By: Dani Stoneman, Hong Kong Adoptive Mother
March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. It also marks the one year anniversary of the day we met our son, Jack, who just happens to have Down syndrome. I had so many thoughts and feelings leading up to that moment when I held Jack in my arms for the first time. There were so many unknowns about our future together, but the one thing I knew for sure was that I loved him already. I had waited for that moment for months. I wondered what his hair would feel like. I wondered what it would be like to kiss those cheeks I’d been staring at in the few pictures I’d seen of him. I wondered how his eyes would look as he looked into mine. I could go on and on about all the ways I had dreamed of this little boy who lived across the world.
Before and during our adoption process we spent countless hours studying every resource we could find on issues of adoptive parenting, Down syndrome, special needs, attachment, and lifelong issues of adoption. We prepared as much as we possibly could. We had yard sale fundraisers, bake sales, and an auction to raise money for the adoption. My three children helped me put together a freezer of meals for when Jack would come home. I filled Jack’s drawers with hand me downs from his brothers and prayed they would fit. I stressed over whether or not all of this time preparing for Jack should have been spent on the children I already had.
One day while I had a quiet moment on my drive home from the grocery store, I asked myself, “Who am I to think that I can be a parent of a child with special needs?” I had always thought that the parents of children with special needs were super heroes. “Who am I to think I can do this incredible and hard thing and why do I think our family can or should do this?” The thought that answered all of my questions was, “Who would be better? You’re a mom who loves her children.”
When deciding to adopt a child with special needs, I asked myself:
Am I willing to start on this journey of so many unknowns?
What do I have to offer this child?
Could this child have a better life in our family?
Am I willing to not know the full history of this child?
Am I willing to make sacrifices for this child?
What are the long term commitments I am making?
Am I willing to ask my friends, neighbors, and extended family for help?
Will my community be accepting of this child?
How will this affect my marriage?
How will this affect my children?
Could I love a child I didn’t give birth to?
Could I love this child the same as my other children?
What do I expect from this child?
This last question was hard. I asked myself what I wanted for my other children. At first I thought, “College, Marriage, Job, Family, Success”, but then I realized that those were specific ways to measure what I actually wanted. I want my children to learn and grow. I want them to work hard in what they do and never give up. I want them to be grateful for the simple things in life. I want them to be compassionate and kind. I want them to fulfill their responsibilities and be honest. I want them to be willing to sacrifice for what they believe in. Most importantly, I want them to know how much they are loved by their parents and God. Were my expectations for any of my children different from what they would be for an adopted child with special needs? No, they are exactly the same. The outcome may look different, but I learned that it was okay for it to look different! The outcome in most everything in my life looks different from what I expected it to be. Do I get disappointed when it’s different? Maybe for a moment, but I’m learning to look a little deeper at the things that are most important.
It’s been almost one year since Jack joined my family. He’s everything I dreamed of and more. He's kind, smart, funny, and compassionate. He loves to play in water and go to the park. He loves to dance and listen to music. He's learning to speak with a handful of words and many signs. His smile is contagious. But I should probably paint a realistic picture… it’s not all sparkles and sunshine. Some days are harder than others. Some days Jack doesn’t want to eat despite the circus show our family puts on as each child performs an act in hopes we’ll trick Jack into eating. Some days my arms ache from holding him. Some days I feel like there’s no way I can do it all. And what I’ve learned from those days is that I can’t do it all. I can’t expect myself to do it all. All I can do is what I’m able to do. And if that means we’re late to a doctor’s appointment or we have leftover pizza for breakfast, that’s okay! Because what matters is that we’re doing our best. And when the sun comes up the next morning, we tell ourselves that today is a new day and we’ll do our best. We don’t give up. I look at Jack and the expectations I have for him and my other kids. Most of my expectations are dependent upon me. As a parent my job is to provide a safe and encouraging environment where my kids can feel loved. Adding Jack to our family has helped our family focus on what matters most to us. We’ve learned to be more patient. We’ve learned that people learn at different paces and in different ways. We’ve learned that we can learn from someone who may not know the things that we know or act the way that we act. We’ve learned that you create a family by showing unconditional love and never giving up.