Monday, June 13, 2011

Our adoptions and adjustments...

I was asked by a prospective adoptive parent if I could share some about our older child adoptions of children with special needs.  She sent me a set of questions provided by her social worker and I sat down to reply.  My reply ended up being, most likely, much more than she was looking for initially!  But as it all flowed out, I felt that each piece, and each answer to the questions posed to me, held a significance with the different viewpoints from our different children.

So, as a way to both keep this information handy and to share it with others that may be considering adoption, I've decided to post it here.  Please keep in mind that although some of this info may seem random, I was working through a list of questions :)  Enjoy!


I am Meredith Cornish, and my husband and I have now adopted 5 children, all with special needs.  Four of our children are from Ukraine and the fifth is from US foster care.  Our Ukrainian children were 18 months, 5, 6, and 8 at the time of their adoptions and our foster-adopt was 3 ½ when we got him.  We had three separate processes for the five children and very different experiences with each child.

Our first two children, Micah and Emma, have been home from UA for 3 years.  Both of them have Down syndrome and a history of severe neglect.  Micah was 11 pounds and in size 3 months sleepers when he came to us.  He had been sedated the first 18 months of life due to pneumonia, which we later found out was caused from aspiration.  Micah is now 4 ½ years old and is healthy and doing well.  He has very few behavioral issues within our home environment, though he can wrap a teacher around his finger and then decides he can do whatever he’d like to at times at school.  He is developing very slowly, cognitively, and has no words at this time.  It is unknown what type of sedatives he was on and whether the issues he is facing are a result of his time in an orphanage, from the medications, or whether it is simply a result of him having Down syndrome.  Regardless, he is a lively and happy little boy that aims to please and has a smile that will melt anyone’s heart!

Emma was 5 years old and suffered from severe neglect and abuse prior to her adoption.  She was 17 pounds and in dire need of open heart surgery.  Emma was constantly ill due to severely enlarged tonsils and immediately underwent a heart catheterization, tonsil and adenoid surgery, and eventually open heart surgery, all within the first 6 months home.  Emma quickly progressed, though she has permanent brain damage due to her heart not being repaired as an infant like it would have been in the US.  Emma had strokes and has Cerebral Palsy in addition to Down syndrome.  Emma spent the first 5 years laying on her back in a crib with little or no human interaction during her days.  She was fearful and did not like being held for long periods of time.  Emma would flinch when someone approached her quickly as a response to expectation of abuse.  She would cry for long periods of time, inconsolably, and grind her teeth constantly.  Emma was not social with our other children and tended to keep to herself most of the time.  Though Emma still does not walk independently, she is taking independent steps—something that all of our doctors and therapists said would never be possible for a child that was in the condition that she was in.  Emma had a ‘switch flip’ one day and determined to sign!  She began signing that day and now has a decent vocabulary which she can use to request food or drink, use appropriate social manners, and to make other requests as needed throughout her day.  Emma is a happy little girl that still keeps to herself a lot of the time, but engages when her siblings bring her in to what they are doing.  She is now a very calm child that doesn’t cry very often and adapts well to new experiences and environments.

James is our foster-adopt son and he has been home for one year.  James has Down syndrome and was also a preemie.  He was 3 ½ at the time of his adoption.  James is doing well, had a very secure bond with his foster mother that had cared for him since birth, and transferred that bond easily to us as his parents.  He is a goofy little guy with a sweet smile and a very outgoing personality.

Our most recent adoptions were Aleksa and Wesley.  They came home in December 2010 from Ukraine.  Aleksa has Down syndrome and is 8 ½ years old.  She spent 5 years in an orphanage and then 3 years in a mental institution before her adoption.  Aleksa has been the most difficult bonding process of any of our children and is also the oldest and most able-bodied child that we have adopted.  Aleksa has had many indications of difficult attachment and is very over-social with people that she doesn’t know.  For instance she will go up to a stranger and hug on them and put her arms up to be held.  We have taken great care to discourage this indiscriminate affection and to redirect to handshakes and high fives with strangers, even people that she is meeting for the first time that may be family friends.  Aleksa also has acted out by using toileting for attention (peeing herself when she is not getting the attention she wants) and by seeking negative attention by messing with her siblings.  We are fortunate that none of our children, including Aleksa, have exhibited any sexualized behavior, but we have taken precautions for all of our children in case we learn that they exist later on.  Aleksa will start school in August 2011 going just 2-3 days each week to get used to the idea of school while continuing to have her parents as the primary caregivers while she continues to adjust to life in a family.

Wesley is 6 years old and has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is visually impaired.  He is wheelchair bound and needed surgery on his hips and groin muscles soon after coming home.  He then spent 4 weeks in a Spica cast from his chest to knees, which, although uncomfortable, did aid in the bonding process due to his intense dependence on us as his caregivers during that time.  Wesley has shown that he recognizes us as important figures in his life and a preference towards us over strangers.  Wesley has overcome an intense fear of men in the last 6 months as well.  During his hospital stay he would cry every time he heard footsteps since, due to his vision difficulties, he couldn’t tell if the person was coming to his bed or our roommate.  Wesley has brought down his guard significantly and is showing signs of adjustment in his actions and behavior.  Unlike Aleksa, Wesley had a honeymoon period where he was very easy, wanted to be held all the time, but didn’t act out or disobey in any way.  He now is showing his comfort by testing boundaries and requiring positive and proactive discipline to help structure his days.

Due to the nature of our children’s special needs, they were allowed to be adopted in sets of 2 even though they were not siblings.  None of our children had interacted with one another before our adoption of them, but all of them have done very well adjusting to their ‘partner’ in adoption as well as to our other children.  We have 8 children total including three biological children: a 20 month old daughter and 7 year old son that are typically developing and our 5 yr old daughter with Down syndrome.

Our children at home have readily welcomed each new member of the family.  At the time of our first adoption, our biological children were 2 and 4 years old and we adopted a 5 and 18 month old.  Brianna, our then two year old with Ds, loves babies and took to her new siblings as such, even though Emma is 3 years older.  Due to Emma’s physical condition, she did not sit unsupported and could not hold her head up.  Although this disrupted actual birth order, the developmental levels of our two biological children stayed as the ‘older’ siblings.  With our second adoption, James, our children were 7, 6, 4, and 3 1/2, as well as a 4 month old baby and James was 3 1/2 as well.  Our infant daughter didn’t know to be upset by birth order changes J.  James and Micah are “pseudo twins” or “false twins” due to their 1 month age difference.  The two boys are VERY different and aside from being ‘clumped’ together in some ways due to their developmental similarities, it has not been an issue for either of them to have a sibling so close in age.  The two boys and Brianna are all within 8 months of one another and attended the same preschool class last year.  They had a blast together!

Our third adoption of Aleksa and Wesley has disrupted the birth order more, but the natural “oldest” child, our typical 7 yr old, Kristopher, is still very much developmentally the oldest and he is also the biggest of our children.  When someone asks if he is the oldest, he naturally answers “no, but I’m the biggest.”  To him, that is still keeping his ‘birthright’ as the first child and oldest.  He has had more sibling rivalry with Aleksa than any other siblings, but that is natural since she is also big enough to get in to his toys and his space, whereas none of our other children have been walking even at the time of their adoption.  Lynae has a very close bond with Aleksa and Wesley since the two of them have been home with Lynae (bio 20 month old, typical) during the day while the other children attended school the first 4-5 months home.  All of our children play well together, fight like siblings, and love on each other at the end of the day.  Kristopher asks us regularly when we will go bring home more children that don’t have parents.  His heart is in the right place, and sharing his parents has not been a concern.  Though, we do sometimes wonder if he’s just looking for someone else to be in his ‘classroom’ where he likes to pretend he’s a teacher with his siblings J.

Since our adoptions we have learned of a resource for children with significant medical needs called Children’s Medical Services in Florida.  It has been very helpful to coordinate our services through them to have all our physician appointments in one place for the children.  The physicians accept our insurance through the program and waive any copays that may need to be paid.  Different programs exist in different states, and many are need-based.

Educationally, I have the benefit of having received my bachelor’s degree in elementary education before having children, so the knowledge of what laws protect special needs children is all fairly fresh still.  I recently attended a Wright’s Law conference to better educate myself as an advocate for my children and we have had several “battles” with the school system to properly accommodate each of our children’s diverse needs. 

I am grateful for my deep faith and that of my husband as well, because there have been many difficult times during the adoption processes where we have struggled emotionally and financially.  Through it all, we know that God brought us to each of our children with a purpose and that He has laid out His plans for us to raise them up.

A little ‘something’ that I’d like to pass along is that in faith, it’s said that “God never gives someone more than they can handle.”  Through adoption, especially older child special needs adoption and parenting a large family, we have learned that there are a few words missing in that statement.  It really should read “God never gives you more than you can handle with Him.”  Because with Christ, all things are possible, and God knows the plans that He has for us… plans to prosper us and not to harm us.  Plans to give us hope and a future.  And that’s exactly what God is using us to fulfill in the lives of our children as well… hope… and a future.

May God bless you on your adoption journey, and if I can assist further please don’t hesitate to contact me by email at or by phone at **********.

Meredith Cornish
Blessed to be a 29 year old mother of 8 through the gift of birth and adoption


  1. brought me to tears beautiful and open :)

  2. Thank you so much for writing this out Meredith. Very encouraged by you and your family and all that you can do through Christ.


  3. Awesome testimony of God's love and grace! Thanks so much for sharing this. It's nice to have your kids' story all in one place too. Helps me remember. :-)