You don’t know me, but if you’re a dad (or prospective dad) considering adopting a child with Down syndrome from China, I think I know you. I think I was you.
I know you worry about caring for a child with developmental disabilities and lifelong needs. I know you worry about health problems that are common with Down syndrome. You may worry about international adoption in general, the fact that we cannot really know what our children have been through before they come to us. I know you worry about the cost of adoption and the financial aspect of caring for a child with Ds. I know your wife is not worried at all and this worries you too.
These worries are not without foundation, and the decision to adopt a child with Ds is completely, deeply personal. But let me tell you what you may not (yet) know about adopting a child with Down syndrome.
You don’t know the love and joy with which my daughter positively pulses. She brightens our lives each day with her smiles and contagious laughter. Every single adult and child at the elementary school my daughter has attended for just one semester knows her and says hello to her in the hallway. The landscaper stops his mower to greet her by name when she passes. The principal cannot walk by her classroom without stopping to sit down with my daughter for her daily “happy therapy.” My girl is a boost of mood for everyone she sees. Each morning after she gets dressed and each night when I come home, she screams “Daddeeeeee” and sprints toward me for a bear hug.
You don’t know the meaning and importance of the “adaptive skills” which kids with DS are now known to possess in much greater measures than children with other developmental disabilities. I think these skills allowed her to leave behind, on a level greater than other adopted children, whatever her circumstances were in China, and bond with us very quickly after joining our family. This drives her wish to help others at every turn, whether by helping me load the dishwasher each night or giving her autistic brother a kiss on the head when he is melting down. I haven’t the slightest doubt that she will hold a job as an adult and be an even more productive member of society than she is now.
You don’t know that she has improved the lives of her siblings. Her brothers are much more aware of the gifts that each unique person possesses. They are more patient with others because of her, and they understand that different doesn’t have to mean less. Without even trying she gives them lessons on being joyful, kind and present. When she calls, her oldest brother will leave his video games without hesitation to jump on the trampoline or build puzzles with her. And he is always much happier with her than with anyone else he knows. You don’t know that they share a bond that is so beautiful and much deeper than we thought he was capable of sharing because of his autism.
You don’t know that the health problems associated with Down syndrome are increasingly treatable. My daughter is strong when she has her blood drawn and she is brave when facing a round of dental surgery. She loves to run, ride her bike and swim. She throws and bats a ball like the special Olympian she promises to be. She dances to the music no matter where she is, and her rhythmic moves inspire others to smile and join her.
You don’t know that she possesses a true talent for art and has the attention span to sit for hours working on her masterpieces. Her fine motor skills are on target for kids her age, so she independently colors, cuts and glues with abandon. Each creation is a labor of love, and she takes pride in sharing her work with her family, friends, and teachers.
You don’t know that she takes the greatest joy in the smallest of things. This morning, by pure coincidence and for the first time, the recycling truck arrived at the same time as her school bus, so we waited while the mechanical arm grabbed the bin and tipped it into the truck. She was mesmerized! As it finished this one job out of hundreds it would do that day, she leapt with glee and gave the driver an enthusiastic thumbs up and he cracked a huge smile as she squealed, “Good job!” She routinely congratulates me for passing someone on the interstate or making it through a yellow light. Changing a light bulb elicits not just applause but a trip to Mama to tell her how talented I am.
You don’t know that she spends most of her school time in a typical classroom. That she leads her typical classmates in games of her own design on the playground every single day. That she has one-on-one play dates with typical peers. When we are out in the neighborhood for groceries or ice cream her friends from school are delighted to see her, greet her by name and ask her to play.
You don’t know that she takes care of me, her older brothers, and her mother, as much as we take care of her. That yes, we have made a lifelong commitment to her, but she has also made one to us. I truly believe, when she is an adult, that she will check on her brothers, and make them dinner, and scold them for being messy, or for not calling their parents. I believe she will get married and I know she will be happy.
You don’t know the pride I feel when I carry her on my shoulders through crowded groups of people who inevitably see her because of her natural magnetism. You don’t know how angry I feel when others might not see her fully because of her disability. You don’t know how fiercely protective I have become of her precious spirit. You don’t know how she melts my heart with her unconditional love and affection. You don’t know that I love her as much as I love my biological kids. I love her as if she has always been mine.
You don’t know that we cannot now imagine life without Winnie. That she makes every day better by being ours. That she fills our empty moments with pure and unexpected joy. That we cannot wait to adopt her little sister, who also has Down syndrome, and is waiting for us in China.
Over 25% of children waiting in China have Down syndrome. You know you want to adopt one.
Chris lives with his wife Stephanie Gilbert and their three kids Pearson, Henry and Winnie in Austin, TX. Chris is an attorney specializing in credit card transactional law. Chris enjoys hiking, reading and doing the dishes.
If you want to know more about Chris and his family, you can follow his wife’s blog Mama on a Wire. Chris is occasionally a guest blogger there. His wife also moderates a private Down Syndrome Adoption forum on Facebook. Contact her through their blog to learn more.
— photos by Michelle Gardella