Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Friday, April 5, 2013


I recently came across a blog that had a fairly unique perspective on Down syndrome, especially how it is treated in Ukraine.

Gillian Marchenko was an American missionary living in Ukraine with her husband and 3 children.  When she gave birth to her 4th child in a Ukrainian hospital, she was told that her baby has Down syndrome.   She then experienced first hand as the medical staff encouraged her to relinquish the child to institutional care:

Russian mutterings swirled above me, “neecheevo, pearestine krechat,” –it’s nothing, stop crying. I once again found myself deaf and dumb. Dazed, I gulped down the thick liquid. Polly’s doctor stood closest to my head on the left side of the bed.
“Stop crying!” she said. “Yes, it’s terrible that your daughter has Down syndrome, but you have options. You can terminate your parenting rights or take her to live in the village. Take her some place quiet. She’ll play. Life is slow there. Now, stop crying!” Everyone around me nodded and patted me, muttering again, “neecheevo, Gillian, neechevo.” It’s nothing, Gillian, it’s nothing.
One can just imagine how such advice would be received by a local woman, who lacks the benefit of Gillian's cosmopolitan experience and American diversity - especially under the influence of the "thick liquid" she was given.

Fast forward 3 years, after the initial shock of the diagnosis had been replaced with optimism and advocacy for her lovely daughter with Down syndrome.  Gillian and her husband return to Ukraine to adopt another child with Down syndrome.   Now she experienced the flip-side of the "medical" advice she had received earlier:

“Why do you want a sick child? We have several other children who are much better than her, ” one woman said while Evangeline sat in my lap, her face covered in dried snot. Her legs crusty with dirt. “She is an imbecile,” the worker coolly glanced away as her words hit me like rocks.

Although the two girls are fairly close in age, and although the second child was adopted while still quite young, the difference in their development is striking, and persists even several years later.  Polly runs, dances, sings and plays.  She goes to school and is learning to read and write.  Evie is non-verbal, and is still struggling with basic structures of family living.  She has recently begun to make progress in communication using pictures.  Is this what Polly would have been like had she been left behind at birth? Conversely, what would Evie's life have looked like had she been spared orphanage life completely?

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