Already parents of four boys, Claire and Dan Gremling felt their family wasn’t quite complete. They felt called to adopt a girl with special needs from Ukraine, and by the time they came home, they had two.
“I had seen their pictures and heard their stories and in our hearts they were already ours,” Claire Gremling said. “We bonded as if they were in my womb. Seeing them for the first time was like seeing a child for the first time when they’re born. The paperwork was the labor.”
The Gremlings adopted Eliza and Mollie, who are now 3-years-old, when they were about 20 months old and one-year-old, respectively. They learned about the girls through Reece’s Rainbow, an adoption ministry aimed at finding homes for children with Down’s syndrome and other special needs throughout the world.
Through the adoption process, the Gremlings were approved for two children, and even though they initially committed to one child, both Dan and Claire felt they would probably end up bringing home two. Along with having Down’s, Eliza suffered from a heart condition. Some prospective parents had turned their backs, but the Gremlings would not.
“It was so nice to be there,” Dan said of meeting the girls. “…To see them after so long and to hold them and see their reaction. We had to have them both.”
In Eastern Europe, Claire said, if a child with special needs is not adopted by age four, they are sent to an adult mental institution. Both parents said that if they had more space, they would already be thinking about adopting more children with special needs a few years down the road.
“There are too many kids out there who need parents,” Dan said. “It is so hard knowing there are so many others like them who will probably never have a home.”
When the Gremlings returned home to Findlay, Eliza’s heart was repaired and their new brothers took them in just like they would two more biological sisters.
Today the Gremlings are a happy – and very busy – family of eight. Dan works at Marathon Petroleum Company and Claire is the nurse at St. Michael the Archangel School. The boys, Gabe, 14; Micah, 12; Zach, 11; and Simon, 8, are busy with hockey, while the girls attend Washington Elementary preschool and take to the ice with Gliding Stars’ adaptive skating.
The girls supply a generous helping of personality to the family. Eliza loves to sit on her Dad’s lap reading books and soaking up information. She would probably stay there all day if she could, Dan said.
She is also one to wear her emotions on her sleeve.
“She’s either beaming or upset,” Claire said, laughing.
Mollie, on the other hand will never sit still. Claire describes her often grinning, but maybe up to a little mischief.
Neither parent thinks about the girls as having special needs, never defining them by any differences.
“I never gave much thought about it,” Dan said. “I wouldn’t think of them as handicapped or anything like that. They’re just people who develop differently. I guess we just enjoy them as they are.”
And enjoy the girls they have. Eliza and Mollie have undoubtedly been graced with all of the love they can handle.
“They have been an amazing blessing to our family and our life,” Claire said. “I couldn’t imagine it without them.”