Baby with Down Syndrome abandoned, adopted by nurse

On March 16th, nearly three months after leaving the hospital, we took Santiago home. He was five months old. I felt like I never lost my connection to him. I needed to hold him in my arms again for the first time.

  • 1 year ago
  • February 6, 2023
5 min read
After his biological parents abandoned him, baby Santiago was adopted by the nurse who cared for him After his biological parents abandoned him, baby Santiago was adopted by the nurse who cared for him | Photo courtesy of Marcela Casal
Interview Subject
Marcela Casal, 48, works as a nurse at Mater Dei Sanitorium in Argentina. She holds a specialty as a Surgical Instrumentalist and has been in obstetrics for over 10 years. She also earned a degree as a Social Psychologist and Therapeutic Partner Operator, specializing in childhood and adolescence. She met Santiago when he was born on her unit and ultimately abandoned by his family. She adopted him at five months old.
Background Information
According to the United Nations, “Down syndrome occurs when an individual has an extra partial (or whole) copy of chromosome 21. It is not yet known why this syndrome occurs, but Down Syndrome has always been a part of the human condition. It exists in all regions across the globe and commonly results in variable effects on learning styles, physical characteristics, and health.”

There is a disparity in the reported number of instances children are born with Down Syndrome. The UN article claims that one child out of every 1,000-1,1000 births worldwide result in a child being born with Down Syndrome, and about 3,000-5,000 children per year are born with it. On the other hand, the CDC reports that in the United States alone, 6,000 babies a year are born with Down Syndrome, or one in every 700.
Now that genetic testing can provide parents with information on whether or not their child has Down Syndrome prior to birth, parents do sometimes choose to give up their child for adoption. These processes may take place in a loving manner, with minimal impact on the child. However, in some countries, abandonment occurs and the adoption system creates barriers and problems.

CNN reported in 2017 that in Iceland, nearly 100 percent of mothers who learned their unborn babies tested positive, aborted them. Similar statistics arise from myriad other countries, and in fact, even in the U.S. an estimated 67 percent of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted. Some call this a genocide.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ꟷ While working as a nurse in the Mater Dei Sanatorium, I cared for a baby with Down Syndrome named Santiago. On November 1, 2012, I took the afternoon shift. Santiago lay in his crib alone, even after all the medical check-ups were complete. Settled into their own recovery room, his mother and father refused to see him.

The staff and I felt shocked as the days passed with no change. The couple ultimately abandoned Santiago, until the court intervened. Santiago became my patient and my professional boundaries vanished as I witnessed his absolute vulnerability. I decided to apply to adopt him.

Read about the young woman from Puerto Rico who became the first Victoria’s Secret model with Down Syndrome.

Nurse battles court and faces competition to adopt boy with Down Syndrome

The first time I saw Santiago’s tender, loving eyes, I loved him. In fact, the staff at the Sanitorium and colleagues from other sectors often came to see him. Our affection grew the moment we interacted with this baby boy. He filled me with love and joy.

Read more first-person adoption stories from Orato World Media.

A number of people emerged who wanted to adopt Santiago. I discussed it with my partner, and we reached an agreement to move forward. The courts determined Santiago would be released from the hospital on December 27, two months after his birth. They created a list of people interested in becoming his parents. I signed up, but soon discovered from a colleague, the court sought to place him in a transit home temporarily. My mind flooded with worry about him being in an ugly and desolate environment.

I went to the courthouse with my mother and knocked on the door. The judge’s secretary greeted me. I offered to be a temporary guardian. We embarked on a tedious and complicated process. In each interview, they told me they identified people better qualified, and I should consider adopting someone else. They cited my long work hours and hectic schedule as a nurse. I felt discriminated against.

One day, I received a call from the court. I thought they wanted to conduct another interview. At the courthouse, the judge asked my partner and I why we thought he called us. I felt gun shy due to previous experiences and responded, “I don’t know.” The judge told me, after prioritizing my bond with Santiago, I would be his mother. Tears filled my eyes and I felt my chest warm up. I could not contain my happiness. In a few days, I would see my son.

We finally took him home

On March 16th, nearly three months after leaving the hospital, we took Santiago home. By now, he was five months old. During all that time, I felt like I never lost my connection to him. I looked forward to seeing how my partner and I bonded with Santiago as a family. This was the moment. I needed to hold him in my arms again for the first time. I never stopped thinking about him. As an adoptive mother, I had no access to a typical maternity leave, so I took time off without pay to get organized.

My partner also took a year off after Santi’s arrival. Being parents of a child with Down Syndrome, we had to reorganize our whole household to accommodate therapies. My parents offered unconditional support.

Words cannot describe my connection with Santi. I grew fond of him in the Sanatorium and love him as my son. We face difficult parenting moments, but Santiago does everything the same as any other 10-year-old. He goes to school, plays, attends doctor’s appointments, receives psychological support, and lots of love.

The greater difficulties come from the legal and administrative process. Our country remains unprepared for all the aspects of adoption. It needs to be less complicated and tedious and must address abuse in the system. Adoptive parents and children alike experience vulnerability and lack of empathy. Adopting a child with a disability is not the problem.

I intend to use my experience to make these issues more visible, improve the system, and help families. Today, when a child with Down Syndrome is born in the Sanitorium, I talk with and advise the families, helping them through the process.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.


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