This couple adopted a baby girl born without arms and legs. They thought the adoption would change the baby’s life; little did they expect it would change their lives too! Their special-needs child has taught them to appreciate and find joy in little things.
At 6 months old, baby Maria was placed in Chosen Children Village, an orphanage in Silang, Philippines. She was perfect and beautiful just like any other child, except that she was born without limbs. With a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Adrianne and Jason Stewert, from West Jordan, Utah, came across a picture of Maria while they were looking through a list of children who were awaiting adoption in October 2014.
The moment they saw her picture, they fell in love with little Maria.
“She had one of the most beautiful smiles and at the time we weren’t really planning on adopting a special needs child but we just fell in love with her,” said Adrianne. “We just knew we needed her to be part of our family.”
However, for the couple who already had two girls, 11 and 13, as well as an adopted boy from the Philippines, Joshua, 6, it took a lot of courage and faith for the parents to make the important decision of adopting a child with special needs, but in the end, they decided to go ahead with the adoption.
“We knew that we could love her and that loving her was what mattered most!” wrote Adrianne on Facebook.
They waited for a year before the Stewert family traveled to the Philippines to bring little Maria home in October 2015.
Upon meeting the calm and innocent Maria, their worries melted away.
“Even meeting her for the first time, you think she’d be scared and nervous to meet strangers, I mean, she’d seen a picture of us. But she did so well and she was so happy and smiling for us and it was really amazing,” said Adrianne.
The caregiver at the orphanage was sobbing quietly when she saw this heartwarming moment of Maria finally meeting her new family. They brought her to their humble abode in Utah, and everything went smoothly, although it took a while for Maria to settle into her new home.
Nevertheless, the challenges have been worthwhile, for “she is so full of light and joy,” said Adrianne.
As time went by, Maria got along well with her siblings, especially with Joshua. In Joshua’s eyes, Maria isn’t different from them; she’s just their little sister.
After Maria’s first year in her new home, Adrianne posted a video sharing their experience, “Special needs adoption has changed our family forever,” hoping that their story would inspire others to adopt children with special needs.
“She’s very loving,” said Jason. “She loves her stuffed animals; she makes us feed her little bear before we feed her.”
In spite of her disability, “She’s doing all the same things as our other kids, just in a little bit different way,” said Adrianne.
At the age of 3, Maria attended preschool and received regular physical, speech, and occupational therapy sessions once a month. Besides playing with her stuffed animals, she had a particular liking for 80s music!
She fed herself with a self-feeder, played with a computer tablet, and loved coloring using a customized mouthpiece specially designed by a dentist. She has even tried horseback riding with Dad!
“We put limits on her abilities and then we see her doing exactly what we thought she was not capable of,” wrote Adrianne.
Maria could even control her customized wheelchair given to her from Shriner’s Hospital using her arm nub with ease.
“She has made each of us better. She has taught us to find joy in small things, to not be sad or disappointed by what we don’t have, and to not take for granted the things we do have,” wrote Adrianne. “The most important thing she has taught us is that we are all so much more capable than we think we are.”
After feeling a sense of fulfillment with Maria around, the Stewerts received devastating news in April 2017: Their adopted boy, Joshua, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, with a 65 percent chance of survival.
“And just like that our perfect world was shattered,” Adrianne told PEOPLE. “Our entire world was turned upside down.”
Maria visited Joshua in the hospital frequently. “She practices using her wheelchair in the hallway of the hospital. We’re all in this together,” said Adrianne.
Despite the distress, the Stewert family remained positive, braving this tribulation together.
Jason wrote on Facebook: “We do not know what is to come in the future, we hold high hopes of what he will become. While we are aware of the possibilities, we choose to focus on the positive. This has been beaten before and will be beaten again.”
After the storm comes the calm.
In June 2018, the Stewert family shared a piece of good news online.
“My wife took Josh to his regular checkup today, and we are so comforted that his results came back as still being cancer free. We are past the six month mark, and getting close to the one year mark and looking forward to it greatly,” they wrote.
“Tonight we took a drive up to the top of a mountain to look down on the valley and the copper mine. It was close to sunset and I got this great photo of this strong kid.”
My wife took Josh to his regular checkup today, and we are so comforted that his results came back as still being cancer…
We’re so happy for Joshua! May he and Maria achieve success on their every step.
And wishing the Stewert family loads with happiness on the road ahead!
Thumbnail Credit: Facebook | Stewart Family