To those on the outside, the Richardson family likely seemed complete. But matriarch Richardson knew that there was someone missing – and when she saw that person’s photo online, the mom knew that she was looking at her new daughter.
Richardson and her husband, Tyler, have brought three children into the world together: Cooper, Aiden and Libby. And the pair seemed to be satisfied with their clan after welcoming their youngest. “We had finally got our girl,” Richardson wrote on her blog, Embrace and Grace.
But Richardson knew deep down that something was missing – at least for her. Her family life was already great, though, so she wasn’t sure her husband would be on board with her vision. “Everything was smooth sailing – why rock the boat?” she explained.
And while Richardson had considered adopting a child for a while, when she and Tyler approached the topic in September 2015 he wasn’t sure they could handle another little one – especially because their youngest daughter was still a baby. Eventually, though, the mom of three apparently couldn’t ignore her instinct anymore.
Richardson clarified on her blog, “I couldn’t disagree with all of those thoughts [Tyler] had, but I felt something so deep within me that adoption was right for our family.” So she kept talking about it with her husband in the hope that he’d change his mind.
The mom revealed that Tyler had also begun to believe that “adoption might just be what we were called to do.” She had a further epiphany, too, that the couple would add a daughter to their family and that her name would be Willow.
“It was the description of the willow tree that really got me,” Richardson wrote about the name choice. “It’s native to China, but they are found in many other regions of the world. “They are very feminine [and] pretty, and most of all they are extremely strong. The branches can bend… and not break.”
What’s more, the tree’s resilience seemed to describe the girl whom the Richardsons hoped to adopt. Richardson wrote, “It was perfect – a beautiful little girl, from China, coming to her forever home in the States but leaving everything she has ever known and going through major changes and seasons of life.”
And the name appeared to solidify everything for Richardson. The mom explained, “Once I knew her name, I thought about our daughter, Willow, all the time… I truly longed for her in the same way I longed for each of my biological kids.”
The vision of Willow began to crystallize further when the couple decided they wanted to adopt a child with Down syndrome. “We talked about what a huge blessing it would be but also what all the struggles might be like,” Richardson wrote.
In China, where Richardson had hoped to adopt, at least 5,000 children with Down syndrome await new families. And that number may be higher, as reportedly some infants’ paperwork is never even filed. You see, according to Fox 4, children with special needs are often referred to as “unadoptable.”
But Richardson wouldn’t find her daughter on a trip across the ocean to visit an orphanage – she’d find her online. The mom described the moment to Fox 4. “I was part of a Down syndrome adoption Facebook group because I was just wanting to learn more and ask questions,” she said.
And in the group, a mom who had adopted from an orphanage in China had shared an image of another little girl with Down syndrome awaiting her forever family. “As soon as I saw her picture, I knew. I knew it was her,” Richardson said. She also described the emotional moment on her blog, writing, “Tears were streaming down my face.”
The girl who had tugged on Richardson’s heartstrings was named Xiuxiu and was two years old; she had been found outside of a Chinese institution around 22 months before. But although Richardson felt a connection to the images of this baby, Tyler wasn’t so sure.
However, Tyler seemed to get his final sign while on a mission trip to Zambia, where he saw gigantic trees with leafy canopies. And after the dad described the beautiful foliage to Richardson, she did some research online and realized what type of trees they were: willows.
From there the couple got the ball rolling quickly, but the adoption process took an arduous eight months. It culminated with the Richardsons – along with their son, Cooper – taking a 14-hour flight to Beijing to pick up Willow.
When it finally came time to see Willow, though, Richardson could barely contain her emotions. She told Fox 4, “I was so nervous and excited but just so ready to get my hands around her.” She also hoped that her daughter would recognize her from the many video chats conducted before the adoption.
Richardson added to Fox 4, “As soon as we saw [Willow], she walked right into our arms. It was so sweet.” Willow was just as warmly welcomed by the family’s three youngest members, too, although Libby did have some adjusting to do when she was no longer the sole little girl in the house.
“[Libby and Willow] have some very sweet moments and then just some very sisterly moments when they both want the same thing,” the girls’ mom said. Still, Richardson could only speak highly of the ways in which Willow had enriched their lives.
What’s more, Richardson hoped that her story would inspire others to consider adopting children with special needs. Richardson said, “Down syndrome is such a gift, and I wish that people would look at it as a gift and not a disability. Because [Willow is] really just like any other kid, and she brings us so much joy.”