Last December I received an email with the subject, “I was her legs today. You had a part of it.” Ellen was writing to me from the Ukraine where she was in the process of adopting a little girl. Her email shared how my “Strong Enough” post had arrived in her inbox with perfect timing, timing that changed her family and changed their world. I was so touched, I asked her to please join me here as my first Guest Blogger. Here is their story:
STRONG ENOUGH FOR NINA
After our youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome, we embarked in the most life altering journey of our lives. She had enriched our lives in meaningful and powerful ways. For this reason, I had spent almost two years looking at the faces of children on Reece’s Rainbow, an International Adoption Ministry for children with Down syndrome. I had fallen in love with many of them, praying that they would find forever families and wondering if any of them were meant to be ours. My husband Andy and I knew that adoption was in our future, but unlike me, he had not felt inclined to inquire about any of the children, so I waited. Occasionally, I would visit Reece’s Rainbow “Other Angels” page. These are the children with other special needs.
It was a late night in July, as I scrolled down the faces, I heard him say while he looked over my shoulder,
“Wait! Scroll back up a little”
“Right there” he said pointing to a beautiful smiling face, “That little girl looks just like a Stumbo.”
I stared intently at her face.
“Look at her eyes” he added, “She looks just like my sister.”
I got up to find our baby book. A small scrapbook I had made with our baby pictures before our oldest daughter was born. I returned to find him still studying the little face. I opened it up to the first picture and held it up next to the computer screen.
“Honey” I said, “She doesn’t look like your sister, she looks just like you.”
We stared at the photographs, blown away by the strong resemblance.
“You should ask what country she is from and if they have any more information on her.”
“Are you serious?” I asked excited.
“We have been talking about having another child, maybe our next child will come to us through adoption.”
“Does it say what her diagnosis is?” I asked
“Yes” he responded, “Cerebral Palsy”
Cerebral Palsy. The words were heavy, they fell on my heart and threatened to crush it. Cerebral Palsy? I could do Down syndrome, but Cerebral Palsy?
We decided to give ourselves some time to think and pray. We researched Cerebral Palsy and invited our close friends and family to help us sort through our thoughts and feelings. The fact that we wanted to adopt another child with special needs, did not mean that the time was now. I was scared about her disability and my ability to parent her. Could we do it? Could I do it?
As it is in many European countries, children with special needs are transferred from orphanages to institutions by the age of four. Once children arrive in these institutions, many die within the first year. We knew that time was of the essence, and if we were going to be serious about this, we needed to make a commitment to her soon.
It was during this time of “reflection,” that Rachel Coleman wrote her post, “Strong Enough to Be Her Mom.” It was a story about Lucy. Lucy, her beautiful daughter with Cerebral Palsy, her inspiration to be “strong enough.” Was she “strong enough to show her a word beyond sidewalks and ramps?” Would she be Lucy’s yes in a world of no’s?
Rachel didn’t know that the message she had shared in her story, was about to change the life of a little girl half way across the world. She didn’t know that she was asking me, “Ellen, will you be strong enough to be Nina’s mother? Will you show her a world beyond the walls of an orphanage? Will you be her yes?”
Tears started to trickle down my cheeks, they soon became a steady stream, and eventually the flood gates opened up and I was sobbing. I remembered what Andy had said earlier in the day, “She might have Cerebral Palsy but she still deserves a mommy and a daddy that will love her and believe in her potential.”
Talking about Rachel Coleman or Signing Time is common in our house. Our daughter walks around the house holding Rachel’s picture (sometimes she even needs to look at her while sitting at the dinner table) and constantly asks for a video or the music. We know all the songs, and almost all the signs. So when I told my husband I had just read Rachel’s last blog post and began to cry as soon as I said her name, he was sure I had had enough “singing time, and dancing time, and laughing time, and playing time.” But through tears I told him about Lucy and Rachel “I will be Nina’s yes, I will be strong enough for her” I said.
Four months later I held a sweet little girl with Cerebral Palsy in my arms. My daughter Nina.
For almost 4 years she had lived in one room. A room where she slept, ate, and played. Her life consisted of four walls. Even within the walls she had limitations due to her mobility. And while other children might have been taken outside to play once in a while, she stayed behind.
The first day that I was allowed to see her room my heart broke to a million pieces. It broke for the orphans, it broke for those children with special needs nearing their 4th birthday, and it especially broke for Nina.
I asked if I could take her outside to play, I could see other children on the orphanage grounds through the window. They said I couldn’t take her out because she couldn’t walk. I said I would carry her. They said it would be too hard, she couldn’t be carried like a “normal” child. I said I didn’t care. They said I didn’t understand. I said she was my daughter. They rolled their eyes, got her dressed, and put her in a wobbly, metal stroller.
After only a few minutes, I took Nina out of the stroller, it was impossible to maneuver on the uneven ground. I decided she could point and tell me where she wanted to go. As we walked around she would look at me and smile. The reality of her life continuing to sink in my heart. Her world was so limited not only because of being an orphan, but because of her CP. Her world limited to a room. Nobody was there to open her world. Nobody was there to be her “yes.”
I thought about Rachel and Lucy. When Rachel does not feel like running she still runs because she can and because Lucy needs her to be strong enough.
Nina had never had someone stand before a road, willing to explore, to walk, to be her legs. Nobody ever had, and in this place, nobody ever would. Would I be her “yes”? And when necessary, would I be her legs? Emotion welled up inside me, it needed to come out, to be released. So what did I do? I took off running. With Nina sitting awkwardly on my hip, we ran as fast as I could and for as long as I could. We ran, and we ran, and we ran.
Joy, there was pure joy in my daughter’s face! Because in that moment she had legs and in that moment she could run! It was pure bliss!
A worker shook her head at us. She wore a disapproving frown. But on that day disapproval was tossed away, and a child felt the cold wind on her face and ran! Ran with her mama!
That moment birthed determination in me. I will be her yes. I will be strong enough. And when necessary, I will also be her legs.
There are many children with special needs in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. Reece’s Rainbow seeks to find families for these children. So just like Rachel challenged me, I will challenge you. Will you be a “yes” for one of these children?
Will you be strong enough?
Ellen and Nina
You can visit Ellen’s Blog here: www.elliestumbo.blogspot.com