Not even death itself is going to come between us.”
When we started the adoption process, we were not even considering Down syndrome. It was too scary. In fact, the irony of it, is we decided our cut-off for having bio kids was age 35 because of the increased risk of having a child with Ds. Then, as simply as turning a page, all our hearts could think about were children with Down syndrome. We had lots of questions, with answers we largely had to find on our own.
Until we found our tribe. The scariest part of taking a leap of faith is actually not the leap. It’s the not-knowing-what’s-at-the-bottom part. We all want to see what God is asking us to jump into but sometimes that water is dark, sometimes it’s swift and we can’t see its course.
My wife and I love to backpack. If you’ve ever been on a mountain trail, you know sometimes the path can become narrow and hard to follow. It’s good to have spotters on the trail ahead of you, especially when things get a bit more treacherous; someone just a few steps ahead who can relay valuable info to you to keep you safe and moving forward.
If you can find this in your process of adoption, it will be invaluable. And if fortune befalls you, some of these people will become your tribe. You need them. And not just for the process of getting you to your child and back home again. You need them when your child won’t eat or won’t sleep or starts acting out or has a rough week. You need them to celebrate the little wins as well. Because parents of typical, biological children don’t always understand your excitement over your four year old sleeping through the night.
Adoption is unique. It’s unlike any other parenting you’ll do. And when you add a child with special needs, the challenges increase. Sites like this one exist to give you encouragement and hope. But articles like this are only a step in the right direction. You need someone you can talk to. And if you’re lucky enough, you need someone you can put your arms around when it gets hard, someone you can look at face-to-face. You need a tribe.
Seth Godin, the entrepreneur, blogger, and best-selling author, has written about this idea of tribes. He says, “For [ages], human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
And that’s what makes my tribe unique. When the Bamboo Project started, there weren’t any books on adopting children with Down syndrome from China. Still aren’t. A quick search on Amazon for “Down syndrome adoption China” shows three results; two of them are fiction books about orphans who decided to escape the orphanage and live on the streets, and one about adoption statistics. Not super helpful, unless of course you like fiction and stats, then I guess… you’re welcome? The most helpful were the handful of blogs from the families who were in the process ahead of us. These people were how our tribe started. We were small and some of us pretty green, but our tribe is growing and with it, our resources.
There are now more than twenty Bamboo families who’ve walked the process and brought their children home. Twenty living legends, battle-tested, real-life experts on adopting a child from China with Down syndrome. I know, twenty doesn’t seem like much when you consider the tens of thousands of kids with Ds in China alone who don’t have a family. But these twenty families have become our tribe. We’re a community. We are a tribe.
“A group needs only two things to be a tribe:
a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
We just wrapped up our 2nd annual Bamboo Reunion with seven of the twenty families taking over a retreat center in Williamsburg, VA for a couple days followed by a few more days with three of those families at our house (which, by the way, is in the midst of a total kitchen renovation). Sounds a little crazy, right? But it wasn’t. None of it was crazy. Not the retreat center. Not even the time together at our house. It was enlivening, supportive, enriching. It kinda blew my mind. But it’s just the nature of a tribe. Mutual understanding. It’s what allows fifty-something people to hang out in a room together and just get each other.
Our friend Desiree said it beautifully, “We BBQ’d and passed kids around, someone did the dishes while someone else did laundry. One momma helped a little one clean up after a potty accident while a daddy helped form light sabers for the boys outside. There were air mattresses and camping gear and lots of bare feet running through the kitchen snagging whatever open Gatorade was nearest. There is a beautiful confidence that comes with knowing you are loved.”
Your tribe doesn’t have to be big. Ours was small at first. Regardless of size, the number one thing you can do is commit to each other. Commit to pray. Commit to encourage. Commit to advocate. It’s remarkable how empowering it is to know someone’s got your back. And the prime got-your-back resource is prayer. Prayer connects us in ways we can’t see. Every day at 2PM, someone in our tribe is praying; praying for the tribe, for the parents, for the siblings, for our marriages, praying for the families traveling to bring their little ones home, praying for the kids who wait, praying for our churches. These prayers are the life-blood of any tribe.
As you’re reading this, maybe you’ve thought of the people in your tribe. What’s something you can initiate today that will help bind you more closely?
If you haven’t found your tribe yet here are some ideas:
• Start in your city. Look for adoption support groups or support groups for your specific special need.
• Look to your church. If you’re lucky enough to have a special needs ministry, arrange a meeting with the director to find out what resources are available.
• Search social media. I can almost guarantee there’s a Facebook group for you.
• Read, listen, and watch. Blogs, books, podcasts, documentaries, videos, etc. The creators and curators of these pieces are generally a wealth of knowledge are a eager to help you connect to valuable resources that may very well lead you to your tribe.
And please know this… Even though we may not know each other, I’m praying for you. Hundreds of us (maybe more) are praying for you to find your tribe and love them hard!