Every now and then you meet someone who inspires you.
I met Tammy and Andy Orahood when they moved to St. Louis and I was lucky enough to be their real estate agent.
In our first conversation, Tammy and Andy let me know immediately that they had adopted 2 boys from Guatemala, and those boys were the most important factor in where they would live. The more I learned about their story, the more impressed I became.
Henry and Franklin’s Adoption Story:
Tammy agreed to share their story with my readers. I hope you are as inspired as I am.
My name is Tammy Orahood and I am the proud mother of 2 boys adopted from Guatemala.
My husband, Andy, and I were married in 1998. With a family history of endometriosis, it was not that surprising when we had trouble getting pregnant. After two years of infertility treatments, we were spent physically, emotionally and financially. We were more than ready to sign up for international adoption.
Choosing international adoption was an easy choice for me. I work in international education and travel abroad a lot. I welcomed the cultural elements and felt equipped to deal with the challenges of a trans-racial adoption. In 1998, adopting a baby was more likely if you went with an international adoption than a domestic adoption. So we jumped in head first.
Our story started on July 25, 2002. We sent in our application to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) which has to pre-approve the visa for the adoption. Six days later we sent the application to our adoption agency, Families Thru International Adoption (FTIA).
We quickly did all the paperwork and then not so patiently waited for 2 months.
I happened to email FTIA asking where we were on the referral list because I knew we were getting close. You can’t believe how excited I was when I was told that we were the next family on the list and they had just received several referrals about adoptable babies.
The next day our coordinator fueled my excitement by feeding me bits by email as she translated for us.
Her first hint was:
“I can tell you that his name is Henry Stuard and he is a little more than 8 weeks old.”
A few minutes later:
“I couldn’t help myself. I am sending you pictures. He looks like he was asleep and the flash woke him in one of the pictures.”
I emailed the pictures to Andy and then called him and we opened the pictures together.
It was honestly love at first sight.
Here was this beautiful baby, all dressed up in yellow and we would get to be his parents!
That day was December 3, 2002.
Our coordinator overnighted us all the referral information and we found out that when Henry was born on September 24, 2002 he weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces and was 19 inches long.
We accepted the referral right away. Five days later I celebrated my 30th birthday knowing that I would finally become a Mom.
We visited Henry three times during the 6 next months…when he was 4 months, 5 months and 7 months old.
During our second visit, we had the incredible opportunity to meet Henry’s birthmother. Her social worker interview occurred while we were visiting, so we were able to meet her. What a humbling and rewarding experience!
I was so glad to be able to thank her for your courageous decision. As it would turn out, her decision to choose adoption would save her son’s life in more ways than she could have imagined (keep reading and I’ll explain).
Finally, after an agonizing 6 months filled with bureaucratic delays, we received word that the adoption was approved. Henry came home 19 days later on June 20, 2003!
Henry was almost 9 months old when he came home and he had some developmental delays. We didn’t think much of it until he was seen by the international adoption specialist, who put everything together and told us that his lazy eye, developmental delays and fisted right hand were probably all related.
It turns out that the reflux-like cramps he was also having were actually seizures and we were given a very shocking and scary diagnosis of a pre-natal stroke.
I saw all my dreams come crashing down as I feared for the future of my beloved child. After a weekend of questioning everything, I finally decided that I was meant to parent this child for a reason and I was not going to abandon him because of a scary prognosis.
Henry began intensive physical, occupational, speech and developmental therapy with 6 therapy sessions a week. He also started taking a medicine to stop the seizures. The medicine worked, but it turned my sweet, easygoing baby into an insatiable, miserable monster.
It was one of the most difficult periods in my life.
The medicine completely stopped those catastrophic seizures. Over the years, we tried various other medications as seizures would come and go. When we moved to St. Louis in August of 2010, we learned that brain surgery at the renowned St. Louis Children’s Hospital might help Henry.
While brain surgery sounds scary, the decision was much easier than you would think. It had a 75% chance of stopping his seizures forever and at least 90% of the patients had some form of seizure cessation. At this point, he was on 3 anti-seizure medications and the side effects and risks were almost as bad as the seizures.
So, on April 14, 2011, Henry had a hemispherotomy in which they disconnected the left hemisphere of his brain.
The hemisphere is still there, probably seizing away, but it no longer affects him since it’s not connected to anything. He is literally living and thriving with half a brain!
Shortly after the surgery he went off all medications. Henry is now seizure free and experiencing a huge developmental surge. He is in a regular classroom in 3rd grade and has learned the sight words for kindergarten through second grade in just 1 year. Nothing makes my heart sing more than to hear him read, a feat that he shouldn’t be able to do since he doesn’t have access to his left hemisphere where language and reading happen.
It is so amazing how the brain can change and adapt. All that therapy paid off and he transferred language and many other skills to his right hemisphere. To find out more about his surgery and some other amazing kids, you can check out the Hemispherectomy Foundation.
Henry Gets a Brother:
Let’s back up a moment. Even with the health issues we were experiencing with Henry, we knew we wanted a brother for him.
We started all the paperwork to adopt from Guatemala again in December 2004.
Our dossier was complete in June and we received the referral of Franklin Estuardo on July 8, 2005.
We had a much quicker process with Franklin, and were only able to visit one time over Labor Day weekend. Henry came with us and he got to visit with his foster family, the same family that was fostering Franklin.
We were beyond thrilled when Franklin came home for Christmas in December 2005 at the age of 5 ½ months.
From a very early age it became apparent that Franklin was gifted with a natural athletic ability. In the toddler room at his daycare, they rigged a basketball hoop on the ceiling so this tiny, but mighty 2 year old could shoot hoops. It doesn’t seem to matter what sport it is, if it involves a ball, Franklin excels. Since neither Andy nor I have any athletic talent, it’s been a real delight to parent someone who does.
The boys are now 10 and 7. While parenting two high spirited boys is not easy, I am very grateful for the opportunity to be their Mom and I will forever cherish those in Guatemala who made this possible. Without the selfless birthmothers, who made the ultimate sacrifice, the tireless and loving foster family and our fabulous adoption agency and the in-country facilitators, we wouldn’t be a family.
Guatemala is always going to hold a special place in my heart.
Unfortunately, international adoption has gotten more difficult instead of less in recent years. The year we adopted Franklin is the last year that international adoptions to the US were increasing. International adoptions have been declining every year since, and many countries, including Guatemala, do not allow international adoptions to the US. With adoptions closed, many families are in limbo and many children are suffering. The high mortality rate also makes just surviving the first 5 years an accomplishment.
If you want to learn more about the current state of international adoption, watch the excellent documentary Stuck.
International adoption is not for the faint of heart. It is bureaucratic, arbitrary, expensive and capricious, but it is so worth it in the end.
Sometimes you get more than you bargained for like we did with Henry’s diagnosis.
On the other hand, we have one of the best children’s hospitals for neurology and neurosurgery right down the road and the resources to deal with the diagnosis.
Can you imagine having a child and NOT having those resources? For some children, the only path to a normal life in a loving family is through international adoption. Thankfully, Henry and Franklin found their way to our family.
We are so blessed.