Treasuring the Gift of Communication

August 19, 2019 0 Comments

My husband and I love talking about adoption. Among our greatest joys is sharing our journey with others and communicating that God uses the most ordinary of people (like us!) to participate in something extraordinary.

I always feel a deep need to impress upon those who are considering the call to adopt that every family’s story looks different. The joys, the fears and the struggles are so individual and couldn’t ever be prescriptive for others. I know of families that have gone through unimaginable pain and trauma with their adoption journey. And I’ve known families who’ve experienced unbelievable joy and bonding. It is my prayer that as families share our stories this month, that prospective adoptive families will gain a realistic picture of the potential struggles with craniofacial needs, but will recognize the amazing joys and delights, especially as they relate to the journey to communicate.

Years ago I sat down with a doctor friend to obtain counsel as to what special needs our family was equipped to handle. We don’t live in a big city with renowned surgeons, and we really didn’t have a strong sense of calling to a particular “need.” At that point, we indicated on our form that we would consider a child with craniofacial abnormalities.

A lot of time passed. Our adoption journey was unusual (another long story), so after obtaining our LID in 2008, it would be another eight years before we were matched with a little boy and traveled to China. During that interim, God gave us two biological children, as well as a lot of other family changes. I quit my full-time job, and my husband began a second part-time job in addition to his full-time university teaching position.

Fast forward to March 2016. At that time, after a lot of uncertainties, our agency sent us a couple of files to consider, and we matched with a little 18-month-old boy who had a repaired cleft lip, and an unrepaired cleft palate. In our decision-making, I can honestly say that his special need never caused us much anxiety.

I was very naïve at that point. I assumed that cleft care was pretty straightforward, although I did enough reading to know that there could be some challenges, depending on the child. We thought we were mentally prepared for the journey to surgery and the years of speech therapy that would be ahead of us. Our last update before we left for China showed that our son was very healthy and robust – a far cry from his 9-month-old referral photo.

When I met Asher, a month and a half before his second birthday, he was basically non-verbal. That’s what his file had indicated, and that’s what I found to be true. He did make noises, and I was constantly asking our guide if she recognized them to be approximations of Chinese words. She couldn’t recognize any of his sounds.

He had no problems eating during our weeks in China, although his paperwork had indicated that he was primarily on bottles. He also did not need the special cleft bottle that I had brought along. I had also brought a specific sippy cup that a fellow cleft adoptive mom had suggested, so we worked hard on that from the beginning, and he eventually was able to drink water easily from it by the time we left for the USA.

As soon as we got home, I started all the rounds of appointments with his pediatrician, ENT, and palate surgeon and began the application process for early intervention therapy, including speech therapy. We are blessed to have a surgeon in our city who specializes in pediatric facial surgery, but since he is the only one, we had to wait to see him. And, after that initial consult, there was another long wait for surgery. I wasn’t worried about that – from everything I had read it was not a bad idea to have plenty of bonding time before going into major surgery.

Asher’s ears were pretty typical for a little boy born with an open palate. His hearing tests came back indicating that he needed intervention, so our ENT (a fellow adoptive China dad!) put in ear tubes which had an almost immediate effect.

What delighted us the most was that upon coming home, Asher almost immediately began to try to speak. Although there were many sounds that he could not produce, the point was that he was trying. We were thrilled to find a speech therapist whose specialty was working with cleft kids, and she began working with him verbally and with sign language just as soon as we could get the paperwork approved. Even though he would ultimately not have his palate surgery until nine months after coming home, he made consistent progress with his speech therapist in the interim.

Surgery was a challenge – as I’m sure it always is. Asher was an avid ambidextrous thumb sucker, so for our 2-year-old to wake up with arm restraints was extremely traumatic. However, after that first rough week, he healed amazingly well. He ate his soft diet without too much protest. Favorites were a porridge made of ground up cheerios with milk and chicken broth, quinoa, and cooked broccoli pulverized in our blender. And he never went back to thumb sucking.

As we entered this new life of doctors and therapies, I began to deepen in my understanding of the challenges connected to this special need. When I was in China, I remember feeling almost embarrassed that Asher even was considered to have a special need. The other families in my travel group were adopting children with profound special needs – Down syndrome, blindness and profound hearing loss. However, once we came home, I began to understand that communication struggles could be much more profound than I had imagined.

In the Lord’s providence, Asher himself has not experienced a great deal of struggle. Everything has certainly taken time – and he has not always gracefully submitted to the multiple surgeries, procedures, and therapies. However, as I’ve read more about the cleft community and built friendships with other families, I began to understand that there is often no straightforward path to communication and healing.

While Asher has made steady progress with his speech and has not required additional palate surgeries, I began to meet families whose children had experienced myriad surgeries due to fissures and failed bone grafts. Our dearest adoptive friends have experienced the complications of multiple p-flap surgeries and sleep apnea.

We’ve learned to not take the road to communication for granted.

The biggest key to Asher’s progress has definitely been the amazing speech therapists that have poured their lives into him. He will have been home three years this September, and the three women that have worked with him have persevered through toddler willfulness, inattention and just plain orneriness. I will forever be grateful to them and to the Lord for giving him the gift of communication.

As Asher gets ready to turn five this fall, and we begin to think ahead to school, I am encouraged that God will continue to provide the people he needs on this journey.

I know that as Asher matures, he’ll face new challenges – his bone graft, extensive orthodontic work, decisions about cosmetic lip revisions and scarring, as well as dealing with the grief that adoptive children face. One of the things we are trying to do as a family is provide him with friendships with other adoptive children so that as he grows, he will have friends with whom to relate and share.

We cannot imagine our life without our precious boy. He delights us and continues to teach us what love looks like.

We will never take for granted the priceless gift of communication.

guest post by Anne

Ethan: Adopting a Son with Cleft Lip and Palate

August 14, 2019 1 Comments

Early in our marriage, my husband showed interest in the idea of adopting.

“Wouldn’t it be great to be able to give a family to a child who doesn’t have one?” he said one day.

I remember thinking, “I don’t know if adoption is for me. I don’t know if I could do that.”

Throughout the years, the idea of adopting came up periodically; looking back I can see that God was watering the seed He had planted in my heart. After we had our second biological child, my husband’s friend was adopting an older special needs child, and my husband said to me, “We need to be open to adoption. We need to pray about this.”

At that time, in the midst of working over 40 hours a week and having two young kids, I remember thinking, “I don’t know if I can handle any more kids.”

But over the years, the desire to adopt continued to grow in my heart. Shortly after we had our third biological child, I brought the idea of adoption up with my husband. His reply? “That was before we had three kids.”

In the following year and a half, we spoke about adopting, and prayed about adopting. I really wanted to pursue knowing God with all I had, including his heart for the orphan. What I believe was a call to adopt became so strong; I knew that I needed to move forward if my husband said yes, but, if he said no, I needed to accept his no and let it go. This time period included a lot of earnest prayer, and laying the desire to adopt down over and over again at God’s feet.

My husband is a high school math teacher turned stay at home dad and I am a full time OB/GYN physician with a very busy work schedule, including nights and weekends. He is the primary care giver of our children. He had his hands full as a stay at home dad of our three biological children and he knew what a huge commitment it would be to bring another child – especially a child adopted from another country with special needs – into our family. He wanted to be sure he was ready for this lifetime commitment before we proceeded.

During this period of waiting on God and waiting on my husband, my husband and I had conversations about how we could lay down our comfort for God’s sake – and if one way of doing this was through adoption. I am truly grateful that my husband is committed to following Christ and that he was willing to earnestly seek God’s will in our lives.

In early 2017, my husband said that he wanted the two of us to fast and pray about starting the adoption process. We met the elders of our church to talk to them and pray together at the end of our fast. Shortly after this, my husband agreed that God was calling us to begin the adoption process.

We began to process to adopt from China in February of 2017. In February of 2018, we were officially matched with our son, Ethan, who was 18 months old at the time. I traveled to bring him home in June of 2018.

Overall, we feel that Ethan has transitioned very well into our family. He was welcomed warmly by our two older daughters. Our youngest daughter took a bit longer to warm up to him because she was used to being the baby of the family; she is only one year older than Ethan.

For about the first nine months that Ethan was home, he woke up three times a night. He seemed to be having nightmares and he would wake up seemingly not aware of where he was. Thankfully, this improved and now he is sleeping through the night. Ethan also scratched himself when falling asleep at night to the point of causing bleeding and scabbing, likely a way for him to cope with his anxiety. This has also resolved, although it still happens with certain stressors such as traveling, sleeping in a different place or recovering from surgery.

Ethan had surgery at eight months of age in China to repair his cleft lip, but his cleft palate was not repaired in China. He had surgery to repair his cleft palate here in the United States in January of 2019. His lip had to be fully reopened and repaired again at that time in order to repair his palate.

Ethan healed from his surgery and started speech therapy once a week. His speech therapist says that it will take time for him to learn his consonant sounds, but he is working very hard. Ethan’s surgeon says that his next surgery will be a bone graft between ages 6 and 8.

Ethan is truly a delightful child. He loves his three older sisters and he loves his parents! He is very active and loves to ride his bike and play in dirt or sand. He also loves to dance.

He is our treasured son. We are very grateful and blessed to have him in our family. I am grateful for how God placed adoption in our hearts and fulfilled this part of His plan in our life through entrusting us to be Ethan’s parents.

–  guest post by Ani: facebook || email 

The Power of Touch

August 7, 2019 0 Comments

Touch is a powerful thing. It can hurt tragically, and it can heal supernaturally. It makes neurons fire in our brain like the fourth of July.

Touch is a remarkable God-given tool to build relationship and connection from the neighborly casual to the most intimate. And, it’s something our children who have had hard starts often have a hard time with.

Some kids can’t get enough of it; some kids struggle to accept and receive it at all. And when they struggle with touch, we as parents struggle along with them.

We want to respect where they are with it all, but we also want to do our best to help them increase their capacity. When our kids are small, we can hold them, literally “wear” them, co-sleep, guard those moments when we feel trust and connection can build. But, those small kids grow bigger, and our strategies to help them give and receive touch have to grow with them.

If your hugs and kisses aren’t readily accepted, here are some ideas of other ways you can connect with your kids through touch:

• Give a simple high five.
• Make up a special handshake for just the two of you.
• Make a pinky promise.
• Touch his or her back as you walk by.
• Give a quick one-arm side hug.
• Standing next to your child, give him or her a gentle and silly “hip bump.”
• Ruffle your child’s hair (unless your child puts efforts into styling it ).
• Ask to hold your child’s hand not just when you cross the street or are in a crowd.
• Offer a piggyback ride.
• Finger paint together with real paint or with shaving cream on a baking sheet.
• Play with playdough together, looking for opportunities to work together to make something.
• Trace your child’s hand slowly, and invite your child to trace yours.
• Ask your child to close his or her eyes and then use something around the house to touch his or her arm (like a cotton ball, Q-tip, paint brush, shoelace, etc.) and have your child guess what it was.
• “Draw” shapes or letters on your child’s back with your finger and have your child guess what each one was.
• Read a book to your child side-by-side so that your sides are touching.
• Invite your child to flip the pages of the book you are holding so the book itself serves as a physical connector between you.
• Pet an animal together so the animal serves as the physical connector between you.
• Apply lotion to his or her hands.
• Take your time putting on a band-aid even if it isn’t really needed.
• Paint your child’s nails.
• Have fun putting makeup on each other’s faces.
• Help your child put his or her socks and shoes on without a rush.
• Whisper something while cupping his or her ear with your hand.
• Wash your child’s hair in the bath. Don’t rush as if you are just getting the job done. Go slowly, and vary the pressure.
• Play hair salon, and wash your child’s hair in the sink or simply brush and style it.
• Give your child an “eskimo” or “butterfly” kiss.

 It’s good for them. And, it’s good for us too.

The Sky is the Limit

July 26, 2019 0 Comments

Ever since I was a young girl, I knew that I wanted to someday get married and to be a mom. I dreamed of having children born from my womb and children born from my heart. After college, I met the man of my dreams and we married in March 2006. A year and half …Read More

Meet Samantha!

July 22, 2019 6 Comments

This one is very special little girl. I did not meet her face to face. As a matter of fact, I had no idea what her face looked like but I knew her. You see, a little over a year ago when we visited my daughter Lizzie’s orphanage, I caught a glimpse of her, only …Read More

Our Greatest Adventure

July 8, 2019 2 Comments

A little about us – we both got married for the first time in our 40s. I think of ourselves as late bloomers. Although we both had nieces and nephews, neither of us had a lot of experience with children. So, each of us entered the adoption process with trepidation and thoughtfulness. Our process took …Read More

A Brave Girl With A Big Dream

June 30, 2019 4 Comments

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.”– Bethany Hamilton Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. It’s a mouthful; most people shorten it to Arthrogryposis. Essentially, it means multiple joint contractures that affect two or more body areas. According to the Genetic and Rare Disease …Read More

Our Plan vs. God’s Plan

June 24, 2019 2 Comments

Staring at the long list of special needs, trying to decide which boxes to check we were open to, seemed overwhelming. Researching each medical condition was just as daunting. Did we check the right boxes? How can we “decide” which special need our child will have? Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC) first seemed like a big …Read More

Find My Family: Kevin

June 24, 2019 0 Comments

Kevin is a wonderful little boy, born in October of 2011. He likes playing on the slide, riding the wooden horse on the playground, and playing tag and other games with the other children. He has normal gross motor skills and is independent in his care- eating with a spoon, washing hands after meals, going …Read More

A Tale of Two Limb Differences

June 17, 2019 4 Comments

Limb difference was one of the boxes we checked for our first China adoption in 2013. So when we received our son’s file, it was relatively easy to say yes. Our soon-to-be son, at 10 months of age, was the youngest child on the shared list that day. We were open to a boy or …Read More

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