As long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a mom. After all, my own mom was the best mom in the world… a woman who loved her girls unconditionally and fiercely. I always wanted to be just like her. As most of us know, life isn’t always how you wish it would be. I was approaching my mid-40’s and single, and my dreams of being a mom in the traditional way felt like a distant memory.
In the summer of 2011, unbeknownst to me, my journey towards countless possibilities and crazy happiness was about to start because of the change in life plans. My “life plans” changed from what I thought life was supposed to be like – the traditional pathway of marriage, then kids. Instead, I took a leap of faith and decided to pursue life as a single parent. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the best decision I have ever made.
Over the next year, I did my research on adoption….
Domestic or international?
What country program?
How did other working moms, especially single moms adopt and survive?
I also talked to friends who had adopted, including another single mom (of three internationally adopted children). I prayed and prayed about proceeding and sought out the support of my family and friends. I “interviewed” several agencies and consulted with an international adoption pediatrician. After pulling all this information together and saying more prayers, I decided that the China program was right for me. Of course I was apprehensive about the term “special needs” until I learned what that really meant in the adoption world. I was somewhat relieved that “special needs” in another country were often manageable needs in the US.
So in the summer of 2012, I began working on the medical conditions adoption forms to determine what special needs I was open to. CP -Cerebral Palsy- was a condition I was very familiar with. As a neonatal nurse for over 20 years, I was well aware of the medical aspects of CP and the ongoing care and management families and children faced for years to come. I understood that CP was the result of irreversible brain damage and that often it is years before a family knew exactly how the damage impacted their child. I knew CP is not curable, yet is not fatal or progressive, and that with the right balance of therapy and treatments, a child with CP could thrive, regardless of the severity. I knew the resources to access and the services that were needed. I had trusted friends and colleagues at a top pediatric hospital to consult with and to answer any of my questions. I also had good people surrounding me to be my honest sounding board to help support me during my decision making process. Because of all this background and support, I felt very well-prepared and comfortable with adopting a child with mild to moderate CP.
In December, I said “yes” to a seemingly feisty and beautiful little girl with right sided hemiplegia. This meant her muscle control and strength on the right side of her body was impacted. I also learned that she was abandoned at an estimated six months of age, very tiny for her age, and had grieved heavily when she was first at the orphanage. This told me she was loved and loved back because of the sadness she felt at such a young age. While at the orphanage, she began to trust her caregivers, would eat well, built attachments to her nannies, grew in height and weight, and tended to cause a ruckus until she got the attention she wanted or she didn’t get what she wanted.
My girl was a strong, fierce survivor.
From her records, she was able to walk and say a few words, had ongoing weakness in her right arm/hand and leg, and ate and slept well. I was lucky to receive videos of her, she indeed was mobile, but dragged her leg, and there was little movement of her right arm/hand. Yet in her eyes and in her smile, I could see her funny, feisty personality. My mama heart was happy and at peace for the time being.
Fast forward to June 17, 2013, our Gotcha Day in Nanjing, Jiangsu… a long-legged, sad 2.5 year old girl was introduced to me. She walked with a limp, held her right arm and hand tightly to her body, and barely made a sound. For the first few hours together, my new daughter, named Mila Rose, would barely make eye contact (except for cookies), would not smile, and would not make a sound. My feisty girl was scared and grieving once again.
It wasn’t until we returned to our room and sat down one on one with a few toys did she crack her first smile. Quickly, she started sharing great smiles and laughter, as well as the feistiness I had seen in her records and videos months before. I also began to see the nearly unstoppable determination and tenacity that was as much a part of her being as her special need of CP.
As we moved into normal life as mom and daughter… as we learned more and more about each other, this little girl with CP has taught me, actually challenged me, to reach for endless possibilities with passion and unbridled laughter and with a “can do” attitude filled with determined stubbornness.
I have to admit, as sure as I was that I could care for child with CP, I was scared that I wouldn’t be enough for her. I understood medically what could be done for her, but as a mom, I so unsure of my ability to parent a child with special needs. I was also in a demanding hospital management job as nursing director of a very busy newborn intensive care unit. Now being a mom, I was struggling with finding the elusive “work-life” balance.
“Could I really be great at motherhood and be great in my career?”
This thought ran through my head many times.
Through MRI’s, x-rays, physical and occupational therapies, speech therapy, Botox injections, constraint induced muscle therapy (her left or strong arm and hand were casted forcing use of her right arm and hand), AFO’s, and IEP’s, this little girl from the other side of the world taught me that anything is possible as long as we did it together.
She also taught me that there will just be some things in this world that will done in her own unique way… and that no matter the challenge, she would continue to be a survivor, to be strong and brave. She taught me not to be scared, but excited about our life together!
In this part of our journey, CP transformed its meaning to “Countless Possibilities”.
It is my role as her parent, to provide any and all opportunities possible, so that she could explore her abilities and opportunities for adaptation. It is also my role to support her when things don’t go as planned, to explore possibilities to do things differently – in her own unique (and sometimes quirky) way, to celebrate big and little successes, and to encourage her when things may seem tough.
Mila Rose is now five years old, and is a big dreamer and doer.
She wants to ride roller coasters and be Supergirl.
She asked to ski, and did!
She dances ballet and tap, enjoys yoga and summer at the pool, and is looking forward to her first dance recital in a very hot pink tutu.
She wants to be both Elsa and Iron Man for Halloween.
She is now a veteran of three runway fashion shows for our local International Adoption Center.
She is learning to ride a big girl bike and loves the trampoline.
She is still very stubborn and still loves getting her own way, with either “tactical” negotiations or by conducting some epic meltdowns.
She has also grown up so much since Gotcha Day 2013. She loves and seeks love stronger than any person I know. She understands more about her abilities and has made great strides over the past 2.5 years. There are times she still surprises me with all she can do and sometimes, I have to be her cheerleader when she is discouraged or is just being a stubborn preschooler. Of course, the therapies, treatments, and supportive aides have made such a difference.
But I know that it is her tenacity and drive to survive that has made all this possible. Her tenacious spirit gave me the strength and motivation to make a big career change and leave newborn intensive care unit department I had been a part of for more than 20 years….
I had spent my entire professional nursing career in this department and honestly, I was scared… I didn’t know any other place. A wonderful opportunity came to fruition, an opportunity to join Care Management. This is a team that leads care coordination for medically complex and chronic patients and their families across the healthcare system.
I would not have taken this step forward if Mila had not come into my life. She brought the need for pause and reflection on the direction I really wanted my life to go. She helped me to remember that in order to experience real joy, life isn’t about working hard, but living hard.
I found the happiness and balance I didn’t realize I needed until she came along.
I never planned to be a single, full-time career mom. Honestly, I don’t think I ever really planned on leaving the newborn intensive care unit. Yet now? I can’t imagine my life being more amazing and blessed.
I found the happiness and balance I didn’t realize I needed until she came along.
It is also that same beautiful and feisty spirit that has made me believe that crazy happiness comes with embracing the unplanned, countless possibilities that come our way.
We just have to be willing to pause and embrace them!