special needs adoption
Adoption and Family,  adoption and tweens

We Stay: Five Things I Never Told You About Special Needs Adoption


I am not unlike you. I love my kids more than anything on the planet. They are my heart. They are my life. They are my first glorious sight in the morning. (One of them bursts into my room every day at crack of dawn, but that’s another story) and one of the last things I see at night. There is nothing that can bring out the mama bear in me like someone wronging my child. My family is not perfect, but it is mine. Everything I do is to build a future for them. Most of you know by now that we are an adoptive family. I write about special needs adoption often. I share our struggles and our challenges. I share our triumphs too. It’s all part of the journey. But there are some things I never say. I wanted to share those with you today because it’s National Adoption Awareness Month.

My kids are all kinds of amazing and brilliant and beautiful. But they are also incredibly challenging financially and emotionally. They are hard. The hardest thing I have ever done. You can say: “Oh but Paula parenting is hard.” And yes it is. But adoptive parenting is harder. Parenting special needs kids by adoption is excruciatingly hard (and sometimes rewarding). I don’t care if you believe me. It is simply harder. Our kids come carrying baggage that is heavier than they are often. They are more susceptible to mental illness and they are often prenatally exposed to substances. My youngest daughter has FASD ( fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) That is essentially a brain injury sustained while in utero because birth mother drank and did various other substances that hurt my daughter’s growing body. Did she do that on purpose? Hell no. At least, I don’t think so. Most of the time, my grownup 40-year-old Mom brain, understands that she had a very different life than me. I believe nobody sets out to hurt their baby. And yet, both of my daughters struggle. At school. At home. In life. Often. How does that feel to us, in my home daily managing the behaviours that stem from this horrible brain injury? My oldest daughter has anxiety that is at times almost paralyzing. The host of needs and appointments for the two of my girls is staggering and unmanageable often.

These are five things I have never told you about special needs adoption.

1. Sometimes it sucks so much I want to punch someone in the face.

 There are so many times that I talk here about honouring birth parents as the ones who gave my kids life. And I will one day meet the birth parents who helped to make us parents and I will say thank you. I hope. But today here is what I am feeling during National Adoption Awareness Month. Please understand, you can be angry with me for telling the truth. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is my truth, my reality. This is special needs adoption on a particularly shitty month. At a time when most social workers advised things would get better. I was told at one point: “around 8 something will click and she will sort of settle down.” Well here’s the thing: she’s ten now and sure there are some days when she is the most incredibly charming beautiful kid on the planet, but there are others when she is not that. I still love her. She is my daughter and today I am telling the truth. And my older daughter struggles with this chronic worry about everything. I spent the afternoon on the weekend trying to get into her head to learn what was so worrisome for her when we visited the Kitchener auditorium the other day for We Day. She rattled off at least 10 big worries she had experienced that entire day which was intended to be enjoyable. It started with the stadium could collapse while we are in it and ended with someone could jump out and take me and I’d never see you again. I have no idea how any child copes with that amount of worry. It makes me want to cry. I rarely see glimpses of carefree children here.

2. I want to hold someone accountable for the hard shit in their life. 

Because they are kids and kids should be coasting through life without nine thousand doctors and therapist’s appointments, I want to hold someone accountable. A child’s biggest concern should be making Christmas lists and playing outside and wondering what they will be when they grow up. Mostly it is birth mom I get angry with. Sometimes it is very honestly systems that fail. Because systems will fail your adoptive child. Often.

3. It sucks. It sucks that one rages at dinner and has done so spinning out of control every single night for the past two months. FASD sucks so much I wish at times that I could meet her birth mom and punch her in the face. That is my truth. It is not pretty. I don’t care if you like it. I am saying it. Sometimes I want to punch a social worker in the face for suggesting that LOVE would be enough to cure adoption, or to cure special needs. IT isn’t enough. If you know me at all you know I would never act in a violent manner. But I feel it. It is my truth and today I am saying it.

[tweetthis]Sometimes I want to punch someone in the face for suggesting love is enough to cure special needs adoption. [/tweetthis]

4. I hate being an advocate 24/7. I just wanted to be a Mom.

It sucks when another teacher fails to get her and advises me that they are pretty certain she is playing them. She can do the work on Monday and then she can’t do it Friday, her teacher says. YUP. That is FASD. I remember watching my daughter learn her numbers. She printed them each and practiced over and over. She would do the number 5 with precision on Tuesday and then, on a plane on the way home from a family vacation she would have the greatest meltdown she had endured that year because the 5 was gone. The ability to remember it had vanished and she was mad and holy hell so was I. I still am mad 5 years later after that magnificent meltdown because kids shouldn’t have that much difficulty writing numbers or learning. AND I shouldn’t have to reteach her teachers this weekly. But, But, But she knew it yesterday. Yes she did. Today she doesn’t. That is life. And nobody should have to remortgage a home to afford the assessments that are required for special needs children. And nobody should lose weeks of work a year because someone sent her home unable to cope with her needs at school. And nobody tells you that because of one child’s special needs the other child’s special needs will escalate. Anxiety doesn’t do well with the chronic outbursts from your sibling. And you will grow to hate all of the school meetings where sometimes people agree to do things that never get done. You will get great at advocating for your child because there is no other choice. But part of you will also hate it.

5. A piece of me dies every time I read one of those articles about some adoptive family sending a child back to Russia, or rehoming a child in the US.

You know those adoption disruption stories in the news? The ones you read about people rehoming children Or sending them back to Russia or something horrible that makes you, my friend with the neuro-typical kids, go “HOW Awful? They are not puppy dogs. They are children.”

A piece of me dies every time I read one of those stories, because they are my friends. I might not know them personally but I strongly suspect I KNOW them in a sense that we all, as special needs adoptive parents, are them. Maybe not all of us, but many of us are them. I nod my head every time I read one of those stories and even as my heart is breaking I understand. I know how this happens. I see how this happens. So what’s the difference? WE put one foot in front of the other. We cry. We scream. We holler and vent and write and sometimes we find a friend in another special needs adoptive parent who messages us at 5 p.m. on an August afternoon to say what nobody else will: today I told my husband I am leaving. I have had it. I am not doing this anymore. We tell each other we know. We text, DM, and private message each other to say. Don’t do it. We commiserate about the number of times the youngest one hit us that day. We holler that the latest assessment cost $3,000 of grocery money. We tell each other this week sucked. We say the words we need to say privately and then we stay. We stay.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Jessica

    Paula your girls are so lucky to have you in their lives just as you are lucky to have them in yours. I don’t think there could be a better mom and advocate for these two girls! Parenting is hard, it is hard for anyone but it is a much more difficult situation for parents with special needs children. I am glad you do it with such a big heart!

    • Paula

      Thanks for that kind comment Jessica! It has been a crappy month in which a previously supportive agency stopped supporting my youngest child and that has prompted a lot of angry emotions on my part. Also too many appointments wears me down.

      • Jessica

        That’s too bad Paula, there should be help when you need it! I’m sorry you have to deal with this especially just before Christmas. Sending hugs!

  • Dawn

    Paula, I just want to give you a big hug! You express so well things I can’t figure out how to say. Many times I have thought bad thoughts about our birth mom. Why did you do this? You were creating a baby that deserved better but then I think what if she was better? Would he have come to us then? Who knows, I hate when people ask if one day he will meet her. Yes, it will probably be good for them both but does she deserve this wonderful person in her life? Will she just cause him more pain? I don’t know. I do know I love him with all my heart even when I feel challenge every minute of every day. I worry constantly about him probably to unreasonable levels but I know he needs me to be his advocate. We’ve had a few good months. Teachers and leaders of activities have commented on changes & improvements then last night I saw something new & worrisome. Will it turn into something, I do not know. That seems to be my theme, I’ll do anything for you & love you with all my heart but where this journey takes us, I do not know.

    • Paula

      Dawn: First thanks for the hug. Second – Oh my God I know that feeling so well. It’s very one day at a time. I have no idea where this leads. I hope it is a safe and health and happy functional picture that we all get through together. Mornings when she screams for an hour before we get her to school are completely traumatic for everyone. Plus I swear to God both of us have sustained hearing damage. She’s been screaming for 8 years.

  • Brandi

    Paula, you are amazing and your girls are amazing…they are so lucky to have you – through the challenges and the good times. I can’t even begin to imagine the challenges and emotions that must arise, but the loving family you all have made together is an amazing thing and something to be celebrated for sure. HUGS!! <3

  • Ashley @ PioneerMomma.com

    Oh wow. I have a special needs son (biological) and I definitely can relate. Life has been a roller coaster, but I find the situation has also taught me more about life and what I’m supposed to do, than anything else. After the initial guilt (I was convinced I did something during the pregnancy or said something wrong that magically made him require more than most kids), we were able to really gain a new perspective on the world, through him. We even hope to adopt a few kiddos with special needs in the future (which is something we had never even thought about, but now know it’s what we are supposed to do). Thanks so much for your story, it’s hard, but your family sounds like a very loving one, and that you’d do anything for your kids. Shared and subscribed 🙂

    • Paula

      Ashley: Thank you so much for saying that and for subscribing. I have had a very moody and hard month and I know it will get better but it just needed to be said.

  • Sarah at Journeys of The Zoo

    I am so sad that life isn’t fair. For you, your kids, me and my kids. That those of us that work so hard aren’t always rewarded and those that don’t deserve it are handed pleasantries on a silver platter. You are in my thoughts today and always.

    Besos Sarah.

  • anon

    16+ has been the hardest for us. Emotionally it is harder than having a child with a life threatening illness. That was a piece of cake compared to teen years for both of them.

    • Paula

      Oh man, my heart breaks at how hard this is sometimes. For all parties. But there is no consideration or support for that from the agencies where the adoption has taken place, or the government either. It disgusts me that there isn’t something more for help.