I always knew I would adopt from China. From a very young age, I remember being drawn to families who had done so, and having a very strong intuition that one day that would be my journey too.
When Chris and I married, we were very young. I was just shy of my 23rd birthday and we had so many plans. Before we really knew what we were doing, we had two biological boys and we were insanely busy with Chris’ demanding work schedule and boys that were more complicated than most. Our oldest was 3 when we began to suspect that he might be on the Autism Spectrum, and our youngest was unbelievably bright and precocious with severe sensory processing needs.
It was at that same crazy busy time that we had completed our home study and were hoping to start the process to adopt from China. Of course, we wanted a girl who was as young as possible and as healthy as possible. When we learned that the wait times were increasing to 4 and 5 years for those precious girls, and we considered all that we had going on at home, we put those treasured adoption plans aside and decided to focus on our boys’ therapy and on Chris’ career.
Of course that longing of mine to adopt never went away, and 7 whole years later I was still (basically) begging my sweet husband to revisit those plans. A lot had changed for us though, and we had very different and more realistic expectations about children and parenting. Chris really didn’t want to adopt at all. After the hard work we had put in with both of our boys, we had gotten to a place where parenting had become “easy.” They were both in elementary school all day long. Chris’ career had progressed to a point where I was able to stay home full time. We finally had the freedom to hire babysitters and take kid free vacations. And (other moms will get this…) I could go to the pool and read a book on my lounge chair and not worry that they would drown.
I didn’t care about all of those things. I knew that I would forever regret a decision not to adopt, and fortunately my sweet husband understood that too. So when I went back to start my research on the process again, I learned that many things had changed. There were scores of older children with special needs waiting for families. Some of them had been waiting for years. I also noticed that children with Down syndrome were now being listed! Years before (without Chris knowing) I had asked about adopting a child with Down syndrome from China. There weren’t any available. At that point, China felt like children with Ds weren’t desirable, and therefore did not spend their time and energy preparing their files. Those children were aging out and spending their lives in government run institutions meant for the very sick and elderly. But little by little, over the course of the last few years, families had been adopting these precious kids, and China began to change their practices. Many of these children are available now.
One little girl instantly had my heart. The minute I saw her photo, I knew she was my child. I sent her photo to the priest who had been counseling Chris and I about this decision. She immediately called me back and said “This is the part where we pray,” and she continued to pray the most beautiful and fervent prayer I had ever heard. At the end of that phone call I knew this child was our girl.
That afternoon I showed Chris her picture and he agreed. We had to go get her. I was thrilled, and so struck by the fact that in over 7 years time we had gone from wanting to adopt a child who was as young and as healthy as possible to knowing that this 5 year old girl with Down syndrome was our daughter.
Within that peace, there were still so many unknowns… Was she verbal? Was she able to care for her own basic needs? Had she been mistreated during her first 5 years of life? Would her transition to us be more painful because she was older? And our friends were thinking, Why would you want to make your life more difficult?
We have been home with our daughter one year this week. Those worries are such a distant memory that I almost can’t believe they were real. Our journey to our daughter Winnie, and the year that we have spent with her, have changed every single fiber of our lives in the most positive ways. Chris and I loved her from the second we met her. She was scared and grieving in China, but we already knew that we would move mountains for this brave, vibrant and magical little girl.
What I didn’t know is that I would become consumed with passion about helping orphans with Down syndrome find their forever families. We were fortunate enough to be able to visit Winnie’s orphanage and spend some time with her beloved foster family. We even ran into her sweet foster sister, who also has Down syndrome, in the hallway. Her sister saw her that one last time, ran over to Winnie and picked her up off the ground in a giant bear hug. That sweet moment between these sisters is such a metaphor for how these amazing children live their lives. (Winnie’s wonderful sister is 11 years old and still waiting for her file to be prepared.) That day was so difficult, but that day, and the amazing year we have spent with our daughter, has inspired me to work hard on behalf of the children with Down syndrome who wait.
I think our story is typical of those families who are considering a child with Down syndrome. The worries are real, and can be too consuming for prospective parents to consider these precious children. I am here to urge those parents on the ledge, to take the leap. Any adoption is a huge leap of faith. Adopting a child with Down syndrome may seem like a bigger leap, especially to many reluctant husbands. A year later, my husband and I would both urge you to jump into this journey with both feet first and race to your son or daughter. You really cannot get there soon enough.
In the last year Winnie has given us so much more than we could have ever given her. She loves so unconditionally. Her hugs can make the worst day just melt away. She faces new challenges with such courage, that she will inspire you to fight your own battles with bravery too. She has brought so much levity into our family, and her brothers adore her in a way that I didn’t know was possible. She shares an extraordinary bond with our boy with Autism, and they give each other more than any therapist could ever give them.
Her laughter is absolute sunshine and she always finds a reason to dance to the music. Winnie has brought our focus back to the most important things in life, and we are so fortunate to have her laughter as our family soundtrack. I can truly say without any hesitancy whatsoever, that our daughter is absolutely a dream come true.