Down syndrome is scary.
I said that to myself five years ago. It took me awhile to admit it. But I was pretty opposed to all lifelong diagnoses.
I had very little information about Down syndrome back then. And the information gaps gave my imagination plenty of space to run freely. I saw the shadows in the woods, tolerable at a distance, but I dare not move closer.
I was afraid. I was afraid of the shortness of life that often accompanies a Down syndrome diagnosis. Afraid of poor quality of life. Afraid of the social torment people with this diagnosis endure. Afraid I didn’t have what it would take to be a parent of a person with a lifelong diagnosis.
I could tell you all the reasons you shouldn’t be afraid, but they won’t apply to some of you and I’m certain to miss some of the specifics that others of you are really looking for. I can’t do it all in five minutes or less. I wish we could meet for coffee or share a few meals together (which we love doing if we can make the logistics happen). The concerns are varied but there are some things that are universal and those are the best things to talk about here.
Emotional or Practical? Which is Right?
Prospective moms and dads seem to come at the adoption process differently. For the most part, at least with the families I know, a mom’s initial approach to adopting is entwined with her emotionally enriched nature to nurture. Dads are emotional, too. I would argue our approaches are almost always emotional. Though not initially with an intent to nurture, we’re bent to ensure we’re protecting the margins, and that propensity is driven by emotion. There’s a lot wrapped up in this… it’s financial, practical; it’s family dynamics, potential lifestyle changes, etc.
None of these are necessarily deal-breakers, but they all need to be considered…
Will we have to buy a new car?
Do we need to change our vacation strategy?
Are we saving enough?
Are my parents still going to come visit?
Will our friends stick around for the chaos?
What about the day-to-day?
Do changes need to happen at work to accommodate a new child with potentially chronic medical needs?
It’s scary for us dads. We don’t say it. But I promise you, it is. Scary doesn’t mean choosing adoption is wrong. In fact, often, it probably means it’s right. But here’s the one thing we need you to know, wives. Us dads… we’re not cold or slow to the idea. We are practical, methodical, maybe even cautious. But we are not cowardly.
It may sound like spin, but wives, please try to understand. We’re all trying to mitigate our own fears to best position our family for the prospect of a healthy transition into life as the family of a person with a lifelong diagnosis. I’m certain there are wise things to be poured in to your hearts moms, but I’m a dad and I think the boys need to hear me today.
Two Ways I Struck Out and One Time I Didn’t
First of all, dads… you’re doing a great job. You may not be hitting home runs. You might even be striking out. But you’re stepping up to the plate and taking swings. Now, if all you’re doing is striking out, we might need to work on some things because you’ve got to at least get on base if you ever hope to win the game. I want to help you. Dads, here are two ways I struck out. And this one time when I didn’t. Learn from my mistakes and help your wife and family…
Out #1: I processed everything internally only talking about my process when I’d come to a conclusion.
It is my nature to process internally. I read, reason, contemplate, read more, adjust my reasoning and finally settle my mind and heart. Nothing terribly unhealthy about this. Lots of brilliant people do it. Much of science and significant scientific discoveries follow this process.
But your wife’s heart and your family are not science experiments. They are your very own flesh and bone (Genesis 2:23). Your job as husband is as cultivator. It’s what a husband is. Someone who cultivates. Not just someone who contemplates. Contemplation in isolation is healthy. Cultivation requires planning, faith, exposure, discipline, protection, attention. Cultivation requires intimacy. And intimacy cannot happen in isolation. So sure, do what you need to learn and prepare, and then do what I didn’t do… offer your thoughts and feelings to your wife. Let her in. Ask her for her perspective. This will likely require you move back into contemplation (reading, learning, reasoning, etc.) but make sure you re-emerge to connect your wife to your process.
Out #2: I based all my internal processing decisions on the practical impacts.
Emotions are a real thing. They’re important. I don’t think they should have all the power, but they need to be given a voice and given their place. I don’t show the world what I’m really feeling most of the time. But this is a safe space, so I’ll confess… I have fears. We all do. To set our fears to rest, we seek knowledge, information, facts, experience. We’re looking for ways to settle our turmoil. We’re emotionally wired to move from chaos to peace.
But some of us (me), go a little far with this and ignore the messy emotions of a big decision, putting the weight of the cross on the shoulders of logic alone. Don’t do that. It’s poor form. And it ignores a critical element of your make up – your emotions. And look, if you’re having a hard time tapping in to your own emotions, ask your wife to offer hers. Emotion is too valuable an ingredient to holistic decision making to leave it aside.
That one time I didn’t strike out…
We had gotten some terrible news. Our dossier had been lost. This document we’d poured ourselves into for months, carefully following every little detail, asking for guidance to make sure it was in order… gone. We’d sent it to our agency. Our agency had reviewed it and sent it to the authorities in our child’s birth country, the birth country confirmed receipt of it, and then lost it. No one knew how to even begin to look for it.
There were lots of emotions. The most prevalent one being heartache. Our little girl was stuck in an orphanage while the family who loved her was stuck without a dossier. I cried. Mostly because I was angry and overwhelmed. My wife felt sad and guilty, as if she could have changed the outcome. It felt like a dead end, hopeless, heavy moment. But instead of sitting in my sorrow and letting anger turn in to cancer, we worshipped. Over and over we sang the refrain, “Our God is fighting for us always, we are not alone, we are not alone.” Over and over. Over our own hearts and over our little one across the world. We affirmed God’s nearness to us in this setback and His protection for our baby in an orphanage without a family nearby.
And then we prayed. Together. With tears streaming down our cheeks and faith in our hearts, “God wherever this dossier is, let it rise to the top of someone’s desk. If it’s buried in a stack somewhere, let it be found.” Two days later, that’s exactly what happened. It ended up on the wrong desk of a worker who was out of the office for a couple days. It’s reasonable to believe this issue would have worked itself out without our prayers. But we would have missed out on the opportunity to be raw and vulnerable with each other, with ourselves, and with our God. We needed a win.
The lost dossier wasn’t a concern to God. He knew where it was all along. He also knew my wife and I needed to be reminded that we’re on the same team.
There will always be plenty of reasons to be scared, fearful, upset, disappointed, and more as you work through adoption. But there’s no reason to keep it locked up. Process what you need to be able to give voice to your fears and then say them out loud.
I know this is hard for some of you. It’s hard for me. I’ve got a lot of work to do myself. But remember, you’ve been given a teammate who is perfectly suited to help you process. It’s okay to let her know where you are, even if you haven’t figured it all out yet.