I wasn’t one of those amazing people who aspires to adopt a child with Down syndrome from a young age. Neither did I ever imagine that I would become an advocate for children with Down syndrome waiting to be adopted.
I, like most people, was fairly ignorant of what Down syndrome, or “Trisomy 21” actually was for most of my life. I didn’t chose to go down this path because I had a childhood friend, or sibling with Down syndrome that touched my life.
My first encounter with Down syndrome adoption was while we were in the process of bringing two of our children home from China. Through social media I began to follow other families during their processes, and ‘met’ a few who were working on bringing home a son or daughter with Down syndrome, or who had already come home with their new child.
It wasn’t until months later – when we were home with our newest children at the time – that I began to get that mama itch to bring another child home and started combing through the waiting children sites on advocacy boards and agency sites. We had four adopted children at the time, three with special needs, so I felt fairly open to most of the needs I was coming across in the children who were available for adoption.
However, I found myself quickly scrolling past the children with Down syndrome thinking, “Oh, I can’t look at their profiles. We can’t adopt a child with Down syndrome.”
And then I suddenly knew that this was exactly what we should and would do.
That very night I took my husband out for dinner and told him that not only did I think that we should adopt again, but that we should bring home a child with Down syndrome. I think this was such a big consideration for him that he didn’t just say, “No,” but really pondered the possibility. He said, “You know, when we were trying to have children biologically, I always prayed that we would never have a child with Down syndrome.”
Now, years later, he realized how valuable each life is, how life is not just about us and our comfort, how different people can bring joy to your life in different ways, and that gifts come in different packages. It would only take him a few days to give me his “Yes,” and we were on the path to our new child with Down syndrome.
In the next several months I would become ‘friends’ with as many mamas as I could find who had adopted children from China with Down syndrome. I wanted to learn more about Down syndrome in general (What were the medical issues I could expect? etc.) but most of all I wanted to know what it was like to have a child with Down syndrome. I read books and blogs, and joined groups that were geared towards Down syndrome adoption. And I began to advocate.
The first child that I advocated for was a little boy that I had met in China who stole my heart. I didn’t expect anything to actually happen from my little post, but then a mama actually messaged me to talk about him. Then someone else advocated for a precious little girl with Down syndrome in one of our mutual groups, and I was smitten! We already had pre-approval from China for our first daughter with Down syndrome, and we would add our second daughter because someone advocated for her.
This mama later told me that she didn’t usually advocate, but that she felt led to advocate for our daughter in that group that day. What a difference this woman had made in my life because of her decision to advocate. I wanted to do the same for other families, and for other children who were waiting to come home!
I didn’t, at first, advocate exclusively for children with Down syndrome, but as I waited for my own girls to come home, and learned more about these precious children, they became my passion. These were children who not long before didn’t even have files created for them in China because they were seen as “un-adoptable.” Now families were finding out what a treasure these children are, what a blessing they could be in a family.
I tried in the beginning to advocate for only one or maybe two children a day. I would usually share post from other advocacy sites, or other people who were advocating. Then I discovered how much I enjoyed making my own posts and creating photo arrangements for the children.
I started checking in with different agencies to be sure that they were ok with me sharing photos and information of the children with Down syndrome that they had files for and, over time, as I got to know agency representatives and staff, some who would start letting me know when they received a new file of a child with Down syndrome, or when a child’s file was moving on.
My advocacy eventually went from one or two post a day, to a Facebook album with over 300 waiting children with Down syndrome, and then more recently to a new advocacy website.
But I have discovered that, as important as advocacy is, encouraging families to adopt children with Down syndrome is equally important. Without families to step forward to bring these precious children home, advocacy is just photos of children who will never know the love of a family. I have tried to share posts and articles about Down syndrome and Down syndrome adoption on my page in addition to the advocacy posts to help educate families and encourage them to take a leap of faith.
I also started a Down Syndrome Adoption Questions group on Facebook for families who are considering Down syndrome adoption. Now, keep in mind that I have only been a parent of children with Down syndrome myself for a matter of months, so I am not exactly the first person to come to for advice on parenting a child with Down syndrome. There are many other mamas who have much more experience in that area, and fortunately I knew of some very special mamas that are willing to help answer these questions in our group.
I also wanted this group to be more than just about China adoption. It needed to be a group for Down syndrome adoption, period. Right away Stephanie Thompson, director of NDSAN, the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network, agreed to help answer questions pertaining to domestic Down syndrome adoption. There are also many families in the group who have adopted children with Down syndrome internationally from countries all over the world. So, families coming into the group with questions about adopting a child from a country other than China can get guidance from them.
My hope now is to advocate for those waiting children with Down syndrome who are hiding or lost on the “Shared List,” where files stay when they are not with a particular agency, or are between agencies. There are so many that wait, and there is such a need.
Our daughters with Down syndrome are such a blessing to our family. Their unbridled joy and unconditional love are a true gift. They are truly rays of sunshine.
I knew before I met them that our girls would be wonderful, and that we would love them, but I had no idea how absolutely delightful they would be, how easily they would transition into our family, and how much each one of us would adore them.
This is what stirs me on. I want other families to get to know how special these children can be as a son or daughter, sister or brother, and I want each of the children that I advocate for to be as loved as our own daughters with Down syndrome are loved.