It’s the usual for parents who adopt internationally to miss part or all of their baby’s first year, and that is true for us. In our first daughter’s case, we missed the first three years of her life, and in our new baby’s case, we missed the first four and a half months. However, the first year of being a family is magical no matter how you slice it, which is why I am so excited to be here on Baby’s First Year after starting our story on Being Pregnant. For those of you who haven’t been following along with us on the Being Pregnant blog, I’ll catch you up.
This is our second adoption, and it is wildly different from our first. Our daughter Zinashi came home with us from Ethiopia nearly two years ago at the age of three. Though she was on a waiting child list due to a combination of age and medical need, her medical issue resolved itself by the time we got her home. Our process took a total of fifteen months for Zinashi. This time, we thought we’d be adopting a young toddler with special needs, and that at the very earliest we would be matched with a child at the end of the year. Instead, we found out about our baby girl, who was then four weeks old, in March, less than a month after completing our home study. We were asked to be her parents in April, and we flew to Ethiopia as a family to take custody at the end of June. I call what we have experienced “adoption whiplash.” I still can’t believe it happened so fast.
When we took custody of our baby, who we call Elvie, we quickly discovered that the “healthy aside from birth defect” notation on all the medical reports sent to us was in error. Her ribs and the outline of her intestines were easily visible, and she was somewhat lethargic. We spent many sleepless nights feeding and watching our tiny girl before finding a doctor who would address her malnutrition and assure us that we would make it home all right, though we would need to seek medical help immediately.
We arrived home July 7 in the late afternoon, had a house call from our international adoption doctor on July 9, and checked our sweet Elvie into the hospital the morning of July 10. Her diagnosis was severe malnutrition, with a side of thrush, multiple organism urinary tract infection, and cryptosporidium. After two hospital stays, we finally got to bring her home for good a little over three weeks ago. We will have to return to the hospital in the future, but we knew about that eventuality when we decided to adopt Elvie.
Elvie has a rare but serious physical birth defect that has affected her in myriad ways. Her malnutrition was partly related to that, as her body has more tissue to support than is typical, and her internal organs are somewhat different as well, which puts her at higher risk for urinary tract infections. She needs major surgery to remove extra tissue and reorganize internal organs, her urological structures in particular. When we first entered the hospital with Elvie weighing in at 2.97 kilograms at the age of five months, the surgery team advised us that it would be at least six months before surgery would be possible. Last week, we went in for a follow up appointment and surprised them by presenting a baby that is healthy and rapidly catching up with developmental milestones. They will meet soon to determine when to operate, and we will be on our way to helping our baby get what she needs to move beyond her initial special needs diagnosis. Our fingers are crossed to have the first big surgery done by the end of 2012.
When I think over the two months that Elvie has been with us, it all at once feels like it went incredibly quickly and like we have lived through years with her. She was so sick and small when we first met; it still makes me cry every single time I think about it. That, for me, is the very hardest part of missing the first four and a half months of her life. I know she was suffering those months. Not only did she not have a family to call her own, but she was slowly starving, getting sicker all the time, and no one recognized it. I’ve had to work through being angry about this, as I sincerely believe that the orphanage and care center staff simply didn’t understand our daughter or her needs, and I think they did their best. But still I think I will grieve for a long time that I didn’t know how sick she was and couldn’t go to her when she needed me. I will grieve for what she should have had and didn’t get.
At the same time, I recognize that there is nothing I can do now to get that time back for her or for our family, and that the one thing to do is make peace with the past and do our very best to heal her body and her heart as we move forward. Even though we missed the first four and a half months of her first year, her first year with us is still open to so many possibilities. She has already made up for so much lost time, and I know that. She is healthy. She is happy. She is well loved every single day by all of us. We can’t erase her past, but we can help heal it, and I look forward to the year progressing as we nurture our baby girl.