Milestones and a Heart Check

When we brought Israel home, he was almost seven months old and we knew he had some room for improvement with his motor skills and development. This is largely in part because he was institutionalized and most of his play time was spent laying on his back, in a bouncy seat or a bumbo. Our pediatrician referred us to a physical therapist and we will begin those appointments in our home this week.

It was really hard for me during our initial pediatrician visit when Israel failed so many development tests. I know part of it was my pride and me wanting my son to be on track for his age. I was bitter at the orphanage for not working on his development; bitter at the governments that took so long to process our case; bitter at the fact that my son had to be in an orphanage at all; bitter that kids are still in orphanages! It wasn't the healthiest place for me to be. I was both sad to talk about his development and ready to just get going and work on his skills.

I remember landing in the Atlanta airport, going through customs and a woman complimented me on such a cute baby. She asked how old he was (six months) and said "oh he must be sitting up! What a fun age!" That was the first time I felt a little defensive about him. I wanted to make an excuse for why he wasn't yet.

So when we came home, we tried a lot of things. It was difficult to know how to balance focusing on our attachment and focusing on his physical skills. If he did tummy time, he screamed and cried. Should I let him cry? Everything we were taught said no, let alone be the one to make him cry!

After three weeks at home, Israel picked up his first toy! It was a giraffe teether toy and he picked it up and waved it around. This felt so huge! Previously he wouldn't hold anything in his hands, even if we wrapped his fingers around something.

Then he started to become more interested in toys, batting at the wheel on his exersaucer and toys on his bouncy seat. Every time we considered these little victories! As far as we could tell, only the kids who could sit up at Hannah's Hope played with toys. His typical day there involved a rotation from crib to Moses basket to bouncy seat.

We continued to try tummy time and to try and prop Israel up in the boppy pillow. He hated it less and less and he could endure them a few minutes longer each week.

Finally, on July 5 (two months home) Israel sat up!! It felt huge. We are So proud of our boy. He was a little unsteady the first day and we had to position his legs just right; now he is a little more confident and he doesn't fall back as much. He only sits up if we sit him up, he isn't able to move to that position himself. He will now play with toys while sitting and is so content! There are still several goals and milestones to go. We are excited to start therapy soon to work towards these.

We had another pediatrician check up recently and we were again a bit discouraged bc he wanted Israel to be doing a lot more than what he is. Will and I left feeling a bit defeated- we were so proud to show off his new skills but all we could think of now was what he had not accomplished. I felt like it reflected on me because I'm a stay at home mom! Israel's been home 2 and a half months... Shouldn't he be "caught up" by now?

So... I did a bit of reflection and listened to the encouragement of others. What did I learn from this?

DO NOT compare him to other kids. Not just my friends' biological kids, but even his buddies from Hannah's Hope. 

DO NOT take his development personally. I'll admit that it feels like his milestones reflect on me, since I stay at home with him. Will was the one to come home and get Israel to finally sit up by himself- I felt a little disappointed because it should have been me!

Do NOT compare Israel to the "normal" timeline for development or put unreal expectations on him. He has had a lot of trauma and under stimulation in his life; two months at home won't heal everything!

DO Celebrate what matters. Yes it's awesome that he is sitting up; but what REALLY matters is not whether it not he can roll over or self feed; it's attachment, bonding, the ability to respond to human interaction and the love that we are pouring into him.

My sister made a good point to me. She said to think about his 2nd birthday: he will probably be walking and talking then! The exact timing of those events doesn't really matter!

And Will made a great point too. He reminded me that the stunned, bobble-headed little boy we met on this day in March:

Is not the same boy that is in our home today:

So I'm going to have to remind myself to trust the Lord for healing and development for my boy and thank Him for what he is already doing in Israel!


  1. Oh Bekah!!! You are doing a great job!!!! You are loving that boy to pieces and that's what he needs more than anything else! He has made HUGE steps forward, not just in things like sitting up but by letting you and Will love him. 2 1/2 months seems like such a long time but the reality is, it really isn't. Israel has been through so so so much! Like you said, just think back on all the trauma and who he was when you met him, wow! Big big big change! Love you friend, you and will are amazing parents!!!!

  2. As someone who has been there, I can tell you it will "click," so to speak. Our daughter was way below age level for all areas except for her gross motor when she came home, and when we went back for another evaluation (at our international adoption doctor) 5 months after she came home she jumped TEN MONTHS in all areas and was above each age level!

    It's hard not to compare your child to others, but you can't do that to yourself (and to Israel). Keep doing what you are doing and trust that your son will be a happy, healthy, well adjusted and LOVED little boy.

  3. Rebekah, I so get it. I have to remind myself, a lot, how Charlie's family age is not even 5 months. Is Israel behind? Yes. Will he always be behind? No.

    Also remember all of those developmental milestones are averages. If the average age for sitting up is 4 to 7 months, there is a baby who did it before 4 months and some who are still not sitting up.

    As a special ed teacher this is tough for me, but I keep telling myself look how far Charlie has come. Look how far Israel has come since coming home. You are doing great. The PT will help. You will get so many ideas on how to better support him, as well as yourself.

  4. I am not an adoptive mother, but can tell you that my second daughter was six months behind in her developmental skills by 1 year and started getting early childhood services then. You are right on with not comparing Israel's development to anyone elses - it is totally OK for each child to progress on their own schedule. Rejoice in all the improvements and by all means SAY THAT to your pediatrician too! This is likely a learning experience for your pediatrician too - unless he or she has worked with many other interntional adoptees? You and Will are the people who know the most about how your child ticks and don't be afraid to tell the doctors when they are wrong (i.e. in expecting Israel to meet "normal" milestones). I hope your new PT services bring you the same joy that ours did - our early childhood workers were so positive and encouraging.

  5. Oh Bekah,'re a MOTHER! Mothers worry about everything. Welcome to the club :) My son Andrew is almost 6 now, and when he was much younger (about 15-18 months) he was not talking, not walking, behind in many, many areas. Our pediatrician threw all kinds of therapy at us and used words like mental delay, autism, etc. Total freakout. But you know what? Andrew started talking at 20 months, he walked at 17 months. And he's in kindergarden, and is EXACTLY the same as any other child. So please, dont let the first year or two bog you down, by the time Israel starts school, he will be on the same page as all the other children--except he will have a much cooler story to tell! Each child is different---the way GOD chose him/her to be!

  6. This is a great post! You are doing a fabulous job with your little guy and he has come SO far in such a short amount of time!!! I would also second what Kara said about the milestones being averages - our bio daughter wasn't sitting up by herself until she was 7.5 months old and then it was wobbly for a long time! Bete had delays, but by a year home had caught up and surpassed many of the milestones for her age already. Each of these precious little ones have their own time schedule that gets thrown off by being in an orphanage and not in a family! But you are right that he will not always be behind and celebrate each of those accomplishments! Praying for you guys!!! Love reading your updates on your little man!


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