Wednesday, December 11, 2013

one month...

Has it really only been one month since we met our little girl for the first time? My goodness.

Having a four-year-old makes life a lot busier, so instead of writing a full post, I thought I'd make a list of things she is doing right now.

~ Speaks in English 90% of the time. She is starting to use sentences, too.

~ Loves to read books, play with playdough, have tea parties, color with markers, dance and sing

~ Can count to 20

~ Knows most of her letters and the sounds they make

~ Goes to sleep beautifully. After those two nights of uncertainty, she started role-playing her bedtime routine with her baby. She would do this 8-10 times a day. Now when we say, "It's time to get jammies on," she says, "Brush teeth, go potty, wash hands, read book, go night-night." She'll repeat this a couple of times during her bedtime routine. It's amazing. She sleeps from 8:15pm - 8:00am. So thankful!

~ Adores her big sisters. Every four-year-old should have big sisters. And every twelve and ten-year-old should have a little sister. The bond the three of them share already is so precious.

~ Feeds herself using a fork and spoon

~ Gives great hugs. When we first got her, Ivy-Ann would let us pick her up, but she wouldn't reach for us. She would also let us hug her, but she wouldn't return the hug. Now she reaches her arms up and jumps to be held. She also gives good, strong hugs.

~ Is becoming more dependent. I know this sounds backwards, but no four-year-old should be able to endure all that Ivy-Ann has had to go through. She is relying on Brian and I a lot more for things, which allows her to rest and just be a little girl.

We have had such an amazing transition as a family of five. Honestly, I never dreamed it would go this smoothly. We chuckle because the biggest transition we've had to make so far is getting used to the energy of a four-year-old again. Brian and I often stand back in awe at how this little girl fits in our family. God knew, and He orchestrated this. She was made for us, and we were made for her. :)

Monday, November 25, 2013

giving in...

Whew. What a night so far. My girls all took pretty long naps yesterday. I eventually had to wake Emryn and Ivy-Ann up. Not long after, we ate some yummy soup and apple bars (thank you again, Lauren, Lauren and Tess!) and then the nodding -off began. We were falling asleep at the table, on the floor, on our bed. All of us except Ivy-Ann. She was ready to play! We forced our way through showers and a bath and then decided it was time to go to bed. (It was 7:45.) 

However, Ivy-Ann was emphatic about not going to bed. As I was carrying her to her room, I explained that we were going night-night. She responded with no, many times. We went through the tiny routine we've been able to set up, and then it began. I laid her down on her bed, and she started crying. Her cries quickly turned to screams...some of the loudest, highest, most piercing screams I've ever heard. She was thrashing around and angry. 

Brian and I both knew it was a fit and that we could not give in. However, we also knew we couldn't handle this in the same way we would if it was one of our other girls. So we made her stay in her bed, but we stayed with her. One of us was touching her at all times (while the other was silently begging for wisdom), and we were constantly telling her we loved here and to be all done; we were giving her kisses and singing to her. We wanted her to know we weren't going to give in to her fit but that we weren't going to abandon her because of it either.

At one point she stopped screaming long enough to tell us she needed to go potty. We took her, and then, after some minutes, we realized she was just sitting there to avoid going back to bed. So back to bed we went. 

This went on for over an hour. Our poor baby was hoarse by the end of it. She finally gave in and fell asleep with Brian next to her kissing her cheek and telling her over and over that he loved her.

We know there were a lot of emotions wrapped into that fit, but we also felt we handled it with wisdom. It was exhausting, and we hope tomorrow night doesn't play out in a similar way. Though if it does, we'll be better geared for it.

She's been up twice since, and both times I've taken her back, and she's gone to bed just fine. That's a good sign, I think.

Whew! So much for giving in to fits or jet lag. Instead we gave into what the moment held and what our daughter most needed. 

missing pieces...

I just put Ivy-Ann down for a nap. It's the first time she's taken a nap since we've been home. We are so thrown off from jet lag. Brian and I got up at 4:00 this morning. The girls have been awake since 5:30.

Ivy-Ann has slept in her bed each night. She goes down well and sleeps until morning. No tears, no struggle. But this nap was different. I laid her down and watched through the cracked door as her eyes swept the room. At night it's always dark, and Emryn is in there with her. Today it was light, and she was alone. I could tell she was processing.

Our precious girl has been through so much in the past two weeks, let alone the past four years. She is adjusting so well. She is learning our home and our family-rhythm (whatever rhythm that may be in the midst of jet lag). She is happy and comfortable. She is safe and loved. But she has endured more than any child should have to endure. She was abandoned. She has lived in an institution. She has been in two foster homes. And in the past two weeks, she has been in 3 different hotels, many different buses, crazy-long plane rides and now is in a new place with new people. She doesn't yet know she won't be shuffled around any more. She doesn't know we won't leave her.

A few minutes after I stopped watching her through her door, we heard a noise. She was whimpering like a frightened infant. I ran in, scooped her up and held her close. Our sweet girl may be adjusting beautifully, but she still holds so much inside. I sang to her and rocked her until she fell asleep.

There are missing pieces in her childhood to this point. There is a good chance she has never been rocked to sleep. As I was gazing into her eyes, sometimes she was staring into mine trying to understand just who I am. Other times she was far, far away.

It is hard not knowing her story. She is strong in ways a little girl shouldn't be. She has pain deeper than I have ever experienced. She is braver than many grown men.

I don't know how to raise a child who was orphaned. But I know the One who does. And I will rest in that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Today was our visit to Ivy-Ann's orphanage. We were hoping for some time to see the place where Ivy-Ann spent the first four years of her life. We wanted to spend time with the other children who Ivy-Ann has grown up with and whose faces we've grown to love over the past 10 1/2 months. We knew a bit about a nanny who has been taking Ivy-Ann home with her, and we knew that this nanny and a "doctor" wanted to have lunch with us after our tour to the orphanage. What we didn't know was how this day would play out.

The orphanage is two hours away from our hotel. Because the other three families we are traveling with were going to a different orphanage, our guide went with them. He assigned a colleague of his to travel with us today. He was very nice, but we were disappointed. Charlie was not assertive, nor did he translate much of what was going on. It was frustrating. We were thankful to have someone who spoke English with us, though.

The orphanage is on the top of a mountain. All the way up I was gearing up to meet the nanny and to see the place my little girl has called home. I assumed once we entered, we would see everyone. I was wrong. When we pulled up to the orphanage, we were bombarded by about 10-12 people. They opened the van door, and a beautiful, young lady snatched Ivy-Ann up.

The chaos began. They were all cheering and clapping for Ivy-Ann. Eventually we were led into the orphanage, and the children bombarded us. Those precious faces that I've looked at on the screen were living and breathing. I knelt down and said, "Ni hao" (hello) to each one, looking them in the eyes and stroking their cheeks. All around us, the nannies and others were still yelling to and about Ivy-Ann, and I wasn't sure where my daughter was at that point. I grabbed a bag of Dum-Dums and started handing them out to the kids.

The chaos continued. I finally asked if we could see the babies. A new friend of mine is going to get her little boy soon, and I wanted to take some pictures of him. They led us into the babies' room, where all the babies were in their cribs. We all went around talking and gazing at their beautiful faces. It is heartbreaking to think these children have all been abandoned and some may never have families or homes. It was gut-wrenching seeing the reality of that. These babies and children are taken care of, but it is still an institution, and it is not a family. It was very difficult for us all to see.

I then asked if we could see Ivy-Ann's bed. And that's when the unknown story began to unfold. Ivy-Ann doesn't have a bed in the orphanage. Ivy-Ann was abandoned when she was 6 days old. When she was 2, a nurse and her husband started volunteering at the orphanage and fell in love with her. They took her home and fostered her until she was about 3 1/2. They had tried for a long time to have a baby, and they decided they wanted to adopt Ivy-Ann if the wife didn't get pregnant. They now have a 4-month-old baby boy.

When they could no longer keep Ivy-Ann, another family stepped up to foster her. They were an older family and very good friends with the younger family. We thought that Ivy-Ann only went home with this nanny on occasion, but she was actually living with them. And we had no knowledge of the younger couple or that Ivy-Ann was fostered during that time in her life.

Our visit to the orphanage lacked in so many ways because of the excitement surrounding our daughter. We didn't get to see Ivy-Ann's favorite room. We didn't get to see the "schoolroom." We barely got to see anything. We were only there for about 30 minutes at the most. And during this time, the young nurse was carrying Ivy-Ann around.

At this point, it was on to lunch. There were about 15 people that went to eat with us. The nurse wasn't quite ready to give Ivy-Ann up, so she invited me to ride in her car with her. She spoke a small amount of English, and it was awkward. However, it was good. Her husband drove, and she, Ivy-Ann and I sat in the back. I could see how much they loved Ivy-Ann and how thankful they were that we were adopting her.

After lunch, they invited us to their home. She had prepared a beautiful photo book of pictures they had taken when Ivy-Ann lived with them as a gift for us. It was a precious time seeing them, their beautiful baby boy and the place our daughter called home for a good portion of her life so far.

We then went to the home of the older family that had been fostering Ivy-Ann. They were not quite as attached to her, and they had fostered other children as well. They loved Ivy-Ann, though, and we are thankful for them.

Then it was time to say good-bye. We took pictures of us with each family. The precious young nurse and her husband were in tears, and so were we. We thanked them all and assured them that we already loved Ivy-Ann very much. We hugged everyone. The hardest hug for me was the young nurse. There were few words spoken and understood, but there was much said through that embrace.

They walked us out to the van, and each hugged Ivy-Ann. Then we shut the door. She never cried, but she came quietly back and sat next to me. She looked around and said each of our names, and then she sat quietly. The two families wanted to "drive us to the highway." Apparently that is a Chinese custom. We were hoping that once we got to the highway, they would go one way and we go another. But they stopped and came over to the van once more.

Ivy-Ann didn't budge. She had on her seatbelt, but I was letting her take the lead. They were all sticking their heads in and saying goodbye and I love you, wanting her to come and hug them. She just waved and said, "Bye bye." Within three minutes of them finally shutting the door, Ivy-Ann was sound asleep in my lap.

At one point, she stirred, looked up at me and said, "I love you" in Chinese then went right back to sleep. When she woke up, she looked at each of us said our names again. She also said and signed, "I love you" to each one of us. Her family. Hers.

Today was hard, but it was good. We are so thankful for those families who love our little girl, and we are thankful that they loved her enough to be glad she no longer has caretakers but has parents and sisters. A family. Her family.

(I'm off to bed now. I'm not proof-reading this, so I'm sorry for any errors. I may come back and add more or change some things later, but I needed to write this much out tonight.)

Monday, November 11, 2013


I am going to try to capture yesterday as well as I can. I don't want to forget. But I am going on only a couple of hours of sleep, so this may be scattered.

We arrived at the Civil Affairs office around 2:00. There are three other families here with us, but their children are from a different orphanage in the area. On the drive over, Michael, our guide, told us that Lelei (Ivy-Ann's Chinese name and her now middle name) would either already be there or be there soon. The other children would be arriving about an hour later. We walked in with searching eyes. They hadn't arrived yet. We looked around a bit, and then sat down to wait.

Within five minutes, our precious girl came bouncing in. We weren't sure if we could go up to her or not, but I called her name. The assistant director from her orphanage brought her right over. Lelei was so excited, chattering away and looking everywhere. I pulled out a stuffed seahorse that lights up and plays classical music, and she was entranced. It took her all of 5 seconds to figure out how it worked, and she squealed (loudly!) with delight.

After a few minutes more, she wanted to know what else was in her backpack. I pulled out a couple of other things. She played a bit as the assistant director was trying to give us information and tell Lelei who we were. I could tell she was trying to put it all together, so I pulled out the photo album we had sent her back in July. (They brought us a little bag with all the things we had sent to her.) I flipped through and pointed at the pictures and then at us. You could just see it clicking in her little head. She was so excited! She kept going between the seahorse and the album, pointing at pictures and then at us. I had prayed that we would be familiar, and we were. Her orphanage had prepared her well.

She is just perfect. She talks all the time, and we just try to turn everything into English. She is very smart and very focused. She colored with color wonder markers (she is ambidextrous right now) for almost an hour. She would ask for help and get confused when there were areas that wouldn't show color, but she'd just move on to another area. Then we played with pop beads for the next hour. She loves to put things away as much as she loves playing with them.

Every 30 minutes or so, she would look around the room. (The assistant director said she can only really see about 3-feet away, so we were all close.) She would point to each of us and say our names and wouldn't rest until she found all of us. Then she would go back to whatever she was doing.

She loved getting a bath! We have some stacking cups, and she kept pouring them over her head. She is very independent, which is good, but we are hoping she will let some of that go once she can rest in her parents. She also loved having her hair brushed and dried. It soothed her.

We read "Goodnight Moon" multiple times, and she was entranced. She learned the word "balloon" quickly and actually pointed to the red balloon once on her own and said, "balloon." She also has almost learned Ashlyn's and Emryn's names.

We have two, connecting rooms, so Ashlyn and Emryn are in one, and we are in the other. When we went to put Ashlyn and Emryn to bed, we kissed them. Ivy-Ann crawled over and kissed them both just like we did. It melted all of our hearts.

We put her in between us in our bed, and she played with her seahorse a bit before falling asleep. She is still asleep with her Baba (daddy) right now. I couldn't quit touching her last night. Feeling her little feet, playing with her thick, course hair, listening to her breathe, feeling her little heart beat...she is here. With us. Ours.

We go today to finalize the adoption. Ashlyn and Emryn are doing so well, and they are in love with their sister. We don't know what today will hold, but yesterday was beautiful and precious, and we couldn't have asked for a better first day with our daughter!

Monday, November 4, 2013

two weeks in China...

What will we be doing while we're in China for two weeks? Eh...nothing much. ;)

Friday, 11/8 - leave for China

Sunday, 11/10 - arrive in China

Monday, 11/11 - Go to the Civil Affairs office to receive Ivy-Ann!

Tuesday, 11/12 - finalize the adoption 

Wednesday, 11/13 and Thursday, 11/14 - One day will be spent sightseeing. The other day will be spent driving two hours in the mountains to the orphanage where Ivy-Ann has lived for the past four years. 

Friday, 11/15 - fly to Guangzhou

Saturday, 11/16 - Ivy-Ann will have her medical.

Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, 11/17 - 11/19 - sightseeing in Guangzhou

Wednesday, 11/20 - Consulate Appointment

Thursday, 11/21 - packing and driving to Hong Kong

Friday, 11/22 - leave China

Friday 11/22 in the States - Arriving home as a family of five!

China is 14 hours ahead of us, so that accounts for some of the weirdness in the dates of our return. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

next steps...

On September 6, we finally received our LOA (Letter of Acceptance). After almost five months of hard waiting, we had it! This was the letter from the CCCWA asking us to accept or not accept Ivy-Ann as our daughter. Of course, we said yes!

Once we had our LOA, we could then move on to other things. I spent three hours last Saturday filling out our visa applications. They were sent to China. I got an email yesterday saying our visas had been picked up and mailed back to us. I'm hoping we get them tomorrow or Monday.

Our LOA was overnighted on September 9, with some other paperwork, to the USCIS. The approval of this paperwork will give us permission to bring Ivy-Ann into the US. Once the USCIS has approved our paperwork, they will forward it to the NVC (National Visa Center).

At that point, I get to contact the NVC daily and request that they email me the pdf of our cable letter which is going over to the US Embassy in China. The NVC does not have to email the pdf to us. We will eventually get the hard copy in the mail, but it will speed the process along if they are willing to email it. I'm hoping I will quickly reach someone kind who doesn't mind helping me.

Once we have a copy of the cable letter, we can begin the process for our Article 5. This is the process for issuing Ivy-Ann's visa at the Consulate in China. This process takes two weeks.

Once the Article 5 is sent to the CCCWA, we begin the wait for our Travel Approval (TA). Once this arrives, it won't be long before we are told when our consulate appointment (CA) is.

Not long after getting our TA and CA, we will be on our way to our little girl! We won't know exactly when we will travel until we get our TA, but we are hoping to go to China sometime in December, if not November.

We are coming, sweet girl! :)