I cried the whole way to church last Sunday. I was alone in the car, and I cried stinging tears from being overwhelmed by life and kids and circumstance. I cried so hard that I knew I couldn’t recover from the red, puffy eyes and sniffles before I walked into church. When we arrived in separate vehicles, I told my husband that I didn’t think I could sit through the service. I couldn’t pull it together enough to smile through the small talk afterward.
I went anyway.
Kevin took the babies to the family room, and I went to church with Annalise while the other two kids were scattered elsewhere in the church. We were late. Again. But for this I was thankful because I didn’t have to make eye contact with anyone. We slipped into two open seats in the dark while the music overtook the room. I stared blankly ahead as those around me sang praises, and I mentally ticked off the minutes that were passing until we could leave. As our preacher Jason began talking, I was disinterested, fixating on a spot on the floor. I noticed the carpet was missing. Odd.
Jason began telling a story about volunteering to drive an old ambulance that his church owned when he was 16. My ears perked up because it sounded like something I would have done, and I started laughing. The sermon turned to mountain tops and valleys, and it dawned on me. I am in a valley.
Let me back up. Caleb’s adoption was a dream adoption. Aside from paperwork woes and the struggle with waiting to go get him, it truly was easy. We flew to China, picked up our baby, completed our paperwork and settled in nicely as a family of 6. Aside from some minor developmental delays, mainly just crawling, Caleb did amazingly well. He loved our kids, loved the noise and the roughhousing, and quickly adapted to live as a Phillips. Within weeks of getting home, Caleb was walking, talking, and feeding himself. For the most part, he was happy enough being hauled all over the state to baseball tournaments and cheer competitions. It was just…easy. Who were these whiners who claimed that adoption was hard?
It was so easy that it wasn’t too hard of a decision to go back to China to adopt again. We researched all we could about Caston’s medical needs and went for him. Now, going into any adoption, we knew that there could be medical issues that were not listed in the file. We were fully accepting of that, but being accepting of it and dealing with it are two completely different things.
The heart issues in his referral turned out to be a nonissue. However, several other surprises have popped up warranting more appointments. Every appointment seems to lead to a referral of another specialist. We have been very fortunate to get good news from most doctors. It’s the appointments that leave us with more questions that have been the toughest. Our biggest challenge right now is Caston’s breathing.
Caston clearly had never been exposed to solids and only took a bottle (cross cut nipple with formula and rice cereal) lying flat. (He basically had to do no work at all to get the porridge consistency formula out of the bottle, hence his weak mouth muscles.) He has an arched palate, and he has a horrible rattle when he breathes. The foster home said he always sounded like that. Two days after we got home, he saw our pediatrician who put him on a round of amoxicillin. He had gunky stuff in his nose, which we later determined was not due to any illness, but it was actually nasal regurgitation. (The formula was coming into his nose when he drank a bottle.)
He has made some major strides since coming home. He will now eat baby food and whatever I cook for the family in purée form, only from a spoon. Although, he doesn’t eat like a typical nineteen month old, the changes he has accepted in the past few weeks have been phenomenal for him. For most, they would be unnoticed, but for Caston, they have been amazing. So we keep plugging along and going to appointments and challenging Caston. And we celebrate minor victories, and we keep saying our mantra, “We’re not gonna worry until someone tells us to worry.”
Until a week ago.
A little over a week ago, we were at the zoo. I sent my brother and sister in law to the touch tanks in the aquarium with my nephew and four of my kids while I went to change Caston’s diaper. He began crying a little because he didn’t want to be changed. I began distracting him by singing while I proceeded to change his diaper. He stopped crying suddenly, and I glanced up. He wasn’t able to inhale. It was obvious he was struggling and he was not breathing for about 10-15 seconds. My brain swirled with thoughts. Is he choking? No, he only had a bottle. Is his throat closing? Did I expose him to a potential allergen? I don’t think so. Do I remember CPR? Probably. What if he doesn’t start breathing again? Get help now. After unsuccessfully getting him breathing, I panicked and ran out in the hallway with my half naked, poop covered baby yelling for help. A few seconds later, he started breathing again and vomited just a tiny bit. A woman who works at the children’s hospital happened to be visiting the zoo, and she was in the aquarium near the restroom. (Thank you, God.) The EMTs arrived, and we were taken to the children’s hospital.
Fifth kid, first ambulance ride. That’s the moment when everything inside me fell apart.
They eventually ruled it a “choking episode” and said he was probably refluxing when he was lying flat. I had to tell the story seven times about how yes, I KNOW he is rattly and he is ALWAYS like this, and how we’ve seen multiple specialists trying to figure this out. He’s already had 11 appointments, and we’ve only been home 2 months. I felt like I was somehow doing this all wrong, even though we’ve been seeking answers about this since the day we met Caston.
I am in a valley. It is dark, and I don’t know the way. I keep searching for answers for Caston’s medical issues, and the response is, “You should ask someone else.” I’m scared that Caston is going to have another episode in the middle of the night. I have had devastating thoughts of what Caston’s fate would have been had he not been adopted and taken to specialists. Would that Thursday have been the day he died if he were still in China?
I am in a valley, But it’s where God wants me to be right now.
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
I am being pruned. God is using this time to shape me, to cut away the overgrown branches, to remove the unwanted parts so that I may become more fruitful for his kingdom and his children. You see, before welcoming Caston into our family, I was a pretty powerful (and loud) advocate for adoption. I told a beautiful (easy) story of our first adoption. We adopted a baby who knew how to love, and he loved us from the beginning. He caught up to milestones rather quickly, and he has even surpassed those of a typical 2 year old. He attached to us easily. Our only real “problem” is that he refuses to be left in the church nursery. We essentially brought him home, and five minutes later he was just another loud, rambunctious Phillips kid. Hearing this story, wouldn’t everyone want to adopt? It was so easy.
I was a terrible advocate. I knew nothing of what “hard” was. I knew nothing of true medical unknowns. I knew nothing of the things that simple but fierce love couldn’t fix. I knew nothing about children who were terrified of their new families. Although I had at times been afraid, I knew nothing about fear.
I am being pruned. Temporary pain and readjustment for me that I can use for bigger gains for the least of these.
I am in a valley. But there are glimpses of sunshine that peek through. Seventy six days after we met him (almost 76 baths later), he didn’t cry when I rinsed the shampoo from his hair. He blinked rapidly a few times and kept playing. Eighty one days after we met him, he ate a small chunk of a peach and signed for “more.” Until that day, he would have cried at the mere offer. Eighty three days after we met him, he received vaccinations for deadly diseases for which he had no immunity. Sunshine.
Sunshine that I wouldn’t have seen had I turned my car around in the parking lot Sunday morning and headed home. Sunshine that looks a little like hope.