Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Day 4 - Tess

As you read this, it is the eve of our daughter’s 3rd birthday.  Well, we think the 5th of February is her birthday.  We’re not completely sure when our Tess was born.  She was abandoned in China at just a few weeks old and this was the date assigned as her birthday by the orphanage staff.  This is also the day, one year ago, when she received the surgery that would ultimately save her life.  So, this is the day we celebrate.  

Tess’ story of abandonment is Tess’ story.  It’s not mine to share.  It is similar to the story of many other Chinese adoptees though, and we can infer that her abandonment was probably largely due to her special need.  Tess was born with 2/3’s of a backwards heart.  While I, and probably you, have four chambers in our heart, Tess has three.  Her main arteries didn’t twist properly in utero either, which left blood that should have been flowing to all her organs, flowing back into her lungs.  In children born with this condition here in the U.S., this is usually corrected within days of birth.  Tess lived to age two with no surgical intervention. 

When we first saw Tess’ picture on her adoption agency’s waiting child list, we already had seven children in our home.  SEVEN.  None of them had a medical need.  They were all adopted, and some from hard places, but medical special needs were new territory for us.  We watched Tess’ little picture sit on that list for weeks, people kept inquiring about her file, but no one was willing to take the chance.  Finally, we held the same tribunal that we have held with the kids who live in our home since we’ve had just two.  We showed them Tess’ picture, and then we explained to them, in the best way we could, that there would be a possibility we would bring home this beautiful little girl only to watch her die. 

Once the words were out there, they hung in the air as our older children absorbed it.  At the time, she was only a picture, just a sweet little face whose voice had never been heard and whose laughter had never echoed in our home.  We all agreed that no matter how much time she had, she would have it with a family.  This was wonderful, in theory. 

When Tess came home and we were told just how damaged her lungs were, we were told that even heart transplant might not be an option.  Reality slapped all of us in the face and we learned quickly that we were in it now.  We would all have to band together to fight for her the way she deserved, the way someone should have from day one.  I think we all probably cried alone during those first few weeks, too frightened to let each other know we were scared, because saying it might mean we were admitting defeat, and defeat was no longer an option. 

We all needed her to live.    

And live she has.  In fact, she’s lived more than most people could imagine.  She’s made trips from one side of the country to the other.  She’s had articles written about her.  She’s been featured in news stories and magazines.  Her spirit is amazing, and contagious.  To know Tess is to love Tess.  She’s fierce, feisty and so determined. 

We all are.  You have to be when you have a child who is critically ill. 

As I write this, we are spending our last days on vacation in Walt Disney World where we are celebrating the miracle that is Tess’ 3rd birthday.  We always celebrate her birthdays in a big way, and the now eight other children in our home never complain.  They understand why her birthday means so very, very much.   

Last night, as we left the parks, when all was becoming quiet and still and we were just enjoying the last of our popcorn, I walked along with my four eldest kids and I told them I would be writing this piece for 28 Days of Hearts.  I’ve written before, many times, about Tess.  I told them this time would be different though, that I wanted to focus on what we all lived through and to tell everyone that even though it’s scary to adopt a child with such a significant medical condition that it can also be wonderful.  I specifically asked them what they might say to all of you about their sister and what it was like to watch her be so sick. 

Here are the answers I got, in their own words…

“It’s scary.  At first, Tess couldn’t walk or talk.  She was blue a lot.  She had those ‘things’ in her nose (he meant her Oxygen cannula).  Now she’s really normal, and sometimes, she’s TOO LOUD.”

“I didn’t think about how she might die.  I cried a little and then I said ‘Self, your sister is NOT going to die.  And, she didn’t.  She lived to be pretty cute.” 

“I cried a lot, but I love Tess too much to think about if we didn’t have her.  Can you even imagine?!?  She’s so funny.  She makes us laugh all the time.  Even when she poops her pants, she makes me laugh.” 

“I think, someday, when I look back, that Tess will be the most amazing thing we ever ‘did’ as a family.”  When I asked my now almost 12-year old daughter, whom we adopted at the age of 8 from Ghana, what she meant by that, she explained.  “I mean that we could have said it was too scary, but we didn’t, and look what we got?  We got amazing.” 

She’s right.  We got amazing.  You can too.  Take a chance.  Step out.  It’s so, so worth it.

Our blog is www.fullplatemama.blogspot.com.  My email address is in the sidebar.  If you have questions about adoption, I am always here to help! 


Sarah said...

Wow. Beautiful story. And you can see that spunk in her eyes!

Mary Sammons said...

Love you Tess! You are a treasure !! Beautiful post

Drea said...

I have loved watching your Baoji beauty thrive!

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