My mom and I stayed in Birmingham overnight with Maggie so that we could visit with the cleft team at University of Alabama Birmingham Children’s Hospital (UAB).
I had originally planned to interview three cleft teams–the one at UAB, the one in Atlanta, and the one in Chattanooga. Each has distinct advantages and potential disadvantages–the disadvantage of Birmingham being that it is further away from my home than Atlanta. I know so many people who love the team at B’ham, and who drive much further than I do to see those doctors.
I ended up feeling so great about the team there and particularly about the surgeon that David and I decided not to bother interviewing any other teams. This is a huge decision as we will be working with this team until Maggie reaches adulthood, and she will need a minimum of three surgeries, and likely more over the course of her childhood. Dr. Ray spent about 45 minutes with me, answering all my questions. I really appreciated that he took so much time for me, and his explanations about the UAB approach all made a lot of sense. We went ahead and scheduled Maggie’s first surgery to take place as soon as our insurance would approve it, which will be in early December.
We saw several doctors at UAB. In addition to the surgeon we met with several other team members. Maggie did not pass her hearing test with the Audiologist. She definitely has fluid in her ears, which is very typical of babies coming out of an orphanage setting since they spend so much time lying on their back and drinking their bottles while lying down. When she has her first surgery in December to repair her lip and nose she will also get tubes in her ears.
We learned that it is also typical that kids raised in an institutional setting don’t turn toward sounds the way kids raised in a family do, as they aren’t trained to listen and respond in the same way due to lack of stimulation. While Maggie is under anesthesia she will have a special hearing test to check her auditory nerves. This test bypasses the fluid in her ears as well as her own responses and checks how her auditory nerves react to stimuli. The results of that test will give us a much better picture of whether she has any permanent hearing loss.
The speech pathologist told us that Maggie will not be able to make any consonant sounds other than “m” and “n” until after her palate repair. Typically the lip is repaired first as that repair can actually cause the palate to move closer together, making the palate repair easier if it is performed second. It takes about 5 months for the lip to heal well enough for them to do the palate repair so we will schedule that in May after our oldest son Jack’s high school graduation. I guess May will probably pass like a blur for me!
After these first two major surgeries Maggie should get a break for awhile, assuming all goes well. One reason I like UAB is that they have excellent success rate statistics, with a low incidence of the need for repeat surgeries. Maggie will need another surgery when she is around 6 years old to repair her cleft gum in preparation for her permanent teeth. They will do that repair with a bone graft from her hip.
Aside from the medical stuff, I had two providential meetings which both really encouraged me. I couldn’t get wifi in my room on Wednesday night so I took Maggie to the hotel lobby with me so I could find directions to the cleft clinic. While I was down there an adoptive mom checked into the hotel and struck up a conversation with me. Her daughter has been home from China for a year. As it turns out, she used the same agency we used (Lifeline) to do their home study. It was really neat to hear her story, which in many ways was similar to ours in that she also had a large family and her oldest child was graduating high school when they adopted.
The next day, at the cleft clinic, the surgeon brought me a business card with the name of a Facebook group for people who have adopted cleft affected children from China. He said he found out about the group from a woman in the next exam room, and that I should join the group because I could find some support there. What a great doctor!
I told him I was already in that group and asked him to give my name to whoever was in the next room–and it turned out to be a virtual friend that I have connected with many times online! We are in several adoption related Facebook groups together and we used the same adoption agency.
I had traveled 3 hours to be at the clinic that day and she had traveled 7 hours. Neither of us knew the other would be there and yet we were just a few feet away from each other that morning without knowing it. We were able to meet up after our appointments and have a cup of coffee at Starbucks. We both had our beautiful daughters and our wonderful mothers with us, and although we didn’t have much time together we certainly made the most of it! Elizabeth prayed for me before we parted ways and it meant so much to me. It had been an overwhelming week of facing all of Maggie’s medical needs head on, and to meet a friend unexpectedly like that was a comfort and an encouragement.
October 25, 2013
As of today we have been home for one month. The time has just flown by.
Maggie has started to crawl, exploring a little further every day. She got two teeth in the past week and looks like she may soon have two more–she was toothless when we met her so now she is making up for lost time. Her body continues to grow stronger and she is able to bear weight on her legs when I hold her for an indefinite amount of time–when we first got her she couldn’t bear weight for more than about 2 seconds, if that. She no longer cries immediately when we put her on her hands and knees–in fact, she has even learned to enjoy practicing her crawling stance on the yoga ball.
She is clapping her hands, making the sign for “more”, and she is definitely attached to mommy, daddy, and all her siblings (in that order). These are all great things and we couldn’t be happier about how she is doing!
Since Maggie is doing so well with her bonding we are slowly starting to expand her circle to include close friends and family. After six weeks together her attachment to mommy continues to grow every day and she is indicating that mommy is her primary attachment. She smiles at daddy and her siblings frequently and loves to play with them, and she can even be comforted and put to sleep by daddy when necessary.
Last Sunday (10/20) we had a family get-together with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. This is her next “circle” of attachment, as she begins to learn who her extended family is and to grow more comfortable with them, all while working to maintain her confidence and trust in her primary attachments. She also went to church for the first time.
The International Adoption Clinic (IAC) doctor said she will show us if we are pushing her too hard. She will be extra fussy at bedtime, she may wake up in the night crying, she may refuse to make eye contact or start to withdraw from the situation by dissociating. We definitely saw some of those signs after her big day on Sunday, letting us know that it was probably too much too soon.
She has lived for over a year without a family and she has only been with us about six weeks now. It is going to take time for her comfort level to grow, for trust to solidify and for her to know that she is with us to stay. This process has been made easier by the fact that she is so little and doesn’t have much long term memory, but her early experiences definitely shaped her and we are working hard to make sure she knows she can trust us to always be there for her. She is still learning that we are her people.
Maggie is friendly and doesn’t normally cry when someone else holds her or touches her. In adopted children that isn’t necessarily a good thing–it probably means that her attachment is still somewhat indiscriminate, and that she is still learning who she should trust as her primary attachments. Giving her some space from outside activities and limiting her sphere to home and her immediate family are enabling her to build those bonds of trust with us. For that purpose we have made a conscious effort to limit her outside activities during this first month home.
When I take her out I usually keep her in the Ergo baby carrier so that she feels secure and I can discourage people from touching her or hugging her. It is difficult, as even strangers come up to me whenever I am out and try to talk to her and touch her. She is irresistible!
This time at home has been somewhat isolating for me, and has not been easy. I can see that it has been good for Maggie, but it has also been challenging for our family–hard for me to be left behind with the little ones and a hardship for everyone else that I am not able to go and do (and chauffeur!) as usual.
Please continue to pray for our family during this time of adjustment. Know that we want to be with our friends and family and to fully integrate Maggie into our “normal life” but we are trying to be sensitive to the particular needs that come along with adoption and not push her beyond her comfort zone.
Maggie’s appointment at the International Adoption Clinic in Birmingham was bright and early last Wednesday morning. My mom and I planned to leave at 6:30 a.m. to get there in time. I got to bed late Tuesday night and shortly after I fell asleep Maggie woke up crying with a fever. This is the first time she has been sick since coming into our care. I gave her some Advil and finally got her settled back to bed. A couple hours later she woke again, and needed to be rocked back to sleep. I was up twice that night with our other daughter, too! We have been home almost a month now but our sleep is still regularly interrupted.
I wrestled with whether or not to go to Birmingham since Maggie was sick and I was so tired, but I had to make these appointments so far in advance that it didn’t make sense to cancel them if she seemed up to the trip. We decided to at least go to the Adoption clinic and if Maggie got worse we could always reschedule with the cleft clinic.
International Adoption Clinic
It is hard to distill in a short post all that we learned and gained from the IAC. I am still processing all of it myself. And I have probably forgotten some of it, too. Our appointment lasted for 5 hours, and it was a lot to take in. They were very efficient, and although it was a long day there was very little waiting. We stayed in the same room most of the time and everyone came to us.
First we saw the Social Worker/Family Therapist. She asked a lot of questions about Maggie’s attachment and bonding, her eating and sleeping habits, and much more. I was encouraged that she believes Maggie is doing really, really well. Her attachment to us (and ours to her) is going great.
I asked the therapist if she thought it was possible that Maggie didn’t grieve. She never seemed to openly grieve, and seemed to begin bonding with us on day 1. According to all our reading and training, it is a bad thing if a child doesn’t grieve–it can mean that they haven’t formed an attachment to anyone, and therefore they may not be able to easily attach to us.
I was thrilled and shocked when the therapist said that children usually form their first attachment sometime between 7 to 12 months. We got Maggie at 13 months of age, and the therapist believes it is very likely that I am her first attachment and that is why she did not grieve.
It makes me cry whenever I think about it–God has humbled and blessed us so many times throughout this adoption. To think that I could be her first attachment is beyond what I dared to hope or dream. The family therapist said it is very unusual for them to see a child under age 2, and her age definitely plays a huge role in how easily she has adjusted. Her participation in the Half the Sky program in her orphanage was also a protective factor that gave her a big head start.
Maggie was hilarious during our visit with the family therapist. She didn’t like the fact that I was making eye contact with someone other than herself, and she kept leaning this way and that to try and catch my eye. Every time she did, she would smile at me.
The family therapist reassured me several times that Maggie is really doing fantastic, and I came away very encouraged. I thought she was doing great, but it was wonderful to hear an expert confirm that!
Maggie continues to wake up once or twice every night crying. I pick her up and she usually settles down very quickly and within minutes she is ready to go back to bed. We learned at the IAC that she is probably waking up to check if I am still there, and settles easily when she confirms that I am. She is sleeping in a pack and play beside my bed so I can be there for her immediately.
Maggie is also starting to react more like my other babies did at nap time and bedtime. Unless she is really tired, she often fusses and doesn’t want to be laid down. She likes to play with mommy and would love to do it all day long! The IAC staff said it is fine if she fusses or whines for a few seconds before falling asleep–it is common that she fusses for 10 or 15 seconds and then falls immediately to sleep. They don’t want us to let her fuss for more than 60 seconds, though, for at least her first three months with us. So if she puts up any kind of stink at all, she gets to stay up. We’ve missed a couple naps that way, and had some long nights, but bonding overrules even sleep at this point. It is important that she learns to trust that we will always be here for her.
The last several nights have been difficult as she was definitely tired but couldn’t seem to settle down easily. It seems like now that she is more attached to me, she doesn’t want me to leave her. Yet she can’t settle down in my arms or on my bed, either. She wants to sleep flat on her back in her own bed. She is just fighting sleep right now. It is discouraging because it takes a long time to get her to bed, and this is time that I feel our other children need from me. Hopefully this is just a phase and she will soon go back to sleeping easily as she did for her first three weeks with us.Otherwise it may be a long 3 months.
Last night she fought sleep for about 2 hours, but we finally had success when daddy came in and gave it a try! Tonight I laid her down awake and she didn’t cry at all. Within a couple minutes she was asleep. So hopefully this is the start of a new trend.
Next we saw the physical therapist. She put Maggie through her paces, and Maggie through a total fuss fit. She can’t stand to be manipulated and just hates it when people want her body to do things that are hard for her. She enjoyed playing with the toys and mimicking a few playing skills, but being put in a crawling position on hands and knees was beyond tolerable for her. We got some exercises to work on using a yoga ball and instructions to practice for no more than 5 minutes starting out, with the hopes of building up to 15 or 20 minutes a day over the next month if she can tolerate it. We want to help her to learn to crawl before she bypasses it and decides to walk. Crawling is so good for the brain, and kids who walk without ever crawling can struggle with some learning difficulties as a result.
After a week of practicing on the yoga ball, she is starting to enjoy her exercises and she no longer cries when we do them. She is getting much more comfortable and she has started crawling. Each day she crawls a little better and a little further. Last week I could put her down and trust that she would not move. Those days are already gone.
The PT told us that it is normal for a child that has been living in an institution to be developmentally about half their chronological age. Maggie is 14 months, so it would be “normal” for her to be about a 7 month old developmentally. That is consistent with what we have found, as well. I was very surprised that the physical therapist said that Maggie should be caught up in every regard besides speech within 6 months time.
We are definitely seeing child development in fast forward, as she is picking up skills quickly. It is hard to imagine she could go from being so weak to being able to walk and run in a few short months. It will be exciting to see her grow and change, and to be there for her many “firsts” and milestones. The PT told me that the reason why Maggie can practically stretch her legs 180 degrees in any direction is because she has such low tone. She may retain some of her incredible flexibility but she needs to get more toned so she can learn to stand and eventually walk. It may help with her reflux, too.
We are also ordering some Hip Helpers for her to wear for a little while each day while she plays. The Hip Helpers will force her legs together, making her rely on her stomach muscles more instead of spreading her legs so wide whenever she sits up, thereby increasing her tone.
Next we saw the IAC pediatrician. Dr. Chambers is an adoptive momma herself who founded this clinic with another doctor several years ago in response to the unique needs of internationally adopted children.
Maggie is eating really well and has gained 3 pounds and almost 2 inches in the past 5 weeks, so we are taking her off the Pedia Sure (aka “liquid gold”, that stuff is expensive!). The IAC doctor wants her to stay home for ideally another month for bonding and health reasons.
At 14 months, Maggie still didn’t have any teeth. But they are coming in quickly now! Her first tooth poked through last week, the night we got home from the adoption clinic. And tonight she got another one, both on bottom. Her top gum looks irritated like a tooth could poke through there any day now. Teething may also be a contributing factor to her night time fussiness.
Some people in one of my online adoption groups were asking about what questions to ask the orphanage staff, so I thought it would be helpful to put that together as a post for future reference.
True to my nature, I had two pages of typed questions for the orphanage staff! On Gotcha Day, Maggie was dropped off by two people who were administrators in the orphanage, and they didn’t know her very well. They were not able to answer many of my questions because they simply didn’t know her well enough.
The next day we went and visited the orphanage and we got to spend a couple hours with the director and some of the other staff including one of her nannies. Maggie’s Half the Sky grandma had already left for the day so we didn’t get to meet her. I asked many of my unanswered questions again and still got no answers to most of them.
Many of the questions were answered in the same way. The message was, overwhelmingly, “This is an institution. We have a schedule to keep. Every child follows the rules. Every child does what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it.” It wasn’t meant to sound harsh, it was just the reality of their situation.
No one knew her favorite foods. Every child was fed the same thing–eat it or go hungry.
No one knew if she had a favorite care-giver–they worked in shifts, and said that she liked everyone the same.
No one knew how she prefers to sleep–everyone is laid down in the dark at the same time. Done.
No one knew if she is a night person or a morning person–every child was gotten up at the same time, whether they had been awake for an hour or if they were still asleep. They were all put to bed at the same time, too.
Everything was very regimented, like an assembly line at a factory. I truly believe the nannies at her orphanage cared about the children, and I believe they were doing the best they could. I came away from the orphanage with a positive feeling, in general, about the care she had received there. It actually exceeded my expectations (which admittedly, had been low).
But I also came away with the feeling that she was being raised as a member of a large group, and not like an individual at all. I counted 26 beds in her room. With a ratio of one worker to seven children in her room (a good ratio by Chinese orphanage standards) the nannies don’t have time to learn each child’s ways, let alone conform their care to each child’s individual personality.
I wanted to believe that she was loved and cherished and cared for accordingly. My training taught me otherwise, but I couldn’t go there in my heart. If I did, I would become a weepy mess for days. But the truth is that if the orphanage could provide the same things that a family provides, adoption wouldn’t be necessary. Maggie was able to survive in that environment, but she could not thrive there.
The orphanage staff liked Maggie, and they were very happy that she was being adopted. They said many times that she was a lucky girl to be adopted (rather than growing up in the orphanage like many children do) and that she would have a much better life in a family. As much as they try to do for the children, everyone recognizes that an orphanage is not a family, so they do their best to get their children placed in loving families. We were grateful for their efforts and for all they did for Maggie. The orphanage director asked us to please return and adopt another one of their babies.
I left the orphanage without most of the answers I was looking for. The responses to my questions told me everything about her situation and nothing at the same time. It will be up to us to discover how to comfort her when she is scared, what makes her happy, and what her favorite foods are.
I came away incredibly grateful that Maggie will have the chance to grow up loved and cared for as an individual–and sad for the many, many children left behind, who will never know what it means to grow up loved and valued.
I am glad I asked so many questions, even though I didn’t get enough answers. The staff was happy to take the time to answer what they could, and I did glean nuggets and tidbits here and there. I couldn’t possibly have known which questions they would be able to answer. Even though we have a lot of unknowns about her first year of life, it isn’t because we didn’t try to find out the answers for her.
Questions and Answers:
1) Q: How did you choose her name Chang Ai Lu? A: All the children in the orphanage have the name Chang from this town, Changzhou. All the girls abandoned in 2012 have the name Ai. Lu is a common name for Chinese girls.
2) Q: Does she have a favorite nanny or caregiver? A: We work in shifts, she likes everyone the same
3) How is she put to sleep? Does she sleep with a comfort item? Does she sleep alone? Is the room dark or is there a light? How can anyone tell when she is tired? When does she wake up? Is the room quiet or noisy? Is she happy when she wakes up? Does she wake in the night often? A: She sleeps alone without a comfort item in a dark room. All the children are put to bed at the same time. If she is tired she rubs her eyes. All the children are woken up at the same time. If one is sleepy they are allowed to sleep longer. Yes, she is happy when she wakes up. She sleeps well at night.
4) Q: Are there any favorite songs, TV shows, or games that she loves? A: No, she listens to whatever music we play.
5) Q: How do you comfort her when she is crying? A: Hold her, give her a drink of water, give her a toy.
6) Q: Does she have any favorite treats, drinks, or snacks? If so, how is it prepared? A: No, all the children eat the food we give them, they don’t get to choose, she doesn’t get treats or snacks (perhaps this was because she is so little, or perhaps that is standard there).
7) Q: What makes her angry? If she is upset how do you calm her? A: She is a happy girl.
8) Q: What makes my child scared? A: Don’t know.
9) Q: What makes my child happy? A: Don’t know.
10) Q: What words is she saying now? How does she communicate? What are her unique words or sounds and what do they mean? A: She doesn’t have any words. She rubs her eyes if she is tired and bites her finger if she is hungry.
11) Q: How would you describe her personality? A: She is active, smart, happy, and gentle.
12) Q: Does she like some quiet private time (introvert) or does she thrive on lots of people and noise (extrovert)? A: All of the children obey the schedule. There is no opportunity to choose between alone time or group time.
13) Q: Has Maggie been expected to learn any rules? If so, what are they? How does the orphanage encourage obedience? If the orphanage disciplines, how do they handle it? A: All the children obey the rules. All the children follow the schedule. (This answer and the way they said it really surprised me. I got the sense that the children may not have the opportunity or the confidence to test boundaries).
14) Q: Is she a night person or a morning person? A: Don’t know.
15) Q: How does she get along with other children? A: Don’t know. She is a baby. She can’t really play with other children at this point. (Note from me: Maggie is 14 months old but she is developmentally like a 7 month old because of malnutrition and institutional delays from being raised in an orphanage setting. Many of my questions would have been appropriate for an American toddler but she functions more like a little baby still).
16) Q: Is she in the Half the Sky program? Is she attached to her grandma? How many hours per week did she spend with Half the Sky? A: Yes, she was in Half the Sky. They made it sound as if the grandmas in Half the Sky were not working one on one with the babies all the time, but many times working one grandma with anywhere from one to four children at a time. I did not get the impression that she was particularly attached to a certain grandma. With that said, she has done AMAZINGLY well since we got her home, and the International Adoption Clinic feels much of that is owed to her participation in Half the Sky, as well as her age and personality. We learned she was placed in Half the Sky program at two months of age and removed at 12 months, probably to make room for another baby since she was about to be adopted..
17) Q: Does she have a favorite friend? A: No. She is a baby. She doesn’t have friends.
18) Q: What kind of touch does she enjoy? Gentle interaction, boisterous play, or is she touch-resistant? A: Blank stares. No clue.
19) Q: What does she need to work on developmentally? A: She is doing well, she is a normal baby for orphanage standards. (translation: she is not where she should be developmentally compared to babies raised in families, but she is doing fine for a baby being raised in an institutional setting).
20) Q: What are her favorite comfort items? A: She doesn’t have any.
21) Q: Do you know anything about her parents? Was there a note? Do you have any details about how and where she was found and by whom? Did you save her clothing from her finding day, and did she have anything with her? Do you remember what she was wearing? What time of day was she found? A: There was no note, we do not remember her clothing, she had nothing with her. The time of day and details about her finding are in her finding ad, which we have given you today.
22) Q: Do you have any baby photos of her? (I did not need to ask this, they brought me some photos in her Half the Sky development report, and they had loaded some photos onto a thumb drive that I sent in advance).
23) Q: Was she recently moved to a new room when she turned 1 year old? How did she handle that transition? Did she get new nannies at that time? A: She was not moved when she turned 1. She stayed in the same room with the same nannies. (I was sooooo relieved to hear this. I assume this was done because we were coming so quickly after her first birthday).
(Note: I had more success with this type of question than with the personal questions).
24:) Q: What kind of formula/milk does she drink? How EXACTLY, step by step, do you make her bottle? How much water, formula, rice cereal, how hot is the water, how big is the hole in the nipple, what type of bottle does she use, etc.? How many ounces does she drink? How many times a day? What times during the day? What temperature does she like her bottle? Does she get a bottle during the night? Is there a special way she likes to be held while taking her bottle? Is she held while taking her bottle or is she fed from a propped bottle? A: They told me her schedule, when she takes her bottles, how they prepare the bottles, and (Thank you, Lord!) that she was HELD when given her bottles, not fed from a propped bottle. I think this was also HUGE for her and another reason why she has done so well with us. They didn’t hold her any special way, and they showed us how they cut the nipple in the bottle so that she could finish a bottle in about 3 minutes. (Also, they gave me one of her bottles. If they wouldn’t have done so, I had taken some different types of bottles with me to show them and ask which one was most similar to the bottle she was used to taking. This may be more important for cleft babies than for other babies).
25) Q: Does she eat any solid food? If so, what are they and how are they served? Can she feed herself with a spoon? A: She was eating congee (rice porridge), steamed egg (like egg custard), and soft noodles, both with some meat or vegetables mixed in but cooked to a very, very soft consistency (she doesn’t have any teeth). She could not feed herself with a spoon. We found out she could not even self feed, as she was unable (at 14 months!) to find her mouth with her hand, and did not have the fine motor skills to hold on to a puff or small piece of food. Once she learned to hold one (by her second day with us) she still could not find her mouth. Now, one month later, she can pick up a piece of flat cheese from her tray and get it into her mouth every time.
26) Q: Does she have any allergies to food or medicine? A: No.
27) Q: Has she been sick with chicken pox, measles, respiratory illness, or any other major childhood illnesses? Has she needed to be hospitalized for any reason? A: No and no.
28) Q: Does she get sick often with ear infections, cough, or stomach problems? A: No.
29) Q: Tell me about her urine/poop and whether she goes regularly. A: It is normal and regular.
30) Q: What is her daily schedule? A: they detailed it. This was the easiest question for them and got the most detailed response. Everyone obeys the schedule! We learned from this report how often she ate, slept, that she bathed daily, and they were very proud that their babies were bathed in a tub (not hosed down as in some orphanages).
31) Q: Do you have her “finding ad” from the newspaper? A: Yes, they gave it to us.
32) Q: What was the last time she ate TODAY? When is she due to eat again? What time does she need a nap? A: The answers to these questions were among the most important that we asked. We found out she hadn’t eaten in several hours and was past due to both eat and sleep.
33) Q: What would you like us to tell her about her time here? A: The orphanage director said, “Your baby, like almost everything else in America, was made in China. Tell her not to forget where she came from.”
34) Q: Would her nanny or someone like to write a brief note for her? A: The director’s assistant wrote her a short note on paper that I brought with me for this purpose.
35) Q: Is there anything else they would like us to know that would be helpful to us? A: The director encouraged us to send photos and updates about her progress. They were very adamant that they love to get progress reports and photos of the children who have been adopted and asked me to please, please send them.
Today marks one month since our Gotcha Day when Maggie was placed in our arms. She has already grown and changed so much since that day, yet it is hard to believe it was only four weeks ago! She has gained 3 pounds and 1 1/2 inches in those four weeks, which I find incredible. She is getting stronger and developing more fine motor coordination, and she has started to crawl more. She is comfortable at home now and she has even started making eye contact when she sees someone new, instead of shrinking into my body and trying to hide.
First post-adoption visit
We had our first post adoption visit with our social worker today. China requires post adoption assessments after one month, six months, one year, and then I think they are every year until age 5–I can’t remember past the first year. Although we have only been home for 2 weeks, we have had Maggie in our care for a month so it was time for the first assessment. We were thankful to get the same social worker that did our home study. It was a blessing to see her after all she did to start us out on the process. Our social worker was pretty new when we started our home study, and we were the first family she has taken from the start of the home study to the finish line of post adoption visits. Our visit today was encouraging to her, as well.
We could honestly say that we feel things have gone even better than we dared to hope. Maggie is thriving in her new environment, and our whole family is in love with her. We have had some rocky times with big sister, but thankfully she hasn’t traced the source of her angst to Maggie, and they are like peas and carrots together. I have been sticking close to home, “cocooning”, and although it has been somewhat lonely and isolating for me, it has been very good for both of the girls. Both girls have made a lot of progress in their adjustment over the past two weeks, and both are feeling much more secure with their new situation.
International Adoption Clinic
We head to the International Adoption Clinic in Birmingham on Wednesday for Maggie’s first check up. Hopefully she will get a clean bill of health. My mom and I will be leaving before dawn on Wednesday morning to make the drive to B’ham, where Maggie will have a LONG day of labs and specialist appointments. They told me to expect her appointment to last 5 hours as she meets with the pediatrician, occupational therapist, speech therapist, and others. She will get about $2000 worth of lab work done–I can only imagine what all they will be testing her for!
Once we know more about how she is doing health-wise we can hopefully get out more. At this point, we don’t know if she may have an underlying health issue that is unknown, and we don’t know whether her vaccination record is accurate. We do know that she doesn’t have any immunity to the germs we have here, and that she is malnourished and likely under-vaccinated. The doctor has wanted us to keep her away from people as much as possible until we get some answers. She gave us permission to do some things outdoors, such as attend a few football games, and go to the park. I felt the outdoor Chick Fil A qualified and Keeper really needed to get out today, too! Walmart has been strictly forbidden–the doctor says you never know what you are going to catch at Walmart.
While we are in B’ham we will take advantage of the opportunity to meet with the cleft team at UAB. We will also be evaluating the teams in Atlanta and Chattanooga. Every team has its own ideas about how and when surgeries will be done, whether prosthetics will be used, recovery protocols, and more. We will be working with this team for the next 15 years or more, and Maggie will likely need a minimum of 5 surgeries. We have been advised to take a few months for bonding before we pursue surgery, and we plan to use that time to evaluate our options and try to make the best decision possible for her long-term care plan. We value your prayers for wisdom as every team has both advantages and disadvantages, and it is hard to evaluate which things will ultimately prove most important. I’m not looking forward to making the trip to meet personally with each team, but I feel like that is the only way I will know for sure which one is right for us.
I hope to post later this week about our trip to the adoption clinic and UAB.
We have had Maggie just over two weeks now. It seems hard to believe it has ONLY been two weeks! So much has happened during the past few days that it is hard to believe we have not even been home for a week yet. I am still too tired to write a decent blog post so I will just jumble together some random things tonight and call it “good”.
Things continue to go well, though there have been a few bumps in the road. Most of this may not be of any interest to you unless you are a) part of our extended family (they care about what our sweet girl is eating and how well she is sleeping), b) heading to China to adopt a 1 year old or c) leaving a preschool aged child behind.
I am growing!
If scales and measurements don’t lie, Maggie has gained almost 1 1/2 pounds and she has grown 1 inch since her medical appointment 1 1/2 weeks ago! You can tell by looking at her that she is definitely growing, and it is great to see! She is barely even on the growth charts, so she has some catching up to do. On the flight home we sat next to a Chinese family with a healthy four month old baby who was almost as big as Maggie (she will be 14 months old this week.)
In other news, after being away from home for two weeks my mom-to-four-boys reflexes grew rusty and I broke my toe tripping on a nerf weapon a couple days after returning from China. That has really been a pain (pun intended). It makes getting around so much more difficult and it has added another dimension to our adjustment period. The doctor wants me to stay off my feet for the next 6 to 8 weeks. Ha! I can hardly stay off my feet for 6 to 8 hours.
I bought some Chinese formula to bring back with me so I could transition Maggie slowly to American formula. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring enough and after just a few days of mixing bottles half Chinese, half American formula I was quickly out of the Chinese stuff. Maggie wasn’t doing too well on the American formula. She went from taking a good long afternoon nap and sleeping through the night to not napping much at all and waking up multiple times in the night.
For inquiring minds, I was using Similac to transition her. The International Adoption clinic felt that was the worst thing I could have chosen (oops, newbie here), and they prefer Gerber Good Starts Soothe, FYI. But in her case, we are not going to do formula at all. She is already well over a year old and she is eating table food really, really well. The Int. Adopt clinic doctors as well as her pediatrician all suspect possible lactose sensitivity based on how she responded to the Similac, so she is now having two bottles of Pedia Sure and two bottles of Lactaid whole milk daily. We just started this regimen a couple days ago but she went right back to napping and sleeping through the night once we made the switch, so I am feeling pretty good about it.
In China, her bottles were being heavily dosed with rice cereal, and I had slowly weaned her off of that, since conventional wisdom says rice cereal should be eaten not drank. But now she has started refluxing, so we are adding some rice cereal back into the bottles before naptime and night time to see if that makes a difference, along with elevating the head of her bed.
Some people have asked what she eats. She eats almost anything that a typical one year old eats. In China I was feeding her congee (rice porridge) like they did at the orphanage, until she saw us eating a cheeseburger and wanted a bite. From that moment she said goodbye to congee and never looked back. Now she wants to eat whatever we are eating! I wish I could upload the video we shared on Facebook of her tasting her first cheeseburger–her expression was priceless!
I am careful with sticky/starchy things like bread, rice, and noodles because they tend to get stuck in her cleft palate. She can have them in limited quantities with lots of juice or water to help her wash it down. She eats a lot of oatmeal, yogurt, hard boiled or poached eggs, cheese, peeled and diced sausages or other ground or very finely shredded meat, fruits and veggies diced very small, and stage 3 baby foods. She also loves yogurt puffs and the regular Gerber puffs. I use a food chopper to dice her food really small, at least for now. She doesn’t have any teeth yet, and I don’t want to give her anything that isn’t finely ground until I meet with a cleft team and see what they feel she can handle.
As stated above, Maggie has been a fantastic sleeper until we tried to change her formula. With her new regimen she is back to napping and sleeping well. Our three year old daughter developed some night fears while we were gone and she hasn’t been sleeping well, either. I thought we might be co-sleeping with the baby, as many adoption experts recommend, but Maggie hasn’t wanted that or seemed to need it. She is content to sleep in a pack and play next to my bed.
Our other daughter has climbed into bed with us almost every night since we got home, however! She did great while we were gone, thankfully, but it has been clear since we got home that she struggled with our absence. She hasn’t wanted to accept help from anyone but mommy since I got home, and she has been having way more meltdowns than usual. Things are getting better day by day, though. Our agency told us to watch Maggie for baby steps of improvement each day, and we are doing that in this situation, too. Thankfully, things are getting better but we aren’t out of the woods yet. I am spending as much one-on-one time with her as possible to help her through this difficult transition.
I think it is important during the first days home not to focus on how things feel but instead to focus on just doing the right things and trust that every day will be better. Right now I am exhausted from jet lag and lack of sleep, dealing with a baby that needs mommy and a clingy preschooler who also needs mommy, my toe hurts, our crazy schedule threatens daily to interfere with my plans for “cocooning at home”, and David and I are making the adjustment to having SIX kids (how did this happen? I was so unprepared for it to seem any different than five, but it sure does!!). There have been some stressful moments this week, but things are getting better day by day. Both girls are sleeping through the night again and that one thing alone makes SUCH a big difference.
Our Travel Agent
I just wanted to give a shout out to my travel agent Todd Gallinek. I know a lot of people use him for adoption travel, and he really was all that and a bag of chips. We had a great travel experience and we owe it all to Todd. He even saved us from ourselves, as we were trying to find different routes to tweak things and his plan was always better and cheaper. We emailed him at firstname.lastname@example.org and heard back very quickly. We also tried another agent. Todd’s prices were better and so was his service.
That’s my wrap up of the past few days. It’s hard to believe that just three weeks ago we were getting ready to head to the airport and China! These past three weeks have been full of blessings, and we are so grateful to the Lord for His mercies toward us and our family.