When my first six babies were infants, they were held for hours upon hours. They were talked to, sung to, cuddled, and snuggled often. Almost every noise they made was acknowledged and responded to, if not by me, then by another family member. My babies were socially educated from the minute they were born and they developed personality very quickly. Of course, the first five babies were typically developing and soaked up everything around them like a sponge. Tate did not. He could not. His brain was not able to understand much of the communications or the social world around him. I saw some of the evidence of this early on and one thing that was different about Tate from infancy was that he did not like to be sung to. He did like to be cuddled, held and rocked but he wanted silence. Unlike my other babies, he did not enjoy hearing mama sing. My voice isn’t the most beautiful voice but I can carry a tune and my other children have enjoyed being sung to immensely. Not Tate. The louder I sang, the louder he cried, so I stopped singing and learned to rock quietly. If he was hurt or upset and I gently said “shhhhh” as I tried to comfort him he took great offense. The “sh” sound was NOT allowed either. I had to warn people not to “sh” Tate and once in a while one of us forgot and he would wail. It was one of the many quirks we lived with and I chalk it all up to autism.
This blog post isn’t really about Tate and his quirks today though. I have been thinking a lot of about the “what-ifs” concerning Sydney lately. Sydney laid in a crib for most of her first ten-and-a-half months. She was not talked to, sung to, cuddled or snuggled. She was not carried around. She was changed and fed on a schedule with a bottle that was propped. In an earlier post I discussed her feeding schedule and how I changed that immediately upon taking custody, thus helping her stomach issues tremendously. What if, she had been fed appropriate amounts for her small stomach in much more frequent feedings? What if she had been changed as needed, bathed more often, not tortured with the itch of scabies, talked to, held, and carried around sometimes? What if she had not been neglected? So many of Sydney’s behavioral issues are blamed on the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and probably rightly so. However, would the FAS be so severe if the neglect had not been there? I will never know for certain because I will never get to go back and give Sydney those hours and hours of interaction that my first babies were given. Would Sydney have been much like Tate: unable to understand, in spite of all the attention? After all, her brain had been damaged by alcohol in the womb. Of course I believe Tate would be so much more handicapped if he had been in Sydney’s situation for the first ten months of his life. So therefore, the reverse must be true. I doubt there are too many people who would argue. We saw how fast a little attention could result in a lot of progress before we had even finished the adoption process.
When we were in Russia to visit Sydney in October of 2001, one of the first things we noticed was her lethargic personality. I said more than once to Shawn “she doesn’t have any sparkle behind her eyes.” We assumed she had brain damage but did not know much about FAS. We did ask if her birth mother had consumed alcohol and were assured that she had not. The second time we visited Sydney in the orphanage we were with her in a playroom full of children. Sydney was probably the youngest in the group and she was not usually included in playgroups. That was for the older children who were crawling and walking. At eight-and-a-half months Sydney wasn’t sitting up, crawling or even cooing or jabbering. She was silent. When she cried, she just hummed. During that visit we met a girl working at the orphanage who was from Germany and could speak English very well. I was able to ask her some questions and she asked the nurses and interpreted their answers for me. We had noticed a baby, close to Sydney’s age or a little younger, sitting in a bouncy chair across the room. That baby was very interested in her surroundings, trying to make eye contact with anyone who would look her way, and she was making a lot of happy noises. I asked the nurse why there was such a difference between that baby and Sydney. She told me that Sydney had never had a visitor, while the other baby had a mother who visited her and fed her a bottle every evening. THAT baby had known a mother’s love. Sydney had not. We told Sydney’s doctor later that we were concerned about Sydney’s lethargy and the fact that she was not being given any individual attention. He told us if we left him one hundred dollars he would hire someone to hold Sydney and play with her for an hour a day until we returned for her on our appointed court date, two months later. Shawn immediately handed the man a $100 bill. When we returned in seven weeks to take Sydney from that place, she was a changed child. She had personality that we had not seen before. She was active and much more engaging. She also had seven new teeth. When we had visited her two months prior she had none. She still didn’t make any noise other than a hum but she had some “sparkle.” Shawn and I will always say that it was the best one hundred dollars we ever spent. Of course, that fee was a drop in the bucket, compared to all the other adoption costs but it was one that jump-started Sydney’s personality and slowed down the effects of all the neglect.
If only those first ten months of learning and growing emotionally and intellectually had not be stolen from Sydney. If only she had been handed to a mother who would love her and nurture her from day one. Every baby deserves it.