Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hurry up and wait

Hurry up and wait. That's how I am feeling about the adoption process currently. So many friends, family, and acquaintances have excitedly asked me for an update on our process, and I wish I had something exciting to share, but I don't just yet!

We had expected to have our home study approved on June 8th when they came for our final home visit. But because another state that we lived in within the last 5 years required a separate release form for our background check, we had to sign that that day and we are still awaiting our background checks to clear before we can be approved. The most frustrating part is that we have literally nothing to check!

Thankfully, our case manager is very sweet and has sent us a few referrals to look over as we are awaiting licensure.  We are looking to adopt from foster care which means that the children we are considering have already had their parental rights terminated. In other words, we are not fostering them while they work toward reunification with their family, we are strictly adopting. When our case manager asked if we were interested in a concurrent placement - or a foster to adopt scenario - we did say that we would consider it, but that we were leaning heavily in the other direction. 

Of the 6 referrals she sent, five were adoption oriented and one was a concurrent placement.  The latter was sent more as an FYI since the format of information is a little different and our case manager wanted us to see what the differences were.

One of our main objectives is to keep our oldest biological child the oldest child overall.  We are going to be licensed for a sibling set of 2-3 with the oldest being 8 years old or younger. Of the 5 adoption referrals that were sent, two were sibling sets of 2, two were sibling sets of 3, and one was a set of 4. 

The set of four was again sent as more of an FYI and was definitely the most heart-wrenching to read.

If you allow yourself to enter into their situation while reading - 

you see past the "is a harm to them self" 
and see that they haven't been shown their self-worth; 

you read "acts like a mother hen" 
and know that they have always been responsible to care for their younger siblings; 

you know that the reason they "rarely seek comfort in times of distress" 
is because they never found it when they did; 

and when you read that the four year old child has already been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and "worries about leaving his bedroom every morning without permission", 
you want to hunt down the person who instilled such fear in their baby and teach them a thing or two.

This set of four was out of almost every parameter we have set, so they were not a good match with our family. But thankfully, they have a match in process!

Of the four remaining referrals of sibling sets of 2-3 kiddos, three had kiddos older than our oldest, and one was within our parameters for age.

The very hardest part of this whole process (outside of waiting!) is feeling like you could justify adopting every single referral you receive! You read "these children would do best in a home where they are the only children", yet somehow manage to find a way that your four biological children would somehow still fit into that mix! You see that they are older than your oldest biological child - outside the parameter you have specifically set because of many conversations with adoptive families, perspectives from adoptees, and a plethora of best practices that have come out from studies, podcasts, articles, etc. - and still you daydream about bringing them home!

All that to say that until our home study is approved, our hands are tied, but we are hoping to find out more about the one set that was in our parameters and any others that may pop up on our radar once our profile goes live!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Unconditionally

Less than two and a half days until our caseworkers come to approve our home study!!  We will go live on the State Adoption Exchange - the website that caseworkers representing children waiting to be adopted from foster care, as well as caseworkers representing families hoping to adopt children from foster care - utilize to find potential matches.  I am finding myself thinking about these kiddos more and more every day! I am so excited and anxious and nervous and antsy to get to this step!

A friend sent me the link to this song. Although the song is about a romantic love relationship, it's lyrics are so perfect for this adoption and I had to share!!

Unconditionally

Oh no, did I get too close?
Oh, did I almost see what's really on the inside?
All your insecurities
All the dirty laundry
Never made me blink one time

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

Come just as you are to me
Don't need apologies
Know that you are worthy
I'll take your bad days with your good
Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you, I love you

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

So open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart

Acceptance is the key to be
To be truly free
Will you do the same for me?

Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
And there is no fear now
Let go and just be free
'Cause I will love you unconditionally (oh yeah)
I will love you (unconditionally)
I will love you
I will love you unconditionally

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Journal Entry 6.27.15

Almost two years ago, I was pregnant with Ingrid and we were considering adopting a pre-teen girl from foster care. I started a journal for her then, just as I have for all my biological kiddos. I've shared on here before from this journal, and even though our focus has shifted from a preteen girl to a sibling set and some of the  pronouns or references don't make perfect sense, the thoughts and feelings behind them remain constant. 

Here is another journal entry from June 27, 2015:

"We are finishing up our weeklong beach vacation and all week I have found myself thinking of you. I've pictured you as the big sister in the water wearing a matching swimsuit to your three younger sisters. Would you find it cheesy and childish, or would you revel in this small visual confirmation that you are part of a family? 

I've imagined you cooking alongside me in the kitchen as we prepare our favorite beach foods and wonder what items you'll want to add to the menu. I've envisioned you smiling and laughing as we sit and play cards late into the night. Every time I think of you, I think of this beautiful, special girl who will be so glad to finally have a family who loves her to call her own. But I know that this may not be the case… 

I do not doubt you will be beautiful and special, and I know daddy and I will love you, and pray your siblings will love you and welcome you as one of them… But you may not be glad to be part of our family. You may resent being relocated up to the boondocks of northern Minnesota. You may find me annoying or overwhelming or may clash with the sudden role of big sister. You may try with all of your energy to keep your walls up and vow not to make a connection because you just can't bear to be let down again. You may fight me, physically or emotionally, and find satisfaction of seeing me hurt like you have been… Or you may try and pretend like everything is perfect, hiding your insecurities and putting on a show, constantly trying to earn my affection and praise, and desperately trying to fit into your new family. You may make a show of attaching to me as your mother, but deep down feel distrust and fear that you don't measure up and will never be like a real daughter to me. 

Likely you will fall somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. You will take time to warm up to us and let your guard down, but will genuinely desire to be part of the family.  You will have your good days and bad days, as I'm sure I will as well. You will struggle with feeling loved and accepted for who you are, and fitting into the cookie-cutter image you believe there to be for a "perfect daughter".

Whatever the case may be, I want to make perfectly clear right now that 
I am here for you. 
I love you. 
I want you. 
I value you. 
I cherish you. 
And I will not give up on you. 

You may find this silly or think I am being insincere. After all, how can I make all these statements, these promises to you, when I don't yet know who you are? Well, I think it's no different than how I feel when I think about the tiny baby girl I am carrying within me right now. I know I am her mother and she is my daughter, but that is all I know for sure. I do not know when she will be born, only the date she is due to arrive. I do not know if she will be healthy, or if she will carry with her a lifelong burden of illness or struggle. I do not know if she will ultimately grow up happy and grateful to be part of this family or secretly wish she was someone else's daughter. But I know that I will love her. And just as with her, bringing you into our lives and family will be filled with unknowns and uncertainties, but you can rest assured knowing that I, your mother, will love you regardless of anything else you may think, feel, or believe - and I can guarantee this to be true."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Final Stretch

We started our adoption journey in December of 2016 pursuing a Domestic Infant Adoption.  Fast forward to March and we changed our course to pursuea sibling set Adoption from Foster Care. Now it is almost the end of May, and if the acceptance of our initial adoption application was like the two pink lines on the pregnancy test, then following this analogy, we are now in the third trimester!  

We've been plodding along since Christmas, busying ourselves with the necessary paperwork, attending the required trainings and education, and reading books and attending conferences on what to expect when you're adopting. Now we are on the final stretch! Only a few more papers to fill out and our caseworkers will be here in 2 weeks to approve our home study!  

The nesting instinct you feel at the end of a pregnancy is also kicking in! I've organized closets and begun cleaning and sorting my way through the house. We sold our dining table and now have one with 10 chairs around it! We traded in our 8 passenger Ford Excursion for a 12 passenger Chevy Express van (I know you're jealous!) I joked with my friends that if they get nervous when they see a big white van frequenting parks and other places that children play, not to worry, it's just me! Haha! I know that joke is in poor taste, but you have to be able to laugh at yourself!

The kids are getting so excited to meet their new brothers and sisters! As we were laying down before bed last night, they were sharing their hopes about this adoption. Teddy wants a brother, BADLY! Natalie wants a sister that is her age, but NOT older than her. Caroline wants a girl named Eela... she is oddly specific.  They talked about going to the pool together and camping as a family; shooting hoops in the driveway and late night bonfires; experiencing the 4th of July festivities and County Fair together; Teddy even suggested that we should adopt more brothers and sisters every year!

They know that we don't necessarily get to choose the specific ages and genders of the sibling set - we are looking at all sibling sets of 2-3 kiddos who range in age from birth-8 years old available for adoption in MN.  We have also made a point of talking about the less "sunshine and rainbows" aspect of adoption, so they know that their new siblings might be sad or mad and might not really act like they want to be here. Some of what we have shared has obviously sunk in because Teddy prayed "... please help my new brothers and sisters to not have fear". 

Adoption is beautiful, but it is also hard. Kids that are "in the system" got there because their situations at home were less than desirable. They have likely witnessed or been subjected to things we only read about in newspapers. But their past shouldn't define their future. 

Can't wait to bring my kiddos home!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Perspective

I'm an eternal optimist. I look on the bright side with my glass half full. I believe that there is good in everyone and that some good can come from even the worst situations.

This perspective was shaken when I found out about my 4-year-old nephew's cancer diagnosis. But I am learning new things about perspective.

You see, my optimistic perspective is just my point of view, but the perspective I am learning about is the second entry in the dictionary definition,

per·spec·tive
pərˈspektiv/
noun
noun: perspective
  • a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
  • true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.
Knox was diagnosed on a Monday. We all had a pretty good idea that the doctors would say it was cancer, but until we received the text from his mom following the appointment, we hoped and wished and prayed we were wrong.  That was a dark day. Reality hit hard and fear set in. In fact, that was the last day I wrote on here - unable to sleep and thinking about what the future might look like for my little nephew and his family and feeling so angry that this was their new normal.

Now Tuesday was PETscan day and we were all wracked with worry as we awaited the results. This would tell us if the cancer in his femur bone had spread anywhere else in his body. Now to keep things "in perspective", we had just learned on Monday that Knox had Osteosarcoma, a very rare bone cancer that when you take into account his age, is so rare that there may only be as few as 4 children diagnosed with it this year, WORLDWIDE. A quick Google search will tell you that the survival rate of this disease is 70%, and that is not a conforting statistic.  Now 24 hours later, I was keeping myself busy doing laundry when I received a group text message from his dad.

PET scan is clear!!!!!!!

Never had four words looked better! I'm pretty sure I jumped a foot in the air before running to tell my husband in the other room! Other family members recounted screaming aloud at receiving the news.

The diagnosis and treatment plan were still the same, we knew that. But somehow, it was if they had told us all that he was miraculously cancer free! I was filled with such JOY I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. This was the "true understanding of the relative importance of things" definition of perspective in play.

Now since then I have noticed more and more the importance of perspective:

Instead of being heartbroken about the reality that her son would lose his hair,
My sister thought of a way to build community support for him while raising funds for another cause

Instead of being frustrated that he got an uncontrollably bloody nose in the car
She was just grateful she was already en route to the doctor

Instead of being homesick as the overnight trip turned into 2 nights, and 3 and 4,
She was so happy to be in a hospital where they could monitor everything

Instead of being scared as she watched his levels plummet,
She said, "the chemo must really be working"

Instead of wallowing alone in her hospital room, 
She reached out to others going through similar circumstances

She met a little girl who had been born with a congenital heart defect and undergone multiple open heart surgeries as a baby...Whose father had died when she was two... Who was diagnosed with Leukemia as a toddler and was in the midst of chemo treatments... Whose stepfather had been diagnosed with a brain tumor...
...and my sister counted her own blessings

Her eternal perspective colors the lenses through which she views the world. 

Perspective is an amazing thing. 
If you just shift your focus, you may see things in a whole new light.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

cancer

c a n c e r

How can 6 little letters carry such weight? 

They arbitrarily place themselves in between,
forever distinguishing the before from the now. 

They enter our lives unannounced and turn them upside down. 

What once was, can no longer be. 

What was dreamed of, may not come to pass. 

They enter our ears and take over our minds, 
permeating every thought and overshadowing every hope. 

They rob us of our joy, crush our spirits, 
and drain us of our tears. 

They fill us with fear and dread and anger, so much anger. 

They render us helpless and weak, unable to function. 

They do not discriminate, anyone is fair game. 

Even an innocent child. 


Today, cancer has won. 



But tomorrow...

Tomorrow cancer better watch its back...

Because there is a posse coming for it...



Monday, April 10, 2017

Breaking the Cycle

We had our first in-home visit with the adoption agency last week and the ball is now officially rolling! She will be back in May, and between now and then we will complete Car Seat Safety Training, First Aid/CPR Training, and 20 hours of Pre-Adopt Education and Training. We also have a mountain of paperwork that we are working on throughout the whole process. She is still anticipating approval at the beginning of June!  I am praying we are able to match shortly thereafter and bring our kiddos home near the beginning of the summer, so we have as much time as possible to bond with them, and for them to attach to us and their siblings.

We also attended a conference geared toward those who work with "kids from hard places" called Empowered to Connect.  This was an amazing conference that I can't recommend enough, even if you don't interact with kids who have endured trauma! I signed up for it before we began this journey to learn how to connect better to my biological kids!

Here is a brief overview of my takeaways from the conference:

1. Our kiddos brains are capable of amazing things.  The brain is a complex organ with different areas responsible for distinct functions, and all these separate areas need to work together in order to properly function.

2. How the brain functions is affected by a variety of risk factors including time spent in utero, birth, postnatal issues, abuse, trauma, and neglect.

3. The brains of kiddos subject to the risk factors in #2 are different than those of a child who has not experienced these risk factors. Because of this we cannot view all children through the same lens.  Their level of maturity does not directly correspond to their chronological age.

4. The stress and trauma that some at-risk kids endure affects not only their brain, but their beliefs, behaviors, body, and even their biology.

5. Attachment is critical, especially in the first year of life. The attachment style of the parent will affect the child's view of the world and will likely be the attachment style that child defaults to when they become parents.

Those last few lend credence to the phrase  "you are a product of your environment".

-If a child experiences a healthy pregnancy, birth, and has no complications after birth, they have a great start! Their environment thus far has been conducive to good brain development and because the brain hasn't been affected by outside factors or substances, it will begin developing as it should.

-If a child experiences a difficult pregnancy or is subject to outside substances in utero, has a traumatic birth, or has postnatal stressors like extended NICU stays, their brain has already been affected.

-In either case, if this child is then raised in an unhealthy environment, or by a caregiver that doesn't foster healthy attachment; or worse, the child experiences neglect, abuse, or trauma, their brain's development will be greatly affected.

They talked specifically about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) which include the various forms of abuse, neglect, and trauma. Kids who endure ACES grow into adults that suffer the consequences. Unresolved traumas are a breeding ground for mental and somatic health issues, substance abuse, and issues with stress, anger, and sexuality.

A cycle is set into motion in these children's lives without their consent. But the good news is, we can help break that cycle.

We can help them learn to trust and appropriately attach. We can help them begin to believe they are worthy of love. We can help them learn to negotiate their needs, stand up for themselves, and be confident in who they are.

There was so much information shared on how to do this, and as someone who introduced one of the speakers said, "I don't have enough letters before and after my name" to accurately relay all that they shared. But this video, this video, and this book, among many other resources would be a great starting point!

One final takeaway that is valuable to any parent is this:


It is so important to take time to connect with each of your kiddos, one-on-one, for at least 10 minutes every day.  Let your child decide what you are going to do during this time and just focus on following their lead and having fun doing what they want to do! This is not a teachable moment, or a time to ask them excessive questions. It's a time to let them know that you WANT to spend time with them.

And when you say your head down on your pillow at night, you go through your kids one by one and ensure that you have taken this time to invest in them. If you realize you missed out on one, get up and go to that child's room and tell them you missed spending time alone with them today. It will be ten minutes well spent.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Justin's Surprise 30th Weekend

Way back in October, I turned 30 and my hubby threw me a surprise party... after taking me out to eat... after I returned from an overnight hotel stay, by MYSELF... where I went on a shopping spree for new clothes for myself... so yeah he pretty much rocked my 30th birthday celebration.  That same week I laid the plans for his 30th birthday that was 6 months away. This past weekend it finally came to pass!

I woke him up Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and breakfast pizza from the gas station (so romantic, I know) and told him we were leaving in half an hour. He asked "to go where?", I replied "you don't get to know."

I had already packed up almost everything and my bigs ran over to their cousins where they would be staying. We packed up the littles and headed to drop them off at my other sisters in the next town over.

From there, I directed him to another town about an hour away where we stopped to use the bathroom quickly. (He later said he thought we were going to his favorite gun store to buy a new gun. The good wife I am, didn't even remember there was a gun store there, or that it was his favorite!)

We headed back on the road for another couple hours and pulled up to a Great Clips where he was directed to get a haircut. They were booked out so we skipped that and went to a restaurant called Brew. (Just a quick aside to do a shameless plug for this place: it is awesome! Great atmosphere, selection of beer and food was amazing, and everything tasted fantastic!).  He thought this town was our final destination for a minute, but we headed back on the road for another couple hours and eventually pulled into a Sport Clips where he was able to get a haircut.

Then I directed him to our hotel.  We checked into our room and when he went in the bathroom I laid out his dress clothes with a card on top.  He opened the card which contained tickets to Chanhassen Dinner Theater's "Grease". I expounded upon what I had written in the card, explaining how we have always talked about going back to New York to see another Broadway show (we saw Wicked in 2007 and LOVED it) and how we had loved the shows in Vegas, so I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate his 30th birthday. I also mentioned that we were staying for two nights so we could have a little extra time away, and confessed my fib about why he had to take work off on Monday.

We went to the show and it was amazing. Dinner was included with our tickets so we dined first and then the show began. First off, they cast it perfectly - especially Rizzo, Frenchy, and Kenicke - and the play sticks pretty close to the movie plot which I appreciate!  We both enjoyed it thoroughly, and then headed back to the hotel. I wished him a happy birthday again, reiterating how this was his gift and we talked about what we could do the next day to pass the time.

We awoke the next morning and ate breakfast at the hotel... because who books a hotel without breakfast included!? Then we lounged around and eventually went to Target and Home Depot to shop and window shop, ending up at Smash Burger for lunch. Yum! Highly recommend the salted caramel shake! Burgers and sides were tasty, and J liked that you could get a beer with your meal which is not typically the case at these types of places.

We headed back to the hotel with plans to relax and then maybe go to a movie or something later.  Shortly after getting back to our room, I "remembered" his gift that I had "forgotten" was in the trunk. I went and fished it out from its hiding place and brought it back up.  I handed it to him saying "it's just a little something to have as a tangible birthday gift."

He opened the package and found a MN Wild jersey inside. After trying it on and thanking me, we resumed our game of "Oregon Trail", the card game that J had been so excited to purchase. (Sidenote, I don't get this game... probably because I was so distracted by the suspense of J's gift).

As we finished up the game, I was trying to figure out how to get Justin to dig under the tissue paper of the box he had set aside after removing the jersey from it.  I started folding up the top of the box and the tissue paper that he had pulled out and asked him to hand me the tissue paper out of the box so I could fold it as well and save it (yes, I am that big of a loser, so this wasn't an odd request). He pulled the tissue paper out and found the papers hiding underneath that were the tickets to the Wild vs. Avalanche game that evening!

We had great seats, and having never been to an NHL game, we were both caught up in the excitement.  They definitely know how to get a crowd going and it was a fun game to watch! Helps when your team wins 5-2!

We headed back to the hotel for the night and now it is early in the the morning and he is sleeping as I write on here. Why is it that you always wake up early when you have the opportunity to sleep in!?

It was a memorable 30th birthday and it was so fun to be on the giving end of a building surprise like this!  It will certainly make sitting through the 3 1/2 hour Car Seat Training (that is required for our adoption) on his real birthday a little more bearable.

I think I am smelling the free breakfast, better get going!! ;)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Journal Entry 6.13.15

Each child of mine has a journal that was started when I found out I was expecting. In June of 2015, we were seriously considering adopting a pre-teen girl from foster care. I started a journal for her then and continued to write in it periodically for the next 10 months. I was pregnant with my 4th babe when we were considering this and decided that we should wait until she was a year old to reevaluate our adoption plan.  A couple months after that was when we shifted our plan to adopt an infant domestically. And now here we are again, back in the foster adoption world, only this time instead of a pre-teen girl, we are looking at a sibling set.

Tonight, I sat down to journal to the kiddos we hope to add to our family and instinctively grabbed the journal I had started in December of 2016, when we began the domestic infant adoption process.  After reading through my first entry, I thought to pull out the other  journal I had started almost 2 years ago when we were considering adopting from foster care.

Here is my first entry, from June 13, 2015:

"For the past two weeks I haven't stopped thinking about you. I've been dreaming about whether you will be a boy or a girl, if there will be one of you or more, what you look like, and what kind of personality you will have. I've planned and replanned the layout and design of your room, I've imagined going on our first family vacation or picking our first family pet...

 I didn't find out about you in the traditional way. I did not buy a pregnancy test and wait in anticipation for the two pink lines to appear… I did not go to the doctor for labs or an ultrasound… no, with you, it was completely different.

I've longed for you just as I've longed for my other children, but I already know I will miss your first cry as you are transitioning from the warmth and safety of the womb to the bright and unfamiliar world.  I will miss giving you your first bath and will not have the pure joy and satisfaction that would result from working toward your first smile. I will not be there to document you rolling over for the first time or photograph you rocking on your hands and knees as you attempt to crawl. There are so many things I will not get to be a part of - first steps, first words, first birthday... and second, and third… Knowing everything I will miss is almost too much to bear.

 I wonder, as I am writing this now, where you are, who you are with… I wonder what you were thinking, how you are feeling… If you can feel the love I already feel for you…"

Almost two years have passed, and yet every word still rings true. This desire has been burning within me for a long time and I can't wait to bring my kiddos home!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Switching Paths

So we are just a few months into our adoption journey and have some big news!  No, we haven't been matched with a baby yet.  In fact, we may never be matched with a baby.

Wait, what?

Let me explain.

We started this journey at the end of December when we signed on with an agency to pursue a domestic infant adoption.  We requested our homestudy forms in advance and filled out seemingly endless paperwork throughout January and February.  Then we attended the required orientation day at the end of February.  We were so happy with our agency and the care and thought they put into the process.  We even met a few new friends who were pursuing infant adoption as well.  The couple next to us had the same number of children as us and they were even the same ages!

I had joined some online adoption forums when we started the process and found the mix of perspectives between birth parents, adoptive parents, and adult adoptees to be so helpful, informative, and overall beneficial.  One comment that was made was concerning the alarming difference between Foster Care Adoption and Domestic Infant Adoption - in the former there is a line of kiddos just waiting to be adopted by a family, whereas in the latter there is a line of families waiting to adopt a baby.  My mind made a mental note of this comment, I mentioned it in passing to my hubby, but we continued on our established course.

Then came this article.

The story of 5 Kansas siblings, ages 2-11, who were eligible for adoption and wanted to stay together.  If you have Facebook, I would venture to guess it came across your Newsfeed.  I instantly welled up with tears while reading about them and found a video link which didn't help the emotional mess I was quickly becoming.  I rationalized how we could rework our sleeping arrangements to accommodate 5 more kids, mentally purchased a big ole van, and seriously considered how we could make this happen.  I told my husband about them when he got home from work, and being the loving, understanding man he is, he allowed me to try to explain to him how this was a good idea.

Well, needless to say, we are not adopting these five kiddos.  Thankfully, their story was so widely shared that the agency's system was overloaded with more voicemails and emails than it could handle and there are a number of families seeking to adopt them.

However, it was a turning point in the minds of both my husband and I and we began to question whether we should stay the course and hold out for a baby, or switch paths and pursue a sibling set from foster care.  After a number of days, prayers, conversations, discussions, pros and cons lists, etc., we settled on switching paths!

Our county doesn't do adoptive home studies, so we contacted a public agency in the cities.  They gave us a timeline of approximately 13 months from start to home study approved.  The length of this waiting period is largely due to caseworker overload, so we would have to wait 5-6 months just to get assigned a caseworker.

We inquired at a couple of the other public agencies and found a good fit for us.  You know that feeling when you talk to someone on the phone that you have never met, but it feels like you are old friends?  That is how I felt with the caseworker I chatted with at the agency we have decided to go with!  And the best part... she gave us a general timeline of 3 months.  So potentially, at the beginning of June we could begin seeking out children to add to our family!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Theodore

My little man celebrated his 6th Birthday today!  Every year I read over his birth story to remind me just how lucky I am to be celebrating another year with him.  I posted it originally on my photography business blog, but since that is no longer active I am re-posting it here :)  
Theodore: Gift from God
Theodore was due to make his appearance February 12th.  As I anxiously awaited his arrival, the nesting instinct was in full force.  Every room in the house had been deep cleaned and organized.  The spare bedroom had been painted, refloored, trimmed, and set up with all the necessary nursery accessories.  All the baby toys had been pulled out, assembled, and disinfected.  The freezer was full to the brim with over a month’s worth of homemade frozen meals and side dishes for us to enjoy when we would return from the hospital.  The dresser in my bedroom had been converted to a changing station, and the bassinet was set up for baby’s first few weeks.
All the hospital bags were packed and the carseat was ready to go.  I couldn’t have been more prepared…or so I thought.  Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to endure.
I started having contractions on Superbowl Sunday.  They were light and far apart and went away completely when I went to bed.  Monday morning they came back and stayed fairly steady throughout the day.  At about 1:00 am on Tuesday, February 8th, the contractions were getting stronger and closer, so I got up and started tracking them.  I called my mom to come stay with Natalie and had my husband start the car.  When I left for the hospital my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and I checked in at about 3:30 a.m.
The nurse checked me and I was bummed when she said I was only dilated to 1 centimeter…especially since my pre-labor had been so similar to my first pregnancy (I had been dilated to 8 centimeters when I checked in to deliver my daughter).  Normally, I would have just left to labor at home a while longer, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.  That was blessing number one.

Shortly after being hooked up to the fetal monitoring machine, the nurse began to notice decelerations in the baby’s heartbeat after each contraction.  She watched it for a few contractions and then called in my doctor.  I was put on oxygen and leaned on the birthing ball in an effort to help the situation.  When my doctor arrived, he watched the baby’s heartbeat, checked me to find that I was now dilated to 3 centimeters, and calmly suggested a C-section.  He said that something was clearly stressing the baby out and rather than us biting our nails in hopes that the baby would be ok, we might be best to just get the baby out.  I agreed and plans began to be made. 
The doctor addressed all the questions that I had concerning C-sections -
  • I would be awake and numbed from the neck down
  • I would still get to hold my baby right away
  • We could still take pictures
  • The hospital stay would be lengthened by a day
  • The recovery would be slightly different than with a normal delivery. 
He left to get things ready and the nurses began to prep me.  Shortly after, they were struggling to find the baby’s heartbeat after each contraction.  They called my doctor back in and he checked me again and to try to rouse the baby.  Then he turned to the nurses and said “this is now a STAT C-section”.  I began to break down emotionally because I was certain that I was going to lose the baby.  They still struggled to hear heart tones and began frantically preparing me for an emergency C-section.  I called my mom crying to tell her the news and she made arrangements to come.  She prayed for me and reminded me that I needed to try to stay calm to get oxygen to the baby.
In order to get oxygen to the baby, I had to be on all fours as they wheeled my bed down the hospital corridor into the operating room.  The scrub nurses protested as I entered that my un-sterile bed could not be brought into the operating room.  My nurses responded they had no choice… this was a STAT C-section.  They did everything they could while I was on all fours and then I laid on my back for them to catheterize me.  They tried and tried and it wouldn’t work.  I was in pain from contractions and this was not helping anything.  The IV wasn’t cooperating and it seemed nothing was going right.  I hadn’t heard the baby’s heartbeat at all and was crying uncontrollably.  My husband wasn’t allowed to be in the room yet, so I had no one to calm me down.  The doctor’s entered and told me I was going to be put under general anesthesia, a method they had previously told me was only done in emergency situations.  They prepped my stomach and asked the anesthetist why I wasn’t under yet.  He responded he was going as fast as he could.  One of the doctors assured me they would wait to cut until I was under.  My doctor just held eye contact with me and gave me a reassuring wink.  I heard the other doctor say ”Sarah Homme STAT C-section 5:36 am” to the scrub nurse taking notes, and then I was under.
I awoke, groggy and in a fog to hear my doctor and my husband saying “Teddy”.  I realized it must have been a boy.  They said he only weighed 4# 14.5 oz and that the umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck 5 times and twice around his body.  I am still foggy as to what else was said in the recovery room.  After a while, I was wheeled down the hallway.  My parents and my husband were there waiting.  My mom had my phone, it had been sitting on my bed which was still in the middle of the hallway outside the operating room when she arrived.  I sent my husband to get my glasses because I had had to remove my contacts before the surgery and couldn’t see anything.  I was able to see my son through the nursery window before they brought me back to my room, but I don’t remember any details of this because I was still under the effects of the anesthesia.
My doctor came in to show me an x-ray they had taken of Teddy’s chest, but was called out to help in the nursery.   When he returned, he said that Teddy’s chest x-ray was clear but that he was having a little trouble breathing so he was thinking about calling the Grand Forks NICU.  They had the specialized technology and staff and it would be what was best for Teddy.  I agreed and the NICU team was called.  It was agreed that Justin would follow the ambulance there to be with Teddy and I would follow as soon as I was discharged.  I called friends and family to let them know that he was being transported soon so they could come in and see him before he left.  The nursery blinds were shut and I couldn’t get up to go in there with him and he was too unstable to come into my room.  When the NICU team arrived, they tended to Teddy in the nursery.  The head nurse came into my room to discussed all the details and to have me sign the forms necessary to admit Theodore to the NICU.  I asked her if I would be able to hold him before he left.  She said no, but that I would be able to touch him.



Finally, after what seemed like forever, they wheeled Theo in. 



He looked so small and fragile… I hadn’t been able to remember any details of what he looked like from a few hours earlier so I was trying to take him all in. 

They took down the side of his isolette and I prepared myself to reach in and touch his little tiny body. 

Then, much to my surprise, they began to take him out and put him in my arms.
I snuggled him in close and kissed his little cheeks.  
I tried to take in every detail… his ears, his nose, his little fingers and toes…
I pulled back his hat to see his hair.  He looked so much like his sister, I couldn’t believe it.







 Daddy stood nearby with Natalie.  This picture shows how much weight was on his shoulders.  He had tried to be so strong for me and yet he felt so helpless.  The concern in his eyes as he watched his wife with his son… well they say a picture is worth a thousand words…
Natalie was able to give her little brother a kiss before he left.  She loves babies so much and even having only seen him the one time, she would refer to “Teddy” throughout the time he was at the NICU.
 They said it was time for him to go.  I whispered in his ear that I needed him to be a little trooper and fight so that I could hold him again.
I cried as they took him from my arms.  My belly was empty, and now my arms were too.  It hurt so bad… both physically from the surgery, and emotionally.




 They got Theodore all secured and wheeled my son out of my room.  He wasn’t even 7 hours old and would already be leaving his mommy. 




Later that evening, Justin called me with an update.  When Theodore left the hospital, he had very little muscle tone.  If you lifted his arm, it would fall lifeless at his side.  His blood sugar had also been low.  He had struggled breathing and had struggled to maintain his body temperature.  Since he had arrived at the NICU his muscle tone looked to be improving, his blood sugar was stabilizing, he was breathing with just a slight air flow to take away some of the work from him, and he was being kept in a warmer to help maintain his temperature.  They had also found he was low on platelets so they had given a transfusion to try to help with that.

It was so hard to be away from him.  There was nothing that I could do for him except to get my milk supply going and to try and heal enough to get discharged.  Every two hours I would pump and then try to get up and moving.  In the middle of the night, I had just returned from a walk and was sitting in the rocking chair thinking, ”this wasn’t how it was supposed to be… I should be holding my little boy right now.  I can’t even remember what he looked like.”  I took out my camera and looked over the pictures that had been taken while he was at the hospital.  Everything looked so out of proportion… pictures couldn’t capture his tiny little ears or his long fingernail beds… this was so unfair.
I was lucky enough to be discharged the following day.  I was still in pain from the C-section, but wasn’t showing any signs of any risk factors and was able to get up and move around.  When I arrived in Grand Forks, Justin met me at the hospital entrance and wheeled me up to the NICU, a trek I would take many times over the next week.  Up the elevator to the fourth floor… call in on the black phone that we were here to see Teddy… wait to get buzzed in… walk down the hallway and take a right… continue walking to the NICU entrance… call in on the red phone… wait to get buzzed in.  Once inside, all outerwear was removed and set with other belongings in the entry area.  Then jewelry was removed and we scrubbed in.  Justin walked me through each step of the scrubbing in process.  Turn on sink with knee lever… roll up sleeves to elbows… rinse from elbows to fingertips and scrub with pink soap… rinse… dry… apply disinfectant.  After a week of scrubbing in multiple times each day, my hands were dry and raw… cracking and bleeding at the knuckles. 
After we scrubbed in, Justin led me to see my little Theodore.  I hadn’t prepared myself for how he would look and was shocked and overwhelmed with emotions as I approached him.  He was laying in a warmer with bili-lights above him.  On either side of the warmer there were multiple computer screens displaying his vitals.  From head to toe he was covered in wires, cords, or sensors.
He wore goggles to protect his eyes from the bili-lights.  On each temple there was a bandaid that helped to hold the canula in his nose.  There was an IV line in each hand that was taped on so that only his thumb was free.  The inside of each elbow had a bandaid from being poked and prodded.
There were three sensors attached to his chest to monitor his heartrate and respirations, and a gold heart to track his skin temperature.  He had a line going directly into his belly button that they drew his labs from and administered his IV fluids through.  A plastic bag was over his privates to obtain a urine sample.  One foot had a O2 level sensor wrapped around it and the other held the PICC line they had to insert the day before.   Both heels had multiple bandaids covering the many needle pokes he had received.





 Justin walked me through what each sensor was monitoring and what the levels on the computer screens should read.  I couldn’t believe how much he knew and understood about everything.  He had only been there 24 hours and it appeared to be second-nature.


The next day his air support was discontinued so I was able to bottlefeed him some of the milk I had pumped.  They turned off the bili-lights during the feeding so his goggles could be removed.  Even though his eyes were closed it was so nice to be able to see his face.  I couldn’t hold him because the central line in his belly button was inserted into an artery and it was too dangerous, but at least I could feel his little head in my hand.




 The nurse burped him before replacing his goggles and turning the bili-lights back on.
After his belly line was removed I was finally able to hold him! It was so wonderful getting to feel him in my arms again.  I wanted to kiss him a million times to make up for lost kisses.

 As time went on and his health improved he was able to move into a new “home”.  In the process of the move they removed all the unnecessary cords and wires so it looked a little less imposing. 
We were able to hold him for each of his feedings.  Justin always gave me first dibs because he knew how hard it was for me not to get to hold him all the time, but he loved holding his little man too!

 After showing that he could regulate his own temperature, Teddy was moved to an open “crib”. 

Then finally he able to leave the NICU and room in with us in the Pediatric wing of the hospital.
We relished in being able to hold him and snuggle with him.
  Simple tasks like changing his clothes and feeding him were so exciting!
He even sucked his little thumb!
After two nights in the Pediatric wing we finally got the go-ahead to head home!  He was already 10 days old and weighed 5 pounds 8.6 ounces.



 We got some pictures with the Dr’s who worked on him at the NICU. 
Then we headed home!


We were greeted with signs and a “Teddy” cake, and Celine Dion’s Miracle was playing as we entered the house.
Natalie was so happy to see her little brother!



We were finally home together!

The three most important people in my life!
THEODORE’S MIRACULOUS STORY
When my doctor was called out to help in the nursery shortly after Theodore’s birth, it was because Teddy was crashing.  Two separate times this happened and he had to be resuscitated.   This unfortunate event was what led the Dr. to recommend sending Teddy to the NICU.
Upon arrival at the NICU, Teddy was diagnosed with IUGR, which basically means that his growth was restricted in utero.  The doctors believe that the cord was wrapped around his neck for 6-8 weeks.  This constricted the flow of oxygen and nutrients to him.  In most cases, the baby would respond to this lack of oxygen by slowly giving up and would either not make it to term, or would be born pale and lifeless with a small head circumference indicative of a small brain. 
In Theodore’s case, for medically inexplicable reasons, his response to the lack of oxygen and nutrients was to overcompensate by producing more blood.  Teddy’s skin was dark purple at birth because he had almost double the blood volume of a normal infant.   His head measured 13 1/4 inches which is within normal range, but his chest measured only 11 1/4 inches.  In essence, Teddy starved his body to feed his brain.   As the doctor said, this is the best case scenario because a baby can always gain weight, but cannot do anything to grow his brain. 
This miraculous overcompensation on Teddy’s part could have also had terrible effects.  With so much extra blood in his little body, it could have pooled in his brain, belly, or another area in his body.  This issue was not detected until the NICU team poked him to draw labs and he started oozing blood, so had he not been transfered to the NICU, this issue may not have been detected early enough.  In producing so much extra blood, the ratio of red blood cells to platelets was way off.  Teddy received multiple transfusions during his stay at the NICU to balance out the composition of his blood.  
Testing had also been done on the placenta and showed that some of the connective tissues that help transport nutrients between the uterus and the placenta had died.  The Dr. informed us that this could possibly mean that Teddy was brain damaged and that further testing was going to be done.  After a long night of prayer, the brain ultrasound came back clear!
When Teddy’s final labs were done, all of his levels were within normal range.  I asked if I would need to be concerned about any of these areas and the Dr. said that any issues that Teddy dealt with during his stay at the NICU had been resolved and I wouldn’t need to worry about them at all.
He is currently receiving a supplement to help him gain weight, and will need a hearing re-screen in a couple of weeks as he did not pass the initial test.
There were so many times that we could have lost Theodore, but God proved his faithfulness again and again.
I could have gone in for a regular prenatal appointment to find out that there were no heart tones… but God spared me.
I could have delivered a stillborn baby… but God spared me.
Teddy could have died in the delivery room… but God spared us.
They could have been unable to resusitate him in the nursery, and Teddy could have left this earth before I ever got to hold him… but God spared us.
Teddy’s miraculous overcompensation in producing blood could have caused him permanent damage or death… but God spared us.
Teddy could have suffered from brain damage… but God spared us.
Teddy overcame every obstacle and beat the odds.  I am so thankful that my Doctor called for a C-section and recommended sending him to the NICU.  I am so thankful to the Dr’s and nurses who cared for him at the NICU and helped save my little boy.  But my doctor said it best… when I thanked him for saving my baby he responded,
“No, that was Him… I was just the facilitator.”