Monday, November 28, 2011


Nighttime is the worst. Alone in the dark, it finds me. Slipping in bed next to me, it's long cold fingers wrap around my heart. It's grip tightens with each breath.

It whispers to me, filling my head with unwanted thoughts. Thoughts that can be pushed aside in the light of day, become obsessions in the dark. Pain. Dying. Death. Children motherless once again.

Thoughts growing like tendrils in my brain, filling the empty crevices. I begin to question my sanity. Maybe it is all in my head, maybe none of it is real. I am crazy. I am crazy. The words repeat, echoing through my head. I welcome the thought. Alone in the night, insanity is preferrable to death.

I am suffocating. Drowning in an icy cold lake. My lungs fill with water. My limbs flail, trying in vain to keep me afloat.

I am alone in the dark. Isolated.

I can see salvation in the distance. Reality, sanity is there just out of my reach. The space I so desperately wanted, the few extra inches of room I reveled in just hours before seems like miles.

I reach across the tangle of blankets. I find solid mass. An elbow. A shoulder. A life preserver in a warm body. I hold on with all I have. I let it pull me towards reality. I feel the grip around my heart lessen, the thoughts dissapate.

I am safe for now. On this night the fear does not win. Not yet.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks Today

This week the we made a gratitude tree. It's a place for all of us to share the things that we are grateful for.

Bunny and I painted leaves and pressed them on the tree.

Then we each took turns writing what we are thankful for on the leaves.

The tree is now hanging in our dining room as a reminder of what we are blessed to have.
We are thankful for family, friends, home, health,pets, China, Ethiopia and so much more.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Furniture Shopping Can Lead to An Existential Crisis

This past weekend, we spent an afternoon shopping for a couch. Our current couch was purchased 14 years ago to furnish our first apartment. It was part of a set that we bought for under $1,000. It was not high style nor was it high quality. We needed a place to sit and the couch filled that need.

I have hated that couch for the past 13 1/2 years. It's not my style. It doesn't really match the rest of the room. It's kind of ugly. But it was comfortable so it stayed.

I am embarrased to admit to the present state of the couch. But after 14 years, two kids and two cats, I am sure you can guess that it is not good. Finally, I got sick of looking at the tears and sitting on broken springs. It was time to buy a new couch.

We went shopping. We sat and layed on a bunch of couches. We saw some we liked and some we did not. But nothing really jumped out at us and said "this is it". I pondered do we do a red couch with neutral walls or a neutral couch with color on the walls. I asked Facebook the same question. I had no effen idea what to do. Comfy couch? Nice looking couch? Color? Neutral? It was all too much.

Then I turned to my husband and asked a profound question "What do we want from this couch?" It was followed by an even more profound question "Is this couch for right now or for the next 15 years?" Deep, heavy stuff. Profound and profoundly stupid.

I think the root of my problem is a question of "What do I want from my house?" I do not know if I want to keep the living room as a family room. I think I would rather re-finish the basement (that has been partially finished for the past 4 years) and have that be the family room.

Family room downstairs = nice fancy couch upstairs
Family room upstairs = nice comfy couch upstairs

What do I want? How do I decide? And given my track record of finishing the basement, are we going to be stuck with busted couch for the next 10 years?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

National Adoption Month - Stacey

Throughout November I will be sharing stories of families touched by adoption.

This is the story of Stacey who blogs at Is There Any Mommy Out There.

Perspective is a funny thing. There is no way to predict how the pain of now will translate into joy in the future.

When Matt and I lost our first baby to a late first trimester miscarriage, it was - by far - the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I didn't know where to turn or what to think. I had no markers or guideposts to cling to in such grief. The pain was so constant and overwhelming that it seemed certain that others could look at me and see the hole left by the end of my pregnancy. Lost expectations choked me daily and clinging to the fragile hope of a second pregnancy did nothing to ease the drag of days.

Matt tried to help me. He held me as I sobbed. He drove me to the surgery and held my hand through the IV and the cramps and the pain. He let me talk and talk and talk about our disappointment and my grief and my fears that I would never be able to have a baby. That this would be my experience of motherhood.

I have a strong belief in doing. I don't sit passively and let anything happen to me and I refused to let grief happen to me. If nothing else, I would be an active participant in distracting my own thoughts. I researched miscarriages and fertility. I comforted myself with the statistics that said that miscarriage was common and a couple able to conceive so easily had a high chance of eventually carrying a baby to term. I applied for a new job overseas because - dammit - if I couldn't be a mother, I would have the dream career that I wanted. I wouldn't sit still and hope for something out of my control to change my life. And, I researched adoption. Matt and I had talked about adopting often before we decided to try and have a baby. We had always felt open to different ways of building a family. I applied to volunteer at a small orphanage in the mountains outside of Port au Prince, Haiti. Just to see, I told Matt, for information and so that we can start to understand the process.

Months past. I got the job and we began the arduous process of relocating our lives overseas for the second time in our marriage, but I didn't get the baby. Despite our best efforts, the pregnancy tests I took so hopefully "three days before the start of my period!" stayed resolutely negative. Each one took its own little chip out of my hopes. At Christmas time, I heard final word that they had room for me to travel to Haiti and work at the orphanage for four weeks in January.

I kissed Matt, promised, futilely, not to give my heart and soul away to orphaned children half a hemisphere away and left ridiculously early on a freezing cold January morning. After a long night on the gritty airport floor in Miami, I arrived in the oppressive, tropical heat of Haiti, drove the rutted, mountain rode to the orphanage compound and promptly gave my slightly battered heart and soul away to orphaned children who now sat in my lap, clamored for my attention, slept in my arms and filled my days and my thoughts. Grief lost the battle for my consciousness to industry and giggles and dirty diapers and an exhausting routine with "my" eight children to love.

It was a life-altering month in a life-altering year. I flew home changed. I wanted to be a mother through adoption. I was already a mother a second time. I missed my period in Haiti.

Eighteen months, reams of paperwork, several ultrasounds, an endless labor, endless waiting and hoping and filing and an exhausting series of flights across the country later, I held my fourteen-month-old daughter and my twelve-month-old son together in my arms for the first time.

I thought it that day and still think it now when I watch my six-year-old "twins" play and laugh and fight and giggle.

Just maybe, losing a baby was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

National Adoption Month - Jamie and Jeremy

November is National Adoption Month. I will be sharing stories of families touched by adoption. This is the story of Jamie and Jeremy. Jamie has a wonderful design blog Kreyv .

In August of 2004, I was diagnosed with Hodgekin Lymphoma. I was only 24 at the time and was not concerned about any infertility issues. After all, the disease had an excellent cure rate and, in most cases, patients in remission were able to conceive a year following treatments. Unfortunately, the cancer relapsed in April of 2005, and in July of that same year, I underwent a stem cell transplant. It was during my second round of treatments that I was told that it was very unlikely that I would ever be able to become pregnant.

Of course this news was absolutely devastating. I think we all imagine our lives to be a certain way, and the thought of not being able to have children had never crossed my mind. As odd as it sounds, this news came at a good time. I was fighting for my life, and that's what I needed to focus on at that time.

A few years later, when it came time for us to start our family, we already knew that adoption would be the best choice for us. We chose domestic adoption and our agency. After becoming eligible, our profile was made public on the agency's national database. Potential birthmothers were then able to look through our profile and decide whether or not we were a good fit.

Our profile was posted in late April of 2009. We were contacted by Stella's birthmother in June and met her almost a week later. She had studied our profile, followed our family blog, and prayed for confirmation of her decision. She knew we were the right parents for Stella.

Everything happened so fast up to this point. I felt so many different emotions all at the same time. I was so happy, but so overwhelmed and very scared. As I quickly got to know this girl, the girl who would be giving us the most precious gift we could have ever imagined, my love for her grew, and I knew that the baby she was carrying was meant to be in our family.

From then until November, we were as involved as possible with the pregnancy. We listened to ultrasounds over the phone, recorded ourselves reading books so that Stella would recognize our voices, and had weekly calls with our birthmother. We could not have asked for a better experience.

In late November, I flew to Utah where my husband joined me a couple of days later. I was able to witness the birth of my daughter and hold her immediately after her birth. All of my fears and uneasiness disappeared at that moment. I knew that Stella belonged in our family. And though she didn't get to us the way I once thought she would, she was our daughter. Nothing else mattered.

We completed the adoption paperwork a day and a half later and took Stella home. She has been such a blessing in our lives, and we never could have imagined loving someone so much. We are so grateful for and blessed by the decision that Stella's birthmother made. We still keep in contact with her and visit her about every six months. I never would have thought that our path in life would have looked like this, but this path is better than anything I ever could have imagined.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

National Adoption Month - Camille and Jeff

Note: As part of National Adoption Month, I will be sharing stories of families who have been touched by adoption.

This is the story of Camille and Jeff.

For us, the desire to adopt was never a difficult one. We didn’t mourn the loss of ‘what couldn’t be’ too long—but rather forged ahead to the goal of creating our family. Adoption was the next logical step.

Initially, we only wanted “a baby” and not an older child, and hoped to adopt two at once. Upon filling out our Ukraine paperwork, we listed that we agreed to look at children age three and under—but babies were desired.

As this was an independent adoption, we traveled without a referral, and would be looking at photos at the National Adoption Center once in country. We leaned on our prayers that with the many orphans available, God would show us clearly which children were meant to be ours. It is very important to share that we prayed to keep our hearts open to what God would show to us.

Wanting two, but finding one
Never expecting to be drawn to an older child, we met and fell in love with a three year old boy who was ill; crib bound his whole life, weighing 21 pounds, and was still unable to crawl, walk or talk. His illness aside, our connection was instant—he had an undeniable spark, we adored him, and knew instantly he would be coming home with us. The great sadness of that trip was, we did not find a second child that we felt the same connection with. Jeff said, “Perhaps Camille, God is just showing us this one because he needs all of our attention in order to get well, and one day, we’ll come back and adopt again.” I liken it to a pregnancy where you are told you are having twins, but only come home with one baby—you rejoice for the one, but mourn for the other.” We were amazed what a wonderful experience it was adopting a child who was not a baby; we were so busy being happy with our three year old that there was no time to feel a void from not having a baby around. Joshua filled our hearts with such joy! Within a year, he was 100% completely healthy, strong, smart, and oh so sweet. Could there have been a reason God only showed us one child?

To Russia for two…
In October 2006 we found our agency and began the official paperwork for our next adoption. Along with our then eight year old Joshua, it was our hope to adopt two children, younger than he, and this time hoped for a boy and a girl. Though at the start of building our family we hoped for a baby, as a family we had evolved. Now having an eight year old, it only seemed right for us to consider older children rather than babies. Joshua dreamed of somebody to play with, more his age. With our eight year old, we were very mobile, enjoying hiking, biking, swimming and the outdoors, and considering adopting older children, we could keep on course with our active lifestyle. We knew the adopting experience may be different with older kids, but we knew the love in our hearts was there. Through research, we knew that typically most children over the age of five are not even considered for adoption, which is a real tragedy.

We completed our paperwork by January of 2007, and in March we were shown referrals. We were shown several different pairs of sibling sets, but none seemed to match exactly what we were looking for. In October of 2007, our agency called to tell us there was a boy and girl, but, they had two younger sisters. Yes—a sibling group of four! It was explained to us that these four children—a girl age six, a boy age five, a girl age three, and a girl age two—had little chance of getting adopted together based on the fact that there were four of them. Did we want to look at their referral information?

To be honest, we agreed to look at the photos more out of curiosity than having any serious intention of adopting them. So the agency sent the information and photos. We looked. They were beautiful. We wondered…could we? Our agency explained that we could take all the time we needed to make our decision because nobody wanted these children.

For weeks we looked at the photos constantly. We prayed. We discussed all the aspects of such a decision: the health of the children, our finances, our ability to cope, and how this would affect our now nine year old son. We understood the biggest adjustment would be his.

During our time of decision, we called the agency to ask what would happen to them if we decided not to adopt them, and were told that in all likelihood, they would be split up and made available separately for adoption. They were already split into two different orphanages, and that statistically, the two older children may never be adopted as there is only a 20% chance of being adopted after the age of five years—even less of a chance for boys.

To Russia for four?
Our pastor counseled us to seek information, and pray on each of the aspects, and then, assured us a decision would be made clear. For three weeks, we discussed every aspect. Our church, Hillcrest Bible Church, was willing to help us with a loan, which was a huge blessing. We were able to grow our bank loan, and we already had friends and family helping us with fundraisers. Still, financially, it was a lot to take on. Our doctor found the medical reports on all four children to be very good. Camille being a home daycare provider for young children was key: even though we were parents of one child, Camille has had years of experience managing groups of children. It weighed heavily on our hearts that this sibling group of four might get split up, and that these older children might be overlooked, and never get a chance at having a family. The biggest reason to adopt them all was the success and joy of adopting our first—he was a miracle! With all we learned through Joshua’s adoption, and the many ways we were blessed by it, along with the many prayers said to grow our family; this sibling group of four were the children that God had shown to us. At the end of three weeks, we decided. We wanted to create another miracle! We did sit down and discuss the idea with Joshua—and he was in agreement, and delighted! I’m sure people wonder “what I talked my husband into” but he came to the decision before me, Jeff said, “It comes down to what legacy I’ll leave behind. We just can’t leave them there, we should adopt all four of them.” I agreed, they were coming home with us.

On December 1, 2007, the three of us went to Russia to meet the four children, and it was love at first sight for all of us. On April 24, 2008, we adopted them in court. On May 19th, we brought them home to Wisconsin for good!

From three to seven…
All five children have grown together and have bonded nicely. We are amazed at how quickly this happened. All five go to regular school and are doing beautifully. They are all joy-filled, happy kids, and content with the new family they inherited. Adopting older children has been a wonderful experience, for them and for us. Of course there were challenges—the biggest one being learning a new language. In that aspect, the first two months were challenging, however, anticipating this, we had a list of five Russian speaking friends willing to be “on call 24/7”—and we utilized them! We purchased Russian picture books and tapes which were a help too. But, it was incredible how very quickly they learned English—the three and four year olds found adapting to English quite easy, and the six and seven year olds took a bit longer, but after only two months, we didn’t need translators help any longer.

It was also a challenge to manage the finances, but we were amazed how the community stepped in to help in welcoming our new children; people brought meals, food, supplies, toys, and clothes. God saw to it that our needs were met.

The biggest challenge was finding time to nurture our husband and wife relationship. Life at our house was busy—but we knew it was important to have “date night” and spend time without the kids to “recharge.” At the start, friends were hesitant to stay with five children, four of whom didn’t speak English! Now that the kids rely solely on English this is no longer a problem. We are one big happy family of seven!

Joy and hopes…
The kids have been home for about a year and a half now. Big brother Joshua, eleven years old, Annika, eight years old, James, seven years old, Tatyana, five years old, and Raissa, four years old, continue to amaze us! It has been such a joy to see these five little people grow five secure loving hearts because of the love we lavish on them, and being the direct recipients of the love they give freely in return. They have all grown as individuals, and we have grown as a family. We never imagined it would all go so well so quickly! Our family, community, friends, and especially our church welcomed them home with open arms. Our children understand that they are deeply loved.

So many times Jeff and I have had people applaud our adoption as a deed well done. “Wow! What you’ve done is fabulous! The world needs more people like you.” The truth is, the world has lot and lots of people like us. The world has lot of people who would love to adopt orphans, and for many, the lack of funds stand in their way. It is a disheartening reality—knowing that there are orphans waiting for families, and families waiting for orphans—and it is only finances that stand in the way of bringing these two together. I understand that adoption isn’t for everyone, but everyone should be for adoption. I’d like to challenge individuals to help other couples offset their adoption fees in any way they can. I’d like to challenge every church to set up an adoption fund that would be exclusively for bringing orphans home to loving families in their church.

Adopting older children…
Often, people that step into the adoption arena, only want infants. At first, we did too, so I can understand. But please consider the “over age three, four or fives” that wait. It is simply amazing how quickly they learn English, and though the first two months were difficult in the language area, it is merely a snippet in the memory of the grand scheme of things now. Older children have a unique insight that babies cannot share with you. It is a treasure to discuss memories of “before and after” adoption that they have. We discuss openly about their adoption, and make sure they understand that who they were is a part of who they are. Within weeks, they were all settled in to life in their new family, and very happy. Just a few short months after their adoption, we took a family vacation. Without much funds, it was a simple trip to a cabin to fish, swim and hike, and they had a ball! Kids don’t need fancy—they just need a family—they just want you to spend time with them, and love them. It is a process, getting to know each other, and we are still doing that. The trust and the love grows more and more each day. We saw so many beautiful children in the orphanage. We often think about the ones we left behind, who are waiting, hoping, for a family to come and bring them home.

Yes, adopting a sibling group of four older children was daunting at first, but now, Jeff and I can’t imagine our lives without them. The wonderful people at our agency worked together with us to make it possible. Our family, church family, and community came together with us to make this dream a reality. God answered our prayers in a big way, and we are so thankful to be so blessed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

National Adoption Month - Our Story

Note: November is National Adoption Month. Throughout the month, I highlighting the stories of families touched by adoption. I am starting with our story. I am dividing it in to parts, this is the story of why we chose adoption and how we came to adopt from China.

I am often asked why we chose adoption. As with many questions, the answer is both easy and complicated.

After Frink and I got married, we decided to try for a family right away. I was 29 at the time and thought it would be perfect to have my children in my early thirties. It fit right in with the life I had always dreamed of. But life does not always go according to our plans.

We tried to have children for seven years, yes seven. That time was filled with charts, calculations and computers. There were doctors visits and tests with no definitive diagnosis. With fingers crossed and breath held, we thought that maybe this would be it. We thought that over and over again and we were always wrong.

Finally, we had had enough. We did not want to give up on our dream of a family so that left us with two choices, fertility treatments or adoption. I knew people who had successful pregancies with fertility treatments and those who had not. Given the emotionial roller coaster of the past seven years, I could not subject myself to something that might not work. Fertility treatments were out.

So we started to consider adoption. The more we looked into it, it felt right. There were so many children waiting for families (by some estimates 147,000,000 worldwide), just as we were waiting for a child. There were children in foster care waiting for permanent homes. There were children being born every day to parents who could not care for them and were looking for a loving home for their child. There were children in orphanages around the world. We could be parents to one of those children.

After deciding on adoption, we had to determine which path was right for us. There are arguments to be made in favor of and against both domestic (either private or foster to adopt) and international adoptions. The more we researched the subject, the more we talked to families, the clearer it became that international adoption was right for us at the time.

Next came a decision on which country. There are adoption programs in so many different countries in different areas of the world, Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America. How do you choose?

Well if you are like me, or a crazy person, it may go something like this. I began to notice how many adoptive children there were in our area. I stopped total strangers in the grocery store. I asked anyone and everyone who had an acquaintance who had adopted about their story. I read books, watched documentaries and did tons of research. I looked at the pros and cons of each country, the stability of the program, the number of trips required etc. I had adoption on the brain.

All of these paths kept leading me back to China. China. I knew of the situation there. The One Child Policy and a cultural preference for boys meant that there were thousands of girls waiting in orphanages. I knew without a doubt that one of those girls was our daughter.

For me so much of the process was like this. No matter how many roads there are, no matter how many doors are open, we always ended up on the proper road going through the right door. Another family with similar circumstances may have chosen a different road or a different door. This was the right one for us, the one that led us to Bunny.

In late 2004, we took a leap of faith. We submitted our paperwork to adopt from China. The decision on how and when we would have a child was no longer in our hands (not that it ever really was). It was now in the hands of social workers here and governemental officals half way around the world in China.

The homestudy was done. We were fingerprinted. Our backgrounds were checked. Paperwork was notarized, authenticated and certified. Our dossier was completed. On July 23, 2005 it was logged into the Chinese system and our wait for a referral began.

Waiting for an adoption referral is a lonely time. You know a baby is coming but there is no outward manifistation, no tell tale bump. Your friends cannot commiserate, they don't really understand. So you turn to the adoption community. We joined a local Families With Children From China group. We went to events and saw girls who had been adopted. It made it so much more real. These girls had come home, our daughter would too.

The process in China is very organized. Everything moves based on your log in date. The files move with others that were logged in on the same date. You can judge your process by looking at those before you. Referrals come in batches from X date to Y date. In the beginning they were coming every two weeks but then slowed to once a month. What was thought to be a six to nine month wait stretched out past the year mark.

When I saw that families with May 2005 and June 2005 had recieved referrals, I knew that we were next. Then the announcement came, CCAA had matched families through July 22nd. We were one day short and would have to wait another month. Families on the internet support groups were announcing their matches. I had to turn away, I was happy for them but sad for myself. But just when I was prepared to wait yet another month, I got a call. I got THE CALL. We had recieved a referral for a beautiful seven month old girl. Thirteen months after our paperwork had been logged in and almost two years after we had started the process, we were going to be parents.

You can read about our journey to meet Bunny in China here, here and here.