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Adopting Our Daughters With Down Syndrome Was Like Discovering a New Color

A year ago today, we sat in a hotel room in China preparing to meet our daughter, Yuanyuan. She wasn’t Josie yet. She was Yuanyuan “Beauty beauty.” Our darling beauty, beauty magnified in a tiny Chinese baby girl body that came toddling up to our hotel door, and in a quiet voice, filled with fear and love for all the unknowns and all the lonely years softly spoke, “Ah, Ni Hao.” Little did I know that when I opened that door, I opened a new life inside our home. Little did we know the life we were missing before she entered our hotel room and our lives. She stole our hearts and love immediately. Kissing her new hot pink tutu skirt and kissing her face in the mirror over and over again, she spread joy. Sheer delight found in every moment, a bath, washing hands, greeting strangers in the elevator. Our daughter revealed a whole new life, a new world to our souls that we didn’t even know existed.

Our children in the Chinese orphanage

And then, Jieling, our precious Grace, entered the hot and sticky Chinese government affairs building, holding a nanny’s hand as she walked unsteadily across the wet tile floor, unable to see more than a few inches in front of her face. The absolute terror of the moments we first held Grace enveloped my entire being. It was as if the world spun around me and I couldn’t catch hold of anything. She stuck her sticky sucker in my mouth and I was terrified. I had no idea or knowledge of her in those moments she needed me most. She smiled and took my hands and cackled and drooled and sat stunned and I was so afraid of who I did not know or understand, but our Grace Jieling allowed us glimpses of her spirit in those first nights when she taught us to dance.

Grace gets it, she gets life, she understands. It took months to see. It took so many months of discovering her trauma under her layers of depth that no one else can seem to see. We see her depth. When others only see a happy little “Down syndrome girl,” we see her, and she is undeniably the most beautiful soul I have ever met. She is strong and brave and smarter than anyone knows. She is complicated and layered and fragile and dimpled and messy and artistic and exuding real, unabashed life.

Josie and Grace

How does one know that one is missing life before it has ever been seen? It is as if I told you that I discovered a new color; words are insufficient. You can never experience color until you see it for yourself. Josie Yuanyuan and Grace Jieling are our new colors. They are unparalleled in love, not simplicity or lack of understanding, but real, painful, burden-bearing, life-giving, genius love. They carry their scars with dignity and grace that few ever understand or see, and fewer believe. They carry the injustice and indignity and humiliation thrust upon them from the actions of others who carry ignorance and hatred and lack of compassion: others who treat our daughters as though they were nothing but a pet. Grace and Josie continue to love. They are warriors.

Our family was blessed with Josie and Grace. Blessings were poured out on us as though we could carry it all in our tiny hearts. Our hearts have been stretched and almost burst from the weight of this gift of new life and love. We are weak and broken people entrusted with giant souls.

Follow this journey on Excuse Our Mess.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.