Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cocooning and Attachment: What I'm Learning

Bradley has been home almost six weeks now. {PRAISE HANDS!} For almost all of that time we have been in serious cocooning mode. In the adoption world, cocooning is the time period right after a child comes homes and the family really hunkers down in the house and focuses on bonding with their newest addition. Just this week, we have starting making some outings beyond the walls of our home. {MORE PRAISE HANDS!} Today, for example, B and I went on a walk with my friend Rachel and her son. The boys were in strollers, and I am fairly certain I totally dominated the conversation because I was JUST SO HAPPY to be talking to a grown up. Sorry, Rachel.

Still, most of our day is spent in the house, really sticking to a routine while Bradley adjusts to his family. This time of bonding and attachment is so critical to the healthy development of the child, and I wanted to take a moment to talk a little bit about what our experience has been like and what I am learning.

1. It will be harder than you think. You know how when you get sick and are stuck at home for three days, you start to go a little stir crazy? Stretch that out to a month, add a little jet lag and a child who has no clue what just happened. Boom. Seriously though. Give yourself grace to be wholly and completely overwhelmed by what is happening. Our first week home... I mostly felt like I was drowning. The jet lag is insane, and your sweet baby has it, too. Not to mention all of the loss that accompanies him leaving his home country. I felt so over-prepared walking into this. Our agency does a FANTASTIC job educating its families, and I truly felt like I had all of the information. But having the information and putting into practice are two COMPLETELY different things. Cocooning is HARD. You are on all the time, and you are on in a very confined space. So much of attachment rests on immediately responding to your child's needs. It's like being a firefighter. The alarm goes off and you better move fast.

2. Hang in there because it is SO worth it. Yes, you will be exhausted beyond reason. Yes, you will likely feel like you are so far out of your depth. Yes, you will be tempted to give up and say that surely this attachment thing can't be that important. DON'T DO IT. Hang in there. When we we first met Bradley, he would go to anyone who would hold him. He showed no preference whatsoever. But now, after seven weeks (six here + one in Ethiopia) of intense attachment parenting and us meeting all his needs, he turns away from anyone who is not Adam or me. He knows that we are his safe people. Maybe it sounds awful, but the surge of satisfaction I got the first time someone reached for him and he pulled away?? Well, that made everything worth it. Because I know that he knows I am his mom. I am the safest person on the planet. I am the one who feeds him and rocks him to sleep. He did not come to us knowing that. We had to show him. And it took TIME and a lot of hard, hard work. Believe me, I cried a LOT during those first weeks, but I am so glad we stuck with it.

3. Food is a big deal. HUGE. We are now at the point where we are allowing family to interact with Bradley if he initiates it, but we are still the only ones to feed him. Our plan is to keep it this way for a long time. As in months. It will be the very last thing we let go of, and that is a long way off. My advice would be to not let anyone else feed your child anything at all. Food is a huge source of comfort, and that needs to come from mom and dad.

4. Ask for help from your spouse. If you are like me, then perhaps you sauntered into motherhood believing that you could do it all. I was in for a rude awakening. I have visions of myself being instantly awesome. Suffice it to say, that was not the case. Ha! Motherhood has kicked my behind! And I have been working on allowing myself to really lean on Adam. When B is awake all night, we take hour long shifts till he's back down. If Adam comes home from work and it has been a really rough day, I say, "Tag!" I am lucky enough to be married to a fellow who loves being a dad and all that accompanies it, and I do not know what I would do without him. Scratch that. I do know. I would hide in the shower and cry. So allow yourself to share the weight of it all.

5. Let your friends help. Our precious, precious friends set up a meal schedule for us when we got home with Bradley. I don't think I cooked dinner for a month. Seriously. It was one of the most wonderful things anyone could have done for us. I could throw myself at their feet for all of the deliciousness that paraded through this house for WEEKS after we got home. It was such an enormous relief to not have to think about juggling a very needy baby with cooking. And along these lines, please eat off of paper plates for a while so you don't have to fool with dishes. It took us about a week o make the change. It was revolutionary.

6. Celebrate the victories. There will be many. Some big and some teeny tiny. Acknowledge them all. Baby took a nap? Hooray! Baby ate lunch? Hooray! Baby only cried for two hours last night instead of three? Hooray! Baby is all of a sudden pulling to stand? HOORAY! Baby reaches for you when he's upset? Hooray! You get what I'm saying. Those first weeks home are tough, but you will watch your child change so fast right in front of you. He will put on weight, smile more, reach for you, start playing, catch up on milestones. All so quickly. Soak it up and know that he is making these strides because he is in a loving family. Your family.

7. Parent through Christ. This is by FAR the most important piece. All the trainings. All the books. All the online courses and seminars. All the conferences. Without the grace of Jesus Christ on a day by day and minute by minute basis, all of it would be for naught. There have been many days and countless moments when Jesus was the only thing that kept me on my feet. Trust that He called you to this, that He has a beautiful story for you and your precious babe. Press in and press on, and always lean (or if you're like me, throw yourself) on Him.

There is a lot more I could say on this, and I hope to have time soon for a Part II. But for now, the babe is asleep, so I am going to head that way, too.

With love,

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Peaks and Valleys

Peaks and valleys.

That has been my answer to all of the wonderful people in my life asking how things are going with Bradley. And it is so true. There are days when I feel on top of the world, like I can totally do this mom thing. Then there are days when I feel like I just cannot get anything right, like I have NO business being a mom.

After LOTS of education and research over three years, Adam and I decided that we were committed to one month of really intense attachment parenting with our little man. Here's what that looked like: we were the only ones to hold him, feed him, touch him, change him, bathe him, comfort him. We were holding him all the time, lots of intense eye contact, almost always at least one hand on him, responding to cries immediately. In doing this, we had a very specific goal. We wanted Bradley to understand what it means to have parents, and we wanted him to fully recognize that WE are his parents, the safest and most loving people in his world.

This led to a lot of peaks and a lot of valleys.

As the days went by, we were getting more smiles and even some laughs. We were watching him start to reach for us and REALLY prefer to be held at all times (my arms muscles are getting ripped). We also got to watch him make HUGE strides in his development.

But there were a LOT of moments in that first month home that left me feeling like I would never, could never be the mom I wanted to be. Moms tell you that they know their children's different cries. I didn't. Some days, he was inconsolable, only wanting to be held while he cried. It was so hard.

So much of this is related to grief. Yes, Bradley joined our family forever when we walked out of the orphanage gates, but he also lost his home and the women who had loved him and cared for him. I cannot imagine how confused and hurt he must have been, wondering what happened to all of the familiar faces he had come to know. And to now have this woman who clearly doesn't know what she is doing.

Adoption is a beautiful, redemptive and impossibly hard thing.

Week four was particularly tough. It was Adam's first week back at work, and I was finally on my own. I was doing the very thing I had begged God to let me do, AND IT WAS SO MUCH HARDER THAN I EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE.

But there is God's grace again. Carrying me through and reminding me that I cannot be the mom I want to be without Him right at the center.

So whatever it is you're doing, know that God can be right there with you if you let him. I am learning each day what a weak vessel I am. A true jar of clay. But all of this points me right back to Jesus, reminding me of my deep and desperate need for Him.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

But Then You Get Home

For the last 3+ years, our life has been full of paperwork and classes and reading and forms and fingerprints and WAITING. And then it was full of travel and court and embassy and the longest day ever to get from Ethiopia to Birmingham. And it was all so hard...

But then you get home.

And there is a tiny person in your house. THE PERSON you have prayed over and begged God to bring to you. The one you have dreamed of for years. He lives in your house.

And in that moment, you realize that you have NO IDEA what you are doing! Ha!

Oh, the last three weeks have been wonderful. We have watched our son (you know, the one who lives in our house now) absolutely blossom. He is growing in all directions. He is making up his losses in leaps and bounds. In three weeks, he has gone from slow crawling to speed racing to pulling to stand to taking very shaky steps with our help. IN THREE WEEKS. He is laughing and smiling. He is playing. He loves his swimming pool and bath time. He is not too sure about his dog (although she really wants to be his best friend). He is gaining confidence. He is not scared anymore.

This brings me back to the whole I have no idea what I'm doing part.

I don't. I have never been a mom before. Everything I know about being a mother I am learning from my one year old completely on the fly. I haven't successfully raised a herd of children. I am just working on the one who's been with me since mid-July.

And that is my point. Bradley has made all of these gains with a mom who is a total novice. It does not take any expertise to love a child. And that is what adoption is. It is choosing to love the beautiful child God has placed into your family.

So you might feel like you don't have what it takes to adopt, like you wouldn't know what to do. Let me set your mind at ease. You don't and you won't. But Christ does, and maybe He is nudging you, asking you to step out in faith and say yes to adopting a child. It is an awesome and radical thing. And I still cannot believe that God asked us to do this. Surely we are among the least qualified, but He is greater.

Yes, there have been moments that have seemed impossibly difficult. Moments when I felt sure that Bradley deserved a better mom than I could ever be. But God brought us together. He brought this child into our family in the most incredible way, and I love him. So I can and will, through God's strength, fight through those moments. And if the Lord is tugging at your life and asking you to adopt, then He will do the same for you.

With love,

Friday, July 31, 2015

Ethiopia Trip Two: One BIG Post About Bringing Bradley Home

Remember that time I told you I was going to Ethiopia to pick up my son and disappeared for three weeks? Yeah, sorry about that. Turns out life with a one year old does not lend itself to long periods of thoughtful silence during which I can record and share all of the beauty God has written and is writing in my life. In fact, the only reason I am getting this post out is that my SAINT of a husband is putting our sweet love down for the night, giving me roughly thirty minutes of quiet. Yay for marriage!

There is so much I want and need to say about my time in Ethiopia this month. And I am still working on processing through it all, but I do want to share that week with you.

Before I do that, though, I have to give and enormous shout of recognition to someone who was with me in Ethiopia, though you will not see her in any of the pictures; she was behind the lens. My mother. I have always known that she is an incredible, loving and selfless woman. But our week together in Ethiopia absolutely blew my mind. She flew half way around the world to SERVE. She did not come with any expectations, and she was there for me and for Bradley in the beautiful moments and in the difficult and often messy moments. She did things that I did not know existed (ummm....washing footie pajamas full of poop in the toilet??), and she did them without ever complaining or hesitating. Mom, you are the single most incredible woman I have ever and will ever know. You are a SHINING example of the selfless, servant leadership Christ calls us to. How blessed by God am I to have been raised by such a woman. I pray that the Lord will allow me to become such a mother one day. And if He does, my journey began with you. I love you.

We walked back in to the place that has been on my mind since the day we left last month. 
It's wash day. 
Once we arrived, we had to wait a few minutes (felt like forever) for his nannies to get him ready to leave his home for good. I cannot even begin to imagine what these sweet women were thinking as they held this boy they have loved and cared for for the last time. 

 And then they brought him down, and I knew I would never have to be without him again. 
 He was most unsure about what was going on. 
 But we did manage to get a quick smile out of him. 
 With the head nanny who took the time to answer all of my questions.
 The beautiful woman who carried him out of his room and down to his mom. 
 And sweet, sweet Tizita, our translator and all things wonderful, who helped our family on both trips and so obviously loves what she does. 
 We took one last look around his room upstairs to say good bye, and then he walked down those stairs for the very last time. 

 The nannies were so sad to see him go and so happy that he was finally with his family. 
 Walking out of the building.
 I think he must have been kissed a thousand times that day. 
 It made me so grateful to see how deeply these women love the children they help raise. 
 One last kiss good bye...
 And it was finally time. Time to do the thing we set out to do three years, three months and three days prior to this moment. Time to walk out of the orphanage with our son. Because he doesn't belong there any more. He belongs with us. 
 And here we go. 
 Out in the great big world. 
 Time to leave. 
 Our first night at the hotel together was so sweet. He held this pose, with the spoon in his mouth, unsure of what to do. But when he tasted that food for the first time, his sweet little eyes lit up and he had no trouble gobbling down the rest of it. 
 Getting better with the spoon. 
 Playing on the floor with mom. 
 It is incredible to watch and see what a difference one-on-one attention makes for a child. 
 And our first bottle. 
 First meal in the hotel restaurant. 
 Our days looked a lot like this. 
 Lots of face time with mom. 
 And about 23 million hugs. 
 We were not allowed to leave our hotel once we had Bradley in our custody, so we became VERY fond of our balcony. 

 Lots of time out here. 
 And playing and eating and playing and eating. 
 Precious boy. 
 Our Embassy interview was on Tuesday morning, and we got his visa the very next day! 
 Already looking healthier. 
 And we are getting lots more smiles. 
 Finally it was time to head home. I'll be honest. I was so nervous about the flight. Sixteen hours on one plane with a  one year old. Gulp. 
The airline we used has bassinet attachments for families traveling with babies. We were told by everyone to get to the airport early because they are first come, first served. So we got to the airport in Addis FIVE hours before our flight took off and were told that there were no bassinet seats available. How could that be? We were literally the first people in line. My heart sank and then started galloping. Sixteen hours of holding this boy who has never been on a plane and has only known me for five days. Oh my. 
Praise be to God because the Lord intervened on our behalf. When the flight attendant in our cabin saw our situation, she informed the man in the bulkhead seat (where the bassinet attaches) that he needed to move because I had a baby. He said he wanted the leg room of an aisle seat, and then a TOTAL STRANGER, who I think might have been an angel of the Lord, offered up his aisle seat and took my window seat so that I could have the bassinet. I could not believe it. So my mom and I did not get to sit together, but I did not have to keep Bradley in my lap for the whole flight. Thank you Hable, sweet flight attendant and thank you man I don't know for offering to move seats on a sixteen hour overnight flight. I love you both. Really and truly. 
 And this is how we spent the second leg of that flight. Dublin to D.C. The boy loves to be held. 
And about 14 hours in. 
I agree. 
After sixteen hours, we finally made our descent into Washington D.C. And as soon as those wheels touched down, my boy was a citizen. I was sobbing in my seat. 
I could not believe that the Lord had carried us here to the finish line that is more like a starting line. He did it. 
 We made it through customs, and it was on to Charlotte. 
 Quick stop for dinner. 
And then we hit the wall. Our LAST flight was canceled. We were a one hour hop from home and completely stuck. When they made the announcement, I looked at my mom and told her that I did not have the capacity to handle this. I had been awake for almost forty hours and traveling for over thirty. With a baby. I will spare you the HORRIBLE dealings we had with US Air because this is a happy post, but we ended up running (literally) onto a flight to Montgomery. And my CHAMPION family, who had been waiting to meet us at the Birmingham airport to celebrate Bradley's homecoming, hopped in their cars and flew down the interstate to Montgomery. 

 And there he was. The man who fought side by side with me to get our boy home. 
 I don't have a caption for this one. 
 Or this one. 
But we were finally all three together. 
 Looking at his dad. Buddy, you don't even know how this man loves you. 
 So relieved to be home. 
 I wish I could tell you exactly what I was thinking here, but I don't know that I can. 
 I am just so humbled that Lord has seen fit to make this my story. 
 The road has been long and full of pitfalls and obstacles. It has not been the easy path I likely would have chosen for myself. But I am who I am because of what the Lord has done. 
 And He gave me to most wonderful support system. 
 Meeting his crazy Aunt BB. 
 Oh, how I love my family. 
 Nana and Big Mike
 This woman prayed hard to get our boy home. 
 Uncle Dave and Aunt Farren. 
 And Bradley's namesake. 
 One of the best men I know. 
 And meeting his cousin Sydney. 
 Back with his dad. 
 My heart. 
 And the woman behind the airport pictures, Jennifer, and her sweet Abigail. 
 This little man already has so many people who love him. 
People who love him well. 

I hope to get more out soon. But I make no guarantees. At least not for another few weeks! 

With deep love, 

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