While still in the baby steps of adoption, we stumbled into the realm of special needs adoptions, specifically Down syndrome. Although our initial plan was to adopt domestically, we discovered the Bamboo Project (a program committed to finding families for children in China with Down syndrome). And when I saw our daughter’s photo, I knew she was ours. I knew we’d go to China for her.
Her file was crazy scary. Besides Down syndrome, she had huge medical concerns that seemed too big for us to handle. A heart condition. Possible Cerebral Palsy. Maybe seizures??? Open heart surgery was a necessity. Then doctors threw out even scarier things like questionable brain damage and conditions “incompatible with life”.
Despite it all, we knew she was ours and so we jumped into the chaotic world of international adoption. It was easy to feel overwhelmed, between the millionth form to fill out and the numerous medical record consults, all the while questioning if we could really do this. So we kept our focus on the task at hand and then the next step.
One of those steps eventually took us to China. And to her. She was timid at first, but reached for me. We got a few smiles out of her. But she was also very scared and sick. So sick, that we didn’t pass our first, second, third or fourth visa medical exam. We delayed our flights and waited it out and finally were cleared to go home.
Once home, we juggled attachment and weekly doctor evals, with jet lag and living out of boxes (because we moved just weeks before China… we like to cram all of our big life changes into one month).
Is this stressing you out? It feels all kinds of crazy as I write it out, but it wasn’t too hard to live. Because our community absolutely carried us through it all.
Our neighbors and friends and family came along side us every step of the way. They prayed for us and cried with us and pulled all-nighters before yard sale fundraisers. They were never deterred. For some reason, they kept showing up. Most of them have never adopted. They knew nothing about our child’s home country or her special need. They had no idea about “cocooning” and probably thought we were crazy, but they went along with it. After we were home, they came over with groceries and dinner and coffee. They took our older kids to the movies and pretended they don’t notice me wearing the same shirt for the 5th solid day. And man, do they LOVE our daughter.
And while our family and friends are the best anyone could ever wish for, most hadn’t adopted. In adoption, there’s a HARD that few people in our physical community understood. In my commitment to read every blog about China and Down syndrome, I ran across another Bamboo momma who’d been there, done that. She knew of several other Bamboo families and created a secret Facebook page to help us connect. These families were our lifeline. They knew exactly what name I was supposed to fill out on the 873rd adoption form. They understood the hard days of being half a world away from my baby. We celebrated homecomings, but the support didn’t end with gotcha day photos. When my daughter busted a tooth out on day 4 or recently went a 2 week stretch without sleeping, these are the people I went to. They understand the adoption trifecta; Is it institutional related? Down syndrome related? Or is she being 3? These people get it.
Now, we’re a year out from our big homecoming and our family and friends and virtual community keep showing up. So, I grab rare free moments and dig out the thank you cards to write these people. Of course, it will be another month before I actually mail them because stamps are dumb and I never have them and going to the post office is a whole… thing. But I need them to know how grateful we are for their support.
I cannot overstate the need for community, regardless of where you are in your adoption journey. Not sure where to start? Just share your story. Invite people to join in and they will.
Reach out to your neighbors, your church, your friends, your family. Use social media to fill in the gaps. Find people doing what you’re doing. And invite them ALL along for the ride. Here’s the awesome thing about your local and virtual communities…. you will start to see cross over. Your church group will toss out words like “dossier” and “LOA” and “cocooning” in regular conversation like a boss. One friend will ask all the adoption questions that ever existed and then will even take their very own leap into the world of adoption. They’ll say yes to a baby girl living a world away. And friendships that were born online will become real. They’ll mail you cookies and send you coffee. They’ll love you from afar until you can gather in the midwest and trade virtual hugs for real life hugs.
These people, this crazy, rag tag community that God pieced together? They are relationship GOLD. Adoption is hard. But if you ask people to join you, they will show up. They will carry you through the hard and celebrate the beauty.
PS. And, as for the Bamboo Project. We’re a pretty amazing group. If you’re interested in adopting a child with Down syndrome, let’s chat. There’s a new group of bamboo babies just waiting for families. It will be the best thing you ever do. And you get an awesome group of ready-made bamboo cousins. We promise to love you and encourage you. We will send you coffee and cookies. We will get together at least once a year to give hugs and play and then sit in the hallway and drink wine out of coffee mugs and laugh together. You need us. I promise.
– guest post by Kelley