We are Jesse and Rachelle, and we have five biological children, ranging in age from 4 to 11 years old. Until recently, we were convinced that our family was complete. To our surprise, last November we began to have strong feelings that someone was missing from our family. Specifically, we felt we should adopt a child with Down syndrome. So began our 7-month journey to bring James home. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that we learned it was during the very same couple of weeks in November that two birth parents on the other side of the country learned of their son’s pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome and made the difficult decision to place him for adoption. Here’s our story about bringing James home.
Our wonderful, but incomplete family.
One of the first things we did was get in touch with Stephanie Thompson, Director of the NDSAN. The mission of the NDSDAN is sacred to us: “To ensure that every child with Down syndrome has the opportunity to grow up in a loving family.” Our family can’t accomplish that mission for every child with Down syndrome (darn!), but we knew we could ensure that one child with Down syndrome could grow up in our loving family. We have now met several other families who—with the help of the NDSAN—have been part of the ‘every’ by giving a loving home to ‘one’. These people are now our heroes and our friends. Working with Stephanie and the NDSAN has been one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives. We feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the work they do to help both birth parents, adoptive parents and, most importantly, precious children with Down syndrome.
Adopting a child is a lot of work! Adopting a child with special needs is even more work. Fingerprint cards, background checks, CPR training, medical exams, home safety improvements, social worker visits in Flagstaff and Phoenix, 200+ pages of paperwork, letters from family members and friends, and the list goes on. Our social worker said he had never seen potential adoptive parents complete the required clearances and paperwork faster than we did. And then the profile book process began. Multiple interviews with the adoption profile company (Arrow+Root is amazing!), professional photography session, writing thousands of words about ourselves, and even more words written from our hearts to the birth parents. Long family talks with the kids, and even longer talks as a couple. During all of this, we were fixated on the end goal of holding our perfect 47 chromosome baby for the first time. Because of that the process became a privilege to work through. Our patience was tried while we waited, and our faith was tried as potential matches passed us by. We prayed like we had never prayed before. And God was with us.
Jesse was in the grocery store on his way home from work when he got the call. “Hi Jesse, this is Stephanie Thompson with the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network. I’m calling you this Friday evening to say: ‘Congratulations, Dad! Your son will be born on Tuesday in Michigan.” We hope the work of putting our grocery items back on the shelf gave a store employee a bit of extra job security during these hard times, because Jesse walked out of the store and didn’t look back. The next couple of days was a blur of phone calls, logistical planning, and stumbling around the infant section of the store trying to remember what a baby needs during the first few days.
On Sunday evening, the flurry of activity stopped completely and there was only one thing in the world that mattered: our first phone call with the birth parents. It was strange to think that this couple knew everything about us…if it mattered, we put it into our profile book. And yet we didn’t even know their names. Tears flowed freely during the phone call, and the four of us took part in a special miracle. How is 90 minutes enough to create a bond of deep love and trust between four people? Somehow it was. It was during the phone call that we named him. They felt strongly about ‘Reed’ for a middle name. We felt good about James for a first name. James Reed. It was perfect, and it came from the four of us. During the past few weeks there have been so many special experiences that have been shared by the four of us. And so many more to come.
If COVID-19 hadn’t made travel tricky enough, we flew to Michigan on the Monday after the height of the nationwide rioting. Grand Rapids was under a strict curfew the night we flew in. The police department told us to drive directly to our hotel room and stay there until the next morning. Everything went smoothly thanks to loving fellow NDSAN adoptive parents in Michigan who loaned us a car during our stay and booked and paid for our hotel! We met them for the first time when they picked us up from the airport. That family was a miracle for us in every way during our three weeks in Michigan.
Flying to Michigan.
That next morning started early. And so did the process of pray, pace, repeat! Sweet Baby James was born at 8:26: 6 lbs. 6 oz. of perfection. We joined James in the hospital 36 hours later. Rachelle insisted we arrive ridiculously early. Okay, Jesse wasn’t exactly dragging his heels. It is probably common for first time adoptive parents to ask: ‘How long will it take before we love him the way we love our other children?’ For us that love for James came before we even met him. Hospital corridors and COVID screening stations were the last remaining barriers between us and James. Then we held him. And we called our other kids so they could welcome him into the family. James was surrounded by so much love from so many people. Our world was finally as it should be. James makes our family complete.
Welcome to our family, James.
The other kids meet their new brother, James!
The rest is just details. We spent a wonderful week and a half getting to know James together. James had medical appointments almost every day. Good news overall from the cardiologist, with James having only two minor congenital defects. He has neutropenia (low neutrophil counts, which will make it hard for him to fight infection). All of these conditions should improve with time. We’ve been very blessed so far that he is so healthy.
Heading “home” from the hospital! (to the hotel…)
Tummy time with Mickey (a gift from his birth parents) in the hotel room.
Rachelle returned to Arizona ahead of Jesse and James to be with the other five kids, leaving the two boys behind until they were cleared to leave the state. The ICPC paperwork went through incredibly fast (about 36 hours after submission!) and we were on a flight home after another week. The kids are usually so excited to see Jesse when he returns from a trip. This time they ran right past him and embraced baby James. James has filled our home with so much peace and joy. We feel it every day. He makes us want to be better because he deserves our very best.
Our new, complete family!
Mom, James, and Madison…no longer the baby of the family.
It has now become clear that the moment we adopted James into our loving family, we were adopted into a much larger family of people who love someone with Down syndrome. We have already been blessed in so many ways as part of this big, new family. We’re excited for the many opportunities that will come to pay it forward. There is so much for our family to be thankful for. James Reed has made his way to the top of that list! Close behind are the NDSAN and the many people who have helped us along in our journey so far.
Yes, he is always this cute.