If you’re reading this, you and I have something very particular in common.
Four years ago, when I was pregnant with twins, I found out through routine screening that one of my babies had Down Syndrome. What followed in the weeks after might have been the most difficult and heartbreaking time of my life. My partner and I were faced with what seemed like an unanswerable question: could we provide what this tiny human would need, in the immediate and not so immediate future?
Getting news that your baby isn’t “healthy” can be shocking and even traumatizing. None of us is ever expecting that nor can we be in any way prepared. What’s worse, there can be, as it was in my situation, a great deal of shame surrounding a child that has “problems.” All kinds of thoughts flooded my mind, many in the category of, “what’s wrong with me that caused this child to be defective?” And no matter how many people, doctors, relatives, friends, Internet searches told me that it wasn’t my fault, that it happens all the time, there remained the question,
“then why me?”
I flailed around, helpless in the darkness for some time. All kinds of scenarios played out in my mind: being at the playground and getting stared at. Special schools. Therapists. Treatments. Hospitalizations. “Normal” children pointing and whispering. Being rejected by relatives. On and on it went in my mind.
In the end, I was able to focus on the practical side of things. My partner and I were in our 50s and 40s, respectively, and are the youngest in our extended family of relatives and friends. It was clear that this person, after we were too old to care for him, would end up being in some type of institutional or a least a non-familial setting. My career as a writer and performer is also a demanding one and not something I would ever give up willingly. We talked and talked and it became clear that we would not be able to provide the kind of home we felt he needed.
The adoption process was long with lots of meetings and phone calls. We were asked, over and over, if we were sure. We were interviewed extensively by the local social worker who created a file about us, presumably for the adoptive family in case our birth son would ever want to know anything about his biological roots. We filled out forms and were offered genetic counseling (which we turned down). For a woman like me, older and pregnant with twins, it was at certain moments quite exhausting. But we met a great many people who were supportive, encouraging and very open-hearted. This was one of the many wonderful surprises that this situation brought us.
One of the biggest and best surprise was finding Association Emmanuel. Our social worker let us know that we would meet with the director of a non-profit organization devoted to finding homes for special needs children and then supporting the families throughout the lifespan of the children. We became afraid of this meeting with this director, certain she would judge and shame us for abandoning our child.
Well, nothing could have been further from the truth. I will never forget the day we had that meeting. Our social worker had left us in the meeting space to walk to the reception area and meet Catherine and a co-worker. My partner and I were clinging to each other, sweating, uncomfortable and afraid. Then they walked into the room. I remember looking at my partner and knowing she was feeling the same thing: it’s all going to be ok.
From that moment on, our adoption experience changed dramatically. Catherine turned out to only be interested in finding a good match. She told us many, many times that it was clear we loved this baby and were acting as good parents in the decision we’d made. We were astonished; this was far from the kind of reaction we were expecting.
Both my partner and I emerged from that experience made whole, knowing our son was in the perfect place, in a family with young parents, and several other siblings with a large extended family.
Je n’avais pas compris avant la naissance qu’Emmanuel supporte non seulement les familles adoptives, mais aussi les parents biologiques. Je continue de faire du bénévolat pour l’association; c’est une façon pour moi de contribuer. Je sais, au plus profond de mon cœur, que la décision que nous avons prise était la bonne.