Within days of entering the U.S., my newly adopted five year old daughter, Bakha, was diagnosed with malnutrition and rickets. Her symptoms were so severe that it was hard to imagine that malnutrition could be the sole cause. She was started on a high dose of Vitamin D, and I was told we would wait and see what happened before running tests to find some possible underlying diagnosis. I watched her improve on the Vitamin D, but truth be told, I waited for that other shoe to drop. But 4 ½ years later, that other shoe still hasn’t dropped. My daughter received many diagnoses, but every one was likely the result of poor nutrition. Once she started receiving the Vitamin D, a multivitamin, a better diet, activity, sunshine, and love (yes, love and attention have been shown to improve growth and development in kids), she started to thrive. I, however, was a little slower to get over it. Malnutrition? That was it? Something entirely preventable? Even though she was institutionalized, she was well-cared for. Although short, she was sturdy looking. What went wrong?
I have to say, there’s nothing like an extended stay in a less fortunate part of the world to shake up one’s priorities. When I returned to the U.S., I vowed to change my ways. I was thinking small at the time: I would stop throwing away leftover food. I would never again buy a new car. I would be happy living in my 730 square foot loft even though I had a child who was fast becoming a pack rat. But soon enough those resolutions did not seem like solutions. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that there were other kids living my daughter’s early, preventable life of pain and discomfort.
Soon after returning home and starting our life together, my daughter and I met up with another mom who along with her husband adopted a little boy from the same country as my daughter. They lived less than a mile away from us, and before long we were meeting up on a regular basis. Cindy was struggling with Jadyn’s feeding. Although less than a year old, he wouldn’t take a bottle. He refused all formula and he was significantly underweight.
Cindy and I began to wonder if Bakha and Jadyn were that unusual for kids adopted from their part of the world? We had been under the impression that the kids in the Baby Houses (orphanages for little ones) were usually very healthy due to the high standard of care. How then did Bakha and Jadyn come to be so malnourished? And what about the other kids being raised in orphanages? Were they as healthy as they could be given their less than optimal situations?
If it was just me with those thoughts nagging at me, I’m afraid they’d still be nagging. But Cindy’s a go-getter and a networker. She’s the kind of person that inspires other people, or in the least, makes it difficult for people to say no. Before I knew it, we had established a nonprofit called SPOON Foundation with the mission to both improve the nutritional status of institutionalized children overseas and to educate parents and medical professionals about the unique nutritional needs of adoptees.