because her son was playing in a special-needs hockey tournament close by. For the first time, I allowed others to infiltrate a day I usually reserve for just the two of us. It was AMAZING!!!! Sunshine and I, meeting for the first time in person, embraced like long lost friends in an emotional moment as the kids and her fabulous hubby looked on. Soon enough, all introductions were made, and we were off for a round of miniature golf before Rob’s hockey game. Watching Jaz and Sunshine’s mini-Thinkers engage with each other warmed my heart.
It was a fabulous afternoon and when they packed up their car to head home to Virginia, Jaz and I were off to our favorite local restaurant for a celebratory meal.
Today . . . Well, today will be a bit different. Now that high school has begun, we can no longer play hooky for the day (although I wish we could). It will be work for me, school for Jaz, the normal hours of homework, and then the evening trek to Brain Balance. The special meal from the past will be replaced with one that follows all of Jaz’s new food restrictions. It is amazing just how much can change in the matter of a year.
Reflecting on this time made me start thinking about special-needs adoptions. You often hear people talk about wanting to adopt a happy, healthy baby regardless of what continent they come from. Not once have I ever heard someone profess that what they really wanted was a child with multiple diagnoses who would drain them financially, emotionally and physically. In fact, when people have posted on Facebook that they are considering adoption, I have read comment after comment from people warning them not to for fear of the unknown and what problems they might be stuck with. Curious as to what information is available to those willing to walk this path, I started to do a bit of research. I found a few organizations and websites that claim to support special-needs adoptions.
One in particular is the North American Council on Adoptable Children. After navigating through their website, I called NACAC and requested one of their information packets. It arrived within a week and included recommendations on books to read as well as a 16- page booklet outlining steps a hopeful parent must take, all the way from 1 – “Learning about adoption” to 15 -“Finalizing the adoption.” Step two is a self-assessment to determine if you are a true candidate for a special-needs adoption. Since I only met the criteria on 8 our of 12 items, I began to wonder if I needed to give Jaz back, but decided to worry about that another time. Next, they listed four questions one should ask oneself. Now I knew I was in trouble because I could only answer one of the four in a way that would be indicative of adoption. Just when I was beginning to truly second guess my life and wonder if I had set myself up for the failure I have been recently drowning in, I was stopped dead in my tracks.
In what I believe to be an effort of disclosure, 11 symptoms were listed to warn potential adoptive parents of what they may be getting themselves into (my words, not theirs). ADHD was there. Bedwetting, learning disabilities, and lying also made the list. However, what were glaringly absent were the many signs and symptoms that my friends are seeing daily with their kids. Where was the explosive diarrhea, loss of language, inability to connect with others, food allergies/intolerances, and stimming behaviors? Where? Are you to tell me that not one child up for adoption displays such behaviors? Or is it just too ugly to advertise? I could not shake the feeling of sadness that an entire population was being left out as I continued to read.
Then it happened.
I got to the “Glossary of Adoption-Related Terms” that ran for three full pages in the booklet and defined a total of 62 terms. ADHD: check. Cognitive Delays: check. Ritalin, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Psychotherapy, Developmental Delays: check, check, check, check. If you want to know what “Bipolar” is, the answer is there. But nowhere in the 62 items from “Abandonment” to “Waiting Children” was the word “Autism.” Okay, I thought, maybe it is under “P” for “Pervasive Development Disorder.” Nope. “Spectrum”? Wrong again. Even though I think that NACAC’s booklet and website are very informative and a must-read for anyone considering adoption, even their resource page lacks a link to any autism-related organization.
As I continued my search, I was able to discover a site called RainbowKids.Org. I was amazed at how extensive their list was. I think even the Thinking Moms (and Dad) would have a hard time disputing that Rainbow Kids recognized a full gamut of disabilities.
This gave me hope – but also made me very sad. I know what it takes to raise a special child. We all do. But, this is the question – would any of us have truly made the choice to do so?
I was pretty naïve when I committed to adopting Jazmine since the extent of her disabilities had yet to be discovered. I cannot be praised for making a decision that I had no clue I was making. However, knowing now what I do, I would like to take a minute to bow down to those who by choice became the parent of a child with special needs. You are my heroes, and as I celebrate mine, I wish you all extremely happy “Gotcha Days.”
To read more blogs by Saint click here.