The Orton Family: On celebrating adoptees with CP
The following story was told to me by Becky Orton, a mom via many routes, who is raising two incredible sons with cerebral palsy.
Image description: Joe sits in his wheelchair outside in the sun, in a baseball cap. He is laughing, loving life.
Our son Joseph is 15 years old. He was placed in foster care by his biological parents at birth because of how medically complex he was. Mom is from Uruguay and Dad is from the Dominican Republic. From what I learned, the dad stayed in contact once a year sending him a card and outfit for about the first 6 years or so. They don't speak english and are not citizens, and they separated soon after his birth. Also he's a TWIN - his twin Allen was not as impacted by the premature birth and was adopted soon after birth. I am in contact with his adoptive family. They wish they could have taken Joe too but felt too overwhelmed with his situation. I am in the process of trying to locate his birth parents so they can have updates if they want. Joe was born 24 weeks premature and as a result had a severe impact to his brain. He spent the first year in the Intensive Care Nursery (all alone, sadly) and then moved to a care facility where he lived for 6 years until we were approached by DCYF and asked if we would like to be his forever family. UMM, YES! (I hadn't even met him - just saw pictures of his beautiful eyes/eyelashes and I melted). He was adopted by the time he was seven and we finalized on Valentines day. Joe LOVES Disney - for the music. He also LOVES Robert Munsch books (especially when Robert is narrating them), the sound of deep voices and for some reason, babies crying. He's the SWEETEST boy, never complains - like ever, even though he has the hardest medical journey of all three of them.
Becky is so empathetic and sweet towards other adoptive families who don't view disabled children in the same light that she does. I need to take a leaf out of her book! To be honest, it breaks my heart that her son and his twin are separated, and that Joe spent the first chunk of his childhood in an institution due to that other adoptive family saying "No thank you, not that one." However, I do think their commitment to continued contact between the families is a silver lining for sure. Bottom line: adoptive families need to be open and willing to learn about disabilities, and they need to prioritize children's rights over their own fears. Which brings me to Liam's story...
Image description: Baby Liam sits on the couch in a cute fleece hat, laughing with joy. He has a paci clipped to his collar and cute little braces on his ankles.
Liam, our baby, experienced a failed private adoption. The woman who was supposed to adopt him found out when he was 5 months old that he had a laundry list of unique challenges - he presented as typically developing at birth but wasn't reaching milestones as time went on. Anyway, she loves him but she's a single woman in her 50's and felt like she wouldn't be able to care for him long term as an older single mom. It was a devastating decision for her. We told her from the get-go that she will always be a part of his life - so she drives up here about once a month and spends the day holding and loving on him. His main diagnoses are Schizencephaly and Polymicrogyria. He also is gtube fed and reminds us a lot of Joe. Liam has been our hardest child out of the three. He needs constant attention which can be hard in a house full of kids. BUT, this boy is the cutest boy and will smile and giggle as long as you are paying attention to him (turn away and he cries!) He loves to be held and as long as you are paying attention to him he's happy as can be. We had a bio child, Benjamin, who died when he was 8 years old. Liam was actually Benjamin at first (named by his pre-adoptive mom) and so when DCYF called us and told us he was named Benjamin and born in April (our first Benjamin was, too) we knew we couldn't say no.
Again, Becky just has a gift for seeing everyone's perspective! We too have experienced past families who have said "never mind" to our boys, and my mama's heart just can't imagine it. It's their loss and our gain. Prospective adoptive families, PLEASE be aware that unforeseen challenges can arise! Adoptees deserve to be loved unconditionally, disabled adoptees included.
One thing about Cerebral Palsy that I have learned since having my kids is that I won't ever underestimate them. Liam is a smart boy - his body may not work but his little brain is working and he understand more than I ever thought possible. It's been so much fun learning from Joe and Liam.
I don't like when people assume what they are or aren't capable of. Give them a chance and WATCH them! Also, it's amazing what these kids can do when surrounded by love.
I try and shout from the rooftops how BLESSED we are to have these children. They are pure souls - endlessly happy (except when you aren't looking/paying attention to Liam, haha!) and being their mom brings me so much joy. I would adopt more kids with CP if I had a big enough place. Anyone is capable of taking care of kids with disabilities. All they need is a willing heart and lots of patience in the learning process. Anything new is scary but with love, anything is possible.
I'm just so very honored to share a snapshot of this incredible family's story. As cerebral palsy awareness month comes to a close, I hope that some of the stories shared here on this blog have given readers a new perspective on the lives of people living and thriving with CP. And if you are a prospective foster or adoptive parent who's considering opening your home and heart to a child with cerebral palsy, I would encourage you to lean into that. As Becky so wisely stated, anything new is scary but with LOVE...anything is possible.
You can keep up with the Orton fam here.