Accepting a child despite more than one prejudice

Pregnant women hope their babies will be healthy.

Hence, blood is drawn, urine samples given, ultrasounds taken and invasive pap smears endured to ensure the health of one’s child.

Prenatal testing provides expectant mothers with information about the fetal development inside them. But what if the results come back showing something has gone awry?

Anne Keinick had to answer this question when pregnant with her first child. Along with her husband, the decision was made that under no circumstances would they terminate the pregnancy. Six years later, they have a healthy little girl named Gillian.

The Keinicks have recently added another member to the family. A beautiful baby boy named Jackson.

Jackson was born at the Rockyview General Hospital, and he was given up for adoption by his birth parents. He has Down syndrome.

“We had said that we were going to look at the adoption process the way we looked at our pregnancy,” Keinick says.

“I don’t think we thought we were going to necessarily adopt a child with a disability, but [there] was potential. Just like when you conceive naturally, it’s a potential.”

Ramone Kindrat is the executive director of Adoption By Choice, Ltd., the adoption agency chosen by the Keinicks.

Kindrat confirms that the Keinicks were the only couple within Alberta’s private adoption sector willing to accept a baby of African descent with a diagnosis of Down syndrome at the time of Jackson’s birth.

Other couples were willing to adopt a child with Down syndrome, Kindrat says. Anne Keinick sits with her adopted son Jackson who has Down syndrome as well as being from African descent. This did not stop the Keinicks from embracing what Jackson adds to their family: his “peaceful and beautiful healing quality.”However, the Keinicks were unique in their acceptance of a child who alongside having Down syndrome was also of African origin.

Kindrat says that she found it unusual that parents looking to adopt were willing to choose one thing or the other but not both – the first trait being a diagnosis and the latter being a matter of cultural origin.

Those looking to adopt in the province of Alberta, whether through the government or a privately licensed adoption agency, are required to fill out lengthy applications. In addition to providing references and personal details, the forms include sections addressing the child’s health.

Adoption By Choice’s form asks applicants if they’d accept a child with a cleft lip or palate, spina bifida, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, a heart murmur or AIDS.

The Alberta Children’s Services adoption form asks applicants if they would be willing to adopt a child born as a result of sexual assault or born as result of incest.

Keinick recalls filling out her own forms when adopting Jackson and remembers that was “when the really challenging questions started to happen.”

Maybes were given to cerebral palsy, spina bifida and conditions where children might be in a wheelchair, Keinick says. The reason for such was because of how their family home is structured.

Having worked in the health care industry as a social worker and nurse for 10 years, Keinick is undaunted by working with people with a disability.

She helped run a program that assisted people with a dual diagnosis of mental illness and physical disability, and own and operate their own small business.

“I met some incredibly unbelievable people – not because they had a disability but because they were just great people who happened to have a disability.”

Keinick says, “It’s not the same as it was in 1950 where if you had a child with Down syndrome, you had two choices. You could put them in an institution or you could take care of them for the rest of your life.

They never got the option to go to school. They never got any opportunity. They stayed home. And so, typically people born in that era who have a developmental disability are very low functioning because they didn’t have any stimulus.”

Shortly after adopting Jackson, the Keinicks learned that Calgary is home to the head office of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. Within five days of Jackson being brought home, they had five people from different Down syndrome support groups visit their home and offer their services.

“I felt so supported – way more supported then when I had Gillian. It was interesting,” Keinick says.

Six-month-old Jackson acquired his name because his big sister is a “Hannah Montana” fan. Hannah Montana’s older brother on the famed Disney children’s television show is named Jackson.

“People always ask, ‘Why is his name Jackson?’ hoping for this super inspirational story. And really, it’s just because Gillian was watching Disney and Jackson was the name she liked,” Keinick says with a laugh.

Showering her little brother with a storm of kisses, Gillian stops to say that, “he likes to squirm a lot.” Anne Keinick smiles as she watches her children play.

“In every way our lives are better,” she says.

“He has an angelic quality to him. It’s a strange thing but it’s a very peaceful, very beautiful healing quality. I think he’s just a real blessing.”

cramos@cjournal.ca