November 30, 2010 12:34 PM

A Tale of Four Adoptions

IMG_7250.JPGNovember is National Adoption Month, and since people ask from time to time how we came to adopt the last three of our 12 children, now may be a good time to share the story, originally published in Celebrate Life:

A Tale of Four Adoptions

I know what it's like to be abandoned. When my dad said his final goodbye, as a five year old I didn't know the word for fear - but fear gripped me: What would it be like not to have a father?

So much worse than I could have imagined. Shuffled between foster homes and an alcoholic mother, my innocence was taken early. My heart became hard.

As a cynical young adult, though in 1969 I married and had a baby (Samantha Sunshine) I found my real home in the counterculture: first in Washington DC as an antiwar activist and radical feminist/spokeswoman for abortion rights. In 1972 we moved to San Francisco, where I had another baby (Jasmine Moondance), became addicted to cocaine, abandoned my marriage and became a party girl, dealing drugs while partying and living with gay men.

Looking back, I'm grateful that God - even before I knew him - had other plans for my life and that in spite of my sin and selfishness He brought them to pass.

My mind began to clear in 1980 when I joined Alcoholics Anonymous. There I learned that by surrendering to a Higher Power, I could live my life clean and sober one day at a time, becoming the mother that my little girls - then 5 and 11 - had always needed.

Seeking to know more of this Higher Power - but as a child of the counterculture - I turned toward Eastern Religion and New Age thought.

In 1983 I married a man of similar persuasion. When, in spite of using birth control we began having children in rapid succession, Tripp and I came to the conclusion that our calling was to have a big family. We made a promise to God-as-we-understood-him (kind of a universal, impersonal force) that we would accept all the children sent to us, trusting they would be provided for.

Like most people, we were thinking of material provision. But God honored our commitment by providing for our children in a way we would not have known to ask - He brought us into a relationship with Him through His son Jesus Christ. By putting our marriage and our home in order, God provided for the family's spiritual needs.

That was 1987 and by then we had five children - Samantha and Jasmine plus three boys whose names - Joshua Gabriel, Matthew Raphael and Benjamin Michael - were like God's signposts that all along things had been going according to his plan.

More children followed: Zachary Andrew, Sophia Rose, and then in 1992 Jonathan, our son with Down syndrome. Hearing the news at his birth, my first thought was "God must love me very much!" I knew it would be just the beginning of an amazing journey.

And it was.

Madeleine - my ninth - was born a year after Jonny and because of his delays, they grew up like twins - even learning to walk together. But knowing that the gap between them would widen as years went by - and also because we had learned so much about meeting Jonny's special needs that it seemed like good stewardship - we decided to adopt another baby with Down syndrome.

We contacted Catholic Charities in San Francisco and began our home study. I also hooked into an informal network of people who found out first when an unwanted baby with Down syndrome was born, learning that there are actually fewer such babies than parents seeking to adopt them.

I wanted to be first in line.

And so it was that on May 29, 1995 - three days after my 47th birthday - I learned of a little baby without a name in a San Diego hospital, less than 24 hours old. Though I knew immediately he was our baby, it took a lot of work and several months to bring him home.

Baby G____, as he was named on his original birth certificate, was the second child of a college-educated, professional couple with a two-year-old daughter hoping to complete their family with a son. The birth was quick and uneventful - only half an hour after the mother entered the hospital. But the parents' peace was shattered by the news that their perfect plan had hit a glitch.

Though his mother was one of twelve children from a deeply religious Mexican family, the father was Iranian, and his cultural heritage had not prepared him for an imperfect son. Though the maternal grandmother offered to raise the baby, the father refused. Within hours, the parents relinquished the baby to the state of California and left the hospital.

How I wished those papers had not been signed so quickly! For once he was in the foster care system, it would take months to get him out. Not to mention that our home study was not quite complete and we were in a county in northern California 900 miles away!

Still, when a mother knows it's her baby she will not rest until she brings him home. I pestered the powers-that-be in San Diego mercilessly, while exchanging what I could with the temporary foster mother: her video of my precious baby for tapes of me crooning lullabies and a handkerchief I'd worn to tuck in his bed.

Two months seemed like eternity, but at last on July 25, Tripp and I brought home our precious bundle. We named him Jesse, which means "God exists." The following Sunday our local paper ran a front page article splashed not only with pictures of our family, but the complete story of the spiritual journey which led to our tenth child - as though God had used this little abandoned boy to broadcast the message of his might and power.

Though that was the end of our plan, God wasn't finished. When Jesse was six months old, Catholic Charities referred a couple to us who had just received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Again, a college-educated, professional couple with a two year old awaiting the birth of their second and final child had hit a bump in the road. The mother was set on obtaining an abortion.

The father, a non-practicing Catholic, could not agree. Catholic Charities thought that perhaps by talking to us, the couple would be reassured that this baby was not the end of the world. We had them over for dinner, sure that meeting our children would change the mother's mind.

Instead it led to a compromise as the parents decided they wanted us to adopt their baby. We agreed, but with the stipulation that we would get ready to receive him, but we would also be ready to let the baby go if they decided to keep him. This mom and I went through the last four months of her pregnancy together - going to all the doctor appointments and ultrasounds and talking several times a week on the phone.

On Mother's Day 1996 - two weeks before Jesse's first birthday - we were on our way to church when we got the call that they were at the hospital. We arrived a half hour after the baby was born. The four parents spent the day in the hospital holding him and crying together - each of us for different reasons. But the birth mother never wavered in her decision and the parents checked out of the hospital, leaving me to spend the night in the hospital. Tripp and I brought Daniel home the next morning.

To say the next few years were intense - raising three boys with Down syndrome only four years apart - hardly conveys the daily reality. But they were happy years as well. And it did my mother's heart good to see the beneficial effect on our other children as in helping Jonny, Jesse, and Daniel reach their potential they were reaching their own.

Still, when Catholic Charities called in 2000 to ask if we would consider adopting another baby with Down syndrome, I had to say: "I'm 52, I'm wearing down. I'm sorry. I have to say no." As I hung up the phone, 12-year-old Sophia confronted me: "Mom, I can't believe that you would say no!" and I felt as though she was right. Who was I to close a door God might be trying to open?

And so we welcomed a nine-month-old boy born to a Taiwanese couple during their time here on a student visa. Though they loved him dearly, they knew that if they took him home, there would be only stigma and shame in a land where children with Down syndrome are still sent away to institutions. Their involvement with the early intervention programs showed them there was hope for Justin if he remained here. Catholic Charities had introduced them to many families, but none really clicked until they met ours, where the older children's love for their younger brothers convinced them that ours was the right home.

How glad I am that Sophia overheard and rebuked me for my first response, based on my fears that my own resources were limited. I guess that isn't what God was thinking. And Justin has been like the perfect exclamation point to our adoption journey.

But what about the fourth adoption? you may be wondering.

Ah, but that was in the beginning - eight years before Jesse - when this fatherless child was adopted into the kingdom of God. Though I was 38, in many ways I was like the babies I adopted - desperately in need of a home. And even as I knew before I ever laid eyes on them that they were mine, God always knew I was His.

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. Ephesians 1:5

Giving birth to children is a miraculous privilege. But adoption is a reflection of the divine.

The occasion for the suits was Jonny and Jesse's confirmation at St. Francis deSales last May.

Love,
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