“You have the million-dollar family,” he drawled, “one girl, one boy.” His well-intentioned assessment of our family of four felt like a small stone in my shoe. Each step brought a blistering chafe that refused to be ignored.
My husband, Glendon, and I never set out to become the stereotypical million-dollar American family. When motherhood chased me down in 2007, my very specific plans to finish nursing school and find a good job were beautifully wrecked as I read that pink “+” sign. I knew there would be no cap and gown, no ‘RN’ snuggled up to my last name, no moving forward in a rewarding career I was sure I wanted.
We soon traded a suburban apartment in central FL for a stone cabin in the wooded Poconos. Months later, our so-called million-dollar family was born. With two kids in less than two years, two major moves, and a major career shift into the unknown, we needed time to get our bearings. We spent the next few years chasing sleep, creating a sustainable life in camp ministry, and content with our decision to be ‘done’ birthing children.
Most conversations with family and friends looked like this:
Them: So…are you guys going to have more kids?
Somewhere along the way, however I sensed a holy nudge. Holy because it didn’t come from this selfish heart of mine and nudge because thoughts of adoption slowly crept into my mind. We began to ask, “What does God want our family to look like?”
Answering those questions led us to adoption research. In that process, we learned that the kiddos least likely to be placed are those with different abilities. They often wait for years in foster care or orphanages, eventually aging out of a terribly broken system. We read heartbreaking stories of imprisonment and sex trafficking that begged the question, “What is our role in caring for kids in need?”
After a short season of prayer and conversations, we knew it was time to move forward with the adoption of a child with Down syndrome. Both of us had experience with people with Ds, and we were devastated to learn of the great need to find homes for kiddos with that extra chromosome.
We chose an agency, completed our home study, and registered with the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network (NDSAN), a non-profit organization that brings together expectant families who want to make an adoption plan.
After just 3 months of completing our home study, we received our first phone call from the NDSAN. We were 1 of 3 adoptive families being considered for a baby recently born. Hoping to include our two kiddos in our prayers, Glendon and I foolishly shared this news of a potential baby. When we learned 48 hours later that another family had been chosen, our kids were devastated. Wailing and drama ensued as our daughter screamed, “We’ll never get a baby! God. Must. Hate. Us!”
We listened and gently assured them that our feelings of disappointment were okay. Then, we vowed to shut our big fat pie holes regarding any future possibility until we were further along in the process.
Nine phone calls later and a year to the date of our home study approval, we got a call that would change our family dynamic forever.
While working at our computer, I had a strong sense that Stephanie, our contact with the NDSAN, was going to call. I stood up from our desk and walked toward the kitchen as if the phone were ringing. Seconds later, it did. The caller ID read “Stephanie NDSAN.” I knew in my spirit that this was ‘the one.’ Stephanie shared details of his health needs and expectant family but she didn’t need to–I already knew our answer. We would accept her invitation to parent this soon-to-be-born gift.
Three months later, we left our home to meet our son’s birth family. We shared a sacred time full of stories, laughter, and tears, while holding space for vulnerability and truth-telling. After an emotional good-bye, we turned our focus toward the NICU, where Sam would spend the next month recovering from a life-saving surgery.
When I reflect on our journey to Sam and our lives since bringing him home four years ago, I remember the wait, the fundraising, the faithful presence of dear friends, the hours researching Down syndrome and adoption, and the countless prayers.
I had one nagging realization. In those months of waiting and learning, I never read any articles or books or heard any sermons that explained the white savior complex within adoption culture. I noticed a disturbing phenomena when we made public our decision to adopt.
WE were flooded with praise.
WE were given the proverbial pats on the back.
WE were celebrated for our selfless good deed.
“Wow! I could never do that! You guys are amazing!”
“You guys are saints!”
“Look at what you’re doing! So wonderful!”
Well-meaning supporters treated us like white missionaries just crazy enough to bring an outsider into our home–one with an extra chromosome which, sadly, gave us bonus points. Between the genuine ‘awws’ and sincere ‘God bless yous,’ I began to see that this journey was dangerously close to becoming more about us and less about the One who led us on it.
I did not anticipate this overwhelming response and I’m ashamed to admit that at times, it felt good to be acknowledged for choosing this route, especially when the naysayers questioned our sanity.
In all that time, the most profound truth I learned was this: I am not my child’s savior. God didn’t need me to rescue Sam. He invited Glendon & me to walk the adoption road and we accepted. If there is any credit to be given, please let it be reserved for the One who miraculously connected a wonderful birth family in New England with an eager adoptive family in the Poconos.
Sam’s birth parents had courageously chosen to bring him into the world and then trusted us to walk with him through it. We were two families working together to provide the absolute best for a baby in need of a loving, supportive home and good medical care. Central to our story was a personal God present every step along the way. He led and provided as only the Divine can. We were mere participants–and needed no trophy for that.
Adoption is loss.
A specific calling.
It is all of these things and more but it is not any human saving any child, especially those labeled ‘less likely to be adopted.’ It’s a ragamuffin mom, removing that nagging pebble from her shoe so she can pay attention to holy nudges and move forward into the unknown.
May we all be sensitive to our supporting role and remember that He is the only one worthy of any credit for the redemptive work in adoption.
Katie is a recovering people-pleaser with a strong sense of justice and a deep desire to include the excluded. She is grateful for strong coffee, belly laughs with good friends, and an adventurous life with her husband and their four kiddos.
She writes about issues related to faith & justice, parenthood, adoption, and different abilities. You can find her at katiecarper.com and on IG @katecarper.