Although, we hadn't planned to adopt a little one with a severe special need, when we heard about Sarah, something very unscientific happened: we felt an inexplicable pull towards her; we knew she was meant to be a part of our family.
It was scary at first. We knew she had a serious liver condition that would eventually require a transplant and that meant extensive medical care, time with specialists, tests and doctors visits, not to mention the emotional and physical toll on everyone in the family. Did we have anxieties and worries? Absolutely. There were times when we'd start to second guess our decision and other moments where we worried about how everything was going to work out. Would we be able to afford her care? Would we be able to handle the mental or emotional toll of caring for a little one with her condition? What would happen if we brought her home only to discover we wouldn't be able to help her after all? How would we deal with it? How would we react? What then?
Not only did we have questions, but when we began to tell people about our decision, they had questions as well. There was the ever-and-still-present, "there are so many healthy children, why would you want to adopt a sick child?" and "why not adopt a child that has the best chance at life, the most potential and promise?" among other questions, like "why would you want to invite that kind of pain and heartache into your life?" So, we not only had our own emotional stress, but we also carried the stress and burden that many others unknowingly heaped upon us simply because they were looking at children as if their conditions defined them - when they saw a special needs orphan, they didn't see a child with a medical condition, they saw a medical condition with a child.
How did we decide we were ready? As simple as it may sound, our faith is what made us ready. To say it was a continual process of giving the unknown back to God is an understatement. It was a constant exercise of trust. We knew we wouldn't be able to prepare enough, or read enough books. It wasn't about talking to enough friends, or researching enough about her condition or being supported enough by our family. When it came down to it, it wasn't us – or anything else - that made us ready – it was God – and that was where the rubber of our faith met the road of God's never-ending faithfulness; our journey to Sarah had begun.
Throughout the process, we had time to research her condition and become familiar with what her body was going through. If there was one thing I wish someone would have told us at that point, it would have been: get connected to other people who have children with the same condition. Ask them about daily life, about what they've been through or what they see for the future. Get acquainted with what life will most likely be like for this little one. And don't set expectations - neither high nor low - as each individual is different; each child, each family is unique. We eventually agreed to be prepared… to not be prepared. When we finally brought Sarah home, we had been told she would need to undergo a liver transplant right away. We were prepared for the worst, but after a quick review and some detailed lab results from her new liver specialist, it was determined she was in good health. Two years later, she is still doing well and although she has a strict medication schedule to adhere to, her doctors tell us she will still need a liver transplant somewhere in her future. And you know what? We're at peace with that. Doesn't mean that some days, we won't worry and other days we might not grieve what lies ahead. As good parents, when times get tough for Sarah, we're going to be there for her, come what may, just like any other parents would if they discovered their child had a life-threatening condition. Now we hear you saying, "but the difference is you choose an orphan who had a special need, you knew BEFORE you adopted her . . . you didn't discover it afterwards." To that we say, does that really matter when your child is your child? We knew Sarah was ours long before the paperwork said so.
To think back on the whole thing, we really could have said no. We could have walked away and adopted another little one who didn't have any medical issues. We could have done anything but look straight at Sarah and see the daughter God wanted us to have. We could have let her go and would have never known the worries we now have as a result of her condition. There is pain and heartache at times – having to hold her arm down as she cries when she has her blood drawn for labs, having to watch her go under and wake-up when they need to conduct more invasive procedures, having to comfort her because she is panicked and doesn't understand why the doctors need to do what they do. The worst part is having to look into her face, seeing the trust she has for us as her parents and not being able to understand why we're allowing these scary things to happen to her and knowing that one day, she may need a liver that might not be there – yes, that is so hard to hear and see and endure and know sometimes, yet we are given the strength to take one day at a time and that is sufficient. The joy of being Sarah's parents far outweighs any of the pain and even if the worst does happen, we will never regret being her parents because it was never about us to begin with. It was about loving a little one who needed someone to love.
Although these are just a few of our very real life challenges and stressors, they are not our lives… and they are definitely not Sarah's life. Sarah's life is so much more than her physical condition. She is a wonderful, happy little soul with a beautiful personality and a sense of humor that puts the Marx Brothers to shame. She is bright and extremely gentle, she loves to flash warm smiles, administer bear hugs, bestow princess kisses and is constantly chattering about anything of interest to her. Amongst her daily activities are dancing, drawing, laughing, cutting construction paper with her kid-safe-scissors, "cooking" soup for us in her kitchen, playing dress-up and giggling, giggling, giggling. That is who Sarah is… not a medical condition, not a number, not some child born with a bad break who used to live half way across the world. Sarah is someone of infinite value, unlimited worth and boundless potential.
And that's all it takes to discover the millions of Sarah's that still live around the globe today; people who are willing to see past their conditions, past their circumstances, and into a place where hope, faith and love reign supreme. Oh, what we would have missed if we had said no to Sarah…