Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vacation Pics

We have been back from our trip to Disney world for some time now. I have most of the blog posts ready to go, but I thought I'd share a few pictures from the trip.




We saw many of our favorite characters, Mulan was one we HAD to see.




And there's the collection of goofy ride pictures. Em knew exactly where they take the picture on space mountain, so we have some hilarious ones from that ride. THIS is why the Memory Maker was a great investment.




There were moments of contemplation and exhaustion. It was hot but we found some great ways to stay cool.




And this was the highlight for my youngest two.


It was a great trip, we drove lots to get there, we saw more than we thought we could and we made memories that will last us a lifetime. Stay tuned for more...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Discovering sensory needs

Afua spent half of her life (thus far) in an orphanage that left her alone  in a crib majority of her days. Children in orphanages like Afua's are often sensory deprived and learn to resort to other behaviors such as rocking, head banging or various self harming strategies to feel something. In an environment where there is no stimulation (white walls, only a crib to explore, no toys and very little human contact, some children also give up and close off the world entirely. Neither reaction is good for a child's development as children are meant to be held and nurtured, not left alone in cribs.

girls rocking in our big hammock


Imagine coming from this dull but predictable world into our world. Bright colors, freedom to move, textures, tastes (not just bland porridge), smells and sounds. How about interaction with people who want to hug you, touch you and take care of you? For many if not most children this is incredibly hard. It is overwhelming. Many adoptive moms try to figure this out with medical professionals even though their child may be the first time they have treated a chil adopted out of an institution. It takes a willing learner to walk this journey with a family and it takes a a lot of trial and error to see results.

Without discussing Afua's specific challenges, I can say that she needed sensory integration work from day 1. She loved being hugged and held which was wonderful, but our world was so overwhelming at first that she was happiest when we placed her in the crib for naps and at bedtime. I could see how she relaxed in that environment the best.
Siblings love to help her with brushing


I have worked with children with sensory processing challenges, autism and CP. Sensory work is not new to me. But I still sought out a pediatric OT who has been instrumental in discovering Afua's sensory needs. It's great to have someone as the practitioner and I can be the parent.

I shared in a previous post that Afua is getting a DMO suit. It's coming next week!!! It will be a huge help in mobility and sensory processing as well.
This tiny rocking chair is great for organizing and for core strengthening as well

One of the ways Afua organizes is with the Wilbarger brushing protocol. Using a special brush, we go through her legs and arms and trunk in specific patterns and it calms her sensory seeking needs immediately. This morning, she crawled to the table, picked up the brush and handed it to Joy. She is developing awareness on what she likes and what helps her. 

Another way Afua reorganizes is through her mouth. She is always exploring her world by putting things in her mouth and after some specific sensory work with a vibrating tool or the Nuk brush, she is ready to focus on other things.

We have also found that swinging is great for her. Our hammock is a great place to swing and she can snuggle with a sibling or parent at the same time. I am looking at getting a swing in our play room too to help her. 

Pinterest is full of sensory ideas and some activities are great for ALL children. Awareness of sensory integration is growing and it's value is known now. Discovering a child's particular sensory triggers and calming techniques will take time, especially if a child was in a sensory depriving environment. But it is a worthwhile discovery that results in improved attention and social interactions. We get to see the true Afua, not the behaviors that masked her sweet and spunky personality.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Green light

This week, we had our final consultation before Afua's cochlear implant surgery. I had my questions memorized and went through them one by one. We talked about recovery, future MRIs (the magnet needs to be removed or specially covered to have an MRI) and what the follow up therapies will be like. 

Her surgery will be next month so we have a few weeks of summer to enjoy. After that, she will be recovering and then her CI will be activated. 

We have big dreams for Afua and feel that this is the best decision for her. At the same time, we know this doesn't cure her hearing loss, she is perfect the way she is and we will continue to teach her sign language. 

Decisions like these aren't easy, but once we have peace about what to do, we move ahead with excitement. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Celebrating Afua

Yesterday was Afua's birthday and the first time this day has been celebrated properly.

Last year, I went to her orphanage and was initially denied my daily visit. It was raining and they deemed it too cold (it was over 70 degrees). I insisted that I wanted to at least wish her happy birthday and they finally have me 15 minutes to visit.

Snuggling with Lucy on her birthday last year. 


This year, I wanted the day to be about Afua. We did soap bubbles, she snuggled in the hammock and we played with new light up toys. She loves when the entire family is gathered around her so we all played with her and surrounded her with our presence and love.
She usually doesn't stay with one activity for long, but she was swinging in the hammock just feeling the breeze. 


Exploring the slip and slide.

Afua is progressing at a rapid pace, we see the sensory processing and integration happening so wonderfully. But most importantly, she is a family girl. She loves knowing her home base and who she can trust. Having experienced a long journey to attachment before, Afua is amazingly, securely attached early on. 


Happy Birthday sweet girl! You are the glue in our family, the one who makes sure we are ALL together. You are a blessing! 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A year ago

Edited to add: I have received emails asking if there were any ethical concerns with our adoption based on this day's events. To clarify, the US Embassy did not suspect that we submitted fraudulent documents. Ultimately all our documents were verified as authentic and we were closely involved in obtaining them. But there had been cases before us with falsified documents and that is why there is an increased concerns with certain adoption professionals. 


365 days ago, I was in Ghana waking up before the sunrise. It was the day of our visa exit interview and by all indications it should have been a day of celebration. Afua had her passport, we had jumped though all the right hoops and all we needed was her visa printed on the passport.

I approached her orphanage with my friend who drove me there. The staff was not in the office so we waited for our power of attorney (POA) to arrive. Once he arrived, he called for someone to get Afua dressed. I had to fill out paperwork promising to bring her back and they sent an auntie with us (as a security guard I guess). I was running out of grace with the orphanage and the way they treated me, but I put on a happy face and scooped my girl up.
Afua sitting with our dear friend

We got to the US Embassy gate and the line wrapped around the building. Along with hearing adoptive cases, this day they also had visa interviews for Ghanaians hoping to come to the US for various reasons. The problem was that I was holding a 30 lb sick child who couldn't as much as hold her head up and the line was going to be looooong. 

I was told I could give money to the security guard to use his chair but I gave my POA a glance that indicated that I would rather stand than pay a bribe. Sorry, the Finnish stubborn side of me rose up as I saw a healthy security guard sit in his plastic chair as he watched me carry and hold a sick girl right next to him....grace...grace...I kept telling myself that over and over again.

Finally another security guard approached me and asked me why I was there. He let me in the Embassy so we could sit. My arms were numb and shaking and I'm not sure how much longer I could have held her. 

Once inside, we dropped off documents at the window for our visa exit interview. I was not aware but our POA submitted a document I had not seen before which would prove to cause a lot of confusion for our case.

As we sat and waited, Afua became increasingly distressed. The auntie sent by the orphanage couldn't tell me anything as she didn't usually care for her. Before long, Afua vomited all over herself, my dress and the chair next to us. The crowded sitting room cleared around us, no one wanted to ruin their clothes:) I don't blame them.

Finally I heard my name called. By the time I approached the window, my POA was already there. They seemed to have a spirited discussion about a previous case and finally the attention turned to me and Afua.

The embassy wanted to verify all documents in our case as there had been fraudulent documents presented previously. Also, the one document our POA submitted had a different age for Afua which raised additional concerns. It was this inattention to detail that was now causing a wait in our case. 

I was devastated to hear that we were not getting a visa that day but we would have to wait until the embassy would call me with their decision. They knew Afua was sick (they could see it as she seized in front of them) and it seemed they would proceed quickly.

365 days ago was a day that ended in many tears. Friends called, texted and messaged encouraging words and truths. Eric and I made long term plans for me to stay in Ghana. And once again, I returned my girl to the orphanage where she would lay in her crib. 

But the story doesn't end here...however devastating that day was, there was a happy ending. You can read about our last days in Ghana HERE...

Friday, June 20, 2014

June 20, 2013

A year ago today, I woke up in Ghana after traveling for 24 hours and arriving late in the evening at my guest house. It was a day full of hope as I was being reunited with Afua. The plan was to meet with the Director of Social Welfare and request custody so I could take Afua to the hospital and begin to bond with her. Legally she had been our daughter for 6 months under Ghana law but as she was in a government facility they determined when I could take custody. 


Her head was freshly shaved, she smelled like Shea butter and she was much taller than when I last saw her 7 months earlier. They definitely made a better effort to clean her than the first time I met her. Her body was weak with some spasticity in her feet and elbows. She would sit up on my lap briefly and then wanted to lay down. She studied my face as to determine who I was and why she was allowed outside for a visit.

My request for custody was a heated meeting. I was firm but polite, I had a reasonable answer to every question but ultimately I was told she was better off at the orphanage until I could take her home. My heart sank as I thought about visiting her daily and having to leave her at the orphanage. Children do not belong in cribs, they belong in their mothers arms. 

I then checked in with our adoption team to see the progress made on her paperwork. Everything seemed to be moving a lot faster now that I was here so there was positive news about that. I was clear that I would not pay any bribes and it was understood by everyone helping us. While I wanted Afua home quickly, it would have to be done with clean hands. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Casting and fitting

Yesterday, Afua had her feet casted for new leg braces. So far, she has worn braces that were designed to stretch her heel cords to a neutral position for standing. 6 months later, she is now ready for more conventional braces that can be worn with shoes. 

We also had a fitting for a custom dynamic movement orthosis (DMO) that will support her core as she learns new movement patterns. It also supports her in sitting and standing which will be a huge help. 

Here is a great video to see what the suit looks like and how it helps children: http://youtu.be/kdDSU-sYo00

The process to be approved for equipment is a test of endurance but our persistence paid off. In a few weeks Afua will have new opportunities for movement (and cute shoes covering her toes!).