Today our ‘I Took A Second Look’ Campaign takes us from Ghana to Jenni’s home, where she is going to tell the story of Afua’s adoption. I have had the privilege of watching the change in Afua since her adoption, and not just the physical changes either, the deeper changes that only a family can bring. I’ve also been able to witness the true joy that Afua has brought to her new family.
In September of 2012, a little girl’s picture and story appeared as I looked at my facebook newsfeed. She was from Ghana, had cerebral palsy and she had been waiting for a family. Her file was a big question mark as little was known about her past. She was given the diagnosis of cerebral palsy and crossed eyes (strabismus). At age 3, she could not sit independently and could only roll from side to side. She did not talk and no one knew why. Her picture was not flattering, in fact her eyes were closed and she was propped up awkwardly. But something about her made me pause and wonder if our family was right for her.
My husband and I talked about how having a child with multiple special needs would change our life. We talked about wheelchairs and therapies and surgeries. We talked about the chance that she may not improve with therapies and we may be actively parenting her as we reach our golden years. Our 4 other children do not have mobility challenges and this seemed like a huge lifestyle change. Of course we would not know how things would unfold until she came home, but we considered every possible scenario we could think of. So what made us say yes when so many said no? For us, it came down to this. Afua was a child who needed a loving family. We were a loving family who had the resources to take care of her. She would likely die in her country without proper medical care. We would most likely gain an awesome daughter who would bless us far more than we could be a blessing to her. When we looked at her picture, we saw our daughter, not a scary unknown medical future. God had brought our stories together and that’s all that mattered.
During our first trip to Ghana, we saw that Afua was having seizures. It was concerning (ok, scary…) and not something we were expecting. Ultimately what was scarier was leaving her in Ghana knowing she would not receive any medical care until we brought her home. We arranged for specialists and learned as much as we could while we waited.
In 10 months from start to finish, our adoption was finalized and Afua was officially a member of our family. We took her to specialists, tests and evaluations. Some of her medical diagnoses we were expecting, others were huge shocks to us. Afua’s determination and attitude was making a huge difference in her abilities. Proper nutrition, a stimulating environment and most of all a sense of belonging in a loving family showed in every aspect of her life. Afua began to crawl in just weeks after coming home, and she could hold her head up and sit up longer periods of time. Her eyes were corrected with surgery; her breathing was helped with surgeries and her ability to eat improved as she got stronger. It was amazing to experience this rapid improvement and her instant belonging to our family.
When we started Afua’s adoption, I was focused on how her disabilities would change our family and lifestyle. I anticipated that we would make sacrifices but hoped that it would feel worthwhile as we fell in love with her. Quite the opposite has happened. Things have changed but only for the better. Our children have embraced their sister with kindness and compassion. My boys are the most protective big brothers who love to stop for a hug and a kiss as they see Afua in the school hallway. My girls have gained a sister who loves to look up to them and try to keep up with them. They all enjoy a slightly slower pace of life or we adapt as we do the same things in a new way. We celebrate even the smallest achievements and we don’t take much for granted anymore. We all have learned that we don’t need words to communicate and being different is ok.
Adopting a child with special needs requires more than love. But so many of us have more than love to give. And what unfolds when we say yes is often so unexpectedly wonderful and I am thankful I didn’t let a diagnosis scare me away from an awesome little girl.
You can continue to follow Jenny’s story at Joyful Journey Mom.