Perhaps no child we have cared for at Angel House has captured hearts quite the same way as Angeline. Given the nickname of Ange (meaning “Angel” in Haitian Creole) by her first caretakers, it seems it was written in the stars for her to come to us at Three Angels.
Angeline spent much of her infancy in the hospital before she came to Angel House at around 9 months old, malnourished and blind. But even without vision, it was clear that this little girl had a bright and indomitable spirit; Angeline navigated each day seeing every moment as an opportunity to love others.
With the loving care of her nannies and our medical staff, Angeline made great strides, fearlessly learning to use helpful tools, such as a walker, and even enjoying some children’s braille books.
We were over the moon when she finally went home with her forever family almost exactly one year ago, in February 2018. We know you have probably wondered what life is like now for Angeline one year after leaving Angel House, so we asked her mom, Mallory, to tell us what’s been happening over the last year.
Big things happened for Angeline the past few months. First, she became a big five year old! She was telling everyone it was her birthday for a solid month leading up to the actual day. She just kept saying, "I'm a big girl!" I think she was most excited for getting to start doing a chore (each kid starts doing a chore when they turn five.) Every day she would ask when she gets to start helping (her sister,) Eden unload the dishwasher. She cracks us up! She had a wonderful birthday and she's pretty sure it's still her birthday. We won't tell her otherwise.
Is her personality still the same as we remember?
Our Angeline is still every bit the goofy girl she's always been. Everywhere we go people talk about how she just radiates joy, and it's true. You all know that already!
What was it like first getting Angeline home?
When Angeline was first home, a friend described it as going on a first date. Which sounds like a funny comparison to a child coming home, but it's such a good picture of what it feels like. You are in the stages of just trying to learn everything you can about your child. It's new and exciting and also, frankly, very nerve wracking! On top of that, there are language barriers and also the newness of having a child with a visual impairment, which was very new to us. There were hard moments, but mostly just the sweetest moments of watching her settle into her new normal. It was so sweet watching her playing with her siblings— something we had prayed about for a very long time. And there was nothing better than tucking her in at night in her room with her older sister and brother and realizing that we no longer had tears in our eyes as we stared at her empty bed.
How did the family integrate?
There were definitely some hard moments as we all started to get to know one another. However, watching Angeline play with her siblings is so fun! She had a unique situation when she came home because she started with a big sister and a big brother and then only three months after she joined our family, she gained a baby brother. She took on the role of big sister so well though. We could tell God always knew she was not meant to be the baby of the family..
What surprised you the most?
Angeline never stops moving! Even when we get to a new place, she learns her way around SO fast and with such confidence. Whether we are at home, walking through a store, or playing at a park, you will always see her dancing around.
What went better than expected?
Angeline had so many transitions ahead of her when she came home. We knew that she would have a lot of medical appointments as we navigated the issues with her eye. On top of that, we were expecting a baby a few months after she came home. So she was about to have a baby brother, and we would be away from her for the first time at the hospital. We fully expected all of these transitions to be very hard on her, and we prepared for the worst. However, God took care of her in all of those moments, and she handled each transition really well. Yes, there were hard moments, but for the most part it really wasn't all that bad.
What was harder than expected?
One of the hardest things has just been getting used to all of the new medical terminology and therapies that we just never had any knowledge of. We had no prior experience with visual impairment, so we had thought that it would be much harder than it really was. However, trying to navigate the medical side of things just felt so foreign to us. Thankfully, Angeline has had only the most amazing doctors who have worked with us on each step of the process and have made it not feel so intimidating. We will say that having a child with a disability can feel so exhausting some days, but honestly, she has been the biggest blessing!
Was language a barrier and if so is it still?
The hardest part about having a language barrier when Angeline came home was the fact that we couldn't show her things visually. So it took extra work to try to explain things to her when she couldn't understand us and couldn't see what we were trying to show her. However, she is SO smart and learns things very quickly. By her second month home, she had already asked us to stop speaking Creole to her (we had taken classes before she came home to help her transition) and was only using English. By her fourth month home, she no longer recognized Creole and spoke full sentences in English. We hated that she lost her first language, but we wanted to respect what she wanted and so we did whatever it took to make her transition easier. However, a few months ago she started picking up Creole again, so we have been practicing it daily since we have been teaching Creole to our oldest daughter who is homeschooled. It's been fun to see how easily the words are coming back to her!
What does a typical day for Angeline look like now?
We homeschool, so we are all together most of the time. Angeline loves to participate in school (she won't officially start until next year, but that doesn't stop her from wanting to be involved.) She also spends the day dancing, singing, playing outside (she loves being outside!), going for walks, playing with friends, and taking trips to the library. Angeline finds joy in every little thing we do!
Biggest changes in Angeline since going home?
She has always been silly and full of joy, but we see that even more so now. She is much more confident. Her physical abilities are where we have seen the most growth, as she now rides a balance bike and runs everywhere. Her lack of vision doesn't stop her from trying anything.
What are some of her favorite things now?
Ever since her little brother came home, Angeline has loved baby dolls. When she hears me feeding her brother, she will grab her baby and go "feed" him. She also puts her doll to sleep and tells everyone to be quiet so we don't wake the baby. It's the sweetest thing to watch her. Another thing she loves and that has helped her as she transitioned into our family is music. There's almost always music playing in our house since she's been home, and she has her favorites to listen to when she is going to sleep. Her absolute favorite singer is JJ Heller. She also loves to play hide and seek with her older brother and sister. They have found ways to incorporate her and make it easier for her to play. And give that girl a soccer ball and she will play for hours!
What are some standout moments for Angeline?
On a recent trip to meet with her ocularist, she suddenly said to him, "You look like God!" This made us both chuckle so I asked her, "What do you mean?" Her response was, "I mean he sounds like my dad. My real dad. God." And then she looked over at her ocularist and said, "Did you know that Jesus loves you? He always loves you. He never stops." And I have to include one more story because she just cracks us up! Angeline LOVES music. A favorite song of hers and her dad’s is called, "Throne Room." In the song it talks about being in the throne room with God and how she will fall on her face in front of Him. Angeline, with all seriousness, at least once a day will inform someone that, "Someday when I'm in Heaven, I'm going to fall on my face. But I won't get hurt!"
Can you tell us about Angeline’s eyes?
In March, we had an ultrasound done on her remaining eye to find out what was going on and if it could be saved. The good news was that it wasn't cancerous; the bad news was that there was no hope of saving her eye, and there wasn't hope of a transplant working either. So in June, Angeline had an enucleation (removal) done on her right eye and also had repair done on the eye that was removed while she was in Haiti due to some complications. It was a hard transition for her to get used to not being able to see light like she used to, but she handled it all so well. In fact I think we took it WAY harder than she did. She was so happy to no longer have her eye protruding out since it would get hurt so often and it was hard for her to close her eye.
We hear Angeline has some beautiful new brown eyes!
Yes— in September, she had prosthetic eyes created for her! The process for the prosthetics was so intriguing. They were painted right in front of us and fitted to her. The ocularist did an amazing job making them seem just like she's always had these eyes! It was surreal. We were told they are more comfortable than the conformers she had in, so we are thankful for that (although she never seemed bothered by them.) If she ever chooses to not wear the prosthetics, she can always go back to the conformers, so we felt good about getting them and then letting her decide what she is most comfortable with. She still has no vision, but this gives her the illusion of having eyes. But for now, she is SO proud and asks everyone she sees, "Do you love my brown eyes?" And of course the answer is always, "YES!" We think she's beautiful no matter what!