Shannon Ramiro

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing a friend of mine, Karrie Cannell, about her international special needs adoptions. I hope you enjoy her story as well as the insight she has to share with other families who may be thinking of adopting a child with a disability from another country.

 

What led your family to do an international adoption?

One morning I was online and came across a little boy’s picture that was listed for adoption. I had never thought about adoption, we had 8 children, so it wasn’t even on my mind. I kept going back to his picture. He had the same skin condition, epidermolysis bullosa (EB for short) as my stepdaughter. I knew I could care for him. I talked to my husband and we talked to our kids, and we all prayed about it. The next thing we knew, we were knee-deep in adoption paperwork.

About halfway through the adoption process, we found out the boy we were looking to adopt had a biological brother with the same skin condition. They had been separated 3 years before. We immediately decided to adopt both boys. About 7 years later we adopted again, and it happened about the same way. Someone knew we had kids with EB and shared a little girl’s picture with me. At first, I was just advocating for her family to come forward. Little did I know I was going to be her momma.

 

Were there language barriers before, during and after the adoption? How did you navigate them?

We didn’t speak Ukrainian and the boys didn’t speak English. We used Google translate at first, but once they were immersed in the English language they picked it up very fast.

With our daughter, we didn’t use Google translate. She was adopted at a much younger age than the boys. Since she was only 3, we just pointed to things and slowly repeated ourselves, speaking to her in English. She picked up English even quicker than the boys did. Looking back, I can see some frustrations when they couldn’t understand or tell us what their needs were, but we didn’t quit. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly hard.

 

What has been the most enjoyable part of being a foster/adoptive family?

It’s different with each child. The boys have significant delays caused by the lack of care from their biological mother and the orphanage. Getting them home and giving them better care all around is my greatest joy. Seeing them enjoy life and experience things for the first time is also a great joy.

For our daughter, she also lived in an orphanage but doesn’t have the mental delays like the boys. She was very young when she came home, so the transition was easier and she was happier. Her joy is infectious and she loves being in our family.

 

I can see some frustrations when they couldn’t understand or tell us what their needs were, but we didn’t quit.”

 

What was the most challenging part of your international adoption?

The biggest challenge was probably getting the boys the mental help they need. Finding someone who specializes in Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and truly knowing how to help us was our biggest issue, and still is. It’s been a tough road with the boys, a journey I never knew I needed to be on, but I am so blessed to be where I am at with them.

 

What specific learning challenges have you encountered with your foster/adopted child(ren)? What resources have you found the most helpful in these situations? 

Mental health resources have been our biggest challenge. As the boys get older we have found what works for them and what doesn’t. 

 

What advice do you have for families who are thinking about looking into an international adoption?

I wish we were more informed, educated, and better equipped to help the boys with their mental health issues. There needs to be more resources to help families that are struggling. More respite. More knowledge. More information when you feel alone and lost and feel like you have nowhere to turn.

 

 

 


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Ashly Barta

Have you ever felt the longing to add to your family? The thought of adding to your family either by birth, adoption, or fostering can be an important life decision, adding military life into that equation can make it a bit more difficult to navigate.   Military life has its advantages and disadvantages; deployments, frequent moves, financial strain, and little to no family support.

I recently visited with a friend that went through the adoption process while she and her husband were stationed overseas.  Not all adoption agencies are willing to work with couples that are not currently residing in the country so make sure to do your research.  My friends were able to use a social worker local to them in Germany who then worked closely with the adoption agency in the United States to bring about their adoption. 

The adoption process for them was long and hard at times. It consisted of a lot of paperwork and many hoops they had to go through to show they would be good parents.

When I asked my friend what she would want everyone to know about the adoption process, she said, “I would want people to understand that there is a lot of heartache and loss in adoption. The ache of couples just wanting to be a family, the heartbreak of the mother having to make this choice and eventually our little people will have that heartache and loss.” In the end, the gift is so worth it.  Your child is a gift, your love and respect for the birth mother is a gift, and the knowledge gained from the experience is God’s gift.

My friend also spoke to me about the titles they have chosen to use in their adopted family.  We call our guy’s mom, his tummy mommy but as he grows older that may change. She is his mom. She created him and chose to give him life.  We are his mom and dad, we are all he has ever known. So in their house, they have mom, dad, and tummy mom.

Your child is a gift, your love and respect for the birth mother is a gift, and the knowledge gained from the experience is God’s gift.

For those wanting to adopt I would suggest looking into all the possible ways you can adopt before deciding on a specific path. Foster to adopt, infant adopting, as well as international adoptions are each unique and not one is right for every family that feels called to adopt. Learn and understand the processes of each before jumping in. Start saving now if you plan to do an infant or international adoption. Look into grants, hold fundraisers, have yard sales, every little penny helps.

Also, make sure to find an agency that truly cares for the expectant mother’s well being. Understand that it can take tens of thousands of dollars to complete an adoption from beginning to end, and in infant adoption, the expectant mother may choose to parent after you’ve been matched and are attached to the idea of this baby being your child.

My friend ended our conversation by stating, “Do not let PCS dates, fear of moving, or fear of deployments stop you from pursuing adoption and/or foster care.  Just as everything else that comes with military life, don’t put things off until you have a better schedule, better job, better location, just let your heart speak for you.”  I have to agree. One call is from higher up the chain of command and He will always work things out for the best.

 

 

 

 

 


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Dawn Spence

I had the privilege of interviewing the Northcutt family and want to share their beautiful adoption story with you.

 

What opened your heart to adoption?

My husband worked in the social work field and we had friends that worked in the field too. Too many times my husband, his co-workers, or friends had to sleep in their offices with foster kids because there were no foster homes to take them in.

When my husband took another job, after 13 years in the field, I said we are going to foster because now I can do something about it. We said we would take one of each (we have 2 bio kids one of each) but were licensed for 6 total (state’s limit for our space). The first call we got was for part of a sibling group of 6, they needed 4 beds. I didn’t have the heart split them up, so we accepted them into our home and that was the start of our adventure. We were parents of little ones again.

This last year we completed our first adoption. Our son came as a very tiny and sick NICU baby that we brought home when he was 3 days old. I walked into his hospital room and the nurse looked at me and called me mom. That was weird and very unexpected. I asked to hold him and as I held him the nurse stood there and said: “Well mom he needs a name”. I looked at my husband and we knew this baby would be ours forever. How did I know this? I don’t know, it was just a God thing.

We have fostered for just over 2 years now and 29 beautiful babies have walked into our hearts. We have adopted 1 and this year will probably adopt 2 to 4 more. Why adopt them all? Because God commands us to take care of the orphans and this is our homeschool family’s adoption journey. We have been called to love these children. 

 

How did adoption change your homeschooling life?

We homeschooled our 2 biological kids. I graduated one at the age of 16 and she is now a senior at SHSU, at the age of 19. We have another in high school who still lives at home. Our homeschool day looks nothing like public school. We have 5 toddlers/babies right now who are all under age 3. My son gets an education that no curriculum could ever provide because of our home environment. I am a school teacher at heart and we did a lot of table learning when he was younger, but it is very different now.

I look forward to starting the homeschooling journey all over again with my littles because I learned so much when we homeschooled our older kids. Like the things I wish we could have done differently as well as things that were just perfect that I look forward to repeating.

My older kids will be better parents and more compassionate after being part of raising these littles. They have more life skills than any curriculum could teach. Both of our kids tell us they are thankful we opened up our home to love other children because it showed them so much about how to really love. We know we can’t save the world, but we can make the world look a little better for at least one child as we love them.

I don’t sit and teach my son anymore, but mostly that is because he is in high school and his lessons are self-paced. I give the bones of what he needs to do to him and then he finds the time to get his schoolwork done. Sometimes getting his schoolwork done is very hard because of everything that goes on in our home with fostering and raising babies. We are on the go a lot so he does school in the car, sometimes while holding or feeding a baby, or while watching the babies play. I help him when he needs it but my son is very self-driven so that doesn’t happen often.

 

Both of our kids tell us they are thankful we opened up our home to love other children because it showed them so much about how to really love.

 

What is the best part of adoption for you?

I can’t pick just one thing, so here are two:

1) Getting to enjoy my newly adopted son while he grows, laughs, learns, and is healthy. He is 17-months old, he is not sick anymore, he is absolutely spoiled, and I am beyond blessed that he calls me Mom.

2) Getting to watch my big ones love on these babies with Christ’s love.

 

What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is thinking about adoption?

If you are thinking about adoption then just do it. Don’t wait. The timing is never perfect in our eyes. You will never be financially stable enough, have enough room in your home, or any other excuse you can come up with. If we don’t step in and do our part, who will?

We adopted our son as an infant but we did that because God sent him to us as an infant. This year we hope to finalize an adoption for a sibling group of two girls ages 2 and 7. We will possibly adopt another sibling group of two special needs boys if they cannot return home.

All of our kiddos have some major trauma in their pasts which in itself causes a lot of special needs. My biological kids are Neurotypical so I am by no means qualified to parent a special needs child, but who is ever qualified to parent right out the door? You learn as you go, and you just figure it out.

Don’t be afraid of adopting because you are not sure you can handle a child’s needs. We are moms and dads and God has equipped us for whatever He calls us to do.

As my husband says, “Don’t think about the what if’s. Think about who, and how that ‘who’ needs you right now.”

 

 

 

 

 


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Peggy Ployhar

I had the privilege this month of interviewing my parents, Joe and Margie Prenosil, who have been special needs adoptive parents for 30 years! I hope you enjoy the insight and wisdom they have to share from their many years of experience as they have loved and cared for my siblings.

 

How long have you been parents? How long have you been adoptive parents? Was it always your intention to adopt?

We have been parents for almost 50 years, and adoptive parents for 30 years. As far as our intention to adopt, after 4 years of providing foster care, it was something we started to consider. At that point in our foster care services, a baby came into our care who no one wanted to adopt because of the complications he had with severe cerebral palsy. We decided to adopt him and thus Nicholas became our first adopted child.

 

Because you have specifically adopted children with special needs, what challenges/obstacles did you face early on? And, what resources did you find the most helpful for navigating them?

Our challenges started with finding what resources were available to us from our county and state as well as various specialized clinics. The first thing we found helpful was to expand our foster care work to also include our county. This step greatly increased our learning curve regarding what resources and connections were available locally that were most beneficial for each obstacle that came our way. 

The first obstacle we had was learning all the medical information needed to treat and comfort the children we cared for. It was a medical education that took many years for us to feel like we knew what we were talking about regarding various medicines and adaptive equipment.

Our second obstacle was identifying where to acquire handicap equipment and transportation. The most useful resources we discovered while working with individuals who helped foster parents in our county.

One final obstacle, but one that benefited us the most in subsequent adoptions, was learning our state referral chain for requesting assistance. In our area, we were to go to our county Case Manager first before requesting services from the state Adoption Assistance Specialist.

 

What were some of the things you learned from parenting your biological children that helped parent your adopted children?

First was realizing there was a developmental difference between typical children and special needs children. Once the differences were identified, it was a matter of determining whether to seek advice or accept the condition and adapt from there. 

Daniel, our fourth biological child, had some special needs so parenting him provided a bit of a transition gateway for our adoptive special needs parenting skills. Daniel was dyslexic and hyperactive. Sometimes his difficulties were too much for others to handle. Because of his struggles, we often had friends and family ask whether we were going to bring him with us when we came to visit. Daniel took special needs classes in high school and Margie did most of his reading to accommodate his Dyslexia.

 

“…be ready to acquire ‘new’ skills for yourself. 

 

What were some new parenting strategies you had to learn after adopting children with special needs?

When requesting services or equipment, we learned we needed to share the worst incident instead of the best-case scenario for that child. Also, we learned not to assume that we would always be available to provide the service or help and to also build in requests for helpers. 

We also learned to hire PCAs (Private Care Assistants) as teens who came from large families. In general, these youth were already trained through regular family life to care for their siblings, so all we had to do was additional care training that met our child’s specific needs.

Another strategy we learned was to fully understand what your school district does and doesn’t provide. Two of our children were able to receive in-home services from the school district because of the severity of their conditions.

 

How have you managed family life, church, school, extra-curricular activities, and respite time over the years? Do you have any advice for other adoptive families of children with special needs on how to best juggle these demands?

Family Life: We didn’t adopt children older than our birth children, thus we limited the competition. Our adoptive parenting years started as our birth children were starting college and lives outside our home. Full-time help came over a period of years. First, we hired a full-time PCA using a waiver and then eventually were able to add our youngest son on as hired help. When our son left for college, we were able to hire a full-time PCA that stayed with us for thirteen years. She helped to coordinate other PCAs, cover homecare when we needed to assist a child away from home, as well as respite time for us. She left after the deaths of two of our totally disabled children.

Since then we have relied upon young adults from 16-20 years to fill the gap. Plus after the decrease in PCAs and Margie heart attack, the county helped our ability to work with an agency to hire and maintain staff by reclassifying our home as a group foster home. We are the only one in the county. 

Our church and extra-curricular activities center around family members which extended to include PCA youth (16+) and their families. Through the church, stay connected to a larger community as well as develop relationships with families we know well and feel good about hiring to do care in our home. 

Because we had a full-time PCA/agency, we could coordinate yearly getaways for ourselves but for about three years when we were between agencies, we were unable to get any time away.

Advice to parents: It is impossible to duplicate what we have done to the letter. Stay flexible. We learned that we needed to change as our children’s needs changed and as well as determine what appropriate assistance was necessary for us to help each child with specific needs.

When starting this type of journey, a couple needs to assess whether their current family can accept and contribute towards bringing in a new family member. Second, they need to take into consideration this child’s care may be a lifelong commitment and both parents need to be committed to this child, not just one.

Next, you should assess what financial and community support is available to you if you adopt. Any financial support provided to care for a child should only fill the gaps for that child’s care and should not be seen as another source of income. When you put income before the care of a child you are not letting God do his work. First, seek the Kingdom of God, and then everything else will be provided. We found this to be very true. 

 

“…be willing to accept a child saying, “I love you” as meaning “Do you love me?”

 

If a family was interested in adopting a child with special needs, what advice would you want to share with them based on your 30+ years of being adoptive special needs parents?

First, you need to consider your motivation for adoption. If you have a perceived idea of what you want a child to become without understanding all the baggage this child has acquired and will continue to work through in your home, stop. You will be disappointed. Understand that first, the child will educate you by their behavior, life experiences, and what they want (which is not always appropriate). They will lead by showing you what triggers their actions, and you must observe before acting. You will probably need professional help in understanding the underneath behavior and be ready to acquire ‘new’ skills for yourself. 

Children in the foster care system have learned to defend themselves when everyone else in their lives has failed them. You must be willing to struggle with them as well as be their spokesperson because they may not have the words to describe what they are feeling. If they are in trauma, they may take a long time to change, if ever. Also, be willing to accept a child saying, “I love you” as meaning “Do you love me?”

After considering the above questions we then suggest you again consider why you would want to adopt. Here are two reasons we have found provided a stable foundation for us as we have adopted. First, a real desire to be faithful to the child we are adopting no matter what. We may not change the child we adopt. Ultimately God is in charge of change and we must be willing to let God take the lead in this area or be okay if change is not in His plan. Second, we must be able to accept our failures, limitations, and frustrations. Every day we review our day with God and choose to be happy with what the day afforded us. We ask God for guidance, change what we can, and then we are joyful about the journey and the amazing people He has allowed us to share our lives with.

 

 

 

 

 


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