‘She was found in an elevator at 4 months old. Her teeth had never been brushed. I was a pile of tears on the floor.’: Special needs family adopts daughter with Down syndrome

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“To start this story, one must start at the beginning of our family. Karl and I married in 2005, after being high school sweethearts. One worked while the other went to school, and then vise versa. After 5 years of marriage, we welcomed our son, Isaac, into our family. Just 10 short months after Isaac was born, I found out I was pregnant again. Just a few weeks into the pregnancy, we found out there were several medical complications with our second son with whom I was pregnant.

After a rough pregnancy and about 22 ultrasounds, I went into a very difficult and complicated delivery, at the end of which I delivered our second son, Jack. As soon as Jack came into this world, there was complication upon complication, and amongst the madness, our doctor told us Jack had Down syndrome. My husband and I were surprised but relieved just for the doctor to tell us he would live amidst all his medical issues.

Karl and I believe God knows best for our family and our faith in Him is incredibly strong. We never doubted or waivered Jack was created by Him and for His purposes. There were some moments when we considered the truth our lives would look differently than we had anticipated before Jack was born but those thoughts are quickly turned to how much we love Jack and just how truly special he is.

At the time of Jack’s birth, due to my medical complications, I was told I could not have any more biological children. Karl and I were fine with this as my pregnancies and births were very difficult. We knew then that we would adopt a girl when the time was right. We had decided we wanted to adopt a child with Down syndrome because we knew so much about it since having Jack, and we knew they were not valued and usually lived in orphanages in some parts of the world.

We prayed for several years about when to start the adoption process, and one night while surfing Facebook, I came across a video of a boy with Down syndrome when he was thriving in an orphanage and then pictures of him after he was sent to an institution at the age of 18. Shortly after moving to the institution, he starved to death due to inhumane treatment. I was a pile of tears on the floor. I cried and cried. Having a son with Down syndrome, I knew the value, preciousness, and innocence of that little boy and saw my own son in his eyes. I knew then even though adopting one child from such treatment would feel like just a bandaid on the bigger problem, it would still mean life versus death for one child.

After that night, Karl and I prayed some more and then found a website called Reeses’ Rainbows. It is full of list after list with pictures of precious children from all over the globe with disabilities needing a home. I scrolled and scrolled until a little girl about a year old caught my eye. I don’t know what caught my eye, but I just knew I had to ask about her. So I inquired and within the week we signed the ‘commitment’ forms.

Courtesy of Karl, Dawn and Leah Bogrand

For the next 18 months, we did copious paperwork and raised funds to pay for the very costly adoption. We also found out her Chinese name was Fu Bei, which translates to ‘happy baby.’ Approximately 20 months later, we were flying to China. Although the picture we picked was of a 1-year-old, the girl in the picture was now 6. We knew very little about her. We knew she was 6, had ‘feeding issues,’ and had no heart issues. We knew she was found in an elevator when she was guessed to be about 4 months old and her face was put in a paper with half a dozen other ‘foundlings’ (as the picture was labeled) but she was never claimed. We knew the day they chose as her birthday. Nothing further. The weight and height didn’t translate in our documentation and we were given nothing further about her. We didn’t know if she could walk or talk. We packed a suitcase with size 6 clothes, some age-appropriate toys, and many shoes that would hopefully fit her.

Courtesy of Karl, Dawn and Leah Bogrand

We arrived in China and did a whirlwind of legal documentation and visa necessities and waited 2 days to meet our girl, who we had named Leah. On adoption day, we were led to a huge room with maps on the walls and toys in the middle. One by one, about 20 families entered and we then learned we were all going to see each other meet our children for the first time. I knew it was a day I would never forget. We sat anxiously awaiting our daughter’s arrival.

Then a woman came in carrying a very small girl (I guessed maybe about 2 years old), I figured she was not Leah due to her stature. But as the woman came to us she handed us the girl and shook her head ‘yes’ (she did not speak English). My husband held Leah and she smiled with her tiny teeth caked with thick plaque and put her tiny hand on his mouth. They played for several minutes and I marveled. This little girl couldn’t be more than 20 pounds and a few feet tall. She was sickly skinny and nonverbal. My mind ran a mile a minute. How could she be 6 years old? What has she been through? How awful had her life been?

Courtesy of Karl, Dawn and Leah Bogrand

But my mind soon became focused on the amazing scene before me of our new daughter playing with her new dad as well as all the other families receiving their adopted children. We both watched in awe as each disabled child was brought in one by one to their long-awaited families. Children hugging their new siblings, mothers crying with their new babies, children crying as they are torn from their orphanage workers, but more than anything, I was struck at the beautiful families embracing children they knew nothing about except they needed a family. It is something I can’t quite explain in words but will never forget.

Courtesy of Karl, Dawn and Leah Bogrand

We quickly learned Leah was given four bottles of formula a day (about 300 calories) and we were given a bottle and formula and the clothes on her back. Then suddenly we were back at the hotel holding her and watching her and learning what she liked and what scared her. She loved hairbrushes and shoes! She had an incredibly strong grip we could scarcely pry anything out of! We played and laughed and learned Leah was very sweet and very accommodating and very silent. She made NO NOISES. We quickly found the Chinese Walmart and purchased more bottles, more formula, and many size 2T baby clothes that would fit her. The suitcase full of clothes and shoes would have to be donated as they were all multiple sizes too big.

Courtesy of Karl, Dawn and Leah Bogrand

We immediately began feeding her 10 bottles a day, which she would consume in less than a minute per bottle. One night, we laid her in the crib to sleep and she quickly fell asleep. We awoke to an odd sniffling sound only to discover it was Leah silently crying. We tried to lay her with us but she was stiff as a board and obviously very scared laying by us in a bed so we thought the crib would be best. We sang to her and doted on her until she fell asleep. The first several days we had Leah, she did not walk, and she slept most of the day. But as she received more food over the subsequent days, she began to walk unsteadily around the hotel room and remained awake for the better part of the day.

Courtesy of Karl, Dawn and Leah Bogrand

We were never able to see Leah’s orphanage or to find out anything she had been through. It is so hard knowing nothing about a child. All we knew was she was now ours and we would love her as best we could. We adopted Leah legally the next day along with the 20 other families and then headed home for her to meet the rest of her family. Of course, everyone in our immediate and extended family loved Leah to pieces! She is precious and sweet and loves attention! We immediately got her teeth cleaned (it was obvious they had never been brushed) and started her in feeding therapy.

Within a month she was eating solid food and lots of it! Within 4 months, she had gained 20 pounds and started school. She still has never made a sound and we were told (by several therapists) she likely will never talk. But that’s okay! She signs and motions and let me tell you, she gets her wants and needs known!

Courtesy of Karl, Dawn and Leah Bogrand

Today Leah is 10 years old and weighs 58 pounds. She is happy most of the time and still loves to eat. Her favorite foods are Oreos and Graham Crackers. She feeds herself (if she wants to) and loves sitting at the table with a glass of soy milk and some cookies. She can sign about 50-60 signs and she loves school. She is a joy to her teachers as she works quietly and happily with any task they give her. She is a happy and sweet girl and we love her. Bearing our story in mind, one can see how we are huge adoption advocates! If we had not adopted Leah, she would most certainly not be alive today. Sometimes I just sit and stare at her completely in awe of where she was versus where she is today.

Focused Moments Photography

Of course, there are tough times. Trying times. Difficulties and challenges. But they don’t even come close to comparing how much joy and love she gives and receives. As I talk with various people about the struggles and challenges we went through or maybe still go through today, I always tell them I would still do it over and over again if given the chance because I know her life was saved by adoption.”

Focused Moments Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karl, Dawn, and Leah Bogrand. You can follow their journey on Instagram. 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.

Read more amazing stories about special needs adoption here:

‘URGENT ADOPTION’ was in red marker. She left me breathless. I BEGGED for help. The fight was ON.’: Grieving couple inspired to adopt baby with Down syndrome

‘You’re newly pregnant and this little girl is a lot of work. If you need us to find her a new home, it’s okay.’ I didn’t want an ‘easier’ kid. I wanted her.’: Foster mom shares special needs adoption

‘Have you lost your MIND?’ The thought of her lying alone was too much. There’s NO WAY we could take on 4 fragile kids.’: Couple pursues special needs adoptions, ‘We’d do it all again’

‘Look at this little girl.’ She was born without hands, feet, or a mouth. We cried all the way through her file.’: Couple pursues special needs adoption, ‘She is truly remarkable’

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