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In February of 2010, I arrived in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa to pick up our son, Miles Dieudonne. Miles was abandoned in July of 2009 and taken to an orphanage in Lubumbashi, DRC. We had no medical or family history for him. Because he was so small, the orphanage workers guessed that he was around 2 months of age when he arrived at the orphanage. He stayed in care for 7 months while we finalized the adoption. At the time that we picked our son up, his birth certificate said that he was 8 months old.
When my son was first handed to me, one of the first things that I noticed was that he was so tiny. He was about the size of an American 5 month old. The second thing I noticed was that he had a whole mouth full of teeth and could walk and run. We knew then that our son, despite his size, was a whole lot older than 8 months old. Miles contracted malaria while in Africa and was also riddled with intestinal parasites from drinking contaminated water. He was so malnourished and sick, that he could barely do more than sit in my lap and stare. If he fell down while he was walking, he didn’t have the strength to push himself back up. He was very lifeless and lethargic. Couple that with the fear and anxiety that children naturally feel when they are handed over to strange, new parents, and we had our hands full!
When we got back to the United States, we had Miles immediately evaluated by our pediatrician. The doctor’s best guess as to our son’s age was around 20 months- a full year older than we thought. That first time at the doctor, Miles only weighed 14 pounds. He didn’t register anywhere on the growth charts. Our doctor began him on several courses of antibiotics to help rid him of the parasites so that he could begin absorbing the calories in his food. Because of the parasites, we were instructed to keep him on a lactose free diet and to continue giving him formula to increase his caloric intake.
The first several weeks home, Miles didn’t stop eating. Because he was presumed to be so young, he had been on a liquid diet at the orphanage and foster home. Our almost 2 year old had never been given any food more solid than rice mush. Now that he had an array of food at his disposal, he was eager to try it all! We tried to keep foods simple for the first several days while he got used to chewing and swallowing solid foods (cheerios, goldfish crackers) As the days and weeks wore on, we began to give him whatever foods we were eating. Despite never having had the opportunity to try using them, Miles was very proficient with utensils. His appetite was veracious- he literally ate 24 hours a day. He was waking up every 2 hours at night to eat like a newborn. He was just so hungry. Our pediatrician advised us to let him eat whenever he wanted/needed to for the first several weeks home to help him acclimate.
We had some issues of Miles hoarding food. He would shove food down his shirt to save for later. He had to (and still has to sometimes) carry food in each hand around with him to help him feel secure. He didn’t want his brothers and sisters to eat off of his plate. My other children could put a snack in a bowl to share- but not Miles. He needed the security of having his own bowl of food. He needed clear boundaries about which foods were his that no one else could take from him.
It took Miles about 6 weeks to fully get rid of his intestinal parasites. Once those were gone, he gained a pound a week for 6 straight weeks before his weight gain began to taper off. Once he began gaining weight, most of his food hoarding issues began to go away and he realized that we would always provide him with food. He started having enough reserves in his body to begin sleeping through the night. His energy levels went through the roof and he began to settle into his new life.
Miles has now been home for 3 ½ months and he weighs 20 pounds. He still does not register on the growth charts but he is making serious progress. He loves all kinds of foods. Surprisingly, of all of our children, he is our best and most adventurous eater. Some of his favorites are black beans and guacamole. He is a completely different child than the limp, lifeless little guy that we first met in Africa. Now he is a happy, healthy, energetic ball of life and we are so grateful to have him in our lives!
Megan Terry, http://terryhousehold.blogspot.com
Read more about hoarding food: http://adoptionnutrition.org/feeding-challenges/hoarding-food/
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