the fruit of your labor

Two months ago, we asked for your help.

We were looking for a few new bloggers to help round out the NHBO team.

And boy-o-boy, did y’all come through.

We received 115 nominations. And we sifted through each one. What fun to visit all those adoption blogs and read the stories of so many precious little ones and the parents who fiercely love them. The only hard part was coming to the final decision… which three would be the best fit for No Hands But Ours?

Somehow we managed. And we not only found three, but the three we asked said “YES”.

Welcome to Mike, Desirée and Rebecca!

(Yes, I am a bit late in getting this posted. In fact, each of our new bloggers has at least one post up on the NHBO blog. But I wanted to announce it officially, and to let you all know how grateful we are for your help in finding these amazing writers and big-hearted adoption advocates.)

MIKE:

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Mike is married to his high school sweetheart, Anne. They live in Cincinnati with their six children – Abby (13), Adam (11), Mia (9), Will (7), Ellie (5), and Sammy (3.) The youngest four were adopted from China. Two of them have hearing loss (microtia), and two of them have HIV.

As if it were not obvious from the perfect spacing and alternating girl-boy pattern of his children, Mike is an engineer. During the day, Mike develops new hair care technologies for Pantene. (He is passionate about both Jesus and lather.) On nights and weekends, he volunteers with the youth group, drives to dance, attends Cello recitals, coaches soccer and basketball, plays a mean game of Freeze Tag, updates his budget spreadsheet, and occasionally binge watches television shows with Anne.

You can read Mike’s posts on NHBO here.

DESIRÉE:

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From Desirée: “In 2012 God choose me to be the forever momma to the greatest little boy ever. He just happens to have been born in China… and have an extra chromosome. Our life now is helping others fall in love with adoption & Down syndrome and to have a dance party at least once a day, sometimes in the cereal aisle. We are super excited about doors of advocacy that the Lord has opened up for us! During my “free” time, I am a director in a family practice residency; getting to teach the newest generation of primary care providers to value each and every life they touch.”

You can find Desirée’s posts on NHBO here.

Desirée’s personal blog is The Adoption Seed.

REBECCA:

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From Rebecca: “Mark, and I are the parents of four little people, three of which are gifts from China. God has used adoption to expand the borders of our hearts. Each journey has been filled with beauty and challenges, laughter and weight, each showing us the heart of our Father in a new way. He’s drawn us closer to Himself, and never seems to stop pushing us to step beyond our comfort zones to serve the fatherless in new ways.

For years I have followed NHBO, and have been so inspired and challenged. If I might “pay it forward” and offer encouragement to others, I’ll call myself abundantly blessed. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to serve, this creative stretching, and this way to connect with families who share a heartbeat for adoption and orphan advocacy.”

You can read Rebecca’s posts on NHBO here.

Rebecca’s personal blog is La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life.

So thankful to have such talented writers added to our team. And so grateful for the adoption community that rallied to nominate so many amazing bloggers. Y’all are the best.



adoption cousins

“Where are you from?
What do you do?
What church do you go to?”

These are the socially acceptable questions everyone asks when meeting someone new. The answers define who the person is standing in front of you and the kind of relationship you may have with them. But, since starting down the Adoption Road, there is an entirely new group of people in my life that I love and consider dear friends but in the traditional sense, I know nothing about them!

I’m thinking specifically of our adoption travel group. Eight families that didn’t meet until in a Beijing hotel lobby, jet lagged, sweaty & a bit nervous. (Clearly at our finest!) We identified each other across the room & quickly started pulling out photos and sharing our adoption stories. I was shocked to hear MY testimony coming from the lips of these strangers; the same miracles, the same provision, the same calling for this sweet one they’ve only held in their heart. The same God.

Truly, we spent very little time with each other while in China. Three days in Beijing desperate to get to our kids and a week in Guangzhou equally desperate to get our kids back home. Yet 20 months later, through the magic of the Internet, we still post pictures, share stories & prayer requests and celebrate adoption. But I don’t know what they do (someone is a teacher, right?!), how long they’ve been married or even what church/denomination they belong to. (Gasp!). Not once have we discussed theological nuances, church politics or who is pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib. It just doesn’t matter.

In fact, I probably love them more because of the conversations we haven’t had. Not that we have purposely avoided any church-life landmines, but none of that triviality defines the relationship we have with each other or our relationship with OUR Heavenly Father. What binds us together is the overwhelming awareness of God’s adoption gospel in our lives. As a group of strangers from across the nation, we share the same story of emptying our bank accounts and flying across the planet to bring our children home & into our families. And in that precious moment on that excruciatingly hot August day in China when our children were finally placed in our arms, we didn’t say a word, we didn’t have to say it… we GOT it… Jesus DIED to get us home & into His family; and in all of the love (& tears!) that burst from our hearts for our new children on that day, how MUCH OVERWHELMINGLY MORE does our Lord love us?!

This beautiful shared revelation, this Gospel thread that knits our families together, is really the only thing that matters. Together we are the forever children of the Most High and our children… are Adoption Cousins.

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August 2012. Guangzhou, China

The Apostle Paul clearly had the same experience in his travels through the early Church. People who GOT it: an intimate understanding that only in Christ is real unity of purpose and joy possible. We partake of the same Grace! Zip codes, salaries & church order don’t diminish one ounce of that Truth. And if we don’t see each other again on this earth, I am, like Paul says, ‘confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in each of us & our new children will complete it until the day of Christ’s return’ (Phil 1:6). I am also confident we will be MUCH less jet lagged, sweaty & nervous!

So to our Adoption Cousins, the Bamboo Families, and all the precious people we’ve met on this Adoption Road…

“I thank my God up on EVERY remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with JOY for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now…” Philippians 1:2-5



like rain in the desert

It seems fitting to me that it’s raining in the desert the night before Easter.

I can’t remember the last time it rained, and I’ve opened the windows wide in our house. Propped the back door open. I’m inhaling the scent of the air washed clean of all the dust it usually carries; listening to the quiet rumble of thunder. My babies are both asleep for now. It’s been a hard day, and I’m glad for the few minutes of stillness with this soundtrack of peace falling in heavy drops right outside the window. It is grace-for-the-moment, exactly what my heart needed to close out this day.

Alea doesn’t feel well… 17 months is a brutal age for anyone, I think. Caught between babyhood and toddler, your desire for independence far outstrips your communication skills or physical mobility. Throw in some teething (Seriously… the poor child seems to be cutting almost all of her teeth at the same time. She has gone from about 4-5 teeth to about 9 in the 3 weeks we have had her… with more on the way), an ear infection and fever, a total change in diet and schedule, and completely new routines, caregivers, and OhAbsolutelyEverything, and you have a recipe for disaster.

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I’m amazed she smiles at all. As my sister-in-law said tonight, “If a grown-up went through what Alea has just gone through, they’d probably be thrown into a depression.” And for the most part, Alea is happy… or at least amused and distracted. But today she has really not felt well, and I’ve discovered in those moments when she is most distraught, most inconsolable, and most undone, that I am not the one she wants.

I’m not sure if she even knows the one she wants. She wasn’t held much when she cried in China, her nanny told me as much. (Who has time to hold crying babies when there are 30 cribs in a room?) But maybe she is mourning the loss of her nanny. Maybe it is her arms that she wants. Or maybe she just doesn’t know what to do with the intimacy of another person holding her when she is in pain. Sometimes as she’s crying and I cradle her, she arches away from me – pushing her body and her face… every bit of her being – to face in the other direction. So I set her down, thinking maybe she needs just a bit of space. But then her cry turns to a heartbreaking wail, as if she is saying “I know I said I don’t want you to hold me, but I can’t bear for you to walk away.”

And in those moments, I’ve come to realize I am in a fight for her heart. I need to woo her. To win her. To become her safe place in time of trouble. I need to teach her that she doesn’t have to be big and strong anymore. She can come snuggle in mama’s arms when her whole body aches. She doesn’t have to twist her head from side to side or pull on her hair to find peace. She can find shelter in my arms.

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I know this is my purpose, my calling in this season of motherhood with Alea. Much like the endless nights I spent feeding and rocking Cora in the early weeks of life with her, this is the season of motherhood with Alea where I’m laying a foundation of trust, love, and responsiveness. It’s where the hard work of tilling the soil of her heart takes place… We knew coming into this journey that parenting a child who spent the first part of her life in an institution would look different – it is intense, it is therapeutic, and it is all-consuming. If Cora fussed a bit at 17 months, I knew we had the foundation of trust she needed for me to make a decision sometimes to just get dinner on the table, or to finish the project I was working on. But with Alea right now, she doesn’t have that foundation, so I am always on call. Part of wooing her and winning her heart is proving to her that when she needs something, we will be there to respond, and right now for Alea that mostly looks like being held for almost every waking hour of the day.

I don’t have it in me.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think of myself as an amazingly-gifted, well-equipped mama. (Does anyone? Don’t answer that if you do.) I find myself saying a joyful Hallelujah most days at bedtime. I am distracted, easily bored with child’s play, and far too connected to the blasted-iPhone-in-my-hand-at-all-times. In my own estimation, I feel so far from the mama I believe my girls need, and yet I’m the one they have. Especially when it comes to Alea, I’m shocked that she is mine. I know the paperwork process of an adoption is overwhelming for some more than others, but to me it isn’t that bad, and I can’t tell you the number of times I pause and shake my head in wonder that with so little effort on our part, the Chinese authorities entrusted her to us… forever!

It’s a miracle like rain in the desert the night before Easter.

When we got our Travel Approval to pick up Alea, I made a little video to announce our big news. I’ve not been able to get the chorus of the background track out of my head for months, and tonight one line from it continues to echo in my head… “Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.”

I’m so glad I don’t have to have it in me.

I’m so glad he comes in like a rainstorm in the desert… flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. Desert rain is slow and steady at times and torrential and powerful at others, just like his love for us. His love fills the cracks in the driest places and seemingly overnight something blooms in what seemed like dead ground. Sometimes it is just enough to pull the dust out of the air and everyone is thankful for the relief, but sometimes it is extravagantly, ridiculously, absurdly more than we could ask or imagine. Sometimes we have boats rowing down the main streets in our town and children splashing in puddles as deep as their knees. And sometimes his love overtakes us like that; it swallows us up and fills our dry cracks and gives us a reason to stand in the backyard staring straight up into the downpour with our arms stretched wide and our mouths open… dizzy from the kaleidoscope of heavy drops falling down on us, mixing with our tears of joy and sorrow and washing away all of the pain of yesterday.

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I don’t even need to have it in me.

It’s been hard these last few weeks, and I have a feeling it is going to get even harder before it gets better. But I know that the God who sends a desert rain the night before we celebrate his resurrection is in the business of bringing life after death, and I am trusting him with this journey. He is going to do something new in Alea’s heart, and He is doing something new in mine too. He is breaking off the dead, tearing out the sorrow, finding the deepest hurts and wounds and putting his finger right on the place that feels the most raw… and though it hurts, he is pushing us together and we will heal as one. Our hearts are being stitched together. She is mine and I am hers and He is our Father who stitches together beautiful things out of our broken pieces.

I’m only thankful He is in me.

This Easter has found me doing more of the liturgy of the ordinary than anything focused on Holy Week. Laundry, rocking babies, snuggling with my big girl, calling doctors, washing dishes, making bottles. I’ve missed all the services our church offered in celebration of Easter – things I would have liked to have attended, as I’m someone who loves the ritual and celebration. If Alea isn’t feeling better in the morning, we probably won’t even make it to Easter services. But despite my lack of formal observance this year, I’ve found myself more thankful than ever for what this season means. It’s a dark week. The crowds roar “Hosanna” on Sunday and “Crucify Him” on Friday. It doesn’t seem possible that it could end well, and in the middle of the darkness and death and destruction it feels foolish to hope for new life. But as I hold my broken-hearted little girl, sensing more and more the depth of her woundings, I find myself emboldened by the unlikely promise of the Easter story. My Jesus is in the business of redemption and restoration. And he will not leave her like this. She may not wear the legal label of orphan anymore, but he isn’t going to leave her with an orphan spirit either. Those angry and snarled roots of darkness and death and destruction will be removed by the one who makes dead things alive, and they will not hold her back from the LIFE he wants her to have. I don’t know how we will get to that place of healing – it may be quite the journey – but I have the utmost confidence and peace that we will get there together.

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He rains in the desert and in the desert of our hearts. He fills the broken places and the cracks in the ground and our cups to overflowing. He will give me all that I need to be a mama to my girls, and He gives me every reason to foolishly believe in his plan for redemption of each of our stories. Easter is a promise of new life, so it is fitting that it is raining in the desert the night before Easter. I can hardly wait to see all that grows.

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Photo Credit – The incredible duo of Sandy Puc and her son Nic photographed our group of families the day we met our children.  These pictures were taken in the first few minutes after we met Alea.

 

Day 366: Trading “Likes” for Love

It was just over one year ago that Anne and I returned home from China with Sam and Ellie. And as I reflect upon our time in China, I am struck by how much I treasure my memories from those first days together.

I remember laughing at our first meal together when Sam and Ellie began ordering in Chinese… without Anne or I having any clue what they were saying to the waitress. (We were fully prepared for a dinner of cupcakes and ice cream.) I remember Anne hugging a tearful Ellie while Ellie looked at pictures and grieved the loss of her beloved foster family. And I will never forget the experience (or smell) of warm vomit rolling down my leg and into my shoe when Sam had his first… of several… bouts with car sickness in the back of a Chinese tax

But more than any specific event, I remember what it felt like to be there. I remember an amazing sense of purpose and clarity. Those days in China are some of the few days in my life where I had zero doubt about where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing. It felt like I was in the literal center of God’s will for me.

This photo was taken moments after we met Sam and Ellie.  Day #1.  I am sometimes nostalgic about the crisp sense of purpose in those early days.

This photo was taken moments after we met Sam and Ellie. Day #1. I am sometimes nostalgic about the crisp sense of purpose in those early days.

7,000 miles from my normal life, I was fully present and ready to face the unique challenges of each day. I was hyped up on prayer, adrenaline, caffeine, and a steady stream of encouraging Facebook posts from home to keep me going.

While the stresses and distractions of home can dull the clarity, it did feel like there was a wake of purpose and excitement that lasted for several months even after we returned. There is a certain amount of celebrity that comes in the early days. With each first introduction to family members or friends, I was reminded of how “amazing” the kids were (and we were by extension.) Every Facebook picture earned a ton of Likes. Pictures on my computer desktop at work garnered oohs and ahs. And every time we opened the front door, it seemed like there was a new casserole or pot pie waiting for us.

To be clear, there was a lot of hard work in those early days. A steady stream of visits to Children’s hospital. Paperwork and follow-ups with our social worker and agency. Fights with insurance companies. And the day-to-day work of integrating two new kids into the existing patterns of sleep and meals and discipline.

But the hard work of those early weeks and months still retained some of the nobility of purpose. It still felt like we were actively “adopting” them. The paperwork may say that we were already their parents, but their hearts (and in unspoken moments late at night, even ours) sometimes said otherwise.

And then there is Day 366.

The end of the first year represents a transition. There are no more encouraging e-mails or lasagnas on my front porch. The novelty of my new children has worn off at the doctor and the dentist and we don’t even get extra stickers any more from Leticia at the grocery store. By all accounts, I am no longer “adopting.” Now, they are just my kids… which is exactly what this entire process was designed to achieve.

This is a photo from Day 366.  As fondly as I remember the excitement and adrenaline of those first few days in China… we didn’t adopt for excitement, we adopted for love.  And I wouldn’t trade today for all of the casseroles in the world.

This is a photo from Day 366. As fondly as I remember the excitement and adrenaline of those first few days in China… we didn’t adopt for excitement, we adopted for love. And I wouldn’t trade today for all of the casseroles in the world.

Yes, Day 366 is different. There is less applause and fewer casseroles. But “Likes” on Facebook are replaced with something far more important… love.

I have been in enough adoption classes and read enough adoption books to know that my goal is supposed to be attachment. To be transparent (with apologies to my amazing social worker), that’s not my goal. My goal is love.

I love them! I love Sammy’s scratchy voice when he yells “Daddy” as I pull into the garage at night. I love the paper crowns that Ellie makes when she calls me “King Daddy.” I love playing with Sam and his “kicky ball” in the backyard. I love reading “Elephant and Piggy” books with Ellie on the couch. From Sam’s traditional exclamation of “Surprise!” in the morning to the last hand motions from “Jesus loves me” when I put them to bed at night, I love them all the way.

And miraculously, they seem to love us back.

So while it may be quieter in Week 53 then it was in Week 1, there is no less certainty that what I am doing today is something that matters. I need to occasionally be reminded that the clarity of purpose I experienced last year in Guangzhou is just as true and available on a random Tuesday in Cincinnati.

The work to be recognized as their legal guardian is complete. The journey of being their dad has only begun, and I love this part of the journey (but do occasionally miss the pot pies.)



You Only Live Once

Sometimes I think people think too much.

My husband and I, on the other hand, tend to err on the side of reckless. But I have to say that in our 12 years, reckless has served us well. Our very nuptials were hasty. We jumped into love like a kid into cold water. We got a green light from God and we stepped on the gas, pedal to the metal, ending up living in East Asia with three biological boys, a theological PhD, a finished novel, and most precious of all, an adopted Chinese daughter with a special need.

Did we think through all of those things before we committed to them? Sure we did. Did we think and think and think until our brains went numb? No we did not. And because we did not, our lives are full to bursting, and marked with joy.

I’ve seen dating couples deliberate and contemplate marriage like it’s deciding whether to go to war. It saddens me. I look into the faces of friends in their 30s and 40s, who years ago traded their dreams for stability, and I just want to shake them and say, “Hey! You only live once!”

Which brings me to the topic of adoption. Yes, it’s a big deal. Yes, it’s a huge step that affects everyone. And for that reason, I would advise you to think it through. But I caution you not to think it away.

Because there are too many orphans in the world, and more personally, there are too many glorious moments waiting for you and your child.

My mom always said, “We usually regret the things we don’t do.” She raised me well.

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Expecting

We just had our first grandchild! It is so exciting AND such an amazing feeling having her HERE! Our daughter talked to me every day (from Germany) before her delivery. The anticipation was riveting! When would she arrive, how would the delivery go, who would she look like?

It was a happy moment when I shared it with our 13 treasures from China. They all cheered with excitement. They waited patiently as the baby’s picture appeared on the computer screen.

And then I realized…
how different it was when they came into the world…
and my heart broke…

They are all such beautiful treasures, how could it be that their entrance into this world was less than… stellar…

What happened on that day? What were their parents feeling?

Was their family excited that a new child was about to join their family?
Or were they wondering how on earth they would feed another child?
Were there already older daughters and they could just not keep another daughter?
Were they hoping for a son this time?
Were they shocked by their new child’s disability and would have no means to pay for the medical care their child would need?
Did they keep their child for a while and then realize the severity of their new child’s needs or was it evident right away?
Did they pass away soon after giving birth because they could not get the medication they needed to live?
So many questions that I have…

And…

If I have them…

Then they must have them, too.

I think some of our older adopted children think some of these thoughts and then they- put them away because it hurts too much to think about them.

Our daily life is happy and busy so we do not focus on our pasts but instead live in the present and look toward the future. That’s a nice philosophy but at some point these issues are just going to hurt too bad and they won’t be able to “put them away.”
I will tell you that there is only one other issue that would hurt even more than this one…
And that is if they never had a family… if they had never been adopted…
If they never had someone in this world that truly loved and valued them.
If they never had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and God’s love for them.

Many of the hard questions will never have answers. There were no newborn pictures… no decorated nursery, no baby showers. BUT, we choose to believe that their parents loved them very much and due to circumstances did what they thought was best for their children. There is nothing to gain and no reason to think the worst scenarios…

I am thankful to their birth parents that they chose life for their children even though they were unable to keep them. So as we celebrate the birth of our delightful new grandchild we will also celebrate our delightful treasures from China!



what time?

Difficult conversations.

They happen in every house from time to time. Sometimes they are easy to see coming, other times they can hit just about blindsided.

And then there are the times you lay your own trap…

Last year I turned 40. The morning of my birthday one of my kiddos came in to wake me up and started immediately with the ribbing, “Hey Mommy, you are 40, oh you are 40, yes you are 40!” (sung to a catchy but made up tune)

Now as my birthday rolled by last April, we had just completed our fifth dossier and all the documents were fresh in my mind. So to throw off the child that was mercilessly teasing me about my age, I retorted with, “Actually, I’m not. Not yet. I won’t really be 40 until 2:09 this afternoon.”

Now this had my adorable tormentors full attention. “This afternoon? What do you mean? How do you know what time of day you were born?”

Without even thinking I replied, “It says so on my birth certificate.”

And just like that I launched a grenade at my child. Because the questions that followed are ones for which I have no answer.

“Oh cool! So what time was I born?”

“What time were you born? Well, actually we don’t know exactly what time you were born.”

(Insert incredulous stare upon admission that I had no clear answer).

“What do you mean you don’t know what time I was born? How can you know what time you were born if you don’t know what time I was born? Why does your birth certificate tell you and mine doesn’t?”

So we began a discussion in detail on why my birth certificate is so different than all of theirs. That my mother and father registered my birth at the hospital when I was born and that their respective orphanages assigned theirs at the time they were found. That mine had specifics on exactly what time I was born and what hospital I was born in and theirs give a day and the province (it is assumed) they were born in.

And it hurt.

It hurt my heart to have question after question pile up with no solid answer to give. Yes, my kids all are aware that they were born in China. Each of them knows that while I am their “forever mommy,” I am not their “belly mommy.” They know they were in an orphanage or foster care (or both) from their infancy until they became part of our family. We have for certain the dates they came into the care of their orphanage and the day, even the time, we met them. Those are facts I can give.

But the “whys” for which I have no answers…the ones that find my children living across the ocean, in a different culture from the women that gave birth to them…are overwhelming some days.

I’ve always tried to answer their questions as simply and honestly as I can even though some days I want to distract them with something else so we can avoid the topic of abandonment. (I mean, how do you break that down simply for a child under the age of seven to comprehend?) Of course I usually find that a simple sentence or two, even if part of my response is to say that I don’t really know the answer, is all they need in the moment. Then they’re back off jumping rope or kicking a soccer ball, just like any other 5 to 7 year old.

Don’t get me wrong. The abandonment of my children isn’t in focus on a daily, weekly, or necessarily even a monthly basis in our house. But the topic does rear its ugly head from time to time. And I…we all, as adoptive parents…need to not sweep it under the rug and pretend it will just go away. Instead we, as a community, need to be prepared to sit down and field those difficult conversations, long or short as they may be…for our children’s sake.



“but it said repaired”

I vividly remember reading our referral paperwork. I remember first reading the descriptions of her developmental milestones and evaluated her development through mom and teacher goggles… “she follows objects… she is tracking… she is grasping things… she is babbling and forming simple sounds… she turns her head when there is a noise… she can hear noises… she sleeps through the night… she eats biscuits… she laughs… she cries when seeing strangers… she is loved by her nanny.”

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I remember pouring through the detailed medical information. Everything from head circumference to congenital heart defect to precisely where they made the incision for her repaired tracheo-esophageal fistula. I read about when it was done, where it was done, exam notes from while she was hospitalized, and discharge notes for her prognosis.

I can’t say if every referral file is as detailed as ours was, but it seemed to be ridiculously detailed. I felt like I knew more about this child, this daughter I loved but had not met – than I knew about the children I gave birth to! Pages upon pages of information gave me insight into her past, present, and hope for her future. It is a treasure to me now even more than it was then because it’s her story before we joined her life. It’s all I have to fill in the missing pieces, and yet even as we returned home there there was much more to be learned.

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I remember mentally checking off the Tracheo-esophageal Fistula (TEF) as “complete”, a “non-issue”, thinking “We need not worry ourselves about that because – (hallelujah) – it has been repaired”. And it was repaired. It was repaired “with excellence and precision”, we would later be told by specialists here. Grace was three weeks old at the time of repair because that is a repair that has to come very quickly in order to survive. At the time she was found, this TEF – this connection between her trachea and esophagus, allowed whatever she drank to be shared by her esophagus and her trachea.

The esophagus leads to her stomach. The trachea leads to her lungs. Fluid should’t go to the lungs because that’ll make you very sick. The connection, the fistula, was removed and the places where it was attached were closed. You would think that would be the end of that special need. The file said, “Repaired”. Sometimes repairs leave evidence that there was a problem. Sometimes healing produces scar tissue and sometimes in order to fix one thing – you inevitably create new challenges.

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So it goes with a TEF repair. Once repaired the trachea becomes compromised. It still functions but in most cases becomes “floppy” or is diagnosed as “tracheo-malacia”. When we met Grace she sounded cross between a sick seal, a babbling brook, and a veteran smoker in crisis. She was recovering from yet another bout of pneumonia but it was more than that. She was so very noisy. Noisy when she breathed, noisy when she laughed, noisy when she slept, and noisy when she ate. Leaving the less-than-
healthy China-air behind was probably the best medicine for her second only to her heart surgery.

Having a floppy trachea makes her more susceptible to infection. Things that should be easily expelled from our trachea isn’t always so easy for Grace, but – I hardly notice any noise any more; because there hardly is any noise any more. As she grows (and she’s growing) it is expected to improve and for as susceptible as she is to infection, she had only one in 11 months of being in the US. That is record-breaking for our little Grace. She is definitely one who defies the odds.

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The esophagus on the other hand, is both friend and foe and we do battle daily. Meals are the most difficult time of the day because at 2 1/2 little miss thing wants to eat what we eat. She wants to feed herself the way we feed ourselves. She longs for independence in the area of self-feeding, and we can not fully give her that independence. Her esophagus narrows where her repair was. There is scar tissue, and while it isn’t narrow enough to dilate (according to our specialist) it’s narrow enough to make eating a challenge in this season of life. Foods like yogurt, apple sauce, crunchy crackers that she knows to chew well, toast with a very thin layer of peanut butter or cream cheese, and some soups, are our go-to foods. Normal toddler foods like any kind of meaty nugget, cut up fresh fruits or veggies, some cooked veggies, any potato product, bread, pasta, and any kind of mixed texture is risky for Grace. Choking happens in the trachea – so I don’t call what happens to Grace choking, but it’s similar. Food gets stuck. It gets stuck at the point of her narrowing and one of two things happens:

1.) what goes down comes back up (sometimes not right away)
2.) what goes down eventually….goes down.

In addition to the narrow point, there’s a second consequence from her repair. In you and I, the esophagus has a chain of nerves that squeezes food down in a rhythmic contraction of muscles called peristalsis. When that chain of nerves was interrupted during Grace’s TEF repair their function became limited. We don’t know how limited, we don’t know if the function will return aside from a heavenly healing; but we do know that once passed the point of her repair – we rely on gravity rather than her esophagus to move the food into her stomach. There is evidence of reflux at the bottom of her esophagus which she may or may not feel depending on the degree of nerve damage, so she is currently on a twice a day dose of liquid randitidine (generic Zantac). Will it always be this way? Only God knows. Nothing is impossible for Him so we pray often for healing. As she grows, though, and discoveres what we veteran eaters know to be true: 1. Take small bites. 2. Chew food well. 3. Swallow small bits at a time. 4. Take a drink to help move things a long – things will naturally be easier for her.

We monitor her closely at meal times but despite our best efforts there have been many scary moments, and yet it’s very manageable. It’s nothing we can’t handle and there has been noticeable improvement since we met almost 11 months ago, and for that we are thankful.

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From what I have learned over these months, it is uncommon for post-TEF-repair patients in China to be flagged for tracheo-malacia and esophageal narrowing and reflux. Here in the US it’s expected. Our and ENT specialist both said, “of course she has these two issues, all post TEF kids do”. The funny thing is, that when you accept the referral of a child and you know they’re yours, very little on the referral information can change your heart. That is our story. Grace could have had a third eyeball, and eight legs and nothing would have kept her from my arms. It can, however, throw you for a loop when you believe that there isn’t an issue or a challenge or a significant diagnosis when in fact there are two or three, or more. Her heart defect was doing such a number on her tiny body that after traveling with a cyanotic baby and hurrying to open heart surgery it distracted us all and gave us the perspective of what is really hard and what isn’t. Caring for a cyanotic baby was hard. Watching her slump over mid-TET spell – was terrifying. Once that was over, if all I had to do was make sure she eats safely? – I’m good with that. Praise Jesus! I’ll gladly trade one critical need for two needs we can live with.

Perspective is very effective at pointing you to where you need to soak in thankfulness. Would I encourage a family to accept the referral of a child with post-TEF-repair? Absolutely and without question. It is a very manageable special need. I would strongly encourage them to read about tracheo-malacia and stenosis (narrowing) of the esophagus; and learn how to choose and prepare safe foods for their toddler to eat so they can be as independent as possible because independence is important.

Referral information is valuable, it is important to share it with experts who will do their best to prepare you to parent and care for your child. As with our biological children, we can never be truly prepared for everything. Even fifteen pages of referral documents doesn’t cover everything. It left out some important details, some of them challenging and some of them wonderfully surprising.

What the referral information didn’t tell me was what a little 22 lb. fighter we have in Grace. I didn’t expect her to be strong. She is very strong. I didn’t expect her to be brave, but she is that too. I didn’t expect all that she has endured between being found to surgeries to hospitalizations, transitioning from orphanage to foster home, and more hospitalizations. The life changing experience of adoption and heart surgery has each shaped her into such a fierce, yet little pint sized girl. I can’t help but wonder about all that she has endured and all she has survived without me, and all that she has overcome without a family. I see glimpses of how it has shaped her personality and still affects her behavior and I’m reminded again and again what a miracle she is. Sometimes even miracles need a chance. All she needed was a family, a home, medical care and love. There is no telling what will come from giving a child like Grace a chance. For us, this miracle of adoption all began with two words:

I will.

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Completely Natural

My virtual twins are thick as thieves. And they act like an old married couple. The bond they share is amazing to behold. They actually have the same type of relationship that biological twins do. The way God has grafted their two little hearts together is most amazing.

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With this relationship comes lots and lots of playtime. And given the day, sometimes lots and lots of arguing! But this morning I was in my favorite chair sipping on my coffee when I overheard them playing “house” together in one of their more adorable moments.

Cora: Caden, get in my tummy. I want you to be my baby.
Caden: I can’t. I’m too big.
Cora: Alright, then I’ll adopt you. Let’s pretend we’re in China….

I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to their dialogue. My “littles” are now both five years old, and are becoming aware of things. They have three older siblings that are my biological children. All of their friends from preschool are part of their original families, and some of them have younger siblings on the way. We’ve begun having the talks about babies and families…the talks that revealed they grew in another Mommy’s tummy in China.

With these talks come fear. Fear that I won’t give their birth mothers enough honor. With China adoption, we get so little information. The few sentences in their adoption files about their findings give me the only glimpse I have into the mothers who came before me. I fear our talks will bring them pain. And I fear that somehow they will see adoption as “less” than birth. Plan B rather than Plan A. But there’s no difference in my heart…whether their stories of joining our family begin in a hospital or a Civil Affairs office, my babies are my babies. And I want them to know that.

It amazed me…and pleased me…how quickly they made the jump to adoption in their playacting. Babies do grow in a tummy. I can’t deny that. But that doesn’t mean that somehow adoption is an unnatural way to grow a family. In fact, the relationship I have with these two little stinkers is so natural it’s breathtaking. We didn’t get there overnight. We still hit our little adoption-related bumps on occasion. But we belong to each other…and it’s as natural as can be.



what we’re reading: 4.3.2014

From the last few weeks, some good stuff we’ve read that relates to adoption and/or parenting a special needs child.

As always, if you’ve read or written something you think would be a good addition to a future What We’re Reading post, we’d love to hear about it…

To share a blog post or news article go here.
To share your blog with our readers, as a soon-to-be traveling to China family go here.

inthenews

Good Morning America takes a look at how Jenny Bowen – founder of Half the Sky – and how one mother, moved by the transforming power of love, has impacted the lives of countless orphans in China.

Heartbreaking pictorial of Chinese parents as they abandon their sick and/or special needs children at the Guangzhou “baby hatch”.

Another article about a baby hatch, this one in Tianjin. “… all 35 babies left in the Tianjin hatch have severe disabilities and illnesses, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and congenital heart disease,” says Xu who runs the Tianjin baby hatch.

Maylaysia Airlines missing airplane exposes the devastation of the “orphaned” adults that were created in this tragedy due to China’s one-child policy.

Lisa Milbrand, mom of a daughter from China with microtia, blogs at Parents.com with her thoughts on why she chose to adopt a child with special needs.

A mother in Israel comes up with an ingenious way to help her son walk with her. He has cerebral palsy and this invention enables them to do all sorts of everyday activities together. She hopes her invention will benefit children everywhere with impaired motor skills.

blogs

Oh my. Sweet, sweet portraits taken of some of the children at the Little Flower Project foster home in China.

Melissa, mom to two little boys from China through the special needs program, shares transparently about the attachment struggles she has encountered with her second adoption that she never experienced with her first. Great read for anyone home or in the process.

Karen, mom to a 5 year old home from China since 2012, shares her recent experience with trauma-related behavior in her daughter and how she was able to navigate those difficult times by utilizing The Connected Child.

And another post by Karen, about a recent trip to see the musical Annie and how it caused an unexpected reaction in her heart.

Experienced adoptive mama Kelly gives insight into how your newly adopted child is feeling in those first few days and weeks after adoption.

Annie, who recently adopted two sweet girls from China, shares her heart on the heartbreak and the healing of adopting children who have endured more than any child ever should.

Read something inspiring lately? Informative? Encouraging? Share the link HERE.

extras

Outstanding resource for adoptive families, Empowered to Connect. Be sure to visit the Resources page for access to an online library of articles, audio and video presentations for adoptive and foster parents, all free.

Adorable set of eight farm animal wall cards in Chinese.

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In China now, or just home with their child…

C&Alea

Our very own Carrie meeting her precious daughter Alea for the first time

Scarlet Threads
Difference for One
Our 7th Heaven
Bringing Home Emily Hope
Adoption Adventures with 2 Princesses and a Prince
From God’s Heart to Our Home
To Tallulah
To the Moon and Back

Getting close to travel for your little one in China? Share the link HERE.

P.S. A special thank you to everyone who submitted recommendations for What We’re Reading this week.