In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take

It’s National Adoption Week here in the UK this week (16th – 22nd October) and as in previous years, the need to find families for some of the most vulnerable children, remains at the heart of event

There are many reasons why a mother might decide to choose adoption. But of all the reasons listed, the one closest to my heart, is when a woman finds out she is having or has had a baby with Down Syndrome and she no longer wants her baby. Perhaps she had found out at birth or perhaps she’d known prior and not wanted to have an abortion, but nevertheless, in both cases, because of the DS, these women, no longer want their child. When a woman chooses adoption, some people might say she isn’t making the choice to give up. Some believe it is an act of love to put a child’s needs ahead of their own desires and I do understand that to a point. But as a mother to three children myself, I can’t even imagine being put in that heart wrenching position. Is there really that little hope?

Something that has played on my mind for a long while now and something i’ve felt really passionate about writing about, are those babies. The babies who happen to have Down Syndrome that are born, aren’t wanted and are put into foster care, hoping ultimately, to be placed with an adoptive family.

You see, I am contacted via my blog and page, by women who have recently given birth to a baby with DS a lot. So many of them had post natal diagnosis’ and usually have had a big big shock. Mostly these women are going through a tough time but in the main, seem to get through it. But amongst those messages and of those women that contact me, I can’t tell you the number of them that have been told by their hospital, whether it be openly or off the record, that if they wanted to leave their baby there (e.g if they didn’t want him or her because of the news they’d just gotten), then that’d be ok. Whether that be by a consultant paediatrician, a midwife or perhaps even a nursing assistant, having a private word in hushed tones… these women have actively been told, that if they didn’t want to take their babies home with them, they could sort placing them in care.

Perhaps some of these women feel relieved as they think that that’s the only answer at that point in time? Or perhaps others might argue, if that’s the message the hospital/health care professionals are projecting (that it’s ok to leave your baby with them), no wonder there are babies placed on the adoption register, simply on the basis that they have Down Syndrome.

I don’t doubt that statistically the number of babies with DS placed with adoptive families, is fewer than recent years. I hope that with awareness being raised about what caring for a child with DS in this day and age means, would give both those expectant mothers with a prenatal diagnosis or the ones who find out at birth, hope, that life really will be ok.

It’s my understanding though, that the large majority of babies/children who are adopted can have underlying “issues” themselves. They may be suffering from neglect. The may have suffered abuse. Their mother may have even drank or taken drugs throughout her pregnancy and therefore they are at risk of having Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. The mother/father may have been mentally and emotionally unstable. From what i’m told, children aren’t in care because they come from intact families, with good standards of living and access to good health care and nutrition. Proposal for adoption by destitute, single mothers with poor prenatal care and inadequate diet, is sadly the most common reason why a child is available. The second most common is termination of parental rights, because of neglect and/or abuse. It’s been proven that lack of stimulation and consistent caregivers, poor nutrition, and physical/sexual abuse all interfere with normal development. These children fall behind in large and fine motor development, speech acquisition, and social skills. Many never find an individual with whom to complete attachment…. So with that in mind, can I ask why adopting a child with Down Syndrome would actually be so bad?

Yes, Oscar comes with his challenges but with a family behind him who love and care for him, he is genuinely thriving. Would a child with DS really be that awful?

Just recently I had a message via my blog from a lady called Jane. She wrote to tell me that she enjoyed the page because she found some of it relatable as she has a sister with DS, who they’d adopted, called Nicole. Knowing that I wanted to write this, I asked her if she’d mind sharing her experiences. Here’s what she had to say…

“When I was 5 years old, we decided to become a foster family. Mum and Dad felt that they had been so blessed having their three girls, that they wanted to help other children too. On in June 1985 we got a phone call to say that they had a 5 day old baby with Downs Syndrome that they would like us to foster. Her parents had said they were not sure if they would be able to cope with her additional needs or not and needed time to make that decision. Mum picked Nicole up from the hospital when she was just a week old. I remember her coming to pick me up from school that afternoon with Nicole and thinking that she’d brought one of my dolls to school. She was so tiny and very very cute.

Mum was a paediatric nurse and had worked with children with Down Syndrome before so she knew that the best thing for her, even at week old, was stimulation. With some help from social services we looked to find local support groups and we also talked to another family who had a child with DS, to ask about their experiences, both the good and the bad!! Nicole’s family came to visit her until she was 4 months old,when they decided definitively that they would put her up for adoption after all.

So she was put up for adoption through the usual channels but no one came to see her. Nobody appeared to want her. Social services were looking at putting her into an adoption service that deals specifically with children with particular needs. Mum and Dad discussed this with us and my sisters and I turned round and asked why someone else should have Nicole and not us. To us she was our sister so why should we let her go now?

And that was when we went down the route of adopting her. As a family we talked about it a lot and made sure we all felt happy with our decision. Some of our extended family were not very keen on us adopting Nicole (mostly the older generation) as they thought she would take Mum and Dad’s attention away from the rest of us. It took another 14 months for all the checks and legal stuff to be done but we ended up adopting her in the December of 1986. Social services were very helpful and very supportive. Nicole is now 32 and doing so well. She went to mainstream school, has a job, gets the bus to and from work every day on her own, does her own cooking and cleaning (with some help) and is a generally very happy person. She has been such a blessing to us and to our community. Yes, there have been struggles, a lot of frustrations and she does my head in sometimes but I wouldn’t change her for the world. The only thing I would change, is other peoples attitude towards her.

Jane”

I fully understand, there’s always going to be those people who feel they wouldn’t be able to cope with a child with Down Syndrome regardless of what I say. But if I have just one ask here, it’s that you listen to this plea…

To the married couple, same sex couple, single parent wanting more than anything to adopt a baby or child – Please please would you consider one who happens to have Down Syndrome?

I get that we all strive for perfect. I like you, did too. I wanted a ‘normal’ baby. I didn’t want ‘issues’ and I certainly didn’t want ‘different”. But now that I do… have my very own ‘different’ baby I mean  (well he’s 5 now but still my baby) i’m here to tell you that ‘different” is actually pretty frickin wonderful.

And all the while I believe that every unwanted child deserves to be adopted and I have the upmost respect and admiration for those who who choose to adopt, please remember that none of us know with any child, what we’re going to get. No child comes with a money back guarantee in that, if he or she does turn out to be different/have issues, we can’t just trade them in. So I ask you to think about it for a while. Do you research by reading up to date information on what it means to have a child with Down Syndrome today… in 2017… This would be your opportunity to show the world, that you wanted them for all that they are, in spite of their diagnosis. And although life won’t necessarily always be smooth sailing, I can say with more certainty than i’ve ever felt before, your child will teach you more about life and love than you could ever have hoped for. It will be brilliant. I promise.

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