Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Parenting children with special needs (and what miscarriage taught me)

My dear friend Jeannett at Life Rearranged asked today about how we mamas have been touched by raising children with special needs.

And I immediately knew I wanted to write about this.  Both about special needs and about motherhood in general, because the two are deeply connected for so many of us.

As many of you know, my husband and I are working to bring home our two daughters, Tigist and Mekdes, from Ethiopia.  Both girls were born with Down syndrome.

But let me back up a bit, because my journey to parenting children with special needs did not begin with Tigist and Mekdes, but when I miscarried a baby in 2004.  Which was completely devastating.  Then I had another miscarriage in 2008.  Equally painful and tragic, and it's hard to tell your four other children--through your own tears--that their baby sibling has died and gone to be with Jesus. 

Yet through these sad experiences, I did learn to rejoice in every baby, and that a soul knit together in the womb is a soul to love and be grateful for.  I became painfully aware that God is the ultimate author of life, and that each and every life is immeasurably valuable and beautiful no matter how short.  No matter the child's inability to live beyond six weeks in utero.  I was glad for both of my babies I'd lost, grateful I had them for the time I did.  Even if it was too short. 

And looking back, I can see that this perspective has really shaped my view of children with special needs, in general.  Because it touches on the value of life in general.  It touches on the meaning of motherhood, because it changes the definition or focus a little bit.  The truth is, whether the child meets my criteria for "healthy" (or typical or ________), he or she is my child.  My child.  A precious, beautiful soul to delight in and nourish and love.  A part of our family who will contribute in complex and astounding ways. 

So that includes my three biological daughters--the one who taught herself to read, the one who fought horrible infections her entire first year of life, and the one who is inexplicably small for her age and delayed in speech.  And it includes my two adopted sons with learning delays and ADHD tendencies.  It includes my two miscarried babies.  And of course now includes my two daughters in Ethiopia, both with Down syndrome.  All of them.  Priceless treasures not just the way they are, but because of who they are.

The truth is that Tigist and Mekdes are first and foremost our daughters.  Yes, they were born with an extra chromosome.  Yes, they may take longer to meet some of their developmental milestones.  Yes, they may continue to live with us as adults and yes, we may outlive them.  Yes, they could be classified as having "special needs."  But, my goodness, they are children.  Souls created by a perfect God to love and be loved and to experience life.  We receive them as gifts.  Like we have received each and every one of our children.  All of whom have special needs, in a sense--each child is unique in their approach to life and in their abilities and challenges.

Now I'm under no misapprehensions that life is going to be all neat and tidy and easy as pie for our family.  (As if it is now.)  My heart is surely going to break into a million pieces when my daughters are inevitably teased for being different.  (Is it wrong to punch someone else's kid on the playground?  :)  )  When we go to Costco or Target we'll get even more stares and questions, no doubt.  Probably some derision too.  And adopting children with special needs will affect our current children just as much as it affects us.

But when did conformity and anonymity and being the same as the world around us ever become the goal?  The truth is, I want my children to be different.  I want our family to be those people who are open to life in whatever form it comes.  I want my kids to care about one another and not to fear the very act of living.  I want them to be virtuous.  And to see that life is not about hiding safely behind a white picket fence.

And so when I dream about my two beautiful Ethiopian daughters, I know I wouldn't change a thing about them.  I love them just as they are.  Down syndrome and special needs and all.  Their lives are a gift, and I give thanks to God for opening my eyes to the beauty of each and every life perfectly created by Him.  I believe He used my two little babies, both with Jesus now, to show me this.  How blessed and humbled I am.

If you are considering adoption or foster care, won't you take a moment to think about the many children born with special needs?  Had we not been open to adopting children born with Down syndrome, we would not be the proud parents of Tigist and Mekdes.  It's worth thinking about, no?


Blog Template by YummyLolly.com