Adopting children with Down Syndrome
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and I am so thrilled a couple wonderful friends were willing to share their stories about how they adopted children with Down Syndrome. This first story is by my friend Jennifer who with her husband adopted two beautiful little girls, Dasha and Emily from Russia right before the Russian adoption ban. Their family and how well their girls are thriving is a testimony for adoption. She has linked her blog below and you should totally read more about their story there. Raising two little girls can keep a mama busy so I am so thankful she was willing to share her story in this guest blog post! Fair warning – you will likely want to adopt immediately after reading her story. Here is Jennifer in her own words…………..
My husband, Brandon, and I were married in 2008 and decided a few years later that it was time to start our family. We both felt that we’d been called to adopt, but weren’t sure if that’s how we wanted to start our family or not, so we decided to try the “old fashioned way”. In May 2011, we found out we were expecting, but unfortunately about 4 weeks later, we lost our baby, to “chromosomal abnormalities”. I truly had never given much thought to chromosomal abnormalities, and we didn’t go through any testing after my miscarriage, but we loved that baby and we were heartbroken that we wouldn’t get to hold him or her this side of heaven. However, we believe that baby led us directly to our daughters.
Just a couple of months after miscarrying, I stumbled upon a blog, mentioning Reece’s Rainbow. I was intrigued about this Down syndrome adoption ministry, and so I clicked over to the Reece’s Rainbow website. Well, I don’t think I moved off my couch that entire day, I read blog after blog after blog of families who had adopted or were in the process of adopting children with Down syndrome from around the world. And as I learned more about what it meant to be born with a disability, like Down syndrome, in Eastern European countries, the more my heart was burdened for these children. That night, I showed Brandon the Reece’s Rainbow website and a couple of the blogs, and his heart too, broke for these children, and he said “Let’s do it”. And in that moment, it made sense. We so loved and hoped for our baby, even when we found out that there was a “chromosomal abnormality”, and here were all these children, waiting for parents because they have an extra chromosome. (Down syndrome, for those unaware is also known as Trisomy 21, a third copy of the 21st chromosome.)
So, to make a long story short(er), soon we officially started the adoption process to bring home not one, but TWO, girls with Down syndrome. Our process took us to Krasnoyarsk, Russia, three times. For those unaware of where Krasnoyarsk is, if you were to look at a map of the world, find Mongolia and draw a line straight up. Krasnoyarsk is a city of about 1 million people, in Southern Siberia. Yes, Siberia. We traveled three times, in July 2012, October 2012 and December 2012, and Siberia in December is just as cold as you would expect it to be! You can read MUCH more about all of the details of our adoption and our trips on my blog.
The first pictures we saw of our girls. Dasha (left) and Emily (right)
Meeting our girls for the first time, July 2012.
We arrived home with our daughters, Dasha (then 6 ½) and Emily (then 23 months) on December 12, 2012 – and just two weeks later Russia banned adoptions to the United States. That was a heartbreaking moment for us and made many of our first moments home with our girls a little bittersweet. We are SO thankful that our girls are here with us and we pray for all those children who still wait in Russia.
Gotcha day, December 3, 2012:
Arriving home in the USA! December 12, 2012:
After we arrived home, real life began. We had doctor’s appointments and more doctor’s appointments, making sure our girls were healthy. With Down syndrome there are a number of medical issues that can arise, so we had to check out their hearts, thyroid function (continues to be monitored) as well as going through the battery of tests that come with adoption. (lots of testing for parasites, which is just as fun as it sounds!) Our girls were amazingly healthy outside of some upper respiratory type stuff and have remained healthy since. They were very small coming home, Dasha was 6 ½ years old but about the size of an average 3 year old and Emily was 23 months and about the size of a 10-12 month old. They have grown like weeds over the past couple of years!! We’re blessed that our girls have healthy hearts and no real health concerns up to this point.
Now they are 9 and 4 ½ years old and are ACTIVE, vibrant, and full of life. I can’t imagine our lives without them. As all parents will tell you, we have our challenges, but the good times definitely outweigh the rough patches. The girls have bonded well to us. Once we got past the first 6 months home, we found ourselves needing to connect with others who “get it”. We have a fantastic Down syndrome network in our town, and we’ve made some great friends through that organization. We’ve attended play groups and birthday parties, we’ve found support from our local chapter of the Arc. The girls are in school and love it. One challenge we’ve faced is that Dasha, due to her age when she started school, was not able to start as a Kindergartner. We didn’t anticipate that in bringing her home, especially considering her size and the cognitive delays. But she’s in 4th grade, in a Life skills classroom, and she enjoys her “skoo days”. Emily has had the benefit of being able to participate in Early Intervention, and that’s one of those things that has been a bit bittersweet for me. It’s been an amazing benefit for Emily and I see how much Dasha would have benefited from those services. Emily is in her second year of preschool, she’s the only student with Down syndrome in her classroom and she absolutely LOVES school. The transition to Kindergarten next year is a bit scary for this mama, but she’s doing so well in preschool, that I think she’ll be just fine!
Dasha & Emily now.
Emily loves Curious George and Doc McStuffins, her favorite foods are green beans, peanut butter, Pirates Booty and fruit snacks. She loves to play pretend, especially with her baby dolls, to get into mischief with our cat, Luna and loves to play outside. Dasha is a very active little girl, she participates in martial arts, LOVES American Ninja Warrior, riding bikes and playing basketball. She loves to have time on the iPad and her favorite foods are bread, cheese and ice cream! They might have an extra chromosome, but really they are just like other little girls. They’re active in Sunday school, like spending time with family and friends, and are best friends or worst enemies, just like sisters should be!
Special needs adoption and parenting sounds scary, and there are definitely times that are harder than others, but I look at our girls, and see how much they’ve grown over the past 2 ½ years, see the confidence they now have, and how much they love life and I can’t imagine our family looking any different than it does. All children deserve the love of a family, maybe that family is yours?
*For those who have asked – here is a little information on why Adoption is no longer allowed in Russia. Our family prays that Russians will chose adoption for their own families and also that Russian and US relations will improve so US families like this one can adopt in the future.