Joey's Adoption


Jean Marie Wilson

When I was pregnant with my first child, I told my best friend that Steve (my husband) and I would adopt some day. I even called the county social services department and asked about adoption. We were invited to an information meeting but never went. We both worked full-time. Eventually we had three children, all in daycare or private school. I knew we couldn't afford another child. Besides, our lives were too busy.

And then, Steve and I were both laid off from our jobs. We had to take the children out of private school and daycare. Slowly, over a period of two years, we pulled ourselves out of the bad times. We rearranged our lives and got used to lower-paying jobs and fewer luxuries. Our children stayed in public schools. We started seriously talking about adoption. I called the Department of Social Services. We were invited to an information meeting, and this time we went.. Adopting through the county also required 18 hours of training classes, and we began these classes as soon as we could.

Our children were 11, 9, and 7 at the time and didn't seem to mind our adding another child. They only wanted to know that we were not adopting due to some deficiency on their part. We assured them that we loved them, and that's why we wanted another child.

I used to take long walks on my lunch hour, praying we would be approved, and praying for the child who would be ours. I often wondered how people survived the waiting without God.

A week after we received our county license, our social worker left a message on our answering machine: "Watch Wednesday's Child on the news and call to let me know what you think". Steve was working, but all three children and I watched the program. I still have the piece of paper I took notes on, describing the little boy we saw. The children stayed up until Steve got home. He agreed to this child, without having seen him. Considering the child is physically challenged, this was an act of faith on Steve's part!

Steve and I spent the next six weeks battling the social workers. Our new son had spent most of his life in one foster home. His social worker wanted them to adopt him, but they refused. Social Services then wanted to change his status to a permanent foster child in their home. Considering the foster family moved out of state two years later, it is a good thing that arrangement never happened.

Finally, they brought his picture to us, along with his life book and a video of him. We saw a little boy with brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. He also had a shortened right arm with a "paddle" hand (no thumb, webbed partial fingers), a left hand with webbing and contractures, and he wore leg braces. Although he was almost six years old, he only weighed 25 pounds and was barely three feet tall.

We met Joey two months after we saw him on television. Over the next few weeks, he spent evenings with us. I picked him up at his foster home on my way home from work, and took him back in time for bed. We started moving his things in, and he spent a weekend with us. I was having a hard time finding daycare for him (this was before the Americans with Disabilities Act). He was also getting to bed late because I honestly hated giving him back. His foster mother offered to provide daycare, so he could move in with us, while giving him time to (mentally) transition to our home. I eventually found a daycare center and got his special education bus changed, and Joey was ours and in our home.

Because his foster mother had Joey for so long, we met resistance at school (he stayed in the same school). After all, we had "taken" him from his mother. His doctor told us we didn't understand his condition,and we shouldn't have adopted him. It took almost two years for them to realize we loved him and cared about him!

Joey was "helpless" when he came to us. There were some things he pretended he could not do, such as putting on his shirt, and some things he really could not do, such as self-toilet. He also told me his teachers took his lunch from him, not letting him finish eating. Actually, he ate slowly, and often didn't have time to finish his lunch. He also seemed to throw up a lot. I quickly learned that behavior was a bid for attention--and a day off school. That stopped when I made him stay in bed all day whenever he was "sick", instead of letting him lie on the couch and watch television.

Joey hated to chew food and was in the habit of stuffing his cheeks with food and letting his saliva break it down. After constantly reminding him to chew, we've almost broken that habit. He grew and started gaining weight.

He would complain that his leg braces hurt, especially when we were out in public or in the car. It took me two or three years to figure out that he could wear them all day if they were made properly. A switch to a different orthotist made the difference. By the end of Joey's first year with us, he could self-toilet, dress/undress himself, including his braces, and bathe himself. In other words, he could do everything for himself.

We were named Montgomery County (Maryland) Adoptive Family of the Year in 1991. A reporter asked the adoption supervisor why we were chosen as Joey's parents. She admitted to asking us to watch the television program so we "could see what type of child" they had available. They didn't "pick" us for Joey. It was over six weeks of nagging that got him placed with us.

I started attending adoption conferences. After one particularly wonderful workshop, I called our HMO's mental health facility. After testing and counseling, a four-year suspicion of mine was confirmed. Joey is ADD. He's now on medication, and it helps him quite a bit. Joey still has problems. He continues to pretend to be helpless with every new teacher and then wonders why they get so mad at him when they realize he's faking. He still swears he doesn't have any homework when, in fact, he does. He's still about 2/3 the height and half the weight of children his age.

He initially had contact with his birth mother, through the social worker. She stopped writing and sending gifts a year or two ago.

Joey has been with us over six years, and we love him. At first our other children were worried about how they'd adapt to a brother who is physically challenged. Now they don't even think about it. Joey has friends his age and friends through his brother and sisters. It seems that everywhere we go, someone knows Joey.

In addition, Joey is an excellent writer. So far he has been published twice, and he has entered one writing contest. He's currently working on a mystery story.

Joey has had problems dealing with the usual grief issues all adopted children deal with. I've been lucky in finding him counseling through an adoption agency. I have found that most therapists are not familiar with adoption issues and the behaviors of children adopted out of foster care.

Our families have accepted Joey and take real pleasure in spending time with him. Joey still has difficulty spending the night at a friend's house--he goes into his "helpless act". He also has difficulty with my husband and I going away for a weekend. He still needs to be reassured that someone will always be there to take care of him.

Update: 1999

Joey's birthmom has started writing around his birthday every year. I am encouraging contact as he gets older. I have promised him he can meet her when he turns 18, if he wants to.

Joey also had surgery on his knees and on his feet this year. Over the years the contractures in his knees had gotten so bad, he could only extend his knees to a 45 degree angle. His braces broke every two weeks, because he was "sitting" on them to walk. His legs are now almost straight. The surgeries were tendon releases on the backs of his knees and reshaping of his feet. After the knee surgery, he had pins in his legs. It was a long process, but his legs are straighter now, and his feet no longer sit at an angle to his legs.

We are in the midst of grueling therapy to teach him to be able to bend his knees again, and to stretch out his hips, lower back, and leg muscles. He is now able to stand unsupported for a minute or more (no braces, no holding on). He is trying to take steps, and it's definitely coming! He has been able to hold onto the back of his wheelchair and walk-no braces. The doctor has ordered a walker for him to use. We are hoping he may be able to walk without the braces, but, meanwhile we are having a new pair of braces made. Joey has not had braces since the two surgeries.

Update: Late, 1999

Joeu can walk four steps without braces! He has to learn to keep his hips from bending him forward. I repeat over and over, "Lock your hips! Lock your hips!" Imagine, you adopt a child when he's six years old, and still get to see his first steps!

November, 1999:

Joey can walk much farther now, although he will only do it when asked. He is still inconsistent - sometimes he can walk, and other times he cannot. We have finally convinced Medicaid that our HMO won't pay for anymore physical therapy, and Medicaid must now do so. Joey will start physical therapy again in a few days. It took 5 weeks - and a lot of help to convince Medicaid to take over!

Our state senator in the Maryland General Assembly was instrumental in putting us in touch with the right people. His name is Patrick Hogan ( P. J. Hogan Homepage ) . His office has helped us in the past to get Medicaid to pay when our HMO does not cover something our son needs. What surprised me most was meeting him. When I told him that his office had helped with our son's Medicaid, he knew exactly who we were!

Update: March 22, 2000


Today was the first visit to the Medicaid Physical Therapist, at a local hospital, in the outpatient rehabilitation department. Anyhow, the physical therapist asked about past surgeries, so I admitted I wasn't Joey's mother when he had surgeries as an infant, but I'm his mom now. So she asked me who he lives with. I said Joey lives in an unusual family-his parents-my husband and I-have been married 24 years and we have 3 other kids. So she says so you're his guardian. And I say no I'm his mom. It's called adoption. And she says so he lives with who. And I said my husband and I and his 3 siblings. So who are you? And we went round and round, until finally it dawns on her and she says what about the other family and I must've look like Godzilla by then, cause Joey starts shaking his head going noooooo. And I said he lives with his mom and dad and 3 siblings and that's it. Then she says I didn't mean to upset you, but I needed his social history. And I didn't say another word.I felt like saying MYOB (Mind Your Own Business). Joey's social history is ours-at least the last 10 years of it, and she sure doesn't need (and is major invading privacy asking for) his history before that. Yes, I know where his birthmom is now. None of her business.

Gosh-when are they going to start teaching about adoption in school. And bedside manner in med/PT/nursing/xray etc school. I truthfully don't think this dingy therapist ever finally understood it! Thanks for listening.

April 7, 2000

Well today was a good day at physical therapy. Even though Joey's ankles are fused, he walked heel-toe - in other words he didn't just throw his legs like in the braces. He walked without braces and with shoes on, and his gait looked natural. He walked between the parallel bars - his muscles need to get stronger and his confidence needs to increase, and I think he really might be able to just get up and go- - no braces!!

Update July, 2000

Joey walks. He walks all over the house! He walks up and down the hallway. He still can't do steps and he can't do uneven ground (slopes), but he walks! The progress has been slow, but it's becoming more obvious that his ability to walk is permanent. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in the here and now that you forget how far you've come. My multiply-handicapped difficult to place for adoption , permanently disbled, he'll never walk without braces child is, for the first time in his 16 years, walking more easily than he ever dreamed possible!! Joey said he used to pray that he would be able to walk one day, and he asked me why God didn't let him. I reminded him recently of that conversation, and told him his prayer has been answered. (And the doctors said he'll never be able to walk and he'll be a vegetable. How horribly wrong they were-Thank Goodness!!)

The Challenge of Raising a Teenager with Fetal Alcohol (Venting my Frustrations)
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1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Copyright Jean Marie Wilson May Not Be Reprinted Without Permission. Must Be Referenced In All Documents

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