Embracing the path of special needs adoption

How God gave one couple a new dream for their family

By Natalie Maxwell

It happened, not in any particular moment, but rather as my life took turns in new directions – directions I never would have chosen myself. The result was that God brought me to a place of such brokenness that he could speak into my dream for adoption.

God gave me a new dream. A new vision. A new desire.

Don’t get me wrong; my husband and I fought him at first. We knew what the term “special needs” meant. We had just spent half of a pregnancy and seven months of our firstborn’s life wrapping our minds and hearts around the life-changing experiences that accompany that term. Yet because God’s leading was so clear and because his presence was so evident on this path we never thought we would have chosen, we knew that “no” was not an option.

So, we said “yes” to the call on our lives, and not just to adopting someday. When the time came, we agreed to adopt a child with special needs.

Our story of surrender

I’ve tried for years to figure out this whole idea of “calling.” This journey wasn’t something I just came up with. From a young age, I told my mother I would adopt someday. The small community where I grew up included several large adoptive families, and my best friend and four of her siblings were adopted.

This experience allowed me to see the beautiful facets of adoption, and I was hooked. I recall listening to Focus on the Family’s broadcasts about adoption, and I remember, even as a preteen, sobbing at the pain and the beauty of these redemptive stories.

Every adoption story is different, and each “calling” is as unique as the individual who heeds it. Yet I’ve come to believe that a calling to adopt typically follows an awakening … and a breaking … and a surrender. With our family, for example, adopting the specific children that God led us to was never really our choice to make. Rather, it was our surrender to that calling that made it absolutely necessary.

When you accept that life apart from the will and leading of God is no life at all, then the notion of choice is simply replaced with deeper levels of trust and surrender.

Every adoption involves ‘special needs’

Looking back, it’s funny to me how God had to convince us that a special needs adoption was the right path for our family – because I now consider every adoption to be “special needs.” One of the things you do during the adoption process is look at a piece of paper that lists almost every diagnosis imaginable, and you check those that you are willing to consider in the child you adopt.

That was particularly terrifying to us because God had just placed a child in my womb who checked boxes that I never would have considered. It felt ridiculous to think that we somehow had the ability to know what we could handle, when we knew that by ourselves we couldn’t handle anything. And yet with God’s help, we recognized that nothing was off limits.

So we checked every single box.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone is supposed to check every box. (Honestly, now that our family is in a different season, I’m not so sure that we would still check every box.) But I do believe that no matter which boxes you do check, you must prepare your heart for whatever may come your way. Many future struggles aren’t immediately evident on a child’s profile or medical records. Some are buried deep in the hearts and minds of precious children who have endured painful loss and trauma.

There are no guarantees

We want to believe that love can fix every wound of the soul. That is what the young version of myself believed adoption was all about. Yes, adoption is a redemption story, but anyone who has walked this road knows that there are also no guarantees. That is why unconditional love needs to be at the root of every decision to adopt.

That is why I wrestle with the whole concept of a checklist. Every child has an intricately woven heart and a complex brain. Each baby, child and teenager who is adopted carries with them a personal story of loss and trauma. They all have their own unique “special needs.” Some of those needs can be diagnosed and labelled or medicated; some of them cannot.

That might sound terrible and scary (and I won’t argue that it’s not the latter), but the beauty can overshadow the pain. After all, God gave us free will so that our love for him would be a choice and not forced; and recognizing that will help us love each child right where they’re at, even if they can never reciprocate our love in the way we long for. Realizing that Jesus gave his very last breath to demonstrate his love for us – sometimes that’s when we’re able to give up a life we can control in exchange for a life of washing dirty feet and turning the other cheek … again and again and again.

Love is the driving factor

I cannot advocate for adoption apart from Christ, because it is his love for us that I believe must be the driving factor in our decisions. I am convinced that anyone who has the power of Christ working in them is qualified.

Does that mean God will “call” all of his people to adopt? Absolutely not. But I do believe that he longs to lead many to fulfill this great need. For some that may mean they are called to adopt, and for others it may mean a calling to support those around them who have been called to adopt. And the calling must begin with hearts that are willing to embrace their own story of redemption and adoption.


Natalie Maxwell is a writer and an advocate for special needs and adoptive families. She resides in North Dakota with her husband and their five children.