Please Don't Call Me A 'Saint' For Adopting A Child With Disabilities

by Crystal Kupper for The Mighty
Crystal Kupper

“Wait, you mean you knew? And you still went through with it?”

I shifted uncomfortably in front of this new friend. “Well, wouldn’t you still ‘go through with it’ if it were your daughter?”

The woman just stared at me, mouth slightly open.

Wait for it, I told myself. Here it comes…

She took a deep breath and delivered, like a hundred others have in the last nine months: “You and your husband are just saints!”

The woman’s second question referred to our adoption of Guyana, a 5-year-old beauty from Armenia. Guyana was born with spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and congenital scoliosis, along with a few other surprises (like her body creates almost no growth hormones, meaning at nearly 6 years old she is the same size her sturdy brothers were at 15 months). She can’t stand or walk and requires full-time medical care.

My husband Nick and I are young, educated, middle-class, well-traveled, and have a lot of opportunities ahead of us. As an Air Force family, we rarely live around family, move a lot, and occasionally deal with months-long deployments and more frequent trips where Nick is gone for weeks. We both enjoy long-distance racing and being very active (Nick dreams of competing in American Ninja Warrior someday!). Furthermore, the adoption emptied our savings and then some. Not to mention we were already pretty dang busy with our three small children ages 3 to 8 before adding our new chatterbox to the mix, fully aware of her many physical conditions and the lifetime commitment they might entail.

These facts added together mean we get a lot of flat-out disbelief and undeserved adulation when people hear our story. People just can’t get over that we actively chose and paid for this life. I should be used to it by now; I watched my own parents receive praises upon praises when they adopted my sisters.

But I’m not. And here’s why.

Let’s start with the obvious: Nick and I are human with plenty of flaws. We fight over how to discipline the kids. We sometimes yell when we lose our tempers. We forget to obtain a referral from our insurance before taking Guyana to a specialist. Her cuteness doesn’t always compensate for our impatience. We don’t speak Armenian, had never adopted before, and really were/are spina bifida rookies.

But beyond that, we were terrified — at multiple points — to adopt Guyana.

From the beginning, Nick and I both knew deep within our souls that, just as we were made for each other, Guyana was supposed to be in our family. But that doesn’t mean it all came easy.

So yeah, we have felt the fear, not of being unprepared (because every parent both biological and adoptive is!) or of what Guyana’s medical conditions may bring, but because we were afraid we weren’t good enough for her.

Crystal Kupper

The truth is that we are screwed-up, messed-up, flawed bits of beautiful humanity. All of us are. Nick and I just happened to say yes while feeling every ounce of fear possible. We kept moving forward, kept trying, kept learning, kept improving because we knew caving in and hiding would haunt us far more than any other mistake we could have made with Guyana.

And everyone who has told us we’re saints — that they could never do what we did — could do the same. Because when people put us on a pedestal for adopting a child with disabilities, they really are giving themselves a pass. In essence, they are excusing themselves from taking the hard route: “Well, only saints like Nick and Crystal adopt, and since I’m no saint, I guess that means I don’t have to/can’t!”

And therein lies the worst rub: By calling us saints, people are actually slamming the doors on their own potential — and any child who could one day bless them more than they ever thought possible.