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!


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

Our Family of Three

August 8, 2017

Last week, I took Maya on her first Dart journey into the city to meet my friend Julie. You remember Julie, right? She used to shoot all my Styled in Ireland posts and she was the brains behind Delightful Dublin. She’s one of my dearest (and most creatively talented) friends and when Maya was born, she knit (!) her the sweetest little hat, booties and bunny. You guys, she knit her a bunny. And then she came up from Cork to visit with us last time we were home and then again this time, with her camera.

Anyway, we were headed to meet up with Julie for coffee and a stroll around Stephen’s Green.  We had loosely talked about taking some shots for a post about what to do with kids in Dublin but honestly, it turned into just an epic walk while Maya slept in the stroller and then we let her have a wiggle and look at the flowers. Julie took these shots and they are some of my favorites. I love all the green and how well she captured Maya’s glee and my adoration for my little girl. I will cherish these for a long, long time.

Maya’s currently obsessed with bugs and ants and flies and bees. She doesn’t really like them, but she obsessively watches them when she sees one. She was watching the bees on these flowers in Stephen’s Green and exclaiming, “Bee! Buzz! Go-way!”

Michael showed up after a while to take Maya home so Julie and I could go have a fancy lunch and drink wine! It was a really fun day in the city with the perfect mix of toddler, besty and wine. Ha! 

While I may not have done much with my kid in Dublin, I can tell you Stephen’s Green makes for a lovely low-key backdrop for family photos in the city! Especially with a talented photographer who manages to make it seem like we were the only ones there!

Sharing Our Most Special Dublin Spots

August 1, 2017

Tomorrow we’re filming with a producer friend of mine for her series (I think it’s in its 7th season on TV3 in Ireland!) called Adoption StoriesShe asked a few weeks ago if there was a spot we could film with Maya that was significant to us and I requested this cliff path (not the dangerous part) because it is one of our most special spots from our pre-Maya time. I mentioned to her that it was somewhere we plan on sharing with Maya as she grows older. That cliff walk is actually probably my most favorite place on the planet, but this beach on the other side of Howth comes a close second.

Before we became parents, in the easy times and the hard, Michael and I would walk this beach and it would often change our whole mood for the day. The air was never not brisk (and sometimes downright frigid) and we never returned back to the car without invigorated smiles on our faces.

It’s easy to forget and gloss over the fact that for several years before Maya joined our family, we had quite a hard time waiting and wondering if we would ever become parents. Those beach walks were vital to our friendship and our relationship when our hearts were quite sore. Now that Maya is here with us, we’re really enjoying exploring some of those special spots that meant so much to us before we became a family of three.

Today we took a walk with Michael’s brother and his family who just flew in from the States for the wedding next week. Maya and I hung back as everyone walked ahead (longer legs!) and I just couldn’t get over how thrilled I was that she was so happy to be walking that beach.

When I mentioned to Sharon, my producer friend, about introducing Maya to one of our special spots, she said, “Oh, isn’t it lovely to be able to say that?” It is absolutely lovely to be able to say it and I never want to forget how wonderful it feels to introduce our daughter to our favorite spots – here and around the world. My gratitude for Maya in our lives is renewed daily, and I was happy for Sharon’s reminder of this special sliver.  “Nothin’ like a Dublin sunshine,” ain’t that the truth?! And nothing like my own personal Dublin sunshine, this sweet girl who just radiates happiness when faced with sand and rocks and seaweed. 

A New Interiors Column in The Irish Mail on Sunday

July 31, 2017

 A few months ago, a long-time blog friend bequeathed her interiors column in the Irish Mail on Sunday to me. It’s so refreshing to be back writing about interiors for an Irish paper! I had stopped writing for the Irish Independent about a year ago, so this is a nice entree back into that world. Unfortunately, for now at least, the columns are only in the print version, which you can only pick up in Ireland. I’ll try to share bits and pieces here when I have them.

This weekend was the first time I got to see the column in person – and it was an extra special one! I interviewed two of my former colleagues from Confetti Magazine and House and Home magazine to get their insight on choosing great wedding gifts for your friends or family members who love interiors. They had some really thoughtful suggestions, which is what I always shoot for with wedding gifts.  If you’re in Ireland, it’s in the magazine section of the Sunday paper.

Missing Home(s)

July 27, 2017

One of our colleagues from school took us to the airport a few weeks ago and we were chatting about all the travel we have this summer. She was a little incredulous that we’d be gone so long – over 6 weeks in total! And she asked, “Don’t you get homesick?”

My first thought was, “Which one?” China Village or Dublin or Houston? It’s hard to explain but I am at the same time not homesick at all and always homesick for all of those places all at once. But one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned came from moving to Dublin – sometimes it’s about choosing to be happy exactly where you are and putting the rest of it out of your mind to enjoy where you are. Having Michael and Maya by my side does make that easier, for sure.

I was especially homesick for Dublin after pulling these photos for another article I wrote last week. But the good news is that we’re headed back to Ireland tomorrow! We’re hopping on an evening flight and hoping the forecast will adjust itself while we’re in the air because it’s looking a little wet and chilly!

I can’t wait to put together a few posts about new spots we’re going to try that have opened since we’ve left – and hopefully a post about how to do Dublin with a kiddo in tow.

Until then, here’s a whole lot of Irish green from the archives.

Vacation // Sandboxes and Granddads

July 21, 2017

In April 1985, when I was 18 months old, my granddad built me a sandbox and marked it with a Sharpie (maybe those hadn’t been invented yet, though) on the bottom. To: Emily Boyle, By: Granddad Boyle.

Fast forward 33 years to this afternoon when the new Granddad Boyle set up that old sandbox (still in perfect condition) and filled it with 3 bags of sand for his first granddaughter. A lovely China Village passtime I’m so glad my daughter is getting to experience.  This deliberate and focused little granddaughter couldn’t get enough of her new little nook and the endless scooping she can accomplish for hours on end. With Solo cups, a serving spoon and two of the endless cottage cheese containers that seem to multiply at my parents’ house and crack my siblings and I up on a regular basis.  If you need us, we’ll all be out at the sandbox, scooping sand into Solo cups with a serving spoon. Thanks, granddads!