Colin & Noelle

Colin & Noelle


CURRENT TIME IN ETHIOPIA.



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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Post-Adoption Photos by Jamie Abitz Photography


If you read our post on cocooning, you know that the plan has been for us to stay at home as much as possible during the first few months home with our new baby boy, in an attempt to bond.

However, we also realize that we missed so much of B’s early life, and he’s only going to get bigger from here. We knew we wanted to capture our new family of 3 in the early stages, and we knew just who to ask: our kindhearted friend, Jamie, at Jamie Abitz Photography.

Jamie (who also took our pre-adoption photos back in 2012) was a natural choice. We had worked with her before, she takes beautiful shots, she is great with kids, and she is so super sweet and supportive of adoption!


When we asked her, our original intent was to go outdoors (seriously - go check out her portfolio on her website!), but we were between ideas as to where to go. We loved the idea of an outside shoot, but with still cocooning and B’s ability to be easily distracted and overwhelmed, we also needed a place where he would feel comfortable. Jamie had a brilliant idea – why not at home?! Or as Jamie referred to it, a “lifestyle” shoot. B was definitely not his full self with a new face around, but he was so much more at ease than I know he would have been in unfamiliar territory.



 I cannot recommend Jamie enough. And if you are a newly home with a child you've adopted, and are attempting to cocoon – I want to encourage you to ask about an at home, lifestyle type of photo session. I wanted photos to remember this time – and the truth of it is, that “this time” in our life is mostly at home. So naturally, shouldn't the photos be done here as well? Don’t I want to capture B’s true self? The B who is obsessed with dancing around, hugging his stuffed fox he loves so much, and crawling through the table and chair legs? Isn't this the B I want to remember, especially when he is grown and more serious and more ready to “pose” for the camera? Don’t get me wrong – I love posed photo shoots. But as I see how well it went for B that day, and how great the photos turned out, I am so thankful to have lasting memories that show off his true spirit. And for that, I am so thankful.





Thank you, Jamie, for all you have done for us.

Thank for preserving these memories for us.

Thank you for all of your support in our adoption,
and for coming up with a plan that would fit our family’s needs, while still allowing us a fantastic and true-to-life session!  






Saturday, August 16, 2014

Almost 2 Months Home.

I can’t believe B has been home almost 2 months already.

I think back to June when we were in Ethiopia picking up our son – and I realize how far we’ve come. I see how little we knew about him compared to all that we’ve learned about him since… which also makes me realize how far we still have to go in this journey as a family.


In the past two months, he has flourished. We’ve seen him gain weight, open up relationally, and he physically seems healthier and more vibrant. He’s more relaxed with us and will usually let us comfort him, which wasn’t always a given in the first week or two. He is also sleeping more regularly than the first week or two home, which felt more like having a newborn in the house than a 2 year old. 

Exploring his room on his first night home.
We’ve also started to notice that he has turned into quite the little talker lately. In addition to being more talkative around us in his Amharic, he has quickly built up his English vocabulary. Given so much about his circumstances, including his health history and time spent in orphanages, there is an understandable expectation for significant language delays. However, he is already using so many more words and expressions than we could have ever hoped for! During his speech therapy assessment, the therapist said he was measuring so well on the assessment he wasn’t even showing up on her sheet as needing that particular therapy! This was astonishing to us.


One of the less “fun” aspects of our time together over the past month has been all the doctors’ visits – some planned and some last minute needs that have come up. One of these visits included an MRI as a sort of “follow up” to one he had done in Ethiopia last year. They found what we expected, so nothing shocking there. But when we reviewed the results with his pediatrician, she only reiterated what we’ve known for so long: this child defies the odds. When you look at his MRI results, you don’t expect to look up and see this same young boy sitting in front of you. He is a miracle – just as the Lord has lead us to believe since we first accepted him as ours over 10 months ago. His test results may try to indicate weaknesses, but his spirit is so STRONG. He doesn’t let what “should be” stop him. We could see that spirit shine through his photographs and his videos from the very beginning. After much prayer and quiet time with the Lord over the course of our waiting period, we just felt that He was up to something amazing with this little boy. We see that now more than ever before as we fully realize his determination and adaptive skills. And we cannot wait to see where that takes him as he grows up over the years…

But with a strong, determined child comes so much tiredness on our end. There have been some tears and fits in this household – and too often they’re coming from mommy. ;) It’s been a hard two months for us. Beautifully hard, I would admit. Dealing with the initial jet lag + sleeping issues was a rough start. Then there’s been settling into a schedule. And setting boundaries. And dealing with food issues. And sleep issues. And skin issues that are spreading between us.  And his constant need for extra attention. And doctors appointments. And specialists. And a trip to the ER. (All of this with language barriers.) And, and, and…. And basically – I am just exhausted. 

One of his favorite toys of his that
we brought on our first trip - so we
bought him another one for home.

However good those things are; however well-deserved; however happy and more-than-willing we are to walk through those things with B… they are still tiresome. Mainly because they're new to us and require some adjusting. On rare occasions, I feel like superwoman. But so much of the time, I feel like I’m just trying to keep up physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And I'm having to learn to be a little less type-A than I naturally am...

Of course, I am in love with this precious little boy. I am so beyond thrilled when I hear him call out, “Mah-mee?” and wait for me to look upon his face, only to respond in turn with a giggle of joy that suggests he’s simply delighted that he gets to say “Mommy” on repeat. My heart is melted each day that Colin comes home from work and B is SO ecstatic that “Daddy’s home!” that he bursts out in so much eagerness for him to walk through the door that he cannot help but jump and run so frantically that he loses his mind to the point of near tears (and on one occasion - actual tears!).


I love when he falls asleep in my arms and his tiny little body is so angelic in that moment. I secretly love when he fights his naps by making silly faces in attempt to make me laugh and forget that I was ever trying to get him to sleep. I love the overly ecstatic mood he enters into when the Curious George theme song comes on the tv and he dances and runs in circles. His requests for "Moosic? Mah-mee, Moosic?" is beyond endearing. Hearing his sweet voice across the room singing his favorite song: "Ho-ee, Ho-ee, Ho-ee" (aka "Holy, Holy, Holy" from the song Holy by Matt Redman) is one of the most beautiful sounds I could imagine. And did you know he also makes up his own songs? His newest hit goes, "Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy!" on high speed. ;) And when he hugs one of his stuffed "aminals" so tight, and joyfulness lights up his face, my heart melts.

I often find myself overwhelmed with joy and happiness as I realize how much sweetness is embodied in this tiny little two-year-old boy. Occasionally I just stop and thank God for him and how perfectly he seems to fit in our family. I could not imagine a better son. 



Even in the tantrums. Even when he lets out his sassiness. I just thank God that he trusts me enough to give me that sass. That B, after so long of being "voiceless", feels free enough with someone to voice his frustration. Yes, we need to parent him and work on teaching respect and boundaries, as with any child his age. But when you parent a child from such a hard place, it's also not a given that they will even trust you enough to be real with you. And for now, if being "real" means him acting out or getting mad at me (and honestly, for a 2-year-old, he's still really well behaved), then I am happy to have those teachable moments with him. I can even look back to our first trip when we met him, and then again when we picked him up in June... and I realize how much more he's opened up to us. I am SO thankful for that. The good, the bad, the ugly. All of it. I want B, and I want all of the real him, however that looks; however hard that gets. 


I just keep reminding myself that these days are limited. And this, too, is just a season. He will grow up. We will grow into our relationships with each other. His language will develop. We'll get his health issues more fully addressed as time continues. A schedule will stick one day. We'll get there... We'll get to a "better" point, and we'll also reach a bittersweet point where we look back and realize that so much of who he was when he first came home is gone. So in the mean time, we will enjoy the little boy we have, as we eagerly await the moments of better communication...

And as we wait to see more of God's work in B's life, we see the work he's trying to do in ours. This time spent cocooning at home, when it's so easy to focus on this child and his life changes, and his heart, and his fears, and his growth... it's easy to forget about ours as parents. But I have started to realize in the past two months that The Lord - This Heavenly Father who cares for His children and works endlessly to prove His faithfulness to them through His redemptive work - this very same God is at work in MY heart. So often I pray for B, for the boy he is and the man he will one day become. I imagine how God might be using this time to work in his life, and I trust that He cares for B, and sees B, and loves B. I see how B has to adjust and change to this new life, and I wonder how God is using that to shape him as he grows. But can I tell you the biggest revelation I've had recently (well, that's really sunk in, in new ways)? 

Adoption is not just redemptive for the child, but for the parent as well.

This time together has meant new challenges for myself and Colin. It stretches us. It has resulted in new prayers, and ugly character traits to surface. It requires I take a good, hard look at myself for the sake of my child as well as my relationships with my husband and God. It requires me to check my selfishness daily, in ways I didn't have to consider before. 

I am just so overwhelmed with God's faithfulness. Not just to bless us with good things through this process - our son being the biggest blessing of all. I am equally eternally grateful for God's faithfulness to bless us with the hard times as well. He is gracious enough not to leave us as we are. His love calls us to love more. His grace calls us to give more of it ourselves. And His sacrificial gift to us has set a precedent that calls us to give sacrificially as well. He has taken this process - the waiting, the traveling, the bonding time at home - and he has used all the happy and hard moments alike to change and mold our hearts. That, my friends, is quite a blessing - that He loves us enough redeem us.

So if you've been wondering or asking how we've been doing since we've come home from Ethiopia with our son - this post is your answer. Because I never know what to say, exactly. Are we doing well? Not so well? I guess it's not "how" we're doing, but more "what" we're doing. And what we're doing is... life. Sometimes it's filled with laughter; sometimes it's filled with tears. We're starting to recognize the blessings in each moment, and the work that is happening in all of our hearts as we are each forever changed and being molded into newer versions of ourselves. 

So that's what we are in this season... blessed

And covered in grace. 

Praise God for that.















Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What To Expect When We Bring Our Son Home...


Life is about to change for us. In so many ways. While we are becoming first time parents (and that’s a big enough adjustment in itself) there’s far more to it than that. All the education we have spent hours upon hours completing over the past 2+ years has been preparing us for this next stage. What we’ve learned about adoption and loss changes everything about the parents we plan to be. And lately as we’ve tried to explain to others what this new stage of life will look like for us, some people have seemed rather surprised. So I want to sum up this education for you, lose the “surprise” factor, and be upfront about what the next several months of our lives will look like. I want to give you the run-down on parenting a child who comes from a hard place, on grief and loss and attachment – and this crazy thing we plan to do called “cocooning” that may leave you wondering if we've gone into hiding. ;)

Please, if there is only ever one post you read on this blog, let it be this. If you have ever wondered how you can best encourage us in this process – support us fully in this

Grief & Loss


For us as the parents, and you as the community surrounding our child, the very first thing we all need to remember is that adoption always stems from loss. It is a beautiful journey of redemption. But it’s a journey of a family that is built only at the cost of another family first torn apart. And whether or not a child is 10 years or 10 hours old when they are removed from their biological family – the results can be far reaching. A newborn baby who spent 9 months in the womb of his or her birth mother, still only knew her comfort until that moment. That little baby can still grieve even if they cannot understand or explain it to us; even if that grief is manifested in the strangest of ways. It is flawed to assume that a child adopted at birth is without grief just because we can’t interpret it. And when a child spends time in an orphanage or group home over the years, with abusive or neglectful or irregular care - that grief grows, and is compounded with countless other experiences. The brokenness runs deep.

Often when a child comes home to a family through international adoption, we are filled with joy (as we should be!), while they are going through another transition; another loss. And we may say we get that. We may expect some challenges and adjustments. But it’s far more than language barriers and new cultural norms to get used to – no, those are just the challenges that make the real challenges harder.

The real challenges will not be in us maneuvering those language barriers or dealing with time zone changes. They will be much more foundational than that. Things you and I take for granted. Like learning to ask for things. Getting to have an opinion. Letting him know that he matters, and has a voice; that he can ask for food and eat when he’s hungry. That someone cares if he cries.

Things like… even knowing what a mother is. Even if he could speak English, what use is it to tell him I’m his mother, if he has no clue what that entails? Is a “mother” someone who comes for an 8-hour shift, then might leave, only for a new “mother” to arrive? Or in a few months will she get a new job and I won’t see that mother again? We don’t need B to just trust us to hold him or feed him.  As best as we can tell now, he will let pretty much anyone do that. (And that’s a problem we will address shortly.)

The very building blocks are compromised in an orphaned child. The brain does not physically develop as well when that motherly (& fatherly) nurture and relationship are absent. It affects the way the brain grows, the way they process through their senses, and the way they relate with the world around them. We cannot undo or un-teach him what he’s already learned in his 2 short years, but we can help his brain form new pathways. We can help guide him down a road of healing (that I’m sure will come in many stages over the years).

So let’s talk about that, and how that’s going to look for us in these first few months… Let’s start with Attachment.

Attachment

What is attachment in this context? When a child is brought into the world by parents who are consistent in care, and who love the child, attachments begin to form as needs arise and are met, repeatedly. Over time (usually in the first year of life) the child learns that the parent can be relied upon to meet those needs, offer love and care, and provide a safe world in which the child can explore. The child learns to go to their parent(s) with problems or fears or opinions or emotions. And this relationship is one that will set the standard for all future relationships (and views of themselves) down the road in that child’s life, as well as affect how that child will learn to self-regulate and handle their feelings. I won’t get into the science of it all (I’ll post resources below for your own further reading), but over time, when care is consistent and secure, it is a natural process. Most parents don’t even think about it as it’s occurring. 


For orphaned children, there may be no attachment skills whatsoever (or very dangerous ones if there are). Perhaps there has never been a consistent caregiver. The child doesn’t understand how to attach, and when they start to get close, they aren’t sure how to handle it. It’s not about the child “knowing” you, or “liking” you as the parent – it’s just that they don’t have the skills because they’ve never been taught. They might “trust” you on a surface level, just like they trust the pizza delivery man - but they don’t have a secure attachment. They don’t know you – or trust you – from Adam. You as the parent are just one of many acceptable options for them. That’s not a real relationship. That’s them using whoever they need to, to get their needs met.


As I mentioned above, B will let us feed him. He will let any of the caregivers at his orphanage feed him (and he doesn’t really know them all that well either because he has moved orphanage buildings several times in his short life). These are not mothers and fathers to him. These are men and women doing their best, providing the best care they can, to numerous babies and children at a time. So B isn’t picky. He’ll eat anything you give him. And he’ll take it from any hand. And while that is good for now – it is NOT good long term. Feeding your child is one of (if not *the*) most fundamental ways you can provide for them. Look no further than a nursing mother whose very body has a built-in means to offer nourishment. It forms an intimate attachment when you nurse. And although I do not plan to nurse B, he still has that same need (which has gone unmet) of being nourished by his parents. In an orphanage – it doesn’t matter who feeds you. It’s purely about surviving. When he’s home – we need him to learn over time that he’s not in a “survival” situation anymore, but that he has the same, loving, consistent care in myself and Colin. That we will feed him. That we will nourish him. That we will care for him. And when that care is repeatedly nurtured just as if he were a newborn – hopefully that attachment will begin to form. But he has to consistently get that from us. If he gets it from us AND others – it is not different in his mind than the way the orphanage meets his needs now.


You see, if a newborn child (not adopted; not in a trauma situation) is handed to a grandparent or friend to be held or fed in their early life, there won’t likely be any major consequences. Because there has been no rift in the relationship with the parent, so no new relationship will threaten that bond in such a short visit. But adoptive parents do not have that luxury in the beginning because that bond is not formed or secure. The foundation is weak – and it takes very little to disrupt it. Once the child is secure in his or her attachment to the parent, then venturing out to other relationships becomes acceptable.

Because B does not understand this – because every adult is equal in his eyes, he will need to learn this. He will need to learn what a parent is, and how that differs from a caregiver, a friend, a grandparent, or a stranger. He must learn that we, and we alone (in the beginning especially), are the only two people he should seek out to have his needs met. He needs to understand who we are before he can ever have the skills to form appropriate relationships with anyone else later on. He will need to learn things that you may never have had to think twice about teaching your biological children - things that seem natural and just a part of reality. But his reality has been so different than what any of us can possibly imagine. So for him to begin to understand this new life, and these new ways of processing his world, it requires deliberate action and diligence on our end, and understanding and cooperation on yours.  This is why we are planning to “cocoon” when we get home…

Cocooning


In the adoption world, the term “cocooning” refers to a time where the newly formed family stays “in” for a while, with a primary focus on intensive care and attachment. It is solely the adoptive family meeting every need of the child. It usually means no outside help coming into the home (not grandparents, not friends, etc.) And when the time comes where family or friends are allowed to stop by, agencies still often urge families to make sure that visitors merely visit and are not meeting the new child’s needs (feeding, bathing, holding, changing diapers, etc.) 

Again – that attachment thing. It’s built when needs are met on time, all the time, by a parent. Breaking that cycle early on can have adverse effects and be confusing for the child who is still learning about their new environment and family dynamics.

The length of time varies from family to family, but generally lasts several weeks to several months, with an openness to adjust as needed based on how the child is doing. There are some families who don’t feel the need to do this at all. I am not here to speak negatively about their choices – but I will say that I have done my own research and I know that there are proven benefits that allow for deeper healing when attachment and cocooning are made a priority. And I cannot imagine a scenario in life more appropriate than this to err on the side of caution. It’s not worth the risk of enduring months or years of an unhealthy “attachment” and subsequent, unnecessary issues – all because we weren’t willing to take the time to invest now. Sure our son may be fine if we don’t cocoon – but that’s not what we’re aiming for. We have the time, so we plan to utilize it and cocoon as recommended. :)

So what does this mean? What will this look like for our family? How can you be involved? Well, in the first few months especially, it will need to be from a distance. We plan to stay home as often as possible, with the exception being doctors’ appointments (and there will be many of them!). As we feel B is gaining security with us, we will let up over time. The first week home will look different than the 4th week home, and the 8th week home... And we will re-evaluate as we learn more about him, his insecurities, and his ability to attach well to us.

When we first get back to the U.S., we plan to invite our friends to the airport to welcome him home. This will be the window of opportunity to meet him before we head into an intense season of cocooning. But we want you there! We still ask that you keep these things in mind, and don’t reach to hold him or expect him to react in any particular way. He may be overwhelmed, or he may eat up the attention. Please just consider what might be overwhelming for a 2-year-old in his position after over 24 hours of traveling and landing in a new place. :) 

Then, as we settle into our house as a family of 3, we plan to take the first few months to stay in with him. This will mean no visitors, no church, no play dates, etc. We need to be with B, and he needs to be at home. This is not a time when we want crowds of people in his face, ooh-ing and ah-ing over him. And beyond that, imagine a child who has probably never been inside a store. Imagine our supermarkets. Imagine the noises and sights and smells, and not having anyone safe with you when you’re scared (because, remember – to him, I am not necessarily perceived as safe yet), and not having any coping skills because there’s never been anyone to teach them to you. It’s over-stimulating and overwhelming to a newly adopted child. And when those fear responses are active, attachment and healing cannot take root.

It also means that I will be trying to stay off of Facebook and the phone as much as possible during the hours he’s awake since I will need to be intentional in my time with him. I don’t plan to completely disappear. And I’m sure as he reaches milestones, I will want to hop online and share his cuteness with you all. But I will still need friends and family and connection, and so will Colin. Supporting us in this time (when visiting and offering tangible support is harder) that is a beautiful way to stay involved. Reach out. Please. This first time mama knows very little, but enough that she realizes it’s important to come up for air when you spend your whole week at home with a toddler. ;)

Conclusion


And lastly, please remember that this won’t be forever! There WILL be a day when we take that first trip out, then the second… and soon B will be used to this new world of his, and secure in his relationship with us. I can’t yet say when that will be. But it will come in time. We just need a little space and LOTS of grace to get us to that point. :)

Thank you for making it through this. This stuff is so important to me, and to our family. We realize it’s unconventional. We realize it’s hard, and asking a lot from those of you who have been such great blessings to us. And in no way do we want this post to send the message that we don’t need you – but rather that we DO need you. Just in a different capacity for this upcoming season. But we are eternally grateful for the support you've given that has helped get us to this point. We love each and every one of you!

-Noelle

 Adoption & Attachment Resources:

The Connected Child” book by Dr. Karyn Purvis
Attaching in Adoption” book by Deborah D. Gray


Basically, this entire Empowered To Connect website

Any of these posts by Rebekah over @ her blog “Saying Yes to Adoption
Parts 1, 2, 3, or 4, of this web series on Cocooning.