Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our adoption story

S. here today. This is an announcement that has more or less been announced to many friends and family members, but people following the blog are asking what’s up, so we’ll write it out:

We’re trying to adopt a child with special needs.

Here’s the story, and where we are right now. About a year ago, I became aware of a program called Reece’s Rainbow, a Christian ministry which advocates for and facilitates the adoption of children with Down Syndrome into families. They work with international adoptions, primarily because domestic special needs adoptions are covered by other agencies, and the situation for children with special needs in other countries is distinctive. After being established five years ago, they decided somewhat recently to add children with other special needs to the website, although their first focus is on the gift of people with Down Syndrome to the world. (The director has a son with Down Syndrome.)

Reece’s Rainbow works with many countries, but the bulk of their child listings and placements are from eastern Europe (Russia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia, Latvia…). Almost all the children are in orphanage settings, and the special needs children are sometimes in need of medical treatment as well that is not available in their country or … they just don’t receive it. In most of Eastern Europe, when children are born with special needs of any type, the parents are urged to place them in an orphanage. Since there are few if any resources for raising a child with these needs at home, parents do just that. Poverty feeds into this mix, but it is more a cultural attitude than anything else. (And before we Americans get on our high horse, remember that 90% of children diagnosed with DS in the womb are aborted in this country. It’s questionable as to whether we are much better.) There are efforts to change attitudes in these countries, but it is an uphill battle, and the short story is that these children have a bleak future. Once they are 5 or 6 years old, they get placed in large mental institutions (called things like “The House of Invalids”), mixed with adults, and are shut off from society. It is hard to pin numbers to the death rate of these older children in these conditions, but it is said to be high, and largely through neglect. This is a human rights issue that has been addressed by Human Rights Watch and Disability Rights International.

I got drawn into this following the story of a family who adopted two younger children, both with DS, from one of these countries. And then another story, and another story. I talked to the woman who runs the ministry for a class I teach on Catholic Social Teaching, and was deeply impressed. It was getting increasingly difficult to ignore the “tap tap tap” on my heart, so I (again) raised the idea of adopting with J., who said…well…but maybe God’s calling you to get involved with the organization, not to adopt. And he rehearsed all the reasons why adoption could be a challenge for our family (which were true).

So I organized a fundraiser in October 2010 for a 5 year old child needing help named Tori. Tori has CP and had already been transferred to an older children/adult facility. Another woman, unknown to me, began fundraising for this child at the same time. They barnstormed the internet and all kinds of real live people they knew for donations, and somehow, someway, (a miracle?), Tori ended up being fully funded ($23,000) in two weeks. Her soon-to-be family decided to “put in” for her just hours before the fully funded total was released—a real leap of faith on their part. Long story short, Tori is now named Reagan Faith Burman (see right!) and lives in Texas with her family . She is reportedly doing fantastically well. The sister who was adopted with her is physically struggling, and needs prayers, if you care to offer them. It’s not clear what happened, but Carrington was adopted at 3 years old… and 11 lbs. That gives you an idea of how great the need is for some of these children. She is getting stronger and gaining weight.

Since Tori was funded before the fundraising month of October was over, I continued fundraising through the month for Anthony, who is 5 years old and has CP. Although he has a significant grant, he still needs a family, and more funding would help. There is more about him and ways to donate at .

So, in general, that work bore fruit! But I still had this impossible to ignore pining for actually adopting one of these children. So on a dinner out, I raised it with J. again (for the last time, I told myself), saying—look, I really wonder if this may be God calling. J. was sympathetic (he was very touched by the Tori story) and said it was a good cause, of course, but--don’t we have too much going on? Our own pretty big financial challenges? Could we really do this? And then 10 reasons why we couldn’t. Well, after this conversation, we were urged out of the restaurant (it was busy and they wanted the table), and then we headed to the car thinking “what now? We still have 30 minutes of babysitter time.” After tossing around possibilities, we decided to go talk at the Cathedral. (Well, it’s near our house, they have big tables and chairs, it’s always open, and they aren’t going to sell us more food!) So we went, sat, and realized people were coming in for a late night mass. Not exactly private. And I was quiet and a bit sad, so it wasn’t like conversation was flowing anyway. So J. suggested we go pray about this adoption piece in the adoration chapel they have there for ten minutes, and then go home. So we did. I sat there and quietly prayed. Walking out of the chapel, we bumped into the priest getting set to preside, I thought J. was acting somewhat strangely, and then J. ushered me out to the car, quickly shut the door, and exploded “Um. I think we have to adopt!” and began laughing. J. had a major spiritual experience in that short prayer time that changed his mind radically on this, and to our amazement, we began looking seriously at what this would involve.

So we have been looking at help and benefits for people with special needs in Minnesota, looking to people who have done this before (international adoption, parenting children with special needs, and both), getting our financial house in order, and burrowing into the unbelievably complex process that is international adoption. We have not zeroed in on any one child, although we have talked about different children. We have not even zeroed in on a country yet (getting our financial house in order has a lot to do with that, as some countries have adoption processes which are more expensive than others). The absolute cheapest international adoption is around $16,000. More often, they are around $25,000.

So why do we want to do this?
  • First, because God said go. Clearly. Over months of hints and more than hints. What do you do, say no?! So we are trying our absolute best to make this possible and praying for the path to unfold.
  • Secondly, the need is great. There are a lot of children with special needs in these orphanages, and all need families badly—for the sake of being loved but also for the sake of medical care and treatment. Best case scenario, these orphanages are like growing up in a day care with rotating workers. Worst case scenario, children are drugged and sometimes tied to beds. I wish I were exaggerating. At this point, there is no real place for them in their society, and many of these countries do not have a culture of adoption, so international adoption is a temporary but real solution…and especially when these children are adopted at a somewhat young age, they really “bounce back” once in family settings.
  • Thirdly, we honestly believe this will be good for our family. We are all called to reach out to the vulnerable in our society, and living that out in our own living room seems right and good. And we will not make a decision that hurts our children. We are going into this with eyes open.
We’ve been gratified and touched by friends who have supported us, in word and with concrete offers of help—people who come to mind are Fr. Bill Becker, Fr. Andrew Beerman, Annmarie DeMarais, Diane Leutgeb-Munson, Amanda Hardy, Jim and Barbara Allaire—and others I am sure I am forgetting to name. We know some people are concerned. Like I said, we’re going in eyes wide open. And honestly, we see this as a real good, and are humbled and happy that such an adventure may be in our future.

We would appreciate your continued prayers, and will keep you updated. Right now—we need to sell websites.

Peace, S and J