Be Not Afraid

Today, I want to talk about our second son, Brennan, who is now 15. It is hard for me to know how my active Crohn’s disease years, played in on our sons development. They were so young, but also at that age where they were learning the most, and developing at the fastest rate that they ever would. Due to how sick I was, Brennan got more snuggles than anything else, and I often wonder if that is why he’s my most empathetic child.

When Brennan was a toddler he was a happy kid, full of deep belly laughs. He never stopped moving, he was always busy enjoying life. He seemed to think he was unstoppable: Invincible. When he was a little older, and learned that the world wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns,  he started saying a personalized bedtime prayer. He made it up on his own and faithfully said it every night, at least once, but more on less confident days.  My favorite part of the prayer was when he asked God to protect his family from natural disasters or getting thugged. We are a quietly religious family, and never really pushed bedtime prayers,  he did it all on his own. To this day he still says a prayer when he feels it is needed, although I do believe he has revised it a bit.

At the age of five, when Mei Mei came home, he was absolutely ecstatic. He’s always loved babies, so having a baby sister was the ultimate gift for him. At least at the age of five, because let’s  be honest, siblings don’t always get along. When she came home he taught her to crawl then walk. It was a very fast transition, as Chinese babies tend to be a little behind at first, but catch up quickly. He also taught her baby sign language. They played together all the time. They had a very close bond for years. When I see that peek out every now and then, despite the tension of one at the beginning of puberty, and one at the end, my heart melts.

At 15, he still gives plenty of hugs and says I love you everyday. He is the first to question if someone is okay, or ask if you need help. He talks to me about the good, the bad, and the ugly in his life, without prompting. What parent doesn’t cherish that time with their son or daughter?! He is also me, as a teenager, in boy form, new and improved. He reminds me of myself so much it hurts sometimes, but it also makes me proud. He’s a responsible student, and never has to be reminded of school work, is very funny, and never feels the need to come back at people with a nasty retort if they choose to be cruel to him. His confidence at this age far outweighs what mine was.

He has a love of life that I wish I had at his age, but I wish he didn’t worry about his future as much as he does. He has pondered over what he is going to do with his life, and how good his grades are, since 6th grade. I wish he had waited a few more years for those concerns. You don’t get those worry-free childhood years back. I know this is a result of our four years living abroad when he was between the ages of 8 and 12 (these years will be discussed in future posts), as those worldly experiences definitely influenced our children. I also wouldn’t change those years for anything. They helped form who Brennan is today.

Today was Brennan’s day. I am blessed with three children. They are my heart and soul. I cannot say enough, how proud I am of them.

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Bringing Mei Mei (Little Sister) Home

I’d like to say that everything went smoothly while we waited to travel to China to bring our baby girl home, but it didn’t. The delay in our group getting travel approval from the Chinese government ended up being a blessing in disguise though. Usually travel happens in four to six weeks. For us, it was nine or ten. The blessing in this was that on October 2nd, three weeks or so after our referral, and six weeks before we would ultimately travel, we had a medical emergency in our family.

I was taking toys and boys clothing into a moms-to-moms sale to sell, and stepped on uneven pavement. I was wearing one inch, chunky, heels and my foot twisted sideways. SNAP! In my head I thought to myself…..”Was that my shoe heel that made that noise? That had to be my other foot hitting the pavement when I caught myself Oh….that hurts! That was NOT my heel!” Hobble, hobble, hobble….nope. Hop, hop, hop; inside to my table. I called my husband, Billy, to tell him I was on my way home, and to get ready to go to the hospital. Due to a little luck it was my left foot, so my friend, Jen, helped me to the car so I could drive home. Before leaving the parking lot, I called my sister, bright and early on a Saturday morning. I’m talking 7am early, and cried all the way home while she patiently, and sleepily, talked to me.

On a side note, I’m not always the best about accepting help when I feel like it may be inconvenient. For me, or them. It’s all about efficiency. The most efficient thing was to drive myself so we didn’t have to worry about getting the car back home. Just like when I drove myself to the hospital downtown when I had the optic nerve swelling. That way we didn’t have to pick my car up from the local hospital, and when I drove myself and my oldest to my mom’s house while in labor with the second child, so she didn’t have to pick me up. It was out of her way, in my opinion. I was fine. I woke up with contractions 5 minutes apart, my husband had already left for work, and the hospital was on the other side of town. I probably didn’t have time for her to pick me up, nor did I feel confident waiting for Billy to come home and get me. Solution: drive myself.

Six weeks, a clean break, and what I liked to call my Franken-boot (removable cast) later, I was walking without crutches, and we were on a plane to Beijing. The only travel-related issue was that my doctor wanted me in a wheelchair for our one heavy touring day when we arrived.

In the hotel the first night, we had left the wheelchair in the lobby. It seemed easy enough to call down to the front desk and ask someone to bring it up to our room. It would have been so much easier to go down and get it, but the entertainment value was priceless. The front desk did not know what a wheelchair was, and transferred me to housekeeping. Housekeeping came up with a desk chair. Do you have any idea how hard it is to charade a wheelchair to someone who does not speak your language and does not usually deal with wheelchairs?! Do you realize how silly one looks trying to do that without sitting down?! What you think looks like the movement of your arms turning the wheels actually doesn’t. I probably looked like I was trying to mimic two-handed shoveling while crouching down a little. In the end, the sweet lady from Housekeeping was at a loss, so Billy went down and got it.

The next morning the group headed out for some sightseeing. There are several things that stand out in my mind from that day. Sitting in a wheelchair in Tiananmen Square just makes you a target for vendors hollering at you in broken English, and budding photographers anxious for a shot with a foreigner. The Forbidden City is NOT wheelchair accessible, at least it wasn’t at the time. There are many little wooden lips in doorways, and staircases. Get up, move chair, get back in. Over and over again. On a positive note, we did meet a wonderful family from Minnesota who also had two biological boys. They were very helpful with wheelchair logistics, and were our buddies for the rest of the trip and beyond. Finally, The Great Wall of China. Also, for obvious reasons, not wheelchair friendly, but even standing at the bottom of it was something I cannot fully describe. It filled me with a deep sense of awe, of the history and people that had been there before me. It was absolutely beautiful against the blue sky, and so commanding of your attention, and respect. It is a feeling I will never forget.

The following day, wheelchair-free, although our tour guide continuously tried to get me back into it every subsequent day, we were heading to our baby’s province. A short plane flight, and a quick stop at the local Walmart for supplies, and our group was on the way to meet our children. When I say “meet” I actually mean, walk into a room where they call out your name, hand you your baby, and you take her with you when you leave. Much like when you give birth, but a newborn is a blank slate, this child has some sort of routine already, and you don’t know it. They have an eating and sleeping schedule, but you are clueless to what that is. All the while, this young child is thinking, “Who are these people, and what are they saying? You look and sound very strange! This is terrifying! Everyone else is crying, I think I should too!” A short time later, dazed and confused, we all board the tour bus again. This time, we have our new baby girl. Three days shy of her first birthday.

We spent about a week in this province. The adoption was finalized the next day, and then we waited for her passport to be processed. During this time, we did some touring of local temples, and parks and sampled the local fare. This is where I had possibly the best Thanksgiving dinner I had ever had, and it had nothing that an ordinary one would. All Chinese food. All outstanding. This is also where we learned that a tour bus driver in China, can and WILL make a U turn on a very crowded and fairly narrow road, if he chooses. He will also back up through a light that he missed the turn on, regardless of people or vehicles around him. It was also in this location that we learned we were traveling with my high school friend, Leanne’s, mother and aunt. Her cousin was adopting as well, and had brought them with her. I had never met her mom so I had no idea until I saw her last name and asked if she was a relation. Small world. Amazing.

Our final four days in China were in a southern province where we finished up paperwork, and our newest family member was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. As soon as we landed on U.S. soil it would be official. This year long process was finally complete. We were bringing Mei Mei home.

All in the Family

I remember as a young girl, probably between the ages of 9 and 12, whenever my mom made me really angry, when she had to pull out the heavy parenting hat, I would ask her if I was adopted. As if this would be the reason she was being so strict. As if this was a sign she didn’t love me as much as my siblings. This was especially humorous to her because cloning wasn’t even close to being possible, and I look just like her. If I only knew at that time, how wrong that perspective was. It is impossible not to love your adopted child with every part of your being. I know, because I am an adoptive parent.

My husband had been sporadically mentioning that we should adopt a child from China since the day after our wedding. “We should have a few biological children and then adopt a few,” he would say. He has always had an interest in China, and Chinese history. I don’t even think they were accepting international adoption requests at the time, but he said that time was coming. He has always been a dreamer, so I would listen over the years, but never thought it would happen, especially because of my Crohn’s.

I remember the day I asked him if he thought we would ever go through with his plan, and that if we were going to we should probably do it soon. I was sitting in the chair on our loft, in the evening, on a overcast day, in October of 2003. The next thing I know, I was at the computer researching adoption agencies, and within days we had submitted our initial application to the agency.

We were told that Chinese adoptions were taking up to 2 years at the time, and that was faster than they had been in the past, so we knew we were in for a long roller coaster ride, much of it in the hands of a foreign government. We began gathering all of the documentation; physicals, criminal background check, financials, fingerprinting, home study, passports, etc.  Then we waited, and waited, and waited for the finally document we needed, from the U.S government, before we could submit our dossier to China.

In February 2004, upon arriving home from seeing “Passion of the Christ” on the first day of Lent, it was in the mailbox. I did a little dance in the driveway. After such an emotionally draining movie, we came home to such a bright light of hope. We finished getting all of our documents certified and authenticated, and our dossier was in China by mid-March, along with a number of other families. General the agency would submit one batch of dossiers to China each month. Now the real waiting game began.

Once the paperwork gets to China, it goes through a number of  “rooms.” The documents must be translated and reviewed, then a child is matched to your family. This process takes the longest. At the time it was probably predicted to be about 12-18 months. At the end of this process each family in the batch that was submitted with ours would receive a “referral,” in which you get a photo, name, age and general information about your newest family member.

Before the referral is received in the mail by the family, they receive a call from their adoption representative. That is the BEST day. Rumors have been flying on the Yahoo groups that they are coming, but you never know until you receive the call. I received mine while I was on my way to pick up my oldest son from school. It was another overcast day. I was still on the call when I got to his classroom, and sat down at a desk to finish before we walked home. His 3rd grade teacher’s face was beaming. She knew we were getting the call we had been waiting for. It had only been six months since our dossier was submitted. This fast timing had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since. Oh, and the birthday of our newest child, was the same date as my passport was issued. November 24, 2003.

In the next blog, I will tell you the story of bringing our new daughter home. Stepping out of my comfort zone, out of my little safe box. Taking a leap faith that I never would have thought possible.

 

 

Second Chances

The first thoughts that crossed my mind, while I was recovering in the hospital, were very basic. How do I dress now? Can I wear the same clothes, or will I have to wear overalls, or baggy dresses, for the rest of my life? Will the bag show if I wear jeans? Will I ever wear a bathing suit again? Will people know by looking at me? Am I going to have a perpetual bump on my front, right side? How do I take care of this new “appliance?” All of these things were a little scary for a 33 year old woman. It felt like these were things I shouldn’t have to worry about at my age; like I was robbed of some of my younger years.

Once I returned home, however, I discovered all of the positive results of the surgery. I required no more medication to control my disease. It was finally in remission. I didn’t have to know the location of each public restroom before entering a store or restaurant. The innumerable foods that I hadn’t been able to eat for four years were ecstatically served to me by my mother who was such a blessing and a help during those years.  I could easily hide the Ostomy bag. I didn’t have to dress differently, and if I didn’t choose to tell someone, they had no idea that I was any different then them. Finally, my kids. I could be there for my kids. I could help at school, take them to the park,  and play with them, without having to do it while lying on the couch.

Over time, I realized how strong this experience had made me. If someone had asked me if I could go back in time and change things; if I had never had Crohn’s at all, would I do it?  The answer was “NO!” Crohn’s made me who I am today. If not for this disease, I would not love life, the little things and big, in the way that I do now. I would not notice God’s beauty in so many everyday ways, and appreciate them on a daily basis. I would not have stepped out of my box to do things that I was not comfortable with, but I did……..things I never thought I would be able to do.

The Unexpected

When our first child was about two years old, I realized that my health had been slowly deteriorating. I was often out of breathe, with little action to cause it, tired, and I was having digestive issues. I made an appointment to see my doctor, not really expecting anything serious. I had no idea that this would be a pivotal point in my life moving forward.

In May of 1998, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. This can affect any part of the digestive tract, and although it can go into remission, it is a lifetime disease. My Crohn’s was basically limited to my large intestine. It became inflamed like a tire, both inside and out. It required medications to reduce the swelling, iron for anemia, due to the bleeding it caused, and a restricted diet. The diagnosis was very upsetting at first, but I soon felt that it was manageable, and went back to life as it was, with a few more pills and a few less tasty foods to eat. I was months away from getting pregnant with our second son.

The following summer, after our son was born, I started having increased symptoms from the Crohn’s. These things creep up on you. You feel like you have it under control. Change the diet a little more, change up the medication. Tell yourself that things will get better. Only they don’t.

On January 2, 2000, while most of the world was taking a sigh of relief that their world didn’t fall apart as many predicted, mine did, as did my husband’s. Or at least it began to. I went to the doctor after feeling like I had been suffering from a flu bug for a week or so, and ended up hospitalized for 2 weeks. It would be the first of a number of stays. After the pregnancy, running around with two young children, the stress of two relatives passing away around Christmas, and my denial of the symptoms, I was so dehydrated, and my blood pressure was so low, they didn’t know how I was even standing up.

In the year to come, I would have 106 degree fevers, tachycardia (racing heart), extreme weakness, handfuls of pills, a severely restricted diet, and I would go down to 88 pounds. The boys were now 4 years and 6 months. My husband had to travel quite a bit for work, and my mom would come help me. When she couldn’t be there, you would find me feeding the baby while I was wrapped in a blanket due to chills. I lived hour to hour.  Morning nap, afternoon nap, bedtime. Those were my goals to make it to throughout the day.

In the summer of 2000, I was once again hospitalized. This time for a staph infection I developed after hitting my leg on the car. For most, this would be a two day stay. For me, it was seven, including my birthday. My immune system was just too compromised from the Crohn’s.

There would be no relief for two more years. In 2001, I developed cataracts from the steroids I had to take for the inflammation, and at the age of 32, I would require cataract surgery. In April 2002, I lost vision in my eyes due to swelling of the optic nerve. This would require a hospitalization as well. Though I did eventually regain most of my sight, I still have blind spots, and have to be checked every few years.

Finally, in the summer of 2002, when all medications had been tried and none were working, I  realized that I had to take more drastic measures. I could not be there for my boys as I wanted to be. I couldn’t help at the school, or take them to the park. This disease was taking me away from my kids. I couldn’t live with that. I chose surgery. My large intestine was completely removed. When they removed it, my heart rate immediately went back to normal, and I mean at that very moment in surgery. They said it was almost perforated in so many areas that if I hadn’t been on a strong antibiotic for so long, I would have had a massive blood infection. I had no idea how close I was to dying.

I will live with an Ostomy bag, for the rest of my life. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have never regretted it. Not for a single second.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Beginning……

I grew up in a middle class family in Michigan. My parents are still married, and I have an older brother, and an older sister. When we were growing up, we always had what we needed, but not always what we wanted. We had the necessities plus a little extra though. Food, clothing, a beautiful home and the love of our parents. We usually took a summer trip to the east coast, and occasionally a trip to a new destination. We were a vocal family. Feelings were always known. By everyone. We muddled through life, doing what we had to do….school, work, chores, etc. We were well cared for. We didn’t get designer clothes, the trendy jeans, or latest styles. We didn’t always get to do the sports or after school activities we wanted to due to costs or transportation difficulties, but we did get to do some. We were a family that was comfortable in our little box. We didn’t venture out often, or at least not too far.

I met my husband when I was working at a movie theater at the age of 16. We were both from the same high school, but I didn’t know him then. I shared a locker with his sister in 7th grade, he graduated high school in the same year and from the same school as my brother and brother-in-law, and his father was our mailman for the first nine years of my life, but I didn’t know him. We got married when I was three months shy of 21, and he was 23. We were very young, even for 1990. He was in the Navy, and I was in college. We were stationed in Charleston, South Carolina. We continued to plug along in life, at a new, young couple level. Noticeably, leaner than I had been when living with my parents. No money for a honeymoon, sharing a car, and living in a tiny apartment. Our couch was a daybed, our side table a mini fridge, our coffee table a hope chest. Our bed was a mattress on the floor, with a milk crate bedside table.

When my husband got his honorable discharge from the Navy, we moved back to Michigan, and he started college, while I finished. After my graduation, I worked full time while he went to school, and worked a co-op job. He had three months of school, three months of work for five years.. We lived with his grandfather for 2 years, and then moved to a slightly larger apartment than the first. We moved up to real furniture. In the proper rooms. Four months before he finished his degree we had our first child, a year and a half later, we bought our first house. We said we would be there five years. We are still in that house today, almost 18 years later, but not because we have to be. Sometimes, bigger and better is not what is important…….