Archives for October 2014

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.  😛

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 :)

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