Friday, September 23, 2016

I lost a child this week.....

I lost a child this week.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  She was never mine.  I’ve had family and friends who have lost their children and I would never want to minimize their pain by comparing my situation with theirs.  I don’t have a lifetime of memories with this little one.  I only had the dreams of them.

Before Peter and I even got married, we knew we wanted to adopt again.  But how? How do you choose one from the thousands of orphans in this country???  A little more than a year and a half ago, I saw her picture for the first time.  In a crowd of many.  She captured my heart.  We’ll call her “Sia” (not her real name).  Peter and I started praying, and continued to pray for months and months.  Things like pregnancies, miscarriages, emergency return trips to the US and changes in the visa rules all dictated that we needed to wait.  So we did.  We waited, and we prayed. 

After my miscarriage in the States, I was devastated.  I was sad about the child I’d lost but I was also really sad that the little one that was waiting for me, would have to wait longer.  While we were in the States, Peter and I talked a lot about what to do.  After a LOT of discussion, we decided that when we returned to Sierra Leone we would go ahead and begin adoption proceedings for Sia.  I. Was. Stoked. 
I started scouring the clearance racks, Goodwill and St. Vinney’s looking for cute, little girl clothes.  I bought extra hair supplies and tooth brushes, a new set of sheets and a new thicker blanket for the “cold” nights.  I spent WAY too much time trying to find just the right mosquito net that would match Marie’s and make their room look girlie and cute.  We had been talking with Marie about the idea of adoption for quite a while.  And Marie actually came to us one day and said that she thought we should adopt Sia. before we EVER mentioned a specific kiddo to her.  Once our decision was made, we told Marie our plans and she got really excited and picked out some matching outfits for her and her new sister. 

And then another curve ball.  A few days before we left I found out…..I was pregnant.  Surprise!  (Yes, we know how that happens….blah, blah blah.  But I’m telling you!  There’s a reason people say that abstinence is the only 100% effective contraception!)

So now we’re back to square one.  The problem is that we wouldn’t be far enough into Sia’s adoption to be able to get a visa for her to visit the States for me to have the baby.  This meant we 1) wait almost another year to start adoption proceedings 2) start the process, bring her into our home, but then have to leave her here when we went back to the States or 3) have our baby somewhere besides the US. 

Because Ben came so early and needed the extra help of the NICU, we knew that we wouldn’t want to have the baby here.  We started researching and discovered……Kenya!!  I spoke to a woman who had had both of her children in Kenya and LOVED it!  I started e-mailing her OB/GYN to discuss my options and found out this particular hospital has a NICU, a neonatologist and great success with premies.  It wasn’t ideal.  I would much rather give birth in my own culture, with friends and family nearby.  But it seemed a small price to pay if it meant we could all be together.  Finally.  October 1 was the day.  The day we would bring Sia home.

We started putting things in motion and began talking to her family members about the adoption.  Then one day it all stopped.  We found out that someone, somewhere along the way hadn’t been completely truthful.  Sia did have some family that was willing, able, and really WANTED to take care of her.  After investigating for a few days, it was decided by all parties involved that the best thing for Sia would be to go live with her biological family. 

I was so happy for her.  Adoption is wonderful, but it’s also very painful.  For her not to have to struggle with those tough questions of “who am I,” “where did I come from,” etc. would, OF COURSE be best for her.  I was happy for her.  I was devastated for us. 

This week has been a painful one.  The “memories” are just everywhere.  Well, not memories, but memories of plans and dreams.  I have a closet and dresser full of clothes that were specifically purchased for this little girl.  I can tell you where I stood in Old Navy when their swimming suits were 50% off and deliberated FOREVER about which bright color would look most awesome against her dark skin.  I walk by Marie’s room and see the empty bunk-bed that will remain empty.  The packet of toothbrushes and extra toothpastes I bought.  More ribbons and hair bows than one little girl needs….but just enough for two.  Yesterday I was cleaning up the top of my dresser and found the “Sisters” picture frame that I finally found at Hobby Lobby after looking all over town.  It feels like everything is tainted by this.  The staple meals that I cook are different now because I’d started wondering if this amount of food would be enough for THREE kids.  And would she like it?  My Amazon shopping cart has a baby doll in it that my mom was going to bring over for Sia’s birthday in November.  I have her stocking for Christmas.  I don’t know how many times I’ve imagined the five of us reading our Advent story by candlelight.  The “memories” are just everywhere.  And they’re painful.

But oh my goodness, how God is gracious.  Even in the midst of this pain, I can see His hand of mercy.  Thank you Lord, that we found out about this before she came to live with us.  How much more painful it would have been for all involved if we had started that process of becoming a family, only to have it ripped apart. 

I had the opportunity to go see Sia with her family.  At first I didn’t want to go.  I’d had a particularly rough evening the night before when I went through her clothes, trying to decide which ones to give her.  (I had an entire wardrobe for her but didn’t want to overwhelm her family and make them feel “less than” because they didn’t have that to give her).  After doing that incredibly painful thing, I decided I couldn’t go see her with her family. I was afraid I’d just start crying and make things more awkward than they already were. 

I changed my mind.  And WHAT a blessing it was that I did!!  The next day Peter and I went to see little Sia.  To be able to see her with her family, see how comfortable she was with them and they with her, was like putting cold water on a painful burn.  It was soothing.  And God was so gracious.  I held it together until we were leaving.  The pain isn’t gone……but being able to see them together, a family reunited, made my pain feel less in light of their joy. 

Although I see a lot of things here that make me ask, “Why God? I don’t understand this! I don’t see Your hand here.  I’m really confused,”  this wasn’t one of those times.  It was pretty simple.  We live in a broken world and people sin.  Someone that I’d never met didn’t tell the truth a long time ago, and that lie started events in motion that ended with our family being hurt.  Sin has consequences.  Our pain is one of the consequences.  Life here on earth is hard.  It’s not heaven.  But to see Jesus working……forgiving, healing, comforting……I’m so thankful.  Thankful that we haven’t been left alone.  Thankful that He makes things new, and makes beauty out of ashes.  He promised that we would have trouble here on earth, but He also promised to be with us in the midst of that trouble and pain.  And He will overcome.  What an awesome God we serve.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tylenol how I love thee....let me count the ways....

Last night a caretaker from the boys’ house called to let me know that one of the boys, we’ll call him “Abdul” was unconscious.  Unconscious? Say, what?  My body immediately went into “fight or flight” mode as the rush of adrenaline swept over me.  In my experience, “unconscious people” don’t do terribly well here. 

Peter was in a meeting so Nicole offered to watch my kiddos while I ran to see what was going on.  I had just seen Abdul yesterday and he’d been fine. He’d complained of a headache and tested positive for malaria, so I started him on the treatment.  But the “positive” line hadn’t even been that dark…at least not as dark as the other boy who had tested positive.  And he came up to me to complain of his headache as I was leaving, almost as an afterthought. What the heck had I missed!??!

I started racking my brain trying to think of what could be going on so I could be prepared with some supplies.  I went to my little IV kit area and had IV fluid but couldn’t find the tubing or IV cannulas.  So…not super helpful.  Nice, Emily.  I ran to the fridge and grabbed a soda with some crackers and peanut butter. When I worked in the hospital, our malaria kiddos would often have really low blood sugars.  Depending on what exactly “unconscious” meant, I could see if a little sugar rush would help.
When I got the house I was led into a dark room, lit only by a single battery operated lamp.  Abdul lay on the bed with several caregivers sitting next to him and other children peering in the doorway.  They made room for me on the bed and I sat down next to him.  As I conducted my initial assessment by just looking at him, I saw a 15 year old boy with about 27 layers of clothes on, the top layer being a wool sweater.  He was laying down on the bed and responded by turning his head when asked questions, but wasn’t talking very coherently.  At least what I could hear. 

I got more of the history from the caregivers.  Apparently he’d been fine most of the day.  He’d eaten all of his rice and had been drinking water.  No vomiting or diarrhea that they knew about.  Ok. This lowers my suspicion for extreme dehydration or hypoglycemia.  Apparently he’d been doing just fine until 5 minutes ago when he said he wanted to lay down and came inside.  Now….5 minutes.  I’ve learned in my years here, that I can’t take things like “minutes” literally.  (Also, FYI also don’t take “I’m coming” or “I’m almost there” literally either).  They’re not meant to be taken that way).  So when they said it was “5 minutes” it really just told me that he hadn’t been laying in the bed for most of the day. 

I checked his temperature and it was 103.6.  Pretty high for an older kiddo.  When I asked about his last dose of Tylenol they told me it had been earlier that morning.  I took some out of my bag and, with the assistance of one of the caregivers, helped Abdul to take the Tylenol. 

Now what to do.  He looked sick.  He wasn’t “unconscious” in that he was completely unresponsive, but he was mumbling and really restless, moving around on the bed.  Although I had diagnoses like cerebral malaria and other scary words in my mind, I decided that because he had only been sick for “5 minutes” I would give the Tylenol an hour to work.  If he didn’t turn the corner by then, I would take him to the emergency hospital.

I had quite a bit of faith in the Tylenol.  Like 80% sure it would work.  The other 20% of me felt nervous just sitting there, but the 80% won out.  I sat there quietly, softly patting Abdul’s arm.  After swallowing my pride and praying for him in Krio (something that I’m STILL uncomfortable doing because I feel like I can never find the right words), I began observing what was going on around me.  

One of the caregivers began massaging Abdul’s legs.  Another one sat near his head and kept alternating the soaked cloths applied to his forehead.  Yet another one stood in the doorway, and with her eyes fixed on Abdul kept clucking her teeth and saying, “Eh, God.”  I wondered how many times she’d sat in a darkened room like this with some unknown ailment tormenting a friend or family member….and it not ending well. 

I debated about making Abdul take off some of the layers of clothes in an effort to help bring down the fever.  But then I remembered when I had malaria.  The first time I was in the village, and put on my own 27 layers of clothes.  Even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do and had chastised I don't know HOW many parents for bundling up their febrile children....I. Did. Not. Care.  I was freezing.  So I had some mercy and just prayed the Tylenol would work really well.

 After 15 min. or so, Abdul began talking.  He quietly explained to the caretaker that when he was small he’d had an accident while going to the market and landed on his head.  Since that time, every August this kind of thing would happen and his head would begin hurting the way it was now.  I didn’t want to just dismiss him but I felt like I had to explain that it PROBABLY wasn’t a chronic head injury that just flared up in August.  Instead, it was more likely due to the fact that August is the height of rainy season, which means it’s also the time that malaria is most prevalent.  Since headache is one of the hallmark signs of malaria, it’s more likely that he just gets malaria every August and that’s what causes his pain.  Everyone nodded their heads…..I'm not convinced they believed me. 

After about 45 minutes Abdul was less restless but still complaining of a headache.  I realized I ran out of ibuprofen in my little medicine bag so I ran home to get some.  When I came back, I noticed that all the caregivers were out on the porch.  That was a good sign!  I asked how he was doing and they said he was sleeping. When I went in to see him he was DRENCHED in sweat and finally agreed to let them pull off the 300 layers of clothes he was wearing. He took some ibuprofen and another dose of malaria treatment and went back to sleep.  Everyone (including myself) was visibly relieved. 

I went to see him today and I wouldn’t have believed it was the same kid.  All smiles, hanging out on the porch.  Jesus, fever reducers and malaria treatments for the win!!