When we were considering what special needs we might be able to handle in an adopted child, my husband and I had some very interesting discussions. There was one thing about which there was no discussion at all. We would not adopt a child who had been prenatally exposed to alcohol.
I had grown up next to a group home for the mentally retarded. The people with Down’s syndrome and many other problems were lovely neighbors. A girl my age with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome gave me the creeps. (To be fair, this was probably because of past abuse and not her disability, but the feelings from my negative experiences were hard to shake.)
When we first looked at adopting, it was also the height of media awareness of prenatal alcohol effects. I watched The Broken Cord, about a father who adopted an alcohol-exposed son. I also read how (unlike my neighbor and the character in the movie) many alcohol-exposed kids had a high IQ but didn’t have an understanding of consequences. (I’m not saying my impressions at the time were complete or even accurate, but that’s what I was focused on.) To me someone who didn’t understand consequences would be even scarier if they had the intelligence to do some real damage in the world.
So, when we looked at photolistings of waiting children, we screened out mentions of any with alcohol exposure. After only brief agonizing, we turned down a referral for a child with likely mental retardation from another cause.
I also thought I could deal with a physical disability better than I could deal with a language or cognitive disability or severe hyperactivity. We live near a great children’s hospital and looked at several children who needed surgery. My husband and I agreed the only surgery that really made us cringe was the whole idea of eye surgery.
So who was it who said that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans?
I’ve written a lot about our first adoption of our daughter, Meg. I’ve also mentioned how I really wanted Meg to have a sister but feared it wouldn’t happen. Just then we learned Meg had a biological half-sister.
We kept the news quiet for a week or two while assessed our current family medical situations and decided we could handle another child. Then we told our families, decided firmly on a name I’d talked about since I was in college, and told our kids.
At this point our US agency hadn’t yet received the full file from Korea. We had been told only, “healthy baby girl, born late 2002”. A week later a DHL delivery van pulled up in front of our house. I literally skipped out of the house to greet the driver and shouted, “Boy am I glad to see you! These are adoption papers!” (To appreciate this, you must understand that I am an introvert.)
After the driver congratulated me (and got me to stand still long enough to sign for the packet), I rushed inside and tore open the envelope.
Standing at the kitchen counter, I saw these words: “Mother states she drank large amounts of beer each week until the seventh month and used tobacco throughout.”
Please see these related blogs:
What Kinds of Special Needs do Kids Awaiting Adoption Have?