I've thought about sitting down and writing a blog update so many times in the past month, but every time I just didn't feel ready.
Our family has gone through such a transformation and my heart and mind still seem to be trying to process it all.
How do I even begin to describe some of the blissfully beautiful moments we've shared since bringing home our newest two and I'm at a loss for words that could adequately paint the picture of some of the long, dark days we've found ourselves treading through.
People ask us all the time how we are doing and I'm usually quick to respond that we are doing really well... and we ARE doing really well, but that doesn't mean life isn't back breaking hard some days, those hard moments are just overshadowed by the redemption that we see taking place.
We're finding beauty mixed into our brokenness and strength in the midst of our great weakness.
For those of you who follow my blog you know that we did not feel ready when God made it clear we were supposed to adopt again and not just one, but TWO more children.
I was very honest about the season of weakness that God had us walking in throughout our adoption process, but He came through every step of the way and continually confirmed that this was His will for our family. Then we met our two lovies and it seemed they would fit perfectly... we started to breathe again, plan again (an adoption is all consuming), and then before we even had our two little ones home God revealed a different plan (yet again!) for our family.
I'm not going to lie, I struggled with accepting this blessing.
I was jet lagged, overwhelmed by the thought of two more children let alone THREE. I was sick as a dog and still had to pull myself together to fly across the ocean, live in a foreign country, remove my children from everything they've ever known and then come home to a completely new life all the while trying to nurture and grow the life inside of me.
It just felt like WAY. TO. MUCH.
We were already past the point of crazy to the world let's just add another baby to the mix.
I was angry and confused and felt terrible guilt because of my feelings about this pregnancy.
For the first couple months I didn't want to be pregnant and yet I lived in fear of losing this baby.
For those of you who don't know. Last year we had another surprise pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage at 6 weeks.
The craziest thing is this baby and the precious baby we lost, their due dates are only 3 days apart. We were so hurt and confused by the miscarriage, but it was what God used to open our eyes to adoption again and only one year after losing our little one, God has blessed us with THREE more children.
That is just insane!!
ONLY God could write a story this crazy and beautiful.
But I must say, it doesn't always "feel" beautiful.
A lot of the time it just feels hard and we just have to focus on getting through the day that's set before us.
The first month being home was really hard. Over all the kids have adjusted remarkably well, but it has not been easy. Gresham has really struggled to let go of the harmful and destructive behaviors that were the norm in the orphanage he grew up in. We knew that the environment he grew up in was far from healthy, but we didn't realize the extent of the abuse he suffered until getting him home. There were days when it seemed his ambition in life was just to destroy our home and physically harm those around him. This is a 4 year old boy who knows how to charm the socks off of everyone, but can flip like a switch into more of a rebellious teenager who doesn't seem to need anyone and has walls around his heart that seemed impenetrable.
He would go back and forth from pushing us away to needing to be under our feet constantly, both of which were hard to handle, especially as a pregnant, sick, exhausted mama with 3 other kiddos who needed care and correction.
Thankfully I can tell you that Gresham's behaviors have improved dramatically and seem to keep improving by the day. He is such a smart boy and understands almost everything we say now. He is using a lot of english words and he is learning that he has a voice that he can use rather then just using aggression and anger to get his needs met.
It's a beautiful thing!!
Something miraculous also happened as I hit around 13 weeks of this pregnancy... I started to breathe again.
My constant nausea went away and my raging hormones settled down. Soon after I started feeling better our family dynamic changed yet again as Ivan is now in kindergarten most of the day.
It was SO hard to let him go and we still miss him during the day, but I can't deny that him going to school has been the best thing for him right now and the best thing for our family. It has allowed me to have more time to focus on Gresham and our attachment. It is a full time job correcting such ingrained behaviors. We are learning how to help Gresh rewire his brain and replace all the unhealthy impulsive behaviors with healthy ones, but these things don't change overnight and even though his memories will eventually fade, there will likely always be demons from his past he will need to fight to overcome. This is just the reality that comes with such immense trauma and neglect.
Prolonged trauma begins to cover up the real child and it will take a lot of time, effort, and unconditional love to slowly chip away all the crap that has built up over our sweet boy throughout the 4 years of his life.
God has used Gresham to grow me and Ryan in more ways than I can describe with mere words. This little boy has challenged our faiths and our sanity more than any of our children, but with the greatest challenges often come the greatest blessings.
We are learning unconditional love on another level than we've had to before. With our other adopted children attachment was instant. That hasn't been the case with Gresham.
Those words are hard to admit, but I know it's so important to share the truth of adoption. It isn't all fuzzy feelings and love at first sight. It's extremely hard to feel love and compassion for a child who seems to purposely hurt you and knows how to manipulate those around him and push every one of your buttons.
One of my friends and fellow adoptive parent described it in such a beautiful way. She said, "adoption is not like the birth of a child it's more like a marriage." When a mother births a child the attachment is instant. There are no hurt feelings between mama and baby, only love and dependence. In an adoption, especially one of an older child, it's two individuals coming together and bringing all the pain of their past and dysfunction. In a marriage, love has to be a daily choice. Surrender and self sacrifice doesn't always come easily, especially if one of the individuals feels hurt by the other. A good marriage takes time to build.
Me and Gresham have had some really hard days together, but I can honestly say I am truly falling in love with this boy. Not just the instant love I felt for him when I saw his picture and God whispered into my heart that he was ours or even the love I felt overcome me when I held his tiny little self for the first time.
It's a love that has come through overcoming feelings of doubt and guilt.
A love that has been building through purposeful play and choosing closeness and compassion when everything in me is screaming to keep my distance and put up walls between us.
A love being built through prayer and desperation for something way bigger than me.
The love between us has been fought for it's not something that found us on it's own.
This kind of love digs deep roots and it's growing into something so very beautiful.
I wouldn't trade the hard times for anything now because they have brought us to this point and the love I'm falling into with this boy is so wild. This love is teaching me more about my Jesus and the wild love He has for His children.
We are seeing Jesus winning.
We're seeing light break through where there once was darkness in his eyes.
We're hearing victories cries in spontaneous "I love you's" and "I'm sorry's."
We're seeing manipulation and fear giving way to trust.
He's learning he doesn't have to control his surroundings, but that he can just let go and be a four year old boy. He's becoming free to do the things that he never got to experience because he always had to be on high alert.
The other day I sat by our window and watched Gresham and Landon playing outside as I fed EmarieJoy her breakfast. I was so overcome by the sight that I started to cry.
Just a month ago I couldn't leave Gresham alone for more than a couple minutes outside because he would throw rocks at our house, our dog, or even Landon, but yesterday I watched in amazement as this once high alert child played calmly with his brother.
He was so content.
He wasn't on the lookout for what he could do/destroy to get my attention.
Still clothed in the pajama's we put him in the night before after a long bath time of splashing and playing with Landon (which now seemed pointless as they were both covered in dirt), followed by bedtime snuggles, Bible stories, joined hands and thanksgiving for another day. Now those pj's were kneeled down in the dirt, using a toy tractor as his tool, digging a big hole in our yard with his brother by his side.
This is where healing happens.
It's in the midst of the mundane.
It's in the moments we so often take for granted, but are foreign territory for our children who only know the dysfunctional structure of a sterile institution.
There is just no replacement for a home and no substitute for a family.
It is absolutely amazing to me that we have only had these children in our family for two months and the dramatic change we are already seeing in Gresham. Most of the time, life just happens, but then there's those moments where the Holy weight of it all about knocks you over. Just last weekend we laid all the kids down for rest time after lunch and I was cleaning up a few toys when I walked by Gresham's bedroom door and heard it... singing! I peaked into the room and there was the little boy who just a month prior would scream and thrash around in his bed when we laid him down. There was so much fear asociated with night time/nap time's because he had always been drugged to sleep and had absolutely no idea how to calm himself and fall asleep on his own. Sometimes he would get out of bed and throw everything he could get his little hands on, sometimes he would even go over to EmarieJoy (they are sharing a room for the time being so they are both right across from our bedroom) and pinch her until she cried so I would come into the room. It was horrible!! For close to a month Emma had to sleep in our room in the pack and play so there was no chance of him hurting her.
Now just a month later to see that little boy laying peacefully on his bed singing some song made up of english, ukrainian, and gibberish just made my heart melt. He is learning that he is safe now and he doesn't need to be afraid.
He is learning how to relax and rest which is such a HUGE thing that we totally take for granted.
He has lived the majority of his life in constant fight or flight mode and it's such a scary thing for him to let his guard down, but he's doing it. We are so proud of our brave little boy and we give God all the the glory because this kind of healing is WAY beyond us.
|He loves the teddy bear he got from Grandpa and Grandma Max|
|Eating ice cream cake and celebrating Ivan's birthday|
|Watching the rain. Since they weren't dressed yet for the day they went out in their undies to splash in the puddles and mud after it stopped.|
|Appointment day with mom!|
|Another appointment day. He's holding a picture of the eye doctor we were waiting to see.|
|Everyday at the same time, they pull up their chairs to the window and watch for Ivan's bus to bring him home.|
|They had such a blast with this box. Landon would pull Gresham around and then want Gresham to pull him, but he is a little too heavy for tiny Gresh haha|
|It's moments like these where healing takes place and I just can't believe I am so blessed to have these children in my life.|
|playing at the park|
|Making cookies together!!|
And then there's our little EmarieJoy...
We say sometimes that she is our kiss from Heaven because there is just nothing on earth that really compares to the joy she radiates and the joy she spreads.
She is everything we ever dreamed of in a daughter and so much more.
I often think how different our family would be if we wouldn't have added her to our adoption.
If we wouldn't of inquired about her because TWO more children just seemed crazy at the time.
I can't even imagine our life without her now. Even on the hardest days where we were at our whits end with Gresham's behaviors, Landon's strong will, and Ivan's constant needs, she somehow always brings joy and beauty into the crazy of our life.
It just takes one of her smiles to remind my heart of the goodness of God.
This spunky little princess has blessed our life beyond measure.
Her adjustment into our family has been nothing short of miraculous.
It's as if she waved good-bye to orphanage life on gotcha day and hasn't looked back once.
It is so obvious that she loves being in a family and just loves her new life.
At the orphanage she spent all day, EVERY day sitting either in a stroller propped up against a wall or if she was lucky she got to crawl around a big crib like structure, with just a board of plywood for the bottom, with about 6 other babies in it.
To this day, whenever she is sitting, she will still rock profusely back and forth because it's the only stimulation she had for 2 1/2 years.
Now she spends her days crawling around the house (yes, even getting into the dog food!!), going to the park and running errands with mama, playing with her siblings and her very own toys, eating three meals a day and a bunch of snacks, and getting smothered with snuggles and kisses.
After only a couple days home, she began pulling up to standing all by herself.
Solid food was completely unknown to her before coming home. All of her meals were this greyish brown mush mixture, similar to like a baby oatmeal consistency, given to her through a bottle.
She is now in love with food and will eat basically anything. At first we had to be very careful with what we gave her because the concept of chewing was completely unknown. Now at two months home, it seems she has mastered it and today she was even taking bites, purposefully chewing, and swallowing apple slices. We just can't believe how quickly she is mastering these challenging skills!! She is also mastering drinking with a straw which is a HUGE accomplishment!! She is having to use muscles in her mouth she's never used before, but she is such a determined thing and she just LOVES when we praise her for her accomplishments.
|First time drinking with a straw all by herself. Can you tell she was a little proud of herself?|
We have been blown away at how quickly she is learning and picking up on things. She watches everything we do and is learning so much just in our daily family life.
For the first month home she didn't want anything to do with her brothers because her only past experience with children was negative. Even the babies in the orphanage were aggressive towards each other, it was just heartbreaking. So she kept her distance from the other kids for a while and if they did come near her she would usually push them away or pinch them.
Now she will crawl over to them, watch what their doing, and even try to join in their play. Landon absolutly adores her and they have really bonded.
Every morning he begs to be the one to wake sissy up. He will go into her room and say "good morning princess!!" in his high little voice of admiration. It's the cutest thing ever and EmarieJoy always greets him with one of her giant smiles.
|My two blondies watching leap frog together, such a special bond between them.|
|Ivan wanted to hold sissy one day and surprisingly she was fine with it. She got a little annoyed with all the kisses eventually though.|
If any of you reading this feel God leading you to add a second child to your adoption, please, please, please, prayerfully consider it. Our little "add on" has brought more joy into our family then we could of ever imagined. Of course it's an extra mouth, an extra car seat, and more appointments, but none of that matters when we imagine the hole our family would have without her and where she would be today if she was not in our family.
|First time pulling up to standing|
|First taste of chocolate (this was before she was put on a low sodium diet)|
|Taking a snooze in the Tula at the zoo|
|Her expressions crack me up!!|
|Snuggle time with mama while brothers nap|
|She just loves being loved|
|She LOVES swinging!!|
Okay now for an update on where the kids are at in regards to their health and appointments we have coming up.
When we brought home Gresh and Emma we were expecting Gresham to have a heart surgery in his future since he had many heart defects listed in his records. We were told EmarieJoy's heart had been corrected so we weren't too concerned, but still knew that both children needed heart echo cardiograms.
After only a couple weeks home I took both kiddos to see our pediatrician and she was concerned with EmarieJoy's breathing so she ordered a chest x-ray. When she looked at the results she got a very concered look on her face and I began to brace myself for bad news. "It appears her heart is failing." were her exact words.
In that moment my heart went into shock, but as any mama knows, you have to just keep going, so we rushed to the hospital right away for an emergency echo.
We found out that her heart is indeed very enlarged and if she wouldn't have had the surgery she had in Ukraine, she would not be alive today, but unlike what we were told, the surgery was only a temporary fix and she will need another open heart surgery to correct it completely. This will be a high risk surgery and needs to be done before the end of the year. We were also told that because this surgery is so risky, there's a chance that the surgeon's will decide that it cannot be corrected, in which case her only option would be to get put on the waiting list for a heart transplant.
So right now we're just waiting to hear back on when and where we need to take our little angel. She was also put on a low sodium diet which has helped relieve some of the pressure in her heart and therefore her breathing has improved. She still breaths heavily sometimes and likely will until after this coming surgery.
After that day our world was pretty shaken. I watched Emma like I hawk, didn't allow her to eat any sodium (which she HATED as she went from eating everything we did, including cake pops on occasion, to basically oatmeal and fruit.), and I constantly lived in fear that her heart could fail at any second. It was a very scary time, but one that made us refocus and choose to cherish every beautiful moment with our loved ones.
You just never know when the news that will shatter your whole world could hit you. As a heart mom, I always imagined how I would feel if I ever had to hear the words "heart transplant". There really isn't anything that can prepare you for it. Thankfully, we still have hope that there's a surgeon out there somewhere who will agree to fixing her heart.
I remember a couple days after receiving that terrifying news, just holding Emma tightly in my arms and standing in the middle of our kitchen, just bawling my eyes out. On one hand, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that God led us to adopt this precious child exactly when we did. Who knows how much longer she could of lived in the orphanage environment she was in without any medical intervention for her heart. Then on the other hand I was just absolutely terrified of the thought of losing this child we had just been given.
You wouldn't possibly give us this precious gift only to take her away, would You? was just one of the hard questions I threw at God during that scary time.
The hardest part was I already knew the answer before I even thought it.
The truth is we have no guarantees.
God doesn't have to bring health, wealth, and happiness our way just because we said yes to Him. We say yes to God knowing that at any second He can give and at any second He can take away.
This is a hard truth...
and in that moment I just clung to my precious daughter and sobbed at the mere thought of ever losing her this side of heaven.
A lot of days have separated that moment in the middle of my kitchen and this present one. I no longer think constantly about Emma's breathing or how purplish her skin may look at any given moment. These are always things I'm aware of, but one of the most beautiful things that parenting children with special needs has taught me, is that you can still live a joyful and radiant life in the midst of the fear and pain. We make it our goal to cherish every moment with each of our children, knowing that they truly belong to God and every moment is a blessing and gift from Him.
Besides her heart EmarieJoy seems to be pretty healthy. She still has not gained any weight, but we've been told that is due to the fact that her heart is working so hard right now.
One of her hips is a little out of the socket so we have an appointment scheduled next month with an ortho, but other than that she is the happiest most content little girl and you would never know her heart is so fragile right now.
Then there is our sweet tiny Gresham...
He was diagnosed with failure to thrive at his first visit with our pediatrician. Both of the kids were so far below 0 on the BMI chart for children their age, they would of been around -50% if there was such a thing.
We were told that the answers to why Gresham is so small will likely be discovered with time, so our pediatrician sent us home and said if in 3 weeks he hasn't gained anything then we would run a bunch of tests and start talking with other specialists.
Thankfully 3 weeks later at our follow up Gresh had put on 2 whole pounds!! Our pediatrician was almost as happy as I was!! So for now, the plan is to just treat him like any other little boy and get as many healthy nutrients into him each day as possible.
At this point, malnurishment seems to be the biggest hurdle our little guy has in front of him.
We were told at his heart echo that his heart is practically PERFECT!! He has a small ASD but nothing that our cardiologist anticipates will cause him any harm. PRAISE GOD!! I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear that, especially after the unexpected news regarding EmarieJoy's heart.
His appointment with our opthamologist also went better then we could of imagined. We were told that surprisingly Gresham's eye sight is wonderful and all he should need is surgery to correct the ptosis (droopy eyelids) which we're hoping we can get done next month.
So besides Emma's heart, our children seem to be amazingly healthy, considering their past neglect and have such bright futures in front of them.
I'm not going to lie though, the appointments get to be very exhausting. I counted a while back and we squeezed 13 appointments into a two week span last month. That's on top of therapy, work, and any other stuff we have on a regular basis.
We are hoping that with getting as many appointments out of the way right away, our calendar will hopefully empty out a little before the holidays are upon us.
Well I think that about covers it. I've been working on this blog post for close to a month now so I'm pretty proud to be posting it before another month goes by and I'd have to go back and change 2 to 3 months home :)
Again, there is really no way that I could thank each of you enough for your support and love for our family. We are fully aware that our family would not be where we are today if it wasn't for the selfless generosity of others, some whom I will never meet this side of Heaven.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
I will never understand why God chose us to be the bearers of such great blessings and crazy adventures, but it's been the support of our real life families, this blog family, our church family, and the small close tribe of people that God has placed in our lives that give us the courage to keep giving, keep fighting for the least of these, and to keep sharing our story.
To God be the glory for the redemption that has already taken place and the miraculous transformations yet to come.
Gresham Allister, 2 months forever HOME.
EmarieJoy Juliet, 2 months forever HOME
Lastly, I think it goes without saying, but please keep our EmarieJoy's heart in your prayers. Pray for miraculous healing. Pray for God to lead us to the right surgeon and for wisdom and guidance for whoever that may be.