When he came to us at 6 weeks of age he did not respond to loud noises, bright lights, touch. He was lifeless in many ways and we did not know what to expect in terms of his healing and growth. We spent the first several months carrying him next to our skin and working with his pediatrician - the one his birth mom brought all her children to, and the one he continues to see to this day. Over time, he warmed and filled with life.
We worked through a variety of biological and environmental barriers to his development but we never fully captured how to best help him get a good night of sleep. Now that he's a toddler, it's hard to know what's going on in his brain. Occasionally he sleeps through the night, more now than ever before as a result of changing our diets to remove food barriers (no grains, gluten, dairy, soy, sugar) and increased vitamins to help hormones do their natural work of falling sleep and staying asleep. All that helped, but it never fully solved the problem. To this day, he cycles every three hours, either waking up, screaming, crying, getting out of bed, or coughing - often falling back asleep or on occasion, crawling into bed with us. 7pm. 10pm. 1am. 4am. For 3.5 years. Stated bluntly, our 3 1/2 year old has never slept consistently well and we have no idea what impact that has had on his development. We've not had answers until now. And it was right there all along - in occasional comment threads on our instagram.
For all the ways he communicates and is funny and attuned and so very expressive, he has struggled with speech articulation and language development. Friends, family, professionals & practitioners have been stumped. Early intervention was a huge commitment with very little gains. Speech therapy, the same. We enrolled him in a private preschool which is Reggio Emilia-inspired and Waldorf-esque, hoping the individualized focus on him would help with his development. We've seen gains there as he grows up, but sleep remains inconsistent and he's been snoring a lot more lately.
This winter he has had more ear infections than all of us combined and he is chronically sick. We chalked that up to being in preschool for the first time and we believed this was just part of his immunity strengthening - a sentiment echoed by so many parents. The last time he saw his pediatrician for his 3 year old checkup, he failed his hearing test for the first time. We pressed our concerns around his speech and sleep, his constant chewing on things, his holding food in his mouth & our wonders around how often he could hear us. We left that last appointment with a referral to a specialist and as it turns out so many of you were right.
We learned this week that our little guy has mild hearing impairment as a result of long-term fluid buildup in his ears. His adenoids aren't doing their job. To him it sounds as if he’s under water all the time. He chews on things, the doctor thinks, to relieve the pressure in his years which fluctuates from being able to hear a little bit to not being able to hear much & is likely consistently uncomfortable or in pain. We learned that this is also probably one reason he holds his food in his mouth, because his tonsils are enlarged and sometimes swallowing is a challenge.
And so, in the midst of selling our home and moving and me starting my own business, we are scheduling surgery immediately for him to have his tonsils & adenoids removed, which we understand will require 1-2 weeks of aftercare at home.
Here’s the thing I want to say about belonging to one another.
When you become a family of five in the ways that we did it’s easy to overlook the details. When you parent from the place of constant overwhelm it’s really hard to put the pieces together that make up a basic understanding of what everyone needs. It's hard to get creative, be playful & remain tenacious. We work in waves. And when you're working with multiple practitioners and educators for all your children and yourselves, you almost need an outside source looking in to oversee all the moving parts. Obviously we don't have that, just as we don't have a lot of local support or resources.
Adopting a sibling group from foster care is not the same journey to building a family as having one's own biological children, or adopting internationally, or raising one child at a time. Having a mixed-race family is not the same as having a family that is all one race. None of these are a better or worse scenario, there's no judgment here. It's just different. There are things we'll have in common and there are things we will simply not ever be able to fully understand because our lived experiences are so different. And that's ok. I believe this is a thing which makes us all stronger.
Kids are always going to present with different challenges, right? What I wish for traditional families raising their own neurotypical biological kids to understand is, that when you adopt a sibling group from foster care and you are not resourced to do it well, you are constantly under water, constantly making hard choices, and constantly putting your kids before yourself. A lot of details get lost. Like maintenance on your car. Bills. Shots for the dog. Remembering special days at school. Other things. There are lots of ways to support families like ours, as so many of us need a village to help us raise up our kiddos. We put a list together here last fall, which might be useful in general, but also as we head toward National Foster Care Awareness month in May.
The last thing I want to say, if you are family like ours, you’re not alone. The Internet can be a great source of strength, camaraderie, knowledge, community and resources. We didn’t know how common a problem tonsils and adenoids can be for babies and toddlers. If your kiddo has sleep problems, is struggling to develop language, chronically sick with head colds, strep and ear infections, chews on hands and chewies and straws and lot of other things and holds food in their mouth, you might consider getting their hearing checked with a childhood Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.
Our little guy is expected to make a full recovery. Hopefully, we will finally know what his voice sounds like and he will finally know what the world sounds like.