Foster Care and Adoption Awareness Month

November 9, 2017

Today is World Adoption Day, and this month is foster care and adoption awareness month, at least in the United States. Although I write about foster care and adoption often enough, it seemed like a good time to squeeze in a few more posts about the topic.

Today, I thought I’d share a few articles I’ve written for Romper about foster care and adoption, in an effort to educate people about an otherwise sort of under-the-radar topic.

Things Foster Care Taught Me About Parenting

Things You Don’t Think About Until You Become An Adoptive Mom

Words Only a Foster Parent Would Know

Misconceptions About Foster Care

Questions Adoptive Moms Wish You Would Ask

Questions Adoptive Moms Do Want You To Ask 

And finally, Reasons You Would Be A Great Foster Parent

I also wanted to ask if you have any questions about foster care or adoption you’d like me to answer? I know I wrote an enormous post about foster care and adoption in Ireland last weekend, but in case that sparked any questions about either country, I’d love to chat more with you. You’re welcome to email me (emily@fromchinavillage.com) and I really do love to talk about both topics. I’ll likely answer you with a novel, so watch out!

You’re also welcome to just comment here and I’ll do my best to answer.

I know I haven’t exactly been posting regularly, but I’m working my way back. For those of you who have stuck with me, I appreciate your patience! It’s been busy season after busy season, but I’m finally getting my blogging energy back.

A Halloween Road Trip to Dallas!

November 6, 2017

One of my best Texas friends moved to Dallas last year and it’s left a pretty big hole in our life! Halloween is her favorite holiday, so we decided to road trip to Dallas to spend the holiday and a few days after with her and her family. The catch, of course, was that Michael had to stay in Houston to work. So, a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old in a car for a 3.5 hour drive with just me. I was relatively confident we’d make it at least halfway peacefully, but I had no idea what would happen after they both woke up from naps. Neither Noah nor Maya really like the car very much, so I was a little nervous.

But apparently I needn’t have been worried! At least on the way there. Noah slept for almost the entire 3.5 hour drive, only waking up for a few minutes of crying every hour or so. Maya napped and then played in her seat and ate snacks for the whole ride, only getting restless in the last half hour. I couldn’t believe it!

(Just a note, one of the things that’s been keeping me from blogging lately is that my camera is on the fritz. So these are unedited iphone photos, because the other thing keeping me from blogging is time 😉 I’m aiming for less perfection and more frequency!)  Maya was a strawberry for Halloween and Noah was a pumpkin. Both costumes were lacking in the creativity department, but they were easy and cute, which are the biggest requirements in this season.

When we left Houston it was 83, and when we got out of the car in Dallas it was 52! We ate gumbo and Halloween candy and the kids ran around the yard taking 3 licks of dum-dums and then digging in the bowl for another.

The next day, it was hot again, so we took advantage and played outside. Maya had never scooted before, but Olivia taught her the ways. Now I think we know what her Christmas gift will be! We also stayed in our jammies until noon and then spent the afternoon at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden running around the pumpkin display. It was crazy! Apparently there are 90,000 pumpkins of all shapes and heirloom varieties. Maya and Olivia literally didn’t stop running from house to house, pumpkin pile to pumpkin pile the entire time. There was a Wizard of Oz theme, which you may see glimpses of in these photos.  On the way home, we sort of missed the prime nap time window and stopped at the slowest gas pump known to man, through which both kids screamed relentlessly before we got on the highway and knocking out. But they were troopers and we made it to Huntsville before Noah was letting us know that he was really very hungry. I took the opportunity to let Maya stretch her legs, and while I struck out trying to find a playground, we found a field full of horses and a helicopter. Double win in Maya’s book!  All in all, a total success, despite the fact that Maya ate about 6 dum-dums on the way home and I needed about half a bottle of wine by the time they were put to bed that night. But still, it wasn’t so bad for wrangling two little ones on my own – and well worth it for a visit with dear friends!

Why We Came to Houston – And What Happens Next

November 4, 2017

A few weeks ago, one of my dearest friends, who is now the editor of a paper in Limerick, Ireland, asked me to write a piece about fertility treatment and adoption in Ireland. My friend Rachael knows the ins and outs of why we moved to Houston – she and her husband even visited us this time last year, when had baby J (number 2). We met when we both thought we were food bloggers – many years ago now – and now that we’ve both realized we’re actually writers (and in her case, an editor!) we’ve remained close friends despite 4,000 miles between us.

So Rachael emailed because she had a feeling the article would be up my alley, and of course it was. It was the entirety of why we moved to Houston, in 1800 words. It was particularly timely because the Irish government had just announced plans to cover fertility treatment for couples (along with outlawing commercial surrogacy and regulating the heck out of embryo and sperm donation) starting in 2019. It gave me an opportunity to talk about a subject that isn’t just near and dear to me, it shaped the entire trajectory of my life.

A few years ago, actually the night before we got the call that Maya was going to be joining our family, I shared why we were still lingering in Houston. It was a hard announcement for Michael and I to make because our lives were really and truly built in Dublin after almost 8 years of living there. I think it was even a little hard for us to accept ourselves, until I wrote the words on my blog. Not 24 hours later, Maya was in our arms.

We moved to Houston because we weren’t interested at the time in undergoing expensive fertility treatment and we had always wanted to adopt. Adoption was and still is functionally impossible in Ireland. Domestic adoption in Ireland is all but nonexistent – even through foster care (24 children were adopted from foster care in 2015, and there were 7 domestic straight adoptions in the same year). When I initially explained why we moved to Houston, I linked to an article in the Irish Times about the state of adoption in Ireland, but I didn’t go into much detail about the state of adoption in Ireland. Well, have a look at this more recent Irish Times article and know that very little, if anything, has changed in the last seven years. If the headline, “Changes to adoption law have shattered my hopes of becoming a parent,” doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what would.

The lack of domestic adoption opportunities seems, on the surface, like a good problem to have. Babies aren’t given up for adoption, that must be positive, right? Everyone has a happy home! Yay! Well, I think it’s more complicated than that. Because of the Irish constitution, parental rights are rarely terminated in Ireland. Instead, children can spend their entire lives in foster care if their parents aren’t in a position to parent them. We have friends who foster in Ireland and while they expected to have their foster daughter in their home for a few months, she has been there for over a year and they don’t expect she is likely to ever be reunited with her biological parents. Yet it is more likely that she stays in foster care for many years than be adopted. I feel strongly that extended foster care is not a better option than adoption for a child, especially because the likelihood that a family could foster a child indefinitely isn’t that high; basic everyday parenting decisions pertaining to medical treatment, vaccination, travel, school registration and the like require state intervention and approval. And even if foster parents could foster forever, it deprives foster children of the security and stability of a formal adoption. 

Among my complaints about the Catholic church in Ireland, the treatment of unwed mothers that has greatly influenced this current state of foster-care-forever is high on the list. In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, the children who were born to unwed mothers living in Magdalene Laundries were often sent (without the consent of the mother, obviously) to the United States to be adopted. Many of them never knew where they ended up, a lifetime later. My friend Sharon, the producer of Adoption Stories in Ireland, helps some of them reunite with their long lost children, but that is only a drop in the bucket. If there were 800 babies in the mass grave at the mother and baby home in Tuam, there are thousands who were wrongfully taken from their mothers and shipped away.

Giving your child up for adoption isn’t exactly glorified in the United States, but I think it’s more accepted and more understood. In Ireland, it’s more shameful to give up your child than to have your parents raise it and have it end up in a group home as a teenager because he or she is too difficult for an elderly person to take care of. The pendulum has truly swung against domestic adoption in Ireland, to the point where it’s essentially nonexistent.

Meanwhile, international adoption is a process that involves a 3+ year vetting by the Irish government before you can even start the international adoption process. During that time they will pore over five years of your medical records (you must have a BMI of under 30), visit your house, your friends and your family, review your household expenditure (down to the money you spend on gas), interview you on the finer, personal details of your private life with your partner and take you through weeks of pre-adoption courses. You have to have stopped fertility treatment for a certain period of time before applying (and have to agree to have your fertility records available to the adoption authority) and none of your children can be younger than nine months when you’re approved to begin the process. Your youngest child has to be two by the time you actually have a child placed in your home – and the kicker is that it will most likely be a child, not an infant.

Despite how excruciating that sounds, every year, hundreds of couples in Ireland present themselves as prospective parents, engaging in a costly, time-consuming and emotionally draining ordeal to prove themselves capable, safe and suitable to care for these children. And yet, the annual number of international adoptions can be counted in double digits. There are actually 80% less international adoptions in Ireland now than a decade ago.  

Ten of the 11 countries from which you can adopt into Ireland, placing countries as they’re called, only place toddlers or children, nearly all of whom have been in orphanages for years. They all have additional needs, whether they be medical or psychological. The only program that regularly places kids as young as toddlers is China, which places typically medically affected toddlers no younger than 18 months. There are toddlers in other programmes, but very few, compared to many older, sicker children. The only ‘sending country’ that allows infants to be adopted to Ireland is the United States. Typically, Irish couples who pursue this route will pay between €80 – 90,000 for the process and have to move to America for 12 weeks while the paperwork is completed. 

I believe in parenting children from hard places; both of our children came to us with medical risks we were willing to take on and an enormous lack of information that we may wonder about twenty years from now. But I also believe that not everyone who faces infertility can possibly be suited to giving what a child who has lived in an orphanage for years will need. And that’s assuming the child is healthy physically; many of the children placed in international adoption have medical challenges that range from cleft palates and lips to albinism to congenital heart disease, on top of the trauma of living in an orphanage. With the adoption program in China, you have 72 hours to decide whether the child who has been chosen for you has medical needs you think you can handle, knowing full well that the child you meet months down the road will likely have more serious medical needs than you were even informed.

I’ve never once questioned our decision to move to Houston, but delving deeper into the Irish adoption system has certainly made me more confident it was the right decision for our family. It has not been an easy journey, despite the fact that Maya came quickly and both she and Noah are an absolute dream. It has been difficult financially and it has been hard not to have family nearby to give us a break every so often. But while it has been hard to move to a different country to start and build our family, I’ve never questioned our decision, and I’ve always been grateful that we had the option and the opportunity. 

Sometimes I question our decision to return to Ireland next summer, but I have a building feeling that I am returning for a specific purpose. What if my role is to shape or shift the adoption and fostering process in Ireland such that it allows for another avenue for family-building? What if being a pushy (or at least thoughtfully outspoken) American might be an asset? I suppose only time can tell whether that is an asset at all! 

In any case, it’s a subject I’m passionate about and am hoping to work on when we return next summer. No system is perfect, but it seems like there’s at least a little room for streamlining processes in Ireland that would make a big difference to a lot of families and potential families. I’ll be sure to keep you posted along the way. 

Maya Turns Two

October 30, 2017

Almost a month ago, Maya turned two. It’s hard to believe that time has gone so quickly since she joined our family, but it’s also totally believable that she’s two because she so clever and opinionated and hilarious. I was less emotional about this birthday than I was about Maya’s first birthday, and just overwhelmingly proud of the little human she’s becoming.

I could go on about how sweet and perfect she is (and she is), but I mostly just want to remember her utter enthusiasm and excitement for the world – and often for what we think are the smallest things.

Lately, she has insisted that every night before bed we walk next door before bed to say good night and pray for the spider decorations hanging in the trees. When she spots the moon, either at night or during the day, she shouts “moon!” over and over, every time she spies it. Because of a spate of October birthdays, she’s learned how to sing “Hap-bir-day…..to-you!” Or “Hap-bir-day…cake!”

Maya’s favorite way to try to get us to give her a treat when we’re not so inclined is to say, “Tiny? One?” and hold up one finger and raise her eyebrows. I know it’s Michael’s favorite thing that she does, neither of us can bear to say no and neither of us can keep from cracking up.

At the end of the summer, I wondered when she would start putting more than single words together, but shortly thereafter she started jumping in with multiple syllable words and then full sentences. We hear “No like it” or “Maya do it” many times a day now, and it still floors me when I hear her come out with descriptive words or when she tries hilariously long words like jack-o-lantern or skeleton. She struggles with the r and l sound, rolling the l around in her mouth whenever she tries it. The c sound is often replaced with a t, so at bedtime when she doesn’t want to go to bed, she asks for “Mommy, ‘nuggle, towch,” which translates to Mommy snuggle me on the couch. She’ll give you a tiss instead of a kiss and ask for more tookies instead of cookies. It’s downright adorable and I find myself trying to capture on video all of the unique ways she’s learning to speak because I know they are fleeting.

When Maya was just a few months old, we had a foster placement that our agency thought would likely go to adoption. We had 7-month-old baby X in our home for no more than an hour when we both knew that he wasn’t ours and that Maya was meant to be our oldest child. It was a difficult call to make, to say no to a child who was so perfect in every other way, but we knew in our hearts. And seeing Maya as a big sister is so sweet after a little bit of a wait and uncertainty before Noah came along. She is already fiercely protective of him and runs to his side if he’s crying or fussing. He doesn’t like the car seat very much at the moment, so we’ll often hear Maya shushing him in the back seat or find her giving him pats to calm him down or giving him his paci.

I’m asked frequently how Maya is adjusting to being a big sister and honestly, she couldn’t be adjusting better so long as she isn’t tired or not feeling well. In those cases, she gets jealous and requests “Mommy carry you” over and over or climbs into my lap while I’m trying to feed Noah – or gives me fairly aggressive pats while I pat Noah to get him to burp. Noah was two months old before Maya showed any interest in holding him, but when she did it was hilarious. Noah is already almost half her weight and looked giant in her arms as she tried to feed him a bottle and lift him up.

Maya is never happier than when she’s outside, spotting squirrels or “‘rations” (decorations), asking me to zoom the stroller or just generally shouting, “Ooh! Zat!” as in, “What’s that?” She lives for “‘cool buses” and dump trucks and back hoes (although she uses that as a blanket label for all construction vehicles and also jeeps mostly because I don’t know any other words for construction vehicles). Helicopters are pure gold.

Every night, after we finally get Maya to bed (which is often a mini marathon involving more books and more snuggles and more snacks and more teeth brushing), we say to each other some version of “But isn’t she just amazing?” And she is. Even in her wildest and wackiest moments, she is just amazing. We are the luckiest.  Happy birthday, Maya girl. We love you millions and billions.

 

Family of Four, Documented

October 26, 2017

A few weeks ago, when it was still a billion degrees and a thousand percent humidity in Houston, we met our friends Felice and Andrew downtown at Discovery Green to snap a few photos. Andrew is a photographer and he kindly offered (well, maybe Felice volunteered him!) to document our family of four. Since becoming a family of four, we only had the photos our friend Debs took the night Michael and Maya met Noah after returning from Ireland when he was a week old, and one that Michael snapped with his iPhone timer of us, exhausted, sitting on our couch. Needless to say, I just wanted a few photos of all four of us together, maybe with me sporting a little makeup and Maya not wearing pajamas.

What I didn’t realize when we made the plan was that Discovery Green was going to be bananas on a Saturday night. Maybe it is every Saturday night, but I hadn’t thought to check what would be going on in the park before we headed down there. There was a festival going on with a million people running around and a bouncy house and music. Maya just lost her mind with excitement. It made taking photos of all four of us together really tricky, if not impossible.

So, Andrew is a magician for capturing some really sweet moments – and you can’t even see how sweaty we were since it was still in the 90s and a billion percent humidity! Double success!

My friend Felice is practically a walking encyclopedia of cultural information about Houston, despite the fact that she’s only been here just about as long as we have. She also works at the Contemporary Art Musem of Houston, so she knows her artworks. She suggested we head over to this Jean Dubuffet sculpture. I was a little worried because Maya was really starting to crash, but it’s where we got some of the best photos. Maya loved peeking through all the nooks and crannies.  We photobombed our boys, ha!  This is one of my favorite photos of Michael, perhaps of all time. He looks happy. And Noah looks like he’s about to jump ship! 

Huge thanks to our friends Andrew and Felice for making these happen despite the utter chaos that ensued with Maya too close to bedtime! There are more photos of Maya (I think Andrew really understood our girl and her little spark) to share when I finally put together a few thoughts about her second birthday. You know, one of these days when I have a little extra energy that’s not being sucked up by a tiny toddler tornado and her infant sidekick!

Life Lately

October 16, 2017

Well, there goes another month. We were just settling in to a good little routine with our new family of four when we ended up in the hospital with Noah for a 36-hour blur. After many tests and very little sleep, we were discharged with a verdict of virus. Unfortunately, with a baby so young, a fever of 102.8 lands you in the hospital for all the tests even if you leave with a diagnosis of run-of-the-mill virus. Needless to say, the interim was pretty scary and exhausting. When we showed up at the hospital at 4am, the nurse nearly jumped out of his skin when he took Noah’s temperature. Not a terribly reassuring sign!  When the dust settled and Noah got back to a normal schedule, I decided not to go back to the few mornings of work at the school I had returned to when he was six weeks old. We had found a perfect babysitter for him, a grandma from our neighborhood who sat on the couch and cuddled him for three hours at a time, but I realized I wasn’t ready to leave him again for a while. Maybe when he’s a little older, but for now he’s got me for cuddles until further notice.

Shortly after that dust settled, we kicked it all up again (albeit in a happy way!) with Maya’s second birthday. It still blows my mind that we have our perfect, sweet Maya – and that she’s already two!  Our friend Andrew took some photos of our family a few days after Noah was released from the hospital and a few days before Maya turned 2. I have more to share soon, but these are some of my faves. Despite the utter chaos of pre-bedtime downtown at what turned out to be a big festival in Discovery Green, he managed to capture so many sweet (and a little sweaty) moments of our family.

 

A Shower for Noah (and Me!)

September 22, 2017

My friends from my church mom’s group threw me a baby shower last weekend and it was so lovely. The night before the shower, I was thinking about how monumental it was, actually, to be having a baby shower thrown for me. I have the kids already, yes, and they are wonderful, but I also have the community who knew how special it would be to celebrate me as a mother as well as celebrate Noah’s arrival into the world and into our family. I am so grateful to have a community here in Houston that has walked with me through the disappointment and anticipation and absolute rejoicing of our adoption story post-Maya. Let me tell you a little more.

I didn’t join my church mom’s group until Maya was almost a year old. We joined our church probably a week or two before Maya arrived. We were looking for a church in our new home and decided to go “church shopping,” so to speak. We were going to go to a few churches in a few Sundays and see if any of them really felt like a church home to us. The first Sunday we made it all of 6 blocks from our house to the Houston Vineyard (there are Vineyard churches around the world, and several around Houston). And there we stayed. I’m not sure they knew what to make of us when we showed up just a few weeks later with a newborn that we definitely didn’t have the week before!

But they embraced us; the pastor and his wife warmly welcomed us and have been with us through several of the steps of our adoption stories, including Maya’s adoption celebration and when we had Baby J at home for a few months. We sit behind them (because we’re the weirdos who love to sit up front – I hate having to stare at the back of someone’s head during worship!) and Donna, our pastor’s wife, often holds Maya while our little one sways along to the music.

Our church is bilingual, offering worship in both English and Spanish, and offering the message translated by earphones into Spanish in real time. Before we had Maya, I wasn’t convinced I liked the double worship. It sort of annoyed me because I was too focused on the translation and remembering proper pronunciation.

And then Maya arrived in our life and we brought her to church, and the worship leaders sang her song, and we knew that Maya’s mother tongue was at least half Spanish, and of course then it was perfect that it was bilingual. Over the last two years, I’ve become ever more thankful that our church is welcoming of immigrants and embracing of those in the Hispanic community. It has felt like a really nice alternative to what you read in the news on a daily basis.

So back to my mom’s group. I didn’t join a mom’s group for ages because I was nervous. There was a very small piece of me that felt like a fraud because I didn’t give birth to my daughter. I wasn’t sure I wanted to explain over and over that I wasn’t Maya’s mom by birth, and for most of the spring of the first year we were here, we were in the thick of foster care madness on a daily basis. And I knew that whole deal was just a little difficult to explain. Little did I know that my mom’s group would include several adoptive and foster moms who knew well that level of crazy.

I also had some preconceived notions about what a Texas church mom’s group might be like, even though our church is pretty much the antithesis of what most people would think about a Texas evangelical (technically, I think?) church. Our church is progressive and inclusive and bilingual, for crying out loud. And I needn’t have been worried or nervous (that everyone would be perfect and blonde and monogrammed – yes, those were my stereotypes of Texas church ladies), because when I finally got up the guts to go to my first mom’s group, it was exactly what I needed that day and every Friday following. We’ve all joked that it’s like free therapy with free childcare. We chat and we vent and we laugh so hard, all while the sweet nursery workers mind our kids. It’s a highlight of my week. Top 3, for sure.

So when my friend Michelle asked if she could throw a shower for me, I was overwhelmed with gratitude – not only for her and her hospitality and generosity and friendship, but also for my mom’s group, my community over the last year. I remembered the mornings I explained the latest craziness of the latest phone call we’d gotten from our agency. I brought Baby J (number 2) with me one morning, and then never again. We cried and prayed together for every foster babe and every possible new addition to our family – and with every disappointment, and they all shared my excitement with each and every new development, no matter how tenuous. I remember the day I admitted that Michael and I were going to counseling to try to decide whether to stay in Houston and try to adopt again, or return to Ireland. They knew I was struggling to hold it together, and they surrounded me with motherly love and prayer.

When we found out Noah was arriving, and arriving early, I posted in our Facebook group and felt their excitement right along with me, every step of the way from Dublin back to Houston and to Noah in my arms. I realized the other day that my mom’s group has actually seen what my family has been through in the last few years first hand, they’ve walked with us through this rollercoaster season, and I was so touched when they wanted to rejoice and celebrate Noah joining our family.

Our family and friends in Ireland and Maine have been incredibly supportive in this adventure, but they’ve gotten the filtered and processed version from us after the fact. I actually think my mom’s group might know and feel what we’ve been through more acutely. By sheer regularity of our Friday gatherings, they’ve followed and shared every up and down and every excitement and disappointment, and I’m not sure you could really understand what the past two years have been like without looking at my face and hearing my voice break as I process this wild ride.

On Sunday afternoon, we had such a sweet little celebration of Noah joining our family, but for me it felt like a rite of passage I got a belated chance at experiencing. There are things I have let go of when it comes to being a mom, like pregnancy and breastfeeding, and I thought I had let go of the idea of having a baby shower because our babies have arrived in very surprise fashion. I don’t mind having let those things go, because I know our family was formed exactly the way it was supposed to be, but it sure was nice to be showered by my friends last week.

Thanks, ladies, for your friendship and for a lovely celebration on Sunday!

A few photos, including one of Noah who has definitely grown out of that little outfit he wore home from the hospital!

Michelle wanted to include some things at the shower that would remind me of Ireland, and this stout cake was so yummy! We ate it for days afterward.  Candids taken by Michelle – I actually bought my dress before we moved here, thinking one day I might wear it to a baby shower. And I finally did!  Tassels! 🙂 Michelle’s house is a mid-century modern dream. All very serious apparently!  And more sweet Noah, the star of the show (in his little high-water sweater outfit 😉

Post-Harvey Update

September 13, 2017

A small (and belated) update to let you know that we are a-okay after Hurricane Harvey. Worn out from constant fear of what a giant hurricane would bring, but gratefully fine. Our neighborhood stayed high and dry, although we were surrounded in all directions by massive flooding. It was actually very surreal watching the news – we couldn’t believe what was going on mere blocks away, when the water never even got close to the sand bags Michael placed at our door.

We were most worried about losing power with a two year old and a two week old, but that never came to pass. We had some serious cabin fever when it really did pour down buckets for days on end, but that was the worst of our problems, along with a cold that everyone but Noah picked up and held onto for about two weeks. It was a long few days of chasing Maya around and trying to protect Noah from her never-ending stream of snot!

Because of the flooding, school was canceled for an extra week for Michael and it turned into a sort of accidental bonus paternity leave for our family of four. We all got to get used to having our tiny munchkin around together, which was a silver lining gift from Harvey amidst the total devastation.

In other news, our tiny new addition hit 7 pounds 3 ounces at one month old, and we are constantly amazed by his ability to put away more formula. At nearly 5 weeks, he’s eating about as much as Maya did at 4 months. Ha! I think he’s going to catch up with her sooner than later!

Adjusting

August 26, 2017

Well, we’re just over a week in to having everyone home and officially functioning as a family of four. Thought I’d give you a little report on how that’s all going.

I’m tired, but not as tired as I should be considering how often Noah is up in the night. Maya came home from the hospital only waking up once in the night, so waking up every 2-3 hours is a little different and sort of brutal in a really manageable way. He almost always goes back down to sleep fairly quickly after eating, and he’s getting faster at chugging his tiny 2-ounce bottles. I know this phase is short, and I’m trying to remind myself it will be over in a flash. It’s hard to believe he’s already creeping toward three weeks old!

Maya has her moments, but overall she’s adjusting much better than we could even have hoped. She’s obsessed with Noah in general, and always wants to help give him things, like an entire bag of pacifiers all at once. Ha! She gets a little jealous when I feed him and wants to sit on my lap at the same time, so logistically that’s a little difficult. Thank goodness she’s still pretty small! She was actually weighed the other day and clocked in at 21 pounds, 6 ounces. And she’s just a month shy of turning 2. Peanut status!

Maya already started a new two-day-a-week daycare/pre-preschool program that’s just two blocks from our house and so far it seems to be going really well. Her class is bigger than it was at our previous daycare last year, but the day is more structured and predictable, with more of a curriculum that seems appropriate for almost two-year-olds.

Michael’s back at work already, so I’ve had some days on my own with both kids and we’ve all survived! By the time we hit 3pm everything can start to fall apart a little, especially since it’s really just too hot to take Noah outside at the moment. But once the weather cools down (and this darn hurricane Harvey skedaddles) we’ll hit the park at least once a day and that will definitely save our sanity. I’ve managed to work for Romper while Maya’s in school and even caught a few naps, so all in all I’d say we’re adjusting quite well!

I’m still trying to figure out if I can go back to work with my kids in school, but for the moment I’m soaking up the quality time I have with both kids while Noah is definitely too young for daycare or any other childcare option. Michael and I both really appreciate how long I was able to stay home with Maya – and can see in her how much of a difference that has made in her development. We’d love to give the same to Noah, but we’ll see what works best for our family in the coming months.

Michael and I are both totally shocked we have two kids, and totally in awe of the incredible gifts they are. We’re both still getting lots of great quality time with Maya as Noah sleeps so much at this age, and getting time together after they’re both down for the night. The only sad thing I’ve found is how Maya went from being my itty-bitty 21-pound baby to a giant toddler in the blink of an eye. The first time I held her when she got home to Houston, I just couldn’t believe how huge she felt in my arms – when just ten days earlier she still felt light as a feather with her head tucked into my shoulder. I wasn’t expecting that feeling so abruptly, and it’s been the only sort of bittersweet side of growing our family. And obviously something that is totally unavoidable. She had to grow up sometime, 21 pounds or not!

A few photos of life lately as a family of 4, some from waiting around for hurricane Harvey to come and go – hopefully without too much drama!

Maya was here. Ha! 

Double stroller back in action!  More helping, sometimes in a bossy sort of way that’s exhaustingly adorable.  Real life at about 3pm every day.  We tried to take a walk before Hurricane Harvey and got soaked instead. Maya wouldn’t let me put her cover up.  Both of us with post-soaked hairdos!  Family of 4 hurricane dance party selfie!  One more walk before Hurricane Harvey arrived – with my other kid. I have another kid! Crazy. Also, nicer photos after a shower even with tired mom eyes and no makeup. Win some, lose some.

And Then There Were Four / Welcome Noah Michael!

August 18, 2017

And then there were four. We are so excited to introduce to you our son, Noah Michael.

Right before we left Maine a few weeks ago, we got a phone call from our new agency to say that there was a baby to be born later in August and they thought we would be a match. They told us that his mom was pregnant and had made an adoption plan, that she had chosen adoption for her daughter five years ago as well. We were his family if we wanted. And of course, we wanted very much.

We have been praying for and working toward an addition to our family practically since the first call we got after we had Maya – asking us to consider another adoption when we had barely adjusted to the first. You might remember that over the course of 2016 we experienced considerable disappointment toward that end. Neither of us would ever trade our time as a foster family, but in addition to foster kids who came and went, we also had two failed infant adoptions. Two moms chose us to parent their future children and then chose to parent themselves instead.

So in the same way that it felt like we might never have a first child before Maya joined our family, it often felt like we might never have a second. Until we got this call. We both knew abstractly that it was really going to happen; every sign pointed toward his birth mom being confident in her decision. But until there was a real baby in my arms and paperwork was signed, it didn’t feel like it could possibly be real.

On Thursday last week, there was a very real Noah Michael in my arms. And on Saturday, paperwork was signed and he was officially ours.

I’ve written before about the heartbreak that comes with adoption, and we both felt it heavily last week. Our gain was another mom’s immeasurable loss. The beautiful thing about Noah’s first few days in the hospital was that his birth mom did get to spend time with him. She got to hold him and say his name. And while I often feel like how we act and what we do with regard to our kids’ adoptions is just what anyone would do given a similar situation, I am proud of the way we were able to honor Noah’s birth mom – and vice versa – during that in-between time.

Noah’s birth mom didn’t want to meet us, but she did want to spend time visiting Noah with her parents before she signed the adoption paperwork 48 hours after his birth. She also wanted us to be able to spend time with Noah in the hospital, and she wanted us to be able to name him, to put the name we had chosen for him on his birth certificate. Her last name will remain until we have a court date in February to finalize the adoption and petition change his last name to Westbrooks, a legality of the adoption system in Texas.

When Noah’s birth mom wanted to come visit him, she would call the nurses and they would ask me to step out for a bit. Then they would let me know when she had gone back to her room. We were sort of like ships passing in the night – or in the quiet and sterile corridors of the NICU. It was strange to think that Noah was being held by two moms during those few days, but it was also comforting. It felt like a passing of the torch, a transition from one mom to the next, a slow handing over of a priceless gift.

In addition to great gifts and great loss, there was the sheer logistics of the week. When we got the news that our baby was going to be born by scheduled c-section, we had 5 days notice and we were supposed to be in Dublin for yet another ten days. Although it wasn’t the option either of us preferred, we decided that Michael and Maya would stay in Dublin while I flew home and was there for Noah’s arrival. They would attend Michael’s only sister’s wedding, and Maya would be a flower girl.

I arrived on Monday evening and our apartment in Houston was still being rented for another few days (such a blessing! but tough timing). My dear friend Jamie drove in from Dallas the next day to be with me and head up “Operation Distraction,” and I was able to stay at her mom’s house just a quarter of a mile from the hospital, steps from the leafy and calming grounds of Rice University. I was so grateful for the moral support and excellent distractions they both provided while I anxiously waited for news of Noah’s arrival.

Noah was to be born on Wednesday, August 9th, by scheduled c-section. There was something about the wait for his arrival that made me dizzy and dazed and completely ungrounded. It was the exactly feeling I had when I had heard Maya was coming but we hadn’t yet made it to meet her. I think when we were in Dublin and waiting for a late August due date, we were able to not think about the wait because it felt like we had time to get amped up once we returned to Houston. But when I got on the plane from Dublin to Houston last Monday, I felt like I was floating and couldn’t find the ground.

At 6:30pm on Wednesday evening, just as our caseworker was starting to warn us that his birth might have to be rescheduled to the next day or even the next week, we found out that Noah had arrived into this world. At 2:47pm on August 9th, Noah Michael was born. 5 pounds, 13 ounces and 18 inches of perfection. I somehow slept that night, grounded by the weight of that 5 pound 13 ounce detail. Noah joined our family the next day, placed into my arms on the morning of August 10th.

One week later, our family of four was together for the first time. Michael meeting his son and Maya meeting her brother was another excruciating wait, and another enormous gift.

At one week old, Noah is healthy and growing. He is calm and eats better than Maya ever did at this age. He has periods of alertness where it feels like he’s staring straight into your soul. He loves to sleep with one arm out of his swaddle, and has almost regained his birth weight. He swims in newborn sized clothes and has the most perfect little features we ever did see. He squawks when he’s hungry and has projectile vomited on me twice.

The day we learned that Maya was joining our family, I distinctly heard God tell me that our baby was here; the day before we heard that Noah was joining our family, I heard God reassure me that we had been matched, that he had chosen our son for us already. All we had to do was be patient and faithful.

Our agency actually called my parents’ house while we were packing to leave for Dublin. For whatever reason, we don’t get cell service up there (darn, Cricket Wireless!) and Michael had answered the landline while I was in the shower. The image of Michael racing up the stairs with the phone in his hand, breathlessly telling me that it was our agency on the phone, will forever be seared into my memory. It was poetic that Michael had answered the phone; Michael’s obedience and humbleness were the key to Noah being able to join our family.

It would be an understatement to say that it was a difficult decision for us to stay longer in Houston or to pursue changing agencies in order to wait on another adoption. It was the most difficult time we have experienced in our nine years of marriage. It was also one of the most strengthening times in our nine years of marriage.

After discarding just about every other boy name out there, we chose the name Noah because we both simply (and finally) liked it, but its biblical echoes now feel perfect. Noah was a faithful man who obeyed God’s command for the saving of his family. I asked Michael if we could use his name following Noah just as Michael’s parents had given him his father’s name as a middle name, but I also wanted to honor Michael’s sacrifice and obedience in growing our family. Simply put, Michael is a faithful man who obeyed God’s command for the saving and growing of his family.

Once Noah’s adoption is finalized early next year, we will finally get to return to Dublin. We’ll get to struggle on a transatlantic flight with an almost-three year old and a one-year-old. We’ll get to move into the house we bought but have hardly ever seen. We’ll get to walk along the beaches where we walked just Michael and I – with our son and daughter trailing behind us or racing up ahead.

And we’ll get to stare up at those incredible Irish clouds in the vast Irish sky and thank our big, big God for a life that is bigger than we could ever have dreamed.

And a few more photos of our sweet boy. xx