Jenny Zetterman hopes that, one day, other families will look at her family and think, “You know what? Nothing should keep us from adopting a special needs child.” Because that’s exactly what Jenny and her husband, Andrew, thought when the opportunity found them.
The Zettermans, who recently moved out to Elkhorn (where their girls will attend Spring Ridge Elementary), adopted their youngest, Annalyse, when she was just 5 weeks old. She had been diagnosed with spina bifada and hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid in the brain) and was determined paralyzed from the waist down.
“I was able to go before the rest of the family and stay in the NICU with her for four days while the nurses and doctors gave me information on spina bifada,” Jenny says. “This was extremely helpful because we knew very little about spina bifada. We had two days between finding out about her and flying to go be with her, so we didn’t have time to research while packing and preparing for a baby.”
Life for the Zettermans before Annalyse was fairly typical, although they had adopted once before with daughter McKenna, 8. Nevertheless, Jenny reflects back on that time, referring to it as “the easy years” of parenting. “All three girls were pretty independent…They hadn’t hit pre-teen years, so they still thought their parents were the best people in the world.”
Of course, McKenna, Kaedyn, 7, and Brea, 5, were thrilled to be adding a little sister to their family. “They had a few questions about her diagnosis, but overall, they were just excited to meet her,” Jenny says. “They had to wait about a week after I met her to join me so they wouldn’t miss too much school. I’m sure that wait was very hard for them.” Fortunately, Jenny used the iPhone “Facetime” capability to call home and let her girls see the new baby from the NICU.
According to Jenny, the family dynamic hasn’t changed much since they adopted Annalyse. The only difference? The older sisters love helping out with their little sister and teaching her new things. “Annalyse is just another member of the family…We have a lot more doctor’s appointments and live life around a baby’s schedule again, but that’s about it. I think you just adjust to whatever you have to adjust to.”
Jenny and Andrew’s 13-year marriage has also kept the family solid. “We have a strong commitment to our marriage. I believe our kids can see that and take comfort in it.”
Looking back on the adoption process, Jenny shakes her head. “We went into it knowing that we could be adopting a child with a special need,” she explains. “One thing we did say was that we would consider many different types of needs, but not one that required a wheelchair [because] our house wouldn’t allow for this type of need, and we had just moved in. It seems so silly to us now that we ever uttered those words—‘just not a wheelchair.’”
Jenny believes too many people, including parents, get too caught up on inconveniences in their own lives that they forget to think about what other people are dealing with or will have to deal with in their lives. “I am so thankful that we ended up letting go of our reservations,” she adds. “We all are capable of so much more than we think we are.”
As for Annalyse, Jenny stresses that she’s a fantastic child. “She’s not blessed to have us; we’re blessed beyond measure to have her in our family. She’s not our ‘special needs daughter;’ she’s just, plain and simple, our daughter.”