Friday, October 14, 2016

Miracle

I don't have time to be blogging today. Really, I don't. I have a long list of deadlines for clients who are waiting for pictures. October is for photographers what April is for accountants. Add on top of that my job as a nurse and raising 6 young children, and just about every minute of every day for the next month is spoken for.

But a few days ago I received a gentle rebuke as I was reminded how many miracles we've seen over the past few months that I haven't written down. I was ashamed to realize that too often I've been documenting our challenges, not the countless miracles we've experienced.

I've learned a few things about miracles that I didn't know before this all began... that before every miracle there is a trial. Always. Before the parting of the Red Sea came slavery. Before the healing of the blind came blindness. The two approach our door, hand-in-hand; the trial knocking first, the miracle obscured by its looming predecessor. But then the miracle comes into view, swallowing up and overwhelming even the biggest of trials, reminding us of the power of God's hand.

From the very beginning, I felt a sense of urgency regarding adoption. This caused a fair amount of uncharacteristic tension between Dennis and me. He, not understanding why I felt so rushed- and me, not understanding how he didn't feel the same sense of urgency that I did. 

"I don't know what else to say other than I just feel like this is something we need to do, and it needs to be done now." I became almost obsessive about it, tirelessly studying it throughout the day and evening, dreaming about it when I slept. My child, who's face I had never laid eyes on, was needing me to come for him or her immediately. I knew it in a way I had never known anything before. 

Six long months later, we laid eyes on her picture and we knew it was her. We both did. She was the one we were meant to go after. But I could tell something wasn't right. Her neck was painfully enlarged. 

"Probably just a goiter," I reasoned, knowing that they can be common in cultures with iodine deficiencies. Her file said nothing about thyroid problems, only her adrenal insufficiency. It probably wasn't a big deal.

But the sense of urgency only heightened in a way that I had never felt before. Like an invisible force pushing me from behind, we moved as quickly as we could through the home study, paperwork, and fund raising.

Fast-forward 11 months and a hundred miracles later, and we were meeting her for the first time in the Civil Affairs Office in Nanning, China. Frightening and overwhelming, it was a shocking experience for all of us, with a flurry of activity- cameras clicking and documents needing to be signed. I was shocked by how tiny she was. I wasn't expecting that, but she smiled and said she felt fine, people telling us how healthy she was. 

That night in the hotel room after the kids were asleep, I quietly said to Dennis, "I don't care what they say, she is a very sick little girl."

The unsettling feeling never left me, even though the doctor's exit exam in China passed her off with a clean bill of health. 

I called the endocrinologist a few days after coming home, requesting that she be seen as soon as possible.

"We are booked out for the next several months. The soonest we can get her in is in 3 months."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't wait that long. My little girl is very sick and she needs to be seen this week."

"What are her symptoms?"

"I only took her heart rate once and she was a bit tachycardic- in the low 120's- but that could have been due to the stress of the whole situation."

"So that's it?" they asked.

"I don't know what else to tell you other than she is a very sick little girl. Maybe it's mother's intuition, but something isn't right."

Thirty minutes later they called back, saying that she could be seen in two days. The doctor would coming in at 9am on his day off to see her. They asked that we have an extensive set of labs drawn the night before.

As we walked into the doctor's office a few days later, he quickly got to the point.

"I received your lab results last night at 11pm. I almost called you right then to tell you to get her into the emergency room immediately." He showed me a graph that measured thyroid levels. It was blank. "Her thyroid levels are literally off the charts. There aren't charts made for levels this high. Never in my career have I seen such elevated levels."

Her resting heart rate now measured at 180 beats per minute. "It sounds like a humming bird," he said. At that speed, she was a ticking time bomb. "We need to admit her to the hospital right now."

Within an hour, a series of intensive testing began which would last over the course of the next several months. MRI's, CT scans, lab draws, ultrasounds- any test imaginable that could be done was done, and every sub specialist that could be visited was visited.

Over the course of those months, many diagnoses were presented as possible explanations for her condition- one possibility so rare that there are less than 700 documented cases in the world. Others involved different types of cancers. 

With every new medication that they gave her to treat her symptoms, she felt worse and worse. Constant fevers. Constant headaches. Sleepless nights. Nausea. Pain... and there was nothing I could do about any of it. Nothing was helping.

There were times when I literally fell to my knees, asking God out loud to help me get through one more day. One more appointment.

My other children were struggling from having me gone all the time, our mortgage had increased unxpectedly by 30% amid the endless medical bills, and almost everything felt like it was falling apart. I was in despair. 

At one point, after another appointment  with more bad news, my little sister called me and I began crying.

"What have done to this poor girl?" I asked. "As far as she knows, when she was in China, everything was fine. And then we brought her here. Everything that was familiar, everyone she knew, has been taken away from her and now she spends her days in doctor's offices and hospitals, and she feels completely miserable. Maybe it would have been better for her if we had never adopted her at all. She probably wouldn't have lived much longer, but what kind of life have we given her? This can't be better than what she had there. She may have died, but at least it would have been around people she loved." I didn't feel like I could sink any lower.

My sister was one in a string of miracles that day as I vented my despair. She listened quietly and then adamantly reminded me that we had done the right thing- to hang on a bit longer. She was an angel to me that day as she told me that some day it would all be worth it- that things would get better.

And they did. Soon we had a firm diagnosis, confirmed by genetic testing. A diagnosis that others weep at receiving, but one that I was so happy that I would have kissed the nearest person standing by if I hadn't been alone in my room when we were talking on the phone. It wasn't cancer. It wasn't Carney Complex. It was something that she could live to an old age with, without aggressive chemotherapy and that someday soon medication would be able to manage well. It was a rare form of a rare disease that had stumped them for months, but at least now we knew and could move forward in a sure direction and with better treatment. 

Within months her thyroid was removed allowing her heart rate to stabilize and for her body to metabolize the medications to treat her adrenal insufficiency. She was taken off the heavy medications that were causing the rapid swelling and mood swings. She was sleeping better and no longer sounded like she was drowning in her sleep. With the medical symptoms improving, true bonding and attachment were beginning to take hold between us. Things were on the mend, slowly but surely. I look at my girl now and can hardly believe it's the same girl. Today she is a healthy, happy, vibrant, spunky little thing. 

Our miracle wasn't the raising of the dead. Mountains weren't moved. Water didn't turn to wine. But there came a miraculous healing of both the body and the heart. There came a brightness of hope I had never experienced before in my life- a hope born of witnessing God's love for me and my little girl, and an understanding that this was all much bigger than we knew. And for me, that was as powerful as the parting of the Red Sea.
My sweet sister, Cristina, who rescued me that day and who has long been one of Hengxin's biggest advocates, even long before she came home.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Shattering glass walls

If there's anything that the past 7 months has taught me, it's that it's the hard times- not the good times- that have grow a relationship. But how they make me cringe, even knowing that it's the hard times that will give us roots.

One of the most remarkable things about bonding with an adoptive child are the break-throughs. Each one like shattering a glass wall. One step closer to understanding the heart- both hers and mine.

When people ask how we're doing, I say amazingly well- better than I could have hoped. 

"I can't believe how happy she seems," they say. I agree. 

"She's come out of her shell and seems like a completely different person," they say. I agree.

She has transformed in every possible way. I wouldn't recognize her as the same person from 7 months ago if I were talking to her face-to-face. 

But still there are battles, big and small. And what I think most people don't realize is that it's a million little victories- awkward and seemingly insignificant- that have brought us to where we are.

A couple of weeks ago we fought another battle as I tried to understand some of her seemingly strange habits. She withdrew, I continued to press. She withdrew further into herself, I threw my hands up in frustration.

"Why do you care?" she asked through angry tears.

"Because you're my daughter and this is what a mother does- she tries to understand her children."

"You ask me every day, 'how was school?', 'what's wrong?', 'why are you angry?' In China no one asked me so many questions!"

"So, what did you do if you were sad? What did you do if you had a bad day at school? Who would you talk to?"

"No one," she said angrily.

Equally exasperated, I asked, "And did you like that?" 

"Yes, I did!"

I was incredulous. "Hengxin, I'm sorry, but that's not how it works in a family. In a family we talk about things. We help each other when we're sad." 

"Why?!?"

"Because I want you to be happy! Because I love you."

We ended the evening with our usual embrace, though a bit more stiffly than usual, and I went to bed feeling deeply troubled. I knew I hadn't handled myself as well as I should have. I had almost lost my temper and she knew it.

But for the first time I understood another tiny sliver of my daughter. Revealing her feelings, the ups and downs of her days, the reasons behind her quirky little habits- it was all deeply unsettling for her, leaving her feeling vulnerable and terribly exposed. She had been conditioned to prefer the indifference of others and that left me feeling defeated. My attempts at understanding seemed to only be pushing her away. 

The next morning my resilient little girl greeted me with a smile. The discomfort of the previous evening was done and over with, but even with the frustrated exchange of words from the night before, our relationship took another stair climb. We were one step closer towards understanding. We had shattered another glass wall.

Today we shattered another one. A big glass one- reminding me of the bullet-proof windows that were in the armored car my dad would drive to work when we lived in Bogotá. Her glass walls at times seeming equally impenetrable.

She had asked me early this moring if she could talk to me. Her eyes welled up with tears as she recounted some of the painful memories that were triggered when I asked questions about her past. We agreed on establishing a signal as to when my questions were crossing into dangerous territory, and when they needed to stop.

She said she understood my need to know more about her and asked me to be patient with her as she worked through the difficulty of the emotions. This has been by far one of our biggest battles. With our little girl, almost all emotions register the same. Anger, frustration, sadness, tiredness, loneliness- they all look the same. Exactly the same. And for someone like me, who wears every emotion on my sleeve, this is incredibly difficult to say the least. I work off emotions. That's how I interact with other people- by reacting to their emotions. And when the world's worst poker player (me) meets the world's best poker player (her), it's bound to be a course for collision.

"My emotions may seem strange to you," she typed through Google Translate. "I am not always angry or sad, I just want you to know."

"I know," I said. "I'll try to be more patient. I promise. I'm not the perfect mother. I know that. I am learning how to be a mother just like you are learning how to be a daughter. What you're doing is so difficult, but you are doing so well. I love you so much."

We embraced again. She rested her head on my shoulder and stayed for a moment- no more glass between us.