Down Syndrome and Low Expectations
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Traveling with Children: What Was I Thinking?
I clearly remember what it was like to write Our Journey to Willow, my first adoption blog post. That story was intricately woven by God for our family, and I was so excited to share everything that led us to adopt a child with Down Syndrome.
Willow has been in our arms for just over six months, and so the story continues. My hope is that this post can do that story justice.
Deciding to Adopt
For us, deciding to adopt took some time. It was something my husband and I both felt strongly about. But taking that final step forward and putting your YES on the table would take everything to another level. I was on board early, but my husband would need more time and prayer to hopefully get there.
I had just come across the most precious face on a Facebook post. I only saw this photo because another mom had shared it on an adoption Facebook group I was in. At this point, I had seen thousands of adorable faces of precious children all needing a family, but this picture shook me to my core.
Her advocacy name was Xiu Xiu.
And she was our Willow.
God had given me the name Willow about six months prior to us finding our daughter. I will never forget that moment that I saw her face on my iPhone screen. Tears instantly filled my eyes, and I knew in my heart that she was Willow, our daughter.
As I read about her, I learned she had Down syndrome, but otherwise appeared to be healthy and thriving in a foster-like home. She was already 2 1/2 and I knew the adoption process took some time. It broke my heart to think we would miss the first three years of her life but I could not focus on that. So many thoughts raced through my head. I was giddy with excitement, and scared at the same time as I tried to picture her in our family.
We have two boys, Aiden (8) and Cooper (6), and a little girl named Libby who was not even two years old at the time. As you can imagine, while my heart felt so sure that she was our daughter, my head was telling me that I was out of my mind for wanting to add to our already crazy mix.
The day I saw Willow’s photo was just two days prior to my husband, Tyler, leaving for a medical mission trip in Zambia. That meant for the next two weeks I had time to just pray about it and be still. Besides the fact that we wouldn’t be able to really dig into this conversation while he was away, his initial response had basically been, “No.”
He hadn’t gotten all the warm fuzzies I did when he first saw her picture. His response was very gentle with me as he shared his concerns but his reaction still kind of swept the wind right out of my sails. We had only recently discussed Down syndrome as special need we would be open to just a short time prior to me finding Willow. Understandably, he just wasn’t ready to wrap his mind around it.
There had been an NHBO post I shared with my husband about a month before he was leaving for Zambia. That post completely brought him to tears. It is actually how the whole discussion of Down syndrome even came up. So it’s another surreal full-circle moment for me to now share our experience on here, and I pray that it encourages as so many NHBO have inspired us.
This is the part of the story where I’m crying my eyes out as I announce to Tyler, “Hey. I found Willow! I know this is our daughter. By the way, she has Down syndrome,” as he prepares to leave for Zambia. It was torture while he was gone. You know us women like to talk about things a little much, right?
It turned out to be such a blessing he went on that trip, at that time. I had found the picture, but I couldn’t try to discuss it with him every spare second of the day. I was forced to just be still and have faith that it would all work out if it was, in fact, God’s plan.
A few days after Tyler left, I got my first phone call from him in Zambia. He told me all about the travel and how thankful they were to make it. They had just eaten dinner below the most beautiful tree. He described it to me so well, but I thought to myself, Willow trees don’t grow in Africa, it must be a different kind.
Naturally, after our phone call I Googled about native trees in that area that fit his description and to my surprise a gigantic willow tree pops up. I quickly send Tyler a picture of a willow tree in Africa, and ask if this is the tree he was speaking of. His reply was, “Yes. That’s it!” Oh my goodness, I had chills.
One week after Tyler returned home, he presented me with the sweetest card. It said that he knew that Willow was our daughter as well… that as much as he tried to come up with every reason why we shouldn’t say yes, that God had given him 100% peace and clarity to move forward.
As soon as we both said Yes, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders. From then on, it was a race through paperwork and preparations, all of which went fairly smoothly for us. Willow was in our arms less than eight months later.
Adding to the Family
I won’t sugarcoat those 7-8 months, there were definitely some tears shed in the process. Trying to explain our decision to family members was terrifying for me. I knew there was no way for someone else who hadn’t walked this journey to truly understand.
My family just wanted to make sure we were making the right choice, but not all the conversations went as I had hoped. No matter how much I poured out my heart, it just didn’t make sense to some people. I had to just accept that, pray about it and have faith once again that it would all be okay.
See, this whole journey is one of Faith. You will encounter many points where you must pick yourself up off the ground and just keep pushing forward, trying your absolute hardest to not let fear sink in because we know that fear is not from God. Believe me, this is something I have yet to master. I am known to overthink and stress about stuff I cannot control.
For us, we knew adding a child with an extra chromosome wouldn’t be a walk in the park. We also knew with every fiber in our beings that it was the right choice for us.
Did we have a lot of experience with Down syndrome prior to this decision? No. We had some but not a lot. However, in our journey, this didn’t feel like a choice we had to make because God had made it so very clear.
Most people didn’t understand why we would choose this, and some still don’t. The skeptics didn’t even necessarily have to say a word, but we could see it on their faces. And I want to be clear that it is okay if they don’t understand. We felt like we had hit the jackpot and were so excited about Willow joining our family. The same excitement we felt as we anticipated the arrival of each of our three biological children.
Willow is about ten months older than our daughter Libby, so she technically isn’t the baby sister. Thankfully, Willow is a petite little thing and totally fits in as the little sister, the way Libby thinks of her to this day. During the paper chase of the adoption process, Libby entered into the dreaded terrible twos phase and wasn’t playing very well with kids her age. I began to panic about how she would get along with her new sister. This was probably one of my top concerns as we prepared for Willow to join our family.
We chose to bring Cooper, just one of our two sons, with us to China. He is our six-year-old and was super excited about coming along. My oldest was perfectly content to stay at home with my mother-in-law. I had decided our littlest was just too young to go so she stayed back with them as well.
In China, our first meeting with Willow was so dreamlike. It felt like the longest day. An eternity where you have every emotion going through your body, so much so that I physically felt sick at times. But Willow walked right into our arms.
I was not emotional like I anticipated myself to be. I was basically in shock, much like I’m sure Willow felt as three strangers scooped her up. We spent a good amount of time with her in her familiar surroundings and then left with her in our arms. She seemed to be handling it all okay and I still could not believe that the sweet little girl in the picture was now sitting on my lap.
Willow didn’t show much emotion at first, but she was just absolutely perfect. Goodness, she melted our hearts each day as we got to know one another. While in China I was pretty emotional. I was super homesick, and I didn’t feel how I imagined I would while we were there. I’m not the best overseas traveler, so this trip took a bit of a toll on me.
My best advice for traveling to China for an adoption, especially if you have never been, is to be prepared for the culture shock and don’t expect there to be this instant indescribable bond between you and the child you are adopting. A deep, deep bond takes time.
Of course, we were absolutely smitten with Willow and she amazed us each and every day. But still, I prayed so very hard about bonding with Willow. And as each day went by, our love grew and grew for one another.
Willow loves us so unconditionally. To this day she teaches us so much about love. Not only did we hit the jackpot with her, but it is like we hit the ultimate “unconditional love” jackpot.
When we arrived back home to Texas, it was awesome, and it was hard at the same time. Seeing everyone at the airport together and our entire family being back together was just what we all longed for. Spending three full weeks in China is a long time. However, this long-awaited homecoming made it all worth it.
The jet lag took a bit of time to conquer, but the real struggle involved Libby. Libby was just not adjusting well to her sister. Not at all.
It was everything I anticipated but harder.
The first few days Libby did okay with Willow being home. But after she realized Willow was not leaving, it didn’t set so well with her. I can’t blame her, she’s just a two-year-old. Her world just got completely rocked and she didn’t understand.
Willow on the other hand was acclimating wonderfully: sleeping through the night, eating well, all of the boxes checked. Her mobility was well-above expectations, and she didn’t get into stuff as much as I imagined she might. I have actually said that she is the easiest of all of four kids in this season we are in right now.
Will Willow always be easy like she is now? No, probably not. We will hit bumps for sure, we fully anticipate them. Willow has all the same emotions of any typical child. She cries, throws fits, gets sad, gets mad… you know the drill.
But 95% of the time she is just a bright ray of sunshine. She is easy to distract, quickly bounces back from something if she gets upset. All in all, our day to day really isn’t any harder because she has Down syndrome.
She doesn’t say many words yet, but it is still easy enough to meet her needs. She uses sign language or just lets us know somehow what it is that she wants. Do I wish she could communicate everything going through her head? Absolutely! I pray one day we will get there.
Willow’s adjustment and bond with all of us is beautiful. It really is. Willow 100% knows who her family is now. She is quick to give a hug or a high five to someone but she always wants to come right back to Mama. Seeing her run to me when I pick her up from church care is the best feeling ever.
Gosh, I love her so, so much. And we all need her just as much as she needs us.
God Bless Sisters
The bond we all have now took a little more time for Libby and Willow. Thankfully Willow would so easily forgive. She loved Libby, even when Libby treated her poorly. I tried so hard to create the perfect environment and scenarios.
Creating activities all the kids could enjoy together like dance parties and outings. But bath time seemed to be the one sure fire thing to bring Libby and Willow closer to each other. So, we did a lot of baths. Day by day, I would see more and more smiles from Libby towards her new sister.
I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been to see such a transformation before my eyes. In the first few months after Willow came home, I was so discouraged. I was so tired of playing constant referee. I felt like this battle of little people was taking away from all of our relationships. But friends, in the grand scheme of things, a few months was all it took.
Now these two girls are inseparable.
Willow is 100% her baby sister (regardless of age) and their relationship blooms more each day. Yes, they are still sisters and they fight about certain toys or who mommy is holding. But it is such a complete 360 from the time they first met each other.
Part of the Family
My boys and Willow have a special bond too. Taking Cooper with us to China was the perfect choice for our family and definitely helped Willow warm up to us all faster. The boys are both so good at making her laugh, and she is not scared to try anything they are doing. She even climbs up the ten foot rock climbing wall in our backyard, as I hold my breath each time. I know that having typical siblings will be the best form of therapy as she grows and thrives in her new home.
Willow is just so capable, smart and beautiful from the inside out. She makes all of our lives better. She is the first child to run to her sibling’s side if they are sad or hurt. She loves so big and, without even realizing it, teaches my kids what unconditional love is. This is still new to us, as Willow has only been in our arms for six months, but the Down syndrome adoption community has been so warm and encouraging throughout this process. I don’t have the words to explain to you the impact it has made on all of our lives.
Our friends and family have all come to know and love Willow too. It’s just amazing to see how far she has already come since being in her forever family. It’s indescribable what the love of a family does for a child. And it’s just as hard to explain how much Willow has blessed all of us.
Know that we are not the heroes in this. When people want to praise us for adopting a child with Down syndrome, I tell them Willow is so worthy and perfect, just as God made her to be.
We are just an average family that falls short each day. We don’t have it all together. We just want the world to see how awesome individuals are with Down syndrome. The world is truly a better place because of them.
We are Willow’s biggest fans, and we will shout her worth every single day.
God crafted every detail of our adoption journey. Not me, not Tyler, but God wrote this story before Willow was even born.
I’m just so thankful we didn’t let our fears and concerns get in the way of saying Yes!
Top Tips for the Journey Home
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If you’re considering international adoption, Bulgaria may be a great option for your family!
Returning Ten Years Later To China