Parenting and Special Needs: Why Me?

Illustration of woman feeding a bottle to a baby at night
Marta Antelo

I saw them at the grocery store, at schools, at parks and at restaurants—parents of children with special needs. I tried not to stare, but they were difficult to ignore. They patiently waited for children with leg braces to take awkward steps. They lovingly guided grown children through crowds. They communicated with sign language and laminated pictures.

These families had always made me uncomfortable. I knew I could never be the mother of a child with special needs. I lacked the patience and the determination. The confidence. Clearly, God gave these children to special parents, and I was not one of them.

So while my 2-year-old received her new sister with hugs and songs, our baby's diagnosis of Down syndrome threatened to defeat me. I feared my life would be ruined, my family's future defined by limitations. Why me?

Late at night, while pumping milk for a baby with muscles too weak to nurse, I cried out in defiance to God: "I offered You my life, but I never expected this! I cannot do this!" Once the bottle was full, I picked up Nichole and stared into her face. I could not find my baby. All I saw was Down syndrome. All I saw was brokenness.

During those weeks of grief, God pressed me to examine the things I'd always thought to be valuable. Intelligence, ability, success — I'd always treasured these things. But do they matter as much as the unconditional love that God shows us? I began to recognize that my heart was the real problem. Nichole was not broken. I was.

I realized then that God did not give special children to special parents. He gave them to ordinary, sinful individuals like me. And whatever qualities I lacked, God would develop in me if I allowed Him to do so.

Not alone

Having a child with Down syndrome opened my eyes to the tight-knit community in our town that surrounded parents of children with special needs. I started to connect with these other parents. I appreciated their openness and willingness to come alongside me. And I was comforted to hear that they'd had feelings much like my own. They gave me hope, showing me how God had transformed their hearts through their children.

God is using Nichole to change my heart, too. She's now 3 years old, and she's already taught me so much about celebrating life — the beauty of cheering for others, the power of dance. She has taught me that a child's praiseworthy performances in life are found not only on a basketball court or a stage, but also in the living room stacking blocks, walking without assistance or in saying, "Crackers, please."

Nichole holds nothing back; she radiates joy. I see it as she tries to sing along and dance at church, raising her arms to the God who gave her life. Her worship seems so honest. God must surely be pleased with His sweet creation, and that thought brings me to tears.

Nichole's beautiful life led my husband and me to adopt Nina, a little girl with cerebral palsy. And although I am a different person today, I am still a work in progress. I can become impatient when my girls need extra time to accomplish a simple task; I become frustrated when communication is limited; and I often get worn out from the physical strength it takes to care for Nina. But through my girls, God continues to show me the world in a light I would not have recognized before.

There was a time when I said, "I could never do that." Now I do it every day — some days because I have to, and other days because there isn't anything I would rather do.

© 2011 Focus on the Family.