Monday, February 10, 2014

Day 10 - Lia

My name is Christina, I live in Colorado with my husband, Erik, 6 year old biological daughter Nora and 5 year old daughter Lia, aka ShaSha, who was adopted from Hefei, China in May 2012 at 3.5 years old.

 I admittedly initially hesitated to share our story here as I felt as if our story wasn't "BIG" enough to share. There are some truly amazing families featured on here this month who have inspired and challenged me in so many ways as I watch them on their incredible journeys to bring healing to their children, but we have not had to walk as challenging a path, at least not with health issues. 

But then I think back to how I felt before our adoption journey began to turn my thinking upside down, and I remember the families whose stories most resonated with me at that time and helped lead us to adopt from China's special needs program in the first place.   So I write today in the hopes that our story might be used by God to stretch someone a tiny bit more to take a step of faith with a child who needs a family, especially if they have previously been scared off from adopting a child with any kind of cardiac diagnosis.


We decided to adopt a child from the China Special Needs program in early spring of 2011. Much of that year was then spent doing the endless paperwork, education classes and social worker visits that every adoption entails. 

By November, after endless unexplained, frustrating delays, all our paperwork was to China and we were ready to be matched with a child. Right after Thanksgiving that year I was in the frozen foods section of the supermarket, and the coordinator of our agency called to ask what sort of file we would be comfortable being matched with. We had filled out a special needs checklist but she wanted to discuss it with me directly.  My husband, a pediatrician, had been adamant from the beginning of the process that he was most open to adopting a child with a mild to moderately severe heart condition.  (He now says he doesn't really remember being adamant about this.) I was less convinced. Having been a Pediatric ICU nurse, I had taken care of children with heart defects and had seen several patients die. But as I stood by the frozen vegetables that day, I distinctly remember saying to our coordinator, well, we are open to a child with a mild to moderate heart defect. 

A couple days later we opened our email to see this sweet little face. Her file stated that she had been diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, had had surgery to repair this in China at 10 months old- (thanks to the amazing organization Love Without Boundaries)- and was now doing well. 

Seeing her file, I felt, well, not much really.  I thought she was an adorable little girl but I was concerned that she was 'too old' (she was just turning 3 when we saw the file and would be 3.5 when we brought her home. She would be just 15 months younger than our biological daughter, which was less of an age gap than we had anticipated. There were no 'signs' on her file that she was meant to be ours. The heavens did not open and ladybugs did not flood our home, assuring us that this was the child meant to be in our family.  My husband tried to get in touch with a friend who was a cardiology fellow  to review the file but she wasn't able to get back to us that weekend (we had the file for 3 days only, Friday-Sunday). I had somehow imagined in my head that I would have certainty when I saw my new child's picture and I did not. My husband was ready to move forward, and I just wasn't sure.

But then Sunday dawned after a weekend of much prayer, and I realized that I could not handle the thought that anyone else would see her file or take her home- I knew that I was to be her Mama. And so we sent in our Letter of Intent to adopt Lu Hongsha. 

Lia at her orphanage right before we came to pick her up- April 2012

We traveled to pick her up in May 2012. We did not have an easy trip. We got glimpses that she was a bright and funny kid, but she was also understandably, totally and completely FREAKED OUT in every way by this overwhelming change in her life. She attached herself to my husband immediately- announcing regularly in loud Mandarin to everyone in earshot: "I have a Baba! I have a Baba!" and wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with me.  

Our first glimpse of her

With Baba in China

She had received excellent care in her orphanage in China and clearly been well loved by the Nannies (thank you Half the Sky!), but she was still slightly malnourished, with thin hair and some edema, weighing in at 24 lbs at 3.5 years old and she had terrible balance and movement issues.  She ate nothing for us but hard boiled eggs, milk, yogurt and shrimp and she ate as if she were a 12 month old feeding herself for the first time, with liquids pouring down her face and food ending up all over. We muddled through and holed up in our hotel room for much of the trip as we never knew when she'd start screaming in rage and terror. 
We had a pretty good inkling that her heart repair had been successful, as she gave herself an extended aerobic workout of thrashing and screaming on the plane ride home. She even treated the LAX immigration department to an extended rendition of her screams- they were so delighted that they moved us directly to the front of their long line :)

We made it home, and then we began the intensive process of attaching and rebuilding her physically. We were overjoyed that the cardiologist here felt her heart repair was done well in China and that for now we only have to have yearly visits to monitor her heart function. She may need further interventions when she is older, but we just take each year at a time and are grateful that each year cardiac medicine advances such that she may never have to have another open heart surgery- she will hopefully be able to benefit from valve replacement via catheter. It is very likely that she will live a long and normal life, although she will always have to monitor her cardiac status.

Over the past 18 months she's done a course of PT to rehab her weak core and many sessions of feeding therapy and now is a normal, active 5 year old who is learning to lap swim, has just about mastered her two wheeler and best of all, is willing to at least try a normal variety of foods and is no longer a crazy messy eater. She learned English faster than we ever imagined and entertains us daily with her complex imagination, her paper and tape creations and her many versed, loud songs that incorporate hymns, Chinese children's songs, her own made up language that she calls "Chinese-Spanish" and usually end with the refrain: "if you have to go potty, STOP and go right away" from Daniel Tiger.

Our biggest hurdle has been attachment and behavioral issues- my greatest fears pre-adoption- but in dealing with these issues I've grown as a parent- at times very painfully- but I have grown to love and respect her stubborn, strong spirit more than I ever could imagine.  The last few months we have had some amazing breakthroughs with attachment and with overcoming some of her anxiety and they are all the more sweet for what we had to work through to get here. 

Paper eyeglasses

I could go on and on about the joy and laughter she has brought to our life.

It's very hard to encapsulate adopting a child with a heart condition on here. I very much want to encourage people to adopt kids with special needs from China, especially kids with heart conditions, but sometimes I think that encouragement within the SN adoption world can take the form of saying "Oh you can handle a need like this- we only go to the cardiologist once a year and she's a super active kid, she takes no medications". 

All of that is totally true in our situation, but I feel that is not truly encouragement. I know now from our journey and from watching others that if things had been more complex than anticipated with any aspect of her health or her needs had been greater than expected, we simply would have done whatever it takes to help her live, and live well. We have done so with her emotional needs and we would do the same for her physical needs as well. I know I can speak for all the families on this site in saying that every single second of all our struggles have been worth it. And all struggles to come will be worth it. She is our beloved daughter and I can't imagine our lives without her! 


Drea said...

I loved reading your story! Thank you for sharing! said...

I love your story Christina....and I am SO glad you shared it!

LaKasha Strickland said...

Thank you for sharing.... sounds like your families trip was alot like ours and our daughter had a hard time with me until about day four! I am also learning through the past 7 months home now about her strong will personality and parenting struggles I would love the get to learn more about your journey with that. Face book (LaKasha Measel Strickland) on Heart to Heart group as well.

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