It Doesn’t Take a Hero: Special needs adoption Q & A

May 24th, 2013


The day is fast approaching!

Our calendar for next week holds Katie’s IEP meeting and no less than six therapy sessions–our last until September!

The following week? Time to pack for travel!

Joe, Joseph, Benjamin and I will head for Tommy.

The rest of our family will head for the home of our good friends.

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After Tommy…our life will never be the same again!

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So here, my friends, are some adoption-related questions and answers that have been collecting as half-formed blog drafts for the past year.  I plunked them all indiscriminately into one gigantic and somewhat quirky post that just might mark the end of a blogging era.

It’s gargantuan enough to go grab a hefty mug of your favorite something or other…get comfy…prop your feet up…




Katie, beginning to explore~

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Question:  There are some families that adopt four or five children with severe special needs at the same time.  Given your experience with the level of care that Katie required/requires, what do you think of this practice?  Would you consider such an adoption? What advice would you offer parents who are considering this?


Answer: God gives some parents the resources that are needed to adopt several disabled children at once.  I have the privilege of calling some of these families friends.  Not only is it a beautiful thing to watch God make it all work, but their lifestyle of willing ministry shines out with a unique loveliness in the midst of a culture addicted to comfort, entertainment, and self-advancement.

He hasn’t given our family the resources to adopt more than one child at once, so unless that changes at some future point, we would not qualify for an adoption like this.

You may not know that each family who goes through an international adoption is closely scrutinized by many different entities.  In our case, six different entities were involved, a home study social worker, US placing agency, in-country agency, the government of our child’s country, US Immigrations, and the vice-consul in the US Embassy in our child’s country.  All these gathered large amounts of information to determine whether we qualified to adopt Katie, and then Tommy.


This curiosity is a healthy sign of her development.

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Furthermore, a family who is outside a box for one or more reasons (like a large family adopting several severely disabled children at once) will come under additional heavy scrutiny to show extra proof that they have the resources they will need.  We went through this ourselves with both adoptions, just adopting one child each time.  For the protection of vulnerable children, this is as it should be.

However, since we have no personal experience adopting several children with special needs at once, the main advice we would offer to parents considering it would be this–

Do listen to those who have this experience, and don’t listen to their detractors.



Question:  There has been much controversy over international adoption and “stealing children from their culture.”

What would be your response?


Answer: My response is necessarily colored by the fact that God put a fire in my heart for the children who are most voiceless and helpless.  These children are seen as nothing more than the sum of their disabilities and consequently are the most unwanted both by their own cultures and by ours.

In most areas of our country, children born with special needs are integrated into society, and sometimes even welcomed, whereas in most other countries in the world, children born with special needs are hidden away from the public view and excluded from their own societies.  For many reasons and on many levels, there simply is no place for these children in their own cultures.  This can change!  But until it does, there are real children living right now whose greatest need is not for a culture.  Their most desperate need is for daddies and mommies of their own to love them and care for them!

God did not tell us that He sets the lonely in cultures.  He certainly did not say that He sets the lonely in institutions.  He sets the lonely in families. 


[We love you, Boroughs family!]




Question:  I’m a little confused about what the first step toward international special needs adoption is. Maybe there are different options: it seems like sometimes people choose a child first, or maybe choose an agency, and some others start with a home study. Does it matter?


Answer: You’re right that the starting point of the process is not always the same, and doesn’t have to be.

However, it’s important to know that an international home study is written for a specific country and is also specific about the number, age range, gender, and needs of the child or children you are seeking approval to adopt.  Before the end of the home study process, it would be helpful to know what country you hope to adopt from and whether or not it’s a Hague country.

But the most important thing to remember is that God is the one who chooses children for families and families for children, and you can trust Him not to make a mistake.


Katie transitions beautifully and consistently now, and she no longer needs Hip Helpers.  See how nicely she’s moving from half-kneel to stand on her own?

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It’s vital that we stay open to whatever He leads us to do and not keep our hearts set on our own plans. He may have a different child, different agency, or different country for us than we would have first envisioned, but He is so trustworthy and WILL lead open hearts where He wants them to go.  I never cease to marvel at how perfectly He matches children with their families!



Question:  Do you have specific agency recommendations for a special needs Bulgarian adoption?


Answer: Yes, but I prefer not to discuss it publicly.  However, I’m happy to talk it over by private email with serious enquirers.



Question:  I have followed your blog for over a year and one question haunts me. It is not an easy question to ask. Why not adopt a child from the United States? There are MANY children in this country who are in desperate need of a home and a family. Some have never had the security of a one place to live. Yes, the orphanage in Pleven is awful, but there are children in this country who have been abused much worse than those in Pleven.

So my question is–why go overseas when there are children in this country who would love to be in your family?


Answer:  This is a very common question, and a good one. Thanks for asking it!  It has a lengthy and many-sided answer.  As I answer, I’m going to go ahead and address the wider question of why I’m also advocating for the children in Pleven and other children like them.

1. God has given me a passion and personal experience in a specific area of need that has been and still is little-known.

I receive many appeals for help to advocate for various waiting children, adoption fundraisers, and orphan-related causes.  It is necessary for me to keep my eyes on Jesus and not feel pressured by guilt to say yes to every expectation that is laid on me by others.

I must balance time for writing and advocacy with the time it takes to be a wife to my husband and mother to a large and growing brood. I hope the rest of my answer helps you to understand that this is not an excuse, it is simply the reality.


Her next big milestone will be to stand without holding on, and she knows it.  She’s getting there!

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I am fully aware that the abuse and neglect of children with special needs in Eastern European institutions is not the only important area of orphan care that exists in the world today. The sheer magnitude of the total need of orphans in the world can be overwhelming and even paralyzing. I have to trust that He is sending others to do work in other places in His kingdom, and I know that He is.

There are large and growing numbers of church and para-church ministries, blogs, websites, books and conferences on aspects of orphan care that God has sent others to do.  [For a succinctly well-written and heartfelt explanation of the many aspects of orphan care, please read the short book, Orphan Justice, by adoptive dad Johnny Carr.]  I have to keep my eyes fixed on what He is giving me to do, and not look to the right or to the left, so to speak.

It would be counter-productive to the calling God has clearly given me to attempt to spread my attention around to every single possible need of orphans in the world today. Even if that were somehow possible, it could then be logically asked why I only focus on orphans. There’s a seemingly endless list of other urgent needs in the world that Christians could be taking on in the strength of our God!

It is indisputable that if all of us as God’s people were throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into what He called us to do, the world would look very, very different.  Unbelievable quantities of time, energy and heart are regularly being squandered on things that just don’t matter.  Many, many more Christians could be adopting than are adopting, and that is the plain truth.


She also thinks that falling over is great fun and does it on purpose!

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But underlying all these other facts is the truth that we have to look to Christ for our marching orders and rest in the knowledge that it is His job to give out the marching orders to others.

I can’t help but speak boldly about our responsibility to the little children I have seen, but I must speak in the macro.  I cannot attempt to play God and examine the lives of people I know in the micro.

God is the ruler over all!  He is able to open eyes, change minds, break hearts, and move people to action.  He is God and I am not!  I’ll follow the marching orders He gives me and be encouraged that He is very much at work!


She’s getting more intrepid as she gains independence.

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2. In the United States, children born with special needs are guaranteed access to appropriate medical care and therapeutic intervention. They are not being placed in large state institutions until death, stripped of basic human rights and often deprived of even basic necessities.  

For disabled children in some other countries, adoptive families make the difference between hope and hopelessness, and sometimes between life and death.

See the smiling girl at the very left of this photo?  She appeared on this blog last year as “Laurel.”   If her parents had not adopted her last year just before she turned sixteen, her head would have been shaved and she would have been put into a bed in an adult mental institution to wait out the rest of her life.



Most people are still unaware of this despicable reality, just as we used to be. I have spoken with many lovely people from Bulgaria who had no idea of the human rights abuses taking place in their own country. God laid some responsibility on our family to help spread the word about this specific need.

3. Abuse and neglect are two separate issues that have separate definitions and different effects. Some may see outright abuse as being more damaging to a child than neglect, as it certainly seems more immediately horrifying.

However, many people are unaware that neglect can have pervasively damaging and permanent effects on a child’s ability to ever function normally in life. The more profound the lack of human interaction, the more the neglect prevents the child from ever developing the basic tools with which to overcome and learn to navigate life.

In addition to this, so much of our brain development depends on interactions with other human beings that neglect in and of itself can cause irreversible brain damage, thereby rendering the sinned-against child all the less likely to be adopted and receive the love and care he or she needs.

No less human.  Just less loved.

Sweet Brandi does not have a family~



4. Did you know that there are strict laws regarding housing space and how many children per bedroom for foster parenting, foster-to-adopt, and domestic adoption? In our state at least, there are no such laws regarding international adoption. So families like ours [who do not live in an eight or ten bedroom mansion] are automatically disqualified from any other type of adoption.

In addition to this, it can sometimes be a challenge to find home study agencies or home study social workers who will work with large families, regardless of the actual laws. So much depends on their foundational beliefs about children. If they have made up their minds that “children” = “burdens,” then to them “more children” = “greater burden.” If they see, as we do, that children are a blessing, then they will be open to understanding the great potential of a large family.

How functional or non-functional the family may be is a separate issue from the family’s size. There are small and very dysfunctional families, and large and very functional families. The health and functionality of the family is what should be evaluated.


Katie, do you hear the birds?  The birds are singing outside!  Do you want to go outside?



Families who have experience caring for many children can make wonderful adoptive parents of kids with special needs.  Often they’ve already developed an understanding and acceptance of how different all children are from each other and have learned vital skills like the ability to be organized, flexible and good-humored.

Living outside the cultural box by having large families is good preparation for living outside the box by deliberately welcoming children with special needs into our families. But most of us are excluded from being foster parents, or adopting domestically or from foster care.

I hope all this helps you to understand the answer to your question.

And now, may I offer you a challenge in return?  If God has laid the need of children in the United States foster care system on your heart, I would strongly urge you to look into all you can possibly do to minister in that area.  It’s not an accident that this is in your heart, and the need is certainly great. Go for it!

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”


Question:  Why children with special needs?  Don’t healthy children need families, too?


Answer: God has given me a heart that burns hottest for the little ones who are the most vulnerable and voiceless.  The children whose faces and abilities will never argue on their behalf, whose mouths will never be able to voice their need for families.  The children who may appear even to Christ’s followers to be burdens rather than blessings.


Streeeetch your legs, Katie!  We’re going down, down, down the steps

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God commands His people to speak up on behalf of the voiceless and oppressed.

Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

Jesus could not have stated more clearly that whatever we do for the least of these His brothers, we do to Him. Conversely, whatever we do not do for the least of these His brothers, we do not do to Him.

Orphaned or abandoned children with special needs who have been damaged by institutionalization are truly among the least of these.  Very few people value their lives enough to adopt them, unlike healthy children who are in high demand.  This demand for healthy children, as you might know, often contributes to the tragedy of human trafficking.  Nobody is trafficking very disabled children like Brandi or Clarice.


Katie is now more likely to crawl on all fours than to scoot forward on her belly.  This activity is fabulous for her brain, and we’re in no hurry for her to move on to walking. 

Katie, where’s outside?

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Jesus Himself took a low place when He came to earth, setting aside the privileges He deserved and putting Himself in a humiliating social position.

He willingly gave up His life out of obedience to His Father in order to bring life to those who were otherwise destined to die.  And He called us to follow Him.

If this is the case, and it is, then we as His disciples will be the first in line to adopt little ones with special needs who are otherwise destined to die.


If Brandi is not adopted, she is destined to die and will disappear without a trace~




Question:  Do you see people who adopt children with more significant needs as somehow being more pure?  What’s wrong with the motivation of wanting to adopt just because of the desire to parent a child?  Wouldn’t it then be selfish to want to have biological children?  Doesn’t your perspective lessen the dignity of children with special needs and of adoption itself?


Answer: Those of us who deliberately adopt children with serious medical issues do not see ourselves as “more pure.” In fact, from my experience and from all the private conversations I’ve been privileged to listen to, the unique demands of this life often make us more aware of the faults in ourselves that a less challenging, more comfortable life may whitewash over.

I have been a parent to what most people would say were all only healthy, cute, able, smart, and well-behaved kids, and as a result, I can contrast that life with the one we now lead. There are reasons most people are not choosing this life. It really does require a different perspective and a different kind of parenting.



None of the parents I know in this ministry are doing it because they hate being parents. Adoption is a job for parents! Furthermore, because children are a blessing, this ministry is a privilege and not a duty!


“We nearly missed out on the joy and blessing of JJ because we thought his case was ‘too hard.’  Even if his condition had been as bad as we previously thought, his life still would have been a blessing to us . . . because it is a life and we have the joy of helping him live it.

~Johnny Carr, in Orphan Justice


The blunt truth is that there is a difference in motivation between those who bypass thousands of listed children to wait for the children they insist must be “perfect” enough to suit their preferred lifestyle, and those who respond based primarily on the need of the children, regardless of whether the children are cute, smart, healthy, even functional or able to return their parents’ love.

There are parents who are drawn to the children they know will otherwise be rejected and passed over for years. Once I looked into the faces of these neglected and unloved little human beings and held them in my arms, it would be impossible for me to agree that the motivation of these parents somehow does damage to the dignity of children with special needs or to the concept of adoption.


Katie is delighted to hear the birds sing.

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The underlying motivation for adoption has far-reaching consequences and must be closely and honestly examined.

Being the mother of eleven biological children, I can confidently speak to the fact that we are not open to welcoming children into our family through birth because of some need of our own that we hope they will fill. That doesn’t logically demand that the extreme opposite must be true—that we are having children because we think it’s the right thing to do even though we hate it.

But we do not believe it’s right or fair to children to bring them into the world hoping that they’ll fulfill some need in ourselves. We have seen very ill effects of what we see as this immature and yes, selfish thinking, and see it as insufficient to equip people to parent with love, wisdom, integrity, and consistency through the tremendous demands of parenthood.


“Katie, where’s your high chair?”

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I can only speak here for Joe and myself. Our overarching motivation for having children extends far beyond the motivation of simply becoming parents because we want to parent a child.

“It is very important that agencies commit to finding families for children, not children for families.”

~Johnny Carr, in Orphan Justice


Question:  I’m curious, I’ve seen comments about families “not being qualified to adopt at this point.”  How do they know?  What are the qualifications?


Answer: One of the most common reasons that otherwise suitable adoptive parents don’t qualify is because of financial requirements for adoptive families. United States Immigrations laws require that a family’s income be 125% of the current poverty guidelines in order to adopt internationally. That number is based on how many household members there are, including the adopted child(ren). They also count a family’s assets dollar for dollar toward that total number.

Some prospective parents are under or over the required age limit for adoptive parents. This age limit can vary from country to country.

Some parents are in ill health.

Some parents have been temporarily disqualified due to having very recently adopted, sometimes in conjunction with how many children they brought home.

We know some families who do not have and/or cannot afford health insurance. The family’s Immigrations officer must show evidence that the adopted child or children will not become a burden on the state, so the family has to show proof that they can care for the child’s medical needs without using government money.

Some families may live in more rural areas and don’t have more than one home study agency serving their entire region. If that agency won’t work with their family for some reason, the door remains closed. The first home study agency we approached for Katie’s adoption turned us away, stating as their reasons the size of our family, our small three-bedroom house, and our borderline income. Even within our current home study agency, our social worker told us she’s the only one who would give a large family even slight consideration.

Some home study or placing agencies will halt an adoption process if the mother becomes pregnant before or during the adoption.


View from my rocking chair…


…until big brother comes along to get some fun going!







Some families live in countries where it can be extremely difficult and in some cases impossible to get approval to internationally adopt a child with significant special needs.

A family doesn’t qualify to adopt if the wife’s heart is open to this type of adoption and the husband’s isn’t, even if in every other particular they are over-qualified to adopt. From our vantage-point, this is a heart-breakingly common situation. It truly is a miracle every time God opens a father’s heart to special needs adoption.

There are other reasons a family may not qualify, as well.

Sometimes God uses the obstacle or obstacles to hold the door closed temporarily, sometimes permanently.  We know that God is not stopped from removing obstacles when He so chooses, so the fact that He sometimes does not, even after repeated effort on the part of the families, means to us that it is truly God holding the door closed for those families.


These photos are somewhat irrelevant to this topic but they’re so cute I had to include them anyway~


They think washing the van…


…is way too much fun to be a chore!



However, when we see a family who is united in their desire to do this ministry (which means the first and biggest obstacle—an unwilling heart—has already been removed!), we don’t hesitate to pray that God would show Himself strong through them by moving every mountain that stands in their way.

If the door to special needs adoption is closed to you, I beg you, please make absolutely sure that it was God who closed that door and not you!


Question: If you had not had your faith, your family support, financial support, and your marriage was in counseling…despite these things, would you still have gone to get Katie if everything screamed at you that you should be her mother? Would you have gone it alone if you realized that you wanted it to be YOU that saw her first smile, and YOU to put the sparkle in her eyes, or YOU that put the color in her cheeks, or gave her the first hug she had ever had, the first bath, the first bed time tuck in?


Answer: The answer to your very good question is “no.” No, adopting Katie was not then and is not now about fulfilling something in me or in us as a family. The reason we moved forward to adopt her was not because we wanted ourselves to be The Ones.

And with the major obstacles we faced, IF we didn’t know for certain that God is who He says He is and that we could trust Him to guide us and undertake for us, IF all our close friends and respected extended family members had said they didn’t think we could handle Katie and that they couldn’t support what we were doing, IF God hadn’t provided the funds even to place us in an acceptable financial position, let alone provide for the adoption costs themselves, and IF our marriage was at the point of needing counseling, we couldn’t and wouldn’t have adopted.

Knowing what home study social workers scrutinize, if all these things were the case, our social worker wouldn’t have considered us qualified to adopt! Home study social workers look very hard at the financial position and stability of the family as well as at the strength of the total support system, and rightly so. “Waiting child” adoption is hard work, and needs something much stronger than emotions to hold it up!

Furthermore, it would have been impossible for us to make Katie’s adoption happen by sheer determination.  We’re grateful for this, because it was perfectly crystal clear all the way through that this story was all about what God was doing, and not about us or our feelings.



Question: Did you know when you saw Katie that she was yours, or was much prayer and discussion involved, or both?


Answer: Both things were true. Katie seemed to me like my own child as soon as I saw her, AND there was much prayer and discussion involved. We saw that the strengths we had to offer as a family fit with her needs.

I had an immediate response of love for Katie; however, the rightness of the adoption as a whole wasn’t built on or confirmed by this response or by any other feelings, but by the miracles that God had to do to make it happen.



Question:  Why are you not going through Reece’s Rainbow this time? Problems? Or just not listed through them? Or just simpler because you “know the ropes?”


Answer: We didn’t find Katie on Reece’s Rainbow, but on our adoption agency’s waiting child listing.  She had spent two months on Reece’s Rainbow earlier that year, but her profile was removed after her file was returned to the Ministry of Justice in Bulgaria when the mandatory sixty day period had expired without a family committing to her.

Also, Reece’s Rainbow required families to carry health insurance, which our family did not have.  Our family has a membership in Samaritan Ministries International, a Christian health care sharing program. We used Lifesong for Orphans for fundraising support and we found them to be wonderful to work with, praying us through Katie’s adoption process and beyond.

We did purchase standard health insurance for me before beginning Tommy’s adoption process, so we could have used Reece’s Rainbow this time.  We think highly of the work that Reece’s Rainbow is doing, but we’d already had such a wonderful experience with the folks at Lifesong for Orphans that we went through them again.

There is a fascinating story behind these few paragraphs that would take over an hour to relate to you.  We saw God move some solidly immoveable mountains to bring Katie into our family!



Question:  I’ve watched others adopt children with special needs internationally, and it seems like so many of them face unsupportive family, friends, and/or church.  Frankly, this would be hard for me.  Have you received opposition yourself, and what advice would you give to others who face it, too?


Answer:  Some of your friends may back off as your lives move in very different directions.  It’s best to just accept that possibility from the outset and not attempt to guess at or judge their motives.  No resentment; no “what did you mean by that?” exhausting drama.  Do remain open to them as well as to other friends God may bring into your lives.

If you come under actual attack and the attack is made in person, challenge yourself to listen without defending yourself.  If the attack is made in writing, the best response is to let it sit until your emotions have died down.  At that point, and only if you think a direct reply is necessary, choose your words with casual brevity.  Answer with the same friendliness you would naturally use if your critic had spoken with fairness and kindness.





However, for most situations…well…most of us need to learn that it’s not all about us and to get over ourselves.


Well, here’s an invaluable exercise for those of us in this category.  Learn to get down off that high horse and graciously take pot-shots from others, even when it’s obvious they don’t “get it,” or are even fighting for the wrong side.

Don’t assume that the other person intends to hurt you.  It was an enlightening day for me when I realized that if I am regularly seeing others as offensive and irritating, it doesn’t mean anything bad about them; it means I am easily offended and irritable.

I’ve regretted allowing resentment to build up.  I’ve regretted my failure to give the benefit of the doubt.  I’ve regretted defending myself.  I’ve regretted being too easily offended.  I’ve never regretted giving a humble and gentle response when under fire.

And yes, to answer your other question, we have learned these things from hard experience.


“Thinking of comments we’ve gotten from other people, I do ask a favor of you. Don’t love us more than you love these kids.  Don’t be more concerned for our well-being than for theirs.  It wouldn’t be right.”

~a young couple hoping to adopt many needy children


Question:  We’re adopting a little girl with Down syndrome, and she’ll be our first child with special needs. What resources can you recommend?  Any other advice?


Answer:  You’ve asked such a good question.

But before I go on to answer it, I want you to hear this.

Down syndrome is not an emergency!



That’s right!  There’s no emergency!  Resist being made to feel that non-medically-urgent therapy needs are the first priority.  Some adopted children with Down syndrome are ready to jump right in to school or therapy, but some need more time to settle in to their new family and build bonds of trust.  Adjustment and attachment come first.  So start slowly with therapy if needed.  You can always work more in as time goes on.



As for practical information about Down syndrome, there is so much out there now that it can be too much for certain personalities. If you feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of information that’s available, feel free to take it in slowly. There are various proponents of various approaches, and they vigorously contradict each other sometimes. You will eventually form your own opinions, find out what works and doesn’t work for your child, and come to be comfortable with your own basic approach while staying open to learning more.



The Woodbine books about Down syndrome are good. Gross Motor, Fine Motor, and Early Communication are three good ones to start with.

You may want to invest in Signing Times DVDs or plan to borrow them from the library.  Some children with Down syndrome have an aptitude for signing, and if so, this can help them bridge the communication gap before their speech catches up. Some children with Down syndrome remain non-verbal, and sign is a wonderful tool if they can learn to use it.



I highly recommend you look into the Baby Center Down Syndrome group. You can search for various past topics on there.  Reading the combined experiences of hundreds of moms (and a few dads) can give you a picture of the range of needs your child may have and what may work to help meet them. I haven’t had the time to visit there over the past couple of years, but at the beginning of our journey with Verity it was an enormous help to me.

Be aware, though, that before you actually have your own child with Down syndrome, you shouldn’t assume that he or she will have all the issues you will read about from other parents.  There is a long list of challenges that can come along with that extra twenty-first chromosome, but no individual with Down syndrome will have all of them! So don’t be scared by the list, and never forget that a child is far more than a list of potential issues!



Are you planning to use private therapists or receive services from Early Intervention (or whatever the Birth to Age Three program is called in your state)?  I definitely recommend that your child be evaluated by a physical therapist and occupational therapist at the minimum.  They can help you learn your child’s strengths and weaknesses, set appropriate goals, and give you good ideas to help your child progress.

I would also recommend you seek out a local support group, if there is one where you live, and start to hang out with people with Down syndrome, just to help you get comfortable with some of the more common quirks of “Down syndrome-ness.” Blogs are great, and made such a difference for me when I was still pregnant with Verity and needing to be enlightened.  Blogs show a side of Down syndrome from the close perspective of a loving mother or father, a perspective that you might miss seeing in occasional real life encounters.  But real life relationships with people with Down syndrome are so valuable if you can possibly manage it.


A little girl at the park watched Verity on the swings with fascination, asking lots of questions about her glasses.  Laura was proud to explain to her that Verity has Down syndrome, to which the little girl replied, “I never knew that Down syndrome could be so cute!”




Question:  What’s your best advice for parents adopting special-needs kids from institutions where they were neglected, kids like Katie and Tommy?


Answer: Go into adoption prepared for lots of hard.

Never build your adoption plans on a best case scenario.

Your expectations need to be below ground level.

Don’t expect to be able to turn your child into a typical child.

There is simply no way to predict how your child will do.

It needs to be enough for you that your child is home being loved and cared for.

Be prepared for a lifetime commitment.

I have observed that the adoptive parents who set the most limits on what they can handle and have the highest expectations for their adopted children are often the ones who struggle the most with accepting their children’s issues after they get home.

After your children have been home for a period of time, your expectations won’t stay at zero, but it’s healthy to have them there at the outset, before you meet your children and discover who THEY are and what THEY can do and what THEIR strengths and weaknesses are. Be prepared to love them no matter what.

If you’re adopting a child with Down syndrome, and are not already familiar and comfortable with Down syndrome, the stereotypes may come back to bite you. All people with Down syndrome are not happy and lovey all the time, and institutionalization can be damaging in its own way.  BUT Down syndrome is not something to fear, nor are people with Down syndrome!! They are all different, and don’t fit into boxes that others can feel comfortable putting them into.

An international adoption of a waiting child from a Hague country like Bulgaria requires a certain amount of training and education, and there are helps and supports available, but potential difficulties should be assumed with adoption of a child from institutionalization. The hard times don’t always come, and if they don’t, great! But please expect them and prepare for them.

Be especially wary if you find that you tend to be interested only in institutionalized children who are cute, have mild special needs, and appear to be healthy and “normal.”  A family can make false assumptions based on a photo, video, medical file, or even a week of visits, and think they are choosing an “easier” child with fewer needs, and the child can end up being far more challenging to parent than they expected.

People can look at Katie and assume that because of her severe delays and medical issues that her needs are very difficult to meet. They are not, they are simply time-consuming. We were fully prepared for her to present us with emotional challenges as well, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case.  In our family, with many hands to help, the physical work load can be spread around, whereas a child with emotional struggles will require more intense one-to-one parenting, perhaps for an extended period of time.

It is vital that potential adoptive parents know that it is possible for a child with mild to no special needs to be far more challenging to parent than a child with severe medical needs!

Do not make the mistake of equating “milder special needs” with “easier to parent!”

If Katie’s way of showing indiscriminate affection is to cozy up to someone, pat their hand, and say “Mama,” a child with mild special needs might constantly run away from the family and ask strangers to take her home with them because she hates her mean mommy.

If Katie’s way of showing naughtiness and a desire to control is to bang the side of her head with her toy when she thinks we won’t notice, a child with mild special needs might lie, steal, emotionally manipulate and physically attack her mom while putting on a sweet angel front to those outside the family.


Be prepared that your adopted child may continue to stim as Katie has, either to alert herself or calm herself, or just out of many long years of habit~



This doesn’t mean that you are failing as a parent, any more than God is a failure when His children depend on caffeine, chocolate or electronic diversions to help them cope with life.

We re-direct her to a more socially-appropriate activity when we can, such as this child-like one.



I haven’t captured a photo of this yet, but Katie’s most thrilling progress recently is in her response to baby Ben.  After about two weeks of essentially ignoring him unless we were demonstrating “gentle” using hand over hand–now she will rub his head gently all by herself (she has never before purposely touched something gently!) and lean over and rest her head against his!



Adoptive parents must move forward with their eyes wide open, be ready to work hard, keep learning and seeking answers, show endless patience and a calm spirit, take a flexible and good-humored approach to life, and be open to trying many various tools to help their child heal emotionally.




If adoptive parents thought that they were getting an “easier” child by not choosing a child with greater medical needs, or were otherwise ill-prepared, they can struggle terribly with feeling trapped in a life that has permanently spiraled out of their control.  Rather than bonding to their new child, they can feel resentment of the child and how the child has changed the family dynamics.  This is often compounded by feeling guilty for “not loving enough.”

On the other hand, parents who deliberately choose a child with more severe needs and prepare for tough times tend to be extremely accepting of and mentally prepared for any level of needs, and are far less likely to be thrown by any struggles they end up facing.

You will want to talk with your other children about the lifelong nature of your commitment.  We pictured this for our older children by reminding them of a couple we know who have several adult children with disabilities.  We told our older children, “That’s the lifestyle we’ve embraced.  That’s going to be your dad and mom someday, moving slowly through life, bringing your disabled adult siblings to family gatherings in wheelchairs and a van with a lift.”  Their response?  “Okay, that’s cool!”

Joseph’s already making future plans to build a home with in-law quarters to accommodate us.




I hope that my talk about some of the difficulties you might face in adoption doesn’t discourage you! It’s similar to premarital counseling. It wouldn’t be done responsibly if the counselor failed to talk openly about very tough issues, especially the ones the counselor thought that particular couple will likely face.  That doesn’t mean the counselor’s intent is to question the competency of the couple, throw a wet blanket over their joy, or dissuade them from marrying.  A good counselor will help an engaged couple to be more prepared to navigate their challenges successfully.

Adoption parenting will be difficult to some extent. There must be a crystal-clear understanding that difficulty is not an enemy to be avoided at all costs, that God is the one who decides the level of challenge for each family, and that He can bring good out of the most painful circumstances.

It always takes sacrifice on the part of the strong, rich, and capable to meet the needs of the weak, the poor, and the helpless.

Jesus didn’t give out of His “extra,” saving back enough for Himself to make His life a little cushier.

He gave up His whole life for us.







Adopting a child with a disability that has been institutionalized should be all about the child and nothing about yourself. My only focus in bringing my daughter home should–!–have been about showing her what love is and teaching her to feel safe, and not about adding a little girl to our family with the expectation of playing with dolls and baking together. Oh…I was so naive. But, now I wouldn’t change our situation for the world! It is and has been a privilege to teach our daughter about the love of Jesus and to teach her what a mommy is!
~adoptive mother
Now it’s my turn to ask you some questions!


First, did you click on any of the links to photos that show the conditions for adults with disabilities in Eastern European mental institutions?

I’m guessing that nearly all of you did not click on that link.

I know, this post is already so long.

But it will still be here tomorrow or next week or a month from now, sitting over there on the sidebar.

So you can come back to this post, scroll down here almost to the bottom, and click on this link right here.

I challenge you to look.

I dare you to look, and to see.

This is where Katie would have ended up if she had continued to survive Pleven and God had not sent a family to get her.



A place just like this.


After you look at the photos, could you please answer these questions?


Was it okay for the signers of the Declaration of Independence–

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

–to own slaves?

Has that ever struck you as being inconsistent or even somewhat hypocritical?

Would freeing their slaves have meant major, life-altering personal sacrifice for the signers?

How did they justify this inconsistency to themselves?


“My mistress had taught me the precepts of God’s Word:  ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’  But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor.”

~Harriet A. Jacobs, in Life of a Slave Girl


Do we care about justice for the oppressed only if that means we get to live the way we want to?

What if our lifestyle is only possible if we knowingly turn a blind eye to the basic human rights of others?


The reality is that the living conditions for abandoned, disabled children in many other countries are deplorable.

The reality is that many of these disabled children are available for adoption, but they sit on waiting lists, passed over again and again until they have aged out.

The reality is that they are then imprisoned under appalling conditions for the rest of their lives.

The shameful reality is that there are Christ-followers who know about this reality and are qualified in every way to adopt except that they have hearts that are unwilling to make the necessary changes to their current lifestyle.

How can we justify this inconsistency to ourselves?


So, friends, do you qualify for international special needs adoption?

Is your heart open to the possibility?  If so, the first and greatest obstacle has already been removed!

If you qualify and your heart is open, what are you waiting for?


Do you think you’re too busy?

“When I saw that you had a large family and that you were adopting Katie when Verity was still a baby, I thought, ‘No way.’  But I was figuring without God.”  ~adoptive parent


Do you think you don’t have enough money?

“We knew we didn’t have enough money.  But we knew that God did.”   ~adoptive parent


Do you think your house is too small?

“The house you live in is bigger than the cribs they are living in.”  ~adoptive parent


Do you think you’re too old?

“An older dad and mom is better than no dad and mom.”  ~adoptive parent


Do you think you can’t provide what they need?

“In our last adoption, God was very clear in saying, ‘Why not? What is stopping you?  Do you really believe you don’t have more than they have right now?'”  ~adoptive parent


Are you afraid the cost of adopting a child with special needs is too great?

“The cost of loving my child is great, but the cost of not loving him is greater.”  ~adoptive parent


Do you think it takes a saint or a hero to love and adopt children with special needs?


It takes parents.


How I long to see more parents stepping forward and saying yes to God!


What are you waiting for?


“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”



Please email Shelley Bedford about adopting Brandi.







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33 Responses to “It Doesn’t Take a Hero: Special needs adoption Q & A”

  1. MamaV says:

    Thank you, Susanna!
    this is just what I needed to read right now. 

  2. Mandy says:

    Lots of truth here-thanks for taking the time to share this! Parts of it really spoke to me…

  3. Brooke says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have been following your blog and am amazed at how God has used you to minister to Katie. I continue to pray for your family as you begin your new adventures with Tommy.
    Your were right in saying that adoptive parents who only want a child with no special needs can end up in situations they were never prepared to handle. God very clearly called us to adopt our two adopted children. Both were previously adopted from Eastern European countries by parents who wanted children without special needs. In both cases, the parents were not prepared to handle the reality of life with these children.
    After arriving in the US, our daughter was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a “label” her adoptive parents were not willing to accept. They were a Godly family who loved her enough to know that they could not be the parents she needed, so we adopted her from them. Even if we had known of our daughter’s existence, we could not have travelled internationally to get her because both my husband and I have many food allergies which makes it impossible to eat in restaurants or to eat food when we can read the label.
    Our son, who we adopted at age 11, was originally adopted at age 5. His parents were not prepared for his emotional special needs. They also did not know God and had many other family problems. They dropped this troubled boy off at the juvenile detention center and told him they didn’t want him anymore. He stayed there for 5 months because nobody in our state would take him. But God intervened. He knew our son belonged in our home and he moved mountains to get him here.
    Our children are healing, but the most amazing thing to me is that when we step out in faith, when we truly come to the point in our lives when we can honestly say, “God, I love you and trust you so much that I will do anything you ask me to do, no matter how uncomfortable and difficult it is,” God sends on missions that he has already prepared us to do! Looking back over my life, I was being prepared to be the mom of these children. Having a biological son with autistic symptoms and horrible behavior issues prepared me to love these two children with special emotional needs and developmental delays.
    When God stirs your heart, step out in faith. He has already prepared you for the child he is going to bring you. And after that child comes home, when you are experiencing the most difficult times you’ve ever faced, understand that through these very hard circumstances you will grow closer to God than you have ever been before, and that blessing is worth all the difficult times.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Such an excellent post, Susanna! There are a couple of things I wanted to add, mainly to reaffirm what you already answered. As to the why not adopt out of foster care question. Some states make it impossible for large families to do so. In my state, Illinois, because of our family size, we cannot adopt domestically. We exceed the acceptable number of children and so our only option is to adopt from a country where the child legally becomes ours before we enter the US. There are many large families who would be open to domestic foster-adopt adoption, but the laws make it impossible. This is regardless of home size, by the way. We just cannot do it.
    And I loved your comment about ease of parenting a child based on their special need. Hidden wounds, such as caused by trauma, can be just as, if not more devastating to a child and the child’s family than a physical special need. My son who was a healthy three year old at the time of his adoption is also my most wounded child and is the most challenging to parent. My other children, both biological and adopted with special needs, are cumulatively less work than he is to parent. There have been some extremely difficult periods… difficulty to a degree I couldn’t imagine. Every person who is looking into adoption needs to realize that not all wounds and hurts can be seen. I love him and wouldn’t trade him, but these past seven years have been the most challenging of my life. 
    And I guess that the good news I was hoping to hear about Brandi didn’t come to fruition. Darn. I’ll keep advocating for her.

  5. I am so very excited for you and your family as time is nearing for you to travel to go and get Tommy!  I have begun to pray for everything to go safely and smoothly with your children at home, for your travels and for you all and Tommy.  He seems like a genuinely happy boy that should handle the travel part well.  He so much reminds me of my Antonio.  Antonio takes things pretty much in stride.  Even the hardest things he has went thru in his life.  It is just the way God made him.  He is a true blessing.   The post today was very well written and speaks volumes.  I pray many people read it and “get it”  as it was put as plainly and truthfully as I have seen written yet.  May many hearts be touched and brought to the call of the orphans here at home and abroad.  Blessings, susan

  6. Erica says:

    I’m a single adoptive mom to two non-special-needs kids from Eastern Europe. I did seek to adopt a healthy child, though I was so relieved when the two children referred to me appeared to be “normal enough” – no life-threatening contagious disease, nothing that stopped them from interacting with other humans, no obvious impairment in their ability to control their own behavior – that I did not need to pursue the kind of medical evaluation that some folks have. But I agonized about the morality of seeking to adopt only healthy kids, and I still do, though I am grateful every day for the health and well-being of my kids. 
    Perhaps some of the reason I concluded I would not be open to a special needs adoption was because I am not a Christian and was not adopting as a ministry. I have followed your blog for some time, cheering as Katie has healed, and wondering at your ability to handle such a large family – after I adopted my second child, who does not have real special needs but had a very rough transition into the family, life felt as though we were tossed way up into the air and were falling through space for a long time (partly because of the kids, partly due to other family developments of the perfectly expectable kind with aging parents, etc.). I am only now (6 years since my second adoption) beginning to feel that life is settling back into a reasonable course. 
    I also did not choose an interracial US adoption, because at that time, I thought it would be a great challenge socially and emotionally to me, even though I know many happy interracial families. 
    Over time, I have come to believe that adopting a non-special-needs child is no ministry or sacrifice (and I do recognize that you do not feel that your children are a sacrifice either, which I fully understand – once your child is your child, their burdens become your burdens not in the sense of weighing you down, but in the sense that your children are simply your life and it’s impossible to think that the things your children have to carry make your children a burden to you). But it is still a need. In satisfying my own desire to be a mother, which really was meeting my own need, I hoped that satisfying my selfish wish would at least bring joy to another person, or at a minimum reduce the amount of sadness in the world. I don’t want my kids to feel grateful to me and I am very tired of people telling them they should feel lucky that I adopted them – as every adoptive parent knows, the “luck” is all mine, and if this were all “luck” for my kids they shouldn’t have had to go through what they went through in order to get what I had as a child without going through anything at all – but I do think that there is a need for all children without families to be enfolded into the love of a family. And there are, as others have said, many children waiting.
    I think your answers regarding foster care adoption make sense. I was discouraged by the process used in my home city, where I could not limit my fostering to kids available to adopt. As a single parent, I need to work. I would get one maternity leave and only one per adoption, and a child needs full attention when they join a family, so a maternity need would be essential.  I couldn’t see how to make it work. And for some reason, I was called to the country of my children’s birth (not by God, in my view, but by my family history – though others of my friends who are religious feel strongly that their calling was from God).  Times are different now, for me and my family.  I still hope to adopt one more time, and if I do, I may well go through the foster care system. 
    I’m not sure why I felt compelled to write this, except that your comment about people waiting for children who are perfect enough to be adopted made me feel that perhaps you share the view that I and others like me adopt “perfect” children because we are only interested in satisfying our own needs.  While I did, as I mentioned above, adopt to satisfy my own need to be a mother, to have love in my life, to have a purpose that was not all about me, I did also adopt (instead of giving birth a child as a single mother, which my own beliefs would not have prevented) because I thought there was no reason that meeting my need couldn’t meet the needs of another, and that I should meet the needs of another person already on this earth. And there is a need, an enormous need. My kids have presented their own challenges, as all children do (and perhaps some that not all children do because not all children have to experience so much as my kids did before they are even three), but they are incredible people, and I am grateful every day to be their mother. I do not think people who are not ready to handle special needs need to feel shame – nor that they should assume it will be easy. (Attachment issues are hard, as you have noted, even without special physical or medical needs to compound them.)  If you aren’t ready to adopt a child with special physical or medical needs, there are other crying needs in the world that maybe you can meet. Don’t let the fact that you’re not ready to take on the hardest challenges prevent you from giving a child, or another person, what they need – there are so many areas of need in this world, you can find something you can do.
    And while you may not be a hero, Susanna, in your own view, I do find what you are doing to be deeply admirable. Katie and Verity are doing beautifully, your other children – the ones that are supposed to be easy but we all know that raising good people is not “easy” – seem to be good people with good hearts. It sounds as though you do take comfort in knowing that you are doing right, and while I do not share your religious beliefs, I believe you are doing right, and that is wonderful to see. 

  7. Judee Albert says:

    God bless you for taking the time to write this, even considering how busy you are preparing to travel and adjusting to the arrival of baby Ben.  I have shared it and I pray that hearts will be set afire!
    Blessings, Judee in Iowa

  8. Maria says:

    Another great post Susanna!  You write very eloquently what is on so many hearts.  Thank you for giving us words with which to frame this calling of adoption.  The family pics are good too! :)  Father in Heaven, please protect the Musser’s as they travel and step out once more to bring home another of your children.  We pray for rest when it is needed, for patience when it is required, and for your hand to always be felt on their shoulders as they navigate this next chapter.  We pray for the rest of their family and friends that are waiting for their return.  We do all this in your name.  Amen.  Travel safely Susanna, we look forward to pictures!

  9. Katie says:

    God has given you the gift of honesty and clarity in communication, clearly, because this post is written so perfectly.  You speak the truth without apology, even when it gets uncomfortable, even when it might not be what people want to hear.  You maintain realistic expectations without losing hope – often I find that blogs are either hopeful, but whitewash over the hard stuff, or they are realistic, but jaded.  It’s hard to find the middle ground, but God has given you the clarity to fill that need.  This is one of your best posts ever and I hope a lot of people read it.  I’ll be sharing the link wherever I can.  Such great advice for so many people!  Not just those who hope to adopt, or those who are at a certain point in adoption, or those with children with special needs – there’s something there for everyone.  And pictures of your beautiful children interspersed too!  Thank you for taking the time it must have taken to put this together.  I know you did it out of love for the children and obedience to the Lord.
    Your family is always in my prayers – including my prayers of thanks.  So many things to say came to mind as I was reading this post but none of them are coming out now except for gratitude… and one more…
    I have been begging for this little boy on RR (  Three years, his face has been up there.  I can’t stop hoping that his parents will read this.  Something in my heart tells me they are close to seeing or committing to him and just need a little more guidance, another push, to take that leap of faith.  This could be what they need.  Will you join me in prayer that Brett finds his family soon?  I’d bring him home myself if I could, but I don’t qualify to adopt at all, for a lot of reasons.  I have confidence that God will change those circumstances, but I still won’t qualify to adopt Brett because of my age.  I’m not his Mama, just a loving advocate, maybe ‘aunt’ someday… but nothing would make me happier than to find the person who IS his Mama!

  10. Missy says:

    I’ve been reading about special needs adoption, international adoption, large families adoption for quite a while now and I never knew that large families have difficulty adopting domestically! You could have knocked me over with a feather! Sooo many things make sense now. So thank you, Susanna, for teaching me. As always you and your family are in my prayers.

  11. Thomas R Boroughs says:

    I have been dwelling on Philippians 4:6-8 and I need to read and re-read it often. I love the 8 points in the 8th verse in particular
    ” Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true,
    whatsoever things are honest,
    whatsoever things are just,
    whatsoever things are pure,
    whatsoever things are lovely,
    whatsoever things are of good report,
    if there be any virtue,
    and if there be any praise,
    think on these things.”
    I constantly see these eight points played out in your life and blog.

  12. sabrina says:

    Such a good thing to point out that people must go where they’re called. Everyone is not called to adopt from the same countries, or to adopt the same children. There are different kinds of families for specific children. God sets the lonely in family, and I believe that He prepares a place for them in advance and puts just the right people together.
    Like you said, some families can adopt locally and some cannot. Some can take teens from high-risk backgrounds, and some cannot. Some families can adopt sibling groups and some can only take one. Some families choose children with special needs and some adopt children with none or more minor special needs, but like you mentioned, possibly with challenges in other areas. 
    You mentioned human trafficking. A friend of mine has a heart for victims of trafficking and she has shared a lot of information with me. Being a teen living in certain countries with no family to love and protect you, is it’s own “special need”. An orphan may have no physical or intellectual special needs. She may be smart and beautiful and won’t be sent to an institution, but instead she gets tossed onto the street when she ages out of the orphanage. Alone and without a place to go, she is a target and often get scooped up and sold to  live a life of unspeakable horror.
    Different children are saved from different outcomes. I agree that the willing heart is so important. If we have a willing heart, we just never know what God will have in store for us.

  13. Cassandra says:

    Hey there Susanna,
    Wow – what a meaty and information rich post. In print it is hard to tell if you were serious or poking fun at your own post.  Are you really considering ending your “blogging era,” as you mentioned?  Nobody could fault you, that’s for sure.  My guess is that you are a 1% er.  In terms of being busy, that is!  
    I hope that when I pose a question you do not feel obliged to respond. I certainly don’t want to increase your blogging responsibilities.  I suspect you never imagined that you were beginning an online ministry.  But God knew it!  I am aware that having our priorities in order is sometimes an act of discipline so if blogging is using up too much of your time resource, then it’s obviously the first thing to go.  
    Your posts are popular because your write from your heart.  You are not afraid of being transparent. That sort of writing is in short supply in adoption blogs.  Lots of times, knowing that their children may eventually track it down, blog posts are sugary sweet and we all know what too much sugar does to our stomach:)
    Photos speak to me and the ones of Katie on the porch swing are profound. To think of the charmed life she is living now compared to the photo essays that you linked us to. I will admit that I cried to see that obviously beautiful woman with the big brown eyes, arms and legs frozen in a crumpled state and left in that prison type bed. All alone. Completely and utterly undignified. Oh how I will pray that she finds a measure of peace in that h_ll where she is wasting away.  
    Your comment about not becoming/staying bitter spoke to me. It is true that being bitter is the equivalent of drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It never works. 
    You have been uniquely equipped for a time such as this.  Several times away I pray for your well being as I know Moms set the tone at home.  
    Yours on the Journey,

  14. Jamie Garcia says:

    It doesn’t take a “hero”, it takes an obedient servant of the Lord who joyfully commits their family to the ways of Him alone and waits patiently for God to direct their steps, to provide for all the needs. Thank you for being one of His faithful families. \o/

  15. Jennifer says:

    I think some people are often surprised by the way we parent our son Joshua.  Since his needs appeared somewhat minor, I think people thought we were horribly unrealistic and believed that his issues would be resolved with some love and attention.
    That wasn’t the case though.  Joshua on paper didn’t look at serious as some. He remains non verbal and has difficulty learning signs.  His skills are still limited.  This does not surprise us.  We embrace him for who he is and delight in the progress he does make.  We are sad when it is slow but we understand.  We want him to be the best he is capable of, and we don’t yet know what that looks like.  Your point about ‘minor needs’ is well taken.  Most children in Pleven or anywhere do not have ‘minor’ needs, even if they look ‘minor’.  It takes more than love and care to bring a child out developmentally.  Some children may never reach the goals we hope for.  We must parent them as they are (irrespective of age) and be prepared to work hard.  We spend many days in doctor’s offices and different appointments.  We are just now starting to arrange therapies for him to help him learn to communicate (via PECS, sign, verbally, or some combination of all three).  His needs are serious – all PAPs must consider that ‘minor’ or ‘moderate’ needs doesn’t mean a cakewalk.  It also can mean tremendous joy, as I cannot envision my life without this precious child!

  16. Susanna you answered the adopting multiple children at one time beautifully! We adopted 11 children all about 2-3 years apart, one at a time, before we adopted 2 together from. BG and then 3 together from BG. We felt after 30 years of adopting and 23 years of running a Group Home for adults with special needs- we could do this. We even cut back on Group Home clients to make time for them. 
    We will never be allowed to adopt multiple children again- we knew our “window” to go back to BG would close due to changes in laws, my health as I age, our advancing ages with stricter agency scrutiny, so we went for those boys like it was a life saving mission! Which it was!! God closed the door and we see that it is His best for us.
    Praise God! They are home and when God closes a door……….he opens a window! More about that soon!
    p.s. I came here for your coconut oil health benefits link and can’t find it? Could you please send me the link at tarcher30 AT Charter dot net  Thank You!! :o)

  17. Galit says:

    Thank you so much for this extended post!
    I am still struggling with the concept of “qualification”.
    You write, “I have observed that the adoptive parents who set the most limits on what they can handle and have the highest expectations for their adopted children are often the ones who struggle the most with accepting their children’s issues after they get home.”
    and yet, “each family who goes through an international adoption is closely scrutinized by many different entities.  In our case, six different entities were involved, a home study social worker, US placing agency, in-country agency, the government of our child’s country, US Immigrations, and the vice-consul in the US Embassy in our child’s country.  All these gathered large amounts of information to determine whether we qualified to adopt Katie, and then Tommy.”
    Aren’t the adoption agencies supposed to (a) screen the parents and (b) prepare them with reasonable expectations?  And yet so many families struggle in the way you describe, resulting in as much as 20% disruption rate.  So we can’t really trust the process itself to determine whether we are qualified, or to prepare us appropriately.  How do we assess our qualification realistically?
    Thanks in advance!

  18. Katie says:

    Oh, and I wanted to answer your questions.  Yes, I clicked the link… and it hit me the same way the Serbia video did when I first found your blog.  I can’t stand it when kids age out.  I really have a heart for the older kids… the ones who, unfortunately, that 15 year age gap law prevents me from ever adopting.  
    And no, it was never okay for anyone to ‘own’ slaves.  They justified this to themselves the way the Nazis justified murdering the Jews, the way that old director of Pleven justified treating those children like she did – they considered them less than human, therefore not worthy of human rights.  But they were all wrong – they constructed their beliefs around their actions instead of the other way around.  I’ve long thought that we lead lives of excess in this country – not all of us, of course – but most of us – and if everyone would just give a little… pass up that new designer purse or pair of sunglasses, and give instead to those who have nothing… that the orphan crisis would be so much better, if it even still existed at all.  It’s what I try to do… but I’m human and I have to admit that I often fail.  How blessed I am to worship a God who forgives my failings.
    And no, I don’t qualify to adopt… but I will.  It’s a goal I’m working towards.  Right now I’m too young and too broke and even though I know I could give a child more than what they have in an orphanage even now, the government doesn’t see it that way.  But I’ll get there, and it will be in God’s timing.  I think he has my children already picked out.  Every night I pray that they don’t suffer too much before I can get to them.
    By the way… can Joseph build me an in law suite too?  ;)  I always tell my mom that I want her to live with me someday the way I live with her now (I live in a downstairs apartment).  Good to know I’m not the only one my age who thinks that way.

  19. Melissa says:

    Those photosets were just shattering. I saw Katie in Liliana, that poor woman lying in the fetal position, forgotten, alone. She WAS Katie once upon a time, except she was born in a time and place that stayed locked in wrong thinking…and has lain there through the years as many places in the world have finally recognized that the Lilianas and Katies of this world are precious people. Each one of those people had parents–maybe some had loving parents who were counseled to put their children away, or couldn’t care for them and left them somewhere…I wonder how many were awaited with anticipation, and then when they were born, were taken away…I want to know the stories of each person. It’s a crying shame that we will never know.
    This post has done much for me, and I am a foster parent to a toddler and an infant. We are unable to have bio children, and there are moments when the words of a friend come back to me: “Do you want to be PREGNANT or do you want to be a PARENT?” I have found that I do indeed enjoy being a parent, especially when my toddler proudly recites animal noises for me, and the baby lays sleeping in my arms after a bottle. They are precious, even when they are both screaming, or the toddler refuses to nap, or has a hard time with ‘inside voice’ and ‘outside voice.’ Their futures with us are uncertain, but I pray for them daily. I wonder if the people languishing in those joyless places had anyone who prayed or prays for them?
    Something my pastor said to me helps me–and might help others here too. “Control is an attempt to mitigate pain.” We constantly seek to control our lives, but I am learning, learning, learning…letting go feels like going out of control, but I need to realize that it is taking MY hands off the wheel and letting God steer.
    Susanna, thank you for your honest and thoughtful answers.

  20. lizzie says:

    Praying that the Lord will continue to use these words to pierce hearts for the children who wait xoxoxo

  21. Louisa says:

    Your posts are inspiring and have opened our heart to adopting kids we never considered before.  We have had discussions with our resource worker in foster care and she knew our hearts on adoption but never the level of special needs we have recently chatted about to her previously.  We are filled to capacity here in our state but God knows and will open a door either here or elsewhere!  Thank you so much for your heart and beautiful pictures of your treasures!  Your family is amazing! 

  22. Anna says:

    Susanna, I wholeheartedly agree with you that a child who appears to have mild needs can be more challenging to parent. But I am troubled that you agree, and warn that a child may need an extended period of one on one parenting, but are supportive of people adopting multiple unrelated special needs children at once. What if a family brings two children home at once, only to discover both need intensive one on one time, or one needs inpatient treatment with a parent while the other needs intensive one on one parenting? I think it has the potential to simply exchange a large institution for a smaller institution.

  23. Lydia says:

    Just wanted to make sure you have seen the latest Anna update!

  24. Susanna says:

    Thank you, Lydia!!

  25. Susanna says:

    Anna, thank you for commenting. There are many ways to answer your concerns.

    Our family knows from personal experience that there is a seemingly endless list of ways God can make a challenging situation work–MANY supports and helps and God-sent resources that are too numerous to write out. A family with half the number of children that we have could look at our family from a distance, and from their own limited experience, without knowing all the details, declare that it is impossible for all our children’s needs to be met. I could turn around and point to a family twice the size of ours and declare from a distance, from my own limited experience, without knowing all the details, that it is impossible for all their children’s needs to be met. But I believe it would be a mistake to do that.

    In cases where a family brings more than one child home at a time, and more than one of the newly adopted children have great needs at the same time, the transition time might take longer and be more challenging, but if bonding is going to happen, it will happen even if it takes longer, and if it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen even given years and years. Keep in mind that in any family with more than one child, two or more children could potentially have great needs at the same time, so to completely avoid this risk, a two-parent family would have to never have more than two children. Even then, what if one or both of the parents were very disabled or died? It does happen. The what ifs could go on endlessly.

    In the large majority of cases, in families who qualify for this type of adoption, it does work. Often, the families are OVER-qualified because of the skills they’ve gained through prior experience. I’ve seen over and over again that what would be completely overwhelming to some parents is taken in stride by others, and what would cause some families to be torn apart pulls others together. I have seen families handle tough challenges with grace, and watched God use that for GOOD for the individuals in those families, if their trust is in Him and they are not giving way to bitterness.

    What is heartbreaking to me, and the reason I am choosing to answer this question, is that even well-meant “what if” fear-mongering has the potential to hurt waiting children by discouraging very qualified prospective families from adopting them, far greater numbers of children than are being hurt by failed adoptions.

    We wish large numbers of Christians were bringing these little ones home, but in reality the numbers are extremely low. About 30% of Christians consider adoption at some point, but only 1% actually adopt. Out of all US adoptions, only about 11% are international, and we all know that not all international adoptions are of children with special needs. So we are talking about a percentage of 11% of 1%. And then if even as many as 20% are disrupting, those numbers are very, very low in terms of actual children. So many potential adoptive parents are already closed to adoption due solely to their fear of future uncertainties.

    I am friends with families who have done this type of adoption, and I have also seen the condition of and conditions for the children where they are waiting in the orphanage, and I simply cannot agree that my friends should have left any one of the children there. Is it really better for the children to go on languishing for years in an orphanage than for a transition/attachment/bonding process to potentially be more difficult and take a longer period of time? Sometimes it takes actually visiting an orphanage full of children with no parents before the full reality can impact someone. If we had to give up our three children with special needs, we would not hesitate to place them in a large and loving adoptive family and we would know they were going to thrive there. Would we hesitate before placing them in the Pleven orphanage?

    There is SO MUCH MORE that could be said on this subject. As I have so many times over the past couple of years, I am feeling the lack of time and skill with words to communicate the reality and do it justice.

  26. Susanna says:

    Galit, thanks for asking this very common question.

    A few thoughts, not comprehensive…

    Most of the time, the process does work, but you’re right that the process itself is not the only protection for families against future disruptions.

    Most of the parents I’ve talked with about adopting children with significant special needs take it very seriously and are not frivolous.

    I’d love to see actual facts about disruption, including a breakdown of what percentage were of waiting children, and of those, what percentage were waiting due to medical special needs, or to behavioral issues, or to age, or to other factors.

    As you are choosing among waiting children, look at the needs of the children in light of the strengths you have to offer as a family. We are a good fit for a child with certain types of significant medical special needs whereas a teen with behavior problems and a rough background might pose a risk to the younger children already in our home. Another family might have only mature young adult children and be exactly the right fit for a troubled teen.

    If you are in doubt, it’s not a bad idea to go to a few wise people whom you respect, who “get” special needs adoption and understand what’s involved, and ask for their thoughts. Not for their approval or disapproval, just for their honest thoughts.

    We have observed that parents adopting from Hague countries like Bulgaria, where the process requires more adoption education, go into it more prepared, especially when they’re able to visit their child months in advance of bringing them home, as with a Bulgaria adoption.

    Good conversation and would love to hear more thoughts from others with experience…

  27. Amanda says:

    Oh Susanna! I just love you and your wonderful family! God is using you in miraculous ways that you will never even know of. Thank you for using your precious time to write this blog. You have an amazing gift with words and your passion for special needs adoption just flows from it. I wept when I watched the videos of Tommy’s pick up. Especially the video and photos with your older son. What a fantastic job you and your husband have done raising your children! I pray that my own children will bless us in that way someday when they near adulthood though they kind of already are by being so enthusiastic about adoption even at their young ages of 6 and under.
    God is suddenly moving in miraulous ways the past few months for our family. Everything is falling perfectly in place and we didn’t even realize it happening until the last few days. We are FINALLY beginning our own adoption! Thank you for your complete honesty of the realities of the process and of raising children with special needs and for the boldness you speak in regards to our obligations has followers of Christ. Though obligation doesn’t seem like the quite right word as we are filled with JOY that we are now in a position to rescue children who desperately need a mama and daddy. Congratulations on your TWO new arrivals! What a blessing! :) – Amanda (twinsmama08 from momys) 

  28. Chris Carter says:

    We are just beginning the process of bringing home a little boy with spina bifida.  Your blog has already been such a goldmine of truth and encouragement.  Thank you.

  29. Donna Thorson says:

    We are looking at adopting from Bulgaria and we are a Christian family. Can you recommend an adoption agency? We are looking at All God’s Children.
    Thank you and God Bless!

  30. Susanna says:

    Hello Donna, emailing you…

  31. Asha says:

    I’m Asha, 25 yr old woman living with my husband in India. I have childhood autism and even though I communicate okay, I never stopped craving to be part of a family. I was subjected to horrible physical, sexual and emotional torture as a kid by my parents before they kicked me out of my home at 17. I was belted almost daily, made to starve, locked up in my room for days …. I don’t want to describe it all. I crave to have the security of an extended family, a parent or a grandparent or a big brother or sister. I wish some family would adopt me, even though I am an adult. Most days I don’t see anyone expect my husband who is very caring. I feel all alone in this big world. Is there a family who is willing to love me? God bless!

  32. Susanna says:

    Asha, my heart bleeds for you. You will be on my mind, and I will pray that God will draw you close to Himself, heal your heart, and allow you to know and feel His unconditional love.

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