Monday, September 30, 2013

Faith's Birthday, aka, The Time Lila Ate Ice Cream with Her Hands

This weekend was awesome.  And exhausting.  Introvert Kelsey wants to find a cave somewhere and camp out there for a couple of weeks.  But Mommy Kelsey has two small people who want me with them every waking minute of the day.  And not only with them, but touching them and talking to them and getting things for them.  And the bigger small person needs a serious attitude re-alignment.  We've found ourselves in that place again to which big transitions and out-of-the-ordinary events bring us.  The place created by lots of little bits of extra grace for the aforementioned transitions and out-of-the-ordinary events, but that grace ends up coming back to bite you in the behind because grace also equals loose boundaries and loose boundaries are a three-year-old's playground.  So now we have to squeeze the boundaries back in place so that we all feel safe and sane.

Basically, we're in Behavior Bootcamp.  It's the necessary regimen that the aftermath of things like birthdays and holidays and new preschools and Not-Summer requires.  Faith, being the Babiest of Babies, is perfect and needs no extra training (yet).  However Big Sis needs, among other things, a swift kick in the pants and lots and lots and lots of "look at my eyes" and "stop doing that" and "time out" and "One...Twooooooooo..." and no mercy.  Except yes, mercy, but in smaller doses than what I had been doling it out.  

Faith-baby's birthday party was a smashing success.  I think.  I'm not sure I was entirely "there" because of all the stress and chaos and excitement and people.  But people seemed happy and First Mama and Baba seemed happy and Faith seemed over-stimulated and fell asleep in my dad's arms.  And Lila, well, she ate two strawberries and some ice cream for lunch soooooo, that should tell you something about a) how distracted and stressed I was and b) how the rest of the day went (not all that swimmingly, if you can believe it).  
This is when she was scooping the ice cream out of the cone with her fingers.
My sweet friend, Jenae, took pictures for us (a last-minute miracle!) so I'll post more details about the party when I get the pictures back from her, but for now I'll just say it was Beautiful Cultural Chaos and the room was full of people who love us and love our girl and what else could we ask for?  Also, First Mama kept putting crab legs onto my plate and demanding that I "Eat! Eat!" while I just laughed and made eyes at the Husband to "GET YOUR BOTTOM OVER HERE AND HELP ME EAT SOME OF THIS!" (He pretended like he didn't know what my eyes were saying, but HE KNEW.)

I keep asking people who were there if they thought it went okay because really, REALLY, I have no earthly idea.  I was sort of having an out-of-body experience the whole time because there were so many x factors that I didn't know how to manage it.  

Time for some math:

2 Birth parents + 5 Kahlers +11 Kautzis + 7 Chinese friends + 4 American friends + 11 kids + lots of food + 2 languages being spoken + THE Kirby Merrill + 17 balloons (I put the Husband on balloon duty - it was kind of like when Monica put Phoebe on cup and ice duty) + 100 other restaurant patrons = 162 kinds of stress for this mama.

And things like this kept happening: 
Caught in the act after I forbid her from having cake until she ate some real food.
Also, it was a miracle that everyone found the restaurant because I told half the people the wrong restaurant name.  Details Schmetails.

Anyway, we are trying to take it easy today before we're back in to the scheduled part of the week (preschool, therapy, my job, etc).  I told a friend that I feel like life has me on the spin cycle.  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are a blur and it's all I can do to remember to brush my teeth by the time Friday rolls around.  Add in things like extravagant first birthday parties and we're lucky that I remember to feed the children!  I'm hoping that another week or so will help me get my bearings for our new routine.  In the meantime, I'm doing my best to stay sane and be kind to my big kid despite my waning resources.  

And Faith, her Royal Cuteness, will continue to do what she does best: be awesome.  Look at her in all her one-year-old awesomeness - sitting up and everything!
The hair.  Oh, the hair.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Letter to My Littler Daughter: Year One (first birthday, 6 months home)

Dear Faith,
Today you have been home with us for 6 months.  This milestone matters to me because it's not only a significant amount of time, but it also marks that magical moment when the mythical switch flips and you have officially been my daughter longer than you weren't.  Of course, it's bittersweet because I can't help but think of your First Mama whenever I mark these milestones.

Speaking of your First Mama, she has an extravagant birthday party planned for you tomorrow.  Mostly we're just along for the ride, which is awesome.  She loves you so much.  I think this year we will celebrate 1 year home in March with a big party so that we can give your first birthday to your first parents.  We get all of your other birthdays, after all.

I've been reminiscing about the months of "radio silent" when we didn't know if you would be our daughter or not.  Those months were torture for me, although now they seem like they went fast.  Hindsight does that, I suppose.  I look at you and wonder at how different my life would be if we hadn't said, "yes" or if your first parents had changed their minds.  I look at you and marvel at how much my life would lack if you were not in it.  Sometimes I say to your daddy, "Look at what we would be missing out on if God had answered our prayers last fall!"  This time last year, we were grappling with the grief of many months without a positive pregnancy test.  This time last year, we were making tentative decisions about changing routes on our path.  This time last year, we surrendered our path to the Map Maker and He began to steer us to you.  Never before have I been so grateful for unanswered prayers!

I hope it's clear to everyone - EVERYONE - that you are no disappointment to me.  You are not a second choice or the child I settled for when my prayers for a healthy baby or a pregnancy went unanswered.  You are and were ordained to be, my daughter.  No disclaimers or conditions need be added.  I would choose you again and again and again and again.  I would dismiss all manner of "healthy" children and wait for you again.  Because you are the best.  And I'm so glad I get to be your mommy.

I love being your mommy.  I love the way you grin and flap your arms at me when I walk in the room. I love the way you hug me when I first pick you up.  I love the way you tense up in excitement.  I love how proud of yourself you are when you push yourself up to a sitting position from your tummy.  I love how much you love the dog.  I love the way you look like an inchworm when you scoot across the floor.  I love the way you squint and I never know if you're about to laugh or cry.  I love the way you quiet down when I sing into your ear.  I love getting to know you.  I love signing "Mommy" to you emphatically in the hopes that you will sign it back to me some day.  I love the way your eyes widen when I sign to you - I think it means you understand me!

Your daddy and I were talking tonight about how it doesn't feel like it should be your birthday already. Part of it is because you've only been home half of a year, but the other part is that you aren't really doing much that one year olds usually do.  I could be sad about that.  Sometimes I am just because I want things to be easier for you.  But mostly I'm totally okay with it because I feel like I'm getting some of the time I missed with you.  You came home at 6 months old, but you felt and acted like a 3 month old.  And now, at 364 days old, you seem to me like you are just 8 or 9 months old - recently mastering sitting up, crawl-scooting everywhere, putting everything in your mouth, popping out two teeth, and starting to pull up on things.  I am grateful for your extended infancy because I feel like I am being given a gift that I thought I would have to forfeit.

Let me be clear: I would never begrudge your First Mama a single day with you.  Never.  But that doesn't mean I don't wish I could have been there, too.  Someone once flippantly said - I think in the midst of a particularly exhausting season - that they would love to skip the first months of their kids' lives and get right to the fun toddler stage.  I know what they meant.  The sleepless nights can be killers and the more independent kids get, the easier most things become.  (Lord knows I'm grateful your Big Sis is potty-trained and I'm not changing two sets of diapers these days!)  But, as a mommy who missed out on the first six months of her baby's life, I wanted to say, "No.  Don't ever wish those days away!  I'd give my right arm to have those days sealed in my memory rather than hazy in my imagination.  Don't take them for granted, as hard and exhausting as they are - they are also sacred."

The days that added up to your first six months are sacred, too.  And as much as I grieve that I didn't get them with you, I am so glad that your First Mama has them to honor and treasure.  I hope that she lived them fully and that she, every so often, was able to push away the date looming in the past's future when she would no longer have your days to treasure.  I think often about that day - March 27, 2013 - and how different the memory of it must feel to us than it does to her.  For us, it was a beginning.  For her, an ending.  For us, it was joy and hope and thrill.  For her, grief and sorrow and heartache.  For you?  We'll never know.  I hope it was one of peace and safety.  I hope you knew from the moment I laid my hands on you that you were loved from the moment I laid my eyes on you.
The first picture we saw of you.  I immediately saved it to my phone's lock screen so I could stare at you all day long.  I was stupid in love from this very first glimpse.
Taken your first night home.
Taken a few weeks ago.
I think you know that now - how loved you are.
I think you know that I am your mommy - the one who treasures your days and celebrates your victories.
The one who gets to wake up tomorrow and wish you "Happy Birthday" for the very first time.

I'm so glad I'm your mommy, Faith-baby.

Happy, happy birthday.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

NEW PLAN for a BIG giveaway

Soooo, I had a week of prizes to give away, but so far no one has donated to our team.  Wah-wah.  I know most of you have many places where you give generously and I know that I often feel like there are a million other places I'd like to give if I could afford it so, no hard feelings.  BUT, we are committed to trying to raise $1,000 to benefit the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City for the DS walk we are participating in on October 26!  Sooooo, here's what I decided to do: I'm going to combine all of the prizes into one big giveaway for next week.

ANYone who donates ANY amount to our team ($5, $10, $20, $200 - any amount!) will be entered in the giveaway for next Friday.

Here's what you could win:
The Jesus Storybook Bible:

These awesomesauce baby leggings that my friend Laurisa makes (and will soon be selling in her Etsy shop!)  She can do sizes 0-2T and will have multiple colors (boy and girl colors) available for you to choose from.
 A print of your choice:

A t-shirt of your choice:

AND a $15 gift card to Starbucks for that Pumpkin Spice Latte everyone talks about!  I don't like coffee or pumpkin things (I know, I'm so un-American!), so I don't really get the fuss, but I'm assuming the rest of you people do!

All you need to do is go to our team fundraising page and donate any amount.  Then come back here and leave a comment on any post referencing this giveaway.  I'll announce the winner next Friday, October 4!

Any amount helps and your support means so much to us.  Thank you!

**As a reminder, we are raising money for the Down syndrome walk we are doing on October 26.  The money benefits the Down Syndrome Guild of Kansas City - an awesome organization that is dear to our hearts because they support families who have children with DS.**

Monday, September 23, 2013

First Downs for Down Syndrome: Monday Giveaway

We're on a quest to raise $1000 for our First Downs for Down Syndrome walk team, Faith's fans!  Faith's birthday is next Saturday and we'd like to raise $500 this week in honor of her birthday!  Would you consider donating?  The proceeds benefit the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City which provides support to families of children with Down syndrome.

As some extra incentives, we are doing some giveaways this week.  Today's giveaway is for our FAVORITE children's Bible - the Jesus Storybook Bible.  We lovelovelovelovelovelove this little Bible.  It is my go-to baby gift and Lila just adores hers.  We actually have multiple copies - one that she is allowed to read by herself (and therefore has been ripped and taped up more times than I can count!) and one that I keep safe for us to read together.  The tagline for the Bible is "Every story whispers His name" and the writer - Sally Lloyd Jones - does a fabulous job of showing how each story tells the continued narrative of God's great plan to rescue His people through His son.  The illustrations are gorgeous, the words are simple and moving and I can't read it without crying.

Even if you don't have kids, I recommend this Bible as a fresh perspective on Scripture - I often read it without Lila - it's good for the heart!

To be entered into the drawing, make a donation in any amount on our team fundraising page and then come back here and leave a comment telling me you donated.  I'll announce the winner of today's giveaway tomorrow as well as the prize for tomorrow's giveaway.

Faith says, 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

First Downs for Down Syndrome

On October 26, the Kautzi's will be joining thousands of other friends and families of people with Down syndrome for the First Downs for Down Syndrome walk.  The walk supports the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City.  The DSG is a wonderful resource to families in the Kansas City area.  They provides education and support for families who have children with Down syndrome.   One of the things we love about the DSG is that they work to educate parents about the realities of Down syndrome.  Yes, it's a scary diagnosis because of the many health concerns a child might face, but it is also a great gift.  

In my experience, most people have very limited exposure to people with Down syndrome and therefore there is a lot of misunderstanding and fear associated with the diagnosis.  When a local family receives the diagnosis of Down syndrome, one of the first things the hospital does is make a call to the DSG and someone from the DSG then makes a personal visit to the family with a gift basket and the offer of support and an awesome community.  The DSG helps families balance their grief and fear with the realities of the joys ahead of them.  For that we are proud to partner with them! 

One of the big reasons we adopted Faith was my experience of growing up with my friend Kirby, who also has Down syndrome.  The exposure to Kirby's life and the joy of her friendship shaped my perspective on Down syndrome and other special needs.  One of our hopes for Faith's life is that she would be someone's "Kirby"!  I hope that her life changes the perspectives of the people who know her - that they wouldn't see Down syndrome and other special needs purely as disabilities, but as gifts to our lives.  I want people to see that she's more than her extra chromosome - she is a perfectly and wonderfully made person whose unique DNA brings something extra special to the world.  Maybe someone we know will give birth to a child with Down syndrome and because they know Faith, the diagnosis won't be quite as scary and traumatic.  Or maybe someday one of Faith's friends will grow up and adopt a child with Down syndrome!  We are thrilled to be a part of supporting the Down Syndrome Guild as they support families who are lucky enough to have Down syndrome grace their lives!  

Would you consider joining us?  There are two ways you can be a part of the walk:

1. Donate to our team.  Our goal is to raise $1000.  We have a mini goal of raising $500 by Faith's birthday next Saturday!  Please think about donating to our team - consider it a birthday gift for our sweet girl!
*For every donation of any amount, I'll enter into a drawing to win daily prizes (Monday-Friday) this week.

2. Join us on Saturday October 26.  We'd love to have you participate in the walk with us!  I'm told it's less of a "walk" and more of a parade and carnival with fun stuff for kids.  The walk is at Arrowhead Stadium from 9am-1pm.

Click here for our personal fundraising page.

Here's a little blurb from the DSG:
Are you Ready to Step Up for Down Syndrome? Did you know that each year 5,000 babies are born with Down syndrome and that there are over 400,000 individuals living with Down syndrome in the United States?

The Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City (DSG) serves over 1,200 families and partners with 22 hospitals, 45 school districts and countless service providers in Kansas and Missouri. We invite you to Step Up and support our members and the work of the DSG by participating in one of the largest celebrations for Down syndrome in the nation. Our 2012 walk was a smashing success thanks to 345 teams, 8,776 walkers and 400 volunteers!  Will you be there to help us cross the finish line this year?

Your participation in the walk shows you support inclusion and acceptance for people with Down syndrome and recognize their many gifts, talents and contributions to society. We envision a bright future with your help.

Each step you take and every dollar you raise will help the DSG continue to provide vital programs and services offering educational and social support to people with Down syndrome, their families and the professionals who serve them. Important work waits to be done to enhance research, education and advocacy programs.
Your support is critical in making these programs a reality.

What difference can you make by Stepping Up?

* When you raise $100 you help DSG provide two families with hospital meal vouchers during extended hospital stays.
* When you raise $200 you help DSG provide a family experiencing a new diagnosis a welcome basket full of gifts and resources on Down syndrome.
* When you raise $250 you help DSG host a quarterly social activity for teens and adults with Down syndrome.
* When you raise $500 you help DSG host a quarterly support breakfast for parents and grandparents.
* When you raise $750 you help DSG provide conference scholarships to educators and professionals who support individuals with Down syndrome.
* When you raise $1000 you help DSG publish an issue of our award winning Connections Newsletter.

View DSG's Programs & Services Brochure2012 Annual Report and organizational video to learn more about how the funds you raise are used to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.
We thank you for your generous support of Faith's Fans and look forward to seeing you Saturday, October 26, 2013 at the Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk & Festival!

Thursday, September 19, 2013


The Husband and I were watching Parks and Recreation - the one where Andy Samburg guest stars as the park ranger who has no volume control on his voice.  It's one of the most quoted episodes in our house:



Anyway, in the episode Jerry (who is described by Ron Swanson as "Both the schlemiel and  schlimazel of the office.") gets mugged in the park after being scammed into doing the unwanted task of refilling all of the hummingbird feeders around the city.  When the staff learns of Jerry's attack, they feel guilty for making fun of him so much and resolve to not mock him anymore.  Of course no sooner do they make that resolution, than Jerry provides them with multiple acts of stupidity and clumsiness that, on any other day, would result in everyone making fun of him.  Instead they are forced to painfully hold in their jokes and snide comments.

The Husband and I both laughed uncontrollably at the clip and then, through our laughter, we both said at the exact same time, "I forgot about the FART!"

Then we looked affectionately at each other and the Husband squeezed my hand.  I know what he was thinking, because I was thinking it, too.

MFEO.  Made For Each Other.*

*I learned that from Sleepless in Seattle

Monday, September 16, 2013

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Let's start with this:

That's right.  That's my girl.  She's a looker, that one.  I thought I'd start the post off with the lighter side of life since my last few posts have been pretty intense and because this one's not exactly going to be a party.  Cue Lila wearing a Rapunzel wig that has seen better days.

Also this:
She's thinking, "I'm going to get a rash where?  EVERYWHERE?"

That's right, Faith Baby has Hand Foot and Mouth disease.  Lila had it when a few summers ago, but hers came as part of a triple-whammy with strep throat and scarlet fever so I'm not sure which of the three caused her the most pain.  All I remember is that she was miserable.

Faith's rash is presenting more typically HFM with a rash around her mouth, blisters on her lips and tongue and inside of her cheeks, a rash on her arms and legs, the palms of her hands, her wrists and ankles.  Pretty much everywhere.  And she's miserable.  Well, as miserable as her sunny little disposition allows.  The worst part is how restless she is at night.  None of us slept last night.  Except Lila, so you do that math.  Here I'll help you:

Miserable baby + grumpy and exhausted Mommy + sleep-deprived Daddy + hyper and well-rested preschooler = Problems.

And now it's time for the Good News/Bad News game:

Good News: We all took naps this afternoon
Bad News: We all took naps this afternoon so Lila wasn't ready for bed until 10:00

Good News: We got a clear diagnosis on Faith's rash so we know what we're dealing with
Bad News: The treatment is treat for pain with ibuprofen and wait it out

Good News: The Husband took the day off today
Bad News: That means he can't take the day off on Wednesday when I need someone to watch Faith while I'm at school

Good News: Lila has preschool tomorrow so I only have to deal with a sick baby, not a sick baby AND a wild three-year-old
Bad News: Lila will likely be exhausted tomorrow and I'll be forced to decide between keeping her awake to guarantee an early bedtime and giving her a nap to guarantee I don't pull all my hair out

Good News: This too shall pass.

Let's leave it at that.  Happy Monday!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Getting Our Girl Part 5

Since I'm finally catching up on our Getting Our Girl series, I figured I'd just knock these posts out while I'm on a roll.  I want to write about our visit with Faith's First Parents this week, but I realized that I had a lot of gaps yet to fill in from our uncompleted series in the Spring.  So here is Part 5 of our Getting Our Girl series.

We reluctantly wrapped up our conversation with Faith's birth parents Tuesday afternoon, March 26th. It had been a whirlwind few days.  I went from crying in my car Saturday morning, afraid the adoption was going to fall through to reading and re-reading an email Saturday afternoon that told us to pack our bags and buy some diapers!  We nailed down details Sunday and Monday and by Monday night we were on our way to Liberal, KS to meet our new daughter and her birth family.  The seven hour drive was enough to exhaust us, but I still barely slept Monday night, knowing that I would be meeting Faith the next day.  

Tuesday was equally as exhausting, but more emotionally exhausting than physically exhausting.  As much as I couldn't wait to have Faith with me, I was grateful that we had an evening and night to rest and recover before taking custody.  I was also grateful that Faith's First Parents had one last night with her after meeting us.  I hoped and prayed that they slept that night with peace in their hearts about their decision.

We went to dinner and Lila fell asleep in my arms before our food even came which is sooooo unlike her!  That girl was pooped!
We woke up the next day and packed our bags, waiting for word that Faith's birth parents had signed their parental rights waiver.  The wait wasn't long and to be honest, was a bit anticlimactic!  Susan, our adoption coordinator called and said, "It's all signed.  They're ready for you to come get her."  With nervous hearts we drove to the little house where Faith had lived with her First Parents for the last three months.  We took this picture on our way.  You can see the exhaustion in my eyes, my face puffy from lack of sleep.  I was ready to get my baby and go home to start our life as a family of four!

We pulled up to the house and I snapped a picture.  I imagined flipping through a photo book with Faith when she's older and pointing to that house saying, "That's where you lived with your Mama and Baba."  I love the hazy blur from the sunlight, like a picture of a memory.

Faith was napping when we went inside.  She had about four layers of blankets on top of her and I mused inwardly at the stark difference in cultures - one that fears cold and one that fears suffocation!  I'm convinced that to this day, Faith's First Mama worries that I don't keep her warm enough!  This week she asked me if I brought a blanket to drape over her while she napped in her carseat!  Evidently even in 90+ degree heat, babies need to be bundled!  I was informed by our social worker (who has spent quite a bit of time in China) that this is very cultural which was a relief to know!

My heart tweaked with empathy as I watched them empty their room of baby things.  They packed up their stroller, their bouncy seat, bags of clothes, the pack-n-play, blankets and diapers and lotions and bottles.  Little by little the room held fewer signs that a baby lived there and I wondered how long it would be difficult for them to enter the room without a pang of grief at its sparseness and lack of baby paraphernalia.

One last poopy diaper was changed, one last rub-down with Aquaphor.
One last snuggle and kiss.  

One last family picture.

And then we were loading her into her carseat and clicking her into the car.  We were hugging our fellow parents one last time.  We left them standing at the end of their driveway with their arms around each other, weeping.  It was horrible.  Horrible.  I sobbed as we drove away.  I said something like, "It shouldn't feel like this."  I kept looking back at the carseat holding my new daughter who had no idea what the hell was happening to her.  I couldn't get myself to believe the reality of what was happening - that I had a new daughter which was supposed to be a really happy thing, but I couldn't get her weeping birth parents out of my mind.
That began to change when we got back to the hotel.  Lila held Faith for the first time and I started to see the future a bit despite the present.
She took her first nap in my arms.

We began what would become the Great Bottle Battle (girl does not like her bottle due to reflux and generally pickiness).  And mostly, we just fell in love again and again and again.

And yet, I still couldn't get those sweet people out of my head - standing at the end of their driveway, watching us drive away with their baby girl.

To be continued...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Getting Our Girl Part 4 (much delayed)

The day we met Faith and her First Parents will go down as one of the most precious days in my memory.  If a crazed scientist threatened to steal all my memories but three, I would choose to keep the day Lila was born, the Best Day Ever (that's an inside joke between the Husband and me) and that day in that toasty breakfast room at the Days Inn in Liberal, Kansas.  We got to spend three hours asking questions about Faith - her preferences, her routines, etc - and about their family.  I have about seven pages of hastily scrawled notes detailing everything from how often she nursed to the fact that her birth parents met when they were five years old (!) to where in China Faith's family originated.  This is precious information to me - it is information that I held vaguely in my prayers before we knew about Faith at all, when I prayed my impossible prayer that we would have information about our child's birth family.  I hope one day it is precious information to Faith.
Faith's birth father was signing a statement for the adoption.  The guy on the right was our hero interpreter whom our awesome attorney unearthed in Middle-of-Nowhere, KS!  He holds a special place in my heart.

 We laughed, we cried, we tried to navigate our own feelings while being sensitive to her birth parents' feelings.  Through our interpreter we asked them all the questions we could think of and our social worker asked a few more.  My heart leapt when Faith's birth father corrected his own answer when asked what religion he practices: "None," a pause and then as an afterthought, "I might be a Christian."  My thoughts and prayers have lingered obsessively over that might be as I have wondered and dreamed about how and when the uncertainty might give way to a life given fully over to our Good Lord!

Have I mentioned before that Faith has two sisters?  (Well, she has THREE sisters!  Two biological sisters.)  Her birth parents are working hard, saving all of their money to one day send for them.  It took 8 years for Faith's birth father to save enough money to send for his wife.  Now that there are two of them working, I pray that they are united sooner than that.  When we asked about Faith's sisters, I was not prepared for her birth father's answer.  My heart sank and I wept as Faith's birth father shared his discouragement and despair from a life of hardship.  "I have been unlucky my whole life," he said quietly.  "Maybe, if I was a rich man, I would still have all of my daughters."  I had to look down as I saw his eyes pool with tears. The brokenness and despair in her birthfather's voice and face will haunt me for as long as I live.  Because it's true.  If he was a rich man, he would have all of his girls.  And that is not okay with me.  His posture, his grief is an image I won't forget.  I choose to keep it in the forefront of my memory.

It is that image that awakens in me a roar of defensiveness when people assume Faith was unwanted by her birth parents.  Sure, I feel defensive that anyone would consider my child unwanted, but more so, I feel the need to defend these beautiful people - my daughter's birth family.  It is an unfair and ignorant thing to assume that just because a parent isn't caring for their child means he doesn't wish he could be.  In the many adoption stories I have heard, I have never once heard a birth parent say, "I just didn't want her." (I'm not saying there aren't those stories, I'm just saying I believe they are rare in comparison to stories of sacrifice and choices made out of love.)

It is a broken part of our world that there are millions of families who are forced to make the choice between remaining their child's parent and, in many situations, keeping their child alive I don't want to get into this fully right now, but I have a post I keep tinkering with that I haven't gotten quite right yet.  For now, if I want you to know anything about my child's birth family, it is that they are selfless people who have chosen to forsake their own desires and happiness for the sake of their daughter.

As our conversation progressed and I began to tick off the questions on my list of things to ask, my mind began to whir with a feeling of desperation.  I needed to take advantage of this time.  We might not get this time again.  But even as I sensed panic creeping in - the panic to get ALL of my questions answered in the time we had - I started to realize that I had all my top priority questions answered and that anything under that category was frivolous curiosity.  I started to realize that I had an opportunity to give them the gift of preference in things they probably assumed they would have no say.  A few questions formed in my mind - questions designed to extend an olive branch and begin to build a relationship.  I wanted this adoption to be more than a civil transaction.  I wanted it to be the beginning of a familial relationship.  When we promised to be Faith's family, we were also promising to be family to these precious people.  I began to frame questions in my mind that would communicate to them that I valued their insight, their opinion, their feelings and their culture.

The question I am the most glad I asked is what they would like to be called when we talk to Faith about them.  They were very diplomatic and said we could use their names or call them Auntie and Uncle.  But I asked them what the Mandarin words for mom and dad are: mama and baba.  "Then that's what we'll call you.  We will be Mommy and Daddy and you will be Mama and Baba."  At this, Faith's birth mom bowed repeatedly to me, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" she repeated.  I echoed those words in prayer because I truly believe that the Holy Spirit urged me to offer this title to them.  A title they deserve and I give them without reservation.*
Me holding Faith with First Mama and First Baba (the Husband was there, too but I cropped him out.  Sorry Husband!)
To be continued...

*To Lila, we often call them Faith's Tummy Mommy and Tummy Daddy as well, but as Faith gets older we will call them Mama and Baba or First Mama and First Baba.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

attachment and adoption: a visit with Faith's birth parents

Faith's birth parents are in town for a few weeks so we got to spend some time with them this week.  We spent most of the day Tuesday with them and a good chunk of this morning with her First Mama.  As I have tried to write about the last few days, I am realizing how much I left unfinished in our Getting Our Girl series.  I am going to try to take the next few days to give some background information and fill in the gaps so that I can share my thoughts from this week clearly and freely.

The plans for them to visit came together rather last minute and I was grateful to only have a few days to obsess and fret over this first reunion!  I have exchanged emails with First Mama over the course of the last few months, but the last time we saw her was a week after we picked Faith up.  The last time I saw First Baba (birth dad) was when we drove away with his baby in our car.  I owe you a whole post about this tender and surprising and wonderful man.  I literally tear up every time I think about him.  He loved our daughter so and his love of her touches a deep, deep place in my heart.  I hope I can put the words together to be able to give you all a glimpse into who he is.

A few days was long enough to get me sufficiently worried and nervous for our meeting.  I worried that Faith wouldn't respond to them and they would be hurt.  I worried that she would respond and I would be hurt.  I worried that she'd be grumpy (ha, she's never grumpy!) and that they'd think she wasn't happy.  I worried that I hadn't lotioned her up enough, fixed her hair the right way, dressed her appropriately, etc to meet the expectations of her First Parents.  As you might imagine, all of this worrying turned out to be extremely futile and silly when it was all said and done.  I continue to amaze myself at how easily I forget how faithful God has been in our story.  Why do I worry?  I worry because I can't control.  It's a problem I have.

Anyway, the plan was for them to meet us at Faith's therapy class.  I invited them to come observe her physical therapy appointment thinking that they would enjoy being able to know what I was talking about when I sent them pictures.  I had given our therapist a heads up the day before that we would have some extra guests and I'm so glad I did.  I ended up getting there a few minutes late due to the traffic on the way back from dropping Lila off at preschool, but because Jenn was expecting them she was able to welcome them while they waited for Faith and me to arrive.

As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by our multi-cultural and enthusiastic welcoming committee!  Faith grinned big at her audience (I don't know that she recognized them, I think she just was in a good mood and enjoyed the attention and excitement she was receiving) and let her Baba and Mama hold her.  She reached for me and smiled especially big when she saw me which made me feel so good.  A sense of relief rushed over me as I watched her First Parents cooing over her and her reacting positively, but not anxious or confused.  Those first few moments gave me the confidence that all of our hard work of attachment and bonding had been successful thus far, and I had this sense that it was safe to be generous with my daughter.

I want to take a break from the events of this week to give some background information about attachment.  I intended to talk about it when we first picked Faith up, but other things took precedence.  Like cute pictures of cute babies.  Oh, and surviving.  Ha!  I'll do my best to explain what I can.  We took hours and hours of education classes to learn this stuff so trying to pare it down is difficult!  And to be clear, I am no expert and I am not speaking to the realities of every child.  I'll just try to give a few examples so that you can understand how important the journey of attachment really is.

I'll start by saying that babies who are born into a family naturally develop a unique bond with their parents.  As long as everyone is healthy and appropriate in their interactions, this is usually something most moms and dads don't think twice about - it just happens through many late-night feedings, diaper changes, comforting sessions and general caregiving.  However, a child who is removed from one set of circumstances and placed in another has to relearn that attachment with her new caregivers.  We benefited greatly from the fact that Faith was well cared for and loved by her First Mama.  She had a loving primary caretaker who met her needs consistently for the first six months of her life.  Because of this, she learned how to attach so we just had to work to transfer that attachment to us.  We had to be intentional about teaching her what our role in her life is - that we are reliable and consistent, that we can be trusted to feed and clothe and soothe and meet all of her needs.

Our approach to this was a form of "cocooning" in which adoptive families limit the interaction of anyone other than mom, dad and siblings.  Some families literally will not leave their homes for several weeks in order to create a consistent and reliable environment for their new children.  Think of it as mimicking the first few days and weeks of having a newborn home from the hospital.  The needs of the child and the mother (whose body is healing) take precedent and families typically hole up at home while they adjust to the new person in their life.  Cocooning imitates those first few weeks of newborn bonding in a highly intentional and highly protected environment.   This is so important because some children who have had multiple caregivers or have lived in environments where basic needs are not met need to be taught to whom and how to attach.  It can be confusing if many people are around because the child does not yet know who will be the permanent family and who is just passing through.

Again, we benefited from the wonderful work Faith's First Mama did in teaching our girl how to attach through her consistent and loving care.  We just had to teach her that we were now the people she could trust to meet her needs.  Because of this, we could take a bit more relaxed approach to cocooning.  We didn't hole up in our house, although we were intentional about not being away from our home too long or too often.  But we were committed to being the only people to hold her, comfort her, change her, feed her.  We were the only people we allowed to meet her needs - a sort of crash course in becoming a Kautzi!  This was undoubtedly hard for our family who desperately wanted to get their hands on their new granddaughter/niece/cousin, but they were all very gracious and respectful of our wishes.  It was hard on us, too.  There were times when Lila needed something and I really would have loved to hand Faith over to someone to hold while I met Lila's need.  And it was definitely uncomfortable to have to tell people "no" when they asked to hold her (at least most asked!  There was one person who tried to just take her out of my arms and I had to hold on tight and explain our situation!  I think she was embarrassed, but I understood!  It was eye-opening to me about how much we assume when it comes to holding other people's children!  I'm guilty, too!)  But those small inconveniences were nothing in the grand scheme of things.  I am so glad we did what we did.  I would do it all over again.

Because attachment is always on my brain, I am constantly looking for and rewarding the positive steps Faith has made in our bonding.  If she reaches for me, I try to always pick her up because I want to reinforce that Mommy is who will meet her needs.  A few weeks ago, we were at a restaurant for the Husband's grandma's 90th birthday party.  My mother-in-law was holding Faith and Faith spotted me across the room.  She immediately broke into a grin and started flapping her arms up and down and leaning in my direction.  My heart flew.  I was so encouraged by her response.  It was working!  She knows me and can pick me out of a crowd as her favorite!

That might seem so silly or small to you, but it is a BIG DEAL.  You might think, "Of course you're her favorite!  You're her mom!" but that's just it!  If the attachment piece doesn't sink in, a child may never know he or she is supposed to have a favorite person!  In fact, a sign in children who have attachment problems is that they will "parent shop," meaning they will charm other adults because in their mind that adult might be their next parent. Their brain hasn't been trained to believe and understand that parents are permanent, consistent, trustworthy.  So an adopted child who spent time in an orphanage, for example, may just go to anyone willingly - not showing any partiality to one person or another.  She might seem well-adjusted and secure to the world, but her adoptive mommy's heart is probably aching because she knows that the behavior indicates that they have a long way to go.

I hope that makes sense!  I want to be clear that attachment is not something that breaks and cannot be fixed.  There is always hope and it is a journey of ups and downs, wins and losses.  It is often a hard road, but it is worth it!  The child deserves it.  By the way, if you are interested in learning more, one of my favorite blogs is Finding Magnolia.  Mary does an AMAZING job of speaking about her daughter's journey and explaining therapeutic parenting for kids with big, deep wounds.  I have learned so much from her and am in awe of her grace and patience and sacrifice.  I have emailed with her a few times asking questions and opinions as we make decisions for Faith and our future Ethiopia baby.  I hope to be half the parent she is!  Check her blog out and you will love it!

As much thought and time and intentionality as I've put into bonding and attachment with Faith, it is ironic to me that I have never once thought about whether Lila is attached to me.  I know she is!  And that's what makes it hard to understand for those who don't have a lot of exposure to adoption.  In an ideal world, attachment just happens because moms and dads naturally meet their kids' needs.  You don't have to think about it - God created the needs of babies and the instinct of moms and dads to allow for the perfect environment in which attachment and bonding is fostered!  He's brilliant!  And I am so grateful that we were given the knowledge and tools we needed to foster a healthy attachment with Faith.  Every day we teach her that her world is safe and predictable.  Every day I teach her that I am her mommy and will be her mommy.  Every day I do intentional things to drill this reality into her.  She needs to not have to worry about whether someone new is going to come take her away every 6 months.  She needs to know that we are her family forever.

And that is why I was nervous to see her First Mama again.  I was nervous that somewhere in her little baby brain a memory would be triggered and she would be confused or anxious.  But as I watched her being held by her Baba and Mama, I felt that sense that she was secure in her place in our family.  And that security told me it was safe to be generous with her - to let her First Parents hold her and kiss her and touch her and love her.  To let those kisses and hugs and coos be a salve on their wounded hearts.  I prayed that with each touch, the arms that have ached to hold their baby would sense the healing of having her there in that moment.  I could step back and give it to them.  She would be okay and I didn't need to steal away any piece of that healing moment.  And for that I have been praying prayers of thanksgiving and praise since Tuesday morning.

I have so much more to share, but this post is already so long!  Thanks for sticking with me!  Check back in tomorrow for more!

Friday, September 6, 2013

scenes from Friday

We are pooped from this week.  It always takes me awhile to readjust to the new schedule of the fall and this year we have Lila's preschool and Faith's therapy to get used to in addition to my part time teaching job.  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be busy and exhausting so I'm planning on reserving my Fridays for recuperating.  

That means we let the baby sleep as long as she can, watch an extra show or two in the morning, stay in our jammies as long as possible, maybe have lunch with Daddy, and I allow Lila to play without following her around telling her to clean up.  That last one will take some adjustment because I have spent the last year or so training myself and Lila to clean up before we move on to something else.  We (all of us) seem to all carry the same clutter gene which means we have to be really intentional about putting things away or our house becomes a map of the activities of the week.  Spilled milk here from Wednesday morning when I was hurrying to get to school and realized the milk carton was leaking.  The empty paper towel roll there from earlier this week.  Lila's toys scattered hither and thither.  A trail of Faith's toys that she managed to drag along with her as she rolled and "crawled" around the living room.  The Target and Chipotle receipts I emptied onto the table when I was looking for something in my purse.  You get the picture.  A week like this one and things really get out of hand, and sometime around Thursday at 4:00 I start to feel claustrophobic and twitchy about the messes that seem to be growing all on their own.  It would be tempting to wake up Friday with a to-do list making up for the week's distracted carelessness, but that would just add more stress to our already taxed bodies and minds.

And the thing is, "a week like this one" is going to be the usual from now on so I have to figure out how to survive and thrive despite the big adjustments in our schedules.   So Friday is our sabbath, if you will.  And if you won't, we will anyway.  I'm going to ignore the mess and be present to play and recuperate.  It's Friday and therefore I refuse to snap at Lila over piddly little things.  I choose to remember that she's exhausted and I'm exhausted and less than 24 hours ago I was wiping away my tears as I wrote about how much I missed having her in the house.  It's Friday and we made it through week one of our new emotionally and time-demanding schedule.  It's Friday and I'm hanging up my usual control-freak hat and letting my kid be a kid.  

And that means coming to grips with the fact that this is what my house will likely look like on Fridays:

 Lots of messes.  Lots of chores left half-done.  But hopefully lots of smiles and rest for our girls.

And, if I'm lucky, maybe a nap for Mommy, too.