In parenting, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Sure, there are those picture-perfect families who seem to have it all together, but there are also families who have very real struggles, those whose children have health problems or special needs, whose everyday lives practically beg us to say, “I could never do that.”
There’s one type of family that gets that response more often than most: Families who have a child with special needs who then decide to adopt another child with special needs. To most of us, it seems heroic, superhuman, even. But to them, it’s just what they were supposed to do.
“We’re not saints,” says Josh Burick, who has two sons with Down syndrome. “We’re still going about parenting in the same way.”
But how do they really do it? We talked to three local families to find out how they’re changing the world, one child at a time.
Down syndrome doesn't scare us
When her son Syrus was two months old, Corbett Burick saw a picture online that changed their family forever. That picture was of a 2-year-old boy in Ukraine, born with Down syndrome, just like Syrus.
“I remember … thinking, ‘If we lived in another country, we would have been counseled to give him up,’” Corbett says. “I was looking at [Syrus] laying there, and I just couldn’t imagine that being his story.”
At that point, it was hard for Corbett and her husband, Josh, to imagine being parents to one child with special needs, let alone two. But a couple of years later, the West Chicago couple saw a picture of the boy again and began to think that he was meant to be their child.
In Ukraine, as well as many other Eastern European countries, children with Down syndrome are transferred to adult mental institutions when they’re 4. The boy, Vlad, was approaching that crucial age, and the Buricks decided they needed to do something.
“It was like a hit-over-the-head moment, where I was like, ‘Oh, this is our son,’” Corbett says. “We felt like God was saying, ‘Here he is. Go get him.’”
The adoption came at the end of a dark period for the family, following a miscarriage, the deaths of Corbett’s parents and Syrus’ unexpected diagnosis of Down syndrome. But after a period of grieving over their son’s disabilities, they realized that they were well-suited to parenting a child with special needs.
“He became just the little sunny spot in our lives,” Corbett says. “It was like, ‘Oh, he has Down syndrome. Down syndrome doesn’t scare us.’ We were like, we can do this.”
They were soon surprised to find out that Corbett was pregnant, but decided to continue with the adoption and traveled to Ukraine in April 2011 to pick up their son, a “very tiny and very afraid” 4-year-old.
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Elizabeth Diffin is the senior editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.
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