February 28, 2015

A Heart Session

The moment I found out that Charlotte was a girl, I knew that I wanted to be completely cliche and have some professional newborn pictures done.

You only live once!

Even before coming a mom, I have always enjoyed taking pictures for myself. When the kids started coming along, the amount of storage space on my camera and my computer began to fill up quickly. I love being able to get that perfect shot of my kids. I don't know a whole lot of photog jargon or tips and tricks, but I know how to take photos that I love. Therefore, prior to Charlotte joining the family, the husband wasn't exactly keen on my paying for professional pics of the boys when he felt that my own photos in and of themselves were actually good. (What he said. Not just patting myself on the back.)

However, having a girl changed that and I was determined to have them done right!

I called a friend of mine whom I have known since she was months old. She herself was adopted as a baby from Korea and we have kept in touch for many many years. She'll be pleased to know that even though I was technically shopping around for a photographer, I was 99% sure that I would use her regardless of price. I love being able to provide business to my friends as a client but on the plus side, I was already happy with the work she's done on newborn sessions.

As we began discussing options, I was excited to let her in on the secret about the adoption (since we weren't announcing on social media yet). That's when she began to tell me about Red Thread Sessions. As a member of their site, she would be able to donate her session to us because it was an adoption! A free professional session - heck yes!

Red Thread Sessions is specifically for adoptive families. Photographers can join to donate their time in order to capture a moment in an adoptive family's journey to creating their forever family whether it's at placement, at the airport or the final court date. As an adoptive mom, the idea of this organization just blesses my heart! Most adoptive families have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in order to adopt and become parents. So to have a team of people that recognize the gift that adoption is and to want to donate their time and effort to capture the beginnings or growth of a new family at little to no cost is beyond amazing. Adoptive parents don't even need to be familiar with a specific photographer. They can search the site and find one locally that is available!

Obviously, any purchases we wanted to make after the fact would still be out of pocket but by then we were just over the moon with the results that we had to purchase the rights to everything on top of a photo package.

Miss Charlotte was barely three weeks old when we visited the studio and even big brothers Noah and Aaron came along for the ride. If we were going to do professional pics, we might as well try to get them in as well! The one photo I want to share below is special to me because it is what we will be sending to our birth mom. At Charlotte's placement, I had a gift for our birth mom that was one part of a set of necklaces.

Our birth mom's necklace is a circle with a heart cut out of it...
which is what makes Charlotte's necklace: the heart.

February 1, 2015

The Story of Charlotte

We have a running joke with our caseworker at Gladney. She is not to call us out of the blue. Not even to wish us a Merry Christmas or to casually check in. Since we finalized our adoption with Aaron the summer of 2013, all correspondence is usually through email. If you know our story, then you know why.

Caseworker calls on Christmas Eve 2011 - Surprise! You have a baby boy!
Caseworker calls on Noah's 1st birthday 2012 - Surprise! Another baby on the way!

So you can see how our little inside joke about surprise calls from the agency usually results in a baby coming home with us. Fast forward to August of 2014...I'm in the middle of putting the boys down for nap when my phone rings.

I know that number. My heart stops.

Rather than interrupt the process of nap, I get the boys in bed, take a deep breath and check my voice mail. Of course she won't leave any details on the phone; just a "Hope you're well. Hey, call me back. I have some news."

In the movies, there's always that line in the script, "Are you sitting down?" or "You need to sit down". I believe I experienced why characters feel the need to say such things. Since only a few minutes had passed, I called back hoping to catch her before lunch and she picks up right away.

"So...we heard from your birth mom. She's pregnant and wants to make an adoption plan."

I sat down mid-stairway. Hello, heart pounding!

What we came to find out was that our birth parents were expecting to do the adoption but they didn't necessarily want to ask us; they didn't want to assume that we would say yes. Gladney called us to get a feel for where we would stand on the matter and I am so thankful they did! We took a few days to pray and talk (even though the husband's answer was immediate) and called Gladney back with our intent to move forward with the adoption should our birth parents want to do so.

Almost in a reverse situation of when we first learned of Noah - that we had already been chosen before saying yes - we had said yes to baby #3 and our birth parents before they realized we were an option! We waited another two weeks to hear back and finally the call from Gladney came that they were sending paperwork our way and we were officially in the process. Our birth parents were thrilled that we wanted this baby.

Obviously by now, we're pros at adoption paperwork. It took us no time to collect everything and send it back off to the agency. The difficult part was the waiting. Noah's placement had been almost immediate and from the time we learned of Aaron to when he was born, it was only five weeks. Baby #3 wasn't due until January! Five months goes by achingly slow.

One other aspect was the sex of the baby. It felt like pulling teeth waiting and waiting to find out. Finally, we heard from our birth mom! She has never sent anything to us until this baby - her sonogram pictures! Since it was just a technician doing the sonogram, there wasn't an official doctor's stamp on whether boy or girl. But from what we were given and told, the technician was certain the baby was a boy. The photos even came with a blue card.

I think we felt like any parent in that we mostly were hoping that the baby was healthy. I love my two rascally guys and to add a third would have been smooth sailing. Besides, I love my momma's boys! But obviously, to have a girl was so strong a desire that my heart was bursting at the seams, waiting for the news, in hopes that this time around we would be so lucky.

Waiting for a baby to be born, that you yourself are not birthing, is such a strange position in and of itself. We go about our daily lives and really there isn't much to do to prepare. Honestly, there were days that I had to remind myself that there was a baby coming.

Finally, we got an official due date - January 22nd. Which coincidentally happens to be Aaron's birthday as well. We were also told that our birth mom was sending another package that would reveal the sex of the baby. She didn't want us to find out over the phone. She wanted it to be something a little more special. I tried not to speculate that that meant she was having a girl, but it was difficult not to read too much into it when some other friends and family thought the same thing.

A week went by...no letter. Another week...no letter.

I called the agency and found out that her letter had been returned. Something about the wrong zip code. So we waited again. At this point, the arrival of the letter on the second attempt would culminate while my mother-in-law and I went on our weekend cruise in November. (So now you see, the purpose of the cruise was to get some time off before baby #3 came!) No letter arrived before our trip and on our return, there was no letter waiting for me either. Once again, we found out that her package had been returned! Desperation was truly kicking in! If you've known me personally for a while, then you know that I like to plan and that I don't like suspense. Obviously, the lack of news was killing me.

A couple more weeks passed and I get a call from our caseworker. Our birth mom had given her permission to call us and tell us over the phone all the details of her last doctor appointment and the sex of the baby! The husband wasn't with me but I had her tell me anyhow. My plan was to go out and buy an outfit or something representative of the baby as a fun way to tell the husband. The following day was perfect! The husband ended up working from home and as a result I convinced him and I to get lunch together.
That is when I gave him this:

IT'S A GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My first text to my closest friends was that "daddy was going to be so broke" along with the above picture. Unlike our other adoptions, we were more open with telling a small group of people outside of our family and closest friends with the typical instruction to keep the news off social media. Although we felt like this would be a for sure thing, it's always been my preference to wait. As a reminder, Texas law states that a birth parent cannot sign any adoption paperwork until the baby is 48 hours old. Nothing would be set in stone until then.

As for the fact that we were having a girl, I could go forever on what the news truly meant to me, but I think that's something I'll save just for Baby Girl to read about one day. In the meantime, I had literally sold all of our baby gear once Aaron grew out of it. So piece by piece, I began to buy some items back along with a steadily growing wardrobe full of pink.

Fast forward through the holidays and seeing that January 22nd was around the corner, I felt like three weeks was plenty of time to still get things done around the house and whatnot. I had had my mom-cation, we upgraded to a minivan to be able to seat three kids in car seats, the husband and I took our CPR class and other educational courses, we bought beds for the boys in anticipation of them sharing a room, we bought a swing set for the backyard to keep them entertained, and we were taking advantage of all that we could do as a family of four.

Just shy of New Years, our caseworker calls with an update: our birth mom's due date was moved up to Jan 15th. Huh?! Suddenly, three weeks became two and anxiety set in. My other mom friends said I was just nesting, but isn't all nesting just wanting to get stuff done before you can't anymore? At least not as easily as before.

One week and a few days later we get another call that our birth mom was being induced on the 14th. It's one thing to hang around and wait for the call that your birth mom went into labor and had the baby (as was the case with Aaron). It's another thing to know the day and time.

I did not let my phone out of sight on the 14th. I even held back and didn't check in until sometime after lunch to ask for an update. Finally, that afternoon we learned of the birth of a baby girl! (Yes, even until then I had my fingers crossed) Born 6lbs 8oz and 18 1/2 inches long. Healthy baby and healthy mom!

Our plan was to drive the next day to Kerrville, which is where all our babies were born, stay the night, and the expectation was that papers would be signed right at 48 hours and we would then head home. We brought the boys with us (which in hindsight, I'm still not sure whether I'm glad we did or not) but what was different about this trip compared to when we went to pick Aaron up from the hospital, was that Gladney and the local social worker offered to let me stay at the hospital that second night with the baby. It's a risk that I thought about and decided I was willing to take. The underlying difficulty would be if our birth parents changed their minds and wanted to parent the baby, I would risk getting attached and make myself emotionally vulnerable should that situation arise. To me it was worth it. Worth it just to be able to meet her and love on Noah and Aaron's little sister for one night.

The husband dropped me off at the hospital that night and right away they wheeled her into our own little room. She looked just like Noah at first sight until I caught a glimpse of that gorgeous jet black hair. I've never stayed at a hospital before so the experience was interesting but definitely not something I'd care to repeat. And just like a newborn, the baby decided to party until 3:00am. Once I'd had enough, the nursing staff came and took her to the nursery so I could get a couple hours of sleep. Everything comes back to you very quickly with caring for a baby but I was thankful for that first night to have a refresher all on my own.

The next day was spent coming in and out of the hospital. Since the baby couldn't leave, someone representing the baby had to be there at all times so either myself or our birth parent's caseworker would be at the hospital. When I got the text that our birth parents had signed their papers, the husband brought the boys up and we started the long process of taking some pictures and then signing our own book of papers, all while corralling two boys who had cabin fever. Then at about 3:30pm, just like that, we were a family of five packing up and heading home.

We didn't quite make it home in one sitting. For all our sanity's sake, we stopped overnight and then continued home the following day. Since coming home, it's been a whirlwind of emotions and finding a new routine and pace to what will be every day life. I look at her and am amazed that she is ours. I have a daughter! I also want to soak in every moment because I believe that she will be our last and I don't want to lose track of this stage. I already know how quickly it goes.

As for her name, we had Charlotte picked out at the time when Aaron was born and it has carried over in our hearts for two years as we waited for her to arrive. The boys call her Charlee and it's a nickname we had planned for as well. Her middle name is Michelle Jeanette. While I've never been a huge fan of additional names, in her case, this was important to us. For each of our children, we have kept the middle name that their birth mother gave them: all names that start with J. So Jeanette was her given middle name. However, we will never be able express how indebted we are to our birth mom so it made all the sense in the world to gift our daughter with a part of who her first mommy was...and that is her name, Michelle.

So here we are with three amazingly beautiful children, all gifted to us from the same birth mom. It means everything to know that they are biological siblings and that they will have each other as they grow older. As in the past, we did not get a chance to meet our birth parents, but more specifically, our birth mom. We love her and she knows that we are willing and waiting to meet her when she is ready. Since announcing to friends and family and even talking to strangers in passing, I've heard so many comments (from strangers mostly) regarding why our birth mom was pregnant again for the third time so close to the other two. Comments about her ability to not get pregnant or whether she's going to have more. Even comments about if she'd heard of Planned Parenthood. While I am not easily offended and I love to tell our adoption story, I can tell you this: I am extremely protective of our birth mom and without her I would not have the family I have today. She is a part of us. When people hear of our story, I don't ever want the focus to be on why our birth mom this, or why our birth mom that. I want our story to reflect on the fact that this mom made the most selfless decision a woman can make. Not once but three times! She is stronger than I will ever know and because of her, I am a mommy to my sons and now to my beautiful daughter, Charlotte.

October 3, 2014

Cheeky Baby

Aaron was dutifully annoying his brother today buy pulling out all of the books from the kids' book shelf and pulling out baskets from tables and cubbies, etc.

Noah was trying his best to put everything back when he suddenly yelled, "STOP IT, you cheeky baby!"

Apparently we've been watching way too much Peppa Pig.

October 2, 2014

The Cost of Nostalgia

I've been working on a long-term project to scan and digitize all of my parent's photos and albums. My mom was exceptionally good about keeping things in order and captioning pictures but there's only one copy of everything. My goal is to scan them, get them on flash drives for each family member and then eventually create a Blurb book with them.

I've looked at these photos for years and years but since my Mom died, I've consciously been soaking in every detail of each photo that she's in or the ones of our home we grew up in.

I came across a photo of my brother and I playing in my childhood room that stirred up some major nostalgia. I was roughly 8 or 9. My dad had built a simple four-room dollhouse for me that I had filled with miniature furniture and animal figurines called the Sylvanian Families. I remember, in detail, playing with them but I cannot remember when they came to be in my possession or where they went. As we've been going thru my mom's stuff and boxes she put away, I'm surprised they haven't been hidden somewhere for us to find. I don't think she kept them anyhow.

It's a shame though because apparently they're collector's items now. If you've frequented a toy store recently, then you've probably seen the new updated, mass-produced version called Calico Critters. But the Sylvanian Families are now only found via eBay, etsy and other resale sites.

After perusing websites, I kept noticing how many "vintage" pieces I actually used to own. Most special was the furniture that had working drawers and teeny tiny books and plates and silverware and kitchen utensils, etc. Even the little bed and couch were wrapped in a tight floral patterned fabric. Of the actual figurines, I know I had a bunny family, some bears and raccoons. Aside from my homemade dollhouse, I had the actual Sylvanian Family schoolhouse and treehouse, both of which had their own special features that I loved.

Today's Calico Critter versions are cute and I would definitely buy them for my niece or if we had a daughter but there's just something about the originals. A couple of weeks after seeing that photo, I still could not get my Sylvanian set off my mind. I began looking online and aside from the outrageous prices for "new in box" sets, I found a couple of options that didn't seen too unreasonable...if I wanted to take forever collecting one piece at a time. There were a few larger collections for sale but even then there happened to be a drawer missing or a small break or a figurine that looked chewed up by a dog. 

Then I hit the jackpot! A collection on eBay that included the Sylanian house, a bear family and 30+ pieces. They were used but everything was in tact and complete for the most part with a price tag of $100. Yikes.

A couple of days later I still couldn't get if off my mind. For some reason it meant so much to me to be able to hold those pieces again, pieces from my childhood that I've been reliving as I go through my mom's photo albums. 

As we've been going through my mom's stuff, the things that have the most meaning to me are things from the past, things I remember from childhood that she miraculously kept. So nostalgia got the best of me. I took a couple more days (a longer version of the "10-minute rule") to think on it and then I bought it!

The set arrived two days ago and I couldn't wait to unwrap every individual piece. I waited until the boys were at their school and I took it all out, examining each piece and setting it up to take a few pics I promised to send to a friend. 

It was a fiscally smart purchase because buying each individual piece would have added up to much more than the overall price I paid. But more than that, having this connection to my childhood, when my mom was there and we had long summers together as a family and quiet times at home, means more than anything to me.

One day I may pass it on, but for now, if I'm honest, I'm happy to have been a little selfish by shelling out for a piece of nostalgia.

September 17, 2014

Happy Shots

During our second year of marriage, we unexpectedly found out that the hubby had Type 1 Diabetes. At the age of 26, you'd think someone would have noticed something by then. In fact, his endocrinologist actually diagnosed him as Type 1.5 since it had surfaced so late in life. 

Needless to say, it would be impossible to count the number of insulin shots he's given himself over the past 7 years. It's so much a part of the breakfast/lunch/dinner/bedtime routine that I barely notice him taking his shot and the same applies for the boys. They just know that Daddy has to take shots and he gets to pull his shirt up and do it on his tummy. 

Obviously when we've taken the boys for any vaccines, etc. they don't appreciate being stuck by a needle, but somehow they don't associate shots at the doctor with the shots Daddy takes. So more often then not, when the hubby is taking his insulin and the boys are nearby, they line up to get their "shots" as well.

Cute to us. Maybe a little frightening to anyone else nearby. Haha!

September 9, 2014

Wedding Shower, Party of One

I've been missing my mom lately. Quite a lot in fact. And as the holidays approach I know it won't get much easier in regards to realizing how much we are missing out on by not having her here.

Still, there seems to be plenty of "firsts" that are not holiday-related. First musical I saw without my mom. My niece's first birthday without my mom. Other birthdays without my mom. The first sneak peak of the new Downton Abbey season without my mom. The list goes on and while some are mostly nostalgic, there are others where I can honestly feel this physical void where she should be. 

Some very special young friends of ours are getting married next month. I have known the groom since he was born and the bride since she was a little girl. Even though we haven't kept in contact as much over the past few years, I was blessed to be invited to the wedding and of course the wedding shower which was held the other week.

Here's where my mom would normally come into play.

You know the cardinal rule that women usually go to the bathroom in pairs? Well it was kind of like that for my mom and I in regards to wedding/baby showers. Not that we'd be afraid to go alone...we always knew all the guests and it's always a friendly reunion...I guess there was comfort in having someone to attend with. We could carpool and not feel awkward being the first to show up or whenever we needed to leave. We'd even pitch in most of the time for one of the bigger registry gifts to give. My mom and I sort of had a buddy system going when it came to those kind of events.

I almost didn't go to this wedding shower. Her absence was a very present reminder that she's not here. We're still living life and life will always continue to move forward for all sorts of celebrations and every day occurrences such as her favorite TV shows. 

Being afraid to go to a wedding shower to see people you love may sound silly but it was another "first" I guess I hadn't been prepared to experience. I'm sure there's still many more to come.

August 31, 2014

The History of the Passy

As a baby, Noah didn't like his pacifier. However, since he was my first baby, I kept trying to give one to him to help with teething and soothing and whatnot. Plus, I didn't figure that not all babies actually need or want pacifiers. So at about 9 months old, he was hooked and it was my fault. He wanted that passy day and night. And again, as a first-time mom, I thought it was the cutest thing to see him attached to a passy.

Fast forward two years later and he still had the passy! We'd been able to whittle it down to only naps and bedtime but God forbid we ever didn't have a passy ready to go! He was definitely not going to forget.

Before I go any further, here's my one disclaimer: I don't have a problem with pacifiers or parents who let their kids have them until their 4 or whatever. Every kid is different and I'm all for whatever floats your boat and for whatever helps the parents get thru the day.

However, I was beginning to stress out at the fact that he would be turning 3 at the end of this year and I wanted to break the passy habit ASAP. Really it was more for my comfort because I knew the longer he kept it, the harder the transition would be. I'm all for making things easier on myself and everyone else involved as much as possible. I know my kid and I knew leaving the passy behind would be difficult. I was imagining sleepless nights and stressful nap times and I just couldn't quite get up the courage to deal with it.

The way I work is I have to be mentally committed to something before starting. That goes with everything: travel, gifts, making dinner, etc. I rarely jump into anything (except for moving Noah into his toddler bed which we were not prepared to do but had to anyway).

Summer was almost over and the new year at Mom's Day Out approaching and I was determined to do it before then. Noah was the only kid in his class last year to have a passy so I was feeling a little pressured. I know, I know...I shouldn't feel pressured. But I was.

I did research on all the different ways that parents have made the jump to being passy-free. Everything from the passy fairy to going cold turkey. I went with a mix of both.

At the last minute, we planned a weeklong getaway to the beach as a family. I decided that week would be the best time to do it. No passy's would be packed and we would be busy and worn out from swimming all week long. We would also be co-sleeping in our condo. My guess was that Noah would be so tired and ready to sleep and with us there by his side, the transition would go even smoother.

We also decided to make a physical act of saying bye to the passy's. The morning of our flight, we woke the boys up and got them changed. Right before we jumped in the car, Noah opened a special box that had a new truck inside and in exchange, we put all his passy's in the box and sent the box off to be "mailed" to other little babies that needed passy's.

And that was it. No tears just an understanding that he got a new truck for his passy's. We did start to talk with him a couple of weeks in advance about needing to pass on the passy's so hopefully he was forewarned enough. 

The trip went so much smoother than I could even have imagined! He asked for his passy a couple of times, sometimes just being silly, and only once broke down over not having it (mainly because he was super tired). 

Now we're passy free!

I'm so thankful that we had the opportunity to take a trip so I could come up with this brilliant plan! Perhaps being with us 24/7 and not being in our normal routine and environment helped the process, but once we got home from vacation it was still smooth sailing and we haven't looked back since.

In case you're wondering, Aaron did not get a passy past a certain age. No way did I want to have another kid to stress over in regards to the passy. There are so many changes during the toddler years that having one less milestone to worry about is a relief.