Adopting a child with special needs can be scary. And even scarier when that child has needs that just might require a lifetime of parental care.
This month we are hearing from those whose parenting journey has diverged from what most would think typical. They’re parenting children who require more than what many would believe doable. And they’re doing it in a way that we consider remarkable.
Join us this month as we hear from those parenting their special little ones For Life.
We’re a family just like any other. We don’t possess any super strengths or powers. We’re a bit quirky, silly and extremely imperfect. One thing we do seem to enjoy though is coloring outside the lines. We love a good adventure and we aren’t afraid of taking risks.
My husband and I have started referring to our current season of life as “Parenting: Round 2.” We’ve been married now for 15 years and have two biological children; ages 16 and 12. We spent some of our earlier years of marriage discussing what it would be like to be in our early 40’s and be “empty nesters.”
But as that season of life got closer and closer, our desires started to change. Our relationship with Jesus and the plans He has for our lives became paramount to the desires we had for ourselves. One of the areas that He really started to speak to us was by making us keenly aware of the orphan crisis throughout the world.
On May 9th, 2015, we began our China adoption process. Our medical condition checklist stated our hopes for a girl between 0-3 years old. We marked very few of the medical conditions, feeling we were truly only equipped for mild and correctable needs.
But through what can only be described as a supernatural dismantling of our own wants and desires, God carefully guided us towards adopting a child with Down Syndrome. When you begin to see the little faces that go along with the medical needs, emotions begin to change. No longer is it a textual description of medical symptoms or issues, but instead they become human flesh; living breathing children desperately needing a family to call their own.
For our family, it seemed we were persistently surrounded by stories and experiences of children with heart defects and Down Syndrome. As we progressed on our own adoption journey, anxiously waiting for a file of our own and constantly viewing shared lists of children, we became more open to those medical conditions that were harder to match. We had become aware that, until very recently, children with Down Syndrome in China were considered “unadoptable”. We learned that often the paperwork that would make them eligible for adoption was often not completed. So at a point in our process, my husband and I asked that question to each other – “what about Down Syndrome?”
Let me tell you – it was so unbelievably scary. We never thought we would ever speak about adopting a child with a lifelong need, this is something we did not have previous experience with.
Very often we hear “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I believe that socially, this is often taken a bit out of context and applied, situationally, in an incorrect manner. I believe that God often does, in fact, give us more than we ourselves can handle. Because after all, how in the world would we ever learn to lean on Him if we strictly rely on ourselves – our own might and strength? This is not where true growth happens, my friends.
For us, we were at a crossroads with our decision to adopt a child with Down Syndrome. On one path was comfort and security. The other path required us to abandon our own ideas on how our life should go, trust God, and step out in faith. Was there an absence of fear? Absolutely not… but sometimes in life you just gotta do it afraid!
On May 15, 2015, with every ounce of confidence, we added Down Syndrome to our Medical Condition Checklist. I remember telling Kevin, “If God doesn’t have this for us, He won’t send a child our way with DS.” Our hearts had amazing peace. A peace that can be described as a deep and settling knowledge that the decision we made was very much the road God had for us all along.
The very next day, I received a private message on Facebook from the Director of another agency asking us to look at their list of waiting children. I had been active in a Down Syndrome group on Facebook and she had seen some of my posts and inquiries. Her words “we have so many angels waiting who have Down Syndrome, but none of our families open to DS as a special need. If this is something put on your heart, please reach out to to our inquiry team to find out more.”
The next day we were looking at babies…one after another and all with an extra 21st chromosome. Each so very precious. And then “that lightning bolt” feeling. My husband was at work and I was at home but both of us were looking at the same page. We saw the face of a child so beautiful. We were looking at our daughter’s face.
People often ask, “How did you know she was your daughter?”
Trust me – you just know.
From that moment on nothing else mattered.
Not the fears of her life long need.
Not the fears of being totally inexperienced with Down Syndrome.
We just knew she was our daughter.
This was the girl whose face we had waited to see for over a year. I searched for her among the hundreds of faces and now here she was, staring back at us. A child so beautiful and so perfect in every way! I covered my face and cried right there!
My heart just knew…
Lizzy – her advocacy name – was with another agency. We knew we would need a miracle in order for us to get our hands on her file. We knew agencies do not typically share files with other agencies. However, this child has been waiting SO long and her file was just three days from going back to the shared list. Our agencies did everything in their power to share her file, and Lizzy became Mila as she entered our lives in September of 2016.
You see, there is a moment in our lives when something happens – when things change forever. For our family, our moment involved a beautiful three year old girl who once was called “orphan.” A little girl who was born with Down Syndrome in China. A little girl that is now called beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin.
As I look back today, 8 months with our Mila being home, I shudder to think what would be if we had stalled a few extra days! If we would have said “no way.” If we would have given into fear and uncertainty instead of putting our trust in Him. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought…we could have totally missed this.
We simply cannot imagine a life without Mila in it. This child has transformed each and every one of us so uniquely. She has not only touched our hearts, she has also changed our whole outlook on life. She has connected us with people whom we would never have connections with otherwise. She has opened the door for many amazing conversations with total strangers – almost everywhere we go. People are always so curious and we are always excited to share this God story!
I honestly cannot even think of what we were so afraid of. Sure, this is a lifelong need. There will be more doctor appointments and medical evaluations. We’re learning how to navigate the school systems and IEPs (individual education plans). We’re learning a lot about therapies, medical information, what life will look like in the coming years.
Is it like parenting our other “typical” children? Most of the time – and we expect some differences as she continues to grow and develop. But one thing is certain – she has a family that loves her and care for her. No matter what difficulties may lie ahead, they are minor compared to the thought of having to spend a life institutionalized.
This girl – oh so fun! She begins and ends her day with pure joy! I always tell people that “happy” is her default. She sees the world through a different lens and I am in awe as I watch her interact with others or play creatively on her own. I love seeing her mimic us in her pretend play.
She is the most content and happy child I have ever met in my whole entire life. She teaches us to be so very present in a moment and enjoy the smallest of things in life – as if they were the most important.
I love to observe her cuddle into daddy’s chest and kiss his scratchy face. I love when she pretends to play video games with her older brother, a huge grin on both faces. It is amazing to watch her brush and brush her sisters long hair with such a beautiful joy on her face, quietly speaking in her indiscernible chatter. She has altered our hearts and brought a new light into each one of our lives in such a unique way. She is absolutely amazing – I am so thankful God chose her for us!
If you are sensing this same pull toward Down Syndrome and your spouse is on the same page – I will encourage you not to wait too long, just say yes! Your child is out there waiting for you to say yes to Down Syndrome. Yes to a very brand new life!
This is our story, so please remember that yours may be slightly or significantly different from ours. The most important thing is to obey the One who calls.