Towards the end of our 2015 trip to JiaoZuo, we ventured downstairs to the orphanage floors one Friday to see if there were any more children that might be able to attend our school. Wandering through and meeting the children, finding out their names, ages, diagnosis ... it always takes a while. The third floor usually takes in any new arrivals and we were on this floor when my husband Paul (a special education teacher) called me over to a cot. The cot was with all the other unused ones towards one side. They were stacked with spare quilts and blankets. Something drew Paul towards them and he called out that there was a baby there.
In the cot was one of the tiniest babies I had ever seen. She had just arrived from the hospital and was obviously very premature. Her eyes appeared to still be fused and her tiny face still had lanugo all over it. Her mouth was about 1cm wide and her hand fit on the top joint of my index finger ... tiny! She weighed hardly a thing ... we couldn't find out much about her except that she was an estimated two months old and had come from the hospital. Two months? Wow ... this little one was a fighter! There was nothing small enough to feed her with and without the ability to suck, she was in serious trouble when she fed. We talked with the orphanage staff about the need to regulate her temperature and to try to feed her small amounts often. When we left, we weren't sure if she would survive the weekend.
We spent the weekend searching for bottles/teats suitable for such a tiny baby. Eventually we located a specialised baby store and showed them a photo of the tiny baby we wanted to feed. Everything was very expensive, so we contact our school principal and asked her to meet us at the store. She was a whiz at negotiating a much lower (but still expensive) price for us and we left with eye droppers, bottles and teats ... and prayed that the tiny little baby would still be alive when we went back on Monday morning.
And she was! We went back downstairs, pulled up our sleeves and rolled back her blankets. We tried to give her as much skin on skin contact as possible as she fed. It was very slow. She didn't have a good swallow reflex. We started with the eye droppers and finally moved onto the bottle ... but eventually it worked.
The orphanage staff watched us feeding this tiny baby several times a day and followed suit with another (slightly bigger) premmie baby that had also arrived recently. It was nice to see the ayi gently nursing the baby as she fed. We were allowed free access to the third floor to come and feed this precious baby. She was given a name by staff - Wen Ting (which supposedly means delicate and wise). Paul called her his little Lotus.
When we left the following week, we were unsure if WenTing would survive. It seemed unlikely.
We continued to monitor WenTing's progress when we returned home to Australia. She was in and out of hospital a lot. Her lungs were not good. She didn't appear to respond much to sound or light. Each time we asked for someone to go and check on her, we prepared for the worst. But she continued to fight. I asked several times if she was well enough for us to foster her in Eagles Wings. These photos were taken over winter in December and January.
Earlier this year, we were told that WenTing had been moved to fourth floor. Fourth floor is run by "Show Hope", a wonderful group that provides medical care for critically ill babies and children. They have foster homes in LuoYang; ZhengZhou and JiaoZuo. Care on this floor is wonderful. They are well staffed and resourced and they are trained in the importance of interaction and touch. We were grateful that she had moved upstairs. Linda visited her for me in April and sent this photo.
Fast forward twelve months.
I hadn't heard anything about WenTing in a little while. I knew that the JiaoZuo Show Hope facility had been downsized and that their more critical children had been moved to LuoYang. Some children were returned to the orphanage as they no longer required specific medical care. We had taken some of the older children who were waiting for adoptive families into our Eagles Wings Homes. Nobody had mentioned WenTing in a while. I suspected that she may have been moved to LuoYang or perhaps she had passed away.
Today, I visited fourth floor ... and I found her!! I will readily admit that I burst into tears when I saw her lying in that bouncer. I think the staff were a little unsure of the crazy white lady who was crying and blubbering over the tiny baby in their care. I pulled out the locket I was wearing around my neck and showed the ayis the photo of a tiny baby as I stumbled over my Chinese ... zhe shi yi nian qian zhe shi WenTing (This is one year ago, this is WenTing ... at least that's what I wanted to say!).
A round of 'ahs' followed as they showed each other the photo and nodded that they understood how much this baby was loved. They told me I could pick her up and hold her.
She is still tiny. She is around 14-15 months of age now ... and is the size of a newborn. Her feet are about 5cm long. She is fed via a nasal gastric tube but she is chubby and has obviously grown a lot. I asked the medical staff about her lungs and was told that she no longer needed oxygen on a daily basis but was using a nebuliser every four hours to help with her breathing. They are sure she has some vision. They were also amazed to see the photo of this tiny little girl in my locket. The nurse looked at the locket and then at WenTing and stated what we already knew ... "She is a fighter!"
Who knows what the future holds for WenTing. She is still a very ill little girl and requires close medical monitoring. I am grateful that the staff at Show Hope allowed me to visit her on a number of occasions during this visit. I was able to tell her how much Michelle ayi and Paul shushu (Aunty Michelle and Uncle Paul) loved her and I was able to nurse her and hold her close. I am grateful to our son Jakob who managed to take these beautiful photos and avoid most of my blubbering face. I hope that one day she will be well enough to come upstairs to our Little Learner's Class or even move into our Eagles Wings Homes, but right now she is exactly where she needs to be. If you haven't already, I urge you to look up the work of Show Hope (link below) and advocate for the great job that they do in caring for medically fragile babies in the Henan province.
Fight on little Lotus!
* The locket was given to me by my beautiful mum. The tiny photo inside it was given to me by the wonderful Angela from Celebrated Moments Lockets after she read about our trip last year. You can see more of her lockets here (where this one was purchased).