‘I could’ve said no. I whispered, ‘I love you,’ as I thought about the significance of this appointment.’: Woman unsure of motherhood becomes special needs mom of 4, ‘Our hearts are full’

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“I never planned to be a mom, especially mom to four kids with such varying needs, personalities, skin tones, and abilities. I imagined a steady career, a spouse, and a predictable future where kids were always a distant possibility but not yet a reality. Though my husband and I assumed we’d be parents one day, we relished our quiet, adventurous years of marriage and felt no rush to join the ranks of parenthood. Our life was full of demands from work, time with friends, and the flexibility to travel without car seats, diapers, or cranky tots. Five years after we said our vows, I took a pregnancy test that confirmed my recent suspicions. My hand trembled as I watched the pink plus sign fill the blank grey square. I was terrified by this unexpected news and the ways my carefully crafted plans would drastically shift to accommodate a new little one. And the test was just the beginning.

Courtesy of Katie Carper

Seven months later, we welcomed our firstborn, Selah, a name that means ‘to pause.’ This seven-pound wonder gave us the perfect reason to slow down and rethink our life goals. When Selah was 9 months old, we learned baby #2 was on the way. Shocked by this seemingly impossible news, we kept quiet for three weeks before the bleeding began. Our wee one survived just ten weeks in my womb before we released that tiny soul to God.

Courtesy of Katie Carper

One year after that unexpected good-bye, we welcomed Jude, our beloved Rainbow Baby. In less than two years, I had carried three tiny souls and birthed two, which seems a minor feat compared to some. I was bone-weary and felt stifled by the suffocating darkness of the long northern winter and postpartum depression. We soon decided to raise Selah and Jude without adding more little ones, a choice that filled us with peace and relief — for a time.

Two years later, we began to sense a persistent nudge to rethink the structure of our family. We asked questions like, ‘How does our home reflect what matters to us? Where does the world ache and how can we use what we have to tend to that wound?’ This led us to pray and explore the next steps toward caring for children in need of support, whether through foster care or adoption. During that time, we learned of the sobering statistics of kids born with different abilities and the growing need for adoptive families. The more we discovered, the more we turned our attention to children with Down syndrome in need of homes.

In 2015, fifteen months after our home study was complete, Sam, our little one with an extra chromosome, was born. He is known and well-loved by many, including his wonderful first family, who we love, respect, and maintain an open relationship. ‘This is it,’ we thought, ‘Our home and our hearts are full with three!’

Courtesy of Katie Carper

In the spring of 2016, that familiar persistent nudge returned. We were settled in a new home in another state and found ourselves asking those same questions from two years prior. In the process of looking at foster care requirements, we heard from an acquaintance who asked that we parent her little one. In January 2017, we welcomed our younger daughter, our fierce and thoughtful Eden.

Courtesy of Katie Carper
Courtesy of Katie Carper

This past year, in particular, has challenged my role as mom. Several months ago, I met with Sam’s Developmental Pediatrician to discuss and confirm our strong suspicions of a dual diagnosis. As his team left to confer privately with their recent data, I snatched up my 43-pound dumpling, snuggled him close, and whispered, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ He wiggled out of my arms to run in the exam room and I swallowed a growing lump as I thought about the significance of this appointment and the news that would soon come.

Courtesy of Katie Carper
Courtesy of Katie Carper

A month later, my husband and I met with Sam’s DP, though we didn’t need to; I already knew. I knew my son had another label, another reason to be misunderstood, excluded, and avoided in a world that values people whose words are easily understood, who require minimal effort to engage, and who fit within the neurotypical ideal. I knew Sam had Autism Spectrum Disorder. The past two years of personal research, informative books, knowledgeable friends in the field, and daily life with my son had served as signs pointing us to this unique and unexpected road.

Courtesy of Katie Carper

I am learning to see Sam’s new diagnosis as another invitation in motherhood. He has taken my hand and asked me to look at the world a bit differently, to experience life as he does. While I struggle at times with what ASD could mean for Sam’s friendships and future, I move forward full of hope in the One who leads with unconditional love and perfect wisdom.

Courtesy of Katie Carper

As I reflect now on what it means to parent four very different kiddos at varying stages with unique needs, I am fully aware I could have rejected several divine invitations. I could have refused pregnancy. I could have said ‘yes’ to the stereotypical American family of 2.5 kids. I could have said ‘no’ to neurodiversity, to adoption, to birth families in need. In my ignorance and privilege, I could have opted for a simpler and seemingly safer way of life and rejected the invitation of motherhood thirteen years ago. I was busy with other meaningful aspects of my life and swore I’d never own a minivan. But here I am with a dark grey 7-seater, fully aware of the glorious ways motherhood has wrecked me. It has rearranged my dreams, consumed my energy, changed my sleep patterns, encouraged my creativity, tested my emotional stamina, deepened my empathy, pushed me to love with greater patience, and driven me to my knees in prayer.

Courtesy of Katie Carper

Tweens, trauma, transracial adoption, Down syndrome, ASD, IEPs, therapies can make for some challenging days but they are also invitations to participate in deep work that matters. I get to connect with a variety of communities, build friendships with fellow advocates, and do the necessary work to help ensure each of my kids’ needs are met. I get to daily remind these four they bear the image of the divine, they are fiercely loved, their feelings are valid, and their voices are worthy to be heard. I get to help them discover their unique abilities and passions that can serve their homes, communities, and world as they grow.

Courtesy of Katie Carper
Courtesy of Katie Carper

At first, motherhood felt like an invitation that arrived at the wrong house but years later, I see my name on the envelope. I’ve been invited to rethink my life several times, to change course as new challenges arose, to move forward with tenderness and wisdom in the midst of unexpected diagnoses, to faithfully advocate with tenacity and kindness, and to trust in the God who graciously invited me to this sacred work.”

Courtesy of Katie Carper

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Carper from Maryland. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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