“He’s so dark.” That is something that always brings a smile to my face. A lot of people are too shy to ask if my brother is adopted. After beating around the bush for a while, they finally come out with a question about why he is darker than his seven obviously Irish siblings, and it always brings a smile to my face, not because I am laughing at them but because I love the opportunity this opens up. I can brag about my brother! Yes, he is adopted! Yes, he has Down syndrome! Yes, I adore him! And yes, he has me wrapped around his little finger!
Gabriel was born in Bahrain, a tiny island in the Persian Gulf. He is five years old and is the youngest in our family of eight kids. I am seventeen, the second oldest, and would say that I am the one, out of all of my siblings, who loves him the most. But then, that might not be true; I think we all love him so much that it sometimes feels like your heart could just burst right out of your chest.
Our family has been blessed to have Gabriel with us for five years. He is the pride and joy of our lives and I know that none of us would be the same without him. My brother’s adoption was no small coincidence. As my friend would say, it was a “God-incidence”.
My family had been hoping to adopt for a couple of years. Even though we had seven kids, our family was inspired by Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s work and had decided to look specifically into the adoption of a baby with Down syndrome. We submitted our application to the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati and then just patiently waited and trusted in God’s plan for our family. Our prayer was that God’s will be done, not ours, but I often put a little “p.s.” at the end, telling God how much I would really love another sibling. I can remember many times sitting down with my family and hearing my parents talk about the possibility of a certain child coming to live with us. All of us kids would get really excited but nothing would ever happen, and so we would still have to wait.
After ten months, we were told that our family’s application had been given to a birth family looking to place their baby boy with Down syndrome for adoption. We also learned that the birthfather wanted to come visit us. Everyone was so excited and spent the next week preparing to meet him. The experience was very positive for our whole family and also for Gabriel’s birthfather. During the next few weeks, we waited for their final decision, and when we heard that they had chosen us to be Gabriel’s forever family, we were so thrilled! It was very hard to wait the two months before he would come to live with us; we spent the time praying, preparing the house, and showing pictures of Gabriel to all our friends.
Finally, the time came for my parents to drive the eight hours to receive our new baby. It was December 19th, snowing throughout the Northeast, and everyone was hoping to have Gabriel home before Christmas. The day before my parents were supposed to receive custody of him was a Friday. They had been waiting for some paperwork to come to the office but it still wasn’t there. Everyone at Bethany pitched in to make sure that my parents got it before the end of the workweek. What a relief it was for our whole family! My parents brought Gabriel home between lots of snowstorms, the day they received him, and just in time for Christmas.
I must say our Christmas that year was the best ever! Meditating on Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus seemed quite similar to my parents traveling a long way to receive a new baby into the family. We were so thankful that Christmas to have our whole family, especially our new brother, safely together and we were so thankful to Bethany for making it possible.
Gabriel’s transition into our family was smoother than any of us could have hoped for. He had extraordinary eye contact and this was his primary means of bonding with his new family. To our great surprise he slept through the night from the first day he was with us. Although we were prepared for a few bumps in the road, there really weren’t any. Gabriel has been relaxed and happy in our family from the very start.
I must say that having an adopted sibling is not very much different from a birth sibling as it may seem. A child is a child, and while every one is different, all kids have one thing in common: they are all so darn cute and so fun to be around!
Being born with Down syndrome hasn’t stopped Gabriel from reaching for high goals and for living his life to its fullest potential, and it certainly hasn’t stopped me from loving him! A lot of people worry that kids with Down syndrome aren’t perfect, but guess what? No one is! In my opinion, individuals with Down syndrome are more perfect than the rest of us. You see, they are not only innocent and joyful but they also love unconditionally! They are always quick to have a smile on their face and they appreciate the small things in life. Gabriel has helped me to stop and treasure the small and seemingly unimportant things in life because they are there for a reason. Instead of looking at the glass half empty, I see it as half full. Instead of seeing a weed, I see a beautiful flower. Instead of seeing roses that have thorns, I see thorns that have roses. Instead of seeing a disabled child, I see a beautiful child of God.
Gabriel’s adoption has been an awesome experience for our whole family. None of the kids have had a problem adjusting to an adopted brother. As a matter of fact, he is usually the source of arguments because everyone wants to hold him in church, be his car buddy, or take care of him during meals. Having a baby with Down syndrome has had no downs at all. We prefer to call it “Up syndrome” because Gabriel is truly the most perfect one of all of us.
Our family is always open to adopting another child, and every time it comes up in conversation, all the kids think of numerous reasons why we should adopt again. My dad and mom tell us to take it to prayer, which I do, but always with a little “p.s.”!
Photo by stevendepolo, some rights reserved.