“In November of 2017, I was contacted by a friend of A.J.’s biological mother. She was telling me how a mother was struggling with drug addiction, and she had left her child at her house the day before. No one knew what to do with her. They asked if I would come and get the child. This was an hour from my house. I called my husband and told him I was going to pick the girl up. He responded with, ‘Babe, do what you think is best, just don’t go to jail.’ I hung up with him and called the biological mother so she would know what was going on and so I didn’t get into any legal trouble. I told her I was going to pick A.J. up and she thanked me. I told her I would help as much as I could. She was young and her pregnancy had been unplanned. I knew that she was struggling and having a special needs child added to it.
We knew A.J.’s biological mother because she had been a lifelong friend of my two grown kids and had dated my son in grade school. She asked me if I would care for A.J. while she got the help she needed. We had met A.J. several times before and had already fallen in love with her. She was just 7 months old and had already beaten the odds.
You see, A.J. was born at 34 weeks with Gastroschisis. She spent the first 4 months of her life in the NICU. She was sent home on a feeding tube since she could not suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time. We did not hesitate in our decision when I told her mother ‘yes.’ We knew it would only be until she got the help she needed and got on her feet.
Our children loved A.J. from day one. My oldest, Morgan, who was still at home, helped me in every way she could. My youngest, Baby Rae, was curious and had a million questions. We knew A.J. had been a special little girl so I set out to find out all I could to help her live her best life. I set up every appointment possible and with each doctor, I learned more and more. AJ had severe brain damage and her brain was underdeveloped. There is no name for her condition because it’s a rare disorder. We did know that she had Cerebral Palsy and needed lots of therapy but even more than that, she needed love and understanding.
During this time, her mother would come to visit and at times message me. We could see her mother was getting worse and she seemed to be ‘letting go’ of A.J. slowly. At this point, we had A.J. for months and our bonds with her were growing stronger as time went by. It was very overwhelming and at times, I questioned if I was making the right choice in taking care of this sweet little girl.
In July of 2018, I woke to a message from a mutual friend of mine and A.J.’s mother. The message read, ‘She’s gone, she’s really gone.’ My heart sank reading this and the worst things entered my mind. I started calling and texting everyone. No one was responding. Finally, an hour later, I got the phone call that would change our lives forever. It was A.J.’s grandfather and the words still play in my mind daily: ‘Kris, this is A.J.’s grandfather. Her mother was found deceased this morning.’ My heart was broken and I had so many feelings. I was angry and scared. What would happen to A.J.? Would they take her from us? My kids were already in love with A.J. They had finally adjusted to having her around.
Well, a few days later A.J.’s grandparents asked us if we wanted to keep A.J. The two of them said they felt like A.J.’s mother would want her to stay where she left her. It was at this moment, I knew our lives would never be the same. What was temporary became permanent in seconds. My husband and I talked to our children. We asked, ‘How would y’all feel if A.J. stayed with us forever?’ The girls, Morgan and Baby Rae, were excited. They were eager to learn all they could about A.J.
Morgan, being older, understood that A.J. was ‘special needs.’ She would go with me to long appointments and listen to all the doctors had to say. Baby Rae, being younger, did not quite understand. She would often ask questions like, ‘Mom, why can’t she talk? Mom, why doesn’t she walk? Mom, will she ever?’ We would answer as well as we could and just move on. I would include the girls in all the decisions for A.J., from colors of equipment to the clothes we dress her in.
Baby Rae started to get close to A.J. She would lay with her on the floor and play for hours. Sometimes I leave the room and come back to A.J. missing. I’ll go looking and Baby Rae will have her in her room playing with her. It’s as if Baby Rae knows what A.J doesn’t say. The two girls’ bond is like I have never seen. Baby Rae doesn’t see A.J as ‘different,’ she just sees her baby sister.
I’ll never forget, there was a program at Baby Rae’s school and we were standing in line. An older man and his wife were in front of us. The two of them spotted A.J. in her wheelchair and started asking questions. We LOVE when we can educate others on just how special our little girl is, so I answered their questions. Then, like out of left field, the man asked the most heartbreaking question ever. ‘Ma’am,’ he said, ‘will she ever be normal?’ I was fighting back tears, trying to find my words when my then 5-year-old little girl, whom I thought didn’t understand, put her hand on her hip, looked that man straight in the eye and asked, ‘Sir, are you normal?’ The man responded ‘Well, yes, little lady, I am!’ With a smile on her face and more sass than I had ever seen, she said, ‘WELL I PRAY MY SISTER IS NEVER NORMAL LIKE YOU!!’ I was standing, lost in my head, and the man’s wife says, ‘Your child is rude.’ Choking back tears, I finally find my voice and as nicely as I could I respond, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’ I looked at my 5-year-old baby in the eyes and told her how proud I am of her. I let her know she can always stand up for her sister. Then I told her some people don’t understand what they don’t know. She reached up and hugged me, then climbed on AJ.’s wheelchair and gave her a big kiss and said, ‘A.J., you are normal.’ At that moment, I realized Baby Rae and A.J. had a special bond no one will ever break.
We have had A.J. a little over 2 years now, and I do not think any of us could imagine life without her. There are days we feel like giving up. But in our world, giving up is not an option. I know my older girls get frustrated sometimes with all we have to do for A.J. and we just make sure we take time for them. We make sure they know we love them and we’re proud of them. Without them, we would be lost.
A.J. has made such an impact on our entire family. Baby Rae has learned even if someone is not ‘your normal,’ you can still love them just the same. Morgan has decided she wants a career where she can work with special needs kids. Morgan will start college to be an OTA next fall. My niece has decided to become a CNA and help others. My husband, David, and I have learned patience, unconditional love, and being imperfect is perfectly okay.
You see, we did not set out to adopt A.J. We did not seek out a ‘special needs’ child. We truly believe in our hearts God had a plan all along. We may never know why this all happened. But I do know that we will keep learning. We will keep loving and we will never give up on A.J. I know, no matter what happens in life, A.J will always have Baby Rae as a best friend. They are always side-by-side. Baby Rae even asked for matching clothes. I’m truly blessed and my life has never felt more complete.
We will continue to push forward and work our hardest to help our special girl overcome the odds stacked against her. We will keep nurturing the bond Baby Rae and A.J have. We will help Morgan succeed and reach the top, working with special needs kids. Most of all, we will thank God for the gift of A.J and love her through all that comes her way.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kris Whiddon from New Caney, Texas. You can follow A.J.’s journey on Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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