Mental Snapshots

Man, time with Zoe is FLYING BY.  Most days go by so quickly and before I know it, she’s asleep again and I’m in the other room wishing we had more time together.  The other night David caught me looking at photos of her after I put her to bed and he asked “don’t you want a break?!” Little does he know that it’s a nightly habit for me…

I know she’ll never be in this stage again and I just find myself aching to capture every single moment with her.  I’m still completely in awe of the fact that we have her in our life, that she’s healthy, that she’s growing.

I try to take mental snapshots of some of the best moments—the moments that make me feel “THIS.  THIS is what life is all about.”  I force myself to look at those moments in their beauty (or messiness) and observe colors, details, feelings—trying to make my brain make connections so that I really CAN remember them forever.

Here are a few of those moments that I managed to get on actual camera (sometimes not the highest quality camera—my cell phone camera is a rockin’ 1.8 megapixels—but the best camera is in my brain anyway!)

1.  Zoe holding my hand.  Always. 

Zoe handsSince day 2, Zoe has made a habit of reaching for my hand.  She always grips tight.  I know that most babies do this (and other babies have done it to me before) but there is something so special and RIGHT about YOUR baby doing it to you.  Zoe and I hold hands almost every time I feed her and it is heart melting.  I know there are probably some actual developmental reasons that she does this, but I don’t want to know about them. I just want to enjoy it.

2.  When Zoe and I match 🙂

Every once in a while, I’ll play dress up and dress Zoe in coordinating colors (or even matching prints) to what I’m wearing.  I know it’s totally dumb, but it makes me smile all day long.

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Judging from the bottom two pictures, I may be the only one smiling about this, but hey!

3.  Zoe’s face when I take her out and give her new experiences.

I don’t have a picture of this, but Zoe LOVES her Tuesday morning playgroup.  I thought that playgroup at this age was really more for the moms’ benefit, but the first time that I took Zoe she showed more emotion and excitement than she ever had before.  She lay on a blanket with the other babies cooing and screeching with joy.  A few weeks later, I’ve discovered that she does that every time we go.  It’s precious.

Also, this was her face when I took her to the zoo a few weeks ago.  She had never been into the children’s area before and, well, see what happened:

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I can’t even!!

My aunt emailed me this about motherhood a few months ago: “Some moments are pure joy and others….well….others make you wonder how you will ever get through–but the truth is I treasure them all.”

Today, I was waiting for an important phone call, wearing Zoe on my chest in her carrier, and trying not to break my neck as the dog yanked me down the sidewalk after a squirrel when Zoe spit CHUNKS down my shirt.  Trust me, I take a mental snapshot during those moments too! But surprisingly, I treasure those snapshots just as much as the ones with the adoring eyes at the zoo.

I lived a life of joy and passion before having Zoe.  It’s not like I sat around being unhappy! But nothing compares to these precious moments.  I am so blessed.

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It’s Official! Zoe’s Adoption Finalization

Today was a very exciting day!

We have known Zoe as our daughter since the moment she was placed into our arms, but legally we have been “fostering” her while she was considered a ward of our adoption agency. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process of a domestic adoption (like I was!) here’s how it works:

-Over Christmas 2011, we decided that our 2012 goal was to get on an adoption waiting list. We had known for a long time that we wanted to adopt and had been working through some financial goals to make it possible for about two years.

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We had enjoyed being a family of “3” but our hearts were yearning for a child.  We weren’t sure how long our adoption would take, but we knew we wanted to spend Christmas 2012 knowing that we were at least in the process.  We began researching the current adoption climate and trying to decide between international adoption (my preference) and domestic adoption (what seemed to be the best given the current adoption climate.)

-We interviewed our agency in April, along with several other agencies.  In May, we decided to go with a domestic adoption.

-In June, we picked an agency.  If you’re interested in a post on how we chose our agency, let me know—there’s a lot to consider! At this point, David and I began assembling the mountain of paperwork that has to be completed before you can officially submit your application.  We (let’s be honest, I) also created a family profile—a scrapbook of our family that had information about us, our families, our lifestyle, our house, and our philosophy on parenting.  Birthmothers are shown a number of family profiles that match the desires and preferences they have for their child’s family, and from there they either pick a family or pick families to interview.  A sample photo I took for our “house” page:

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-Once we had everything together, which took about 2.5 months, we were able to set up our home study.

-At the very end of September, we had our home study.  This is where a social worker comes to your house and you pay them to ask you personal questions based on the biographies you have already written answering personal questions (mine was 11 pages of single spaced, size 12 font…)  They also check out your home and make sure you aren’t crazy, dangerous slobs.  We were quoted a 6 month to 1.5 year estimated wait after the home study was completed.  HA! What a laugh!

-Once our home study was completed, we could officially submit our application and part two of our payment.  Here’s where I ran into problems with our stupid family profile and had to get it printed multiple times. UGH.  In Mid-October, I was having a meltdown about the family profile when…I got “the call.”  I’ll have to do a separate post about this—it was an amazing day.  Our agency called me at work, told me that a birthmother had chosen us, gave me some details, asked me to say yes or no (right then! without talking to David!), and told me that we had 24 hours to get our money and a signed legal agreement to them.  Oh—and she was due in seven and a half weeks! It was a whirlwind, to say the least!

At this point in a domestic adoption, the prospective adoptive family assumes the financial burden for the birthmom’s living expenses.  This continues until six weeks after placement. Paying for a birthmom’s living expenses does NOT ensure that she has to place the child with you—she can still choose to parent her child at any point and is ethically and legally entitled to do so—so it is a very nervewracking and emotional experience.  You make a bet that she will place the baby with you and choose to prepare as if she will.  We did not tell many people about her adoption because of this fact, although we obviously told our families, a few close friends here in Florida, and our workplaces so that we had support to prepare.

In early November, we met Zoe’s birth mom and her family for lunch.  She liked us and we liked her.  It was still on! Over the next few weeks, we were nervous wrecks.  We decorated for Christmas, unsure of whether “3” or “4” of us would be celebrating.

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-Six weeks after our call, at the very beginning of December, Zoe was born.  We spent time with her birthmother prior to delivery, were in the waiting room during her birthmother’s C-section, and were the second people to hold her.  We spent the next few days in the hospital as guests of her birthmother, who was amazing.

48 hours later, her birthmother signed away her parental rights.  Our agency had already done investigative legwork that indicated that Zoe’s birthfather would probably not dispute the adoption.  We were bringing our daughter home!

-From that day until today, we fostered Zoe.  Our agency filed paperwork indicating our intent to become her legal parents, which typically takes about 90 days to be approved.  In the meantime, we completed post-placement visits with a social worker and even more paperwork.

And we celebrated Christmas as a family of “4!”

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And then today we bcame Zoe’s official parents! She has taken our last name, we have legal status as her parents, and her records now reflect that she is our child and that we have all of the legal responsibilities of parenting.  Hooray!

Our story worked out beautifully, but as I celebrate today, I am deeply cognizant that many adoptions are painful, slow, interrupted processes and that many families who want to adopt face legal hurdles.  I pray for those families and those precious children waiting to join families across the world.  We are called to care for them!  This song by Audio Adrenaline sums up that calling beautifully:

Little hands, shoeless feet
Lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent too brief
On their own, on the run 
When their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won’t let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout Your name in victory
When we love, when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around 
These are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

If not us, who will be like Jesus
To the least of these?

(PS: If I haven’t made it clear before, I am happy to answer any questions about adoption, so feel free to ask away!)

Sunday Night

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“Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions.  Lift up your heart to Him, sometimes even at your meals, and when you are in company . . . It is not necessary for being with God to be always at church.  We may make an oratory of our heart.”  -Brother Lawrence 

Five Mom Truths

Here are a five things I’ve found to be true since becoming a mom.  These may not be true for everyone, and they may not be true for me forever, but they’re true for me in this stage of life!

MOM TRUTHS WITH A 3 MONTH OLD…

1.  You will never wake up “on your own” again.   This truth is cruel.  As humans, we get used to waking up on our own, practice if for years and years, and then in one day everything changes.  Since I was 7 or 8, “waking up” has meant that I set my alarm clock to a time that was appropriate for me OR I chose to sleep in.  Now something else always wakes me up…and it generally needs me for something RIGHT AWAY.  I’m not going to lie—it feels a little brutal sometimes.  If you don’t have a child, soak up the freedom to control your wakeup time and do what you want first thing in the morning.  It’s something I took for granted and never will again!

2.  You can feel overwhelmed with love and joy at 4 am.  Zoe always gives me the biggest smile when I change her diaper and feed her at that time of night.  Sometime she screeches with excitement (which does send a shiver down my spine as I wonder, “is she up?!!!” but also simultaneously fills me with complete joy!)  That “up at night” time isn’t a waste.  For a while, some friends and I did a “Midnight Moms” prayer group where we sent prayer requests to one another since we were all up with newborns anyway.  It was precious to utilize that time in a way that connected me with others and the Lord.  Now, three months of sleep deprivation have taken their toll so I’m a little less gracious about it all, but I still have my nights where it feels like a giant gift to be up at 4 am.

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3.   You may want to punch your former pride and joy in the face.  Okay, maybe that was a little extreme, but still.  I used to ADORE my dog and think she could do no wrong.  Her barking in the yard? Annoying, but she’s quirky.  Her inability to come in from the yard when I called her? My stubborn little angel.  Probably a flaw in the way I trained her.  Her love of chasing squirrels while on walks? Adorable!  Now, I am filled with rage several times a day as a result of all of these quirks.  I still LOVE my dog, but I’m looking at her behaviors in a whole new light now that I’m spending day after day with her and my newborn.  She wakes my child up with her barking several times a day, ignores me and forces me to walk outside in the cold with said child to collect her from the yard, and I can’t walk her when I’m alone with Zoe because of her squirrel-chasing spasms (and when she doesn’t get as much exercise, her resulting high energy exacerbates all of these behaviors.)

To be fair, though, I’m also filled with love several times a day when she gently licks Zoe, gets excited to see Zoe when she wakes up from her naps, and makes Zoe smile.  And I’m filled with amusement when she judges my parenting…seriously, this happens: she looks at me like I’m the biggest slacker if Zoe is crying for a millisecond and I don’t drop everything to respond. Then she sighs heavily (I’m not kidding) and walks over to Zoe like, “fine, I’ll do this job since SOMEONE around here needs to.”

My sister has started calling her “Nana” (like the dog in Peter Pan) and that’s what I try to focus on…her love for Zoe.

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But seriously, if anyone wants to send over a free dog trainer, that would be fantastic.

4.  Coffee=gift from God.  I’ve always been a coffee fan, but man, it makes being mom just a little bit easier.  I have a cup every morning (not new) and most days have another “caffeine fix” around 2 pm to get me through the rest of the day (new)—usually green tea because it’s supposed to be healthier, give you more sustained energy, be less acidic, bla bla bla and (the real reason) it’s like 25 cents per serving so it fits well into our budget.  I usually drink it halfheartedly wishing it was coffee.  The days that I let myself have another cup of coffee…those are the glorious days.

I can’t imagine how breastfeeding mamas put in a full day of mothering without caffeine. There aren’t many things that make me feel like “adoption is way better than giving birth” but y’all? If you adopt, you can drink all the coffee you want.  I’m just saying.

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5.  Mom Time is different than Real Time.  Packing a diaper bag, my personal items, Zoe’s carseat, Zoe’s stroller— balancing Zoe’s feeding schedule, Zoe’s naps, Zoe’s diaper and outfit change—getting both of us showered/bathed/dressed/fed and out the door—I can’t estimate with any accuracy how long these things will take to complete.  I have a few friends with newborns and we chat about meeting at “10:15, Mom Time.”  That might mean that we don’t get there until 10:30.  It might mean that we’re early so we can feed our little one before starting our activity.  It might mean that we don’t even show up because someone has a meltdown, falls asleep, or throws up (we do call in that instance.) I try my hardest to be places on time but if I’m late? Just give me some grace.  I’m on Mom Time.

A Day in the Life: Staying at Home With a 3 Month Old

When I was trying to decide whether to return to work or not after Zoe, I read a lot of “day in the life” blog posts of stay-at-home moms, trying to get a feel for what my typical day might look like if I stayed at home.  I thought it was VERY helpful to read about other mom’s days.  I also felt like a lot of the posts were aimed at impressing the reader with the volume of tasks that the mom accomplished and the selflessness and hard work involved.

This post will not be about my martyrdom.  To be honest, staying at home is a lot easier than my old job so far.  The “ease factor” is not WHY I decided to stay home—everyone who knows me knows that I work hard and like a challenge—so I don’t feel like I have to preserve my reputation or something by acting like this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It’s not.  Zoe is a really easygoing baby.  When she’s happy, which is most of the time, it’s really fun and easy. When she’s unhappy…it’s not fun and easy, but it’s still not impossible.

But I also know that everything could change as Zoe grows.  In a month, I may be saying “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done” and long for the “easy” days of working.

So this is JUST a day in MY life—today, Wednesday, March 6, to be exact.  A few disclaimers:

1) I am a stay-at-home MOM…not a stay-at-home housecleaner/entertainer/Pinterest craft maker/from scratch baker.  I give mad props to women that enjoy all that other stuff, but it’s not my thing, so I save my energy for the mom part and side projects that ARE meaningful to me.  I clean our house, do the laundry, and cook, but Martha Stewart would be a little horrified.  Also, I work 5-8 hours/week, mostly from home.

2) My husband has fairly flexible work hours and works close to our home, so he pops in a lot.  He always works later 2 nights/week, sometimes 3, but he is home for dinner all of the other nights.

3) I’m pretty sure I have the world’s easiest baby and I don’t breastfeed, so my life may look very different than the life of another moms with a 3 month old.

4) Diaper changes…can we just assume they’re happening every 30 minutes to 1.5 hour? I don’t really want to detail all of them.  I WILL detail my snacks/meals because I always like to hear suggestions of quick, easy-to-throw together mom meal ideas.

MARCH 6

3:30 Zoe wakes up for her night feeding.  Yes, I said night feeding as in a singular feeding. Don’t kill me, but Zoe has been sleeping really well at night with only one wake up for a few weeks now.  David and I take turns doing the night feeding and tonight it was David’s turn.  I hear him leave and come back, but luckily go back to sleep pretty easily (sometimes I’m up for an hour or so after the feedings.)

7:00 David’s alarm goes off.  Our dog jumps on me for her morning cuddle.  Too cute.

7:03 I’m making the bed when I hear an excited screech from Zoe’s room.  Someone is up and ready to start her day! David offers to do the feeding since he won’t be here for any other feedings today.  While feeding Zoe, he watches an episode of Survivor and winds up getting into it…this means that I get to enjoy some quiet time while he plays with Zoe.  I make the coffee, let the dog out, and read my Bible and journal for 40 minutes or so while sipping my coffee.

7:50 My quiet time is nearing its end.  Savoring the last of my “relaxation” time, I make some oatmeal with peanut butter and blueberries, then write my friend Jessica an email sharing what I read today because I think it will encourage her.

8:20 David has to get ready for work.  I take over Zoe duty.  She’s happy, so I sneak this opportunity to wash some bottles and clean the kitchen while she sits in her chair (kind of like a Babysitter Balance.)

8:45 I give Zoe a bath and get her dressed for the day—one of my favorite jobs!

9:05 Zoe begins fussing—someone’s getting sleepy!  I try to help her relax and drift off to sleep. It takes about 15 minutes to get her settled and then she naps for 25 minutes.  During her nap, I get dressed (my mom rule of thumb: no yoga pants unless I’m actually working out!), brush my hair, put my contacts in, get the diaper bag packed for our morning outings, and write another email.

9:55 Zoe is up and at ’em! I change her, make her bottle and feed her while listening and singing along to Kari Jobe.

10:30 I throw a handful of almonds in my mouth and we get in the car to head to our adoption agency.  We’re a few weeks away from finalization and there are tons of last minute details to iron out.  Emails are flying.  It’s my second of three outings this week related to the finalization—this time, to drop off some notarized forms that are due today.  Luckily, my friend is a notary and came over to the house yesterday morning to eliminate one errand! While we drive, Zoe “sings” to the radio and screeches happily.

11:20 We’ve completed our agency errand and are now arriving at the library for baby music time.  It’s our second week going to the class and we spot a friend from last week.  Zoe seems a little overwhelmed, but smiles when we sing songs that we regularly sing at home.  Can babies recognize familiar songs at 3 months? Zoe starts to look sleepy towards the end of class, so we leave early.

12:05 Home.  Zoe fell asleep in the car so I quickly throw a salad together: spring mix, half an avocado, some hummus, balsalmic dressing, cherry tomatoes, a little goat cheese.  I eat as fast as possible while checking work emails and personal emails.

12:20 Zoe wakes up while I’m on my last few bites.  She is NOT happy.  David walks in the door for lunch and we chit chat over the screams.

12:40 I’ve tried everything and she’s still really unhappy, so I decide to feed her early.  During her feeding, I call a friend who David heard is injured to check on her.  As I chat, Zoe falls asleep.  David goes back to work.  I realize that this blog post will be really boring without a few photos, so I ask him to take our picture before he leaves.

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After he leaves, I put Zoe down in her napping spot and grab the rest of my lunch: vanilla Greek yogurt topped with a little bit of my homemade applesauce.

1:00–3:00  Zoe naps and I work on two consulting projects.  Usually, David is here to watch Zoe during my work time but I didn’t know that I HAD work for today until lunch time due to some late emails.  Luckily, Zoe cooperates and snoozes.  Good girl! Zoe’s usual afternoon napping position:

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3:00 Zoe wakes up right as David’s best friend calls me, needing a break from his work day (he works down the street and loves seeing Zoe.)  He comes over to hang out for a few minutes.  A few minutes turns into 45 minutes.  His girlfriend and David (who randomly happened to be meeting) come over for a few minutes too and we all hang out.  Zoe is really fussy, so I feed her, then make them hold her while  I eat a banana with some peanut butter.

3:45  After Zoe projectile vomits, the party winds down.  They head back to their respective jobs and I get ready to go to the gym.  I’ve been going regularly again for two weeks in an attempt to get my appetite and a bit of myself back.  So far, success on both accounts.

Before we head out, I try to take a self portrait.  It’s a bit of a bust.

GymMy “see how adorable my daughter is” photo turns out better.  Should have known.

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4:10 We arrive at the gym.   Since David is at work, Zoe will go to our gym’s childcare.  She’s been three times so far (I cried the first time I left her and felt like a total mom cliche!)  She even has her own “gym card” complete with a blurry photo, which is adorable.  I don’t think that they actually do anything stimulating with her when she’s there and I’m still kind of scared of the germs, so I try to keep my workout short and sweet: 30 minutes on the elliptical with the Rachel Zoe Project and a little stretching.  When I pick Zoe up, they tell me she’s been napping for 20 minutes.  She wakes up as soon as they hand her to me.

5:00 We leave the gym and head home.  When we get home, we’re pleasantly surprised to see that David has stopped in for a few minutes before heading back for a few hours.  I make a small smoothie (soy milk, strawberries, blackberries, and frozen blueberries—SUPER easy to sip while on mom duty!) and hand Zoe to David so I can wash some bottles before he heads back to work.

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Bottle washing haunts me…but it doesn’t take THAT long once you start.

Before David leaves, he takes a cute picture of us.  (I’m so blessed to have a husband who gets into my projects, even if they’re a little dumb.)

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5:30 I feed the Zoester a few ounces of donated breastmilk.  She is NOT happy with the taste of this particular bottle of breast milk so I end up mixing a formula bottle instead, which she eats while we watch a Ted talk on vulnerability.  I find out that the original meaning of the word “courage” was “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

6:00 We go for our usual evening walk.  Zoe’s starting to get tired and fussy, but I need her to wait to go to sleep until she eats one more bottle.  She’s a little miffed:

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Thankfully, the crisp air and the neighborhood scenery calms her down.  We walk a mile and head home.

6:20 I change Zoe into her PJs and we play for a little bit.  She’s enthralled by her reflection. Very understandable!

IMG_0745Look at her GRIP! I was so excited when she started doing this two weeks ago—I literally watched her learn how to grip in front of my eyes.  It was so cool!!

IMG_0741Around 7:00, Zoe begins to show me that she is REALLY tired.

IMG_07497:15 I swaddle her and make her a bottle (we cluster feed for her last feeding.)  She falls asleep 4 oz in and I put her in bed with her sound machine going.

7:55 David is home.  He’s already eaten, so I make some pizza toast (as lame as it sounds—sandwich bread with marinara sauce, a spoonful of pesto, goat cheese, and a sprinkle of red pepper baked at 375 for 4 minutes.)  We chat for a while, and then decide to have “couch time” and do our own thing tonight.  I begin writing this blog post while he plays a game on his iPad.

Anyway, there you have it! A day in the life of a precious 13 week baby and this stay at home mama.  Zoe was a little fussier than usual, David stopped in more during the day than usual, and we played a little less at home than usual, but otherwise, this is a pretty typical day and activity level for us.   I hope it was interesting to read about 🙂

What No One Told Me About Being an Adoptive Mom

What no one told me about being an adoptive mom was this: I will always, always carry my daughter’s birthmother in my heart.

I don’t think about my sister’s birthmother in China.  We know nothing about her.  We will probably never meet her.  I’ve never even thought much about her.  I am embarrassed by that, but it’s the truth.

But in a domestic adoption, everything is different.

I met Zoe’s birthmother.  I propped Zoe’s birthmother up with pillows in the hospital.  Our tears mingled as I hugged her goodbye and walked out carrying the baby we both loved.

I can’t forget her.

I can’t pretend not to think about her.

She is forever in my heart.

We opted for a semi-open adoption, which means that Zoe’s birthmother doesn’t know our full names or where we live, but we update her with pictures and letters at regular intervals through a special website designed for birthparents and adoptive parents to connect.  We have opted to receive letters from her if she wants to send them, and our agency has given us a few updates on her adjustment and grief process.

The night before we met her for the first time, I spent hours Googling “what to say when meeting a birthmother for the first time,” “nervous about meeting birthmom,” “questions to ask and not to ask,” etc.  I remember reading a poignant blog post by a birthmother about statements to avoid.

One was:  “I’m sure you did what was best for you.”

She wrote,

“Someone actually said this to me and I wanted to hurt them. Does anyone really, truly believe that I chose adoption for my sake? It wasn’t best for me. What was best for me was keeping and parenting the daughter I loved so very much. Placing her was hell for me, certainly not best for me…I did what was best for [my daughter.] Period.”  

I think about our birthmother.  She wanted to keep Zoe.  She loved Zoe.

She loved her too much to keep her.  She wanted Zoe to have more than the life that she could give her.

As we sat in the hospital with her, she held Zoe and talked to her through tears about the opportunities, the clothes, the love, the stability that we would give her.  She told Zoe her reasons, trying to help her understand why she was doing this.  In response, Zoe slept, cried, ate, smiled.  She didn’t understand.

But some day, I hope she does.

Some day, I hope she understands that she has two women who love her.  Two women who came together in partnership to give her the best life possible.  Two women who correspond about her.  A woman who uploads pictures every three months of a beautiful growing girl, and a woman who looks at them 11 times in 24 hours (or so the website tells me.)  A woman who carried her for nine months with love and care, and a woman who carries her and tucks her into bed at night with love and care.

Tonight, Zoe needed a little extra attention at bed time.  I put her to sleep, but a few minutes later she was crying again.  She wanted to be held, rocked, loved just a little more.

I was tired—Sundays are a long day for this ministry wife.

But I thought of her birthmother, and my promise to her to give her daughter all of me.  I thought of the privilege I have to watch this little girl grow up—a privilege her birthmother would give anything for.  Something that she and God together chose ME for, though I have done nothing to merit such an unfathomable blessing.

And I picked her up and sang to her and rocked her to sleep again.

“We love you, Zoe,” I whispered.

We.