Everyone loves a good, powerful adoption story. It pulls at the heartstrings – making you laugh, cry and feel all the feels. Ever wonder how the child is doing weeks, months, even years after their adoption?
On July 14 of this year, The Archibald Project traveled to Beijing, China with the Baxter family to document the adoption of their son, Ben. Ben was born with Down Syndrome and living at Morning Star Foundation – a home for children with sever heart diseases. On July 31, after travel, paperwork and official hearings, the Baxter's were able to bring Ben home to their other five children.
Home for the Baxter's just so happens to be one hour from where I grew up so, while being home for Christmas, we wanted to give our audience a follow up on Ben! It's been five months since he was placed in the arms of Rachel and Dave and so much has changed!
I walked in to the Baxter home in Charlotte, NC and was greeted by six children wearing matching Christmas pajamas and eager to make sugar cookies, cookies that would be given to people who helped them throughout their adoption process. Rachel and I chatted in the kitchen while the kids danced around and then we got to baking. There may have been a few fights over who got to use the Kitchen Aid or how many scoops of sugar Charlie got to put in over Henry but, honestly, I was highly impressed at how Rachel and Dave handled themselves... impressed but not surprised. It was obvious in China that the two of them were great parents.
I remember when we were in the Baxter's hotel room, right after Ben's "Gotcha Day," and Ben seemed nervous and exhausted. He had just been taken from everything he had ever known and, even though it was for his long-term good, he was hurting and scared. Most of our video and photos of Ben in China aren't of him laughing or running towards his new parents – they are real photos and video of the beauty and pain that comes from adoption.
Five months later, in Ben's new home with his five siblings, mom and dad, he couldn't stop laughing, dancing and wanting to be held by his parents. Rachel and Dave told me about how he was about to start walking, had learned 20+ new words and can sign, too! They also told me about the harder moments, the moments when he acts out and the days where they can tell he seems down.
Kendyle: What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in Ben?
Rachel: As he has adjusted to his new family, language and home he has come more out of his shell! He had a great sense of humor and is very adventurous. Both of these aspects of his personality have become more evident with his comfort level growing.
Kendyle: What are some goals for Ben's development in the next few months?
Rachel: Walking! He is making progress with standing and walking with assistance but we can't wait to see him walk independently! He starts physical therapy in January. Another goal is growth in speech. He is speaking a lot, considering his age and his new language. He has about 20 words he regularly uses and 20 baby signs. He is a smart boy!
Kendyle: What has been easier than expected?
Rachel: His overall adjustment has been pretty smooth, I think I assumed it would be harder for him to feel at home but he fits right in!
Kendyle: What has been harder than expected?
Rachel: Ben has had some aggression, biting, hitting and scratching especially his little brother. He also hits his own head when angry. I think it is a response to feeling out of control. We are trying to figure out ways to help him deal with his feelings in a healthier manner.
Kendyle: What are some other challenges you've faced throughout the transition of bringing Ben home?
Rachel: Mostly just the regular adjustments to adding a child period. He is more babyish than his 3 year old brother; they are six months apart so I had to adjust to caring for a baby again. But with 5 kids born in 6 years, having a baby is pretty much the norm. He is really heavy (39lbs of dead weight, haha) and wants to be held a good bit so I see a chiropractor entering the scene very soon. He needs me more than a typical three year old and I know it's just because of all the transition and leaving those he loved and loved him at his foster home. I try to give him the extra comfort he needs as best I am able but he still has "sad" days where I think he misses his old foster family.
Kendyle: How have your other children adapted?
Rachel: Extremely well. Ben is pretty adored and treated like a super star most of the time. Charlie, the 3 year old, has struggled with some jealousy issues but overall has been a real champ and an awesome big/twin brother.
Kendyle: What are your favorite things to do with Ben?
Rachel: I love playing outside with him, he is always up for an adventure like his mama. He loves swinging, the trampoline and riding his bike and push car.
Kendyle: What are some other favorites of his (food, toys, etc)?
Rachel: The boy loves food! I am afraid he used to eat healthier but he has fallen in love with french fries and ketchup... but he still loves rice and noodles. His favorite thing to play is wrestling and games with balls. His favorite book is "Blue Hat, Green Hat" by Sandra Boykin – he laughs hysterically!
Kendyle: What are you most excited about for Ben's first Christmas at home?
Rachel: I am just so happy to have us all together this year! There was a hole last year and now it is filled! I also can't wait watch him open presents! He tore into them for his birthday! He knew exactly what to do.
Kendyle: What would you want people to know about adopting a child with Down Syndrome?
Rachel: I can't compare it to adopting a typical developing child but my husband and I have commented often that we do not think about him as having Down Syndrome very often, he is simply our son. We took it slow getting started with doctors appointments and therapies because we knew we all just needed time to adjust. So, the "extras" associated with a special needs child haven't been a huge deal yet. If God is leading you to a child with Down Syndrome don't be afraid, yes there will be differences and long-term care needed but mostly he or she will feel like your baby and bring you incredible joy!
A few days before visiting the Baxter home, Whitney, Nick and I received a photo from Rachel of a comment on one of her Instagram photos. A family messaged them to say that following their adoption story, led them to start the adoption process of a child with Down Syndrome!
This is why we do what we do... we tell stories to give others an example of what it looks like to care for orphans, whether that be adoption, fostering, moving over seas, education sponsorships or one of the many other ways to get involved.
"Our family is a mess, we didn't have all the resources to do this adoption but we did have the faith. Faith that God would provide in all the ways we are insufficient and He has proven faithful over and over! Hearing that another 'messy family' is stepping out in faith to adopt special needs is such an encouragement!"
To see the Baxter's Adoption video, click here!