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Joey's Adoption

By Jean-Marie Wilson

Adoption of a child with a disability.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I told my best friend that Steve I would adopt some day. I even called the county social services department and asked about adoption. We were invited to an information meeting but never went. We both worked full-time. Eventually we had three children, all in daycare or private school. I knew we couldn't afford another child. Besides, our lives were too busy.

And then, Steve and I were both laid off from our jobs. We had to take the children out of private school and daycare. Slowly, over a period of two years, we pulled ourselves out of the bad times. We rearranged our lives and got used to lower-paying jobs and fewer luxuries. Our children stayed in public schools. We started seriously talking about adoption. I called the Department of Social Services. We were invited to an information meeting, and this time we went.. Adopting through the county also required 18 hours of training classes, and we began these classes as soon as we could.

Our children were 11, 9, and 7 at the time and didn't seem to mind our adding another child. They only wanted to know that we were not adopting due to some deficiency on their part. We assured them that we loved them, and that's why we wanted another child.

I used to take long walks on my lunch hour, praying we would be approved, and praying for the child who would be ours. I often wondered how people survived the waiting without God.

A week after we received our county license, our social worker left a message on our answering machine: "Watch Wednesday's Child on the news and call to let me know what you think". Steve was working, but all three children and I watched the program. I still have the piece of paper I took notes on, describing the little boy we saw. The children stayed up until Steve got home. He agreed to this child, without having seen him. Considering the child is physically challenged, this was an act of faith on Steve's part!

Steve and I spent the next six weeks battling the social workers. Our new son had spent most of his life in one foster home. His social worker wanted them to adopt him, but they refused. Social Services then wanted to change his status to a permanent foster child in their home. Considering the foster family moved out of state two years later, it is a good thing that arrangement never happened.

Finally, they brought his picture to us, along with his life book and a video of him. We saw a little boy with brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. He also had a shortened right arm with a "paddle" hand (no thumb, webbed partial fingers), a left hand with webbing and contractures, and he wore leg braces. Although he was almost six years old, he only weighed 25 pounds and was barely three feet tall.

We met Joey two months after we saw him on television. Over the next few weeks, he spent evenings with us. I picked him up at his foster home on my way home from work, and took him back in time for bed. We started moving his things in, and he spent a weekend with us. I was having a hard time finding daycare for him (this was before the Americans with Disabilities Act). He was also getting to bed late because I honestly hated giving him back. His foster mother offered to provide daycare, so he could move in with us, while giving him time to (mentally) transition to our home. I eventually found a daycare center and got his special education bus changed, and Joey was ours and in our home.

Because his foster mother had Joey for so long, we met resistance at school (he stayed in the same school). After all, we had "taken" him from his mother. His doctor told us we didn't understand his condition,and we shouldn't have adopted him. It took almost two years for them to realize we loved him and cared about him!

Joey was "helpless" when he came to us. There were some things he pretended he could not do, such as putting on his shirt, and some things he really could not do, such as self-toilet. He also told me his teachers took his lunch from him, not letting him finish eating. Actually, he ate slowly, and often didn't have time to finish his lunch. He also seemed to throw up a lot. I quickly learned that behavior was a bid for attention--and a day off school. That stopped when I made him stay in bed all day whenever he was "sick", instead of letting him lie on the couch and watch television.

Joey hated to chew food and was in the habit of stuffing his cheeks with food and letting his saliva break it down. After constantly reminding him to chew, we've almost broken that habit. He grew and started gaining weight.

He would complain that his leg braces hurt, especially when we were out in public or in the car. It took me two or three years to figure out that he could wear them all day if they were made properly. A switch to a different orthotist made the difference. By the end of Joey's first year with us, he could self-toilet, dress/undress himself, including his braces, and bathe himself. In other words, he could do everything for himself.

We were named Montgomery County (Maryland) Adoptive Family of the Year in 1991. A reporter asked the adoption supervisor why we were chosen as Joey's parents. She admitted to asking us to watch the television program so we "could see what type of child" they had available. They didn't "pick" us for Joey. It was over six weeks of nagging that got him placed with us.

I started attending adoption conferences. After one particularly wonderful workshop, I called our HMO's mental health facility. After testing and counseling, a four-year suspicion of mine was confirmed. Joey is ADD. He's now on medication, and it helps him quite a bit. Joey still has problems. He continues to pretend to be helpless with every new teacher and then wonders why they get so mad at him when they realize he's faking. He still swears he doesn't have any homework when, in fact, he does. He's still about 2/3 the height and half the weight of children his age.

He initially had contact with his birth mother, through the social worker. She stopped writing and sending gifts a year or two ago.

Joey has been with us over six years, and we love him. At first our other children were worried about how they'd adapt to a brother who is physically challenged. Now they don't even think about it. Joey has friends his age and friends through his brother and sisters. It seems that everywhere we go, someone knows Joey.

In addition, Joey is an excellent writer. So far he has been published twice, and he has entered one writing contest. He's currently working on a mystery story.

Joey has had problems dealing with the usual grief issues all adopted children deal with. I've been lucky in finding him counseling through an adoption agency. I have found that most therapists are not
familiar with adoption issues and the behaviors of children adopted out of foster care.

Our families have accepted Joey and take real pleasure in spending time with him. Joey still has difficulty spending the night at a friend's house--he goes into his "helpless act". He also has difficulty with my husband and I going away for a weekend. He still needs to be reassured that someone will always be there to take care of him.

Love never fails. I Corinthians 13:8

© Copyright Jean-Marie Wilson

Real Moms is a newsletter by and for adoptive mothers. Support, information, encouragement, and networking for domestic adoption are offered to adoptive and prospective adoptive mothers.

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A Special Bond of Love
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