Adoption Stories: Compelled to Help

By Ellen Stumbo
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The Stumbo family: Andy and Ellen
Courtesy of the Stumbo family

When our second daughter, Nichole, was born, she surprised us by showing up with an extra chromosome. The diagnosis of Down syndrome was the hardest thing that Andy and I had ever faced as parents. We loved her immediately, of course, but there were endless tears and questions about her future.

Nichole would not be defined by her Down syndrome. Her natural joy and gentleness opened our eyes to the beauty of children who are often seen as broken or incomplete. She was just the child we needed.

We soon learned of the many abandoned children with special needs. If not adopted by their fourth or fifth birthday, these children are sent to waste away at mental institutions. The thought of children being disposed of like old rags broke our hearts. Somehow, we had to help.

We intended to adopt another child with Down syndrome, but it was a little girl with cerebral palsy who stole our hearts.

We began the long, frustrating process of adopting from Ukraine. Waiting on government bureaucracy is not easy when you’re racing to adopt a child before her fourth birthday. But God directed our journey. Finally, we were told we could come pick up Nina.

We had created an imaginary portrait of Nina, based only on the photo we had. We were shocked at our first meeting. Nina seemed to have a mental disability along with her cerebral palsy. Could we handle her needs?

At first, Nina completely rejected me as a mother and would often ask for the orphanage workers. She would also seem to go into a trance when she felt insecure or overwhelmed. At night, she cried for two to three hours before falling asleep.

Other behaviors were difficult to understand. Nina would sometimes tie up her baby doll or scream when we buckled her into her car seat. As her English improved, Nina told us about how the orphanage workers would tie her to her crib when she misbehaved. While heartbreaking, this has helped us understand our daughter. We hold her close and reassure her of our love.

Before we met Nina, we felt like we loved her as much as our other children. But we needed to get to know the real Nina. Adoption is a process of falling in love, and falling in love is beautiful and difficult.

Sometimes, as Nina eats or plays with her sisters, Andy and I will look at each other with the realization that she really does belong. We face challenges every day, but through it all we witness a little girl finding great pleasure in having a family.

Focus on the Family’s Wait No More program prepares hearts and homes for kids in foster care – whether for a season or a lifetime. Everyone who feels called to foster, adopt or support a foster/adoptive family can get involved through our nationwide events and resources. Every day, we help kids in foster care experience the love of family, no matter how long they’ve waited. Learn more at

© 2010 by Ellen Stumbo. Used by permission. This article first appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. If you enjoyed this article, you can get the publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

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