Despite the challenges presented by her adopted children's special needs, this young mother is harried but happy.
by Meg St-Esprit McKivigan — Posted on Aug 26, 2016
I threw on my last clean sweater and glanced out at the pouring rain. I made a plan to run each kid to their car seats, one by one, to keep them dry. Naomi and Ezra, my twins, had just turned two. Each was born with serious medical issues, and today was an important check-in with their doctor. Of course I was running late. Again! The twins’ older brother, Eli, at four, wasn’t any help.
Now to get them all dressed. I tore through their drawers in search of easy-on, easy-off outfits. Not much to choose from—I was very behind on the laundry. Maybe the rain would stop and we could all go to the car together and not be late. I could simply glide into Dr. Graff’s office like the other moms with my babies neat, clean and ready.
But I wasn’t like the other moms. And my kids weren’t like the other kids. All three were adopted at birth. When Eli was one and a half we got a call about African-American twins, a boy and girl. They weren’t even born yet, but doctors had already diagnosed a slew of health issues. Everything from mild developmental delays to severe disabilities. Surely the twins would be born premature. Did we want to adopt them?
I was set on adoption from a young age. Even my Barbie doll’s baby was adopted! When my husband, Josh, and I were dating I told him early on that I wanted to create a family through adoption. He was fine with that. After Eli, we learned there was a need for more families to adopt babies of color. We applied, not knowing if we would get a call. Usually placements take years. And we had never considered twins.
It was a crazy idea, but one that resonated. If we adopted twins, their own childhood would mirror my own. I was two years older than my twin brothers. Ours was a busy, happy household.
“Can we handle two more,” asked Josh, “with challenges?”
Both of us were social workers. We knew about special needs children, but we didn’t know much about the medical issues of preemies.
I called two pediatricians to see if they could give us guidance on what to expect from the high-risk twin pregnancy. No one could be sure. Both doctors were frank and clinical. No emotion, and without hope for these innocent babies.
Then I remembered Dr. Graff. He had been my own pediatrician when I was a child. And he had delivered my younger brothers. Dr. Graff returned my call right away. He went through the anticipated health issues and let me know exactly how he would tackle each one. With his help, I was certain we were making the right decision.
I looked forward to our appointments ever since. Dr. Graff managed the twins’ care and organized the reports of the specialists. Naomi had a special doctor for everything from orthopedics to neurology. Ezra had a similar collection. Dr. Graff helped me make sense of all of it.
He also understood what it was like for me to be raising three toddlers. “I’m always concerned about the mental health of mothers of multiples,” he’d say with a smile.
Naomi had a stroke during delivery. She was in and out of the hospital her first year. She wore ankle braces, and at one point the doctors believed she’d never walk without assistance. I was told Ezra might need physical therapy for years. They could both have trouble with fine motor skills and even basic movement. But Dr. Graff assured me that I shouldn’t let medical conditions define the kids.
“Don’t give in to grief and fear,” he said. Dr. Graff always settled my anxiety. I couldn’t wait to be sitting in his office.
I grabbed socks and shoes and turned to wrestle the kids into their clothes. Basically the only three clean outfits they had left in their dresser.
Ezra smiled impishly and raised his diaper high up in the air. He had just figured out how to remove it.
Naomi and Eli crouched by the window. I had it open three inches with a safety stop, just to let in fresh air. Somehow, they had taken the folded outfits I laid out and were pushing them through the tiny opening. I ran over to see Naomi’s freshly laundered dress slip out—
My heart sank as I looked down. We were two stories up. And their outfits lay on the front lawn while the rain came down in buckets. I turned back to their dresser. There’s nothing left to wear! All the other clothes were in laundry baskets or in piles on the floor.
I raced out of their room and to the stairs, latching the safety gate behind me before I ran down.
In a flash I was on the lawn. Miraculously, the clothes were only wet in spots. Not drenched completely. Wearable. Not ideal, but they would do. I sprinted up the porch steps. Thank you, God, for our covered awning. My body thumped against the front door. I twisted the handle frantically.
Locked? That was impossible. It only locked with a turn of the dead bolt. From the inside. Eli had never locked it before. And the twins couldn’t manage to do it.
I peeked in the front window next to the door. There they were. The twins. At least Naomi still had her diaper on. Who knew where Ezra had left his.
“Where’s your big brother?” I shouted.
Naomi pointed up the stairs, where the baby gate was wide open. In my hurry had I missed the latch? I’d never done that.
Now where was Eli and why had he locked the front door?
“Wait there! Don’t move,” I shouted through the glass. I ran out into the downpour and flew around to the back. The kitchen door was locked too. Of course it was. So they couldn’t escape. I scanned for an open window. Every single one had a safety lock. To keep the children safe. Please, God, protect my babies while they are inside alone.
I would just call my husband or mom and have them bring the spare key. I reached into my pocket for my phone. Then I remembered I had already loaded it into my purse. Just inside the front door.
I dashed back to the front window, raindrops plopping on my head and shoulders. I breathed a sigh of relief. All three were in sight. Eli sat at the top of the stairs next to the open gate, the twins’ faces pressed against the window. Now what?
I glanced up and down the street. Who would be out in this downpour? Truth was, I didn’t have the best reputation as a mom. Clearly I didn’t have things under control. Neighbors saw it all. Like the time the kids dumped a box of diapers off the front porch. Or that time they ate dirt. I was running a day care, one neighbor assumed. Another confronted me: Who did I think I was, taking on so many kids?
I looked down at my twins’ faces squished against the window. Naomi gurgled. Ezra kissed the glass.
“Twist the lock!” They wouldn’t know what I was talking about. Naomi wasn’t even supposed to be able to rotate her wrists.
“Eli!” I called. But he sat still at the top of the stairs.
“Reach the lock, babies.”
Instead, the twins toddled off and disappeared from sight. I strained through the window to get a glimpse of them. My eyes fell on the only part of our house that was put together. A few weeks prior, I had finally finished painting the entryway.
Family pictures hung on the wall. How hard it had been to keep the kids still to get those photos! Then I spent hours, with constant interruptions, to get the framed layout right. A painted sign hung in the middle: “If you think our hands our full, you should see our hearts.”
Tears sprang to my eyes. The only thing in my hands right now were three damp outfits when I should be holding those kids. I put the clothes to my cheek to try and comfort myself. My love for these children overflows, yet I am still failing as their mom!
The door swung open.
“Mama,” said Ezra. Naomi just smiled. Eli still sat on the stairs.
No time for questions. We had to get to Dr. Graff. I dropped Eli at my mom’s and didn’t stop to chat. We made every traffic light. The only struggle was getting the double stroller through the doors at Dr. Graff’s office. The twins giggled. I wrenched it through. On time, no less.
I admitted to the doctor that I still hadn’t weaned the twins off bottles. “Oh, that’s a little thing,” he said as he examined Naomi.
I noticed a large wet spot on her dress, and cringed. I burst out with the whole story and felt Dr. Graff’s welcome arms around me. He was all warmth and kindness. Not an ounce of judgment.
“That is what toddlers do—especially twins,” he told me. “Trust me. It’s normal.”
Normal? According to her diagnosis, Naomi shouldn’t have been walking on her own. Now she was bounding up and down the stairs. Turning locks? Lifting latches? Naomi and Ezra should have had cognition difficulties, but they were smart enough to lock me out and then let me back in! From atop the stairs, Eli must have delighted in their antics like a proud big brother.
I looked over at Ezra. He was trying to undo the stroller strap. Naomi was working on the handle to the office door. Typical toddlers of a proud mom of three.
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