An Answer to Prayer

I shared a couple weeks ago that we had gotten some unexpected news from the foster home at which our daughter-to-be resides. It is common practice in China that children return to their orphanages before being adopted – sometimes this is because paperwork needs to be completed (generally a physical and a passport application), and other times it is because of the (mistaken) belief that a child will react better to their adoptive parents if the orphanage removes the child from the foster home and the parents are taking her out of the orphanage than if the parents are seen as removing her from the foster home. However, there are significant challenges inherent in caring for a child with osteogenesis imperfecta, and because of that, as well as the good relationships that our little girl’s foster home has generally maintained with the orphanages from which their children come, usually children with OI who are coming from our daughter’s foster home are cared for by the foster home right up until their adoption day.

We’d believed that would be the case for our little girl, but after we received our travel approval, the orphanage told the foster home that they’d be coming to get her. The foster home tried everything they could to attempt to convince the orphanage to reconsider, but they insisted that she return. We asked at that point that you all pray with us that she be allowed to stay, and we submitted (through our agency) a request that the orphanage allow her to remain with her foster home and her caregivers there as long as possible.

We didn’t hear anything – which, honestly, is exactly what I expected – but neither did the foster home. I praised God for each day that no one heard from them, because that was another day that FangFang would get to stay in this foster home, receiving loving and expert care.

And yesterday I received a message from the foster home that they heard from the orphanage, and the orphanage is willing to do 99% of what we asked them to do! FangFang will be allowed to stay at her foster home until the middle of next week, and someone from the foster home will then travel to her province with her and take her to have the physical and the passport application process completed. They’ll stay with her in the city in which her orphanage is located until the morning of the 12th, when FangFang will travel to Nanning with both the orphanage staff and the people from the foster home. The orphanage is insistent that the people from the foster home cannot come with them to bring FangFang to us, which is too bad. I’d really like for FangFang to have that continuity of care – it’s so helpful for kids in establishing relationships with their new families to see their former caregivers and new families together and all on board with the transition. I expect that morning of the 12th to be very hard for her as she says goodbye to the people who have loved and cared for her for the past 9 months and leaves with the orphanage staff to be handed over to strangers (us). But that’s the only thing we’ve asked for to which the orphanage hasn’t agreed, and I’m so thankful that they are agreeable to most of what we requested. I’m counting it as an answered prayer! Thank you so much for praying with us!

Preparing for Attachment and Bonding (and How You Can Help)

The process of adoption is intense – the home study, the paperwork, the money, the travel, and the attention to detail through it all. It can be easy to see the travel to complete your child’s adoption as the finish line, the point at which you will have accomplished what you set out to do. Then the process is over, and you can celebrate! The celebration is, of course, real and deserved – a child who was without a family is now a beloved son or daughter. However, that is not the true finish line but rather the starting point for the real process – parenting, living life together, loving this child.

Matt and I have been thoughtful, these recent days and weeks, about what that will mean and what our next few months will look like. A lot of the specifics are still to be determined, depending on how her adjustment seems to be going in the first few days and weeks. But what we do know is that we’ll need to be showing FangFang that we are her forever family – that we will consistently be here to love her, to care for her, and to meet her needs.

There’s a lot about FangFang’s past that we don’t know – and even what we do know is her story, not ours, and it’s for her to share when and with whom she chooses. However, I do feel comfortable in laying out the implications of the obvious. This precious little girl, before she turned 3 years old, had lived in 3 different environments. Before she reaches 3.5, she’ll be in her 4th. Imagine with me for a moment what that would feel like – how it would affect your sense of security and your ability to trust – to live in 3 different places in less than 3 years, and not just 3 different places, but with 3 entirely different sets of caregivers. Imagine what it would be like if you were a child, and not only was this happening to you, but you had little to no understanding of what was occurring. You didn’t have the language to comprehend it, even if someone tried to explain it, and certainly no one asked your opinion about any of it.

That’s not the way God designed life to work. What’s supposed to happen is that a baby is surrounded from birth by familiar people, whose voices she has heard while in the womb. The baby expresses a need, and those people meet her need, and her relationship with them deepens. She learns to recognize and express her needs, and she learns that her needs will be met – that she will be warm, well-fed, safe, and loved – and she learns that these people are the ones who will take care of her.

But we live in a broken world, and that’s not the way FangFang’s life began. Because of that, we’re going to be parenting her a little differently than we would parent a biological child. We need to build these parent-child relationships from scratch. We need to show her that Matt and I are the people she can count on to feed her, keep her warm, love her, and care for her – and that we’re different from everyone else she’ll encounter. Doing that with a 3-year-old is a little bit more complex than doing it with a newborn baby, but we’ve been reviewing and will be using some tried and true attachment-building strategies that adoptive parents have been putting into practice for years. We’ll be working on developing eye contact (sometimes using stickers and funny games). We plan to treat her as younger than her chronological age, and we’ll hold and carry her as much as she’ll allow. We’ll offer a lot of healthy snacks and allow her to grow in her security with us through seeing our consistent provision of food. We’ll be band-aid parents. We’ll do mirroring play. We’ll cocoon – keeping her world small for a time (the length of which has yet to be determined) to enable her to get to know us and focus on building relationships with us without the distractions of other people and activities.

And as we do that, we also ask for your support and help. We need to give her the opportunity to learn what family really is and to learn to trust Matt and me specifically. And we’re not starting from a blank slate – we’re coming into her life at a time when she has learned, through experience, that caregivers leave, that the people she trusts today may be gone tomorrow. In that context, Matt and I need to be, for a time, the only people who meet her needs. To that end, we ask that you would refrain from offering her food, comfort, or affection. Please feel free to wave or smile at her and to interact with us as we are holding her, but please stay away from things like picking her up or giving her hugs or kisses, even if she seems to be initiating that contact. We plan to keep her close by, but if you see her seeking food, comfort, or affection elsewhere, please re-direct her toward us instead of offering to meet those needs yourself. A simple, “Oh, it looks like you’re hungry! Let’s find your mama,” would be so helpful. In time, after we have established the foundational family relationships, we are excited for all of you to get to know her as you know our other kids and to surround her with the same love with which you surround them. We just need to allow her to form bonds with us as her parents before she branches out into those other relationships, and it would be a tremendous blessing to us if you would support us in this process.

And if you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to let us know at any time – we always welcome questions and conversation!

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Some Thank Yous and Our Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Pre-Travel Sale

This is going to be my last blog post about money, as it relates to this adoption. Some of you might want to stop reading right now, but if you’re a friend or family member or a follower of our adoption journey, I am asking you to hear me out :) After this post, I’ll be on to talking about bigger and better things – things like bonding and attachment in adoption and some ways in which you can be praying for us as we go to China to adopt FangFang – in short, the beginnings of the real work of adoption and parenting. Before I do that, though, I’m going to write about finances one more time. Money isn’t the most important thing, not even close – but it’s important, and it matters, and what we do with our money is a reflection of what truly matters to us in our hearts.

First, we want to say a huge thank you to those who have already contributed toward the costs of our bringing FangFang home. Those of you who have bought artworks or offered financial gifts have played a huge part in making it possible for us to complete her adoption. THANK YOU. Not only has your financial support been so incredibly helpful from a practical perspective, but it has been a tremendous encouragement to us. We know that you want to partner with us in doing something that reaches beyond just us and beyond just you, in bringing our precious girl home and into our family. All children deserve families; she deserves a family; and we are grateful for your part in making that a reality. We know that you are with us for real. Not just when it’s convenient and not just when it costs you nothing, you are truly with us. Thank you.

To the friends from high school who have reached out and contributed, thank you. To the friends from college who have given gifts and purchased artworks, thank you. To our moms and dads and brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles, we thank you. To friends from our church in Chicagoland and friends from our church here in Missouri, thank you. To our friends in the art community, thank you. To friends who may not fit into any of those categories, thank you. So many of you from so many different times and places in our lives have come together to make the completion of this journey a reality. We see you standing with us, and it makes such a difference to us. We know, and ChenFang will know, that even before she was here, even before she was officially a part of our family, she was loved and cared for by so many.

We are so close to being fully funded to cover the rest of the costs associated with finalizing ChenFang’s adoption. In an attempt to get us as close to that number as possible, we are offering some additional artworks for sale in Matt’s etsy shop. He uploaded a number of prints over the weekend, all of which are priced to sell – there are 6 images remaining for $40 or less. These are a couple of my favorites.

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If you’re doing some Black Friday or Cyber Monday Christmas shopping this weekend, would you consider purchasing a print or a painting for someone on your list? If you’re sharing with others a list of items you might appreciate receiving as Christmas gifts this year, would you consider including one of Matt’s prints or paintings on that list? It would be tremendously helpful and a great encouragement to us.

Or of course, if you would like to make a straight financial contribution, you may do that, as well, at this link, or there are instructions in this post for mailing a check.

Thank you all for partnering with us, for helping to bring our sweet little girl home and into our family. It means the world to us.

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Preparing to Parent a Child with OI: What Does that Look Like?

When I first heard of osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), I assumed that it just meant that the bones of the person affected by it would fracture more easily than those of other people, but as I shared here, there’s actually a bit more to it than that.

There’s also more to parenting a child with OI than I realized at first, and I’ve spent the last 9 months doing all that I can to learn about that. I began by talking to moms of kids with OI and adults with OI as we were reviewing our daughter’s file. Of course, I also talked with our pediatrician, who consulted with a local orthopedic surgeon, and I made contact with the orthopedic surgeon and endocrinologist who run the OI clinic in Omaha, offering some of the best care in the world for people with OI. All of that was incredibly helpful, and  I don’t want to discount the expertise of medical professionals, but OI is such a rare condition that very few doctors and nurses have experience with it, and I’ve so appreciated the opportunity to learn from the experiences of parents who are living right now the reality of life parenting children with OI.

One of the moms with whom I connected added me to a Facebook group of parents who had adopted children with OI so that I could ask questions there, and those mamas answered so many of my questions. And once we accepted Fang Fang’s referral and committed to moving forward with adopting her, I joined the Facebook group for all parents of children with OI, and that group is an awesome resource, as well. And these parents? They are amazing. Not only do so many of them take such excellent care of their own children, but they also have gone out of their way to pass on their wisdom to me (and to other expectant parents).

One thing I’ve learned from those parents is the importance of having a “break box” on hand at all times, whether we’re at home or out and about. Fractures can happen at any time, and we’ll want to be prepared. It’s true that we could go to the emergency room any time a fracture happens, but an ER visit is not always necessary, and even if it is required, we can do a lot to make our daughter more comfortable before transporting her. We should have medication available to address spasms and pain as a first line of defense. Then we should have splinting supplies, so that we’re able to immobilize limbs and splint any fracture at any time.

Another mama actually sent me a whole stash of supplies for the beginning of a break box, each labelled with instructions for use!

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You cannot believe how excited I was to get that box! I also started to add to it gradually as I learned more myself. There isn’t anything like a book you can read about how to parent a child with OI or even about OI itself, but I’ve gleaned so much wisdom from reading other parents’ posts in the Facebook group for parents of kids with OI, seeing what challenges other families face and what advice they receive.

This month another mom who sometimes travels through our area for work stopped by our house and gave me a whole morning of her time to talk about parenting her daughter who has OI and give me a hands-on splinting tutorial! What an amazing blessing! Fortunately, both Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun were willing to help us practice :)

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I’ve also learned about the need for a wheelchair – and specifically a wheelchair that is customized for her little body. Fang Fang is tiny, but she is 3, which means she’s at an age at which children are generally able to be mobile themselves. At home, she’ll be able to crawl or scoot, but that’s less socially acceptable at places like Target, and we’ll need to be able to facilitate her independent mobility. Additionally, we need to anticipate fractures. We don’t know when or how they’ll occur, but we do know they’ll occur, likely to major leg bones at some point, so we need to be prepared, and that means having a wheelchair available. We’ll also likely need a gait trainer and/or walker for her at some point, but we’ll wait for her physical therapist to weigh in on that.

I’ve been challenged to be an advocate for Fang Fang, even in medical contexts. I got a bit of a taste of that after Matt’s heart attack in February, but this will be more of a sustained need. Because OI is such a rare condition, I need to be an expert, and I need to be willing to discuss medical procedures and treatments with doctors. I need to ask that her blood pressure not be taken unless absolutely necessary, because the tightness of blood pressure cuffs can cause fractures. In case of fractures, I need to insist that I position her for x-rays, because well-meaning medical professionals who are not experienced in working with individuals affected by OI sometimes don’t know how to move limbs without causing further injury.

I’ve asked many questions of our pediatrician and of other OI moms, but I’ve also been seeking out other resources. I talked with the HR department at Mizzou to help me figure out which insurance plan would offer us the best financial coverage for all the needs we expect to have in the next year. There are two amazing mamas to kids with special needs who are part of our church, and both of them have been so gracious in answering my many questions. I’ve also talked with our local school system. And I’ve made contact with a local organization supporting individuals with disabilities. I have the information I need in order to get her set up with all the local support for which she’ll qualify as soon as she gets home.

By nature, I’m really a very dorky person, so I have actually enjoyed doing all this research and learning as much as possible about OI and how to care for Chen Fang once she’s home. Even if that weren’t the case, though, I believe I owe it to her to prepare as well as possible for her arrival, and I’m doing all I can to make that a reality!

It’s Starting to Get Real – Some Travel Plans (and a Huge Prayer Request)

Since our Travel Approval (TA) was issued on Monday, my life has consisted almost entirely of staring at many browser windows, each containing many tabs, each containing a possible flight itinerary for getting us to and from China, plus a chat with a travel aficionado friend who was helping me look at our options, and then multiple phone calls and e-mails with our travel agent, our agency, and my brother and sister-in-law, who are traveling with me. It was all, to put it mildly, rather exhausting.

BUT we received our first choice Consulate Appointment date (12/20), and we now have our international travel tickets! I still need to arrange the domestic side of things, but that will hopefully come together this week, as well. The international piece was really more pressing. Here’s our working draft of our schedule!

  • Wednesday 12/07: Madeleine CaiQun and I will fly from St. Louis or Kansas City to Newark
  • Thursday 12/08: Madeleine CaiQun, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I will fly from Newark to Hong Kong
  • Friday and Saturday 12/09 – 12/10: We’ll spend these days acclimating to the time change and doing a bit of sightseeing in Hong Kong
  • Sunday 12/11: We’ll travel from Hong Kong to Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi, which is the province that our little Fang Fang is from and where her adoption will be finalized
  • Monday 12/12: Family Day! We will take custody of our girl <3
  • Tuesday 12/13: Adoption Day, when her adoption will be finalized
  • Wednesday and Thursday 12/14 – 12/15: We’ll be in Nanning waiting for Fang Fang’s passport to be processed. Depending on how we’re all doing, we may go to her city and request to visit her orphanage.
  • Friday 12/16: We’ll travel to Guangzhou, where the US Consulate is
  • Saturday 12/17: We’ll have Fang Fang’s immigration medical exam
  • Sunday – Monday 12/18 – 12/19: Free days in Guangzhou while we wait for the results of Fang Fang’s medical exam to be ready
  • Tuesday 12/20: Consulate appointment at the US Consulate in Guangzhou
  • Wednesday 12/21: If all goes according to plan, we should receive Fang Fang’s visa
  • Thursday 12/22: Travel from Guangzhou to Hong Kong and take a flight out of Hong Kong that evening back to Newark, arriving around 9:00 PM and spending the night in a hotel in Newark
  •  Friday 12/23: Madeleine CaiQun, Fang Fang, and I will fly back to St. Louis or Kansas City (probably with my dad flying with us to help – I’m not sure it would be wise for me to tackle that flight by myself with 2 exhausted kids in tow!)

I am so thrilled to be DONE looking at international flights. Because we have multiple people coming from multiple locations but wanting to converge before the international flights, and because we’re booking tickets reasonably close to when we’ll travel, and because we had flexibility in some things but definitely some preferences and no flexibility in other areas, it was pretty complex. And then there was some gymnastics involved in getting the actual best fares – in order to save about $1200, we have 4 of us booked on Cathay Pacific and one on American Airlines (but for the same flight) and 4 standard Travel Agent tickets and 1 direct buy ticket. It’s pretty crazy. Adoption Airfare was super helpful in working through all of it with me, though!

And now that we have more definite dates, we can get to work on planning the travel specifics and doing little things like packing :)

I’ll have a post soon with a whole list of prayer requests for our journey, but in the meantime, I have a pretty urgent prayer request. Fang Fang is, right now, at an amazing foster home that specializes in caring for children with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). Apart from a perfect world in which she could still be with her first family, this foster home is absolutely the best place she could be in China. However, her orphanage retains legal custody of her, and it is often the practice in China for kids to return to their orphanages after their families receive TA. Because of the difficulties inherent in caring for children with OI and because of the relationships our daughter’s foster home has generally been able to cultivate with the orphanages from which their children come, kids have usually been able to remain with the foster home right up until their families arrive. For so many reasons, this is so much better for the kids. We had assumed this would be the case for Fang Fang, but I got a message this morning that her orphanage is wanting her to return and does not seem to be receptive to the idea of her remaining at her foster home until we arrive. My heart is hurting at the thought of our sweet girl having to face yet another loss and yet another transition in her short life. The foster home is still in discussions with the orphanage, so there is still hope that she could stay there until we arrive. Please pray that the orphanage allows this. And, in the event that they would say no, please pray that she could stay as long as possible. Would you please pray with us for these things? We’d so appreciate it. I’ll keep you informed.