Sunday, March 23, 2014

Each day a little closer....

Each day a little closer to our Savior returning....a little closer to summer sunshine...a little closer to meeting our new Little Man...a little more progress made in each life....

It is Sunday morning and I am listening to some fabulous hymns and the sun is shinning through the windows.  Today turned out much differently than planned.  It was supposed to be The Testy Chef's 16th birthday celebration.  Instead, we have sick kiddos.  This, besides being such as disappointment to all of us looking forward to time with precious family and friends, also adds a complication to this week. 

Grace is scheduled for surgery at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.  The dreaded hip dysplasia surgery. :(  We have been warned this is a very painful surgery.  It is so hard as a parent to know you are choosing to put your child in pain.  I know that the pain now will save her a lifetime of misery, but it doesn't help my aching heart.  However, she had a high temperature yesterday and had a tough night last night with tummy and body aches.  This morning, she seems fine.  What to do?  The doctor wants to wait and see how she is tomorrow morning.  One part of me would be very relieved to NOT have to go through with surgery tomorrow.  But, I know that just means that we will have to do it this summer with Little Man in tow and Serenity due for some major surgeries as well.  But I also don't want to add possible huge complications to her body healing if it is already fighting germs.  I know that God will direct us, we just are not seeing which way this morning.  Will play the "wait and see" game until 6 a.m. tomorrow when we are due to check in at the hospital.

The weeks have been so busy.  I thought my life was crazy busy the last 10 years, but I really had no idea!  Every day I check the calendar to see what we need to accomplish for the day.  On the rare days with no doctor appointments, there is plenty to catch up on at home.  It is a bit dizzying!

Hope had her CT scans.  We are praising God that her brain appears to be in very good condition.  There is not pressure from the unusual cranio shape.  The doctor was very vocal in how happy he was with the scans.  He will want to do an MRI about a year from now and then make the final plans for surgery next spring.  For those who are interested, I did tell him that I was amazed that they could "close" the skull without putting pressure on the brain.  He replied that that is one of the things that they "plan and discuss" - they look at the room they have to close the skull and also have to take into account how much optical nerve they have to work with.  The distance between most people's eyes is abut 22mm.  Hope's is at least 66 mm.  That is a huge difference!  She has all the bones in the "right" places to move her face into a typical alignment, but they still need to be sure they don't stretch the optical nerves too far.  I cannot even imagine!  I guess that is why I am a mom and not a neurosurgeon!

The hard part of all the good news is that it becomes clearer all the time how much of her struggles are due to her neglect and abuse in her orphanage.  It is so hard to come to peace with the fact that her struggles were not necessary!  If she was treated as every child deserves to be, she would be so different.

We have had an interesting few weeks with her.  She is definitely making progress - slowly but surely.  We were amazed to see her rolling to get to where she wanted a few days ago!  This was on top of realizing that she is finally laying herself down or getting back into a sitting position by herself!  But it is always done when she thinks that no one is watching her.  Why would that be?  I can come up with a hundred speculations - but still would not have a definite answer.  Yesterday, when she thought no one was looking - she scooted on her bottom to get closer to her favorite toy.  95% of me is filled with joy that she is moving!  She is doing it!  It was as we had hoped - if given the opportunity, she would begin to figure these things out.  (In addition to the physical therapy she has once a week.)  But there is 5% that is honestly a little frustrated that she will only do it if she thinks we are not watching.  What would cause her to do that?

In addition to the progress though, we have had some pretty big battles over things we thought were done.  She is again crying most of the nights.  Not nearly as long or as loud as at the beginning, but still most nights.  Both she and I are exhausted when morning comes around.  She is also fighting me about eating her food again.  I feel like I have to have some seriously good wrestling holds to get the first few spoonfuls in her mouth.  She is also refusing to do things like "walking" to me at night while The Testy Chef or Handsome holds her up under her arms.  This used to make her so excited and happy!  Now she won't move her feet.  We still go through the motions, but it has made something that was so fun to see into a struggle.  All we can assume is that those things she can control, she will try to be in control of.  I am sure life is so different and that causes her stress - even though it is a "good" different, this is her way of dealing with it.  I pray for patience and grace and tender compassion for her - my frustration is really only my own selfishness.  I still wrestle daily with how much damage has been done to my daughter - it didn't have t be this way....

Serenity - wow, how many ways can we say "dynamo"?  Sometimes it has us all laughing long and hard - other times, I am ready to pull my hair out!  I am so thankful that we were given this gift - what a life full of sunshine!  But we need to figure out how to contain that energy when necessary!

She had a fever/cold the day of her CT scan, so they rescheduled it.  I was really disappointed - but as always, have to trust there was a reason.  It is now rescheduled for late April.  I am anxious to see what her scans will reveal and how quickly she will need to begin surgeries.  It is late enough in April that a surgery before Little Man's debut in mid-May will not be possible....but I am wondering how quickly after his birth we will be back in the hospital.  She sees the same cranio-facial team as Hope and they all were anxious during Hope's appointments to see Serenity.

We did have her hearing and speech evaluations done.  She has moderate to severe hearing loss.  The outer ear hears almost nothing.  She has significant fluid built up in the middle ear, but nearly perfect hearing in her inner ear.  The hearing tech said that almost all of her patients with Aperts have hearing aids, but we have to get a signature from an ear-nose-throat doctor to order the hearing aid.  She said that children with Aperts can have chronic fluid in their ears, plus there is also a significant chance that her tiny ear bones may be misshapen due to the Aperts.  But, it just depends on the ENT doctor whether they want to explore draining the ears or the misshapen bones first or just proceed with the hearing aids.  That appointment is at the very end of April.  The plan with speech therapy really hinges in many ways on what is decided with the hearing aid.  Our family has played for years with sign language, but it is time to take it up a notch.  Even though Serenity will be limited by the shape of her hands/fingers on what she can sign, it will give us the ability to better communicate with her.

NONE of this was unexpected or a surprise - but driving home from the appointment, it just seemed too much to process at the time.  I am sure it is due to the exhaustion and the pregnancy emotions - but I had to once again lay it all at my Savior's feet and trust Him for the strength and ability to do all that is in front of us.  I have said it before and say it repeatedly - all that we do is only possible by His strength and grace.  Every. single. thing. 

Little Grace is doing so well...depending on what happens with the surgery tomorrow.  She is so full of laughter and smiles right now.  I feel the need to clarify that many people would miss the delight she is because of how limited she is.  She cannot see.  She does not speak.  She barely moves.  But she knows her family.  She LOVES her daddy more than anyone else in the world.  She gets so excited when she hears his voice and makes cooing noises and laughs until he picks her up.  Her smiles are the biggest when she is snuggled in his strong arms.  It is a joy that makes my heart hurt to see them together.  This child who was just a "throw away" - that no one thought would ever be chosen - is now an infinite treasure to her family.  We cannot even begin to describe the love we all have for her.  Every child is precious.  Every child deserves to be treasured and adored - regardless of their abilities.  This is how Christ loves us.

Little Man seems to be gaining pounds per day.  I am moving very slowly - much more slowly than really I can for all that is still before us in these last 7 weeks before he debuts.  All is looking good so far - but we are trusting Him for all the details.  It never leaves Handsome's mind for long that this is considered an extremely high risk pregnancy.  I honestly forget.  In so many ways, except for the stroke and the twice daily injections, this has been an "easy" pregnancy.  I am guessing just because I don't have time to spend too much thought and emotional energy on it....I just need to keep moving and doing and laughing and loving until it is time for him to come.  As always, 7 weeks seems so far away on one hand and way too soon on the other!

We continue moving through each day with our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  Trusting Him to provide all that is needed for each moment.  Some days in laughter, some days through tears - but always trusting.  There are hard things going on in the world...there are hard things going on in our friends' lives....goodness, there are hard things going on at home...but He is always faithful.  Even when we are not.

Please pray for Grace's surgery...for Hope and Serenity...for Little Man....for the busy days ahead.  As you are doing that, please pray for this little one.  His name is Samson on Reese's Rainbow. This picture shows how significantly he has deteriorated in his 2 1/2 years of life.  He has CP, an ASD, and hydrocephaly - but that is not why he is like this.  He is in a horrific orphanage.  I know, I have been there.  Once again, another life that does not have to be this way.  Another life neglected and abused by those who are to care for him.  Please pray for a family to race forward to rescue him - that God would preserve his little life if it is His sovereign plan.  That the family has the courage, faith, and provision to move ahead on a difficult path quickly.

Come, Lord Jesus, come in Your mercy....

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A day in the life...

I always have to laugh when someone asks how many children we have....I always laugh right before I reply.  It is funny to see the responses we get...anywhere from "You are a saint" (so NOT the case), to "Better you than me...", to "I am crazy with just two kids!", to "How do you do it?" 

The kids were laughing in the car yesterday that when we arrive somewhere, like the campgrounds in the summer, the looks from the older people around us are immediate horror - not due to what we look like, just how many of us there are.  But within a day, we are suddenly the "most amazing family" they have ever seen.  (I always wonder what other families they have seen that would prompt that response within hours!??! Yikes!)  It almost always starts a spontaneous giving of treats - cinnamon bread, gum, chips - all very funny, but so appreciated.

I remember two trips to Sam's Club in particular.  During one, there was a woman that saw us and began asking very abrupt questions - not mean, just abrupt.  If I cannot gauge where an interaction is going, I try to politely end it before something weird or that may hurt my kids feelings is said.  This was a situation that I wasn't sure of, so I kept the family moving.  We saw her on a few more aisles, but then she was gone.  I quickly forgot about it as it was time to finish up for the youngest kids' sake.  As we were leaving, she marched up again and I thought, "Uh, oh!"  She pushed something into my hand and gruffly said, "Good job!  You are amazing.  I have done foster care for years."  I didn't even have time to respond and she was gone again.  In my hand was a $100 gift certificate!  What?   Such a huge gift from a stranger!

Another time, we decided to get pizza at the deli because we had taken too long and kids were just not going to make it home.  Two of the boys needed constant reminders to behave.  One because he was cranky, one because he was squirrely.  I noticed that a woman was watching us intently.  It is easy to assume the worst, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt.  We are a "novelty", especially in the area of the country we live.  But at the same time, I am silently praying the kids don't have a full meltdown under such scrutiny.  As she was leaving, she walked up to the table and handed me $20 and said she wanted to pay for our lunch because we were "Amazing."  Wow.  Again, I always think that we are not amazing - we have bad days - and this was not one of our best - so what prompts this response?  What are people seeing elsewhere?  Good grief!  At the same time, each time someone complements what we are doing and my kids in particular, it is a much needed burst of sunshine to our days.  Now as we go into a public setting, we remind the kids that we want to turn the looks of horror to smiles of delight - the kids get it and love seeing how long it will take.  Please note, I have enough strong willed, independent kiddos that I know their first reaction is, "I don't want to!"....but it is so much fun to see that they all end up agreeing anyway.

When people ask, "How do you do it?"  There is not a simple answer.  I have started telling people that they can't take what life looks like with 2 or 3 or even 4 kids and try to picture doing that with 13 kids - no wonder they look so stressed out trying to picture it!  Our life does not look the same as it did with 4 kids.  I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that.  In so many ways, we wasted time on the "not so important."  I would have been VERY angry as a mom of 4 if someone had told me that - everything seemed extremely important - critical! - at the time.  I felt very busy and tired - but I still loved being a mom.  But I was also very busy tiring to squeeze in so many things - to our schedule, our budget, our daily life - that just really didn't need to be there.  I was still trying to squeeze so many things in for me that just didn't need to be there.  And I was never content with what I did squeeze in!  I always hoped to find more "me" time....I had so much at the time, but just couldn't begin to recognize it.

Our days now are just full of "daily living".  Meals, laundry, school, diaper changes, baths, clean up, wiping up tears and kissing "owies", bills, snuggle times, home therapies for the girls, g-tube feedings, etc.  Just what we need to do daily.  But in a way, it is so much more fulfilling and less demanding than all the expectations I had with 4.  "Me" time is in the early mornings with a cup of coffee and my Bible and prayer journal - even for 10 minutes.  I have put away my cross stitch bucket and my books I read for fun.  This year, I am not even attempting to sew Christmas or Easter dresses (very hard to let go of for me).  I am even having The Testy Chef crochet the new blanket for Little Man's arrival - something she was tickled to do - there are so many fun yarns, colors, and textures out there!  I know what my response would have been as a mom of 4, "What?  I couldn't do that!  I need to take care of my dreams, too!" or on my more self-righteous days, I would think, "Well, I am doing that already."  Oh, silly girl!

But please listen to me - I am more content and full of joy than I ever was as a mom of fewer.  Not because I have given up "me" time - but because of the work my Savior has done over the years in my heart.  He didn't just gently take these things from my hands, He had to wrestle it from me as I kicked and screamed and threw temper tantrums!  I just could not see how this could be better.  I thought I knew my heart and priorities - what a laugh!  Despite my confidence that I was a "good" parent and a "good" Christian - willing to sacrifice myself for others - I came to clearly see (and still do!) how selfish I was and am.  I had just been able to paint it nicely - or I had fully believed those that said I must take care of myself first, so that I could properly care for my family.  That sounded like good advice! 

I always had niggling doubts though - where did I see that in Scripture?  Where did Paul do that?  Where did any of the heroes of the faith do that - without being shown that it was sin?  Most importantly, where did my Savior do that?  He who laid down the privileges of heaven to be born in a lowly stable, be raised as the son of a carpenter in a group of people that were looked down upon?  Where did He do that as He healed and taught the multitudes...only to quietly move away in order to pray?  Even when He did fall into an exhausted sleep on a boat,  He was awakened by the disciples who were in terror for their lives.  He woke up and silenced the wind and waves for their sake.  Scripture doesn't say, but my guess is that He didn't get to go back to sleep after that amazing display of His power and authority.

I sincerely think we need to HONESTLY look at this bit of advice....but as a way of illustration, I would like to share something I heard in a Q & A session online with one of my favorite teachers .  He was being asked by a bunch of high school/college age kids a question about obeying their parents.  You may remember those questions if you were in youth group at that age.  "Do I need to obey my parents even if they are wrong?"  The teacher's obviously insightful response was, "Who's definition of wrong?  Yours or Scripture's?"  Ummm...that wasn't quite what the group expected....they hadn't thought of it from that perspective.  But being young, they can always find a (clever but wisdom less) one said, "What if my parents tell me I have to do something against the commands of the Bible?  Like lie or kill someone?"   I thought, "Ugh, I have been asked that question too many times and in too many ways!" when I was a youth leader.  But I had to laugh at the teacher's response!  First he laughed - he is a big, black man, so it was quite a belly shaking guffaw when he did laugh - and then said, "Really, son?  How many times have your parents asked you to do this?  How many of you have ever been asked to do this by your parents?"  He you can guess, a very impressive dead silence.  He then went on to say that we spend so much time on the obscure, almost completely unheard of "exception" to the rule as a way to avoid the truth that we are not obeying when we should be!  We focus on the exception, rather than on the reality of our daily lives.

So with moms - I have to you really, personally know a mom that is driving herself into the ground by serving others?  Are you yourself doing this?  Really?  I know moms that are driving themselves into the ground because of their own desires/expectations!   Desires and expectations that are not laid our in His Word.   I know of moms that are driving themselves into the ground over fighting against what Scripture asks them to do - to lay down their lives for those God has given into their care.  The very rare moms I know that are giving their all to what Christ has asked them to do can get very weary...but they always have their eyes focused in trust on Christ - believing when He says that He will give them rest in due time and the strength to continue.  They rejoice in the few extra hours (or minutes) of sleep that they do get in due time and the 5 minutes to read His Word for encouragement without having to referee a fight.  They rejoice in the hope of a beautiful sunrise and a day in which they must work hard, but sense His presence in each detail - even the hard ones.  These few moms are tired, but full of joy - true joy. 

The other moms are being driven into the ground by trying to take care of their needs first and the needs of others - in my experience, there is no way to do both if we are the ones working to supply our wants/needs - not trusting Christ to do so.  Pick up your Bibles - start finding all of the verses that God promises to meet our needs - and then find all the verses that instruct us to seek Him first, to serve to bring Him glory, to put others above ourselves.  We cannot let human "wisdom" become more important or true that God's wisdom.  Do you want to lose your life?  Then cling to it.  Do you want to save your life?  Then let it all go.  This is a paradox that can only be truly understood through living it.

Please know this does not mean your life will be rosy and easy.  NOWHERE is that promised in Scripture.  But it means there will be joy and blessing in the journey - what your heart is truly longing for.  Please also know that this is not an area I have even begun to master.  I look outside and long to be gardening.  I look at my yucky gray walls and long to paint color on them.  I eye my cross stitch bucket and just want to pick up a project.  I wish some days for just an hour of quiet.  But I have learned that these things do not bring the joy I am longing for.  Don't get me wrong, if my Savior provides time for it, I will rejoice and jump in with a thankful heart.  But I know now, through experience, that my life is not my own, it was redeemed at unspeakable is not my life to live anymore.  It is His.  What freedom there is in that...

To Him be all honor, glory, and praise forever....

Friday, January 31, 2014

Grace, sleep, baby kicks, and rainy days....

I always wrestle with how to "sum up" life here in mere words and in a brief amount of time.

I also know there is such a wide audience of readers....those who are much more experienced than we are...those who just wonder "how" we do it...those who hope to adopt...those who are the support for those who do adopt....those who know us in "real" life....and those who I wish I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with but will never actually meet....those who pray for us...and every category in between....

I wrestle with how to paint the full picture - the struggles and the joys.  I don't want to paint the rainbow of colors - even the gray and black of the storm clouds that travel through - without showing each color.  Some days are very grey - some days burst with color - most days are a mix of both, like a swiftly moving weather system overhead.  Some days the dark clouds may be dominate for the entire day - but I only give them a brief mention.  Other days, maybe the sunshine is brief - but dramatic enough - relief enough - from the storms that can roll through, that it is worth dwelling on.

Today, as it pours down rain outside, it is one of those days with swiftly changing emotions and ups and downs inside.  We are praising God that Hope has slept through the night for FIVE days.  YES, this is a stop and enjoy the sunshine colors thing!  Of all the challenges when we add a new precious life to the mix - whether by birth or adoption - the lack of sleep is the hardest.  Now, just to clarify, I am not talking about "Oh, we didn't get our full nine hours of sleep" - because we haven't gotten that (or close to it) since The Testy Chef came home almost 16 years ago.  There have been times that we have rejoiced over getting 2 hours of sleep IN A ROW because that was so rare.  With such an abundant amount of kiddos, you can bet that someone is up almost every night.  Mimi has never been a good sleeper - beginning with needing to feed her around the clock; to just nights when she decides that she doesn't need to sleep after 2 a.m.   Then she goes back to sleep at 6 a.m. when I need to be up and moving.  We are just thankful when we can open our eyes in the morning and they are not too gritty from lack of sleep!  So, I should probably mention that 2 of these 5 nights, Mimi has been up...but 3 nights of sleep...WOW.  SUNSHINE.

I guess it is only truthful to report as well that the "waddle" has begun.  Yes, the dreaded pregnancy waddle.  I noticed it walking into a doctor's appointment on Monday.  It is still at the point that I can work at NOT waddling, but only for a little while.  I have a tough time with my back and hips with my pregnancies.  I must say that as I have been better about no gluten and dairy, I have not put on the same amount of weight with this pregnancy, but all of the sudden the last two weeks I can feel the weight.  Little Man is a very busy little one - many kicks and gymnastics going on all hours of the night and day.  Some moments 16 more weeks seems like an eternity....other moments, it is not enough time!  My favorite new "old" quote is "The days are long, but the years are short."  AMEN!!!  Some days seem like they will never end, but I blink and the week is gone again.  I will be forty this year...where has the time gone?  Oh, to have back those years with the perspective I have now.  (Okay, now I am sounding old too!)

Hope is still doing well during the day.  There are times that she does thinks that we all cheer over!  Glimpses that there is much more going on cognitively than we had assumed.  She follows me with her eyes as I move throughout the day and is concerned when I leave the room or the house for an appointment.  This a very important step with bonding....that she even notices people around her and that she is focusing on me in particular.  She loves to be held and is anticipating the rhythms of our life...when it is time to eat, when we rock-a-bye at night, when we all sit together, when it is playtime.  Again, to "paint" the full spectrum - some days it is very, very difficult to see the amount of damage that has been done to this little girl.  It is one thing to know and discuss the results of "institutionalization" - it is very different to see the effects of it even on the tiniest areas of a little life.  Things we don't even THINK about in "normal" life.  Some days, I have to focus on the little joys because the big picture looks so bleak with such damage...other days, I cannot believe the progress I see in her.  (Recognizing the progress that seems "huge" to us, yet may seem not worth mentioning to others.)  Long term, I am confident she will move and walk.  I don't know about speech - there are such huge gaps and missing pieces.  These huge gaps have nothing to do with her diagnosis - and everything to do with 5 1/2 years of nothing.  No interaction, no love, no touch....nothing beyond the basics.  Yet, I also know we would have never believed Mimi would be where she is now...and recognizing the power of our Savior.  I don't know what He has in store for her.  We love her as she is now....everything else is just frosting on the cake.  How do you sum up a human firework?  An explosion of colors!  She just never. stops. moving.  She is still just full of life - it bubbles out every crack.  This week though, we have moved beyond the expected "honeymoon" stage.  She is feeling very comfortable.  Her tummy is feeling full.  Her "love tank" is full.  So we have moved on to the next level.   I welcome it as I see it as part of her journey - but it is also hard many days.  She is getting picky about food now - so we throw it, squish it, spit it out, torment with it, ignore it, refuse it, demand specific things.  I put plastic dishes on the shopping list this week as we throw those too.  With a child who has been with us from birth, these things would be dealt with much differently - but with a little one who has only been here for 7 weeks, it is not so straight forward.  How to correct without undoing all the progress so far?

She also is a tornado in her ability to destroy a room in short order.  The rest of my treasures go to AWANA at church on Thursday nights.  I stay home with the 4 girls (Mimi, Grace, Hope, and Serenity).  I am home alone for about 2 hours, during which I need to feed 3 of the 4.  So I am limited in how quickly I can get up and redirect the "tornado".  Last night she managed a complete destruction of the family room as I was in the living room (just around the corner).  I chose to laugh instead of cry and couldn't wait for the other kids to get home to see their reaction to what she had done in such a short amount of time.  Even as we laugh though, it is something we are going to have to figure out.  If we only had the 4 girls, I would put everything up and away (not to mention we would have a lot less stuff!) so that we could control the chaos.  But we need to enjoy life as a family...and do home school...laundry, etc.  We need to enjoy the days, not lock them away.  Another subject for prayer and patience....

And finally, our little Grace.  What a treasure.  What a gift we have been given.  SUNSHINE!  I had been dreading the trip to the orthopedist as I thought her scoliosis had gotten much worse in the last 7 months.  I had completely forgotten about her hip, how did I forget that?  Praise God, her scoliosis looks unchanged, if not better as she is relaxing and stretching with the Botox and therapy.  HOWEVER, her hip needs surgery...soon.  The doctor was thinking April or May.  Ummm, Serenity will most likely have her surgery/surgeries - which are critical - in April.  And, oh yes, Little Man is due in mid-May.  Hmmm....  So her hip surgery will be either the end of Feb or beginning of March.  She will be in the hospital 3-4 days and will be in significant pain.  Oh, that brings tears to my eyes.  She will then be in a half-body cast for 4 weeks.  The doctor said the two worst days are the day right after surgery and the day the cast comes off.  Little Grace had such a hard time with the g-tube placement, I am struggling to even think about this.  She will need to have the other hip done in the summer time (it is not as bad).  On one hand, I am very thankful that we have time to get it done before Serenity's surgeries and Little Man arrives.  On the other hand, I just am sick over her being in pain.   I also know that these next weeks will be very, very full. 

So much to pray many, many areas that we will need His grace and provision.  My time is gone this morning to type.  Need to go take care of a few "rain storms" and rejoice over some bursts of sunshine, too.

To God be the glory, in all things!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Quiet Moment

I have a moment of quiet here this evening...I cannot tell you how often I think, "I really need to update the blog!"  But when I look at my list of "to dos" there are too many there in front of blogging!

We had our first appointment at our fabulous Children's Hospital about 2 weeks ago.  It was a VERY long afternoon, but very worth it!  To save some time, here is a "cut & paste" of an email I sent to a friend...

"We finally arrived back home around 6:30 p.m. (left at 12:45).  I was ready for bed!  It was a long, exhausting afternoon but very good overall.  We met first with the doctor who will be the “case manager” who got very excited (as only doctors can do!) after seeing Hope’s extra toe and came back about 15 minutes later with a HUGE medical book and a bigger smile to tell us that Hope had a very rare form of her issues.  There are “only 13” in the medical textbooks.  As I said, something only a doctor could be excited about.  (We know Mimi’s chromosomal deletion has only 3 cases in the textbooks – but we know she isn’t in the textbooks, so we doubt the numbers a bit.)  I wrote down the medical term, but there is very, very little said about it other than the extra toe.  So not sure how helpful it is. ;-)

The cranio-facial surgeon was very, very friendly.  One of our big concerns was that Serenity (and Hope to a lesser degree) had missed so many “windows” of time in which she was supposed to have surgeries done.  But he indicated that the “plan” was slowly being changed to wait until the kids were slightly older (in the 3-4 year old range) to restructure the skull.  He said all of his previous patients with Aperts who had surgery at a year old, had to have it redone at least once.   But those he waited until they were slightly older did not have to have a repeat.  That was such a huge relief.  As we suspected, her cleft palate was not completely closed.  They will also detach at least her pinkies and other pointer on her left hand.  It sounds like they do not necessarily detach the two middle fingers as they are usually more misshapen and not as necessary.  Then they will move onto the mid-face surgery.  I think the skull will be in between the palate and the fingers, but they are still deciding the best plan. 

With Hope, it sounds like he will actually wait until she is 7 years old!  What a relief!  I think that year and a half will be so good for us all.  He also said that she is a perfect candidate because she does have 2 fully formed nostrils and has the excess skin between the skull split on her forehead that will provide the “material” to make her nose.  I can’t tell you what a relief this was.  Ahhh, deep breath.  He also indicated that neither of their conditions necessarily guaranteed cognitive handicaps – although the damage done, especially to Hope, from the institutionalization will have a massive impact on their long term progress.  No surprises there. 

They will also both have their hearing tested and they will probably do a sleep study on Serenity.  They did agree with me that if she is having that much trouble breathing at night, she is probably burning all her calories up that way.  They did bring in a nutritionist for me to talk with.  After hearing what we were already doing, she was full of praise at all we were doing.  It was a good “pep” talk for me – but at the same time, I always have to wonder what type of people they deal with day-in and day-out that our family seems so amazing?   She gave me a few more ideas at getting calories into Serenity (basically butters, oils, and a drink that is 45 cal per ounce).  I was really worried about Hope but she was amazed by what we had done/were doing.  She feels like it is just fine, other than adding a vitamin with iron.  Umm, okay.  I guess I will trust her on that for now.

Overall, everyone we saw was full of praise and amazement.  I am very uncomfortable with that, but also do appreciate the confirmation that we are doing it “right”.  Next will be the appointments for the CT scans for each girl and then we will meet again with the main surgeon and other surgeons they may bring in.  At least I will probably have a few weeks to build up the strength to do it again.   They felt that Serenity’s surgeries were very necessary, but not “critical” in their timing in the next few months.  They were more than happy to work around the delivery of the new baby, etc."

We are still waiting on dates for the CT scans, but I am assuming we will hear sometime this week.  

So those are the "doctor" details - how about the "every day life" details?

Serenity is still just a ball of energy.  She is so busy, so happy, so excited to be with people, we are laughing all the time.  What a gift we have been given!  We have started putting little tiny pigtails in her hair - they are so funny.  But she just adores them!  

She loves to carry around a little mirror and look at her "sprouts" and gently touch them.  She cries when we take them out to redo her hair.  She enjoys each of her brothers and sisters in unique ways.  One she wants to snuggle with, one she wants to lead around, one she wants to play Legos with (yes, Legos!)...and the list goes on.  We know she is getting tired at night when she finally finds me and wants to sit on my lap.  

She is extremely smart in so many ways - but so delayed in funny ways.  But I am realizing so many of the delays are simply because she has never been in a "normal" home/family environment.  She does not know what it supposed to happen, how you are supposed to act, what to expect, etc. because as wonderful as her institution was, it was still an institution.  The people there are doing wonderful things, but it still doesn't change the fact it is not a family.

In the quiet moments at night though, as I rejoice over her precious little person, my heart just hurts to think that such a beautiful child - inside and out - was destined by her country (and I am learning, by some in our country by their attitudes) for an adult mental institution (code words for "hell on earth").  It would be so tempting to think that she was in a "good" place.  Maybe she didn't need to be rescued....but I realize so deeply that that would be such a distorted and wrong perspective.  This beautiful person would be locked away for life because she was not like other people.  What a treasure we have been given.

My sweet Hope.  I am just not sure how to adequately describe her struggles or the depth of the damage done to her.  I know that some reading my blog already don't understand why we would choose a child so significantly "damaged" and I don't want to give them anymore fuel for their mocking - but I also think it is very important for people who really do care to know the struggles in her little life. 

There are times that her little soul, her little personality, is so buried under learned "nothingness" from how she was neglected, ignored, abused for her entire life that I have to remind myself of the little glimpses we have seen.  The loves she gives to her dolly, the sweet smiles she gives at rare moments, the true laughter that pours out before she can catch it and turn it back to "nothingness" again....When she gets worried, scared, overwhelmed she either screams for all she is worth or just becomes "blank" - blank eyes, blank face, little movement. It is actually very deeply disturbing that a child can do this - that a child has learned to do this to save themselves from the adults around them.

When my soul was most broken over her, I read this post by another adoptive mom.  It gives glimpses of what these children have gone through.  Her adoptive children can talk.  They can tell her of the things done to them.  Even though I knew this in general, I really think God let me see specifics, because it helped me to gain a greater measure of compassion and patience for my precious girl.  Even though some of the things she does seem to make no sense to me, there are very real reasons she does what she does.

For example, when she first came home we knew she was hungry.  Her tummy was growling, it was breakfast time, time to eat!  Right?  So I would mix up her Gerber food with cereal (the very few flavors she likes) and try to feed her.  The moment I picked up the spoon, she would start screaming and swat it away.  I would just keep working with her until several bites finally went in her mouth.  Then she would relax and eat the rest.  The same thing would happen with her drink.  As baffling as this was to me, there was probably a very real reason to her behavior - the food she was fed at the orphanage may have been nasty, hot, cold, putrid.  It may have been forced down her too fast.  It may have choked her as it went down.  We assume, as loving, caring people, that someone would never do this to a child - but the truth is shattering.  These children are abused continually, except in rare cases like Serenity.

Our biggest struggle right now, as we are just working on the very BASICS of life with Hope, is her sleep.  Or more accurately, her lack of sleep.  She is exhausted all the time.  She has only slept through the night twice at the hotel in her birth country and once in the 4+ weeks she has been home.  The rest of the nights she screams and cries.  For the first 3 weeks, it could be for the majority of the night.  We tried everything we could think of - lights on/lights off, music on/music off, talking to her/not talking to her, feeding her right before bedtime/feeding her earlier...the list goes on and on.  A little over a week ago, I moved her out into the family room so we could lay her in her crib at night with family life still going on around her.  I am also sleeping in the big recliner next to her with a small lamp on so she can see I am there.  When she does start to scream, I pull her in my lap and rock her until she goes to sleep.  Sometimes I have also fallen into an exhausted sleep at this point and we just sleep in the chair for a few hours.  Sometimes I can lay her back in the crib.  It is very slowly getting better...think "minutes" more of sleep, not hours at this point...but still improvement.  I am used to not getting long periods of sleep as Mimi has been up and down all her life (but is thankfully doing MUCH better these last couple of months).  But with the pregnancy, this is harder on me to do.  Right now I just can't think too far ahead - like when I am needing to feed a newborn at night - I am just thankful for some sleep.  

But even in that, she is scared.  I know she thinks when I lean over the crib that I am going to hurt her.  She screams and moves as far away as she can.  She screams as I pick her up and pull her on my lap.  It is only after I start rocking and singing softly that she begins to relax and stop screaming.  I cannot tell you what that does to my heart.  NO child should ever think they are going to be hurt for crying - NO child should EVER have this fear.  EVER.  So as she drifts to sleep eventually (sometimes 20 minutes later, sometimes 2 hours later) the tears fall silently down my cheeks for her.  Oh, my Savior, how the world needs You.

My "moment" is gone tonight as I have to get my treasures ready for bed.  More will have to wait for the next moment in time....

Until He comes - to Him be all glory, honor, and praise.  

I know that there are many reading this blog right now in order to mock our family and choices.  I am praying that you will not be able to ignore the hand of God in our lives.  I am praying that even as you read to mock, that your soul is touched with the Truth.  I would also have to ask, you have spent a great deal of time in mocking us, but how much time have you spent in offering help and solutions to others in need?  It is very easy to mock - especially little children who cannot defend themselves - but mockery takes no wisdom.  Yes, you may be clever, but you are not wise.  There is a massive difference.  You can easily change my words and question our decisions,make things into something they are not without ever giving a moment of your life, time, heart, or finances sacrificially for someone else.  You friends may think you are very clever indeed.  But someday you will stand before your Creator.  Someday you will be required to account for your actions.  Someday their Defender will demand your debt be paid - just as we all must do.  Only those whose trust in in Christ will have their debt paid.

Honestly, you will not ever understand our decisions.  As a very wise person once said, "We rescue not because we are the rescuers.  We rescue because we have been rescued."  We have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ - we have become new creations.  Not just "better" people - new people.  We are no longer dead in sin - we are alive in Christ.  The dead can never grasp the world of the living.  But we all will be called into account. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Update....Finally!

I am going to try to type this as Serenity is running her little hand all over the screen. :)

I know what it is like to want to know how a new family is doing - I check the blog every day!  I meant to update this immediately - and more often during the trip - but as always, real life gets in the way.

The flight home was rough on Handsome as Hope was just DONE.  She didn't want anymore changes, no more noises, no more!!!!  The flight attendants were so helpful and just let him hide in the back of the plane, but that is not an easy way to spend 10 hours.  She had done fairly well on the first flight of 2+ hours, but not now.  It also took a loooooooong time to get through immigration once they finally arrived.  Needless to say they were worn out and ready to be home.

I just can't describe the feeling of seeing the girls in our home.  It was just unbelievable to see them HERE...not just pictures and dreams.  Hope was still overwhelmed and crying, but was willing to let me hold her on my lap where she could see out the window.  Serenity was more than happy to meet all her new best friends and explore EVERYTHING!  The Helper had already been chosen to be Serenity's "buddy" so we were very excited to see them bond instantly - God's grace and plan.  Ahhh, the sweetness of it!

The Helper has more than earned her nickname this last week!  She feeds Serenity - not an easy chore with a tummy that never feels full, but a mouth that cannot really chew anything but soft things.  Lots of eggs, tiny pieces of pancakes, cut up bananas, teeny pieces of sandwich, etc.  I am amazed at how much this little punkin can pack away!  I knew from my visit with her in June that she wanted to eat all the time.  I never saw her without her clothes on and her little face has a "chubby" look to it - so I assumed she was pretty pudgy.  Boy, was I wrong!  She has the skinniest little legs and arms.  She eats a great deal - but moves even more!  We will look into other issues just to make sure her body is processing and getting all the foods and nutrients that she needs.  But honestly, I think she is just sooo busy, there isn't any extra to add to her body weight.

This little dynamo moves from the moment she gets up until we finally lay her in her crib at night.  She can climb in and out by herself, so it limits being able to keep her in the morning she gets up and wakes up all her sisters one by one!  It is one of those things that you have to laugh or cry.  We tend to chose laughter!  We are trying to Serenity-proof the house - but that is not proving to be an easy task!

She and The Helper had great fun in the snow the other day.

Serenity is up for anything and everything.  Her favorite thing to do, when not playing with a sister or brother, is to carry around a little mirror and admire herself.  It is so funny to watch.  She makes every face imaginable.  What a ham!

Bedtime has been a challenge.  We keep her awake until 9 with the rest of the kids.  Some nights this is harder than others.  Every night, up until last night, she screams and cries when we lay her down, even though she is exhausted.  Last night though - HALLELUJAH! - she laid down and went to sleep without a tantrum.  After she is asleep, she does sleep through the night - but she snores so loudly!  The noise always changes too.  There have been several nights that Handsome and I have gotten up to see what the noise was, only to realize it was Serenity.

The biggest challenges with Serenity will be her temper and bonding.  She is a very determined little person and was very spoiled at her orphanage.  (I would choose spoiled over neglected any day!!!)  She wants what she wants, when she wants it.  This has been the pattern in the orphanage - just go from one worker to the next until you get what you want.  She has never been taught any differently until now - this is just life in an orphanage - but boy, is her little world being rocked.  We are not going "hard nosed" on everything right now, but the areas that we are holding the line have been very hard on us all.  It will take training for a long time to begin to see progress in this area.  The bonding will also be a big issue.  She loves EVERYONE, but doesn't realize she belongs to specific people now - not just whoever is "on duty" today.  She would go with anyone at the moment without looking back.

She is not a cuddler - she is much too busy for that.  She does not show affection, other than she demands more of one person than the others - poor Helper!  However, she IS a mimic.  This will help her make progress in every area of life faster than anything else.  The Helper is already working on the signs for eat, please, and all done.  Serenity is able to do this - but not really willingly!  I also had a happy moment when  The Boss came up and gave me a rare hug...and then Serenity came up and did the same thing!  Little triumphs!

My sweet Hope.  That is definitely a harder story to tell.  I knew that her orphanage was beyond horrific.  I knew she was extremely institutionalized.  But how it breaks my heart to see it reflected in her little life every day.  She is overwhelmed by everything....everything.  The closest comparison that I can come up with is that of an extremely cranky newborn.  Why are they crying this time?  What just set them off?  Why won't the "normal" things calm them down?  Of course, there are no "normal" things for my little girl.  She cries (very loudly) with seemingly nothing changing.  And cries, and cries, and cries.  She is not easily calmed by holding and rocking, but eventually this will do the trick.  She cries when we start to feed her...she cries when we stop...she cries when we pick her up...she cries when we put her down.....  None of this is a surprise, but it is wearing to do day-in and day-out.

In the hotel, Handsome and Testy Chef were only able to feed her Gerber food or Pedialyte squirted through a syringe.  I was immediately able to switch to feeding her with spoon - but she was not happy about it.  I tried blending good soups and different foods and feeding her that, with no success.  It is Gerber fruits or nothing at all.  Because she was not getting any protein or all the vitamins she needed this way, I did add 2 servings of Pediasure between 3 feedings of Gerber foods.  I also have added a bunch of Gerber cereal to the Gerber foods, which she is not happy about.  (I am also slowly adding vitamins and probiotics daily)  This is not my favorite way to feed her - I prefer homemade over processed any day...but we are just doing what is possible right now.  It does appear that she has some differences in her mouth, even beyond what I originally assumed - this may have something to do with it or it may not.  She has already gained 2 POUNDS in a week - despite my concerns.  Which begs the question - what did they feed her in the orphanage if she can gain that much in a week on so little food?  One of many questions that plague this Mama's heart daily.

She can hold herself in a sitting position for a very long time and can get herself into that position from laying down with difficulty.  But she cannot lay herself down carefully - she just falls to the side.  Then cries when her head hurts. :(  This will be our first home-therapy goal.  The last two days though, she has just wanted to lay down, even when I put her in a sitting position.  This is not good.  She needs to be building muscles, not retreating.  So, today I pulled out Mimi's walker that she no longer uses.  Hope was not happy, but she was upright.
I am not expecting her to try to walk by any stretch of the imagination right now, but at least she is putting some weight on her feet and in an upright position.  Eventually, I think her natural curiosity and movement will get the walker to move a bit.  Right now though, she does not appreciate movement, so walking will not be a draw until she gets past this fear.

She does not sleep well.  She cannot make it until the 9 pm bedtime, but then is up several times at night and then before 6 am.   She cries as soon as she wakes up.  I try to have a cup of juice ready for her as this seems to calm her a bit.

Both girls will go to our local amazing Children's Hospital on Dec 30th.  This will be an appointment with 4 of the 9 doctors that will see them as they build a plan to do surgeries and treatments with them.  I am hoping we will get some initial answers to some of our immediate questions though.  I will also have them both evaluated by Mimi and Grace's therapists.  I do not think we will start therapy outside our home immediately with either one, but these therapists know us and will give us things to begin to work on at home.  For Hope especially, I think it is much more important to have her become relaxed and comfortable at home.  Mimi is very low muscle tone and Grace is very high muscle tone - so we have plenty of work with quite a range.  As I said, laying herself down carefully will be the first goal.

So what does a "day" look like right now?  Handsome and I are up before 6 with Hope, whom I hold and rock while Handsome holds Grace in an upright position while she coughs. :(  We have yucky coughs and colds right now and it is very difficult for her to clear her throat.  Eventually Mimi and Serenity join the mix as the older kiddos get up.  I wake everyone up by 7:15 and they begin their jobs while I start the feeding/changing routine.  Mimi fed by g-tube, Hope by mouth, Grace by g-tube while Testy Chef gets breakfast on for the rest of the precious crew.  The Helper gets food cut up for Serenity and she eats with the rest of the gang and Handsome.  With school these last days, they need to have their jobs done and at the school table by 9 a.m.  My mom, Nana, asked to work with the middle five this year - AMEN! - so she has The Prince (2nd grade), Snip (3rd grade), The Professor (in 1st-3rd grade depending on the subject), Romeo (4th grade), and Smiley (5th grade).  She makes it fun and challenging and then gets to go home and rest!  The oldest three - Testy Chef (10th grade), The Warrior (8th grade), and The Helper (7th grade) do an online accredited program.  While this is going on, I am taking care of the littlest and trying to do laundry, paperwork, and therapies.

Grace needs her arm/hand braces.   We are slowly working on this now that she got her new round of Botox this last week.  It is not comfortable for her, but so necessary.  She has two sets of braces - "daytime" ones that do some stretching and "nighttime" ones that really force her wrists, fingers, and thumb to the right positions.  Here is a picture of her with the "nighttime" ones.
Her little fingers curl tightly into her palm, her thumb holds closely to the fingers, and her wrists tilt outward/downward.  For those of you familiar with this, it is an opposite direction than usually happens.  As she curls her fingers, the ring and pointer curl completely in and the pinky and pointer stay straighter at the knuckle and then curl in toward the other two towards the top of the finger.  The thumb just presses closely to the pointer, it is not curled under the other fingers.  

At first I really struggled with doing the splints.  There was a nagging thought of "why do that to her" since she will probably never use her hands.  But the more I understood the long term problems, the more I knew it needed to be done.  Skin is a "connective" tissue - so it will start to adhere to itself if not moved and stretched.  To the point that it will rip apart if we tried to open her hands after letting it go for too long.  The casters were concerned already by the depth of the potential damage to her skin.  In addition, it will start to develop sores - and if we cannot open, clean, dry her palms, it becomes a very, very serious problem.  They have also found that if the muscles learn to be stretched out and relaxed, it lessens every day pain to the person.  

Right now we are doing an hour on, an hour off.  The term "nighttime" is only because most kiddos do better with the harder stretch at nighttime - but we are also doing them for short periods of time during the day.  The goal is eventually 8 hours of "nighttime" and 8 hours of daytime.  It makes my Mama's heart ache right now.

We also work with her on basic stretches and movements as well as "tummy time" to try to strengthen her neck/back/chest muscles.  None of this is easy for her - though she does seem to enjoy holding her head up for brief periods of time.  

My long term hopes and dreams for Grace?  Well, I believe completely that God could choose to heal her completely or partly if He chose to do so at anytime.  But I also know that it isn't what He chooses to do many times.  So my hopes and dreams are based on what we see right now.  I would love to she her be able to hold her head up without effort.  I would also love to see her hands relaxed instead of curled.   Those would be my hopes.  My dreams would be that she could hold herself in a sitting position independently and maybe begin to explore with her hands - but this doesn't seem likely.  I remind myself though that I never thought Mimi would be doing the things she does now!

With Mimi, right now we are working (as we have been for years) on her lazy eye.  Unfortunately, she wants to go to sleep as soon as we put it on.   She goes and gets her binky and tries to curl up in someone's lap.   Here is The Warrior with a cranky Mimi with her patchy on.
As far as the rest, she is "this close" to walking independently.  PRAISE THE LORD.  But with Mimi it is all about motivation and since she can "bunny hop" crawl, she sees no reason to walk.  She is a stubborn little one for sure!  We have backed off of feeding by mouth for a while as we have seen that if she is working on one area (like walking) then she becomes delayed in the other areas.  She spends her time happily hopping from one place to the next exploring.

With Hope, we are working on snuggling and teeny new experiences every day.  With Serenity, we are working on obedience and containment of all that energy! :)

It seems lunch time comes very quickly.  It is time for another round of feedings, then everyone except the four special girls goes down for "rest time" where they work on homework, read, or listen to books on tape.  When they all get up, we do chores, playtime, another round of feedings, and I just go to whoever needs me most.  Dinner time, another round of feedings then finishing chores.  Daddy doesn't get home until close to 8 p.m.  We are ready for time with him until bedtime.  The last round of feedings end at 10 p.m., when I can finally close my eyes.  If it is a good night, I am only up once or twice with someone...if not, I may just get a handful of scattered hours before we start again.

Boy, how does it sum up so easily, yet is so complicated and tiring in reality?!?!

As I said in the last post, our life is HARD.  It never goes smoothly and there is always the unexpected.  ALWAYS.  Whether it is business paperwork, medical paperwork/calls, medical appointments, temper tantrums, sickness, a broken washing machine, or cranky kids and/or Mama.  There is always something for which we need His GRACE poured over us.

Sometimes there is something really my stroke in October.  Sometimes it even comes in bunches.  I have been trying to get a post out ever since my stroke, and just have not been able to sum up the mass of emotions swirling through my heart and mind.

Before my stroke, Handsome and I suspected I was pregnant, but we had miscarried enough times, we assumed it would also be the case this time.  To be honest, I just assumed this would be the case because I didn't not even want to consider HOW we would do this.  I have gotten pregnant after EVERY adoption, so it shouldn't have surprised us...but it was always so very, very hard.  My pregnancies are hard and my newborns are CRANKY.  We had felt after so many miscarriage and so long between pregnancies (for us) that God had just closed the doors.  Instead of the despair I always worried I would feel, I felt a sense of peace that it was time to move onward to whatever else He had in store....I was surprised by the pregnancy, but felt it would end in miscarriage again.

The stroke was a difficult surprise.  It was a severe test of faith - and a test of my belief that God was always good - even in the hard things.   If it had happened to anyone else, I would be able to comfort them with Scripture that said exactly that.  But as I was laying in the hospital bed, my mind was a blank and my emotions were ruling instead of truth.  Based on the doctors reactions and my own weak strength, I was sure that I had lost the baby during the stroke.   I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt in my feeling of relief.  I couldn't wrap my heart around a stroke and the challenges it brought, adoptions to finish and the details with that, AND a pregnancy.  No one could have been more surprised then me when an ultrasound showed a little body and a strong heartbeat.  I honestly did not expect that.  I just stared at the little moving person on the screen with disbelief.  Right afterwards, I was ushered into the exam room to meet the high-risk OB I was sent to by the ER physicians.  I didn't know what to feel - but what happened next was completely unexpected.  

I really liked the OB as we began our initial chat.  She was very friendly and easy to chat with.  She asked a lot of questions and hid her surprise at the size of our family and pending adoptions relatively well.  Finally she asked if I was a person of "religious" orientation.  I said I was.  She said so was she.  I smiled, not sure where this was leading.  She said that she did not agree with abortion except in the most extreme cases....I hesitantly smiled - not sure where this was going....she finished by saying that she considered me one of these extreme cases.......What?....WHAT?...

Don and I had discussed many times over the years what we would do in this scenario.  But of course, as you discuss it, you are not scared and tired and overwhelmed.   But the answer instantly popped out - "That is not even an option."  She looked surprised and told me that I needed to understand we were talking about my life and that I needed to talk with my husband.  I agreed I needed to talk with him, but I told her it would not change the answer.  I already knew what he would say.  It wouldn't be said as confidently as all of our previous discussions - but I knew it would be the answer anyway.  She paused for a few moments and said that it would be very, very hard to find a doctor willing to work with us and that I needed to see a super-high-risk doctor.  She stated again that my life was at huge risk.  I said no again.  She sighed and then offered her hand for a handshake.  She said, " Well, congratulations then, I guess.  The baby looks perfect."  

As I tried to hold my tears in until I reached the car, I kept hearing her say, "The baby looks perfect."  How could someone suggest I kill a perfect baby for my own sake?  I know where she was coming from...I do.  But I also know my God is sovereign.  Even if He takes my life with 13 other children, He is sovereign.  I called Don and sobbed out the story to him.  He was in shock as well - but he said the same thing.  Abortion is not an option.  Even to save my life.  I went home in a daze, just to turn around and head back to the appointment with the cardiologist.

As I met with him, I told him what the OB had said.  He looked shocked.  He said, "Oh, no.  There are doctors that will work with you.  Here is one of them." as he handed me a card.  It was a doctor at the huge university about an hour from us.  I didn't want to have to drive into the city, but I had no other choice.

I had an appointment the next week for the cardiologist to run a scope down my throat to determine if there was a hole in my heart.  He did indeed find a tiny hole.  BUT this still didn't explain the stroke.  He said that up to 25% of the population also has this hole - there really had to be a clot to cause the stroke.  I still had no signs, indications, or predispositions to clotting - no matter what test they used.  There was still no explanation for what happened.  Once I clarified that it was not stress, weight, eating, etc that caused the stroke, I was ready to move on.  I do not think they will ever know why - only God does.  It was determined that I needed to take blood thinners, especially through the pregnancy.  However, the pregnancy complicated that.  So, I have to self-inject doses of blood thinners twice a day into the area on my tummy.  I will just say it is not fun or easy to do.

The next week was the appointment with the super-high-risk OB.  This time I went into the appointment as tense as could be.  I knew what others thought.  What would the new doctor say?  She said that the situation was indeed serious as the blood thickens and clots as you are pregnant, but she was also shocked by what the previous OB had suggested.  She said that they worked with very, very difficult cases, but this one wasn't even close to that.  She said the injections were exactly right and that they would just closely monitor me.  It also means another c-section, which I assumed anyway.

I am now 18 weeks along.  The doctor is next to positive that it is another little boy.  This will make 7 adopted/7 biological - 7 boys/7 girls.  So where am I at emotionally?  Honestly, I am still struggling.  Most days I am so busy, I forget I am pregnant.  I am not feeling Little Man move yet and I have medicine to control the nausea.  As this is the first pregnancy since I have figured out that I need to be gluten/dairy free, so I have gained a great deal less weight and feel much better - as long as I am not lead astray by a piece of hot pizza. :)   I WANT to be excited for Little Man.   I want to dream of little fingers and toes, that wonderful baby smell, and the peace of holding a little one in the middle of the night as everyone else sleeps.  But my emotions are still leading astray.  I can only think of the terrible tiredness those last 2 months.  The panic as I try to figure out how to nurse a little one as four other little ones - and several big ones need me NOW.  The frustration of supposedly not being able to lift over ten pounds for 6 weeks when my baby will be over 10 pounds at birth if he follows the pattern.  I have VERY cranky/fussy newborns into the first year.  I have had 6 of them - I have tried it all.  It is just part of their DNA.  Lord, You are in control, right?  You promise You are with me always?  You promise to give me strength and rest - or the ability to do without, right?

Here is our life...full of joys, sorrows, and complications.  Full of countless ways to trust Him more.  I rejoice at all He has blessed me with - from my oldest treasure all the way down to the newest still growing inside - from those "home grown" to those gathered from the far corners of the earth.  I rejoice in this season of celebrating my Savior's birth.  Knowing He came to rescue me from my sins.  I rejoice....I rejoice even that He knows I am being stretched and is still singing a love song over me.

The Helper felt that everyone should see the amazing sight of all our stockings hanging together:

Our simplified Christmas tree - this year we only put up the ornaments from this year and last and a few softies for the girls....

And finally, a new bonus at our new home...we can put all the presents OUT OF REACH from little hands and use them as decorations...

Rejoicing in my blessings...trusting Him for the future.

Until He comes - He is worthy of praise.