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Truly a Bundle of Joy: Darla and Glen’s Down Syndrome Adoption Story

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!

They Will Amaze You Every Day: Nate and Kelly’s Down Syndrome Adoption Story

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!

Why Not Us?

An advocacy post on Facebook changed my life forever.

In the spring of 2016, God broke my heart for a little girl who was waiting for a family in China. She was precious – an adorably chubby baby sitting on the floor, arms stretched above her head, sweetest little joyful grin on her face. My heart shattered as I realized when she reached up to be held that there was no Mama (or Dada) to pick her up and love on her. This precious little one also happened to have Down syndrome.

Before her little face, we’d always talked about adoption. “Some day.” When we were more ready, when our children were older, when we had more money in the bank. Before her little face, I never thought that WE could say YES! to parenting a child with Down syndrome. Only “special” families were called to do something like that. We weren’t spiritual enough, rich enough, brave enough to walk that road.

After her little face, I began to wonder “Why not?” Why not adopt? Why not Down syndrome? If not US, who?

Many tears were shed, many prayers said on behalf of a little girl whose joy-filled face I could not forget. Were we missing out on our daughter? God eventually granted me peace through a dream that this little girl’s family would give her older brothers (something our family could not provide) and that she would be HOME. Over the years, I’ve continued to think about and pray for her.

A week before we left for China to meet our own darling girl, I connected with the Mama of the child God used to crack my heart wide open. She does, indeed, have a Mama and Dada. And two older brothers (and two big sisters to boot!) who love her dearly. I am so thankful that God orchestrated her story so beautifully. I will also be forever grateful that God used her face, and the idea of her, to change me and my family forever.

When you see the photos of little ones waiting for their families maybe you think the same things: “Not now!” or “Not me!” But maybe – just maybe – God will break your heart for that specific child, or one of the MANY other children, who waits.

We did not know anyone with Down syndrome before adopting. In fact, Cora was the first person with DS that we ever knew in person. I found so much support through online groups, where parents had already walked some of the roads we were about to take. There are so many groups, so many resources. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask to connect! Most families in “The Lucky Few” (because WE are the lucky ones!) would love to talk to you about raising a child with DS, or can point you in the direction for resources that may help you. Places to start: The Lucky Few Podcast, the Down Syndrome Adoption Questions Facebook group, or start following families or people with Down syndrome on social media!

The best thing about parenting a child with Down syndrome is getting to see the world from a new perspective. Cora has changed the way we think about almost every aspect of our lives. After our relationships with Jesus, getting the privilege of parenting her has been the next biggest catalyst for adding joy to our days, slowing down to appreciate the truly important things, and having a more eternal view of what our purpose is in this life we’ve been given!

On the flip side, the hardest thing about parenting a child with Down syndrome has been adjusting and responding to how the world views our child. Even though we thought we were prepared, there have been so many instances where I’ve been taken aback by people’s archaic, negative, or prejudiced views of people with Down syndrome. We knew we’d have to advocate for her in certain educational situations, but I’ve learned that advocacy is a day-in day-out process as we navigate the world. Helping others see beauty and worth where the world doesn’t can be exhausting, but what a joy and privilege it is to shout their worth. So much is changing in the world for inclusion. I cannot wait to see what the world looks like for Cora when she’s my age!

I wish others understood that each person with Down syndrome, like every other human who has ever walked this planet, was created in the image of God. We are ALL more alike than we are different. We are all created to contribute good and beautiful things to our world. I’ve had others tell me how tough adopting a child with Down syndrome would be, ALL the things that our child would likely never do, all the “hard” we were walking into by saying yes. But you know what? Zero of that matters. Because every child is worthy and deserves a family. 

Emily and her family are currently on their adoption journey to bring home their second child with Down syndrome. Thank you for sharing your story! Are you considering adopting a child with Down syndrome? Email Lindsey Gilbert to learn about the children who wait, or complete our free Prospective Adoptive Parent Form today!

Wait For Your Child, So They Don’t Wait For You: Down Syndrome Adoption in Bulgaria

Madison Adoption Associates has always focused on finding families for waiting children, so we were surprised when our NGO partner in Bulgaria encouraged us to have families submit their dossiers requesting referrals of children with Down syndrome, instead of requesting to be matched with a waiting child. But once they explained their reasoning, it made so much sense.

First, it’s important to understand what we mean when we say “waiting child”- a waiting child is simply a child who has been deemed eligible for adoption, but when adoption authorities in the child’s country reviewed families with completed dossiers, none of those families were open to a child of that age and gender, and with their particular medical or developmental diagnoses. So instead of being referred to a family, the child is listed with adoption agencies who will advocate and try to find a family who will start the adoption process in hopes of adopting that child. Nothing is inherently wrong in this process, but as our partner NGO explained, there are a couple reasons the referral process can be better for both families and children.

Waiting children with Down syndrome are periodically listed in Bulgaria, and usually pursued quickly by a family who steps forward and starts the adoption process from scratch, but when a family has already submitted their dossier before being referred a child, it’s a much shorter time until that child comes home. For families, this means less time between seeing your child’s face, and holding them in your arms. More importantly, for children, this means less time spent in an institution, and a quicker path to their family. In Bulgaria, for example, when pursuing a waiting child it takes about one year from the time a family starts their home study until traveling to complete the adoption, but for a family who has already submitted their dossier, after receiving a referral the first trip is done within one month, and the second trip to pick up their child is 3-4 months later.

So instead of families waiting until they see a child with Down syndrome on the waiting child list before they start the adoption process, MAA and our NGO partner hope to find families to submit their dossier to Bulgaria. Then we can see more children matched before getting to the waiting child list, and home with their families sooner. For young children with Down syndrome, those months saved mean they are in their families receiving medical care, physical and speech therapy, and devoted attention that much sooner, at a time that is so crucial for their health and development.

In some ways, this route is harder on families; you are taking a leap of faith without seeing a specific child, and waiting for the day you get the phone call that there is a child who needs you. But think of it this way- you are giving your child a gift. You are doing the waiting for them, so they don’t have to wait on you. If you are open to adopting a child with Down syndrome, consider whether this could be the path for your family to bring a child home, and take that first step forward knowing your child is out there, and you’ll be waiting for them when they need you.

Families can expect to receive a referral anywhere from one to four months after dossier submittal. Couples, single women and men age 25 and older are eligible to adopt from Bulgaria. There are no specific criteria for marriage length, family size, finances or health. Email catherine@madisonadoption.org or complete our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an adoption specialist!