They Called Us Mom and Dad

Our names are Rich and Dani Gardner. We adopted our daughter Sarah when she was two weeks old. Sarah has Down syndrome. When we made the decision to adopt, we didn’t set out to adopt a child with special needs. We had been trying to have a child for many years, and suffered several miscarriages and failed IVF procedures. It was a very hard time. We finally decided to adopt and filled out the necessary paperwork. One of the forms asked about our preferences for gender, race, and disabilities. We didn't care. We just wanted to be parents. We knew that if we had a child biologically, there was a chance that that child would have special needs. We didn’t think adoption should be any different.

One morning we got a phone call about a baby girl who needed a family. She had Down syndrome. They asked if we would consider adopting her. We did not hesitate, but rushed over the next morning (luckily she was born in Maryland) and signed the papers. The day after that we got to meet Sarah. We walked in to the NICU and the nurses and staff literally cheered for us. They called us mom and dad. They thanked us profusely for adopting Sarah and commented about what a blessing we were to her. What they didn’t realize is that Sarah was the blessing. We’d waited and wished and prayed so long for her, and she was finally here. We felt complete for the first time in years.

We weren’t blind to her disability. We knew it wasn’t always going to be easy. Sarah spent 30 days in the NICU, and came home with an NG tube for feeding and a monitor to be sure she was breathing and alive. She couldn’t eat from a bottle for more than a few minutes. She had congestive heart failure and barely had the energy to cry. But she slept like a champ, met milestones (a little late, but she met them), and charmed everyone who met her. She had open heart surgery when she was 5 months old, and her health greatly improved after that. She continued to grow and learn and has blessed our lives immeasurably.

When Sarah was 11 months old, we discovered we were pregnant. We were cautiously optimistic, and 9 months later had a baby boy. Twenty months after that we had another baby girl. People always comment how strange it was that after years of infertility we were able to have babies so easily, but we know without a doubt that we were meant to have Sarah first.

These days Sarah is a typical little girl. She loves to play with her brother and sister. She is in 2nd grade at our neighborhood school and loves her friends and teachers. She loves reading books, watching movies, listening to music, swimming, and running around outside. There are definitely challenges that we face every day because of her special needs, but she is healthy and happy. And she is loved.

About the Authors: Dani and Rich Gardner were married in 2001 and live in Columbia. Rich works for the government and Dani is a former high school teacher, currently staying home with their 3 kids and 2 cats. They own a boat in Southern Maryland and love to take friends fishing.