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The memory of bringing my son home from Vietnam brings back a flood of images and emotions. Walking in to the orphanage that morning and among a sea of baby faces, seeing his familiar face. Dressing him in his first clothes for the many official meetings ahead. Holding him, careful not to let him drop the yellow ball he clutched in his hand. The lottery woman outside who smiled at us and mumbled something about luck.
We were in love. We couldn’t believe how incredible this little 13 month old child was— his soulful way of watching, his hesitant smile, his need to be held and cuddled. How I loved every minute of it… almost.
We were told that our son was in poor health. We knew that his palate being open still was causing delays, nutritional and developmentally. But we had no idea how much.
Instinctively, I could see and feel that this child needed more food and liquids. But we did as the orphanage instructed, which was to feed him a certain formula he liked. We increased his feedings immediately, to every few hours (and anytime he wanted something in between!) and introduced porridges and yogurts.
Living with an open palate, he was a very cautious eater, slow and careful. But he was also willing to try new flavors…. Including ice cream on hot spring nights in Saigon, as well as puddings, etc.
We brought the Haberman bottles designed especially for children with cleft lip/ palates with us. Without them, I’m sure the process would have been twice as slow to feed him. These bottles take some effort of manual pumping on the part of the caregiver and the process can be a pretty slow feeding. (I liked to say meditative!)Although the orphanage is actually a well-respected one in Saigon, I know why he was suffering so… it was just simply too much work to feed him manually. Almost not enough time in the day, with the sleep he needed too and the ratio of caregivers to babies (about 6 were on his floor of 49 babies).
Upon our return to the States, we immediately called Dr Jane Aronson and she fit us in the next day (as she was leaving for Vietnam that week.). She straightened us right out. No formula. Milk. Introduce even more purees. And he was suffering from several other unseen infections etc… so medications were quickly prescribed.
We also started him on Ensure, which we mixed with organic whole milk, as well as all kinds of purees. Now we understood that his painful bowel movements were a sign of his malnutrition, as well as his severely soft muscle tone, enlarged head, feather-like hair, general tiredness.
We borrowed a midwife friend’s baby food blender and made our own foods with organic fruits and vegetables as well as adding coconut oil (a good fattening agent) and avocado for creaminess. A nutritionist gave us that advice. He ate it all.
If I could do it over again, I would have done even more in country. I would have packed cases of ensure and gotten whole milk; found even more purees; given supplements (which we quickly found some liquid vitamins). Perhaps this would have made him stronger faster, because the palate closing operation was delayed a few months due to his weak condition. As new parents we knew very little. Now with organizations like SPOON and their Adoption Nutrition resource, no one needs to feel like they are alone in the nutrition world when adopting, as we did. Now my son is a thriving five-year old, loves to bike and swim in superhero clothes. He doesn’t know he is our superhero.
For more information on cleft lip and palate, see http://adoptionnutrition.org/feeding-challenges/cleft-palate
Read more about the Vietnamese diet, including common foods and recipes: http://adoptionnutrition.org/nutrition-by-country/vietnam/
Read more about cleft lip and palate: http://adoptionnutrition.org/feeding-challenges/cleft-palate/
The Nutrition Profiles on this site express the views of the individual authors and not SPOON Foundation. SPOON Foundation has not conducted any independent verification of the information contained in the Nutrition Profiles. As a result, SPOON Foundation makes no representations concerning, and assumes no responsibility for, the accuracy of the information or the appropriateness of advice contained in the Nutrition Profiles. You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained from the Nutrition Profiles with other sources, and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with your child’s physician.