Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Boy on the Mend

Matthew seems to be back to his old antics today, and although it seems like he’s dealing with a little bit of pain in his mouth, he’s mostly just his same good-natured self. We are grateful.

Surgery yesterday went just fine. It was a long day that included a lot of waiting (we were called back about an hour later than we expected) and a few surprises, some of them good. Instead of extracting two teeth, the pediatric orthodontist only pulled one. We also got a really specific evaluation of his mouth and teeth, and although his mouth is a little “unusual,” in the words of Dr. Sheller (which is pretty normal for kids with clefting issues), it’s also very workable, for which we are grateful.

The best news for me is that barring any other necessary plastic surgery procedures in the next couple years, once Matthew’s palate is repaired, the next surgery won’t be until he’s between 7 and 9 years old. That means we have a good five years until we again have to take our boy to Children’s for an operation.

One of the favorite parts of my day yesterday had to be all the conversations I had with other parents of children with clefts. I spoke with a woman whose daughter is from the same province in China that Matthew was born (Guangdong)—the daughter has had all her cleft work done at Children’s, and she’s about 9 years old now. She looked terrific. I also talked with a family whose 14-month-old birth son was going in for palate repair.

With all these parents, there is a sense of connection and community that I feel so thankful for. In some life’s adventures (like adoption or cleft lip/palate repair), I have the tendency to feel a little bit lonely or isolated in our specific journey. Talking with parents who understand the layers of attachment and surgery encourages me in ways I can’t describe.

We’re tired on this Halloween afternoon. Maya and Sam will soon dress up and go to a neighborhood friend’s party, then we’ll spend the evening with our family friends the Petersens (and their extended family and friends), which is our usual hangout on Halloween night. It will be very low key, which is perfect for us. I’m anxious for some rest—for Matthew, for me, and for the rest of the family. Even the most simple, straightforward surgery takes its toll on everyone. We are so thankful for the extra love and support from my parents yesterday—my dad, who was my companion at the hospital, and my mom, who took care of Sam and Maya while we were away.

Here are a couple pictures to share with you—one of Matthew in my arms, asleep, just before I carried him into the operating room. He actually slept through the anesthesia mask, which meant his start to surgery was blissful!

And below that are a couple of shots from today. It’s so nice to report that all is well, we’re on the other side of surgery, and healing abounds!

Just before walking Matthew into the operating room

Playing at home this morning

A bruised mouth

He looks so innocent in this shot . . . but don't be fooled!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dental Surgery

We head to Children’s Hospital for Matthew’s dental surgery today. We had a big round of scheduling mishaps last week (first they confirmed, then they cancelled, then they put us back on the schedule) so we ended up with an 11am arrival time, which isn’t terrible but it’s also not ideal.

One challenging thing about surgery for me is not being able to give Matthew a bottle when he wakes up in the morning. For an 11am arrival, he is allowed solid foods until 4am, and then nothing until after surgery. I did get up at 3am and feed him a bottle in the middle of the night, just because I know it’s going to be a long morning until surgery and I wanted to give him a little middle-of-the-night nourishment.

It’s also just hard to see your child on the operating table and know that for two hours, he’ll be intubated and under anesthesia. Surgery today is just work on his teeth—he’ll have two teeth pulled, a cavity filled, a series of extensive x-rays taken, and then probably a cleaning and exam. It’s not the procedure that worries me, but the anesthesia.

Today I will gown up and carry Matthew into the operating room. I’ll lay him on the table and wait with him until the anesthesiologist puts the gas mask over his face and he falls asleep. It usually takes about 20 seconds for him to be totally out, and during that time he’s scared and squirming on the table. When I did this the last time, I just rubbed his arms and legs and sang to him until he was asleep. It’s hard for me—really hard—but it’s also important that I be the last person he sees and hears, so that if my presence or my voice offers any comfort, I’ll be with him.

I hate that Matthew has to go through all this. He’s already transitioned cultures and homes, joined a new family, and worked so hard to grow, learn, and settle in. I’d give anything to let him avoid the fear and pain of surgery too.

But of course I keep telling myself that he wouldn’t be with us without his cleft lip and palate—that the reason for this surgery is also the blessed reason he is part of our family. It’s messy and very un-tidy, but I’m trying to see goodness in surgery today, because I know that his operation gets him one step closer to a more full sense of health in his body.

Thank you for your prayers and thoughts today. My dad will go with me to the hospital to keep me company. My mom will be home with Maya and Sam, and Aaron has a full load of clients to see on Tuesdays, so he’ll join us at home when we get there.

It’s so encouraging to know we aren’t alone going through all these experiences. They certainly aren’t horrible—because they are infused with a deep sense of hope for healing for Matthew—but anything with hospitals and surgeries makes both Aaron and I feel pretty anxious. We are blessed by the support and love of our family and friends.

So thank you.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Making of a Boy

It happened in an instant, so quickly that I hardly recognized how much it mattered. Just like every other act of parenting that I’ve witnessed—in such an instant that if I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed it.

But I didn’t.

We were playing last night, Matthew and I, on the kitchen floor. It was after dinner. Some friends were with us, and they were playing cards with the big kids at the dining room table. Matthew and I were giggling and playing together. That’s when it happened.

He turned from me, lost his balance, and landed on his face on the linoleum. It was a pretty good fall, and his two crooked teeth in the front of his mouth pierced the inside of his lip, causing a lot of blood.

He started to cry and wouldn’t stop. I scooped him up and began to rock him, singing him a mama lullaby and holding him in my arms. I wiped his mouth, snuggled him for a second, and then sat on the floor to distract him with toys.

A few months ago, after his lip repair, my boy wanted nothing to do with me. When he was in pain, he’d sink to the floor and cry, letting the cool wood soothe him along with his tears. He didn’t want me to touch him. And last night, as I sat on the floor, I watched him do that very thing—he turned from me, knelt on the floor, and cried harder.

But this time, something was different. Even as he lay on the floor, he kept turning and looking at me over his shoulder. Than it happened. He stood up, walked back over to me, put his arms up, and sank into my breast as I rocked him close.

The floor no longer comforted him. It was mama that he wanted.

As I held my boy, rocking him over and over again, his blood and tears pooled on my shoulder and then my tears joined his own.

This is the making of a boy, these moments when pain becomes joy, when a baby finally understands that strong, warm arms are more comforting than a cold, hard floor. This isn’t something that a boy learns with words, but instead by the touch of skin, the feel of kisses on his head, the sound of a mama’s heartbeat, the smells of body and shampoo and breath.

And this is what being a mama is really about—not just a growing baby in the womb, but the hours and days of loving and holding, of tending and healing.

So ask me where where my heart is found these days, and this is what I'll answer: it's here, weaving a colorful tapestry for all three of my children—of love born of body AND of heart, of moments so small that I might have missed them if I wasn't paying attention.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Learning to Be a Baby

A good friend messaged me earlier this week because she had been looking at all the photos of Matthew on our blog and on Facebook and she had noticed that there weren’t any pictures of Matthew smiling. She remembered several photos of him before his lip repair with a HUGE grin on his face, and she wondered if his temperament had been affected by the surgery.

I wrote her back, telling her about last night’s dinner hour when Matthew was giggling and hamming it up for the other four of us for most of the time we were eating. It was an honest question, though. I realized I haven’t taken a lot of photos where he’s smiling. For a few weeks after the lip repair, his lips were sewn so tightly together that he couldn’t smile very well. But now that everything’s relaxed, he’s back to his big, wide-mouthed smile.

I’m sorry I’m terribly behind in keeping up this blog. There are so many things I’d like to report, but life is busy and I’m struggling some days just to keep up with the living of it. There’s very little time for virtual living right now.

I will share that Matthew continues to attach to our family, and I’m literally watching him become the baby that he never had the chance to be in the orphanage. I can tell he’s getting comfortable being part of our family. It’s in the little things—like the way he literally molds himself into my body while eating a bottle, kicks his legs, makes little sighs, and snuggles close to me. It’s in the way he puts his head on my shoulder at night while I’m singing him goodnight, how he runs giggling into my arms when I sit on the floor to play with him.

A baby in an orphanage really isn’t a baby at all—he’s a little person who learns to console himself when his needs aren’t met—he learns that grown ups don’t always take care of you, that sometimes you have to take care of yourself. But here, in our house, Matthew is learning that there is always enough food, that when he falls down and cries, someone comes and picks him up. He learns that he can be a baby and trust the grown ups to take care of him. He’s literally moving backwards, becoming a baby, and it’s so lovely to see.

He’s also moving forward, though. He’s signing “all done” when he’s done eating. He’s doing a great job eating food at the table (although his table diet consists mostly of Tillamook vanilla yogurt) and he has taken to the spoon and easily swallows food (instead of spitting it out, as he used to do). Instead of just lying on the floor picking up toys and dropping them, he’s actually making “vroom-vroom” noises with cards, giving kisses to stuffed animals, filling containers and dumping them out again—all types of play that are more developmentally appropriate to his age.

It’s kind of miraculous to watch.

We’ve had our fall surgeries scheduled too, which makes my stomach hurt when I think about them too much (mostly because I hate that Matthew has to live through more pain). He will have dental surgery on October 30, and his palate repair is scheduled for November 27 (the day before his 2nd birthday, boo-hoo!).

But as Aaron and I keep telling ourselves, by December 1, all his major surgeries will be over for quite some time. And the next time Matthew goes into the operating room, we’ll be able to talk with him and explain what’s happening, and he can tell us when things hurt so we can do a better job managing his pain.

Here are some new photos of our boy—I can’t believe how he’s growing and changing. And Aimee, some of these are especially for you—the smiling ones! Plus a little video of my giggling boy.