Gretchen Kirby is a mother to four children, three of whom were adopted from foster care with complex medical issues. Here, Gretchen shares why adopting chronically ill children is so important to her and discusses how the centralized care provided by Children’s Hospital Boston helps her keep her “fearsome threesome” on the move.
Growing up in a large family, I always knew I wanted to have lots of children one day. My brothers and sisters and I shared so much as kids that even as a little girl I knew I would want the same for my own children. But life doesn’t always go as planned. Over the years I’ve earned degrees, worked, lived, loved and had a child, but never found the right person to help start the big family I always envisioned for myself. Eventually I decided to follow my heart and build my family through foster adoption.
After my home study on the process was complete I came across the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange, and immediately fell in love with a picture of adorable twin infants. As I sat there looking closely at their chubby cheeks I noticed they each had tracheostomy tubes nestled under their chins. Having worked with kids with special needs before, I knew what the trachs meant: countless doctor visits and a gigantic time commitment for home care. I also knew that I wanted to do everything I could for these children.
When I first met my would-be children, Adrien was shy; she seemed so leery of new people, possibly because she had already been through so much in her young life. It took some trying, but after a game of peek-a-boo in my arms she smiled broadly, letting me know I had earned her trust. Her brother Tavish on the other hand was instantly accepting. At the end of our meeting, as they lay in my arms looking up at me, I knew I had found the rest of my family. That is to say, we had found each other.
Adrien and Tavish moved in with me when they were just 11 months old. Not too long after their younger biological sister was born. Given my strong belief in the importance of family, it wasn’t long before I adopted Keva as well. Like her older brother and sister, Keva was born prematurely and very small; at birth she weighed only 4 lbs. As a result of their early births and tiny size, all three of my adoptive children have a host of medical issues that require extensive care. The four of us visit Children’s Hospital Boston as often as three times a week, visiting specialists in many different fields like Orthopedics, Pulmonary and Neurology, to name a few.
Adrien, Tavish and Keva all have chronic lung disease so Children’s Pulmonary Clinic treats them for asthma-like conditions and central apnea. In addition, all three have gastroesophageal reflux disease, so we spend a good deal of time seeing specialists in Children’s Gastrointestinal Program as well. Because they were so small during their initial growing phases, Children’s orthopedic clinic treats each child for challenges related to decreased muscle tone, irregular muscle control and cerebral palsy.
Having so much of our specialty treatment located in one hospital allows for better coordination between all the different clinics they visit regularly. For instance, Keva recently visited Children’s for metabolic concerns, but her clinician was able to add scans of her brainstem to look at possible reasons for her continuing sleep apnea. He also co-scheduled a test to determine if this apnea was having negative effects on her heart. Knowing that Children’s staff is so familiar with my family and their communal medical history is a great source of comfort. I trust the doctors to communicate with each other and adjust treatment for all my kids in a proactive way that allows us to spend more time as a family having fun, not just sitting in doctors’ offices and waiting rooms.
Adopting children with so many medical needs has been a journey laden with challenges and celebrations. From hospitalizations to family trips, we’ve done it all, and it’s been the most gratifying experience of my life. I hope that my children will have the opportunity to learn the many lessons I was taught living in a large family and I encourage anyone who has the resources, energy and love to consider adopting a child with medical issues. Not everyone will be able to accept the challenges these type of adoptions present, but for those who are ready to make the commitment, it can be the greatest thing that happens to both the child and your family.
For more from writing from Gretchen, detailing life with her family, check out her blog.