Sunday, January 1, 2012

traveled halfway around the world to find their son

from The Northwestern by Patricia Wolff:

New father Jake Gibson can barely take his eyes off his beautiful blued-eyed boy, the one he and wife Ashley traveled halfway around the world to find.

The Gibsons, both 27, used the services of Reece’s Rainbow Down Syndrome Ministry, an adoption agency, to find Carter, 3, and bring him back from Ukraine a little more than one month ago.

The last month has been one of pure joy for the couple who sought out a special needs child to be their first. Carter has Down syndrome. It’s that extra chromosome that the Gibsons love so well, Ashley said.

Some people who have babies with Down syndrome grieve the loss of their dream from the perfect child. Not the Gibsons. They volunteered for the job.

These two are joyful; there could be no disguising the level of joy they obviously possess. Jake said he can hardly wait to get home from his sales job at supper time and is ecstatic to arrive home from church youth leadership events to find Carter waiting for him. After than it’s snuggle time on the couch, he said.

“Coming home at night and having a little boy run into my arms is so wonderful,” Jake said. “Fatherhood is different than what I expected, but it’s a better different.”

Where some people see challenge, they see potential. Where some see extra work, they see service to another and obedience to God.

“We’re not special people. We are not these big saviors,” Ashley said. “God just said ‘do this,’ and we said ‘yes.’ It’s as simple as that.”

The couple met at Valley Christian High School and began dating as seniors. They married five years ago. There is no medical reason standing in the way of biological children. They anticipate perhaps having two children that way and adopting at least one more special needs child.

But for now they are concentrating on establishing bonds with Carter, who at 3 and a half is normal on the Down syndrome growth chart but is similar in size and development to a normal 2-year-old.

He loves bath time, is a good eater and likes to explore his world. He recently discovered how fun it is to flip a plastic container of powered sugar around to see it fall and feel its heft as it hits the sides of the container.

At first frightened of Moses, the family’s Springer spaniel, Carter has learned to enjoy his company. “They’re best buds,” Jake said.

He has learned to walk in their care. They are teaching him sign language because they realize children with Down syndrome have trouble with muscle control and learning to talk is more challenging for them.

But, that will come in due time. As will potty training, Ashley said.

Because they said yes to God’s urging them to adopt a special needs child the Gibsons believe God has blessed them with a loving, easy-going child. Ashley, who left her teaching job to be a stay-at-home mother, can’t believe how easy caring for Carter has been so far.

“He sleeps 11 hours at night and takes a three-hour nap during the day,” she said.
The Gibsons are Christians and take the teachings of the Bible to heart.

“God tells us to go help widows and orphans. This world would be a better place if more people would help out,” Jake said.

The Gibsons found that out first hand when their church, Winneconne Christian Fellowship, held a benefit for them in the summer. It raised $24,000 to defray the $30,000 it cost to adopt Carter.

Lisa Gander, a member of the small church, is continually amazed at the generosity of the congregation that numbers right around 100. That the Gibsons are such a loving couple and their mission so pure made it all the more understandable that people rallied around them, she said. “The Gospel, the Bible, we believe it and we believe in following through on the commandments of God. Being generous is one of them.”

But, the Gibsons are human. They had their doubts. In fact when Ashley first suggested they adopt a child with Down syndrome through Reece’s Rainbow, Jake was very skeptical.

“I said absolutely not. Look at the price tag. I don’t have the capabilities,” he told her.

Ashley had already fallen for the little boy she saw on the Reece’s Rainbow site. It turned out to be Carter. Unbeknownst to Ashley, Jake had looked at the site and by chance saw Carter, too. “I fell in love with him,” Jake said.

After that, they never looked back. They immediately began the huge task of applying to adopt him. A mountain a paperwork later and with two trips to Ukraine under their belts, the Gibsons brought their boy home.

They are under no illusions about the work that lay ahead. Parenthood is a huge job. Their immediate goal is to bond with Carter and make sure he feels safe, they said.

His birth parents took him home from the hospital following his birth determined to care for him. The mother had suffered complications in childbirth that would make more children impossible.

Several months later they admitted they were not up for the job and handed him over to the orphanage. They continued to visit him regularly until they adopted another, healthy child.

That breaks the Gibsons hearts. They understand the damage that would have been done to Carter’s psyche. He lost his mother and father and was cared for by a staff.

Orphanages in Ukraine are far from deluxe accommodations, the Gibsons said.

“He has not had one mom; he’s had five nannies a day,” Ashley said.

Carter didn’t stand a chance in Ukraine where Down syndrome is considered a curse. Children born with it are almost always left at the hospital and then go to orphanages. If no one adopts them by age 6, they go to mental institutions. “Some don’t last a year,” Ashley said.

In the Central and Eastern European countries including Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Romania, some 1.5 million children have been abandoned by their families.

The Gibsons’ plan for Carter is that he grow up feeling loved and safe. They realize he will face limitations. He may not know the joy of marriage or fatherhood. But he can lead a fulfilling life. He can hold a job. They expect that one day he may be able to live on his own with minor assistance.

“He is going to know he is different,” Ashley said. “Our job is to teach him there is no weakness in being different.”

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