‘I was scanning a blog when I saw his picture. My heart leaped. ‘Oh! There you are.’: After losing mother to drunk driver, woman adopts special needs son

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“October 18, 2014, at 8:36 p.m. is when it began. Most people would assume it started the day we submitted the application to adopt, but few know the real beginning was the day she was killed. We nervously submitted our application to adopt with the $250 application fee to our agency. Boy, was choosing an agency difficult. For every good review, you will find a negative one. For every referral in the adoption community, you will hear a stark warning against it. But we finally landed on an agency and we felt pretty settled with our decision. I am fairly certain I checked my email 300 times an hour for the next few days, anxiously awaiting a response!

Mother and daughter smiling at a concert
Courtesy of Jess Salonga

Finally, we got the email we were accepted! Ah, the feeling of relief and a realization this was going to happen! International adoption was where we were called. Initially, we wanted to adopt from a country in Africa, but the program was so unstable we sadly had to make the decision to pull out. With much prayer and consideration, we were now adopting from Haiti! In February of 2016, we began making payments. Lots of them. And we began months’ worth of work filling out questionnaires and forms, contacting social services, making and attending appointments, and preparing for home studies.

Growing up, adoption was always pretty normal for me. I had cousins who were adopted, both internationally and domestically. It was something I viewed as what our family did, and I knew one day I would follow suit… one day. My husband and I were blessed with two children and were newly pregnant with our third. One Saturday night, we had gone to dinner with friends, picked up our kids from their grandparents’, and were pulling into the garage when I got a phone call from my mom. I answered, ‘Hi Momma!’ It wasn’t my mom, it was her boyfriend.

Husband and wife smiling
Courtesy of Jess Salonga

Frantic, screaming, hyperventilating, and trying to tell me something. I couldn’t understand a word out of his mouth, and finally, the police officer got on the phone. He told me my mom had been in an accident and was being transported to the hospital and I needed to be there. Of course, I would be. I asked, ‘Is she okay?’ and the officer replied he wasn’t there when she left, and he asked me if I needed a police officer to come get me. I replied, ‘…No, I’m capable of driving.’ I went and grabbed my little (26-year-old) brother, and off we went to the hospital.

Hours later, we were pulled into a private waiting room and given the news. She went into cardiac arrest at the scene. She was hit by a drunk driver while walking across the street and she died instantly. We were motherless. One day in 2015, I was crying while reading through my mom’s dog-eared devotional and felt this heaviness. I knew in my heart the brokenness I feel with her absence is how hundreds of millions of children feel. Some, however, have never known otherwise. They have always been motherless. I am motherless, and I can change this for another child. So we began our adoption journey that night with research.

Husband and wife take a selfie at a movie theater
Courtesy of Jess Salonga

We decided on a ‘healthy’ child adoption, which means no special needs, no older children, and no siblings. We were okay with a heart defect because our daughter has one and we are confident handling it. We did not specify gender, but we started considering boy names. In October of 2016, I was scanning a blog advocating for a waiting child in Haiti. A ‘waiting child’ is a child with special needs, a sibling set, or an older child. This particular blog was written describing this little boy’s life before he was found and brought into the orphanage and life in the orphanage detailing his medical care.

As I scrolled, I came across photos of him and my heart leaped and said, ‘Oh! THERE YOU ARE!’ I sent my husband the blog without any other explanation and he felt the exact same way I did. We just saw our son. I reached out to the agency representing him and we decided to change the specifications in our home study to reflect his needs, just in case! At this time, this little boy was diagnosed with epilepsy and spastic quad cerebral palsy. I had no idea about either of those conditions, but I was set to learn.

Young boy sits in yellow chair holding a letterboard with an adoption announcement
Courtesy of Jess Salonga

On July 29th, 2019, Elijah David became Elijah Raanan. He was called motherless and fatherless, and now he is called son. He has three siblings who love him with every ounce of their being. Elijah has since been diagnosed with other conditions and the causes behind those are his story to tell. But, as a family, we have walked this special needs journey. We learn together, we cry together, we celebrate together, we pray together. Raanan means ‘redeemed,’ and this is just what has happened.

Four siblings smiling together
Courtesy of Jess Salonga

Without my mom’s death, we wouldn’t have this perfect little addition to our family. God redeemed her death and brought new life from it. He has restored my heart and bonded it with my miracle boy. Adoption isn’t easy. Every day there is a decision to be made to love one another. We have been actively a part of trauma-informed therapy because he has so much trauma from his childhood. He is not the child he was born, I am not the woman I was before that night, and we are navigating this together.

Mom and adoptive son standing together on a beach with palm trees
Courtesy of Jess Salonga

Elijah is non-mobile and in a wheelchair. He is non-verbal, though I believe him to be very communicative. He is full-care and diapered. He is absolute perfection. We are a family. I have four children. Three through the miracle of birth, and one through the miracle of adoption.”

Family of 6 standing in backyard with arms around each other and smiling
Courtesy of Jess Salonga

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jess Salonga of Phoenix, Arizona. You can follow her journey on her Instagram and on her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘Look at this little girl.’ She was born without hands, feet, or a mouth. We cried all the way through her file.’: Couple pursues special needs adoption, ‘She is truly remarkable’

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