“You are in the wrong room,” Nathan confidently countered to the doctor. But the doctor was in the correct room. Nathan and his wife Lauren listened in disbelief as the emergency room doctor explained that their barely three-week-old little boy, Graham, needed to be life-flighted to a children’s hospital. Because of Lauren’s professional experience as a nurse practitioner and the proximity of Children’s of Alabama to Lifeline, they asked that little Graham be transferred one and a half hours away to Birmingham. As Graham was being put on a helicopter without his parents, Nathan called Heather, their domestic adoption specialist at Lifeline. He explained the situation and that they were driving to Birmingham while Graham was on a helicopter and would arrive much sooner than his parents. Heather drove to Children’s of Alabama and stayed with Graham until his terrified and shocked parents arrived.
Throughout their adoption process, Nathan and Lauren discussed and prayed “in grave detail” about their capabilities and calling regarding adopting a child with medical special needs. Nathan is a full-time teacher and coach, and Lauren works full-time as a nurse practitioner. With unchangeable family dynamics like these, the couple didn’t intend to adopt a child with medical special needs. The profile they received for Graham’s birth mother showed that she was extremely healthy. Although Graham was born four weeks early, his exams never indicated that anything was wrong. They left the hospital after his birth as a seemingly healthy family of three.
Fifteen days later, Graham stopped eating and drinking, amid other alarming symptoms. Lauren took him immediately to the emergency room, after which he was quickly life-flighted to pediatric specialists where he would be fighting for his life. Nathan and Lauren faced the unexpected reality that Graham may not survive. Unknowingly, Graham was born with a congenital urological issue which impacted his kidneys, also causing a massive infection in his blood and heart. For eight long weeks, Graham, Nathan, and Lauren fought. It was eight weeks of transitioning mentally, emotionally, and physically from having a healthy child to one who would have medical needs for the rest of his life. Lauren remembers God’s movement in their hearts: “Although we initially stated we wouldn’t feel comfortable adopting a child with medical special needs, God quickly showed us that we could. It was like a slap in the face, but a reality check that we needed.”
Those eight weeks and the impact of Graham’s needs immediately thereafter were challenging for the family. Lauren remembers being “very overwhelmed” as they had to take Graham to many doctor visits, miss work, incorporate his needs into childcare, and begin a consistent pattern of care that would set Graham up for health. They even considered moving closer to Graham’s doctors and starting their lives over “from scratch.” It was a difficult time, but the prayers of others and God’s sustaining grace upheld them. God also used this time to reveal His strength as they learned what their lives as parents would hold for them. Lauren recalls that “Nathan and I always felt like we would not be able to care for a child with special medical needs because we stay very busy with our jobs. [God] showed us very quickly that we are well-equipped and with adjustments to our priorities and our life, we are able to provide Graham with a normal life.”
Now, two years later, Graham has less doctor visits, but he requires daily attention and mindfulness to keep him as healthy as possible. As Graham ages, he may encounter complications and challenges from his medical condition, but he is otherwise “a normal 2-year-old toddler,” Lauren explains. Although they entered the realm of medical special needs adoption unknowingly, Nathan and Lauren are grateful for the privilege of raising Graham: “If we had allowed his medical special needs to cloud our decision, we would be missing out on watching the greatest joy of our life grow, thrive, and love life.”
Walking through Graham’s hospitalization and medical emergency left Nathan and Lauren feeling distraught and overwhelmed. They would honestly assess that having a child with medical special needs is not easy, but they would eagerly declare that Graham is their son and is worth any amount of “money, time, or energy we had to dispense.” Lauren balances the reality of medical special needs with the privilege of parenting as she encourages others: “God places a child in your life for a reason, and that reason is beautiful but can be hard, taxing, and a constant worry. Place your worries at the foot of the cross and know that no matter the circumstances, there is joy through the entire journey.”
If you feel God leading you toward special needs adoption, find more information here.