Sunday, October 13, 2013
By Nikki Cochrane
I never thought that at 24-years-old I'd be a mother to seven children with special needs, but that is exactly where life has taken me. I live in India with my best friend and serve with Sarah’s Covenant Homes, an orphanage for abandoned children and young adults with special needs. I'm a foster mother to seven children aged five to 16 with a variety of diagnoses, including cerebral palsy, autism, blindness and HIV. I can’t imagine my life without these seven little people in it.
Leading up to my time in India, I worked at March of Dimes in Toronto in the Conductive Education program and did my Developmental Services Worker school placement in a Grade 1 class at the Bloorview School. I was able to see a life where children with special needs are children first—where they are loved and accepted and given the tools they need to thrive.
Here in India life is very different from what I experienced back home. My kids were all abandoned by their birth families. They were sent to a government orphanage as babies and many never left their beds. My five- and six-year-olds, whose only diagnosis is blindness, can't walk or talk due to the neglect they experienced in those formative years. My kids came under the care of Sarah’s Covenant Homes in 2009, and this July, we moved together as a family; the first real family they've ever had.
We do therapy on the balcony every morning, and we have seen huge strides. In the past week, with the help of a set of ankle-foot orthotics donated from America, one of my little guys stood all by himself for the first time. He can now stand for over three minutes and tries to high-five everyone who watches him. My little girl, Jasmine, who is blind, has learned how to feed herself and is no longer dependent at meals.
We don’t have fancy equipment. With no wheelchair for Molly, we improvise the best we can with chairs, using scarves as chest straps and pillows to keep her positioned properly.
Many Indians believe that people with disabilities are cursed, and so our kids aren’t widely accepted in their community. Lily, whose cerebral palsy makes speech difficult for her, and who is unable to walk independently, is very bright and would thrive in school. A school accepted her last year, but kicked her out shortly after. We are homeschooling her in the hopes that if we get her to a certain level, they will see her potential and be unable to say "No." I hate that anyone would not see the potential in my kids, because they are each so valuable and perfect.
Last week we took the kids to the park. Parks in our city are gated and the gates open at 5 p.m. Old men come to sit on benches and children and their parents flock to play on the equipment. Of course, none of it is at all accessible, but our kids have so much fun, and it is one of the only places with grass in the city, which our kids love to feel and smell.
I waited in line for the swings with my little girl, and finally it was our turn. Not wanting to sit her on the swing by herself, as she may fall, I sat down and put her on my lap and began to swing. She threw her head back in joyful laughter, which was stopped short when the park "watchwoman" stormed over and demanded that we take our group and leave.
I ignored her and kept swinging. She yelled again. She reached out to grab the swing to hold it still, pointing to the street. Not knowing the words in Telugu that I wanted to tell her, I began arguing in English, telling her that my children have just as much right as any other child to be here and to play. Some parents stepped in. Some on her side, pointing to the street, and others on my side, translating what I was saying. Eventually, she waved her stick at me in a threatening manner and then went back to her seat, glaring. We kept swinging, and the laughter continued. My babies got a chance to be kids and to have fun that day, but nothing is without hurdles here in India.
My kids are loved now. I love them as I’ve never loved anyone else. They get warm baths at night. We dress them in their pajamas, pray together, and cuddle in bed. They are available for adoption, and I pray for mothers and fathers for them—parents who can give them more than I can, and who live in a country where they'll be accepted.
Every night we read the story “I Love You Through and Through.” I know it by heart now and the kids laugh when it comes to the part where we pretend to eat their fingers and toes. They fall asleep in our bedroom, where we cuddle with all the beds pushed together, and they wake up safe in our arms. My kids may not have the equipment they need, or the ideal therapies, or even the ability to go to school, but for the first time in their lives, they are loved in a family. We are working on everything else, but I am so grateful for where they are now.
Please read more about my life as a mama to my kids at my blog One Tiny Starfish.
You can sponsor a child at Sarah's Covenant Homes.