SHUT YOUR MOUTH
We had a striking revelation the other day.
When we began talking about our adoption roadmap, we had decided we would start the process when we turned thirty-five years old because women who get pregnant after thirty-five statistically have a 1 in 400 chance of having a child with Down syndrome.
And then, by some comical, cosmic twist we found ourselves head-over-heels for a little girl in China with Down syndrome. It’s easy to sit from my position now, a year and half since coming home with our daughter, and shake my head and chuckle at ourselves back then.
What were we so afraid of? That we couldn’t love a child with Down syndrome? That we couldn’t care for a child with Down syndrome?
I mean, maybe. Yes.
Those were some of the fears? Most people with Ds will live with a family member their whole lives. Were we prepared for this? Was it even possible or realistic to try and prepare for the needs of a person with Down syndrome (or any other categorically “special” need, for that matter)? Who can know that kind of thing with certainty, really?
After some wrestling, we realized we would have all the same questions with a biological child as with an adopted child with this diagnosis. And with that shot of courage, we were moving forward with our basket of questions and fears tucked away neatly in a closet of faith.
The next step for us was to loop our kids into the plan. How would they take it? Would they even be able to process it? At the time, they were 11, 6, and 5 years old. We talked with some people in our circles who are helpful when trying to gain perspective. More often than I anticipated, the question was raised, “What is this gonna do to your kids?”
What does that even mean!?
What is it gonna do to my kids!?
I was perturbed by this inference; indignant even, as if to suggest having a child with a special need was detrimental to my normal kids. This seemed too kin to the ideology of a dictator when justifying the exile, slavery, and annihilation of a group of people; the idea that special kids make life less-than for normal kids… Ugh…
You shut your mouth.
But it was too late. I couldn’t stop their voices from getting in my head. Words don’t just get erased. The brain is not a hard drive. Some things just stick around, especially when mixed with such a strong emotion as occupies the space in your heart where your kids are concerned.
Our only response to these comments was, “Well, we hope that it makes them more compassionate, more loving, and more understanding of others whose needs are different than their own.”
Now a year and a half later, I thought it’d be cool to hear from our kids and see where they stand on the matter.
This weekend I got to go skiing and paint-balling with my oldest son, who is now thirteen. We sat at Chipotle and I got to ask him a few questions.
The section below is an excerpt from my interview with my oldest son about the impact of bringing a little girl with Down syndrome into our family. I hope this is an encouragement to those of you who are considering special needs adoption and the impact it can have on your family.
Me: When we talked to you about our plan to adopt this little girl with Down syndrome, what were your initial concerns or fears?
Eli: In the beginning, I was concerned with her health. Was her heart going to be okay? Was she going to have a long life? Where will she live when she’s older? After that, I realized she was probably gonna need lots of help; help with eating, drinking, walking. I guess I kinda thought that was gonna be the norm forever. But she quickly learned to do all these things on her own.
I think people are scared because they don’t know. They don’t know how much love, how much joy they can bring. They don’t think they can do it. But it’s not that hard. It’s not really much different than the other kids. A lot of people are scared of a diagnosis of Ds. But there’s nothing to be scared of. I think people are scared of this diagnosis until they know someone with Ds.
Everything that seemed normal before seems strange now. And now everything we do feels normal. I like our new normal.
Me: How has this affected you and the other kids?
Eli: It’s made all of us more responsible. We are more aware that kids have needs that are greater than hers, or maybe are even the same needs as hers but don’t have anyone to take care of them. It’s opened our eyes to bigger things. Our compassion has grown. I can connect to people with Down syndrome better than I would have otherwise. And I’m able to talk more with those in need.
Then he asked me a question.
Dad, what things surprised you?
Me: I think early on we probably assumed by choosing to move forward in adopting this little girl with Down syndrome it would teach us all to be more compassionate, more patient. But something caught us by surprise. Our daughter has this level of love and joy we don’t have, or we kind of resist. I think we have the capacity to love at that level or to have joy at that level, but for whatever reason, we get close to it or we start to cross the threshold and we hit the brakes.
But not her. She just loves. Her joy is uninhibited; which makes me want to be uninhibited. This was one of those surprising things I wasn’t anticipating. Every child has something special and unique they bring to the family but for us this has been a huge, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting this,” moment for us.
PICTURES OF GOD
God is so much bigger than any one of us. So much so it takes all of humanity to begin to paint a good picture of his character, his nature. For a long time I thought people with special needs were simply not formed properly. It’s barbaric for me to even consider this now. But I had a hard time reconciling this understanding with the truth of the bible that we were each knit together perfectly by God’s hand. So a person who falls into “typical” categories and someone in “special” categories were knit together with the same mastery and perfection. There is no difference.
People with special needs are able to show a part of God’s character better than those of us in the “typical” category might be able to do. I might be stronger physically than my little girl will ever be. Physical strength is a characteristic of God that I can show with much more clarity than she might. But love and joy… she has the ability to show this part of God’s character in a way that I never will.