Adopting a baby can be a bit risky. Many handicaps, mental conditions, and some other medical problems often do not really become apparent until the baby enters toddler-dom or even the elementary school years. We did not seek out any issues, but sometimes, what the adoptive family knows about a child is based on the honor system–the assumption that the birthmother will reveal the truths of her genetics, her health, and anything she exposed the baby to while pregnant.
The first baby we adopted was A. Many of you have heard the story (if not, you can get the summary here). His birthmom swore up and down that she was free of any type of drug or alcohol. We eventually figured out that she did smoke, but we had no way of knowing the truth about other chemicals, as she refused all prenatal care. Once A was born, the doctors and nurses immediately knew something was up. Even I questioned the appearance of his birthmom’s “druggy” arms, and the docs confided to me that they were quite positive he had been exposed to methamphetimines. Although he was clean at the time of birth (we think we know why that was the case), the damage had already been done. He spent 5 days in the NICU before I could take him home.
Within weeks, A was showing symptoms of a “meth-baby”–albeit mild. I couldn’t help but question “Why?” Why didn’t she just tell us the truth? We wouldn’t have refused him, but it would have given us an opportunity to prepare. Had the secret been out, she might not have been so scared of visiting a doc and allowing the baby to have prenatal care. Perhaps he could even have been delivered early (he was an emergency c-section anyway) and prevented further exposure to the drugs. I knew, however, that I couldn’t change the past, so instead, I tried to learn all I could about meth-exposed babies, and the long term effects. I consulted with our pediatricians, and talked to foster and/or adoptive parents of known meth-babies. One hopeful fact I kept running across was that meth was the “best of the worst.” In other words, of all the drugs a baby could be exposed to, meth seemed to allow for the best outcome. In general, meth-exposed children eventually catch up developmentally, but the severity of the exposure will determine how long that takes. Sadly, though, there can also be some long-term, and even permanent side effects.
In the early weeks, A was hyper-sensitive to touch. Gentle touches could cause him to cry from the “tickle” factor. He couldn’t sleep on his back due to the sensitivity of his back. As the months passed, we found he went through spells where he was difficult to feed. He would act hungry, but cry when we fed him. As he entered toddler-hood, we noticed he was VERY touch-and-texture-stimulated. His natural tendency was to explore new feels with his face. He would rub his face in carpet, on clothing, in animal fur, in sand, you name it. It didn’t take us long to realize that, not only was it quite unhygienic, but could be dangerous. If he saw a strange dog, he would run over and plant his face right in the dog’s fur. As A has gotten older (he is 3 1/2 now), his issues are becoming more obvious–and more troublesome. He has allergies, though mild, to pasteurized milk (gives him eczema, but raw milk is fine), non-organic tomatoes (gives him a rash, but organic is fine), and bug bites. The bug bites in particular can be very troublesome, as it causes him to swell up around the bite. The pic below was the morning after he got a bite on his forehead, and the swelling drained into his eyelid overnight.
He is still very texture-oriented, but we have worked diligently to teach him to use his hands rather than his face. He is doing better, and will sit beside me and stroke my sweater or silky skirt for 15-20 minutes without stopping. He still has a tendency to rub his face on the pant leg of an assumed new friend, but we at least have been able to teach him some self control so the compulsive urge is not as dirty or dangerous. Another problem we have to deal with is his groin and bladder issues. He had to have surgery last year for a mild deformity that made potty-training very difficult. His pea-sized bladder (no pun intended) is an issue we haven’t resolved yet. When combined with his drinking fetish (see post here), you can imagine how my day can quickly turn sour! We are forced to carefully monitor is hydration level, so we can carefully limit his fluid consumption. When he gets the urge, he needs a potty close at hand! We used to have a designated spot on the counter where the children could keep water bottles to sip on throughout the day. It frustrates and saddens me that we can no longer allow any of the children free-choice drinks, because A will drink ANY liquid he finds–to include the bathwater and the dog water. I recently finally gave in and put him back in diapers at night. I just couldn’t keep up with the soaked laundry and the putrid odor that only A’s urine possesses. We have had his blood and urine checked out, and no cause has been found, but all I can describe it as is a very pungent cross between body odor and ammonia. Since the boys share a room, the others were not exactly pleased to be exposed to the smell every night and morning.
He has 2 other issues that are much more concerning, however. The worst issue physically, is that he has major balance problems. Bless his little heart, A falls constantly. He bangs his head frequently, has multiple scars and strawberries on his little legs and feet, and, short of wrapping him in foam padding, there just seems to be little we can do. In order to save some visits to the E.R., after the E.R. doc complimented my handiwork, I began using my first-responder training to patch A up whenever possible. It really bothers me that A only cries briefly at the worst of his injuries now. I don’t know if it is because he is so used to getting hurt, or if he has some underlying problem such that he doesn’t feel the pain as much as the average person.
The other problem, which seems consistent with drug and FAS babies is that he “just doesn’t get it.” That applies on so many levels. He often has trouble understanding simple instructions. He has to be shown things over and over and over before he remotely understands or remembers. He will repeat the same incorrect action multiple times, not seeming to understand or remember that he was recently disciplined for that same action. We have to explain it each time, as if it was his first. He has great difficulty with focus–much like a child with severe ADHD. Although his speech and physical capability is better than N’s (who is 2), his overall mental development often seems the same as, or possibly even slightly less than N’s.
I’m not even sure why I am telling you all this. A is a complete sweetheart. He wants nothing more than to please and be loved. He makes friends with any adult or teen that he meets, and tends to be fairly outgoing. He is so loveable, and so willing to be loved, that folks just can’t help but like him and be attracted to his magnetic personality. Most people have no idea about the issues he has that I deal with on a daily basis. I have been so determined not to allow him to be “labeled” or treated differently, and yet, the older he gets, the more I see I may have to treat him somewhat differently than the other children. That bothers me. I don’t want him to feel different or picked on. As a diabetic growing up, I often felt that way and it’s a lousy feeling. It took me years to get over it. Yet, it is becoming apparent that he will not be ready for the same schooling at the same age S and M were. I am hoping he will be ready by the time N is ready, and just school them together. That is still undecided as yet, though.
We have spoken with his doctors about most of issues, with the exception of the ADHD-related ones, as I refuse to medicate him. I have been in the foster/adopt world long enough, I know the symptoms the doc looks for, and the meds they typically prescribe. I also know the side effects that would cause in my son’s little body, and I won’t do it. Otherwise, though, the docs have all agreed, “Just give him time, he will outgrow it.” I’ll admit, he has come a long way. We have focused intently on teaching him self control, so even though he can’t lay in his bed and be still, often squirming until almost midnight, he has learned to sit through a church service as long as we allow him a few discreet “helps” along the way. M is doing a lot with him this year, as part of her own schooling, such as reviewing basic numbers and the alphabet, as well as other pre-school type activities, in the hopes it will allow him a bit of a head start for his own school career. He still has a major problem with his balance, though, so that was a big factor in S agreeing to the donkey. While JR, M, and N can sit up straight, perfectly balanced on top of the donkey, as soon as the donkey moves–in any way–A tends to slide right off. I have to keep a steady hand on him at all times. We are really hoping some therapeutic-type riding will benefit him. We have also decided to try a new approach, and consult with a homeopathic doctor. I have heard all the stories of quackery, but one I know has assured me he won’t be prescribing any meds, and that we may very well be able to make a few dietary and perhaps chiropractic adjustments that could benefit him tremendously. In my desperation to help the little guy, I’m thinking $100 for a thorough consult and a couple trial visits may be worth it.
So, there you have it! My big secret about my struggles with little A is out in the open. I know God will use this little boy in big ways; He has already taught me so much through him. I just pray that I can be the mother he needs me to be, and to become much better at handling him with the love and gentleness he deserves and requires. It’s so much easier and more natural for me to lose patience, get frustrated, discipline without ensuring he fully understands, or just asking him to play in his room or outside so I can avoid dealing with the hassles. I often find myself looking ahead into the future, with the hope that these days will pass quickly, that he will catch up as all the statistics predict, and that he will become easier to work with. Then, about the time that day dream sets in, God always lets me encounter someone who, somehow, reminds me how precious these days are, and how I need to love him every moment of every day. When I do make a mistake, and handle an issue in a way that is not best for A, I am learning to go to him and apologize. A simple hug, and A easily forgives all. Because that’s just the way he is.
In the mean time, I will keep you posted on how the riding and homepath visits work out. I am holding out great hope that we will see some progress. In the mean time, if you wouldn’t mind saying an extra little prayer for the little guy, and for me to be able to meet his needs, I would greatly appreciate it.