A girlfriend of mine once asked me if Sofie was what I had expected when we committed to adopting her. This got me really thinking…
What were my expectations?
What are they now?
How or why have they changed?
How have I changed?
As I have said before, we went in to this adoption with our eyes wide open. As open as they could be anyway. We did not have the expectation of bringing home a typical child. We had no feelings of loss of an expected future we had hoped for her. We have high hopes for her future, especially considering what her future looked like before coming home, but they are hopes, not expectations.
We did our best to prepare by checking out resources, talking through parenting strategies for her possible needs, and informing those around us how the first few months might look. I would say we were more prepared than most.
I know of families who have gotten caught up in the excitement of adoption. It is hard not to see the innocent face of a starving child and not want to do everything in your power to help him. But there is a reality that needs to be understood when caring for an institutionalized child. I have seen parents bring these precious children home and not know how to handle the stim-rocking and flapping, the crying, the self-abuse, the drool, the stink, the food issues, the delays, the poop smears, the throw-up, the screaming, the hitting, the wild eyes and the mountains of other behaviours, not to mention the hurdles that come with any diagnosis that might accompany. That’s not even mentioning all the paperwork!
We knew what caring for a person with Down Syndrome entailed. We knew that blindly adopting a child could bring challenges that might be a surprise to us. We expected therapies, health concerns, prejudices, laughter, hugs, tears, patience, behaviours, and love. We knew it would be hard but worth it.
Honestly the only concrete expectation I had was to bring home a hurt little girl who we would love to life. Essentially, that is what we got and what happened. Three years ago Sofie arrived to us as most children from institutions do. She was twig thin. Her eyes where sunken in her head with large dark circles under them. Her skin was pale and transparent. She thirsted for stimulation but didn’t know how to play with a toy besides throw it. She had an open sore rash on her bum from not being changed for hours. She wanted food but screamed through the process of eating because it hurt her and there was a lot of trauma from the way she was force fed in the orphanage. She stank, so badly, from no dental care and her stomach eating itself. She seemed so fragile and still. Like she was stuck in a shell or seed and had to break free and come back to life.
I did expect more health problems. Sofie is basically completely healthy. She has no heart defects, even though we were told she did from Bulgaria. She doesn’t get chronically sick through the winter. I know some kids with DS who basically go in to quarantine in the winter months. She has had one set of tubes in her ears but they are out now and so far doesn’t need new ones! She has no cavities. If she ever does need dental work it will likely mean dental surgery but that’s not really a health issue. She needed glasses for a while but with age her eyes have gotten stronger and she doesn’t need them anymore! She is tiny for her age still, even by Down Syndrome standards, about 25th percentile for weight and 10th percentile for height. We don’t know how tall her birth parents where though, so there may be a genetic factor in her lack of growth. She was also a baby who didn’t thrive for 3.5 years, and neglected babies frequently never fully reach their height potential. We have been so blessed with Sofie’s health. It’s been amazing to see how quickly proper nutrition can help a child.
I don’t think my expectations have really changed because there was so much unknown when she came home to us. I couldn’t have had expectations if I wanted to. It would have been very unrealistic of me. I have a more concrete understanding of what her needs and potential abilities are now, which have led to more realistic dreams for her, but not expectations. I have hopes and dreams for her, like I do for all my girls. Yes, hers are a little more painted in unknowns and potential adjustments but they are still there.
I hope she will be able to speak clearly enough that everyone can understand her.
I hope she learns to read and write.
I hope she grows out of most of her behavioural issues.
I hope she will be able independently do all her own personal care.
I hope she has good friends.
I hope she finds a hobby that she loves and can fully participate in with her typical peers.
I hope she goes to her prom and dances the night away.
I hope she gets to do some kind of post secondary education.
I hope she can live independently.
I hope she knows love from people other than just her family.
She may not do or get all these things. She may get to experience them all but it may look a little different then it will look for her peers. She may learn to write but spell really poorly. She may go to her prom but need a support person to go with her. She may live independently with supports coming into her home a few times a day to assist her and check on things.
I think I’ve changed a lot in these last three years parenting Sofie. I would never have described myself as a patient person but I have been told that I am numerous times lately. I think outside of the box more. I’m so much more aware how fast paced and stimulating our world is. I live in the moment more. I don’t worry about my kids being well behaved as much as I used to and don’t get as wrapped up in the mommy competition as I used too. I feel more aware of my limitations as a person and a mother. I don’t think I am always the best thing for Sofie but I am able to ask for help better. I have given up always trying to plan everything and be in control, though I still have a lot of work to do here. Mostly, I think I appreciate the little things in life more. Sofie finds joy in such simple things that I take for granted and loves life with her whole being. It is inspiring. She is joy through her whole body.
Three years have past. Sofie was born to be part of our family. She has come such a long way. While I am excited for her to meet some of her next milestones, like being potty trained and starting to read, how far she has come is never lost of me. It’s been a wild, incredible, joyous and hard three years!
Sofie’s stats after 3 years home:
She is over 38 inches tall and weighs 36lbs.
She can feed herself but it’s messy and sometimes she just likes us to help her.
She loves to boss her baby sister around.
She adores her big sister.
If she had her way, she would always be in a dress or skirt.
She likes to play with baby dolls, dress up and hair accessories.
She can identify some feelings, items, book characters, and a few colours occasionally.
She can get dressed almost by herself. She just can’t fix a problem like both legs in one hole.
She clears the table after eating and helps pick up toys.
She still throws, hits and pushes way too much, but it is moving in the right direction.
She is a Daddy’s girl. They connect on a deeper level.
She can verbally say the alphabet and identify about half the letters.
She LOVES music and dancing. It is her passion.
She has probably close to 300 words that she either says, signs or understands.
She likes to go out in the car, anywhere, especially if it is just her without sisters 🙂
Most of her BM’s make it to the toilet now!
She loves the trampoline, and doing anything in water that isn’t too cold.
She is quite independent and social, but very attached to Mommy and Daddy and those in her circle.
She likes to read books and colour.
She comes up randomly to us to give us a kiss and a hug and tell us she loves us.
She loves cuddles, eating popcorn and watching movies.
She is very bossy.
She is happy, and joy, and fun!