Announcing the Loving ARMs Healing Home
At one point in my life, I had four little boys aged 1-7, and so I am sure you can understand when I say that I lived with a lot of potty jokes every day. My librarian brother fueled the fire by sending them a copy of the Japanese children’s book called “Everyone Poops,” which soon became their “go to” book whenever they got to pick the story of the night.
If you haven’t seen this book, it is definitely a no nonsense way of covering one of the most basic body functions, with the final summary that “All living things eat, so everybody poops.”
I think it is safe to say that anything concerning our bowels causes a wide range of reactions from people. Some find it hilarious, others completely inappropriate, and then some are so embarrassed about mentioning anything about this subject that they won’t even talk to their doctors when they are having issues.
In our house, I noticed something very interesting about the topic of poop once we began reading this book over and over. It lost its shock value. Yes, the first time my boys read it they were in hysterics, especially at the photos which showed elephants and mice and yes — even a child — on the potty. Any unsuspecting visitor to our house was shown the book by night’s end. But after about a month or so of this, the “forbidden topic” seemed to lose its excitement for my boys. And within a year, when the book would be pulled out I would hear one of my kids say, “We know…we know…everyone poops.” Hallelujah! It was now just the normal body function it should be.
As I was thinking about this blog, I realized that I had gone through a similar experience for me personally with cleft lip. I still remember vividly the first time I saw a baby in a Chinese orphanage with a severe bilateral cleft. I actually went back to my hotel room and cried because I was so worried about how the world would view him. It was completely shocking to me, simply because I had never seen it before.
Of course now twelve years later, I hardly even see the cleft with the babies we help now. I just see their beautiful eyes and know that with surgery we can offer them a great repair. But sometimes still, when we post a photo of a baby with a wide bilateral cleft, we will have people tell us they can’t look at the photo because it makes them feel uneasy. And now because of my own experience I can tell them to just keep looking, because the babies are gorgeous both before and after surgery. The only way to get over feeling uncomfortable is to learn more and look even closer, isn’t it? We then come to realize that each and every child is beautiful and amazing, regardless of needs.
There is still one medical condition which causes a lot of people to feel embarrassed though, and that is anal atresia (also known as imperforate anus and anorectal malformation). As we have blogged about in the past (“Spotlight on Anal Atresia“), anal atresia occurs while a baby is developing in utero. In simplest terms, it means that the opening where a baby’s waste leaves the body is either not present or in the wrong place. And because going to the bathroom is indeed such a basic, essential body function, a life-threatening emergency occurs when a baby isn’t able to pass stool. We at LWB see babies with this condition frequently.
Many people don’t know that one of the worst curses you can say to someone in parts of rural China is that you wish their baby will be born without an anus. So you can imagine the fear that occurs when a rural couple gives birth to a baby who actually doesn’t have an opening in his or her bottom. That baby is frequently seen to be cursed or unlucky, and so abandonment often follows. If a family does keep the baby, within a few days that child’s abdomen begins to swell alarmingly, and some babies even vomit fecal material as there is no way for it to leave the body on the other end. Again, that can lead a scared family to choose abandonment, and so almost every orphanage has received babies with this condition. We know that when we receive a call from an orphanage staff member about a new baby found with anal atresia, we often have just 24-48 hours to save the baby’s life through surgery. Otherwise, that child will pass away.
The wonderful thing is that with the correct surgery, a baby’s life can easily be saved. However, following surgery, the babies need 18 months to two years of close medical care. Most babies are given a first stage colostomy, and then once the colostomy is reversed the child will need several months of dilation therapy to keep the newly-created opening from getting too narrow as it heals. Some children with anorectal malformations have other medical issues as well (such as scoliosis, cardiac issues, and renal defects), so close monitoring and lots of TLC is essential, just like for babies with cleft or heart issues. Many kids with this condition require bowel management and high fiber diets and/or laxatives, but with good medical care almost all go on to live healthy, productive lives.
Truly, there is no reason for an infant born with this condition to die if they are given quality medical care as quickly as possible. And that is why I am so excited about LWB’s newest project – the Loving ARMs Healing Home, which will open this summer in China.
The goal of this new healing home is to provide the absolute best medical care possible to children born with this anorectal malformation. We are blessed to have relationships with major hospitals in China who follow the highest current medical standards for this condition. Some smaller hospitals in China still do outdated surgeries, which can cause more long term issues for a child, so we would like to see medical exchanges happen as well through this home so that even more surgeons can learn the newest procedures. Our new home will be staffed by specially trained caregivers who understand both colostomy care and dilation therapy, and we will be working with bowel management specialists to make sure each child gets on the best path possible for a healthy future.
We already have four children identified for the home who have had their first stage operations, and we are working as quickly as we can to get all the renovations done so we can open the doors this summer. Many thanks to one of the adoption groups for children with this condition who came up with the name of the home. ARM stands for Anorectal Malformation, and so we believe the Loving ARMs Healing Home is the perfect name for a warm and safe place for orphaned children with this condition to live.
Once our newest healing home is opened, we will of course be hoping for monthly sponsors to join us in helping these beautiful babies. One of the most expensive costs we will have is for the colostomy supplies, which now run approximately $250 to $300 per month for every child. We will be trying to build relationships with companies who provide these supplies in order to lower this cost.
We have had many discussions over the last few months about this new home because we know that many people just aren’t comfortable with anything having to do with this body function. Do we openly promote it, not promote it? How do you get people excited about something with the word “anal” in it? We talked to donors and volunteers and parents of kids with this condition, and finally we realized that just like with cleft, skirting the issue doesn’t help bring this very critical medical need to light. Attitudes can’t change about anal atresia if we continually wrap it up as an “abdominal issue.”
Over the last decade, we have helped countless kids with this special need, and they are the most wonderful, amazing, gorgeous little kids who through no fault of their own were born with a rectal defect. And since we want every single one of them to someday be chosen for adoption, we hope that more and more people will research this special need and considering adding it to their list of medical conditions they are open to for adoption. Just like what happened with my boys all those years ago with their story book, it is my hope that someday this special need will lose some of its negative stigma. That we all can openly discuss anorectal malformations and say “We know…we know…everyone poops.”
If you know anyone who has a heart for children with this medical need, please pass on the news that LAHH will be opening very soon. We are so incredibly grateful for your wonderful support in helping orphaned children, and we know this home will change many lives as well.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer