A Sunny Day

It sure is beautiful out here today. I wish we had played outside this morning, but I decided not to chastise a particular child last night when he came upstairs to find toys… one thing led to another… and now the three of them have decided that playing in their bedrooms is the most fun thing they have ever done. They will play up here for hours without fighting or destroying things. It’s a miracle. And I know the Autumn weather will probably last longer than their honeymoon with the newfound play space so… I’m milking it for all it’s worth.

At the moment, however, those three are down for quiet time and I am having a standoff with the eldest over eye poking. She is beginning to do it more now than she used to, which is unfortunate. I tried digging my finger into my eye socket the way she does and it is just so painful, but at the moment there is nothing else in the world she wants to do.

I considered getting on the floor to play with her or sing to her or just hold her to maybe get her mind off of it, but she is pretty dysregulated and at this point I still usually don’t help that. The more distanced I am the calmer she is. So instead I am sitting a few feet away at my computer typing – with my eyes on sweet girl instead of my screen and reminding her gently that I can see her every time her hands go near her face. I wish I could do more.

So much of my parenting with Hope right now is… I wish I could do more. Our therapist told me last week that we were doing such a great job with her, and that she has made such improvement… and I just didn’t know exactly what good I was doing. She gets very little stretching, because she is horribly intolerant of it most of the time. We do sensory brushing and tummy time, but that only lasts for a few minutes and then we’re done. It doesn’t seem like much.

I can’t help her calm down when she’s upset. She did let me calm her down last week once or twice, but that’s out of seven days of being upset or overstimulated several times a day. There is progress… but I just wish I could do more. I want to bond with her, but there is so little I can do that doesn’t cause her to go into a downward spiral. Our connecting activities have to be infrequent and very short lived, or it’s just too much.

P8It makes me wonder what her days were like after our visits at the orphanage. That was two hours of constant contact and interaction. But I didn’t know any better. I never saw her afterward. It makes me wonder how dysregulated she was on those days and if it made her hurt herself even more. I hate to think that.

But even with all that being said… what I really came here to say was that this is actually a very good day. We are doing so well. Things seem to be on the upswing for once in quite a while. Today, for the first time since we brought the children home, I actually feel like the mom that I was before we left for Ukraine. I’m not struggling with a temper, I’m tuning in to my little ones’ feelings instead of constantly correcting. I’m really and truly enjoying my vocation today in a way that I haven’t been able to in what feels like forever… but probably hasn’t been that long.

Please, if you think of it, pray for more days like this for our family. Pray that the sunny days continue to come even through what’s sure to be a long, cooped-up winter. Your prayers have been helping get us through this transition, and we continue to treasure them. Quite a few have told me over the last month or so that they realize we have had a hard go of this, or that they know it has been a difficult transition.

While we very much appreciate the thoughts, I want to be really clear… we are not having a particularly difficult transition! In fact, the feelings and struggles we are experiencing as a family this early in the game are totally par for the course, especially for those of us who have adopted children from hard places. This pain and struggle is absolutely to be expected. I am so glad for this blog where I have been able to share that reality with those who might not have understood it before. Even for me this has been a learning experience. Yes, we knew it was going to be hard going in but… I never knew it would be like this. And from what I know now – we are in no way the minority.

Which got me to thinking… if what we are going through is the norm, how much more important for us to support those families who are actually having a hard go of it! The holidays are coming up and I am thinking of ways to bless other families walking this same journey with us. I don’t have any details yet, but I would love to spread some joy to other adoptive families this year, as we have had just so much joy lavished upon us.

If you are an adoptive family who could use a little love, know one who is, or if you might like to help with a little bit of a Christmas gift project for those who do, please let me know! Getting these children home is half the battle, but caring for orphans also means caring for the families of former orphans who are still very much in the trenches of it all.   We are very blessed to be surrounded by a community who understands that 110%, but not every family is surrounded by such a caring support network, and I want them to know what we have been able to know all along, that the Body of Christ is behind them, praying for them and loving them through it all.

And with that, I am off to do some more scheming and to maybe hold our Pokey Princess for a few minutes if she’ll let me. I’ll try to write again soon, in the meantime, may you also have a very sunny Autumn day!

The Replacement Mom

“You’re not the Mom he never had… you’re just the Replacement Mom, the Mom he’ll have to make do with because he doesn’t have anyone else.”

I remember when it was just me and Evangeline during the day.  I remember how sometimes just watching her play would start my mind thinking.  I would hear things like “She’s so beautiful, how did I ever deserve such a precious gift?  What an amazing miracle God has given me, a beautiful treasure… I wonder who she will be when she grows up…” You know all those lovely, motherly thoughts that you think about the little loves of your life.

With four now… it’s harder to get such a moment, a moment where my mind can just stop and rest on one precious little life and what it means.  However, I did manage to catch one such moment yesterday with my dear Jacob, but what my mind began telling me were not the sweet, motherly whispers I so desperately wanted to hear.  Instead, my inner monologue went more like this:

“You get to be who he’s always waited for, the Mom he never had and always wanted…   Well, not really.  The Mom he wanted was the one he was given in the first place, the mother who grew him and carried him for nine months, the mother he was intimately connected with, who he loved and needed, the mother who was his whole world.  But she left, and where did she go anyway?  How could she just up and take away the one person who ever meant anything to him?  You’re not the Mom he never had; you’re just the Replacement Mom, the Mom he’ll have to make do with because he doesn’t have anyone else.  You’ll always be the substitute; you’ll never be as good for him as she could have been.”

Writing it down is almost worse than when I heard myself ranting it in my head the first time.  The reality just downright hurts.  Now, I know I’ll have some readers, especially those in the adoption community, who will be quick to point out all the fallacies of my little rabbit trail.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard “Adoption isn’t second best, it’s just as good as any other situation a child can be given.” Or… “Choosing not to parent isn’t a bad thing, sometimes it’s just the best way to care for your child.” Or… “God made this child for our family; he was always meant to be ours, God just had him grow in someone else’s tummy.”

Every time I hear any version of these it makes me cringe.  Every adopted child has trauma, whether they were adopted as newborns or come from hard places.  Babies are meant to stay with the Mommies who gave birth to them.  And when that doesn’t happen fear, loss, grief, confusion and loneliness enter the child’s life… no matter how young they are or how well taken care of by others.  Babies aren’t meant to be taken care of by strangers; they are made to bond with and be cared for by the mother they grew to know for nine months before being born.  When that doesn’t happen it is never good for the baby, and any other situation is always going to be second best.

(Disclaimer: Sometimes adoption is the most loving thing a mother can do for her child!  But these tragic situations come up only because we live in a fallen world where we cannot always give our child the best of everything.  We cannot always shield our children from loss, and when this happens, we should absolutely support birth mothers who give their children for adoption as a way of seeking the best for them in a tragic situation.)

As a mother caring for two children who were not born to me and who spent a great chunk of their childhoods without me… I am acutely aware of this truth.  It would be so much easier to simply think “This is how it was meant to be.  God wanted them to be a part of our family all along.”  But this is self centered thinking.  It says that the traumatic loss of my children’s birth mothers was all for my benefit.  That the pain and grief my children and their birth families have was all orchestrated just so our family could grow in a unique way.

I’m sorry, but I can’t buy that.  I know that God has been preparing me to be the Mom for these two for well over a decade, perhaps before I was even born… I know that He knew what would come to pass, and I believe that He paved a way for my children to have a mother and a home.  I believe God had good plans for my children, but I am not foolish enough to forget that the best plan He had was to keep them with their birth mothers in the first place.  He gave these two lives to them, entrusted these children to their care, not to mine.

Jacob was never meant to be mine.  He was meant for the woman God originally gave him to.  He was hers, and in a sense he still is hers.  I am just the Replacement Mom, God’s second string, the merciful backup plan He had in place, knowing that this precious life would be rejected and tossed aside.  It’s not hard to be second string, not anymore.  After all, I’m in the game now aren’t I?  And I’m not going to be benched again anytime soon.  The hard part, though, is knowing that I literally cannot be everything to Jacob that I am to Evangeline or Stephen.

I cannot go back and give him the security of knowing me intimately right from the womb.  I cannot turn back the clock and hold him as he suffered through that debilitating respiratory attack just hours after his birth.  I cannot take away the crib he laid in at the baby house for four years.  I cannot take back all the lies that were thrown at him about how he could never learn and would never walk.  There are seven years of suffering that I cannot just simply erase from his life.

His birth mother could have prevented all that, but I’m not her.  I’m the Replacement Mom.  All I can do is pick up where her legacy left off and try to write something new into his story.  That is the pain of adoption, the pain of not being able to protect your child, the pain of knowing that no matter how far you turn back the clock you never could have done anything to stop it anyway.

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

But, even knowing all this, what I was saying to myself before (though perhaps accurate) was not fully complete, it missed the most important part of the story… the ending.  What I must remember when I begin my next monologue about being the Replacement Mom is this: The novels that begin the most tragically are the ones that hold the greatest potential for the most beautiful endings.  Yes, I am coming in late to finish a story that was started long ago… but I have been given the duty and privilege of writing love into this book, of writing joy and hope and family into the life of a child who never knew any of those things before.

Neither Jacob nor I could control how his story started.  But I am here now, and I have the honor of helping him write the rest of his story to the very end… which is, after all, the most important part.

We are Still Here

Dusting off the blog tonight after a few weeks of hair-pulling madness around here.  I think about writing every day and just never seem to sneak it in.  The kiddos have decided that laying quietly for two hours is no longer their favorite thing, so finding writing time is a little difficult.  I would just make them all lay down anyway but… sleeping at night goes SO much better if they are up and running during the day.  I thought I needed that time for my sanity, unfortunately, the Lord may be telling me I’m ready for a level up.  (Less rest more play.)

Lots and lots has been happening here.  Jake was privileged to give a presentation to our local LWML chapters on adoption, which he absolutely loved.  I have been doing nothing but trying to keep down the fort, which seems to be flying away more and more these days as I am able to put less and less effort into it.  My third trimester is quickly approaching, and I’m definitely feeling the tension between my body telling me to slow down and my four littles telling me to speed up.

I had a midwife appointment yesterday and all is looking very well.  She is such a dear lady and so encouraging, and gave me some good tips on how to know my limits and manage my days as a pregnant lady who does more lifting and chasing than recommended. ;)  So no need to worry.  I am being very well taken care of, and my husband is quick to pick up all the slack that I’m dropping when he’s able to be home.  I love that man.

All of the children are doing so well right now.  They play together as if they were never apart, and Jacob and Hope fit seamlessly into the chaotic, loving, rambunctiousness of our home.  It certainly wasn’t like this at first, but the way they treat each other now, I couldn’t tell you which of them had been together from birth and which just came into our family three months ago.

Jacob got his brand new walker last week and he loves it… well he loves the idea of it.  It’s hard work though!  He doesn’t have a lot of stamina on his feet yet, and it’s cumbersome to move that big bulky thing around, even in our spacious home.  So it will take some getting used to.  His orthodics should also be on their way soon, and that is going to be another big milestone for him, as he takes on the enormous task of training his feet and legs to work properly.

Hope has not been doing much therapy, but her next PT appointment is on Thursday and I am so excited to share all her progress with her therapist!  We have been seeing improvement in attaching.  She actually is letting us hold her to calm her down now when she’s overstimulated.  That’s huge!  I think she’s beginning to prefer my arms to the felt safety of her stroller, and that just makes me beyond giddy.

Last week she reached two enormous milestones all in one day.  First, she sat up unassisted for the first time!  Our therapist told us she may be able to do it within a year… but three months?!  Wow!  What was holding her back was not weak muscles.  She does have a ways to go there, but her biggest hurdle was an underdeveloped and damaged nervous system.  When she came home she had next to no protective reflexes.

Now if she lurches forward while sitting she puts her hands in front of her body to catch herself.  And it’s beginning to be a consistent reaction!  Woohoo!  The other day she did that with both hands while we were practicing a sitting position on the floor.  I was supporting from behind, but she lost her balance, caught herself and sat unassisted for about two seconds!  Of course, she hated it and threw herself back into me as quickly as she could collect her thoughts.  But I praised her like crazy, and I’m sure she definitely just thought I was crazy.  :P

That same day Jake came back from a drive with the kids and told me how she was actually playing with a toy in the car!  She has always held toys and stimmed with them, but after a while home we realized that’s all she was doing… stimming.  She was never actually playing, just using them as a way of zoning out or escaping her surroundings.  But this time she wasn’t tapping, hitting or stimming with it at all.  She was holding the toy out in front of her and purposely pressing individual buttons to hear them make different sounds!

My baby girl is learning to play!! Eeeeeeek!  I just don’t know if I can emphasize what amazing, miraculous progress this is for her.  It sounds so small, but for this nine year old treasure – it is huge.  I have been asked if she’s done any more purposeful talking.  Unfortunately, nothing yet, although she did repeat “baby” after Evangeline the other week.  I still have hope for her learning some speech or communication.  But right now she’s got quite a long way to go before we get there.  Both kids need speech therapy, and that is the next thing on my list to find for them.

I promise I’ll try to be better about blogging.  It’s hard, there are SO many things I’d love to write about and just so little time for all of them.  God willing, more time will become available, but I only write when He grants me the time and if a break is what He thinks I need then that’s what we’re all going to have to live with for a while.  But please know I think of this little blog and all my dear readers very often, and want very much to continue!  If there is something you are especially hoping for me to write about soon, please let me know and I’ll make a note of it.

Blessings!

Updates for Everyone

photo (38)

I have been wanting to write again all week, but the days just pass by with no in-between time to squeeze out a blog.  We are definitely feeling the exhaustion of the marathon that is parenting lots of little children, with no big ones yet to help.  I am not even thinking about February, I’m just blissfully ignorant of such things and enjoying the little kicks here and there and not having to devote too much attention to nourishing the little one just yet.  On the other hand, I couldn’t be more excited to meet our new babe.  I don’t want to leave anyone out, so today’s post is just going to be quick updates on everyone.  Youngest to oldest sound good?  Ok here we go…

Stephen is doing just dandy.  Besides a little bit of a cold he seems to have picked up from somewhere, he is his usual, hilarious self.  He has decided to be kind of clingy in the early hours of the morning; I think he caught on to my plot of getting up earlier than they do and is trying to put that to a stop.  I admit, some mornings I’m glad for the excuse to stay in bed!  But I get so much more done when I don’t… He has started using sentences this last week (with prepositions and conjunctions even!); which is terribly adorable and always surprises me when I hear it.  His three favorite activities are singing (or yelling lavishly, whichever label your prefer), baseball and running.  Yes, running.  He just likes to run laps everywhere, he will have me watch him for a few minutes until he tires out and then he’ll be so proud of himself for how fast he went.  Oh boys are fun.

Evangeline is also doing well, very much in a mothering phase.  Her baby dolls do therapy, stretches, go to the hospital, you know all that normal baby stuff.  You know you’re a special needs mama when your kids play hospital more than school.  Ahem.  I still haven’t started doing reading with her yet, although it’s painfully obvious she is rearing to go.  That’s the next thing on my school list to start – reading!  We are doing great with sign language, though.  She has over a hundred words in her vocabulary now, and we’re practicing sentences.  She’s even started using her signing throughout the day, which is awesome.  Jacob and Stephen use it a little too, but I am mostly focused on getting Evie conversational and I definitely think she will get there before the end of the year!

Jacob is also doing well; his spoken English is coming along a little more each week and he continually surprises us with how much he comprehends.  He loves to sing and read books, which is great because we do a lot of that in our house!  As far as bonding and emotional stuff goes, he is so fragile.  Any change in routine or less-than-perfectly-planned outing creates so much distress in our poor boy.  He thrives on stability and routine.  I do believe he’s attaching to us, and I think that has actually increased the behavioral difficulties we are seeing.  He’s scared of being close, so he’s pushing away.  It’s heartbreaking to watch a six year old who is so terrified of love.  It should not be this way.  But we are working so hard to bring him to a better place, and he’s come so far already.  He is such a brave young man.  Last week he was fitted for orthodics for his legs and feet, so with any luck we will be able to get him in a walker before the month is over!  You have no idea how excited this Mommy is to get him up on his feet.  It’s going to change his world, and I can’t wait to see how he reacts to finally being able to walk after years of being told that he is incapable of learning and that his legs will never work.  So many blessings we get to watch unfold, our hearts are full.

And our oldest princess, I know many of you are wondering how she is doing now.  A couple weeks ago Hope spent two days in the hospital for some concerning seizure activity.  They found a brain bleed that may have been causing it.  We are thrilled to report that the activity we saw seems to be disappearing and we are praying that the follow up CT scan on Wednesday will show a parallel improvement in her injury.  She just learned how to clap all on her own, which is something we’ve been working on and we could not be prouder of her for that accomplishment!  She is gaining strength and has almost reached a healthy weight for her height.  We discovered that she loves bath time; it’s incredibly therapeutic for her.  She usually never lets me cradle her for long, but in the water she relaxes and completely melts into my arms.  It’s such a gift to have found a bonding activity for us, we were really in need of one.  Not only is it healing for her, but for me as well.

Speaking of which… how are Mommy and Daddy holding up?  My last blog post was tough, but we had been on a downward spiral of tough for these last two weeks trying to catch our breath and recover from the unexpected hospital stay.  I’m happy to report we are all in a much better place right now.  It’s a ridiculous roller coaster of huge highs and deep lows.  There are incredible miracles going on right under our roof, and we are first hand witnesses to all of them.  It’s spectacular!  But at the same time, the spiritual warfare is crazy intense.  The emotional toll of inviting trauma into your home, like I talked here, is a really heavy load to carry.

Please know, we’re not dying over here :)  We have some pretty bad days, but we also have some really awesome ones.  Our adjustment period is not going horrendously, and it’s not going spectacularly well either.  If I had to guess, we are about the average of where a typical adoptive family is at that point – especially factoring in that we adopted older children from hard places.  This is hard work, excruciating, exhausting, intense work.  But it’s good work and it’s work that needs to be done.  I was talking to my Dad the other day and he compared it to running a marathon, you know it’s going to hurt… but once you get to mile 23, knowing beforehand doesn’t really make it hurt any less.

And I think it’s an apt comparison.  Running a marathon isn’t for everybody… but it could be for a lot more people than the ones who actually do it.  Will it hurt?  Yes… but it’s also going to be incredible when you finally cross that finish line.  One foot in front of the other, taking it one step at a time…. Or as my favorite blue fish would say: Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming :)

Honesty

So many people have told me that what they love most about my blog is my honesty.  That’s why you haven’t been hearing from me lately… I haven’t wanted to be honest, not here, not anywhere.  And now I feel like I’m in a Dr. Suess rhyme all of a sudden… sigh.  I still have lots of drafts backlogged in my files.  My 19 weeks post is awkwardly sitting there now that I’m at my 21 week mark.  I haven’t wanted to take a belly picture because that would mean I’d need to smile for it, and I don’t feel like I can give you an honest smile today.  Or any of the days I might have had time to put up a quick post.

Every time I see someone outside of my own home (which isn’t very often as you might imagine) I get the same reaction “You look so exhausted!”  Here I am trying so hard to put on a joyful, Christ-filled, my-cup-overfloweth countenance and every single person can see right through it.  So much for being a model pastor’s wife, right?  But that’s the truth.  Exhaustion is my truth right now.  Every tiny little activity is exhausting.  Serving my children is exhausting.  Enjoying my children is exhausting.

Every once in a while my Dad asks me “Do you feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew yet?”  That’s been his concern this whole adoption, and sometimes it still comes up.  For months I have been saying no, but the question is starting to haunt me like a bad jingle I can’t get out of my head.  And I don’t even have any cutesy music to go with it.  I’m struggling right now.  That’s the only honest thing I have to say, and I hate to say it.  I hate to say it because the last thing I want is a slew of comments or messages or phone calls from people asking me if I’m ok or asking how they can help.  Just my pride talking?  Probably.

Prayer is good, but I know we’re covered in that already, without even having to ask.  So why even post?  Why not just say, we’re going through a tough transition time and I need to take a blogging break?  Why not run away?  I certainly feel like running, but running isn’t going to help me or anyone.  What might help though, is being honest, putting my weaknesses out there for the world and letting ya’ll know I am far from perfect.

It might help other adoptive families have realistic expectations for when they get home.  Did you know that the norm is actually to experience some level of post-adoption depression?  It’s very much like post-partum blues and depression, but even more common for both adoptive moms and dads, and even more complicated because of the deep sadness that naturally accompanies the reality of adopting a hurting child.  Adoption is all about loss.  We don’t like to talk about it much, just like we don’t want to talk about how redemption is all about the cross.  But the one is a living icon of the other, and the picture is poignant.

When we baptize our babies we dress them up in these beautiful white gowns and take family pictures and have a big reception and celebrate it.  Some families remember their baptisms every year (I know we do!) and we linger on the promises and the miracles that have been given to us in our gift of baptism.  But what we don’t see with our eyes as the pastor pours clear, sparkling water over that sweet child’s head is…  the blood, the death.  Because as much as baptism is about new life it is first about death, the death of the person being baptized, the gruesome death of Jesus on the cross.  There is a saying that as Christians we do not need to fear death because we have already died.  We died the death of Christ during our baptism, which means death has no hold over us – just as it had no hold over the God of the Universe.  And there, in the loss and only through that loss comes the beauty and the promise of true, abundant life.

Adoption is also about loss.  Life for these children only comes by means of very deep loss.  Everything that was their life has to die, everything that was meant to have been theirs, that should have been theirs was taken from them.  Only through that reality, can they begin a new life.  But the child isn’t the only one who loses something, the family also experiences loss.  In the end, it will be a blessing to us all.  But right now?  Wow is it hard.  We had a lovely little family.  Two perfectly healthy, bright, beautiful children – a boy and a girl.  Sweet, sheltered, secure little ones… not a real care in the world.  And then we took a hammer to all of that.  We shattered our perfect little family and we changed it forever.

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

Courtesy of Jill Heupel Photography

Now we’re a family of broken pieces and broken hearts.  A family where half of our children still don’t understand what it means to have a Mommy and a Daddy.  I overheard my four year old daughter telling a lady the other day that the nannies dropped Hope in her crib when she was in the orphanage.  We try to not talk about things like that in front of her, but she hears and remembers everything.  There is so much her little mind is trying to process: abuse, abandonment, neglect, pain… crushing pain.  Things I never intentionally would have introduced to my four and two year olds, but now they are living those realities second hand by watching us as we try to help their brother and sister heal.

They were away from their home for two months; that was hard for them.  Neither of them have been as secure since that trip.  We spend hours a week in therapy, hospitals, referrals and appointments.  Time I could have been reading stories or making fun crafts or teaching them how to bake.  And us?  We’re exhausted emotionally, physically and spiritually from all of it.  Suddenly we are a family with trauma, a family in need of an incredible amount of healing.  Overnight we went from having it all together to picking up the pieces.  Did we choose this?  Sort of, but not really.  Were we expecting it to be hard, even this hard?  Of course.  But just because trauma doesn’t always come without announcing itself doesn’t mean it isn’t just as traumatic when it finally walks through your front door and decides to live with you for a while.

Adoption is hard.  It is inherently loss, not just for the adoptive children, but for everyone in the child’s life.  Beautiful, lovely, miraculous things come from adoption.  But we do a disservice to adoptive families and their children when we overlook where that beauty came from. It came from ashes, ashes that are blown into a home, leaving the family to clean up the great mess that follows.  It’s not pity that I, or any adoptive parent, needs.  It’s prayer.  Understanding.  Support.  We need to know that if we don’t make that phone call or we don’t send that thank you note or if we never reach out for help it’s not because we don’t care about you.  It’s because our families have just been broken, and it’s taking all of our energy and strength to pick up all the pieces.

Sometimes we need you to reach out to us because we can’t reach out ourselves, but other times we just need space.  Sometimes we need respite, other times we just need a meal we didn’t have to cook ourselves.  Sometimes we need to sit and talk with someone who understands, and other times we just need people to stop asking how it’s going.  But most of all we need huge heaping doses of grace and mercy and love.  We need to know that the people in our lives are going to see our crazy, depressed, angry emotional roller coasters and they’re going to love us anyway.

(Just as a side note, if you are a family member or friend of an adoptive parent and you’re wondering why we aren’t asking for help, it’s probably because, especially when our children came from hard places, the kind of help we need is so specific that it would be difficult or impossible to just ask for a simple hand on something.  And if we tried to ask we would either come off as ungrateful or unreasonable or both.  Unfortunately, there are just situations where there is no real help that can be given without a logistical brainstorm involved.  Our children’s needs and our new family dynamics make simple things, like bringing in outside help, much more complicated.)

So here’s to honesty.  Here’s to dispelling the myth that adoptive families are superheroes that don’t need anyone’s help.  Here’s to coming out and saying that just because we signed up for this doesn’t mean we will always have our act together, and just because we “chose” these children doesn’t mean we can’t have a bad day, or week or month… or even year. We are just like you, and just like any family, when trauma kicks off its old, muddy shoes and decides to stay a while… we’re going to struggle.  And we are.

May the Lord, in His mercy, turn our sorrow to joy and our tears to laughter.  May He bring the dawn quickly and banish the darkness from our midst.  May He orchestrate the beauty from the ashes, and give us inclination to focus on neither, but rather to seek His face in this and in every season.  Amen.

So Sorry!

photo (35)I kind of just left you all hanging!  My apologies.  It has been a crazy busy week trying to catch up from being in the hospital and everything else that always seems to happen all at once.  We do have some very good news to share!  Let me start at the beginning just in case.  On Friday we conferenced with our primary doctors about some concerning activity we had been seeing during Hope’s meals.  She was having myoclonic jerks in her arm and then began having episodes of zoning out that highly resembled absence seizures.  They had written us a referral to a neurologist earlier, but her episodes were progressively getting worse, quite quickly, and everyone agreed that we should go to the emergency room to get her looked at immediately.

Early the next morning we left.  Because her episodes only happened at meals (and there were no other meals that day at this point), we felt comfortable waiting.  We also knew we would be able to trigger her episodes for the doctors in the hospital for observation.  A girl’s gotta eat, right?!  So we spent two days there.  We came away with more questions than answers.  Her CT scan revealed a brain bleed which may or may not be causing her episodes.  An EEG showed no epileptic activity, praise God!  So she is not having seizures, exactly, though she is high risk for them at this time between her myoclonus and the brain bleed.

We are still not sure what is causing the bleed or how long it has been going on.  They said it could be several months old or even older.  They also found evidence that it is still bleeding, at least a little, but don’t think her shunt is causing it.  Without any other information we can’t really do anything about it at this point, and she’s not in immediate danger.  So we are going back in a couple of weeks to reevaluate the situation.

After getting home from the hospital we began to see some slow improvement in her episodes.  She is still having them, but they seem to be slowly tapering off.  Another praise God moment!  We have some theories as to what is going on, but we really don’t know, and maybe we won’t ever know.  But the important thing is that right now she is healthy and just as sweet and joyful as ever.  We had a scare over the weekend that we might need to do immediate surgery for her bleeding, what a terrifying thought.  I am more grateful than ever for the health of my children.  Lord thank you for preserving our family through this little bump!  Lots of other things to update, but for now it’s bedtime.

Christ keep you all.

In Unexpected Events…

Lord, allow me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. Reveal Your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my words and deeds guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the labors of this day. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen

I discovered this little morning prayer last year and it has become one of my favorites.  It also just happens to be the perfect prayer for a hospital stay.  Wisdom, peace, guidance in dealing with the many, many people who He sends to care for us and our children throughout the day.  Give me the strength, Lord, to bear the labors of these days.

I fully expected to be writing a notes post today.  I am now officially half way through my pregnancy, and feeling great.  Unfortunately, I drove to the ER with Hope this morning for seizure activity that has been developing recently.  They discovered a brain bleed; we don’t know if the two are connected, though I suspect they are.  We don’t have any answers yet, just more questions than we came in with.

Please pray for our sweet girl and for the other children, as separations due to hospitalization is stressful on everyone.  Thank you for being patient with me as my blogging has taken a backseat this week to more urgent family needs.  Thank you for walking with us and carrying us to the Lord in prayer.  We knew our children’s journeys of healing were only just beginning, and though this is a difficult time, it is one more step on Hope’s path to healing.  And we are so honored to be walking it with her.

May God richly bless your Lord’s Day tomorrow and give you the opportunity to partake with Him in the Glories of Heaven through the precious gift of His Body and Blood.  Sweet Hope and I send ya’ll much love from our little hospital room…

This Thing Called Life

Sometimes it gets in the way of other things like… blogs.  Ahem.

This last weekend has not gone how I planned it… at all.  I have about three blog drafts in various stages of doneness, waiting to be published.  But I haven’t found the time to actually finish any of them!  My 19 Notes post is next and I’m really hoping to get to that tomorrow.

We’re trying to get our thank you cards sent out now for our adoption while also trying to reformulate our discipline/bonding strategies with the little ones.  Some things just can’t wait, am I right? On top of that we have a bit of a health issue that has cropped up in the last couple of days that needs to be taken care of right away, mostly through dietary solutions.  Meaning… unfortunately, the Whole 30 is going to have to wait.

Yes, technically, we could do both the Whole 30 and work on resolving this other issue simultaneously, but that would be hours more work that I simply do not have.  Anyone have some extra hours in their day they aren’t using?  Send them my way please.  Thanks.  :)

So yes, I don’t have the ability right now to follow two sets of dietary rules.  I know my limits.  So for now the Whole 30 is on hold.  For anyone who started with us, I am so sorry!  Please keep going!  I’m always here for encouragement and support, even if we’re not quite doing the exact same thing right now.  We will still be mostly Whole 30 compliant, but I just don’t feel comfortable calling it a “Whole 30” if it’s only a Sort-of Whole 30.  Know what I mean?  Sigh… life.  Sometimes it gets in the way.

Worth it though!  With any good fortune, ya’ll will hear from me again soon.

Blessings,

A Glimpse at One Month Home

So we’ve actually been home for almost two months now, although it doesn’t feel that long.  But I wanted to do an ongoing series from glimpses of a day in our life at one month, three months, six months, etc.  Just to give people an idea of what exactly daily life might look like at those benchmarks when you adopt older children with special needs.  Also because I think it would be fun to chronicle for myself and watch the progress we make as a family.  So the below are two “sample days” from what our daily life is basically like.  These aren’t real days, just days I made up in my head from real things that usually happen during our time together :)

First… the perfect day post-one month home.  Also known as, the day that only exists in my head…  (Not that these things never happen just never all in one day!)

A Perfect Day… One Month Home

I wake up promptly when my alarm goes off at 4:45am.  I say my morning prayers in a concentrated and thoughtful manner while the children sleep blissfully upstairs.  After prayer I drink a full glass of water with my first round of B6 vitamins so that I don’t hit a mid-morning slump, then I begin working on tidying up and starting breakfast.  About 6:00am the children begin to stir and I methodically and lovingly get everyone pottied, dressed and downstairs to eat.  We all sit down at the table at 6:30 sharp and have a delightful meal together.

After breakfas t Jake and I refill the children’s waters and Hope’s bottle, we do another potty break and take everyone outside to play before it gets too warm.  After I get help carrying the children out, Jake says his good-byes and skips (ok walks, trying to keep it realistic) over to the office to begin his work day bright and early.  I read a spiritually encouraging book, take turns swinging the children, do some chores in the yard and enjoy the morning until it’s snack time.

At 10:30am Daddy takes his morning break and helps with another round of potty breaks and we all go inside for a snack.  We spend our time before lunch practicing our sign language, singing hymns, reading books, doing puzzles and other enjoyable, wholesome activities.  At 11:30am I get lunch ready, we all sit down to eat with Daddy at about noon and once everyone is finished we head upstairs.  The children all go down for their naps like precious angels and sleep until 3:00pm.  Mommy blogs and lays down for a nap, making great use of her two hours of free time.

After naps we head back outside to have some more fun until Daddy is done for the day.  He plays with the littles while Mommy goes in to make dinner, which of course was already planned ahead of time so it takes no effort at all to whip up in a hurry.  We decide to eat outside since it’s such a beautiful day, which absolutely delights the children.  Afterwards we have a quick clean up and go for an evening stroll.  By the time we arrive back at the house it is almost 7:00pm and the children are thoroughly worn out from a fun, full day; so we usher them upstairs for bedtime routine.

Hope drinks her bottle while everyone gets dressed and settled in, then we all sit in a big circle and progress effortlessly through stories, hymns, prayers and a bedtime song.  The children listen and sit still and participate beautifully. Everyone gives everyone else goodnight hugs and kisses and merrily hop in their respective beds and fall quickly to sleep… all before 8:00pm.  Mommy and Daddy get some quiet relaxing time to debrief and plan for tomorrow and to do a quick run through of the house to make sure everything is ready for the morning.  Then, by 9:00pm it’s time for everyone to sleep restfully until morning.

Sounds absolutely blissful, doesn’t it?  Ok, so that’s what I think every day is supposed to look like.  Here is how it usually plays out instead…

A Day in Reality… One Month Home

My alarm goes off at 4:45am… I don’t even bother hitting snooze; I just say to myself “I’ll get up in just a second…”  Twenty minutes later I rouse from a light sleep to realize I didn’t get up and sigh frustratedly.  I head downstairs to say prayers.  Hope is awake already.  I can hear her through the baby monitor and keep wondering if she needs me yet or not… I sort of finish my prayers in a distracted fashion and go to the kitchen, intending to get my glass of water and vitamins.  I get one sip and hear Hope making a fuss again, vitamins and breakfast will have to wait… I head back upstairs.  Dirty diaper.  I change her as quickly as I can since Stephen (our light sleeper) was woken up by my walking up the stairs and Hope’s commotion.

I go nurse Stephen back to sleep and next thing I know it’s 7:00am and everyone is awake except for me.  Jake asks me to please get up and help with the kids.  I was, of course, in the middle of my REM cycle so I’m grumpy, feeling sick and fairly useless.  Jake asks what’s for breakfast… I stare blankly into the fridge.  Eggs again?  Since yesterday was Jake’s day “off” and we had doctor’s appointments and errands I didn’t have time to make Hope’s food when it ran out.  It usually needs replenished every three days or so.  So we tag teamed it, Jake cooked eggs, I blended chicken.  We put a video on for the children because, what else are you going to do at that point?

By 8:00am we are finally sitting down to eat.  The kids are grumpy because we are grumpy and I still don’t feel like eating anything… especially eggs.  Jake finishes his bowl quickly and I reluctantly tell him to go to work, since I know he wanted to be there an hour ago.  He leaves us to finish breakfast on our own.  When we’re all done I scramble to find some proper playing clothes for outside, trying to be quick so the kids don’t get into fights and Hope doesn’t start poking herself.  After 45 seconds I come downstairs to find children fighting and Hope poking herself.  I get everyone dressed in a more chaotic and grumpy way than I would like and shoo them out the door.  I carry Hope to her stroller and manage to get Jacob down the porch stairs.  Then I sit down…

That was more work than my pregnant self should be doing I think.  So I sit and watch the kids play, while refereeing disagreements from the sidelines every two minutes.  Children randomly have bathroom emergencies that is even more work and frustration.  After an hour of that I am emotionally done for the day and call Jake over for an early break at about 10:00am.  He helps me get the kids inside and I turn on a movie to try and keep their attention until lunch time.  Meanwhile, I attempt to clean the kitchen.  After ten minutes I realize that I am way too tired to do anything of the sort, begin to wonder why I feel so miserable and remember those B vitamins I forgot that morning.  I look over and my full glass of water is still on the counter too.  Defeated, I go and watch Toy Story with the kids, hand them a bowl of animal crackers, and bide my time until lunch… trying not to fall asleep.  Once the movie is over, if Daddy is still not home, I might put in Signing Time and pretend we did something productive.

Finally Daddy comes home at noon and I try to hobble together a quick lunch, since we’re behind schedule.  The kids eat, Jake makes me eat, there are tantrums about going potty before quiet time.  Everything is awful, but we manage to get all the children at least in their respective rooms.  After about twenty minutes they start to fall asleep one-by-one.  I start blogging before Stephen wakes up at 2:00pm – an hour early.  He won’t go back down, so we head downstairs.  No blog and no nap for Mommy.  The other three get up soon after and I am stuck with an extra hour of “What am I going to do with them before Jake gets back?” as well as a very overtired and grumpy disposition.  I get out the toys and let them play while I hold Hope’s hands to keep her from poking herself.

After a while of trying to contain overly-energetic little ones in a single room, I reluctantly take them outside and do some more sideline refereeing.  Jake comes home a half hour early so I can go lay down for fifteen minutes before I go ballistic on the world.  It helps a little.  Dinner hadn’t been thought out so after hemming and hawing for an hour we finally decide to load everyone up in the car and go pick something up that will be easy and not make the kitchen worse than it already is.  By the time we finally get home and eat, it’s already bedtime for the kids.  We get them upstairs finally around 7:45pm. I leave Jake to start stories while I run downstairs to make Hope’s bedtime bottle.  I sit with her to help her drink it instead of being in the circle with everyone else.   Jake has to stop three dozen times during songs, prayers and stories to correct the kids for fighting, laughing, moving around the room, not paying attention, etc, etc, etc…

At the end of our patience for the day we muster up some goodnight hugs and kisses and begin the long and arduous process of actually getting them to sleep.  Hope is upset after a long day and keeps her sister from sleeping, Stephen refuses to stay in bed, Jacob sings loudly despite repeated corrections.  Jake has to leave after routine to go back to the office and finish up work he didn’t do from the chaos of the day earlier.  I bounce from room to room putting out fires until finally, at around 9:00pm they have all settled down to sleep.  I finish my blog from earlier and go downstairs just before 10:00pm.  Jake comes home and we look defeatedly at one another and decide to watch a show instead of talking… talking takes so much energy, and really who wants to debrief that day?  I sleepily wander up the stairs around 10:30 and pass out, wondering how on Earth I’m going to get up when my alarm goes off tomorrow…

So those are what our days are generally like.  Sometimes it’s more like the first version, sometimes more like the second, and most often a mix of the two.  I think this is what they call Survival Mode.  :)  Thankfully, that is more accurately what it was like a few weeks ago and we are starting to see more progress now.  Yes, it’s been crazy and hard, but it’s all so incredibly worth it.  I remember the crazy times after our bio kiddos came into our family too.  But every single child is worth a month (or a year… or a decade?) of chaos.  For the joy that is set before us is greater than the burden of the moment.  May we all remember this as we go through the inevitably chaotic seasons of motherhood.

18 Notes for 18 Weeks

photo (29)1. Baby is doing great.  Although Mama wasn’t too convinced of that the other night.  I suddenly got super worried that something was wrong.  I felt a kick about two weeks ago and then nothing… at all.  I kept thinking “Any day now…”  And after about two weeks of that I started to be concerned.  Thankfully my midwife lives just a few minutes down the road so I hopped in my car and drove over to check fundal height, hear the heartbeat and get my peace of mind back.  All went awesomely, I felt much better and then…

2. She brought out the ultrasound machine.  I knew she had it, but I did tell her we don’t really do routine ultrasounds.  I’m not a big fan.  I mean I am crunchy, right?? Crunchies don’t do routine ultrasounds… Ok so justification time started in my head. This wasn’t really “routine” after all… and it is a low-level ultrasound so it shouldn’t be too bad… right?  And it might be fun to see the baby just once… ahem.  So I didn’t object.  I was sad Jake wasn’t there to see too, but I did take pictures!  And oh-my-goodness how adorable, and I feel like a first time, giddy mama all over again.

Here is Mambo’s very first picture, baby is looking straight at the camera with super sweet eyes and pooched out lips.  Ack!  Can’t stand the cuteness.  And yes, I have always judged moms who think their babies’ ultrasounds are cute, I mean come on… really?  But I can’t help it… I just want to squish those chubby little adorable tiny cheeks!

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In this picture the baby looks a tad bit more alien-ish, but you can see the whole body and the tiny little legs that were kicking and trying to get comfortable after we disturbed the poor little one with the big, prodding stick.  And, yes, they were kicking the placenta… which is why I don’t feel it.  Good to know!

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And the last one is possibly a favorite, you can just barely see some fuzziness by the face here (it’s a side-profile).  That’s baby sucking it’s fingers!!  I got to see the sucking motions on the ultrasound screen and they were so clear and it was just breathtaking.  I was smiling from ear to ear the whole way home.  Made. My. Week.

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3. God’s Newest Children!  Jacob and Hope were both baptized on Sunday.  Praise God!  It was all quite wonderful and I can’t wait (literally) for people to send me pictures so I can tell you all about it!!

4. So many things, so little time…  This was definitely one of our busiest weeks so far.  Jake did have his day off on Monday, mostly, though he did have a couple hours of work to do.  And the rest of the days have been chock full of pastoral duties.  He was doing so many visits and extra services that today is an office day, as he didn’t get his usual office stuff done during the week.  I think we handled it pretty well though, which is encouraging with Advent peering around the corner!

5.  Learning to reach out.  Zhanna Hope has bug bites right now.  She scratches them until they bleed, poor baby!  Two nights ago she was furiously attempting to itch them and Daddy was sitting with her making sure she couldn’t get to them.  Such spunk this girlie has; she tried everything.  One time she had her hands innocently up by her face, then slowly, nonchalantly moved it onto her leg and… itch, itch, itch!  She got him on that one.  She also had lifted a piece of foam she was playing with up by her leg for a while and hid her scratching under that.  She is wicked smart.

Once Daddy caught on and took her hiding spot away, I think she realized the game was up.  She made the saddest most awful pouty face you have ever seen, then glared at her Dad and tried to scratch obstinately… while he was watching.  He moved her hand away and she looked like she was going to burst into tears!  She didn’t, but boy was she mad.  I knew it was distraction time, so I came to save the day!  I put on my most fun, sweet mommy voice on and said “Come here sweet girlie.”  As soon as she heard me she looked up and reached her arms out!!  She has never ever done this before.  She has allowed us to pick her up before; she has enjoyed being picked up before… but this is the very first time I have seen her so plainly ask for me to hold her.  We were stunned and so excited for this new milestone!

6. She called me Mama!  Yes, she really did, I think!  Ok, so the very next day after the first bug bite incident, we were sitting in the living room and she was trying to scratch again.  I was sitting there this time, covering it with my hand.  After a few minutes of that she started moaning, like she does when she’s grumpy, but it wasn’t just a moan it was a “Mamaaa!”  I immediately turned to her and said “Da Zhanna?  Mama?  Mama slushaiyu Zhanna.”  (Yes Zhanna?  Mommy is listening to you.)  I said it a few times and she was tickled about the Russian but no more attempts to communicate her unhappiness.  So I turned away and sure enough, not a minute later “Maamaaaaaaaa!”  Then I played and distracted and cuddled on her for a bit and no more grumpies :)

Mama was one of the babbling sounds she made when she was still in the orphanage, but this is the first time I feel like she really used it appropriately in context, so I am cautiously super excited :)  Is it possible to be cautiously super excited?

7. Jacob has been having some great days too!  For the first time in weeks he went an entire day yesterday without raging about something, and we’re still going strong today!  He’s also started calling me “Mamitchka” again, which I haven’t heard in quite a while.  Our bonding was pretty temporarily damaged by all the visitors and craziness last weekend, but things are finally starting to get back to awesome and we’re thrilled!

8. Hope had her first swim!  Ok so it wasn’t “swimming”, but she did sit in the pool and she did splash in the water and she did have a really great time!  She sat happily there for a good 45 minutes at least, and she usually hates being outside that long.  I was ecstatic and can’t wait to get her in the water more often.  I am a real fish so it’s always fun for me when my kiddos enjoy the water too!

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9. Sleeping Beauty.  When you adopt, the little things really do become the big things.  This is true for all parents I think, but especially for parents of children with special needs and those that come from hard places.  For her whole life Hope had done nothing but lay in a crib.  The first time we saw her in a stroller she was scared to death of it.  She got used to that fairly quickly, but falling asleep not in a bed?  Not happening.  She has always needed to be laying down.  But the other day we were playing outside on a summery, warm afternoon and I caught her doing this…

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You go baby girl!  I was stoked.  She fell asleep in her stroller… sitting up. :D  Maybe this means we’ll be able to take longer car rides soon?

10. A Blessed Bounty.  I couldn’t write about the past week without mentioning the amazing welcome home gift we were given by the congregations in our area.  They overwhelmingly surprised us with a huge shower of gifts for our family.  I came close to tears unpacking everything and laying it out.  The love from so many… it’s just too much to take in all at once sometimes.  Thank you.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

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11. What About Matins?  Umm… oh yeah, do I keep saying we’re going to start that soon?  Hmm… remind me next week.

12. Whole 30 Prep.  In other news, we’re eating all our junk and gearing up for the Whole 30 on Monday!!  Woohoo!  I cannot wait to see our family back on good, real food.  Seriously.  Tomorrow is the big throw-away-everything-non-compliant party.  Remember to join us on the forums!  Here is a link to the thread I created just for our team: September 2014: Team Awesome

13. My Babies (Attachment Update).  Some adoptive parents say that in the first weeks home with their new child they look at them and feel like they are babysitting someone else’s kid.  I must admit, this is how it has felt with Hope and Jacob most days… but this last week something amazing has happened.  All that love I have been acting out is starting to have feeling behind it again.  Several times I have looked at my new children and thought “That is my baby.”  I am bonding and attaching and feeling more and more like the Mommy these children should have always had from the day they were born.  I am beginning to honestly, truly adore these blessings from Heaven.  I’ve seen their dark moments, watched their tantrums, changed their dirty clothes, lost sleep for their sake, been annoyed and frustrated and at my limit… and yet… I still feel so much love for these little people.  It really is starting to come.  We are starting to feel like the family that we are.

14. I’m not the only one!  Jake and I have talked about this and we both sense the feelings growing toward our new littles.  But it’s not just us.  This morning Daddy overheard Evie and Stephen fighting over whose sister Hope was.  It was happily resolved when Daddy intervened and let them know that she was both of their sisters.  :D

15. Hymns are the medicine of the soul.  I have started a new thing where, when I feel frazzled during the day, I just start singing hymns.  We flip through the hymnal and sing for however long or until I can think of something better to do.  Some children enjoy it more than others, but they all love it when it’s their turn to pick a hymn.  Having the words and melodies in our home is like a healing balm on the craziness of our days.  It’s my favorite way to do Mommy Time Outs, because let’s face it, sometimes we need one too!

16.  First Gymnastics Classes.  After a few months of hiatus Evangeline is back in gymnastics.  I think the break was the best thing for her.  She was getting overwhelmed by it, but after being away for a while she was excited to get back and more ready to master the skills than before.  Stephen is also just begging to have “his turn” at the gym.  I’m going to ask about getting him in a Spring class even though technically he’ll be a little young.  He is definitely ready, and potty trained so… bonus right?

17. Kids are too honest.  Conversation with Evie today….

Me: Would you like me to get you a cookie?
Evie: Yes, but I can get it myself.
Me: Oh, you can?
Evie: Yes, because I’m a big girl now.  I’m four and not little at all anymore.

*Part of my Mommy heart breaks a little…*

18. The honesty of kids makes my heart smile… and my favorite note.  The last one because it happened just tonight!  Jacob told me he loved me.  I was saying good night and I love you and he replied “I love you too mom.”  He said it in his not-so-clear way, but I heard every word.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Never before has he told me he loves me in Russian or in English.  This was the first time.  I really believe him.  My heart is full.

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