Mandy's Story - A Vietnam Adoption Story - 3

By Laurie O'Neill

Mandy in Vietnam

The best part about our time at the Claudia Hotel was having two weeks with few other responsibilities and lots of time to spend with this amazing child of mine. From the very beginning it was as if we'd always been together. I loved her with all my heart from the first moment, and despite her initial fear she bonded very quickly to both Mom and I. During the first week she seemed happy to be with us, but would still go to anyone and didn't seem to mind when we left her with the hotel staff if it was too hot to take her out shopping. By the second week she had claimed us as "her people" and would cry if she saw either of us put a purse over our shoulder to go out! She was cuddly and loveable from the start, and quickly learned to give big hugs. I feel certain that she was loved at some point in her life before she came to me.

The progress she made in those first two weeks was amazing. It was like going through the chapters of a child development book on fast forward, moving through a chapter a day as she changed from infant to toddler before my eyes. She had so little strength in the beginning that although she could walk, her little legs were shaky and she wouldn't go far. She had little ability to grip with her hands, and would sit most of the time with her fingers fully extended, rather than wrapping them around an object. She would get frustrated very quickly because she wanted to do things by herself but simply didn't have the strength. If she didn't get what she wanted immediately, or couldn't do something on the first try, she would go from laughing hysterically one moment to a screaming tantrum (we called them Mandy Meltdowns!) the next.

Between bottles of formula and the huge bowls of chicken noodle soup and rice that she was consuming, she visibly grew and gained more strength every day, and as she got stronger she was able to do things like feed herself, push buttons on toys, climb up onto the bed, and before I knew it she wasn't just walking, she was running! With the ability to do so many more things her frustration decreased and so did the tantrums. By the time we left she would only have tantrums if she was really tired. Despite her physical weakness, it was apparent from the start that she's a very smart kid! She watched everything that we were doing and would try to copy us. She knew which lids went with water bottles and which ones went with other containers and would try to put them together. She devised a method of communicating with us immediately, pointing and gesturing with a sign language that became more complex every day until she was capable of issuing whole series of commands for Mom and I, her faithful servants, to carry out!

By the end of the first week she was even starting to understand quite a bit of what we were saying to her, and by the end of the second week she had attempted a few English words! She was generally unimpressed with most of the toys I had brought - she much preferred to play with real life objects - our shoes, water bottles, the diaper wipe container, her bottles, etc. One of her favorite games was pretending to cook and eat - we would shred up a kleenex and put it in a bowl and she would stir it and pretend to eat it. She seemed to be able to tell the difference between food and non food and never put anything in her mouth that wasn't edible. She watched Mom mix her formula and would point to the step that came next - first the powder, then the water, then the vitamins, then the nipple goes on the bottle - she knew the whole routine!

The only toy she really liked was the stacking cups. Anything soft or furry was rejected completely, and would promptly be flung across the room! She loved to fling things, and began testing us immediately, throwing something and looking to me for my reaction. If she threw something right at one of us I would take it away. I let her throw things away from people but made her go get them herself if she wanted them back, and by the end of the first week the flinging had slowed down considerably! She loved to trade things, and we spent a lot of time with her bringing things back and forth between Mom and I. We bought some cone hats and straw hats that the little girls there wear and played dress up, which she loved.

She likes to be lifted high up in the air and would laugh and laugh. She was a fastidious eater in the beginning, getting extremely upset if so much as one noodle was stuck to her bib! That has since changed and now her highchair looks like a disaster area after every meal! She watched EVERYTHING around her, taking it all in - one day we were in a restaurant and there was a little girl about Mandy's size sitting in a chair by herself (Mandy had been sitting in my lap at mealtime) and the next morning she wanted to sit in her own chair! I tried several times to sneak a piece of candy without her noticing, and every time she caught me and would pry my mouth open to look inside.

Her head sores healed quite quickly, but she developed a terrible diaper rash from a combination of the heat and not being used to paper diapers. Desitin didn't touch it and we weren't able to get it cleared up until we were home and out of the humidity. She had a little bit of chest congestion which cleared up right away with an antibiotic I had brought. The biggest problem we had and continue to have is sleep. In the beginning she would scream and scream at bedtime, and my Mom was the only one who was able to comfort her - she would accept me during the day but did NOT want me at bedtime! Mom would hold her and rock her until she would finally fall asleep, and towards the end of the trip she started going to sleep more easily and would let me be the one to rock her. She still sleeps very restlessly, crying out every one to two hours, and suffers from frequent night terrors, thrashing wildly and screaming, still asleep and completely inconsolable - it's such a helpless feeling to not be able to do much for her. She's improved slightly in the past 2 months since we've been home, so hopefully more time will help. Meanwhile, I've adapted better than I expected to the sleepless nights, and she seems totally unaffected by it during the day, and is a happy, loving little person full of energy and laughter.

Flying Home from Vietnam

On Monday, May 25th, we left Vietnam, headed for Bangkok. As excited as we were to be so close to going home, it was also sad, leaving this wonderful country where my daughter was born. The Somerset hotel seemed very large and luxurious compared to the Claudia, but we missed Mrs. Thuy and the gang. They brought a crib to the room for Mandy, and I wasn't sure how she would react to it, but she actually slept better than when she was in bed with Mom and I. We took her swimming at the hotel pool, and my child who had screamed like we were murdering her every time I tried to give her a bath in Vietnam absolutely LOVED swimming and it took two of us to keep her from jumping into the deep end by herself!

Tuesday morning at 6:30 we were met by Dan Clark who took us for the kids medical exams, passport photos, and to the US Embassy for the visas. The hospital where the medical exams were done was very impressive - spotlessly clean and nicer than any hospital I've seen here in the States. Mandy had never seen such a big open space and had a great time running around and I took her up and down on the escalator which she loved! The exam itself was quick but Mandy screamed the whole time even though they didn't do anything but look in her ears and open her diaper!

The passport photos were easy and fast. We had to wait a little while at the embassy, but that also went very smoothly and we were done with all of it by about 10:30 that morning. We went back to the hotel to rest, swim, and shop, and Dan delivered the US Visas to us later that afternoon. What an incredible feeling to finally have that final piece of paperwork in hand!

Wednesday afternoon we boarded the plane headed for home! I had been dreading the long flights with Mandy, but she was a real trooper and it was much easier than I had expected. The three of us had a row of 4 seats to ourselves, so she was able to stretch out and sleep on the two middle seats which helped a lot. Mandy slept about half the time on each flight, and was very good when she was awake. Coming through customs and immigration in LA was a breeze - they had a separate line for us and whisked us right through.

In fact, the most difficult part of the whole trip was the 1 hour flight from LA to San Francisco! We discovered that half the flights to SF, including ours, had been cancelled due to to bad weather, and there were long waiting lists for the remaining ones. We begged and pleaded and must have looked pathetic enough with a half asleep child draped over my shoulder because they put us on the next flight out. It was packed, so Mandy had to sit in my lap, she was wild by that point, and squirming all over the place and splattering 7-up all over us and Mom and I were half hysterical with exhaustion and were laughing like lunatics - I felt very sorry for our seat companion!!!

We arrived in SF to discover that my suitcase, which had made it from Vietnam to LA unharmed, had a big gaping tear down the middle. Luckily nothing had fallen out, but the suitcase was ruined. My aunt and uncle had come to meet us, but since we were on a different flight than expected it took a long time to find each other, and the limo they had hired to take us on the 2 hr drive home hadn't shown up! Finally, somehow it all came together and we made it home. Mandy walked into her room, and her eyes lit up and a big grin appeared on her face - it was as if she knew this was what all the travelling had been about - she was home!!!

We've been home for 2 1/2 months now, and Mandy is barely recognizable as the little girl I first met in Vietnam. She's growing in leaps and bounds every day, her skinny little legs have become muscular, and she fits into 18 month size clothing now! She runs around, climbs on furniture, can walk up and down stairs with only a little help, and is learning so many new words every day that I can barely keep track of them! She gives big kisses and hugs, and keeps me laughing all the time. I can't even remember my life without her in it - she's the best thing that ever happened to me!

We've had a few minor problems - she's had recurrent hives, which I've finally figured out might be caused by an allergy to both milk and soy, and after 3 negative parasite tests we found out that she did indeed have worms ( a pretty gross story if anyone is interested!), and of course there's still the sleep problems, but otherwise she's as healthy as can be!

I had 2 months off of work and had to go back two weeks ago, so she's going to daycare in the mornings and spending the afternoons with my Mom, and is adapting very well. After 3 days of daycare she had added "NO" and "MINE" to her vocabulary! Now the answer to every question is "NO!" - pretty typical 2, I think! :) She's finally starting to get the hang of toys, and loves her doll house and tea set. She rejected every cute doll and stuffed animal I offered her and selected an ugly troll doll and a funny looking green alien doll as the honored ones who get pushed around in the doll stroller. She loves birds and ducks, and adores the cats, who unfortunately don't feel the same about her! She was afraid of my Dad in the beginning, but now she loves her Papa, who builds great block towers for her to knock down! Every day she grows stronger and is more confident and secure. It's hard to imagine that there was ever a time when she wasn't a part of my life. So to all of you who are still waiting, hang in there - the wait is worth it when you finally have your incredible child in your arms!!!