“She is the perfect combination of warrior and princess.”
This phrase echoed through my mind as I watched her jump and twirl down the street, still wearing her tutu, waving her pirate sword in the air. She had just completed her first dance recital. I told her earlier that day, “Sometimes little girls get flowers after their dance recital for doing a great job.” Her eyes twinkled and with a mischievous grin she said, “I don’t want flowers. I want a pirate sword!”
Two years ago, I didn’t know if my little girl would ever be able to dance in a recital.
My warrior princess has come so far.
When I received Anna Grace’s file, I knew immediately that she was the girl of my dreams – literally. For months, in all of my thoughts and dreams about the little girl I would adopt, she had orthopedic special needs. More specifically, I envisioned a little girl with a lower limb difference. When we received Anna Grace’s file, “deformity of the left lower limb” was listed as her medical need. I remember seeing her picture on the waiting child page and immediately e-mailing my social worker with my heart racing and fingers trembling. For several days, I waited to see if I would have a chance to review her file. When my social worker finally sent it to me, I knew that I was looking at my daughter.
Her file contained pictures of her leg, and so many times, I’ve thanked God for the photographer who took pictures from an awkward angle. Those pictures made her leg look much worse than it actually was. Several doctors reviewed her file, and based on pictures, the general consensus was that her pelvis was most likely not intact and that she may never be able to walk. However, they couldn’t tell me anything that was going to change my mind, so I went to China fully prepared that my little girl was going to rock a super cool wheelchair.
I was completely blown away when we got Anna Grace back to the hotel room and she began crawling all over the place, “walking” super fast on her knees, and even taking some independent steps on her little leg. That was the first indication that I had been entrusted with a fierce little warrior.
Six weeks after returning home from China, we had our first appointment with an orthopedic surgeon and the “limb difference” team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The doctor agreed that the presentation of Anna Grace’s leg was rather unusual. However, x-rays revealed that her bone structure was quite normal, though several inches of bone length were missing, as well as most of her foot.
I was prepared to wait several months before doing any kind of surgery on her leg, but the doctor said, “She has one perfectly good leg and another leg that can easily be fit with a prosthetic. Why spend any more time crawling when she can start running?”
I was very nervous about how this type surgery might affect our bonding and attachment so soon after coming home. However, after saying many prayers and seeking counsel from my social worker and the post-adoption team at my adoption agency, I agreed to schedule the surgery two weeks later.
My fears about our bonding and attachment were unfounded. The first thing Anna Grace said when she woke up after surgery was, “Mama?” and then she – and her giant, heavy cast – slept on my chest all night. 24 hours later she was released from the hospital.
We have been blessed with an amazing prosthetist who goes above and beyond to help his patients. Anna Grace was initially supposed to remain in a partial spica cast (just down one leg, but up around her hips) for a month. However, her surgeon agreed to remove the cast earlier if she could be fit with a temporary, post-operative prosthetic which would keep her knee immobilized and stretched. Our prosthetist worked hard and fast (and after hours!) to get this prosthetic ready for Anna Grace. He even visited our house twice to get measurements since it was so hard to pack Anna Grace into the car seat with that cast.
One week after surgery, her cast was removed, and we got the first glimpse of Anna Grace with two feet. The look on her face when she saw her new little toes was priceless! She said, “Piggy! Piggy!” as she tried to grab her new foot and blow it kisses.
It took a little coaxing, but Anna Grace tentatively took some steps holding tightly to my hand. Seeing her walk on two feet for the first time was amazing, and just three days after getting her new leg, Anna Grace let go of my hand and took her first real steps. She was 27 months old when she was placed into my arms, so I missed a lot of firsts with my sweet girl. It was such a gift to cheer on her first steps.
After those first steps, Anna Grace never stopped. Seriously, the child never stops moving – running, jumping, hopping, climbing, flipping, dancing, twirling – name an action, and she’s doing it.
Life with a prosthetic has really been a non-issue for us. Basically there’s just an extra step to get Anna Grace dressed in the morning. She’s learning to put her prosthetic on and take it off by herself, but she still requires supervision and some assistance. She occasionally balks at putting her leg on when she’s pretending to be an animal because “Elephants don’t wear leggies!” Thanks to Google, we’ve discovered that there are quite a few animals who wear prosthetic legs, which usually helps my “little animal” cooperate with getting dressed.
When Anna Grace is not wearing her leg, she usually crawls around the house; however, she’s starting to master hopping on her big leg. We’ve occasionally had prosthetic malfunctions. Like the time a screw broke, and I realized that Anna Grace was walking funny because her foot was turned around 180 degrees, or when the toes cracked off her foot. Having a prosthetist who is able to squeeze us in immediately to fix things like this has been invaluable!
While a prosthetic is just normal life for us, other people are curious. We get lots of comments and questions about her leg. Anna Grace will often respond matter of factly with “That’s my prosthetic” and then be on her way, or sometimes she’ll tell other kids, “It’s my Superhero leg that makes me run fast and jump high. Watch!” and then she’ll take off zipping around the grocery store. She doesn’t particularly like it when other children touch her leg (especially when they step on her toes to see if she can feel it!), and she will politely, yet assertively, say “Please don’t touch my leg.”
With that said, Anna Grace is very willing to show off her leg. At vacation Bible school last year, kids began asking questions about her leg, and before I could intervene, Anna Grace said, “I can take it off!” The next thing I knew, her leg was lying in the middle of the floor. I can only imagine what the other preschoolers told their parents when they went home that evening!
Anna Grace has a great sense of humor, and even at an early age, she finds humor in her leg. Last summer, I told her that a mosquito bit my foot. Without missing a beat, she said “A mosquito bit my foot also! It bit it off!” Then we both rolled in laughter!
Anna Grace has tremendous confidence, and while I pray that is always the case, having an obvious physical difference can sometimes be challenging, especially as a person gets older. I’ve recently noticed Anna Grace starting to be a little more self-conscious about her leg. Sometimes she gets tired of wearing her leg later in the day. It’s heavy and a bit awkward, and it’s really hard to curl up in a laundry basket while wearing it.
We recently went to pick up carry-out for dinner, and Anna Grace didn’t want to put her leg back on before leaving the house. When I tried to take her into the restaurant, she said “I’m just going to stay in the car.” I told her that she couldn’t stay in the car by herself. When she protested again going into the restaurant, I asked her what was wrong. “I don’t have my leg on. What if someone sees my leg? What if they say ‘Hey, look at that girl missing her leg,’ and what if they laugh at me?”
My heart broke hearing these words from my sweet girl for the first time. My girl, who usually exudes such confidence, is starting to realize that she’s different. I could feel tears welling in my eyes for her, but I pushed them back and said, “Then you just tell them, ‘That’s how God made me,’ and He did an amazing job when He made you. Don’t you ever forget – you are perfect just the way you are!” She smiled and let me get her out of the car. But I could see her trying to tug her pant leg down as I carried her into the restaurant. As we waited for our food, in true Anna Grace fashion, she struck up a conversation with a couple having their dinner. After a minute or two, she said to them, “Pssst! I’m missing my leg!” And then she delivered her heart melting smile and giggle.
That’s my girl. Own it, and be proud of who you are.
We are blessed with a wonderful church family, amazing friends, and a great community, and everyone we know loves Anna Grace. If anyone was asked to describe Anna Grace, I’m sure that they would talk about her determination, spunk, free spirit, creativity, intelligence, sense of humor, compassion, confidence, and beauty before they would say anything about her special need. They just see her as an amazing little girl who is a miracle of God’s creation. They have encouraged and affirmed her so much in the two years that she’s been home.
As she gets older, I know that she’ll eventually hear some not so encouraging words from other people. That’s a sad reality for anyone who has differences. So as I’m rocking Anna Grace to sleep every night, I whisper Psalm 139 to her:
“You are fearfully and wonderfully made…”
I pray that those words will sink deep into her heart, and I have faith that those words will be louder than anything else my warrior princess will ever hear.
– guest post by Wynne