Over Christmas, my kids had a laugh-filled night remembering some of the rare times I’d gone “full Mama Bear” when they were being bullied. I kept shaking my head and telling them they were highly exaggerating the actual facts, but inside I was happy that they definitely seemed to know I’d be there for them no matter what. That’s the beauty of a caring family, isn’t it? That we’d do everything possible to help each other in times of need.
Last Thursday, I got to see those roles reversed. Something happened in my life that shattered my heart, and at almost midnight that evening, I called my daughter in college and told her I just needed to hear her voice. Without a moment’s hesitation, she told me she was getting in her car to make the almost five-hour drive to see me. I kept saying, “You can’t drive all night long…you can’t miss class….” but she kept replying, “Mom, you’d do it for me. Families are there for each other, and I’m coming home to see you.” It was the most powerful medicine possible.
During her short visit home, we watched the little-publicized movie called The Peanut Butter Falcon. If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on your list. It’s about a young adult with Down Syndrome who dreams of being a professional wrestler, and the relationship he forms with a man who’s struggling to cope with the death of his brother.
I won’t give anything else away, but the movie really touches on the question of “What makes a family?” That’s always a favorite discussion in our adoption-filled home. That topic then led to a lengthy conversation about all the little boys we have right now in our China Healing Home who also have Down Syndrome. All of them are orphaned, and every night I say a prayer that someday they’ll have families of their own. Sadly, I know the odds are against them, but I’ll never give up hope.
One of the newest arrivals to our home is four-year-old Auden, who had been with LWB up until a year ago when new regulations required his return to orphanage care. When he first came into LWB care in 2015, he was so malnourished and weak. A kind woman had visited his orphanage and called us immediately to say there was a baby who was severely failure-to-thrive.
Thankfully, we had a good relationship with Auden’s orphanage, and they let us move him immediately to the hospital, where we learned he was allergic to all formulas except a really expensive synthetic one. He came to live in our Healing Home, and our nannies began the process of bringing him to full health. Some of you might remember this wonderful before and after we shared back then.
After graduating from the healing home, Auden went into LWB Foster Care. I was so happy he was going to have his own mom and dad now. I remember visiting his foster home one day and laughing as I bent down to pick him up, as “Moose Baby” didn’t do him justice. This boy was a CHUNK, and I joked with his foster mom about her strong biceps from carrying him up and down the many flights of apartment stairs. He was happy…healthy…and ready for a forever home.
But sadly even after Auden’s adoption paperwork was filed, no one stepped forward. Then we got the really terrible news that his province was no longer going to allow off-site foster care, and so little Auden had to say goodbye to the parents he’d known for the last two and a half years and move back inside the institution. We were devastated because we knew that orphanage life is often an enormous struggle for children with Down syndrome. And we were not wrong.
A few months ago, another mom visited Auden’s orphanage. She had followed his story and asked if she could see him. The child she was introduced to, however, was not the robust little boy she’d seen photos of online. He was thin, shut down, and, in his grief of losing his foster parents, he’d begun headbanging as well. The mom returned back to the states and immediately started advocating for him to get the extra support he needed.
When we were finally given permission to move Auden back to our care at our China Healing Home, the first reports from our nannies were very difficult to hear. He was really solemn and wouldn’t make eye contact. One nanny said, “No matter how hard you tried, he simply wouldn’t see you at all.”
Thankfully, our nannies are used to children coming into their care needing extra assurance and support. Auden wasn’t eating solid food when he returned to us, so they began bottle feeding him again. He wanted to just sit in the corner of his crib and bump his head against the rails, so they put him in a high chair in the middle of the playroom so he could see all the people around him and get to know the flow of the home.
And slowly…slowly…he finally agreed to be held. And then he felt safe enough to look into his nanny’s eyes.
You might have heard our huge cheers in late January when he gave a first small smile. And then a few days later, a low chuckle was heard.
Now Auden is beginning to play with the other children in the home, and my heart filled with happiness when I was told he’s showing comfort and love to the younger babies in his room, by holding their hands or sharing a toy. I know it’s still extremely fragile, but his little heart is once again beginning to bloom.
Auden has lived through so many hard things, and he’s only four years old. The enormous loss of his birth parents would have been difficult enough to bear. But then, because of an undiagnosed allergy, he spent months slowly starving, as the regular and soy formulas the orphanage tried only made him more ill.
He then knew real joy in our healing home and foster care, only to have his caregivers disappear once more in an instant. And in his grief – his raw and understandable grief – the only way he could cope was to withdraw.
Auden is why we can never stop advocating for orphaned children to find permanency. EVERY CHILD NEEDS A FAMILY. Every child needs that one devoted person who will always be there for them, to comfort them when they’re grieving, and to come running in times of need.
I want Auden to have his Mama Bear. I want Auden to know, just like my children, that family is always there for each other. I want that for every little boy with Down Syndrome right now staying in our healing home, because I know at some point, they’ll have to leave our care. How I pray that will be into the arms of a loving mama and daddy instead of growing up in an institution.
Until that day comes, I’m so grateful to our supporters who care so deeply for these little boys. While their sponsors might not be able to hold them in person, I know they’re definitely holding them in their hearts. And I know all of us will continue to do everything in our power to let them know how very much they are loved.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer