Tom and I started our journey together at the age of 16, we have been together for 42 years. Like most young couples we wanted children and thought they would come according to our plan, on our time schedule. We had Maria first, she is now 35, we adopted Alison 5 years later and then had Thomas a year after that. Douglas became number 4 and he is now 27. We were content with our family for about 7 years and then Tom had a cancer scare. In the end the tumor was benign but this stressful ordeal caused us to think about what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. After much soul searching it was to adopt another child. And so the journey took on a life of it’s own. We became pre-adoptive foster parents and the first baby we adopted through foster care was our son, Nicholas. Nicholas came home to us at the age of 14 months, he was born with Down Syndrome and went on to develop Autism. We had not planned to adopt a child with special needs but from the moment we first met Nick we wanted to know how soon we could bring him home forever. It was the beginning of a life we could never have imagined. We found that we loved raising Nick, he brought such joy to everyone in our immediate and extended family. I was like a moth drawn to a flame, I couldn’t learn enough about Down Syndrome, Autism, Early Intervention, CPSE meetings, PT, OT, Speech and Special Ed. Very soon we wanted to adopt a little girl with Down Syndrome. God had his own plan for us. Through the next 18 years we adopted 12 more children with mild to profound special needs. Never could we have imagined that by the age of 58 we would be blessed with 17 children. April is 20, she came home to us at the age of 4 so abused and broken that it rocked our world. She is now a lovely young woman with an innate sense of right and wrong. She is loving and hard working. Cory is 17 and so is Corinne. They are not biologically related to each other but came into our lives as newborns born one month apart. Our “twins”. Cory was exposed to cocaine before birth and is cognitively delayed, a sweet gentle soul who happens to be so handsome. Corinne was also born addicted to cocaine, suffered a stroke before birth and was born with mild CP. She is now a typical high school senior with a mild short term memory loss and with lots of PT is the goalie for the varsity soccer and lacrosse team. Jacob is 14 and arrived on the scene at only 10 days old. He was also damaged by maternal drug use and has frontal lobe damage, CP and suffers with mental illness. He is such a beautiful golden haired boy but he can alternately be loving and aggressive. Faith is 13 and at the age of 3 months she became a Costello. Faith is a talented singer who also suffers with serious, complicated mental health issues as a result of prenatal drug exposure. She is hospitalized long term at this time and I miss her so much. We are not the only parents who have had to make the choice between finding an alternate safe placement for one of our children in order to protect them and the health and home of all of our children. It is heart breaking and goes against all of my “maternal” instincts. We brought Isabella home at the age of 10 months, she is now 11. She was born with the rare cardiac abnormality, transposition of the Great Arteries, she is also deaf. When we brought her home she was failure to thrive, tube fed and had reached no milestones. She is now a typical fifth grader. Funny, compassionate and she deeply loves her sister Sarah. Sarah is 10, she is Isabella’s biological cousin. We met her when she was 2 months old living in Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital awaiting a liver transplant. She is a gift, an inspiration to all who know her. She has endured so much the past 10 years, she is 8 months past her second liver transplant. She plans on being a pediatric nurse and a medical research scientist. She is spunky, mature beyond her years a spitfire. Matthew is 8 and was born with Moebius Syndrome. It is a rare condition recognized by universal 6 and 7 cranial facial nerve paralysis. It is the absence of a smile, the ability to blink and to move your eyes from side to side. Matt was also born with a cleft palate, club feet, missing fingers, and only heels, he now wears prosthetic feet. He has developed epilepsy also. He wakes up every day with a joyful zest for life. He is active, happy and loves to sing and dance. Lily is also 8 but we didn’t find her until she was almost 5. Lily has Down Syndrome and Autism. She is non-verbal like Nick. She requires one on one supervision most of the time. Spending her early years as an institutional placement left her unable to walk or eat solid foods when we met her. She has made good progress but is severely delayed. Bonnie is 7, we brought her home from St. Mary’s at 5 monthsold. She was born with Cornelia DeLange Syndrome at 27 weeks gestation. She is severely brain damaged, has deformed underdeveloped arms and a terminal degenerative lung disease secondary to chronic aspiration of her own bodily fluids. Still, she is happy most of the time and truly enjoys the company of her siblings. She has nursing at home at night and a fabulous nurse goes to school with her. Alex is 4, he surprised all and has enjoyed typical development to date. His biological family had special needs so he was considered at high risk for having special needs also. He is delightful and full of energy. He is so sweetly loving towards his younger siblings. Last but not least is Noah who just turned 1. We brought him home at the age of 6 months. He lived in St. Mary’s from the age of 1 month. Noah suffered a lack of oxygen before birth and has Dystonia, he is GJ tube fed and at times his vocal cords spasm cause him to turn blue from lack of oxygen. So we have O2, a pulseoximeter and an ambubag in case a vocal cord spasm lasts too long. He has very low muscle tone but has begun to hold up his head for a few seconds at a time and tries to reach out and touch the toys on his mobile. His smile lights up the room and we love him with all our hearts. He is adored by his big sisters.
I realize every time I write about each of our children how overwhelming our life must appear to be. We are often asked why and how we raise this family. Well, all of you know it is a full time job, it has days filled with overwhelming sadness and days filled with overwhelming joy. We never dreamed of a life filled with doctors appointments, tube feedings, wheelchairs, IV poles, weighted vests, orthotics, suction machines, nebulizers, oxygen tanks and the list goes on and on. But we also never in a million years could have dreamed of how endless the blessings knowing you tried your best every day to be of service to others. We have a tremendous support system of family and medical specialists. All three of my siblings are special education teachers and this been invaluable when advocating for the children at IFSP, CPSE and CSE committee meetings. Our children taught us so much about finding the positive even when the day has been mostly negative. That a good day is when we are all home together and no one is in the hospital. Being an older parent we know for sure that everything is temporary. Even when you think you can’t stand it another minute things will change if you can gather enough strength to get up every day and keep pushing forward searching for a solution. That our children continue to learn throughout their whole lives. Just when you think “it” will never happen, they accomplish the impossible. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”
This CBS video of our family entitled “Adopting 12 Children With Special Needs” is 3 years old, but gives a little peek into our lives and I also cannot help but brag, the kids are oh so adorable!!