Friday

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Q was a year and two months old when she had her first lip and palate surgery. Here in the USA, if a child is born with a cleft, they have their first surgery very early in life - somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 months of age. For an adopted child, it's a bit more of a roll of the dice. Some receive a preliminary surgery from a charity organization, either local or international, while they are still in an institution and waiting to be adopted. The age at which the first surgery occurs is generally later - somewhere around 8 or 9 months of age. Q was one of the rare cases in which the child does not receive their first surgery pre-adoption. Most cleft children have their lip repaired prior to adoption, though usually not the palate. When we adopted Q at nearly one year of age, she still had not had her first surgery, and both the lip and palate were still wide open. 

For those not familiar with the condition, any child born with a cleft lip and/or palate usually requires years of speech therapy to learn to pronounce sounds properly, regardless of the timing or severity of surgeries. There are so many muscles in the lips, tongue and soft palate involved in speech as we know it that it's difficult to wrap ones mind around the complexity of it all. Imagine if you were born without the muscles of your mouth connected. Imagine how long it would take to learn to use those surgically-attached muscles to create the sounds that we use for speech, much less to learn how to perform a simple smile. Know also that there is a great deal of scar tissue involved after a surgery performed to the hard and soft palate, and that the scar tissue makes the functional use of those muscles even more problematic.

Now think about how a parent anticipates the time when they will be able to understand the early babblings of a small child. As parents of a child born with a cleft, we have to wait even longer for that joyful and exciting moment.

Q learned sign language quite easily as an infant, but we were warned not to give her too much facility with signing. She needed the frustration factor in order to give her the motivation necessary to do the hard work involved in learning to speak. She needed to have trouble communicating, so that she would be motivated to begin the painful and arduous process of learning to use her mouth and facial muscles to pronounce words. For a many months now, we have listened to her experimenting with the process. We have heard her loosen up and grow comfortable with her own babbling, knowing full well that most of what she says will be incomprehensible to those around her. 

Because she is smart and quick and bold, we knew that her comprehension level was extremely high, even for one born to a very different language (Mandarin Chinese) which she heard and absorbed during her first year of life. Very early in life, Q developed her own form of charades, and had little trouble making her emotions and desires clear.

We did not know when to expect to begin to understand her spoken words, much less fully-verbalized sentences. Only in the past couple of months have we begun to see that process unfold. She is now three years old plus two months, and we are only just beginning to know the great joy of understanding her most, if not all, of the time. 

Yesterday, Q and I were sitting on the couch while daddy prepared dinner. Suddenly, she stood up and threw her arms around me. Q is an extremely loving and happy child, but she is not overly demonstrative in a purely physical sense, so this was rather rare. 

"Mommy, thank you for my Keroppi!" she said. 

Keroppi is the stuffed frog (friend of Hello Kitty, and Q's great love) that you will doubtless have seen in many recent photos. 

"Oh, you're welcome, sweetheart!" I said, surprised. 

"Mommy, thank you for my pink phone (tiny toy cell phone bought for a dollar from a vending machine)!" she said, throwing her arms around me yet again. 

"Goodness!" I said, a bit overwhelmed, "You're welcome, my pumpkin-pie!"

She released me from her embrace, sat back on the couch, and looked around her for a moment, her eyes stuttering around the room. Then she spread her arms wide to encompass the whole room, our possessions, our house.

"Mommy," she said, "Thank you for...all this stuff."

Now, I am not a crier. But at this point, I have to tell you, I started to tear up.

"Oh, sweetie," I said. "You are so welcome. Thank you for...for being you. And for being our daughter."

Then she plopped her butt down on the couch, let her hands fall in her lap in resignation.

"I'm sorry mommy," she said, very deliberately. "I just...love you...so...very...much!"

The process of verbalization has officially begun. Just when I thought my heart could not be stretched any larger.

17 comments:

Di said...

You almost made me cry this morning...what a joy.....I often think people don't tell their family they love them often enough...I make sure I tell my parents every time i see them or every time I talk on the phone....now Q, I am sure will be telling you all the time too!

M@rgriet said...

You'd have to be made of stone not to get emotional at that! Wow, this is great. So much fun when kids really start to talk! xx M.
By the way - love the new pink hair family look ;-) Have fun trick or treating!

jennifer regent said...

quel joli moment vous venez de nous faire partager, merci à vous deux!
what a beautiful time you've shared with us, thank's to you two(i've read your blog for some weeks now I finally take time to tell that I like your work you share with us :-)
A très bientôt

Heather said...

Oh...

I am a parent of three amazing children, one biological and two born in Ethiopia... Your post was amazing. I am so happy for your family and her progress with her speech. I found your blog originally from the LeVestiairedeJeanne site... but we have the adoptive family link in common as well!
Happy Halloween! (we are living in Stockholm Sweden presently and they don't celebrate here... we miss home!)

Heather

Croatian_Latina said...

Wow,what an emotional and beautifully written post. Q sounds like a wonderful and happy girl. and she has two equally wonderful and loving parents!

Natalie Thiele said...

Thank you for the very intimate look at Q's early life. Important to learn how crucial early surgery is for speech development.
I used to support Smile Train, but had lapsed with the economy change. Your post gave me the nudge I needed to revive my support.
What a special thrill it must have been to receive a rare outburst of love from Q.

kitchu said...

ooo. tissue. needing a tissue.

Miss Lime said...

This made me tear up as well. Nothing more heart warming than the sincere words of a child.

Daan said...

and now i'm tearing up ...
Thak you for sharing, you are beautiful!

Michele said...

I'm glad I already had a tissue next to me when I read this.

Yoli said...

Beautiful post Maia. I have no idea how I missed this post. I am here weeping like a fool.

Chiharu said...

Thank you so much for sharing these precious moments and also about cleft lip and palette from your own experience. While I am only feeling a little portion of what you feel, I am still here moved and teary past midnight reading your blog. I can't imagine the everyday discovery you have of Q..and even more now on.

melissa Hanson said...

From what I've read on your blog, you understood your daughter long before she said a word. :-)

Duchess of Lanier said...

Sweet, sweet, sweet!

MaDaltOn said...

oh my ...
little little Q's saying so majestuous things ...
and our heartbeat is just finding his rythm with yours ...
[ hope this is english ! ]

Jeanne-ming said...

Oh! Me too! I am sitting on a toilet in a hotel bathroom because I cant sleep and don't want to disturb my roomie who is sleeping like a log and I have one millions problems and emails to answer to China, sitting here on the toilet typing...but as I finish I think to myself...I'm going to cheer myself up and visit Q, because no doubt she will be a riot in the Halloween season and sure enough I am not disappointed, but no I can stop I keep scrolling and then I see this post!!!! Oh my...out of the mouth of babes...and out of Q...I am bawling like a baby and now my roommate is knocking on the bathroom door.....

FDChief said...

I can't believe I missed this post. What a lovely moment, and what a lovely gift from you and Q to us. Thank you. Just lovely.