Tag Archives: international adoption

Show Us Some Mercy–3rd in a series

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The chaplain directed me back to the “Consult Room” where my husband and young daughters were waiting. I knew this place well. The room had an aura about it. It is reserved for families who are in crisis, who have decisions to make, or devastating news to process. It is where families huddle, gather their resources, and call clergy, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. It is a sacred place where the profane must at times be uttered… it is a room of hope, of despair, of grief and disbelief. I had been in this room many times to greet a family, and prepare them for what they were about to encounter. The lighting is subdued, and boxes of tissues are on the tables. There was a telephone book, a phone, a couple of sofas and some chairs. The irony that my family now gathered in this room, and I was now making the most undesirable telephone calls in my life struck me with a bitter blow. Again, the random nature of tragedy makes us all feel vulnerable. Someone, a loving co-worker, came and took LiLi, age 10, and JaneGrace, 6, for snacks. My girls were familiar with this hospital. It was “Mommy’s hospital.” They had been here many times with me… JaneGrace was introduced to the staff a few days after we returned home from China. It was at the nursing station where I took the call from my husband that we had been matched with a beautiful Chinese baby girl. My co-workers had celebrated with me as our family walked through LiLi’s adoption process, and were there for support as her disabilities became more apparent. This staff knew my family and me well, and was just as dumbstruck as I was at this tragic turn of events.
The calls to my sisters went as expected. It was about 8:00 pm mountain- time and both of my sisters lived in the eastern time zone, making it near bedtime in their respective cities. I called my eldest sister first. Her husband answered. I explained to him the sequence of events in my nurse’s voice… this was my place of comfort in a situation such as this. I had made these types of calls to so many folks over the years. I knew how to do it, how to begin the call, how to keep my voice steady and calm, how to pause to give them time to process the information and formulate questions. The questions coming from my brother-in-law were difficult to answer, and I kept my answers brief and succinct. Yes, I was sure. No, there is absolutely nothing we can do, the ventilator is keeping her alive right now, and I’m praying she can make it through the night. Her brain is filled with blood… Yes, I want you here. Yes, please come, we can’t do this by ourselves. He put my sister on the phone and I hope I never have to deliver this kind of news to her again. She collapsed, he had to help her up, she screamed, she screamed again… No, it can’t be… Paula! Are you sure? No, no, no! I am so sorry, I didn’t mean for this to happen, please forgive me-
And the next call to my younger sister went similarly. She had been on the phone with my mom about an hour before the fall. Her husband had been the one to pick Mom up and bring her to Orlando to catch the flight. There were plans for her to spend a few days with them after the return trip home. Our lives had turned upside down. This call was surreal, like someone else was making the call and I was an observer. I learned later that as I spilled out this nightmare to my younger sister’s husband, he began his characteristic pacing of the house while we were on the phone. This behavior did not stir up any concern in my sister, and it gave her husband and I the advantage of being able to keep her in blissful ignorance for a few more agonizing minutes until he could fully grasp what had transpired in my home. Her reaction was much like my elder sister’s, and having to do this twice in the span of twenty minutes or so was depleting my emotional and psychological reserves. As I reflect back on the first few hours that followed Mom’s accident, I am certain that it was God, and only God, that met me face to face and carried me through, enabling me to carry on.
Many phone calls ensued over the next hour or so, back and forth, calls to and from my Mom’s surviving siblings, explaining more about the severity of the injury, that all of her protective reflexes were gone, that she couldn’t feel pain, that it was only the ventilator and now blood pressure support medications that were keeping her alive. My sisters, their husbands, and my elder sister’s two daughters all made arrangements to fly to Colorado first thing the following morning, we all wanted to be with Mom as she passed from this life to the next. Ironically, although she wouldn’t be flying home to Florida on Tuesday, November 7th, 2006, she would be flying home, to her eternal home, to heaven. The front door to our new home where we had lived for only a year became a symbolic place of passage for my mother.
I did make the decision to take my daughters into the trauma room to see Mom. Their exposure to this event began without my permission…it was a terrible twist of fate that placed them in the position of being exposed to an event that would soon rock LiLi’s world. The cogwheels in her brain had already begun to turn backwards. We carried our little JaneGrace into see her Nannie. Now, as a twelve-year-old, she recalls her grandmother looking quite small in the middle of the big white room with all of the tubes attached to her. She took one look, then declared to no one in particular, “Someone get me out…of…here.” Quite intuitive for a six-year-old, she had clearly conveyed what all of us were thinking.

to be continued

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Show Us Some Mercy- 1st in a series

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Friday, November 3, 2006, I flew my mom out to Colorado from our family home on Florida’s east coast to spend a sweet weekend with my two daughters and me. My husband was out of town for a conference, so it made for a perfect girls’ weekend.

We were blessed with the typical Colorado fall pattern of weather: cool and dry with cobalt blue skies. We filled the weekend with fun activities. Friday after picking her up from the airport, we went to a luncheon hosted by a friend from my church. She was able to meet many of my friends with whom our family worshipped. Saturday morning we headed to a holiday bazaar at the Chinese adoption agency through which we brought our daughters home. This was a special treat for her. Both of my daughters were adopted from China, one at age fourteen months, and the second, a special needs child, was brought home two years later at the age of seven. My mother was enamored with my beautiful girls, as they were with her. It was very special for her to visit the adoption agency where our family journey began. We shopped for Chinese trinkets and gifts for the upcoming Christmas season. Saturday night I cooked one of our favorite dishes with shrimp and pasta; we shared some wine and watched a movie with the girls. I made a bubble bath for her in our gigantic tub, and had candles and music to help her relax and enjoy herself. Sunday morning we served communion together at my church. What a privilege this was, to share in serving at the Lord’s Table with my beloved mother. The weekend was truly spectacular. I am the middle of three daughters and had raised hell through my teenage years (and actually into my twenties as well…). Our family hadn’t been perfect; there were addiction issues, and my two sisters, my mom and I all suffered because of them. Mom had done the best she knew how to do in raising us, and I had turned out to be the rebel. My mom and I butted heads from the get-go, which is one of the reasons this visit had been so sweet. It seemed there was always residual tension between the two of us. This time had been different. Although my mother was 82 years old and in relatively good health, I felt as though I was finally placed into the special position of “looking after” her… holding her hand, cooking yummy food, taking care of her. It was the best time we had ever spent together, and I didn’t want it to end.

Monday after we sent the girls off to school, my mom joined me to run a few errands. She saw the emergency department where I worked, and then we headed home to drive up to the mountains with my husband, home from his conference, to enjoy lunch together at one of the large hotel-casinos in a nearby old mining town. We threw a few quarters in the slot machines just for fun, winning a few bucks. We had a blast. Afterwards, we headed back down the mountain to pick up my daughters from school and take my then six-year-old, JaneGrace, to her dance lesson. Mom was excited to see JaneGrace dance with all of her little friends and meet her dance instructor. We finally headed home to settle in for Mom’s last night with us. Little did I know it was truly to be her last night with us.

Mom went upstairs to get ready for dinner and do a little packing, for she was flying home the next morning (little did I know…) and I began scurrying around in the kitchen. Some amount of time went by, my husband was tucked into his chair in the living room and the girls were upstairs playing. I was in our pantry gathering dinner ingredients when all of a sudden I heard a horrific sound… a brief outcry, some kind of fall, something broke; it frightened me and I was immediately overcome with a sense of dread. I ran from the pantry and around the corner into our foyer area, arriving at the same time as my husband. I saw my beloved mother sprawled at the bottom of the stairs on the hardwood floor, with her legs splayed out on the last few steps. She was pale and very, very still. My first words were “She’s out cold!” as I leapt to her side, taking her head into my hands and performing a rapid assessment. My husband had glanced over as she was in mid-flight from the first landing to the foyer floor and was helpless to change the outcome, it all happened so fast. She had struck the floor with such force. My ER nursing skills took over instinctively as I cycled rapidly between daughter and nurse, my senses clumsily conveying the gravity of the situation to my brain. My next few uttered words were “Call 911,” “Clear the area for the medics,” and directing my husband outside to flag down the ambulance. This was all in between intermittent guttural wails as I was living out this unimaginable horror. While protecting my mother’s neck and keeping her airway open to ensure breaths, I slid her backwards until her entire body was off of the stairs and she was lying fully on the hardwood floor. It wasn’t until this moment that she gasped. It was the only movement and sound she made during those interminable moments while I was listening for the scream of the sirens. I realized that had been her first breath she had taken since the fall. In my terror, I had missed this crucial assessment finding.

At this point, my daughters had gathered at the top of the stairs, hearing the commotion, and wondered what was happening. Neither of their young brains could protect them from this vision at the bottom of the stairs. They both began to cry, and JaneGrace, asked me if her Nannie was dead. I assured her she was not, that I was doing everything I could to take care of her Nannie. LiLi also began to cry. The whole scene was just too much to bear. My girls adored their grandmother. We had just spent the most beautiful few days together; how could this have happened? I was supposed to put her on a plane tomorrow to head back home to Central Florida. What was I to do? I had to call my sisters… they would be so angry that this happened on my watch. This was a nightmare rapidly unfolding at the speed of light in my head. The emotions within me unfurled with the momentum of a great sail. I waited on my knees leaning over my mother’s lifeless body and cradled her head in between my hands until the ambulance and fire-truck crew arrived and took over. Her breaths were guttural, barely enough to sustain life. I could feel a faint pulse. “Oh Father God,” I cried; “Please show us some mercy.” My daughters were stricken with grief as they remained perched at the top of the stairs with a bird’s eye view of the unfolding events. I could not protect them from this event. It had happened in front of them. JaneGrace, my little sunshine face, and LiLi my special child were both witnesses to a cataclysmic event in our family’s life.

I asked the rescue crew to please take her to the emergency department at which I worked, which was St. Anthony Central in downtown Denver; a top-notched level-one trauma department. It was ironic that we had just been there a few hours earlier to show my Mom where I worked. The captain of the rescue team happily obliged… it was their predetermined destination. They stabilized her, loaded her into the back of the ambulance while I was helped into the front seat. My husband, LiLi, and JaneGrace followed in our car. I bowed my head in my hands as we drove down my residential street, with neighbors standing outside of their homes wondering what had just happened. The tragedy arrow had struck our lives, and we would never be the same, especially LiLi.
To be continued.

Dear Owl

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“Owl” has been the recipient of my journaling for years as I’ve chronicled through all of the ups and down of my life. “OWL” represents “One who listens.” It helped to imagine a wise, grandfatherly old soul to whom I could pour out my heart unabashedly and with a no-holds-barred conviction. Lately, I have been disclosing the challenges through which I’ve traveled as I’ve raised my second daughter, LiLi. This child, seven years old when we brought her home, was my second internationally adopted daughter from China. Raising LiLi has been the hardest, most guilt-ridden challenge of my life. When I was called to adopt a second child from China, I never imagined a journey like the one our family has traveled since 2003. Riddled with heartache and sprinkled with bittersweet joy, there wasn’t much time to dwell in the “Why me” sorrows. It has been revealed to me that the answer to that question is this: LiLi’s arrival into my life was the beginning of a long road toward redemption. I have a plaque in my kitchen that reads “Find a purpose in life so big it will challenge every capacity to be at your best.” LiLi was my slam-dunk. Journey with me as I recall memorable moments in our evolving story.

854 Friends on Facebook and No One to Come to My Party

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My daughter has an acquired heart condition. She was born with a hole in her heart. Not the kind, mind you, that requires a skilled cardiothoracic surgeon to repair, but the kind in which you can dump anything, including the kitchen sink, and it still won’t be filled. This type of hole is the “black hole” of emotional ans developmental wounds.

Abandoned at birth, she was found on a dirty street corner in a bustling northern city of China at one day old. She weighed in at 5 and one half pounds. To complicate matters, she had a uni-lateral cleft lip-plate. Destined to become a social pariah, a Good Samaritan took her to the city police station after a day of care in his home. From there, she was delivered to the city’s social welfare institute.

The institutionalized years took their toll. She has shared with us that in those early years she was often cold and hungry. She cried to me one day, early on, that when she went to school, her back pack was empty. She had no supplies. This deeply frustrated her. On the floor in our Colorado kitchen, I consoled her as she grieved for that empty back pack, vowing to myself that she would never want again. On another occasion, she shared with me that the kids in the orphanage did not have breakfast, and usually only had a “bun” for lunch. This was the norm, and this was her life.

She has scars on the back of each ear. For years I thought they were cigarette burns, inflicted as a type of punishment. In time, my forensic training revealed they were more consistent with human bite marks. Some scoundrel bit my daughter’s ears to the point where the tissue has been permanently scarred. Both of her feet have a permanent outward rotational position which causes her walking gait to appear glide-like, similar to an ice skater. Once, when she was calming herself down from a tantrum, I understood why. As she sat on the floor with her knees drawn to her chest, she wrapped her arms around the outside of her legs, and firmly grasped each foot from the inside. While rocking back and forth in a trancelike state, she pulled her feet outward to a ninety degree angle and held them there, rocking to and fro. Left to her own devices in the orphanage, no stimulation, little play, rampant cold and hunger, she likely rocked herself for hours as a self-soothing activity.

Back to the present: She has a tremendous need to be accepted, I believe, more than the average 16 year old girl. She longs to be normal, to feel normal, and to be a typical student. In many ways she is a typical teenager. She loves listening to music on her I-pod touch. Her favorite food is spaghetti. She changes her hairstyle almost as many times as her outfits in the morning before departing for the school bus, always asking, “Mom, does this matching?”  My response: “Yes, this matching.” She cares greatly about her outward appearances and the perception others have of her. She dreams of being able to drive someday, and wonders what will happen to her if she is not able to accomplish this goal. She has failed her learner’s permit exam three times now. Maybe it’s because she reads at a first grade level? What are we to do? Extinguish her dream? Help her to dream realistically?

LiLi has 854 friends on Facebook… yet we still were not able to come up with a list of peers to invite to her sweet sixteen birthday.  She has created a virtual world for herself where she can play out her fantasy life. She can be the most popular girl, the most intellectual, and the girl whom everyone wants to be at their party. She takes photos of herself, stunningly beautiful photos, and changes her profile picture almost as often as she changes her hairstyle. She has befriended people half a world away whose language she doesn’t speak.  LiLi has tried to “friend” so many strangers, that Facebook deactivated this privilege because of her misuse. She became a public nuisance.

Last year my husband threw a surprise 50th birthday party for me. At this party, he mistakenly gave LiLi the job of taking photos. Anyone who knows LiLi knows how much she loves getting a camera in her hands. This particular night, she did a great job taking photos; she took over three hundred as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, 95% were of LiLi and her two friends who attended and 5% were of me and my party. It’s all about the image, pun intended. LiLi lacks a comprehensive self-identity. Seeing her own image enables her to create an identity for herself. She is putting together pieces of a puzzle. The damage of institutionalization runs deep in this child. Although she has been with us nine years, the seven years she spent in an orphanage left her scarred.  The scars may fade, but her memories of the infliction carry on.