Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 7 - Brooklyn


                   Often, the greatest beauty in life is the unexpected.
            My husband and I married right out of high school. By the time I was twenty-two, we had two children and I had to undergo a hysterectomy. We were blessed and satisfied to have two children, since I was informed at eighteen that I needed the surgery. We had one daughter and one son. Life was good.
            I never desired more kids and was actually glad that my husband and I would still be so young when our children would one day be adults. We were thirty-six years old when our daughter graduated from high school and thirty-nine when our son graduated. However, God had other plans. Through what had to be His sense of humor, as well as a future blessing, I began to actually desire a baby deep in my heart when I was in my early forties. It was a complete shock to me. I never experienced “empty nest” feelings and was looking forward to doing activities and hobbies in my life that I felt I hadn’t had time for when our first two were growing up.

            My desire for a baby grew stronger and when I told my husband about a “dream” I had of adopting a daughter from China, he told me that he had experienced the same thoughts. We knew God was at work. It also reminded us of a time several years earlier when out of the blue one day as I was getting in our car after shopping with my husband, I strongly felt God telling me that I would be a mother again before I was forty-five years old, which was strange since I had the hysterectomy. My husband and I never even tied it to thoughts of a future adoption.

            After much discussion and prayer, God opened doors that led us to adopt our daughter, Marissa, through the Children’s Hope International non-special needs program in 2005. Marissa was adopted from China at ten months of age and is now twelve years old. We were perfectly content! Marissa was our youngest child, yet being raised as an only, as her siblings were grown and out of the house. 

            When Marissa was four years old, our oldest daughter, Jaime passed away from complications from a blood clot in her brain. Jaime’s death was the hardest, deepest pain we’ve ever experienced. My relationship with Jesus is the strength that carried me through it. I was so thankful to still have my son (and his son, now that he was married and had a baby) and my youngest child, Marissa.

            We never planned to adopt again, but over the years kept busy with church and activities with friends in the adoption community, as well as many other hobbies and interests. One of those was an adoption ministry and praying for orphans to find their forever families. After ten years of praying and advocating for unknown faces, one child gripped me with a passion I couldn’t ignore.

            She was named “Brooklyn” by Wasatch International Adoption, the agency listing her. I gathered as much information as I could about her and asked for more. Soon most of those requests were filled. I even made a connection with an American woman living in China and volunteering in Brooklyn’s orphanage who had watched her grow up and could fill in blanks about her history and provide me with photos and videos of her almost weekly.

            When I fell in love with a CHD child, I was thrust into a world of uncertainty and unknowns; wondering if her diagnosis was accurate and trying to grasp the meaning of it. I sought multiple opinions and completed my own research about procedures, technical advancements, future possibilities, and life expectancies I never dreamed I would have to face. Despite all of the unknowns, I walked into an uncertain future willingly, clinging to my faith. Because of the loss of our first child, and the way God carried us through deep valleys, cradling us in His compassionate arms, it gave me the faith I may not have had to move forward before.

            When we started the process for Brooklyn, I was uncertain if we even still qualified to adopt from China. I knew there had been so many changes in the ten years since we had adopted. We had also gone through an almost two year period of depleting savings after my husband’s job was eliminated at work. God handled every detail, providing everything we needed in His always-perfect timing. My mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and had not been doing as well since my father’s death almost two years previous, but she understood we were adopting again and I always showed her Brooklyn’s photo to prepare her to see a new person in the family.

            The week before we were supposed to travel to China, my mother took a sudden turn for the worse. We called in hospice and as we sat at a meeting with our hospice friend deciding the course of treatment for my mother, I received a phone call that another grant had come through. My mother did not linger. She was gone in a few days. We left for China the day after burying her.

            Despite this chaotic time in my life, God filled me with peace and joy in bringing home our new daughter. After receiving her, we have learned a lot more about her history and health. I truly believe we knew she was ours no matter what, yet I am thankful that God is in control of timing and knows when to divulge more information.

            Brooklyn was one of the forgotten children. She lived in a tiny (smaller than an American portacrib) crib with no bedding and shared it with bugs and pests. No one ate with her, really spoke to her, or picked her up, yet she came to us with a zest for life, the best eye contact I’ve seen in any child, and more determination and resilience than I ever expected. I’m sure it is what kept her alive. 

Brooklyn waited in that crib for the health care she desperately needed for seven years. At seven years of age she received the Glenn surgery. We don’t know why she suddenly received it. We are just immensely thankful she did. She underwent her surgery and recovery without support and was suddenly removed from the “crib room” and thrust into a roomful of rambunctious boys she sometimes tells me “bullying stories” about. After that she went to live with a foster family for a short period of time and was placed in the special needs classroom at the orphanage, where she says people told her she was not smart, yet most people in the United States tell us she is most likely gifted.

The reports we received from China about Brooklyn’s heart have been accurate, matching up to what we received here. The cardiologists agreed that the Glenn she finally received in China was well-done, and I still wonder who performed it and why she finally received it. She has Unbalanced Atrioventricular Canal, Double Outlet Right Ventricle, Pulmonary Valve Stenosis, and Tricuspid Regurgitation Valve leakage. She received her Extra-Cardiac Fontan surgery on September 28, 2016 and now has an oxygenation level in her low 90’s! Her activity level is much better and immediately after surgery, her fingers and toes were no longer bluish-tinged. Her face looks so much healthier and she has gained height and weight. She’s still a tiny one, weighing 46 pounds at age ten, but she looks so much better.    

Through more testing at home in the states, we have learned that Brooklyn does not have any syndromes, but she does have a variant in her GDF1 gene that is known to be associated with heart defects. Her specific mutation has never been seen before, and there is only a very limited bit of information available, but she is doing very well!

We found through our contact in the orphanage that Brooklyn had untreated ear infections her entire life. Before we could have her heart surgery completed she had to endure several rounds of antibiotics. When nothing helped, a culture was finally sent to the Mayo Clinic to uncover what the infection was and which antibiotic would help. Then she underwent ear reconstructive surgery. She had damage from so much infection for so many years, as well as some birth defects in the ear canal and bones. She can hear much better, but will always have difficulty, especially in one ear. Although she is very bright and resourceful, she has a very steep hill to climb with speech. She is like a toddler who repeats what she hears incorrectly, due to her hearing loss. It has helped immensely that she has now learned letter sounds and is a beginning reader. Instead of repeating what she thinks she hears, she is able to look at the printed words and it makes her speech much clearer.

Parents, never underestimate the power of advocating for your child! They need us so much. Our persistence has uncovered most of her ailments and we will never stop fighting for what she needs.

Brooklyn also had eight baby teeth extracted, four crowns, and two fillings after healing from ear surgery and before she could have tests to check her heart condition. We have also discovered a form of scoliosis in her neck and back that may intervention in the future. For now, she is able to rest from surgeries, and continue to blossom as the missing piece in our family. We never knew her light and joy was coming, but she has brought exuberance into our lives. We are immensely thankful for whatever time we have with her and very hopeful for medical advancements that may occur in her lifetime. She is a treasure and I am so thankful we moved forward to bring her home. After holding the hand of my special needs child and begin to see the world through her eyes, I have more fully realized the enormity of God’s grace. He has helped me be grateful for her sweaty palm, because it means she is alive. That she is able to pour love into each of us with such abandonment of self, is a miracle I am grateful to be a part of.

My daughter with the “defective” heart is showing the world more about what having heart really is as she lives each moment without restriction and adds consistent joy to each day. Indeed, the best part of life is sometimes the unexpected journeys we take and the joy and faith we grow because of the detour.


Andrea Olson said...

I loved reading this, Terri. Thanks for sharing!

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