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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!

More Than Numbers

38- that’s the number of children who came home to their adoptive families through MAA in 2020. Just half the number of children who came home the previous year. If that reduction were due to fewer children needing to be adopted, that would be good news, but unfortunately that is not the case. The reduction is due almost entirely to the coronavirus pandemic, mainly amongst families in the China program, where travel is still not open, though families adopting from every country were delayed, and many families are choosing not to start the adoption process during the pandemic, for understandable reasons.

So why even share the number when it’s so, well, small? Because it’s not just a number; it’s children.

22 siblings who were adopted together, keeping their connection.

14 children age 10 and older, when chances of adoption are so much lower.

12 children who were hosted, reunited with their host families.

38 children who had no permanency and stability for the future, now beloved sons and daughters.

When you see behind the number, the faces of the children whose lives are forever changed, it’s easy to celebrate 38. We would celebrate even one child gaining a family. So congratulations to the children and families who came together in 2020, and we look forward to celebrating all who come home in 2021.

Considering adoption in 2021? Email Lindsey Gilbert or complete a free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with us today!

How You Can Support Post-Adoption Families and Adoptees

Dear Friend,
What a year it has been! We pray that you and your family have weathered this crazy COVID storm, and that this letter finds you and yours healthy. We surely are living through history, with the pandemic affecting every aspect of life, adoptions included. While many countries are allowing adoptive families to travel, others have not yet reopened, and our hearts break for the families and children waiting to be united. Despite the closures, despite the painful delays, and despite the unknowns, MAA remains dedicated not just to finding families for the children who wait, but supporting those families and children for life, and this is the reason I’m writing to you today.

We know that when an adoptive family finally meets their child, that’s not the end of the journey, it’s just the beginning. Attachment, culture shock, and challenging behaviors of all kinds are the norm for adoptive families, and the uncertainty of the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges. Prior to the pandemic, we were already busy working behind the scenes to strengthen our post-adoption support for all of our families, and now that work is more needed than ever.

Over the past several years, we have recognized that the face of ‘the adopted child’ is changing. The children in need of adoption are almost all older, medically fragile, and/or sibling groups, all with histories of trauma, and families frequently need support and guidance to successfully emerge as a bonded family. Adriana Chaves initially joined the MAA team as the Hosting Coordinator, but as hosting became impossible this year due to covid, a new purpose emerged. Adriana has her master’s degree in Clinical and Family Psychology, so it was a natural fit for her to step into a new role as MAA’s Post-Adoption Wellness Therapist. She has been running virtual support groups for adoptive parents and adoptees, helping families identify needed resources in their area, and providing one-on-one post-placement support to families going through significant challenges. Additionally, she’s provided cultural education for families in our Colombia program, with 30 families attending her recent webinar on Colombian culture!

The Colombia Kids Group has been a great safe place for our daughter to socialize during these unusual times with kids just like her. She has been able to connect with children that she interacted with at her orphanage and has also been able to talk with other children with similar stories to her. It is a unique, friendly, no pressure group that she looks forward to participating in.

-Michelle, MAA Adoptive Mom

So on this Giving Tuesday, we are reaching out to ask for your help in supporting our mission to bring hope, love, and connection by serving children, individuals, and families in the areas of adoption, foster care, and support services. Thanks to a generous donation this summer, we were able to offer our post-adoption support groups to all families, whether they adopted through MAA or not, but for that work to continue and grow, we need donations to continue too. Visit our new donation page, and when you select “Post-Adoption Services” 100% of your donation will go to our work supporting post-placement families and their children. For those who can, please consider a recurring monthly donation, so we can consistently provide these essential services to any family who needs them!

From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of adoptive families and children, thank you for your consideration. We are all ‘in this together’, in more respects than one.

Please stay safe and God bless!

Sincerely,
Diana Bramble, MBA, LMSW
Executive Director of Operations

There Are Hundreds of Mayas

Two weeks ago a Colombian children’s home contacted MAA, along with the other agencies they work with, with a desperate plea: to help find a family for a sweet fifteen-year-old girl who was running out of time. Maya was hosted in the US last year and had an adoptive family in process, but for reasons that had nothing to do with her, the family had dropped out. She needed a new family who could complete the homestudy, dossier, and file I-800 by November, or she would age-out of adoption eligibility. The iapa staff raved about what an amazing kid she was, saying she’s “100 out of 100,” one of the best kids they ever had!

We put out the plea, as did other agencies, and within 24 hours had multiple families inquiring! Thankfully a family at another agency stepped forward almost immediately and submitted Letter of Intent, and Maya should have a family in time. We were so relieved. When we told the families who had been interested in her they were all happy for her, but when we said we’d love to share about the other children in danger of aging out who still wait for families… no one was interested.

I understand how a particular child can grab your heart, and children are people, not replaceable or interchangeable, but Maya is just one of thousands of children waiting for a family, one of hundreds who will age-out of adoption eligibility in the coming months. If Maya’s story touched you, surely it’s possible that another child could too? Another face could call out to you saying “Are you my family?”

Harriet

Maybe it’s Harriet, just a few months younger than Maya. She likes to play soccer, basketball, and swim at the pool, but also enjoys just watching movies- all things she should be doing with her own family! Even though she missed out on two years of school, she is motivated to study and learn. She was supposed to come to the US for hosting this summer, her best chance of finding an adoptive family, but due to the coronavirus hosting was cancelled, and Harriet continues to wait for someone to see her.

Or maybe it’s Edward, whose face we can’t even post here due to his country’s regulations, but who has the brightest smile. His heart is to help and serve, and he often spends hours in the kitchen helping the cooks prepare the food and serve the children their meals. He never complains about dishes or chores assigned to him and genuinely does his very best. A gentle soul, he would never hit another child, and there have even been instances where another child has picked a fight with him and he has stood quietly, without retaliation. He is amazing at Zumba and putting dance steps to any song or beat. He likes to have discussions and talk about life rather than play or fool around like other boys his age. The older he gets, the more anxious he is that he may not get a family, but he still has hope that he could have a mother and father that will love and value him. Though he has until April for a family to file I-800, his country process moves very slowly so a family must be found very soon, or he will run out of time.

Brennan

Or what about Brennan? He helps younger children in the orphanage to get food and wash their bowls. Once he found a hurt sparrow on the way home from school and brought it to the orphanage medical staff to see if they could help. He was due to age-out of adoption eligibility in October, however, due to upcoming changes in China’s adoption laws he has likely gained two more years to find a family. But while we celebrate this news, we also acknowledge that he has already been waiting almost four years for a family. MAA has already advocated for him three times! Will more time make a difference for him? Or will it just be two more years of waiting only to still age out, without the permanency, stability, and support of a family?

Maya is a wonderful girl, but children shouldn’t need to be a perfect “100 out of 100” to get a family. They don’t earn a family by being good, they deserve a family because they are a child. Each of these kids will bring their family joy and challenges, but first they need someone to take the chance to bring them home- before it’s too late. 

Just some of the hundreds of children who will “age out” of adoption in the next two years: Elise, Hudson, Luna and Lily, Davie, Mahlia, Brennan, Timothy, Ruby, Cyrus, Orlando, Harriet, Ryan

Interested in learning more about older children waiting for adoption? Email Lindsey Gilbert, or complete our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form today!

Is Three a Crowd? What It’s Like to Adopt Three Siblings

When we talk to families about the children who typically wait for adoptive families, there are some common themes: usually children with medical or developmental needs, lots of boys, older children, and siblings. Many families will reply that they are open to siblings, however, the majority of those families are only open to a pair of siblings. So when we learn of a group of three or more siblings who must be placed together… a lot of those raised hands go down.

This is understandable, adopting two children already means more than the double the adjustment, so bringing home three is not something to undertake lightly. That said, I wonder how many families say “no” immediately, without considering- could we really bring three home? It’s not for every family, and we never want families to delve into something they aren’t prepared for, but we hope to encourage you to think about whether you might be the family to keep three siblings together. And who better to help you think through if you could than the families who have already done it?!

Shane, Sarah and their three girls

Shane and Sarah were first time parents when they adopted. After having their niece stay with them for a couple years in high school and college, they felt prepared to adopt older children, and joined MAA’s hosting program in summer 2018. “Originally, we thought we were more suited for hosting/adopting one child because the thought of three was overwhelming at first,” says Sarah. “When we learned of three girls who needed a hosting family, we went on a whim and gave it a try!  We felt an instant connection with our girls and had the space for three.” Shane and Sarah hosted when the twins were 9 years old and the eldest was 13, and they were able to travel to Colombia and finalize the adoption the following year.

Other families already have some parenting experience under their belt when they decide to bring home siblings, like Chelsea and Steven, who had one son adopted domestically when they brought home their daughters from Colombia at six, four and two years old. “We think it definitely helped. We had established our parenting style and knew (at least somewhat) what to expect from kids his age and younger.”

Richard and Leonardo also had experience parenting, having previously fostered a single child, and a pair of siblings, but never three at once. They knew they eventually wanted more than one child, but thought they would ease into it by adopting one child first. However, their views changed after a trip to Colombia and learning of the need for families willing to adopt larger sibling groups so that children could stay together. “We realized that we could keep these families together and do so much good from this while still keeping within our comfort level.” It was only a couple months into the process that they learned about the group of three children they would ultimately adopt, who were four, five and six years old when Rich and Leo brought them home earlier this year.

Bringing siblings home together has a lot of benefits and joys, for parents and kids! “Being able to see these beautiful children growing together in our home is hands down the most rewarding,” says Richard. “The children are so tightly bonded to each other that it made the transition emotionally easier on them.” Sarah agrees, “We are so happy they have each other to maintain some of their heritage and traditions.  I think one child would get lonely at our house and we didn’t think we could afford to go through the adoption process multiple times.” Siblings are often the one biological familial connection an adoptee has left, so maintaining that by keeping children together has enormous emotional benefits.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without challenges though! “The most challenging thing about adopting three children is of course building on each child’s strengths and improving their weaknesses without any of them feeling left out,” reports Sarah. “These children have deep hurt, and strong emotions come out when recognition, praise, or discipline is given to one child and not the other.” Meanwhile for younger children, Richard says the biggest challenge was “hands down the temper tantrums that they learned from being in an orphanage”- times three! “The three would feed off of each other which made for some challenging times.” However, he says it didn’t last long, and with consistent parenting and structure new, more appropriate behaviors emerged within a month. 

Chelsea, Steven, and their four children

So what’s the most important quality for families who are considering adopting a group of three? “Flexibility. Life is going to change like never before and it’s going to keep changing. It’s easier when you can go with the flow and adapt,” says Chelsea. Richard says the key for them has been a strong family foundation- physically, financially, and emotionally. “Having a strong bond between my husband and I has made this transition so much easier for us and the children.”

So as you consider the type of children your family is open to adopting, take the time to think about whether you could adopt three siblings together. It’s important to be realistic about your resources, but don’t let fear prevent you from saying yes to something hard but beautiful. “It has been the hardest thing we have ever done. I was honestly terrified the entire 6 months we spent preparing for this adoption. Terrified we would regret our decision. Terrified we would fail at parenting 4 kids under age 7,” says Chelsea. “But it has been the BEST thing we have ever done. My husband and I and our son have grown so much as a result of this experience and we love our three girls to the moon and back! It feels like they have always been a part of this family and we truly believe we were meant for each other.”

We are currently advocating for sibling groups of three in Colombia, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. To learn more about these children who wait, fill out the free Prospective Adoptive Parent form today to connect with an Adoption Specialist!

How to Choose a Country for International Adoption: Five Questions to Ask Yourself

In my role at MAA, I talk with families who are just starting to look into adoption, and often trying to determine the right path forward. An important first step when considering international adoption is to see which programs you are eligible for. You can view general eligibility guidelines for each country on our Country Comparison Chart, but to confirm which programs you qualify for, please fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form so our program staff can review your information and clarify any potential issues in eligibility.

Sometimes you are only eligible for one program and so the choice is clear, but when there is more than one option, how does one choose? Here are some of the questions I ask families to help them think through which country is the best fit for their family:

1.What age, gender, and special needs are you open to?

While essentially all international programs today are considered “special needs,” each program varies slightly in what the common special needs are. This post goes more in depth about the types of special needs we see in each program. Most programs allow families to choose a gender, but families waiting for referral of a young child in the Philippines must be open to either gender. While we see children of all ages in all countries, in Bulgaria, young children in need of international adoption all have special needs that are usually considered more complex.

2. Do you want to adopt siblings?

We see siblings in four of our five international programs: Colombia, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. While we very rarely see twins in China, it is so rare that China is not a good option for a family who has their heart set on adopting siblings.

3. What is your travel availability?

The length of travel requirements ranges from just one week in the Philippines, to 4-6 months in the Dominican Republic, so how long your family is able to travel will impact your program options. Bulgaria requires two trips, while other programs are only one. While MAA always encourages both parents to travel in order to experience their child’s country and culture, for families where that isn’t possible there are countries that allow just one parent to travel, including China, Bulgaria, and the Philippines.

4. What are your cultural resources?

If you live in an area with a large Chinese community, but almost no Spanish speakers, it may make more sense to adopt from China than Colombia. This isn’t to say that you can’t adopt from a country if you don’t have people of that heritage in your area, but if you do so, you need to commit to providing those cultural opportunities for your child. It may mean long drives to other cities where there is more diversity, or paying for a tutor who can teach your child their native language via Skype lessons. You’ll need to consider if you’re prepared to make those greater efforts to keep your child and your family connected to their culture.  Remember, their culture is now your culture too!

5. What is most important to you?

Every country program is different, and the reality is there may not be a program that fits exactly what you are dreaming and hoping for, so you’ll have to consider what your priorities are. Is it adopting a child who is as physically healthy as possible? Then you may want to look at the Philippines, though the wait for a referral is around three years. Or is it more important to you to adopt a child more quickly? Then you may want to research special needs, find some you are open to considering, and adopt from a country like China or Colombia, where the process is often a year or less. Is it adopting from a country where there is a big need for adoptive families? Then you may want to consider the Dominican Republic, where the long travel requirement scares most potential families away.

These questions are personal, and the answers will be different for every family. It’s important to be honest with yourselves about your hopes and expectations so that you can choose a country where you are prepared for what the process will be like, and ultimately bring your child home.

Ready to get started considering international adoption? Call today or fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an adoption specialist and find the path for your family!

Common Special Needs by Country Program

While nearly all international adoption is considered “special needs” these days, what needs we see varies widely country to country, depending on that country’s medical system, social services, and culture. Considering what special needs are common is one way to narrow down which adoption program is the right fit for your family, so read more below about each of MAA’s programs!

China

In the China program we see a wide range of medical needs. Typically medical care in China requires full payment up front before care is provided, so sadly many families place their child in institutional care so that they can receive the medical care they desperately need. There also continues to be cultural stigma around disabilities in China, especially visible disabilities, which plays a role in some children being abandoned. Thankfully, as resources grow more biological families are able to keep their children who have correctable conditions, and more and more domestic Chinese families are open to adopting young children with needs like heart defects and club foot, so there are fewer children with those needs in need of international adoption today.

Colombia

In Colombia, some children are relinquished by their birth family, sometimes because they aren’t able to care for their medical needs. Other children have been removed from their birth families due to neglect or abuse. As a result, we see many older children who may not have any diagnosed needs, but have experienced trauma. Because we often have information about birth families, it’s sometimes known if a child had prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, or other risk factors in their background. Many young children referred for adoption have these risk factors and developmental delays, and need families who will help them meet their full potential, whatever that may be.

The Philippines

While the Philippines allows families to submit their dossier and request referral of a child considered “healthy,” families still need to be open to some concerns or risk factors in their child’s background, such as prematurity, speech delays, or corrected medical needs. There are also waiting children of all ages with a variety of medical needs, including many children who have developmental delays. We also see many older children, sibling pairs and groups who are medically healthy, but experienced neglect or abuse in their biological families.

Bulgaria

Since there is now a robust domestic adoption program in Bulgaria, there are very few young children with needs families consider “minor” in need of international adoption, as those children are usually adopted within Bulgaria. Children under eight years old typically have neurological conditions like cerebral palsy, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and epilepsy, or multiple diagnoses and risk factors in their background. There are also many older children and sibling groups who were removed from their biological families due to abuse or neglect. Families who are open to Down syndrome can receive a referral very quickly after submitting their dossier.

The Dominican Republic

Since the Dominican Republic is a small country, it’s also a small adoption program, but there are still many children waiting for adoptive families! We see a range of different medical needs, as well as many young children with broad developmental delay diagnoses who need families prepared for whatever their future may be. Many of the children came into orphanage care very young when their biological families were unable to care for them. Since it is a small program, it is best for families who are open to a variety of different needs if they have not identified a specific waiting child.

Though these are the specific medical and developmental needs we see in each country program, it’s always important to keep in mind that every child in need of adoption has experienced loss and trauma, regardless of where they live. The behavioral, emotional and attachment needs that result from those experiences may be not be diagnoses in their file, but will be some of their biggest needs. We encourage all our families to research how to meet all of their child’s needs to be as prepared as possible for when you finally bring them home!

Interested in learning more about international adoption? Check out the Country Comparison Chart to view general info about each program, and fill out our free Prospective Adoptive Parent form to connect with an adoption specialist!