Friday, September 18, 2009

Katherine Heigl adopts a kid with special needs, people show their ignorance

I just saw photos on Celebrity Baby Blog of Naleigh, the 10-month-old girl actress Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley adopted from Korea. Katherine's mentioned that Naleigh has special needs.

I was fascinated and horrified by the comments on the post. Lots of people gushed over the baby, and rightly so. She's very yummy. Some wondered what her special needs were. A couple said things like "I think her 'special needs' are minor according to these pictures," which made my blood boil. As if you can tell anything by looking! Grrrr. Now that I have a kid with special needs, I've become acutely aware of the mind-blowing ignorance people have about them. Those people seem far more mentally disabled than my child.

Oh, and also, when a commenter called adoption a "selfless act" someone else jumped in to say, "Since when is adoption a selfless act??? Having the honor to become a mommy or daddy to a child is a privilege and a gift. Their lives have been blessed by their little addition, and as much as they have helped this little girl obtain a better life, they themselves have gotten just as much if not more out of it. I think adoption is wonderful, but I would never consider someone who adopts a child a hero, or selfless."

Sorry, lady, but when someone adopts a kid with special needs, that is a completely selfless act. Period. I am in awe of people who've done this—and especially in awe of families who have adopted more than one kid with special needs.

I honestly don't know that I would have willingly chosen this path.


  1. When they're cute and look just like their uncle/adoptive daddy (and their baby brother, though that was a surprise for later) and they have no other family that will take them in, it is surprisingly easy! Nothing to it but to do it--you'd be amazed how easy it is to step up!

    However, without the family connection, I have to admit I don't think it ever would have happened--to be perfectly honest. Blood has a way of calling. We weren't looking, either (at all)--we were found.

  2. I read through a few of the comments - I wonder how Sth Koreans would feel about having their country described as a third world country ;-).

  3. People really don't have a clue what to say. I cannot tell you how many times someone (including family) has said to me "to look at her you would never know anything was wrong" when referring to my daughter. Gee thanks!

    I am with you on this one - I am not sure that I would willingly choose this path. Something to think about...

  4. Well, that's a pet peeve of mine. I adopted two kids with special needs, and it was not a selfless act. I know you mean well by saying that, but what I hear is, "God, your kids are such an awful and unimaginable burden who give absolutely nothing back, what a self-sacrificing person you must be to give your life over to them." I wanted kids, I got two terrific ones, and not for nothing, a whole writing career about parenting children with challenges. Get me down off that pedestal!

    (And to further sully my sainthood ... I wondered if Katherine and her husband went for special needs because it sped up the adoption timetable. That was a factor in our decision, too.)

    1. Thank you for saying this! I'm a mom to a special needs boy and am in the middle of fighting a custody battle. Alot of people think of me as selfless for giving up my chance at a "normal" life to raise him. Honestly, he makes me a much better person and I like myself alot more now than I did when he was living with my mother. You've said it before Ellen, we are not saints. We're just parents who love our children. Honestly, I think if people would stop trying to glorify parenting a special needs child then more of them would be adopted, IMHO.

  5. People look at my son all the time and say, "But he looks NORMAL!" and, "But he's so CUTE!" I still don't know how to respond to that. The cute comment especially...I'm always tempted to say, "I know. You'd think only unattractive would have issues, right?" *sigh*

    Hopefully Katherine Heigl and her husband will provide a public voice for kids with special needs.

  6. I had a "friend" that totally disappeared when my sons were born premature. When they were 9 months old we had an adorable picture taken that went on the Christmas card. I sent her one and she called and said with this suprised voice "well they look normal". I still wonder to this day did she think they had two heads each???

  7. Oh I should have added above, I never heard from that "friend" again!

  8. Anonymous, I had a friend who also totally disappeared, too. Never heard from her again after she found out from a friend that Max had a stroke at birth. It was disturbing.

    Terri, I hear you. My thinking of adopting a kid with special needs as a selfless act comes from my feelings that I might not have chosen to do the same—so in my eyes, you did an amazing thing. Not because your kids are a "burden" or because they give nothing back. Believe me, I know better! I said "selfless" because other people in your shoes might not have done the same. I've written before about people putting me on a pedestal just because I am raising a child with special needs, and I've minded it because I had no choice. You had a choice. And I can't help it, I stand in awe of that choice you made.

  9. I think a big part of the problem is that many people have not been exposed to many people with special needs. I remember my mother telling me that when she was growing up, there was a woman who brought her disabled son to church every Sunday. But other than that brief exposure, she never saw a disabled person. They were kept at home because people found disease and disability upsetting. Combine that with parents who tell their kids not to stare or ask questions and suddenly you have a generation raised without any understanding and awareness.

    Thankfully, the world is changing.

  10. Adoption by celbs should be outlawed... Special needs or not, they treat the kids like a trinket, a new toy or the pet dog... "Look my new accessory"... as the nanny minds the kid, and mommy goes to party...

    As for my view on adoption from other countries... there are too many homeless and adoptable American children right here right now... that need good homes... Americas children come first... no one really talks about that...

    According to New York City Department of Homeless Services (2004), at least 16,600 were children, 18 and under. 13k+ homeless children are enrolled in Los Angeles Unified School District...

  11. Thanks for this post. I am one of those who has chosen the path of adopting children with special needs and I am definitly blessed that I will be able to raise these sweethearts! My Noah is already home and each day I work and fundraise to get closer to my Jeremiah and have to wait is so hard. I watch him as his hands look more and more rigid and I worry, how much better would he be if I could get him home to regular medical care and therapy. It is a hard road to adopt, especially when you dont have the funds to just do it. I thank the Lord daily for our babies :)


  12. I wonder about this A LOT. I often feel a pull to adopt a special needs child because I KNOW now that it's really not that bad, but then I worry that that will take away from Charlie's life, so there I sit.

    I love everyone's comments on this post--so. very. interesting.

  13. Geez Rich,

    It should be outlawed for a celebrity to adopt a child? Seriously? Exactly how famous do you have to be to be forbidden to adopt? A local newscaster? How do you know that Heigl and her hubby will treat the kid like a trinket?

    Heigl noted that “[Adoption has] been a big part of my life and my family. My sister is Korean and my parents adopted her back in the ’70s and so I just always knew that this is something I wanted to do.”

    And yes, there are a lot of kids here that need to be adopted. My sister-in-law was arranging a domestic adoption with a US-based church agency, when she and her husband split up. The agency would no longer work with her, and she adopted from China 13 years ago. So there can be a lot of factors involved in the adoption process.


  14. I want to revisit the comment I wrote early on here - pointing out that there was also a comment about people adopting from third world countries (suggesting Sth Korea is a third world country - which it most definitely is NOT).

    I didn't have time to say all I wanted to say then so I will say it now.

    My point was, I think ignorance and lack of information stretches far beyond the issue of special needs. There are just a lot of people who don't know much about a lot of things (and I am sure I am ignorant about a lot of topics too!).

    While there are rude people out there, for sure, I consider this to being different from ignorant. People often say things that might be offensive to others but without the intention of doing so. To me, that's what ignorance really means.
    (dictionary definition = "The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed").

    So, what I'd like to say is that I think that blogs like these, stories like this, families who can get their story public are all a wonderful way to STOP the ignorance, not by attacking those who don't know more, but by providing them with education that better informs their comments, opinions and HOPEFULLY attitudes of and treatment towards anyone with special needs (which I admit can be a very overarching non-specific term and one I am not necessarily all that comfortable with) ;-).

    There. Rant over!

  15. What a cutie, I love her rolls. It is a toatlly selfless act to adopt a child with special needs. I do agree with you this is not a path which I would like to go through by choice.

  16. Interesting... I'd heard that she'd adopted, but not the special needs part.

    Now I'm so curious.. and ready to be pissed off at all the ignorant a-holes out there.

  17. My son was born with special needs (Septo Optic Dysplasia, he's blind, missing part of his brain, and his body can't produce hormones) and you wouldn't believe how many (after finding out about his special needs) say "Oh. Well he's so cute! You'd never tell by looking at him." Like really?? Is this supposed to console me? I don't need consolation and yes he is adorable but what does that have to do with his special needs?? I think people just don't know what to say. Ignorance.. /sigh.

  18. I'm sorry, but - as an adoptive momma to a child with minor special needs - I'm with Terri on this one. Katherine Heigl's baby will not stay a baby forever. When this baby is 10, 15, 25... how do you think she will feel to hear others call her adoption "a selfless act?" Ick.

  19. True that you can't tell the severity of a special needs child just by looking at them. I mean, look at my daughter. You would really have a hard time knowing just by looking at her that she has a chromosome deletion.

    I will pray that these people see the world through different eyes one day.


  20. I too get quite annoyed when people assume that individuals with special needs must "look disabled." I had a woman not believe that Daniel has hemi because, as she so eloquently put it, "he looks like a normal kid." Oops, I guess we've forgotten to tattoo the giant D on Max and Daniel's foreheads so that people can more easily tell that they have special needs.
    I agree with you that people who adopt children with special needs, knowing that they have those needs, are selfless people. I love Daniel with all my heart, and his diagnosis has made me love him neither no more nor no less. Although I would have prevented him from having hemi if I could, I can say with confidence that I have never regretted him. However, I will be honest - I didn't enlist in the world of special needs parenting. Rather, I was drafted into it by having a son who survived a stroke. The thought of someone intentionally assuming the role is truly awe - inspiring.

  21. Ladies, I really appriciate that you think I'm selfless for adopting children with special needs. However, I just another mom, like you. I just had a different path to motherhood. I was suprised by my oldest's need (CAH) as much as any birth parent would have been. With number 3, I knew he had been born with a bilateral cleft lip/palate, also knew there could be (but wasn't) attachment issues since he was 27-months. Again I was as surprized as any birth parent at the diagnosis of autism.

    My theory on parenthood --
    ~ some people are meant to be parents, others aren't
    ~ some people are meant to be parents of children by birth, others not
    ~ some people are meant to be parent by adoption (or marriage, or fostering, or ...) others not.
    ~ some people are meant to be parents of a child with special needs, others not.
    ~ some people are great parents, others not
    ~ all children deserve a family
    ~ family means different things to different people; that doesn't make one family better, just different

  22. I adopted a child that had special needs. I think in my case -in adopting a child with a problem- I was coming from a different place.

    When I make the doctor rounds and talk to parents as we wait to be seen; they are going over the trauma it was hearing what had happened, how it could have happened, how this has affected their lives, what could have been, there is so much of a sense of loss.

    For me, I knew my child had a good possibility of having problems. All I can think of is what would have happened if she had been left in the third world, and how wonderful that here in the US we can do so much to help and support her in her life.

    She is a wonderful child; I am so very blessed to be her mom. I have gotten back so much more then I have ever given this lovely child. My child has more to her (joy, guts, humor, bravery and enthusiasm for life) then any child "perfect" or otherwise I have ever met. It is a privilege to be her mom

  23. I love your blog, but I almost canceled my RSS feed after I read this post- and I've taken days before being able to respond thoughtfully. You really pushed a big button for me!

    Let me say, up front, that I like what I see of you in your blog, and I assume you have great intentions. Second, I am not selfless. At all. I am selfish, and whiny and I like long lie-ins and breakfast in bed as much as the next mommy.

    I have 2 daughters, 4 and 7. They are both beautiful, both adopted. They both have "special" needs - the 7 year old is gifted and needs a specially tailored education program and a lot of parental involvement to thrive academically. The 4 year old has Down's and a host of secondary medical issues. She has been through 5 surgeries and we have another one scheduled in January.

    I adore both of my daughters. I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoy them. They are funny and kind and beautiful. They are such good friends. Both of them were adopted through open adoption programs - we have contact with both birthmoms.

    We knew that our youngest had Down's as we were making the adoption plan with her birthmom. She had been diagnosed in utero. Having known some lovely people with Down's, and feeling a deep connection with her birthmom, we happily prepared for the arrival of our second daughter. There wasn't a lot of "choice" involved - we hadn't parented a child with Down's before. We didn't really know what we were getting into. But it wasn't "selfless" any more than your decision to become pregnant with your 2nd was selfless. We wanted that baby. We want this daughter. She brings - they both bring - so much more to our lives than I can possibly find the words for.

    How would you feel if someone looked at your beautiful boy and said "It was so selfless of you to keep him after the stroke!" Feel that punch in your gut? Yeah, that's how I feel whenever someone makes a similar comment about me and my kids. Somehow it was even harder hearing this from you, because I had felt safe here, in your writing, in your love for your kids. Now I feel gut punched.

    I am not putting my name on this, because it is just too raw. Please forgive the anonymous post. I don't mean to attack you, or hurt you in any way. I will respectfully request that you not air that line about "selfless" adoptive parents again in public. Please.


Thanks for sharing!

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