Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Turning 3

It's hard to believe our baby boy turns 3 today.  3 years old!  I can't believe it....where has the time gone?  It seems just months ago I was staring at his picture willing him home.  Now, he sleeps peacefully and beautifully upstairs, as though he has been here forever. 

We have so much to celebrate!  The year has been a roller coaster of huge peaks but also deep valleys, yet here we are, thankful for every day that we have together.  The colorful balloons, brightly wrapped presents, and celebratory feel to the day testifies to the joy in our home to be celebrating with Jacob.

But catch me at the right moment, and you will see a sober, reflective woman who is haunted by the past.  By things she can't control and by days she can never have. 

Jacob's birth.  His first birthday.  The first half of his life......his first 20 months of snuggling, feeding, rocking, reading, discovering, laughing, learning, loving, trusting.....these will never be ours together.  Why do I have such a hard time letting go of this?

I know the answer.  After 16 months, I have fallen madly in love with him.  All his loss, all his pain, all his neglect, all his lack of touch, all the bottles he drank alone, all the nights he cried with no one to hold him.......I have felt the sting of this, and I wish I could take it away from him. I wish I could have been there.  I wish....I wish......

I wish love didn't hurt this much. 

But if it didn't, I wouldn't be able to look Jacob in the eye on our hardest days and see the behavior apart from the child.  You see, this pain of knowing his past has given me empathy, the cornerstone to building attachment with my son.  This pain has given me compassion, as I try to see how his past might color his present.  This pain helps me fight for him, in knowing he doesn't even know what he should be fighting against.

And so I let the pain have it's way.  I suspect it will always show up in some form on this day for years to come.  It comes in for a reflective visit, and then leaves as soon as the festivities begin.  It will always be a part of our story as a family and my journey as a Mom. 

Happy 3rd birthday to one of my heroes.  You have journeyed through more in 36 months than most people do in a lifetime.  You are loving, joyous, stubborn, wickedly smart, funny, and beautiful.  Your ever increasing hugs and snuggles light my day and encourage me in this journey of being your "mama".

I'm so thankful on this 3rd birthday, that love hurts this much. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jacob's Gotcha Day 11/4/12 at

Happy Forever Family Day!

(One year ago we met our beautiful son.  The emotions and the story of his life and our year almost overwhelm me.  For this special celebration post, I want to write it to Jacob.)
November 4th, 2013:
Dearest Jacob,

One year ago WE met our precious, youngest son.  The pain of 6 years of waiting had culminated into this long awaited day. 
One year ago YOU lost everything you ever been connected to, everything that gave you security, and every person, site, sound, and smell that you had ever cared for.  One year ago your life was once again ripped apart. 

Our day of greatest pleasure occurred at the same time as your day of greatest pain.  None of us has come away unchanged.
In this process of ripping apart and joining together, we have learned so much about the love and work that goes into building a family.  A love and fierce commitment have been planted in our hearts for you and in this letter, I want you to know that we are committed to loving you well and doing this right by the grace of our Lord and Savior.
So, dear one, I want to share with you today, as we celebrate the one year anniversary of our Forever Family Day, what I hope to communicate to you the rest of your life….

  1. We will create for you an environment of emotional safety, where you can trust us enough to share everything.....your joys and your struggles.
  2. We will help you know your true and wonderful self.  Not one based on performance, or image.
  3. We will be intentional about providing opportunities to teach and show you empathy and compassion.
  4. We will help to reflect to you God's character by showing you patience, kindness, forgiveness, and love.
  5. We will provide for you affection, nurturing, responsiveness, and sensitivity.
  6. You will be safe, seen, and secure in our household.
The journey of this year has been incredible!  It brought tears to my eyes as I rocked you to sleep tonight thinking I couldn't imagine life without you in it.  Somehow, in the midst of your tragic story, God has allowed us to enter and be your Mom and Dad.  There could be no greater calling than to come together as a family bonded in other ways than blood.  I had no idea how greatly the experience would impact me nor how inadequate I would feel to take this road.  Yet, in the midst if your hardest days this year, you have reached out your little hand to embrace us, to laugh with us, to forgive us, and to love us.  Life couldn't be fuller for me right now and I wouldn't change a thing except that I might somehow be able to spare you of any pain you will face down the road of your life.
But one thing I know is that walking next to you at every step will be the One who created you and gave you life.  He will be your healer even as He has been mine this past year.  There is so much incredibleness to happen in your life, Jacob.  He has had his hand on you from the start, and has somehow allowed us to enter into your life and walk alongside you.  For this, we will be forever grateful.
We love you, forever-
Mom and Dad

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


"Wow, Jennifer, he's thriving!"

One of my friends made that comment about Jacob last week and for that beautiful moment, I reveled in it.  I soaked it in for all the work that went behind it and thanked the good Lord for that moment of encouragement. 

Just a few hours later, we were back in the trenches, doing the same hard work and doing our best to keep making progress.  The word "thriving" melted into the background of my mind as I watched Jacob struggle through letting go and fully depending on his new family. 

I found myself saying, "Are you really thriving?  What does that mean anyway?"

The online Webster's dictionary defines the word "thrive" as to grow vigorously, to gain in wealth or possessions, and to progress toward a goal despite circumstances.  As I pondered the word and it's meaning one day in my car, I was listening to the CD "Struggle", by Tenth Avenue North and in the title track song were these words:
We are free to struggle
We're not struggling to be free
Your blood bought and makes us children
So children drop your chains and see
There, in my car I realized, yes, he is thriving.......even I am thriving!  Thriving doesn't mean you have "arrived" and life has to be perfect.  It means we are pressing onward toward our prize.  It means that despite the struggles we have hope and can be joyous.  It means we keep doing the hard work, relying on God's love, and being thankful we get to walk this life beside Him.  Thriving is a process, not a destination.  It is a condition we can walk in when we trust our Savior. 

Close to mealtime that night, a time we often struggle with some of Jacob's anxieties, I picked him up and looked him in the eyes and said, "You don't have to do that to get Mommy's attention.  I love you.  You can just come and ask me with your words.  What you have to say is important to me." 

These words from me were evidence that we are both thriving.  He is learning to trust and depend on me, and I am learning even more how to meet his needs and provide the environment he needs to grow and heal.  We are "growing vigorously, and pressing toward our goal despite our circumstances."  Praise be to God.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1–3—NKJV)



Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tragic + Beautiful = Grace

Yesterday, I made up the bed of a 6 year old that will never sleep in it again. 

Today, I was baptized. 

One weekend.  Two events.  One more heartbreaking than anything I have done before.  The other, a glorious celebration and public declaration of my faith in Jesus Christ and my desire to serve him with my life.

It has been one emotional weekend.  Tragic and Beautiful. 

Yesterday we helped friends of ours, who had lost their 6 year old son in a tragic accident last month, move into their new home.  I stood shoulder to shoulder with parents who have experienced the most agonizing life event and one that we all fear.....the loss of a child.  I wanted so desperately to take their pain away and bring back their loud, carefree laughter.  I wished I could wipe away that look in their eyes that tells of an indescribable pain and haunting ache.  I wished I could give back to them what they had lost.  But I couldn't.  All I could do was move boxes, pack a fridge, make up a bed, pick up lunch, and just be heartbroken with them. 

Today, I stepped forward in front of witnesses and declared my personal relationship with Jesus Christ and my desire to share this good news!  The setting and the morning were a perfect symphony of his creation.  Not only did the sun make it's splendid appearance, but the moon also stayed around for the event.  All of nature seemed to celebrate!  The very rocks cried out!  Perhaps I said it best in my written testimony to the leadership and pastors that baptized me with the following email: "My walk with the Lord and my dependence on Him considerably deepened this year with the adoption of our son, Jacob, from China.  In the months that followed, I began to come face to face with what a sinful, selfish "wretch" I was.  During this time, my feelings of hopelessness and shame threatened to take away the joy that living as a daughter of the King promises.   It was at this time that I immersed myself deeply into God's word, I breathed in his promises, and clung desperately to the forgiveness He has given us.  Never have I been so connected to my own sinfulness, and so reliant on the Grace that He gives.  God has been ripening me all year and baptism seemed like the perfect next step.  I have wanted to be baptized as an adult, but there has always been an excuse.  Lately, it's been, "but I don't want to be baptized in front of a congregation I don't know."  Then, Pastor David, asked last week what barrier might we have to baptism that would be more important than our obedience.  I knew that answer....nothing.  This has been my year of trust and obedience to the Lord.  I have wrestled with obedience too long (hence, the name of our son, Jacob), and I think I said it best in my blog where I have been chronicling our adoption journey: 'In light of my gratefulness for his redemptive work on the cross, I can respond with nothing other than obedience to what might seem hard and inconvenient. It's nothing compared to what I have in my Savior. Our journey to our son started with our physical adoption but has taken me to far deeper places, my spiritual adoption. Where Jesus Christ redeemed me and took back what was rightfully his. The way ahead promises to be hard, but my joy and my transformation are greater.' " 

Two profound, life imprinting events in one weekend.  One tragic and one beautiful?  No, both tragic, and both beautiful for the one similarity they hold: the hope we have through the grace God has given in His son, Jesus Christ.

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world.  In this tragic AND beautiful event, God redeemed what was his own.  Because of it, I can be assured that our friends son is in the arms of a loving Savior, and I, too, attest that I shall be there as well.  Today, I stood in that water to tell the world of my love for the Savior.  I stood to say that my life had been changed and that even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, there is a God that loves us so much, that He designed a way that we can be together with our Creator as well as each other.  In the midst of their tragedy, that is likely the only thing that can bring them hope.....the gift of the Savior.  Today, I stood in testimony to that.  To that beautiful gift given to me, to you, and to them. 

Two events.  Tragic and Beautiful. 

Before I close, I want to thank my dear husband for standing by me and assisting in my baptism today.  I have been blessed to be part of your spiritual transformations as I watched you give your life to Christ when we were in high school and then be baptized the day before our marriage.  It was a gift to share this one with you.   Thank you for forever being one of my three strands (Ecclesiastes 4:12.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Six Months Post Cleft Lip and Palate surgery

It's hard to believe Jacob's surgery was 6 months ago!  Aside from the first two weeks post-op, the time has flown!  We are now in that sweet spot between surgeries where we can relax, enjoy each other, and work on development.  So, here is where we are six months later:

Feeding: If I take a step back and look at the big picture, Jacob has certainly made progress.....but it has been slow.  We still have to puree and mash most things but have found that if the edible item can be mashed with his tongue, then it is able to get down.  He's not chewing anything.  We finally decided to push for an outpatient speech referral through Cincinnati Children's Hospital with a focus on feeding.  We are doing this once a week and our homework includes "chewing" on a nuk brush dipped in something like mashed banana or peanut butter, and working on Jacob biting on items from the side if his mouth.  His therapist said he has all the components needed to chew....lateral tongue movement, and biting motions but he's just not putting it all together. Most of the food bolus just sits on his tongue and does not get pushed to the side.  He seems to be making gains in strength but if given the choice, will always pick the food that is easiest to get down with the least amount of work. 

Speech:  Along with our outpatient speech therapist we see once a week, we also have early intervention coming into our home once every 2-3 weeks.  She is wonderful and gives me great ideas on "playing with purpose".  I call her the pied piper because she can bring vocalizations out of Jacob better than anyone else we have been with.  He loves it when she comes over!

Playgroup:  Because Jacob is receiving early intervention, he can also attend their weekly playgroup.  This is an hour of sensory activities, fine motor activities, singing, and reading time. I have loved connecting with other Mom's in the group and watching their little ones make progress.  I am amazed at the challenges of being the Mother of a special needs child.  Some of these women are everyday heroes and fierce advocates for their little ones.  I will be sad to say goodbye to them when Jacob turns three next March.

Gross Motor Development:  Jacob continues to be in a gross motor class called Tumblebees where he gets to challenge himself with physical feats.  At any given class he will practice crawling through things, walking across balance beams, rolling, and swinging. You just never know what the crazy Kids First Gym ladies will think up for the kids to do in their circuits.  It has been a wonderful place for both my children to feel loved, encouraged, and challenged to do things outside of their comfort zones.  We have also started some work with a local chiropractor that is versed in DNS (Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization).  "What?", you ask.  From their site (Prague School), they believe "the nervous system establishes programs that control human locomotion, which is comprised of posture and movement. This ‘motor control’ is largely established during the first critical years of life. Therefore, the “Prague School” emphasizes neurodevelopmental aspects of motor control in order to assess and restore dysfunction of the locomotor system and associated syndromes."  We are only two visits in but the chiropractor and I are trying to identify any dysfunctional movement patterns Jacob has and help "rewire" his neuromuscular system to do things correctly.  It sounds complicated but can actually be done with some very easy manual cues to Jacob's body while he is doing his regular daily activities along with some reflex stimulation. 

Ears and Eyes:  We did have a vision screen on Jacob as there is an eye condition that has been associated with cleft lip children which can result in a detached retina.  The initial screening was negative but Jacob will need to be followed every couple years until he has fully matured as the condition often manifests itself later in development.  During that same week, we were shocked to go in for our ear visit and alas, Jacob had lost a tube!  We were not expecting this wrench in our plans!  Our surgeon decided to give Jacob a couple months off.  We will return at the beginning of August to see if he will need another tube put in his ears.  I know the procedure is minor but am not looking forward to handing him off to be placed under anesthesia again.  

Teeth:  We have great news on this front!  Jacob has two front teeth!  The "baby teeth" never emerged but he has two adult teeth waiting to come through.  Jacob's pediatric dentist saw them on xray at our last visit!  We've been told to save up now for braces!  Gladly! 

Verbal:  Our surgeon told us to expect very little progress in expressive speech before our next surgery for the P-flap.  While not all cleft children need this surgery, our surgeon prepared us that he felt it was highly likely Jacob would have it.  Although he has very little expressive speech, we have no trouble communicating together between sign language, sounds, and the minimal words he does say.  Should we need the P-flap surgery, that will be done summer of 2014. 

Making headway.....

We have had lots to celebrate over the last few months. 
  • Jacob is now able to independently come up and tell us when he needs to eat (through sign language.)  Previously, he would do things to get negative attention and show signs of anxiety when he was hungry but now he is finding his voice. He finds it especially fun to tell us he is hungry when we finish our bedtime routine and are just about to put him down for the night.  Smart kid!
  • We are finally on the head curve!  As of Jacob's 2 year follow up, we are back on the head circumference curve.  All those foods we have been giving him for "brain development" are working!
  • Jacob came up to me about a month ago asking, unprovoked, for a kiss.  It hasn't happened much since but it was a special moment.
  • We are working on getting Jacob to express his needs through signing or words.  He is very good at playing the tattling little brother role and instead of whining and stamping his feet to get my attention, we are working on him calling me "mama."  It is far from perfect but we are slowly changing these patterns and helping him find his voice.
Looking back, I can see that though the road has seemed long, we are making steady, forward progress.  Some days we make leaps and other days we take steps back.  Dr. Purvis who wrote, The Connected Child, talks of attachment being like money in the bank.  We work hard to make deposits, and build up our attachment wealth.  Then, there will be other days when we fail or fall short of what our children need and we have to withdraw from the account.  The goal is to stay and move forward in the positive.  I like this analogy and when some days don't go the way I wish they would, I can be thankful I have made so many other deposits. I feel confident that in the end, we will retire with immeasurable wealth. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Emotional Landscape of this Mother and her Son

The Emotional Landscape (on writing your child's Lifebook):

"Many adoptive parents gather information and sit amid airplane ticket stubs and trip photos, unsure of where or how to begin. For many, the emotional landscape seems daunting. Perhaps it is difficult to say or write the word “birthmother.” Dismal feelings related to infertility, once thought to be resolved, may unexpectedly arise. And how does one write that one’s child was placed on a street corner or that her birthfamily lived in poverty? Some parents find it healing to tune into their own feelings about their child’s early life experience while composing her lifebook. We can privately honor these feelings without “giving” them to our children. Later, when sharing the story of our children’s early lives, we can be emotionally present and available rather than caught in our own feelings about the material."  By Cindy Probst, an excerpt from her book. 

I am so excited as Jacob's lifebook has been started.  A couple weeks ago I began journaling and gathering his life story into a scrapbook format.  It is a way to document his life before we came into the picture so he can understand that his life began before us.  It is arguably said to be the best tool one can use in an adoptive and foster environment to allow children to understand their beginnings in an age appropriate manner, and to allow them to ask questions and engage in adoption conversations.  

In the excitement that had been building to be part of creating this and gathering (and seeking out more!) of Jacob's history, I was struck by some feelings that have not only taken me by surprise but have once again crept up into my life.....the fear of failing my child and the fear of not being able to give him information that may seem vital to his emotional development.  As I have tried to put into text and pictures what little I know and have been able to gather about Jacob's life before November 4th of 2012, I often find myself feeling despair.  If only I had the right connections.  If only I had asked better questions at the orphanage.  Why didn't I ask if a note had been found on him or if the clothing he wore was in existence?  If only I knew (fill in the blank), then I could finish that page of Jacob's life and bring him more closure.

The opening statement by Cindy Probst was exactly the emotional meltdown I was experiencing,  I had no idea the barrage of sadness that would envelope me during this process.     

Why do I cling so desperately to this hope that if I look hard enough, I will be able to find all the answers?  Could I help fill in that hole that will always be there when he realizes he knows very little about that part of his life? Is it that I think that having one more answer and piece to his puzzle would actually change the person he will grow to be and his self image?  Not likely.  If Jacob's self image is wrapped up in those first unknown and unknowable days and months of his life, then it will be a long road for us all.  And how can I ever expect him to move beyond these feelings if I can't?  The journey has given me a chance to face and digest my own feelings about his beginnings before I have to present them to him.  I am so thankful for that opportunity because when the time comes, I want Jacob to see that his life is a beautiful treasury of a story tinged by sadness and hope, sacrifice and love, and made into a perfect compilation to tell the story of God's redeeming love of our little guy. 

Even those of us who know the ones who birthed us, we are still far from our true self identity if we don't recognize that we already know the One who gave us life.  And He wants us to know Him intimately.  It is He that writes our lifebook and it is in Him that we must trust with the knowable as well as the unknowable.  He is the creator of our first days, our now days, and our next days.

I have a wonderful friend that has been helping me walk through this process.  Just her presence and help alone have given me comfort.  She reminded me once that a child's lifebook is a living document.  It can be changed and transformed as needed and as new information is found or thought about. 

And so, I will keep plugging away, always looking for more opportunities to fill it, and being thankful that I have been blessed to walk this journey beside our son.  This thought filled me one night as I was driving, having just finished the first four pages to his book.  I was thankful I had begun to put his life down and it gave me such a sense of accomplishment and excitement that I cannot wait to share it with him.  Our lifebook not only intends to be a tool for healing and learning for our son, but has also become a place of healing for his Mother as well.