Bond. We talk about it a lot in adoption. How to bond with your newly adopted child, how to promote bonding and attachment, what it means to be bonded. This one word becomes so complex as parents strive to achieve it through therapeutic modalities, parenting techniques, cocooning, TBRI, and so much more. But achieve it they must, as bonding is key to the success of every adoption, so we will continue to navigate bonding with our newly adoptive parents for as long as it takes.
So, we’ve established the importance of bonding when it comes to newly adoptive parents and their adopted children. The complexities of it, especially when establishing a new bond. But the definition is pretty simple – join or be joined securely to something else. And while the parent-child bond is crucial, the sibling bond can be just as powerful, if not more, especially when the bonded have been through things together that no child should have to endure. They are bonded not only by blood, but by circumstance, and through no fault of their own, by trauma. Though, throughout the chaos, the one thing that has remained stable in their young lives is each other, strengthening that bond even more. Nola (8) and William (6) are proof of that power of the sibling bond. They are ‘thicker than thieves’ as they say, and where one goes, the other follows. The bond these two have is unbreakable. Which is why it is crucial that they stay together, and be placed in an adoptive family who will embrace them both. Parents who will not only build their new bond with these precious children, but nourish the precious bond this brother and sister pair already have.
To learn more about our Thailand program please visit our website, or complete an inquiry form and a Madison Adoption Associates staff member will be in touch.
Exploring International Adoption? The Bulgaria Traditional Program might be the right fit for you! In a recent meeting with the Ministry of Justice and our partner organizations in Bulgaria, MOJ shared that there is a dire need for families in their traditional program, as they currently only have 222 families registered!
In the Bulgaria Traditional Program a prospective adoptive family submits a Dossier directly to the Ministry of Justice for a direct match. Included in your Dossier are the child parameters that you are open to and approved for adopting – such as age, gender, history, special needs, siblings or not. The MOJ will then review your Dossier and refer a match to you of a child(ren) meeting your parameters. Because the Dossier is submitted and reviewed and approved by the MOJ at the beginning of the process, that means the time from match to travel is much shorter! After receipt of referral, you can expect to travel for your first trip to Bulgaria within 8 weeks! And more importantly, it means a child does not have to wait longer than necessary for a family to compile a Dossier.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Bulgaria Traditional Program:
Who are the children available? The children available range in age from 1 year through 15 years. Common special needs are developmental delay, cleft lip and palate, history of parental mental health diagnoses, congenital heart conditions, limb deformities, medically healthy sibling sets of two or three children with the older child being under 10, speech delays, seizure disorder, and more.
Are siblings available? Yes! There is a great need for families open to adopting sibling sets of two or three siblings, of either gender, with the oldest sibling being around 10 years old. These sibling sets are either medically healthy, or have minor to moderate special medical needs. You will outline your parameters within your Dossier. Families open to sibling groups with the oldest child being 10 in the traditional program can typically expect to receive a referral within 4-7 months after Dossier submission.
What is the wait time in the traditional program? The wait time varies based on the child parameters outlined in your Dossier. Families with more openness can expect lessened wait times, whereas families with more limited openness can expect to wait upwards of 2-3 years to receive a referral after Dossier submission.
What are the requirements to adopt through the traditional program? Married couples and single women are eligible to adopt from Bulgaria. Generally, older parents will be referred older children. Parents must be at least 15 years older than the child they wish to adopt. There is no specific requirement regarding length of marriage or prior divorces; however, the strength of the current marriage and relationship history is taken into account.
What are the travel requirements? Bulgaria supports the belief that an adoptive family should be familiar with their child’s heritage. Thus, both parents should travel to the country for both trips. Bulgaria requires that adoptive parents make two trips to complete the adoption. Once a referral is received and accepted, the family will travel to Bulgaria to meet the child. This trip requires 5 days in Bulgaria, plus travel time. A final decision will then be made and if you choose to proceed, the adoption process will begin in Bulgaria while the immigration/visa process (I-800) proceeds in the US. After both countries have completed the necessary steps, final travel to Bulgaria to receive the child and complete the immigration/visa process will be scheduled. This second trip also requires 5 days in Bulgaria, plus travel time. MAA will work closely with our foreign partner to arrange all of your travel appointments in Bulgaria.
Watch this video for a brief overview of our Bulgaria program. Interested in learning more? Please complete our Prospective Adoptive Parent form and MAA’s Family Engagement Coordinator will be in touch to answer all of your questions!
I attended my nephew’s high school graduation last week. He’ll be 18 in a few weeks, and of course, he has life all figured out. He has hopes, and he has dreams. And he’s going after them. He’ll officially be ‘an adult,’ and is ready to fly off from the nest to start making a life for himself. I think back to those days when I felt the same. ‘This is it…..I’m free to do what I want! FREEDOM!’ I was off on my own, experiencing so many changes and firsts. But the one thing that didn’t change was my safe place to land – home. And not just when I needed to do laundry or wanted a free meal, but a place to go when I needed rest – physical and emotional rest. A place to go when I needed encouragement and support. A place to go where the people knew exactly what to say. A place to go where the people always knew ME and my heart, even when I was figuring my own self out. Home. And it didn’t end when I turned 19, or 20. Home has been my safe place to fall throughout my 20s, my 30s, and even now into my 40s. And now, as I navigate Motherhood, the biggest thing I want my boys to walk away with then they turn 18 is that they will always have a safe place to land with us. No matter how old they are. No matter how successful. No matter what. Home = Safety. Always and Forever.
I found myself thinking of Antonio throughout my nephew’s graduation ceremony. Approaching his 18th birthday in a few short months. Approaching ‘adulthood.’ Off on his own. FREEDOM. But the difference between him and 18 year old me, between him and my nephew, is he doesn’t have a safe place to land. He’ll truly be on.his.own. With nowhere to go. For the little things like laundry and food. But more so for the bigger things like encouragement and support. For feeling valued and safe.
Madison staff has met and spent time with Antonio and Arlo (Antonio’s 10 year old brother). They describe both boys as sweet, caring, and kind. They have heard directly from Antonio and Arlo about their strong desire for a family. Their strong desire for a safe place. And their strong desire to stay together.
Please help us find Antonio’s safe place to land before it is too late. We need a miracle, as time is running out. We need a home study ready family (or one who could update a home study FAST). We need a family willing to RUN to Antonio and Arlo so that these brothers can stay together, and have a safe place to land forever.
It is vital for families adopting a child of a different race to learn about the history and current realities of their child’s race and ethnicity, so they can prepare their child for when they encounter racism. We encourage all families have adopted or are adopting transracially to read/watch/utilize the resources relevant to their child’s identity from the list below. For families currently in the adoption process, to receive credit towards your Continuing Education Hours, complete the Continuing Ed form from your training packet (if you cannot find this, contact your case worker and they will share with you!).
It is with a heavy heart that we share about the passing of an incredibly special boy – the world lost an angel on January 9, 2022 when Luke passed away. Luke holds a special place in the hearts of all of us at MAA. We advocated for Luke for years. On several occasions we came very close to finding him a family! But we never quite made it to securing his forever. Then COVID hit, and we were no longer able to advocate for any waiting children.
While we never met Luke, we knew through colleagues that he was a sweet, kindhearted, gentle soul who loved to love, and loved to be loved. Thanks to our amazing friends at Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village, Luke was able to experience the love of a family throughout his short life. Maybe it wasn’t a traditional family, but it was his family nonetheless. While we are so grateful that Luke lived somewhere where he was adored until the very end, the sadness is still very real knowing that Luke never got to experience his forever family. He would have blessed them beyond measure.
In honor of Luke, we are humbled to announce Luke’s Legacy – an MAA grant for older boys.* Older boys often wait the longest for a family, yet we know so many wonderful boys like Luke are waiting and hoping for someone to take a chance on them. This $1,500 grant (in addition to MAA’s $500 grant for children 8 and older) will be available to qualified families who submit a Letter of Intent, which is approved by the country, for a boy in any of our programs who is 12 or older.
Luke, we so wish we had found you your forever family, but we pray you can rest easy knowing that your spirit will live on in this grant, and allow families to bring home older boys for years to come, in your name.
If you are interested in learning more about adopting an older boy, please visit our website, or email Lindsey Gilbert at LindseyG@madisonadoption.org.
*The Luke’s Legacy grant is available to MAA families whose LOI is submitted (and later approved by the country) for a boy 12 or older on or after February 15, 2022. The grant is offered based on the age of the child at time of LOI submission. One grant per sibling group. MAA grants cannot take the agency fee total below $4,000 (single child) or $8,000 (sibling group). The Luke’s Legacy grant is not available to MAA families who are already matched, nor is it available if the child turns 12 after LOI approval but before adoption completion.
We are honored to be able to share Ivy’s story with you. We would especially like to thank Mary and Bryan S., Ivy’s parents, for not only opening their own hearts to a child with complex CHD, but also for their willingness to share their precious Ivy with us. Thank you, Mary, for your beautiful words¦
Honoring our Hero,
For those of you who are new to our story, our precious Ivy Joy went home to Jesus on March 20, 2017. Ivy had a complex heart defect with many complications and many miracles to follow. She came home at 21 months, unrepaired and very sick, but more importantly, incredibly wanted and incredibly loved. She would undergo 5 open heart surgeries in 10 months, have set back after set back, and miracle after miracle. She just never stopped fighting and she never stopped smiling. Friends, when our girl could have said, ‘why me?’, she said, ‘How blessed am I?’ Honestly, she never ever complained or felt sorry for herself. She woke up every morning, choosing JOY in spite of her circumstances. She is such a special child and she knew it, boy did she know it!!!! I know our girl is alive in heaven, singing with the angels, dancing with all the other precious children whose mommies and daddies also had to say goodbye for now, all too soon.
When I left for China to bring our precious 5-year-old daughter Charlotte home, my biggest fear was that my plane might crash and Ivy would no longer have me to mix her medicines, remember all the right snacks to take with us for her ongoing cardiology appointments, or care for her the way I do. I prepared the girls Easter baskets before I left, telling our older daughter where they were in case anything happened to me. The last thing on my mind was the thought of me, having to learn live life without Ivy.
On March 20, 2017, just hours after meeting Charlotte in China, our baby girl, the light of our lives, took her last breath at home and took her very first breath in heaven. Our lives were turned upside down in one second and I am here to tell you, we continue choosing joy because she taught us how. So, we continue to strive each day to make her proud of us as we count the days till we see her and hold her again. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t like it, but she taught me well and Jesus made a way for us to be together again so I have so much to be thankful for. He never promised she’d make it past her first surgery, but she did. I vowed to Him the day she came out of her first open heart surgery on ECMO that if He took her home that night, I’d still praise Him, I’d still thank Him, for the blessing of being her mommy even for just a few months. Well, with miracle after miracle, Ivy did come home. And we snuggled and giggled and grew and laughed and loved and learned so much from her for 5 precious years. Oh how I miss every single thing about her. It is new grief every single day and new mercies get us through every single morning.
I traveled to China on March 18th for a March 20th gotcha day. I was so very blessed to have had a friend traveling with me on this trip. And I will never forget just laying on my bed, screaming out in pain and agony and complete brokenness. She came to me, so completely broken and scared and worried and she said, ‘honey, what do you want to do? whatever you want, however you want to go about it, no one will judge you, everyone will understand that there is no wrong or right here.’
And without even having to think, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the gift of all the modeling by example Ivy Joy had done for me over the 5 years I was blessed to have her on earth, I answered.
I said, ‘Kim, Charlotte waited 5 years to have a family, she did nothing wrong, and there is no way that Ivy would have any part of me leaving her in China. I am Charlotte’s mom as much as I am Ivy’s. And what I want is to get home to my family as fast as anyone could ever fathom, with Charlotte holding my hand. I want God to move mountains for me to get home tomorrow, so I can grieve with my family and see my baby for the last time, even if it’s just her shell.’
And so, with my friend’s non-stop work, and with the efforts and kind hearts of both the Chinese and American consulate, and the constant help and support of Madison Adoption Associates, Charlotte and I made history and finalized her adoption the next morning, and came home. My poor girl was so confused and scared watching this new mommy of hers cry so much. And it got even more frightening when we arrived to a group of 8 more people crying and grieving. But she was grieving too, so we quickly bonded, as we all understood what loss felt like. The beauty of our grief was that we had each other to grieve with and at that moment, it was the only thing that mattered.
February is such an important month in our home! February is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness month and February is the month that we adopted Ivy and she became our beloved daughter! We met on February 13th (her gothcha) and on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, we signed all the China documents that made it official. How perfect that her family day was on Valentine’s Day!!!
I will end this with a testimony of the gift our daughter was to us. If I had a chance to do life over, with this same scenario and this same outcome, I would have my hands in the air with the biggest YES just to be her mommy for however long God gave me! YES it was worth it, YES it was hard, YES it is hard, and YES life is so much better because she was in it. Easy is just that, easy. Easy would have meant that there was no Ivy Joy. No being Ivy’s family. We know that true joy is chosen. It is searched for and chosen. We give thanks for so much more than just things that can be seen. We have experienced the richness of life, we have seen miracles, and we have watched doctors scratch their heads as Ivy recovered from things that she was not expected.
We have seen heartache that we wish NO ONE would ever have to experience. Every moment, every high and every low, was so worth it!
Reading the file of a child with heart defects is scary stuff, it’s not for the faint at heart, it comes with no promises. But behind that file, is just a little child who needs a family! We had no idea how much we needed Ivy, but it was certainly more than she needed us. Our YES was hard; but with our YES came unspeakable joy!
Don’t let HARD scare you. Hard teaches, hard grows us, hard matures us, and hard causes us to reach out for the only hand that will always be there for us, today, tomorrow, yesterday, and infinitely.
With Love and Joy,
MAA is humbled to offer the ‘For Ivy’ $1,000 grant to families adopting any child with complex CHD. And while we are featuring Ivy’s story in February in honor of Heart Awareness month, we are happy to offer this grant year-round, as we stand by all children with CHD like Ivy, and strive to get them all home as soon as possible. To meet some of the children we are advocating for with complex CHD, please visit our website.
If you are not in a position to adopt, but would still like to help bring these children home, please consider donating to the For Ivy grant so that we can offer this grant for years to come!
We know 2021 continued to be a challenging year for so many of us, but as the year comes to a close, we wanted to share some of the great things that happened this year thanks to your support, and the exciting projects coming in 2022!
2021 saw amazing growth in so many of our programs!
Philippines: 6 children home this year, and 14 waiting children currently matched with families!
Bulgaria: 2 children home this year, and a sibling group of 5 just matched with a family!
Colombia: 31 children home this year, and 24 currently matched with families!
Dominican Republic: Our first 2 referrals of waiting children matched to families!
Thailand: 4 families received pre-approval to adopt waiting children!
Ecuador: Our first family to apply and join the program!
There are still so many children in need of families around the world. If you are considering adopting in 2022, don’t delay! Fill out the PAP form to connect with an adoption specialist.
Thanks to your generous giving, we were able to provide over $250,000 in humanitarian aid around the world:
Sanitizer, masks, and test kits in Thailand
Vitamins and educational toys in Ecuador
Onesies, socks and underwear for kids in Colombia
Clothing in the Dominican Republic
Funding three child caregivers for a child care agency in the Philippines
Providing ongoing support to children in China through MAA partnerships
Building clean water stations for refugee families from Venezuela
Providing counseling and post-permanency services for struggling adoptive families
We know 2022 will bring more hardship to vulnerable children and families around the world. Donate to MAA and designate your gift to Humanitarian Aid to help us be ready to meet needs as soon as they arise!
Many exciting new projects are in the works or returning for 2022:
Children from Colombia will be coming for summer hosting in July
We are opening an office in New York that will provide home study and post-placement services, with another state in the works!
The continued expansion of our SWAN post-permanency services to families in Pennsylvania
Travel to our partner countries to strengthen relationships and learn about children waiting for families
We are exploring new countries for potential adoption programs!
We are so thankful for all of our families, friends and partners who support us in this crucial work. Please consider MAA in your end-of-year giving to help us continue to expand and support more children and families.
As the vaccine for Covid19 becomes available in more countries and for teens and children, more countries are instituting requirements related to adoption, but it can be difficult to follow all of the changes. If you are an adoptive parent in process, or considering starting the adoption process, here’s what you need to know about the regulations at this time:
For Prospective Adoptive Parents:
As vaccinations for Covid19 become more widely available, more countries are requiring travelers entering the country to be vaccinated. Some countries allow a negative Covid19 test within a certain time frame (sometimes 72 hours, sometimes 48 or 24) to substitute for proof of vaccination. Others require a family to quarantine for a period of 7, 10 or 14 days upon arrival and be tested before being able to move freely about the country, which would extend the required length of travel to complete the adoption. However, there may be countries that require vaccination and do not offer alternatives for adoptive parents.
At this time, the US requires all travelers over the age of two, including US citizens, to provide proof of a negative Covid19 test within 72 hours before departing for the US, or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days. Currently, this requirement is regardless of vaccination status.
For Children Being Adopted:
Effective October 1, 2021, the US CDC began requiring all immigrant visa applicants, including adoptees, to be fully vaccinated for Covid19 before receiving their entry visa. For children under 18, whether this requirement applies to them at the time of applying for their visa depends on the situation in their individual country. Adoptees are required to be vaccinated if a vaccine is both 1. Recommended for their age range by either the FDA or WHO, and 2. Available for their age group in their country. At the time of this post, this only includes the Pfizer vaccine for children age five years and up, as all other vaccines are not yet recommended by the FDA or WHO for children under age 18. However, this is expected to change in the coming months, and as a vaccine is recommended for a younger age group, if it is available to that age group in a child’s country, the child will be required to complete the entire vaccine series before the US embassy or consulate will issue an entry visa.
Children are exempted from this requirement under blanket waivers for the following reasons:
A vaccine approved by the FDA or WHO for their age group is not available in their country or area
Their country has not yet begun providing covid vaccination to their age group
Vaccination is contraindicated due to a medical condition
While visa applicants can apply for an individual waiver from Covid19 vaccination for a child under religious or moral convictions using form I-601, it can only be filed after a visa denial, and processing of this this form can take up to one year. It is therefore not an appropriate option for adoption. This is different than the standard vaccination exemption form for adoptees, which exempts children age 10 and under from other vaccinations typically required for immigration, but does not apply to Covid19 vaccination.
The information in this post is current at the time of posting, but the requirements around vaccination for Covid19 are entirely fluid, and can change every day with no notice. All parents in the process of adoption need to be prepared for the possibility of vaccination requirements for themselves and their adopted children as a part of the adoption process. For the most up-to-date information, contact your case worker or the agency you plan to use to learn how regulations apply to your situation at this time.
In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we asked some of our families who adopted kids rocking an extra chromosome to share some of their stories! Here, Darla shares about her family’s journey to adopt their daughter from Bulgaria.
After having a biological daughter with Down syndrome and experiencing the amazing amount of joy that she brought to our family, the Lord placed on our heart to adopt again. We reached out to Reece’s Rainbow, because we knew of their focus on helping people adopt children with Downs. We found a beautiful little girl and the team at Reece’s lead us to Madison Adoption Associates to learn more.
We learned that our future daughter was currently in Bulgaria, and she had recently turned 2 years old. Over the course of the next few months we learned more about her and spent lots of time praying for her. It was fun to share the videos and pictures we received with our children, and we all grew in our excitement and anticipation to welcome her into our family.
Our first trip to Bulgaria was in late summer, and we were blessed with spending a week with our new daughter and the wonderful foster mom and social workers. She was full of joy and enthusiasm, and oh so, so cute! She was just learning to walk, so we spent a lot of time at parks and playgrounds and toddling around in the sand. We laughed and laughed. She loved swinging on swings, and sliding down slides, and climbing up steps, and being hugged and carried and fed. She was very joyful and active, and walked and played with abandon. Everything in life was met with smiles and giggles. She was accepting and bright-eyed when engaging us, from the start and through the whole week!
Back at home we had weekly video calls to stay connected and continue to see and hear each other. The language barrier at times made these calls seem slow and a bit long, but looking back we could see that this was a highly beneficial way to have our daughter continue to know us and bond with us, including seeing and hearing her new brothers and sisters.
We went back for a second time to bring her home 3 months later, and this time brought three of our other children. The travel there was impacted by winter weather and had more than its share of surprises and adventure, but the Lord’s favor was on us every step of the way. In great anticipation, we awoke on our “Gotcha Day” so eager to see our daughter again. Through many hugs and tears we were able to welcome our daughter and with deep thanks to the foster family and social workers we set out to spend a week together finishing the adoption process as a family. She welcomed us right away and seemed especially comfortable to be with us from the start, which we believe was due to the time we spent together 3 months earlier and the ongoing connections we made through video and talking while we were apart.
Back home all of our children have loved spending time with her. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with an excited, joyful, eager, driven, fun-loving little sister that loved to give you a hug and smile and snuggle with you? Teaching can take longer and with more repetition. Growing can be slower and expect more practice and patience. Some have commented that we’re doing a great thing for her, but we know that the truth is she is doing a great thing for us in ways we cannot even always put into words. We are blessed beyond measure, and we wouldn’t change a thing.
Adopting a child with Down syndrome may not be for everyone, but for those who do we would say you will love more than you can imagine. And while at times we do think that it would be great if our daughters did not have the limitations or challenges that come with Down Syndrome, when we think about what is most important to all of us – to experience and share joy, love, grace, peace, friends, family, contentment and have great faith – it is clear that those of us without Down Syndrome have the greater challenges in life.
Thank you to Glen and Darla for sharing their family’s story! If you are considering adopting a child with Down syndrome, fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an Adoption Specialist and learn about the children waiting for adoption!
In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, we asked some of our families who adopted kids rocking an extra chromosome to share some of their stories! Here, Kelly shares about her family’s journey to adopt their son Jonah from the Philippines.
How did you come to the decision to adopt a child with Down syndrome?
Since I was a child, I have loved spending time with people with special needs. I taught special ed before having our first biological daughter and worked with adults with intellectual disabilities between school years. I have always found people with Down Syndrome to be especially kind, loving, and fun. We chose to adopt because we wanted to bring a child into our family from the special home finding list who would be less likely to be adopted than a young developmentally typical child.
What was the adoption process like for you?
Our adoption moved quickly compared to the average for the Philippines. We submitted our Dossier on December 22, 2018 (my 27th birthday, the age requirement) and we picked up Jonah in August of 2019. The 8-month guardianship phase actually lasted about 14 months due to Covid delays but that wasn’t too difficult for us since Jonah felt like our son as soon as we brought him home. Sometimes all of the paperwork and bureaucracy felt overwhelming but taken one step at a time it was all manageable and of course, worth it. Katie and Diana at MAA were so helpful, kind, and knowledgeable, which was invaluable. We also met many wonderful people in the Philippines that we are still in contact with and I am grateful to know them.
What were your first days of meeting your son and taking custody like
Our trip to pick up Jonah was the adventure of a lifetime! Nate had served a two-year mission for our church in the Philippines so he is fluent in Tagalog and familiar with the culture which allowed us to socialize and explore. With two young children at home (2 and 4 at the time), Nate and I let loose for the first time in a long time and we had SO MUCH FUN!
The first morning that we woke up (for the 18th time thanks to a doozy of a time-zone change) we were so excited to meet Jonah. We got ready, ate breakfast, then requested a tric (motorcycle with sidecar used like taxi). Only standing on the residential road outside the hotel did we realize that we had no idea how to get to the orphanage. We showed the address to our tric driver and he got us closer to the area, then we hoped from tric to tric until we were close enough that someone recognized the address and could take us to the orphanage which was still unrecognizable right in front of us as it was a nondescript building behind a wall, tucked away with homes on a dirt road. Meeting Jonah was a joy, we now know he has a certain flair for making everyone feel special, but we were no exception. We were able to play and bond at the orphanage and eventually travel nearby with Jonah and even some of the teenagers he lived with, eating street food, sightseeing, and playing in rain downpours thanks to the encouragement of the older kids.
We weren’t sure before arriving whether or not Jonah, who was 4.5 at the time, would be potty trained. On our second day when we were going to take him outside of the orphanage for the first time, I asked one of his caretakers. She answered “yes, he’s potty trained, I don’t know why someone put a pull-up on him today.” In hindsight there may have been a language barrier. We got him dressed sans pull-up and hopped on a tric, with him on my lap. We weren’t yet to our destination when I got a more accurate answer to my question. Our next stop was a change of clothes for Mr. Pee Pants.
Jonah is the opposite of our daughters who need routine and consistency, making him a great travel companion. Where ever we were he would happily take in the new sights and when he needed a nap, he would power down for a few minutes in our arms or on our laps and pop back up ready for action. His on/off switch was very beneficial on our 14 hour flight home. It was sort of a strange feeling taking Jonah from the life he knew and the people who had cared for him and loved him, but he was eager to go with us. The hardest part for me was taking him away from the only remaining “baby” in the orphanage who has Cerebral Palsy and was close to Jonah. They had come in together in a group of ten babies about 3.5 years earlier. The eight others with no disabilities had been adopted, so they would have been like brothers.
In terms of taking custody, the first few days and weeks were a honeymoon phase. I remember at the two-week mark saying, “wow, he always listens right away when I say “no” and he never cries.” Then the very next day the flood gates or tantruming opened up. I wish I could say that after two years we’ve figured out exactly how Jonah fits into our family and that parenting him has become completely natural. I’m sure others would disagree and every adoptive parent has a unique experience but to me, adoption feels a lot like marriage. The beauty of Jonah’s unique personality is that every moment is a new moment. You’ll never meet a person who lives more in the now. So, while he may not be considering the consequences of sneaking out of bed at 2am to test out the handheld bathtub sprayer, he will also totally forgive you for losing your cool about the bathroom carnage, 75 seconds later.
What has been the biggest joy in parenting a child with Down syndrome? The biggest challenge?
Jonah’s joy is infectious. At the orphanage they told us he brought sunshine wherever he went. It’s true, and he brings a smile to other people whenever we are out. He doesn’t know the meaning of self-consciousness or discrimination on the basis of…anything…so he will attempt to make friends with anyone he can. He’s easy going and flexible, I joke that if he was our only child, we could live traveling aimlessly in a camper van with no structure or routine and he would thrive. He’s a total dandelion, flourishing in his own way under any circumstances.
The biggest challenge of parenting Jonah has been figuring out how to respond to his negative behaviors. As a parent with both biological children and an adopted child, I want to feel I am treating all of my kids consistently and equally. For example, with my girls I might say “if you put your pajamas on all by yourself, we’ll read an extra book” or “because you didn’t do what Mommy asked, you lost a warm fuzzy” (a jar they fill up to earn fun experiences). Jonah doesn’t grasp a lot of language, abstract concepts, or future consequences. He is non-verbal and by cognitive assessment standards, on the low-functioning side of the Down Syndrome spectrum. I call him my patience sensei because he understandably feels the need to assert control on a regular basis and I am constantly deciding which battles to choose and how. His stubbornness and impulsive behavior have forced me to face demons in myself I previously didn’t know existed.
What is your advice to parents considering adopting a child with Down syndrome?
First of all, I am no expert. I would say be excited for the magic that awaits and be realistic about the challenges that will come with it. For us it means having a child who is the majority of the time delightful, hilarious, and sweet, and it means waking up to the poopy pull-up of an almost 7-year-old and hoping he hasn’t committed any major crimes in the middle of the night. Before adopting Jonah, I had spent plenty of time with individuals with Down Syndrome but they were mostly teenagers and adults. You may want to seek out parents of children in the age range you are considering to adopt for a better understanding of what to expect. Then there’s the adoption variable. Jonah didn’t have the same early interventions and optimal pre- and post-natal care that children in an ideal situation would have. I have my suspicions that if he had, he would be different in many ways. That might sound scary and undesirable but it’s not meant to. Jonah is in many ways our easiest child and he brings happiness to everyone he interacts with. In good moments he makes me laugh and smile and in challenging moments he teaches me patience and compassion. There is a pre-natal genocide being waged against individuals with Down Syndrome. My message to anyone faced with the possibility of parenting a child with Down Syndrome is that they will amaze you every day with their goodness and unique intelligence and you will feel privileged to have them as a part of your family. If you are considering adopting a child with Down Syndrome, there is a child worthy of your love and your last name, waiting for you to be brave enough to take the leap.
Thank you to Nate and Kelly for sharing their family’s story! If you are considering adopting a child with Down syndrome, fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an Adoption Specialist and learn more about the children waiting for adoption!