What one mum did when the child she adopted turned out special

  • Family
  • Monday, 11 Aug 2014

Malaysian mum Wati Knussi has authored her first book, recounting the challenges and joy she faced raising an adopted child with special needs.

Wati Knussi describes herself as vain, someone bordering on the narcissistic who leads a “pretty charmed life”. When you meet her, you might think nothing’s changed. It's only after reading her self-penned thoughts in Non Returnable: My Special Child From Heaven do you realise that everything has, in fact, altered for the 49-year-old homemaker.

For seven years, Wati has been in and out of hospitals more times than she can remember. The problem isn't her health, but with her adopted daughter Jelita, now seven. Jelita has been afflicted with multiple health complications since she was born. Diagnosed with global developmental delay, Jelita has suffered as many as 50 epileptic seizures a day due to the Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

In Non Returnable, Wati – a first-time author – writes about the struggles she faced in her first two years as a mum to a child with special needs. She says her book isn't a how-to on managing a special needs condition; it's about a mum who has strives against the odds to love what her god has given her. “People used to ask me how I coped with everything. So one day I just sat and wrote it all down,” she says. 

Wati recalls how the thought of returning Jelita crossed her mind several times in the beginning. “I felt horrible that the thought even came up, so I never admitted it out loud. Instead I lashed out at those who so much as asked if I considered returning Jelita. In actual fact, I was angry at myself.”

With two biological sons now aged 20 and 18, Wati had for years longed for a daughter before considering adoption. Little did she guess that Jelita wouldn't turn out exactly like the child she imagined she would have. A call of Jelita’s name is met with an echoing silence – at seven-years-old, she still can’t walk or talk.

Currently based in Dalian, China, with her Swiss husband and hotel general manager Andreas Knussi, 54, Wati travels back to Kuala Lumpur every few months to take Jelita for medical appointments that measure her developmental progress.

“According to the neurologist, Jelita is functioning mentally like a three to five-month-old baby. Thankfully her seizures have reduced. At the height of her Lennox-Gastaut, we used to return to KL every month to see the doctors here because I couldn’t communicate well with the ones back in Dalian,” Wati says.

Having given up her life of leisure to attend her daughter’s needs, Wati was surprised to discover that she liked herself better than before. “I think I’m a better person now. There were so many things I never knew I could do until I had Jelita. I’m more patient, for one," she says.

“But I also have my built-in support group to thank for that: my family and friends. My husband and sons have been so supportive ever since Jelita came into our lives. They were the ones who keep me going.”

Wati’s focus now is on getting Jelita to take her first step – and leaving everything else to its natural order. “Unlike other mothers, I don’t hope for Jelita to get As or Bs in school. I don’t hope for her to one day be a doctor or lawyer. I just hope that she is healthy for as long as she lives. And that if I’m not around, nobody will find her a burden," she says.

“There is no one person to be blamed for how Jelita turned out. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

> Non Returnable: My Special Child From Heaven is available in major bookshops nationwide.

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