Well, this update is LONG overdue and I haven’t written it simply because there are some memories that are not fun to recall mixed in with lots of other good stuff. However, my precious bride has impressed upon me the many notes of encouragement and inquiry she has received through Facebook looking for information on the surgery and so writing I must do!
Please accept my apologies for the length of this posting – it should really be broken up into others but for my life right now, the tale is definitely wagging the dog.
As many of you know, this is Meili’s third surgery on her mouth and second one with us. The first took place in China to close the opening in her upper lip (that went all the way to her nose) and the second was back in 2010 during which they closed the opening in the roof of her mouth and created a palate for her. This third surgery we knew was going to be intense on Meili and we did what we could to prepare all of us emotionally for the days of challenges ahead but one can never tell what direction the wind is going to blow. So, like a helpless boat in a storm, we set out to sea hoping our vessel would withstand the hurricane.
Surgery day is the worst day ever! You don’t sleep the night before or at best, catnaps are the most you will get. If you are like Tracy and I, you don’t talk about what you know is coming and avoid eye contact for fear of breaking down. We just go through the motions like a long-distance runner knowing there is a finish line but we just can’t see it. Pressing on is the only option because you know something good for Meili rests beyond the pain.
To our great discouragement, Meili’s surgery was scheduled late in the afternoon and as you know, there is no food or drink after midnight the night before. Geeze! On top of everything else, we have to keep the world’s hungriest little girl preoccupied the entire day from her constantly rumbling tummy. Keeping her up till 1am the night before worked well for us because she literally rolled out of bed with only an hour left before leaving for the hospital. Movies, mints and toys would help us to keep her mind of her ravenous appetite until surgery time – or so we thought. Sure enough, our little Pooh’s rumbly tummy was an unexpected parental hurt that only exacerbated our already frayed emotions. I will never forget how often she begged us for something to eat while the clock dragged it’s suddenly 100lb hands from one minute to the next.
And then our stomachs sank into our seats when the nurse called across the waiting room…”Meili Davenport”.
Just like two years ago, Tracy and I slowly rose from our seats with our anxious daughter in our arms and headed to the holding room to wait for all the physicians to stop by and talk with us. Notice that I did not say Meili was scared, or mad, or irritable. She was calm but clearly anxious in these distantly familiar surroundings. This is something that has always amazed me about Meili and, I am sure, other special needs children (adopted or biological) – a calm resoluteness to the medical challenges laid before them. I can remember as a child being terrified of the doctor and hospitals – freaking out at the site of them. Yet here sits our little trooper with the maturity of an adult facing down another procedure sure to result in pain and confusion. Just as quickly, my amazement is replaced by overwhelming empathy for a child who had no say in the journey put before her – yet walks it with unmistakeable courage. Our child! She continues to teach us so much.
And so begins the parade of nurses, physicians and smocked covered individuals who ask the same questions over and over again. Each time the door opens, another heart beat skipped waiting on the final nurse who would ask us to bring Meili down the hall for surgery. Meili is still hungry and growing irritated at us for making her wait so long before allowing her to take on her personal challenge. We often recall the words of that nice shop keeper in China who asked us where Meili was born – upon telling him, his only response…”Ah, spicy girl!” Evidently, the Chinese woman born in Jiangsu province are all spicy girls! She continues to live up to it.
Finally the surgeon arrived to explain the procedure one more time and to see if we had any questions. Taking time to lead us through the surgery again, he explained how he would be closing the opening in the back of the palate in the roof of her mouth as well as the one in the front – both openings a result of our little Meili growing up. Additionally, they would be tightening the muscles in her throat to help her speech development in the coming years. The whole thing should take a couple hours and they will let us know as soon as they are done.
With the close of that conversation, the nurse gave Meili her “happy juice” which is a small drink that relaxes and calms children before surgery’s of this magnitude. The side affect is some nice comic relief in an otherwise tense room as Meili goes from a serious child to laughing out loud in a matter of minutes.
Tracy and I still don’t look at each other. We just watch that awful clock that seems to show no mercy in delaying our daughters surgery.
And then the moment came to bring Meili back to surgery. I told Tracy I would do it this time since she had to do it last time and sure enough, it was as heartbreaking as she described it in 2010. How do you put into words handing over your 22 pound bundle of innocence into the arms of a well-intentioned nurse and watch those two black eyes peer back over her shoulder as she walked away? I’m sorry Meili – this is honestly for the best. “Trust us – we love you”… I whispered to her from behind the closing doors.
I am amazed – and Tracy too, how quickly your adopted child finds a home in your heart equal to the biological children you may already have. Meili is as much a child of ours as the much paler (sorry about the Irish blood, kids!) and taller ones walking around our home. She is ours and it hurts just as much to know what awaits Meili on the other side of the surgery. That all might sound weird but I think it needs to be said. Adopted or Biological, children are children and if you put forth the energy to be a loving and supportive parent – they will find a place in your heart and return to you that which you invest in them. You will become Mom or Dad in these difficult moments to a precious child who thought she didn’t have one. I digress…
So the surgery went well and we tried to eat away our anxiety while waiting for updates. Probably a bad idea.
Regardless, in came the surgeon to explain that Meili did very well and he felt good about the progress. The throat part with done well as was the closing of the gap in the back of her mouth. However, the closure of the opening in the front was more of a challenge. Due to the lack of “material” to work with (skin or gum tissue), he had to grab some tissue from the inside of her lip to help close the gap. This is something that would play a minor role in her recover just a few days later. We had a good conversation with the surgeon who has had plenty of experience working specifically on adopted children from China with cleft lips and palates. We laughed as he shared in his experience how they all have the same post-op reaction – they all (Chinese girls, that is) seem to be as mad as a hornets nest after the operations. Boy, was he right!
And then he said something that brought Tracy and I to tears. You know, when you feel called to do something – you just do it. Consequences or hurdles are not part of your thinking, just a driving motivation to complete a task you feel providentially given to you. Adopting Meili was just something we felt called and driven to do. Wearing our blinders, we have no idea what the world around us thinks of our actions or nor do we solicit feedback. We just do what we do and have always been that way since the beginning of our relationship. But we were caught off guard when the surgeon looked at us both and said, “I greatly respect you for making the sacrifice to adopt and all the stuff that goes with it.” He said some other nice things but honestly, I don’t recall them. However, it was like a divine encouragement at a very empty hour and did much to lift us both.
After the surgeon came the dental team. While Meili was out, they wanted to get some X-rays and look her teeth and possibly clean them. The dental surgeons first words to Tracy…”What are you doing?!?” Taken aback, Tracy asked what he meant and the dental surgeon went on a 10 minute praise-a-thon for the care Tracy had taken of Meili’s teeth and mouth. He said that 90% of children with clef lips and palates end up with a mouth full of cavities before the age of three yet Meili had none and he wanted to know what Tracy was doing. We learned that due to the sometimes mangled nature of cleft palate children’s mouth and teeth that normal sugary intake is not successfully drained from around the teeth and decay happens quickly. The dental surgeon likened it to rocks in a stream and talked about how many little places there are for cavities to take root. So what does she do? In Tracy’s own words…
“I have never used fluoride on Meili’s teeth…..or any of our children which all have awesome teeth (even if it’s recommend :)) – I use tooth soap or fluoride free tooth paste. I feel like products like tooth soap really clean the teeth and leave no residue behind to coat the teeth…just my take. Meili does LOVE to brush her teeth…like 6 times a day :)”
At the conclusion of the updates they hurried us down to the room they already had for Meili so we could be there when the nurse arrived with her. Just like last time, they did not keep Meili in recovery more than necessary to minimize the emotional toll it would take being separated from Tracy. With just closed wounds, the last thing you need is a rapid heart beat pushing blood toward these sensitive areas!
Everything seems to happen so fast which leaves little time to prepare mentally for the delivery of your child into your arms with a traumatized look on her face and dried blood around the wounds. For me, getting Meili after surgery is one of the most difficult times and the hardest part of the whole experience. And for that reason, I chose to marry a very strong and courageous woman who knows my weaknesses all to well. Before I had time to swallow my anxiety, Tracy had Meili in her arms and began to try and hug away all the fear.
Our male nurse from India softly smiled while Meili raged at us. He shared with us how all asian girls respond the same way after surgery and he would be there to help us. Again, we marveled at the reputation of strength at the core of our little Meili. And rage she did! We knew it would be different this time as she was older and better able to communicate her displeasure – worse yet, she was stronger than she used to be. And to compound the challenge, the doctors had decided to leave in the breathing tube in her nose until they were sure they would not need to go back in over the next day or so. I have never seen Meili so angry at the world. Thank goodness for the strong cuffs on her arms or she would have ripped everything out and then probably went to town on Tracy and I. It took everything in Tracy to hold her still and comfort her against Meili’s will – she was quite more physical this time.
And vocal! “Out, Out” – she would say reaching for the protrusion in her nose. Raging then crying and then finally whimpering – the drugs began to take over and calm our daughter in a way that Mommy and Daddy love could not. Soon, she was out and resting fitfully in the arms of Tracy.
We are blessed in so many ways but in one critical way is Tracy’s Mom. She is our last healthy grandparent who is able to keep up with our children and they love having her around. For the first surgery, we brought the kids up to the hospital with us but I wanted to leave them home this time so I could better support Tracy during this difficult time. I highly recommend it! Betty (Tracy’s Mom) watched after the kids so I could be there for Tracy and Meili.
This surgery was going to be especially hard for many reasons but the biggest for me was that Meili was going to have to spend two nights at the hospital. Which also meant Tracy was going to have to suffer through two sleepless nights along with Meili while I tried to take care of the kids and get a little work done. It was just awful leaving the hospital near midnight that first night and saying goodbye to both Tracy and Meili. I felt bad for Tracy because I knew she was heartbroken trying to soothe Meili and of course, I felt terrible for Meili. Icky feelings all the way around.
Recovery was much slower this time. We knew from last time that they would not even consider sending Meili home without her eating something and while that breathing tube was in, she wasn’t going to have anything to do with food. And not just the breathing tube, who wants to put food down a now stitched up and swollen mouth?!? The poor thing hadn’t had anything to eat now for two days and those bags of fluid only do so much.
So much of this blog is all about the parental experience of adoption but every once in a while we get to tell a story about how adoption affects our other children. After a fitful night of tossing and turning, I awoke and immediately texted Tracy to see how she and Meili were. Of course, because she didn’t sleep the night before, Tracy responded right back that there had been little sleep and Meili was hanging tough but not happy. Immediately I felt an urgency to get to the hospital to see both of my precious girls but knew the kids would need to get ready also. I jumped out of bed to go and wake the kids up to start the process. To my dismay, I nearly ran over our 6 year old daughter Leila as I was leaving our bedroom. There she stood having dressed herself with a bag on each shoulder. Her bags where filled with toys, markers and papers for Meili. Sticking out of the top of one of her bags was an envelope, sealed and address to Meili. Inside that envelope was a tender note of encouragement to Meil with four simple words written in crayon…”I Love You Meili”. It was an unforgettable picture that will stay with me the rest of my life. You just never know how your life decisions affect others but in this case, I got to see first hand the beauty of adoption through the eyes of a sister. Priceless.
So around 10am on the day after surgery I was able to convince Tracy to go home and get a little bit of rest (which was mute point because just like me, going home to house without your life buddy makes for an uneasy time). Which meant that I would be able to stay with Meili for the next 7 hours and enjoy some one on one time. It was a special time filled with plenty of Spongebob and snuggling. Of course, her preference is Tracy but I will do if need be. You think I am kidding? I just have heard the tender whisper of “Mommy?” every 15 minutes! I know how she feels.
If you have spent any time with a loved one in the hospital, you know that every 10 minutes an alarm will sound or a nurse will come in the room. Beeping, knocking, talking and checking – I don’t know how they expect patients (or tired Daddy’s) to get any sleep. However, something interesting was beginning to take shape during this time. One nurse after another began to remark about how much calmer Meili seemed to be today. She wasn’t fighting the medicine as much and was being a whole lot more cooperative with the nurses. And my mind began to wonder, as it always does. Was it because I was with her and Tracy wasn’t? Sure enough, when Tracy returned that evening to spend the night again with Meili – the same irritability and combativeness also returned in Meili. Now, at first, this might sound like I am saying Meili is a better child with me than with Tracy but that is not what I am sharing. Quite the contrary, I began to see that my presence brought out in Meili a steely resolve. Like having a man around her made her clam up a little and forced her to bury her feelings back under that tough exterior. When Tracy returned, Meili felt that it was OK to show her emotions. She felt freedom in the arms of Mom and permission to express herself or feel fear. The love of Tracy and who she is to Meili is such a haven of comfort that Meili knows safety in her arms. For me, this was one of the most moving experiences of this whole time in our relationship with Meili. Tracy and I play different roles in her mind and I am quite alright with that because I know she knows without a doubt that we both love her and want what’s best for her.
And so Tracy pushed through another restless night with Meili but good news came with the sunrise. Meili’s appetite had returned and she began to eat some apple sauce and drink some juice! Now it was just a matter of convincing the grumpiest nurse on duty that Meili wanted to go home to heal. Isn’t that always the case? You have fabulous nurses for 95% of the time but when it comes time to check-out, nurse grumpy takes over! Making things worse was our attempt to convince Meili that eating this or drinking that would result in all of us going home faster – before we knew it, we had our own daughter protesting that she wanted to stay at the hospital rather than put anything in her mouth! What? How did that happen – time to roll back this strategy. Soon thereafter, Meili finally relented and ate some more food so we could get her home.
We were eventually able to convince nurse grumpy to let us go and off we speed for home with the rest of our family. After 2 nights and three days, it was so nice to have both Meili and Tracy back under one roof – which made the rest of the healing process much less fearful. Meili even pointed the way from her car seat as we got closer to home. Smooth sailing from here, or so we thought!
On Sunday, Meili’s front lip began to swell dramatically. Afraid that we had done something in feeding her to damage the surgery, we called the doctors office to get some advice. Needless to say, we were rattled! They advised us to go straight to the Emergency Room where they would have a surgeon there to meet us. Looking at my exhausted wife, I knew this should be my task and off Meili and I went to the hospital. That hour long drive was the quietest drive I have ever driven. Just like the hospital room all over again, Meili shut down on me and just quietly sat in her car seat and never made so much as a peep. We eventually reached the hospital and Meili recognized the buildings. Without Mom with us, she was princess steel but made sure her hand was safely holding onto mine at all times. It’s a funny feeling – like we didn’t have to say it but we both knew we were in this together and come hell or high water, Daddy was going to make sure his daughter was OK. Meili may never express herself with me like she does with Tracy and that is OK because I can see in her little eyes that she knows I love her and will always protect her.
The ER experience was thankfully short and sweet. The surgeon came in and of course, without even having to ask, Meili automatically opens her mouth to let him look. Really? Are you kidding me? The last time you did that, Meili, some white coated man left you with stitches in the inside of your mouth! Yet again, she trusts me to take care of her and that sweet little expression of trust in me does not go unnoticed as I once again get choked up. I am quickly shaken from my emotional outburst from the surgeon turning to me and informing me all looks good. The swelling in her lip was a result of blood pooling in that area from the surgery. Evidently, they had to use a lot of tissue from the inside of her lip to close the gap in her mouth and her body was reacting quite normally.
Ah, nothing like being THAT overreacting parent!
So back home we drove…in silence, again. But I was OK with the silence because it gave me plenty of time to reflect about the last 4 or 5 days. There are few worse things as parent than knowing you have to make difficult decisions for the betterment of your children. And some times those decisions will result in great amounts of (temporary) pain for your children but of course, this not something they can understand. However, as bad and as dark as those days are, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Because it is in those challenging times that you discover how deep your live is for your children and your wife. You can come face to face with your greatest fears and know the power of walking through them.
I had no idea when we decided to adopt Meili that it would result in the discover of such compassion and inner strength in both me and Tracy. Or that it would open so many other doors of love and acceptance within our family and friends. But here I sit archiving another story in the amazing life of Meili – laughing, crying and being overwhelmed at the thought that maybe this is as much a journey of me coming home as it is her.
Thank you Meili – it’s good to have you home.