Life with Two So Far

I thought I’d write a little post about life with two kids.  This is a good illustration of what my day to day life looks like now: 

Photo on 8-17-14 at 11.06 AMIf you detect a slight hint of fear in my eyes, you’re right on! It’s a little overwhelming to have two under two, especially when one is a strong-willed and energetic toddler and one is a completely helpless baby.  Throw in a move and starting a new semester as an adjunct instructor, and wow, it’s been a crazy month.    

I’ve been SO blessed to have lots of family help over the last few weeks, as David’s mom and my mom both visited for about 9 days each.  This, along with David’s paternity leave, provided me with about 3.5 weeks of a 2:2 adult-to-child ratio.  Without this, I think someone might be dead (and the odds are fairly even for all of us–Zoe from self-inflicted daredevil-style injury, Riley from Zoe-inflicted injury, and me from fatigue and/or despair! LOL.) 

I start every day sitting in the bathroom for a minute and telling God, “I need you!!! I can’t do this alone! You gave me these girls.  Now please give me what I need today to be the best mom to them!” After that, I take a deep breath, force myself to leave the bathroom, and try to take it hour by hour because I don’t know how long my day will be, what sorts of toddler challenges await me, whether Zoe will be nice to her sister or will spend the entire day trying to pinch and hit her, whether I will get to take a shower or not, whether I will get a break at all in the form of simultaneous naps or if I will just spend the entire day caring for babies (my “workday” now can easily be 4:45-5 am until 9-10 pm, so if they don’t nap at the same time, it is a long day.) 

One thing that I DO know is that my day will be purposeful…because although it may be difficult sometimes, I believe wholeheartedly that I am right where I am supposed to be with the children I am supposed to have, and that God will give ME what I need to give THEM what THEY need.  

Every day I have to admit my inability, put my faith in something beyond my own abilities and energy, and trust in Him for what I need.  It’s humbling, and honestly, “humbled” is not my favorite feeling. 

But every day He has been faithful to provide what I need—whether that is patience, insight into their needs, energy that belies my sleep deprivation, a positive daughter/daughter moment…

IMG_3128(Zoe loves to play “patty cake” with Riley)

…a friend who is miraculously able to come over when I need an energy outlet for Zoe, dinner delivery, a break in the extreme heat that lets us get outside, a fun hour where Zoe does not challenge me once, or a positive text when I need the extra encouragement.  Also, the God who invented the coffee plant is a good God.  Amen.  

Here are a few things I LOVE about being a mom of two: 

  • I’ve been trying to take Zoe for some special “mommy/daughter trips” that are just me and her.  She REMEMBERS them and talks about them later.  It’s so sweet and makes me feel really good about the time that I invest into making it happen. 
  • Seeing Zoe and Riley interact.  Zoe is very sweet with Riley about 85% of the time.  She says “hi Riley!” every time she passes Riley’s bassinet, whether Riley is in it or not, and in the mornings she usually wants me to put Riley into her bed so that they can cuddle for a few minutes.  Zoe sleeps with a blanket and an Elmo doll, and she will tuck Riley in with her blanket and will make her Elmo doll dance for Riley.  Riley is very interested in Zoe…unless she’s sleeping.  Even then, Zoe will often find a way to involve her in an activity!  
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  • Having Riley around has brought out a nurturing side in Zoe.  She really loves playing with her baby dolls now, and thanks to Grandma, we have expanded our collection of toy baby accessories to include a toy bottle, a toy bouncy seat, and a toy Pack N Play.  In between these and the real baby accessories littering my house, there is NO mistaking the presence of two under two in this household.
  • One day when Zoe had been particularly unkind to Riley, I was feeling very discouraged…until I saw Zoe pick up her baby doll, sweetly cuddle with it, and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to it.  It made me feel like everything I have been doing to try to help Zoe learn about kind and nurturing behavior will eventually pay off.  Learning at this age is a lot of scaffolding, but eventually, she will act kindly without me having to constantly instruct her.  Plus, when she does get it, Riley will have another role model.  
  • Zoe is OBSESSED with riding with Riley in the double stroller.  
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    When we go for walks outside, Riley tends to open her eyes REALLY big.  Zoe thinks that Riley is being intentionally funny, and giggles hysterically at her.  It’s hilarious.  
  • I finally bit the bullet and hired a sitter to come for a few hours a week to help me get my consulting/teaching work done.  I felt too guilty to do this with one child and tried to just work during nap times, but with two, I know that their naps won’t always coincide and so I felt very confident in the decision to hire a sitter.  God provided a great and energetic sitter—an alum of our youth program who is currently home for a “gap time” between college and graduate school. I’m scary excited for 9-1 on Mondays! 
  • With two kids, there isn’t a lot of time to spend sitting around holding Riley, so I sometimes worry about our bond.  However, when she does get fussy, she seems to relax the best with me over any other adult in our home.  I love this! 
    photo-72I may not feel the slightest sense of mastery yet, but I’m excited to keep improving as a parent of two and I am so thankful for the chance to parent these girls with my amazing husband by my side!   

 

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Our Journey to Riley: The End (and the Beginning.)

I am writing this final chapter of Riley’s story in my new dining room in my new house—the house I wasn’t looking for and didn’t know I needed, the house that is blessing our family immensely.

A few feet away from me sleeps a baby I could say similar things about.

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I am still getting to know this house, and I am still getting to know this girl.  But what I do know about her is this:

  • She has a great smile.
  • She has the most peaceful temperament of any baby I’ve ever met.
  • She is immensely loved—not just by us, but by her biological family, by her extended family, and by her spiritual family of friends and family—and their love for her is a beautiful reminder of what is good and right in this world.
  • She was meant to be ours.

I will back up a little now and finish the story.  But I just had to say this first: in case anyone else out there finds themselves in a situation, wondering what is God doing??!!

He is doing something good.  That verse that says He works all things for your good? It’s true.

And I’m learning that you don’t have to understand it all.  You just have to thank Him for what you do understand, and let your faith in His goodness carry you through the parts that don’t make sense.

Back to our story…

***

We got to the hospital around 4:30 pm on June 21.  Riley’s birth mom, “P,” had been induced the night before, and we were all expecting a baby to come that night.

Nothing happened.

We spent hours that night with the birth parents and the biological grandmothers, chatting as P had contractions. I challenged myself to stay present and tried to soak each part of the conversation into my memory so that if this baby came home with me, I could tell her details about her family…but I have to admit that my impatience was getting the best of me.  I just want to meet this baby.  Why is it taking so long? I asked God.

Around 10 pm, I left the room to go to the bathroom.  The birth dad’s mother followed me out and there, under the dim lights of the hospital hallway, asked me a rapid-fire series of questions about myself, David, our faith, adoption, and our hopes for this baby.  We talked for almost thirty minutes and wound up hugging and crying together.

“I thought you were the right ones for this baby when I read your profile,” she said.  “Now, after meeting you both and hearing your answers to my questions, I have no doubt.  You are the family God picked for this baby.”

At this, I decided to pipe down my inner Thomas and trust God’s timing.  I was not going to ask Him one more question.  I was going to enjoy this ride!

David and I wound up spending the night at the hospital, as the doctor said that if anything changed, they would have P begin pushing right away.  P had invited us to cut the cord and catch the baby—a tremendous honor and an opportunity we were not going to miss.  We got a few hours of sleep on a combination of a borrowed hospital bed and the vinyl family waiting area couches.  No baby came.

The next morning, we were exhausted.  We couldn’t imagine what poor P felt like, and so we were relieved for her when the birth dad came in and told us “they are doing a C section, starting now.”  The time? 8:30 am.

(Guess when my Bible study had already decided to corporately pray for a safe delivery for P? 8:30 am.)

At 8:50 am, a beautiful little girl entered the world.  At 8:54, we were invited to gown up and head into the infant nursery to meet our daughter.  We actually ran into her on the way into the nursery.

I instantly burst into tears.

“She’s so beautiful,” I said.  “She’s so beautiful.”  It was all I could say as I looked at her, thinking of our journey to get here, thinking of how much I had longed for and prayed for this baby.

My mind sped through the past I looked at her thinking, this is happening in the present—in MY present.  There is a baby in front of me and she is moving, squirming, looking around, and these nurses are calling me “mom.”  I am crying and feeling real tears fall on my arm.  I just drank a large coffee so I know I’m awake! This is not a dream! 

Amidst the exhaustion and unplanned C-section, I didn’t bring my camera into the infant nursery, so this crude cell phone picture is the only picture I have of our first thirty minutes with Riley:

photo-71We stood watching her in awe as the nurses examined her.  She looked around—cooing, interested, alert.  I could barely breathe.

After a while, I was reunited with my camera.  A nurse took a few photos for us:

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We invited the birth dad and biological grandmothers to come in for a while to see her while the nurses finished cleaning her.  Then, the nurses told us to go to a private room to spend some special bonding time with the baby.  We couldn’t believe that we were getting this privilege as adoptive parents.

As each moment passed, we fell deeper and deeper in love.

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As the day went on, we learned that the birth parents wanted me to stay in the hospital and begin caring for Riley right away.  The nurses gave me a room, ordered meals for David and me, brought me towels and shampoo (I hadn’t showered since Sunday night and it was now Tuesday afternoon) and generally made everything lovely.  For the next two days, I stayed in the hospital with Riley while David went back and forth from the hospital and caring for Zoe.

A few times a day, we’d truck down the hallway to P’s room.  It was beautiful to watch P and Riley’s birth dad interact with her.  I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of details of their story or their time together, but I have a beautiful set of photos that I will show Riley someday.  She is a profoundly loved little girl.

Any parent who has been through a “traditional” matched domestic adoption will tell you that the time in the hospital is a roller coaster.  You are falling in love with and caring for a baby that you aren’t sure you will take home.  You are interacting with biological family members who are on their own roller coaster.  You are aware that you are constantly being watched; that every action has a potential impact.  My desire for this time was to show the love and unconditional acceptance of Christ to the family—not to manipulate anything and not to worry about the outcome.  I wanted our time together to leave an impact on the family whether we took the baby home or not.

Throughout our stay, God was faithful to encourage me that this was happening.  In one of my favorite moments, the birth dad’s mother pulled me aside on Tuesday and said that our conversation the night before had encouraged her more than I could know.

“I had to leave the hospital on Monday afternoon because I was so sad thinking about saying goodbye to the baby,” she said.

“But I made myself come back to meet you.  As I drove away last night, I called my mom and said ‘now that I’ve met them, I have total peace about this.’  You guys are wonderful and so loving, and I know you’re going to raise her to know the Lord.  I don’t look at this as a loss anymore.  I think of it as the joining of families.  I’m not saying goodbye to her.  I’m saying hello to an expanding family. I love you guys and am happy to have you as part of my family.”

THIS is adoption at its finest, is it not? I was so joyful.

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But as I described, it was still a roller coaster.  In Florida, the birth parents sign their parental rights away, thereby placing the baby with you, 48 hours after the baby is born (the birth mom also has to be painkiller free for 4 hours prior to signing.)  This would put our signing on Thursday morning.

For most of our hospital stay, I felt joyful and at peace.  But on Wednesday night, I felt like a wreck.  I was exhausted.  I was alone in a noisy hospital room with a baby that was having some feeding issues (since resolved) and that may or may not be mine.  I felt sad for P.  I felt the reality that P could choose not to sign; that this could be my last night with Riley.  I felt the temptation to detach.  I felt the weight of the failed adoption.  I felt alone.

I said into the darkness, I am not alone.  

And I began talking to God about this baby, my feelings, all of it.  It wasn’t coherent or organized.  It was a jumbled prayer of fatigue, my desires, my questions, and my reality (honestly, I think this must be His favorite kind of prayer.)  I talked through our journey with Him, asking again, what was any of this? If this was supposed to be my baby all along, why did all of that happen? Why did I feel that call to adopt in October? It was so random.  This baby probably wasn’t even conceived then!

And in that darkness, I almost felt His chuckle.  “Really?”

Wait…

I pulled out my cell phone calendar.  My hands began to tremble a little as I counted backwards.

Sure enough.  Riley’s due date had been July 9.

This meant that the week that David and I had started praying hard about adoption together—the week that he had said “I am actually really excited about the possibility of a newborn”—the week that we decided that we felt called into the action of pursuing adoption—the week that we started praying for whoever our future baby would be—was the week Riley was conceived.

We had been praying for Riley since she was conceived.  We just didn’t know it.

And there, in that darkness, I relaxed into this truth: this was our baby.

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I don’t always understand how God works.  I don’t.  I don’t understand why a good and loving God wouldn’t just give me my baby without the painful loss preceding it.  But He gave me a baby, y’all.  Hallelujah! I also know that God doesn’t allow useless pain, and I also know that He gave me the encouragement that the situation with Zoe’s birth mom wasn’t about us.  Through our experience I’ve grown, I’ve been humbled, I’ve learned to understand others better, I’ve learned more about life and grief and marriage and parenting and faith and friendship, and who knows what He’s done with it in others that I don’t know about?  Would I trade all that for no pain? Probably.  I’m weak and human.  But I can also say “thank you” for the pain.

Shauna Niequist writes, “This is the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate.  And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”  

Adoption offers plenty of sweetness and bitterness.  LIFE offers plenty of both.  And God is in both of them.  And, like this dining room I’m writing in, His work might be unexpected…but it is always good.

I look at the baby sleeping next to me, and I listen to the early morning singing of my other baby in the next room (I’ll need to get her soon!) and all I can say is thank you to the One who has given this life to me.

I don’t deserve it.  But I hope to steward it well.

For reasons I do and don’t understand, I’ve felt called to share our story with you along the way—the good, the sad, the ugly.  I hope You see Him in it.

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It is all Him.

Our Journey to Riley: Part Three

“Oh, how slow grief is to come to understanding! When the grieving women were sitting there ‘opposite the tomb’ (Matthew 27:61,) did they see the triumph of the next two thousand years? Did they see anything except that Christ was gone? The Christ you and I know today came from their loss.  Countless mourning hearts have since seen resurrection in the midst of their grief, and yet these sorrowing women watched at the beginning of this result and saw nothing.  

What they regarded as the end of life was actually the preparation for coronation…but they did not see it.

It is the same with us.  Each of us sits ‘opposite the tomb’ in our own garden and initially says, ‘this tragedy is irreparable.  I see no benefit in it and will take no comfort in it.’  And yet right in the midst of our deepest and worst adversities, our Christ is often just lying there, waiting to be resurrected.”
–from Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman 

***

A few days into our grief process, I decided I was sick of hiding.  So I wrote about what happened.   And then I kept writing—about what sadness physically felt like, about how difficult it is to grieve with a child always watching you, about how I didn’t understand anything that was going on, about the sweetness that we found in our marriage in the midst of this loss.  I admitted to feeling angry with God for seemingly leading us to a dead end (an an expensive one at that), for not acting in a way that made sense to me, for allowing a child to have such a poor start to her life when there was another option for her.   I confessed my inability to understand the answer to the question, what now?

What I didn’t write about was that we re-entered the adoption process.

In February, I had a counseling session with a social worker from our agency.  During our call, she gently commented, you have everything ready for a baby and your hearts are ready for a baby.  Adoption takes a while and typically involves a lot of waiting, so why not start the wait now and grieve while you wait instead of waiting until you felt ready and then face a long wait? In the meantime, you can say “no” to a situation if one comes up and you don’t feel ready for it.

I was kind of shocked by the suggestion, but when I shared it with David, he agreed with her.  I talked with her again, saying I just wasn’t sure, and she said, re-entering the process might produce some closure to the failed adoption—a way of saying, “we know this situation with Zoe’s sister is over and we’re ready to accept that.”

David was enthusiastic about re-entering the process.  I was still hesitant, but was comforted that we could turn down a situation if we didn’t feel ready, so I updated our family profile and dropped it off on March 18.

As I drove away from our agency, I felt numb.  But the next day…I felt lighter.

I felt hope.

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I began praying for the baby we might have in addition to the baby we didn’t have.  This time, my prayer looked like this: God, for reasons that seem increasingly beyond my understanding, we felt you clearly calling us to adoption in October.  I don’t know what the heck You have been doing, or what any of this was, or why you let things go badly like this here on earth, but scripture says You work all things for our good.  All things means ALL THINGS, and “our good” means that you’re working for our good and for Brianna’s good too.  I want to believe.  Help me believe.  

My daily prayer became, I do not want the fastest adoption.  I want the RIGHT adoption.  Make it clear.  Bring peace when it’s right.  

A week after re-entering the process, we got a call about a baby due in a few weeks.  It was a bit of an unusual situation, so we had 24 hours to decide whether we wanted to be considered for it.  It was exciting to be considered so soon, but as the 24 hours ticked by, I felt increasingly like I wanted to throw up.  I didn’t feel peace—I felt the complete opposite.  I felt panic, anxiety, discord.

This is NOT right, I finally told David.

I feel the same way, he confessed.

And here, I began to feel thankful to God again—not just for the obvious blessings like family and friends that I had never stopped thanking Him for, even in the hard times—but because we had heard His guiding voice again.

Since that day in January when my heart shattered, I had felt His presence and His comfort, but His guidance felt nebulous and far away.  But here, I had evidence that He was still guiding—that I hadn’t messed up or misheard His directions—and with this little bit of encouragement, it became easy to trust that He would keep guiding us to the right situation.

I began to take small steps to ready ourselves again, as our agency was hoping to provide us with a shorter match or a “stork drop” situation after our failed adoption (a “stork drop” means the baby is already relinquished or is about to be relinquished when they call you…so you get a phone call that says “hey, come pick up your baby RIGHT NOW.”)  

I applied for an adoption grant to make up for the amount of money that we had lost in our failed adoption.

I updated our hospital bag.

IMG_2673I continued to feel lighter and happier and more at peace.  I still had questions about why God allowed this, yet recognized that these questions probably wouldn’t be answered in this lifetime and that I had to make a decision about whether I was okay with that or not.  I decided to surrender them, reminding myself over and over again, “all things means ALL THINGS.”

I decided to trust the process He was leading me through.  I decided to thank Him for what I DID have—His presence and His guidance and the assurance that He was with me and for me.

And I kept praying for our future child.

In June, Zoe and I went to Minnesota for a few weeks to teen-sit my siblings.  A day after my parents left, I began feeling deep angst.  It’s tough to describe, but my soul felt rattled and scared and unnerved.  All of the questions and doubts that I thought I had surrendered about our adoption were coming back up.

I asked David, pray for me.  I am processing something big.  

I felt deep in my soul that changes were about to happen in my life.  I just didn’t know what they would be.

A few days into this, I went to my best friend Whitney’s church.  The sermon topic was “God of the storm,” about how God is in control of the physical and metaphorical storms in our lives—a fitting topic.  During worship, I felt the presence and comfort of Christ so strongly.  I continued to feel like my heart was opening to something.

After the service, Whitney’s sister asked me something about our failed adoption and I broke down crying.  I don’t know why I’m crying! I said.  I’m so sorry.  I haven’t cried about this in months!  She apologized for bringing it up and I said no, no, it’s so strange.  I usually can talk about it.  I don’t know what’s going on here.  

Embarrassed, I fled to my car and went home.

Later that afternoon, during Zoe’s nap, Whitney came over.  We sat on my parents’ porch and I told her about how confused and unnerved I was and asked her to pray for me.  And that friend of mine said, “how about right now?”

So with our lattes in hand and the  summer sunshine warming our bare feet, she prayed: God, You know what You’re doing in Sarah’s life, and I thank You that what will happen next in her life is not a mystery to You.  Give her patience as she waits, and clarity about what You’re doing soon.  

The next morning, Zoe and I set out for our usual morning walk.

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To keep her happy as we walked, I sang her the song she had recently become obsessed with.  Its lyrics:

In my wrestling and in my doubts, 
In my failures, you won’t walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

In the silence, you won’t let go
In the questions, your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I’ll rise and sing
My God’s love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea.

My Lighthouse, My Lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, My Lighthouse
I will trust the promise: you will carry me safe to shore.  

That morning, as I walked and sang, I realized the truth in Whit’s prayer and in those lyrics: that God was with me in every question, in every doubt, in every moment of wrestling.

He wasn’t surprised by them.

He wasn’t judgmental of them.

He was with me, loving me in them.

And He knew what came next.

That meant I didn’t have to know.  I just needed to keep seeking Him.  The rest would follow.

The next day, June 17, I wrote a blog post about learning to live with the mystery.  I said:

I feel God working in me as I surrender this time to Him and though I don’t quite understand yet what He’s doing, it’s enough to feel His presence with me and trust that He will sort it all out.

There is always room [in my life] for God to do something NEW, something different than what I pictured. And I continue to want to step out of the way to allow Him to work.

I pushed publish, almost an “amen” in my mind.  I was still sitting at the desk twenty five minutes later when my phone rang.

It was Tammy, our case manager. Don’t get excited, I told myself sternly.  It’s probably just a paperwork question.

But deep inside, I knew it wasn’t.  I knew I was about to get the answer I’d been seeking.  

“Hi, Sarah!” Tammy said breathlessly.  “Is David around?”

“No,” I said. “I’m in Minnesota…”

“Oh!” she said.  “Well…I can’t wait.  I just have to tell you! I’m just leaving a birth mom’s house, and she and the birth dad have selected you and David!”

“As parents?” I said, just to make sure.

“Yes!” she said.  “She’s due July 9.  And it’s a girl!” 

To make a long story short, over the next five weeks we rejoiced, prepared, met with the birth parents, loved the birth parents, filled out a ton of paperwork, learned we had to move, found a great housing situation within 24 hours, learned we had been awarded THE MAXIMUM GRANT AMOUNT from the adoption funding foundation even though I had only applied for what we had lost in our failed adoption, packed up our house, organized a move for the first week of August, prayed a BUNCH, and waited.

Photo on 6-28-14 at 8.25 PMAnd waited.

And waited.

It seemed like our little girl was quite cozy in the womb and wasn’t coming out anytime soon.  So we used the time well.  We kept packing.  I finished two of my three summer consulting projects.  I hung out with Zoe.  And we kept waiting.

We hadn’t told many friends about our potential daughter because of our previous failed adoption.  However, I told a few.  On July 20, one of those friends asked me, aren’t you going out of your mind with anxiety?!!  

And what I said surprised even me.  I am not anxious, I replied.  I felt that God was doing something in June when I was in Minnesota.  I didn’t know what He was doing, but I knew I wasn’t alone.  I told Whitney and David I needed prayers.  Whitney prayed over me and two days later, I found out about the baby.  I haven’t felt anxious since.  Through our failed adoption and again in this process God has been with me in every question, every feeling, every doubt, and I have learned that I can be entirely honest with Him.  THAT is the treasure.  Not this baby.  Of course I want this baby, and it would be wonderful to get her.  But if I don’t…I still have Him.  And I know He will be with me and give me what I need to make it through.   

The peace I had been praying for? Had been there through the entire process.

This really might be our daughter.  

The next afternoon, we got the call to head to the hospital.  A sweet little girl was about to make her appearance.  Forgetting half of the practical things we should have brought and almost forgetting to say goodbye to Zoe (oops!) we giddily hopped in the car.

On the way, David and I talked, reiterating our desire to enter into this situation with open hearts.  It would be hard, because we knew what it felt like to love a little girl and then lose her, but we wanted nothing more than to surround this precious creation of God’s with complete and unguarded love for her first few days of life—even if we didn’t get to take her home in the end.

We prayed as we drove.  And then looked at each other, beaming, goofily saying variations of the statement over and over again:  “let’s go meet our daughter.”

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The final post in Riley’s story—in my opinion, the coolest part of this entire story—will be coming soon!