World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), is Saturday, March 21. The theme for this year is “We Decide” and it promotes the right for people with Down syndrome to fully participate in decision making for their lives.
In celebration of WDSD we sat down to talk with Save the Storks’ Director of Consulting, Shara Pierce. She and her family recently adopted a little girl with Down syndrome from China.
Tell us about your adoption journey. What led you to adopt a child with Down syndrome?
I’ve been working in the pro-life movement most of my career, so adoption has always been a conversation in our family. We have four biological children and I really wanted to consider adoption as the final piece of our family. One day in church I felt like the Lord whispered the word “adopt’ to me.
As the pastor spoke on Sunday, he shared the story about Jesus meeting his followers on the road to Emmaus. In the story, it’s not until he breaks bread with them that they realize it’s Jesus. The pastor said sometimes it takes inviting a stranger to the table in order to see Christ. For me, that solidified it. We often talked about how we had room at our table and we felt like there was someone missing.
A few months later we were watching Call the Midwife and there was a story about a family who took in a young man with Down syndrome after his family passed away. The family falls in love with the young man and at the end of the show, they tour a group home. At that moment the wife turns to the husband and says, “We can’t just leave him anywhere, he’s my son.”
I turned and looked at my husband, Dave, and said, “We’re supposed to adopt a child with Down syndrome.”
Dave also agreed and even took it a step further. He told me, “I’m seeing us with an Asian toddler with pigtails.”
What happened next? How did you start the process?
I was surprised at how specific he was about it, but started looking at Holt International’s child waitlist to start the process. As I was looking through the list of children with special needs there was one child with Down syndrome from an Asian country. And she had pigtails.
I immediately sent Dave the waitlist and told him to look through it.
Within minutes, he texted back and said, “Angelina.”
The girl with pigtails.
I emailed Holt that day and said, “We’re interested in adopting a child with Down syndrome.”
They emailed me back and said, “We think you would love Angelina.”*
Three days shy of a year we had her in our arms.
*The Pierce family named her Gia after the adoption. Angelina was not her given name.
What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned through your adoption journey and having a child with special needs?
I had to train myself to think, “What does Gia want to be?”
Gia’s not going to be in my home for the rest of my life. There’s no reason she has to be. She loves children, maybe she’ll work at a preschool or a daycare. There are different gifts that she has and I can’t wait for her to show people.
I am a little bit fearful of the future. She’s going to have to prove herself in a world that doesn’t value her as a human being. Which is why I struggle to not be overly protective. But I know I have to let her shine and be the person God created her to be.
What do you want the culture to know about children with Down syndrome?
One of the biggest things I’ve personally had to change is not telling people she has Down syndrome. Now, when I meet people, I don’t say: “This is my daughter who is adopted and has Down syndrome.” I just say, “This is my daughter.”
I want people to know Down syndrome doesn’t define her. It is a part of her. It is a unique and special part of her, but I don’t need to tell everyone immediately.
What do you wish more people knew about having a child with special needs?
If you are worried about saying the wrong thing then you are missing out on an opportunity. Talk to people, ask questions. Most importantly, talk directly to the person with special needs. You don’t have to talk to their caregiver on their behalf.
What makes Gia and children like her valuable and needed in our culture?
She’s opening doors for herself. She has unique skills and is going to be really powerful as she learns to use them. There’s no reason why she can’t live on her own, get married, travel on her own. It’s going to take more work, but don’t put boxes around people with Down syndrome. They aren’t less human. They are fully, 100 percent human with different, unique and special qualities.
I feel honored to have been given the calling to be Gia’s mom. She gets to have a different life because she was adopted, and Dave and I get to be the vessels for that. I am beyond honored to be her mom.
Watch the Pierce family’s adoption story.
Read more adoption stories from Save the Storks here.