As for jumping in blind, I don’t recommend it. But moving forward despite being fearful is a bold and wonderful choice!-Laila
The Jennings: Big Family Fun
Lots of laughter and love fill our home; as do noisy children running around, teenagers talking, and parents trying to keep it all together. Twenty years ago we never would have imagined just how busy and full our lives would be. We met in graduate school and had decided prior to getting married that one child would be plenty. Fast forward 2 decades and we have 10 children running absolutely every aspect of our lives, and we love it! Our children range in age from 5 to 16 and have various medical conditions (some mild and some severe). We have traveled the world building our family, experiencing different cultures, and learning so much from life.
Stewart is a physician specializing in internal medicine and pediatrics. Laila is a nurse practitioner, specializing in pediatrics. We have two biological children, five children who were born in China, two children born in Ethiopia, and one child born in Guatemala.
Moe – Limb Differences
In 2014 we sat in front of the computer looking at a photograph of a one-year-old boy with a badly deformed foot and ankle. Our initial thoughts focused on all the things that he would never be able to do. It took a minute, but then we began to think about all the things that he could do. Life was not going to be easy for him, but life is not easy for anyone. We made some phone calls, inquired of various orthopedic surgeons, and made a decision: he was going to be ours and he would be just fine!
Our family traveled to China in May 2015 to take custody of Moe. He was a quiet, tiny little fella who watched our every move. He was able to crawl, he was also attempting to walk on his badly deformed foot. Once he had been home approximately four months his orthopedic surgeon made the decision that it would be best to amputate. We knew that amputation was a possibility when we started the process, it was scary but we moved forward. Surgery was not a complete success as he developed a wound infection. It took another six months before we were able to have him fitted for a prosthetic leg. In that time he was able to completely heal from his surgical wound and adapt to being a below the knee amputee.
Within a week of receiving his new prosthetic leg, Moe was off and running as if he had never been born with a deformity. Now, five years later, Moe is the most active little guy in our house. Being an amputee does not limit him in any way…if he wants to accomplish something, he does it. He rides a bicycle, plays soccer, and swims without any difficulty. Most new people that we meet do not even realize that he wears a prosthetic leg.
There are many types of limb deformities, some more complex than others. We are experiencing life with a mischievous little boy who is an amputee…what we have come to realize is that he is not limited by his disability. Those initial thoughts of “what would never be” have disappeared and been replaced by the joy of watching him grow and learn and experience life.
Eliza – Cognitive Delays
The unknowns in adoption can be daunting, enough so that many families shy away from children with known medical conditions because of the potential for surprise issues popping up.
Our family of 10 traveled to China in 2016 to bring home a sweet 3 year old girl we thought had a lazy eye and mild delays associated with institutionalization, but to our surprise she was severely globally delayed and very neglected. Our initial shock was so palpable that the orphanage called our hotel room to ask if we were going to go through with the adoption. By God’s grace, my husband answered the phone call and simply said “we came here to adopt her, and that is what we are going to do”.
Prayer, patience and persistence have paid off in spades! Eliza will never be “normal” but she has come so far…a terrified 3 year old who could barely crawl, had completely rotten teeth, and no idea what affection was is now a healthy & happy 7 year old who has hit major milestones (just on her own timeline).
Eliza is our seventh adopted child and in all of our experience we have never ever had everything go according to plan. Life isn’t perfect and neither are our plans! Adjusting for the unexpected bumps in the road is just a part of parenting, and it is normal to need time to refocus. We are so grateful that we have had the opportunity to focus our attention on Eliza. To see a scared, neglected child blossom into a loving, sweet little girl is such a blessing.
The overwhelming joy of parenting Eliza was nearly eclipsed by the immeasurable fear of the unknowns. Our family is not the same after welcoming a child with cognitive delays into our hearts….we are so much better! Yes, she needs lifelong care; we are happy to be the people who get to care for her.
Mia – Spina Bifida
In November 2016, less than four months after welcoming home our daughter Eliza, we saw a profile for a little girl with spina bifida that caught our attention. None of our nine children had spinal cord injuries; we had zero experience with wheelchairs, leg braces or hydrocephalus… None of that seem to matter; we just had a feeling that she was meant to be ours.
We told no one, as we were certain they would think we were nuts (even our home study agency needed a bit of convincing to agree to renew our home study so quickly after welcoming home baby number nine). After expediting almost every step of the process in order to get Mia home quickly, we traveled to China in September 2017. We took custody of her September 11, 2017 in Beijing. She was shell shocked, angry, and severely constipated. Within 48 hours she learned to trust us, understood that we wanted to help her, and begrudgingly accepted our hugs. Within six weeks of joining our family she was an absolute cuddle bug who had found her place!
We knew from videos we had received from the orphanage that Mia could pull to a stand, scoot around tables while holding on, and crawl. What we did not know was that she crawled lightning fast and had zero feeling in her legs from the knees down. Her shins, feet, and toes look like they had gone through a shredder. We quickly purchased kneepads, long leggings, and tight fitting socks in an effort to protect her legs. Her injuries healed and we started PT and OT. By the time she turned three (six months after coming home) she was able to walk short distances independently. We purchased canes and she was fitted for leg braces. It took less than a day for her to master using both. Today, she is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. She does use a wheelchair (which she maneuvers independently) if we need to walk long distances. Most of the time she is able to keep up with her siblings, occasionally she will need to sit down to rest. Her long-term prognosis is excellent. She excels in preschool, has loads of friends her own age, and has no qualms explaining why she uses canes and leg braces.
As for jumping in blind, I don’t recommend it. But moving forward despite being fearful is a bold and wonderful choice! We could not imagine our life without Mia in it. She has taught us so much and we are thrilled to be on this life journey with her. Having a child with a very visible disability provides you a platform for educating others. That was something we did not expect but we are so grateful to have!