New addition to busy brood brings blessings and abundant joy

| Julie Pfitzinger | November 3, 2010 | 0 Comments

Gretchen Thibault of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony plays with her two adopted sons, Stanislav (Stas), left, and Ricky. Gretchen and her husband, Dan, recently adopted Stas from the Ukraine. Photo by Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Since joining the Thibault family in July, little Stanislav (nicknamed Stas), 3, has made huge strides. He has learned to swallow from a Sippy cup, feed himself, scoot up and down stairs, and he recently started walking — and will probably soon be running — around the family’s Shoreview home.

More important, this cheerful little boy born with Down syndrome, who spent the first three years of his life in an orphanage in the Ukraine, has discovered what it means to be loved whole-heartedly by his parents, Dan and Gretchen, and his six siblings. That includes 4-year-old brother Ricky, who also has Down syndrome and was adopted at birth by the Thibaults.

It’s a busy life with a brood that ranges in age from 3 to 16, but Gretchen Thibault said she is grateful to God for the blessings of her family.

In the first weeks after the couple, along with their oldest daughter, Lizzie, 15, brought Stas home, Gretchen recalls how simple activities like taking her new son out of his car seat would often reduce her to tears.

“I would cry out of the joy of his joyful expression and, at the same time, feel so sad for all the other little ones we saw in the orphanage and whose faces I still can’t forget,” she said.

At the Ukrainian orphanage, one of several in the region, children like Stas are confined to cribs day in and day out, with little social interaction. Once they reach the age of 4, they are sent to a mental institution that has patients as old as 18; approximately 80 percent of the children die within their first year there, Thibault said.

Hearing the call

The Thibaults’ journey to that orphanage began several months ago when Gretchen and Dan, parishioners at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony, felt called to adopt another child. (In addition to Ricky, who was born in the Twin Cities, they also have an adopted daughter Jenny, 11, from Guatemala).

Immediately following the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, the couple thought that might be where God was calling them, but Gretchen said she “never felt settled” about that plan for some reason.

Around the same time, Lizzie, whom her mother says has a “true heart for special needs children,” was visiting a website called Reece’s Rainbow. Based in Maryland, the organization promotes international adoption of children with Down syndrome and other special needs and provides photos of waiting children.

“When we adopted Ricky, it was Dan who initially suggested that we adopt a special needs child,” said Gretchen, adding that her husband had a brother with Down syndrome who died at a young age.

Once she saw a photo of Stas, identified as “Ross” because alias names are always used for the Eastern European children on the Reece’s Rainbow site, Gretchen said she felt “a peace like no other” and knew that God had led them to their new child.

Both Ricky and Stas receive occupational and physical therapy, as well as speech therapy.

The family has also taught the boys to use sign language; Ricky already knows about 300 words and Stas recently surprised Gretchen by signing “more” back to her when she was splashing with him as she gave him a bath.

“It is amazing to us to see how far Stas has progressed in such a short amount of time,” she said.

While some might assume that raising two children with Down syndrome would be daunting, Gretchen called her sons “pure joy.”

“Children with Down syndrome are not who the world makes them out to be,” she said. “All parents typically expect their children to fit into a certain kind of box. These little guys have a whole different box. We don’t know what their potential is. All we want for them is to be the very best they can be.”

Praying together

Since adopting Stas, the family has become acquainted via online blogs with several other families affiliated with Reece’s Rainbow who have adopted or are in the process of adopting special needs children.  They regularly pray for one another, share information and take joy in the photos they all share of their happy, growing families.

Speaking of growing, it’s likely the Thibault family will consider adopting another child with special needs.

“I would say it’s not a matter of ‘if’ we will adopt again, it’s when,” said Gretchen. “Sure, life is busy, but if God calls us, we are open.”

Want to know more?

For more information about Reece’s Rainbow, visit http://www.reecesrainbow.org.   Gretchen Thibault is also willing to answer questions from those interested in learning more about adopting a child with Down syndrome.  She can be reached via e-mail at dgthibault@comcast.net.

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Category: Adoption