“I was 19 years old when I decided I was going to adopt a baby with Down syndrome.
I had just come home from my new job as an educator, teaching theater to kids and adults with all abilities. My work that day had been with children with Down syndrome, and I knew absolutely nothing about it. I remember going home and putting ‘Down syndrome’ into Google. My only motive with this was to better serve my students. However, one of the first things that popped up in this search was the website to the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network. ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘I’ll do that someday.’
Flash forward a few years, I was on my second date with a guy named Kyle. I told him very directly that it was in my plans to adopt a child with Down syndrome one day. He shrugged, smiled, and said, ‘Sounds good to me!’ and I knew I’d marry him.
When we decided it was time to grow our family, the conversation was whether or not we wanted to adopt or have biological children first. After a few months of conversation, we excitedly decided to pursue adoption. We connected with a local adoption agency, worked diligently on the mountains of paperwork, and finished our home study all within a few months. We were added to the registry of families with the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network on February 14, 2019.
Exactly one week after that, we got an email in the late evening. It was about a baby boy who had been born in California, with a third copy of his 21st chromosome, and we were being asked if we wanted to present our family profile to this family. Kyle and I spent two days debating whether or not we wanted to be considered. How were we supposed to know what was the right decision? What would we do if we were chosen? What would we do if we were not chosen?
A huge lesson was instilled in us during those days: adoption is absolutely not about adoptive parents choosing a baby — it is about a family choosing another family for their baby. So, we put our hearts on the table and said that we’d like the family to look at our profile.
On February 24, 2019, we were watching the Oscars with my family when the phone rang. It was Stephanie, the director of the National Down syndrome Adoption Network. My heart immediately started racing because I knew, deep down, that this was going to be good news for us.
‘Congratulations, Mama! You’ve been chosen to be the baby boy’s parents.’
We celebrated so hard that night. We called family and friends, cried, cheered, laughed, got overwhelmed, and celebrated more. Almost immediately after the celebration, however, it was time to get down to business.
The match had happened on a Sunday, and we were flying to California on Thursday. So, we had four days to do…everything. We had only been an active family on the registry for a little over a week, so we had next to nothing prepared for a baby. The week we found out we were parents was filled with almost entirely logistics: Where will we stay? Should we rent a car? Will Kyle’s work offer paternity leave before we arrive home? What if we’re there for a very long time? The week was an absolutely overwhelming whirlwind I struggle to remember parts of. The night before we left, Kyle and I laid in bed and tried to fathom the idea this was the last night in our bed in our child-free days.
The travel day to meet our son was nothing short of a nightmare. The plane delays, missed connections, migraines, and choice words with a Delta employee added so much stress to the day that was already overwhelming, as we were going to meet our son and his first family that evening. Once we arrived at their home, however, the anxiety from the day didn’t matter at all. The only thing that mattered were four adults, all talking and loving the same baby.
Meeting your baby in the home of the parents who loved him first is not the traditional way to meet your child, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I got to be introduced to my baby by the two people who love him in a way I can’t even fathom. When we met him, I did my best to keep my emotions under control, because I recognized nothing was being signed until the next day and he wasn’t my son yet. I tried to remind myself that I was meeting the son of another family, in their home. All four of us deeply love this baby, but he wasn’t mine.
Because of this, I didn’t have a magical-type revelation moment, where I immediately felt like a mother. I didn’t have that. What I did have, however, was an overwhelming sense that if I got to be his mom, every single day for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t be enough time. I wanted to know this baby for the rest of my existence, in whatever way that looked.
The next day, we took legal placement of George Anton Johnson. The grief of the day rocked me to the core, because while we were gaining a son, his first family was losing a son. I learned a lot that day about how joy and tragedy hold equal weight in adoption. The day was a whirlwind of tears, hugs, heartbreak, elation, and a lot of Facetime calls with our families back home. Becoming his parents was an absolute dream come true for both of us, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms that night, feeling every emotion a person could possibly imagine.
Adjusting to becoming George’s parents was just about as smooth of a transition as possible. He was a rock star of a sleeper, a great eater, and had a calm and kind disposition. We joined the Down syndrome community quickly and were welcomed with open arms. We both felt very quickly, we were meant to be his family, and we were so grateful that we were.
One of the things constantly reinforced to us through all of this, was the very reason we pursued adoption in the first place: we were so very fortunate to exist in a place where we saw the worth and the value of kids with Down syndrome. We see the extra chromosome as extra opportunity to thrive, and we celebrate the chromosome so very hard, every single day.
Those who know the beauty that exists in parenting a child with Down syndrome are the luckiest people on the planet. We consider ourselves so privileged to be able to provide this magical little boy with a joyful life, full of opportunity and plentiful resources to thrive.
Something my husband and I have learned to shout from every rooftop is that we, as the adoptive parents, are nothing special. We are parents. We are sleep deprived, flawed humans, who make mistakes daily. Our baby is the light of our lives, his diagnosis comes second.
The truth is this: the sooner our society sees the worth of people with Down syndrome, the sooner the act of choosing to parent a child with Down syndrome won’t be seen as anything extraordinary. Those of us who have chosen to step into the role of parenting children with different abilities are not more or less special than any other parent — we just have different life experiences we’ve been fortunate to have.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Taylor Johnson. You can follow her 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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