in her own time {a 5 year update}

“If she is 16 and still not eating solids, it is going to be just fine,” I so clearly remember telling myself that not all that long ago. It has been almost exactly five years since she arrived home – a tiny 14 month old, who couldn’t crawl. In our first couple days together we quickly learned just have ‘far behind’ she was in regards to typical childhood development. We knew she would have hurdles to overcome and we were ready to climb mountains with her.

Over the last 5 years many of you have prayed for our family. Many of you have adopted. And many of you are parenting in hard seasons and might need a bit of encouragement. I thought 5 years was a good time to celebrate, reflect and share a bit of encouragement to those of you in a hard season.

We knew quickly our daughter had some big hurdles to face – physical delays, sleeping, eating and speaking (to name the ones most obvious at the time).

In a matter of weeks of being home, she went from barely being able to sit on her own to running across the yard. Our time with the occupational therapist was short lived as this girl had places to go and things to see. She was ready to move and nothing held her back.

If I’m honest in regards to the other hurdles –  I thought sleeping would come in a couple months and I was surprised when she didn’t want to eat rice the day we met. Speaking – I knew she would have YEARS of speech therapy as a result of her cleft lip and palate.

I was right about one – speech.

Sleep – I’m not sure I ever talked about it here, but it was a couple of years before she slept through the night. Neglect and trauma have so many repercussions – sleep difficulty is a major one. She actually slept great the first 6 months home and then it was like something switched in her. I share that because I know so many new adoptive parents read this blog. Turns out a switch around 6 months is pretty common. I wish I had been prepared for that.

I would spend hours in her room in the middle of the night trying to calm a toddler that could not be calmed. We sang, we read, we cried, we prayed. Mainly, I just held her to let her know I was not going anywhere. A wise friend once told me all the agony of the ‘waiting period’ (when she was still in China and I was here) would prepare me for the hard days ahead. Like the bond that happened when my other 4 grew in my womb, in those months a fierce bond grew despite an ocean separating us.

Many nights she would cry and rage unconsolably from 1am-5am – on those nights when everything felt impossible and exhausting, my mind would go back to the ache of the months she was a world away. Remembering that ache made sleepless nights feel like a gift. She was here in my arms. Utter exhaustion was a gift.

And then all the sudden it stopped. She slept through the night. And then she did it again. And again. That season had passed.

Oral aversions and food-related trauma were not even on my radar. I knew with her cleft she might have some difficulty with eating, but other cleft kids I knew loved eating just about anything and everything. From ages 1-4, she made very little progress. VERY LITTLE. It was about 3 years of smoothies and pureed foods. We used countless tools, techniques, programs and tips. Ultimately, she just wasn’t ready. We danced between pushing her and giving her space. Oral aversions and food trauma are not the same thing as dealing with a picky eater. If you know a parent whose child is facing deeply rooted issues related to eating – encourage that parent, it can feel like such a lonely road.

I eventually came to terms with the idea that she may never eat solid foods. She was strong, healthy and loving life – eating solids really is not a big deal in the grander scheme of life. However, it didn’t turn out that way. She’s six now and can eat pretty much anything. I don’t have to pack her a snack to take to birthday parties anymore. I don’t pack her food at all anymore – she just eats what everyone else eats. I know that sounds like not a big deal, but if you have ever dealt with a oral aversions you know it is better than winning the lottery.

As far as speech goes, we were planning on speech therapy possibly until she got into high school. I can pretty confidently say that will not be the case. She speaks clearly and with nearly perfect articulation. Every week she stands up in her class with her peers and gives an oral presentation on a variety of topics. The girl that once needed me to translate everything because  no one else understood her is long gone. In her place is a well-spoken, talkative 6 year old. It still baffles me on some days.

In all the books we read regarding childhood delays and overcoming trauma, there was often mention of how kids tend to make significant progress in one area at a time. This has been so true for our girl. When she was making progress physically, there was no progress with speech, sleeping or eating. Once she got overcame physical delays, she tackled sleeping. After she conquered sleeping, she began to go back and forth between progress with eating and speech. If we saw progress with speech, we often saw steps back in eating. When she would take steps forward in eating, she would take steps back in speech.

Eventually though, it all evened out. And here we are today – a chatterbox that eats, sleeps, and has the best coordination of all my kids! All the sudden those seasons I thought would last forever, well, they passed.

If you are a parent walking alongside your child overcoming delays or obstacles, don’t lose heart. If you see steps forward matched with steps backwards, don’t lose heart. Some kids will eventually catch up, but some won’t. My girl still has stuff we are walking alongside her to overcome. My other 4 do too! It is easy to get overwhelmed, exhausted and feel alone, but you are not alone.

For those parents facing uphill obstacles with very little hope, those with critically ill children, those with hearts broken over watching your kids fight unspoken battles and those broken watching your kids long for what is ‘normal’ to everyone else – I don’t know your story and I don’t know the tears you cry, but I know you read this blog. You are not forgotten and though my words feel small, my heart aches and hopes with you. You are loved and I am cheering for you. 

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