“Take the orphanage out of her”

June 13, 2007 at 8:45 pm 14 comments


A quilt I brought to another little boy at Isabel’s orphanage and his bed in a sea of beds. 

So with less than one week home, I took Isabel to our most local physician who practices Adoption Medicine.  For those of you new to the idea, adoption medicine is mainly for children who have come to families via international adoption and need different assesments and examinations and these doctors know what to look for.  We consulted with the amazing doctors at the University of Washington while we were in Kyrgyzstan both times.  They looked at her weight gain, how quickly and where she was gaining, asked questions about milestones, muscle strength and many other things.  Now that we are home, it was time to see an adoption doc in person.  What I needed to know about Isabel could certainly be missed by a doctor who wasn’t up to date on how children are affected by living in institutions. 

So, to Oakland Children’s Hospital we drove.  We were there for four hours.  The first portion on the exam was a neuro-psychological test to determine what delays Isabel has.  How is her hearing?  How are her motor skills?  How does she approach solving a problem like picking up a toy that’s on the ground?  Then, the medical exam came next and the doctor screens for fetal alcohol syndrome, looks for any kind of infection, scabies, lice and other creepy crawlies.  She looked at every square inch of her tiny body.  She charted her growth.  She went over with me long term health concerns.  Isabel and I were both exhausted at the end.  In the end, it was determined that Isabel has the predictable delays from living her first eight months in a hospital and an orphanage.  She isn’t sitting up, she still has a tongue thrust to any food with texture, she has low muscle tone, she doesn’t know that a toy is still there if it has dropped.  She had a double ear infection and some bites or infectious sores on her back that were healing but still needed prescription antibiotic cream.  I left with an order for a battery of bloodwork to do for her and completely overwhelmed with information.  I got in the car and called home and tearfully summed up the day.  I surprised myself.  I thought I was completely prepared for the information they were going to give me.  Nothing they said was really a surprise.  It was just so hard to hear about what Isabel has already had to endure.  I am in awe of my 8 month old girl.  She has endured extremely low birth weight, the loss of her mother at birth, living the first four months of her life in the hospital where it is likely that she received little to no physical affection, not to mention the bare minimum of nutrition.  She gained almost no weight in the hospital.  She was then taken to the orphanage where they did their very best with her.  She started to gain weight.  She was being held and kissed sometimes and she was in a room where the caretaking was a very good one to three babies. 

While she was being examined, the doctor said that Isabel needed to learn that I was her mommy.  Isabel wasn’t showing any stranger anxiety.  The doctor said, “You’ve taken her out of the orphanage, now you need to take the orphanage out of her.”  My heart sank as I remembered how much Isabel has missed.  How brave she has had to be.  I even thought about myself as a baby and what confusion it must be to go through not being fed and held by your mother, going to an institution to live until you are adopted.

She doesn’t yet know I’m her mama.  She’s really into me, and she smiles every time I repond to her and it’s clear she is into all the attention, cuddles, frequent feedings and all the excellent outfits.  (Ok, maybe she doesn’t care about how they look, but they are definitely softer and they smell really good)  I try to anticipate her needs, I practice attachment parenting, I wear her in a sling or front carrier, I try to do everything in my power to let her know she is safe and loved and that we are here for her.  And I think she knows that.  But, what she doesn’t know is that I’m not going away.  She doesn’t know that all the other people who are holding her aren’t going to be her mama. 

I certainly can’t expect it of her.  I just want her to know that I love her with a fierce, mother’s love.  I want her to know that when the rest of the world has let her down, that I won’t.  I want her to know that she can let that part of her who smiles to everyone that it’s ok if she doesn’t want to smile.  Even with losing her family and her homeland, she has us.  And while we can never replace what she has lost because one person never replaces another, we can provide her the biggest acceptance, emotional security, love and nurturing for her nature that we possibly can. 

So, while my back is sore from carrying her and running up and down the stairs tending to her needs, I am firmly aware that it is what I must be doing for her.  I have to let her know, no matter how long it takes, that she doesn’t have to be in survival mode anymore.  It’s my job to take the orphanage out of her.


Entry filed under: Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Children, International Adoption, Isabel, Kyrgyzstan.

Totally Cute Things About Isabel When Co-Sleeping Goes Wrong…

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. justenjoyhim  |  June 14, 2007 at 4:10 am

    Ohhhh, Tina. How utterly heartbreaking. Poor Isabel, and poor you. I’m sure that given time and the proper resources and love love love, Isabel will bond to you and see you as her Mama. But yes, what difficult words to hear. *hugs* to you and Isabel.

  • 2. Slava Bogu  |  June 14, 2007 at 4:29 am

    Over time, she will see you that way. Our little one was 6 months old at adoption from the central asia region and while she bonded to me quickly, at first every man was great. Over time, though, she knew her daddy was HER daddy, and at the age of almost 6, she completely adores him!

    Our sons were 5 & 7 when adopted and it has definitely taken longer to get them out of survival mode.

    Keep up that all that love and attention you’re giving her, and may God bless your efforts!

  • 3. shannylj  |  June 14, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Oh wow. So much. I’m no expert but even I can tell that Isabel is so, so loved and I bet it won’t be too long before she knows exactly who her mama is.

  • 4. mama2roo  |  June 14, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    how challenging when all you want to be is a mama and she’s just not to that point yet. Keep up the good work–I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts. I haven’t been keeping up with my reading like I’d like–I haven’t even wished you congrats yet!!

  • 5. Andrea  |  June 14, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    I can totally relate. She will soon know how very much she is loved.

  • 6. Lori  |  June 15, 2007 at 5:25 am

    Tina –
    JJ also had (still has) some mysterious sores on his body. I am curious to know what you have been given. Our IA docs here can’t figure them out. They said they’ve never seen anything like it. We’ve tried a few different creams and are now going to see a dermatologist. We’ve noticed they get worse in extremely hot weather – days when it’s 90+ outside.
    e-mail me

  • 7. Shannon  |  June 15, 2007 at 6:45 am

    It sounds like you are on the right track. I’m no momma yet, but I think you are doing everything you are supposed to do. And I can feel from here, how crazy you are about her!! I’m sure she can feel it too. 🙂
    Best wishes to all of your family

  • 8. abebech  |  June 18, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Tina, I just wanted to offer some encouragement. Our daughter came to us as a toddler, very tiny (“you know she’s delayed, don’t you?” said our sw’er, offending me even though I knew) and having lost so much. The first six months were really hard, but right around then it was like a light switch from “when are you leaving me too?” to “It’s you and me for good.” Not to say the first six months were all hard, or the six after all bliss — and in that time we’ve had occassional returns to survival mode — but she has responded so completely to our love and consistency (and that carrier 🙂 ) and she has blossomed. Your daughter will too.

  • 9. Mala  |  June 21, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Hi Tina, I hope Isabel is on the mend, in every way. I know we’re in for a long road of healing as well. I’m definately interseted if you find out more about those sores, Beck has some as well as our travel companions’ baby.
    Once again I’ve set up camp on the floor of another NYC airport! This is getting really old. I just called my husband in Kyrgyzstan to see how things went with Beck today… errr, yesterday (it’s been one very long day for me… Not how I thought I’d be spending my birthday. Anyways, He said Beck immediately ran to him and hugged him, and then looked for me. When I was no where to be found he began crying. My heart is breaking. I can not wait for the day that both my kids are on the same continent!

  • 10. John  |  June 27, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    Hope all is well, have not heard from you in a little while, but think about you guys often.

  • 11. Andrea  |  June 29, 2007 at 4:44 am

    Oh Tina, where are you? Hope all is going well with your kiddos and everyone is settling in.

  • 12. thalya  |  June 30, 2007 at 2:12 am

    If she gets confused partly because lots of other ppl are holding her, doesn’t it make sense to have just you and your husband, and maybe zannie, hold her, feed her etc. for now until she’s a bit more secure?

  • 13. Lisa  |  July 2, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    Isn’t it your PRIVLIDGE to take the orphanage out of her? So sorry it feels like a JOB.

  • 14. imtina  |  July 2, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Yes, it is. I don’t think that I was conveying in my post that I was complaining about that it is my job to do that. I believe that if you read my post again you’ll see that what I’m talking about is empathy for my daughter for having already gone through so much pain in her little life. It is pain that I’m familiar with as I am also an adoptee. I think that also if you read more of my more weighty posts you’ll see that I’m probably not the ‘adopter’ that you may think I am.

    When I talk about my role as mother to both of my girls, I frequently use the phase “it’s my job”. I use those words because of my total devotion to being a mother. I don’t use it in the perjorative or with rolling eyes or sarchasm. I say it proudly. I waited a long time to have children so that I could be in a position to be the very best mother I could possibly be. That’s what I meant by ‘my job’.


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