By Joleigh Little Bass
Editor’s note. November is National Adoption Awareness Month. All month we’ve been running new stories and reposting older stories. This first appeared in a slightly different form in 2017. Joleigh is a member of the Wisconsin Right to Life staff serving as the Field Representative for Regions 5 & 6.
There’s this thing that’s never far from my mind or my heart and there’s a reason. I have loved adoption since the very early days of my pro-life involvement because it just made so much sense. If you’re going to say “no” to abortion, you have to say “yes” to the possibilities that adoption affords children and families.
Why? It is simply and completely because we are who we say we are.
And, you might ask, who are “we”? Glad you asked.
We are people who love life. Sounds like a cliché only if you don’t.
We believe that every child –planned and unplanned– is unique, has intrinsic value, and is deserving of a chance at life. That is why we are horrified (no lesser word will do) that adverse prenatal diagnoses so often lead to abortions. We know that children with special needs are no less valuable, have no less a call on us, than children who are typical.
We look at people like Terri Schindler Schiavo and see not an injury, or a diagnosis, but a beautiful human being who is every bit as valuable as you or I or anyone else we love. We see someone whose life matters.
That is what makes us who we are. It is why we do what we do. That is why we use our voices on behalf of those who have no voice– because every, single life matters.
Moreover, from the moment of conception when a completely unique human being begins his or her earthly existence, until the moment of natural death, everyone matters equally. This intrinsic value doesn’t change based on race, gender, place of residence, or country of origin.
Pro-lifers believe that the emaciated, hollow-eyed waif trapped in a sub-standard orphanage in Eastern Europe or Africa is every single bit as valuable as the little girl or boy who sits across from you at the dinner table. The only difference between them is that your child is loved and cared for exactly as every child should be.
Here’s where it gets tricky. As pro-lifers, if we are who we say we are, we need to start caring every bit as much about that tiny 13-year-old with Down syndrome who hovers on the edge of starvation, waiting only for the love of a family to thrive, as we do about the unborn child in the womb here in America whose mom has an abortion appointment scheduled.
We are, and always have been, a movement of people who oppose abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. As an outgrowth of those three categories of vulnerable people, we work to protect the medically vulnerable.
This includes the child who is diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome via ultrasound, as well as the child with Down syndrome who is already born and being denied lifesaving medical treatment. It also includes the child born with Down syndrome in a country where children with disabilities are viewed as “cursed” somehow, and relegated to institutions… or worse.
As people of life, we need to look at the vulnerable and see beauty where others may see a mistake. We need to reach out to those in need where others might walk on by. That means standing in the gap for all of the children, be they vulnerable because they are in the womb, or vulnerable because they live on the other side of the globe, have a special need, and have no one to call them “son” or “daughter.”
You guys, this isn’t always easy. Abortion broke my heart when I was 13 years old and learned it was a thing. If you took every tear I have cried over the existence of this twisted “solution” to unplanned pregnancy, you would literally be able to fill a lake. (Okay, I cry a lot. It’s a thing.)
I learned to look past a twisted frame and slow speech to see the value of every life when close friends of mine had a little boy with CP who stayed with my family when his family needed respite. I will forever be grateful for the fact that special needs touched my life directly– and when I was only 11. I was changed for the better in so many ways.
Terri Schindler Schiavo, who was brutally starved and dehydrated to death in spite of her family’s gallant efforts to save her, helped break my heart about euthanasia. I will forever be thankful to the Schindlers for doing that. As I will to all of the people who daily fight to protect the dignity of people who, like Terri, have disabilities that might cause some to look upon them as “less than…”
I think, sometimes, especially as pro-life people, we need to learn to see with the eyes of our hearts more than we see with our actual eyes. The older I get, the more naturally this seems to happen for me. Perhaps it is because I am less concerned about appearances and what other people think. And perhaps it is simply because my entire outlook has been changed by two small girls who call me “mommy.”
My path to motherhood has taken me to two different foreign countries and through two very different orphanages. While the purpose of those trips was to bring my daughters home, something other than Clara and Annelise now also drives me.
Because I went into those orphanages with my eyes wide open and my heart pounding very loudly in my chest. You would have to be very cold to walk into an orphanage and NOT see the children who wait. To ignore the children whose profile photos don’t scream, “I am perfect and cute, please choose me.” While I was there, in the places that nurtured my girls before I could, the children who spoke to me the loudest were the children with special needs.
I will never forget the little girl in Clara’s orphanage who had what appeared to be cerebral palsy. She was tiny and dressed in a pale pink sleeper. She drew my attention away from my precocious new daughter because her caregiver was showing her to my friend and translator, who was openly weeping.
When I asked why, she explained that the caregiver was telling her “this child will never have a family because she is so damaged.” I cried, too, and assured my friend that I know people who would adopt such a child and to please fight to get her registered. The type of people of whom I spoke are very probably exactly like you who are reading this post. People of life.
I will also never forget the parade of children (literally) from Annelise’s orphanage — children with Down syndrome and other special needs — who were introduced to us by their orphanage staff in the hopes that we (the team from our adoption agency that was visiting) would be able to find them families. I am thrilled to say that most of the children we met are now home in families. (Due largely to the advocacy of one woman whose example is something the entire adoption community should follow.)
My point, the very reason that compelled me to open my laptop and dump my heart into this blog space, is we need to look for ways to publicly and very loudly advocate for all of the children who need our voices.
For me, that started very simply with a focus on protecting the child in the womb. Very early on in my pro-life walk, it became evident that if I was going to do that, I also needed to advocate for children who need families. I have done that, most effectively, by making two of them my own. But beyond my own actual adoptions, I have found that my pro-life work has given me a platform from which to shout the reality that special needs adoption needs to be a part of what we do. This is simply because, at its very core, it is a part of who pro-lifers are.
I could give you literally hundreds of examples of this, and that makes my heart swell. (I am so blessed to know so many incredible people.) But. You guys. We all, including myself, need to do a better job of proclaiming to the world that children with special needs matter. In and out of the womb.
I have lost track of that little girl in the pale pink sleeper. That fact will sadden me for the rest of my days. But God knows where she is, and I pray that He leads her to the family that will love her. I may not be able to help her directly, but I can absolutely help others like her.
I love adoption because I am pro-life. I see beauty in children with special needs because I am pro-life. I need you to join me in advocating for special needs adoption because you are pro-life, too! Please. Now, more than ever, the world needs to see that we are exactly who we say we are.