It has been more than 10 years since Anna, our daughter with special needs, came home from her birth country of South Korea at the age of 10 months. Anna suffered from chronic pneumonia since birth and developmental delays. We thought if we could just get her healthy that she would catch up developmentally, but that turned out not to be the case for Anna.
Here’s one thing I have learned on our journey: Whether you adopt or have biological children, no matter how much information you have and opinions from the very best doctors, you never know for sure what God is going to send your way.
One of my friends was told when her son was young that he had severe autism. He is now in middle school, attends all regular classes and even plays in the band. Another friend of mine was blessed with a perfectly healthy baby girl. Her daughter then contracted a rare infection, was in a coma for months, and now has brain damage and suffers from seizures. Yet another friend battled and saved her child with Down syndrome from leukemia. It appears that as far as being a parent is concerned, all you can do is hope, pray and do your best.
Anna has been healthy since she was 6 years old, but the developmental delays have persisted. She is now 11; developmentally, she is at about a 3-year-old level and attends special education classes in school. She cannot verbally talk. She uses an electronic speech device and sign language to communicate. As sad as this may sound, there have been as many blessings as heartaches associated with raising Anna.
For one, being the parent of a child with special needs instantly bonds you to a wonderful group of what I call special needs “warrior” parents. These parents have battled insurance companies, government agencies and school systems to have the needs of their children met.
They have been to countless doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions. Whenever these “warriors” meet there is an instant bond, a friendship and support system that cannot be described. When you go to a Special Olympics opening ceremony and look out at the vast sea of Special Olympians and their families, it is a life changing event.
Another benefit is that you meet hundreds of God’s Angels: placed on earth in the form of special education teachers and teaching assistants, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, doctors, nurses, people who work in non-profit agencies supporting the disabled and other parents of children with special needs. The love, dedication and work these people put forth for their students, patients, children and others are truly amazing.
I think the biggest blessing Anna has given us is showing us what is really important in this world. It is the simple things that make her happy. While other children her age want the latest iPhones, iPads and clothes from expensive stores, Anna wanted coloring books and markers for Christmas. When we told her she could pick whatever she wanted for her birthday, she picked a rubber ball from a dollar store.
Anna radiates love and joy without any social mask. She loves to swing and she loves her friends. When we go to church on Sunday, Anna is somehow always drawn to the saddest person in the sanctuary and gives them a smile and a hug. God has given her the ability to see and communicate in ways that the rest of us cannot.
Being a mother, of course I still have questions and concerns. I wonder what would have happened to Anna if we would not have adopted her. Would another family have given her a home? Would she have spent her life in an institution in Korea? Would she have passed away from her illness?
Although we have made plans for her future, I still worry about what will happen to Anna when we are no longer able to care for her. Maybe I need to learn to be more like Anna: always in the moment, always with joy, always with love and trust that God will provide.
By Angela Golla