Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Our Story: Bonding

We are nearly six years into the in writing of our adoption story. Most days that doesn’t seem to be the focus of our lives. We are just like every other family living the daily grind of work, bloody noses, owies, laughter, dishes, brushing doll hair and hanging with friends. The creating of our family took a slightly different recipe: foster-care then adoption. But it affects how we parent, whether consciously or sub-consciously, because how we bond and attach with our children, and how they attach with others, is affected because of their loss.

When my husband and I took our foster care and adoption classes, I didn’t have six years into the future on my radar. For me the feeling of being a mom in six years was like looking into the future when I had graduated high school. I knew eventually I would graduate college and have to be an adult. But that seemed to play out in front of me like a Hollywood movie.  It was something I could visualize, but would never actually act out.  

But here I am. Here we are. We are a family six years after. And we are still attaching and bonding. We are still trying to navigate this road to healing and make a house of love. What has been a conundrum is that the bonding has been harder for me and my daughter than for me and my son. She was older when she became our daughter and I’m sure that is part of it, but gender, I think plays a roll, too. As we have walked this journey, I’ve had to do a lot of educating and re-educating myself beyond the classes and books from the beginning of our journey.

What I want to share are four things that have been a help and comfort to our family when we are in the trenches of working to strengthen attachment and bonding with our kiddos.  These four things keep us sane and keep us loving through the circumstances that sometimes seem to be isolated only to our family.

When we worked to start new attachments where there were none, beginning with trust can be a great option.  In our case, I was able to use the attachment our children had for each other to gain trust.  When Allyson, our daughter, began to trust me to take care of Aaron, her brother and our son, she learned she could trust me to take care of her, too.  She could depend on me and an attachment began to form.  This took small consistent steps in everything I did for them.  It began with having their cups and breakfast ready the minute they woke from bed and nap, to being there to kiss their scratches and bumps, and playing with toys after meal times each day.  While it sounds simple, I can attest that six years into our journey, my daughter still needs that reassurance that Mommy and Daddy are still watching her and that she can know her schedule each day.  She still needs to know that her mealtime and her bedtime will be consistent, that morning time will come and we will be there.  Those first two and a half years without a meal time and an adult who could protect and take care of her made a lasting impact.  She will test my husband and me, so before that testing comes, I MUST set my mind and heart to know that it IS NOT PERSONAL. 

Here we are in our journey about to celebrate SIX years of my children’s journey in our family. But the biggest surprise for me that I feel is (again) not talked about in the adoption books or classes we’ve taken: six years later we are still fixing and working on the attachment, especially with Allyson. Who knew that six years would not be enough to heal not having a parental attachment for over two years from infancy? Most days require me to step back and assess her words, the rules broken, to see if it is typical eight-year-old testing or if it is an attachment testing. Sure we’ve been told about the bonding process taking time.  Realistically could it take years?  Would that feeling in your heart of finally you being the mom or dad and her really being your child take a year? Two? Four? To really solidify? When we shift our thinking about this and open up to the time it could take to heal and enable ourselves to speak openly about the situation with our kiddos, we can freely have the safety to love openly without hurt. We also must know that there is more than just a feeling of being a mom or a dad. That it is being there consistently, time and time again, to kiss the boo-boos and to provide love unconditionally.

The bonding and attachment has been different simply based on gender, geography and genes and how we relate as daughter /mother and son / mother or daughter/father and son/father.  These attachments are taken for granted that first moment when you lay eyes on your child and portrayed in our media as magical moments. But as foster and adoptive parents, we walk in with guarded hearts prepared for loss in a way because of the realities we’ve been educated about. Based on our histories of who we are as an individual, our gender, geography and genetics play into how we will bond as a parent. In the book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open-Adoption by Lori Hold and Crystal Hass, the authors speak about a mind shift in the way we think about adopting.  It is not the birth family versus the adoptive family, whether you are having a closed adoption or an open one.  When we think this way you end up creating a split person in both biology and biography.  I think we can all agree we are striving to create whole little people.  The point the authors make is on being open with our children and encouraging them it is okay to love their biological parents, too. “…we acknowledge that parents are capable of loving multiple children. So why not allow—encourage—children to do the same with multiple parents?”  When we think about it this way, we can allow ourselves to open up in love, too.  Allowing for the attachment to overtake the hurt, neglect and histories that can get in the way. If we allow ourselves to open up this way, we can take out much of the history of ourselves and help heal the history/hurts of our children without taking things personally and allowing the child to open up to attachment and bonding.

Take a step back and prioritize your goals. Are you looking ahead too much at the future?  We all need incremental goals.  We all have hopes and dreams for our children.  Those will change shape and form as their God-given gifts morph and emerge throughout their lifetime, but what about today and living in the moment today?  Add to the mix our relationships with our own parents growing up, and our “parent glasses” we wear become quite foggy when relating to our kids. Taking a step back to notice I can handle this moment right now; that this is all I need to get through is this tiny moment will make the task of bonding seem much easier to take. One moment at a time.

Remember to breathe. Don’t  take it personally. Hopefully you found some encouragement in knowing that it takes time. Six years into our story, we are still tying up all of our attachment strings. Take the time, rethink your goals, step back and look at your history and that of your child and build trust. It is so worth the investment to stay focused.

But above all else, love.   

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Resource Review: Small Town, Big Miracle

Friday, January 16, 2015

I’ve always known a mother’s heartbeat is crucial, even in the womb.  The baby soothes to it.  They even make machines to mimic it. As a mother by adoption, “mother’s heartbeat” jolted me.  Rossi didn’t hear my heartbeat before she was brought into this world.  I learned quickly that MY HEARTBEAT matters to her…her Momma.  So, I wrote a book about it…

Tara Whitmer is wife, a mother, a teacher, UK fan, and an author.  She writes..."God’s plan and timing is perfect.  I needed this lesson and to learn that I don’t have control.  After 12 years of miscarriages, IVF, heartache, etc…my Rossi Quinn was born on the other side of the world.  She healed my soul, my heart.  I’d do it all again, over and over, for her."

We are so excited for this giveaway.  
The winner of this giveaway will win a free copy of the book "My Momma's Heartbeat"
THREE people will win!
To enter:
2. Share about this giveaway on your personal FB page
3.  Then comment "Liked and Shared" under the post on FB to be entered to win!
Winners will be announced Sunday, Jan. 18 at 9:00pm CST

Rossi Quinn Whitmer

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Confessions of a Waiting Mommy: I am the Lord, your God.

I am the Lord, your God.

In the fall of 2012, we built a house. Let’s be real, we didn’t actually build it ourselves. If that were the case we would be homeless at this point. Neither my husband nor I have much skill in the carpentry/electrical/plumbing/really anything remotely resembling construction area. I remember going to build houses in Mexico with my youth group in high school and it was always quite an interesting experience. My friends and I would help as much as we could but we usually ended up playing with the neighborhood kids. I think the homeowners were thankful when they saw us put our hammers and saws down in exchange for soccer balls and baby dolls.

Anyway, back to my original point. When we built our house, our amazing builders gave us a family Bible and encouraged us to read through the entire Bible in a year. We thought this would be a fun challenge and something really beneficial to us and our ministries, so we decided to do it through the year 2013.

I’m a pastor. My husband is a pastor. The Bible is kind of a big deal for us. But we had NO idea how impactful reading the Bible as an entire story would be for us as individuals, us as a couple, and us as adoptive parents. To see the gospel laid out from beginning (like legit Adam and Eve beginning) to end was incredible. We felt like we, for the first time, were reading a narrative instead of just bits and pieces of wisdom here and there.

One of the most influential aspects of scripture was a theme running through the Old Testament. After Moses frees the Israelite slaves from their captivity in Egypt and they begin wandering the desert, there are SO many times the Israelites panic and complain and question whether or not God is actually going to lead them to the Promised Land. They doubt his faithfulness because they cannot see the full plan laid out in front of them.

Pause here. THIS IS SO ME. I am all about following the Lord’s leading on things. I love stepping out in faith and taking risks that God has called me to take. I’m a little bit of a spontaneity-junkie so this kind of thing is right up my alley. HOWEVER, I am not all about walking in faith. I want to see the plan. I want to see the itinerary. I want to know what adventure is coming next. I want to see the destination and keep my eyes focused on it. The Israelites were all in when Moses said “It’s go time, grab that unleavened bread and peace out.” However, when they started wandering the wilderness and didn’t have the end in sight, they panicked and questioned God’s faithfulness.

When God said, “Hey Maggie & Isaac, it’s go time. Adopt a child. Start that paperwork. The time is now.” - we were all in. It wasn’t a long drawn out process of us going back and forth asking if we should or shouldn’t. We literally had one conversation about it and were so confident in God’s leading that we knew adoption was what we needed to do. I don’t say this to brag or to say “look how faithful we are,” because that is the furthest thing from the truth. As willing as I was to step out and begin the process, I was even more unwilling to trust him through it.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see the Israelites begging God for answers, questioning his plan, and demanding to know the destination. Each time this happens, God simply says “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” He is referring them back to his greatest act of faithfulness in their lives. He is saying, “You are doubting that I know what I’m doing BUT remember who I am. I am the one who rescued you from slavery. I am the one who gave you freedom. I am the one who began this journey in the first place. I AM.”

When our adoption journey took turns that we weren’t prepared for, we were reminded of these passages, and reminded of God’s previous faithfulness. Every time something fell through, God referred us back to the times when he made a way out of something impossible. Every time we felt defeated, God referred us back to a time when he claimed victory. Every time we doubted that adoption was for us, God referred us back to the very moment when he opened our hearts to it.

We’re slow learners so we knew if we weren’t constantly reminded of the ways God was faithful, that we would lose sight of them. We put up a chalkboard in our house that we have to look at every time we walk into our bedroom. We started listing ways that God showed his unbelievable power and mercy throughout our process. Every day we are reminded of his faithfulness in our adoption journey. I want to never lose sight of that or forget those moments when he made a way for the impossible.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” Psalm 81.10

Friday, January 9, 2015

Our Story: Nothing Like We Planned. But Perfect.

“It will happen in time.”  “Don’t worry so much about it, it will happen as soon as you stop trying.”  We even had one person tell us “Well, some people just may not be meant to be parents.”  REALLY!  Who says that to someone!  (Rude people is who!  OOOPS, did I write that??)

We are a couple of “infertility.”  Wow---how terrible for us.  How did we ever find the strength to go on?  How did we function and get out of bed every morning knowing we were a barren couple?  Might as well sign up for a life of lonely sorrow now. 

Luckily we were not that kind of couple.  Yes we had some times we were mad and many more times we were sad.  But we truly did chose to not let this define us.  Our story is unconventional, unexpected, and has two amazingly perfect surprises.   Let me tell you our story.

My hubby, B, and I met in high school.  He was a year older and he was VERY different than my other boyfriends.  But it was truly the start of our not-so-perfect, absolutely hard, wonderful, crazy, at-times-frustrating-but-always-filled-with-love life.  We married in 1999 after dating for 5 years.  We were just 22 years old.  We definitely weren’t thinking about having children yet. 

Fast forward another 2 years.  Some friends started having kids.  Boy, that looks like fun we thought.  Let’s just see what happens we said.  We only told a few friends we were throwing caution to the wind.  We didn’t tell our families because we were still so young, everyone kept saying we had plenty of time and we needed to wait.  Pick a reason and we were given it: 1) to buy our first house, 2) to be older, 3) to have more stable, higher paying jobs, or 4) any other reason in the world that crossed anyone’s mind ever.

A few more years go by.  Nothing has happened yet.  Alright—now some people are starting to ask.  “Hey, when you two having kids?”  “How long have you been married?  5 years?  Wow---no kids yet , huh?”  We started thinking maybe I should just mention to the doctor at my next appointment that we are a little concerned it is taking so long. 

At my next appointment my doctor decides to have me try Clomid.  This will surely do it he says.  You are young, you just need a little help. 

Nothing happens. Month after month I take the Clomid, wait, not pregnant.  Back to doctor for ultrasound, new prescription, do it again.  I do this for 5 months.  I start wondering what is wrong with us?  The doctor decides to do some more testing.  We hear the news.  To have a child we will most likely have to do in-vitro fertilization.  We are referred to the nearest Fertility Clinic—2 ½ hours away.  We go, we pay the $500.00 consult fee (which to us then was a FORTUNE) and we spend 3 hours being tested.  I get my cervix biopsied on the exam table while thinking I was just getting a quick exam.  “This will just sting a little” they said---WHAT EVER!  It hurt!  Poor B is put in some room with poor lighting and some “magazines” and told to do his thing like that is the most natural place and thing in the world.  We are told again that In-Vitro is our only chance.  We cringe at the dollar amounts it will take and drive home trying to think how we will ever save that much money to then spend on a “chance” to get pregnant.  We start talking about adoption.  But how could we do that?  Won’t the child one day want their “real parents” and leave us?  Would we love the child the same as if we had one of our “own?” 

I get a promotion and we move over an hour away from home.  We settle in our new house and new city.  Then good news!  At open season for insurance enrollment and changes at my work I find insurance that COVERS INFERTILITY----EVEN IVF!!!!!!!!  Are you kidding me?  This is the answer to our prayers.  Now it is just a matter of time til we have a baby.  Simple, right? 

We meet with one of a very few doctors covered under our plan. He is 4 hours away.  But we are lucky because he partners with a local gynecologist in our town so we can do almost everything in town except for the egg retrieval and the transfers.  How did we get so lucky!  We paid a fairly small deposit to cover any out of pocket expenses and got to work!  I went to appointments and ordered the shots to start our first round of IVF.   I started the injections, at one point 4 per day.  My stomach bruised.  My insides felt like they were jiggling around every time I walked, moved, etc.  I cried at nothing.  My feelings were hurt if B even left a sock on the floor as somehow I thought it was a personal attack on me.  It was hard.  But it was temporary and would be over soon and I would be pregnant as I was sure I would be pregnant the first time around---this is the help we needed and our doctor’s success rate on live births was great. 

11 eggs were retrieved.  6 fertilized.  4 became blastocysts.   2 were transferred and the other 2 frozen for storage and for our next baby of course. 

We waited.  People asked what we would do if we had twins.  My response was always “Well, we will feed them and love them.  We do not know what 1 is like let alone 2 so we will not know any different.” 

Negative.  The test was negative.  WHAT?  What do you mean?  I cried.  I left work and went home to lay on my bed and cried. 

As time passed we decided to wait to transfer the other 2 embryos as we were going to be moving back to our hometown.  Once settled we went to our local doctor who agreed to work with the fertility doctor for the 2nd transfer so that we would not have to drive the now 5 hour drive except for the consult and the transfer.  This worked out great.  We were so happy.  This is definitely it!  We are back home around our family, we found a house and have gotten settled, we are both happy at our jobs.  
This is definitely it.  And our hometown doctor was so great and we felt very positive to do the 2nd transfer. 

We went up the night before the transfer and settled into the hotel we had booked for 3 nights.  I know, I know they say you can go back to normal pretty much the day after the transfer but heck no!  I wasn’t chancing anything by driving 5 hours back home the day after.  I was gonna lay my behind on that bed in the hotel room with no distractions or responsibilities and let these little babies get nice and comfy! 

The morning of the transfer we were up early and left early.  We drove around before heading to the clinic.  We parked and went in and headed up to have these babies transferred!  We met with the nurse, we saw the pictures of our “babies” on the computer screen, I got undressed and put on the gown and laid on the table.  The doctor came in and explained that this time he was going to thread the catheter that held the embryos into a “tubing” to hold it more steady while he inserted it past my cervix because last time there was a little trouble getting it past my cervix and he wanted to decrease the small amount of “trauma” that had caused.  I held B’s hand and we felt even more positive as surely this was definitely going to ensure it worked this time.  That was obviously the problem with the last transfer. 

The little door in the wall between the exam room and the lab opened and I saw the catheter being passed through.  The lights in the room were off except for the bright light down at the end of the table where the doctor was.  I relaxed and exhaled. I was ready.

“Clang!!”  I heard a clattering noise.  I looked up.  I saw my nurses face go white.  I heard mumbling.  I held B’s hand.  I heard someone say “How long till more will be ready?”  I then heard “That was all she had.”  Huh?  Are they out of the tubing the catheter was to be put into?  That must be it.  Oh well, I am sure they will figure something out. 

Some additional lights came on.  “I’m so sorry.  I am not sure what to say but when I was threading the catheter into the tubing it fell.  With the catheter.  I’m so sorry, the embryos are gone.”

What in the world?  Are you kidding me?  That is what was going through my mind.  I heard B mumble nervously that everything was ok.  I remember smiling at first nervously.  Then I started to cry.  

The doctor patted my knee and said “Stay the night tonight.  You two go to dinner.  Send me the bills.  We will discuss later how to go forward.”  He left the room.  I started to get up.  I was still sobbing.  The nurse had me lay back down.  She said take your time.  Do you need something to help you sleep tonight?  I shook my head no.  She said “I am so sorry.  This happens sometimes but not often.  I am so sorry and take your time getting dressed.”  She left the room.  I tried to get up. B had me sit back down.  

I sobbed for several more minutes before getting up and getting dressed.  I will never forget walking out of that room and the nurses and staff trying not to stare as I walked out and my nurses both coming up and hugging me and saying they would talk to me soon.  My doctor did not come out. 

We got into the car in silence.  We looked at each other and half-laughed and half-cried “Did this just happen?”  B asked if I wanted to go home or stay the night. I said stay the night.  We drove back to the hotel and I started texting our friends and family.  We drove into the parking garage at the hotel.

BAMMM!  A huge jolt.  B just ran our truck into a concrete pillar in the parking garage.  I start to laugh as tears also run down my face.  He gets out and goes to the edge of parking garage and screams a four letter word that may or may not rhyme with truck.  He gets back into the truck, which is very smashed but still drive able. He says we are going home. I said Ok.

The next few days and weeks are somewhat a blur.  We were devastated.  What would we do?  The nurses called to check on me.  I didn’t answer the phone.  (The doctor called me several weeks later, I never called him back.) 

We decided no more treatments. No more talking about treatments for a while.  We were taking a break. 

Little did we know after all of this that there was a wonderful turn coming in our lives. 

When we met our daughter, now 5 years old, she was only 16 months old.  We met her the day after my husband’s birthday on June 26, 2010.  I always thought if we adopted that we had to adopt a newborn.  But when we saw her we just knew she was ours.  I had tears in my eyes.  It was her.  We both felt it from the first time we met her. 

Our child, T, was a foster placement with her grandparents.  We thought for sure that we would just be able to sweep in and adopt her.  Not so much.  After about 1 billion discussions and late night texting we came to the conclusion we could not simply adopt her but that her grandparents would and we would just be a positive influence in her life.  We would be God parents to her and take her if anything ever happened to the grandparents.  We were sad at first but knew we would have a fantastic relationship with her regardless and were thankful for that.  We celebrated the adoption by the grandparents.  We threw a celebration party for them.  We were thrilled.  We did not know that 6 short months later things would significantly change. 

A few months before T’s 3rd birthday her grandfather started suffering some serious health issues.  After many more discussions the decision was made that we would have T live with us.  We all agreed that we would get guardianship of her until his health improved. They would still see her several times a week and even have her overnight weekly. 

Then the diagnosis came.  ALS.  A horrible disease.  Again we had many discussions and all agreed that this little girl should stay with us.  Then cancer was found.  We started talking about the fact that she was only 3 and maybe it would be best to have her be with us permanently.  Have a mom and dad.  Make it all official before she was older and things may get harder.  We all decided at that time we would adopt her.

On 10/3/2012 we adopted our 3 ½ year old beautiful girl.  We were all over the moon.  And little did we know there was another huge blessing in store for us.

We had started some more treatments prior to the finalization of T’s adoption.  We still wanted to have another child and for T to have a sibling.  She was 3 and the timing seemed great.  We tried IUI several times with some new techniques with no success.  After another test it was discovered I had some significant blockage and surgery would be required and IVF needed to be reconsidered.  I said I would consider it.  With my doctor and the mid-wife at the office in the room with me I looked at them both, they are both also personal friends of ours and our family, I said to them “I will consider IVF again if you make me a promise.  If there is anyone who comes to you and wants to adopt out a baby, please keep us in mind.”  They both knew we had recently adopted T and that our homestudy was still current and we were basically “ready to go” if the opportunity presented itself.  This was November 2012.

On February 6, 2013 my doctor called my cell phone.  “We have a baby.  I need to know now if you are still interested.  We have to have an answer for the person tonight.  I don’t know all the details yet except the baby is due March 3.”  (THREE WEEKS!  A Newborn baby!!!)  While on the phone I ran to tell my husband.  I whispered to him while at the same time telling my doctor “YES!” 

The next three weeks went by in a blur.  The biggest two things I remember were extreme feelings of excitement and joy but also extreme feelings of anxiety and fear.  Would the mother go through with it?  Could we come up with the expenses to cover this so quickly?  Could all the paperwork be done this fast?  We had nothing for a baby as T was older when she came to live with us. We started asking all of our friends if they had things we could borrow so that we didn’t buy anything until after the baby came in case things fell through. On Friday March 1st we received the call that the birth mother was being induced that Sunday March 3rd.  We were to be at the hospital at 5am and would have a room as well.  This was a closed adoption and we were not meeting the birth family. 

And then it was Sunday at 5:00am.  

Besides backing into my mother-in-laws car in the parking lot as we left for the hospital (I did this!  Even with back up cameras and sensors.  But sheesh I was getting ready to have a baby!)  everything worked exactly as we could have imagined.  We waited anxiously for the baby to be born.  We observed visitors going in and out of the birth mother’s room.  The day ticked away as we tried to pass time by registering for things online for the baby and keeping our family in the waiting room updated.  
At 3:00pm my doctor came into the room and said “It’s time. Are you ready?”  She told us they were ready for the birth mother to start pushing and the baby would be there any minute. 

Our son (P) was born at 3:40pm.  He was 8.3 lbs and 21 inches long.  He had a head full of strawberry blonde hair.  And he was amazing!!!!!!  He was bathed in our room.  We stared at him amazed.  Then B went out to the waiting room to bring back our son’s first visitor.  His sister.  With her Big Sister shirt on she charged through the door with her Daddy and bee-lined for her new baby brother.  Our family was now complete.  We felt the completeness. 

I always tell people that our children are the same children we would have had regardless of who actually gave birth to them.  We truly feel that.  The infertility, the heart ache, the doubts and frustrations and every feeling we experienced led us to our children, just not in the way we, as young newlyweds, had originally envisioned.  The path we took was long and at times the legal paperwork and hoops to go through were overwhelming, expensive, and frustrating. 

Our original thoughts of if we could love an adopted child as much as one of “our own?”  Well, hmmmmm.  I’m really not sure how to answer that anymore.  We have two children of our own.  Yes, they were adopted, but they are our “own” children.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Minute With Nikki - A Year in Review

One year ago, this was my husband, Brian, and I.

Though not young, we were still in our first year of marriage. Still trying to figure out who folds the laundry, what storage nook to put the camping supplies during the winter, and a bill paying organization system. Our biggest responsibilities were our 10-pound dog and our mortgage.  We were basically footloose and fancy-free.

And then one day all that changed. I saw her photo and nothing would ever be the same.

So we made some plans, got on a plane, and went to China. And then we blinked, signed some paperwork and just like that, became parents to a 10-year-old.

We were scared. All three of us were. But we figured our way through those first hours, then days, then weeks, and finally months.

And here we are now, days before our one-year anniversary. The months are soon to turn into years. We’re planning a celebration. We all can’t believe it’s been a year. In some ways it feels like it was yesterday, and in other ways it feels like much longer. I’m not going to go so far as to say that I can’t remember life before her, but I am sure of one thing – this is exactly right.

She’s doing great. We’re all not scared anymore. We truly are a family. My life is stressful, chaotic, and I’m always at least 10 minutes late, but this is right.

It all feels totally normal. One day I didn’t have a child. The next I had a 10-year-old. And it all feels as normal as brushing my teeth.

This year I suggest you say yes to something that seemingly isn’t right. Something that feels strange. Something that you didn’t plan. Because the best stuff is His stuff, and we can always count on that to be right.  

Nikki has been working as an adoption social worker for the past 10 years.  The consummate single gal was married in 2012 and started an adoption process to adopt a 10-year-old with special needs from China soon after.  Nikki loves writing home studies in the Western Missouri area and preparing families for the realities of adoption.