a giant leap forward

We’ve been on a food journey with Little One. Before she came home, we knew she might have some challenges due to her past and her cleft. We knew she’d have trouble sucking on a normal bottle or eating certain foods. We packed a few cleft bottles, did our research on what formula her orphanage used and figured we’d either sink or swim.

The first bottle went okay.

The rest of the feedings in China were more of a sinking than a swimming. It was rough, to say the least. She had no interest in any type of food. Her strong aversion to food isn’t common with clefts or her orphanage. We figured we’d get home and with a little time she’d be ready to try food.

A couple months went by. Visits with therapists. Lots of ‘techniques’ and ‘methods’. Her progress was slow, but she eventually transitioned off of Chinese formula and the one taste she had always known.

Another month went by. More tips from therapy. More trying a million things. She began accepting new flavors and textures…so long as they were in her bottle. Touching food was still out of the question for her.

And then one day she touched my granola. And then a few other food items. Slow, slow, slow progress. In her own time.

A few months later with no end to the bottle in sight, we began making her smoothies (the tip of the nipple of her bottle is cut off). Lots of veggies. Lots of fruit. Almonds. Tofu. Wheat germ. Oatmeal. Flax seed. Anything nutritious got dumped in. Just fyi, if you give a toddler a bottle full of a green smoothie in public you might get some very confused glances from others.

So that is where she has been for the last 7 months. Just taking bottles. Refusing to let food within a foot of her face. Seeing a therapist. Enduring all our attempts at various methods to get her to eat. Just doing her own thing in her own time. Her diet may not look like most toddlers, but she is one crazy healthy little girl. And we are very much fine with that. She is strong, healthy, adjusting well…the food stuff will come eventually.

We’ve been playing pretend eating. She’ll pick up food and feed it to me, but never let me feed it to her. Then out of the blue while we were in PA, she fed me a pretzel. I told her to put it in her mouth. And she did. And then she repeated it with a few other things. I so wish Chris could have been there for the moment that she first touched food to her mouth. I can’t even describe how proud I was of her in that moment. It felt so much bigger than even when she learned to walk. Such a huge step forward for her.

She still isn’t eating, but just willingly putting food near her mouth is incredible for us. We are so proud of our girl!

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  • Amber P. - So happy for you guys. Go Little One!

  • Pheobe - How sweet! Well done Little One! Smoothies sound like a great idea.
    It is so lovely to watch Little One growing in your beautiful photos. Thank you!

  • CaSandra - ** SWEET VICTORY IN JESUS! **

    As a mother of an almost 5 year old little girl with a feeding aversion, I. Get. It. And nothing makes me more happy than celebrating with others who fully understand the accomplishment that this is!

    “The LORD is good to them whose hope is in Him.”
    Lamentations 3:25

  • Angela A - Such patience! I’m sure it has been nerve wracking though. I remember going through transitions to bottle, to cup, etc. and always thought it was never going to happen. She has made such progress with your family and am so thankful God brought her to your family–you have all flourished with her in it!

  • Jessica - This post brought tears to my eyes!!! πŸ™‚

  • amber - Ah! She is just amazing. Adopted kids…they are truly courageous. Thank you for sharing this sweet girl with us!!

  • Lisa-Marie - Go Little One!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am so glad to see you taking a very positive approach to her eating. As a Preschool Special Ed teacher I work with many kiddos who have food aversions. I have always found that while slow and patient (with good healthy food in the mean time, your smoothies are AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!) wins the race in the long run. Keep it up!!!!

  • Katie - πŸ™‚ I have tears of JOY, as well!

  • Maelle - Yay for Little One! She truly is an amazing little girl. πŸ™‚

  • marie - My five year old grandson has some sensory issues – he’s been eating four different food items. He just added a fifth!! We love baby steps!
    Praying for lots of them for your little one…in her time.

  • Katie T - WHOOP!! That is exciting. You realize she will probably become a world class chef or something after this. Her palate will most likely become extremely refined with this slow and purposeful introduction of new – and healthy – things! Following the timing of a toddler is much like following God’s time. It is not ours, but it is just right!
    God bless!

  • Jeannette - So excited about the progress. Those smoothies look yummy – you are “feeding” her well πŸ™‚

  • Molly - Praise God!

  • Erika - Yay! This is so inspiring! I can just imagine watching with baited breath… hoping and praying that she would actually put that pretzel in her mouth. So happy to hear that things are going well:)

  • Anna Joy - Yay, Little One!!!

  • karen - i know you prob don’t want to hear suggestions or anything like that…but i only tell you out of kindness. you may already do this…but try to avoid wheat, barley, rye etc, (gluten). i only tell you because i got very very sick (symptoms of fibromyalgia)…it started in my late teens and now at 30’s my body hit the wall πŸ™
    after ME doing all the research (no doctor help..she only wanted my on SSRI’s!) i discovered this was the culprit. Unfortunately some people don’t have any ‘physical’ symptoms of gluten intolerance….and this will eventually lead the body to get terminally sick. Our bodies were not meant for this genetically modified protein. i feel like deleting this because i don’t want to get “eye rolls” but i also feel like it’s my duty to preach it.
    So proud of Little One!!

  • Chelsea Wilson - So proud of her!!

  • Misty - That is so amazing! and you know all I could think of while reading this is with her smoothies she is eating healthier than most kids her age (I don’t think a happy meal smoothie would be too good :P)

  • Christen - This post just brought me to tears! I couldn’t be happier, I can only imagine what that moment felt like.
    Ashley Ann, you truly have a gift not only for photography, but writing as well. I look forward to your posts every day. My husband and I are currently trying… and trying… to get pregnant, I hope one day to be as lucky and happy as you.

  • victoria g - WAHOOO!!!!!! πŸ™‚

  • Julie - So, so happy for your family! What a blessing.

  • Shannan - The thing I am most struck by in your blog is your patience and willingness to sit in the moment. You are incredibly devoted to your children and it comes across in your blog – what an inspiration! You are very humble too and do not come across as perfection (like some other mommy blogs). I just know that what you have is very unique and I appreciate reading about it!

  • Emily - Hooray! I’m so excited for you! Food struggles are so hard. Congratulations on an amazing step forward!

    Unrelated to food, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Playful Learning (I love her book) but I saw these this morning and thought of your naturalist: http://playfullearning.net/printable-blank-birders-cards/

    Happy friday!

  • Danielle - Praise God for his grace to your daughter and family. To God be the glory!

  • Sharon @ Discovering Blog - I agree with Shannan – it’s so easy to read your blog and cheer for your family because of how well and nicely you put events like this into words.

  • Amy - That’s wonderful! I’m so glad she’s making progress!

    And I totally understand about strange looks from people. My youngest has cystic fibrosis and we had to give her medicine on a spoonful of applesauce starting when she was just 3 weeks old. We also have to add salt to her bottles. So when I was sitting in a restaurant giving baby food and salt to my newborn, I’m sure there was a lot of judging going on! I’ve learned that you just never know what other people are going through so it’s better not to judge!

  • Cheri - Thank you for sharing your adoption story, your life, your family. I used to read several, ok lots of blogs. Now I read 3. Yours is my favorite. You inspire me daily. Sometimes I secretly wish I could go back to my 20s and 30’s and relive raising our kids (with all the wisdom I have now)… and maybe adopt like you have. For now, I’ll just enjoy watching your family grow and love.
    Thank you for putting yourself out there for the world!
    Blessings to you and your family.

  • Roseann - That is a wonderful story. As the mother of an adopted child I know how hard it can be but also how rewarding. Your little girl is so lucky to have been ‘dopted’ by your family. God Bless.

  • Kara M - SO great!!! I love watching how your story is unfolding. Makes my arms ache to have our baby home!

  • Tracy - What a great lesson in patience…something that no one really wants to be tested with, but we all need to have it. This little step is a huge sign that she will do things, just in her own time. I’m so happy for you all!

  • Monica - I am so happy for Little One! πŸ™‚ Of course a mom always will be proud of our childs in any step of life. even for some people maybe is nothing but for parents always will be a great steps. Love your pictures showing her growing in so much love. She is so big now . I cant believe how soon the babies change and grow. πŸ™ Too soon for me .My baby now is 8 months old!. I hope Ashley one day people in your blog stop calling your adopted daugther becuase I think Little One is just your “DAUGHTER”. It was just a different way that GOD give her to you. Have a great weekend! Blessings

  • Rebecca - Thank you for sharing this journey. We too have an adopted daughter from China with Cleft lip/palate. Our food struggles sound so similar. She would only accept a bottle for the first year we had her. About a year ago she decided to stop eating all together. We ended up having a feeding tube put in! From there we moved to syringe feeding and eventually she accepted a spoon. Back in November she and I went to Atlanta for an 8 week intense feeding therapy program. It helped her accept foods that weren’t pureed, but even today she still won’t chew. So, all of her food must be put in the food processor. Therapy is helping her, but it is slow going, as you say. I know one day, when she’s chewing and putting solid food in her mouth, I’ll look back in shock that she had any food struggles. Your story has really encouraged me today! Most people try to understand our daily struggles, but until you’ve actually walked in our shoes, you can’t fully grasp it. I appreciate your patient spirit!

  • Jacci - Sweet, sweet Ashley.

    Of course I’m crying again. You know I’m a cryer by now πŸ˜‰

    But, I was just thinking of why I cry so much at Little One’s posts. I know part of it is just because, for His own reasons, the Lord has had me praying for this little girl. There’s a connection I feel with her, related to our Father & the tender care He has and is and will show her. Her story makes me worship Him. And that makes me cry.

    But, also. It’s you. I know you don’t see it always, but you’re an inspirational momma. You challenge me and inspire me with your patient, quiet, tender, thoughtful, insightful, gentle parenting. You love her so, so well, Ashley. So well. And that makes my heart swell up, and my eyes overflow.


  • Kimberly Dial - Well, it had been a while. Guess I needed a good cry πŸ˜‰ YAY Little One! YAY mom & dad!

  • Brooke - I’m a total nerd but I’m crying reading this. I absolutely admire you and your family so much and this huge step forward for little one is so exciting! Seriously I tell people about you guys all the time and I tear up every time. every time!
    I suspect it’s something telling my heart that one day I may actually be meant to be a mom of a special little person as well. that’s what I think every time I read your posts….I think, I want to do that. I want to make that kind of impact on someone’s life. I’m far from being ready for that but no matter where life takes me, I will always have your story in my heart. thank you so much for sharing it so beautifully.

  • Sharron - Yay!! Our Kate did the same thing and she wasn’t even a cleft baby. It was 6 mos. home before she would put solid food in her mouth and then it was only chips or cheerios. We started bribing her with those. “Eat one bite of egg and you can have a chip” The whole meal would be that way until finally she didn’t have to be bribed.

  • (Michele ) The Hills Are Alive - You probably know this already/may already be doing but ask your speechie/OT about the SOS Feeding program. Sensory Oral Sequential. Takes an OT Sensory Gradual Exposure approach to feeding difficulties rather than behavioural. Think originated in US and more prevalent there, really only came to Aust in last few years and not a lot of our Speechies and OTs trained in it but starting to spread. A lot of food exploration as you are doing and gradual changes etc. Sounds v similar to what you are doing but may be something to look into too. PS Can just imagine the looks at the green smoothie in the bottle too! Sometimes people need to’walk a mile’

  • Maria - We are 17 mos. home, and our little guy has only let any type of spoon feeding happen for one month. Take heart! Just when you think it will never happen, it will. Going slow like you are is just right!

  • Heather - Praise God! And praying that she continues progressing!! πŸ™‚

  • Catherine (@foxglovelane) - So beautiful, tears to my eyes:~))

  • Lara - What a touching story. Beautiful πŸ™‚ Found your blog courtesy of stumble upon – so glad I did!

  • Elizabeth Beattie - So wonderful!!! I know exactly how you feel. My twin girls are special needs and every time they do something that we have been working on or just waiting forever for them to naturally do on their, are hearts overfilled with joy. Just yesterday I received my first unprompted kiss from my Gracie. She is 4.5 years old and just walked up and kissed me on the head. It was a moment that no words can express.

    So happy for all of you!



  • Sharon Long - Wow, a tremendous step indeed! Congrats Little One! I don’t comment much, but I love to read your blog-such a lovely place to visit and your family is just gorgeous.

  • nancy - From the mama of one food-challenged child to another… amen. Food issues cut to the core of us mamas. Even when we know. Amen. amen. amen, sweet perfectly made girl.

  • Amy Cornwell - Way to go Little One!! What an accomplishment!

  • Suzanne - Way to go, Little One!!! What amazing steps you are taking!!

  • kelleyn - Yeah! I am so excited for you. My daughter is like this! She did not have CL/CP but has a stong adversion to food. It started when she was 11 months. She just stopped eating baby food. We go to therapy. We have about 5 things she will eat now, and we continue to work on it. So excited for you!

  • mandy - YAY!!!! So excited! Good job Little One! Little by little…. she’s just simply amazing!

  • Kimberlee Jost - So happy for you all in this huge victory!

  • Julien - She is so beautiful! I love looking at her little eye lashes, nose and fingernails in that last picture! Congrats on the big step!

  • lila - always happy to hear any progress for little one.. i never thought that food is matter for toddler with cleft history.. (off course lips is sensitive for her) so thank you for share it..

  • Vickie - So sweet!

  • creole wisdom - Praise God! Love hearing great news πŸ™‚ You are wonderful! Lots of good thoughts for more food-to-mouth motion and full on eating, too. She’s one beautiful little girl!

  • mandi@herbanhomestead - This post made me cry! So proud of this little one! I felt this way last Wednesday night when I looked across the youth room at church and saw that our little one had willingly gone to a youth worker and let him hold her for about 20 minutes! This was a huge step for her with her intimacy “issues”. Even now thinking about the faithfulness of God, makes me teary! He works beautifully in our messy world, doesn’t He?

  • Kathy - Way to go, Little One!!! Baby steps!!!!

  • Erin - Congratulations! So exciting! Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your world each day. I have learned so much about clefts and love from your posts. May God bless you all. Can’t wait for the next milestone.

  • Nuria - As a mom who battled lots with breastfeeding and weaning I can totally empathise. This must have been really stressful for you all. So glad that it seems this phase itΒ΄s finally coming to an end. Well done little one! And congrats to you for your love and persistence.

  • elizabeth H - SO SO Sweet!! what a milestone for Little One!

  • rachel - We adopted our daughter from Ethiopia and she also experienced a lot of feeding issues. We adopted her when she was 10.5 months old and I pureed her food until she was 18 months old. The OT felt it was sensory related and we made a lot of progress with that through their techniques. At 18 months, they felt it was behavioral (she had overcome her sensory issues) and they told us to stop with the purees and only offer solid foods. :O That was tough advice. We consulted with our pediatrician who agreed. Our daughter refused to eat for the first meal or two but then after took to solid foods and hasn’t looked back!

  • Linda - That is great news. She is making progress.
    Our little one is making progress, too. He doesn’t feed himself at all, but has recently licked a few crackers, which is huge. He only takes food from a spoon and it has to be pureed. He doesn’t chew at all. And there are only a few foods that he will eat. We’re working on sensory issues as well as the feeding issues. It’s good to read the comments of others who have been through it and are now on the other side.

  • tara - so proud of her hard work..and yours, mama. πŸ™‚
    you’re right…she’ll get there eventually..this is part of her story. He’s doing huge works in her heart right now. praying now for all of you as you continue to adjust.

  • Diana Cote - I just have to say you are amazing and this story was so touching it had me nearly crying. so happy for you and your family. πŸ˜€ Wishing you all the best of the best!

  • Lynn - This is my first visit to your wondrous world. What an inspiration you and your family are. Your little one is so lucky to have a momma like you, so much love and patience to share.

  • Susan - We adopted a little girl from China 2 1/2 years ago. She will be 5 at the end of this month. She still drinks from a bottle. We didn’t have a problem with any food issues, but emotionally the bottle quiets her anxiety of being abandoned. I feed the bottle to her while I rock her in the rocking chair and her emotional behavior has improved dramatically. The bottle represents security to these little kids. They have gone through so much! Good job and keep up the good work!

  • Johanna - My first visit too, via DesignMom. This post brought tears to my eyes too. Love the patience and respect of the mama, the courage of the babe.

  • Sheila@Chinaberry - Wow, what progress you’ve made. Your story makes me realize that we all have such different challenges with our little ones. Your positive attitude shines through! Best wishes to you!

  • angie - Hello, my friend found your blog and forwarded it to me. So good to know we are not alone in the world. Our little girl is almost 3 and had bilateral cleft lip and palate both repaired this past year. And while we got off the bottle this past January, before palate surgery (I taught her to drink from a cup) she only eats baby food; and that only came after months of working with her and an OT feeding specialist. We are now doing the food therapy/food play as well. I know one day she will eat but it is hard waiting and sometimes exhausting to prepare her food. We just now are adding texture…woooooo. It’s a big deal. And she just started putting things in her mouth. for example…a toothbrush…yep 11 months home and we hadn’t brushed her teeth. Glad we got that in before the one year home mark next week!! So all this to say, I totally understand what you are going through. I wish I had been as good about putting nutrition in her bottles! You are amazing with that! Blessings! – angie