This one's for Michelle!
He are my two smallest sweeties taken in early Jan. at 16 and 17 months old! Oh my! When someone first learns that we have 6 children, often they are silenced. And soon there after, they come back with the understatement of, "Well your hands are full!" Yes, my hands are full, but not as full as my heart. The love in my heart brims and runs over. No mama in this world has ever had so much love for her job as me. When I think of how fortunate I am, I weep with joy. They confirm my God-given purpose in this world. I am so so so lucky and blessed. We often joke in our home that there is so much lovin' going around in this house that it often seeps out under the door.
One of the purposes of this blog was to keep my family and close friends informed while we traveled. I've been less than forthright on this blog so as not to worry my parents and family. I'd like to think I've always been an "out of the box" thinker, and they worry I take on too much. Enough time has passed that I've now removed my family from my blog. After all they can come see the babies personally. That leaves just a handful of adoption mommies who have either been there-done that, or soon will be there-doing that. I want you to know the reality of what can happen and the fear and the surrender and the joy.
Going into our adoption we knew full well that Jujube was a special needs child. He was born with what was diagnosed by the Vietnamese as, "congenital bilateral feet deformities." This is a ambiguous unmedical term that could mean SO many things. Turns out, as we had guessed to be the most likely scenario. He had club feet which led to lots and lots of doctor visits and surgery and now physical therapy and braces. It's a road that will last years, but it totally "over-comable." A best case scenario as far as we are concerned.
But my confessions are about Tess. The day she was placed in our arms was the day that I started to challenge my faith in the Lord's plan.
We knew from pictures and videos and weight reports that Tess was starting to lag behind in the orphanage. We planned on and expected developmental delays. However we were completely taken back and unprepared for the little baby girl that was handed to us on that September day.
We knew quickly, on the van ride from the orphanage back to the hotel in fact we started to talk about it, that something wasn't "right" with Tess. Tess was just 12 months old when she was place in our arms, and the things we noticed were far from the normal issues that I had seen and researched that adopted babies go through. We were told that Tess is a dark skinned girl who doesn't look "typically" Vietnamese. There is more to this story of VN prejudice and Tess's appearance and dark skin tone, but these are too hard for me to write down yet. Let's just say that she had more to overcome in the orphanage than the other babies. After being placed with us, Tess VERY rarely looked at us for almost 4 months. And when she caught a glance at us, she quickly turned her head away. She would not smile unless tickled and even then it very rarely happened. The blank stare she has in so so many photos was our daily reality, and you'll notice that there are very few pics of her looking directly into the camera, especially compared with Jujube's cheesy grins for all to see! She rarely responded to pain. She grinded her 4 little teeth constantly and scratched her legs and face till she bled unless we kept them covered and her nails to the bare nubs. She pulled her little body away from ours and angled her head so that she could "shut us out." She VERY rarely cried and preferred that we put her down alone in her crib and walk away. She never made a peep in her crib even after a lengthy nap, but lay silently and stared off into the distance. She had almost no emotions, no fear, no anger, and certainly no happiness and no joy. Physically, even though Tess was 1 year old, she couldn't sit or bare any weight on her legs and weighed only 15 pounds. Being in VietNam with this uncertainly about her future and my ability to handle it was difficult to say the least.
When we got home, we started a gauntlet of medical evaluations and testing for her. One therapist asked me if we were prepared to "deal with" Tess and her issues, or rather we could find alternative placement for her. I sat stunned with tears flowing down my cheeks. Several doctors/therapists thought Autism was/is a possibility. Almost all agreed on RAD. One doc commented that her intelligence was compromised and said she would have an "interesting life," and another said that she obviously had a lack of "neurological connections." One therapist actually gave me a brochure that showed compared the numerous nuron connections of a "healthy" toddler brain, to an unstimulated "unhealthy" toddler brain with few nurological connections. Just last week, because she has qualified for so many state services, a representative from our state came to our home to evaluate Tess and see if she qualified for long-term state institutionalized care. She didn't praise the Lord, but the fact that they were even looking into this was scary! Throw all this together with 5 other children, and Jujube's weekly appointments for his feet, and this mama was far from believing that God's plan was one that she would either want or could handle. To be faced with a child that may not be able to experience love and joy was daunting. I'm ashamed to admit that being faced with giving unconditional love to a child that may not recognize or love me, is something I didn't know how to deal with. There were lots of prayers and lots of negotiations with God to heal Tess and restore my expectations. I never heard the answers. Now, I realize that I was probably asking the wrong questions. But somehow, sweet Papa, my sturdy faithful rock, has always had faith in the Lord's plan. He is so able to give it all up to God and trust in Him. I tried to follow his lead, and it gave me the strength to get up the next morning and do it all again.
Maybe God knew that I'm a concrete gal who needs a little hard core evidence, and about a week before Christmas, Tess's little soul started to open and let us in a little. She started to reach for me a little when I got her up from her nap. For the first time she started to look at me and "see" me. One day I started to load her in her car seat and opened the garage door, the noise startling her. She grabbed on to my neck squeezing for security, and made me again weep and praise God right there on our filthy garage floor that this tiny little one might just need me a little.
Tess has continued this last month to make wonderful strides in her development. She's still so so so little weighing now 17 lbs. She's started finally to walk. She's still so so quiet and her speech is delayed so much. We see 6 therapists a week, 5 for Tess and 1 for Jujube's physical therapy. The feeding doctor, guesses that Tess was force fed her bottle at the orphanage leading to food avoidance. Currently she drinks about 12 oz of formula a day and eats very very little. We're continuing to work on it. Her eye contact is still improving and at home she looks directly at us and we even get to see her radiant smile and giggles of laughter. When out in public she still prefers to "gaze into the distance" causing folks to wonder why she won't look a them no matter how hard they try. We don't really know what will happen with Tess's development. I try to have faith in the Lord's unknowing plan. It doesn't really matter after all what the future holds. It's all good in His eyes and just the way it should be.
I guess I wanted to tell you all that are left reading this, that is has been a battle of my own faith... a need to surrender myself and accept God's plan whatever it may be. How very very wonderful that Tess is here with us toady. I didn't always think that. There were very very few options for her in VeitNam. She certainly wasn't in the realm of possibilities that we expected, but with a lot of time and commitment and love and faith and surrender we have some so so very far... to a place of peace and joy. We are blessed to have her with us every moment no matter what the future holds. I think the future is gonna be great for Tess. The present is awesome!
Back to you Michelle-Yes, you're "left with faith, hope, trust, and prayer!" But please don't forget love!
"These 3 things remain: faith, hope and love. But the best of these is love."
I Corinthians 13:13
I loved Tess the moment I saw her in those photos in February '08. God made me love her and made me her mama that very moment, even though I had no idea what was in store for us then. And this love will continue to overcome it all. You love your sweetie too Michelle, from the moment you laid eyes on her half way across the world. Don't underestimate the power of this love. It will be enough and soon there will be even more.
I'm writing all this down pretty quickly... it's nap time, my only quiet moment. I hope it's a little more that a mama's ramblings. I wanted SO SO much not to be alone when this was going on and know there was someone else out there with the same fears, but admitting the fear is a tough first step that I was unwilling to take. So I hope it may help and encourage someone out there now. Better late than never. Each of my children is a lovely little blessing sent directly from God above. What a privilege it is to raise them.