Saturday, March 15, 2014

Nine months of Hannah Joy

My baby girl has been with us for nine months now. Nine months of joy unimaginable with her. We have settled into life and try to enjoy the moments that each day brings.
As I think back to where she was nine months ago, even 3 months ago, it is unfathomable how far she has come. The days of waking up in the morning and panicking if I am not beside her are now gone. She will sleepily come to the kitchen to find me, now expecting that I will still be here. She is able to fall asleep quickly on the days when she does not nap, and does not always need to be on me to fall asleep. She still has occasional night terrors, often crying "mama, mama". There are times when she will be laying beside me, and says "mama I scared". She can't articulate why. It reminds me of all that she has been through in her life, and that her fears are real. I try my best to reassure her, and remind her that I will keep her safe. That I am not leaving her. Sometimes the words "mama keep me safe" are the last words she speaks before she goes off to sleep.
Hannah Joy still clings to me each morning as I need to leave her at daycare. She understands I will come back, but clearly would rather stay with me. As I drive away, sometimes I am jealous that the teachers get to spend the day with her, experiencing her sweetness, while I have to work. But how I love how she comes running and shrieking to me with the biggest grin on her face when I return to pick her up. It is a gift I will never take for granted.
There are still situations where I see the repercussions of everything she has experienced. Times where there is fear in her eyes, and her confidence is shaky. She has not yet transitioned to the preschool class at church. She comes to class with me, will not leave my side, and shows minimal interaction with others. Every.single.week. It is only later, that her fear and insecurity begin to subside, and her joyful, playful confidence comes back. My sweet girl is learning that I will be there for her, but she does not yet fully trust it. As her mother, I will continue to build that trust, and enjoy the moments where she needs the extra care.
Hannah Joy no longer eats everything in sight, and will leave food on her plate or refuse foods she doesn't like. She loves to play with her sisters, joining in with anything they do. Her smile is contagious, and can snap anyone out of a sad mood. She has a sensitive heart, and will be the first one to comfort her little peers if they are crying. In many ways, she is wiser beyond her years. Maybe because of everything she has experienced in her short 3 years of life, she has such empathy for others. When she makes a mistake, or digs her heels in if I ask her to do something, she will say "I'm sorry", completely unprompted.
This child is incredibly funny. She loves to laugh and smile, and loves for others to laugh with her. She loves to be naked, and shows no modesty, as she hops around the house. She is playful, and has endless energy. She truly has such a zest for life.
The amount of language she understands and expresses is nothing short of amazing. She picks up things so quickly. Recently, she saw her hematologist who wrote "The patient is speaking exceptionally good English considering she came to the US only 8 months ago. She is quite a clever 3 year old".
She is growing so fast, and learning things so quickly. There are days when I wish it would slow down. That she could be little like this for just a while longer. It's funny how that works; I wished the time away until I could adopt her and now I wish for it to stand still.
My baby girl is a miracle. She is the first child adopted from her orphanage with thalassemia. Ever. I know that God has big plans for her. She is special. She grabs the hearts of all she comes in contact with. What an honor it is to be the one chosen to be her mother.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The gift of friendship

My little one has a best friend. At the tender age of 3. Last August, when we were visiting her child care center, another 2 year old little girl had just started. I watched as the teachers tenderly picked up Julia, speaking to her in both English and her native Portuguese, telling her that her mom would be back, and that she was safe. I think Yaoyao was watching too. And I think she felt compassion for this little one who felt sad that her mother had to work. Yaoyao knows how it feels to miss a mother. She understood Julia. I think that is when their connection started.
When Yaoyao started child care in September, I watched as she and Julia would look for each other at arrival time. When I would pick up, they would often be chasing each other and laughing. They were fast becoming friends.
It wasn't soon before the teachers would tell me that the two were inseparable. The teacher said they were best friends. They were always asking for each other. It was not to the exclusion of the other kids; others would easily join in on their play, but they clearly preferred each other.
Today, Julia turned 3. Her mother had told me that Yaoyao had to be at the party. Julia's party was at a splash park, and watching my sweet girl with her friend was something I won't easily forget. Yaoyao knows how to love and receive love. I have seen that over the past 6 months that she has been home. But, what I realized today, is that she knows how to FIND love. In the big world. At the age of 3.
Yaoyao watched her friend at all times. Her friend watched her. She would move away to be near her. At times, no words were even needed. The two just seemed to understand each other. I watched as Julia gently took Yaoyao's hand to guide her. And I watched as Yaoyao would smile at Julia as if there were some unsaid joke between just the two of them. I watched them squeal in excitement at seeing each other after spending the last week apart.
One of the most tender moments I witnessed between the two of them was as several children were eating some chocolate covered strawberries. Some of the chocolate fell off of Julia's strawberry, onto both her chin and shirt. Julia didn't seem to notice, but Yaoyao did. She reached over to her little friend, and gently wiped the chocolate off her chin using her fingers. She then took the piece that fell onto Julia's shirt and brought it to the trash. Julia looked into Yaoyao's eyes and smiled. I watched my sweet girl lovingly take care of her little friend. They understand each other. They cherish each other. They are best friends. What a gift.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Living thalassemia

Our little sweetness has been with us now for 6 months. Its unreal, really. Six months of days and nights with her. Six months of joy unimaginable.

Our little sweetness has thalassemia intermedia. Her sister Mia has thalassemia major. Thalassemia is a genetic anemia, very prevalent in Guangxi. Both parents must be carriers in order for a child to have it. Health care in rural Guangxi is so poor, substandard in so many ways. The only way to live with thalassemia is to have regular blood transfusions, and receive daily medication to remove the iron which becomes overloaded in the body as a complication from receiving the necessary transfusions. If a person receives transfusions, and does not receive the necessary daily medication, the iron builds up in vital organs such as the liver and heart. A published study looking at thalassemia in Guangxi suggests all children with the condition living in that region of China will not survive. 100% death rate by age 10. 100%. It's shocking. Sobering.

Here in the US, and in other countries with well developed health care, treating a child with thalassemia is relatively "easy". I don't mean it lightly, or to simplify it. But the treatment modality exists. There is access to a safe blood supply. There is knowledge of the potential reactions to a transfusion, so precautions can be taken. Transfusion medicine in the US has experts, who have devised appropriate tests and assessments to make quality of life easier. For the past two years, Mia has been receiving blood transfusions, specifically red blood cells, every three weeks. She is treated at Boston Children's Hospital, which is only 30 miles away. The transfusion takes up to 4-5 hours, depending on how anemic she is. And then we go home. She then wears an infusion pump 6 nights a week, for 10 hours at a time, to combat the iron overload. And we live life.

With thalassemia intermedia, it is a bit more complicated. Hannah produces some blood cells that help her anemia to "not be as bad" as Mia's. However, it comes at a cost to her little body. Her bone marrow works in overdrive to produce cells. Over time she will have physical complications. At this time, she can compensate and live with a Hemoglobin in the 7's. She can even grow and have energy while being this anemic. But, is it fair? The hematologists have said it is not worth it to have Hannah's body struggle. We should transfuse her with Mia, and allow her to live without taxing her body. This means that in the upcoming months she will need the medication, which will be by pump, because of transfusions. It has been a decision I have struggled with, and will likely revisit over and over again.

I am NOT a hero. I am NOT an angel. I am simply an ordinary person. A mother. I am just like everyone else who wanted the chance to raise children. I never thought I would be able to parent a child needing blood (yikes blood). I laugh at the funny things they say. I live to see them having fun. I get frustrated at stepping on the legos on the floor. I bolt out of bed wondering if I remembered to move the stupid elf at this time of year. I worry that I will have to see the NP on transfusion day who does not take any of my concerns seriously. I am grateful for our exceptional hematologist whose passion is kids like my girls. I wonder why God thought I would be the one best for them. I fear that my best will still fall short of what they need. I know that bickering drives me crazy, and watching them all play together brings tears of joy to my eyes. I love watching them learn and grow, and have hopes for a great future for all of them. Just because two of my children have serious medical conditions does not somehow put me in some different type of mothering category. As mothers, we do what our kids need. I am no different.

My baby girl has thalassemia, but it does not define her. This is why I have purposefully chosen not to reveal her condition on this blog until now. I hoped that everyone would see her as the beautiful child she is, not for her diagnosis. She brings smiles to faces of everyone. She brings happiness to young and old. There is a little boy with autism at the after school program where my older girls' attend. If he is there, and sees Hannah, the biggest smile comes across his face. She beams right back to him. She is special, and all can see it. And we are the lucky ones who get to be her family. We are the lucky ones who get to live alongside her.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What a difference a year makes....

One year. Sometimes a year seems so long, and other times it seems so short. A year. A year ago I was struggling. Really, really, struggling. I had a dilemma, and wasn't sure which way to go. That dilemma was whether or not to step out in faith to adopt little Hannah Joy. Oh.My.Word. Just seeing that in print is enough to take my breath away. I cannot even FATHOM not having her today. What an incredible void in my life that would be, to not experience her presence. And yet, at that time, I wondered. Would I be enough? Could I do it? Single with 4? Was I nuts? How would the logistics work? Would I be completely over my head?

God knows. He knows what I need. He knew what would be best for me, for little Wanyao, and for my family. He would provide, and I need not worry. But, at the time, I worried. I obsessed. I agonized. I lost sleep. Here is a little of what I wrote a year ago:

The journey to Hua Wanyao started back in May 2012 when I was contacted by the orphanage to see if I could help find her a home. The orphanage knew she had a form of thalassemia, like one of my daughters. Over the months, the orphanage and I partnered to give her blood transfusions as much as possible within the rationing system due to the severe blood shortage. I began sharing her story with other adoptive families. Several thought they might be interested in her, but no one was able to commit. As the months progressed, I continued to look into her little face. I continued to pray that she would be chosen. Someone asked me if I had thought to become her mother. My thoughts stopped. What? How could this even be possible? Single with 4? So, I continued to pray. I enlisted dear friends to pray for her, and her family. And, as fall came, I started feeling like maybe He was questioning me. Leading me. Had I really thought of becoming her mother? Would it be completely crazy to add one more daughter? We only get one chance at life. I began praying more, and contacted my pastor and his wife. I trust them, and felt they would have an answer. They would know what I should do. Their answer, was to consider presenting my dilemma to our church family. On orphan Sunday.
On November 4, 2012, I stood up before my church and could not speak. I thought of author David Platt who says "orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. But once you do, everything changes." I thought of my three beautiful girls, gifts from Him, former orphans. I thought of Hua Wanyao and how I know her name. How I have spent hours looking at and praying for her sweet face for 6 months. Everything HAD changed. I explained to my church family I was not sure of what I should do. Or maybe I knew, but it seemed so complicated. My life is busy. Full. I felt comfortable with what I have. Does He call us to be comfortable? I know that answer. I tried to justify how I could not possibly be called to be her singleness, my finances, the number of my current children. Yet, He seemed to be asking me to trust. I expressed my fear and asked for prayers. Prayers for Hua Wanyao that her family would boldly step forward for her, and she would remain healthy while waiting. And that she would know that she is chosen not only by her family, but by Him. And prayers for me that I would have wisdom, clarity, and assurance that I would follow His perfect will, regardless of what others or society think I should or should not do.

There are days like today, that I am overcome by emotion by the depth of love I have for my youngest daughter. A little one who continues to amaze me with her bravery, courage, strength, and zest for life. I shudder at the thought of saying "no" to the chance for one last gift in the form of a daughter. To not see her beautiful smile. To not hear her infectious giggle. To not hold her tight when she says "I'm scared". To not have her to complete my family. Thanks to God for gently nudging me forward, so that I would say yes and experience the joy.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

This mama always comes back...

We live in such a broken world. A world where innocent children are impacted by poverty, governmental policies, and mothers who are unable to parent for variety of reasons...children needing more medical care than they could provide, mothers who are hardly able to care from themselves, let alone a baby, and mothers who have literally no supports from family, friends, or the community.
My sweet baby is anxiously attached. When I told a dear friend this recently, she remarked that she was told by a international adoption specialist that this is impossible until the child has been in the family for the same length of time that she was in a orphanage. I know this is not correct. I have lived this before. Yao Yao is my second child to display these symptoms, and I have two others escaped them. I have lived the velcro baby, who could not eat, sleep, or play without me. I have watched the velcro baby grow and become attached much more securely. So, I have walked this path before and am wiser for it.
Hannah Yaoyao's sleep continues to be a struggle. It is more than just a 2 year old struggling to fall asleep. Sleep comes so slowly to her, despite our painstaking routine which is followed every night. Once asleep, she will not sleep deeply. Instead, she wakes slightly to feel that I am still next to her. If I am not, it is a sheer panic that overcomes her. She bolts up, crying the most visceral, heartbreaking cry, saying "mama, mama" over and over. She thinks and feels that I am gone...
Every single day, she repeats to herself "mama always come back yao yao". Every.Single.Day. Sometimes she says this so many times a day that I lose count. In saying this, she has shared with me her fear. Her fear that I will not come back. That I will be gone. She has lived this before, perhaps falling asleep and waking up to find her birthmother gone. So she tries to reassure herself that this time will be different. She is trying to trust that I will be different. That I will ALWAYS come back for her. My guess is she will continue to tell herself this until she actually feels that it is true. There is a difference between thinking it and actually feeling it. She doesn't feel it yet. Until she does, I will do my best to help her to live a life where this mama always comes back.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Days of JOY

It's now been a little over 4 months since Hannah Joy Yao Yao joined our family. One third of a year seems so long and so short at the same time. The time has flown by, and we are now fully into our new normal. Maternity leave ended with the summer, and full time work has begun. Hannah has transitioned into a wonderful center based childcare where there is stability of teaching staff and peers (her teachers have been there 21 year and 7 years, which is incredible for people working in child care). Now, she loves it. The beginning days were tough for both of us, as she would cry silent tears when dropped off. At pick up, she always flashes her beautiful smile and comes running, exclaiming "mama always come back Yao Yao". With each passing day at her childcare, she experiences the return, and is getting more confident that mamas do indeed, come back.

Hannah has transitioned well to an American diet and gained 6 lbs since coming home. Her rate of language learning is incredible, as she speaks in short sentences. She can tell simple stories. A few days back, she went to child care with a head band and came home without it. I asked "what happened to your headband"? She said "fall down toilet. Off head. Splash. All wet. Yucky. Toilet paper. Get out." Priceless.

Hannah's sleep continues to be somewhat challenging, which was expected due to the transition to child care. Most nights, she is still restless. She will panic if she finds that I am not in the bed next to her, crying the most heartbreaking cries which stop the moment she hears my voice again. The scars of loss of her birth family, even if made in loving effort to give her a chance at life, still carry forward with her. As my 4th child through adoption, I acknowledge the reality of her abandonment and try to be mindful of her past experiences while hoping for continued healing of her sweet little heart.

Many people ask me "how do you do it?" (ie manage 4 kids as a single parent). This question really makes me laugh. Just do it. It's not an option to just sit around in bed all day. Life is for living, and I intend to do just that. Time flies by, and before I know it my children will be raised. So for now, we embrace the chaos. We laugh at Hannah's face covered in melted chocolate, and expect that times are going to be messy. Getting five of us out the door before 8:00 in the morning is a feat that always challenges and yet, we somehow do it. The laundry piles up, the floor gets sticky, and there is often a stray dirty sock under the kitchen table. But I wouldn't trade it. We find joy in all of these things, and in so much more, as we live our days together. Days of joy.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Two months of Hannah Joy

Two months. Sixtyish days. That is how long little Hannah has been a part of our family. It seems like a dream to think back upon how she walked bravely into our hotel room, took our hands, and never looked back. Over the past two months we have been learning more about this precious little one, who has been adjusting to her new life with us. It is so clear that she knew love, expects love, and gives love. The days where she was frozen with the insecurity of the unknown are being replaced by confidence which comes from routine and predictability. Her sweet smile permeates even hardened hearts. Her tiny voice brings a smile to all who hear it.

I think back to how fearful I was prior to her adoption. I worried about my capabilities of parenting four, the financial aspect, the logistics of 5 people living in a 2 bedroom condo, of our stable family unit being upheaved again, ect, ect, ect. All of this silly worry for nothing. He knew her, knew us, and knew how perfectly that she would fit. That we, all 5 of us, were MEANT to be family.

Hannah's days are filled with play. She loves being outside, playing with water or sand. She loves to push her doll stroller around with her panda in it. She loves helping, whether it is folding laundry or grabbing a wipe to help "wash" the floor. Hannah has a pure sense of kindness, asking "are you ok" if she sees anyone struggling. She will sometimes pat my back if I am holding her. She still loves to ride in the ergo carrier, and gently puts her head down. These moments are some of my most cherished with her. Hannah is learning english rapidly, and in just 6 weeks is able to use some 4 word phrases. "I love you more" is her favorite (and my favorite)! I love that she continues to use some of her Chinese too, tonight saying "Yao Yao shui jiao" (Yao Yao is her Chinese name, and shui jiao is go to sleep). Hannah loves to dance, moving her head from side to side. She is trying some new foods (she likes pizza) and loves if I cook some familiar Chinese foods. The littlest things excite her, such as driving through a tunnel. It has been so fun to see things through her eyes, and experience even the mundane in new ways with her.

Sleep times continue to be the most challenging for her. Although she no longer falls asleep sitting up, she is very, very restless. Sometimes it can take 90 minutes for her to fall asleep, the shortest time was 20 minutes. We keep a very consistent routine, but it is hard for her to settle. I think she might feel most insecure at bedtime, so she fights it. She is not upset, or crying. She lays down with her little head on my chest and wait for sleep to come. Once asleep, she will sleep through the night.

Hannah adores her sisters, and they adore her. They laugh and are silly with her. She always makes them smile as she calls each of their names or goes running to them when they've been apart. She imitates everything they do, and is learning so quickly.

As I think about two months with our newest family member and the deep love and gratitude I have for her, I can't help but consider the loss that her foster family and birth parents must feel. Her foster family loved and cared for her for a year, including the morning of the day she came to our family. Her birth family loved and cared for her for close to a year. I cannot even fathom not having her in our lives after such a short time as two months, or even after two minutes of meeting her. The girls and I are all richer for having her with us. She adds such joy. Such love. Such sweetness. How I hope that her birth family and foster family will somehow know my gratitude to them for giving her a foundation where she knows how to give and receive love. I hope that they know our girl is loved more than I ever thought possible. And how I pray that someday I can tell them this in person.