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.
Everyone’s Thoughts about Adopting a Child with Down Syndrome
Mercedes and Andy knew adoption would be a part of their lives. “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 discussed her feelings with Andy and he was surprisingly excited. Andy took a day to gather his thoughts and feelings. He wanted 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. 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.
With Any Challenge, Comes 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. On the other hand, it is wonderful for him to see her find new ways to communicate or learn new words.
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 and then identify how much of her personality is really hers.
Like all children with Down syndrome, Sunflower is always happy and has a cheerful spirit about her. She is also brave beyond her years. “My greatest joy is how much she helps me to be fearless because she is fearless,” Mercedes said. Sunflower loves rollercoasters and Mercedes wants to support her with whatever she wants to do, even if she is scared. “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,” said Mercedes.
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.
“We learn so much more from people with special needs,” Andy said. Mercedes and Andy have learned to stop and pause. They must speak slower and clearly, and make sure they understand Sunflower’s needs. Because of Sunflower, Mercedes and Andy know it is important to pause and slow down in all areas of life.
“Sometimes I forget that she’s even adopted…because she’s just my daughter,” Mercedes said. Sometimes they are asked 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.