Tuesday, 29 November 2011


I love Advent. Now that we attend a church that does not observe the Church Calendar at all (which kills me because you miss out on so much), I really miss having Advent as a part of Christmas. Thus we are instituting our own family Advent observances. I really meant to get an Advent wreath, but this first Sunday crept up on me, so we started using just a plain candle, read an Advent devotion, and sang a few songs. Tommy's questions in response to the devotion were priceless (when Jesus comes again, is he coming to our house?) and although Nicolas made crazy noises the entire time because he didn't like being strapped into his high-chair, I'm sure someday he will be thankful for this new family tradition.

After we did our devotion and lit our candle we spent time baking cookies as a family. Tonight we made and decorated sugar cookies. The boys had a blast pouring on the sugar sprinkles. My plan is that we will make a different cookie every Sunday and share some with our next-door neighbors.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Black Friday Fun

Since Jeff had Friday off we decided to have a family fun day. The weather looked promising, so we opted to spend the day outdoors at the zoo. Apparently everyone else was either in a food coma or shopping, because the zoo was the emptiest I've ever seen it. We had a great time hanging out and visiting the boy's favorite spots.

In the evening we continued our annual tradition of attending our village's Christmas parade. We haven't missed a year since we moved here. This was the first year that Tommy was looking forward to petting the reindeer and seeing Santa Claus. He also really enjoyed the parade. Nicolas loved the parade too, although we are certain that he was a bit confused by it.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Thankful for...

Trains, among a great many other things. We hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving - we sure did. Here's a short snippet from ours.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Wishing For Naptime

Blogging has become a bit harder now that a certain someone has stopped napping most days. We are working on establishing a "quiet time" and have more success on some days than others. The hard thing is that Nic and Tommy share a room, so there really isn't a spot where Tommy can play quietly without waking Nic up, as Nic is a fairly light sleeper. We do have a nice living room where Tommy could play by himself, but he is not keen on playing by himself because I'm around. This also has made getting just about everything else done much much harder. Hence, by the end of last week our apartment was a wreck, and we had our very last post-placement visit this morning, so we spent the weekend scrambling to get everything cleaned up, which was made more complicated by both Jeff and me feeling under the weather (Jeff has a cough, I have a growing baby).

However, we have now finished our final post-placement visit! Woohoo! We actually love our social worker (whose impending retirement makes us sad), and are always happy to see her, but I am not sorry to be done with all of the paperwork, visits, DCFS forms, etc. I went and applied for Nic's social security card last Friday, and got Tommy's updated at the same time. This means I am totally and completely done with all of Tommy's adoption related paperwork. SCORE! For Nic, all we have to do now is get his COC and then update his social security status to citizen. I want to get all of that taken care of soon, which means just a little more paperwork in my near future. The only other thing I need to do is get Nic evaluated for language delay because our social worker thinks he should be talking more (he rarely talks and gets what he wants by signing or going to get it himself). I called early intervention and left a message, but I'm not sure if I will need a referral from our doctor or not (we did for Tommy), and I don't know if our doctor will give me one because I talked with her about his language development just two weeks ago and she was not concerned. I am totally ambivalent about the evaluation. I am absolutely happy to have it done because honestly it requires very little effort on my part, but I also remember that when we had Tommy evaluated when he was about a month older than Nic is now, Tommy didn't qualify for services and his vocabulary was only a word or two bigger than Nic's.

Nothing interesting on the baby front. I am getting bigger, so everyday I have fewer and fewer clothes that fit. I'm not sure how much longer I will be able to zip my winter coat. I'm still more tired than usual and always hungry, but despite constant eating I only gained a pound last month. My OB isn't worried because I packed on enough pounds in the first trimester to make up for not gaining much in the last month, so I'm still in the normal range. However, she did say that I could consider increasing my calories, which is exactly what one wants to hear right before Thanksgiving. Seriously, there is no better time to be "eating for two" than the holidays. I just hope she doesn't take that back at my next appointment, right before Christmas!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Hard-ish Things: Nicolas

The moment I fell in love with Nic is so clear in my mind. I have not experienced "love at first sight" with either of my boys. Don't get me wrong - I loved them in the truest sense of the word - but I didn't feel all mushy about them right away. For me, those feelings take time; bonding takes time. During our trip to DRC to pick Nic up, he easily won the "easiest baby in the world" prize. I can't lie, that made him very nice to spend time with, and since I was fairly well-rested I had plenty of energy to focus on bonding and feeling affectionate. I spent about a week in that weird "I know this is my kid but it doesn't feel like it yet" place. During that period we moved into my (beloved) dorm room, and were squashed together in a twin bed. One night it rained and actually got a bit cool, so I pulled him onto my chest to sleep. That morning we woke up rather early, and the sunlight was filtering through the trees in that way that makes everything glow. I was watching Nic that morning as he slowly opened his big eyes and lifted his head up to look around. When his eyes met mine he smiled. That was it. I was smitten.

One of the reasons bonding to Nic was so easy was that he was such a sweet baby and while he had some "orphanage" issues, they weren't that severe. His orphanage was actually a small group home with only a dozen kids, and only two of those were babies (one being Nic), so it was not your typical large institution. I am positive that Nic got a decent amount of calories each day, even if most of them came from starch, and that he got some medical care. He was held often, and did not suffer from any touch or other sensory issues. It was obvious that all of his needs were not met on demand, as he really went to town with his formula once he realized that I would give it to him every time he indicated he was hungry, and in those first weeks he ate far more than he needed to. He also rarely expressed displeasure - another sign that he had withdrawn a bit from being ignored. In the first few months I was worried that his eager to please attitude might translate into an attachment issue, but instead we have experienced the joy of watching our quiet little fellow blossom.

As time has gone by Nicolas has become increasingly vocal in expressing his desires and his disappointments. He cries when he has to do things he doesn't like, and is very good at demonstrating his preferences. Although he is not using many words, he knows how to point to things he wants, and he uses his "more" sign like a champ. He is becoming increasingly animated and adventurous in situations that are unfamiliar (he's been like that at home for some time now), and watching him learn to interact with a wider range of people is great fun. He has also become increasingly affectionate. He has always liked a hug or a kiss, but now he will frequently demand them. He likes to have kiss marathons - he will run up to you and kiss and kiss and kiss until you are all covered in his slobber. It melts our hearts.

All that to say, Nicolas' transition in terms of orphanage issues and attachment just hasn't been very hard. Now, that isn't to say that Nic's adoption was a breeze. Some adoptions are easier than others, but adoption is in it's nature messy and complicated and hard. You can't escape it. You want to know something that is hard? Coming home to find out the child you love has a probable life-expectancy of forty years, and finding out that many of those years will be spent in pain. Learning that your child will have restrictions, and need to take medication, and probably have a disrupted education. That was hard. We've adjusted to our new normal, I think. It's hard to say since Nic hasn't actually had a sickle crisis yet, and there is a tiny little chance that all of the above horror may be reversed if his next round of blood work comes back the way we hope and pray it will. We are absolutely clinging to that shred of hope, but we also know that it is more likely that he not only has sickle cell disease, he has the worst kind (SS). That is what has been hard with Nicolas.

The other thing that was difficult about Nicolas' adoption was the process. With Tommy we waited ages for a referral, but once we had his name and his info we only waited two weeks to get on a plane. With Nic we had to wait first for his adoption to go through the court system in his commune, then for an embassy appointment, and then we traveled. We received his information in October, but didn't meet him until March. That wait (while not very long by many country's timelines) felt endless. It was so much harder to wait this time around, and much more emotionally taxing. The trip was also not exactly a luxury vacation...but you've seen the spiders so I probably don't need to elaborate on that point.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Never A Dull Moment

Today's plan was as follows: Go to bible study. Come home and feed boys lunch. Drop boys off at their "play date" and pick up Jeff. Go to ultrasound at 2:30.

Instead, about fifteen minutes before the end of bible study one of nursery workers came in and asked me to come because Tommy was bleeding. By bleeding, she meant dripping blood from his mouth (as in, it's on his shoes). He had somehow gotten hurt on a ride along toy and at least one tooth was visibly knocked-in. We commenced a mad scramble to get stuff together, an unsuccessful attempt at transferring Nic's car seat, and a mad rush to our dentist, who thankfully is located just down the street from our church. He fit Tommy in (and didn't charge us- for which we are ever so grateful), and confirmed that his teeth looked bad and that he needed to see someone who specialized in children's dentistry. He called the office he refers to and they gave us an appointment at one. We rushed from the dentist to home to make some phone calls (my cell was dead), then went to pick up Jeff in case Tommy needed to be held during the x-ray. We swung through McD's for a shake (Tommy is on a "soft" diet now an I didn't exactly have time to make scrambled eggs) and made it to his appointment with a few minutes to spare.

The good news is that Tommy's permanent teeth aren't damaged and should come in healthy. The bad news is there is a 30% chance (really, how did the dentist come up with this number?) that he will loose 1 to 3 of his front teeth. One has been visibly moved/damaged, and the two teeth on either side of that tooth are in jeopardy as well. In the next seven to ten days we will find out if Tommy's teeth are bruised, and we will know when they turn color, anywhere from an off white to black...which means we will not be taking any pictures for our Christmas card anytime soon. After they turn color we wait another few weeks to see if gangrene sets in. If that happens then they will either do a root canal or pull the tooth/teeth. We should see signs of gangrene in four to six weeks, or right around Christmas. The perfect time for oral surgery. Best case scenario is that he avoids gangrene, he keeps his teeth and they don't change color too much (let's pray for this), most likely scenario is that he keeps his teeth but they will be discolored until they fall out when his permanent teeth move in.

I am so sad that his beautiful smile has been ruined, but, you know, it isn't the worst thing that could happen. Good thing we had that upcoming ultrasound to keep things in perspective.

Onto the ultrasound. They installed new video monitors in the last few weeks, so now there are cool flat screens on the walls. This means that I got to see a huge huge picture of my cervix. It looks great, but I wasn't losing sleep over my cervix. The baby continues to have normal measurements (arms/legs/rib cage). Since the dwarfing in SRPS is usually so dramatic Dr. M feels this is very good, but still not definitive. He said he will feel comfortable saying the baby does not have SRPS after our 20 week ultrasound, but until then it remains up in the air since dwarfing is so tricky to diagnose. I don't go back until December 7th, so we have about three weeks to wait until the next set of measurements, and then another two weeks after that until the 20 week. Still, normal is good. I will sleep well tonight.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Bits and Pieces

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend Together For Adoption Chicago. It was such a neat experience. I finally got to meet a fellow Uganda mama/long-time internet friend, listen to some great speakers, and think more deeply about the theology of adoption. It was a very encouraging and refreshing experience and just what I needed.

I've been feeling a bit bogged down by the pregnancy in the last few days. I've been a bit tired this week and have needed a few naps, which irritates me because I get behind with things like the dishes, and when you have only a tiny sink and four people getting behind on dishes can get ugly very quickly. Also, with the next ultrasound coming up on Tuesday I'm starting to get a little nervous and unsettled. This happened right before our last ultrasound too, so perhaps this is just the new normal.

One thing that I'm really happy about is our new specialist, Dr. M. During the period when I knew I was pregnant but was still pretending otherwise I decided to switch OB/Specialists because my old ones were about an hour (without traffic) away. We debated the change, because we felt like we had finally reached a good place with our old specialists and were not looking forward to having to re-explain ourselves to new doctors. However, once I started thinking about how many appointments we would have, combined with the drive and needing to find someone to watch the boys for each appointment, I realized it was simply not practical to stay with our old group, so we switched. Now, this is where we really feel God's hand on all of this- when we went in and met with our new specialist, we found out that he is from our old group! He wasn't one of the doctors we worked with (he left them before our last pregnancy), but he worked with most of the doctors we saw, including the one who handled our delivery. In addition, his nurse still works with them a few days a week, which allowed her to get my file (despite some red tape) in time for our appointment. When we met with Dr. M he had been through our file, and already understood that we would be continuing our pregnancy regardless of the baby's diagnosis. We didn't have to do any explaining at all. It was amazing. We left the appointment feeling really supported. Dr. M works differently than our old specialists, in that he is really just a consultant and will not handle any of my routine prenatal care or my delivery. However, I will see him for all of my scans and he will advise my regular OB.

And now, on a totally different subject, how cute are these football players? We had some very mild weather this weekend, and the boys got to play outside quite a bit with Daddy. They all had a ball...

Friday, 11 November 2011

Hard-ish Things: Tommy

I wrote this post before Nicolas came home. I'm not sure why I never published it, but since it is adoption month I thought the timing was right.

One of the things we did to prepare ourselves for Tommy's adoption was attend an adoption conference (it helped us get those all important training hours). We spent an entire Sunday learning all about health issues, evaluating referrals, emotional issues, attachment tactics, managing the wait, and adopting across color lines. It was a hard, hard day. Taking in all that information, much of it negative, made for a huge emotional punch. Even though we had repeatedly read and been told that adoptions don't always work out perfectly, hearing it ad nauseam over the course of one day made the transition after adoption seem like such an uphill battle. I know that for some families adoption is a very difficult battle. Sometimes kids come home with more physical or emotional needs than a parent or family is prepared to handle. But it seems to me that more often than not, while kids come home with issues that are not easy, they are far from insurmountable.

Thus I decided to write a post about some of the difficulties that we had or continue to have that are related to the conditions that Tommy grew up in. This is decidedly not a "feel sorry for us" post. We have been abundantly blessed by the addition of Tommy to our lives, and we made the choice to parent a child from a hard place, and we are happy to be flexible to meet his needs. Additionally, the "hard things" that we have experienced are minor compared to the long list of things that potentially could happen, which is why I am referring to them as "hard-ish things." This post is simply to share with others who have adopted, are in the process of adopting, who are considering adoption, or those who are just curious about some of the differences in parenting a child adopted from an orphanage, some of what we experienced. As a side note, we have relied fairly heavily on ideas from Keck's Hurting Child books and Purvis' The Connected Child/Connected Child Workbook, especially when it comes to nurture and food issues.

We entered into Tommy's adoption with an excessive amount of information under our belts - between our required adoption training courses (I highly recommend Adoption Learning Partners), adoption seminars, and extensive personal reading (The Hurting Child books are great), we were aware of just about everything that could be difficult. We were pleasantly surprised that almost none of the catastrophes we had prepared for occurred. We had a reasonably easy transition. Tommy was very much in a state of shock at first, but at the time we didn't see it, because we didn't know him. He didn't act out, thus it seemed like everything was fine. Within a few weeks there was a noticeable difference in his smile, and in his response to us. We were very blessed that he began to attach quickly, and that he took to us so readily. It helped that he was not touch-averse and that he loved to be held. Because of this we could wear him (we used an Ergo carrier all the time) and that helped our bonding process move quickly.

Still, there are a few things, remnants of his past, that continue to shape his responses and behavior.

The hardest thing for me on an ongoing basis is Tommy's intense need for touch. Had he been placed with us at birth he would probably still be a cuddly guy. However, having missed out on having his need for being held met on demand, as would be the case for many infants in a regular family structure, he has a nurture deficit that we are constantly trying to fill. There are days when he will want to be held for a very long period of time, just because he needs it. And not just held, but held as close as possible. Sometimes it feels like he is trying to burrow into me, he presses up against me so insistently, not for a minute or two, but for an hour. This is hard for me because I am not a touch person. Often it is a huge invasion of my personal space, and sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by it. During the summer it is just darn uncomfortable because of the heat. Nevertheless, I snuggle on demand, and spend a great deal of time performing activities one armed while lugging 30+ pounds of squirming sweetness on my hip or my leg. Even Jeff, who does not require the amount of personal space that I do, has found it to be too much at times. When we first came home Tommy had very little capacity for being alone. Over time this has diminished a bit, and Tommy will now play by himself for increasingly longer periods, but that is a rather recent development (and welcome, because I can finally make a decent dinner!).

On a related note, despite being more than capable of feeding himself, Tommy frequently wanted to be fed "like a baby" (his words). This, according to adoption books, is very common for children from orphanages. What seems like regression is actually filling a need that was never met before. Kids in orphanages begin feeding themselves at a very, very young age, and often they are never fed by a caregiver (propped bottles are a common way to feed babies). Thus they miss the interaction and nurture - the touch, the eye contact, the cooing and encouragement - that comes with being fed by another person. In my mind there was no downside to nurturing Tommy in this way, since he already has all of the necessary motor skills to feed himself, although it sometimes made us late to things when he ate too slowly.

Food insecurities also continue. When Tommy first came home he would shove food into his mouth until he gagged, gag, and then keep shoving it down. He outgrew that as he became used to having more than enough food, but it took a very long time. He also had a great deal of trouble seeing food and not getting some for himself. If someone else was eating and I didn't have something for him it could result in a fast meltdown. He has mostly grown out of this. His big food quirk that we haven't gotten rid of (and won't force until he is a little older) is that every time we sit down at the table he has to have a mouthful of food before he will stop and pray. It is very predictably a bite followed by a drink of milk, then he will actually move his plate away from himself and bow his head. He just needs the reassurance of that one bite. He now eats more normal amounts and even will occasionally leave some food on his plate (mostly vegetables he doesn't like), but this is huge improvement over inhaling everything. He is still a gorger when it comes to food he likes, but will now handle it calmly when we tell him he has had enough, which is a wonderful change. [Update: Now that Tommy is older we are enforcing a no food before prayer rule, and it was easy to institute as he has grown much more secure about food]

Tommy plays rough (or tough, according to some of his more magnanimous peers). Yes, he is a boy, and a toddler, so a certain degree of acting out is normal regardless of background. I am well aware that many biological children go through hitting and biting phases. But orphanage culture is rough in Uganda (I can't speak for elsewhere, but I imagine it would be similar). As soon as kids can move they are fighting for scarce resources - especially food and attention. Hitting, slapping, biting, scratching, and so on, are normal, not corrected, and sometimes encouraged. Maybe you are thinking that Tommy couldn't have been in that type of environment at such a young age, but trust me, many other parents with similar situations have noticed how rough their children are - even when they come home fairly young.

I know I have shared about some of the physical damage that conditions at the orphanage did. His intestines have slowly been healing, but in the beginning we were cleaning up an absurd amount of poop. Sometimes up to 8 explosive diapers a day (although usually more like 5) including the requisite laundry and disinfecting. Not every child reacts to parasites in the same way (and they don't all have the same ones), but I know our experience is not unique. In fact, a friend who adopted from Tommy's orphanage attempted to prepare me for what was coming, and although she accurately described it, she couldn't transmit the foulness of it, or how much time it takes to clean up that much poop (and you have to treat it all as infectious), and coax your child into taking the worst tasting pills ever. As a point of reference, I had a very long babysitting career, and had changed an excessive amount of diapers, from brand new babies to toddlers. Trust me, parasite poop is entirely different. As far as skin issues, Tommy had only a minor fungal infection. I know that many kids from orphanages come home with pernicious fungal infections or contagious skin conditions, so we count ourselves very lucky that we just had the small one.

I think that sums it all up. What it comes down to is that all the information that we took in prepared us for a very difficult experience. It scared us a bit, truth be told. While I am glad that I had more information than I ended up needing, I'm also glad that we didn't let all of the "what ifs" scare us off (harder to do with us since "what ifs" for our biological children are so scary), or get in the way of accepting Tommy's referral, which consisted of two pictures, a brief back story, an HIV test, and no medical information - and accepting a child on no info is seriously frowned upon at adoption conferences. Had we let the "what ifs" stand in the way, we might have missed out on the most wonderful thing: being Tommy's parents.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Why Oh Why Must Children Catch Colds?

This morning I woke up to find Nic covered in snot. Gross. Thus, we had to skip our regularly planned activities and stay home. Thankfully we have all survived the ordeal, and by ordeal I mean long period where Tommy has only limited social interaction and is thus climbing the walls. Tommy just has too much energy for 850 square feet to contain (and it was cold, damp, and drizzly outside, so the side yard was not an option).

I remember Tommy's first winter home he had a cold practically every week, and it looks like it is going to be the same way with Nic. I thought that since Nic doesn't suck his fingers, thus avoiding putting every germ in the world straight into his mouth, that he might not get sick as much. The green snot says otherwise.

On the plus side, since I wasn't exhausted from taking the boys out I managed to clean up two and a half rooms of our house. Nicolas really isn't acting that sick, he's just coughing and snotting, so he had a fine day playing and running around attempting to throw anything he can find into the trash. Tommy used up some of his excess energy helping me vacuum, putting away books, baking snickerdoodles, and making lotion. It was nice to get all that done, but I'm thinking Nic might have to endure some pouch time (aka quasi-quarantine) so that Tommy can go to the library for at least a little bit tomorrow.

In pregnancy news I got the results from my blood tests and everything was normal (it was with Leah too). Still, it's better than not normal. Other than that I am just waiting and waiting and waiting for the next ultrasound, which is coming up next week on Tuesday afternoon. I'm a bit nervous about it, but (as is the plan) trying not to think about it.

Monday, 7 November 2011


One brother has more fully embraced the arrival of Fall than the other. Care to guess which one?

Although to be fair, pretty much each day from here on out will be the coldest day of Nic's entire life. As Amy told him last Thursday morning when Nic stopped dead in the doorway on our way outside, "we're not in Congo anymore."

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Congo Revisted

Not only is today "Orphan Sunday," but this entire month is "National Adoption Month." In honor of that I will be doing some adoption-themed posts this month. I wanted to start with sharing some pictures (finally) from our trip to Congo.

In Congo we had the amazing opportunity to visit some different orphanages, and feed and play with the kids living there. It was hard. It was hard because all of us were schlepping a baby or two and worrying about the effect that visiting the orphanages would have on our kids, some of whom had left their orphanages only a few days before. It was hard to see the kids living in wretched conditions (even knowing that they were so much better off than they would be on the street). The hardest part, above all, was walking away after handing over a peanut butter sandwich and a banana. It just wasn't enough. It just isn't enough.

When you walk into a difficult orphanage the problem feels overwhelming. The corruption at some of these places- the loneliness, the hunger, the abuse, the misery- it's suffocating.

I don't know what part God has called or is calling you to take in caring for orphans, but I know he calls all of us to participate. Whether you are called to adopt or foster, to support an adopting family, to sponsor a child, to go on a missions trip and love some orphans, or to send money to an orphan care project (or all of the above), today is a great day to think about where God might be calling you next. If nothing else, please consider setting some time aside today to pray for these kids. They need it. No one should live like this.