We had been home with our Laura Cate for 12 months, when a family member made a statement that took my breath away:
“Your adopted daughter just doesn’t have the same potential. She will never be able to do all the things your biological daughter can do.”
We adopted Laura in October 2015, when she was 16 months old. She was born with a cleft lip and palate. Her lip had been repaired in China. She came to us tiny and malnourished; her hair and teeth had not come in due to lack of nutrition and she was terrified of being left alone. She slept on top of me for a month, next to me for several more, and never let me out of her sight for a year. She would sit on me, or follow me, and always with some food in hand (she didn’t like having food out of sight either).
She had her first palate repair after two months home. Although the palate surgery and long recovery were difficult and emotionally exhausting for all of us, it has been her speech delays and attachment concerns that have been more of a challenge.
After one year home, Laura was not speaking. She would grunt and cry, but she did not use any words. She wasn’t attempting to use any words. She did not put sounds together or babble. She communicated basic needs with sign language.
She understood basic directions but couldn’t process questions asked to her. She did not understand how to answer. Her speech therapist diagnosed her with severe speech delay/apraxia of speech. As we spent hours every week in therapy, you could see her mind working, trying to process what was being asked of her, but she struggled to mimic or create sounds or words.
However, after one year home (and at 2 ½ years old), Laura was excelling in other areas. She could put together a puzzle that my five year old would struggle to complete. Her hair and teeth had come in and she had packed on 10 pounds in one year. She had a contagious giggle and delighted in stacking blocks or playing with her toy kitchen. Although our girl was still not speaking, she communicated with signs and gestures. And she was building confidence in herself and in us. She would stay with family (without Mommy) for a short time and enjoy herself; she had learned I would come back.
Although her speech delay was concerning and definitely very frustrating at times, we saw so much growth in every other area, that we were confident our girl would catch up on speech too. It was just going to take some more time. Some more work. Some more patience and love.
Then, the comment that set my teeth on edge. It came out of nowhere as she and I watched the two sisters play. “You’re adopted daughter just doesn’t have the same potential. She will never be able to do all the things your biological daughter can do.”
I am usually slow to engage in conflict, but this was my daughter and I felt Mama Bear rising to the surface quickly. “Why would you say that?”
“Just look at them… she is so far behind.”
“But look how far she has come. I reject the idea that she has limits. God is bigger than her past. She may have to work harder, but nothing is impossible.”
Raised eyebrows and silence ended that conversation. And I continue to reject anyone’s limits on our daughter. So far, we have blown by all those limits together, with Laura doing most of the work and the rest of us cheering her on.
The imposed limit of, “She won’t be able to drink through a straw, but that isn’t a really important life skill,” (from a pediatrician) was met by a few days with chocolate milk. She drinks from a straw just fine. And now knows how to use those muscles to make words.
The imposed limit of, “Some kids just can’t make the air come out of their mouth until they are older, or after more surgery,” was surpassed with bubbles.
For months we worked on blowing bubbles.
For several weeks, we just rounded our mouths in the correct shape.
For several weeks, we blew bubbles while holding our noses.
Then, finally, she learned to do it without holding her nose.
And our whole family cheered as that sweet girl giggled and blew bubbles to her heart’s content.
And then, she mastered the ‘oo’ sound, right along with the bubbles.
She works hard. And we work hard right along with her as she gains her voice, her words, her ability to communicate. And we celebrate every victory.
This year she turned four, and for the first time, she blew her candles out all by herself, and this mama teared up as I watched. She has made incredible gains in the past two years.
She can now ask for what she needs or wants with words, she can answer questions, and she can tell on her siblings. She has another palate surgery scheduled for later this month and we are confident it will help with her understandability.
Laura Cate will not be someone who can say, “Everything came easy to me.” But I hope and pray that she will be someone who will say, “Anything is possible.”
For with God nothing will be impossible. (Luke 1:37)
– guest post by Amy
I just looked up the meaning of “determination” – have always liked that noun. Other words are resolve, willpower, strength of character, purposefulness, to be intent, staying power, backbone, tenacity, spirit, courage, grit & my favorite “pluck”.
YES!! My bio son turns four next month and was born with a severe cleft lip and palate. Your severe speech delay story is our story too! I felt like I was reading about our son. I celebrate with you allll those victories! I know lifein those trenches. Our adopted son is 3 and I see many of the same struggles – can’t drink from a straw or blow bubbles …. major speech delay (didn’t speak any Chinese and hasn’t picked up any English but he is understanding things ok). So I will continue to cheerlead them and your daughter and all the kiddos who can do ANYTHING, they just need some extra time and love.