I was looking through my files and found the article I wrote for OH magazine a couple years ago. I think it is so important to reflect back on why we had WLS and to believe we are worth the effort it takes to lose the weight and keep it off. If you haven't written your story, please do. Even if you never share it with anyone else.
Here is my article, written in 2010:
“Why is she so fat?” a Kazakh authority asked my adoption coordinator. It was a question I had become accustomed to hearing while completing the lengthy adoption process for my daughter in 2004. The country doesn't have many overweight people, and authorities are very protective of the children they allow to be adopted. As usual, my coordinator assured the official that I was healthy and informed them that “Americans are just fat”. I was worried that my weight could be a problem with the authorities in Kazakhstan. My weight was listed in my paperwork and I was approved before I left, but I was still worried. Although my weight didn't prevent the adoption, the experience served as one of the pivotal moments that eventually caused me to decide to pursue gastric bypass surgery.
My journey to both adopting my first child and having gastric bypass surgery cannot be separated. Both are equally important and related events that occurred in my life. I had been thinking about adoption since I was a teenager, and the thought of having this dream ripped away from me because of my weight terrified me. In fact, I actually began contacting agencies in my 20s. There are so many kids out there who need a home, When I reached my mid-thirties and was still single, I began more serious research. I had no control over whether or not I had a husband, but I knew I was meant to be a mom. It was the experience of becoming a mom that made me realize the need to take control of my weight for the sake of my children.
I never had a weight problem as a child, but I began to gain weight as I got older. In fact, I was quite thin. In middle school, my weight slowly started creeping up. In high school my weight increased to 140 to150 pounds. I thought I was horribly obese since my friends were all much smaller. In college my weight fluctuated between 140 to 220 pounds. I lost the weight several times, but couldn't keep it off. After completing college, I my weight seemed to plateau at 250 pounds. I was still researching adoption agencies at the time.
I began thinking about adoption in my teens. There are so many kids out there who need a home. In my 20's I started calling agencies and asking for information. When I reached my mid-thirties and was still single, I began more serious research. I had no control over whether or not I had a husband, but I knew I was meant to be a mom. My dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and my whole world fell apart. During his two year battle, I gained close to 100 pounds. Eating was the only thing that provided me with comfort during that terrible time.
I decided to put my adoption plans on hold to help my dad fight his cancer battle. My father knew of my plans. I think he thought I was crazy, but I know he would have supported my decision anyway.
About six months after my dad's death, I began the formal process of adopting internationally. I knew he would want me to move on with my life. I chose international adoption because I was single and at that time it seemed easier for a single woman to adopt overseas. For my first adoption, I found a local agency who worked with single women. I decided to adopt from Kazakhstan because the fees were low compared to other countries and the children were healthy. Kazakh children are Asian, but race was never a factor in my decision. I just wanted a healthy child.
My daughter was 16 months old when I met her. Her Kazakh name is Aynur. I kept it as her middle name, but added Kathryn as her first name, after my dad's grandmother. It was important to me to honor my dad. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I first set eyes on her. Looking back, I think I was so worried about being denied, I tried to hide my feelings even from myself. Katie was terrified of me when we met and sobbed when I held her for the first time. I had to visit her twice a day for two weeks before I could go to court. The first week, she cried when the caretakers left her with me. It broke my heart. I would hold her and sing to her to try to console her. Slowly but surely she warmed up to me. By the time we came home, she knew I was her mommy. My mother and I spent a total 55 days in Kazakhstan to complete Katie's adoption. The whole process from beginning my paperwork to bringing my daughter home took about 9 months.
My beautiful toddler daughter never seemed to notice that I was larger than the others visiting the orphanage. However, since adopting her, I was no longer able to come home from work and crash in front of the TV. A good mom has tons of things to do in the evenings, I thought, and I was determined to be the best mom ever. It was quite an adjustment for both of us in the months after she came home. Chasing after a toddler when you're over 300 pounds is tough. I was exhausted, but so thankful to have my daughter.
Two years later, I started the adoption process again. I knew our home would not be complete without another set of feet. As the saying goes, ‘your first child makes you a mom but two children make you a family.’ I knew I had much more love to give. I decide to adopt my second daughter from China. Since bringing Katie home I had been researching special needs adoptions. There were so many children in China with cleft lip/palates who needed homes. After beginning my paperwork, I asked a good friend of mine if she knew of any new “Waiting Child” lists. She told me to check out her agency's list that was just published the day before. I knew I wanted to adopt a girl under the age of two who had a cleft lip and palate. As soon as I saw her picture, I knew I had found my daughter.
The paperwork to adopt from China was much easier than Kazakhstan. My adoption was actually approved before I left the U.S. There was no lengthy court process to worry about, and we were only there for two weeks. My mother and daughter traveled with me to China. My daughter was 28 months old when we met. Her Chinese name is JinSui, which is her middle name now. I named her Sarah after my mother's grandmother. Family names are important to me. Sarah was terrified of us. She had been well cared for in a foster home and I know she grieved hard for her foster parents. It took her longer to bond with me, but the strong bond she had with her foster family made our bond stronger in the end.
I'm a single mom. It defines me and I embrace the title wholeheartedly. Still, there was a time when I wasn't being a very good mom. My kids needed me to do a better job. Before my weight loss surgery, running and playing with my children was more of a chore than a pleasure. I wanted to be the type of mom who could do those things, but it was so exhausting and some things were impossible. If I got down on the floor to do a puzzle or play a game, it was a challenge to get up again. Just imagine a weekend trip to San Antonio Sea World in the heat of the summer when you are over 300 pounds! I did it for my kids but it wasn't easy and the only fun part was watching their excitement at the animal shows. I was more convinced than ever that it was time to do something permanent and lasting for myself and for my kids.
Raising two children was definitely much more work than one. The workload seemed to quadruple. Day to day activities like cleaning or laundry were almost impossible for me to keep up with. Working full time and being a single mom of two was much more work than I had imagined. I was beyond exhausted and knew I had to do something to get my health back.
I thought about weight loss surgery for years. I looked into the lap band, but did not think I would be successful with it. I needed something different. Gastric bypass seemed too extreme- in the cases I had seen on TV, the people looked sickly. I was worried I could never eat "normally" again. I was still in denial, thinking I could do it myself. I just needed to eat less and exercise more. I knew something had to change. I had high blood pressure, a bad back, and bad knees. My whole body ached. How could I be a good mom when I could barely take care of myself? My kids deserved better. I also thought about their future. They needed me to be in it.
I began watching a new series called "Big Medicine" in 2007. It showed real people who had gastric bypass surgery. They were successful losing weight and looked healthy doing so. And, best of all, they lived in Houston as well! I started thinking of weight loss surgery as a real option. I researched for a few months and made an appointment to go to a seminar with Dr. Garth Davis. To start the process, I had to attend one of his education seminar. It was eye-opening to me and made me realize that many of us just need some help to be successful. I stopped blaming myself and embraced gastric bypass surgery as the best option for me. Ten months after the seminar, I was scheduled for surgery (September 2008).
I prepared my girls for my surgery and hospital stay as well as you can with a four-year- year old and a 6 year old. The main thing I wanted them to know was that I would soon be smaller and more energetic, a mom who was more “fun,” and more like the other moms in our neighborhood. They didn't understand much of this, of course, but my recovery was so uneventful. It took a while before the kids noticed how the weight was “falling off” of me. I approached my recovery from weight loss surgery as seriously as I did my role as a mom. I was determined to be successful – for me and my daughters.
My surgery itself was uneventful. I went home after two days and returned to work in two weeks. I was exhausted the first few months, but little by little as the weight came off, my energy returned.
I had to learn to eat differently. Small bites and chewing thoroughly were important lessons. Sugar and fat in large quantities were off-limits. I also learned to get in enough protein and water. And I had to learn to love exercise again. Monthly support groups as well as the “Obesity Help” forums on were a very important part of my weight loss journey. I developed the lifestyle changes needed to use my tool and lose all of my excess weight. It's a lifestyle I continue to follow. Some people think that weight loss surgery is magic and a quick fix. It isn't. We have to work to do the work to be successful. The weight came off steadily for me. During the first14 months I lost 171 pounds, and I’ve lost 199 pounds overall. It has now been two years since my surgery and I still maintain my goal weight of 140. Even better, I am no longer on high blood pressure medicine. I have had no problems associated with my weight loss surgery. I have energy to keep up with my kids and am definitely a better mom. Gastric bypass surgery was the right decision for me.
I am a cheerleader coach for my girls for the second year in a row, something I never would have considered in the past. I'm a regular at the gym and I take my girls with me so they are aware of my new-found dedication to exercise. Both my daughters take gymnastics and are cheerleaders for their age groups. We all enjoy doing things together We are all mindful of what we eat. Having a thin mom has changed my daughters' lives so much for the better. They are both proud of me. My hope for them is that they continue this healthy lifestyle even after they leave the nest. With me as their example, I think they will.