Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Family

We're heading out the door in a few minutes so we had to take one final family of three picture.  Of course, we also had to do one with Zoe in it!

I won't say much else for fear of tearing up.  I love you sweet Arella and will miss you terribly, but you are going to have so much fun with your grandparents!  Little Zoe, I can finally say, we are coming to get you right now! 

1 More Sleep til China

We're under the 24 hour mark until our amazing race to Zoe begins!  It's becoming a little more real as our bags are packed.

We will start with an evening car ride to the airport on which I will likely be leaking some clear fluid from my eyes.  Next there will be some shuffling of bags, lines, and waiting.  Then we will promptly pass out on our first of three flights which happens to leave around our bed time.  We will then wander around the LA airport like zombies in the middle of the night for a couple hours, wait in some more lines and hop on the long flight (about 13.5 hours) to Seoul, Korea.  Currently Eriek and I are not seated together for this flight.  I think tears will be easy to drum up at this point to help convince someone to switch seats.  Maybe I'll even break out the little onesie I made that I'm carrying on in case of lost luggage to throw them over the emotional cliff where they cannot refuse this mommy!

On that long journey, I'm sure we will be very productive, reading and discussing our itinerary to be fully prepared for our trip.  Then once the plane actually leaves the ground we will likely fall right back asleep.  I'm actually the worst airplane sleeper on the planet, meaning I just have a hard time staying asleep.  Arella apparently inherited this trait from me and proved it twice on our trek to and from London.  Hopefully I will be so exhausted I will have no choice but to get some shut eye.

We arrive in Seoul around 6am... on December 2nd.  Wait a minute, you're thinking... This isn't adding up.  Well, Eriek and I have gained super powers on all of our international rendezvous, and we can now officially time travel.  Except for about 30 minutes in LAX, we will miss December 1st altogether because we will cross the international dateline.  I know that's not nearly as exciting, but I guess I should try and keep our superhero status on the down low.  I mean, there are reasons superheroes wear masks.

Then we will spend a lovely 8 or so hours chillaxin in the Seoul airport.  I sure hope they have Starbucks there and wifi.  Then we hop on one more little 4 hour flight to Changsha.

I'm glad we get into Changsha in the evening because I won't have to keep my eyes open too terribly long before I can go to bed!  But I'm sure once we get there, I will have a burst of energy getting the room ready for Zoe because we get to meet her the very next morning at 10:30!  So for all of you stateside, that'll be about 8:30pm Texas time Sunday night. 

I think my brain is now beginning to process that we're leaving.  As super excited as I am to see my Zoe, I start crying when I think of leaving Arella.  So I bought these today to help me think about when both of my girls will be together wearing their Christmas tutus...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My 2 Girls

What can I say?  We're less than 48 hours from lift off, and it still doesn't quite feel real.  When you build up hope and excitement for something for so long, it's hard to fully comprehend the fact that it is one day finally here.

It makes me think about the build up to the Olympic Games.  It's once every 4 years and you put every ounce of your blood, sweat and tears into preparing for that one small moment.  Then the big day finally comes and all the preparation is over.  The time has come to see if it's been enough.  It can be a very surreal time.  Whether the performance ends up "good, bad or indifferent" (as my coach Kenny likes to say), it will still be over in a heartbeat.  Then you are just left with memories, and you have to start the journey all over again.

This time our "big moment" won't just be over in a heartbeat.  Sure the initial meeting will be intense and crazy and no amount of preparation can actually prepare you for that.  But once we meet her,  Zoe will then be with us for the rest of our lives.  How amazingly awesomer than the Olympics is that?!  (Yes I know that's not a real word but it was perfectly appropriate and you know it.)  This time, all the build up, hard work, emotional roller coaster, and preparation are for something that will last forever. A forever family.

I will soon have 2 precious little girls in my family.  I will have 2 daughters. They will each have a sister to walk through life with.  Friends, as cool and awesome as it is to win an Olympic gold medal and stand atop a podium as the world champion, it will never EVER be able to hold a candle to this experience.

Arella (18 months)       Zoe (12 months)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

3 years, 3 months, and just 3 more days

I think the title just about says it all for today!  But I've been somewhat obsessed with timelines during our waiting period, so now that we're at this point I actually have a completed timeline (and itinerary for the last few days left) of my own to share and look back on.

August 21, 2008
Retired from Olympic competition and ready to start a family!

Summer 2009
We were not sure if we could have biological kiddos.  Adoption had always been discussed as something we wanted to pursue in addition to having biological kids.  Had very honest conversations about adopting first.

September 7, 2009
On our 7th wedding anniversary we celebrated by signing the agency agreement with Great Wall China Adoption and were officially pursuing Zoe!

March 2010
Dossier completed (dossier- a very fancy french word meaning everything you or anyone remotely related to you has ever even thought of doing all put down in one giant stack of paper). 

March 19, 2010
Our Log In Date (LID).  This is when your dossier is officially logged in at the China Center for Children's Welfare and Adoption.  This also marks the date when they say your waiting officially begins.  Waiting is described as the time from your LID to your referral (referral- matched with child).  When we logged in, the waiting period was about 3 years.

September 2010
As we the waiting period was slowing down, we were told we could consider adopting concurrently- another child at the same time from a different country.  We were seriously considering this but Eriek was unemployed and I was busy trying to get all kinds of different jobs to get us by.  Then we had a wonderful surprise- we were pregnant!  

May 11, 2011 
Arella Joy was born and our lives were forever changed! 

November 12, 2011
Zoe Xiu was born, and we had no idea on that day how she would also change our lives forever!

Winter 2011/2012
Began discussing how the wait had slowed from 3 years to almost 6.  We really wanted our kids to be closer in age.  So we started having some honest conversations about switching to the special needs program called Waiting Child.

March 2012
After much prayer and consideration, we jumped into the Waiting Child program.

July 2012
Finished updates and ammendments to the homestudy, and decided to wait until August for our first opportunity at getting matched with our child because we were in London at the end of July.  It only happens on the last Monday night of each month. 
August 27, 2012
Our fist opportunity to get matched came and went with no phone call.

August 30, 2012
Surprise!!  We got THE call!  Apparently Zoe's file was released after a 72 hour lock period and our agency swooped her up for us!  We opened our email and this is what we saw...

August 31, 2012
We submitted our Letter of Intent and other paper work saying we desperately wanted this little girl!

September 6, 2012
We received our Pre-Approval.
September 13, 2012
We received our Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC).

October 1, 2012
We received our I-800A approval letter.
October 9, 2012
Our LSC and DS230 packet was delivered to the Consulate in Guangzhou.

October 25, 2012
Received an update on Zoe including this adorable picture...
October 26, 2012
Our Article 5 was delivered to Beijing.
November 8, 2012
We received our Travel Approval.

November 13, 2012
We received our confirmation of Consulate and travel dates.
And now you are all caught up on our journey to Zoe!  Here is a quick glimpse at our upcoming itinerary...

November 30, 2012
Leave Houston, Texas, USA.
December 2, 2012
Land in Changsha, Hunan Province, China (Yup- those dates are correct.  It's a 30+ hour trip and we cross the international dateline.  woohoo.)
December 3, 2012
10:30am- Meet Zoe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Otherwise known as Gotcha Day.  And once we meet Zoe, she will be with us the ENTIRE time- YAY!

December 7, 2012
Fly to Guangzhou.

December 13, 2012
Official oath-taking ceremony at American Consulate.
December 15, 2012
Fly home to Houston and our family of 4 will be together for the very first time!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Table for 4

Things are definitely looking a little different around the house.  Most noticeably to me is our kitchen table.  I use it a lot.  All of our meals, some snack times, crafting, quiet time, folding laundry... the list goes on but in a nutshell that's my "get it done" area.  It seems to be where a lot of life happens in this house.

But after this past weekend, it has a different feel.  It's now a table for 4.  There are two chairs and two highchairs now.  It's amazing how changing one little thing just makes it feel so different.

We put Zoe's picture in a frame with a pretty bow, and it sits on her highchair tray.  We also taped her picture to her crib.  Zoe's picture came with us to House Church when we celebrated her first birthday.  And her picture came with us to Mimi and Pops' house for Thanksgiving.

It started off as something for Arella.  We wanted her to get used to the idea that Zoe is always with us.  She can point to Zoe's picture when asked, and it's sometimes followed by running to the map and pointing to China (Ni-na in Arella speak), which is sometimes Russia but that's pretty darn good for an 18-month-old!  Sometimes she doesn't want anything to do with this Zoe character, this sister person.  Other times she kisses her picture and tries to hug her.  She waves good night to her picture on the crib before naps and bed time.  She may not understand what's happening, but God is readying her heart.

I think, though, that all of us being able to see Zoe's face so often in the very places she will soon be living and playing in has kind of helped her move into our hearts already.  Not that she hasn't been loved and longed for this whole time, but I think without realizing it, we've already incorporated her into every part of our daily lives and routines.

We've been preparing a place for Zoe, like Jesus is preparing one for us.  "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." John 14:3

Jesus is breaking our hearts for what breaks His.  And I guess this is how we will begin to try and follow the example He has set for us, because this is what He is doing for us:  "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."  John 14:18

4 more days until we begin the next part of our adventure to turn that picture into a real little girl...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

5 Stockings were Hung and the Countdown Begun

Five little days left until we leave for China.  I know in my head that this is real, that it is actually happening, and I am preparing for it, but today is the first day it really hit me.

As Hubby was making the usual Sunday morning pancakes before church this morning, he looked at me and said, "Today is our last Sunday as a family of three!"  Right there, smack between the eyeballs, it hit... hard.

Adoption has its similarities to pregnancy in the emotional roller coaster as I compared in my last post.  However, there is something quite noticeably different.  Like pregnancy, in our adoption we are given a couple of pictures that tell you just the tiniest bit about your child and some medical information that may or may not be accurate or complete.  Unlike pregnancy, you do not know if your baby is being taking care of, fed, loved, held, safe, warm, protected.  You have no idea if your baby is being neglected in a crib for 20 hours a day.  You have no idea if your child is eating or getting her diaper changed.  You have no idea if your child is hurting if anyone is there to pick her up, hold her, kiss her, comfort her. 

In adoption, all you can really think about is getting there as fast as humanly possible, praying that God might get you there even faster, before she winds up in the hospital all by her tiny little self with pneumonia for the third time in her short life.  Thankfully, our wait is almost over!

Today we hung up five stockings by the chimney with care, and celebrated that we have just five short days left before we travel half way around the world to meet our daughter. And she will be home to see those stockings before Christmas!  Thank you Lord!

I know we'll be a family of four, but the dogs have to have a stocking, too!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Birthing an Adoption

Having been blessed to have personally experienced a pregnancy/birth and now an adoption, I can't help but see how similar the process is... well, except for the timing.

A full term pregnancy is 40 weeks (9 months and 1 week). This adoption will be full term at 168 weeks (3 years, 2 months and 30 days... but who's counting?). For those of you curious, I now have a gestation period longer than an elephant, which is a hair under two years.

When I first discovered I was pregnant I was surprised, excited, nervous and overjoyed all at the same time.  When we signed our agency agreement (on our anniversary in 2009), we were not surprised, but definitely excited, nervous and overjoyed.

In the first trimester of pregnancy, I felt a little sick, tired and was trying not to worry that the baby would make it safely to the second trimester.  The first six months of our adoption journey, we had to compile a dossier- which is a fancy word for big stack of papers exposing every single thing you or any relative has done or thought of in their lifetime, signed and notarized.  Oh, plus getting fingerprinted.  That process had me tired, a little sick and slightly worried we wouldn't make it to the next stage of the journey!

About halfway through my pregnancy we found out we were having a little girl, even though my sisters-in-law had me convinced we were having a boy.  In the adoption, we had to request a baby girl, preferably 6-12 months.  I'm not going to lie, that was just plain strange.  We requested a girl because in China there is a great adoption need for girls.

I started nesting about halfway through the pregnancy, cleaning out the extra room, painting it, and getting all the furniture and things ready to go.  Once we decided to switch our adoption to special needs, we knew the process would speed up so, of course, that's when nesting just took over again.  However, since we knew we were having another girl, we planned on them sharing a room.  So this time around, the playroom and several baby-proofing and organizing projects have taken the brunt of my nesting compulsions.
In 2007, there were at least 17 million children aged 0-17 that were orphans in China

Read more:

When you're pregnant, they tell you to have a bag packed at 36 weeks just in case you go into labor early.  Of course I was brilliant and just had a "to pack" list when I went into labor at 38 weeks (and I didn't realize I was actually in labor until really late in the game, but that is a whole other story!).  So in between contractions, I put the things on my list in a bag.  With this adoption, we definitely have to pack several bags before the big day.  I already have my "to pack" list ready and waiting, but I promise not to wait until the day of to pack this time!

In the last weeks of our pregnancy we were able to get those amazing 4D pictures of Arella.  It was very revealing of what she would look like and even showed her dimples.  But it was hard to tell from those pictures who she really was and what her personality would be.  We can look back now and see some of the mannerisms and facial expressions she showed in those pictures she still does to this day.  With the adoption, once we were matched we saw four small grainy photos of Zoe, then we received an updated one.  I'm sure in the weeks, months and years to come we will be able to look back and see the Zoe we know in those pictures, but right now, we are left wondering, just like the 4D pictures, who she really is and what her personality will be.

When my labor started, I had no idea what was happening until we were in the final stages.  The process and the contractions were so different from what we were told they would be like.  Once I finally got that bag packed and we made it the hospital, Arella was born in about an hour and a half.  It sure seems like this "adoption labor" is going very similarly.  We were matched with Zoe on August 30th, then a stream of crazy paper chasing started.  We were told the timing would be 6-9 months, but God has sped it up to just 3!  Suddenly we got our travel approval, flights were booked, itineraries are being thrown at us and we've been given our official due date.  We arrive in Zoe's province the evening of Dec. 2nd, and she will be placed in our arms at 10:30am Dec. 3rd!

Pregnancy and adoption, both babies truly grow in mommy's heart, not just her tummy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How Appropriate

Today is my birthday (insert age jokes here).  It's also National Adoption Day.  How perfectly appropriate since we go to adopt our little Zoe in less than two weeks! 

It's been quite the whirlwind this week.  We got travel dates and consulate appointments confirmed, flights booked, and all of our itinerary mapped out.  We also got the motherload of bills that are due Monday- ouch!

It's such an exciting time, but it's a little scary and intimidating, too.  I've been reading a ton of adoption blogs to try and wrap my brain around how things might look.  There's no real way of knowing, but I figure if I read enough situations, I might know how to handle whatever ours ends up looking like.

I started telling Hubby about one unexpected tough situation I read about, and he immediately put his hand up and said he didn't want to hear any more.  I had to remind him that sometimes the reports and pictures people receive of their child are not accurate, and we have to remember that that is a real possibility we should be prepared for. 

One family went over having been told their child was very healthy with the exception of microtia in one ear (small ear, sometimes lacking an ear canal).  They were told she played with toys and especially loved musical toys.  When they picked her up, she was very floppy, could not use her hands to grab anything and was completely deaf in both ears.  However, once she got home with them, she caught up developmentally very quickly and is now thriving, and she is doing great with the use of hearing aids.

On the other end of the spectrum, a family went over expecting the same thing- a healthy little girl with the exception of microtia in one ear.  After 6 minutes of crying, the girl fell in love with the parents, is actually capable of hearing out of her microtia ear, and has no developmental delays. 

Our prayers for a long time have been for the health and safety of Zoe and for loving nannies to watch over and care for her.  We have also been praying for her heart to be prepared for her forever family and our hearts to be prepared for her. 

I am so excited to see her in person, to touch and kiss her sweet cheeks, look into her eyes, and hold her close.  I am nervous and somewhat expectant that she will cry for the first several days.  I have to remind myself that this is a terrifying and overwhelming process for a baby (or anyone of any age)- to be taken out of the only place you have ever seen or known, riding in cars for the first time, seeing new places and new people then being thrust into the arms and permanent care of complete strangers who just happen to look completely different from anyone you've ever seen.  This is the second time she will have been given away.  Even little babies experience grief.  I just wonder how it will present itself.  I pray that God will equip us with wisdom in how to best love and care for her through this process. 

Such a rush of emotions all over the board, every day right now.  But at the end of the rush is always joy that my Father is knitting our family together in all His perfect love and timing.  Prepare our hearts, oh Lord, for the road ahead.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Zoe's First Birthday

My little Zoe, you just had your first birthday!  Do you feel like a big girl now?  Did anyone whisper "Happy birthday" in your ear or hold you a little bit longer on your big day?  Did you feel special, even for just a moment?

I'm not sure if anyone even knew it was your birthday Monday in the orphanage, but your family knew.  We did not forget.  Even though we couldn't be there to hold you and kiss you and sing to you, we still celebrated because we love you and your first birthday is very important to us.  As a matter of fact, it's so important, the celebration has lasted a few days!  It's gone a little something like this...

We talked about you.  We prayed for you.  Mimi sent a text message wishing you a happy birthday.  Grandma posted a Minnie Mouse picture wishing you a happy birthday. Mommy and Daddy wished you a happy birthday on social media and hundreds of people responded, wishing you a special, happy day, too!  And your big sister kissed your picture... several times.

We finished your butterflies that hold the letters of your name above where you will soon sleep. 

We also got you a special little friend to snuggle with...

Our whole House Church celebrated your birthday, too, by making a Chinese-themed dinner in your honor.  We made a special cake for you and had your picture by it so everyone could see you and say happy birthday.  We talked about you all night long.

God even said a special happy birthday to you by giving us the dates that we'll be coming to get you- and it's not long now, just a few short weeks!  On December 3, 2012, we will hold you in our arms and begin to tell you and show you just how much we love you.  Happy birthday my precious daughter, you will be home with your forever family for Christmas!