Friday, June 29, 2012

Does Biology Matter??

I know some people have reservations about adoption because they fear that they could not love a child that was not biologically theirs. I didn't ever really fear that, but I remember being afraid that I wouldn't instantly love our child with just our referral details (aka I wouldn't think he was cute... Didn't have to worry about that!).

I must say that there is nothing in me that doesn't cherish our son Israel. We will do whatever we can to protect and guide him into the man God intends him to be. He is our son! Of course, we missed his prenatal season and the first almost seven months of his life... But even during those months God was knitting our hearts together and preparing me to love this specific child. We have been praying for him for years.

We also have to trust in God's sovereignty. He placed Israel Biruk in our family for a reason. We can already see how his little personality just fits in with us. He has absolutely captured our hearts and there is not one feature or trait that we don't find absolutely adorable. We want to memorize him and freeze each day forever! I'm sure that's how a biological parent feels too.

Also, regarding race... I NEVER ever think about how my sons skin is different than mine. Of course, the way we care for his hair and skin is different (baby boy has got quite the collection of hair products and lotion). But I never look at him and think... He's different. Now, with that said, I have found myself become a little more concerned when we go in public. I make sure that he is lotioned up and his hair looks good, because I would hate for him to not appear appropriately cared for! That is definitely a people pleaser in me!

Another thing that I'd like to address is that my son has a history that is longer than the time he has been in our family. Yes, we love him unconditionally and he is now a part if our family forever. But that does not discount his first family or his time at the orphanages. We must take his history into consideration as we evaluate our expectations of him. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about the special women in Ethiopia that loved him first. They will always be a part of his story, and we talk about them often now, and will even more when Israel can understand.

So in conclusion, any argument that you can't love a child that isn't yours biologically is junk. Israel is ours. We have longed for him for years and God put him specifically in our arms. He has a history that is unique and will be a part of him forever- we are privileged to guide him through that and teach him to honor it. This little boy is so special. I can't wait to see how God is glorified through his life.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

3 Month Post-Adoption Report Visit!

It's crazy to think that time is passing so quickly! Today we had our 3 month post-adoption report visit. Ethiopia requires that families submit reports at 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months that are written by our homestudy social worker. She comes to visit our house and see Israel in his environment. After the first year, we will have a report due to Ethiopia on his birthday every year until he is 18- but those are not done by a social worker, just us!

Since our agency has to review the report before it is sent to Ethiopia, the report is actually done BEFORE 3 months... we've been home almost 8 weeks and we had our meeting today!

It went really well, and it was encouraging to process how our transition has been with our social worker Lynn. Lynn did our homestudy when we moved to Alabama last fall, so it was nice to be able to share how our progress has been and to have her insight into our attachment process. She affirmed our decision to cocoon and said she has seen many families that have NOT cocooned regret that decision!

We discussed his development, milestones, his transition to our family, and what changes we have seen in him. I still can't believe Israel is HOME, let alone that we're at this point where we are doing post-adoption reports. Time goes so fast!!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cloth Diapering Update

I remember when I had friends who cloth diapered, and I really wanted to know how it was going for them. You see, for about two years before Israel came home I did research about cloth diapers and read blogs about how awesome they were. But even still, I was skeptical. Aren't disposables easier? Is it worth the investment? Is it really gross?

I already blogged about the reasons that we decided to cloth diaper- you can read that here

After being home for one week, we decided to go ahead and start using our cloth diapers. Originally I planned to wait until we knew that Israel didn't have parasites, but after doing some research (and seeing that the timing of lab work would take a few weeks) we decided to go ahead and start almost right away. I gave myself a week to get over jet lag (although I'm still in a constant sleepy state due to a cute kid that prefers to play instead of sleep) and to get caught up on laundry and other post-travel things.

Once we got started, both Will and I LOVED it! I can see why those who cloth diaper are enthusiasts. It's really, really easy. It saves money. The laundry isn't really that much more to do. I wash his diapers every other day. When we take his last diaper off before bath, I'll start the washing process (1 cold rinse, 1 hot with Charlies Soap, 1 hot rinse) then I machine dry the inserts and air dry the diapers. I'm able to do this and still go to bed by 8:30-9pm. There have been a few occasions that I forgot to wash them at night, and I was able to air dry the diapers outside in the sun in about 2 hours. In the mornings, I put the diapers together in about 5-10 minutes.

Hot wheels diaper!

I will say that we use disposables at night. I'm not sure why- but most bloggers that cloth diaper do this, and I think it is because you go longer between diaper changes. We have a lot of size 2 and 3 diapers that we bought along the way with coupons for almost nothing- so I feel like I can justify using disposables at night because we have them anyway. We also will use disposable diapers if we take trips. But if we are going to church or out in town, he still uses his cloth diapers and we just carry a wet bag in our diaper bag.

Diaper pail & liner

Things that have been SO great for us have: the diaper sprayer for the toilet (although typically his waste is solid so we can just open the diaper and drop the waste in the toilet- but about once a week he will have a messy #2 that requires the sprayer!) and the trash can (from Target) that has a foot pedal to lift up the lid, and Planet Wise liners for his trash can- we have 2 liners and we wash the liner with the diapers every time we wash.

We have been using disposable wipes because we have SO many of them! My couponing created quite the stockpile. We have several types of diapers - from Kawaii Baby, BumGenius (my fave), Fuzzibunz (Will's fave), Mon Petit Mardi, and others... It is nice to have a variety and all of them are pocket diapers, which means the insert goes inside.

So the verdict: we love them. They are soft, cute, and sometimes we just pair a shirt with his diaper when it is a really hot day! I'm glad we invested in the diapers and that we decided to start when we did. Since starting, one of my friends has just invested in diapers and she loves them too! I think if you know you will have more than one child you should totally do it too! Let me know if you have questions!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thoughts on Cocooning

I've gotten several requests for an update on my thoughts on cocooning. We have been over home six weeks now and we are starting to branch out a bit. At this point, Israel has met his grandparents (separate blog post to come!) and we have slowly begun emerging from the cocoon to meet other friends and family.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, let me refer you to a post about why we cocooned, and this post that gives a general idea of our plan.

Cocooning for us meant that we kept Israel from being overstimulated. He gets really anxious in new places and around new people. There are some things that couldn't be avoided, like doctor visits, but for the most part we kept his outside interactions very minimal. For the first few weeks we limited leaving the house. As you read in my post about what kept me sane during this season, we did get in the car several days a week to go through the drive thru or to pay bills. We took walks multiple times a week and spent a lot of time on our porch. It's not like we were completely confined inside our house, but we knew that enclosed spaces like a store, or places with a lot of new people, would be too much for him.

We spent these few weeks doing a lot of snuggling and baby wearing. The first four weeks we were home, Israel spent almost every nap strapped to me on the Ergo.

We tried to set up a routine. We still don't have a definite schedule, but Israel knows the process of napping and bedtime because of the rituals we do (bath, lotion, noise machine, etc). We have seen HUGE progress with his sleep issues!

We have learned from his cues what he needs. Being inside the cocoon allowed us to give undivided attention to him so we could learn how to shape his schedule, what his needs were and how to provide him the security he needs. Because we were home so much, Israel developed a fast relationship to me and later a very sweet and unique bond with Will. It is because we were home, quickly responding to him, creating a sense of security and predictability that Israel has been able to bond with us so quickly.We limited the amount of things and people we were introducing to him so that he could really connect with the priorities (our house as a safe zone, us as his primary caregivers).

Will and I have been the only ones to meet his needs- bathing, diapering, feeding, snuggling, napping, holding, etc. We have provided consistent care and he knows we will take care of him.

We had to make adjustments in the way we did life. I have to go to the grocery store when Will is home to watch Israel. I can't make multiple trips to the store, so I need to make sure I'm prepared to get what I need for the week! Will is a college pastor, and our ministry is to our students. There was one day that we had an event we both needed to go to- we took turns going inside while the other person sat in the car with Israel.

There have definitely been hard moments. I am a people person and there have been times that I have felt really lonely and exhausted from my new role. I missed my friends and the ability to chat on the phone- when I was wearing Israel every nap, I never had a down time where I could respond to calls or texts. I think the first few weeks were so hard because I was so tired from all the nap times that I was wearing Israel - and then when he was awake I felt like I needed to be fully engaged all the time to focus on bonding. While this is true, I put a lot of pressure on myself and I would over analyze everything in light of if he was attaching to me. I wasn't really enjoying every moment because I was worn out emotionally and physically.

So, we made the decision that I would go to church. I have gone to church for the past four weeks. The first three times, I came late and wore him in the ergo. Israel fell asleep immediately and napped the whole time (I would plan his naps that way). I sat in a room downstairs that had the message and worship on speakers. I was technically in the church building and I was able to worship with my church, even though I was alone (or with my friend who would sit with me sometimes). Because Israel was asleep, and we were alone in the room, he wasn't over stimulated and the experience worked well for us. It was really refreshing for me. It also felt normal... in a time where nothing felt normal anymore! This week we went to church on time and even sat in the back of the worship room. It was a great step forward and Israel did great- he slept through most of the service! It is great to see progress and I'm sure the weeks of going to the building and it being a "safe" place with just me allowed him to feel safe when we added people to the mix.

I also decided that I needed to re-establish community again. On Will's off day, I am meeting with two other moms for a book study. On Tuesday nights, I am leading a bible study in our home with my college girls (after Israel is asleep and Will is on baby monitor duty). These things are essential to me because I need them to feel normal, connected, and refreshed. It took a few weeks for me to be in a place where they could be re-established but I'm thankful they are now!

So now we are beginning to get our a bit. We took him to Target this weekend and I wore him in the ergo and he fell asleep almost immediately and did fine. The week before, we went in a store and he freaked out- he was overstimulated and he cried and the trip lasted about five minutes.

Last week, we attempted to go to VBS at our church. We only lasted an hour before he got very anxious, and then all night long he whimpered and cried! It was too much for him- he had been in a new place (not the same building that we had been attending morning worship) with lots of people in his face. This week, we went to church like normal and he met a few people... He did much better. Maybe it's because the vbs trip was in the evening in a different location?

We are still figuring this out. We are not ready to start taking him to the grocery store regularly or to a sit down restaurant, but we are ready to introduce him to people that will be a part of his life. I'm sure the next few weeks will be full of reading his cues, coming home early from outings, and just constantly evaluating what is best for him. We don't have any expectations or timelines on when "normal" will be.., we may just need to throw "normal" out and figure out "new normal".

All I know is, we are his advocates. We decide what is best and how to make him feel secure and safe. Hopefully this season of cocooning will have laid a good foundation for that goal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Orphan No More

The other day Will was holding Israel and we were talking about how Israel was no longer an orphan. He once had no one claiming him, and now he has a family. We both teared up because that is such a beautiful, wonderful thing!

I'm so thankful for this constant reminder of the gospel. Every time I look at my son I am reminded- I was once alone, and then I was made a child. I was once without hope, and now I'm an heir. I was once lost in my sin, and God paid for my redemption through Jesus Christ's death on the cross. The small fees we paid for Israel's paperwork are nothing compared to the price God paid for us to become His children.

Israel is such a gift to us. We certainly got the better end of the deal in this adoption; as he only received two silly parents who don't know what they are doing most of the time! He is absolutely precious and we are so, so thankful for this little treasure that reminds us of the gospel.

We pray that one day Israel will know the grace that has been given to us- that when we talk about his adoption that it will click for him and he too will know Jesus as savior. We pray that the restoration of his heart will come, not from having earthly parents, but from new life in Christ.

"O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption." Psalm 130:7 - the verse we are claiming for our son.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eight Months Old!

Dear Israel,

Today you are eight months old! This past month went by entirely too fast and I hope that's no indication of how the rest of your childhood will fly by.

This last month was a lot of fun! We have spent a lot of time outside enjoying the beautiful summer weather and you love to look around and observe when we take walks. You are starting to play more with toys and you even picked up a toy a few times! You have learned that kicking really hard in your bouncy seat makes you bounce high so you get quite the workout! Your cousin Lottie let you borrow her exersaucer and that has been a huge blessing. You have so much fun in it but sometimes you get bored and Mommy has to spin you so you face a new direction. We also put up your Johnny Jump Up again this week and you like it as long as we use it as a swing!

You are eating three meals a day in addition to drinking bottles every 3-4 hours. Your favorite food is my homemade sweet potatoes! You have suddenly become a good sleeper at night and you are down to one nighttime bottle around 12-1 at night. Lately I have resolved that you are going to start napping in your crib, but you make me rock you for a long time first, and sometimes it takes multiple attempts to put you in the crib before you actually stay asleep! You love to be rocked and you will put your hand on our faces when we rock you or when we feed you a bottle. You have started to play when you wake up at night, instead of scream. This makes your parents very happy and sometimes if we have tried to put you back to sleep and you are stubborn enough, we let you win and you play for a long time in your crib. We watch you on the video monitor even though we should probably take that opportunity to sleep. You will just look at your hands and crack yourself up for hours!

This month you got to meet both sets of grandparents. It was very special because your granddads didn't get to go to the airport. Everyone thinks you are growing so much and that you are even sweeter in person than you seem in pictures!

You are almost sitting up! You will sit up in my lap and yesterday you sat up with the help of your boppy pillow! You are also rolling to one side and sometimes I play a trick on you and roll you all the way over and you think you did it... You look so proud!

You kick really hard when you are swaddled in blankets. It's like you are on a mission to get them off as fast as possible. We swaddle you every time you go to sleep but whenever we come to get you when you wake up, the blankets are always off of you! Magician! We have to swaddle your arms tight because otherwise you will keep playing with your hands, even if your eyes are closed!

You still love bathtime and you clench your hands tight on your chest while we pour water over you and breathe really heavy until it splashes. It always makes you smile when we dump the bucket on you!

Israel, we couldn't imagine life without you sweet boy. You are our son and couldn't be more so if you came out of my belly. You bring so much joy and life to us and you don't even know it! Just watching you take in your surroundings is fascinating. You are absolutely precious to us and we thank God every day that He brought us to you. We don't deserve such sweetness.

With a full heart,

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

One Month Home

It's hard to believe that it was only one month ago that we landed in the Atlanta airport and began our parenting journey. The week in Ethiopia felt more like a destination babysitting trip as we were outside of our culture, living in Survival Land and figuring out our little boy. When we landed in Atlanta and drove home... Then real life started!

So as you have seen from our posts so far this month, it has been one filled with doctors, sleep issues, and LOTS of marked progress!

We have seen lots of little developmental milestones and we have made some great steps forward in our attachment process. We have seen so much of Israel's bubbly personality and have started to hear his precious laugh.

We have started to figure out his schedule and what works for his needs.

In general, we have kept pretty housebound and have limited our interactions with new friends. His needs have only been met by me and Will.

We have kissed him probably no less than a thousand times per day. We have tried on every 6 month outfit he owns, and it's probably a good thing because he's already outgrowing his 6 month shorts! We have decided that he is absolutely adorable in hats, which is a good thing because there are days when mommy just doesn't know what to do with that crazy hair!!

We have had our breakdown moments where we have come to the "end of ourselves" and realized that we were trying to parent without the grace of God. Will and I have learned the need to compromise and support each other in new ways. Every tough moment has a hundred sweet moments to counter it.

We are so thankful for our sweet boy and the blessing it is to be his mom and dad!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Grieving Boy

I have debated on posting this, because it is so sensitive.

My little boy is grieving. He is SO HAPPY, don't get me wrong- but it is in the nighttime, in the moments when he is vulnerable, that we see it.

It makes sense.

You see, the first two homes he had, he left after a month. He's been with us a month. He probably thinks its time to move on. Why get attached when you're about to move on? Why trust these new people if they aren't going to last?

So to all of you mommas out there that know what I'm talking about... we covet your prayers for our little boy's heart. It is so heartbreaking, but so rewarding to see the walls slowly break down. It is an honor for us to love him through these dark moments.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Guest Post: The Stefanich Family Cocooning Plan

We're back with another awesome guest post. This post was originally posted on my dear friend MacKenzie's blog, but I begged her to let me share it here! MacKenzie has been a friend since back in the Great Paperchase of spring 2010, when we were racing to finish our dossiers together. We got on the waitlist 2 weeks apart from each other, and she received a referral of the most perfect twin boys you've ever seen last summer. Her cuties came home forever in December! I basically can't imagine our adoption journey without this friend- she has been an amazing support system for me through the wait and now as we are home! Love you friend! Check out her blog here for more on her adorable family!

Well, lets be honest about something right off the bat.  I'm a little bit crazy in every aspect of my life.

Exhibit A: The Dishwasher.
I love that David takes care of his dishes and loads the dishwasher, but I almost always take the dishes out and redo it… the "right way".   You don't have to tell me how ridiculous this is.

Exhibit B: The Car Seat.
If you are not me, and you strap my boys into the car seat, I'll double check it.  Not because I don't trust you, but because I'm a little bit crazy and just need to make sure.  Most of the time I even find a way that David did it wrong.  "This needs to be tighter here.  You didn't put the bar up so he can see his toys.  Make sure this is on his chest.  This is twisted."

Exhibit C: Holding my Children.
I won't let you.

Actually, I'm serious about this one, and people usually think I'm not.  I've been known to snatch my child out of the hands of an unsuspecting friend who innocently picked up one of my boys to say hello.  And when people say, "Can I hold him?" clearly expecting me to hand a baby over, I say, "No, sorry."

And even people who understand (or act like they understand) our cocooning process make comments like, "Really?  Still?  For how long?" or "I think they know by now."

So I'd like to share a little insight as to why I am the way I am.  And why I will protect my boys and their needs no matter how uncomfortable it makes me or you.

In their short year of life, my boys have lived in four different places, two different countries, and had MULTIPLE care givers.  I don't know too much about the first months of their lives, but I know they spent seven months with others, and four of those months were in two different orphanages before coming home with us.  They were held by many different woman who cared for them, and were happy with all of them.  They didn't fuss when somebody new held them.  Even David and I for the first time.  They didn't have stranger anxiety because a new person picking them up was the story of their lives.

Friends, this is not a healthy life for an infant.  Babies need families.  They need to know there will always be somebody (mom and dad) there to provide for them.  It gives them a sense of security and a bond with their family.  Thank goodness there are orphanages for children who are in need of a home.  But it is not ideal.  Not at all.  And it doesn't promote healthy family attachment.

When we first came home, we spent the first three months in the house with little journeys out and few guests.  Just close friends and family.  And David and I were the only ones to hold, feed, change and provide basic needs for our boys.

We feel so lucky to have these boys as our own.  We have come a long way in the last few months and they clearly know who mom and dad are.  It melts my heart when one of my boys reaches his arms out to me with a little squeal.

Seriously.  It's the best thing ever.

But that doesn't mean we close the door to cocooning.  Attachment is a process.  And it's a long one.   It's a road we'll be walking as a family the rest of our lives.

Friends and family, I know that this may hurt you.  But I don't want my child to be completely comfortable in your arms.  I want them to find that comfort in MY arms.  And David's.  And for most biological children, this comes natural.  With adoption, children need to learn that mom and dad are the ones who comfort.  It's not just anyone (like it had been in their past).

We're at the point now where our family members are holding the boys.  And while I think it is healthy, I still struggle with it a bit.  The attachment and bonding process has been beaten into our heads so strongly, and it is such an important process.  I'm constantly watching their every move for anxiety, or discomfort so I can swoop in and take them back.  And at the same time, trying to fight that urge to do so.

So bear with me. 

You might not get to hold my boys when you think it is the appropriate time.  Or you might think I'm too over bearing.  But if I think it is what is best for my boys, I'm going to do it.  And I really, really appreciate your support.

And if you think I'm a little crazytown (which you very well might), then strap yourself in, because I'm only in the beginning of my parenting journey.  And chances are, there is a whole lot more crazy coming down the line. 
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