I just looked into her eyes and her eyes were lost and I just knew we were supposed to go get her. —Kecia Cox
MURRAY — The 4-year-old only had a first name — Kareen.
There are no pictures of her as a baby. No one celebrated her birthdays. Kareen’s parents chose to give her up for adoption when they discovered she had Down syndrome, six weeks after she was born.
She lived tucked away and forgotten in a Ukrainian orphanage until a Utah mother in Murray saw her picture on the website Reece’s Rainbow in January 2011.
“I just looked into her eyes and her eyes were lost and I just knew we were supposed to go get her,” recalled Kecia Cox.
Reece’s Rainbow is an international orphan ministry based in Maryland. Their mission is to recuse orphans with Down syndrome waiting for adoption in 25 countries around the world. The organization also raises funds to help adoptive families afford the high cost of international adoption.
Andrea Roberts, executive director and founder, said there is a greater need to adopt these children who are in foreign countries because here in the U.S., many Down syndrome pregnancies are aborted. Studies have shown that as many as 90 percent of pregnant women in some U.S. communities who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.
“There is a crisis in these countries. Very few are raised by their own families,” she said.
When the Coxes found Kareen's photo, their first thought wasn't adoption but a donation to Reece's Rainbow. They recognized the potential of Down syndrome children to thrive because their third daughter, Bree, also has Down syndrome. Kecia Cox had also recently suffered a difficult miscarriage. All those circumstances made it hard for them to forget Kareen.
“We tried to talk ourselves out of it because we already had a child with Down syndrome. Kareen was already 4 and I wanted a baby.”
But Kecia Cox could not forget the little girl’s eyes.
Kris Cox says their faith played a huge role in their decision to adopt.
“I don’t know how much time we spent on our knees with prayer, pondering if this was right. We believe in revelation that can come to a family and I think if it hadn’t been for that, we probably would not have made the trip to the Ukraine because I was very hesitant. I was very nervous about it,” he said.
The orphanage provided few details about Kareen and her health. “We knew three sentences about her,” recalled Kecia Cox.
The Coxes also knew they were racing against the clock to save Kareen from an adult mental institution, which is where most children with Down syndrome are sent when they turn 5.
“They are left laying in rooms and warehoused. These children suffer lots of regression,” said Roberts.
Kecia Cox started working on mountains of paperwork, family and friends helped raise funds, and their daughters emptied their piggy banks and set up lemonade stands. Five months later, the couple headed to Ukraine.
“We were nervous. What if we don’t recognize her? What if you don’t feel that connection when we meet her? What if she turns and screams and hates us?” Kecia Cox remembers feeling.
When the Coxes reached the orphanage, they were jet-lagged, exhausted and nervous to meet the child who would become their daughter. But when she walked into the room, all their fears vanished.
“It was amazing to see her and it made everything calm down and the whole morning was a blur at that point,” Kris Cox recalled, holding back tears.
“She was exactly who we thought she’d be and who we hoped to meet,” said Kecia Cox.
Kareen immediately bonded with her parents. “We were so amazed she could be so open to these two strangers,” her mother said. Their first meeting with their daughter lasted only 10 minutes but it was enough time for the Coxes to know they made the right decision.
The couple had to wait in Ukraine 30 days before they could take Kareen home. During that time, they got a glimpse into what life in the orphanage was like. Kareen spent most of her days in a playpen packed with other children. She rarely went outside and the small staff at the orphanage made it difficult for the children to receive individual attention.
The Coxes visited Kareen daily and the staff kept asking them if they were sure about the adoption. “They told us we could have two healthy children and couldn’t understand why we would want Kareen.”
Roberts said a lot of suspicion surrounds the adoption of children with special needs. “There is a widely held belief that U.S. families only adopt these children to sell them off for body parts.”
Reece’s Rainbow will celebrate its six-year anniversary next week. The organization has helped 700 children with special needs find adoptive families. “With every adoption we plant a little seed of truth,” Roberts said.
Kareen left the Ukraine last June with her new family and the Coxes decided to give her a new name. “We chose Mia because it means 'my' and it was a way of making her ours,” her mother explained.
Back in the U.S., family and friends eagerly awaited their return, especially the three Cox sisters. When they met their new sister at the airport for the first time, it was hard to imagine they had not been sisters since birth.
“We kind of worried what Bree would think, but at the airport she came running up to Mia and hugged her,” said Kecia Cox. “She never had a problem.”
In her new home, surrounded by the love of her new family, Mia quickly transformed from the shy, lost girl in the picture into a vibrant happy child. Her legs, atrophied because she spent little time out of a playpen, grew stronger each day as she played with her sisters outside.
“Here was this little girl that had experienced nothing, things that we take for granted. She hadn’t been outside in the evening and seen stars,” explained Kecia Cox.
Since her adoption a year ago, Mia has celebrated many firsts — a Fourth of July, Halloween, family vacations and her own birthday. Her mother said Mia was not used to all of the attention. “At her birthday, all the attention was on her and she’s never had that and it just made us so appreciative for her.”
Mia is not the only miracle the Cox family has experienced over the past year. A few weeks after they returned with Mia, Kecia Cox discovered she was pregnant with twins. “So we doubled our family in 10 months,” she said.
Her pregnancy, however, was extremely difficult. The twins required a life-saving surgery in the womb and Kecia had to have complete bed rest for four months. “Three of our children would not be here if it wasn’t for family and friends, even strangers who helped with the adoption,” said Kecia Cox with tears in her eyes.
Kris, Kecia and their girls — Kyra, 9, Adrie, 7, Mia 5, Bree 5, Claire, 3 months, Livvy, 3 months — get lots of curious glances when they all go out.
“People often ask if they are all ours,” their mother laughs. Looking back it’s still hard for Kris and Kecia to believe all the many miracles that fell into place to create their family.
“Life is different but it’s been great. It’s been an adventure. It’s just fun,” said Kris Cox, adding that he looks forward to seeing where the adventure heads next.