‘She chose US for her baby!’ He had to stay in NICU indefinitely. We were dumped at a stranger’s doorstep.’: Single mom taken in by strangers after adopting baby with Down syndrome

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Read Jenny’s backstory here.

“I got the call as I sat in carpool line on April 15th. The birth mom said, ‘I choose Jenny, Aidan, and Ella Mae to raise my baby.’ Shock. Tears. Joy.

The kids hopped in the car before the reality had even set in. Ella Mae opened the door, and I screamed at her, ‘She chose us! The birth mom chose US! We are getting a baby!!!’ She immediately started to happy cry. I love that she does that. Aidan was in shock and squealing with happiness. Before we even got home, Ella Mae was staring out the window and said, ‘We should name him Josiah.’

‘Where did that name come from?’ was my response. It was random. She said, ‘I don’t know… I think there is a kid at my school named Josiah.’

The first thing I do with baby names is think of what sort of crazy nicknames kids could come up with at school to terrorize my child. I don’t know why I do that…

Josiah
Joe
Siah
Si
Jojo

Jojo… the memories came back like a flood, and then God made it clear why this would be his name.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

This is a picture of my sweet friend Deb (who I went to Africa with) holding Jojo. Jojo had Down syndrome, and he was being cared for by our friends at Ekisa, the orphanage for children with special needs. Unfortunately, for us here on earth, Jesus took Jojo home to be with Him last year.

I remember wishing for a family for him. But, sometimes things just don’t work out how we think they should, and we must TRUST God’s plan is better than ours! So, in honor of Jojo, and so many like him, who never had the chance to be in a family here on this Earth, we chose to name our baby Josiah Harrison Clark… and call him Jojo!

Harrison was my grandfather’s middle name. I never had the opportunity to meet him because Jesus took him home when my mom was young. BUT, he and my grandmother CHOSE my mom. They adopted her. So, we chose to honor them in this way. Amazing how things come full circle!

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

June 19th — I hadn’t heard from the birth mom in over a month, and needless to say, I was slightly stressed with all of the uncertainties. Finally, the call came! The OB had decided the baby wasn’t growing well and labor needed to be induced. So, around noon, we got the official word it was go time, and we hopped on a plane at 4:30 p.m. that same afternoon!

Courtesy of Jenny Clark
Courtesy of Jenny Clark

The birth mom (I will call her ‘T’) was admitted to the hospital at 6 p.m., and we arrived in Houston a couple of hours later. The drive to Sugar Land proved to be quite adventurous since it was dark and we had never experienced the ‘frontage road’ system. In case you have never experienced it, they have highways that run right alongside of their highways. Lots of U turns. Very confusing. Not to mention, my cell phone battery was dead, so GPS to the hotel was not an option. But, we finally found it and settled in for the night. Of course, I didn’t sleep a wink.

I had called the hospital the day before, simply to let the staff on the labor and delivery floor know the situation and that we were coming. I have to be honest, I sort of expected it would all turn out like a Lifetime movie — they would give us a room next door to T, the baby would be born, and the baby would come to our room to stay. That was not the case. I was informed (and rightly so) I had zero rights aside from what T wanted. She was delivering the baby, and the mom and baby were their priority, as far as the nurses were concerned.

So, on Thursday morning, I left my mom and the kids at the hotel to rest and swim while I headed to the hospital bright and early, a bundle of nerves and excitement. I arrived on the labor and delivery floor, signed in, and went back to greet the nurses and let them know I was there and available, IF T wanted to see me when she woke up.

I went back to the small waiting room and furiously crocheted away on Jojo’s not yet finished blanket while I waited. Not too long after, T’s OB doctor came out to the waiting room to talk to me. I assumed she had bad news of some sort, or she was coming to tell me T wasn’t ready to see me or I couldn’t be there. Much to my surprise, she was simply coming to introduce herself to me, and give me an update on how the baby was doing. I was floored by her kindness. We talked for a little while, and then she said T was awake and ready to see me when I was ready.

I took a few deep breaths and made my way down the hall, where I was greeted by Nicole. She introduced herself to me and said with a smile, ‘I will be your labor and delivery nurse.’ She will likely never know how much those words meant to me in that moment. All of a sudden, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, a sense of belonging, and a sense of empty handedness. How could I walk in to that room, and meet face to face with the woman who was about to spend hours laboring to bring my baby in to this world, empty handed? I nervously hugged Nicole, told her I loved her for being so awesome, and said I would run to the store and be right back.

You know how dads act when their wives are about to go through immense pain and hard work to bring their children into this world, and they can do NOTHING to help? I know how that feels now. I went to the store and bought flowers for T, Nicole, and the doctor! If they would have had packs of blue bubble gum cigars, I would have bought those too and handed them out to strangers.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark
Courtesy of Jenny Clark

I arrived back at the hospital, flowers in hand, ready to meet T. Or, at least, as ready as I would ever be. I walked in to the room, set down the flowers, and went straight to my job of making sure she was as comfortable as possible. We were immediately at ease with each other.

She was in a good bit of discomfort (obviously), so we talked through the pain. I got her more ice chips, requested some pain meds, adjusted her pillows, and our relationship was off and running. It soon became clear to me, I was the only one who would be there for her that day. To hold her hair back when she got sick. To make sure she was as comfortable as possible. To do the things family are supposed to do for you when you deliver a baby. So, we became family.

God blessed me in so many ways throughout the day. Amy, the social worker, did an AMAZING job of being there for me, as well as being there for T. She is a social work genius. My kids were patient. My mom was a champ. The mom of a friend (neither of which I had ever met) came and brought me a muffin and sat in the waiting room and chatted with me for a while. I got sweet text messages throughout the day from friends and family, encouraging me and praying for all of us. God literally showed off ALL DAY.

T labored through the day, slowly but surely. I finally left in the afternoon, to go back to the hotel and get the kids and my mom so they could be there for the big moment!

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

They were so patient as I tried to split my time between the waiting room, making sure they were happy, and the room with T, to make sure all was well. Around 7 p.m., it was finally GO TIME. T made it clear she wanted me to stay in the room with her while she delivered Jojo, and I was honored. I was able to pray with her right before the staff flooded into the room for the delivery. We took deep breaths, pushed, counted to 10, and did it again and again until sweet Josiah made his way into the world!

The moment he was born, I literally fell into T. We hugged and both cried. The feeling of gratitude to her, gratefulness to God for a safe delivery, and awe that I was standing right where God wanted me, was overwhelming.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

June 20th — 7:22 p.m., 5 lbs. 4 oz., 18.25 inches

This is T and I moments after Josiah was born. I blurred her face just for her privacy, but you may still be able to tell we sort of look alike. God is surely in the details!

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

Josiah was taken off to the nursery about 30 minutes later to be evaluated and checked from head to toe. We all had a chance to go back to the nursery for a quick first peek, and then we headed back to the hotel so the kids and Emmy could get some rest. I promised T I would get her whatever she wanted for dinner, so I headed back up to the hospital (with a very insistent Ella Mae), and had a chance to give Jojo his very first bottle.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

I laid my pillow on my head that night, knowing God’s plan for me had played out before my eyes all day long. But, of course, the adventure of TRUSTING GOD with ALL the details had only just begun.

I never thought I would be a mom with a child in the NICU. Having delivered two healthy, 8-pound babies, and having no plans to adopt a newborn, the thought had never crossed my mind.

After Jojo’s safe and healthy delivery, I really thought we might not need a stay in the NICU. I knew he would spend a lot of time in the nursery, due to the circumstances of the adoption, but was very hopeful he would be released shortly after T. I was prepared for some sort of heart issue (which is very typical in children with Down Syndrome), but when they quickly ruled out any major issues, I assumed we were good to go!

The nurses discovered, during the first night after Jojo was born, he was what is called a ‘poor feeder.’ This simply means he needed a little time to get the hang of breathing, sucking, and swallowing all at the same time. Sounded like no big deal to me.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

If I had to describe a stay in the NICU in one word, it would be ‘uncertainty.’ I am a planner, and I don’t do well with uncertainties! I especially don’t do well with uncertainties when I am with my kids, in a another state, away from home. From day one until the day we were released, moment to moment, I was literally never sure of anything.

How long would he need to stay? A doctor would estimate two more days, and an hour later, a nurse would guess a week. Babies in the NICU change so often, and each and every time I rang the bell, washed my hands, and turned the corner, I never knew what I would see. Would he be better? Worse? The same? Would the birth mom be in there holding him? Would his crib be closed (meaning he wasn’t keeping his temp up on his own), or would it be open? Is that my baby’s monitor beeping or someone else’s? Have they moved him to a different spot? That is a great way to freak a new mommy out, by the way!

We were staying in a hotel (which is expensive), driving a rental car (which is expensive), and eating out for every meal (which adds up fast). First and foremost, I wanted Jojo to be healthy. But second, I wanted to be able to have a PLAN.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

So, we spent the first few days at the hospital in the mornings, then back to the hotel to give the kids a break, then back to the hospital in the afternoon. I spent A LOT of time feeling like I needed to be in three places at once. I couldn’t just turn my back on T after everything she had been through (she had NO ONE else there for her), but I wanted to focus all my time on my new baby, and also not ignore Aidan and Ella Mae. It wasn’t an easy balance.

The law requires the birth mother (or parents) have 48 hours before they can sign over their parental rights. So, Saturday evening, we all headed up to the hospital to meet the social worker and be there in case we were needed. It was a tough night. T had a family member who was supposed to be there for her while she signed the papers, but they were a no show. I felt so terrible for her. Of course, I wanted her to sign the papers with no issue, but as a mom, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what she was feeling. Mothers who give their children up for adoption are the strongest people in the world, as far as I am concerned. To carry and deliver a child, and then make the choice to do what is best for that child, and walk away from the hospital empty handed… I can literally not imagine. She will always be my hero.

The social worker needed two people to witness the signing of the papers, and they had to be people who were in no way affiliated with the hospital, for legal reasons. She asked my mom if she would witness, and of course, she said yes. The kids and I waited in the waiting room, and I think I held my breath the entire time. My mom realized in the moment, since she was also adopted as an infant, her birth parents likely had to go through a similar process to give her the gift of a family that could raise her well. It was a very emotional night for all of us. I doubt I will ever again experience a time in my life when I felt such joy and such sadness all in the same moment.

Once the papers were signed and T was released, things got a little easier for me. It also became clear Jojo was not going to be released as soon as we had hoped, and we were definitely going to be in Texas for a while. So, decisions had to be made.

Emmy decided it was best for her to go ahead and travel back on Monday to take care of things at home. My amazing friend, Tesney, was planning to drive to Houston to see Jojo on Monday as well. So, it felt like the right time to transition from the hotel to stay with friends. The only problem was, the hotel was 10 minutes from the hospital and my ever changing baby, and our friend’s house was about 30 minutes away. To say this caused me a little anxiety would be a HUGE understatement. Huge. Tesney and the friends we were going to stay with have an AMAZING connection (that’s another story), but they had never met in person. I had never met the Eichers in person either, but we took the leap of faith that all would be fine. On Monday morning, we loaded up the car and headed from Sugar Land to Houston.

We packed up all of our belongings in our rental car and went to visit Jojo. Then, I plugged the address into my GPS, and headed for Houston. I had spoken to Lisa on the phone once the day before. My mom was pushing it to get to the airport on time, so she literally dumped us and all our stuff off at their doorstep and took off. I now had no rental car, no mom to help me, and no idea how staying with complete strangers (with my big kids and one in the NICU, 30 minutes away) was going to go.

But, our kids hit it off right away. Once Tesney and her kids arrived, the real adventure began. We had six kids between us at the house (1/3 of which have Down syndrome), one husband (bless him), and a baby at the NICU. The next week was filled with fun, but also drama and stress for me, as I tried to balance time at the hospital and time with my friends and big kids. That week was awesome, but unfortunately Tesney and her boys had to leave to head back home. We all hoped Jojo would get to come home while Tesney was still there, but the stars just did not align to make that happen. The time with all of us together was WAY too short, but it was a sweet time I will never forget.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark
Courtesy of Jenny Clark

After Tesney left, we waited another WEEK before Jojo was able to come home! Waiting is hard. We had a big celebration for the 4th of July, aka our last day as a family of three! On July 5th, Jojo was all set to be RELEASED! Of course, it took half a day to get all the paperwork done and the ducks all in nice little rows. The whole crew came up to the hospital; it really was surreal walking out of that place with him. When we got home, I was surprised with signs, gifts, balloons, and even flowers from my ‘Texas husband,’ Joey.

Courtesy of Jenny Clark
Courtesy of Jenny Clark

When you live with people, especially people you have never met before in real life, it forms an amazing bond between you. Yes, Lisa was a hot mess on the first day we showed up and moved in with them for an indefinite amount of time. But, we quickly moved past that and truly became the best of friends. Aidan and I had a stomach virus while we were there, and she took care of us. Our kids became BFF’s. Aidan was able to interact with Archie and Kirill, and that was a HUGE thing for him. He is very analytical, and that time answered a lot of questions I think he had swirling around in his head about having a brother with Down Syndrome. Ella Mae lost a tooth and got her ears pierced. Jojo came home from the hospital to their house… wow. We spent our first night as a family of four there. He had his first bath in their sink. We did normal life together.

We consider them family, and always will. We love the Eichers so much we can hardly stand it, and Jojo’s story just would not have been the same without them.”

Courtesy of Jenny Clark

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jenny M. Clark. It originally appeared on her blog. You can follow her 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.

Read Jenny’s backstory:

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