“I was in elementary school when I first told my parents, ‘I want to adopt.’ My plan also included living with them forever, and that was the only part of my plan to change. I met my future husband while we were in middle school and we dated throughout high school and college. While in college, Michael and I had the opportunity to do ministry in orphanages in Romania, which only solidified our desire to one day adopt. Our dream was to have three children biologically and then to adopt our fourth child. We married shortly before graduating from college, and in the next 3 years, our oldest two, Mikayla and MT, were born.
We experienced several years of heartache, miscarriages, and fertility treatments. These were emotionally hard years. We finally made the decision to stop pursuing pregnancy and began the process to become foster parents. As we began our training in the spring of 2013, my family experienced tremendous loss when my younger sister passed away. Knowing we needed to take time and grieve, we chose to postpone our training until the fall. That August, we were completely shocked to learn we were pregnant. Our last fertility treatment had been August of 2012, and we could not believe we were pregnant. Once we learned we were having a boy, we decided to name the baby Miles Jude. My sister, Lindsey, who had passed away that spring, had always wanted to name her child Jude, after her favorite Beatles song. We decided to call our baby Jude to honor his aunt’s memory.
Jude’s pregnancy was deemed ‘high-risk’ due to my past, and my doctor took special care of me. Midway through the pregnancy, we learned Jude had a rare umbilical cord abnormality that led to an alarmingly high rate of stillbirths. We were also told, ‘There is a possibility he could have Down syndrome.’
The rest of our pregnancy was filled with trips to the specialist and very careful monitoring. The further along I went in the pregnancy, the higher the chance for a stillbirth. It was a very surreal feeling, knowing what should have been the safest place for Jude was actually very dangerous. We eventually reached the point where I felt strongly Jude was safer outside of my body than within it. At my 35-week specialist appointment, I urged the doctor to ‘consider delivering Jude early.’
My intuition proved correct. The very next day, my blood pressure was too high, and Jude was showing signs of distress. Thankfully, Jude was delivered safely via emergency c-section when I was 35 weeks pregnant. That night, the pediatrician on call came to our room and told us, ‘I believe Jude has Down syndrome.’ Prior to his birth, I had researched everything I could about DS, and I honestly thought I was prepared to hear this news. Pregnancy hormones, Jude being in the NICU, barely seeing him the first 4 days, and absolute fear of the future quickly overwhelmed me. I was absolutely terrified about the reality of his diagnosis.
I remember telling Michael with 100% conviction, ‘Our family is complete, and I can no longer consider adopting.’ I did not know how I could cope with a child with DS, and the idea of adding another child seemed impossible. Jude went on to spend 8 days in the NICU. I was recovering from my first and only c-section, hormones were raging, and I was absolutely terrified. Jude was covered in so many wires, and his eating goals were to eat a minuscule 2 cc’s. I did not know how I could ever bring him home and properly meet his needs.
While I was in the midst of these feelings, Michael was researching how we were going to tell Mikayla (then 9 years old) and MT (then 6 years old) about Jude’s diagnosis. Ironically, he found these great videos from ESPN featuring individuals with Down syndrome in different sports roles. We were able to show the videos to Mikayla and MT to give them insight into life with Down syndrome. After 8 days in NICU, Jude was released to come home on March 21, World Down Syndrome Day.
As the weeks and months went by, I began to realize Jude was an unbelievable gift, and Down syndrome was not quite as scary as I originally thought. Our lives changed and my days were filled with taking Jude to his various specialist appointments and therapy sessions. But they were also filled with seeing this incredible little boy with so much love, personality, and grit, as he tackled milestone after milestone, which came so naturally for Mikayla and MT. Michael termed this as our ‘new normal.’
Our family became passionate about raising awareness and reducing the stigma of disability. We started a 5k race called Jogging for Jude on World Down Syndrome Day for this purpose. The annual race has raised money for families going through medical hardship and adoption of children with Down syndrome.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016, and Jude was now 2.5 years old. He was crawling and communicating so well via sign language. Michael and I begin to discuss the possibility of adoption. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever considered adopting a child with special needs. But thanks to Jude, my heart changed. Then one day, Max’s picture and bio were shared on Facebook. I remember reading his description and thinking about how much he sounded like Jude. I took a screenshot and sent it to Michael. Moments later he replied, ‘I’m with you.’
We called the agency with his file and asked, ‘How can we adopt?’ Though it might appear so, the decision to adopt a second son with Down syndrome was not one we entered lightly. There were many questions we considered. But when it came down to it, we knew there was no good reason not to adopt Max. We have the ability to provide a home, love, and care for this precious little boy. As Michael describes it, we did not have a Saul-like experience in our decision to adopt Max. Instead, we felt we were simply obeying the Gospel’s command to take care of orphans, and we are doing this in a way that makes sense for our family.
Adoption reminds us we have a Father who pursued us and brought into His family at great cost. Adoption is woven through and in the Gospel, and we can love because we have been loved. We can welcome Max as a son because we have been welcomed as sons and daughters! We traveled to China in November 2017 to bring Max home. Max was 2.5 years old at that time. The feeling of holding Max in my arms after 13 long months of pursuing him during the adoption process is indescribable.
Max adjusted very quickly to our family. We had been through extensive training and were as prepared as possible for potential behaviors Max might exhibit due to the trauma of being an orphan, and being thrust into a whole new culture, and now living with complete strangers. However, Max bonded very quickly and adjusted extremely well. The main thing we saw in the first year home was eating issues (he would eat his food way too fast or he would hoard it in his mouth for hours) or simply shutting down. He would go limp and be non-responsive to us. We had to make Max realize no one was going to take his food away, and there would always be plenty to eat. We also spent a lot of time snuggling and being together to make him feel secure.
Max has now had a family longer than he was an orphan. He adores his siblings and is a born performer. He loves to dance and make people laugh. Max is always ready for a hug and cuddle with those he loves. Max and Jude are now both 6 years old (they are only 3 months apart) and they are best friends. They were truly meant to be brothers. They have a way of communicating with each other and love to wrestle and make each other laugh. They love playing in the sand and ocean on family beach trips, eating their Pawpaw’s famous pancakes, and singing on the microphone at church.
Max and Jude do not limit our family in any way. Our family is able to do all the things we enjoyed prior to having two sons with Down syndrome. We go on trips as a family and we love to go camping. Michael and I are still able to go on trips, just the two of us. We have a goal to visit all 50 states by the time we are 50, and we are over halfway to our goal.
Mikayla and MT have grown so much being an older sister and brother to Max and Jude. They have learned compassion and tolerance. Max and Jude love to cheer MT on as he plays baseball and Mikayla as she plays soccer. The love of these four siblings is incredible and deep.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Whittany, Michael, Mikayla, MT, Jude, and Max Moody. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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