A special love . . .for special kids

The foster care provided by Mary and Andrew Lavey in their Cedar Grove home was short term—until a two boys with Down syndrome ‘tugged at their hearts’ and became adopted sons

Andrew Lavey is happy he and his wife Mary have adopted Ben (left) and Jonah, who both have Down syndrome. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Mary and Andrew Lavey of Cedar Grove didn’t initially set out to permanently grow their family beyond three children.

They felt a calling to serve as foster parents to orphan babies who came from difficult circumstances — sometimes even picking them up right from the hospital on a day’s notice — but they only kept each one for four to six weeks.

“We like babies so much,” Andrew said.

“This is an opportunity to serve and help out.”

The Laveys’ three children instantly took to their short-term younger siblings, helping to feed and hold them.

The family fostered 15 babies over seven years, and each came with different challenges.

One little girl didn’t sleep because she was born addicted to drugs.


The Laveys fell in love with each baby, and it was heartbreaking to let any of them go, but Andrew said it helped to meet the adopting family.

“That was always the hard thing,” he said. “The kids had trouble with it.”

It took the Laveys about a week to get over giving up an infant.

Except one, a girl with Down syndrome.

“We never got over her,” Mary said. “That kind of planted the seed.”

The Laveys had worked with Bethany Christian Services. It was more difficult to find a home for the baby with Down syndrome, who finally went to a family in Iowa.

“It just tugged at our hearts that these little special people might have trouble finding homes,” Andrew said.

After spending three weeks in another foster home, Jonah, who has Down syndrome, was officially adopted by the Laveys in 2010.

His family, Mary said, wasn’t in a position to take care of him but loves him.

“They say he’s always in their hearts,” she said.

A few years later, the family came across the website for Reece’s Rainbow, an organization that promotes international adoption of children with Down syndrome.

They found a photo of Ben, who lived in eastern Europe. Nobody adopted him for a year, so the Laveys figured he must be the one for them.

The process for an international adoption was a little different than domestic. They had Jonah within several weeks. Ben took 18 months.

“The paperwork is tremendous,” Andrew said.

The couple spent nearly two weeks in Lithuania in 2016 and worked with an attorney, social worker and the U.S. Embassy.

Ben’s court hearing was on July 15, the same day he went to the orphanage as an infant a few years earlier.

Decisions could take days, and the Laveys braced for the wait.

It took three hours.

“The judge said I want this day to be the day he leaves the orphanage,” Mary said.

They adopted Ben just in time. In some eastern European countries, when children with developmental disabilities reach 5 years old, therapy and education stops and they can be taken to mental institutions where they spend the rest of their lives, Mary said.

She said in those areas it is considered “shameful” to have a child with a disability. Ben’s birth parents just left him at the hospital.

Andrew said Lithuania is starting to change. Some families have kept their children with disabilities, and some orphanages have been turned into therapy centers.

Ben, 7, is now doing just fine in a country that values human life differently.

“They can be valuable members of society,” Mary said. “They have strengths just like everybody else.”

Since Ben was used to caretakers switching each shift, he is still learning to trust the same two parents who don’t punch out.

He and Jonah, also 7, complement each other well.

Mary said Jonah has a sweet personality and has taught Ben affection and how to play with toys — he had no idea what to do with them. Ben has a lot of confidence and wasn’t shy about joining in the fun.

“They just totally live in the moment and they don’t let what people think stop them,” Mary said. “If they want to hug someone, they hug someone.”

Mary also realized her first three children were good kids; these two boys are “a little mischievous,” she said with a laugh.

Those older three — Abigail, 20, Stephen, 18, and Lydia, 16 — have instantly taken to their brothers.

“It was a really big decision for us. You’re thinking of your three older kids and what you’re asking for down the road,” Mary said. “That’s why we’re so proud of the older three.”

Jonah and Ben just finished first grade at Cedar Grove-Belgium Elementary School, where they have been welcomed with open arms.

“We can’t say enough about the school,” Mary said.

Jonah so far loves music and gym. Ben likes reading.

Mary, a stay-at-home mother, said she is thankful for the support she has received.

Ben was in the federally mandated Birth to 3 program that provides support for children with developmental disabilities, and got help from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.

When you have a child with Down syndrome, you don’t have to be afraid. There’s so much help out there,” she said

Mary is a member of a Facebook group of parents who have adopted children from Lithuania and in an adoption support group of parents with children who have Down syndrome.

“I think it’s important because there are days that are hard,” she said.

The couple also cited support from family and friends, some of whom have adopted children from Russia and China, and fellow parishioners at First Reformed Church in Cedar Grove.

Andrew, who works as an eye doctor in Sheboygan, said the leap to foster and then adopt was divine intervention.

“We always let fear tell us we can’t do something.

If you feel God’s calling in your life, do something in that area,” he said.

“They’re adopted into our family just like we’re adopted into God’s family.”

For more information on Bethany Christian Services, visit www.bethany.org.

For more information on Reece’s Rainbow, visit reecesrainbow.org.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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