After three years of marriage, Mercedes and Andy found themselves unexpectedly pregnant. Within a week of finding out, Mercedes had a miscarriage. “It was the first time I had experienced loss,” Mercedes said. A few months later, her brother suddenly passed away and her “world was shattered” for a second time. In an effort to move past the grief, they went on a mission trip to Haiti and served at an orphanage with special needs children. It was after that experience, the couple decided to adopt a child with Down syndrome.
Talking about Adopting a Child with Down Syndrome
“We had talked about the thought of adoption before getting married…and it kept turning in my head that this is what we should be focusing on right now and not trying to get pregnant,” Mercedes said. Mercedes shared her feelings with Andy and he was excited. Andy took a day to gather his thoughts and feelings to make sure his heart was in the right place. After that day, “it was a no-brainer,” Andy said. Six months later, they picked up three-day-old Sunflower.
Mercedes’ mom wasn’t at all surprised when they began the adoption process, because she knew Mercedes always wanted to adopt and she loved working with children with special needs. Andy’s family was very supportive too. “They were excited because it was our way of telling them that we were going to pursue having our first child,” Andy said.
The Greater the Challenge, the Greater the Joy
“With Sunflower, the hardest part is my own parental doubt that I’m not doing enough or doing too much,” Mercedes said. Whenever Sunflower throws a temper tantrum, Mercedes has to decide if it’s because she has Down syndrome or because she’s a sassy four-year-old. Sometimes, she has a hard time deciding which makes her parenting job a little more complex.
“She is very physically able, but her speech is one thing that’s been slow to develop so it has been difficult to communicate with her,” Andy said. But it is just that much better for Andy to see her find new ways to communicate or learn new words. “We learn so much more from people with special needs.” He and Mercedes speak slower and more clearly for Sunflower, and make sure they understand Sunflower’s needs as she tries to communicate with them. For this and many other reasons, they have learned to stop and pause.
A common characteristic of someone with Down syndrome is low muscle tone. Sunflower, however, is physically strong and able to do many things. She loves running outside, rollercoaster rides, drawing, and painting among other activities. Mercedes and Andy were told that her birth mother enjoyed pets, outdoors, and was creative. It has been fun to watch those attributes carry through to Sunflower.
“My greatest joy is how much she helps me to be fearless because she is fearless,” Mercedes said. “I know she’s going to have me going on rollercoasters, and I am scared of heights, but if she’s down, I gotta do it.”
Adopted or Not, Children are ‘Beautiful and Scary’
If you are thinking about adopting a child with special needs, do it! “It would be so unfortunate for so many kids to go without great families…just because they were born with Down syndrome and that became their identity,” Andy said. You have no way of knowing how your child’s life will go and you shouldn’t try to control that.”
“Sometimes I forget that she’s even adopted…because she’s just my daughter,” Mercedes said. People ask if they worry about what Sunflower’s future will be like. The truth is, they worry more about their other two children. Bringing children into the world is a beautiful and scary journey whether they have special needs or not. Just because Sunflower has Down syndrome doesn’t mean her life will be significantly more difficult. “They are spectacular, strong and resilient, and they are to be seen as capable, loving, worthwhile people,” said Mercedes.