November is National Adoption Month. One suggestion was to write your adoption story. Well, we have 9, so thought I'd try to write 2 or 3 every week of November.
Our first story begins before our first born was, well, born. When we got married Mark and I discussed whether we would have biological children at all. It was in the heyday of population zero and we were pessimistic about our world and it's future. I told Mark I wanted to at least have one biologically and then we could adopt - and so it began.
In our first job out of college we were houseparents in a group home for mentally retarded adults - there were 21 when we arrived - 2 over the household's limit. As were learned about the lives of our clients we found that the adults who had had loving families to grow up in had fewer mental health issues and were enjoyable people to be around. Several of the clients had spent much of their growing up time in institutions - this was more the norm at the time then the folks who grew up at home. We decided we wanted to adopt a child with special needs and be that difference in their life.
Conor was born Sept. 16, 1980 and shortly afterward we received our foster care license and began providing respite for kids with special needs. There was a family who were featured in a movie called - "Who are the Debolts?" They had adopted 14 children with multiple disabilities and were the pioneers of promoting the adoption of kids considered "unadoptable". The father of the family came to a local adoption seminar and after listening to his inspiring story I was hooked. They brought photo albums with pictures of kids from all over the US who were waiting to be adopted and I was mesmerized by all the beautiful faces.
We met with Children's Home Society and explained the type of child we were interested in adopting - special needs and up to age 8. We were 27 at the time and were sure we could handle anything, I think. As we looked at the Minnesota photolistings we picked out a picture of a beautiful blue eyed blonde who was almost 8 years old, had Down Syndrome and was named Chad. He had been in the book for about 2 years and had recently returned to foster care, thankfully the same one he'd previously been placed in, after a failed adoption. They seemed generally stunned that we'd be interested in a child with his needs and who was so old. Since he was the child who had been waiting the longest and was the oldest - they suggested we start with him. They also suggested that we go to the county for our homestudy as it was unnecessary for us to pay their private fees when the county would do it for free. This was long before the state began paying private agencies to handle special needs adoptions.
So, off to the county we went and attended all the required classes etc. and filled out stacks of paperwork. Our county contacted the Chad's county and a meeting was planned. Our first meeting took place at a restaurant in northern MN where he lived. As we were discussing Chad with his foster mother, a wonderful, patient, Christian woman who seemed a little overwhelmed trying to keep up with him, he dashed into the kitchen and started sticking his hands into the fresh pies on the counter. We had only just met him, but, apparently we were expected to chase after him.
On the drive home we weren't sure what to do, but we also felt as if we'd made the commitment to him from the moment we picked his picture. Then, the unexpected happened and we discovered we were pregnant. This was definitely not in the plan. Again, we just knew that God had chosen Chad for us and we weren't going to back out.
We had at least one more meeting - again in a restaurant - this time he tried to climb over the booth we were sitting in. Thankfully the next visit was in our home where we could control the situation a bit more and in January of 1983 Chad moved in for good. It was a tough transition for all of us. Conor had been an only child, we had had just a 2 yr. old and now had to navigate school and special education. Chad had been placed from the foster home he'd lived in all his life into an adoptive home for six months and then returned and then placed with us - a lot for any kid to figure out let alone one who was nonverbal and developmentally delayed. We had never heard of RAD or reactive attachment disorder. We were basically clueless and didn't really take into consideration all that Chad was experiencing. Frankly, I think we thought we were pretty awesome and who wouldn't want to be with us - it's amazing what difference a little perspective and life experience makes.
For the first weeks, months and years we counted the time till he'd be 16 and we could consider a group home. I know it sounds heartless, but we were just coping as best we could. Those who didn't know Chad as a little guy shake their heads in disbelief that he was ever that busy - he's aged, as have we, and slowed down considerably. That kid who we were sure would kill us off by the time he was 16 turned 36 this past summer and is easygoing and fun to be around. He brings us laughter every day with his silly antics and dance moves. Although, sometimes I think it'd be nice to have some time during the day when everyone is at school and I don't have to think about what to do with Chad when I need to run an errand or something, I don't feel an urgent need for him to move on. Someday, but not today. Thanks Chad for starting us on this adoption journey and thank you for forgiving us for our ignorance and being patient with us as we learned how to be a family who, at least tries, to be full of grace.