Here is the story of how we came to have the privilege of getting to be the parents of our beautiful daughter with an extra wide smile.
Adoption was placed on my heart in early 2012. God spoke to me so clearly that I found myself sobbing with the weight of it all. He was very clearly telling me that we were to adopt someday. I have never been more sure of anything in my life. Convincing my husband on the other hand was another story altogether.
We already had three biological kids ages 7, 5, and 3 and let’s just say life was full and loud and a bit crazy! A fourth child, especially one that came to us through adoption, was not even on my husband’s radar. We spent almost a year praying. A lot. All the while, I was researching countries and agencies and waiting on my husband’s heart to align with what I already knew in mine.
When God desires something for our lives, make no mistake about it… He will change hearts. And change hearts He did. In late September 2013, my husband said “yes” and we signed on with our agency to bring home our baby girl.
We began our home study work as soon as we could and wouldn’t you know the same reluctant husband was now making it his mission to get all of our paperwork done as quick as humanly possible (yes he is a bit type A).
We started our journey to our girl, including filling out that most difficult medical needs checklist.
I have worked as a pediatric Occupational Therapist for many years so I was familiar with many of the needs, but my husband was not as comfortable with all of the medical terms. We checked the items we felt “comfortable” with, which is so very difficult knowing there is a child on the “other side” of this medical needs checklist.
From the beginning, my husband was convinced that our future daughter would be a child with cleft lip and palate. He was so sure in fact that during our home study education, we were asked to draw a picture of our future child, and in his limited artistic ability, he drew a child with a cleft lip.
We prepared, we dreamed, and we waited.
In December of 2014, we saw the face of our beautiful girl.. extra wide smile and all! Ironically enough, the initially reluctant husband was the first one to see our Molly’s face.
I was the one who had been communicating with our agency (or maybe obsessively waiting for a referral), but on the day we received her file, my email was not working and I had to wait for my husband to get home to fix it. As he stood in the kitchen over his computer I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I am looking at a picture of our daughter!”
My “reluctant husband” saw our daughter’s face first – doesn’t God write the best stories?! She was so small and so beautiful, and she had cleft lip and palate, (not quite the picture my husband had drawn, but close).
We actually needed to switch agencies to adopt our Molly, as she was listed with another agency than the one we had started with. They only had her file for a few more days before it went back to the shared list. We scrambled to get the necessary paperwork done and prayed we would get approval in time. On Christmas morning 2014, we woke up to an e-mail from our agency, we had received PA and she was ours! We opened the email just as all three of our kids had piled into our bed waiting to see what Santa had left for them. Our middle son declared, “I knew Santa would bring us our baby sister!” It was truly a Christmas miracle!
My husband and I, and our 10 year old daughter, traveled to bring home our Molly in May of 2015. She officially became our daughter 20 months after starting the adoption process.
So what does life look like for a child with cleft lip and palate? We brought our Molly home at 15 months of age with a grade III, bilateral cleft lip and palate. Or, as we like to refer to it, her “extra wide smile”.
She only weighed 15 pounds a the time and was diagnosed with malnourishment. She could only drink out of a bottle nipple that she could chew, as she did not have full closure to develop a suck. She was also able to eat soft foods off of a spoon which we had to turn over in her mouth to allow her bottom lip to clear the food since she was unable with her upper lip.
She also ate baby food from those fabulous food pouches that we could squeeze right into her mouth. We avoided hard or crunchy foods as they could get stuck in her cleft palate and cause irritation. We did take some cleft lip and palate bottles with us to China, but she actually did not do well with those. We found some cups with a very soft silicone spout at a baby store in China that actually come from Australia! She did very well with those as she barely had to make a chewing motion for the milk to come out.
Molly did not make very many sounds, but quickly began to understand what we were trying to communicate as we also used sign language to communicate. She continued to develop her communication skills once home as we persistently used simple sign language paired with words.
Molly’s first surgery was in July 2015, which allowed us a couple months to work on attachment. This surgery included a repair of her palate, a premaxillary setback, and ear tube placement. Although Molly did not appear to have had many ear infections in her past, ear tubes are often placed in children with cl/cp due to structural difficulties that increase chances for ear infections and possible hearing issues.
Molly’s gifted surgeon decided to repair her palate first to allow for speech progression due to her age. The premaxillary setback can be a difficult decision as it will most likely ensure a jaw surgery during her teen years. However, due to the nature and severity of Molly’s cleft, we felt this was the best decision for her. Molly stayed in the hospital for one night. She began making new sounds almost immediately even while in the hospital. As her palate healed, she continued to increase her verbalizations and after healing was complete, was able to eat any foods she wanted.
Molly’s second surgery took place in December of 2015 to repair her lip and nose. This also required an overnight hospital stay. She recovered well and began speech therapy in February 2016, just a few weeks after her second birthday.
Following surgery on her lip, we massaged her scar daily, applied scar cream, and made sure she was wearing sunscreen on her scar whenever we were outside. She initially resisted her massage, but we used music and singing to make it more tolerable.
Molly continued with home therapy from a speech therapist one time per month and outpatient speech therapy biweekly. She progressed very well and by December 2016 she tested out of all services. In January of 2017, she was evaluated by the local school district. She did not qualify for speech services and was asked instead to be a peer role model in their developmental preschool program. Molly will begin preschool this fall. She clearly gets her point across, speaks in full sentences, and understands all that is said to her.
Today Molly’s “special need” is not much of an issue. Feeding was a little different than our biological children at the beginning, but with a few adaptations Molly was able to get the nutrients she needed. Sleep has also been kind of an issue as breathing was somewhat difficult and changing with each surgery.
Aside from occasional scar massage, using earplugs when swimming, and yearly visits with the craniofacial clinic at our local children’s hospital, life is no different. Molly sees a dentist and orthodontist regularly and will need further surgeries and orthodontic work as she grows. A bone graft at age 7-9 and possible jaw surgery are in her future, but we just take things as they come as we trust in God and our awesome surgeon who we love and have complete confidence in.
Over two years later and Molly’s greatest need continues to be love of a family. She is the light of our lives, and we all needed her more than she needed us!
There are many days I think back and actually miss that extra wide smile that God gave her.
The more we know her and love her, the more we know that God had to give her that smile because a regular smile just wouldn’t have been able to convey the true joy that is in her heart! She brings joy to everyone she meets and encounters and for the record, she rocked that cleft smile!
Would I adopt a child with cl/cp again?
Now it’s time to work on that reluctant husband again, I think five kids sounds like a great number!
– guest post by Joslyn