Part of Me Blog

why we said "yes" to special needs

Adoptionlissa-anglinComment

This post is number two in a series of posts about questions we get about our adoption. To see the first post- "Why International Adoption?" click here. 

Our family is currently in the process of adopting a special needs girl from China. I love talking with people about it- because even though we don't have her home yet, it somehow helps me process it, and get excited about it just as I would be doing with a pregnancy. (Many in the adoption community refer to the adoption process as "paper pregnancy"- which is a perfect way to describe it!)

A question we get a lot is:

Why did you decide to adopt a child with special needs?

Well friends, it pains me to tell you that we actually didn't.

Have you ever been cruising along, thinking that you understand just how your life should go and then all of a sudden, hard stuff happens and you realize your plan is crap and you should really just trust God- the CREATOR of the UNIVERSE- with it? No? Oh, me neither. :)

Truthfully, in the years I've been a parent, God has taught me over and over that His way is better than mine. And so one of my biggest pieces of parenting advice to new moms is to acquire the taste of your own feet. Never say never. God's plans are bigger.

Photos in this post are from a past trip to china. the children there captivated me and i loved photographing them!

Photos in this post are from a past trip to china. the children there captivated me and i loved photographing them!

You can read a little about how our adoption process started in this blog post, as well as a little bit on why we chose international adoption. Adopting a special needs child definitely wasn't our first choice, in fact – it was one of the only things I thought I could never do. God has been patient and gentle with me, however – and we are confident in the path that we're currently on.

Because I am a habitual list maker (and also love to see how God uses small things to make big changes), I've decided to list out the catalysts for this change of heart and direction in our adoption process.

1) We got educated.

One of the hardest parts of this process was realizing that I had my own misconceptions and suppositions about what a special need was, and what it was like as a parent to live with or treat. When we begin the process with the China program, our agency sent us a huge list of special needs that they commonly see. I was surprised to see that hemangioma – something that our biological daughter was actually born with– was on that list. Other small things like asthma, eczema, and missing a finger or toe were also listed. Don't get me wrong, there were many more severe needs and many of the "minor" needs were often in combination with another one or two. But, it was very interesting to realize that the Chinese definition of "special needs" is very different from ours as Americans. 

We were asked to go through the list and do some research to see what we would be "ok" with. Our agency provided us with several excellent resources that were specific to China special needs adoption. It was a hard process. We felt like in saying no to some need that we were saying no to a child- and essentially that's what was happening. However, we had to be realistic about what our family could handle and how we could best meet the needs of our child. We eventually came up with our own list – and talked through it with our social worker and agency.  We eventually decided that we were OK with anything that wasn't potentially life-threatening – things that could be treated with surgery or medicine.

We will not know what special need(s) our daughter will have until we receive a referral, review her file, do the appropriate research, and accept the referral. It is possible to just request one special need, such as cleft palate, but because we chose to list several, our agency can refer us a child with anything on that list. It is possible that after reviewing the files and seeking the appropriate medical advice, that we could choose not to accept the referral. But, I would have to say that is very unlikely.

2) We are wealthy by the world standards. 

I mentioned it in this blog post, but once Shawn and I realized that in the world's eyes, we were wealthy- and by that I mean as average-earning Americans, we make more than 99% of the rest of the world- it was hard for us to forget. Our American dollars are able to buy excellent medical care, healthy food, and a safe place to live. We don't take that lightly.

3) We have ample resources in our city.

Speaking of excellent medical care, our city has two amazing hospitals and thousands of medical professionals available when we need them. Lubbock is a hub for the medical field in this region- and knowing we would have access to specialists, clinics, and expert opinions when we needed them was reassuring. It also doesn't hurt that we have a Pharmacist brother-in-law that doesn't mind midnight text messages about children's medicine dosages. :)

4) It could've been our biological child.

This was a mindset shift for me. I mentioned earlier that our daughter Liv was born with a hemangioma on the top of her head. This was and is hardly an issue (except for a few unusual comments from strangers)- and now that she is two it has almost completely receded and is covered up by her hair. 

Liv was born in the middle of this long adoption process- and one day, it hit me- I do not have to fear- whatever special need our adopted daughter will potentially have could have just as easily been something our biological child could have been born with! Yes, the genetics are different- but if Knox or Liv would have been born with a cleft palate or limb difference, would we have said "no"? Absolutely not- how absurd would that be?!? So in many ways, that is my mindset. And, with adoption, we get the perk of knowing what is to come- preparing for her needs before she arrives.

5) It's Biblical.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
— James 1:27

Another hard truth I have wrestled with is knowing that somewhere out there is another momma who gave me her daughter so that she could have life. I am not going into this process expecting to know much about my daughter's history. Most children in China are abandoned in a "safe" public place where they will be seen and rescued quickly- such as the doorstep of an orphanage or hospital. Many are abandoned because their parents are unable to care for their needs and know that they must give up their child in hopes that they will be adopted and have access to proper care. You guys, that is heartbreaking. 

God tells us to look after these children, and it will be an honor to do so. 

One very exciting thing I learned about just today is The Love Project. This project was created by Meredith Toering, who runs the Chinese foster home Morning Star Foundation that cares for babies with complex heart defects. The proceeds from their shop go directly to families who cannot afford care for their babies. How wonderful is that? Please, check out their store and consider doing something powerful with your dollars today.

The Love Project

Click here to visit the shop!

6) Many have gone before us.

Seeing as we have been in this process a little over 4 years now, we have been exposed to a number of families adopting special needs kids. Their attitudes, perspectives and stories have really shifted my own mindset. It helps me realize that I'm not alone. There are parents who have gone before me. And that is really relieving. I know that whatever we are up against, I will have a village to refer to (whether online or in-person)- and I am so thankful for that!

7) Because God won't be surprised. 

Speaking of going before us...

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
— Deuteronomy 31:8

The Chris Tomlin song came out just as we began our adoption process and I can't tell you how many times this truth has soothed my soul. God WILL NOT be surprised, even if I am! The road we are walking is one we trust that God is leading us on. All we need to do is follow in obedience.

8) All orphans have trauma.

This is another tough truth. Our agency has supplied us with many awesome books like The Connected Child and one of the most consistent things we have learned is that no matter the circumstances- not age, location, or physical need- all orphans deal with trauma. The adoptive parent/child relationship is one born of brokenness, and because of that, there is pain to be dealt with- be it ever so subtle or severe. 

I don't mean to be pessimistic- just realistic here. Yes, I absolutely do believe that Christ's power is so much bigger than any of the trauma that exists. But it is there- and needs to be recognized and worked through for healing to happen. Having a non-"special needs" child does not mean that the trauma won't exist.

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9) Every child's "normal" is different.

Selfishly, one of the concerns I had was the potential for consistent comparison between our biological kids and our adopted one. Until one day I heard an adoptive momma explain that  her daughter's "normal" was never supposed to look like her biological daughter's "normal". It was a breath of fresh air and made total sense to me. Already, in our two bio kids we can see how different they are. I could never discipline and reward them the same- it just simply wouldn't be effective! I've learned how to effectively discipline and encourage Knox and Liv in their own ways- ways in which they respond best. So of course, the same would go for our new daughter. 

And, as for any differences in physical appearance, how she gets things done, etc.- that is exactly how God created her! We will choose to celebrate that difference and appreciate the uniqueness of it. 


We are closer than ever to receiving a referral (essentially a phone call from our agency saying we have a match)! There are some days I think I might burst from the anticipation, but others I just long for the waiting to end. In the meantime, I'm soaking up all the info I can. Check out some of my favorite bloggers who have adopted special needs girls from China:

Ashley Ann- Under The Sycamore               Shay Shull- Mix and Match Mama               Ann Voskamp

What other questions do you have regarding adoption? Feel free to comment them below!