Tommy was born just hours after the new year had begun in 1998 in a city several states away from us. We arranged for Grandma to be in charge of our other five children (all biological) while my husband and I made a one-day round trip to begin the parents-of-an-adopted-child journey. By nightfall we were home with the tiny new baby - now our youngest child of 6. Tommy's five new siblings all clamored to be the first to hold him, their new baby brother. They, and Grandma, were all in on the clamoring and Grandma won. She held Tommy first. And wept. I think of those tears now, the ones she shed that winter evening, and think of them as a kind of baptism for Tommy, a welcome, into the heart and home of his forever family.
Getting him home had been an adventure. On that late January day, Ron and I had flown in four airplanes, ridden in five shuttle buses and rented a car to drive through a big east coast city to get to the adoption agency where Tommy and his foster Mom were waiting for us.
Since Tommy was so new and tiny when we took custody of him at less than a month old, I occasionally have to remind myself that he is, in fact, adopted. Down syndrome - the perceived unrecoverable "down-ness" of it was the reason his birth parents put him up for adoption. And Down syndrome - the reality of the upside-ness of it was the reason he became our Tommy.
Steven was two years old then and so we'd been journeying a road with Down syndrome for a little while, long enough to have seen and learned lots of things. Devastation, incredible burden, hopelessness were definitely not among those things. Hard work (good hard work, not "bad" hard work), we knew. Joy, beauty, life - we knew those too. And gentleness. And celebrations of little things. We knew all of that - we knew the real life upside of Down syndrome. Tommy's birth parents, like so many others in the late 90's, did not.
The fear of Down syndrome had driven Tommy's original family away from him. The fear was what caused the neonatal nurse to note in his chart the day after he was born, "No more contact with Mom or Dad. Infant being put up for adoption." The nurse's notes indicated the couple left the hospital empty-handed two days later. Shortly after that, Tommy was placed in the care of a foster Mom while back at our Midwest home we worked feverishly to submit all the necessary papers, pass all the medical exams, be scrutinized in the Home Study, be cleared by local and state police, and finally book our flight out east. Instead of a stork with feathers flying above the treetops, Tommy's stork was made of metal and flew above the clouds. And at the end of the day, we brought our tiny baby through our front door and what once was a family of seven had become a family of eight.
And now? Well, Tommy is a high school graduate currently enrolled in a Post-Secondary program in the local public schools. He has been an usher at church along with his brother Steve. He has been on several Special Olympics teams - basketball, track and field, bowling. He is learning to play the piano. He helps me cut the grass and set the table. He learned how to ride a bicycle with NO training wheels. He wins at Uno and Battleship almost every time. He is an amazing dancer as well as a very enthuastic karoke singer. He lives life to the fullest - he is full of so much upside that it makes me want to contact John Langdon Down, the man who first defined the syndrome and for whom the syndrome is named, and tell him to please change his last name to Up. But since we can't do that, he died back in the late 1800's, we created the Upside of Downs - our organization intent on sharing the reality of our family's experiences and through that dispel fear of the unknown and provide support to others facing similar challenges.
An Adoption Story