Blood does not always determine that two people are family. But love does especially for adoptive families.
In October 2015, Adrianne and Jason Stewart went to the Philippines to meet their adopted daughter, Maria, a child who had no arms or legs, for the first time. Maria was only six months old at the time and under the care of the Chosen Children Village, in Silang, Cavite. The Stewarts could see how full of hope Maria was despite her condition. "She just smiles so much, and she's always so happy that you can't walk away and feel sad," Jason said on new show On The Storyon HLN.
"Originally, we hadn't planned on adopting a child with special needs, but we just fell in love the minute we saw that picture," Adrianne added.
Yes, Adrianne and Jason decided on adopting Maria based on that photo alone, which they saw in October 2014. By May 2015, they already received the approval to adopt Maria, and it took them five months to finally bring her home in Utah.
The family shared their story in a video to show the world how special-needs adoption has changed their family forever and for the better. When Love What Matters shared the video on their Facebook page, it resonated with so many people that the family created a separate Facebook public page. The Facebook page's name:Stewart Pamilya. Their story received coverage from television news channels to fan-made videos from all around the globe.
At first, Adrianne and Jason thought they were not qualified or prepared to raise Maria. "But we knew that we could love her and that loving her was what mattered most!" a post read.
"She has given us far more than we will ever give her. She is so full of joy and light and is an inspiration to all who meet her. We put limits on her abilities, and then we see her doing what we thought she was not capable of," Adrianne and Jason said.
Now 3 years old, Maria is thriving in the company of her family. They've been teaching her how to balance and sit up, something she wasn't able to do when they first met her. She has also started learning how to eat on her own, and she’s already able to draw and color with the help of a special mouthpiece designed to hold her markers. She even goes to a regular preschool twice a week. "[Her classmates] love her. They fight over who gets to play with her," Adrianne told Fox 13 News.
While Maria works with physical therapy and speech and occupational therapy trainers once a month, she is like any "typical" kid her age: she loves to play especially in a ball pit, and a spin on the swing makes her laugh out loud. (By the way, she listens to '80 music, which isn't typical for 3-year-olds.)
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When she's able to do as task completely on her own, Maria flashes a huge cheery smile. Maria is having a blast discovering the endless possibilities that lie ahead for her.
"It is so inspiring to see and brings me a lot of joy also,” Adrianne shares. There is a possibility for her to wear prosthetics in the future, but Adrianne and Jason feel she needs to learn how to live independently without it first.
The Stewarts are already parents two biological daughters, ages 13 and 11, and Joshua, 6, whom they adopted from the White Cross Children’s Home in San Juan, Philippines. Though it was initially a challenge, Maria's siblings now have begun to see past her disability and find ways to include her in their activities. They are learning from their parents.
"We don't see any difference in any of our children. We love them all the same and with every fiber of our being. They're all amazing, and special, and it is as possible to love them just as much," Adrianne told GMA’s Unang Balita.
If you're wondering why the couple chose to adopt two of their children from our country, Jason had served as a missionary here for two years and felt a deep connection with our culture, according to CBS News.
"We are so blessed to have her in our family. 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. The most important thing she has taught us is that we are all so much more capable than we think we are," Adrianne and Jason said.
Adrianne and Jason's leap of faith continues. The couple is in the process of adopting a 9-year-old girl, who also has special needs, from the Philippines. "Being able to love is really what matters most when considering adoption," Adrianne said.
"It seems like a big thing when you start out, but everything just works out," they added.