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.