To Catch You Up

I regret that I’ve let a year pass by without a single update on our family and Willow’s progress.  A lot happens in a year, so it’s difficult for me to know how in the world to begin this “update.”  I’ve sat staring at the computer screen many times now, my mind swimming with too many thoughts and emotions to sort through. 

I’ve posted many photos with captions below to share some of the things we’ve experienced as a family over the past year (and so you can see how big and beautiful the girls are getting!).  Although I absolutely love looking at adorable photos just as much as the next person, these are just snippets of moments captured - the best and happiest moments captured and frozen in time.  We’ve had so many happy and wonderful moments, but we’ve had just as many (or more) utterly painful and trying ones.  Life has been a flurry of motion and emotion.  Sometimes, I sit in relative peace in the eye of the storm.  But in time, I am swept back into the tumult of appointments and evaluations and diagnoses and classes and therapy and, well you get the picture.  It’s nonstop around here!  But, as I sit here attempting to summarize a year’s worth of “stuff” in a few short paragraphs, I can honestly say that I am a proud mama.  I’m proud to have these amazing little girls who continue to amaze me everyday, but in such different ways.  The fact that Raewyn can now talk and sing and dance is amazing.  She is a little sponge- just a week ago, she was counting, “one, two, one, two, one, two” over and over again.  And now, a few days later, she counts straight up to ten like it’s nothing.  I think it’s that much more incredible to watch Rae learn, because things just don’t come that easily to Willow.  But, Willow is learning.  She too can talk and sing and dance and count, and watching her do those things is like watching a miracle happen.  Each new skill she acquires and every new word she utters is a victory not to be taken for granted.  Yes, I am proud! 


Ok, here are the pictures I promised!  Tomorrow, we will be celebrating Willow’s 2nd Anniversary as a Davidson:)  Happy Gotchaversary, Willow Song!

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Climbing the rock wall in Physical Therapy

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Still loves it when Daddy throws her way up high

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August 9, 2012  My sweet baby’s first birthday

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Fun with Dad

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First time on the boat, Lake Mojave

Raewyn meets Easter Bunny (Willow admired him from a distance)

JOY

My tiny dancer

Celebrating Mother’s Day and Gotcha Day

Taking advantage of a free minute to share a few photos! 

Willow received a drum to celebrate her Gotchaversary.  Her willingness to touch anything new was almost nonexistent a few months ago.  Though cautious, she approached the drum and explored it right away!  Today, it’s one of her favorite toys!

At the Aquarium of the Pacific on Mother’s Day.  Willow absolutely loved looking at all the fish.  It was fun to watch both of the girls’ eyes grow big with wonder as they gazed at the underwater worlds!  We ended the afternoon with Starbucks fraps for the adults and fantastic naps for the girls.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more on Mother’s Day!

Playing at the park!

Warrior Moms

Warrior Moms 
by Jean MacLeod

I didn’t sign up to be a Warrior Mom.
It was awarded to me by default: 
I showed up to mother a baby.
In the early days of our adoption,
I clanked around in oversize Armor that hung heavy and slow.
It took me awhile to realize that it had been designed for me to grow into…
I’d been outfitted as a Warrior Mom
but didn’t understand what I was fighting.

It was with fear and steel
that I dealt with awful knowledge:
I was fighting for the love and affection
of a baby who no longer trusted.

Making a child’s world right
is all-consuming and never-ending.
I figured out why I wore Armor: it held me up at the end of the day.
So many invisible dragons to slay!
I battled for my baby
and I battled to be her mother.
I took rejection— arrows glancing off metal— and came back for more.
I demanded a place in the life of my daughter
and I learned to share her with her past.

I became a Warrior Mom
and ditched the Armor, but kept the shield.
Not for me, but to protect the child that became mine
through sweat and tears and years of no sleep!

Who knew this Mom could tilt at windmills
angry feelings and powerful ghosts?
I don’t cook, can’t sew, won’t craft
but I learned I could fight
and I don’t give up.
Sometimes it takes a Warrior Mom
to claim a child who has gone past love.

Untapped, under-appreciated,
a Mother’s Will is Mighty.
It can make love spring from metal
And change Armor to open arms.

Gotcha-versary

Dear Willow,

One year ago, Daddy and I held you for the very first time.  Your nannies brought you through a curtained door into a crowded, noisy room where we stood petrified to the spot, waiting for you.  I can only imagine how overwhelming it all must have been.  Poor Willow, you were terrified.  After the nanny handed you to me, you took one look at my face and burst into uncontrollable sobs.  You cried in my arms, and you cried in your daddy’s arms.  After a good 45 minutes, you finally settled down in Daddy’s arms, with your fist bunched around hanky and your thumb in your mouth.  You smiled a couple of times at your nannies, which helped everyone feel a little better.  We’ve seen a million smiles from you since that day!

The past year has been a tidal wave of emotions for all of us, from the extreme highs to the extreme lows.  It’s taken us a long time to figure each other out.  We keep learning from each other everyday. At times, it’s been so hard for you, sweet Willow.  You have been very fearful of many things, almost anything new.  And, this first year with us has been chock full of new experiences.  But, we have done our best to show you that new things aren’t so scary, especially now that you have us to keep you safe.  We are gaining your trust more and more each day, and the more you trust, the more you are free to learn.  And my beautiful child, you have learned so much!  You’ve learned first to crawl, then to walk!  You have learned to explore and play with lots of different toys.  You’ve learned a ton of words and fun sounds.  You’ve learned to sing and dance.  You’ve learned to say “Mama” and you’re starting to say it more, which makes my heart want to explode.  And, we have learned so much about you and your budding personality!  You are such a happy girl.  Your smile is radiant.  You are just beautiful, and we think you know it!  You are absolutely enamored with your own reflection!  You could look at books all day long.  You have an amazing sense of rhythm and pitch.  We are truly astonished by your ability to stomp and clap right to the beat of music!  You fit so well into this musically inclined family.  Of course you do!  You are funny and resilient and stubborn! 

I want you to know that you are so special and you are so loved.  Always know that you can be anything you want to be.  The sky is the limit for you, sweet girl.  Happy First Gotchaversary, Willow Song!

Love you forever,

your Mama

Then…

Now…

Sisters

One year ago

One year ago, we arrived in Beijing, China dazed and bedraggled, but with a load of nervous energy.  Nearly 7 months pregnant with swollen ankles, I hiked the Great Wall of China, shopped in pearl markets, toured monuments, and people-watched in parks and restaurants.  Our intense excitement mingled with intense anxiety was palpable.  I was pregnant with two daughters then.  Though only physically pregnant with one, the hormones raging through my body transforming me into a protective mother bear (and sometimes a ravenous, tired, and/or crazy person ) were meant for two.  This was an amazing gift God gave me- the opportunity to experience all the physical effects of pregnancy while in the midst of adoption.  

One year ago, we were two love birds enjoying a little vacation before tackling the challenge of parenting for the first time.  One year ago, we were young and optimistic and filled to the brim with fear and hope.  One year ago, my back was absolutely killing me!  I never complained about it much, but man, I could not get comfortable.  Anyways…  As we’re coming up quickly on our year anniversary with Willow, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on who we were before May 9.  We’ve changed (Paul and I, that is) so much since then.  Of course we have.  We’ve been through a LOT.  But we are stronger than ever.  And, the future looks brighter and brighter everyday. 

Me, somewhere in Beijing ;-) 

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13 

Progress Update!

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve shared a general update on how Willow is progressing.  While in the midst of the day to day in our family, it’s very easy to get caught up in all the things that Willow still needs to learn.  But, Willow has grown leaps and bounds, and that is so worth celebrating!  Here are just a few of the ways Willow has astounded us with her progress:

Willow walks!  Yes, she’s been walking for a while now; since October, actually.  But, her walking has improved so much over the past couple of months!  Her balance is worlds better, and her gait has narrowed nicely (meaning she walks and stands with her feet much closer together).  This improvement is due to these special foot and ankle supports (called AFOs) that her physical therapist recommended for her.   She wears her AFOs most of the time, but she walks beautifully without them too.  She is getting stronger and steadier!

Willow talks!  Willow has a LOT to say!  Most of the time, we have no clue what it is, but there are several words she uses very clearly now:  cars, duck, quack, dog, arf, water, up, pop, and yes, to name the most popular.  Though we don’t understand a lot of other things she says, we’re sure her ramblings mean something!  For instance, Willow was chanting “gu gu shuck” for a few weeks before we figured out what she was saying, or singing in this case!  She was singing a song she learned in therapy: Great White Shark!  When we figured out her intention and sang the song back to her, we could see her face light up.  It’s so fun to watch Willow begin to really understand language and how she can relate to the world around her.  Over the rainy weekend, she looked out the sliding glass door at the falling rain, and said, “water!”  It seems like such a small thing, but this was huge for Willow!

Willow dances!  She loves to dance.  And, she’s got rhythm, as you can see from the video I posted last week. ;-) 

Willow GROWS!  I haven’t mentioned Willow’s eating in quite a long time.  I stopped mentioning it, because there’s been zero progress.  Willow still only eats her formula from a bottle, though she will occasionally take a few bites of yogurt or a baked cheese crunchie.  We’ve tried every trick in the book.  We’ve even tried not trying.  She sees an occupational therapist who has been focusing primarily of feeding, but it’s very slow going.  It’s been painstaking and frustrating, but God knows what He is doing!  Willow desperately needs the nutrition that is in those bottles (you may remember that I make her formula from scratch everyday, and it is amazingly good for her - high in all the right fats, essential oils and nutrients).  Willow is gaining weight and getting taller, but most amazing of all, her HEAD is growing!  Her head size has been a primary concern of ours from the beginning.  It was less than 1% on the national scale.  We are happy to report that Willow’s head is now in the 5th percentile!  Head growth means brain growth, which is extremely encouraging.  God is so good! 

Willow plays!  When she first started therapy, any new object placed in front of her would cause her to try and escape or throw an absolute fit.  Now, she is almost always willing to explore new objects: picking them up, examining them, and learning how to use them in a functional way.  She is learning to drive cars across a table, put circles in a shape sorter, and scribble with a crayon (among other things).  Willow’s favorite “toys” by a landslide are books.  We have learned to play with books, rather than just read them, making them as interactive as possible.  Books have taught her so much about language and play! 

Here are some recent photos of the beautiful girls:

Willow’s snack of choice: baked cheese crunchies.  She basically sucks all the cheese off, then spits it out! 

Sisters checking each other out.

Sweet baby Rae.  Already 7 1/2 months old!  She’s amazing!

Doesn’t she look so grown up?  She just keeps getting prettier:)

Willow’s favorite dance move: the foot stomp

Rejection

I know it’s not personal, but at the same time, it is so personal.   It’s personal, because it’s happening to me!  I know it is fairly common for an adopted child to reject their mother, but that doesn’t make it any easier.  I’ve never handled rejection well, and I do not like being ignored!   But, these things are now a part of everyday life for me.  I don’t want to paint a grim picture.  Willow and I have had wonderful moments of connection.  But, being ignored, pushed away, avoided, hit, or scratched are all pieces of our daily struggle right now.  I know it’s not my fault, and it’s certainly not Willow’s either.  She knows how to reject, because she has been rejected.   And, Willow will know how to love, because she is now being loved.  It’ll just take time.  Lots of time and LOTS of love. 

Since attachment continues to be an issue with Willow and I, I began to up my efforts last week.  We are now bathing together every night.  The bath time bonding process has been quick and drastic!  The first night, I held Willow in my lap for the majority of the bath.  She didn’t cry, but she squirmed and fought to get away from me the entire time.  Night two, she didn’t squirm.  She just sat nice and still in my lap, though she would not look at me.  By the third night, she snuggled into my arms and rested her head comfortably on my chest.  Over the past few nights, more eye contact and smiles have started to emerge during our tub time.  I’m so pleased!  It’s been really good for BOTH of us.  Right now, this bonding is constricted to our time in the bathtub, but I feel certain that in time, it’ll overflow to the rest of our day together.  J 

I’m not sharing this because I need a bunch of encouraging comments telling me what a great job I’m doing.  Believe me, I love encouragement, but I know I’m a good mom to Willow and Raewyn. .  I simply want to give my girls the very best of me.  However, I fall short everyday.  One of my strengths is empathy, but it’s so easy to sometimes forget where Willow has come from.  I’m an incredibly patient person, but my patience has never run so thin.  Being a mom is my joy and my calling, but being a mom is hard! 

Here are a few fantastic photos that were taken of the girls and our family at the beginning of December.  Looking back at these, I’m amazed at how much both of them have grown in the past couple of months!  They are both so beautiful. 




Happy Chinese New Year

The year of the Dragon!  So, what does that mean?  I did a little reading, and here’s what I came up with:  The dragon is a symbol of good fortune and intense power.  Unlike the formidable beast that must be slain in Western literature, it is a divine and revered creature in Eastern culture.  The Year of the Dragon is one of high risks and high returns — a year during which the financial crisis will finally see some light.  2012 is a “Water Dragon Year,” which means a higher flow of communication between people.  According to Chinese astrologers, the world should be prepared for lots of natural disasters this year (yikes).  But, supposedly, most of these disasters will take place in Asia.  While the economic climate in Europe will be rocky, things will be Aok in the U.S. of A.  It has been foretold that it doesn’t matter who becomes president; we are lucky this year.  So, there you have it!  Good fortune for us Yankee Doodles, so be sure to say your prayers for the rest of the world… ;-) 

Can she hear me now?

After a very VERY long day on Thursday, we have Willow’s hearing test results!  I will forgo rehashing the entire experience of Thursday, but the day was right on par with the frustration we’ve felt with Kaiser in trying to get this test done for the past 6 months.  Here’s the short story: a nurse called us as we were on our way to the hospital to cancel Willow’s test.  Cancel the test less than an hour before we’re supposed to be there when it’s been scheduled for over 5 months?!  Ha!  We, not-so-kindly, explained that we would be there shortly and that we expected to be accommodated.  After waiting 4 hours, Willow was finally sedated and tested.  She hadn’t eaten since 8pm the night before, mind you, so the poor child was starving.  Paul and I were absolutely furious.  I cried to a Kaiser social worker, expressing that it is not okay to make any child wait so long without food, let alone my daughter who spent the first 17 months of her life starving in a foreign institution!  Anyway, I digress…  Back to the results!

Willow has 100% hearing!  As bummed as we are that it took 6 months to find the scab blocking her left eardrum, we are very thankful that its removal was all that was needed to fully restore her hearing.  So, now we know that when Willow doesn’t respond to us, it’s because she’s choosing to ignore us (not because she can’t hear us).  Ah, parenthood… ;-) 

Willow was so out of it after the test, I was able to dig around in her mouth and clean her teeth like they’ve never been cleaned before.  When she woke up, no tears!  She guzzled her bottle down, of course.  For the remainder of the evening, Willow was literally drunk from the medication.  She couldn’t stand up without falling over and laughing at herself (or getting hurt).  Why didn’t we think to get video of that?!  We set up a playpen so she could fall over to her hearts content without injury.  She was still quite tired on Friday, but Saturday, she was back to herself.  She is a trooper!  

Willow’s precious little ears

So, after months and months (and months) of waiting, Willow is finally getting her ABR (sedated hearing test) tomorrow morning!  It has been a long and frustrating wait.  I’m not even going to go into the details of the headache we endured trying to get her this test sooner… We are just relieved the day has come at long last.

In other ear related news: we found out just before Christmas that Willow has had muffled hearing in her left ear ever since her ear tubal replacement surgery.  After the surgery, her ears bled quite a bit.  The blood in the left ear wasn’t able to drain out of her ear canal properly, and a thick scab formed over her eardrum.  So, for the past 6 months, Willow’s left eardrum has been scabbed over!  How frustrating is that?!  Although tomorrow’s ABR will be the definitive answer to Willow’s hearing issue (or non-issue), the muffled hearing in the left ear explains a lot.  For example, Willow has been very inconsistent about responding to her name.  When there is a loud noise that scares her, she will cover her right ear (not her left).  And, we’ve noticed times when she would shake her head or stick her finger in her ear.  It was obviously bothering her!  If only she could have communicated that to us! 

The scab was removed just a couple of days ago, on Monday afternoon.  It was an awful experience for her (and me!).  Imagine getting a scab ripped off the inside of your ear…  The ENT had to take it off bit by bit, and every little chunk that was removed would evoke another scream from my poor baby.  I have to say, I’ve never felt more like Willow’s mama than I did in that moment and the moments following.   After the scab was removed, Willow clung to me like she never has before.  She buried her wet, puffy face into my neck and sniffled and held on tight.  I held on tight too, rocking her slowly as I whispered, “mama’s here, you’re so brave, you’re ok, I love you.”  She fell fast asleep in my arms as I walked back to the car.  As terrible as it was for her, I’m so insanely grateful that she felt safe in my arms.  I am praying that she will feel the same tomorrow.  Although there will be no pain during the ABR, it can be frightening waking up from anesthesia. 

I will be writing again soon to share the results of the ABR!  Thank you all for supporting us and praying.

Diagnosis

I started writing this blog entry over two months ago.  I’m not sure why it’s been so difficult for me to finish putting my thoughts together and to post this (other than the obvious “busy mom” excuse).  I’ve had no problem being really transparent before now! So, I’m going to rewind a couple months, back to the end of October, and get you all caught up on the latest with Willow.

As I mentioned over the summer, Willow was a part of an amazing study at UCLA for babies who are at risk for autism spectrum disorders.  She received 8 weeks of play based therapy, as well as 3 EEGs and several evaluations.  It was a wonderful experience, and it was really fantastic to watch Willow make strides over those weeks.  Paul and I went back to UCLA for a parent meeting the week after Willow’s therapy intervention was finished (late October).  The doctor/therapist who worked with Willow had some encouraging news for us.  She felt that an autism diagnosis could not be made for Willow at this time (this is a doctor who specializes in autism spectrum disorders and diagnosis autism all the time).  She said that Willow is “a big question mark,” meaning that Willow is dealing with something beyond her institutionalization, but it’s not necessarily autism.  One possibility she suggested is fetal alcohol syndrome (it’s impossible to know for sure since we don’t have any information on Willow’s birth mom).  Although Willow exhibits many autistic-like behaviors, she made beautiful progress at UCLA, especially social progress!  We left that meeting still having many unanswered questions, but feeling encouraged.  Exactly one week later, Willow had an appointment with her developmental pediatrician through Kaiser, and this doctor had a different opinion.  She diagnosed Willow with autism.  I felt as though my outside froze and my insides melted simultaneously that day.  The fear that welled up inside me was palpable (why, you may ask, am I so afraid of autism?  I promise to go into that another time).  Paul, who tends to keep a level head more often than me, processed this news very logically: a label is just a label.  Willow is the same little girl whether she has a label put on her or not.  We will keep doing everything we can for her, she will continue to progress, and time will tell. 

So, over the past couple of months, I’ve done much more than merely sit with this diagnosis - I’ve been praying, reading and researching like crazy!  I believe that God has really been leading me in my search for answers.  I began to read about post-institutionalized children, which lead me to research attachment disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.  It is not uncommon for children who suffer from attachment issues and PTSD to exhibit autistic-like withdrawal, self-stimulatory behaviors, and developmental delays.  And, according to a statistic I read, over 50% of all children adopted from China experience a significant level of one or both of these disorders. 

Willow suffered a great trauma.  Of course she did, being abandoned not once, but twice.  But, I believe in my core that she suffered an even greater trauma; one that is unknown to us.  Something so awful that all she could do to survive it was to disappear inside herself.  Over time, we have slowly pealed away layers of the thick shell she cocooned herself in.  And, underneath all those layers is an engaging little girl who we believe truly enjoys interacting with the world and people around her.  Yes, Willow has a long way to go, but she has come so so far. 

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13)


Willow’s first ponytail!

Matchy pj’s


Resolution

I resolve to update this blog on a weekly basis!  Don’t hold me to it, but I will certainly try.  Happy 2012 ;-) 

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