‘The subject line read, ‘Down Syndrome Baby.’ My heart skipped a beat. That very morning a precious baby boy was born.’: Cancer survivor adopts ‘special gift’ son with Down syndrome after infertility from endometriosis

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“For a stranger to look at our family photo they might see a happy couple with two adorable boys. But underneath what makes our story sweet is the pain we have had to go through to bring us to this point. I am Leanne and my husband is Matt, we have been blessed with one biological son and one adopted son who happens to be rocking an extra chromosome.

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

Matt and my childhood were nothing special, just a farm boy and a farm girl living in neighboring small towns. But my childhood came to a screeching halt when I was 16. After many months of not feeling well, night sweats, and a growing lump by my collar bone; I heard the words that no 16-year-old wants to hear: ‘You have cancer.’

Suddenly the normal worries of an average teenager became less and less important. I no longer worried about what I was going to do on Friday night, my life revolved around the chemotherapy treatment I received every other week. The worries of how I looked seemed trivial as my hair began to fall out. I wasn’t worried about the next school paper I had to write, I was focused on getting through the next round of chemo and not letting the cancer take over my body, I had to fight!

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

After 6 months of chemotherapy treatment and 3 weeks of radiation, I was cancer free! The doctors gave me permission to resume life as normal. But for me life needed to adjust to a new normal. My focus had changed, I had matured, and I had learned to appreciate the small things in life.

One of the many things I grew to appreciate more was the growing friendship of a young man named Matt. We started dating, he proposed, and we were married the next spring. Life was great, and we were blessed to have each other.

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

Soon after we were married, we started talking about growing our family. But month after month we were disappointed, month after month became year after year. This was a dark time in my life, I would often question God, ‘Why is what seems so easy for other women, hard for me? Wasn’t getting cancer enough trial in my life?’

We went to a few different doctors before we learned I had endometriosis. That explained the infertility, and the constant pain I felt. The doctor needed to perform a diagnostic surgery to be certain of what we were dealing with.

I remember waking up in the recovery room a few hours after the surgery. The doctor showed me the pictures, there were adhesions all over; on my uterus, bowel, and bladder. She was able to burn a few lesions. But the words that jumped out at me were, ‘The endometriosis is so far advanced, you will probably never be able to get pregnant without medical help.’ My heart sank.

She recommended 6 months of hormone shots to help with the endometriosis. I questioned, ‘How many other women will I have to watch get pregnant during that time?’ Life just seemed so unfair!

I was told to schedule a visit with the doctor the next month. That next month brought the biggest surprise of all; two pink lines on a pregnancy test! The dream of our own child that had seemed so out of reach days before had become a reality. There was a tiny miracle growing inside of me!

Stefan & Audrey Photography

Approximately nine months after a doctor told me our road to becoming parents was going to be even longer, harder and more expensive than we imagined, our little Tucker entered this world. All 9 pounds of squishiness! Tucker looks just like his father, from his tall stature, to his large hands and dark brown eyes. But he has his momma’s personality; he will greet anyone with a smile, he loves to help others, and loves to laugh. Every time I look into those deep brown eyes of his, I see a miracle, for he is our answer to so many prayers.

Toni Lynn Photography

We savored every moment with Tucker as a baby. Every smile, giggle, and little words were photographed and videoed. As Tucker grew older, we began to try and get pregnant again. But yet again month after month became year after year. But this time the desire to become pregnant was different, for every time I would become disappointed that yet another month went by and we still were not pregnant, I would look down and see our little miracle.

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

It was then that my husband Matt and I began to talk about adoption. ‘There are so many children in this world that need loving homes, why can’t we be the ones to offer it to them?’ We know we are nothing special, we didn’t know how we would afford it, or how long we would have to wait. But what we did know the Lord was leading us in this direction.

We started the paperwork in August. One of the requirements was a 4-page questionnaire called a comfort level worksheet. It went into great detail about what kind of child we were willing to adopt; a boy or a girl, Caucasian, African American or other, and many different health concerns a child could have. We discussed every one, but every conclusion we came to was if we became pregnant ourselves, we could not guarantee a seamlessly healthy child, and that all children needed and deserved a loving home. When we came to the question about a child diagnosed with Down syndrome, we paused and discussed this in great detail. Together we both have experience with several folks with Down syndrome. One of whom is our family friend, Eddie. He is a very loving and compassionate man who comes to our house every Tuesday afternoon. Both Matt and I agreed if we were presented with the opportunity to adopt a child with Down syndrome, that God would lead us.

The beginning of December we became an active family, meaning the agency would show our life book (a detailed photo album) to mom’s seeking to find a home for their baby. This time of waiting brought doubts, excitement, and anxiety. ‘When would another child join our family? The next time we gather around the Christmas tree will we be a family of four?’

Seven weeks later began as a regular day. In the middle of the day I sat down to eat my lunch, I opened my email. My heart skipped a beat. The subject line read ‘Down Syndrome Baby.’ The adoption agency told us the situation, that very morning a precious baby boy was born. The birth mother had chosen another couple from the agency, but when they had learned he had been diagnosed with Down syndrome just the day before, they did not feel comfortable adopting and raising a child with special needs. The last paragraph read, ‘PLEASE call the office and let me know if you would like your life book to be presented to this sweet mom. Please be in prayer for her.’

Minutes after receiving the email I responded with, ‘Yes, yes, and yes, please show this mom our book. We would love to adopt this baby!’ My lunch sat uneaten on the counter. I began to pray harder than I may have ever prayed. ‘Lord if it be your will, please let his birth mother choose us to raise her precious son.’ I also prayed for this dear mother, who had a plan in place for her child, but then received a diagnosis she was not expecting. Please help her to know that her child is special, unique and worthy of love and affection.

Two and a half hours later my phone started to jingle. I swallowed the lump in my throat, calmingly answering the phone. ‘This is Leanne.’ A kind voice on the other end said. ‘Leanne, you need to come to Georgia. Your son is waiting for you!’ Tyson’s birth mother had chosen us!

Alyssa Brown Photography

Happy tears rolled down my face as the adoption agency coordinator filled me in on all the details. Tucker came running into the room, wondering what was going on, why was mom hollering and crying? I told him, ‘You are going to be a big brother; we are going to Georgia to get your little brother.’ With the biggest smile on his face, he shouted, ‘Yahoo this is the best day EVER!’

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

I spent the next few hours calling close family and friends. I recounted the details of the story and what we knew about our new son. I said, ‘and the best part is he has Down syndrome. We know God is leading us to adopt him.’

24 hours after receiving the call, we headed across the country to meet our new son. As we walked through the airport with our empty car seat, I wanted to shout it from the roof tops. ‘We have a new son, and he’s just perfect!’ We had received a picture of Tyson before we left. I think I looked at his picture about 100 times while traveling.

Soon after we landed in Georgia, we headed to the hospital. As we walked through the hospital doors into the maternity ward, it hit me like a ton of bricks. There had been a brave, selfless woman walking through these same doors a few days before; scared, and in labor. She had shared her body with a growing boy for the last 9 months. She endured some of the most scaring pain to bring an adorable 6-pound 3-ounce baby into this world. Then, this woman chose us to raise her son just hours after he was born. Matt and I; just a young couple from the other side of the country, ready to add more love to our family. The courageous sacrifice she made, to give her son a loving father and mother, is not lost on me.

The first time Tyson’s birth mother placed him in my arms, my heart stopped. From the wispy dark hair on the top of his head, his caramel colored skin, down to his tiny little toes, he was perfect. When I looked at him for the first time, I did not see a Down syndrome label, I saw an answer to our prayers. He was our special gift.

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

Do I know what the future hold for our son with Down syndrome? No. Do I know everything there is to know about raising a child with special needs? No. Will there be challenges? Yes. But what I do know is that my son Tyson will always be a gift. His Down syndrome diagnosis will never be viewed as disadvantage.

Alyssa Brown Photography
Alyssa Brown Photography

Each day with him will be a blessing, and he will grow up knowing he was longed for, cherished, and always loved. When Tucker met Tyson for the first time, he reached out, lovingly stroking his head and said, ‘He’s just perfect, just perfect for us!’ We could not agree more!

Alyssa Brown Photography

I have big plans for our son, Tyson. Not plans that involve being top quarterback in the league, not becoming a big shot doctor and changing the face of medicine, and not holding the top seat in the government. No, the plans I have for our son involve a loving and caring boy that grows up learning to love others around him and to bring joy wherever he goes. He will face challenges every day, both physically and mentally. He will not always act and look like his peers. But I know that through his innocence and faith, love will shine forth.

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

As parents, we will teach Tyson how to tie his shoes, say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ and eat his fruits and veggies. But I know Tyson will teach us more in return. He will teach us how to love, not a love with strings attached, but an unconditionally love.

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker
Simply Enjoy Photography

Matt and I look forward to every day we get to spend with both my sons, and know that though our journey to parenthood was not what we had envisioned, it was all in God’s plan. His plan is far greater than ours. Now when a stranger sees our family photo, I hope they see a mom that has overcome many physical struggles, but has a love for her children that is limitless and knows no bounds. And a father who is proud of is sons and works hard to provide for his whole family.”

Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker
Courtesy of Leanne Hoefakker

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Leanne Hoefakker of Everson, Washington. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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