In March of this year, I entered parenthood with four days’ notice. Yes, you read that correctly.
Last September, my husband Kyle and I began the process of adoption. We dove in head first, excited, filled with joy and as terrified as any hopeful parents are. We had spoken of adoption on our second date, so growing our family in this way seemed natural and thrilling. As we navigated through the paperwork, we were constantly asked what kinds of things we’d be open to in an adoption. Our list was very simple. In fact, we only had one requirement: We wanted a baby with Down syndrome.
I was in my late teens when I discovered the idea of adopting a child with a different ability. To me, it was an obvious and clear option, as I had worked with kids with different abilities for years. When Kyle and I began discussing growing our family, the conversation was: “Do we adopt first, or have biological children first?” After we landed on adoption first, we connected with an adoption agency who helped us complete our home study, and on Feb. 14, 2019, we were added to the registry of the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network. The registry is a list of all of the families that all share the desire to adopt a child with Down syndrome.
On Feb. 20, we received an email regarding a baby boy born in Los Angeles, California, with three copies of his 21st chromosome. We were asked if we wanted his birth family to see our profile. We nervously said yes. On Feb. 24, we got a phone call that told us that our son’s biological family picked us.
There aren’t words to describe the feeling of being chosen by the people who loved our son first, but we were tremendously honored. We flew out to California on the 28th and met our son and his first family that evening.
We took legal placement of George Anton Johnson on March 1. The day was filled with love, tears, heartbreak, joy, sadness, hugs, paperwork, FaceTime and a hotel room. It all moved tremendously fast, and it was as overwhelming as it was exciting.
What ultimately pulled us towards the path of adoption was the recognition of our supreme privilege that we were able to see through the negative narrative that society puts forward about people with different abilities. Kyle and I see that society tells us that people with Down syndrome are burdens who don’t hold the potential to achieve anything, and we are able to see that there is no truth in that idea.
We know that people with Down syndrome are capable of anything, because we have seen it and have been honored to witness it. I’m painfully aware that most people will always look at my son and immediately imagine what his presence will cost them. The simple reality is this: The presence of a person with Down syndrome in your life or your home will only ever enhance your spaces. Those who know that truly are the lucky ones.
Now, I truly believe that the most educated person is still a lifelong learner. Kyle and I were not naive enough to imagine that we’d have an easy life as a result of our choice to bring a child with Down syndrome into our home. We were aware of the health risks. We were aware that there would be additional supports needed. We were aware of the societal outlook. We were aware that we would often feel isolated from our other parent friends.
But we were (and are) also aware that hard things are not bad things. As we are navigating parenting a child with Down syndrome, we are learning that the hard things are where the beautiful things are hidden. It is hard to raise any child, but it is no less beautiful to raise a child with a different ability.
If our adoption story has taught us anything, it has reinforced the knowledge that those who are fortunate enough to have somebody in their life who is rocking an extra chromosome are the luckiest people on the face of this earth.
Having George in our family has resulted in joy that I could never have imagined. We celebrate it all, and we celebrate hard. The hard is hard, but the good is so very good. As we like to say, that magical extra chromosome brings extra joy.
In 2019 so far, the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network has helped over 60 new/expectant parents and agencies and received 1,500-plus requests for information from the public, its director says. Learn more at ndsan.org.