Monday, October 8, 2018

Q&A

Better late than never.  This will never intentionally be my life's motto - but nevertheless, here we are.

How old is Cate?

She is 2 - her birthday is December 30, 2015 and she will be turning 3!

I was totally not going to throw her a party since it's so close to Christmas but I was informed by her Mimi that "you better have a party for that baby!" And it's true - she probably has never had a birthday party before - so I am certain we will at least have cake and icecream. (Okay, Mimi?)

Why international adoption and not local?

We have been asked this question more times than I can count.  Honestly - because it's what we felt called to do.  Yes, there are kids right here in our backyards that need families.  Yes, it's (sometimes - not always) more expensive. Yes, we know there are other ways.  But China was put on our hearts over and over again - and so that's what we did.  If you ask Nate - I think his original answer would also include "less strings" - meaning, we wouldn't have to navigate the open v. closed adoption situation the same way we would have if we had adopted locally.  That adds another layer for families who are wanting to adopt locally to consider - and this is something we decided as a family we weren't ready to take on.

Why China?

See above? HA!  Also, when choosing a country - because truthfully, at the beginning of the process - it didn't matter to me - there is a LOT to consider.  Each country that allows international adoption has different criteria that the adopting family has to meet:  age, length of marriage, number of children currently in the house, income levels.  Also - each country has different rules regarding the process:  when you can start, how long the process takes, how many trips you have to take, how old the children are that are available for adoption, what medical needs adoptable children have etc.  We felt very comfortable with the stability of the China Adoption program - meaning, it had been around and established for a lot longer than some programs. The number of kiddos being adopted and wait time was less than some of our other options.  And the biggest draw when it came to making a head decision (in addition to our heart decision) for China - was only one trip is required.  Lots of other countries make you take two. On the first trip you meet your child, continue the paperwork process and then return home without your baby while the in-country paperwork process continues - then you travel back to actually bring your baby home. I know this works for lots of families - but stomaching the fact that I would meet my child - probably in an orphanage situation - and then have to leave them there for a one, two, three months or even longer - I couldn't do it.  The trip to China was long - for us even a few days longer because of the July 4 holiday - but it was totally worth it to us to bring Cate home the first time we met her.

How accurate was Cate's medical file?

As far as we can tell - it was right on.  I know this is extremely rare.  But from what we can tell her diagnosis in China was correct.  And by diagnosis I mean, the fact that she is fearfully, wonderfully, perfectly made, of course.

We really believe her orphanage gave her the best medical care they could - and their assessment of her condition was as thorough as it could have been.  This has not been the case with some of our friends who have come home - in some cases -their kiddos had none of the diagnosis that was in their file - and in other cases they had a completely different set of needs. 
We went to China knowing and believing that we could end up with a completely different child medically and emotionally than what we were expecting - and an open mind in any adoption is imperative. We feel very blessed that Cate's file was just about as accurate medically as it could be.

How did you chose an agency?

This could be a post all on it's own - but I will keep this brief.  When we originally started to consider adoption - we sent off for several packets from different agencies and went to ONE information meeting in Orlando for the agency we used.  We felt really comfortable after that original meeting - even though, looking back - they barely even touched on international adoption - mostly just discussed local infant adoption.  We didn't actually start the process for well over a year after that meeting - and we just picked right back up with that same agency after a phone conference.  If you would ask me if we loved our agency - I would have to say - they did some things really really well and other times I wanted to totally quit.  That being said - I would encourage someone thinking about adoption - international, local, infant, foster care - do your due diligence.  Call EVERY option.  Ask your friends who have adopted who they used and would they use them again.  Join facebook groups -- THIS is actually where we found a BAZILLION other options and people with opinions on them all.  Your agency can completely make or break your experience - and each one is very different.  Choose wisely. (How's that for a super vague, not-helpful answer?)

How did you decide what needs your family could handle?

Well, truthfully, when it comes right down to it - we chose Cate - and none of her needs were on our "we can handle this" list.  We had hydrocephalus down as a "willing to discuss" should we receive a referral that had this in their medical file.  For us, this part of the process was met with a lot of guilt.  Thankfully, our social worker was wonderful and helped eliminate a LOT of this when she said - you have to consider the other kids in your home, what you can financially commit to - and what your family has the flexibility time-wise to manage. This isn't the same as a bio baby where you don't get a choice.  This is what was hard for me - obviously if a child growing inside of my body had any diagnosis no matter how severe or bleak the outcome looked - it wouldn't make a lick of difference. Yet here Nate and I sat with a three page list of needs that we had to check off basically "willing to parent".  We did lots of research, lots of praying - and our original "openness form" contained a list of things we felt we could mentally, emotionally, financially care for. When we saw Cate on rainbowkids -  what her file said didn't matter.  We know lots of other families who saw their sweet babies faces this way - and never looked back. 

** After our trip to China and meeting all the incredible kiddos from our group - and some groups not with our agency - Nate and I both agreed our openness was based on fear too.  There wasn't one single baby that we met that felt "scary."  I think a lot of times, special needs - of any kind - seem scary on paper, or even from afar - simply because it is so unknown.  (I have no idea if this makes sense.)  There is a lot that comes with parenting a medically different kiddo - and some of it is intimidating - but it is SOOO worth it. 

Do you want to adopt again?  Do you want more bio babies?  Do you want more kids? Are you done?

HA!!! This is probably the question we get asked the most after "can you believe she is here?"  When it comes to family planning - if you must know -- we have adopted (no pun intended) the "evaluate after each addition" motto.  We always said we wanted a big family - and then we had Skyar. HA! Babies are lots and lots (and LOTS and LOTS) of work.  With each addition comes a new set of challenges, a new normal, a new adjustment period.  We are still in the adjustment period I would say - finding our new groove. Cate's doctor visits are starting to settle down and we are able to schedule set therapies, Skylar and Wyatt are in a good groove at school - so for right now we are just enjoying our time as a family of five.   I would be totally lying if I said my heart feels "done".  Although this answer also totally changes based on the time of day, attitudes of the hour,  and overall mood in my home when this question is asked. (Right??)  I truly think adoption changed everything for me.  Knowing the need that is there for families - it feels very hard to say - "no more".  We will have to see what the future holds for us.  Adoption, bio babies, fostering, helping others through the adoption process - I don't know - all I know is we have the desire to be open to whatever we feel God calls our family too - even if it seems completely nutso to the people watching our crazy train. 

I mean, it is so easy to coordinate three looking and smiling in a family photo - what's a few more, right??




Love y'all! xoxo



Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Three Months Post Gotcha Day

Has it really been three months?  I saw some pictures of Cate while we were in China this week and I literally barely recognized her.  It's true she was "happy" with us even in China - which we weren't anticipating - but having her home now for this long, and seeing how truly joyful she is - makes me wonder what was really going through her head when we were over there. I think she was way more nervous and scared than we realized.  

This month has brought lots of new words and phrases - which still blows my mind knowing that the portion of her brain that is most affected by her diagnosis is the part that controls her speech.  I'll tell you what it doesn't control.  The ability to say the word "no," "stop,"  "mean" (she says this when she doesn't get her way), and "maaammmaaaa, Wy-iiiitttt" (which is what she does anytime she is tattling - no matter who she is telling on - she always says Wyatt's name.  She tattles to me a lot on Nate when he tells her "no" and she tattles on me equally to whoever will listen.  It's really pretty hilarious most of the time - but at the end of the day can be equally as annoying. HA!

She consistently says "Good mor-nan!" everytime we get her out of bed - even at nap time - which is probably one of my favorite things to hear her say.  She says it with a southern accent - which makes it even cuter if that is possible.  She also learned to say "watch you [me]" "look" "Momma/Daddy's home!" "I do it" "momma, hold you/help you" "nap time" "lemme see it" "good boy, Knoxie" "good job, Wy-it" "come on, Momma, let's go" "blesh you"  "I do it, Momma" "bye, see ya" "night night" if we say "I love you!" her responses is "yes! I know!" (why, I have no idea!) and she has pretty much learned that most things that start with a gentle "Momma" and end with "please" will result in her getting what she asks for.  We've done a great job of making her not the princess of this house.  [eyeroll.]  She also says "why" all.day.long.   I don't think she has a clue what she is asking - but she hears everyone else say it - so why not her?

This month we had a lot of follow up appointments regarding her official diagnosis - and therapies we can pursue for her - and while no official therapy has started yet (next week) - we have a list of things we want to try to start with her over the coming months.  She has just continued to astound us with what she is attempting to do.  She is using her right arm more and more - even sometimes without being prompted.  She often isn't successful in her attempts to actually "do" things with her hand - but with enough cheering she is just as happy to try.  



She really misses her siblings while they are at school.  Wyatt is gone three days a week - and she says "Wy-it at kool" the entire day when he is gone.  "Momma - Wy-it at kool?  Wy-it at kool (sad face)"  When we pick Skylar and Wyatt up after school you would have thought she hadn't seen them in a month of Sundays - she screams "HIIIIIIIIIIIIII" at the top of her lungs.  I am pretty sure the people who run car line think I have someone pitching a fit every time I pull up - but she really is happy - although happy squeals and mad squeals sound very similar.   

We went to the zoo several times this month - and she really enjoys being outside.  I am super excited for the three days of fall we might get in Florida when I can actually enjoy being outside with her instead of trying to convince her its too hot to be out.

This month we survived our first sickness.  Cate had a (very mild, thank God) stomach bug.  In the days that followed - I couldn't help but be really sad about how she handled it.  I think this was one of those things that made me realize - I have no idea how in the world she was treated before she came to us.  I believe, in my heart, that she was loved and taken care - but there is just something different about having a momma and daddy.  There were two things that made me really sad. First, she didn't cry for anyone.  She literally got sick (at the exact same time I was laying her down in bed) and she didn't cry.  She didn't reach up for me.  She just laid there.  Which initially I thought - oh, she knows I saw that happen - and knows I will pick her up and help her.  But two other times that night - she was sick -and never cried.  In fact, Skylar woke up to go to the bathroom and happened to notice on her way to out of the girls room and woke us up.  Otherwise - we never would have known. It made me reflect on the fact that when she poops in her diaper after we put her down - she never cries.  We always end up smelling it - cause girlfriend's body has not completely adjusted to American food and I'm pretty sure the next city over could smell it - but she never complains, cries, or calls out for help.  It makes me wonder how many times she has slept in a mess and had to wait until morning.  Breaks my heart.   



The other thing that made me really sad was her reaction to spilling a snack.  She has always loved opening the pantry and just looking - I mean, some days she stacks tuna cans and carries them around in a lunch box all day - but I never really thought twice about it.  She also chipmunks food -  even an hour after a meal I'll notice her chewing and I'll say "what are you chewing on" and she will use her tongue to pull food out of the back of her mouth - where she is saving it?? So when she spilled a little snack she was eating at the table - and I picked up the little pieces off the floor and threw them out and she instantly burst into tears - I thought - oh my goodness -she thinks she is going to be hungry.  I quickly got another snack for her and when I brought it to her - she let out a sigh that had pent up for all almost-three years of her life.  She seriously thought she was going to be hungry.  No doubt in my mind she was worried that would be her last bit of food for the day...or however long.  





While it is easy to see that this girl has no shortage of food - it's these little moments that make us realize she has been affected - no matter how well she was loved in her earlier situation - by not having parents who could give her the care that only a family truly can.  





Cate wants to do whatever  the big kids are doing.  If we are baking - we give her bowls of water and small amounts of ingredients.  We let her help mix and pour.  If we are eating and someone else gets a different topping or side dish than what she has on her plate - she always reaches out and wants the same thing.  If they are doing a dance move, playing with a toy, or getting attention for something - she needs to do the exact.same.thing.  It is the sweetest thing how - for the most part - Skylar and Wyatt aren't the least bit bothered by it.  They are almost always the first one to notice if she does something new or different - and they are the biggest cheerleaders when it comes to her accomplishing something - especially  if it involves that hand they know she struggles to use.  Its the greatest thing to see them all bonding so well.








Cate has learned that as a member of this family - she will be forced to watch football every weekend - and as long as it involves snacks (which doesn't it always?) she totally doesn't mind.  I mean, how cute is she?




This month we went to the beach [finally!] for the first time since being home.  I had been hesitant to plan a big family trip because I know she has some sensory/texture aversions and I just knew we would pack everything up and get everyone there and she would freak and my other two would be sad to leave their favorite place instead of playing all day long.  Nothing about leaving the beach after going to the effort of loading up three kids - with all three crying kids - or staying while two had a ball and the other one cried sounded like a great idea to me.  So I waited until we had a day with no appointments - and we went just the two of us.  While I wouldn't say she loved it right away - I know with a couple more visits she will end up really enjoying herself.  I was surprised with how long she played and smashed sand castles.  I was actually able to get her to use her right hand for almost an hour and so basically we had "therapy" at the ocean. I mean, no complaints here!



This month has been so sweet to see her little personality emerge more and more - and to really just be able to sit back and watch our family and friends get to meet her and see that really - what you see is what you get. She just is such a little light and full of so much joy it really is hard to believe we have only been her family for three months.  I know Nate is tired of hearing me say - but seriously - we are so blessed and I can't believe she is finally here and this is her.  I can't believe how God has answered prayer after prayer - and I can't believe how many times we have been able to share our story - and how many people we have been able to meet through this process.  We are so very very thankful and blessed.










Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Name Not A Diagnosis.

We have gotten so many questions with regard to Cate's "diagnosis" and how her scans were - and I have had this blog post drafted for almost two weeks now and have been hesitant to post.  Hesitant to post because (a) I don't want anyone who hasn't met her in person to see words on a page about her and come to conclusions about, feel sorry for, or label her -- and (b) part of what I share is my story - but mostly it is Cate's story - and it is for her to share when she gets to an age to share it herself - if she chooses.  So that being said I will tread lightly on the subject of a "diagnosis" and if I have learned nothing else in the last two-months-and-some-change about "diagnosis-es" it is this  - it. doesn't. matter.  The final "answer", "diagnosis", "scan" doesn't matter.  And not just in Cate's situation - but all kiddos! We met so many amazing kids on our adoption trip and each one had a "diagnosis" but not one single kid was a diagnosis.  In fact, we never even noticed. 

That being said - we have been transparent with the good, easy part of our story - and we want to be faithful to be as transparent as possible with the less-than-easy part as well.  We know God can use our story  - and Cate's miracle - to encourage someone else to step out on faith - and we want to shout His goodness to our family to anyone who will hear [read].

I'll start with just a brief recap - so that you can be just as amazed as we have been with what God is teaching us through Cate.


When we found Cate's profile back in March - we felt like she was our girl instantly. (I mean, seriously - that face!) We truly felt a connection with a picture and a tiny little grainy video.  We prayed and prayed that God would open and shut doors - clearly.  Like open them wide or slam them shut - and that we would continue to walk through the doors he opened - even if things got scary.  You know - big faith kind of prayers.  To be completely honest - her needs list was way longer and way scarier than we felt "open" to initially - but we had this weird eerie peace.  You know, the peace you pray for in those big-faith kind of prayers and yet here we were - surprised to feel it. But we felt it - and so we went - we jumped in with two feet and marched through those doors carrying the banner of "the Lord is literally paving the way for us."  And He is!



However, that peace that the Lord was paving our way didn't stop us from asking a million questions, seeking out professional opinions and taking it all with a grain of salt - because again, the peace won over the fears.  We heard the "prepare for this", "you might expect that", "this could mean this" and so we continued to investigate - but knew in our hearts that she was coming home to us no matter what.  In the meantime though, we asked for scans of her brain. Scans that we knew had been done.  Scans that we had written records of - but no actual scans.  Scans that could help us get a clearer picture of what was going on.  To no avail.  Twice before we left we asked and received a "no."  In China, at her orphanage, we were able to talk with the orphanage doctor - who said, yes, I can send them to you -- and never did.  I was frustrated - because it could have made the appointments we have had so much less invasive (i.e. no sedated MRI) and truthfully, I felt like I needed to know.  But did I really? With no scans - I just looked at this perfectly adorable, capable, hilarious, quick-learning little girl and got to know her.

(I can tell you exactly what I wasn't thinking about here as I held her for the first time - and that was anything related to a diagnosis.)



We knew - based on her file that we had received before going to China - that at some point that she had a brain injury - either before or shortly after birth that caused weakness on her right side (Cerebral Palsy - "CP"), and that she had a shunt for hydrocephalus. There were also several other scary words in her file that I can barely spell - all of them things you should never google if you are in the business of trying not to worry.  So we didn't google.  We put away the file and we got to know Cate - in all her sweetness.

The more we got to know - the more and more we convinced ourselves that the paperwork was wrong.  There was no way that she had any of those things listed - the CP, yes, because the use of her right hand is limited - and the shunt for hydrocephalus - yes, because - there is a battery sized bulge on the side of her head.  But she is walking, talking, doing everything a "typical" two year old girl would do.  Some things she is behind on - which was to be expected from being in an orphanage - but for the most part - she was ahead in every area compared to where our "expectations" were.  We had -- to the extent we could - mentally prepared for the worst in every situation.  Our biggest concern was her language and ability to communicate.  Her file was very cautious about these things in general.  From what we were told - she would only repeat 1 word - and based on her injuries we were cautioned that she could be/probably would be non-verbal or have extreme difficulty communicating.  

In China - the day we got her - girlfriend put our biggest worries at ease.  HA!  Since we have been home - she has shocked us with her language skills.  There isn't much we say to her that she doesn't understand. And she literally repeats EVERY.THING.  She remembers words - even if she isn't stringing them together properly all the time - she knows - and she is getting it.  (Side note - The funniest thing so far about her language has been when we tack someone's name on the end of a phrase - even just once - and she automatically thinks that person's name is part of the phrase. We hear a lot of "sit down, Wyatt! sit down, Knox!" and "Watch you [me], Mimi!" even though she is talking to someone completely different. It's hilarious.)




The day came when we finally saw the pictures from her MRI.  This amazing, wonderful, mouth-full-of-words, keeping-up-with-the-other-kids, girl had a Brain Injury.  Now.  Y'all.  I barely made it through anatomy in high school because the smell of that cat we had to dissect made me sweat.  But I know what a brain is sort-of, kind-of supposed to look like.  And I knew when I saw her scans that it was not that. 


I almost hit the floor.  I kept looking at Cate and looking at her scans and thinking - this doesn't make sense.  I don't get it.  Our sweet NP and Neurosurgeon were so reassuring and so gracious and bless them for not making me feel like an idiot for doing my best to compose myself in the office and put together coherent questions. But as they explained it - her brain was injured - we will never know exactly how - (more than likely a stroke) - but it has completely rewired itself and is working "just fine"!  I kept asking - with this kind of injury - what should we be seeing her do differently.  What does the part of her brain where the injury occurred control?  Speech.  Communication. Her ability to repeat, understand, and process. All the things she has demonstrated she has the ability to do.  

To say I left the appointment so confused but so grateful - would be the understatement of the year.

I think I cried on and off for the rest of the day - not because I was fearful at this point - because she is NOT her scans.  She is Cate.  She is capable, strong, smart, hilarious and all the things we were fearful she might not be.  She is.  She is a miracle.

As Nate and I sat on the couch that night after the house was quiet and all the kids were in bed - I couldn't help but cry all over again.  What if I had seen the scans before I knew her?  What if we had been sent the scans on any one of the times we had asked?  What if God had answered all of our prayers for more information before we met her with a "yes" instead of a "no"?  What if...

Would I have still had faith?
Would I have been able to say "yes"?
Would we have gone?
Would we have seen past the fear and felt peace? Or would my tendency to worry have overtaken everything good God was trying to do in our family?
What if I had seen a diagnosis and not a child of God? My child?
What if God had given me what I wanted when I wanted it?

I'm afraid of the answer to that question.  I truly am.  Ashamed and embarrassed to even say it - but I don't know if I would have been brave enough, or if I would have trusted God enough.  I hope I would have.  But at the same time - even if  I was still able to say yes,  even if we had gone and brought her home - I would have over-examined, over-thought, read in to, made assumptions and flat out worried about her - and what she was doing or not doing or what she might do one day - INSTEAD God protected me from myself.  

He gave me the perfectly good gift of getting to know my child without any worry.  Without fear.  With just peace.  To get to know Cate - as she is - not as her scan is.  And what a perfect good gift Cate has been to our whole family.

As I was telling Nate (bless his heart) all these things as they were going through my mind - would you believe me if I told you that my phone went off?  My WeChat App.  And it was Cate's orphanage doctor.  She had sent Cate's scans.  The scans we had asked for before, during, and after meeting her.  The scans that were unable to be located.  Were sent to me - on my couch - from halfway across the world - on the same day I had seen them for myself from our doctors here.  

There really are no words.  Other than - Thank You, God - that our family can say.  There is no way that anyone will ever be able to convince me that God didn't completely protect me from myself - and how grateful I am for that can't be put into words.


We saw our neurologist the following week and by this time I had had time to process all the things I had seen - and really, how "unimportant" what he had to say regarding an actual "diagnosis" seemed to us at this point. He has been so wonderful and has reminded us constantly - "we treat kiddos, not scans".  When I told him how shocked I was actually comparing her with her pictures - for lack of a better explanation - he basically said "then don't!"  Yes, she has all the things we had convinced ourselves she didn't.  But that doesn't change her. What she is doing - and what she is going to do.

He believes that based on her pictures - her brain injury happened in utero - and that because she was in the protective shelter of her birth-momma's belly - that her brain was able to focus on re-wiring - and that her strong side has taken over function for both.  Any other option, in his opinion, she would not have lived through.  How grateful we are for her birth-momma.  For her protection over Cate's life.  For giving Cate a chance at life.  For allowing her to be a part of our family.  For keeping her safe.  We may never know her, but I hope somehow she can sense that Cate is safe, taken care of, and loved beyond measure.  

As for Cate, she is Cate.  She is a lot of things - but a diagnosis isn't one of them.  She may need help with things as she grows and matures - but I have no doubt in my mind that she is not going to be stopped.  I can't wait to see what she decides to do with her little life.  I can't wait to cheer her on.  I can't wait to share how God continues to work through her (and Skylar and Wyatt and their ability to wrap their arms around her from day one!) in my life.  I hope that if nothing else - through sharing what God has done for us - it will make anyone who reads this join us in being thankful for the miracle of life.  














Friday, August 3, 2018

When the Rubber Meets the Road....

In the last week or so - I have found myself thinking "I should share this struggle I am having..." or "I should write down how I am feeling frustrated in this moment..." and "this is the hard part I haven't shared yet..."

In the middle of all of this adjustment period at home - the grief of losing my grandmother too soon - right before we left for China - has hit me square between the eyes.  There isn't an hour that goes by that I don't wonder why God couldn't have given her just a few more weeks here on earth with us - so that she could actually put her hands on the little girl she had faithfully prayed for for almost two years.  I keep reminding myself that God's plan is for me - not against me - and that I don't have to have the answers to this question - I just have to trust that this is His plan. So as you read this, please give me grace - there is a whole lot of emotions happening in this house!

So here it goes.  Adoption for our family has been the biggest blessing. Cate has adjusted (so far) wonderfully - and it is so easy for me to share the wonderful-cuteness and sibling love that truly is - at the end of the day - really is what is mostly happening around here.  She was made for our family - I have no doubt.

But the truth is - there is lots of hard mixed in with the cuteness, the kindness, the giggles and the sweetness.  Lots. Of. Hard.

Like watching your new daughter hit her siblings repeatedly and expecting them to do what she is telling them to do.  

Like watching her scream in the face of a person who is just trying to actually play with her because she has never been taught to share - or how to play together.

Like watching her scream over who-knows-what.

Like watching her throw herself on the floor because she isn't immediately given what she wants in response to her hitting and screaming  - and silently cursing the nannies who just moments ago I was so thankful for - because they took care of her to the best of their ability - yet completely failed to help prepare her for siblings because they let the loudest kid in the orphanage - or the "favorite/princess" get whatever she wanted.

Like sitting on the floor beside her while she is in "time out" (time in) and [patiently] waiting on her to decide she is ready to try again - even it takes an hour - which sometimes it does.

Like wondering - am I adding to her trauma if I let her cry - or tell her "no" - or don't give in to this?  Am I adding to her trauma if I don't let her have what she is wanting?  Am I making her dependent on me by doing x-y-z - or is that what she needs in this moment and I'll deal with the aftermath later?

Like having the thought "she is hurting my Wyatt" and having to catch myself and remind myself that she is mine too - and she really doesn't know better.  

Like wondering if Skylar and Wyatt are really as okay with everything as they seem - or are they just sucking it up and dealing with it and will they let it out later that they are - in fact not thrilled with how they are being treated.

Like not being able to leave the room or eye-sight line of Cate if there isn't another adult around without a full-blown panic attack happening. 

Like having to explain multiple times to my six year old that she will never be left somewhere because we can't get her the medical care she needs - even though that's how she ended up with a sister.  

Like having to explain that Cate's mom did - to the best of our knowledge - love Cate.  

Like watching Skylar and Wyatt be happy-sad over how Cate ended up as their sister.

There is a whole other level of second-guessing my mom-decisions that comes with adoption -- that I had been warned about by the moms who went before me -- but I never anticipated that level of true paralyzing fear that I might possibly add to the trauma her little two-year-old-self has already endured - or that by chance something I do could make her miss her orphanage.

There is also the fine line of providing security by providing new boundaries and enforcing them in a healthy way.  But am I doing it too soon?  Too late?  Too stern?  Too lenient?  Too much?  Not enough?  Over this but not that?  Over that but not this?

I feel like in the moments when I get so overwhelmed that the fear chokes out the joy - the Lord speaks to me - usually through Cate.  She will "sing" part of a song she hears, or randomly hug someone, gently touch my face and use the word "geeeennntle", or point to my phone and say "cheese" with that precious squinty scrunched up little face - and its the tiny bit of encouragement I need in that moment to keep going.  

Because in the middle of all of the hard - there is lots and lots of joy.

Like hearing Cate say a new word and immediately praising herself with "gooood giiiiirrruuuuul"!

Like watching Skylar and Wyatt introduce Cate to their friends, teachers and random people in the store.

Like seeing Skylar and Wyatt celebrate her every little tiny victory.

Like watching Skylar and Wyatt cheer Cate on as she attempts something new - and encouraging her to try again if she doesn't succeed.

Like seeing all three of them work together to empty the dishwasher - and watching Cate learn where things go - and seeing her become more comfortable with her home.

Like them all voluntarily sharing food (and being thrilled because it's not off of my plate this time).

Like hearing Skylar and Wyatt pray for the other kids left behind at Cate's orphanage and knowing they truly have a burden for others - and watching Cate fold her hands and squint her eyes while they pray.

It is worth it.  She is worth it.  It will take a long time to build up trust in her - she doesn't understand that family - this family  really is forever.  It won't be tomorrow - and it might not be this year - or next year - or the next year -- but I - WE - promised to pursue her, love her where she is - and do the best we can - second guesses and all - to help her know and understand love and family - and that is what we will do.  Struggle bus and all.  That is what family does.  We will continue to focus on all the happy, giggly, fun, silly, peek-a-boo, laughter and joy that is happening - and continue to trust that in time - the other will fade and she will be able to truly know the love that comes with a family.

















Wednesday, July 25, 2018

One Month Post-Gotcha Day

This time last month I was on my way - in a van - running late - to meet Cate for the very first time.  I still can't believe its been a whole month.  I remember feeling frozen with fear, nerves, anticipation, excitement, anxiety - yet at the same time I was filled with overwhelming hope.    

I will never forget that moment when her nannies picked her up and put her in my lap after I had been kneeling beside her talking to her for a few minutes - saying "this is your Mama - this is your Mama". At first she was slightly rigid - I was holding my breath - and after looking at my face for a minute - she let out a breath and sunk back into my chest - molding her little body into mine.  (I am crying just writing this.)  

I had dreamed of this moment since I first let myself become hopeful while staring at her picture.  Would she scream? Would she pull away?  Would we have to wrestle her away from her caregivers?  Would they force her to come to us?  Would she slap, hit, kick, bite? Would she feel like we were kidnapping her?  Would she be stoic and brave? Would she just be silent and limp?  Would she refuse to look at us, but accept her fate?  Never in my wildest dreams did I dare let myself think there would be comfort - dare I say - acceptance - in those first few moments?






When I look at the pictures now - especially of her gotcha day and the visit back to her orphanage - I can see sadness that I didn't see in the moments when we were there.  I definitely see some uncertainty and grief - and some days - we are still experiencing those things.  I am able to recognize these emotions a little bit better now than I was when we were still in China.  I think part of me was just so thankful she didn't bite me and completely push me away - that it made every little thing she did feel like she was accepting me.  We see a lot of the uncertainty return around bedtime or naptime - which continues to be the time we struggle the most.  Part of this we believe - she more than likely has never been in a room alone before maybe even during the day - - and even though she is sleeping in a room not completely alone - its not the same as a room full of her friends.  Part of this could be because she was used to the sound of babies crying all around her - or, truthfully, she may never have had the option of falling asleep - she might have very well been medicated to go to sleep each night.  The truth is we really don't know.  The truth is also - nothing brings out the selfishness in this momma like a baby up past 8 p.m.  It has always been my time and I have been able to catch up on work, TV shows that I want to watch, reading - or just sleep in general.  Truthfully, I am so thankful she loves her daddy [almost] just as much as me now - and he is able to help in this area - so (1) I can finally go to the bathroom by myself and (2) we can tag-team bedtime now because it takes a long time - a LONG time.  

But speaking of not knowing - one of the things that has caught me off guard over the last month is how frustrating and sad it is to not know.  The first major doctor appointment we had outside of our regular pediatrician (who thankfully has been super understanding and has gone completely above and beyond during our transition) asked a hundred thousand questions.  Even after I explained our situation - and tried to make it clear that filling out all the paperwork ahead of time had already upset me - I finally had to say - listen - we really just DO NOT KNOW.  We don't know if she had a traumatic birth, we don't know how much she weighed, we don't know if she has had shots, or history of this and that - we don't know if her mom used this or that while she was pregnant -we don't know if she is allergic to anything - we don't know!  I'll have to do this multiple times over the next months - and it is going to just have to be okay that we don't know.  



God has answered so many of our very specific prayer requests regarding this first month with her -including our prayers about quick bonding with siblings.  I was so worried about Wyatt.  Almost sick to my stomach.  He has been our rowdy one - quick to temper and difficult to calm down.  He has been the baby for so long - and while he verbalized his excitement and had a million questions about her coming home - I was fearful he really had no idea what he was getting by having a younger sibling.  He hasn't missed a beat.  He loves her with a full-boar-pedal-to-the-metal kind of love that can only be slowed down momentarily if Cate rejects him with a true slap in the face.  Even then,  he will not be deterred when it comes to giving her constant hugs and kisses.  I can't count the amount of times I have had to say "please let your sister up, please let her breathe, please give her at least 6 inches of space, put her down, be careful when you squeeze her....." Mercy. This is what I prayed for though.  I am certain the day will come when he completely is annoyed with her - but so far - other than typical sibling spats - he just can't help himself when it comes to loving her.   Skylar has been a second mom - which I am certain doesn't surprise anyone who knows her.  In China, the babies call anyone who takes care of them "Ma" and Skylar is always having to remind Cate - "I'm Skylar - Jie Jie (sister)".  Skylar has been patient and kind and extremely happy to be sharing a room and space with Cate.  We are very very thankful for how everyone has bonded so far.







One of the biggest questions we have gotten is "how's her English?"  We have been shocked with how quickly she has picked up and seems to understand the majority of what we are saying.  Even in China after just a day or two we would say "go get your shoes - are you ready to go - come on - where is _____ - do you want ____" and she would communicate with us by pointing, babbling, yes, no.  We were on the elevator with another Chinese couple at a hotel during our last week in China and they looked at us and Cate - clearly surveying the situation - and looked at her and said "Ni Hao" (hello)  to which she replied "Hi".  We all got a good laugh.  Now that we have been home she has learned a ton of words and expressions very quickly.  Hi, Bye, See Ya, Good morning, Night night, Mama, Dada, Wy-it, Jie Jie (Skylar), Come on, Banana, Eat, Thank you, Watermelon, Sorry, Want more, Snack, [You're] welcome, outside, up, help, down, please, shoes, diaper and probably some I am forgetting.  Communication was one of our biggest fears going over there - and we are so thankful that she has been so receptive and her language seems to be blossoming.  She also attempts to repeat 99 percent of what we say - which can truly be hilarious.


Cate so far has loved everything that that we have given her to eat.  The only thing we really had trouble getting her to try was PB&J, surprisingly.  Skylar and Wyatt both had one and she was sitting between them and Skylar was able to talk her into trying a bite - she liked it! Hoping this continues since both of my other two can live off of PB&J and it sure makes a trip to the pool or beach so much easier!

We are sort-of in a good groove - and Cate seems to not mind much of anything we do.  She has visited family, the pool, the zoo, church, several friends and even been out to eat a few times - she is probably our most go-with-the-flow child - as long as she is fed she is usually very content.  



She has also totally warmed up to Nate - she says "Good mor'nan" each time she sees him in the morning and is very excited when he walks in the door before dinner (we are all very excited then).  Ha!



  



All in all - the past month as been so much smoother than we expected.  Yes, there have been hard moments - moments where communication was difficult, we couldn't soothe or calm her down and had no idea why she was upset, moments where exhaustion overpowered any other emotion and moments where the chaos of three felt overwhelming -- but the good, sweet, laughter-filled moments have far far far outweighed the other.  I have cried more tears in the last month than I have in years probably - happy, sad, frustrated, thankful tears.  ALL the tears.  But mostly just truly grateful-to-God tears.


I think my  biggest surprise at this point is how badly the kids are already begging us to adopt again.  They are so burdened for babies without mamas and daddies that it breaks my heart.  Skylar seems to have new questions everyday about Cate's birth mama - and how a mom could ever be in a situation where they would have to chose between taking care of their baby and leaving them for someone else.  We have tried to gently explain - with the limited information that we have - that we just assume she did not have access to the medical care that she knew Cate needed - and there came a time around 6 months old - that leaving Cate where she knew someone would find her and be able to take care of her - was a better option for Cate.  Cate's birth-momma didn't leave her because she didn't love her - her momma loved her so very much that she wanted her to have help that she couldn't give her.  Is this true? We don't know.  There are a hundred scenarios - but for now, this one seems logical based on the information we have and also seems the most tender to explain to a 6 year old.  


Still, Skylar feels terrible - but so thankful.  She says things like "I am so sad her mom had to do that.  But I'm so glad she is here"  which is EXACTLY how I feel. 

She also says things like:  "If everybody would just adopt somebody - the orphanages wouldn't have any more babies."  And that is enough to stop me in my tracks.  I digested this statement over breakfast through tears one morning as the kids were discussing how many babies we should have in our family.   I know that not everyone is called to adopt - or at least to do the adopting - but I feel like after this experience - even just a month in - I have never been more convicted that we are all able to do something.  Our pastor, Joby, said something shortly after starting the process that made it so much easier for me to pursue fundraising and to accept the help that was offered to our family.  He said there are three types of people (regarding mission trips - but in our case it easily translated to adoption) - there are the pray-ers (those who pray without ceasing, meet other needs), the pay-ers (those with financial means to support someone) and the players (the ones doing the adopting).  We can all fall into one of these categories.  We have had so many people who have supported us with cards, notes, reminders they are praying, meals, things for Skylar and Wyatt, diapers, hand-me-downs - many more bought t-shirts, sponsored envelopes and gave generously. All of us can do something for somebody so that there will be one less orphan.   


I know that Cate has been a blessing to not just our family - but so many - and I am so thankful that we fought against our fear and said yes.  I am praying that our family's story will help encourage just one more person to step out and say yes to adoption.  

I mean - we could have missed this......






Today, on our one month celebration of Cate joining our family - she sang part of the song Good Good Father in her sweet little baby voice.  

One month ago she was in an orphanage.  One month ago she had no concept of a father.  One month ago she had never heard the name of Jesus.  

Yet here she is - singing about her Heavenly Father.  Here she is feeling loved, knowing love, being loved.  It's just who He is and it's just who she is.  We are so thankful for the gift of adoption and we are so thankful that our Heavenly Father has gifted us with Cate.


Cate Sings



















Friday, July 13, 2018

Thursday

Today Cate and I took the jogging stroller out for a little spin - something I have missed doing! Since the big kids were at VBS - we went and parked and I decided to take the scenic route to see how she did.  She seemed to really enjoy it - although, truthfully she didn't sleep well so she might have been too tired to fight it.  We tried the park afterwards - but she had zero interest in the swing - and I didn't realize how little core strength she has until I put her in it and she immediately slumped forward.  I pushed her a couple times - but she kept saying "up" reaching out for me and signing please.  It was just as well because it gave me time to shower before picking up Skylar and Wyatt - which is what she really wanted to do.  As soon as we got back in the car she pointed to the car seats and started babbling and saying "Wy-it" "Jie Jie".  I think it is really safe to say she loves her siblings. 


I finally got a good picture of Wyatt and Cate this morning - suprisingly when I looked back at the 10  or so that I snapped  - this was the first one.  Which makes sense because I told him - just look at me and smile for two seconds and then you can look at her.  HA!  That's exactly what happened.







Look at my cute little stair steps!  



Sweet girl has already learned what to do when she sees me hold up my phone in her direction "cheeeeeeessee".



Bedtime tonight was exhausting.  We actually tried giving her warm milk to calm her before bed - which I think she really enjoyed - and just as she was about to get to sleep - our bedroom door barged open - Wyatt was "coming to check on Cate" -- which completely messed her up.  (Lucky he is cute and really was upset he upset her.)  She cried and cried (and cried and cried) after that.  To say I was frustrated would probably be an understatement.  I am really struggling in the area of knowing whether I am being worked over (which my gut tells me I am - because she wants to sleep on top of me) or whether she really just needs extra patience at bedtime right now. We haven't been home very long at all and this is all so very very new - to all of us! Thankfully, Nate relieved me after a while - and she let him pick her up and hug her but immediately wanted to be put right back down in the bed beside ours and went right to sleep. (See, I think she has my number.)  Maybe next time Nate will do bedtime. 

This will be our first weekend (where we aren't completely sleep walking) as a family of five!  So excited!





Thursday, July 12, 2018

Wednesday!

Cate finally tried one of the muffins she made on Monday.  I tried to get her to eat one yesterday - but she refused and only wanted her egg.  Of course, with the encouragement of Skylar and Wyatt she was more than happy to try one. I think her smile says it all.  Delish!


Pre-VBS Photoshoot made me realize how difficult it is to get "good" smile and three kids looking in the same general direction in the same picture.  Also, I might never get a good picture of Cate and Wyatt smiling because he is always "kithing her fathe".  

On the way to VBS this morning he said "Isn't it so cool that we get to keep Cate forever?"  Yes, yes it really is.










Skylar:  "Mom! Look how sweet we all are back here holding hands - take our picture!"



I'm going to enjoy this before the new wears off and the sibling arguing starts going three ways.

We introduced Cate to Moes after VBS let out since Nate goes back to work tomorrow we figured one more family lunch was needed.  Cate ate half of a burrito bowl, chips and queso and most of oatmeal raisin cookie.  I'm so shocked at the amount she can put into her tiny body!



We saw the pediatrician this morning and she was very impressed with her language skills and general health.  We are so very thankful for a good report.  Lots of questions still exist - and may always exist, truthfully - based on what we don't know about her past.  There are several specialists we will be seeing over the next few weeks to try to get more information about her long-term health conditions and diagnosis.  We are so thankful for how well she is doing - and I really couldn't be more thankful that the Lord has given us such a peace about her medical "stuff" even before we knew her.  We will share once we have more definite answers - and as we feel necessary - but we are so thankful for the amount of love and support we have received this week alone.  I don't think I have been out of the house once that I haven't seen someone who has hugged my neck (only because they are attempting to hug Cate who I'm wearing - I'm sure! HA!) and said something encouraging to us.  We have been blown away by the amount of love this girl is receiving and we are so so SOOO thankful that we are able to share her story - and our families call to adopt with whoever is willing to listen.