03 Dec April Update
I thought about skipping these monthly update posts. After all, we’re 8 months past Giddy Day, so all of these milestones are kind of old news, haha. But especially after being thrown headfirst into the world of developmental delays, I couldn’t read enough first-hand accounts of life after adoption once we got home with Gideon. It’s one thing to try to prepare before your child. It’s quite another when you’re living it. So for all of you parents in the adoption transition, these are for you!
We traveled with families whose kids were speaking English words by the end of their first week together and identifying letters by their second. That wasn’t us. That still, 8 months later, isn’t us. So this is where our stories might not share a similar path anymore, and that’s okay. One of my favorite phrases I use for Gideon when his therapists or teachers talk about his development is that our family, our Gideon, is taking the “scenic route.” Milestones we assumed he had already achieved in Korea he still hasn’t met. This isn’t to scare you or to promote our experience as what yours will be (in fact, we are probably in the minority of families coming home!). But this is to help you understand that you might take the scenic route too, and that’s okay. Gideon’s needs felt overwhelming for a few days. Now, I can honestly say they don’t feel big at all (except the oral aversion, which we’ll talk about).
It’s also important that I explain just how much Gideon had going on when he came home, which we’ll dive into over these next few posts. First and foremost, kids have very, very, very different reactions to stress, trauma, and the adoption transition. As we’ve already talked about, Gideon’s grief was sudden and hard. On top of his already anxious tendencies to new people and new situations, his little brain had a lot to process with the added stress. It took months to get an accurate picture of where he was, developmentally speaking, and even now, there are days and milestones where we still question what’s trauma and what’s Gideon. There was probably also a fair amount of regression related solely to the stress of the adoption transition, and, again, was not an accurate picture of where he was developmentally before he came home.
We discovered two months after he came home that he had significant hearing loss due to impacted ear wax, to the point his ear drums were barely vibrating. Our doctor estimated he hadn’t been able to hear much at all for at least a year. That makes speech really hard to assess! Most the concerns Korea had about Gideon’s development stemmed from him not responded to his name. Once we had his ears irrigated, Gideon went from not responding to his name to responding almost every time within 24 hours. We still don’t know if Gideon will end up with a diagnosis here in the US (for now he’s been given the diagnosis of “Global Developmental Delay”), and we don’t know how many of his delays are related to “just” his hearing.
From what we know, his foster parents were angels, and emotionally and in his attachment, I feel confident saying that Gideon is further along than other kids we came home with. That’s a miracle, yes, but it’s also a testament to how well he was loved by them! That said, from what we know, his world was relatively small in Korea, so we aren’t sure exactly what he was exposed to. Some kids do great with new things immediately. Gideon generally does not. Gideon needs to see the same thing ten times before he feels confident enough to try it himself. He needs someone to both help him feel safe and push him a bit too, someone to draw him out of the “safe” little world he was used to when he couldn’t hear.
Gideon is incredibly bright, excels in problem-solving for his age (according to his teachers and every evaluator we’ve met with), and has this…something…about him that we believe makes him incredibly special. Empathy doesn’t quite cover it, and neither does emotional maturity (for his age, of course). But there is something about Gideon that can’t be tested, something I see in his eyes when I talk to him, something that shows me he understands on a deeper level than he can communicate. He’s truly amazing.
But for the sake of a baseline, let’s talk about where we were when we came home. When Gideon came home, we had a really rough first few days. He wouldn’t explore past his bedroom and the living room. His core was so weak he couldn’t walk from the kitchen to the living room without losing balance, and he couldn’t sit up from lying down. He would play with baby toys for 2-3 hours at a time (stacking rings, stacking cups), and he wouldn’t touch anything but hard objects. No blankets, no stuffed animals, nothing. He didn’t put anything in his mouth except a spoon or his bottle, and even then, it was only for strawberry Yoplait yogurt, mashed banana, or formula, which had to be exactly room temperature. He couldn’t hold his own bottle or feed himself. He couldn’t chew or use a straw. He didn’t eat with his fingers or touch the food on his tray, and we had never seen a child so detached from eating (this is important for a lot of discussion later). He drooled constantly and could soak through his shirt in less than an hour. He couldn’t run, couldn’t jump, couldn’t climb up on furniture, and couldn’t navigate stairs. He supposedly said 3 words in Korean, but we only ever heard “Omma” (“mom”). He basically went silent for the first few months, except for crying, laughing, and the very occasional “mama” and “dada.” He struggled with transitions in terrain, even between carpet and hardwood, and he seemed very unsure about grass. He didn’t want to leave the house, and he wouldn’t go out to the garage. When we did go out, he wanted to stay in the stroller until he felt ready, which usually took a solid 20-25 minutes of just sitting in a new place. Even getting out of the car and walking into the bank required the stroller, as he wouldn’t let us carry him. He was so stiff we thought he might have some sort of muscle issue (we eventually discovered it was just anxiety and went away suddenly about 3 weeks home). Just before we left Korea (at 27 months old), Gideon was scoring about 15-19 months behind in all areas, including motor, language, social skills, and self-help.
Everything in Gideon’s world suddenly got very big and very scary, and we spent the first weeks helping him feel safe and loved. Within the first 24-48 hours of being a family, he was seeking us out in a room. At 9 days as a family, he smiled at us just because it was us, his Mommy and Daddy. My heart totally melted, and that was the moment I started to feel like his Mommy. Slowly, we started to make progress in other areas, and Gideon started to hit some exciting developmental milestones that first month home!
- Ate a banana cut into pieces instead of mashed (no chewing though)
- Touched Cheerios, grapes, and bananas for the first time (none in his mouth yet)
- Played in the rice sensory box
- Started sticking toys in his mouth, at least occasionally
- Took about 4 days, but transitioned from formula to whole milk, then to lactose-free milk
- Held his own bottle for the first time
- Fed us with his fingers for the first time
- Started feeding himself with a spoon
- Took 2 hours, but he finally explored from the door (from the house into the garage) to outside
- Threw a ball
- Tried ice cream, applesauce, egg drop soup, and a teeny bite of chicken nugget (didn’t like any of them)
- Stood up in the crib and climbed up to the couch by himself
- Actually seemed to understand English for the first time, at least a few words
- Started consistently eating dak juk (rice porridge), which was his first real solid food!
- Walked in the grass at Grandma and Grandpa’s
- Said “dada” and associated it with Brian
- Crawled up the stairs
- RAN in the grass chasing bubbles with Grandma! Just a little bit, but he did it.
- Liked to “jump” with Brian’s help
- At the zoo, he let me carry him more than a few feet for the first time! At three weeks home, to the day, he suddenly relaxed and wasn’t stiff anymore.
We also had some fun family milestones to celebrate!
- Went to Aaron’s baseball game (also Mommy’s first outing with just Giddy)
- Went to see Dr. Idstein (pediatrician) and Dr. Taylor (International Adoption specialist) for the first time
- Celebrated the Christmas we missed with him
- Went to Gustavo’s and to the park with the Farmers
- Visited Grandma and Grandpa at work, one time without the stroller!
- Visited Daddy at work
- First time at church
- First time at Gigi and Pa’s
- First time at Target and Walmart
- First time yardsaling
- First time at the zoo with Moni and Poppy