Friday, December 18, 2009

December Past and Present

Another Christmas season is upon us. I find myself going through the motions of a traditional Christmas, in my warm and comfortable home, contemplating Sidney's life last December. During these moments I am lost in thought, only to come out of my revelry at the sight of Sidney dancing to Jingle Bells. Like a popular adoption song says, "what has been is lost in what will be."

Thinking about Sidney's life in China, I think not only of last December but of her first six weeks of life, in an environment so different from anything by Western standards. This period of time will remain a mystery to all of us. If I had to guess her life would likely have mimicked what I saw the day we flew into her province. On the approach for landing, air blew across the the rice paddies below from the power of the landing plane. People stood below, planting rice, as the water rippled around their legs. Statistically speaking, the majority of abandoned girls are from rural areas.

As adoptive parents, we are given medical reports which give some clues. Nothing specific is given about about day-to-day life other than to say she lived a routine life. We sent a disposable camera in a care package to the orphanage. From what we could see, it was sparse but appeared clean and new. Sidney likely moved into a new facility last December. Construction of the new orphanage facility was completed around this time. Prior to moving into the new facility, Sidney lived in a much older building next door. We did not receive any photos of her caretakers. These are the people who taught her to hold herself up when being held walking around, allowed us to make eye contact on her first day with us, and did the best they could with the minuscule resources available.

We believe some of Sidney's routine might also have revolved around contact with the U.S. based organization Half the Sky. This organization provides children with extra care and medical treatment. For children staying in an orphanage their entire life, it is the closest they will come to a family. They can provide us with additional information if they had contact with Sidney. We are faxing a questionnaire in. Our referral information indicates Sidney interacted with "grandma's." This particular organization hires elderly women from the community to come into the orphanage and interact with the children. This could also explain why Sidney did so well interacting with Tom and I on those first few days in China.

It is the hours when she was not being fed, bathed, spending time in her crib, or sleeping that we wonder most about. This question comes to mind, because Sidney is finally to the point where she is content to simply be. Meaning, she is able to simply hang out and know it is OK to get out of our laps and play or explore. Before she mixed between playing for short periods and coming back to Tom or I, looking for the reassurance that we had not gone anywhere. She understands if we are holding her, we will hold her again. She went through a period where putting her down to do something else was not an option. I have learned to do many things like unloading the dishwasher or making a batch of cookies for the school bizarre with Sidney in the carrier. After my back was breaking, I remembered reading that you should start all over and put her back into the carrier, if a child was regressing. I did this and two weeks later, she is secure in allowing me to put her down. Consistency is the best thing in her routine. This has caused me to say no to things and understand that what Sidney needs right now is time.

This consistency is what has allowed me to watch her relax in my arms. Those first few days in Changsha, it was obvious she had been carried around but never cuddled in someones lap. She sat in my lap but not next to my body, closer to my knees and straight as an arrow not really relaxing. She allowed me to feed her bottles but kind of gave me a deer in headlights look. As the trust and understanding grew, she started to move back, first to simply rest against me, then allowing her head to fall back. I remember the first time she did this, she let out a sigh. Kind of like, is this what life is really supposed to be like? She now trusts so fully that she falls asleep all the time in my lap, and once she is out, she is out. She no longer startles awake, she knows where she is and does not bat an eye. These are the small triumphs that make three years of waiting seem like a walk in the park.

We could obviously go on forever about the differences. What counts most is what is happening now. We are witnessing a triumph of the human spirit. But just when I have forgotten there was a time when Sidney was living her former life, I look into those soulful eyes which have certainly seen enough for a lifetime.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pre Op Blizzards and Palpable Joy

Wednesday we will have the opportunity to go to Iowa City for Sidney’s pre op exam. Her surgery is not scheduled until January 7th. After our pre op appointment, we go in for a genetics appointment. The hospital was excellent about working us in for a double appointment. Genetics must be a specialized field of expertise? I am saying this facetiously of course. Our pediatrician’s office placed us on the waiting list for an appointment in August. We scheduled the appointment a couple of months ago, and from what we understand only three appointments take place per day.

I saw on the news that Wednesday is supposed to be a blizzard. We might wait another six months to unravel the mystery, so I say for the millionth time as an adoptive mother, “I am releasing control!” Luckily, the hand surgeon’s nurse had the foresight to give us all the information necessary for Sidney’s surgery on January 7th. During Sidney’s last appointment, we went through all the information necessary for the anesthesiologist, all of her information was taken, and we were given pre op directions. It is an outpatient surgery and takes about three hours. I think I have told almost everyone, but she will have a full arm cast for three weeks and a split for two more. The full arm is because she is so little it will fall off. The other hand comes six months later. We plan to wait until after summer, next September. No fun being 2 and not able to be outside running around and getting dirty. I believe strongly in letting my kids wallow around in the dirt outside.

We are anxious for the appointment with the geneticist. If I had to venture a guess I would say something environmental caused Sidney’s condition. After seeing the rice paddies and fields surrounding Changsha and knowing rice paddies are also everywhere in Changsha, I believe her mother could have been exposed to a pesticide of some type in agriculture. Changsha is the capital of Hunan province, and Hunan is the second largest rice producer in China. I could be totally off base about Sidney’s condition however have done a ton of reading to come to this conclusion. I have also made conclusions about agriculture or a pesticide based on the high percentage of girls who are abandoned from rural areas. After seeing rice patties with huts sitting in fields, I can almost imagine the desperation of her parents when they saw a condition which was certainly insurmountable by western medical standards.

Onto something not so heavy….we went and cut down our beautiful 7 ½ foot Christmas tree! No, it is not the most magnificent Frasier Fur I have ever laid my eyes on which was a whopping $70. It is the garden variety Christmas tree, and we love it! Eli is old enough to remember tradition, and he and I had so much fun getting the decorations out. We could not get it finished before bedtime Sunday night. He made it clear that no more ornaments needed to go on unless he was there; telling me he thought the tree had plenty of ornaments. He promptly woke up this morning and asked to continue decorating.

Sidney’s reaction was great! Who could resist lights and the fun! She was fond of taking them off the tree and has finally learned they belong there. What kid should not have the thrill of enjoying Christmas? This is literally worlds from where she was last year at the same time.

Over the last week, we have witnessed a transformation which is palpable. Sidney is smiling! Not just smiling her small tiny, I am barely going to curl up my lips, because I have never smiled before and don’t really know how to express myself when I am happy smile. This is a full faced, eyes lit up, kind of smile. This melts my heart! Other transformations are her physical appearance. She has grown over an inch and gotten 6 teeth. Four are molars. Amazing what a little nutrition will do for catch up on growth. What has been even more amazing is the thickness of her hair.

When we first bathed her on the first night we had her in Changsha, I was horrified at how far back she had physically scratched the hair off her head. We know now this was likely the rash which was caused by giardia. This has now cleared, and her hair has completely filled in. This is also certainly due to better nutrition. We assume she got vegetables but question if meat was ever in her diet. She is still not fond of meat, but we give her a lot of eggs and peanut butter, in addition to other foods with obvious nutrition like fruits and vegetables.

OK, enough musing on the part of this adoptive mom, I could go on forever!