“This is a story of hope. While each adoption is unique, it is the lessons of love and perseverance that unify these stories. We dedicate this to every family out there who hopes to adopt, is stuck in the waiting phase, or is otherwise waiting on unfulfilled blessings in whatever circumstance.
When I was in college, I had two dreams – to volunteer abroad somewhere and to become a Special Education teacher. Through persistence and a little serendipity, I was able to fulfill both. In 2008, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Orphanage Support Services Organization (OSSO) in Ecuador for the summer, working primarily in their special needs orphanage. I was confident it would be impactful, but it proved to be an even more incredible experience than I could have ever imagined because it is what ultimately inspired me to want to adopt.
When Dax and I talked about a future together, he knew adopting was something I wanted to do at some point, and he was equally as excited about it. Fast forward to 2017 – we had eight years of marriage behind us, two biological kids of our own, and a dog when a series of ‘coincidences’ left us feeling like now was the time to move forward with adoption – and to pursue a special needs adoption. Working with people with disabilities has been one of my life’s passions, and it felt like a natural progression to bless our family with one of these precious little ones. While we knew raising a child with special needs would bring challenges, we also knew it would be a huge blessing for our family, so we jumped in with both feet.
My Uncle David had Down syndrome and he was the first person that taught me to look beyond the label. He was a HUGE fan of ‘The Price is Right,’ rode the raddest tricycle to work, and gave a mean foot massage to any brave soul. He had a special way of making a positive impact on nearly everyone he met, myself included.
As we considered what kinds of special needs we would be willing to consider with our adoption, my heart felt drawn to a child with Down syndrome. I had been an avid follower of Heather Avis (a three-time adoptive mom, two with Down syndrome). As we were deciding if we should focus on finding a child with Down syndrome, I happened to win a giveaway for Heather’s new book, ‘The Lucky Few’ about her experiences with adoption, and it was just the inspiration we needed to pursue a Down syndrome adoption.
Once we decided to move forward with adoption, the first step was to pick an agency. The challenge for us was to find an agency that had experience placing kids with special needs. Fortunately, we were pointed toward the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network (NDSAN) and Special Angels Adoption. NDSAN is not an adoption agency but more of a connection point, helping families find adoptable children with Down syndrome throughout the US. Special Angels Adoption is an adoption agency that specifically places kids with disabilities domestically and partners with NDSAN in many cases. They were both incredible to work with, answered all our questions, and had the information and next steps in place to create a seamless process. Our next step was (what at times felt like) selling our souls in appointments, endless paperwork, background checks, etc. It took a few months to gather all the necessary documentation, but by the end of January 2018, we were officially a ‘waiting family!’
Waiting for anything can be hard. Waiting to adopt can be especially hard. It is like being pregnant without a due date and having absolutely no idea whether we should prepare for a newborn or a preschooler. As someone who likes to have a plan and be in control, anticipating a child with special needs and the possibility of medical implications made me feel ready at times to throw my hands up and wave the white flag. It was tricky planning vacations or anything down the road because we could get ‘the call’ anytime saying to come to pick up our baby/toddler/unicorn.
We ended up moving twice during our wait – in Texas from a rental to our own house, and then shortly thereafter across the country to Atlanta for an unexpected job offer. With each move, we had to update our adoption paperwork, which took several months. Since adoption requirements vary from state to state, we had to basically start everything over with our move to Georgia. We dealt with major issues selling our house in Texas (think epic hailstorm and insurance issues as a start), causing further delays with our adoption process, but we knew moving was the right thing, so we rolled with it. We wanted to be ready for when we did get ‘the call,’ so we set up a nursery in each of those three houses and defeatedly took it down each time we moved. It was crushing to walk past an empty nursery every day.
When we moved to Georgia, we hit the ground running and were rounding up paperwork and scheduling appointments within our first week there. After pulling everything together in what felt like record time, I mailed it all off to our social worker only to learn later it got lost en route. We are talking about a fat stack of personal information – copies of driver’s licenses, tax returns, medical records – everything we are taught to keep confidential was gone. I had copies of everything saved, but knowing so much personal information was lost who-knows-where was pretty stressful. Our family had just read Luke 1:37 – ‘For with God, nothing shall be impossible.’ We put our faith into action and prayed our paperwork would be found. By this point, it had been missing for three weeks and I kid you not, the next evening I got a call from our social worker saying, ‘You’ll never guess what just showed up today…’ Miracles happen, y’all!
Throughout the process, we were blessed with the tremendous support of family and friends, but even their well-meaning interest in our adoption made it difficult at times. Adoption would naturally come up in many conversations, usually to the tune of, ‘How is the adoption process going?’ or ‘Have you heard anything yet?’ The answer for so long was, ‘We’re just waiting…’ with a shoulder shrug and forced smile, trying to cover the disappointment of our still-empty arms.
We went through this for almost a year and a half, and while I know some wait so much longer, this wait felt never-ending at times. There were so many background checks, medical appointments, official document roundups, a home study, and two updates, letters of recommendation, our family profile, fees, and so much more. It was something we felt very strongly God wanted us to do, so why were there so many setbacks along the way? We would have thrown in the towel had we not felt His hand guiding us forward.
Many of us are struggling silently with things in our lives. Even if we look like we have it together, we can still be fighting our own battles privately and this wait was my silent struggle. Our adoption was completely out of our hands at this point. We had high hopes of growing our family and holding a new addition in our arms. It was hard watching friends chase their toddlers around the park or take their crying babies into the hall at church because we wanted that for ourselves, and there was nothing we could do to speed that along.
Most of the time, I was fine waiting on the Lord and felt full of faith things would work out when and how they were supposed to. Other days, I quietly resented this test of patience and so I allowed myself to grieve. What I learned through it all is that it is in the test we grow the most. We knew one day ‘the call’ would come and when it did, we would be able to look back and realize it was all worth the wait.
We got to a point where we were tired of putting our lives on hold so we decided to make plans to visit my parents in Kentucky. We spent the 4th of July celebrating at the small-town parade, touring a retirement farm for racing horses (yes, that’s a thing, and it was awesome), and shooting off fireworks with the kids. Little did we know that July 5th would rock our world in the best way possible.
My parents offered to watch the kids the next morning so Dax and I could take some time to unwind and get massages. Imagine our surprise when afterward we found our phones with several missed calls and texts from the Director of NDSAN. Trying not to get our hopes up, we found a quiet place to call her back. We knew we were being considered for three different babies with Down syndrome, but the closest due date was still three weeks away.
This is how the call went: ‘Hey! I’m so glad we were able to get ahold of you. Congratulations! You have been matched with a baby boy…’ We immediately melted into tears hearing those long-awaited words. In the same breath, she said, ‘… and he is being born this morning … in California!’ There was a huge range of emotions that came from that sentence, but immense gratitude and complete shock probably describe it best. The rest of the call was a blur as we tried to wrap our heads around the news. We met my parents with the kids, shared the news (more happy tears), and set to work figuring out logistics.
There we were, out of state on vacation with a new baby across the country. Because I have the greatest parents in the world, they let us leave the kids and the dog with them in Kentucky for an undetermined amount of time while we went to meet our new baby. Dax and I drove back to Atlanta to pack and get things ready and flew to California early on the 7th. We had to pick a name within a matter of hours and settled on Sawyer David, largely in honor of my Uncle David. In those two days, I have never had such a jumbled mind as I tried to process so many logistics, feelings, and what to expect when we got out there. It was insane but exhilarating at the same time. I barely slept in anticipation of meeting him, meeting the birth family, and assessing how our lives were about to change.
Going on less than 4 hours of sleep and coming off a 5-hour flight, Dax and I drove straight to the hospital to meet Sawyer. We didn’t know what to expect because parental rights had not yet been terminated and we weren’t sure if the hospital would let us see him, but we had to try. Sawyer was in a NICU room with seven other babies and a handful of nurses. They showed us which baby was ours and tears of love and gratitude came over us as we looked over that perfect baby boy. He was born three weeks early and had some complications that required surgery within a matter of days, so there were a lot of wires and monitors attached to him. The first time I held him, the nurses were walking us through his medical history, and honestly, I hardly heard a word of it as I stared in awe at this baby, with his sleeping almond eyes and a head full of gorgeous, dark hair.
Sawyer ended up spending 3 ½ weeks in the NICU recovering from his surgery. Dax needed to get back to work, so I stayed in California with Sawyer until I was able to fly him home to meet his siblings. Even though it was nearly midnight when we landed in Atlanta, Dax and the kids were there for the sweetest reunion. Our first family picture was taken after 1 a.m., and as tired as we were, our hearts were so full.
The rest, as they say, is history – or history in the making. Sawyer’s first birthday is just around the corner, and we are still amazed at how seamlessly he wove himself into our lives and family. Not a day goes by we don’t express gratitude to God for allowing us to be a part of his story. As hard and long as our adoption journey was, I can say without a doubt we would do it 100 times over again to bring home our little boy. He was absolutely worth the wait.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melanie J. from Atlanta, GA. You can follow their journey on Instagram. 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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