Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sleep Update

Since I got such a response from my previous post about our sleep issues, I thought I owed it to all of you who responded to give an update!

The great thing about asking for advice is that we got a LOT of suggestions from some seasoned mamas! We took a lot of it to heart and tried a lot of new things over the past few weeks... which resulted in some good changes and also a bit of frustration on our part and Israel's! We may have tried TOO much at one time.

Let me start by saying that we HAVE seen progress! We're sticking to more of a routine and have adjusted Israel's sleeping schedule a good bit. We will have 2-3 nights of really good progress (and sleep!) and then have 1-2 nights where things seem to step backwards.

What has worked/ what are we doing for sleep routines:
1. Following Israel's cues. Especially at nap time- the moment he gets fussy and rubs his eyes, he gets strapped in the Ergo and he falls asleep minutes later. I was trying to get him to "hold out' until a certain time to sleep, and was missing his "window" of sleep. By following his cues, he now takes 3 naps per day (mainly all in the Ergo) around 8 am, 11 am, and 1:30/2pm. It's not as important to me that he goes to sleep at 8 am and not 7:30 am- if he is tired at 7:30, we adjust and just nap then! These naps vary in length from 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

2. Understanding his sleep cycle. In the comments section, Kimberly reminded me that babies' sleep cycle is 45 minutes- and this makes SO much sense, because it is almost like clockwork that Israel will wake up from his nap at 45 minutes. If he's in the Ergo he can be quickly lulled back to sleep for a longer nap.

3. Lower our expectations for now. We needed to remind ourselves that he isn't going to master sleeping in the first few months home... this is a big area to accomplish! Also, if he had a bad night of sleep after a good night, we had to have compassion for our little guy and try not to get frustrated. This is a season! My friend MacKenzie sent me an amazing email and in it she passed on a lot of wisdom she's gained from her adopted twin boys; one thing that she said stood out to me: "Our God is healing Israel's heart every day.  He will start to sleep better.  He will even sleep through the night one day.  And every night that you spend rocking him while he cannot sleep, you are getting closer, and bonding even more, no matter how difficult it is. " 

4.  Do what works. For naptimes, that means the Ergo. I can try to put him in his crib, on the floor, in the swing, whatever... but he won't really nap well. I understand this is probably setting up a terrible cycle of dependency yada yada yada... but can I again say that this is just a season? I'm sure I'll miss the snuggles and the feel of his breathing as he naps. It is a privilege to hold him for 3 naps a day. I'm thankful that he falls asleep within minutes of being strapped in the Ergo! I'm thankful that he takes a paci (although he can't hold it himself and he will spit it out unless I literally hold it on his face for most of his nap) but because he needs to have the comfort of sucking, it helps him sleep during naps. **I will say that 3-4 naps per week I try to get Israel to sleep in the swing or in his crib. These naps are MUCH shorter than normal naps, but still a good break for mama sometimes where I can get something done around the house or just sit for a moment!***

5. Keep the routine. We've found that when we adjust our nighttime routine, it really throws Israel off. Will and I both have to be apart of his nighttime rituals or he doesn't go to sleep easily. 

So what about our nighttime routine?

Every night, we feed Israel dinner around 6 and then immediately go upstairs and give him a bath. When we are done with the bath we go into his nursery with the lights off (nightlight is on) and our noise machine is on loud. Then, we lotion him up, comb his hair, and put in his hair product. Will swaddles him with our Aden and Anais blankets. Will and I alternate who rocks him to sleep, but the other parent reads from the "Jesus Storybook Bible" until he falls asleep. The parent who rocks him to sleep gives him a bottle, which he may or may not finish. He falls asleep in our arms while we are rocking him.

He will then sleep for several hours, but he will stir every hour or so due to dreams that make him thrash. I have to go in there and pat him or he will wake up.

He usually sleeps until between 12-3 when he wakes up for a bottle and he USUALLY falls asleep pretty well at that point. Depending on what time he wakes up for that bottle, he will again wake up between 2-5 and is ready to be up for the day. This is when we will put him in his swing that our friends loaned us. He may or may not get a bottle at this point, but then he will go in the swing and I will leave him there, awake, and go back to bed. The rocking of the swing lulls him to sleep 75% of the time but he is happy there with the rocking motion. Then, depending on what time he went into the swing, he gets up between 5-7 and is ready to get out of the nursery. If its between 5-6 then we will put him in the bed with us. If it is later, then we just get up and start the coffee!

 I am happy to report that the night terrors and the screaming fits have dramatically decreased- we have about 1-2 a week now, instead of almost every night. We're definitely seeing progress!

 I'm sure that this post will look different in a few weeks, as we continue to adjust to our son's needs and his schedule changes as he grows. Right now he is 7 1/2 months and has been home almost 4 weeks. We're not trying to sleep train him yet, but we are hoping that consistency will allow him to have more restful nights! Thanks everyone for your input in our sleep issues and I'm sure I'll be back with more mommy questions soon!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cocooning: What Keeps Mama Sane

Several people have asked for an update on how "cocooning" has gone for us (for more information, check back at this post about why we're cocooning and this post which explains a little more about how that's going to work for us).

We have been home three weeks, and Israel has been in our arms for four. This past week was our best week as far as attachment progress goes,  but it was filled with doctors, so it was also hard too.

Since the beginning of our arrival at home, I realized that this cocooning business is not as easy as I thought it would be. Six weeks to three months is the time frame that our agency recommends for cocooning, and after about three days I felt like the walls were closing in on our house and I was desperate for some adult interaction when Will was gone! Trust me, I LOVED having all the time with Israel, but I am very used to being out and about and with lots of people (I had weekly meetings with college students and lots of friend time before he came home). Our days involve lots of snuggles, hours of baby wearing (he naps on me, remember?), and kisses - because this kid is so incredibly kissable!!!

So what has worked for me: taking lots of walks. Seriously, every day (sometimes multiple times a day) I get out of the house with Israel in our stroller (which faces me- its a Graco Flip It and he can make eye contact with me the whole walk). I get exercise, we get some air and I get out of the house. WIN WIN WIN. Twice I have gone with a friend on a walk with Israel strapped in his stroller facing me, and that has gone over pretty well. Israel still doesn't really look at strangers (a great thing!) so walking with another person hasn't seemed to contradict our cocooning plan because they aren't really giving him attention and he isn't focusing on anyone but me.

Another thing that has helped: Sonic Happy Hour. I am not kidding. God bless Sonic for their 1/2 priced drinks from 2-4, because I am there multiple times a week. I tell myself I'm just helping Israel get accustomed to his car seat, but really the caffeine and the mini outing really help me a lot.

Having a general "schedule" has helped. Israel's napping routine has continued to evolve, but we have certain things set in stone: lunch, our walk, daddy coming home for lunch and when he gets off work. We try to play really hard in between naps - in the backyard, on the porch, practicing tummy time, etc.

Mommy outings. One Friday I met two other young moms, Beth and Brittany (whose husbands are also on staff at our church), and we had a kid-free lunch where we talked about life and it was so good for all of us. I have been so grateful for these ladies since I met them last June, but now in this season I'm even more thankful for them! We're going to try to make our Friday lunches a more regular occurrance since our husbands all have off days on Friday and can watch our kids.

Being sneaky. Ok, this one just applies to today. Today I went to church for the first time! Israel and I showed up 15 minutes late, I strapped him in the Ergo and we went to church in the "cafe" downstairs. I met Brittany, who has a little one that still needs to be close by, and we listened to the sermon through the speakers together. It was so refreshing to be in church and to worship with another person! Also, Israel stayed in the Ergo the whole time, fell asleep almost as soon as we got there and had a glorious 1 hour nap there. When he was almost awake we got in the car and headed home. He didn't meet anyone new, only a handful of people even knew we were there, and I got to go to church!!!!! I'm so thankful that my friend Brittany could share that time today and I look forward to being sneaky again sometime :).

Nighttime dinners. Again, this only happened once but it was so fun! Our church has set up meals being delivered to us for the first month we're home, and one night our friends were on the schedule to deliver a meal to us. We asked them to just come later after Israel was asleep so they could stay and eat it with us and we could have adult friend time! It was nice catching up with them and chatting about their future adoption process (they are starting the process this summer and I'M SO EXCITED for them!).

In the next few weeks we will begin to introduce Israel to his extended family and a few more close friends. I'll update more on that process when we get there :). I have to remind myself that cocooning is JUST a season. There will be a time when we can go out and about like "normal" and I'm sure I'll miss this season of staying in and just learning about each other. For now though, I am actually really thankful that I get to be selfish with his snuggles and kisses. I don't know when I'll be ready to pass him around because when he's sleeping or sitting on the floor I just want to scoop him up and hold and kiss him again! Will and I fight over his affection and its just the two of us :).

Lastly, I want to say thanks for stopping by! It means so much to me that so many people have taken the time to read our blog and follow our story. Several people have told us recently that they have been praying for us and have been "silent" followers of our blog. We are humbled to be able to tell our story and hope that God gets all the glory- because He is the author of it, and we are just grateful that we get to be Israel's parents!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Week of Doctor Visits

This was a LONG week for our little man!! We spent a lot of time with strangers at doctors' offices, and he had a lot of painful experiences. But there were a few positives that came out of it... so there is some redemption!

Tuesday we went to the ENT office in Anniston. Our pediatrician wanted a formal hearing test to be done for Israel, so I decided to go alone (saving Will's work time for when we "really" needed him to come with us to the doctor). I was SO nervous to do this! We went at 2:30 after a rough morning of little napping, so I knew this could be an interesting experience. We had to sit in a waiting room with several other families with kids, including a little girl who kept getting in Israel's face. I was wearing Israel in a sling, so he was close to me, and I kept trying to shield him from the people in the room. One of the nurses finally called us back, and she was very friendly, but I was a bit upset because she kept touching Israel- stroking his hand, kissing his hand, trying to get him to smile. It was very awkward for me because I didn't know what to do. Clearly you all know that we are in a "cocooning" stage- and even Israel's grandmas haven't gotten to give him that much affection yet. I just didn't know how to tell her to back off without being rude. Any advice, mamas?

After our brief meeting with the nurse, we had to go to a back room where an audiologist had me hold down Israel while she inserted a probe in his ears to do the hearing test. This did NOT go over well and resulted in a lot of crying! Once we got him calm, the test was pretty fast, but we had to go back in the waiting room for a few minutes (more nosy people) and then to a private office to wait for a doctor. Israel was having a meltdown and I knew he was just so tired, so I went in the hall and told the doctors that if they wanted to do anything with him, it better be fast because he was about to fall asleep and I wasn't going to keep him up. They came in for about 2 seconds and said he was fine, had passed his hearing test and they didn't have any worries. I stayed in the room and rocked him to sleep, and he slept in his carseat the whole 20 minutes home! Woo hoo!

Wednesday we had to do labwork for Israel. This required getting 2 vials of blood from his poor arm and hand. Will went with us this time and I'm so glad he did, because we had to hold down Israel so that he wasn't moving at all- and his poor cry was unbearable for me! I'm so glad Will was there to support me AND Israel through that! Thankfully, that's all the bloodwork we have to do for those labs (they worried that we might need to go back and get 2 more vials of blood but we don't!).

Thursday we had three women come over to our house from a state program to assess Israel to see if he qualified for a program to help with his developmental milestones. Seeing that we haven't really branched out of our cocoon (and we've had a busy week already) I wasn't surprised that Israel was very stand-offish to these women. He clutched me tightly and kept his head on my shoulder while we talked. I had to set him down on the floor to show off his skills :) but he did really well and I think the women got an accurate viewing of his current stages of development.

Friday we had to go back to the pediatrician to re-do the PKU test that we did 2 weeks ago. This time I kept him in the Ergo since they got the blood from his foot, and although he still had a big fit, he was at least in my arms and we didn't have to hold him down.

So it was a very long week for our little guy! Lots of strangers, lots of blood and lots of probes and testing. Poor kid. I felt really bad that all of this had to happen back to back, but we couldn't help the timing because things were scheduled without our input and we didn't know that it would all be that way!

But let's focus on the POSITIVE things we've seen this week:
1. Israel fell asleep in his carseat! He's doing really well in a carseat in general, but the fact that he could sleep in it is a huge blessing.
2. He has started to sleep so much better. It may be the stress of the week, but he has slept much better at night and has been napping more consistently. I also credit this to a VERY WONDERFUL loaned baby swing from our friends the Parrises. THANK YOU for helping my boy sleep!
3. His bloodwork from Thursday came back normal!
4. Being out and about and having the women at our house Thursday showed us that Israel is hesitant to interact with others. He doesn't offer smiles to strangers and let me comfort him when he was scared by other people. These are great attachment signs- as babies SHOULD have "stranger anxiety" and we are not wanting our little man to need to charm adults as a defense mechanism.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sleep (or lack of...)

**The pictures in this post are completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. I just wanted to post them because my Mom doesn't have facebook and otherwise she wouldn't see them.**

I mentioned earlier that sleep has been our biggest hurdle here at the McGee house. I'm sure that just adding a baby into any family will destroy peaceful nights for new parents, so we were expecting an adjustment.

Israel Biruk has been stumping us though. I think he's finally figured out his days & nights, so that's not really our problem anymore. NAPPING, however = big problem. He is so tired during the day. He will be fussy, rubbing his eyes, drooping his head to the side, etc; but when we try to put him down it is so difficult. And he can't put himself to sleep (we've tried that) - it just becomes a very extended cranky playtime for him.

I've tried sticking to a schedule, and for the most part that works. The problem is that sometimes he will wake up 45 minutes into his allotted 2 hour naptime- still tired, but refusing to go back to sleep! Usually he fights his morning naps but will rock really long naps in the afternoon. Getting him to bed at night is "typically" easy - praise God!

I feel like my whole day/night is rocking him to sleep. He won't nap in his crib - if he falls asleep and I put him in there, then he wakes up minutes later. He naps pretty consistently in the Ergo, but only if I am standing and rocking/patting him, with some light jogging and bouncing for good measure.

Last week our Family Education Coordinator contacted us for a check-in and asked if we needed to talk, so we jumped on the opportunity. We discussed Israel's sleep issues and she said that the signs he was showing definitely patterned grief processing. She said that Israel is probably realizing when he is tired that he is vulnerable and losing control when he sleeps, so he fights it. He also was probably left at the orphanage (and we left Hannah's Hope) during the daytime, so he may be afraid that change will occur if he sleeps during the day. Poor baby.

So now, I petition you dear friends- please pray for us! Pray for Israel's heart to trust us so he can sleep. He's getting about 11-12 hours of sleep TOTAL per day (including naps and evening sleep) and he is 7 months old. Also, for the Lord to provide mama with supernatural rest, strength, and patience, as my body is so tired. Did I mention that Israel won't let Will put him to sleep?

I also want to say that I am NOT trying to complain here. I count it a joy to rock my son to sleep. I love that he will sleep on my chest every day in the Ergo. I love his sweaty hair when he naps and the deep breaths he takes. I love the little whimper he makes when he is waking up. I love how he grips my shirt when he's sleeping. I love the way his mouth is open when he's sleeping. I am petitioning your prayer because HE needs sleep and I don't know how to get him to sleep longer.

Any suggestions on how to make this happen? We've tried swaddling (he kicks the blankets off in seconds- even the velcro ones), adjusting his schedule, giving him a bottle, not giving him a bottle, music in the background, lights off, lights dim, etc. "Cry it out" method isn't an option for us- so any others are welcome!

*Updated to add: thank you everyone for your input thus far!! I'm loving all of the suggestions. I also wanted to clarify that it's not necessarily my goal that he HAS to sleep in his crib during the day- I just want him to SLEEP and get enough of it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

First Week and a Half Home

I can't believe we have been home for a week and a half! Time passes really slowly and quickly all at the same time. The first week-ish home has been really good and really hard. I feel like we have begun the bonding process with Israel, have seen a lot of his personality, and have seen areas where his grief has manifested.
The first night in our home: Will was introducing Israel Biruk to his new room and showing him how far we've come to bring him home.

Will left for Haiti around 2:30 on Monday morning and returned Wednesday evening. Those three days were really trying for me! My mom and Will's mom both came up for brief periods during those three days, and they only helped around the house- cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. Because we are in strict cocooning phase, I was the only one to hold, feed, change, bathe, comfort, etc Israel during the time that Will was gone, even though his grandmothers wanted so badly to get close to him! They were very respectful of the boundaries that we set- and it was a huge help to not have to worry about meals or laundry while Israel and I were recovering from jet lag and starting to get to know each other. In addition to the sleep deprivation, I also had a stomach bug courtesy of our travels... it was a rough beginning to our week home.

When Will got back Wednesday night, he had Thursday, Friday and Saturday off of work- so we had some great family time together. We did lots of snuggling and playing! We tried out our stroller, and even went to the doctor. The doctor's visit was another hard day- Israel had to have shots and some blood drawn, so that was traumatic enough; but we also had to do some developmental tests that were a little discouraging. We were assigned several exercises to do with Israel to get him caught up to speed, and we're hoping with the one-on-one attention he's getting Israel will pick up quickly!

At the Doctor's Office!

Throughout the week we have really seen Israel's personality shine through. He is SO FUNNY and has a million facial expressions. He will blow bubbles in the spoon when he's done eating, so whatever its contents were will splatter all over the place (carrots, peas, oatmeal, etc). He loves playing on his back and hates tummy time, although we have gotten up to 5 minutes of tummy time in on one occasion! He loves sitting on the porch and watching the cars go by.

The hard stuff: SLEEP. The first few days he was really confused about days/nights and I was really thinking this was never going to end. He would be up for long stretches from 12-4am or 1-5:30am and either be really, really happy or screaming in terror. Those nights happened to be when Will was gone, so I was up alone with him- crying alongside him. It was hard. Slowly, he has started to figure out the "routine" we're setting up. I've had some encouraging conversations with other adoptive mamas who have assured me that sticking to a routine and lowering expectations can help! He has gotten a lot better with sleep, waking 2-3 times a night (going to bed between 6-7) and then being up for the day between 3-5am.

This picture was taken in the middle of the night when Will was gone and Israel wasn't sleeping.

At first I was doing the whole "nap when he naps" as so many of you have recommended. That was nice when he would actually sleep in his crib during naps. For the last few days, he has refused to nap in his crib and is only happy sleeping in the Ergo. I certainly don't mind the snuggles, but he likes to be patted/rocked during his nap and will wake up if I stop, so I don't get to nap anymore! But, as friends have said, it is amazing how my body has accommodated to this new schedule and I am somehow surviving and no longer a zombie!

This is Israel blowing bubbles with his food!

The other hard thing about sleep is that this is when he is most vulnerable, so this is how he has expressed his grief the most. I don't think I could explain it unless you watched it, which is what my mom did when Will was gone. Poor baby, Israel just has a broken heart. Some nights I can see the fear in his eyes as I rock him to sleep and he is squirming and crying. I know he is tired. He is grieving, and sometimes there's no amount of speaking over him, snuggling or kissing that will comfort him.

Of course, there are small babysteps of attachment that we are seeing: he is starting to follow me and Will with his eyes when we are in the room, he responds to our voices (sometimes) and he will touch my face when he is eating a bottle or falling asleep. He likes being in the Ergo. He smiles at us when we kiss him, and he smiles and laughs at us when we talk to him closely.

We're doing well here overall! Certainly loving our son more by the second, as he has completely captured our hearts. It is amazing parenting Israel Biruk and we are so thankful that God gifted us with this precious boy.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day At Last

This is the first mother's day that there is a baby in my arms. It has been a long-awaited, as two empty-armed Mother's Days passed since beginning our adoption process in March 2010.

Let me tell you, I have so much joy having Israel home. It is wonderful to finally be a mom.

But today I want to acknowledge those of you who are waiting- for a referral, for a positive test, for the timing to be right for you to begin the journey to parenting... The ache of waiting is fresh on my heart, and I don't want to lose compassion for those waiting, because I was just there and I feel like God allowed me to participate in waiting so I could have compassion for others. Afterall, I wrote this post and many others describing the ache of empty arms. I'm glad I documented that time, so that I don't take for granted the little cutie that is in my house now!

To those of you who are not yet moms on Mother's Day, I want to say that I know that Mother's Day is hard. It's hard to log on Facebook and see other people celebrate. It is hard at church when they ask all the moms to stand up, and you wish so badly that you could stand too. It's hard to be bombarded with commercials and all kinds of marketing of how special motherhood is, when in your heart you KNOW that it will be special, but there's nothing you can do to make it come faster.

But I also want to say- trust the Lord. He is faithful. He has all of your days ordained ahead of time, and He will give you the grace needed to make it through today and all the other days that are ahead. He has created you for a specific purpose- and although our hearts and bodies scream "for motherhood!" -honestly, the purpose for our existence is HIS GLORY. He may choose motherhood as that avenue, but it may be through this wait, or through the process of changing your heart.

Also, remember that being a mom shouldn't be your idol. I know there were many days that I had to fight the idolotry of having a child in my home. I wanted Israel so badly. But when we desire anything more than we desire Christ and His glory, then whatever we want will be tainted and it will never satisfy.

There's so many of you that I'm thinking of by name today- Ashley, Stephanie, Laura, Katie, Courtney and more.... you're on my heart and I want to say "Happy Mother's Day" to you... because as we all know, you already have a mother's heart, you just need the babe to prove it :).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Birthmother's Day

Today is what is recognized as "Birth Mother's Day." This day will forever be celebrated in our home, as we think of a courageous woman in Ethiopia that we will forever be praying for daily. I hope that we will honor her in the way that she deserves.

For all of the birth mothers out there, those who remain secret and those who have been open about their process, I want to say- I honor you. I honor you for the time that you carried a child that is no longer in your arms. I honor you for the sacrifice, the loss, the hard choices, and for the hope that you have for your children. I cannot imagine being in the position as a birth mother that does not parent her child (for so many reasons), and I pray that God gives you extended grace as I'm sure there is a part of your heart that is missing. I'm thankful that God redeems all things and I hope that for our birth mom in Ethiopia, and for those who are reading this, that God's restoring peace will bind all wounds.

There is a specific person that I am thinking of as I write this, one whom I've never talked to about her birth mom experience. To her I want to say: I've longed to talk to you about this. I have wanted to hug you and talk to you about your child and say that I hope our adoption hasn't brought up wounds but has given you a reminder that God is faithful through this. If you ever want to talk about this, I want to be there for you and I want you to know that I am so proud of you- that when I found out, I loved you even more. I respect you and honor you. I'm keeping the secret, don't worry. But I want to be your friend through this- it doesn't matter how many years it has been. 

Seven Months Old!

Dear Israel,

Today you are Seven Months Old! That is crazy for me to type, because it means that you are over half-way to your first birthday! As I type this, you are laying on your playmat, grinning up at me and chatting away. You are always doing something cute, and I know I better remember these early days because things are bound to change so fast and you will be learning and doing so much more cute stuff soon! You are OBSESSED with your cute hands, and you have figured out how to stick your feet straight in the air when you are getting a diaper change or when you're in the bath. You're ALMOST sitting up by yourself and you have started to roll over to the side for a second. I'm sure soon you will be rolling over and making all kinds of developmental progress!

In other developmental news, you are making great eye contact and you will follow a toy with your eyes- you really like this squeaky giraffe toy and will turn your head every way to follow its noise. We've tried rice cereal a few times with you, and after a few failed attempts you finally ate a whole bowl AND some peas last night! You take a paci well, but we have to hold it on your face when we're trying to get you to sleep because otherwise you spit it out- you don't really know what to do with it, and you can't hold toys or your paci yet in your hand. You have figured out how to hit the toys on your playmat and in your bouncy seat, so maybe soon you'll be able to grab them too!

You love being in the Ergo with Mama and you typically fall asleep in it pretty hard. We wore it a lot in Ethiopia, and even at home it seems to do magic for you when you're fussy. You like your stroller and your carseat, but your favorite place to be is lying on your back so you can kick your feet and stare at the ceiling fan. You have been sleeping in your crib at night and during naps, but somehow every morning you manage to end up in bed with mama and daddy for morning snuggles... we don't mind and you love it! You love being kissed, which is a good thing- because you get LOTS of kisses all day! When we kiss your cheeks it makes you smile and shows off the little dimple you have on your left cheek, which makes us kiss you more! You love bath time and being lotioned down. We have started to play a "Praise Baby" cd in your room every time its naptime/nighttime, so hopefully you'll start to understand your sleep routine more. Sometimes we will have you 99% asleep and then as soon as we lay you in your crib, you wake up and grin at us with the biggest smile. You're a bit rotten, my love! We have been calling you by both of your names, Israel Biruk, and sometimes we get some acknowledgment when we say them. But almost every time you give me a big smile when I say "I'm your Mama!".

Things you don't like: when we try to make you stand, when we change your clothes (you love being naked, but the process of taking off clothes or putting them on just angers you!),

As far as size goes, you are wearing 6 month clothes, but mainly because that's the smallest size we have for you. You are really long but tiny- so you don't fill out your clothes very well in the width. Hopefully all the TLC we're giving you will bulk you up soon! We went to the doctor yesterday and he said that you are 14 lbs, 5 ounces (20th percentile) and 27 inches (90th percentile).

It's hard to believe we have known who you are for over 5 months, and you've been in our arms for almost 2 weeks. We love you so much and you bring us so much joy.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Airport Party!

After our many hours of travel, it was finally time to present our son to our family and friends! As you know, our family has chosen to cocoon upon returning home, so the airport party was our opportunity for people to meet & greet Israel Biruk before we retreat into cocooning.

My sister took pictures for us, and my brother took video. My sister condensed his videotaping into a 10 minute clip of our welcome party and we'd be happy to share it with you - here is the youtube link!

It was a relief to see familiar faces greeting us! I was also anxious to show off my son and I'm glad he hammed it up for everyone!

In attendance: Family Members- GaGa, Nana, Sarah, Daniel, John Mark, Noah & Ella / Friends- The entire Dollyhigh family, the Casey Family, Beth & Jay Monroe, Les & Prudence Hill

It was safe to say that he was worn out after meeting so many new friends! He did great in the car seat- another testimony of God's grace to us!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ethiopia Trip Two: Traveling Home

Our trip home could be summarized in one word: grace! We felt God's generous grace on us in such a real way, and we knew that so many people were praying for us and for Israel during travels. Thank you for praying and thinking of us, you will see how smooth our journey was and we know it was because God heard and answered our petitions!

Friday night we headed early to the Addis Airport in hopes that we would get one of the coveted bassinet seats that airlines have a select few of. Luckily, we were the first in line- soon joined by two other baby-wearing sets of parents who were also racing for the bassinets. We thought our odds were good since we were there at 6 and our flight left at 11. We chatted with them about our adoptions and oohed and ahhed over our cute boys.

When we stepped up to the check-in booth (after waiting a LONG time in the line for it to open up) the lady said that they were already taken! We didn't think this was possible since you couldn't reserve them online, and we were the first in line! We were disappointed but she said that we could request again at the gate and see if something opened up.

So we walked through the airport and stood guard by the check-in for the gates. Let me see if I can try to explain to you the Addis airport. It is very unique... you have to go through a security screening (bags, etc) to get into the gate. Once you are inside the gate areas, you can't go back out... so most people wait outside the security area so they can have access to the {nasty} bathrooms and {interesting} concessions. There's a "smoking section" yet someone managed to light up a cigarette right next to my baby when we were clearly no where near it. The airport smells pretty heavily of smoke and urine and it is not a place that you want to spend an extended amount of time in, let alone with your new baby.

So Will and I found a secluded area and let Israel play for a bit. We waited until the Lufthansa guests were allowed to go through the security screen and went as fast as we could to the gate. Again, we were told there were no bassinet seats for us. We were disappointed but at that point we figured we'd just try to make the best of it. There were a lot of adoptive families on our flight, so that was fun seeing the range of families headed home.

Finally, we loaded the plane and by the time of take-off, Israel was fast asleep. He was snuggled in a blanket and people walking by would compliment us on our beautiful girl's hair. I guess it was my fault for dressing him in green and not blue, or maybe it is because his hair is so long! The Lufthansa staff were pretty funny- they distribute small gifts to children on the plane and one of the attendants offered Israel a coloring book. Weird. We were pleased to find out that we had an entire row to ourselves- a huge blessing because we could stretch out and had a bottle station as well as access to all of our diaper bag needs (instead of it being crammed under our feet). Israel was able to stretch out a bit too!

The flight to Frankfurt was about 8ish hours, and Israel slept for most of it. He only had about an hour total of being awake, and unfortunately, those times were spent crying. I think it was because he went to sleep in the airport and woke up on a very dark plane. I'm sure he was scared and it was hard to comfort him because he loves to move around and we were confined to our seats during the times he was fussy. All in all, Israel was a champ during the first flight and we were very pleased that he slept so much! Most of the people around us were very graceful towards us/him, with the exception of a foreign couple in front of us that kept turning around and giving us the stink eye if he made any noise at all- a coo or a cry. That was a bit annoying because they, too, had adopted children with them (they were older) and I thought we adoptive families stick together. Guess not!

Upon landing in Frankfurt, we found our gate and decided to camp out for a while. Israel took another nap in the ergo, then went on several walks with daddy to watch planes take off. Will and I got cornered by an overly chatty elderly woman. Normally, I'm all about older adults... but in this case we should have been warned. While Will was off with Israel, she approached me and said "Do you speak English?.... well great, I've been looking for someone to talk to!" and she proceeded to tell me all about every vacation she'd ever been on, her deadbeat son in law who couldn't get a job- so she would never get adopted children, and her new retirement home. For about 2 hours. Not exactly the way we pictured our time in the airport with our new son who needed some activity and bonding.

Thank goodness, we weren't seated near her on the plane, and we'd never been more excited to load a plane! The last flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta went even better than the first one. We had three seats to ourselves, and the space was again a great grace to us. Israel was awake and super happy for most of the plane- babbling and flirting with mama and the flight attendants. This time the flight attendant didn't offer a coloring book for him, but a soft toy; yet later she offered him pretzels. I told her that he only drinks a bottle and she seemed confused. Maybe six month old German babies are more advanced?

This flight was nine hours and much to our dismay, the "airshow" was broken so we couldn't track our progress overseas. We were becoming very giddy about being home soon! When there was about an hour left, we took turns changing into our airport outfits. I thought I'd timed it right, but as soon as we sat down, Israel spit up all over his onesie. Oh well.

Finally... we landed in Atlanta! We quickly strapped Israel in the Ergo and headed our way to the Immigration department, where we handed over our sealed packet of Israel's documents that we got from the embassy. After 20 minutes of an officer sifting through them, we were told that the information would be processed and our little man would now be a US citizen!

The only thing left to do now was to make a quick pit stop (diaper change) and then we'd see our family and friends!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ethiopia Trip Two: Packing Up & Saying Good-Bye

Friday was our last day in Ethiopia. We woke up with a sense of relief- soon we would be out of a hotel room and in our home! Will & I tried to pack in the morning, but it seemed like a daunting task! How did we make such a mess?

The big event for the day was going back to Hannah's Hope to get Israel's passport and citizenship paperwork that had been processed at the embassy. I think in the past, families had an option to return to HH or just get the paperwork delivered, but we weren't given an option. I had a big fear that all of the progress we had made with Israel would be nullified when he was back inside the HH gates and with his special mothers. I was dreading returning there, honestly.

But we had no choice, so we went back to Hannah's Hope with the Ruark family (Katy, her mom and Y) and met with Almaz. At first I held Israel in the Ergo, with the thought that I wouldn't take him out at all. But then when we were there, I felt such empathy for the women who have cared for my boy for the last 5 + months - I wanted them to get to say good-bye to him, so I took him out. It was clear how well he was loved and cared for, and all of the special mothers and other staff came out to say good bye and kiss him one more time. Hearing them say "Ba Ba Biruk" over and over made us smile- the way they say his name is more like "Bih-roo-kay".

Our meeting with Almaz went really well. We were able to discuss our embassy interviews but also recap our son's story and even gleaned a few more details about him. Any information we can get- be it small details or large- is priceless to us.

The Ruark family had an additional meeting, so we went upstairs to the baby rooms where Israel's former roommates were having nap time. His special mothers loved holding him again and we were glad for the chance to take pictures of the other kids for the families waiting in the USA. We saw a lot of new faces of babies that had come after our early March trip, and some of the kiddos looked like they had grown so much! It made me think- in 6 months this place will look completely different, all new kids! Hannah's "HOPE" is a perfect name for the place- what a joy it is to think of all of those kids finding homes and more kids coming after that to have forever homes. Sigh.

Makenzie and Chris came in to spend time with their daughter, and we may or may not have agreed to arrange a marriage :). We had fun watching them with their beautiful little girl!

Finally, it was time to head back to the Riviera. I wasn't prepared for the emotion of leaving Hannah's Hope. It suddenly hit me that this orphanage was ALL my son knows. These women have poured themselves out on him and they know all about him and how to care for him. As amazing as it is to have him home, that day marked another huge loss for him. He won't be back. So as we left the gates of Hannah's Hope for the last time of our trip, I was sobbing and thought "man, I can't leave this place without tears!" but this time, it was on behalf of my son and the women at Hannah's Hope.

We came back to the hotel and finished packing our room. We headed downstairs and spent the afternoon with the Ruarks and Bratchers, recapping our trip and talking of the hope of having our kiddos in our homes soon. I am so thankful we traveled with these families!

At 6, we headed to the airport... we were going HOME!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ethiopia Trip Two: Hotel and Museum Day

I know this is only my second time ever to post on this blog, but Rebekah claims I had the more eventful day, so she asked me to recap day three of our week in Addis.

Thursday (or Turdsday as our hotel itinerary actually says) we were scheduled to spend the entire day at our hotel spending time with Israel.  Once again, he slept pretty well throughout the night, but Rebekah and I were wide awake by 2:00am.

After breakfast and cleaning the room a bit, Israel went down for a two hour nap. While he was asleep I decided to run into the city to buy a few items and check out the National Museum.  Rebekah stayed and napped, and I grabbed a cab with our driver-friend, Solomon.

Solomon took me through some parts of Addis that I have not seen yet, before heading to the market. I had a list of things that Bekah wanted me to get, which included some table runners and necklaces. Solomon helped me haggle with the store owners. "He is a helper to Ethiopian children. Give him a discount," he would say.  I was able to grab some good deals on the items that Bekah asked me to find, and I also bought a couple of surprises for her and Israel.

The Market in Addis Ababa

Surprise gift for Bekah.

After the market, I asked Solomon to take me to the National Museum of Ethiopia. For 10 Birr ($0.57) I paid for both of our admission. Being a cab driver for tourists, Solomon has probably been in the museum hundreds of times. This worked well, because he served as a pretty knowledgeable tour guide.

Solomon leading the way into the National Museum of Ethiopia

The museum is home to the skeleton remains of Lucy, recognized as the first human ancestor ever discovered, and Selam, the earliest child ancestor ever discovered. It also boasts several items formerly owned by Ethiopia's former emperor Haile Selassie.

Lucy, or as Ethiopians like to call her, Dinknesh, meaning "Wonderful."

Selam, which I am pretty sure means "creepy-looking."

Emperor Halie Selassie's throne

 When I got back to the hotel, Israel was in a fun mood, and we played for the rest of the evening. He had a really great day, with only a few fussy moments. We are seeing more and more of his laughter and personality. I cannot wait to see who this little boy is going to become. I have spent hours just studying his features, imagining what type of work those little hands will do to provide for a family one day... how fast those feet will be able to run... or how crazy that hair will get.

Israel doing his thing.

I don't want him to grow up, but I am eager to see what God does with this kid's life.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ethiopia Trip Two: Embassy Day

Wednesday morning came early, after a long night of soothing our boy. At 6 am, someone banged on our door but by the time we got to it, no one was there and Israel was awake! We got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. I was so excited because my friend Makenzie got to the hotel last night- she and her husband were meeting their daughter today at Hannah's Hope! We enjoyed breakfast together and chatting about Hannah's Hope!

After breakfast it was time to head to the Embassy. The US embassy is on the opposite side of Addis from where our hotel is, so it was a LONG BUMPY RIDE and Israel was not so happy about it. Thankfully a bottle pacified him for the most part!

When we got to the embassy, we had to go through security and then sat in this large waiting room. It was like a DMV or social security office... There was many rows filled with adoptive parents carrying their kids and birth families as well. The front of the room was lined with windows where American embassy workers interviewed everyone. I needed to change Israel's diaper so I went to the bathroom and used one of those wall diaper changing stations. I know that may seem very insignificant but it was my first time using one, so I feel that it is blog-worthy material!! After a 30 minute-ish wait, we were called up to the window. It was pretty simple; the person just reviewed our case and Israel's story, and gave us the visa documentation for Israel. We were told that someone could pick up his passport on Friday so we can go home!

The drive back went a bit faster because Israel slept the whole time! Will and I were exhausted so we took turns resting while the other walked around the hotel. Israel was doing pretty well, but he was a bit fussier than yesterday.

He took a good nap from 11-1 and then again from 3:45-5:15. When he wasn't napping, he was under hypnosis from his amazing hands! He also snuggled us a good bit and we heard his laugh too! It doesn't get old at all! Love it. We tried rice cereal for the first time. He wasn't a fan and I don't know if he's ever seen a spoon before! He was a little freaked out by it and after 2-3 bites he was done!

After the afternoon nap, we gave him another shower and bottle. This was necessary because when I went to change his diaper after his nap, he peed all over me, his outfit, our bed, and the new diaper while I was mid-change. Welcome to parenthood, right?!

After our outfit change, we waited until the restaurant opened and met our friends for dinner. Makenzie and Chris had a great first day at Hannah's Hope, and it was so fun to relive the moments from 2 months ago when we first met Israel! We stayed downstairs chatting for over 2 hours until Israel woke up in his Ergo! He is a champ in the ergo and loves to snuggle.

It was a great second day. Israel was definitely fussier today, but we could expect that from our eventful night before! Even though he had some hard moments today, we had a lot of good moments too! Like when Will took a walk with him in the Ergo, and Israel fell asleep; when Will tried to get him out Israel woke up and just kept smiling at him! And really, for the most part he always wakes up with a big smile on his face! It makes our hearts melt.

I will end this post with two sights we have seen a lot of today (one of these pictures is specifically for Kelly, who wanted proof that my sweet baby cries):

This picture is actually from Trip 1... his cry is so pitiful- lip quivering, etc! But am I wrong to say that he still looks cute when he cries??

This boy is OBSESSED with his hands! He is always staring at them. He can't quite figure out how to grip anything (toys, etc) but he thinks they are a toy meant to look at all the time. I'm just glad he has constant entertainment :)

LOVING our boy!!! Tomorrow (Thursday) we spend all day in the hotel... could be a very long day! Would appreciate your prayers :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ethiopia Trip Two: Gotcha Day!

I am so thankful that we got a great night's sleep last night! We slept from about 12-6 and then went down to breakfast. We were told last night upon check-in that we were getting picked up "around 8" but this morning they gave us our official itinerary and it said 11:30 am was pick-up. It also gave a rough outline of his daily schedule, so we knew that from 11-1 was naptime!

Since we had a lot of time to kill, we went back to our room and tried to nap. Will was successful, and I couldn't stop thinking about our big day! As I was doing a double- check of our room and what we needed, I started to be filled with nervousness and doubt. I just kept thinking - what if I'm not a good mom? What if I don't know what his cries mean, or I can't soothe him? What if this week is terrible? What if everything goes wrong?

I hate to admit that, but my head was just filled with insecurities. So thankfully, God led me to Psalm 34 and I was put at ease.

After feeling refreshed, I was relieved to see that it was almost time to head downstairs. Our driver, Danny, was waiting for us! We went with another family that was picking up their daughter at Hannah's Hope.

The drive was kind of surreal. I still couldn't believe we were actually seeing our son again! It still doesn't feel real, and he's sitting in the room with me.

We went inside the gates and were directed to his bedroom, where he was napping (as we suspected). We were really surprised when one of the special mothers gave us a bottle and directed us to wake him up. If you've ever been to Hannah's Hope, you know the special mothers are sticklers for naps and routines!

When we woke him up, he immediately smiled up at me! My heart absolutely melted. He may not have actually remembered us, but God was gracious to us to let our reunion be one of smiles!

We had a quick meeting with Almaz, and for the most part Israel was super happy. We gave him a bottle and he kept peeking out from it to smile at us. Then, he must have remembered that it was naptime and he missed his- so he had a freakout moment. I tried the ergo carrier but it was making him more upset. Will held him for a minute and then we tried again- success!

We didn't get to see many of the kids at Hannah's Hope this time, as it was naptime for most of them. But we did get an amazing farewell from the older kids- one of their friends was going home that day (the daughter of the other family is 6 years old) and they were all waving and blowing kisses. Precious. They were so excited for her to have a family.

The drive back to Hannah's Hope was good- Israel started to fall asleep and we were thankful that he wasn't freaking out! When we got to our hotel room, we immediately stripped him down and changed his diaper. I put his clothes he was wearing (an outfit that we brought on trip 1) in a zip lock bag that will hopefully preserve the smell of Hannah's Hope for him one day.

He was talkative and cuddly, but we knew that he was overdue for a nap! We tried many different methods but nothing seemed to work. The doubts about being a good mom crept in again... what if he doesn't sleep at all this week? Thankfully, he DID fall asleep after a long time and I decided to follow advice of others and take a nap too!

He woke up after about 30 minutes so I took him out of his moses basket and just held him. He slept for another hour and I don't think I could complain a bit!

When he woke up, we had a great afternoon playing together! Will went downstairs to order our food for lunch, and I had about 30 minutes alone with him. He sat in my lap and just smiled at me for the whole time. My heart felt so full, and I couldn't help but tearing up! God is so good. We have our son. At 4:30 we decided to take a walk downstairs, so I strapped him in the Ergo and Will & I went to the restaurant for some coffee. After a few minutes, he was asleep! It was so sweet. We went upstairs after our coffee date and played some more. We also attempted to skype some family members to show off his cuteness!

We decided to go downstairs again for dinner, and I waited to fix a bottle for him until we were seated. He drank it pretty fast and was asleep again in the Ergo! Small victories, people... I could get my son to sleep!

Ethiopian food while holding my baby. My first of countless meals holding a child, right?

After dinner, when he woke up again from his brief nap, we showered and lotioned him up. Before we had a chance to put a bib on him, he spit up on his pajamas- I guess we'll be more prepared next time!

We used our tangle teazer to to comb his hair over... Will said he looked Italian, haha! Don't worry his hair is back to his beautiful curls already.

The first night went about as well as we could expect. Israel was up every hour to two hours, and I think I finally figured out how to get him back to sleep! It was a long night and we all were tired in the morning, but being tired because we are caring for our son is worth it!!!!

I want to finish this {very long} post with a few praises. God has been so gracious to us today and it really couldn't have gone better.
- He has taken his paci! The kids at Hannah's Hope don't use pacis, so he is used to being comforted by a bottle. The paci has been a huge success and I hope that will help us on the plane.
- He likes the ergo! This will be great for bonding.
- He has certainly cried a few times, but hasn't had a big meltdown yet.
- He is making great eye contact with us.
- It looks like his neck support is getting better (he was very wobbly when we were here 2 months ago). Hopefully he will catch up developmentally in no time!

Also, we want to say thank you for all of your beautiful comments, facebook messages and posts, and for the blog mentions. We have read them all and I cried over them. Thank you so much for rejoicing with us today!!!
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