Making Eye Contact
When I first saw this image, it caught me off guard. It made me cry, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered the days when Tess would have never had made eye contact like this. Maybe it’s just the depth of her eyes or that sweet little smile that is creeping up. Maybe it’s the fact that if I zoom in, I can clearly see Jude’s (one of Tess’ big brothers) and my reflection, like we’ve been able to seep into her soul. Maybe it’s just the fact that in this eye contact she is seeing me.
A trip down memory lane might be in order.
When Tess came to us, one day after her first birthday, there were several things that caught my husband Tim and I off guard. We believe that we were prepared for a child that had been in institutionalized care for a year. But, we also know that the daughter that came to us was far from the typical Vietnamese orphan.
Tess, at 12 months old, had never had solid foods. She still had an infant’s gag reflex. She only weighed 15 lbs. She could not crawl or even sit on her own. Some of this is really typical for children growing up in institutions and orphanages . . . really sad but typical.
What took Tim and me by surprise was Tess’s complete avoidance for any interpersonal contact. It was so eerie. She didn’t want us to touch her, or look at her, or face us. She certainly didn’t want to look at us and would quickly spin her body away from us. She looked at things but not at people. She’d study the button on a shirt or the rim of a pair of glasses, but not a face. She wanted nothing more than for us to leave her in her crib and walk out of the room. Being alone eased her anxiety. She would respond to tickling, an autonomic response, but didn’t really have any emotions, including smiling, fear, or crying. Yes, she was a child that didn’t cry for months. And, these behaviors didn’t just last for days or even weeks but months and actually still are present in some forms. I was scared. I mean, I was really, really scared not knowing what the future would hold for my girl. The thought of having a child incapable of giving or receiving love was more than I dared think. The doctors who evaluated were no help at all, and some were very hurtful. We stopped going to see several of them.
For nearly 3 months, a long 3 months, we goaded Tess into just making eye contact with us. We’d capture her attention with a toy or food then slowly move the object until it was in front of our face. And, at that very brief moment, when her eyes would meet mine, the game was instantly over for our sweet Tess. Until she had been home for about 4 months when she started to finally look at people. We’d see her looking at us briefly when she thought no one was looking. Then, the game was to hold her attention for more than a couple seconds. Then, we added smiling. Eventually, we tried to get her to respond to her name. We’re all still working on it, but these days, the eye contact comes more easily as do the smiles. These days, she smiles and giggles and seeks us out for games of peek-a-boo. These are good days.
Here she is practicing her smile. My heart melts!
Tess is still developmentally delayed in several areas, thus her 3 therapy sessions a week. Her therapists say they still see weekly improvements in her “connection with the world.”
Her connection is still a work in progress. But, isn’t everything in life? And, I’m not so scared anymore. The Lord only gives me as much as I can handle in His strength. Admittedly, there have been times, that I asked the Lord in doubt, “Are you sure I can handle all this?” I can. I did. I will. Again proving that despite my doubts, He is right, and I am wrong. And through it all, we’ve become better people, and I’ve become a better mama, one that has learned lessons in surrender. That picture made me look deep into her eyes and know that I really am the lucky one!
Tim and Nancy were high school sweethearts, now married for 19 years, and have been entrusted to raise 6 of the Lord’s children, ages 16-2. Their first 4 kiddos are homegrown, and and the youngest 2 were born in our hearts, birthed half way across the world, then delivered by the Lord’s hand to their arms through special needs’ adoption. Their youngest 2 children, Tess and Jude, were born 28 days apart and were orphanage cribmates. They were adopted at the same time from SaiGon, VietNam in 2008. You can read more about their family on their blog, Ordinary Miracles & the Crazy 8s.
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