Have you ever had to answer these questions about your family? “Are you a daycare?” “Are you a church group?” We have. More than once. We look more like the United Nations than the average American family.
All six of our children came to us through adoption and when asked about their stories I often say, “We just wanted to have kids.” It all started with Sarah, who came to us with her light brown skin and sparkling eyes. She taught us the joy a child can bring to a family. After Sarah we adopted 6-year-old Anna, a below elbow amputee, with her Asian cuteness and extraordinary energy. Next came Esther with her chocolatey Haitian smile and spunky attitude, followed by a tiny baby boy named Samuel who wouldn’t stay tiny very long. Thirteen months later a Guatemalan baby girl was born in Florida and we named her Lydia. Another thirteen months went by and we found ourselves in the NICU with baby Jacob. In a span of five years we went from a family with one child to a family with six adopted children, five of whom were six years old and under. It was an exciting and adventurous time! Each child has proven to have their own unique personality and, like all of us, they each have their own challenges in life, some more obvious than others.
Lydia was born a congenital amputee which affected both arms and one leg. She was also born without a mandible. Lydia’s issues introduced us to many physicians and specialists, constant care, daily medical supplies, and trachea and g-tube skills and care. Jacob was born with spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and bilateral clubbed feet, along with the only hiatal hernia the surgeon had ever seen found on a prenatal ultrasound. He had surgery for a VP shunt at two weeks old to drain the fluid from his brain. Amazingly enough, he still has the original shunt, which is highly unusual. Jacob introduced us to another group of specialists, more supplies, wheelchairs and braces.
At one point in time, the bay window area of our home was the parking lot to a power chair, wheelchair, Star Car (a first wheelchair), rolling stander, and walker. While Lydia lives with the thought process of “I’ll try”, Jacob struggles with thinking “I can’t”. It was not until we first attended Camp Breakaway in 2015 that we realized how much our life was affected by disability. We had met Josh and Heather a few months before at Chick-fil-A and Josh pursued us, insisting we should come to camp. Scholarships made it possible for the kids and mom to attend.
Until camp we believed that this was just our life, a life we’d chosen, and we weren’t affected by disability. This was just how life was for us. Those days at camp taught us differently. Others were there to serve us and we were encouraged to rest and have fun. For myself and my older girls who were used to serving their younger siblings, this was a new and relaxing change! With Mr. Travis listening to Jacob’s non-stop chatter and keeping him company all day, my ears got a rest and so did my body. Mr. Travis helped him get over the uneven ground when he needed help and took him out in the canoe and swam with him. I realized that we were “affected” by disability.
Kaylee spent the day with Lydia and played with her. Lydia was not allowed in the water without me because of her trach so she didn’t have as much freedom as Jacob. She also needed me to feed her g-tube and act as interpreter because her speech isn’t clear. I found I was free to take lots of pictures to show my husband how much fun everyone was having each day. As Jacob has grown, so have his struggles. The cognitive challenges, intellectual and developmental delays, various learning disabilities, and inability to control his anger and behavior have all become glaringly obvious. The damage spina bifida caused to his brain is far worse than the physical damage. The whole family suffers with him.
Since that first camp we have been active participants of the monthly Lift events and attend camp each summer. My older children have been and continue to be volunteer crew members to serve other families and individuals. The Lift community gives us a place where it’s okay for my children to be themselves. They can be shy or bold, loud or quiet. Cognitive delays are common, meltdowns happen, some people aren’t verbal, and not everyone is potty trained. That’s real life. Our family looks forward to getting together with our Lift family. We fit in there. If we’re stared at there, it’s to understand better and not in judgement. We’re not the only adoptive family in attendance and so Lift is also a place for adoption support to comfort us as we seek to love and raise these gifts God has given to us.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is known for saying, “There’s no place like home.” We say, “There’s no place like Lift!”