Gotcha + One Year

The memories I swore would stay so sharp forever have dulled in the past twelve months. Like a beloved painting hung too long on a sunny wall, the day we got Lovebug has faded some in my mind.

I remember floating to breakfast in the hotel. The ride squished into the too small car with two suitcases and a stroller. The cold. The blue sweater I was wearing. The smile on Hubby’s face.

We missed the turn.

We found the building.

We signed a paper. (I have no idea what it said.)

We chatted idly with the social workers through our translator.

11046495_10101942886357258_5378406371486506783_nIt felt like we were moving in slow motion all morning until a car pulled up out front and the world kicked into high gear. I watched her walk up holding her foster mother’s hand. I stood absolutely still drinking the scene in, because after almost five years I could not believe this moment had actually arrived.

She was wearing big boots and she was bundled so tightly in all her layers. She ran around the office amusing all the social workers. We could tell they adored her. I couldn’t believe she was running– she hadn’t been walking when we met her five months previously.

I figured we would be there for a while saying goodbye, but the next part happened so fast.12301708_10101940555418478_6913338497425471253_n Lovebug was put in my arms by the foster mom and she patted me on the back. We didn’t share a language, but the look we exchanged spoke an entire conversation. I have no idea what I could have said to show the depth of my gratitude. She had held my baby when she was sick. She had faithfully taken my girl to every doctor’s appointment, every physical therapy session. She had taken her to the beach for the first time and dipped her tiny toes into the sea. She taught Love how to walk and run. She had fed Lovebug and fattened her up. She had read to her and played with her and fed her bottles with a loving touch that Lovebug didn’t know in the orphanage. Her face blurred through my tears and then she disappeared down a hallway. Instead of making a big deal of saying good-bye to the baby she had grown to love so deeply in thirteen months, she ducked out of the way and let me take over as mommy.

12322958_10205060298659650_4697272509029636183_oLovebug was not interested in the car seat (read: screaming bloody murder), so we rode the four hours to the capital city holding her on our laps. She fell asleep on me for over an hour. She looked at the books we brought and ate her snack and was so content and happy for the whole ride.

We stopped for lunch and I ordered her some soup. I dropped bread into it like the foster mom had done with her soup that summer, but Lovebug was much more interested in running around the restaurant and charming all the other customers than eating!

The whole day felt like a fairy tale ending. I knew the journey was just beginning, but it felt amazing to be holding Lovebug and to know that we would never have to let go.

 

 

The balance of adoption

This school year, I am back in the classroom with a sweet bunch of four-year-olds. Lovebug attends the same preschool in a three-year-old class. Because it’s a small school, I see my Bug quite often. And every single time she sees me she yells out to her class, “THAT’S MY MOMMY! HIIIIIIIIIIIIII MOMMY!”

img_5934The other kids have started pointing me out to Lovebug if she doesn’t see me right away, and then she gasps and yells, “THAT’S MY MOMMMEEEEE!” I’m sure her teachers just love this interruption that happens 47 times a day, but I secretly hope she never stops.

Sometimes, adoption feels weighty and the trauma and grief that my daughter has experienced in her short life takes my breath away. At times, her losses plague my heart and I wonder how they will shape the woman she will become. I wanted to tell her a birth story on her birthday like I do for my other kids, but I didn’t have a story. I don’t know what happened when she was born. I have the name of the woman who gave her life and that is the extent of what I know about Lovebug’s birthday. And that is hard for me.

But other times I completely forget that I was never pregnant with Lovebug. I struggle to remember what life felt like before she came. She fits so perfectly in our family. I love her so much. She makes us laugh so hard. It feels like she’s always been here.

I’ve seriously had moments where the concept of adoption feels so far away and distant, and then something jarrs my conscience and I remember. Oh yeah, she wasn’t always ours. She used to not have a mommy to point out to others and read with and snuggle and tickle with and talk to and love. I remember the ache of waiting and the years of empty arms. I remember the roller coaster of wondering when we would find her. I remember the tremendous cost as invoices for each part of the process flooded in.

But most days, she’s just my daughter. Naughty and funny and exhausting and curious and sweet and sticky and loving and cute and rough and adorable and precious and silly and caring and stubborn and wild and free. “Adopted” comes so far down the list of words that come to mind when I think of her.

I’m guessing to some extent, I will always be living in this balance– rejoicing over our gain and grieving her losses. Maybe that’s just part of the adoption story.

 

 

Six Months of Love(bug)

IMG_5610On June 7, we were celebrating six months since Lovebug’s Gotcha Day. Six months of family, hugs, kisses, smiles, tantrums, meals, early wake-ups, car rides, snacks, tears, naps, scooter rides. Six months of Love.

I have so many moments when I can’t believe Lovebug is finally home. If you’re wondering if adoption is worth it– the millions of tears and the thousands of dollars and the hundreds of hours of paperwork– the answer is yes. I couldn’t always see clearly in the middle of it, but she is absolutely 100% ours and I can’t imagine doing life without her now that she is home.

I’m trying to own the lessons I learned walking through the adoption process. It’s funny how quickly things we thought we took to heart and learned so well slip away. Like the complex grammar of a foreign language gathering dust in the corner of a brain. Or the built-up endurance dwindling when shoes sit instead of run. It’s not easy, but I don’t want to forget the things I have learned about waiting and struggling.

 

Got her!

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On December 7, 2015, we woke up in a small city in Bulgaria. We had breakfast at our tiny hotel, and we felt a nervous excitement pulsating in our bellies– was it really happening? There had been so many moments in the past four-and-a-half years when it felt like “Gotcha Day” would never arrive for us.

We waited for just a few minutes at the social services building, chatting through the translator with the office staff. All of the sudden, I could see through the glass front doors that a car had parked right in front of the building. I took a deep breath because I wanted to remember the moment forever. The back door of the car opened and there she was. Our Lovebug. And she was walking!

So close…

fromipod 1959We finally got dates to travel to Bulgaria to bring our daughter home. In two-and-a half-weeks, I will be gathering her into my arms forever. And after all the waiting and sweating and hard labor to get to her, I might never let her go. 🙂

I haven’t had a two-year-old in three years, so I’ve spent plenty of time in the Target baby aisles lately trying to remember. Adoption is special. I don’t really know what to expect when I take my girl into my arms and escort her to our hotel room that first night. Will she cry? Will she struggle against me? Will she want to sleep with me? Will she want to be in a crib? Will she sleep all night? Will she wake upset in strange surroundings? Will she fight against diaper changes? Will she gladly rest in my arms? Will she let me wear her? Will she want the toys we have? Will she scream in public?

I remember having some similar questions as we brought new baby after new baby (after new baby) home from the hospital. What will s/he be like? Is she grumpy? Will he fuss? Will she like the bath/crib/pacifier/diaper changes? Will he cry when I’m in the grocery store and make everyone stare at me?

But this feels different. This darling little one’s personality has already taken some shape. She has already experienced great loss. And trauma. And transition. She is resilient. She is strong. She is beautiful.

But will she let me change her diaper?

I don’t know.

So, I’ve been gathering the supplies. Making the lists. Reading the blogs. Saying the prayers. Because above the Tylenol, diaper rash cream, and twinkling musical toys, I need His grace to finish this adoption well. From the first signature on our contract with our agency to the moment the judge declared us a family of six, His grace has carried us through this process, and I have no doubt He is waiting in Bulgaria to walk me through each meal time, each public outing, and each bed time in an unfamiliar hotel.

Introducing…

I’ve heard that elephants are pregnant for 22 months. WHAAA? Can you even imagine?

I feel like I’ve been pregnant as long as an elephant. With an adoption. Which means I have paper cuts instead of Braxton Hicks. And instead of rubbing a swollen belly and wondering how my skin can stretch grotesquely far, I pull up videos on my phone and let the tears fall as I watch my daughter laughing half a world away.

I’m sure people have put this kind of gestation into better-flowing prose than I will. But I’ve been struck repeatedly with how pregnancy-like our adoption is. We “tried” to adopt for several years before it stuck. We thought several times this could be it! Only to have the rug pulled out from under us.

We’re sorry, but she already has a family.

The committee will meet and decide which family is best. (Spoiler alert: It’s not you.)

The medical issues are more than outlined in your home study.

The grief that followed was deep, real, agonizing. It felt like it might never happen for us. It was devastating.

On December 18, 2014, it finally stuck. Thankfully this kind of “pregnancy” is a little more hygienic than the traditional kind, and we found out from an email that said, “She’s yours if you want to proceed!” and not a stick I had just urinated on that said PREGNANT.

Instead of a gender ultrasound, we took a trip to our daughter’s hometown to meet and spend time with her. Then we nonchalantly signed a form in front of a notary to make things more official. We laughed and teased just like I remember doing in those dark rooms where the wand slipped around the cool gel on my bulging midsection and we heard, “It’s a girl!” and then, “It’s a boy!” and once again, “It’s a boy!”

We went about our normal life as we waited for a court date, which we could liken to the beginnings of labor. The normal routines of life march onward as if new life isn’t being stirred up and families aren’t about to expand their girth. Life is funny (and kinda demanding) like that.

On October 27, 2015, we got news that a judge decided our case– Lovebug is now officially our daughter. And she was given a new name. Our name. This is it! Let the pushing begin!

If we were counting weeks here, I am approximately 10 weeks overdue. It’s not quite 22 months, but that explains the grouchiness, trouble sleeping, late night snacking, and random bouts of tears (every day). This is not my first rodeo, all of this feels very familiar.

Except not.

So, I’m over here pushing. And crying, And screaming. And making my husband bring me Starbucks red cups because #mamaneedscoffee. She’s not quite born into our world yet, but here’s a little sneak peek:

Please meet our new daughter, Lovebug. Finally. Our Sofia Yana Stover.

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And then I Held Her Hand

We ate lunch and I felt like I was floating. I seriously couldn’t stop smiling. I ordered creme brulee after my meal because it just felt like we should be celebrating. Celebrating life. Celebrating growth. Celebrating a beloved daughter.

Our attendant walked with us to the notary, where we signed forms that gave us permission to take photos and videos of Lovebug and then we walked through a little local grocery. I love seeing international grocery stores, it gives a special glimpse into culture to see where people buy their food. And what kinds of food they buy. (I bought some peanut M&Ms.)

We meandered back towards the hotel, taking pictures of the small(ish) town where our girl was born. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot and we had plans to meet Love and her foster mom and her social worker at the park after her nap.

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At 3:30, we met the social worker in front of our hotel, and she walked us over to the park for our meeting. Doodlebug was thrilled because the park had lots of American Ninja Warrior-esque equipment. He immediately got to work on training 🙂

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Pretty soon a kinda grumpy little girl was pushed up in her stroller. Her foster mom said she had to be woken up early from her nap for our meeting. Poor baby girl! The psychologist was back and she released Lovebug from her stroller and walked her around the park by her hands again. She seemed to cheer up walking around. Pretty soon, she was passed over to me. We walked, I held her. Andrew walked her, he held her. We watched Doodlebug do his ninja warrior stuff on the playground.

At one point, I thought Love would like to slide. I carried her over and began to lean down to place her on the slide. She wrapped her arms and legs around me and squeezed so tightly. It was such a sweet little hug. There were several times when I was holding her that I had this impulse to make a run for it. That might sound crazy to you, but after waiting so long and knowing at the end of the week I would leave this sweet baby and board a plane home with empty arms, I wanted to make a break and just run away with her. Of course, I wouldn’t have made it far and that would have been frowned upon by the authorities.

We fed her a snack of yogurt. (This girl eats all day long, I love it! Bring on the chub!)

We snapped pictures on both our phones and videoed her walking around with us. It was so awesome just to be spending time with our little girl (finally!). At one point, I was walking behind Lovebug holding both of her hands (her preferred way to walk– she goes super fast that way since she feels steady!) and Andrew was “chasing” her to tickle her. Oh my goodness– the beautiful giggles that were coming out! She was laughing to hard when he would catch up to her, that she would lose her balance and kinda drop to her knees. It was really fun.

Our attendant told us later that during this meeting the foster mom and social worker began referring to us as “Mommy” and “Daddy” to Lovebug. I guess we passed their inspection during the morning meeting and they figured we were gonna be okay parents for this sweet girl!

There was this interesting statue at the park and Doodlebug and Lovebug’s foster brother, decided it was their “clubhouse” and they crawled all over it. It was really fun having Lovebug’s foster brother around for Doodle. They bonded instantly and had a great time playing all week together!

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Sadly, our two hours flew by and we had to say goodbye again. I knew Lovebug was tired though, we had played so hard! (Her foster mother told us the next morning that she fell asleep while her hair was being dried after her bath because she was so tired!)

And then I Saw Her Face

Truly, I am overly sentimental. I think deeply about things, and cherish the moments right before changes happen. I like to note how I feel right before something big happens, savoring the butterflies fluttering around my insides. And the butterflies were going crazy that morning!

That day, I showered, dressed, ate breakfast in the hotel resturant and found myself with extra minutes. (Strange, I never have extra minutes!) I sat on the unmade bed to think and pray and I hastily scribbled in my journal about how eight years previously I had been waiting to meet my first daughter, and now I was awaiting my first introduction to my second. I could hardly steady my hand to write for all the butterfly migration happening between my liver and my lungs, so I left off the thought with a …

Finally, it was time to head downstairs. Our attendant suggested we have our meeting at the outside terrace of the hotel, so we picked out a table and sat down. She was explaining what we should expect of the first meeting. All of a sudden, she was gazing outside of the hotel cafe and time slowed considerably. Was this it? Oh my goodness, this is it! I took a deep breath, exhaling my nerves. This was it. This group of people moving our direction represent a moment I have been waiting over four years for. This is what it feels like for your life to change in an instant.

A little face was peering at us from the stroller, and I bent down to say hello to my daughter. Her foster father said something to her and she began to giggle. I didn’t want to overwhelm her, so I backed up to my chair as everyone took places around the table and we were introduced to Lovebug’s entourage. The foster parents, the foster brother, the social worker, the psychologist. Small talk was exchanged and I kept sneaking peeks at the sweet little face as the conversation swirled around us in two languages.

The psychologist began to walk Lovebug around holding her hands, so she could explore. I focused my attention on the questions about us, and then we were invited to ask whatever we wanted. I searched the depths of my brain trying to recall what I was supposed to ask. What would Lovebug ask one day, that I would want to have an answer for? What did the adoption books say to ask? What had I read about gaining good information about your child? I had nothing.

I didn’t realize it but the psychologist had walked Love up behind me, and before I could react, she plopped my daughter into my lap. Lovebug squirmed for just a moment when she realized she didn’t know me. I offered over the dolly we had brought her as well as a play bottle and a musical mirror. She relaxed against me as she began to explore the spoils I held.

Her hair smelled like magic. Pure baby magic.

Her chubby hands worked over the surface of the mirror, and I was thankful to feel how solid her little body was. Her foster mom began handing her chunks of chocolate bread and I realized with a smile how she is so chubby. 🙂

The schedule for the week was discussed, among other things, I really have no clue. Because I was holding and smelling and kissing and enjoying my baby girl. After four long years, dreams were being birthed into reality.

I got up to walk Lovebug around. She grabbed my hands and began walking (maybe it was more of a chubby baby jog– she is FAST!) and she was saying something over and over. The attendant with us told me she was saying, “Come on! Come on!” and my heart melted like a Popsicle on the 4th of July. Because Baby Girl, I would walk forever behind you, holding your dimpled hands and laughing at your sweet little voice.

Soup was ordered for Lovebug’s lunch about noon, and she sat on my lap while I fed her a gruel of soup and bread. She ate like a champ (thighs like what!) and began to fuss when she realized her portion was finished. I reluctantly handed her back over to her foster mom and said good-bye…

 

 

Waiting and Grieving

Last year we were anxiously waiting for July 11th because we were supposed to find out if S, a waiting child we applied for, could be adopted by us (if our agency got her file). We felt hopeful and near the end of the adoption process, so I never would have guessed that a year later we would still be waiting and we would be no closer to bringing our daughter home than we were then. It is a discouraging thought.

The grief I have felt during this process– for the girls who we tried to adopt who were matched before us, for the girls I have wanted to adopt who had health needs beyond what we can realistically handle being overseas, over knowing our daughter is family-less and not being able to DO anything to make this move faster. It’s heart-wrenching and often churning only inside me. It’s not visible as I keep taking my kids to swim lessons and digging the Legos out of the couch cushions and cutting the crusts off PB&J sandwiches. Grief is funny like that.

I still pray over the faces I’ve seen. I pray for A and B and T and H and S and P and C, who we pursued adopting to some degree or another. I still grieve for their losses of biological parents and siblings and beseech Almighty God to place them in loving forever families. I still think about them and wonder where they are (most of them are home or on their way!) I am still changed by encountering their stories and their realities. I am forever changed by orphan girls who I will never meet or hold.

People don’t understand. Someone wrote to me recently that Jesus doesn’t want us to adopt as shown by our lack of a match and we are disobeying Him to continue in the process. That made me super mad! Who the heck do you think you are? And why would God give you special insight into our life and our calling as a family? And how did you come by information about His sovereign will? We live in a world that glorifies instant gratification. We have even spiritualized that “fast food culture” and tell each other if something’s not happening, it’s not God’s will. It must be a “closed door”, so He can open a window. What a bunch of cheesy Christian-ese baloney.

Of course I have questioned this calling (is calling synonymous with burden?!) and wondered if we heard wrong? How easy it would be to just ignore those promptings we first felt in 2011? And the knowledge of the global orphan crisis? And the mandates from God’s Word about the fatherless?… But it’s all true and I know what He asked us to do and I can’t call a cease and desist. I just can’t.

I serve a God who calls His people to hard things. He doesn’t value their happiness, He values their holiness. And do you know when we are made holy? When we can’t put down His Word because we want to know what He says… When we’re on our knees begging Him for more of Himself… When we don’t feel like we can handle it on our own… When we’re in the middle of HARD THINGS.

So last July 11 came and passed. This July 11 is passing as well, with no news, no match, no end in sight. But I continue to believe that God is in control and His plans for my family will not be thwarted. We will endure the hard work of waiting by His grace, and in His timing our wait will (finally) be over.

Dearest Lovebug

I wrote this post a year ago in April 2013. The words– and the heart behind them– are as true today as they were then. 

It is starting to drive us absolutely crazy that you aren’t here with us, baby girl! We had a few weeks recently of thinking we had found you, and our hearts quickly tumbled ahead of us with dreams and plans and excitement and joy and preparations… but alas, it wasn’t you. And so we came back to earth and we continue to wait.

Your brother (Stinkbug) and your sister (Ladybug) are tremendously anxious to meet you. Stinkbug points out the empty chair at our table and says that it’s where you’ll sit when you get here. He asks when you’re coming. Your sister prayed such sweet words at bedtime tonight, pleading with Jesus to bring you home quickly because she “doesn’t know what it’s like to have a sister and already has you in her heart”.

(Your smallest brother, Doodlebug, is two and a half and calls you “baby sister”, but has many other things to worry about right now like how to smear as much red mud on his jeans as possible before I make him come inside, and how to avoid big boy underwear at all costs. He’s kind of a handful. You’ll love him, I promise.)

I also find myself wondering about you. Each morning I wake up wondering if this will be the day your picture pops up on my screen and my heart shouts YES! THAT’S HER! ???? As full and messy and joyful as my life is now with three kids, I feel your absence constantly.

I wanted you to be with us last week when we went on vacation and were swimming indoors and stayed in a hotel all smooshed into two beds (It soundsmore picturesque than it was, thank goodness it was only two nights!) And we ate donuts for dinner one night (I know, baby girl! We are crazy sometimes, you’d better get used to it!) and I wondered– would you have picked the jelly-filled donut like your sister? Would you like chocolate milk or white milk to wash that donut down? Or maybe you don’t like milk at all?

When we hunted for Easter eggs a couple weeks ago, I wanted to see you chasing after your brothers and laughing with glee when you spotted a colorful treasure hidden in the grass. I wanted to see you in an Easter dress, spinning and twirling like all princesses should. I wanted to have a picture of us all dressed up and ready for church. I wanted you with us.

At dinner each night I wish I was setting another plate. Another cup. Another fork. Instead one chair stands empty.

I don’t know where you are now, and that’s almost too much for my heart to bear. I need you here beside me. In my arms. In your sister’s room. In our bathtub. At our table. In your Daddy’s lap during family worship each evening.

We love you, Ladybug. We pray for you every day– that God would protect you and provide all your needs and that He would bring you home quickly.

Because your family is waiting.