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!