The Tyrant’s sick. But at least she’s here.

Who brings a 4-year-old with strep throat and a 102.5 temperature out to dinner?

Oh. Um…that would be us. But it was Kids Eat Free night! And she didn’t actually have (much of a) fever when we left. Soon after we sat down, though, I noticed that she was shaking like Jennifer Lopez’s booty and her back was on fire. I put her in my lap, and she dozed off into a febrile snooze. So we went ahead and ordered because, you know, she seemed comfortable.

After the food came, she woke up and did this loud, weird burping thing and Hot Firefighter Husband said, “WATCH IT, SHE’S GONNA-” and then the Tyrant very graphically finished his sentence for him.

I caught most of it in a napkin then rushed her to the bathroom, where more spewing took place. Her brother and sister thought it was WICKED cool that their sister was puking in a restaurant, so they rushed in to watch. Husband stayed behind to finish his dinner.

When we returned to the table, I handed her to Husband and said, “We need to go.” He gave me a frownie face, because he still had a half-glass of tequila left. He said to the Tyrant, “Are you ready to go home?” She had just thrown up most of her internal organs, and her brain was fried by fever. I suspect what she heard was, “Would you like me to insert a straw up your nose and rip your Teddy to shreds?” because she started screaming, “NO! NO! NO!” and Husband smiled at me, sat back, kissed the Tyrant’s head and took a sip of tequila.

He never used to drink tequila. He was a couple-a-beers-on-occasion kind of guy. Now he’s a Gimme a shot of Patron straight up and chilled with a squeeze of lime, and a Sam Adams kind of guy. I think I did this to him.

As we sat there sipping our drinks, glancing fondly at our sick child, we reminisced a bit about this girl, and about her history of illness.
“Remember when we thought this was just her personality?” Husband said. He was referring to her infancy. When we first met her in Guatemala, she was quiet and still. She frowned a lot. We thought she was just sullen. But she was dying.

Honestly, though, I knew something was wrong on my second visit to see her because, at six months old, she never smiled. She didn’t cry, either. She just looked around with enormous scared eyes.

Once home, I started asking questions and doing research. “I think she has Failure to Thrive,” I told Husband. “We have to go back soon.”

We did, and we grew more concerned each trip. She was suffering from Failure to Thrive – basically, an infant’s version of depression. She didn’t possess a survivor’s instinct – instead, she laid quietly in bed for 23 hours a day, developing pneumonia, not eating, rubbing her head back and forth on the crib just to feel something touching her. It caused an enormous staph-infected lump on the back of her skull.

On my fourth trip to see her, my mother-in-law traveled with me, and we picked the baby up at the orphanage and brought her back to the hotel. She had lost weight since our last trip – I could see it in her face. She screamed through that night, and would only sleep with me holding her against my chest.

The next morning, she spiked a fever, and she wouldn’t eat. She could hardly keep her eyes open, yet she wouldn’t sleep. She went 36 hours without a wet diaper because she was so dehydrated.

We took her to the doctor, and he admitted her to the hospital immediately. She had double pneumonia; she wasn’t eating because her mouth was covered with thrush, and so it hurt to swallow and even to suck. Her oxygen intake was way too low because of the pneumonia; she was gasping for breath. She had chronic diarrhea.

For five days, I laid in the hospital bed with her. Her tiny arm was splinted in order to keep the IV line in place; she clutched my finger with her other hand as she slept. I dozed at night with my breath against her cheek and my body pressed against her, trying to infuse her with a reason to live. During the day, my mother-in-law sat with her while I went back to the hotel to sleep for a couple of hours.

What strikes me most about those terrible days is this child’s utter lack of control over her life, and her inability to feel anything other than a bleak resignation regarding this existence she’d been assigned. Even as antibiotics dripped into her veins, and she felt round-the-clock love for the very first time in her life, she had no way to comprehend that her life was turning around.

She had a colorful little cloth rattle I had given her. During better moments, she clutched it tightly, as though it contained her only connection to a brighter world. After five days, we left the hospital for a little Guatemala City apartment to live until she could come home to her forever family.

She returned to that orphanage only one more time, for an hour so that I could attend a court meeting. When I picked her up, the desolation had returned to her eyes. She clutched my neck as I held her; I didn’t put her down again for the rest of the day. I was furious at myself for thinking that an hour wouldn’t matter, that she wouldn’t even know I had left. The smells of that place, the noise, the melding of her being into a sea of tiny mouths to feed – that hour had been a lifetime for her. For that hour, she again had disappeared.

Today, after the children’s Advil had brought down her fever, she gave her Barbie dolls a bath, ate some mac ‘n’ cheese, danced to Jennifer Lopez’s new disco song, and ransacked her brother’s collection of Pokemon drawings. As her fever climbed back up, I waited before giving her medicine to see how high it would get, and in that hour or so, I saw shadows of that sullen child, the one who never smiled, the baby we thought might just be destined to live as a pessimist, and it gave me a lump in my throat.

We almost lost that child. We almost lost her before she could even be ours, before we could tap her open like a coconut and watch her fabulous essence pour forth and enrich the very air around her. When she’s sick now, I’m sad for how she feels, but honestly, I’m relieved, too – because she’s here, with me, and I can hold her hair as she throws up and give her a bath and make her fever go away. And Jesus Christ, I hope she doesn’t remember that there was a time when nobody even noticed that she could barely breathe.

11 responses to The Tyrant’s sick. But at least she’s here.

  1. Erin Stehl says:

    Dear Tricia,
    I am crying as I read your story about your precious little Tyrant. I had a hard day today doing some things to help my own lost daughter and your story helps me remember WHY we fight so hard for a little darlings.
    Thank you, as always. You are a great Mommy!
    xoxoxo
    Erin

  2. Denisce says:

    This is my first time on yiur website which I saw from following Erin because our lives as mothers and grandmothers are mirror perfect….except its my son and her daughtet !! And I have no one to turn to or speak to with ALL the daily stress!!
    I am so glad and thank you for your webiste…its AWESUM !!!
    Denisce

    • Tricia says:

      Denisce, I’m so glad we found each other! I’ll send good thoughts your way…..Come back and visit often, and I hope I can make you smile. xo

  3. Jill Sweeney-Bosa says:

    Tricia,
    Oh my. I’ve been wanting to tell you how much I’ve been enjoying your blog. It’s obvious to me that your talent is as big and real as your heart. Thank you for sharing this story of how love heals. Wishing nothing but the good stuff for you and your beautiful family.
    -Jill
    Mom to Will, 12
    and Sophie 5 (adopted from Jiang Xi province, China)

    • Tricia says:

      Thanks, Jill, for reading – I know you’ve been there. Love our patchwork families, don’t you? : }

  4. cindy says:

    As always, you make me openly chuckle and be eternally grateful that I am not alone in mommydom. But today, today, you did something new. Today you helped me remember how special it is to be an adoptive mom. Our adoption attorney is adopted herself, and when I asked her if she ever tried to find her birth parents she said ‘no’. When I asked her why, she said ‘because they were there for me…for instance, my adoptive mom was the one holding my hair back when I puked’. You made me remember her comment. You also made me cry. Thank you!

  5. Jenn says:

    Your daughter is beautiful! I always wanted to adopt from Guatemala – more now than ever after I read your blog today. I can imagine the instant love you had for her and the need to protect her as she laid there eyes wide shut. I have 3 kids & am a foster mom. I get it too. Keep up the good work and give that little one a hug from me in Canada.

    • Tricia says:

      Thanks, Jenn – and thanks for being a foster mom. You’re good people, for sure. xo

  6. Jenn says:

    OOHH my gosh – look at you! You saved that little girl’s life! She is so lucky you are not only her mom but you were connected with her enough from the start to know she wasn’t doing well.

    Did you have to wait for a specific time before you actually got to bring her home? Were you allowed to go and see her as many times as you wanted to? I have never heard that before so I was so happy to hear you got to go and visit her 3 times before you adopted her. I think that is so great!!

    I thought you were only allowed to see the child you are adopting when you were actually going to bring her home.

    I’m so glad you got to go and well…SAVE her!It makes me so sad to think of the other babies who have no parents waiting for them and who much like your beautiful little one was, are simply ignored and treated as if they weren’t even there – let a lone a beautiful little human being!

    I’m so glad to “meet” you!! Where do you guys live? Thanks for sharing your daughter and your story. It really touched my heart and I thought a lot about her as well as the other little ones in that position ever since I read your post. Thanks so much!!! Lucky little girl to call you mom.

    Take Care,
    Jenn

    • Tricia says:

      Hey Jenn- Our journey to bring her home lasted 13 months. We did see here frequently – in fact, after she became so sick, we refused to bring her back to the orphanage and got an apartment in Guatemala City for a while. As the wait dragged on, I found a friend to care for her so that I could return to my two other kids, but I visited her every two weeks. It was a nightmare. But it’s over! xo

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