Mothering Epilepsy – An Isaiah 58 moment

October 2013 – The good days feel as though you are reliving the best day of your life all over again. And the gratitude is so strong and the love so deep, they dwarf the shadowy fear riding your back on the hard days. There is so much that is uncertain with epilepsy. I fumble each day trying to figure out this ride. Or, how to walk in it with grace and genuine acceptance.

You never know when seizures will hit, how bad they will be, or how long your little boy will be down for the count. It is our dear friends’ wedding day. Everyone in my family plays a role in the beautiful ceremony except for me. Two hours before the guests arrive to witness the sacred event, Eddie is clobbered with a seizure. Acquaintances watch as my son’s head lurches, his arms convulse and his neck stiffens. But that isn’t the scariest part. It is the look — the desperate, wild VACANCY in his eyes. And we watch as these electrical mis-firings in his brain steal my happy vivacious son away for the afternoon. He lingers in a partially catatonic state for 2 hours. His brain exhausted in every sense of the word.

He will never remember how I walked with him around the beautiful acreage of this quaint ranch in Tucson. He won’t know how the poor photographer couldn’t get MY joyous, smily son to just smile for the camera. Or how I crushed him to my chest, trying to coax his mind and body back into the land of the living. He won’t remember that I rocked him as he made whimpering noises, soft and so terrifyingly primal. Or how I quietly begged him to please wake up and give us a smile. I have rarely felt so helpless in my life as in these moments.

But suddenly, just minutes before the ceremony begins, Eddie wakes up! And he is ready to GO and he plows down the aisle when it is his turn, set on his mission to announce that the beautiful bride is coming. Hooray! And my relief is a cascade – We haven’t let our dear friends down on their special day.

FullSizeRender
Looking up from the dance floor

Eddie sits in my lap as the ceremony continues. I look down at him and I see all the smiles I had begged for while he was gone beaming from his exuberant face. I think of Buddy the Elf and how he can’t stop smiling because smiling is his favorite! And all these goofy grins are meant only for me. He is happy to see me again. Like I am some long lost friend he hasn’t seen in years. It is a bittersweet feeling to have him looking at me like that, when I was here trying to bring him back all along. And he doesn’t remember. And somewhere in the ceremony, the singer begins a song I know well and have sung often:

There is nothing worth more / That will ever come close / Nothing can compare / You’re our Living Hope / Your Presence / I’ve tasted and seen / Of the sweetest of loves / Where my heart becomes free / And my shame is undone / Your presence Lord

As the music and the lyrics poured over me, my loving and happy son wouldn’t take his smile off me. I was encased in such innocent, devoted love rising up from him and flowing down from above. Scripture says in the Old Testament that God inhabits our praise and literally hovers over our corporate worship. That imagery has stuck with me. and I sensed it in this moment. I whispered the words and felt them in my bones. My “why’s?” were silenced while I sat overwhelmed in Living Hope. We haven’t been forgotten. It is probably the most tender moment of my entire motherhood, borne out of desperation. Long after the song ended, my sweet boy continued to smile into my face. As though he was telling me that he heard my pleas while he had been away. The ceremony ended, dinner plates filled, and dancing began. And with that, we lost him again. We made our way to the Emergency Room with too many violent seizures increasing in frequency that day. Our joy-filled moment had ended.

But now I see.

I must simply mother him the best I can. I will try not to complain or glorify the inevitable suffering this brings to him and to us. I am chosen to love him and speak on his behalf. To mother him in place of the woman who no longer can. I am going to keep trying as hard as I can. And love more than I really know how. I would never have chosen this and I still ache for it to just go away. Even so, I choose to live by Isaiah 58 and tattoo it to my body so I never forget my end of this covenant that took place in my heart at someone else’s wedding:

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. V. 10-12

IMG_0562
I had Isaiah 58 forever inscribed into my arm during the Fall of 2013 to remind me of what God has taught me in the midst of mothering epilepsy

 After some very dark and uncertain years,  challenging my faith as I white-knuckled the promises of Isaiah 58…Eddie has been seizure free for over 2 years and he no longer has the epilepsy diagnosis. Miracles do happen.

Playing For Keeps – A brother and sister kind of story (part 2)

 For the first half of this story, click here:

 Playing For Keeps -A brother and sister kind of story (part 1)

Over the course of 4 years, Leila and Eddie shared a sweet bond that I rarely see in other siblings, including my own sibling relationship growing up. They were siblings and  more importantly, they had become friends who enjoyed playing together. Water gun fights, nerf wars, board games, video games – We had so much fun as a family! When the going gets tough, get out and play together. And let’s be real, when you are a frustrated parent, there is NOTHING more therapeutic than spraying your kid in the face with the garden hose. I just saved you a $125 counseling session – you’re welcome.

One summer, Eddie’s behavior started turning violent, panicked and bizarre. To the point where I had to sit on him in order to keep him from tearing his room or his things apart. After too many bruises on my body, exhaustion at the overwhelming task and ultimately exasperation, I took him to the pediatrician. She referred us to a neurologist. We did the obligatory EEG during our 6 week wait to get an appointment and I knew as I watched his face in the flashing lights that something was VERY VERY wrong. I got a call from the pediatrician’s office a few days later and they gently told me that the EEG had recorded seizure activity. My stomach dropped, and once I hung up, I bawled my eyes out. The first thing to hit me was guilt. All the times he had gotten in trouble and he it hadn’t even been his fault. Then, I had to call my husband and break the news. It was too much to bear for quite a while.

img_0610So from there began the hospital stays, emergency room visits, the therapies, the counseling, more testing. And all the while, Leila was watching her brother as his medical needs took over our lives. All the focus and attention surrounded him. And it impacted her, deeply. It is the nature of having a child with a medical condition. She did her homework in clinics, waiting rooms, hospital rooms, at friends’ houses, at relatives’ houses…. everywhere but where she should have been – in the comfort of our dining room. It took it’s toll on her. Over time she became resentful and craved more of our attention and I remember telling her how sorry I was that this was our new normal. When one person is affected by special needs, the whole family is impacted one way or another.

Sometime during these initial months of his epilepsy diagnosis, Leila had her first psychotic break. I won’t give any details as to what that looked like but it changed her completely. And her brain manufactured its own paranoid reality. I searched desperately for help for her. Someone, anyone who would diagnose and treat what I knew was mental illness. Instead, I found counselors who told me she just needed to be loved and valued. No psychiatrist in the area was taking new patients. No one. No help. Nowhere to turn. I finally found a therapist just out of college to take her as client. She saw what Leila’s diagnoses should have been back then…the same ones she actually has today. So Leila saw her regularly for 18 months and it helped very little since you can’t reason with psychosis – It just doesn’t counsel without medication keeping it under control or at bay. So, her brain began developing terrible behavior and thought patterns that did incredible damage that will take years for her to overcome.

Her brain decided that Eddie was doing everything he could to steal attention away from her and to get her into trouble. Her mind turned him into a villain. And the collision of each child’s special needs with the other derailed their entire relationship. I could not convince her of anything different than what her brain perceived. Play couldn’t fix this…yet.


Fast forward another 4 to 5 years – Eddie’s epilepsy has disappeared. Leila is living in another state getting mental health care and is finally properly diagnosed and in treatment. Both children have come out of a living hell. So have their parents!  She came home for a mid-winter break last week and I saw a Leila I hadn’t seen in years. She is happy, she is playful, she is loving. But her brain still believes that Eddie is her enemy. Although, it isn’t as bad as it once was, this relationship needed fixing. Time to retrain some messed up neural pathways that won’t just heal on their own and it was the perfect opportunity to start!

So what did we do? Why, we played of course! We started over, from the basics. We made sure to engage in activities that we knew both kids enjoy. As tweens/teens their “fun” has changed but not too much:

Let’s go hike our favorite trail and hit up our favorite greasy burger joint afterward…

Leila and Eddie, why don’t you two go play Legos while Sue is napping…

Sure, you guys can play video games together for an hour….

Leila, you need to just sit next to your brother for the car ride home. He won’t bite…

Both of you please just go outside and play with your little sister in the backyard…

Guys, go put on your nice clothes, you and dad are going on a date to a posh sushi joint…

FullSizeRender-2…and for the first time in years, I heard them belly-laughing and they were enjoying each other just like they used to. I did have to convince (force, push, insist) Leila to engage, but once she did… it was like old times. I didn’t think the fun would ever happen again. The damage felt irreparable at the time. But they are remembering that hey, he/she isn’t so bad after all! They are loving each other again. There will be bumps ahead, but as long as we can keep her mental state healthy, it’s nothing a little playtime can’t fix.

I stood at the window the last half hour before it was time to take Leila to the airport as all three kids screamed with laughter. I couldn’t take my eyes off the little bit of heaven I was seeing and grateful tears stung my eyes. But it felt so good. This time, we didn’t want her to leave. So this summer, bring on the water guns!

 

Playing For Keeps -A brother and sister kind of story (part 1)

My two oldest children, Leila and Eddie, have had a unique relationship from the very beginning. Leila was 2 when we began the adoption process to bring Eddie home from Liberia. We prepped her tender heart during the entire process by talking about bringing a brother home, praying for him every night at bedtime, and we let her help us decorate his room. She even chose part of his name. He kept the name his birthparents gave him but Leila added to it from one of her favorite preschool songs that thankfully also happens to be my father’s name (remember, Eddie isn’t actually my son’s name).

FullSizeRender-5The time had finally arrived. So, we drove the 2 hours to the airport, stopping for a very special dinner at one of our favorite German restaurants as a last supper with Leila before her little brother arrived. Afterward, we checked into our hotel and headed to the airport. I brought lollipops to win him over because we had no idea how this was going to pan out -A little African boy just getting off the airplane and leaving the airport with strange white people who speak a language he doesn’t understand might cause a traumatic scene. You just never know.

9:00 pm…We were ready, waiting in the airport and thankfully there was a little play area to keep Leila occupied. So we waited and waited.

10:00 came and went.

10:30

Then 10:40…I started to panic as groups of people had come through from vacated flights and I didn’t see any blond 20-something young ladies with a little African child in the crowds. There was no way I could leave that airport without a brother for Leila!

11:00 pm…There! I saw the top of his head bobbing up and down as he tripped along through the terminal withe a blond haired young woman holding his hand. I just knew in a half second HE was my son. With a yelp and his lollipop clutched tight in my fist – I ran to my boy. I couldn’t have forced my feet to walk if I tried. I dropped to my knees and searched his dark eyes with long curling lashes. I unfurled the wrapper on his lollipop and offered it to him. I don’t remember what I said while I gently spoke, I just remember him. He spotted her as she approached and then Eddie limped a few quick steps to Leila, bent forward and threw his arms around her in a big awkward hug and he squeaked a big “Duh-Dah!!!!” right in her ear. Eddie embraced Leila first.


I wish I could say they just fell together into an easy exchange. That is for fairytales. They were two strangers thrown together with no common history, culture, or language whatsoever. Leila found it difficult to adjust to who Eddie really was. She had specific and as yet unmet expectations of him that he couldn’t deliver. She wanted Eddie to immediately be that confidante she could tell all her 3 year old secrets to. Well, he wasn’t that by any stretch – at first. He was a loud, rambunctious, energetic, wild clueless little boy of very few words or manners. His main goal those first 6 months was to eat everything in sight as he was horribly malnourished. But he was a lighthearted, happy guy just looking for a fun time.

img_4251We had to find a way to help them establish their relationship, so it was up to us to give them the tools to build it. I made it a point to have them engage in play activities they could do together successfully. I noticed that they both enjoyed water play – so they took an inexplicable number of baths together each day for a while. That was just in the beginning, of course.

Play is a universal language. This, I discovered while studying in India. I had the opportunity to play with a big group of children whose parents were migrant workers in Southern India – They taught us college students how to play their version of tag and we taught them how to give high-fives. I will never forget it – there was something about the fun that bridged an enormous language and cultural chasm. And this was the glue we used to fuse Leila and Eddie into a brother and sister. It was a long process that eventually worked but I think much of the success was due to the fact that mom and dad were involved in the play, facilitating the action. We could wean ourselves out, but our participation was crucial in the beginning stages. It is true what they say – the family that PLAYS together, STAYS together.

They needed each other. Leila taught Eddie some of the ropes of being a kid in the United States. He mimicked what she did and some of what she said while they played. Language was difficult for him, learning anything new at all was difficult and we couldn’t understand why (Much later on, we would discover that he had epilepsy and intellectual disability, which were stunting the learning process).

Through his joyful and charismatic nature, Eddie taught Leila how to have fun and how to be a lighthearted child. She was a somber, overly sensitive little girl holding the weight of the world on her tiny 3 year old shoulders (Now we know her mental health issues were probably gearing up even back then.) She needed someone to take the focus off herself.

FullSizeRender-2In time, Leila and Eddie developed an uncommon bond. They balanced each other’s needs because they were so different and each child had much to offer the other. It was sweet and it was fun to watch them. They could play together for hours and rarely came to find me, crying or fighting. They took care of each other. It wasn’t perfect but the strength in their relationship was such that even all the frustrations of Eddie’s learning difficulties were not enough to hinder their love for each other during this time.

After four years, it all but unraveled as Eddie’s epilepsy and Leila’s mental health problems collided…

For part 2 of this story, click here – Playing For Keeps – A brother and sister kind of story (part 2)

Finding Solace in Grape Fanta

Every single spring, he grieves. For eight years running, Eddie feels the depths of his many losses that inevitably come when a life is disrupted by death, loss, and adoption.  Loss of family, loss of normality, loss of identity, loss of the familiar – smells, flavors, touches, the ocean, loss of a mother who carried him tied to her back, loss of extended family who share his nose, his eyes, his square chin. Loss.

The first spring he was with us, he would just cry and cry – his behavior constantly and uncharacteristically naughty or angry. Then I remembered reading in my adoption training literature on the cycles of grief. The body remembers even if the brain cannot. I got to thinking and dug up the tiny packet of information I had on his birth family. Mother’s Day was coming and my little boy was a mess. As I perused the little bit of information I had… I saw it: his birthmother had died the first week of May, just before Mother’s Day.  This was quite literally, nearly to the day, the anniversary of her sudden death. So the first few years in the United States, when he would start to behave like this, I would give him the words that only his body could remember: “Your body is sad because your birthmother died during this time a few years ago.”

One year, as I went through the same script during similar episodes, Eddie interrupted me, crying out in a strangled yell, “I just wish I could see Birthdad!! I miss him….” I was stunned, catching the knife piercing my chest. I forgot that he also might grieve for the living that he had left behind. And once I found my voice again, all I could say was that I wished he could see Birthdad, too. And together, we cried. After he had cried it out for a few minutes, he went on his way, tripping upstairs, excited and ready to play with his legos.

Then there was last year. Eddie came home one night and all I did was look at him and he burst into tears. Sobbing in a shout. So he raced downstairs to his room and I let him be for a few minutes. Layla chased after him. In a few minutes he came upstairs gasping for breath, and I told him we could go talk about it some more in a few minutes. He stood there quietly sniffling. But then raced downstairs again, and I am quite certain the whole neighborhood could hear his sorrow. Layla followed him. But before she turned to leave, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom, I will talk to him.”

After putting Baby Sue to bed, I quietly walked downstairs to see what was going on in his room. Eddie was still blubbering. That much I could hear all over the house. But as I rounded the corner, I saw the most beautiful thing I have seen in my oldest 2 children. Eddie was doubled over, hands on his knees, crying inconsolably as Layla, with her arms wrapped around his waist just held him with her cheek pressed into his back. It was like they were spooning while standing. She held him like that, patiently absorbing his pain. She looked up and mouthed “It’s ok, I’ve got this…” And I quietly let them be, tiptoeing back upstairs. In a while, I heard the two of them planning their next Lego fort together. As if nothing had happened.

But this year, he held onto his grief. For a month, he came home from school every day without saying much, keeping to himself. And whenever I asked what was bothering him, in a nasty attitude he would insist that NOTHING was wrong. But then tonight, his pain had built up to the point that as he stood in position on the soccer field at his training, it was as though he was paralyzed. He couldn’t move because the hurt was so intense. It almost seemed as though he was recovering from one of his seizures.

So, later at home, we pushed and pulled until he cried once again as we asked, “What is wrong? Why can’t you even move?” After crying uncontrollably for 15 minutes, he finally said it: “I miss my Birthdad!!! I miss all of them.” He claimed he was afraid we would be angry with him for missing his Birthdad. Never once have we ever been angry at him for missing his father. How could we? We have only ever grieved along side him. Every time. But as we talked through it, he remembered – we have always held his hand in the middle of it. Oh yeah.

But I had to remind him, he has to talk about it. The only way to move through grief and get on with his everyday life is to give the pain its proper voice. To get it out of his chest, he MUST speak it out of himself. Or it sits and festers and rots until he can hardly move. His birthfather would not want to see him standing around on a soccer field feeling sad. As a parent myself, I know his birthparents would want him to love them, miss them, but work through the pain and honor their memory with his incredible talents they gave him.

I tell him – his birthmother is always with him, watching him and he can do his best every day, making her proud and honoring her memory. Honoring the love I know she had for him. Because how else would his heart be so incredibly, over-flowingly enormous and loving unless the woman who held him close to her body each day in a sling as she sold her wares in the local market, who nursed him and taught him to walk, and sang to him in Kru during his most formative and vulnerable years, but was so incredibly poor that she could hardly feed him – loved him well. She clearly must have made up for the lack of solid food in intensive, loving, nurturing care for him. He may have been nearly starving, but he has never lacked love. Ever.

So Mother’s Day has become very bittersweet in our home. We grieve with Eddie over the terrific, life-altering loss of his birthmother in the weeks, even the whole month leading up to this National Holiday, and I do my best to honor her memory. I have an enormous responsibility to her, and we owe her so much for who she is to Eddie and how she loved him well. And Birthfather (also named Eddie) demonstrated a sacrificial love so deep, he gave Eddie a chance at having a family again. And once we talk it through, he holds his photograph of Birthdad tightly – the one of the two of them together for the last time, sharing a grape Fanta. Then Eddie carefully sets it back on our “birthparents shrine/table” filled with photos of our kiddos with the parents they had before we filled that role. And he looks at me smiling expectantly and asks, “After we get some grape Fanta tomorrow, can we put the empty bottle next to my picture with Birthdad?”

When you come over and see an empty grape Fanta bottle sitting on my living room table, you will know, I didn’t miss the glass recycle bin. This is how we grieve. This is how we honor people worth cherishing. This is how we restore happiness and health in the face of loss.

Cuttin’ a rug in the shoe department

Oh, Sue.

We were told our brand new foster daughter would only stay for a few months and that minimal commitment seemed like something we could handle for a while. We didn’t want to get too attached so we just gave her cuddles and did the perfunctory tasks of caring for an infant. But its funny because one day, I looked into those bottomless blue eyes after changing her diaper and realized that I had accidentally fallen in love. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Weeks of diaper changing turned into months, months melted into years. And now, she is becoming ours forever. Someday soon.

Since coming to us, every ounce of heartache we have endured with the medical issues of our other children, Sue has brought joy in full measure. Even in her late blooming development, when Sue couldn’t move her body much from lack of muscle tone, her facial muscles were in perfect order, smiling and bringing light back into our hearts. The days I wanted to give up, I found her in her crib after a nap, arms outstretched with her smile just as wide, saying, “Hold you, Mama!!” And she wrapped her arms around my neck while patting my back and lifted me out of despair. If she weren’t here, who would do that in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon?

She balances it all out. For each of us. A few weeks ago, we found ourselves fretting over some tough choices (we thankfully didn’t have to make) for Layla. As we sat on the couch, my husband turned on some electronica. I looked over to see Sue hastily lining up all her stuffed animals on the couch. Oh, how cute. And then she started to dance. I mean, she threw her arms in the air then dropped it like it’s hot – DANCING! On her way back up (after dropping’ it, of course) she shouted over the loud music in her most elated voice, “Elmo, I danthing, Elmo!! I danthing!!!!” She desperately needed him to know – this was her moment. And our woes were forgotten for a time. And don’t get me started on the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that she couldn’t even walk.

This girl is larger than life. And the stronger she gets, the more confidence she has. Thank goodness for all the therapies she has to help her there. So, her little shimmy in the living room went public a few days ago. My husband took her to the mall one evening because it was raining and it is a good spot to walk the toddler. She REALLY likes to walk. Maybe it is because it took her so long to learn. He didn’t get far because wouldn’t you know it, they were playing some sweet beat in the Nordstrom shoe department. Sue wasted no time at all letting herself go. And GO she did. Right between the MAC makeup counter and the shoe department near the entrance to the mall, she was busting’ a move again with all the gusto a two year old is capable of. And every time, she loses herself in to the beat – she can’t hold still. At first, people just walked by and smiled like they always do. Everyone thinks she is cute. But then, the longer she kept at it, dancing her heart out, the more people just stopped to watch. And then they were cheering her on, and before you knew it, she had a circle of people just standing there, not shopping…but watching her. And she ate it up. The more they watched her, the bigger the circle, the longer she danced. For 20 minutes. It wasn’t just us this time – she made a whole crowd in a department store smile and laugh. She started her own flash mob. Oh, the tips she could have collected had there been a hat next to her on the floor.

Of this I have no doubt: there is just something about this little girl. Most people are mesmerized by Sue. Her smile and (just slightly maniacal) laugh is simply infectious. People who don’t care for small children are taken by her. And they do anything they can to win her love and affection. They can’t help themselves. She has that “Why, of course you love me!!” aura about her. And so they do. Sometimes I look at her and I think to myself, “How in the world do WE have YOU in our lives? Why are we so lucky?”

It was Sue herself that somehow snapped her birthmother out of a 14 year long funk to try to put her life together. And she worked so hard and is still doing the best she can! Sue, who can make Layla smile on her most difficult day wading through mental illness. Any silly story of Sue can melt the tension between her birthmother and I in a heartbeat. And we can laugh together. It is Sue who has stolen her big brother, Eddie’s heart and she thinks he is her own wonderful playful pet who happily does her bidding. This may be a problem someday since she will have all the smarts and will bend his will to hers with her naughty schemes. Yes, she is very naughty and already very schemy. But I love her for it.

She has saved my sanity. Her light, her loving spirit, her lisp, the way she calls me “mama,” her wobbly dance gyrations, and her thumb-sucking ways have buoyed my soul through some dark tunnels. And I believe that there is so much more of this ahead and it isn’t just for me. People often tell me how lucky she is to have us as foster parents. I don’t know what to say to that. Because what SHE has given ME and what she has brought into our family is beyond the power of words. She is a gift, and God was incredibly generous to me. He knew how much I would need her in my life – because she makes me laugh. Laughter is truly the best medicine for any ache. And for all those who need a smile, especially her loving birthmother, I will gladly share her.

Watch out for random public dance parties. She is probably responsible.

 

From mourning to laughter: Birthday surprises

I had just finished packing up and moving our foster daughter, Marisol, out of our home so she and her family could move out of state. She had lived with us on two separate occasions over the past year and we loved her and her family so much. Watching her go left us bereft and the sadness seemed to hollow us out.

The following day was my Eddie’s birthday and we did our usual: skip school and do whatever he wants! So we did. But it never amounts to much because he just isn’t an idea man. After lunch, we headed home and I got a phone call from our foster care agency. It was a surprise since we were specifically on the “do NOT call list” since our lives were still on the epilepsy roller coaster at the time. Odd, since the placement desk person, Jeannie had called me the week before to just “chat.”

She didn’t even say hello. Jeannie just blurted out “Hey, has Marisol moved out with her mama yet?….Because Marisol’s social worker has a newborn she really wants placed in your family. She specifically asked for you. And by the way, can you pick her up from the hospital by about 6 pm?”

I was a little taken aback but admittedly intrigued. OK, let me think this through. So I got the details and told her I would call back after I talked to my husband. And my pitch was this: “I won’t be mad if you want to say no. We can say no. Or you can listen to your crazy wife who really wants to say yes. I don’t know why, I just want to say yes. But its ok if we say no.” So he listened to his crazy wife. Then I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. THIS IS CRAZY, but I LIKE IT! I wanted to say yes, because I COULD say yes.

I laughed all the way to Target because I had given away all the carseats, the baby clothes, the glider, the bottles, everything I had for babies because a month before we said we would never take another baby. And then I changed my mind. I am a woman, I have the right to change my mind. (This is what happens when I say “never”). I was in stitches when Eddie and I picked out just 2 new baby outfits and a carseat. And the basics we needed to get through the night. Then, I texted my cousin and said “Help! I need stuff for a baby girl!!” And she gathered the troops and supplied practically every need…alongside my mother in law. People I had never met gave us bags of beautiful clothes for this little person who needed a home. So amazing!

And I laughed for four hours straight until we showed up at the hospital with the new carseat and our driver’s licenses, signed a few documents, and then we were ushered into an empty room. With only a baby. She had hardly been held in the two days since she had been born and I felt the enormity of her solitude and smallness in that big, sterile hospital room devoid of love or warmth. I remember rushing over to her crib and scooping her up. My first words to her were, “Oh Little Baby, we will be your family!” And all the hollow places filled up inside me. But I didn’t intend to get attached since we had been told that she would only be with us a few months. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were quite literally carrying home our own bundle of joy. It felt like we were stealing and as we exited the hospital, I was afraid the buzzers would go off like we were taking unpaid for merchandise. It never happened.

Well, thosIMG_3204e few months turned into 2 years and today is her birthday. I can’t stop smiling because she truly is going to be ours forever someday soon. She has stolen all of our hearts and has refused to give them back. Sue is a whirling dervish of naughty joy. She is a licker (as opposed to a biter), she is bossy, she is goofy and she hath the motht irrithithtable lithp. Her first “feelings” word was happy. And when I picked her up from daycare after sitting in a courtroom in a long and difficult settlement conference where her birthmother would agree to relinquish her parental rights, I walked into her classroom and she looked up. Light filled her face as a smile meant just for me spread over it and she proclaimed in her sing-song voice, “Happy, Mama! I happy, Mama!!” And I would sit in 1,000 more courtrooms if I had to in hopes to keep it that way.

And it floors me every time I think, that on this day 2 years ago, I had no idea this little beauty, full of love and brimming with happiness was to enter my life on Eddie’s birthday. I cannot imagine my life without her these past two years, we needed her so much. I thank God every morning when I walk in to her smile and her cheery little voice says, “Hi Maaaw-muh!! It’th awethome, Maaaaw-muh!” Yes it is!

 

 

Mending broken things

“You cwying, Mama?” I look into her little face, tears spilling down mine and I whisper since I cannot speak, “Yes, Baby. Mama is crying.” And she giggles and starts whispering back in sweet gibberish because she thinks its a fun game.

I am crying because yesterday I couldn’t feel anything when I got the news (and all the courtroom hugs) that Sue’s birthmother had agreed to relinquish her parental rights. A little relief, but mostly numb. I was supposed to be excited, happy for Sue, but sad for her birthmother. It was just an empty space. I just hoped that Sue would see her birthmother for their scheduled visit today.

But that was not to be. She called our case manager and cancelled all the visits she had left except for her “goodbye visit.” It was just too hard for her to take. She has been devastated and ravaged by her sacrifice. Upon learning this, I fell apart and cried and cried and cried some more as happy, oblivious, sweet Sue watched me. But we have therapy today so I had to pull myself together! And I did. But then sitting in the car in my driveway, thinking about the visit that wasn’t happening today or next week, I lost it all over again as I clutched the steering wheel. After a bit, I came back to the moment and my ears perked up at a song Sue was singing, with her garbled words but unmistakably perfect pitch and melody:

Yeth, Jee-thuth wuvth me…Yeth, Jee-thuth wuvth me…the Bible tellth me tho….

It was my gift. He gave it to me through her. She is with US so she can know that Jesus loves HER. And my tears dried up and my strength was renewed and we drove to therapy without me falling apart over the brokenness of this situation all over again.

Between her birthmother and I, nobody wins. Adoption comes at an incredible cost and through terrible losses. I have watched this woman for two years: praying and hoping for her, too. I have grieved the hopelessness and difficulty of her situation all this time. However, going forward, there are things I can say with certainty even in the middle of the wreckage of severed and damaged relationships. Because I saw it with my own eyes. I can tell OUR daughter so many beautiful things about her birthmother and healing WILL come.

  • I can tell Sue that she received her sweet, optimistic and loving spirit from her birth mother and her grandmother.
  • She will see her own smile in her aunt and grandmother’s faces, her deep blue eyes and upturned nose from her big sister, and her musical creative talents come from her grandfather.
  • She can be proud of her tenacity and her fighting spirit inherited directly from her birthmother.
  • I can tell her when she asks me “WHY??” someday without a second thought that her birthmother fought hard for Sue. She did everything she was supposed to, she showed up, she conquered some of her demons with a determination I rarely see in people around me. She gave it her all. But she just couldn’t make the progress Sue needed. Lord knows that she truly tried. Not every foster child has a birth parent who will work that hard. Her mother did it all because she loves Sue so deeply.
  • Sue will get the best of both families, she will see and know her birth family but have all the love and care she needs as a special needs child in our home.

I don’t know what this will look like in the coming months and years but by the grace of God, this will be rebuilt into something beautiful. The wonderful relationship I had with her birthmother will be renewed. But for now, though I am so thrilled that Sue will have everything she needs and she will be forever part of our family, I grieve. Her birthmother grieves. And Sue is completely and totally oblivious. For that I am incredibly thankful. She doesn’t have to see this turmoil. Rest assured, she will have to come to terms with adoption but THIS part, she will never truly know.

To these broken things and the mending to come, I bear witness.