Building a Family: Adopting as a Single Mom

June 3, 2016 adopting as a single mom, diastematomyelia, Family Stories, June 2016 Feature - Orthopedic, older child adoption, Orthopedic, scoliosis, spina bifida, tethered cord, working mom 2 Comments

I am a happy and busy single mom to two wonderful daughters adopted from China. My older daughter, Corrie, was adopted in 2002 through the NSN (non-special needs) program; she is a smart, funny, and thoughtful young lady who loves animals and plans to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

For years Corrie and I were a content family of two, but by 2010 I decided that I would very much like to give Corrie a little sister. Unfortunately, at that time, China had been closed to singles for three years. I was hopeful that there might be a path to adoption open for me.

I emailed several agencies asking if they knew of any way around this policy. One adoption agency returned my email with encouraging information stating that they had just met with the CCCWA about a new program China was planning to start. This program would permit single women to adopt children who were older or had more significant needs. The adoption agency wanted to know if I would like to be their test case. I enthusiastically said yes and was soon looking at photo listings.

As I was scanning the agency’s waiting child list one little girl immediately caught my eye. Her advocacy name was Rachel, and she had just turned four years old. Her needs were significant, scoliosis and pigeon chest. “Rachel” had been on the waiting child list for one and a half years during which time two other families had requested her file and decided not to proceed.

My agency felt that this little girl would probably qualify for China’s new program, and within a few days of requesting her file I received an update that included x-rays, lots of pictures, and a video of her running around. I had her file reviewed by an international adoption doctor and he said, “Well, she’ll never be an Olympic athlete, but it looks like she’s doing well.” Not being an Olympic athlete myself, I was completely OK with this assessment!


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I submitted my LOI (letter of intent to adopt) and the wait for PA (pre-approval) began. Normally this process takes between a few days and a couple of weeks, but it was held up due to China wanting to have the new program specifics ironed out. Several months later, on Thanksgiving day 2010, I got the call that I had received PA! I started my dossier right away and completed everything within nine months. I also spent that time learning Mandarin and researching older child adoption and scoliosis.

On August 13, 2011 Corrie and I met Emily for the first time. Emily quickly became comfortable with us, and although she was bent a bit from her scoliosis, she was able to walk and run normally. Emily did very well in China, but there were times where we used a stroller to make the long days easier and more comfortable for her. The fact that Corrie and I had learned Mandarin also helped because we were better equipped to communicate with her.

When we arrived home, Emily started kindergarten and I began making appointments to evaluate her condition. Children with congenital scoliosis can have problems with other organ systems that are forming at the same time as the spine. This turned out to be the case with Emily. In addition to her spine, she also had deformed ribs on her right side and was missing her right kidney. An MRI showed she had a milder form of spina bifida known as diastematomyelia in which the spinal cord is split into two parts.

Needless to say, it took me a few days to wrap my brain around all of this. Emily had also started tripping and having some accidents which are signs of a tethered spinal cord, a condition where the spinal cord becomes tethered and cannot move as the child grows. I quickly joined several very helpful support groups and from these groups I received much needed information and advice from the experienced parents in the groups.

Spina Bifida Parents
United By Spina Bifida
Congenital Scoliosis Support

Emily’s spinal cord needed to be detethered before her scoliosis could be addressed. It took 11.5 hours to disentangle her spinal cord from the piece of bone it was attached to. The surgery was a complete success, and we were then able to concentrate on her curvature.

By this time her curve was at nearly 60 degrees, and she was having trouble walking long distances without getting out of breath. I sought out three opinions from various pediatric orthopedists and their treatment options ranged from putting her in a body cast for five years, to a rod attached to her spine and connected to a vertical expandable prosthetic titanium rib (VEPTR) that would be attached to her ribs. I chose the VEPTR because I felt it would give her more range of motion and more freedom to move than the other choices.


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Today Emily is thriving with the VEPTR. At this point the VEPTR is lengthened about once every twelve months. She typically only needs to miss a total of five school days per year. There is now a newer procedure using a device called Magec Rods in which the rods are lengthened magnetically without surgery.

Emily’s medical condition does not affect our lives on a daily basis and her appointments can be scheduled around vacations and other activities.


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She has recovered so well from her surgeries that she takes three dance classes and recently danced in Peter and the Wolf. She participates in Girl Scouts, her school play, and enjoys sharing her love of dance and creativity with her closest friend who is also adopted from China.

I find that I spend significantly more time focusing on the sweet young girl who was adopted at age five than the kid with a crooked back.

Emily often tells me that I am her favorite mom. I love her so much for the courageous and loving soul that she is.

= guest post by Karen



2 responses to “Building a Family: Adopting as a Single Mom”

  1. Ashley says:

    Hello! My daughter (recently adopted from China) was found to have a diastem. Would you mind telling me who/where you take your lovely girl for surgery?

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