Thursday, March 21, 2013

A little over a year later....

Amazing to think that she has been home a little over a year! Our family seems as though it has never been without her. As with each of our kids, our family has taken on a new normal, and has been forever changed by her presence.

So, where are we a little over a year later? We are in some ways right at the very beginning: playing the attachment dance, still some cocooning and "over" protection, being baffled at certain responses that just don't seem quiet "normal" toddler behavior. In many ways, we are light years away from those first few weeks and months.

Physically Ribka is doing great - she is growing.
She eats like a toddler - picky. She insist on using a fork because that is what everyone else is doing.
She also insist on having water in a normal cup, and then she gets a rag to clean up the water that she spills on the floor!
She plays like a toddler, sometimes too rough, too demanding. She is very affectionate with other kids - a little too much sometimes, but she spends all day long being hugged, kissed, and carried around by her siblings so that is just normal play for her, she doesn't know how to NOT hug other kids.
She says a million new words a day, "reads" books (she says the words to each page that she remembers).
She sings, she dances all the time. She knows how to turn on the big keyboard and where the volume button is so she jams is out multiple times a day.
She loves to wash her hands and put lotion and hand sanitizer on them.
She has learned to climb and is on top of something several times a day.
She counts to 3 (having a big brother who needs me to count to 3 A LOT has taught her a few things). She knows tons of animals and their sounds.
She LOVES to read books, watch Elmo, and listen to music.
I am pretty sure that cheerios breed in my house as no matter how many I pick up or she eats off the floor they are everywhere.
She has learned how to jump and stomp and when I have the kids doing jumping jacks or burpies or push ups, she is right there with them joining along.
She loves to color and has left her mark on many walls (thankful for magic erasers).
She loves to pretend play and brings me plastic food to eat often.
There is tons of joy in watching her grow and change daily.

Emotionally - that is a harder one. If you are in the adoption world at all, the buzz word is "attachment". How is she attaching? Is she attached? Children who come from broken places (even as infants coming home from the hospital) have experienced a BIG loss. Huge - and sometimes their ability to attach to people is hindered. They don't trust that those people won't leave them too. So they don't get too attached - just in case. Or they attach to everyone quickly so they have a back-up plan in case one person leaves.

Most days I would say she is doing great. She adores me, she adores Matthew. She seems to prefer our presence and our arms to any others, but there are times...and let me tell you those "times", even if they are a brief fleeting moment, break my heart.

Those moments when someone talks to her and scares her and she basically tries to get so close to me that she is trying to climb inside me - that is trauma response. I am not talking about the shy little girl that turns her head away and puts her head on your shoulder. I am talking about "climbing inside me". Making herself as small as she can and every inch of her glued to me as she shakes and closes her eyes. I literally have had to turn my back and ask some people to please stop touching her because she is so terrified. I know the difference. I know when she is just being a little shy and cautious and I can hold her close and see if she will give a high five so she knows it is OK. People will make comments about "oh she is really attached isn't she" or "wow she really loves her Momma". Both of which are probably true, but her response isn't because of either of those things. Her response is because she isn't quiet sure I won't hand her over. After all, when she screamed in my arms at the orphanage, her "special" mothers left her with me. There is a part of her that thinks I will do the same.

What is probably worse, and has only happened a few times (and if you read this and you are one of the people this happened to - I am not judging you at all - I want her to like people!), is when she will go to someone's arms and not want to come back. When she has asked someone to pick her up and I let it happen for a few minutes and then reach to take her back and she puts her head on their shoulder or turns her back to me. Ouch. With my bio kids, this probably would have made me laugh and say oh good, I get my arms free a little longer. Not so with Ribka. Is she making a back-up Mommy just in case she needs one? Or the time that she walked past me to go to someone else. Is she rejecting me before I can reject her to save herself the pain? It all makes you cringe a little and wonder what am I doing wrong, or what else can I do? Or am I just over-reacting?

Then there are the times that she rejects one of us for the other parent. I went away for a much needed and very refreshing retreat for the weekend. When I got back on Sunday she was a little hesitant but mostly OK. But, Monday morning, when Daddy had to leave for work, she clung to him, would not look at me, and screamed and screamed when he pried her off to give her to me. She rejects us. She does it to him, she does it to me. My bio kids would go through phases of preferring one or the other of us, but never like that. Sometimes we go through this daily when Daddy gets home from work. She won't meet his eyes or look his way, or go to his arms. We have to all get re-acclimated.

But oh the sweet little moments. Coming to me to kiss her hurts away. Learning to give me words instead of screams. Going to hug and pat her sibling when they have gotten hurt. Snuggling into me at night as we rock. Asking me to sing her a song. Practicing her "gentle" hand on my cheek. Saying "wuv-ooo mama" when I put put her to bed. Melt me.

So it is a step forward and a step back. Adoption is hard in that way. Parenting is hard in that way. I feel like you can question yourself to death, and as with all of my kids, I just have to trust every day. Give each of them over to more capable hands than my own, and say Please Lord. Please. Heal them. Please Lord give me tools to teach them. Give me a heart to love them. Please Lord just a little more energy when I am bone tired and ALL DONE (oh my word I didn't think 4 would be that different than 3 but it so is!). Give my mouth kind, patient words and make my hands gentle.

I am at war for my kid's hearts, be they born of my body or born of my heart. I am fighting for their hearts - to turn to God, to see beauty in a world that is racked with pain, to see good in God's most amazing creating of people, to see the beauty and good in themselves, while recognizing their need for a Savior.

It is exhausting, hard work. There are many times that I want to give up, but just as many times that I look at their amazing little faces (this happens the most often when they are asleep :-)) and I praise my Father that I have been entrusted with these little creations.

I really need a nap :-)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Our Journey To Ribka video

Here is our Gotcha video. It was really awesome to re-live this part of the journey while I put this together and remembered all the ups and downs. Thankful to have my babe home...

Journey to Ribka

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

To Sum It Up

Saw a friend they other day that I never really see anymore (I haven't been to the gym in like a year!). We were just crossing paths briefly and she asked me how the transition home had been and I said it had actually been pretty hard. She smiled, a little confused, and said, "Really, because it seems from the outside looking in that it has been wonderful and smooth." (the lie of Facebook) It has been wonderful, amazing, right, but smooth, easy? Not at all.

She said, "If you could give me 3 words to sum it all up, what would they be?"

Stumped me. It can't really be summed up in three words. Mostly because all three words that jumped to my mind were negative sounding words, and this has not at all been a negative experience.

I have said this before, and I will say it again. This has been hard. Crazy hard sometimes. But it has ALWAYS been so GOOD. GOOD. Great even.

So, my three words are these:
1. Exhaustion
2. Grief
3. Isolation

Now you might wonder how these things are any different from having a biological child. Every mother to a newborn is exhausted. There is (at least for me) always a grief when things change. Most new moms go into a bit of a hibernating mode so you are typically isolated for a time (though my hibernating mode was typically over by the time I got out of the hospital). I had three kids already - didn't I know to expect that these things would happen?

Well, yes, I did, but not these things on steroids multiplied times a million. I don't really talk about this stuff much outside of my adoption community (except to my closest peeps), because frankly people just don't get it. You get such lovely comments like, "Well you are the one that chose to do this, so don't complain about it." or "Why do they have to be treated different than other kids - just let them cry, or send them to nursery and let someone else deal with them for a while." It is fine that people who haven't walked this process don't get it, they don't have to, but I also don't have to listen to their comments :-)

So, exhaustion. The actual process of adoption if grueling. I was pregnant for like 2 years! It is grueling physically because try as you may, you can't help but be consumed by the waiting for your child. Emotionally - it takes a huge toll on you. The longing, the waiting. Then you are referred this little child who is on the other side of the world and the feelings of powerlessness are consuming. They are often sick with little medical care, and you can't even be there to hold them. You get to go and spend a week with them, and then you have to leave them again to wait for the powers that be to go through your paperwork again and pray that all is in order so the process doesn't become even longer. All the while your child sits in an orphanage (even the nicest orphanage is still an orphanage), and you pray that they are growing, being fed, being held, etc. Emotional exhaustion.

Then they come home and they don't sleep - they are sick, you have a million dr. appt's, ER visits, and they take a million vials of blood and some things come up positive. They scream in terror and you are no comfort to them - you are a stranger who has taken them from the one place and the people that they know. They are up all night, throwing up, pushing you away. Sometimes you have a honeymoon period where it seems like all is going well...we never had that. She screamed from the moment she saw us walk into the transition home. We got some smiles, but lots of screaming. She was up every 45 minutes for what felt like the first months of forever.

While there is still some of this going on, it has gotten better for now. Though I expect we will re-visit this as anniversaries of certain things come up. Exhaustion.

Grief. I grieved my family changing with every biological child I had. I grieved going back to the baby stage (I am not a baby person). I did have some of that grief when we brought her home. Some of that "life would be pretty easy right now if we hadn't just brought a baby into the family", but that isn't the type of grief I am talking about. I did grieve, but I grieved for her. Also for her birthmother who had become a name that was daily on my lips in prayer and became my sister in heart though she will probably never know that.

Grief for my sweet daughter though. Every time I was up all night rocking her while she screamed and turned her head away from me, I cried out for healing for her little heart. I begged for the grief and fear inside her to turn into trust. I cried that I didn't get the first 6 months of her life. I cried for the things she would never get back, a family, a culture, an amazing country. On the day she was baptized I cried that her birth mom couldn't be there to see it. I grieved for the looks our family got, though she is still too young to see the stares - even the curious, smiling stares can still be invasive. I was prepared for that for our family, and hopefully will be prepared to help her walk through however that will feel to her when she gets old enough to realize. I grieve when she screams out in pure fear and terror at something that should be no big deal and wonder if there is trauma that causes that response. Some shadow in her brief past that causes that fear. There is a lot of grief in adoption.

Isolation. I think this one was the hardest because it felt personal. I knew we would cocoon for as long as we needed to to make our daughter feel comfortable and attached to us. I knew we would withdraw from the world for a while. I prepared and talked to the friends around me and felt comfortable doing that. We cocooned the best we could (as in I have 3 other kids, came home February 10 and had to be at my daughter's V-day party on February 14!). We did withdraw from much of our daily life and nested in our home trying to make things as calm as we could for her so she could get to know us and feel safe with us. I expected and wanted all that to happen. We had some people in our lives that loved us so well. Brought food, called almost daily to check on me. Came over at nap times or after bed to sit and talk with me, just let me cry on the phone or on their shoulder, take my other kids to play or watch them while I went to the 10th dr. appt of the week. But we also had people in our life that just dropped off the face of the earth. People that didn't seem to have the patience to wait out our intentional withdrawal from the social scene and just moved on. That felt very isolating, but also very freeing. Cocooning is a choice you make and we knew that going into adoption. We knew that we would have people fall out of our lives because of the choice we made, and we were OK with that.

So, it has been hard. Hard for me, hard for my marriage, hard for my other kids (though they are so crazy in love with her and have been from day 1). But oh my word, the good. The joy. It is so good. I would not go back and change any of it. Knowing that it was going to be hard, I would not not do it again. I would do it again right (though we aren't and may never I don't know).

I finally got around to reading Kisses from Katie and one of the things that I loved about that book was when she talked about the time right after she moved to Uganda. She talked about the absolute joy and peace she had every day, knowing she was making the right decision, knowing that God had put her right there, and then at night she would break down with loneliness, fear. She wondered which was how she was really feeling. How could she be so depressed and fearful at night, when during the day she KNEW that what she was doing was exactly what she was supposed to be doing. Then she realized that both are true. She was BOTH overjoyed and overwhelmed, both peaceful and frightened.

How can something be so VERY HARD, but also so VERY GOOD? I am not sure I understood this until I went through this process.

We have come a long way in 10 months for sure, and still have a long way to go. So thankful. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Can you smell it?

I have been thinking lately how much of a "smeller" I am. I have long been defined as an F (feeler), and though I try not to let my "feelings" lead me as I know they are not always an accurate thermometer of truth, I am still a Feeler.

I am also a smeller, and those "smellings" have recently brought me to some big feelings. Hard emotions, joyful emotions. Smells that have taken my breath away and brought me to my knees.

A few weeks ago I pulled out a t-shirt to wear, pulled it over my head and was overwhelmed by the smell of the Riviera Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I had not worn it since then, and it had been washed at the hotel, and oh the smell. The spice incense sort of smell, the dusty sort of smell. I long for that place (not the Riviera, but Ethiopia). I long for it for me, for my kids, and for my sweet daughter. That led me to a small ziplock bag with tiny little clothes in it. When we picked Ribka up from her orphanage, one of the first things I did was take off her clothes, put them in a sealed ziplock bag so they would keep their smell. I took just a small sniff of her clothes, just to remember, to long, to rejoice, to be overwhelmed with thanksgiving that she is here, but so sad that she is not there. One day...

The other smell is so bitter sweet. The smell of my Dad. It has been almost 3 years since he died, but oh how I want so much to bury my face in his shirt, feel him hug me, and smell him. He always smelled so good. He smelled clean, and like whatever cheap cologne my great-aunt Ruth had bought him. I was standing at the deli counter last week when an older man brushed past me and stood a few feet away. The wake of his walking past was the overwhelming smell of my Dad. It wasn't just his smell, but he looked like him too. A "big" presence, business attire, fancy cellphone in hand, talking way too loudly. I wondered if he would notice if I stood a little too close to him, just so I could smell him. Honestly I wondered if he would notice if I put my forehead on his back and just rested it there a moment while I smelled him (weird I know). Then this morning as I was taking a walk, I was huffing and puffing up a big hill, and a little old man walking his dog passed going down, smiled and said good morning and left me in the wake of his older man cologne smell. I made it to the top of the hill before I broke down. I miss him, I really do. I sort of never thought I would, as our relationship was more than a little complicated, but I guess a little girl never stops longing for her daddy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

1 year old and 6 months home!

Seriously if someone had asked me if we would make it to 6 months home, and Ribka turning 1 year old today, I might have laughed right in their face - just before I burst into tears, which I did often the first 3 months home! My goodness, it is hard. HARD...but so amazing.

These 6 months have been incredible, in every way, swinging on a pendulum to"what have we done" to "I am ready to do this again today!" She is one of the brightest spots in my day, and also one of the most draining physically and emotionally. Trying to love her where she is, hurting for where she is, praying for what she will become, longing for healing, it is all so much; and I am so blessed and honored to get to walk with her through it.

She is funny and smart and loves to play peep-eye. She is pulling up and cruising on everything, but no first steps yet, she signs for more and all done, she has names for all of us (though most people would not understand them): the obvious DaDa and MaMa, Daniel is De-doo, Kate is Kay-Kay, and Micah is Kah-Kah. She smiles, waves, and says "Hi" to most people she meets but doesn't like you to get too close as she is very attached to Mommy. She can hardly be told no because she has 3 rescuers that run to her every whimper and hold her when I tell her no. She will cry and they all look at me like I am the meanest person ever to tell her no she can't chew on the outlet plugs! She has a screech that gives you chills and makes you shake a little - we call her the Pterodactyl. But oh she is gives the best hugs and the most amazingly sloberry open mouth kisses as she says "Ahhhhh....". She loves for you to crawl behind her like you are chasing her, she gives great belly laughs when tickled or playing clapping games, and puts everything, everything in her mouth. We are so blessed to have her!

Here are a few peeks into our last few months!

 Getting our two bottom teeth!

Playing in the little pool outside

 Fun at the beach
 Pulling up on everything
 Love being outside - camping at the Cabin

 Getting to hangout with some sweet AGCI friends and meet some of their kids!

 First trip to Krispy Kreme!

 Not too sure about this birthday cake thing!

Thankful for all that have and continue to walk alongside us in this journey! 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Missing my Dad

There have been several things in the past few weeks that have made me miss my Dad. It has been almost 3 years since he died, and it is still weird. Which is also weird, because he was not that present (physically speaking).

I had a man come to my house who is running for the State House of Representatives, and he knew my Dad. Then while at the used Library book store, I ran across a book of Tennessee Politics that had pictures and pages of info about my Dad in it. Kate and I were about to leave when I saw it sitting upright on the table and thought to myself, 'I bet my Dad is in that book', and he was. I opened it up to a picture of him, and laughed out loud in the library which got a look from the librarian who came over to ask me if everything was OK. When I told her that my Dad was in that book, she looked at me like I was a bit crazy! As we were leaving my perceptive little Kate took my hand, seeing the tears in my eyes, and asked me if I missed him. I hugged her, and told her how he always thought she was so pretty, and said that she looked just like me.

I think one of the biggest ways I grieve for him is that he never got to meet Ribka. Even though I know he did not understand my leaving all what used to be me (law school, career, politics, etc.) behind when I became a Christian, got married, had kids, I always knew that he was proud of who I was, and he never failed to tell me so or encourage me. He delighted in my kids, and would have loved her. I can see him holding her and making some stupid comment about her looking like him. Wish he could have met her. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

3 months home and almost 9 month old!!

Amazing....I confess there have been times I was unsure we would make it to 3 months home. Oh, I knew we would, I have probably felt that way about all 3 of my other kids as well - will I ever sleep again, will i ever get to go to the bathroom without hearing my name (still very there), will I ever get to take a shower every day again, will i , will i, will i????? Very "I" centered isn't it :-) (that isn't the point of this post!).

If I had to sum up the past 3 months in 2 words they would be "JOYFULLY PAINFUL".

I can't even tell you the joy I have had in my little flock of 4 with the added addition. The beauty that strikes me so hard as I look into her soulful little brown eyes, the sweet pride I feel as I gaze upon one of my other kiddos running to her rescue when she tips over and the love they have for her, the amazement as I have watched her change, grow, start to catch up developmentally in places that she was a little behind, ATTACH (whew that is a BIG one!), love to look into my eyes as much as I love to look into hers, see her face LIGHT UP when her daddy gets home from work, watch her try out new textures of food (and spit a lot of it out). Most of these are are things I have gone through with my other 3, but for some reason it feels very different, more monumental, somehow. Maybe it is because I fought and waited for her for so long, maybe it is because I missed the first 6 months of her life. I don't know, but it is different. Here are a few recaps of the past couple of months:

She could not sit up - like at all, or put weight on her legs - now all she wants to do is jump on my lap!

To go from not ever really having been on her belly and pretty much unable to raise her head of the ground to this - being on all fours and getting ready to take off!

From being below the 3rd percentile for weight, and length, to now slightly over the 25th percentile - she has gained about 6 pounds and 6 inches in just 3 months!

To get to be there and stand with her as her parents for her baptism was sweet, so very sweet. To think for a second that I would have missed out on that had we not said Yes to God's call for us, is unimaginable. 

 A sweet photo shoot that my friend Tracie did. 

We are learning lots about hair, we are learning lots about each other, and I continue to be AMAZED that we have been blessed with her. So much JOY!

But oh the PAIN! She continues to grieve at times, and I know there are times that I am just not getting it right - that there is something that she needs/wants that is just not me. Those times that she pushes away to avoid contact (though they are rare now). As we venture out of our cocoon a little and I see the way she gets a little freaked out by something totally new, I am reminded of all that has changed in her little life. The times that we encounter a new person that gets a little too close and she leans her little head into me. The times that a good and very familiar friend has held her and Ribka has lost sight of me briefly and I can see the fear of "where is my mommy" and I am reminded of the several times that has been a very real fear that has come true for her. 

The medical part of this journey has been a bit of a nightmare though we are on the other side of that part for now. The exhaustion of ER visits, TOO many trips to multiple doctors, the screaming tears as she is poked over and over to take blood or stool or urine, and tears run down my face as I hurt for her and know that I can't make it stop - only just hold her through it and pray over her. 

The sleepless nights...sigh...

Being in battle - yes battle. I was told by numerous people to get ready. To be prepared for my family to be attacked after we brought her home. I smile and nod my head - I have plenty of battle wounds, surely bringing home this precious child could not be any worse than some of those. But this hasn't been a battle that I have been fighting for myself - but for my family, for my husband, for my other kids, and for my newest daughter. Fighting for those you love the most is much harder that fighting for yourself. The scars of watching them struggle, of one by one some big thing happening in their life - right down to my 3 year old. Pain, tears, fear, exhaustion. I have clung to God in ways I have never experienced as I have cried out for my kids, as I have over and over again laid them each one at Jesus's feet begging for mercy. 

Even such beautiful things like Ribka's baptism. As I sat rocking her to sleep that morning so she could get a brief nap in before we left for church, as I prayed over her on that special day, I was also praying for her birthmother. Sad that she could not be there for that day. Longing to be able to share it with her in some way. 

It has been an amazing 3 months...amazing in every way. From the ecstatic Joy to the cries for Mercy. God has shown up at every place, ready and willing to walk with us, carry us, redeem us, promises to heal the broken places. 

In the last months of the adoption process, and probably daily since coming home, I have listened to and clung to this David Crowder song called "Never Let Go". (it will be on our adoption video if I ever get around to making one!). You won't regret taking a second to listen to it. 

So thankful for the many sweet friends that have walked along side us on both sides of the journey. Friends that have called me, brought us dinner, taken my other 3 kids, cried with me, prayed for us, sent me text to remind me of God's love and care for my family. 

Even though it has been very hard, I would not change any of it really. The pain only makes us cling more, it only makes us see the beauty in the Joy, it only makes us realize how out of control we are, and oh the gratitude - thank you Jesus for a grateful heart. I am so grateful.