Meet Miss Meghan
In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, LWB is posting a series of blogs about adopting a child with this special need.
“Aren’t you terrified your child will have Down syndrome?” Those were the first words my friend asked me when I told her my husband and I were expecting our first child. I was slightly taken aback; the possibility hadn’t really struck me – and if it had, well, Down syndrome seemed like such an easy disability to face.
She didn’t ask because I had any particular risk factors; she asked because my older brother – and only sibling – had Down Syndrome. She had wrongly assumed that I was at advanced risk for conceiving a child with Down’s. I know that Down syndrome is the only thing some people see when they see my brother, but having known him no other way, it’s something that I never see. I’ve always known him simply as my brother….my brother who graduated high school, completed a vo-tech program, holds a job, competed internationally in power-lifting, and really lives a pretty normal life! He’s hard-working, funny, and witty. He just happens to be a person with Down Syndrome. “Terror” was the last word I would have used when considering the possibility of having a child with Down’s!
Our first child was born several months after that discussion – with 46 chromosomes and a clean bill of health. Three younger siblings, all equally healthy, joined our family over the six years that followed his birth.
When our youngest was about three years old, we began to explore international adoption. We’d always known we wanted to adopt, and the time seemed as good as any. While considering what special needs we would be open to, we knew that Down Syndrome was certainly a disability we could handle and one that we were very familiar with! I contacted an adoption agency, and after filling out some forms, we were able to view their waiting-child photolistings.
Roughly two to three months later, our phone rang. The voice on the other end said “I have a file that I think you’d like to see. Her name is Meng. She’s two years old and has Down Syndrome. Would you like me to email the file?” About five minutes later, I was reading about a little girl who liked to dress pretty, who followed the nurses around to love on sick children, who loved to laugh – and who needed a family “to help her laugh happier.” We received two photographs of a little girl wearing a red football t-shirt and gray shorts. Her head was shaved to a charming tennis-ball fuzz, and she sat alone in a stark room decorated with simple Hello Kitty stickers.
After much thought and prayer, after sending her file to our pediatrician and a couple of specialists, and after a lot more thought and prayer – we decided to seek pre-approval for Meng. Our dossier had not been ‘logged in’ (in fact, it hadn’t been started!) when we decided to take the plunge. The next few months were a mad — and exhausting — dash to get our dossier to China so we could bring her home as quickly as possible!
About four months after our pre-approval had been granted, we were able to get some photos of our little girl – and an emergency update. Meng had been unable to eat for several weeks, and after admittance to the hospital, she was diagnosed with an intestinal problem. She had gone from about 20 lbs at the time of referral, to about 13 lbs. She didn’t look like the same child who’d been so contentedly standing (with support) in her referral pictures – she looked like a child who barely had the strength to hold her own head up.
This was an incredibly overwhelming time for us. We wanted answers and information, we wanted to know what treatment was being offered, and really – we wanted to be able to participate in decisions regarding her health! Of course, she was not legally ours and we had no say. We sent out prayer requests to everybody we knew, prayed for our LOA to arrive as soon as possible, and waited with bated breath between updates.
Thanks to the help of Love Without Boundaries, Meng was able to be transferred to a wonderful facility called Maria’s House of Hope. In the months between our emergency update and our travel, her weight had increased by about 50%! She was thriving, gaining weight, and doing so well. We couldn’t wait to meet her and bring her home.
In August 2013, my husband and I boarded a plane for China and on August 12 we finally met our daughter. An employee of her orphanage brought her to us by train and placed her in my arms. Meng had been sleeping and looked a bit dazed and out of sorts. The first words I said were, “She’s SO HUGE!” and she WAS! Our last update pre-travel said she was just 24” tall. Imagine our surprise when she was actually 32”! We sat her on the floor and she scooted herself around. We gave her a little baby doll we’d brought, and she planted a kiss squarely on its mouth. We knew that she was unable to walk and was still fairly weak due to her extreme weight-loss, but were sure that with good nutrition, good therapy, and good care with a family, she would soon be doing so much more. Other adoptive parents around us commented on how healthy and strong she looked.
My husband took Meng to a small fenced-in play area while I went to fill out some paperwork for the adoption. Imagine my shock when I turned around and saw her holding his fingers – and standing up! Though I’d contained my emotions well through our “Gotcha” moments, this sight brought tears to my eyes. We had been hoping and praying she would gain strength over the weeks we waited for her, but seeing her stand was something I had never expected so soon. It was an incredibly joy-filled moment for us!
The afternoon was spent in our hotel room. She played a little bit, and never cried, but she also didn’t smile or laugh. I finally pulled out my iPhone and scrolled through my music playlist. We discovered very soon that some quality 80s music would get her on her feet and dancing. We must have played the same song 20 times, watching her bop up and down to the tunes before she finally tuckered out.
If I were to be completely honest, I would tell you that Meng was far more delayed than I’d anticipated. But in the 8 weeks we have been home, we’ve seen her blossom. Now called Meghan, she smiles and laughs and plays with us. She’s learning to feed herself. She plays with her toys and brothers and sisters. We have her in both physical and occupational therapy where everyone is confident that she will be up and running (literally) in a matter of months. Her goals for the next few months include learning to dress herself, stacking blocks, spoon-feeding, coloring, and more.
We spent our first few weeks home darting from one specialist to the next. We’ve learned her heart is perfect (her original file had indicated a small defect), her intestines seem to be fine, and neurology saw no red-flags. We’ve still got ophthalmology to see (she has a slight cross-eye that should be addressed with glasses), and we’ve got a hearing test coming up – but she responds to her name and our voices, so I’m hopeful that will bring good news, too.
Meghan has grown by such leaps and bounds in such a short amount of time that our four year old son says over and over “Mama, Meghan is SO SMART. Isn’t Meghan SO SMART? She just is SO SMART.” I cannot express how much it warms my heart to have her living in an environment where everyone sees nothing but the GOOD in her, the SMART in her, the STRENGTH in her. We have big dreams for her and see lots of “potential” but also see her as perfectly wonderful as she is. She is a joyous, silly, happy, playful little girl and we are so blessed to have her in our lives.
~Kathryn Winterscheidt, Guest blogger and blessed mom to Miss Meghan