Thursday, March 31, 2011

NYC Girl's Trip: Day One

For Christmas, James gave me a girl's trip to New York City with my best friend Marcie. With a brand new baby at home and a newly sick mom, I thought I'd have to cancel. Fortunately, Mom was secure and stable, and James felt confident he could take care of all four kids by himself (with some meals and help from friends popping in). He and Mom both insisted I go, so I went. I'm very glad I did.

Life was super busy for both Marcie and I all the way up to the day of departure. Last night, we were still texting each other about what we were packing. She even texted this morning before she boarded the plane in Tulsa to make sure I was still boarding in Dallas -- ha! We had some ideas of things we wanted to see and do, but we had no specific itinerary. Fortunately, James also gave me a Frommer's guide to New York City, so on the plane, we decided to loosely follow the "NYC in Three Days" plan found inside. We eliminated a few things from the suggested itinerary and filled in the open spots with things that were more important to us (like visiting the Central Library and scoping out the best bagels).

Our Hotel -- The Waldorf Astoria

Grand Central Terminal

The New York Public Library

Day One: Street Scenes

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A New Sense of Sorrow: My Mom's Battle with Cancer

The day we came home with Elleigh, my mom went to the hospital. The week before, she'd had a sudden onset of a kind of paralysis in her legs. They felt heavy, she couldn't move them well, and she collapsed at work. Her symptoms weren't anything so concerning that she went to the hospital at that time, and her doctor didn't feel concerned enough to send her to the hospital later in the day when she came into the office. The doctor adjusted some of her blood pressure medication and sent her home to rest for the weekend, and on Tuesday, the doctor told my mom she thought maybe she'd had a slight stroke. She'd need further tests to confirm which would be done on an outpatient basis, but a headache later that evening sent her to the ER. She was admitted and tests began the next day.

After a whirlwind week of tests and various false diagnoses, two biopsies and some other tests confirmed my mom has Oat Cell Carcinoma with a comorbidity of Eaton Lambert's Syndrome. Oat Cell Carcinoma is a very aggressive type of small cell lung cancer. "SCLC is the most aggressive form of lung cancer. It usually starts in the breathing tubes (bronchi) in the center of the chest. Although the cancer cells are small, they grow very quickly and create large tumors. These tumors often spread rapidly (metastasize) to other parts of the body, including the brain, liver, and bone. Almost all cases of SCLC are due to cigarette smoking. SCLC is rare in those who have never smoked" ( Eaton Lambert's Syndrome is a neurological disorder that accompanies 4% of SCLC diagnoses, and this is what caused the numbness in her legs that still persists.

By the time she got her diagnosis, we had such a sense of mistrust towards the doctors at the hospital she was at. I did some research and had her care transferred into the Baylor Health Care system. We hooked her up with an oncologist who has extensive experience dealing with Oat Cell Carcinoma. We really like him and his approach to this type of cancer. She's already undergone her first round of chemotherapy and has another round scheduled for later in the month. After a couple of rounds, the radiologist will try to determine if he can add radiation to her treatment plan. Surgery is not an option with this type of cancer.

I've been very overwhelmed by this diagnosis. The reality is this cancer will be part of my mom's death. There's no cure for this cancer, and the treatments they do merely buy time. On a positive note, her cancer was caught earlier than it typically is, so we're hopeful she has years to live instead of months. Though we all know death is imminent, it's been sad to watch her come to terms with a timeline. It's also been sad to watch a very strong, independent woman reach a point where she has to physically rely on people -- for rides, to help her off the ground when she falls, etc. The speedy progression of this disease has also been overwhelming as just thirty days ago, she was working full-time and leading a busy life. To so quickly be so ill is a challenge.

I've been meaning to update for a while, but I thought if I waited, someone would come along and say she'd been misdiagnosed and all would be well. That hasn't happened -- and it won't.

Time to deal with reality, I suppose.

As for where I am, I'm very sad about this cancer, and I'm very sad about the fact that every day my mom lives will be one of her last. Anything we do is tainted with the knowledge that this could be the last time, or that we're prioritizing because she's dying. The reality of all she'll miss and how I'll miss her absolutely consumes me from time to time. It's been a challenge to know how much to share with the kids. We've been honest, but reassuring so they won't feel scared, but then they struggle to understand my random tears. They're not sure what to think, and we're not sure how much to tell them. God's grace is enough even in this, I just wish I didn't have to know that for sure.

"The difference between shallow happiness and a deep sustaining joy is sorrow.
Happiness lives where sorrow is not.
When sorrow arrives, happiness dies.
It can't stand pain.
Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief.
Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance,
and of endurance into character,
and of character into hope --
and the hope that has become our joy does not
(as happiness must for those who depend upon it)
disappoint us."
-- Walter Wangrin, Reliving the Passion

"The things we try to avoid and fight against
-- tribulation, suffering and persecution --
are the very things that produce abundant joy in us.
Huge waves that would frighten the ordinary swimmer
produce a tremendous thrill for the surfer who has ridden them.
"We are more than conquerors through Him" IN all these things
-- not in spite of them, but in the midst of them.
A saint doesn't know the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation,
but because of it.
Paul said "I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation."
-- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Rom 8:37, 2 Cor 7:4)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

That Was My Monday, How Was Yours?

Monday began as a day like most every other day. James was at work, there were chores to be done. The kids were on Spring Break, but we had no plans to do anything special. I logged into my online classrooms to happily discover all of my deadlines had been postponed so I could celebrate Spring Break too. I spent about an hour Monday morning working ahead on some coursework before deciding I'd better dedicate my free time to finishing our life book. If we ever hoped to be presented to birth moms by our agency, completing that book was a necessary step. I logged off the computer and began setting out some lunch for the kids.

Before lunch was totally served, the phone rang and the Caller ID reflected the number for our adoption agency. I thought our social worker was calling with an update on the progress of our home study report, or maybe with some last minute questions. The week before, he had all of our documents -- references, background checks, financial reports, tax returns, etc. He'd completed our interview and had a copy of the home study we completed during our first adoption. One week prior, he was about 75% through pulling it all together and synthesizing it into one master document.

I answered the phone to some small talk with our social worker. How was the weather? Did we have any plans for spring break? Was James out of town for work? Nothing unusual -- until he said, "Well, maybe I can change your plans this week." I was confused by his statement, but the social worker began telling me about a "Baby Born" situation. A little girl had been born three days earlier. Her birth mother wasn't from the area -- she was in town visiting friends when she went into labor. She'd planned to relinquish her baby throughout the pregnancy, but she never made an adoption plan. She connected with the agency while in the hospital. Initially, the agency presented her with another family -- a family with all of their documents in place who had a life book on file -- and she chose them to parent her baby. This family had traveled in, excited to adopt this tiny girl. They'd stayed with her from the time of her birth, but just that morning, they notified the agency that they were unable to move forward with the adoption. They said they were having some family issues and felt that the two children they'd already adopted completed their family. With heavy hearts, they left baby in the hospital and headed home again.

By this time, both the birth mother and birth father had relinquished their parental rights and the agency was the legal conservator for the baby. Even though it had only been SEVEN WEEKS since we sent in our initial adoption interest form, and though we had a little bit of work to do to pull the last of our documents together, they thought we would be the perfect family for her. Were we interested? Uh, yes! James and I talked in depth about the opportunity before us, and we had a couple of conference calls with the agency to get some background information before leaving town, but within four hours of the initial phone call, we were on the road to meet our daughter.

We met the agency workers in the hospital lobby around 9:00, and they took us to the NICU. There, they made copies of our IDs and accepted documents from the agency naming us as the adoptive parents. The agency workers stayed with us for about an hour. They were there to answer any questions and to be available as the nurses gave us a health update on the baby (a good report!). After an hour, they both slipped out, leaving us to bond with the baby. We named her Elleigh, a name that means "Shining Light" and "Most Beautiful Woman." We gave her the middle name Nicole, a middle name she shares with her birth mother.

We stayed with the baby for a while, but had to get back to the other three kids who were hanging out at Uncle Jerald's house. We got everyone settled into bed at the house, but neither James nor I could sleep. This was better than Christmas! After tossing and turning, I got up, showered, and went back to the hospital around 2:00 A.M. to do the middle-of-the-night feeding. Better get back into practice, right? I stayed until close to 4:00 A.M., then returned to the house for a short nap before shift change at the hospital. I slipped out again before anyone else was awake and stayed with Elleigh until her doctor made his rounds and determined she was ready to be discharged. While the nurses worked with Case Management to make sure all the proper documents were in order, I filed for medical records to be released. Then, I returned to collect James and the kiddos for a day at the agency.

At the agency, we both asked and answered a few last minute questions, then we signed document after document in preparation to take our baby home. Once our paperwork was complete, the social worker designated to work with the birth mom drove over to pick her up so she could come to the agency to spend some time with us. Our social worker ran out to pick up lunch for everyone.

Those moments waiting to meet the birth mom were so tense! We were so worried she wouldn't like us or she would think her little baby filling the #4 spot was unacceptable. Agony! But after only a little while, the most amazing young woman came into the room. She was just so lovely -- physically beautiful, sweet-spirited, soft-spoken. She hugged us when she met us. She laughed at Brystol's antics and didn't seem at all put-off that baby Elleigh was going to have three silly siblings. She asked us some very important questions and answered all of ours. She was simultaneously strong and sorrowful, and her love for this little girl was overwhelmingly undeniable. Meeting this amazing young woman was, without a doubt, one of the most poignant experiences of my life.

When the hospital called to say everything was in order for discharge, the social workers felt it would be best if we went to the hospital together. The worker sat in the waiting room with Bub, Gracie and Brystol, while James and I sat with the birth mom in the NICU as she said her very sad goodbyes to baby Elleigh. In all that we'd done to prepare for those moments, despite the times we were told about the grief that accompanies adoption, we felt completely unprepared for the grief the birth mom obviously felt. Perhaps it would have been easier for us if we'd had time to build a relationship in advance of placement, but watching her mourn was so heartbreaking. We did all that we could to comfort her while giving her space to grieve -- we waited with patience, we handed her tissues, we prayed for and with her. Still, that gut-wrenching sorrow made the joy we felt seem so awful. It was challenging to reconcile it all.

After birth mom spent some time with Elleigh, she left the room before the baby was discharged. James went to the waiting room with the kids, and I collected Elleigh and all her things. The kids saw the baby for the first time in the hallway of the hospital, and right away, they were totally taken with her.

The birth mom and her social worker were outside the hospital, waiting for us. We hadn't really been given instruction on what to do at this point, but we knew the plan right then was to return to the agency for a just a little more one-on-one time. We noticed the worker kept making comments about the baby in our family. They waited to watch us load everyone into our van, then the worker waited to pull away until after we were already driving off. I don't know that this is the case, but to me, it seemed as if she were sort of arranging scenarios so the birth mom could see her baby leaving, sort of forced closure, making things final. We wanted to be sensitive to the birth mom's heart, so even these small things were a challenge for us.

Within our car, though, there was joy. James and I were excited and the kids were through-the-roof thrilled. Brystol was a bit confused as all the way from the hospital back to the office she repeated "baby, baby, baby" in case we weren't sure there was an extra passenger on board. Before we pulled up to the agency, we instructed the kids to put their excitement on a bit of a hold for just a little while. We all wanted to be sensitive to the birth mom whose heart was hurting very much. The big kids understood and complied, but Brystol was just way too excited about the baby. She walked all the way into the agency with her hands on the car seat still repeating "baby, baby, baby." Fortunately, this served as a bit of comic relief and even the birth mom couldn't help but chuckle at how excited and loving Brystol was already.

We spent about an hour at the agency before we had to make our exit. Because we'd rushed out at the agency's phone call, we hadn't thought to grab the travel crib or any clothes for the baby. We had the car seat and absolutely nothing else! We needed to get home to the baby bed and all of our things. Oddly, we were unsure how to leave. It's not everyday someone gives you a baby to take home for good! Do you just say, "Hey, thanks! We'll see ya!" and head on out, or is there a process? Fortunately, both social workers came in to guide us through this part. They told the birth mom it was time for us to go, then they prayed for all of us. They gave her the choice on who to hand the baby off to. After she gave us the baby, she stepped outside to make a call, and when she did, the social workers told us to just go. They said that there was no need for delay, just take our family and walk out the door, and we did just that, though it felt absolutely awful. (I think this was another one of those closure moments they wanted the birth mom to have etched in her mind -- us walking away with our new daughter.) The worker followed a step or two behind us and was immediately present to comfort the birth mom as we passed her by.

The whole experience was so bittersweet -- such joy mingled with such sorrow. We felt so blessed, but at the same time, we felt so bad. We kept going back to the wise words our social worker shared when he told us this was her choice, she knew it to be right, and though it was so hard for her, we were the only source of hope she had for her daughter.

About three hours later (as we were still on the road towards home), the birth mom texted me to see how we were and how baby was. The conversation was amazing, and we were able to express our deep gratitude towards one another. We felt so grateful for the blessing of this baby, but before we could even say that, the birth mom thanked us for loving Elleigh and for making her a part of our family. What an amazing woman!

We've had a happy few days at home now. Friends and family have celebrated with us and showered us with new mommy meals and lots of baby essentials. We've had a couple more incredible text conversations with the birth mom, we shared some pictures by e-mail, and we planned to connect with her in person as we travel through her home town next month. As for baby, Elleigh is so easy and so precious -- we're all in love! She's eating well and sleeping well and she's tolerating all the passing around we do. It has all felt bit overwhelming from time-to-time, and though we are so thrilled, the fact that the Lord opened this door for us in this way and in this short amount of time, and the fact that this sweet birth mother entrusted this little one to us for life blows our mind now and again. Finding our routine and adapting to life with a new little one is helping us to feel like this is our amazing reality and less overwhelming and imaginary. Still, we feel like we should pinch ourselves to wake up from this happy dream! We're so grateful for those who have walked and continue to walk this path with us, and we're so grateful to God for this astonishing gift. We are so very blessed!

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly
than all that we ask or think,
according to the power at work within us,
to Him be glory..."

Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Month in a Minute

I noticed this morning that it's been nearly a month since I updated my blog. One reason is that I've not been able to log into Google to access my Blogger account. I've reset my password several times and tried a number of things, but everytime I tried to log on, the path appeared to go somewhere, but it would never log on. I downloaded Google Chrome this morning, and surprise -- all my Google accounts work again. I have only a minute, so I'll give a quick across-the-board blog update now.

Adoption: We are in process. The social worker from our agency drove up on Valentine's Day to complete our home study. We've honestly worried about this process for years. The first home study we had (before we adopted Bub) felt so long and invasive that we just dreaded the one we'd have to do for this adoption. But, because we had all the information on that first home study and because we were very thorough in completing our very long adoption questionnaire, the actual home study interview was a piece of cake. The social worker did want to clarify some things and to get a bit more information, but for the most part, he just clarified his understanding of the answers we provided. He toured our house, interviewed the kids, then interviewed us all together. At the end of the day, he said he was excited to welcome us into the program and encouraged us to begin working on our life book while he wrote up the first draft of the study.

As of today, he's about 75% through with that first draft, and we should get a copy by Friday. We're at the early stages of our life book. We've completed all the documents to be included in our life book, we've devised an outline of the photo layout, and we've scanned and printed photos to include in the book. We'll have to print a few more photos down the line, but we have enough to get started. We just have to find/make the time to get started! I was hoping to complete and submit the life book by the end of February, but I've revised that goal and now hope to ship it off by the end of this month.

School: Part of my absence can be attributed to my busy school schedule. I'm at the midpoint of the spring semester, so things are REALLY busy. Additionally, I've been trying to work a bit ahead so that I can go to New York later this month and not have to log in to class (at least not as often as I generally have to log in to class). Three of four classes are going well. The fourth class is awful. I'm taking a Family Science class called Family Resource Management, and while the information is great, the instructor is terrible. She doesn't log in to the online classroom, she doesn't open discussion links or assignment shells, she doesn't grade work, and she doesn't reply to e-mails -- all problems in a 100% online course. I called the department head last week to address some of the issues we all were having and a couple more grades have posted, but there are still a number of issues to work out. Hopefully things will improve by week's end.

In other news, I picked up my cap and gown and ordered graduation announcements this week. Though I won't officially graduate until August, I'll commence in May -- just two more months! I met with my grad advisor to map out the last nine hours I'll need to complete after this semester. If all works out as we hope it will, I'll take one class during the "Maymester" and two more classes over the first half of summer. I'll complete my coursework by July 9th, and then I will take a long and much needed nap. For a while, I was thinking about continuing on with school, taking advantage of the routine I'm already in, but with the adoption looming ahead and some other things we have going on, I think it's a really good time to take a break from school and just focus on my family. I honestly feel a little bit anxious about how I'll fill the time now filled with British Literature and Sociology exams, but I'm sure I'll manage. I'm hoping a good bit of my new free time will be spent in the hobby room.

Kids: Everyone is pretty much the same. Even though we have nothing planned, the kids are excited about Spring Break next week. I'm excited to have them home and hope that we can do a few fun things around town. We're all ready for summer. We just ordered season passes for a new waterpark opening in a nearby town. We also registered the kids for summer camp -- their first ever. They're so excited to go, but we feel a bit nervous. We're confident Gracie will have fun and do well, but Bub is our wild card. I keep reminding myself of the fact that these counselors are excited to work with kids and they have experience dealing with kids who require a bit more attention. I think if he can focus and think about that action-to-consequence sequence, he'll have a really great time.

Brystol is growing. At nineteen-months-old, she's way too big for her britches. She's such a fun kid, but lately she's been working on developing her big, bad attitude. She tries to have a fit when she gets frustrated, but many times she gets distracted by the fact that we're laughing at her and the whole situation diffuses. Her vocabulary is increasing rapidly and she's working on forming sentences and using commands. Last night, she patted the edge of the bathtub and said, "Mommy, sit." She also pretends to read books by talking about all the pictures in the books, and when she's through, instead of saying "the end," she says "amen." It's so fun to watch her grow!

I Was Featured: DJ Lance Doll on Gabba Friends

Just a quick blog fly-by to say that the DJ Lance doll I fashioned for Brystol's Christmas present was featured today on the Gabba Friends website. I'm sporting my very first "I was featured" button in my sidebar, and the blog post I wrote has become my most popular post yet. How fun!

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