“Heroes Need Not Apply”: A Parent on Special Needs, Adoption, and Her Son

With adoption long on Erin and Joel’s hearts, the path to adopting their son Carsen began with questions and then paperwork. One particular form, Erin recalls—a check list of special needs—”turned their world on its axis.” Asking themselves what needs they were open to, Erin reflects on the journey, the conversations, and the child that found them.

mom gives son a kiss on cheek

Heroes Need Not Apply

by Erin Gallion, WACAP Parent

To say that our son is well known at our neighborhood elementary school is quite the understatement. In fact, Carsen is a bit of a celebrity at school. From staff members, to the fourth and fifth grade big buddies who help in his developmental preschool, to the friends of his older sisters, Carsen is universally known and adored.

Carsen possesses what my sister perfectly coined the “joy gene.” He loves to do puzzles and mazes, play chase with his friends, snuggle his Mama, and sometimes pester his older sisters. He has the cutest giggle, knows all his letters, and has just overcome his fear of swimming. And while we feel like we’ve loved him forever, the reality is that he’s only been home with us for two years.

While the idea of adoption took root in our hearts much earlier, our journey to Carsen truly began when we filled out our international adoption application with WACAP three years ago. One particular portion of the application gave us serious pause: the ‘special needs checklist.’ What specific special needs were we open to considering? And how would we go about considering them?

Filling out that particular form turned our world on its axis.

We came to international adoption knowing that we would bring home a child with some type of medical or developmental special need, but there were certain conditions and needs on that checklist that were more frightening than others, ones that we did not feel qualified for or willing to consider. Every box represented countless children–children whose lives we believed had significance, value, and importance. How could we not take them all? How could we leave any box unchecked? What did that say about us and about the value of these precious lives?

We agonized over the form, pencil and eraser in hand, feeling a bit like the Fates in a Greek Tragedy, deciding the destiny and lifeline of a child. How could we keep our hearts and minds open while being realistic and reasonable to the bandwidth of our young and relatively large family? We needed to carefully consider our worldview, our values, and our goals. We needed to be honest with ourselves, with our agency, and with our future child who deserved nothing less than our (imperfect) best. And the checklist needed to be completed before we could move forward in our adoption journey.

After a period of time, we were finally able to put pen to paper and the checklist was complete. We ended up with a lot more boxes checked than we initially thought we would, almost all in fact, but there were a few that we did leave unchecked. We did not take the process lightly, and it was critical to our preparedness in moving forward. I am sharing our process with full transparency, hoping that it will encourage those who are struggling with the special needs checklist, as we were three years ago.

Here are a few of the key factors we considered before deciding which needs we were open to:

We took our time and we did a lot of research.

We truly did evaluate each category of need. We designated time to reading medical journals and articles. We also read blog posts of families who are living with that particular special need. The blog No Hands But Ours was a great resource that helped us consider the reality of having a child with a particular condition–from surgeries and doctor visits to home adaptations and long term prognoses. These posts also helped us remember that each child waiting to be adopted is an individual with a unique personality who is uniquely gifted. We all have challenges we need to overcome. No one should be defined or confined by a specific diagnosis or condition.

We considered our current family dynamic and needs of our family members.

At the time of our application, our daughters were five, three, and one. We were an already busy household. We knew that long hospital stays would be extremely trying on our girls at their current ages, so we decided that for this adoption it would not be best to bring home a child who needed immediate, extensive surgeries and hospital stays. My husband was also at a point in his career where an extended leave would be difficult. We did prepare for the possibility that any child we brought home might end up with an unforeseen surgery, so we researched our options for leave and made sure our support system of family and friends was on board to help if the need arose.

We considered our available time and physical and emotional bandwidth for investment.

For this season with our family, my personal energy stores are pretty much maxed out by our four young children, so we agreed that I would place my professional life on hold for a time. I’ve been exceedingly grateful we had this option. Not only has this helped our family bond and allowed time for Carsen’s therapies and appointments, but I’ve gained a much clearer picture of who I am through this process as well.

In the end, Carsen found us through the Waiting Child program. My heart truly skipped a beat when I saw his tiny profile picture. My husband and I read his file together, envisioning how his potential needs would fit within our family. Carsen had multiple needs that we had been open to separately. So why not together?

Our case manager at WACAP suggested that we reach out to Dr. Bledsoe at UW Adoption Medicine Services. We were able to have multiple consultations with Dr. Bledsoe. After these consultations, we felt equipped by knowledge, and also at peace with the unknowns of Carsen’s medical profile. Well, at least enough at peace to proceed! Carsen is doing well and his diagnoses are relatively accurate, in fact better, than what we anticipated. There are still unknowns when it comes to Carsen’s medical needs, and that can be hard, but we are fully certain of Carsen’s place in our family.

So what would I say to those early in the adoption process who are wrestling with their own decision-making process? I believe that if you conduct a deep soul assessment, do your research, and consult the experts, you will make a wise and informed decision. And you might discover as we did, that you are open to more needs that you initially thought. As my husband said early in our process, “Cannot and will not are not the same thing.”

Here’s the truth. Once Carsen came home, none of those boxes on the checklist even mattered. What we have come to know and love about him could never be summed up by a checklist. His medical needs do take time and attention, but they do not consume our life, and they do not make him who he is. Carsen is simply our son: possessor of the joy gene, snuggler, and occasional sister-pesterer. And the same will be true for your child. Life is fraught with uncertainty. Adoption gives us the opportunity to not only embrace uncertainty, but to find joy in the process. We enter into adoption not as heroes staging a dramatic rescue, but as real, imperfect people who feel the conviction or need to adopt deeply enough to tackle a Mount Everest of paperwork, sacrifice financially to a significant degree, and take an enormous risk that will forever alter us and the rest of our families.

So pick up the pen, because on the other end of this process is a child who needs you as much as you need him or her.

WACAP believes every child deserves the love and stability of a family. Many children wait for families because of medical or developmental needs, their age, or because they’re part of a group of siblings. To learn more about adopting a child who is waiting, please contact us at familyfinders@wacap.org or learn more about WACAP’s Family Finders program.


WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents) is one of the largest and most experienced international nonprofit adoption and child assistance agencies in the United States. Since 1976, we’ve placed over 10,000 children with loving adoptive parents and provided food, medical care and education to more than 200,000 children around the world.
This entry was posted in Adoption, Adoptive Parents' Perspectives, Advice, International Adoption, WACAP, Waiting Children and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “Heroes Need Not Apply”: A Parent on Special Needs, Adoption, and Her Son

  1. Pingback: Is Adopting Siblings the Right Choice for Your Family? | WACAP

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