Katie artfully articulates her union with her third child through adoption. He is an extraordinary child, who happens to have down syndrome. Her story gives us a window into what their adoption process and initial union was like for her personally, and how beautiful the intertwining of two families can be.
I bent over, both hands on my knees, head hung low, certain I’d be sick in a New England parking lot. As the August heat climbed the back of my neck, I took deep breaths, begging for God to help me pull it together so I could assure my son’s first family that I was strong enough–or maybe simply enough–to parent their boy.
No one told me how broken I’d feel that day, how I’d dry heave on the sidewalk outside a hospital, wracked with grief over the loss my son’s first family faced on the other side of those glass doors. No one told me that my own heart would split wide open in its feeble, useless attempts to hold the pain. No one told me that I’d spend my days wondering how to protect my son–and now daughter–from the countless paper cuts they’ll likely feel as they turn the pages of their stories. No one told me adoption was a breaking–together.
Our decision to adopt a child with Down syndrome was not born of noble aspiration or desire to grow our family but through honest questions about the next right step. After the birth of my second child, an older gentleman offered what he believed was a word of encouragement, “Yep. You’ve got the million-dollar-family. One girl, one boy.” I inwardly rolled my eyes. Neither I nor my husband had ever chased that American label but when postpartum depression came knocking again and recovery took longer than expected, we were at peace with two. It just so happened that at the time of our decision, our weary arms held the stereotypical pink and blue bundles.
A couple of years passed and Glendon and I began to question our family unit in light of the thousands of children in need of a home and the beloved first families they represented. During our months of research, prayers, and questions, we discovered a dark world of heartache and loss, especially as we learned of children with disabilities, specifically Down syndrome, a condition familiar to us through previous work experiences and relationships. We wondered what our specific role might be in caring for a child with an extra chromosome in need of a home.
As we stepped into 2013, we chose an adoption agency, completed forms, attended meetings, and became home study ready. Four months later, a brown manilla envelope arrived in the mail. I pulled out the hefty legal document that carried our agency’s stamp of approval to adopt a toddler with Down syndrome and the wait began.
Nearly twelve months to the day of the arrival of that envelope, we received a call from Stephanie, the Director of the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network. The NDSAN helps to connect birth parents ready to make an adoption plan with potential adoptive parents who are home study approved by their adoption agencies. Stephanie shared that a birth family wanted to move forward with an adoption plan. After several phone calls and emails with out-of-state lawyers and eleventy billion questions for our social worker over the next three months, we headed north to meet our son’s first family and await his arrival into the world.
Hours later, we clamored out of the car and released our kids to stretch their legs at a small picnic area where we had agreed to meet our son’s first family. A tall woman, wearing a long, dark, flowered dress and flip flops slowly, tentatively approached me. Our online connection and texts led us to recognize each other and we broke into big grins and embraced, her swollen belly pressed against mine. While the kids’ laughter swirled around us, she graciously offered her story in choosing to place her son.
The next day, we connected with our son’s first parents at the hospital. When labor pains increased, we left to honor their space and time. An hour later, we received a text from them telling us that he had arrived and we could meet him.
Hospital staff met us and showed us to the room where our son’s first family graciously welcomed us. As the nurses moved away from the bed, I turned to meet her eyes, dark hazel pools full of sadness and relief, exhausted from the act of giving birth, of giving over the one she had carried for nine months. Trying desperately to conceal my emotions, to appear stronger than I felt, I moved my hand to hide my quivering lips. I choked down my rising emotions, afraid to appear weak and incapable of raising this child to whom I’d been entrusted.
Through quiet sobs, we held each other, unashamed, our grief exposed. We were two mothers clinging tightly to each other, two weary travelers on two very different roads but somehow joined in our dreams for this wee one. We were two women, broken together.
Later that evening, my husband and I were led down the hall through heavy locked doors to the PICU. We scrubbed our hands, moving up to our elbows, the smell of iodine lingering in the air. We turned a corner and then I saw him and swallowed hard. He was not swaddled or surrounded by balloons. “Baby Boy _____” was hastily scrawled on his name tag.
I stood over the clear plastic bin that held this precious newborn babe and through blurry eyes, marveled at his features. His hair was jet black and straight. His eyes like thick dark lines carefully drawn out toward his temples. A clear tube ran from his adorable button nose down to a machine beeping intermittently. A yellow tube snaked from his plump, parted lips to another machine beyond the bin. His hands were outstretched, ready for a hug. Even in the web of wires, he was perfect.
As Sam was carefully placed in my arms, I breathed a shaky prayer of thanks to the One who led me to his incredibly brave first family, to navigate this lifelong journey marked by grief and joy, where we are each broken but we are broken together.
In the midst of writing and maintaining a trifecta of marriage, home and community, Katie is grateful for strong coffee, belly laughs, good books, and loyal friends. She and her husband of 17 years have four hilarious children. Her writing is focused on social justice, parenthood, disabilities, and faith. She invites readers to consider how they relate to those who are often excluded and she hopes to create a sense of belonging along the way.
You can find her at katiecarper.com and on Instagram @katecarper.