SALT LAKE CITY — The lives of a small but growing family in Utah have forever been changed thanks to a tiny, bright-eyed toddler from the Philippines named Maria.
It’s been over a year since Maria, now 3, who was born without her arms and legs, was adopted from a special-needs orphanage in Cevite, Philippines.
Hoping to inspire other families to consider adoption, her parents, Adrianne and Jason Stewart, shared their daughter’s story to mark her first adoption anniversary in a video posted on YouTube.
Love What Matters, a blog dedicated to sharing inspiring stories, reposted the video and story, which has gotten over 700,000 views and more than 6,000 shares.
A story of courage
In 2014, the family of five — including the Stewarts’ two biological daughters and an adopted son from the Philippines — decided it was time to expand yet again.
After contacting their adoption agency, Hand in Hand, they received a special home findings list: the names of children with special needs, older children and/or sibling groups waiting to be adopted in the Philippines.
At the time, they hadn’t discussed adopting a child with special needs, but they instantly fell in love when they saw a photo of Maria, who was only 9 months old.
When she was 6 months old, Maria had been placed at the Chosen Children Village, an orphanage for children with special needs.
Beyond a medical record that stated she was born without limbs, little was known about her, but her beautiful smile was all the Stewart family needed.
“When we found our daughter, we did not think that we were qualified or prepared enough to parent a child like her, a child born without arms and legs, but we knew that we could love her and that loving her was what mattered most,” Adrianne Stewart wrote in the post.
A story of hope
After completing a seemingly endless amount of paperwork and enduring months of waiting, they received approval the next year to adopt their little girl.
With many unknowns and only one photo of Maria, they traveled to the Philippines, both nervous and eager to meet their newest family member.
Most picture their first meeting with their child as a perfect love story, but for Adrianne Stewart, it was a moment of clarity.
“I had hoped that she would be further along than she was. She was two years old and she couldn’t even hold her head up,” Adrianne Stewart said.
She didn’t know whether Maria would be able to regain use of her muscles, but she knew that the family had a lot of work ahead of them.
The orphanage director explained the difficulty of finding a home for Maria and why the Stewarts had been chosen to adopt her. Adrianne Stewart said that on hearing this, she felt inspired by her daughter’s story, and it made the family realize how lucky they were to have her.
A story of joy
The Stewarts have received mostly responses since sharing their daughter’s story. Adrianne Stewart hopes it will inspire other families to consider adoption, both domestically and abroad.
“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,” she wrote in the Facebook post. “We put limits on her abilities and then we see her doing exactly what we thought she was not capable of. We are so blessed to have her in our family.”
Adrianne Stewart has also received comments from women who had abortions because their fetuses had similar conditions and regretted their decisions after seeing the life that Maria has now. She hopes that her story will inspire other women who may be in similar situations to reconsider.
Every now and then, someone will question why she chose to adopt a child internationally instead of in the United States. Stewart contends that there are many kids around the world who need homes and that it doesn’t really matter where they come from.
A story of love
After a rough time during her first years, Maria now lives a happy life full of love. Her family is grateful for Maria and says she is blessing.
“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 Stewart wrote.
Maria continues to receive speech and occupational therapy each month and attends preschool twice a week in a mixed classroom setting where she interacts with both children with and without special needs.
Although she still does not speak much, she loves interacting and playing with her classmates. And like every normal child, she enjoys coloring, playing with her stuffed animals and occasionally even rocking out to ’80s music.