Monday, March 25, 2013

The First Month: The Good, the Bad, and the Snotty

It has been one month today. Where do I begin to explain the first month since we held our daughter for the first time?  Only other adoptive families have any idea of the emotions, joys, and hardships this first month has brought.  No seminar, pep talk, or advice given by others who have gone before us could prepare us for what we have experienced.
Adoption is not all bells and whistles.  We anticipate that big moment of holding a child, bringing him or her home, and life being just as it should be with everyone together where they belong, finally a family no longer separated by half a world.  There have been moments when I've wanted to get in my car and drive away from it all: all of the frustration of not knowing why my daughter is screaming, not knowing how to handle her following me around the house for hours at a time, arms stretched out, and tears flowing down her face.  Not knowing what to do with my other children who need me to teach them at home and discipline them when they are fighting outdoors and I can't tend to them and my crying daughter at the same time.  Not knowing how to handle the meals, laundry, cleaning the house, the yard work that has yet to be started for the spring, and the thank you notes, appointments, bills, phone calls to return, and responsibilities to fulfill.  How to load up our cramped mid-sized SUV without someone crying from getting their hair pulled, or a coat forgotten, or a cup left in the house, and having to leave at least one crying child in a car with shouting and chaos to tend to the requests while always running late because I never allow enough time to pack a new diaper bag and put on another set of shoes and wipe a fourth nose before loading up.  I have felt so alone when my husband had to return to working a 90 hour week to prepare the land for planting, not realizing how much I desperately needed him to maintain order in the house and provide moral support to all the emotions I was experiencing.
Yet when I see her smile with baby food all over her face while playing in her high chair, hear her squeal when her Daddy tosses her in the air over and over, see her point to her eyes with a big grin and say "eyes!" watch her play side by side with her brothers while they have their arms around her shoulder and speak to her gently, or watch her delighted face as I paint her nails for the first time, I realize that I would be missing out on all of these little blessings if I did not endure this first month of transitions.
Anna Faith is like most newly adopted children.  She has trouble sleeping through the night.  The first two weeks were difficult.  We had to figure out how to comfort her yet train her to sleep, and that is a delicate process with a child who does not know how to trust a parent yet.  I sat on the phone for 45 minutes with a post adoption counsellor getting advice on how to do this correctly.  She also has lots of issues with new experiences.  She is petrified of the outdoors.  She is scared of moving or riding toys.  She hates baths in our bathtub.  She still clings to me in new places, especially around large groups of people.  She is difficult to figure out at meal time.  We still don't know all the foods she likes or dislikes.  She has a constant runny nose (allergies??)  and has tummy issues because of a change in her diet in America.  There are so many things we're still learning about her, just like a parent of a one month old learns as they spend more time with their infant and watch them develop.
We are students of adoptive parenting.  It seems like everyone is watching us to see if we've got it down pat.  I feel like I've got to keep the "cool, calm, and collected" facade in public to prove to people that I can pull off this multiple stair step kid thing and not appear irresponsible for taking on kids that I can't control or raise.  There is so much pressure to appear a success in the eyes of the world.
I had a break down.  Yes, I, the mom who has it all together, broke down one day in the bathroom.  I cried to my homeschool moms at a meeting and even used a curse word.  There, I said it, I can't do this!  The first step to getting through this transition is admitting I can't do it on my own.  Why did I ever think I could?  God has been there through the thick and thin, the nitty and the gritty, the pretty and the ugly all along, and He is ready to carry me through this period in my life as soon as I reach out my hands and ask.
So I made a list (of course the perfect solution to every crisis is making a list!)  I wrote down things that need to go, things I need to cut out, and things I need to let others do for me.  Immediately my blood pressure and returning migraine headaches lessened.  I won't have the perfect flower beds or vegetable garden, I won't be using cloth diapers, my kids won't be learning all the countries in Africa this year, and there aren't going to be as many from scratch meals on the table.  But we're going to get through this.
Anna Faith goes to Dr. Chester in Nashville for the first time on April 15th.  We will get a consultation about her nevi removal and hopefully have some answers about a plan and time line for surgeries and tissue expansion.  So far other doctors have told us anywhere from two surgeries to surgeries over a series of years.  We know for sure that they will be removed eventually.  In the meantime she has a lot of hats to sport around and she is looking pretty stinking cute in them!
The response from our friends has been amazing.  We have had a stream of visits, emails, and texts from people we don't even know.  Multiple inquiries have been made about others also wanting to adopt and being inspired by our family's story.  Many family members from near and far away are also congratulating us.  We know we are loved by the loving words and actions you have shown.  Please pray for us.  It seems that it is a "happy ever after" ending to have Anna Faith home, but as you have read, we have struggled in these first days.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tuesday, March 5th: the day that never ends... and Wednesday, March 6th: homecoming!

Tuesday lasted 36 hours.  Really, it did!  Because of the time change in travel, it seemed like Tuesday would never end!  We were so glad when it became Wednesday.
We slept in a little, ate breakfast downstairs, and started packing Tuesday morning.  Anna Faith slept so well the night before, but as soon as she saw the suitcases come out, she lost it.  She knew we were traveling again, and to a toddler who has yet to know what stability and home is, she lost it.  Kris and I said to each other "She probably thinks that her home is a hotel room and it keeps changing!".  We got packed just in time to meet our group downstairs for one final shopping trip.  We went to a touristy part of the city, Shamain island, to get some last minute gifts.  Kris got to share his faith with some more shop keepers, one of which was really interested in knowing more about Jesus.  We left her with a tract.    What a joy to be able to share with so many while adopting our daughter!  Anna Faith fought sleep while we shopped but eventually caught a nap in the stroller.  When we got back to the hotel, a bell hop was already waiting by our door to take out our luggage.  We had set up a 4:00 pick up time, and he was there at 3:55!  So we hurriedly packed our shopping purchases and got everything collected to travel.  We checked out, and as promised, our guide arrived with Anna Faith's visa to go to the USA!  We loaded up, said goodbye (and unfortunately we couldn't say bye to most of our group for lack of time), and headed off to the airport.  To our amazement, we once again were given bulk head seating, this time with an extra seat next to us (the entire plane was almost filled up).  God is so good!  We had two other families traveling with us who had adopted, one with our group and another one we saw at the US consulate on Monday.  I got to talking with them and discovered they are the next door neighbors to my dad's cousin, in Holland Michigan where I was born!  What a small world once again! Our flight went much better than expected.  I have never slept so much on a trans-pacific flight before.  Anna Faith slept about 7 of the 12 hours, and I slept about 5 or 6, which is really good considering the uncomfortable seats.  Kris slept less so he could get over jet lag quicker.  When we got to LA she was processed at immigration as a "new immigrant".  It only took about 10 minutes, and she was good to go as a new United States Citizen!  We had a 5 hour layover in the airport, got some pizza, talked to our moms, and Anna Faith caught a good nap.  Then it was time to board our last flight, lasting 4 hours, to Nashville.  She didn't sleep well this time.  When she woke up near the end of the flight, I could tell something was wrong.  She didn't want to be held by me but lay really still holding on to Kris and refused her bottle.  We had quite a bit of turbulence trying to land.  Then just before landing, she threw up on Kris.  Fortunately we had extra clothes and quickly changed her.  Then after we landed, she threw up on me too!  I had one more outfit for her, so changed her again.  I had to change in the restroom at the baggage claim, but we all still smelt of vomit.  Uggg.  Poor girl, she must get motion sick easily!
We got our car out of parking and headed home at 5:30 a.m., stopping at Chicfila on the way for breakfast.  What a welcome sight!
It was finally Wednesday!  Anna Faith had to ride in a car seat for the first time, and hated it.  She didn't sleep much on the ride home, but cried a lot.  When we pulled up to the house, Kris went in first to love on the boys, then turned on the video camera.  I came in with Anna Faith, but saw Kris' mom in the garage first.  She smiled at her, but then noticed Bear, our St. Bernard.  She giggled and got really excited!  I'm so glad she loves dogs!  After we went in, she saw the boys with big smiles and each one approached her to great her.  She smiled so big.  I think she was glad to be around little people and saw how much they loved her and immediately responded.  Skyping with them several times probably helped too, because she recognized their faces and voices.  She immediately took to Nathanael, because he is closest to her size and has darker hair we figured.  She followed him around and he spoke sweetly to her and put his arm around her.  Then they all wanted to pick her up.  Everyone succeeded but Nathanael.  She actually liked it!  The day went so well.  They played together while we unpacked.  I didn't realize how big my boys are until Anna Faith joined them.  It is like this every time we add a baby: the older siblings look so grown up.  This time it was no different.  Nathanael seems like a boy, not my baby anymore.  He acted so mature and grown up around her it was shocking to me.
Before lunch Kris' grandmother came over from next door to meet her.  She smiled big and let her hold her briefly before going back to me.  Kris' mom got to hold her for a moment at this point too.  She is timid when she first meets people but after a few minutes will let them hold her for a second before going back to me, if they are smiling and talk sweetly to her.  If someone doesn't smile at her or speaks in a louder tone of voice around her, she is scared of them.  We came home to no water since the electric company was working on the power on the farm.  So no clean up, no showers after almost 2 days.  We had to wait until almost dinner time.  Little Lady got a great nap after lunch without a fight, but it was so hard to wake her up because of jet lag.  She got grumpy, especially since the boys were about to leave with Kris for church.  Kris' brother and his family came over from next door for a minute to drop off their son Kinzie to come to church with our boys for a special event with Josiah's RA class (racing wooden cars they had made) and got to see her.  After everyone left, she got sad.  She went to the back door after a while and cried.  I think she really missed Kris and the boys!  I tried to keep her happy and held her a lot while unpacking, but it didn't cheer her up.  When they came back, she was smiling from ear to ear again and followed them everywhere.  This showed me she has really bonded to her brothers in such a short time!  What a blessing!
We had a bedtime ritual and got everyone a bath (she really wanted to take a bath with Nathanael), and she went right to sleep.  Unfortunately, jet lag kicked in and she woke up a lot between 2 and 4 a.m.  We figured it would happen and are prepared for some restless nights.  After Benadryl and laying next to her in her room, she went back to sleep again.
Eating breakfast at the hotel.  She has learned how to pick up her own food now, which saves us lots of time at meals!

Loving cereal, just like Mommy!
First photo taken as a U.S. citizen!

Miko and Grace, our two guides in Guangzhou

Playing with Hannah Grace Collins, who was with our group and flew out with us
Big Brother Josiah!  He got his birthday wish!

Big Brother Micah!
Overall, our first day home was wonderful!  The boys love her, she likes her Dixon Grandparents and Great-Grandmother Dixon, and she is getting used to a huge space (compared to the tiny room in the orphanage) to play and interact with us.  We are so blessed!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday, March 4: U.S. consulate, trip to zoo, river boat cruise, andspecial home going info for friends and family.

We had a much better day today! Anna Faith had to be woken up early which did not suit her well since she was up crying during the night again. She cheered up over breakfast in time to meet our guide to go to the U.S. consulate at 7:50. We went with two other families. When we got there, we had to wait with about 10 other families to do a swearing in for our kids and meet individually with the officials through a window to make sure all of our documents were in place. It was pretty easy! Our kids played together with toys while we chatted with other parents. I even met a sibling of my RA at Liberty University who was also adopting a little girl! We couldn't believe how small the world is to see yet another connection while in China!
After our appointment we headed back to the hotel just in time to go to the zoo with our entire group. We had a couple hours to find animals Little Lady would like. She was so curious and looked at everything that was close up or big. If I could make the animal sound she would burst out laughing. Her favorites were the pigs and goats. She pet goats and llamas and got so excited she squealed with delight. On our way back to the bus she fell asleep. Other than waking up when we got back to the hotel she slept all afternoon! What a different girl!
We had a little time to kill before our river cruise tonight so went to a play room in the hotel for kids. She played with blocks but didn't know what to do with them. I'm sure her brothers will help her out when we get home! We met up with our group at 5:30 and got to the river. We were indoors on the second level with a beautiful view just as it was getting dark. The lights of the city were gorgeous! They had just built a huge tower that we went past and every bridge had lights with changing colors as well. Anna Faith ran all around and we had to keep chasing her down. She doesn't try to get people to pick her up anymore, so we're making progress there. She does love to explore though! Her new found freedom is very thrilling to her. Most of the other adopted children are more reserved and stick close to their parents, rarely crying or making noise. Our Little Lady is much different! She already acts like a Dixon kid- energetic and adventurous!
We got to the hotel in time for bed, but still got her a long bath. She wanted to get out of the tub on her own for once, so we washed her up and dried her off. She promptly ran out of the towel and squatted in the other part of our room. I had no time to act. She pooped. Diarrhea, thanks to the Chinese herbal supplement we've been putting in her milk since yesterday to help her constipation. Kris looked at it and laughed. She laughed. Kris called room service and they promptly scrubbed the carpet to clean up the stain. And no, I didn't take a picture. Man, that girl is fast!
Tonight we were going to try the put in the crib and return frequently to reassure her method. She of course cried. A few minutes later, I reassured her. A couple minutes later, she was fast asleep! If only every night would be this easy! We are praying for no night terrors or fearful wake ups tonight. Tomorrow there won't be very long for a nap and we we fly out tomorrow night!
I may not get to update the blog until we are back in the States because of our schedule tomorrow. We'll be getting Anna Faith's visa tomorrow just before heading to the airport with another family, the Collins', and heading directly to L.A. at 9:30 p.m. After a 12 hour flight, we have a few hour layover and fly through the night (still Tuesday night b/c of the time change) and arrive in Nashville at 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. We will arrive home at 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. We want our first moments home to be with our kids. They need special first moments with their sister without the chaos of visitors. We welcome visitors throughout the day Wednesday, but please let one of us know if you are coming over so we can plan rest and meals, etc., accordingly. We will not be bringing Anna Faith to church for a few weeks. The attention and crowds will overwhelm her. If you'd like to see her before we bring her to church, please visit! A family coming over at a time will not bother her at all. She would love the attention when in a quiet, contained environment like her home. We will be home almost all of the time unless we have doctor's visits.
We are so excited to get home. Life can slowly return to normal, and Anna Faith can adjust and get used to her family and house. We know it may be hard on her, her brothers, and Kris and I for a while. There are many changes and transitions to come. She will be going to several doctors in a short time to figure out how to best surgically remove her nevi. We have more unknowns in front of us but we are sure of a few things. God is in control, we have our daughter now to be in her family forever, and she is already loved by so many!
Thank you for being a special part of our first adoption journey! It is far from over!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday, March 2: shop till' we drop!

Today was a day full of crowds, bargaining, cold, and more crying. Anna Faith is not a fan of shopping in a big Chinese city! We got up to eat breakfast, dragging since she had another rough night of sleep which was mostly in bed with us, and boarded the bus with our group. At breakfast I met a family from Spain who just adopted their first child. They only speak Spanish so I enjoyed talking with them. They had a 8 year wait to get him. I can't imagine waiting 8 years to get any of my children. We are so blessed!
Our shopping trip was to the biggest shopping district in Guangzhou. It was a long street filled with shops on either side. The weather was in the 50's, much colder than we expected, so we were freezing. A family not using a blanket let us put it over Anna Faith's legs in her stroller. She was very grumpy from a lack of sleep and finally fell asleep after fighting it and having to be carried for a while. We did find some great gifts for our boys and some dresses for her to wear as she grows up. There were beautiful cheap women's clothing stores everywhere, but no one allowed me to try anything on. It was very frustrating! I finally took a risk and bought one blouse, which I loved after trying it on. Too bad I couldn't get more!
After a few hours, we got driven back to the hotel. Kris picked up some lunch for us and we fought Little Lady on rest again. We went out early for dinner and ate at an Italian restaurant. It was so good to eat a dish with cheese on it again! She didn't like it and spit it out. At least she liked the bread and behaved very well inside. After a long happy bath time, we fed her some more and tried to get her to take more ibuprofen since she got her low grade fever back. She fought us on it since she was tired. I wanted to try out Benadryl too since we didn't want to experiment on the plane and she gagged and spit it up with her ibuprofen! Ahh! So we had another rough night with lots of tears. We tried the Benadryl again at 3:30 when we just couldn't get her to calm down, and it kicked in. We had to drag her out of her crib at 6:45.
We're learning that Anna Faith does not like change. She seems to process her frustrations and fears at night and keeps it in mostly during the day. She has night terrors too, not even waking up while standing up and screaming. We feel for her and pray this will pass soon as she adjusts more to being a part of her family and environment.

Saturday. March 2: Medical exams in Guangzhou

This morning we woke up exhausted. Anna Faith was restless and cried in her sleep a lot. We had to look through all of our documents to have them ready for her medical exams this morning so were running late to eat breakfast. We put her in a dress for the first time and she looked so cute! she didn't seem to mind it and liked the shiny buttons. Downstairs, the breakfast bar was overwhelming. There were people everywhere, lots of foreigners and more food than we knew what to do with. We had to eat quickly which is impossible with Little lady who takes about an hour to eat a meal, and we ran into our old friends the Snodgrasses and wanted to catch up. Life was pretty stressful! We got to our group meeting spot late but they were still waiting. We took off for the medical building that does adoption exams and had to wait in several different lines in small spaces for ENT, growth stats, picture for visa, and general exam. It was hot, loud, and chaotic. Anna Faith was very unhappy in public for the first time since we got her. She cried and clung to us. She weighed in at 9.1 kg, which is less than we were told a couple months ago. That explains why her clothes are big on her! She is between 12 and 18 month sizes, but when we comparing her to the other adopted kids, she a lot bigger than them for her age. Her shoe size is only a size 4. we brought size 5. her head is an infant size, not toddler, so many of her hats are huge on her. However, There are 2 year olds who are much smaller! She has overcome a lot of obstacles in her short life to be as bright and as developed as she is. We know there are going to be areas that we will have to work with her with, like attachment to us, social issues like strangers, some fine motor skills like using a fork, spoon, and her fingers to pick things up well, and some gross motor skills like climbing stairs, getting up and down out of chairs, etc. in many ways she's around a 12 month level, in some even younger, but in some an 18 month level where she should be. We discover different things every day.
The medical exams showed her to be healthy and we were signed off for her visa to the U.S. When we got back to the hotel we put her down but she woke up and didn't rest well. I had a meeting about putting together paperwork so was gone while Kris tried to get her to sleep. He went out and got us Muslim noodles before that and they were excellent! We ate lots of noodles when in China the last two winters so it was a welcome sight. During my meeting all the papers were put in place for her visa to be processed and for our consulate appointment. It was good to know it was in order because it is quite complicated.
We took off for dinner but had to fix our ticket confirmation first downstairs. What a hassle! It took a couple hours of phone calls, faxing, getting papers, calling back, and a few trips to the business office later before we found out that they couldn't get it straightened out. We will go to the airport Tuesday and board anyway. The problem was over our lap infant seat, so we figured it wouldn't matter. Later our travel agent wrote us not to worry about it either, so we won't.
Anna Faith had a low fever so we looked for about an hour before finding a store that sold ibuprofen. We were cold and tired so went back to the hotel and Kris got us subs and some stuff from 7-11 for Anna Faith like milk and yogurt. She started feeling better by bedtime and loved her bath, but sleeping was awful. We couldn't get her to go down in her crib, even when laying her down asleep. Finally we laid her down in our bed and she slept some, but it was very fitful. We have come to the conclusion that our daughter hates Guangzhou! We can't wait to get home and normalize our schedule, diet, and home environment for her. Her and our world are upside down right now.
We have really enjoyed getting to know the other families here. They have large families to small families, live in the country and in cities, but all are believers and absolutely love their adopted kids. Some have been here before, so know how to get around. A few have been following our blog since we were previously introduced so it was great to put names and faces together. One couple live in our area and know the dermatologist we will probably be seeing in Nashville for Anna Faith's nevi! These families understand our emotions, fatigue, and joys. We share such a common bond and I hope we will stay connected with them for years to come.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Friday, March 1: shopping, getting a passport and flying to Guangxhou

Today was another day of firsts for Little Lady. We didn't need to be anywhere until 2:30 so we ate a late breakfast with Darrell, Kris' friend who lives in Xiamen before he went back home by train, then went out shopping. We tried to change out more money on the way but there was a very long wait, so went on to the shopping district we went to on Sunday. Kris had found something there have regretted not buying, a wood carving of the island off of Xiamen that he spent so much time at 10 years ago. We bought the carving, went to McDonalds where Anna Faith got to try her first French fries (not a big fan) and went back to the hotel so she could nap before we left. Packing up a week's worth of stuff is difficult to do with dim lighting and a sleeping toddler! I got it done in 2 hours, somehow, with the weights to the suitcases barely making the limits. Kris spent a long time at the bank finally getting Chinese RMB for traveling, and we were ready to check out. We waited 1 1/2 hours for our guide to show up with Anna Faith's passport. The police doing it were in a meeting and she really had to work hard to get it for us and the other family with us. We still had plenty of time to make it to the airport, a one hour drive away, so we weren't too concerned. When we got to the airport, we said bye to Penny, our guide, and shared some more with her. She is not yet ready to follow Christ, but we pray that more families over time will continue to share with her. When we got settled down at a restaurant near our gate to eat dinner, we discovered our flight was delayed an hour. So we tried to kill time by walking Little Lady around, pulling out toys, and letting her meet the people around us. She lights up a room when she walks in. Despite her nevi on her head, she brings comments from Chinese people about how cute she is. We get quite a few stares and questions from strangers, but Kris tells them "these spots are a gift from God, because without them, she would not be a part of our family". Chinese people are not afraid to stare, point, or even gawk. It is part of their culture. They will be blunt about their curiosity. I smile and let Kris talk to them. But sometimes it makes me weary. In the U.S. we will get stares too. That is OK. Anna Faith will smile at them and they will realize she is beautiful on the inside and the outside.
We boarded the full flight and finally departed. Anna Faith was exhausted and fought sleep for the two hours we were in the air. I think her ears hurt because she occasionally woke up screaming. She was such a trooper. One of our guides met us at the airport at 11:00 when we finally arrived. We were the last of 11 families with our group representing 3 agencies to arrive. It was 12:30 by the time we got settled in and Anna Faith got to sleep. Our hotel is gorgeous. We lack for nothing here. We have a suite so she can sleep in a dark room and we can get things done in the bedroom. There are several restaurants just down the road, making it easy for us to get around. Guangxhou is a beautiful, very large city. We are on the 14th floor and have an amazing skyline view. All adopted families stay here, so we're going to have lots of fun meeting everyone staying here.