By Matt and Stacey Cooper
Adoption has always been one of our table discussions, and that is all it has been for the last 8 years– Talk. Our church has a One Less Orphan group, made of couples who have adopted before and are here to help support and encourage others who are in the process. The adopted verse for the group is James 1:27 which says: Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. So our talk was becoming more of an observation.
We have 5 biological children, Blake is 18 and will be a freshman at the University of Iowa in the fall. Caleb is 16, and born at 29 weeks has a very mild form of cerebral palsy but is in a mainstream classroom and participates in band and track. Next came a two for one deal with twins Jonah and Emma who are 6 and going into first grade. The baby is Sophie and she is 3. So as you can see it really didn’t ever feel like the right season for us to adopt. Even with an already large family (by most standards today) I would look and feel someone was missing from the dinner table. And maybe I was supposed to tuck in someone else at night.
We began looking at waiting children. Just inching along. We knew from having Caleb we were called and equipped to care for a special child. I would say that I always had a heart and a love for people who have that extra chromosome. It was natural for us to be looking at children with either Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. However there are a lot of cute, sweet kids who need a family and we couldn’t agree on who, if anyone was to come to our home.
One day in our Sunday school class at church, the teacher was talking about “getting off the fence”. The fence being the safe place where we just ride the middle and not really commit to one side or the other. At the end he challenged us to get off our fence. My husband Matt and I knew what that meant in our life and we went home, reached in the cabinet that the adoption application had been sitting in for 6 months and we jumped way off the fence. We went back to looking at the waiting children and we saw a little 4 year old girl, her advocacy name was “Charlotte” and it discussed her Down syndrome in her brief description. Matt said I think she is a Cooper. We were finally on the same page!
She is located in China and there are several guidelines that must be met in order to adopt from their country. We didn’t even know if we would qualify. Holt International (our agency) called back within days to say we met those guidelines and could adopt from China. They wanted to know if we were interested in a particular child or if we preferred to be matched with someone at the end of the process. We told them about Charlotte and said they would be happy to fax her medical chart to us. We had 48 hours to have them reviewed by doctors/pediatrician and to let them know if we would like to continue towards her. I am a nurse practitioner so the words were familiar and after all Caleb has been through I didn’t think there could be anything that would make me say no. Her 12 page file said she was abandoned and found near an industrial part of the city. Attempts were made to find her parents, but unable and she was placed in an orphanage. The report said she is nonverbal, and I read obstinate a few times. That’s laughable because apparently they have not met my three year old! It said she could walk independently and navigate stairs. She can ride a tricycle. She is fed porridge in the morning and rice for lunch and dinner occasionally with fruits or meat. And if the nannies don’t watch her carefully during meals she will swipe from others’ bowls. I would too on that diet. It said she will try to console other children if they are crying but often makes them cry more from patting their back too hard. So she is kind and hungry. Perfect for us. They had done labs on her and her CBC and TSH were within normal limits. It also said no heart defect. It’s hard to believe there isn’t a heart issue, but perhaps if it is something they missed it must be minor or she is compensating for it and getting along OK. The best part was the photo copy of her chromosomes and that third copy was just the cutest thing ever.
We said within 12 hours yes we wanted to continue and notified Holt. There were having a match meeting in a few days for another family and child and they would add us and Charlotte to the agenda. They advised me that no one else had inquired or was looking at Charlotte so while I felt strong we would be matched, there is always the possibility that would prefer her with much older children, or no children, we didn’t know. But being part of God’s plan it all came together and we were matched. Hooray, we found the child who has been missing from our family.
She turned five while in the orphanage and we are certain it will be her last without her family. Even her birthday is an estimate because they assigned her a birth date based on physical findings when she was found. The orphanage is great and has sent us several videos of her playing and the nannies seem very attentive and loving to her. I think she will be missed. Which makes me sad in one way, we are removing her from everything she has ever known. her crib mates, her nannies, her walls of the orphanage, her language, but I also know that we are going to change her little world for the better. We are giving her a new generational legacy that would not have otherwise been available to her there. We look forward to becoming part of the DSAGSL community and advocating for Down syndrome and for orphans. I used to struggle after Caleb’s diagnosis with cerebral palsy and it took me quite a while to figure out that I was the perfect mom for him, and that he was chosen and picked just for me and even through the difficulties, God would prepare and equip me. I have had the privilege to offer those words to a few new moms who maybe recently found out their perinatal testing was abnormal. Or they are still working through the process of grief for their little one. I see Down Syndrome and any specialness in a child a blessing, but I know not everyone has arrived to that point. So I hope to be a source for moms who might need a listening ear or someone to offer an encouraging word. It’s part of being in the community!!
We just completed our home study visits and are awaiting our final report on that to send off for grant applications. While we have a child on the other side of world waiting for immigration papers and a dossier to arrive we still have the financial hurdles to jump over. The fee for the orphanage alone is $15000, plus travel and a handful of other things here and there. We would just ask our community to lift our family up in prayer that God will meet those needs just when it is the perfect time. And our faith allows us to rest and now that it will happen, because many of God’s promises say so.
Thank you for allowing us to share our story with DSAGSL and we can’t wait to have her here. I know she is going to do so many great things and impact so many people along the way. I think people with Down Syndrome just come by that naturally. And there will be One Less Orphan!