Our family makeup is unique. If I were to see my family out in public, I’d be curious and probably stare a bit. So rather than be easily offended or pretend to be normal, we try to face it with openness, grace, and a little humor. We chose to adopt two kids with Down syndrome and one kid of a race different from ours. We have to be okay with people being surprised by that. We’re proud of our family, and we want others to feel that way too.
Josh and I have made a conscious decision to be open with our children, as well as with the world, about how our family came to be. People often want to know when we told our kids they were adopted, and our answer is they have always known. Adoption is a part of who they are, so it has never been a secret. Rather, we celebrate it and thank God for it, because without adoption, our family would not exist.
As a mixed-race, mixed-ability, adoptive family (wow, say that ten times fast), we’ve learned we must be intentional in the way we live our lives and raise our kids. Our relationships with birth parents are one example of this. Josh and I believe it is important for our adopted kids to know where they came from, as much as is beneficial for them. Our situation is unique in that two of our kids come from birth families we are able to have a relationship with. It would have been so much easier for us to have minimal contact with our children’s birth families. It’s difficult enough making quality time happen with our extended family. The effort it takes to maintain intimate and healthy relationships with two more whole families is immense.
In contrast, we know little about Truly’s birth family, and pieces of what we do know could, in fact, harm her. We have found we need to be careful in how we address Truly’s need for connection to where she came from. When she asked about her birth mother for the first time, we were age-appropriately honest, and this means leaving out some of the facts, at least for now, to protect our daughter.
Another area in which we work hard is that of race awareness. Both Josh and I grew up in a small, predominantly white mountain town. My predominantly white high school pointed me toward a predominantly white college, and we ended up living the first half of our marriage in a predominantly white town. When we began our adoption journey, I knew it was likely we would receive a child who was not white. When Macyn came home, although her skin color matched my own, I made sure she had dolls of every skin tone and books reflecting racial diversity.
When we got the call about a “Guatemalan baby” and soon learned she was both Guatemalan and African American, we made some drastic changes to our life habits. After Truly had been with us for only a few months, we started driving more than an hour each way to attend a church with children, men, and women who looked like her. After about a year of this, we decided to move from our comfortable, mostly white community to a much more racially diverse neighborhood. We needed to make sure there would be women in Truly’s life who look like her, because the day will come when she says to me, “Mom, you just don’t get it.” I want to be able to say to her, “Honey, you’re right; go talk to Auntie Tiana about that.”
It’s important to Josh and me that our children grow up with a strong identity. We believe our children will forever adore the people who gave them life, so we want them to be able to do so out in the open, where we can join them in the adoration, thus doing away with any of the shame waiting to pounce. We also hope to one day gather more information about Truly’s birth mother so she can hold those missing pieces with both of her hands. But in the meantime, as she sees us celebrate her siblings’ birth families, we can openly talk about her birth mother, and she can ask me questions without any guilt or shame because she sees how much love I have for birth parents.
I cannot begin to count the hours I have spent in doctor’s offices and hospital waiting rooms and at physical therapy, occupational therapy, oral-motor therapy, and speech therapy appointments. Josh and I strongly believe we are responsible to provide Macyn and August with all the services they need to live with Down syndrome at their fullest potential. This is something we committed to when we decided to adopt them. Since Macyn came home to be ours, we’ve had anywhere from two to eight hours of therapy a week. This doesn’t include the time on the phone to secure these appointments, nor does it include the hours in the car driving to and from these appointments.
We live in a society that puts pressure on all of us to acquire and maintain some sort of acceptability. Whether my children with Down syndrome should have to strive to be “acceptable” in anyone’s eyes is not the point here. (I’ll save that topic for my next book.) The fact is, my children who have Down syndrome have to work hard at what comes naturally to you, me, and our typical kids. I believe providing them with therapy gives them the best chance to succeed at these tasks.
Being intentional is often uncomfortable. But this is something we signed up for. For every yes that each of my children represent, there is an equally important no to our comfort. And having said those three yeses, we feel so lucky. Lucky, because every time we find ourselves waist-deep in discomfort, we also find ourselves leaning on God, experiencing his comfort and peace.
Exerpted from The Lucky Few: Finding God’s Best in the Most Unlikely Places. Used with permission From Zondervan Publishing.