Tuesday, February 28, 2017

6 Months Home

A year ago, Jay and I were anxiously awaiting word from China about the acceptance for our sweet boy. Every day a year ago seemed to drag on, and time felt like it literally just wouldn’t move on our behalf. A year ago we tried to keep ourselves busy, but the thought of Jude was always present. A year ago we had a stable routine, had quite evenings, simple weekends. We were strangers to medical complexities, frequent doctor visits, sibling rivalry, and well... chaos.  Its crazy to think about a year ago, it seems like FOREVER ago! We were certainly a different family and all of us different people back then. I look around now and see this crazy, busy, fun, loud life we are living and I thank God for every second of it.

Jude has been a part of us for 6 months now! I am shocked but at the same time I also feel like he has been with us so much longer than that. In fact I feel like he has always been here. He has changed so much in such a short time.

He has learned a completely new language, had two surgeries and numerous medical tests, learned to ride a bike,  has started school, has his first best friend (a girl cough cough), he has started karate ( with other children adopted from China), can sleep alone in his own bed in his own room, had his first ER visit for stitches, he has developed his own sense of style (which leaves us scratching our heads sometimes), wears big boy underwear (at least for most of the day), has grown 2.5 inches, and above all else has adapted so beautifully to his new life.
(Loves gloves and rolling every article of clothing!) 
 (stiches after a fall at school)

A year ago our sweet boy was spending his days in an orphanage and his nights in a foster home with several other children. He was never rocked, or sang to, never had his own toys or cloths. A year ago, he lacked adequate medical care, wore constantly soiled diapers, went to sleep in a cramped toddler bed which he was forced to share, and didn’t have the slightest idea what a true family looked or felt like. He is starting to open up about life in China and some of what he describes is hard to hear.

 (the picture to the right was taken shortly before we arrived; his eyes are so sad and he looks like a totally different boy from who we know today. Thankfully we have never seen those eyes since).

He grew up in a nice orphanage, compared to so many others, but that is not where children belong, they need to be in families. Children thrive with the love of a family and I am watching it first-hand every single day. People say he is such a lucky little boy now, but I promise them always that we are truly the lucky ones.

I really don’t like to think about what life was like a year ago because we were the ones missing out!  Our stable routine, quite evenings and simple weekends have turned into  a constant adventure of some sort. Our days are spent juggling classes and doctor visits, our evenings are anything but quite with two boys abounding on the hardwoods, and our weekends are packed full of karate, basketball, bike rides, park visits, fort building, and gun fights.  Jay and I are constantly looking at each other and smiling behind the antics that raising two little boys provides.

Our oldest loves being the comedian and center of attention and Jude is certainly learning from the best, but Jude is more the dry comedian type. He has us laughing aloud everyday with the things he says and does and the faces he makes.  Our oldest loves to wrestle and be physical, while our little Jude is sweet and gentle. While he may be sweet and gentle, he is LOUD! All boys can be loud but Jude, well he is loud always! He is constantly talking or singing and doesn’t seem to stop until he is asleep. His big brother has to remind him that other people get to talk sometimes too.

Both the boys are constantly moving, running, jumping, climbing, shooting guns, and riding bikes…they are boys through and through. It has taken some time for big brother to adjust to having Jude around. I imagine it isn’t easy giving up the spot light as the only child and only grandchild, but he is adored by Jude (which I think helps!).

Everything that big brother does, little brother needs to do too.  Jude was actually the big brother in China, but now he is the little one and he is learning what all that entails. It truly is fun watching our boys together because even though it’s only been 6 months, they are true siblings; they bicker, they yell and tattle, they constantly want what the other has, they need to be where the other is, and are distressed when the other is in trouble or sick or hurt. I never grew up with siblings so I love watching their relationship play out. Don’t get me wrong there are days the bickering and fighting drive us crazy but I try and remind myself what a gift each is to the other. They are learning about life and relationships together.  They have a bond that I hope will be unbreakable as their futures play out. Though they were born in two radically different countries to two radically different mommies, they now share a new life together. But their pasts, while drastically different, are strikingly similar too. Jayden may not agree at this exact moment, but adopting Jude has been one of the best things for him too. I know that Jude has changed all of us, for the better.

With all that said, there have been scary times along our six months together too. Jude is far more medically complex than we ever knew. He has endured countless medical exams, tests, and surgeries since his arrival and nearly every test has come back with another surprise dianosis.
It became quite overwhelming in the beginning, even for a seasoned nurse practitioner, but God has literally provided everything we need to care for this little boy and more. Our insurance coverage recently changed providing amazing completely covered care to adopted and special needs children, we were accepted into an assistance program for disabled children that covered nearly all his recent medical bills, Jays job reimbursed a substantial amount for adoption related expenses, and we have been blessed with friends and family who have worked to ensure amazing and timely care at the local hospital and clinics.  It has been quite amazing watching the details of his needs, and ours, be met. I think back to when we were reviewing Jude’s file. If all his needs were spelled out in black and white would we have felt “comfortable” taking on these needs? I shudder to think what the true answer to that question would have been, but thankfully God knew what we needed and didn’t need to know to move forward. Trust me there is truly bliss in ignorance. Now, we would and WILL move mountains for Jude and he deserves nothing less.

We were very concerned about bonding and attachment with our Jude. As I have discussed previously many orphans have difficulty attaching to anyone given their history of abandonment and constant change in caregivers. Lack of attachment leads to so many difficulties with maintaining relationships and understanding basic feelings like empathy. When we first met Jude he really didn’t seem to care that he was leaving all he knew behind. He didn’t cry when he came to us, in fact he was all smiles (not a good sign). When we walked the halls of his orphanage he showed us around but no one really had an impact on him. It was like he really didn’t care and wasn’t attached to much there. It was concerning. We did get tears when we attempted to go into his old school room. So much in fact he wouldn’t enter and I did so on my own while Jay walked him around the rest of the building. He was scared but didn’t have the words to tell us why. We made a conscious and deliberate decision to focus on cocooning our little man for 3 months when we first got home. I stayed home from work and he never left my side or my sight, not even to sleep (we co-slept). It was exhausting to say the least and created a lot of sibling rivalry initially. But I am so thankful for that time. At 6 months home I can say emphatically that Jude is very well attached to us.

He cries every time I leave him and while heartbreaking, it is a beautiful sign that he doesn’t want our connection to end, not even for a few hours. He constantly seeks us out for love and snuggles. Sometimes he will get up in the middle of dinner just to come over and get a hug and a kiss before returning to his meal. In strange places, he will hide behind me to avoid contact or glances from strangers. When he looks at pictures taken any time before his arrival to our family he gets very upset that he is not there too. He doesn’t seem to understand that we used to be a little family of three before his debut. Several times throughout our day I will hear, “I love you Ma” out of nowhere, just because at that moment he thinks about love and wants to remind me how he feels.  Every time I hear those words, it melts my heart.  We have had two mandatory social worker visits already and she agrees that he knows where he belongs, right here with us, forever.  

I don’t know why God choose for our son to be born half a world away from us, but I am forever grateful for the call to adoption, for the journey (as long and as heartbreaking as it was), and the growth that God provided all of us along the way.  I mean we started out thinking we were going to adopt a healthy Ethiopian infant, and our hearts were changed and challenged for years, until we finally brought home this beautiful medically complex Chinese 4-year-old whom I simply can’t imagine life without.  Had Jay and I decided nearly five years ago, (to the day) to travel, or have biological children first, or pursue other dreams before starting our family through adoption, we certainly could have missed all of this, and could have missed him. I am thankful for the callings in our life. I am thankful for a God that calls and a God that equips, and a God that provides!  I am thankful for a God that sees even little forgotten people and has a plan and a purpose for their life (I can’t wait to see what my children’s are!). My hope is that Jude’s story will continue to inspire others to be open to the cause of orphan care and open to God’s callings in their own life, whatever they may be. Callings are scary, trust me I know, but its scarier to think of what life would have been like had we said “no”.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Home with the warrior

I have spent over a month contemplating what I would write about once home with our sweet boy. This blog has always been a transparent canvas for my thoughts and feelings throughout our four-year long process to bring him home and I wanted to cap off our return with a true account of what our Journey to Jude was really like.  I started a post describing our trip to China detail by detail and day by day, but after hours of writing and weeks spent in my little boy’s presence, I realized my post shouldn’t detail our trip but the very reason for the trip, our Jude.  Trust me parts of our China trip were almost indescribable, like the Great Wall for instance. It is just mind blowing how and when this thing was built and the view… well it is simply breathtaking. Jayden was quite the popular man in China, particularly at the wall and the summer palace. Many young Chinese girls asked to take their pictures with him. I guess seeing a blonde hair, blue eyed cutie is not all that common in China. But despite the amazing views and crazy travel experiences we encountered, the most amazing part of our journey was obviously getting to finally meet our families missing piece and now the true journey has just begun.

                                       (Above) Summer Palace; a beautiful tourist park with temples and lakes
                                        (Above) Jay at Great wall
                                       (Above) View from the Great Wall
                                       (Above) View from Great Wall
                                        (Above) Jay and Jayden at Great Wall
                                        (Above) You guessed it, Great Wall!

For over 4 and half years we dreamt of the moment we would actually lay hands and wrap arms around our little one.  This tiny (literally 3% percentile in weight) human captured our hearts 8 months ago from half way around the world. Now that he is finally home, calling us momma, baba (daddy) and Gugu (big brother), life has new meaning for all of us. Our exhausting wait is over and now a new exhaustion has taken its place. He may be tiny but he is full of energy, and this boy loves to talk and run and play! Instead of spending our days anticipating paperwork and approvals, we spend them teaching connection, love, patience, English, and the meaning of family. We are all in awe of this warrior boy, and our love has deepened in an absolutely beautiful way. Please don’t misunderstand me though, the last several weeks home have not been easy and he is not completely lovable all the time, none of us are! Again, this blog is about truth in adoption and while it is beautiful, it is never easy and is not how social media always portrays.  

Back to China; the trip in one word was exhausting! Jet lag is no joke, but beyond the time difference and the toll it takes on you mentally and physically, is the sheer exhaustion of emotionally preparing and executing the actions of trust, care, and love. We have been preparing for this moment for years now by reading personal blogs, various books, and attending seminars on this exact process. With that said, it is in no way easy to implement day by day, hour to hour, or minute by minute. In fact, while we had ideas of how to create attachment once home, we had little clue as to what we should do in our first few moments together. I think jay and I figured that gem out moments before we met Jude, and that’s when the fear set in. Let me digress for a moment. On the third day of our trip, while Jet lag was still fresh and active, we (along with another couple) were ushered into a van and driven 15 minutes to the city of Hefei’s civil affairs office. While I could go on and on about the driving in China and how a 15-minute ride can feel like a car chase from the movies, our poor little boy spent 4 times longer than us in a cramped car without his familiar caregivers. He was given a backpack stuffed with potato chips and candy to appease him for the journey. It became evident quickly that he likely had not been exposed to these treats before as he hoarded them from all of us in fear we would take them away. The office itself was located on the 4th floor with an elevator that was not working that morning. We climbed the four flights of stairs to a small, non-air conditioned, musty room with two small tables and 4 chairs. As we waited in the office, our nerves continued to climb. We prepared some little toys and snacks on the floor as well as cameras for his debut. While there were about 10 of us total in the room, it was nearly silent. Then came the self-doubt and the “what if” questions that sneak in when you are about to do something huge. We had no idea what to say or do when he walked in, what if he wanted nothing to do with us? What if he screams to go back? What if he is nothing like his pictures and videos suggest? What if he medical needs are more than we know about? Suddenly we got word they had arrived and we could hear some soft spoken mandarin by the escorts. He walked in behind them, slightly wobbly on his feet, but with a big smile on his face and he was gently pushed (literally) in my direction as the escort described that I was his “momma”. Could you imagine being pushed toward someone and told, this is your mom now?! I felt so happy but also so sad for him and his heart in that moment. I can’t imagine the fear that this little one endured, but he put on his brave face and followed script so to speak to walk away from his old life and boldly into his new one. He was so much smaller than I expected, and holding him actually felt like holding a baby in some ways. His legs were like little noodles and they went limp as we lifted him up. He was not used to be being held and he lacked the ability to wrap his legs around us like most children learn to do. He was very unsteady on his feet, as I said, but we also realized his shoes were far too big for his tiny feet. He told us, through an interpreter that he brought a backpack full of snacks but he obviously welcomed our suckers and drinks too. In fact, he chugged the water we brought without stopping before putting it down. He would do this for the next several days before he learned that we would always have a drink and snacks readily available for him. A guide would later tell us “He will be so happy to eat and drink and talk whenever he wants!” What that implies is that he was not able to eat, drink, or talk whenever he wanted before….

We all sat on the floor playing with toys for awhile. Jay and I sat close so we could touch, smell, and listen to the little one who we had only dreamed of for so long. He smiled at us while playing but had very little engagement in playing with us. It was an overwhelming moment as we had anticipated, but the moment turned in an instant when Jayden took a toy from Jude to show him how it worked. Suddenly this smiley boy’s demeanor changed in an instant. He scowled, growled like an animal, and yelled. In a moment already extremely overwhelming, fear and doubt reemerged but much more profound.  He did this several more times before we left that office and in the first few days that followed. If I’m honest, something inside me wondered “what did we just do?! What if he has behavioral issues beyond our control? What if he hurts Jayden or us? What if….” I have found that fear and worry can have that power over us when we don’t look beyond ourselves. Jesus taught on that subject when Peter asked to come of the boat. God has told me several times throughout this journey that He was in control, He knew who our son was, called us to patience, and above all God constantly called us through this process to rest in the knowledge that “the wind and waves still know his name”, meaning nothing is beyond Him and nothing surprises Him. And like Peter, we were not to keep our eyes on the waves, but on Him.  He did not promise us a fast or easy adoption. He did not promise us one without fear or without doubts either. But He called us and asked we trust in Him. We believe that God called us specifically to Jude. We have seen proof of this along the way and believe it now that he is home more than ever. There are families who have sadly traveled to China, experienced similar scary behaviors, and who have backed out of their adoption due to fears and unknowns. Jay and I made a promise to God and each other when we said “YES!” to Jude, that “no matter what or who we get to in China, he is ours and we are his”. We prayed a lot over our little man in the first few hours and days and the survival behaviors soon diminished. As we began to care and meet his needs our love grew, the connection increased, fear diminished, and doubts erased. We have never seen the growling or yelling like that again.  

Jude WAS a dramatically independent 4-year-old when we first met. He was made to be this way given his early life experience. He had to look out for himself because no one else would.  Jay and I have been taking that independence away. We are taking over bathing him, brushing his teeth, putting on his cloths, feeding, holding, and soothing him. We have never seen a child bathe himself like Jude used to. It was quick, rough, and yet very thorough. Same with brushing his teeth. I would describe his self-care as aggressive and fast. I doubt he had a lot of time to get these activities done before.  He was used to soothing and calming himself but because he is four, he learned to do this by banging his head back and forth and sucking his fingers until they were raw. His hands had very dry skin on his fingers from sucking the skin so hard.  We have purchased a baby monitor and now monitor for these behaviors and intervene immediately when we see them so that we are the ones soothing him from here on out.  We are taking him back to the basics, as a mother and father would care for their new baby, so that trust can develop and the result so far is that after just a month in a family, Jude is improving. He has started whining. We actually need him to whine (can’t believe I typed that!) because at his age its how he communicates that he needs something, especially since he hasn’t mastered the English language yet. When he was scared in China, he would silently cry but comply with whatever we were asking. He never had a choice or a voice in an orphanage. It was heartbreaking to watch, but now Jude CRIES! We give him choices and we encourage his voice, even his cries and whines. He is learning through every encounter that when he cries or whines, we will meet the fear or need head on for him. We aren’t giving him everything he wants, but he gets comfort with the “no’s”. We still have and will have for some time, really hard days. He gets stressed and attempts to self sooth by rocking, head banging, and finger sucking especially at night and in the car. When this happens, and if we can, we have forgotten our plans and headed straight back to home where he feels safe. We can’t always do this of course, as his pediatrician recently said “Jude is medically complex”. We have so much testing and specialists to see, sometimes on a daily basis. I pushed back many of his appointments but some are very necessary because Jude has some scary medical diagnoses. During medical days we hold him, I carry him on my chest, we whisper in his ear how loved he is and safe he is and how its almost done. Jude has had a lot of medical procedures, hospitalizations, and surgeries in China and he has multiple scars on his tiny body as proof, but he was always alone. No one from the orphanage stays with these kids during hospitalizations and foster moms have other children to care for, but that era of his life has come to an end. Our lone warrior now has an army behind him, and he will not ever be alone again.
                                      (Above) Home Coming Crew
                                               (Above) Home coming
                                          (Above) Love dress up!
                                                    (Above) LOVES super heros
                                                (Above) Breathing treatments and inhalers have no become a new daily necessity but as long as we have nerf guns and bullets, he does them like a champ.
                                                 (Above) We don't go far from home, but do make it out for Jaydens baseball games. He is very eager to join.
                                              (Above) Testing day

So let me end with what I started out to describe, our Jude. He is stubborn, inquisitive, incredibly smart, silly, tough, brave, and beautiful. He already makes us extremely happy, tired, anxious, challenged, and proud. He is a momma’s boy through and through and I am not minding a bit! We knew Jude would change a lot once home, and obviously we are seeing that, but what we did not expect is how much WE would change from being around him! He challenges us each in areas we needed to be challenged and changed in. We are learning patience, sharing, compassion, and grace (among a slew of others). God is literally using this boy to transform our lives daily and on days when we struggle with our changes, His presence grows stronger and we find we are capable of doing the seemingly impossible. God knows all our needs and is working through many people to meet them. We have been truly humbled by our family and friends. Their help through our first few weeks home kept us a float and mentally sane! With our basic needs provided for, we were able to focus on the more important stuff. We consider each now as a fellow warrior in Jude’s army. Jude spent 1541 days, 220 weeks, and 50 months as an orphan; but he is an orphan no longer! He has a family that extends far beyond the walls of our home and the stretch of our arms. Many people have written with sincere hearts how blessed and lucky our little man is, but I have to disagree with them. Jude is not lucky; in fact, he is one of the unluckiest persons I have ever met. He was born with several congenital life threatening issues, he was abandoned by his birth parents, spent years in an orphanage, and has multiple medical needs requiring more tests, pokes, and surgeries ahead of him. He is not lucky. He did not ask for any of this. But, he is blessed, and loved, and cherished; both by us, family, friends, and by God. And his life surely will be a testament to us all.