All the Best Superheroes Are Adopted
By Melanie Kirk
About a year ago I heard of a new family to join the Down syndrome community here in Lincoln - not because of a surprise diagnosis - but because of adoption. Many families, mine included, struggle initially with receiving the news that a child with Down syndrome is entering their lives. For the Kirk family, though, there was a much different sentiment the day that Teddy officially became “theirs.”
Enjoy this interview conducted in classic "COVID-style" (i.e. via email!) There was just too many good things to share that I couldn't edit any of Melanie's responses for this blog.
- Mary Sweeney, DSAF Marketing and Development Director
What are your children’s names and ages?
Logan Kirk (14)
Oliver Kirk (9)
Theodore Kirk (3) “Teddy”
What are some of Teddy’s best qualities?
Teddy is sunshine. He has this ornery little giggle. He loves music and dancing. He has the most beautiful curls (excellent for head bobbing along with his favorite tunes). He adores his big brothers. He is sassy and bossy and absolutely hilarious. Discipline is always hard because we are trying to keep a straight face.
Tell me how you got to be the lucky family for Teddy.
Both of our older children were born prematurely following rather harrowing and dangerous pregnancies. Our oldest son came home on oxygen, apnea monitors and sat monitors, eventually we added a feeding tube and daily growth hormone shots. He is a bit of a medical enigma, with both a rare lung disease and an endocrine issue similar to Addison’s disease. Our second son is healthy now, but was still-born at 2 pounds and I experienced preeclampsia and eclampsia. We knew that when we added to our family, we wanted to be able to utilize the medical skills we learned along the way as we raised Logan. We knew how overwhelming it could be to be suddenly on a different path as a parent, one that can be described as bumpy, with lots of twists and turns and detours.
I’m now an attorney who works in juvenile court (I was in undergrad when my oldest was born, and in law school when my second son was born). There are so many families who have come into the system for various reasons, from domestic violence to substance abuse, to untreated mental health or abject poverty. Those families need assistance of some kind in order to try to be in a position to safely provide the care their children need. While families are getting that help, their children need safe and secure foster homes that can meet the needs of those children. It is not always easy to find a foster home ready to provide care for children with medical conditions, who require tube feedings or supplemental oxygen and regular appointments with multiple specialists. That is why we became licensed foster parents. We were interested in both short term placements and respite as well as potential adoptive placements. We have been very happy to welcome children into our homes to provide respite to their foster or biological families.
With Teddy, we were contacted about a placement for a one and a half year old boy who had already been in care since he was an infant, whose permanency goal had been changed from reunification to adoption. His wonderful foster family that had cared for him since birth wasn’t in a position to offer permanency. I read the information sent by our foster agency and immediately left work and went to my husband’s workplace and shared it with him. I told him that day that as soon as I saw his picture I thought, “He’s going to be our son.” We didn’t know at the time whether that would be for a short time or forever, but we both agreed that our hearts and home were open to him if he were placed with us.
I don’t want to go into great detail about Teddy’s biological family, out of respect for their privacy, but I do think it is important to say that Teddy has been loved from the day he was born. Teddy’s biological mother loves him very much. She still has contact with him. The determination that our home was what Teddy needed was not an easy one. That piece is often overshadowed when people talk about adoption or foster care and I always think that there needs to be some attention paid to the reality that adoption does not happen in a vacuum. While we were experiencing the joy of getting to know this wonderful bundle of curls and smiles and energy for the first time, others who loved him greatly were missing those same moments. There is no getting around how heartbreaking that truly is, regardless of the situation which led to the placement of that child out of home.
After Teddy had been with us as a foster child for about six months he was made legally free for adoption. We were able to schedule our adoption for National Adoption Day last November, which allowed friends and family from out of town to come and be a part of the celebration of our new family of five. We decided that the theme for Teddy’s adoption celebration would be “All the best superheros are adopted” because we felt that truly reflected the situation. Like the Kents from Smallville, Kansas, our home has been entrusted with the care of an amazing life that we didn’t bring into this world, but who we adore as though he were. And we are charged with helping him grow into the amazing person he is meant to be. In the immortal words of Stan Lee, with great power comes great responsibility.
How do the siblings feel about their new little brother?
Logan and Oliver each have such wonderful relationships with Teddy, but they are so different. Logan, who is now 14, has a gentle spirit and imagination that he shares with his baby brother. In fact, “LoLo” (as Teddy calls him) is the one who sits in with Teddy at bedtime, explaining all about Minecraft and Mario until Teddy falls asleep.
Oliver and Teddy are connected by their shared impulse to be full speed, full time, 100% rough and tumble boys. They wrestle and giggle and generally make ridiculous amounts of noise together with the shared goal of getting as much fun out of each day, with the added bonus of annoying their big brother.
Did it concern you that Teddy had Down syndrome when you decided to adopt him?
Not so much concern as desire to learn as much as we could in order to be up to speed on his needs and how best to help him as he grows. We were well adapted to his oxygen needs and feeding tube and medication regimen because we had been through that with Logan. But Teddy’s medical needs are still different from Logan’s and so we did a bunch of reading when he was first placed with us. We reached out to a family we know who have a daughter with Down Syndrome and were able to pick their brain on what we can do and what they experienced. That was incredibly helpful. We are also lucky to live in a town where there are wonderful resources for families of children with special needs of all types, and we have been able to utilize those groups to learn and grow as well.
Has DSAF been a valuable resource to you? If so, how or in what ways? We were able to take part in the Step Up Walk for the past two years as well as various other programs that DSAF has sponsored. It is so amazing to be able to speak with other parents and families who understand the experience being blessed with a child affected by Down Syndrome really is. It’s more than a shared diagnosis. It’s a shared experience that comes with amazing highs and also some pretty scary potential lows that are all much more manageable when there are others with you who understand your child’s journey.
What would you like to share with parents who are just finding out their child has Down syndrome?
Don’t let others define your child and his potential. You will find that you are stronger than you ever thought you would need to be, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy. You have a family in other parents that will always be there to help and answer questions. You aren’t alone. It’s okay to be scared and feel a sense of loss when you realize that your child’s life and your life will be different than you had imagined. Different isn’t less. It’s just new. Unknown. But the journey will be just as beautiful, and probably more amazing as you begin to see it through your son or daughter’s sparkling eyes.
I also think it is worth sharing some incredible advice I received from a doctor once: If you cry in the shower, you can avoid the post-crying jag headache and red eyes. I share this not because I think parents of special needs kids are crying all the time, but because I think that parents of special needs kids often feel overwhelming pressure not to break down or cry or show weakness in any way. And that is neither fair nor realistic. Crying is okay. Everyone has those types of days. We should all know it is normal to cry. And nobody deserves that horrible headache.
If other families would like to consider adopting a child with Down syndrome, how would they go about that and what words of encouragement would you have for them?
Please consider opening your heart to children in the child welfare system as a foster parent. There are so many children who need support and love while their families work through the system. Every foster parent’s path is different. Some lead to adoption. Others lead to lifelong supportive relationships with families who were in crisis but were able to be reunited with their children. If you have skills and knowledge about kids with special needs, whether through your job as a nurse or doctor or teacher, or just through your interactions with special needs children in the community, please consider sharing those skills as a foster parent. Some foster parents only do respite care, providing a break for families. Some only take placement of older children. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for more information if you think you can make a positive impact for a family or child.
For more information on fostering or adoption, visit the Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parents Association at nfapa.org or National Down Syndrome Adoption Network at ndsan.org.