Adopting a Child with Special Needs

The first time it happened, we were shocked. On a Saturday afternoon at the movies, the cashier did a double take while paying for popcorn. “Excuse me,” she said, pointing at our daughter, “Is her name Pippa?”

We looked at her with surprise but confirmed that she was right. The girl bouncing beside us with excitement was indeed Pippa. Our answer was met with a widening smile. “I thought so,” she said, “we went to the same school, and I always wondered what happened to her.”

When you’ve adopted a child, it is a feeling that never stops being surreal: When you meet someone who knew your child before you did.

My wife Jessica and I always wanted to grow our family through adoption. After experiencing infertility and stillbirth, I knew that carrying a child to term was not my future. We didn’t need our children to be biologically related to us to love them.

A year after we married, we started our adoption journey with our daughter, Lily, who has Down syndrome. Adopting a child with special needs and welcoming her home brought us more happiness than we had ever hoped to imagine, so we decided to do it again.

Several years later, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Canada, enrolled a little girl named Pippa into their adoption program. The Foundation provided her with an adoption recruiter through the Foundation’s work in Ontario, and she got right into getting to know everything about Pippa. The Foundation’s goal was to find Pippa, an adoptive family from the adults in her life who already knew her.

However, when it became clear that this wasn’t possible, the Foundation approached Jess and I to meet her. The Foundation was always 100% focused on Pippa’s needs and finding a family that could meet those needs for her. After our experiences with Lily, Pippa’s team felt that we could be that family for her. We’re grateful every single day that they believed in us.

Pippa’s past doesn’t define her

Pippa was seven years old and had lived several lifetimes when she came to us. By 22 months, Pippa had been abused, neglected, and nearly killed at the hands of a parent.

Pippa also has a rare genetic condition called Cardiofaciocutaneous Syndrome (CFC) which includes a range of symptoms, including a heart condition, skin and growth differences, and severe developmental delays.

She’d spent so much of her early years having surgeries and being treated by doctors; she had every reason to be scared of the world. Instead, she finds joy and brings it to everyone around her.

Hidden away behind her glowing smile and a laugh that fills you with sunshine is the story of a world where adults meant to protect her failed.

Pippa can seem intimidating on paper, but in person, she’s sweet and loving and warm. She loves to swim, she loves her siblings, and she always wants to be a helper. She is all about community and people — like a cashier at the movies who recognized her from years prior — and everyone who meets her falls in love, too.

While I’d love to end here and say that our story is a “happily ever after,” that isn’t necessarily the whole truth. There are challenges for every family, and adoption adds another layer.

Our children had families before us and relationships that have changed or have been lost, and our children have big emotions to work through. However, they know they are safe and secure, and we know they’re happy. So that created a foundation that will help them move forward.

My hope is if you have a heart for adoption, follow it. More than 30,000 children in Canada await adoption from foster care. Some children might sound intimidating on paper, like Pippa, but those case files do not define them. They are children who need families to step up and offer them loving, safe, and permanent homes for them to thrive.

If we had based our decision on Pippa’s case notes alone, she wouldn’t be with us today, and our lives would never have been changed in the most incredible way. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Canada, believes that love makes a family, and we have the privilege of experiencing that every single day.

Learn more about Pippa’s story:

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