Monday, November 24, 2014

Our Adoption Story: Part 5

Thursday was the big day! We were finally moving to Baltimore and Johns Hopkins. Francie was being taken by ambulance, and David and I were driving. When we arrived in Baltimore, we returned our rental car and then got a cab to the hospital. We immediately went to the NICU to see Francie. I'll be honest - it was really difficult for me emotionally when we first got to Hopkins. First of all, it's huge. It was just super overwhelming, and we had no idea where to go. Second, when we did get to the NICU, we realized that it was going to be a VERY different experience than the other hospital where we had been. At the other hospital, the NICU was a big room, and everyone was in there together. You saw other parents there visiting their babies, and you even got to know your "neighbors" a little bit. The people next to us would ask us about Francie, and we would ask about their baby too. You constantly saw nurses walking around and you could hear them chit chatting and visiting. There was just a lot going on, in a comforting way. It had sort of started to feel like a little community to us, as cheesy as that sounds. Well, when we got to Hopkins, it was just a completely different atmosphere. All of the patients in the NICU there have private rooms. I know that sounds really nice, and it did have its advantages. But you really never saw anyone other than your nurse. And ours wasn't friendly. At all. I don't know if she was just having a bad day or what, but I was not a fan. All of our other nurses the entire time we were there were super sweet, but it was just hard to be greeted at a new place by someone who was less than warm. Plus, the NICU at Hopkins was just so quiet. In a weird way. I felt like I needed to whisper. (We did eventually adapt, and overall we had a good experience in the NICU.) Oh, also: on our first night at Hopkins when we were leaving the NICU, David and I saw a fight in the waiting room. There was yelling, cussing, and much drama which resulted in security being called. At that point, I was thinking, "What the HECK are we doing here?"

Things started happening immediately after we got to Hopkins. A urology team swarmed the room and examined Francie, and they scheduled an MRI and hip x-ray for that day. It was a whirlwind. But we were thankful that things were happening! This was the hardest day for me emotionally up until that point, though, like I said. I just suddenly felt super homesick. I missed my house, my town, my support group, and most of all, my kids at home. David and I were able to get into the Ronald McDonald House that night, and when we arrived, I started feeling a little better. There was a home cooked meal for dinner, and the atmosphere was very friendly.

The next morning, Francie had an exam under anesthesia. This was when it was going to be determined if Francie's bladder was big enough to go ahead with the surgery or if we needed to wait until she was older to have the closure. David and I were really praying that we could go ahead with the surgery because we wanted to just get it over with, and mostly because there is a high success rate when this surgery is done early. David and I got to meet the doctor who would be performing Francie's surgery (he is the reason we were at Johns Hopkins in the first place - he's the best of the best for this surgery), and he immediately put us at ease. He said that he did believe that we could go forward with the surgery, and he said it would happen on Wednesday (this was on Friday). Then he said that there was no reason for Francie to stay in the NICU over the weekend and that they were going to work on getting her discharged!! This was a huge shock! David and I NEVER expected to have any time at "home" with Francie before the surgery. We didn't have any baby stuff with us and were completely unprepared. But really excited! Since Francie had been under anesthesia that morning and hadn't eaten since midnight the night before, she was going to need to stay in the hospital that afternoon and night, but they said that she would be discharged the next day.

That night, David and I took a cab to Target and bought some baby essentials. We didn't have so much as a onesie with us in Baltimore (remember that we left home really suddenly and earlier than we expected). Haha! The hospital was giving us bottles and diapers, so we bought formula, swaddlers, and some pajamas for Francie to wear. That was a surreal shopping trip! We spent that night at the Ronald McDonald House, too, and then next day we were moving to the Children's House. It's very similar to the Ronald McDonald House, but it's right across the street from the hospital instead of a cab ride away. They were going to provide a pack n play in our room for Francie to sleep in.

Saturday afternoon, Francie was discharged from the hospital and we were able to take her home for a few days. When I looked at our sweet little baby dressed in footie pajamas and wrapped in a hospital blanket, I had to laugh at how different this was than our other babies' home coming. It got even weirder when we walked out of the hospital and proceeded to cross a busy street and walk down the block trying to shield her from the rain and cold with our arms. We then took her inside of our "house" which was actually somewhere that I had never stepped foot into until that very minute. It was a pretty bittersweet moment. To be honest, I kept thinking about how I wished that we were actually taking Francie home where she would have a room full of baby stuff set up just for her and be greeted by her sisters and brother who I'm sure would be arguing over who was going to hold her first. We'd have grandparents popping in and friends dropping off meals and it would just be a completely different experience. I got a little sad thinking about everything Francie was missing out on. But my perspective changed that night. The Children's House has a "family meal" every night. Immediately two other moms came and introduced themselves to me and were just so warm and sweet. After chatting for a minute, we found out that their children have exstrophy just like Francie! We connected over that right away, and it felt so good to talk to people who have been in our shoes. As we sat around the table eating dinner that night talking to complete strangers, it hit me that Francie's "homecoming" was no less special than our other babies'. Of course I still wished that things were different for Francie's sake and that she wasn't facing major surgery, but this is Francie's story and it's a beautiful one. It occurred to me that night that even though Francie didn't get to come home to a house full of visitors and baby paraphernalia that she doesn't really need anyway, she was at least out of the hospital and with her parents who love her more than anything. It was just a neat experience because I felt like the Lord took something that could have been sad and redeemed it. He provided an atmosphere of home and community amongst complete strangers and He gave me an attitude of thankfulness when I was originally feeling a tiny bit sorry for myself.

We had two full, beautiful days with Francie at home. We didn't even venture outside the whole time we had her with us. Our days and nights were broken into 4 hour increments around her feedings. She ate well and slept great. We held her almost constantly. She became more alert during that time, and she would have pretty long periods of awake time. She was so sweet and laid back. She rarely cried, and when she did, she usually quit crying immediately when we would talk to her. We got to FaceTime with my mom and the kids, and they were able to see Francie out of the hospital and awake. Those were just really good, happy days, and I'm so thankful that we were able to have that time with her before her long hospitalization. We had to readmit her to the hospital the day before her surgery, so on Tuesday we got up, dressed her, gave her a bottle, and made the short walk over to the hospital for the LONG journey that awaited us.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Our Adoption Story: Part 4

The days after Francie's birth were both incredible and incredibly frustrating.

They were incredible because David and I were able to have full access to the NICU where Francie was being cared for. We could come and go as we pleased, and we were able to hold and and love on Francie and bond with her. She was doing great! She was breathing on her own, and she was a fantastic eater. All of the nurses raved over how well she ate. She was taking 2-3 ounces of formula when she was just a day old (apparently that's a lot for a brand new baby - since I've breastfed all of my other babies, I had no idea how much newborns eat. Ha!). David and I were able to give Francie her bottles, and the nurses even taught us how to change her diapers and care for her bladder. We originally thought that Francie would be transferred to Johns Hopkins immediately and that the surgery would happen within the first 72 hours after her birth. Because David and I knew that we would have to get plane tickets after we got word that birthmom was in labor and then travel to be with the baby, we didn't even know if we would arrive in time to hold her before the surgery. So to be able to not only hold her, but to have days of caring for her and spending hours at a time with her was a huge blessing. We bonded so much during those days.

This was also an incredibly frustrating time, though, because we had heard over and over from different doctors that it's best if the surgery happens within 72 hours after birth, and it became apparent pretty quickly that we were going to miss that window. We should have expected this, I guess, but there is just a LOT of red tape that comes along with an adoption. Add in the fact that this adoption was spanning three states (our state, the baby's birth state, and Maryland where Johns Hopkins is located) plus the fact that this was a special needs adoption and the baby required major surgery soon after birth, and it was kind of a logistical nightmare. There were just a lot of insurance issues that had to be worked out before Francie could be transferred. Thankfully, the doctors, nurses, and social workers at the hospital where Francie was born were WONDERFUL. They were so sweet, and we knew that they were working as hard as they could to get everything worked out.

Those days were kind of an emotional roller coaster. David and I stayed in a hotel close to the hospital, and every morning we woke up, packed our suitcases, and checked out of the hotel with so much hope that THIS would be the day that we were transferred. We would then drive to the hospital in our rental car, spend the morning with Francie in the NICU, and take a break for lunch. We ate in the hospital cafeteria (the food was way better than you would expect!), and then we went back to the NICU. During this time, David would often go to the lobby and make some work phone calls, send emails, and talk to our insurance company on the phone trying to get everything worked out. Sometimes after he came back to the NICU, I would go take a breather and get a cup of coffee while I played on my phone, texted friends, or called my mom and the kids. Around this time each day, it would become apparent that the transfer would not, in fact, happen that day, so we would call our hotel once again and get a room for another night. We would stay at the hospital until around dinner time, and then we would leave and go out to eat. There were several restaurants close to the hospital, so we would go to one of those for dinner. After we ate, we would go back to the NICU, hold Francie some more, maybe give her one more bottle, and tell her goodnight. At that point, we'd go to our hotel, get ready for bed, and repeat it all the next day. This became our routine, and it lasted Sunday through Wednesday. That doesn't sound like long, but believe me, it felt like AGES at the time. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, we got word that Francie would really and truly be transferred to Hopkins via ambulance the next morning, We were SO excited and thankful!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Our Adoption Story: Part 3

Our baby was due the end of October, so we began preparing for her arrival as much as we could in the months leading up to her birth. Because of her bladder exstrophy, they weren't able to tell whether she was a boy or a girl in the womb. That suspense was killing me! I'm not a big surprise person, so I was dying to know if we were getting a boy or a girl! We had to pick out two names which was difficult. Picking out one name is hard enough! ;) We decided that if our baby was a girl, we would name her Mary Frances. Frances was David's grandmother's name, and I loved the idea of giving our baby that we were adopting a family name. It felt very symbolic and special to me.

We talked to our kids about the baby, and they understood the situation as well as can be expected. Aubrey, especially, got it. We prayed for our little "adoption baby" often and couldn't wait to meet him or her! We really enjoyed our summer as a family of 5. We soaked it up even more than we would have naturally knowing that it would be our last summer as a family of 5 and knowing that our family was about to change in a BIG way. There wasn't a doubt in our minds that it would be changing for the better, though!

Late afternoon on Friday, October 3rd, 3 weeks before our baby's due date, I was at a birthday party with Aubrey and Jude. (Alaina and David were at home.) It was a beautiful afternoon. There was a cold front coming in, so the temperature was dropping and it just felt like fall. The party was outside, the kids were having a blast, and my mind was on our fun weekend plans. We were going to go out to dinner after the party and then probably watch a movie after we got the kids to bed. The next day, we were planning to take our kids to the pumpkin patch. Basically, I was really looking forward to a great fall weekend.

I got an email from our baby's birth mother while I was at the party letting me know that her water had broken and that she would be delivering that night or the next day. I was SHOCKED. I know it's silly to be shocked, but I just didn't expect the baby to come so early! I was shaking and my heart was pounding, but I was also so excited! I called David and told him that we needed to get plane tickets, and then I called my mom to let her know since she was going to be keeping our kids while we were gone. I was so flustered that I had to grab the kids and make a speedy exit from the birthday party! Haha!

When we got home, things got crazy. That night is kind of a blur. We got tickets for 9am the next morning, so we had just a little over 12 hours to pack our bags and prepare ourselves and our house/the kids for us to be gone for an indefinite amount of time. I was actually very emotional that night. As I've already said, I was SO excited, but I was also sad about leaving the kids. I so wished that our family could all be together for such a monumental event. We went to Whole Foods for dinner that night, and while we were eating, I got super emotional and started crying thinking about the fact that we would leave the next morning, and when we came home, our family would be really different. (I have these same thoughts before giving birth too, I just never know exactly when that's going to happen, so I don't have that whole "last meal as family of 5 ever" feeling.)

Anyway, we somehow got everything together, and we tried to get some sleep that night. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much. I kept checking my phone to see if the baby had come yet. But no news all night. The next morning, my mom came over bright and early and I gave her a crash course on doing Aubrey's schoolwork with her. Then David's mom came over to drive us to the airport. We left before the kids were up, which actually made it easier on me.

David and I flew to Atlanta and then to Baltimore. When we arrived, we got a call from our adoption agency letting us know that the baby still hadn't arrived. Birth mom was still laboring. So, David and I rented a car and drove to the baby's birth state. We arrived at the hospital, and that was the most SURREAL feeling I've ever had. I just don't think I can even put it into words. It felt like an out of body experience. This was something we had planned for and something that I had dreamed about for months, and I just couldn't believe that it was actually happening.

The baby was still not born, but they were saying that it was going to be soon. So David and I just went and sat in the waiting room. We were both on pins and needles. I don't think I've ever been that nervous/excited/anxious in my life. Friends and family kept texting us for updates, so that was a nice distraction. Someone from our adoption agency arrived and went upstairs to check on birth mom and see how things were progressing. She finally texted us to let us know that baby had arrived! But it was a while before we got any more details.

Finally, after what felt like YEARS, she came downstairs with the news that we had a baby girl! I was shocked because I REALLY thought the baby was a boy. But I was so excited to learn that we had another daughter! We were really pleased to hear that the baby was over 7 pounds, especially since she was born 3 weeks early. She was in the NICU but doing great!

David and I had to sit around and wait some more until we were cleared to go to the NICU and meet our new little girl! When we saw her for the first time, we loved her instantly. There was no doubt that she was our little girl. We got to spend a lot of time with her that night and we were able to hold her and bond with her so much. We finally left the hospital pretty late. We still hadn't had dinner, so we found a Red Lobster that was still open and ate dinner at 10:30. We checked into a hotel and went to bed exhausted after a LONG and exciting day. We went to sleep so thankful and happy that night!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our Adoption Story: Part 2

From the beginning, we knew that our sweet baby would have Down syndrome. We also knew that there was an "issue" with the baby's bladder that would probably require surgery. At some point during the months in between connecting with the birth mother and Francie's birth, we learned that the baby had bladder exstrophy. This was something that we were completely unfamiliar with, but it didn't scare us away. At that point, we were 100% sure that the Lord brought this baby into our lives, and we were committed to her (although we didn't know if the baby was a boy or a girl at the time!) completely. We basically viewed it exactly the same way we would if I was pregnant with a baby and got that diagnosis. In that situation, we would get as much information as we could, talk to doctors, come up with a treatment plan, and love the baby unconditionally. And that's just what we did.

We met with a pediatric urologist at the children's hospital in our town, and he was so wonderful. We were really hoping that the baby would be able to have surgery at our children's hospital so that we could be at home with our support network during the recovery. (The baby was going to be born out of state.) The doctor was really honest with us and told us that the absolute best place to go for bladder exstrophy surgery was Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. When a baby is born with bladder exstrophy, the bladder is on the outside of the body. That first surgery ("closure") is really complicated, and it's so important to have a successful closure for long term health. Johns Hopkins is basically the best place in the world to have this surgery. The surgeon there is renowned for his work with exstrophy. That wasn't what we were hoping to hear (simply because the recovery after bladder exstrophy is long, and we knew it would be hard to be away from home), but we so appreciated this doctor's honesty and the fact that he had the baby's best interest in mind.

So, at that point, we knew that we would be going to Johns Hopkins immediately after the baby's birth for surgery. Yes, it was going to be tough, but we knew that we could make it work, and we trusted the Lord to provide for all of our needs along the way.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Our Adoption Story: Part 1

Last November, David and I discovered The National Down Syndrome Adoption Network online. Adopting a child with Down syndrome was a desire that that the Lord had placed on our hearts years back, and our adoption homestudy had been approved since June of 2013. We were so excited to find the NDSAN because what they do is connect birth families who have received a Down syndrome diagnosis with families who want to adopt a child with Down syndrome. So, we made a profile introducing our family and telling a little bit about ourselves, and we got on their registry. Then we waited.

In June of this year, I got a call from a lady with the NDSAN. (Incidentally, that call came the DAY after I published this post on waiting. Sometimes the Lord's timing makes me smile.) She told me that our family had come up on a report for a little baby due in October. She told me what she knew about the baby and birth mother and asked me if we would like to have our profile shown. They were going to send 4 family profiles to the birth mother. David and I talked about it and decided that of course we wanted our profile shown! We figured it was kind of a long shot and tried not to get our hopes up too much. I expected that I would be on pins and needles until I heard a "yes" or a "no" from the NDSAN, but I actually had such a peace about it. I know that peace totally came from the Lord.

A few days later, we got another call from the NDSAN letting us know that the birth mother had felt a connection with us and wanted to get more information about our family. She asked for a few weeks to think of questions for us. That phone call was SURREAL. It was during the week of Arts and Sports Camp (VBS) at our church, and anyone who has helped with VBS knows that it is basically the craziest week of the year! I told David the news, and again, we were really excited but tried not to get our hopes up too much. I just prayed that the Lord would protect our hearts and lead this birth mother to the right family for her baby, whether that family was us or not. And again, I had a supernatural peace. David and I didn't tell anyone about this as it was happening. On one hand, I was dying to talk to people about it, but on the other, I didn't want other people to get their hopes up and possibly be disappointed too. 

The next week, we went to the beach as a family. It was during that trip that we began to email with the birth mother. That was such a wonderful experience and one that I will never forget. We connected instantly because of our common love for Jesus. She ultimately ended up choosing our family because she wanted her baby to grow up in a family where he or she would be given the opportunity to know the Lord. It still gives me chills to think about how God brought us together and orchestrated every detail of this process. I can look back over our entire adoption journey and see the Lord's hand in all of it. Francie was absolutely meant to be our daughter, and I am in awe of my sovereign God. That week at the beach where we emailed back and forth with the birth mother and she ultimately chose our family for her baby is one that I will remember forever.

So, in June, we knew that we were "expecting" a sweet baby! That gave us several months to prepare...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Surprise!

It is with great joy and thankfulness that we introduce the newest member of our family! Mary Frances Howie (she's going to go by Francie) was born on October 4th, 2014. She weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces and was 19 inches long.

David and I were able to meet Francie shortly after she was born, and we fell in love with her immediately :) We connected with Francie's wonderful birth mother back in June, so it's been hard to keep quiet about our sweet baby the past several months! (And I looked back on the blog and realized that the last adoption update I posted said that we were switching back to international adoption and were going to pursue a child in Hong Kong unless something came up domestically before we had to officially switch. Well, surprise! Something - or someone - came up! :)) We wanted to be VERY respectful of the birth mother's privacy, and we still do going forward! I won't be saying anything about her other than to say that we have so much love and respect for her! Francie has a wonderful birth mother, and I'm so thankful for her and the loving decision that she made for this precious baby. Francie is definitely one loved little girl!

Unfortunately, I can't show any pictures of Francie's sweet face just yet, so you'll have to take my word for it that she is absolutely precious! Francie has special needs and has already been through so much in her short life. She's currently recovering in the hospital from a pretty major surgery that she had 3 weeks ago. She's a little trooper, though, and we are so proud of our sweet girl!

I obviously have a lot to catch up on, so more details to come as I'm able to share! Thank you for your prayers as Francie continues to recover.

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!" Psalm 126:3

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Still Here!

Well, this blog is just so neglected that it's pitiful. I actually do have a really good excuse this time, and I can't wait to do a full life update soon. (Sorry to be so cryptic. I hate it when people do that... haha!) I just wanted to pop in and say that we're still here, we're good, and I AM going to get back into the swing of blogging hopefully very soon. Stay tuned for some new blog posts in the next few weeks!