Friday, April 18, 2014

6 Months!!!

Ethan has been our son legally for over six months now. Sometimes it is hard to believe it's been that long, and others it feels like he has always been here. We are adjusting well as a family of seven, and Ethan has been receiving speech, occupational and physical therapies. He is making great progress in all areas and has gone from a 9-12 month old developmentally, to a solid 24 month old. He is almost 4 years old, so he is still delayed, but we see that having a family and just living life has made a huge difference in him.

Yesterday, we went to his preschool Easter Egg Hunt, which was a lot of fun, though he didn't quite understand the concept. Once he realized those plastic eggs had candy in them, he was pretty happy about it. As we are progressing through his treatment for his spasticity in his leg, he is having a hard time with maneuvering, but we know this is temporary and he will develop the strength necessary to run around again soon.

On an emotional level, it will be much longer before Ethan is capable of typical interaction with his peers. It may well be a long time before he interacts appropriately with us, his family as well. We have seen a lot of growth there, but he is resisting forming any attachments to his father. He has attached very well to me, and I take that as a positive sign, but it is definitely a process, not an event. Few people can comprehend the dramatic change between the face the child shows in public and the one he shows at home. I don't claim to fully understand it myself, but it takes a constant vigilance and an emotional control to avoid unintentionally reinforcing negative behaviors. How to deal with these things differs from child to child and family to family, but I will say it has been a real learning curve with lots of ups and downs for us....but mostly ups...he is my son. He makes me want to pull my hair out some days, but really, what kid isn't that way at times? He is a boy I choose to love, not because I carried him in my womb, but because he needed a mother and I said, "Yes."

If you know a mother who has adopted, be gentle with your words. Note that just because it may not be something you would do, it does not help her in the slightest to keep reminding her of that fact. If you know a "trauma Mama," rejoice with her over the little things. Those baby steps forward that likely don't seem very impressive to you....believe me, they are huge to her and she may need to celebrate every positive thing, no matter how small, just to get through her days. I know of so many Mamas who struggle daily with very hurt who don't make progress. They need to hear that they are doing good things. They need to know they are noticed, loved, valued, and most of all WANTED in their social circles and places of worship. Not because they are saints for "rescuing" these kids, but because they are still people who love their friends and their God.  It is incredibly common for parents of adopted children, particularly special needs children, to become isolated because they seem "different" than before, or because they don't agree with the choice. I admit to being "different." Adoption changed my views on the world and cemented in me a passion for aiding families and children. I have seen what happens to children who are forgotten behind iron gates. Yes, I am changed, but I am still me. Please know that none of us are secretly thinking, "I'm so much better off than you." None of us think that you should run out and adopt a kid like ours. It isn't a race. It isn't a competition.I think our culture is so hardwired toward the "Mommy Wars."  We made a choice because we felt it was right for us, not so we could have some altruistic deed to hang around our necks...or over your heads. Please, please know that. Know that while sometimes our adopted children cause chaos, drama, heartache, pain, confusion, etc....they also cause us to feel praise, awe, excitement and pure joy. Don't be afraid of us. We won't try to "convert" you to the idea of adoption. It's OUR life. We still love hearing about YOUR life. We love being viewed as "normal" no matter how our family is pieced together.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's been a while....

I apologize for the lack of updates. We have been home for about 3 months now. Our time in country was truly amazing. The culture, the resourcefulness of the people, and the food...oh my, the FOOD was great.

Our process was long and heart breaking at times, but it was also filled with so much joy and opportunities for learning. I will always hold a special place in my heart for this strong European nation.

Leaving the group room

One last apple from the orphanage grounds

Eyeing the gate

Leaving the gate forever

In the car
Exploring the apartment

First Happy Meal

Washing machines are so much fun.

He said he was going bye bye.

Asleep in Mama's arms

2nd night with his Mama

We were delayed in country due to a passport issue. Ethan's home city has a longer passport process than most, but what really delayed us was someone in the capital city who forgot to put his approved passport into the envelope heading back on the train. This meant another 3 days in country. Of course, compared to the 9 weeks I had already been there, that was nothing, but an extra 3 days in a foreign country with a recently freed child is draining. The 2.5 weeks we had alone together were hard and heartbreaking, but there was also joy. I spoke to him in his language as much as I could, but he began speaking English pretty quickly.
We were blessed to have a place to stay during our final week. Though we had never met, Jamie, with Grace Haven Ministries took Ethan and me into her home. Ethan's fits did not phase her. She introduced us to the rest of the team they have in this lovely little village. While there, I was able to attend church which they hold in a home, and I was able to have people around who understood the challenges of adoption. They also run a ministry for parents of special needs children who choose to keep them. It is still not the norm in this country, but I am thrilled to see these families who are the beginnings of change in their country. The emotional support that final week was much, much needed. I encourage you to look at their page and see the work they do, and the inspiration behind it.

The peacefulness of a village is a welcome relief with an overstimulated child.

Cheesing at Jamie's house.

Who says it's trash? It's a hat!

The church surprised me with a cake for my birthday!

Such a nice thing...lifted my spirits.

And my "Happy Birzday" cheesecake. This was priceless. Wonderful last night in country.

My lowest point was when the passport was left out of the mail train. It was not bad being there, but it meant I would miss my oldest son's 12th birthday. I had missed by youngest child's 3rd birthday already. I am not sure why it was such a devastating blow right then, but it was. Jamie helped me pick myself up and keep pushing forward. We received Ethan's immigrant visa on my birthday, and it was the best present ever! We had a celebratory dinner at a restaurant, and Ethan behaved quite well. Then it was packing and rest before a 2:30am ride to the airport. The trans-Atlantic flight was rough, but BIG KUDOS to the Lufthansa flight crew, one of whom was a very engaging man whose friend adopted from China. He understood what we were going through and why Ethan was melting down so loudly. By the end of the flight, my son was running around the plane, picking up everyone's trash and throwing it away, and when he ran out of trash, the staff gave him a package of napkins and just let him throw them one by one into the trash. It may seem rather silly, but it was a life saver. We were delayed in Chicago because immigration computers were down. This caused us to miss our connecting flight home. I was devastated by this point. It was only 2 hours until the next flight, but it was sure a tough 2 hours. We grabbed some snacks and I got some gum because by this point, it had been 24 hours since I last brushed my teeth. I made sure Ethan was changed and in clean clothes (he left in his pajamas). At last, we boarded the hour and a half flight home. Of course, we were both exhausted. This was a small plane, and they kept the cabin dim. It was sunset. Within 10 minutes, Ethan was sound asleep. We were delayed on the tarmac waiting for a gate, and finally made it off. I set Ethan in his stroller and we began the walk to baggage claim. I realized as I walked through the corridor that despite my exhaustion, I was increasing speed with every step. I knew my 4 other kids and my husband were waiting there for us. We rounded the corner, and they came into view. My neighbor and her 2 kids were also there and had brought a couple of toys for Ethan.

And then I saw tiny, red headed 3 year old came running toward me. She had the hardest time with the separation. She jumped into my arms. Before I knew what hit me, I was being bear hugged by my 9 year old son, who rarely shows affection, and my 6 year old was hanging at my waist. My 12 year old hung back for just a second before tearfully hugging me. They all greeted Ethan, who was in the stroller and holding one of the toys, taking it all in. My mother, who was the kids' caretaker while we were away, was very happy that I was home. We grabbed the luggage and headed out to the van. Ethan loves car rides in his car seat. I think the security of it is easier for him than the open feeling of cars in his home country with no seat belts. He was thrilled. Sweet Ella told him right away, "Don't worry Ethan, I am going to teach you how to eat gingerbread." I told her there were lots of things she could teach him like how to use the potty, but she replied, "I don't want to teach him those things! I want to teach him how to eat gingerbread!" Of all the random things...but that is my Ella. We came home and let Ethan run around the house a bit and play with some toys. The other kids filled me in on all their latest news and then we made our way upstairs for bath, stories, songs and bed. I don't think I was ever so happy to see my bed as I was that night. It felt like a marshmallow!

We jumped right into our new normal schedule with my husband returning to work the next day and the kids going to school at their respective times, and Aidan doing his online school. It has been a blur in many ways. Some days it feels like we just got home last week, and others like it's been forever.

Ethan started school just before Thanksgiving. He is in a special needs preschool that is part of our public school district. So far, he is doing quite well. The physical therapist and occupational therapists have just done their evaluations of him and we are going to have a meeting soon to get his education plan fully in place.

We are thrilled with how helpful our school has been with getting him started so he can have as much time as possible to catch up before kindergarten. English is coming along very well and medically, he is doing well too. We will be seeing the team of specialist at the Cerebral Palsy clinic at the end of February, and I am excited to see what they will recommend, particularly for his legs.

I have been chronicling our adjustment period in a private Facebook group. I have not done so here because Blogger is open and I am not quite ready to allow the trolls to rip me apart for being honest. What I will share here is that I LOVE ETHAN. I love him as though I gave birth to him. I wasn't sure how that would develop, but it did. In doing the things for Ethan that meet his needs, I developed a true bond and love for him. We love those whom we serve, and let's face it, we serve our kids more than anyone else in this life. It is harder with a child who has already learned that his needs may not be met, but in meeting them every minute of the day, he is learning to trust. We have not had what I would call a smooth and easy transition, but I cannot deny the huge progress he has made. I am excited to see where we will be come June when this school year is over. I am excited to see how he progresses. It has been hard, but the progress is undeniable.


First day of school

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving day

Christmas cookie day at school

Photo attempt...he is quite the ham

Best shot we got!

Movie time!

Christmas light display with sisters

Look! I got twins in a box for Christmas!

Goodbye for now!

Saturday, September 21, 2013


This post is part two of our adoption story in country. You can read part one HERE

"And then...they brought us our son."

I will refer to our boy as "N" for the time being.

As we sat waiting in an entrance way, with our luggage stacked by the door, a nanny appeared with a little, 3 year old, grinning, blue-eyed, ball of energy! It is difficult to describe the thoughts and emotions swirling through me at that moment. There were other people there as it is the waiting area for the treatment side of the facility as well. The adults in the room were all smiles, and they were perfectly happy to let their children interact with N. 

N's caretakers kept trying to introduce us as "Mama" and "Papa," but N was too busy exploring to care. We had very few things accessible from our luggage, but I pulled out a container of bubbles. I was sure he'd be fascinated with them, but N just thought I was crazy. Why would he sit still and look at soap bubbles when there was a suitcase there? He didn't much care what was *IN* the suitcase as much as he enjoyed playing with the zippers. I just watched and chuckled as he would unzip and zip the suitcase and the outside pocket, over and over again. We grabbed a ball from the ball pit, and he discovered the hilariously fun game of, "throw the ball and watch Daddy go get it!" 

It wasn't long before they had to take him away for lunch. He didn't want to leave, but we promised to be back. We dropped off our luggage at our apartment, ate lunch and bought some bananas, cookies and juice to bring to the afternoon visit. When we got back to the orphanage (after only getting slightly lost), we were able to take N outside to play. That was where we discovered the slide. I wasn't entirely sure he could climb the stairs with his cp, so I helped him up. Each time he got settled on a step, I would say, "step" and he would step again. Then, he started repeating after me, "step! step!" and taking steps each time. I loved it. Daddy was catching him at the end. It was a pretty fast little slide and I worried that he would be scared, but he loved it and kept coming back to do it over and over again. 

We fed him the banana, and a couple little cookies, and gave him a juice box. He knew was juice was, but has clearly never had it in a box with a straw. Because N has a type of cerebral palsy, it was hard for him to drink the juice, but he sure gave it his best effort. We enjoyed our visit with him, and I began to feel an enormous calm about the situation. 

Now, for the way this all came about. 

Little N was born in a certain country that has recently banned adoptions by Americans. His parents, however, were not citizens of that country. When he was refused at the hospital, he entered a baby house there. In Eastern Europe, a person's citizenship is not so much based on where they are born, but on the parents' citizenship. There is also a law that states that citizens of other countries cannot be kept in the orphanages of other countries. And so, last year, all the paperwork was completed and little N was brought to this country and this orphanage. I do not know if his parents were from this region, or if he simply went where there was room. But either way, little N was given a chance. Had he remained in the other country, it would have been impossible for him to be adopted. In the year since he has been here, one domestic family came to see him, but could not accept his cp. And then, we came, specifically looking for a child with cp, and through the most excruciating, round-about process, ended up here. No advocacy groups come here. Most kids with special needs get foster families here...but certain disabilities are still very hard to place. The ones people can see with their eyes are the hardest. And so, little N waited. I never could have imagined how this process would unfold, but God knew. 

We attend a small branch of our church here, with English speaking missionaries. Last Sunday, a woman introduced herself, and told us that years ago, she placed her grandson for adoption because she could not care for him properly. He was adopted by an American family of our faith. He is now an adult, and is coming back here to serve a two year mission. She was so very proud, and so thankful for his family. She said the same family also adopted another boy who had problems with his legs. His future was pretty grim in this country, but after being adopted, he received two surgeries and is now an impressive hockey player! It's stories like this, and more importantly, the people sharing them, that have stirred my heart and strengthened my faith beyond what I could have imagined. 

Where I once felt anguish, I now feel hope....and joy. I cannot publicly show N's face until after court, but this one sums it all up. This was the first time I held out my arms and said, "N, hug Mama?" He thought about it a second, smiled, and ran into my arms. I am so thankful that my husband took this picture. It is my favorite. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013


This post is the hardest one to write. We arrived in Eastern Europe on August 19th, full of excitement and anticipation. We were just a few days away from meeting our little girl. We have her bed set up with polka dot sheets and a fluffy, soft, purple blanket. Her picture hangs above our 5 year old's bunk bed so that she can see her and pray for her every night. Everything we have worked the last year for has finally arrived.

And all flipped upside down. 

No matter how hard I tried, I could not find peace that lasted. We met Carolina. We had several visits with her at her facility. She is incredibly strong, determined, and physically well. She has beautiful, dark hair, olive skin, and dark brown eyes. We discovered her absolute love affair with candy...but not chocolate. Carolina is a white chocolate kind of gal. We began to make all the plans in our minds as to what kind of care she would need and what type of schooling would be best. And then we were finally left mostly alone with Carolina and were able to see the extent of her institutional behaviors. We know why she has them. We know that living in an environment with no education or nurturing is incredibly detrimental to a child's development. We know that she has had to learn survival skills as a necessity. We know all these things. 

And we know what life will be like for her for a long time to come.

And we thought we were prepared....and perhaps WE (my husband and I) were.

But our younger kids are not. 

 I knew if we continued on, we could help her....and I desperately want to help her. Oh the potential in that beautiful girl! She deserves a safe, happy, healthy home.  

But so do my daughters, M and E.  

My heart was ripped in half.

My husband and I sought out the missionaries from our church and we sat and discussed our situation with them. They were so supportive and caring. We prayed and prayed. For almost 24 hours, I cried and prayed, never leaving the bedroom of our apartment. Finally, my husband said, "If you had seen our videos before we committed, would we have committed to her?" The answer came quickly and surprised even me. "No, because I would have known she was too big and too rough for the girls." He looked at me and said, "I think you have your answer." I realized I had been so torn because I was fighting the promptings God was already giving me. I wanted an answer like my dear friend, Lisa, received HERE. I wanted the super moving spiritual experience.....basically, I wanted to tell God what to do. How rebellious and proud of me!

I felt the prompting telling me that my part in this plan was to bring an update so Carolina's family could see her and know she is theirs. I felt it...but Lord, I PROMISED to go get her! How can I do this? How can I leave her? How can I explain this to all the people who helped us get here? What a failure I am! I was ashamed.

I have no words to describe the pain and sorrow I felt as I realized that I couldn't do it all. I couldn't provide everything this precious child needed without sacrificing the safety and well-being of my other children. But HOW could I walk away? I was there. I met her. I saw her great potential, and I LOVE HER.

But I love her too much to just bring her home and disrupt. I love her and my other four kids too much to bring her in as a daughter and sister, with the intention to send her away. This is not pointing fingers at those who have had to disrupt their adoptions, but it isn't something one should plan to do, and has far reaching effects. 

We told our facilitator our decision and we were on a bus the next morning back to the capital city. Immediately, we were told some brief information about a couple of children that met the criteria of our home study. "I don't care." I thought to myself. The pain was so fresh, so raw. My heart could not feel any joy. Then the messages started coming in....the dreaded explanations. What will people think of me? I know I did not choose what some people would have, and there were some voices of harshness over it. But mercifully, I received an overwhelming amount of messages of support, most of which came from the people I would have expected to be upset. One by one, messages kept coming in, "I understand. No judgement here." These wonderful mamas, many of whom have children with heartbreaking issues, took time out of their days to show support to me. They knew how powerful my grief was. They understood the conflicting feelings. Most of all, they knew that I needed to be uplifted at just those moments. They knew how to help me shoulder this when all I wanted to do was hide, cry, and run home. 

I stayed in a daze for a while. I didn't really care about much. I missed my kids and considered running to the airport and jumping on the first plane home. I wanted to pretend I didn't know about this country and the orphans who wait behind closed doors and iron gates. 

And then it happened. It was just a flicker as I walked down the street in the rain. As I looked up at a sign that I couldn't read, I saw in my mind, a boy's face. It was the strangest thing, as I wasn't thinking of children at all. My facilitator had briefly shown us a couple of cell phone pics of some kids she knew or knew of from friends that might meet our home study criteria. I looked at them just to be polite. I'd just flown across the world for a girl I was SURE would be my daughter...and look where I was.

Why on earth would this kid's face come to my mind? We were still wanting a girl, if we could find a child at all. We got a call about two days later saying we had an appointment to go look at files and select a new referral. How the heck am I supposed to do that? 

A one hour appointment. A blind referral. This is so far out of my comfort zone, I cannot even begin to describe it. 

We went in to the office. I felt numb inside. My husband was my rock, assuring me we would know what we were supposed to do. They began to place files in front of me. We ended up with about fifteen files. The first one was the little boy I had seen in my mind. We read his file. "Uh-huh." was all I could manage to say. We read through the rest of them. We pulled out children with secondary needs that were beyond our abilities, ones who really didn't meet our home study criteria, and we ended up down to two. Both were boys. But I was prepared for a girl.... "This is your new reality." I heard in my mind.  O.k. we will have a new son. One boy I recognized from Reece's Rainbow, and I knew he had a family coming for him, but they read his information to me anyway. I began to feel uneasy about some of the issues there with siblings, and quick as a blink, my dear husband picked up the file of the other boy and said, "That settles that."
And just like that, we had accepted his referral. The psychologist who shows the files said, "I knew he was the one when you first walked in here." Apparently, there was a certain look on my face that I was not even aware of when that first file was placed in front of me. It's the little, they aren't little things, they are simple things, but they are
great big mercies and reminders of my Father in Heaven's love for me. He is mindful of my sorrow. He knows how hard that trip was. He knew I needed the decision to be obvious, because He knew I was doubting myself and my ability to hear His voice. 

Thirty six hours later, we were on a bus. We didn't know what to expect as we headed to a new region that doesn't process many international adoptions. But one thing had disappeared...fear. I felt a peace beyond understanding. This perplexed my brain as I was now completely out of my comfort zone, my plans had changed (and I do not like it when plans change), and I had no idea what was about to happen. I should have been a wreck, but instead, I was completely calm. When we arrived at the orphanage, my defenses went up....I can't take that heartbreak again. I was rather awkward and spent a lot of time looking like a deer in the headlights. I listened intently as the doctor read me the medical information. I nodded, put on my best brave face, and then.....they brought us our son.

To be continued.......

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Hello Everyone!
I know I am a terrible blogger. I do not have any updates on Carolina, and I know that is what most people want. I hope to be able to blog about our trip while I am there.

Here at at home, things are chaotic as we prepare to travel, but I am enjoying these last few days with the kids before I leave. M is very excited for her new sister, but says she will really miss Mommy.  E is excited to be staying with Grandma, but she says, "I will talk to you on my pink cell phone. But I need minutes!" Have I mentioned E is not quite 3? And the pink cell phone is a TOY, but she is certain it would work if I bought some minutes for it. I am going to miss that sweet, spunky red head.  R is excited to go back to public school, and is thrilled to be staying with Grandma and Grandpa. A is pretty happy and relaxed about all of this. Not much really worries A.

Ammon and I are beyond excited to finally meet our new daughter and, God willing, be named her parents. We feel incredibly humbled and blessed by all those who have prayed for us, donated to us, guided us along the process, shared experiences of their adoptions, shared with us about raising post-institutionalized children, and all those who have encouraged us along the way. I tried counting up all the people who have helped us along, so I could recognize them here. That post may come later, but for now, there are too many to name without leaving out many. We will never know many of the people who have helped us, as they asked to remain anonymous. God knows who you are though, and I pray He blesses you for your generosity and humility. I am very emotional as we embark on this stage of the journey. This has been a humbling and amazing experience so far. I wish there were words to express the depths of my gratitude, but "Thank You," is all I can say.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We have a travel date!

That's right, my devoted followers, we FINALLY have a date to travel to our sweet girl's country! We will be there on August 20th! That's 32 days! Wow!  We are beyond excited. We are still lacking about $4000 for airfare, so if anyone feels like bumping our FSP, we would be most grateful. 

Now that we are getting so close, I promise to update the blog more often. However, I thought today I would share some pictures of our family and life. 

Our garage sale to raise adoption funds....

The kids helped out and had a great time....even when it rained.
This basket was the source of hours of entertainment.
A decided to see if he could bake a potato. It took all day, but it ALMOST got done. Gotta love "Beakman's World" on Netflix...tons of fun ideas.

A loves to cook. This is a cheesecake we made to take to dinner at my parents' house. Delicious.
The drive in Root Beer Stand....with baby size mugs!
Nothing like a frosty mug of root beer.
Tree house picnic
More tree house fun

Park fun
Creek fun
13 school years between each of us. This is my baby sister's graduation.
E with Aunt Katie...too cute not to share!
E and M at an historic farm park
Glow necklaces at the drive-in movie 
Dance revue...M is shy....
No, she's really not!
R's dance revue costume...boys can take dance too.
Totally psyched and ready to dance!
Daddy and his Father's Day crown, made by R


We can hardly wait to meet Sweet Girl and bring her home to be a part of our family. There is no limit to what she can accomplish. She just needs to be given a chance. 

Blessings from our family to yours,