December 11, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's done!! We are a legal family. We are so thrilled to have Shep's adoption complete, I can't even explain how I feel right now. We have cried and fought and worked our way through this last year and, honestly, it's been brutal. Someday my brain will put all the events and emotions from this year in order and I will share my thoughts with you, but I'm not quite there yet. For now, I can tell you that there is relief. And Gratitude. Oh, and happiness. So much happiness. I am deeply in love with our little family. I would move mountains for them. 

May 2, 2013

Shepherd's Adoption Story Part III

The other day I was talking to my cute sister-in-law about Shepherd's story and it sparked a memory from my past that painted a strong visual of how I have been feeling as of late. As a 19 year old girl I spent a semester abroad in Honolulu, Hawaii attending the University of Hawaii. My friends and I had worked hard to fit in, so we were excited to be invited to a "locals" beach in Kaneohe called Sandy Beach Park. It's known for strong currents and big swells that crash close to the shore, which makes for good body boarding, but also means it's ranked high risk for injuries and can be dangerous. I was on swim team in high school and was a very confident swimmer, so naturally I headed out into the water without hesitation. The waves were big, and although I was uneasy, I managed to make it past the break and into the deeper calm of the ocean for a time. It wasn't until I decided to get out that I realized how strong the current was and as I fought to swim to shore I began to feel exhaustion creep in. I finally neared the beach, my toes reaching for the security of the sand below, but as I stretched to get my footing the waves quickly overtook me and I found myself caught in the rolling break of waves crashing violently into the shore. At first I was calm, if not a little embarrassed, but it quickly turned to panic as I felt a total loss of control overtake me in the powerful and relentless pounding of the waves. At one point I felt the top of my head hit the sandy bottom as I was flipped effortlessly head over heals. I clamored and gasped for air when I could, but I could not escape the water that ceased to pour over me with crushing force. For a moment I would catch my footing and try furiously to get out, but the waves were too big and all my efforts were so powerless in comparison. I was losing the battle and I didn't know how to get out of it. I was so tired and scared by the unexpected pounding I had just received that I ended up swimming back out into the deeper ocean just to rest a moment and catch my breath. A friend, and local, swam over to me and asked if I was alright. I desperately explained to him that I was struggling to get out of the water and that I was getting really tired. With a puzzled look on his face he asked me why I had even tried to swim out in the middle of a set in the first place. A WHAT??!!! This landlocked mountain girl had no idea that waves come in "sets". Apparently, in between "sets" there is a calm, the perfect time to make an exit without risk of drowning. I stopped fighting the waves and, through new eyes, began to see the natural flow of the ocean. I aligned myself and calmly walked straight out of the water and onto dry land. 
What it all came down to: Timing. 

The day after Easter Sunday I was told that a transport team from Utah would be picking us up and taking us home on Tuesday morning at 11:00 AM. I eagerly packed my suitcase, said my good byes to all our new friends in Texas, and took the 45 min. drive to the hospital one last time. Stephanie tearfully dropped me off and I waited in the NICU for the transport team to arrive. Instead the nurse informed me that there was a problem with our insurance approving the transfer and I would need to wait for their go- ahead. Every single day for an entire week I was told the transport team was coming in the morning. Every day that went by I felt more and more desperate, forgotten, and alone. I squatted in the hospital and sat by Shep's bedside intermittently reading and praying for a miracle. I pestered the heck out of our insurance representative, who was very sweet to me, but also a little disturbingly vague. I felt I was constantly on the verge of saying the wrong thing, the thing that would give them a reason not to come. It was general conference weekend, Saturday morning, and I was longing to be home with my family more than ever. My mom and dad were in Utah and I just wanted to be in my jammies, listening to the Prophet, and eating eggs benedict. I was so tired of fighting and I was hitting a wall, that wall that makes you feel totally helpless and unheard. So I prayed. Hard. I even told Heavenly Father that I was wearing my last clean pair of underwear and that I really needed to go home TODAY. I sat up and had an epiphany. Call Primary Children's and ask them personally why they aren't coming. I called. The poor nurse did not want to talk to me, but I wouldn't let her off the hook until I personally talked to someone that knew the answer. Finally...the answer? The insurance had, in fact, approved the transport the day before but had forgotten to give the transport team the approval code. A six digit number stood in the way of Shep and I getting home in time for conference Sunday. There was a two hour window on that Saturday morning in which our insurance company takes calls. I called just in time and they gave me the number. Two hours later the charge nurse at PCMC called me back with the unbelievably good news: the transport team had left 45 minutes earlier. Now, here is where this small part of the story gets me every time and why I am including it in this diatribe. In my mind I knew that it would have been sorted out by Monday or Tuesday and that, relatively speaking, it would have been perfectly fine, but here is what I love so much about this small difference of a few days. It mattered so much to me. Either way, they were coming, but I was so tired and broken spirited and the Lord in all his glory granted me the most tender mercy. He cared that I wanted to be home then and there, with my family, and for Pete's sake, with clean undies. Never before has it been so clearly impressed upon my mind how much the Lord loves me. The Lord spelled it out to me in that moment: I love you, I care about you, I know you. I do not doubt it for a moment. 

Conference Sunday was exactly what I had imagined. Ben, Isla, and I made breakfast and cuddled together on the couch to hear the word of God through the Prophet and his Apostles. We drove to PCMC during the second session so that we could be with Shepherd afterwards and my parents wanted to meet us there. We sat in the parking lot and listened to Elder Holland's inspired talk. Tears flooded my eyes as he spoke these words about a father pleading with the Savior over the well being of his son:

"With no other hope remaining, this father asserts what faith he has and pleads with the Savior of the world, “If thou canst do any thing,have compassion on us, and help us.3 I can hardly read those words without weeping. The plural pronoun us is obviously used intentionally. This man is saying, in effect, “Our whole family is pleading. Our struggle never ceases. We are exhausted. Our son falls into the water. He falls into the fire. He is continually in danger, and we are continually afraid. We don’t know where else to turn. Can you help us? We will be grateful foranything—a partial blessing, a glimmer of hope, some small lifting of the burden carried by this boy’s mother every day of her life.”
“If thou canst do any thing,” spoken by the father, comes back to him “Ifthou canst believe,” spoken by the Master.4"  

We headed into the hospital with a renewed faith to see our very sick little boy. Ben asked my dad to help him administer a Priesthood blessing. It was a powerful and sacred blessing that I would like to keep private, however, I would like to share that in this blessing it was said that Shepherd would be healed predicated on the faith of those present in the room. In that moment Elder Hollands words echoed loudly through my mind, 
"Lord, I believe."

A week went by and Shep continued to get worse. We received some devastating news that had unknowingly been withheld from us at the hospital in Texas. Shep had tested positive in 3 separate tests for a deadly genetic immuno-deficiency syndrome called SCIDS. It would mean that Shepherd would not be getting better and that we would need to consider his quality of life and the romoval of life support. PCMC did a follow up test and it had also come back as positive for SCIDS. We were beside ourselves with grief. After all we'd been through, how could it have all been for naught? Our despair was overwhelming and I felt more drained than I could have thought was possible. One more wave crashing down on us. I didn't know how to talk about it, so I told only close family members and then retreated into my cocoon. My mom recruited extended family members to put our names in the Temple and fast and pray for us. A mighty effort put forth our family names in every temple and prayer circle in the west and beyond. Literally thousands of prayers were being offered up for our son. 

                            Source: via Kindle on Pinterest

A few days later the Immunology Specialist at PCMC came to run more tests in order to establish our course of action. Every single test came back negative for SCIDS. To this day the Immunologist is completely baffled as to how it is possible that Shepherd had 4 false positives from 2 separate hospitals and that currently his tests are completely healthy. Baffled.

The very next day the head of the Cardiology Department, Dr. Day, called from vacation in Barcelona, Spain. He was feeling inspired to suggest a different and uncommonly used type of exam that he wanted performed on Shep. On the phone, he talked the cardiologist through it and sure enough they found it, Shepherd had a very rare and dangerous heart defect called an AP Window linking his aorta and pulmonary arteries. We finally had the answer. Shepherd underwent open heart surgery last Tuesday and is doing amazingly well for only a week and a half out of surgery. His incredible surgeon, Dr. Kaza, said that Shep's heart was under such distress that he was doubtful that Shepherd would have lived for much longer without the surgery. They had found it just in time. Shepherd is getting stronger every day and we are hopeful he will be home soon. He will still have some health issues down the road, but they are treatable and, comparatively, less of a worry. We love him more everyday and our time serving him, worrying over him, and praying for him has only served to strengthen our bond to him. I will always be grateful that this journey has given us that kind of strength and love as a family.

When we started this adoption, two years ago, I promised that you would see a miracle. After our failed adoption, maybe with slightly less conviction, I again asked you to keep watching. A miracle would surely come. I prayed for it and I believed that it would come, but I certainly wavered many times in my faith while waiting on the Lord's timing. I have even felt ashamed for making such a public statement, who was I to speak of miracles? Maybe that was not the Lord's plan for me? Maybe we would disappoint all those who had been offering ernest prayers and hopes for our family and their faith would waver as well? Instead, I am overwhelmingly humbled by the many, many miracles the Lord had in store for us. I want you to know that His plan for us is infinitely more grand than anything we could imagine for ourselves.  His timing is perfect and life saving and has taught us invaluable(though hard)life lessons along the way. I have seen service and Christ-like-love come to our rescue at every turn. In every crisis there have been angels coming to our aid. I testify of miracles, of the Saviors rescue and love for us in times of trial. I testify of tender mercies and angels attending our way. I testify of the power of prayer. The knowledge of it is eternally burned into my heart.  

April 19, 2013

Shepherd's Adoption Story, Part II

One week quickly turned into two. I missed my husband and Isla was starting to struggle with being away from her dad, our home, our routine, and with mom going to the hospital every day.  I prayed and prayed for a miracle, hoping with each new morning that I would walk into that hospital and Shep would be completely healed. The doctors had originally predicted he would be in the hospital for 3-4 weeks. He was already a week old when I got there, so I figured by my second or third week in Texas we'd be on our way home. Day by day it became obvious we were not going anywhere, anytime soon. And there was another big problem. The caseworker in Texas was adamant that we not do placement until the baby was discharged from the hospital. There was also an issue with the timing for ICPC, the interstate compact agreement that allows adoptive parents to leave state lines after placement, but before finalization. To get permission from ICPC can take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks depending on when the paperwork is processed and it cannot be started until after placement, which was being delayed(Does your brain hurt yet?). Everyday I sat with my son in the hospital with no legal right to have a say in any of his medical care. He was in limbo. WE were in limbo. Legal placement needed to happen, and soon, I KNEW it in my heart. I don't care to explain this part of the story in detail, it's not pretty and in the long run it really doesn't matter who said what, but just know this: I went to battle for my family, for my son. On a Saturday night I received a call from the Ogden LDSFS office that placement would be happening on Monday afternoon. I honestly couldn't believe it. I immediately called Ben to get a flight and lo and behold they were sold out, well kinda, there was one flight routed through New York and Georgia that cost $1200.00 dollars. Ahhh! Enter another miracle: An angel (you know who you are!) with a connection to Delta had a buddy pass for us. Ben flew into Oklahoma City on Sunday morning and then rented a car and drove 6 hours to Midland, Texas. After 10 years together we have rarely been apart and never for more than a few days. When he pulled into the driveway I felt like my heart was going to burst and all the anxiety and stress I had been carrying around for weeks seemed to lighten as our family was  finally reunited.

On Monday, March 18th we readied ourselves for the emotion that comes with placement day. We sat in an office at the church and talked about Shepherd, our stay in Texas, and how all these things had fallen into place. Shepherd's birthmom, Kathleen, was so strong and put on a brave face. Isla's birthmom, Cassie, had written a special note and sent it along with a little gift for Kathleen, from one birthmom to another. Kathleen read the note aloud and I struggled to hold my tears back as she read the sweet words Cassie had written to her about our family. The days leading up to placement had been tense, but in that moment the spirit was so strong and I hope in some way it was a comfort for Kathleen to have the support of another birthmom in our family, two women whose children are now siblings. It's clear that Shep is a special boy with lots of people who love him. We cried bittersweet tears and just like that, he was ours.

The next week and a half was great. We spent lots of time at the hospital, playing at the park, getting Mexican food at Rosa's, and eating donuts from the Southern Maid stand, all of these things within close proximity to the hospital. I visited cute baby stores and bought sweet little clothes to take Shepherd home in. We had hoped to leave as a family and I pictured all of us flying home together any day soon. Each day that passed with no improvement for Shep seemed like a defeat. His lungs were small because he was premature, but they just did not seem to be getting better the way they should have been. I began to worry if maybe something else was going on with him, something the hospital in Odessa may not have been able to detect. Ben and Isla flew home and I felt the full weight of the situation pressing in on me. How much longer would I have to stay in Texas, a week? a month? 2 months? Nobody had an answer for me. I sat at Shepherd's bedside day in and day out, waiting for something, anything to change. The Sunday after Ben and Isla left was Easter. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and figured I'd spend the whole day with Shepherd. His tolerance for sedatives is super high and that day he just couldn't seem to relax. I held his hand and sang to him and tried to get him to be calm, but he kept thrashing his head back and forth and I could see he was crying really hard, though no sound could be heard due to his breathing tube. It was heart breaking and made me feel completely powerless to help sooth him while he was so confined to the bed. Then his oxygen began to drop, and quickly. I could see the sudden stress in the nurses eyes and she asked if I'd like to wait out in the hall. I said no, I wanted to stay. His oxygen got so low that the sensor lost his heart rate, the vent stopped working, and they had to bag him, which is a balloon that they use to essentially give CPR. When the nurses were finally able to get him stable again I went over to hold his little hand and whisper to him. He looked up at me with the saddest little eyes and I knew: It was time to go. 

That evening I went home, exhausted and totally depleted. Shepherd's day had gone terribly and I knew it was time to go, but I had no idea how to get that to happen. Odessa Regional had already expressed their inability to transfer a baby on not only an oscillator vent, but nitric oxide as well. Two things that would make transport very difficult. A name floated on the egde of my mind. A friend we knew well in Colorado that was a Nurse Practitioner with an impressive resume. I hadn't spoken to her in years and didn't know what to say if I called her, how would I explain what was happening and all the medical terms in a way that would even make sense? I walked in the door, laid on the bed, and my phone rang. It was her.

My friend, Amy, knew exactly which questions to ask and understood the situation perfectly. She explained to me all that I would need to know to put the pieces together. She also gave me the number to Primary Children's NICU and told me to speak to Dr. Null, the Medical Director at PCMC, directly and ask that they come and pick us up. It turns out that only a handful of teams in the country have the ability to pick up a baby on the kind of life support Shep is on, and one of the best happens to be Life Flight in Salt Lake City, Utah. First thing in the morning I called PCMC. As chance would have it, Dr. Null just happened to be standing next to the nurse that answered my call and she put me right on with him. Within hours it was arranged and I was told to pack my bags because they were coming to pick us up the next morning. We were going home.  

April 11, 2013

Shepherd's Adoption Story, Part I

So, what's the story? 
Many people have asked me this question. It seems easy enough to answer, afterall, I lived it. But every single time I end up drawing blanks as I try to encompass all that has happened in the last month and a half into a simple sentence. In many ways, I have been incapable of even understanding it all myself. In an attempt to gather my thoughts and make sense of everything we've been through, here it is. The story. 

After 2 years full of heartbreak and sacrifice in adoption my patience had worn thin. Many days I would cry and wonder why building a family has to be so hard for us. Ben and I decided to become a licensed Foster family and open up every avenue possible for our children to come home. After months of preparation we were finally approved and ready to start taking children into our home. The first phone call we got from our social worker was perfect. Two small children that needed us. I was so excited to finally be getting more children in our home, but I wanted to make sure we were the right place for them. I prayed. The answer was no. What?! NO?! They were not meant to come to us. A week later we got another call for a newborn baby girl that needed a home. Again, we prayed. The answer was, again, no. I was so sad and questioned my faith and the clear answers we were receiving. I just couldn't understand why the Lord would say "no" after all this time. Only a few days later, on February 8th, we received an email from Kathleen, an expectant birthmom. Ben and I were out on a date when I saw the email on my phone. We pulled into a dark, empty parking lot and read it together. She was having a boy and he would have some special needs. His spine did not develop properly and we would not know the extent of how he would be affected until after birth. We needed to decide if that was something we could handle, and we had to decide quickly since he was scheduled to be born via C-section on March 18th. 
We cried and cried when we read her words. We were happy and sad and confused all at the same time. Before saying anything we decided to pray. In my minds eye I saw a boy in a wheelchair with lots of black hair. He was on a stage accepting his high school diploma and we were so proud of him. A well known primary song entered my mind and I heard the words to Nephi's Courage echoing,"I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey." 
When I opened my eyes and looked at Ben, he was crying and said, "I think we're going to Texas". We knew. This was our son and nothing else mattered. The Lord knows us, he knows everything about us, and he knows what we are capable of so we have to trust him. We anxiously responded to Kathleen's email and hoped she would also know we were his family. She didn't have much time to decide, because a few short weeks later he surprised us all and was born February 28th, 5 weeks early.
I was beside myself when we found out he had been born. It was hard not to feel a little resentful towards the Lord's timing, I wanted so badly to be present for his birth. It wasn't until later that we realized, due to his birthmothers medical condition, that he most likely would not have made it another week in utero. His early delivery was,indeed, a blessing in disguise. He was immediately transported to the NICU in Odessa, Texas and we were told he may be there for at least 3 weeks. I could barely breath knowing our new baby was so far away in the hospital. Our past adoption experiences had also made me paranoid, worrying about all the things that could go wrong with a delayed placement. We waited a whole week and I couldn't take it anymore, I wanted, needed, to be there. 

Midland, Texas. Famously known as the childhood home of George W. Bush. It's extremely dry, flat, and hot. When Isla and I flew in we were amazed to see thousands of miles of dirt dotted with little, white, square patches as far as the eye could see. Oil riggs. The good news is that for what Midland lacks in scenery, it makes up for in plenty of Texas charm. Lots of oil money and a housing shortage meant that even the shady hotels were $150.00 a night and usually occupied by oil rigging crews. The LDS Mission Leader's wife, Stephanie, had been helping Kathleen with her birth plan and is a true example of what it means to serve others. She had asked if anyone in the ward knew of an apartment we could rent. Our prayers were answered when we received the most generous offer in the form of an email from a woman named Jamie. Her husband had tragically passed away in a car accident, 8 months earlier. They had raised his 5 children from a previous marriage and had another darling little girl together. When he passed away, the five older children had to go and live across the country with their biological family and she and her five year old daughter were left with each other, picking up the pieces after losing their entire world. As a result they had quite a few empty bedrooms and an extra car they would be happy to share with us. She said it would help them heal to serve  others. Even as a write this it brings tears to my eyes, and I cannot express the level of gratitude I feel for this sweet mother and daughter. We had a place to stay, a home with a sweet spirit, a car, but most of all we had friends. People who made us feel welcome and at home when we were most vulnerable. Jamie listened and reassured me in dark moments, she watched my daughter so I could go to the hospital, and Isla had a sweet playmate to keep her busy. I will never forget her loving Christ-like example and generosity to us during this time and at a time when they, themselves, are grieving.

The first time I walked into Odessa Regional Medical Center I was buzzing with nervous anticipation. I was thrilled to finally be meeting my new son, but we had limited information about his medical condition and I didn't know what to expect. I had prepared for the worst case scenario, which, with a diagnosis of Caudal Regression Syndrome, could be substantial. I had been reassured so many times in my prayers that he was going to be okay, but in that moment the fear crept its way into my subconscious. When I saw his tiny body with so many tubes and wires and beeping machines, it was heartbreaking, but I couldn't believe how amazing he looked. He does have some birth defects, due to unmanaged type II diabetes in his birthmom, but to me he looked so perfect in comparison to what I had prepared myself for that I was completely overjoyed. Oh, my, goodness, his cheeks and his HAIR! This kid had my heart at hello and I knew in that moment I would move mountains for him. Little did I know how much I would need to.  

February 26, 2013

It's a....


That's right folks. After all our wishing and hoping and praying our prayers are finally being answered. A baby boy will be joining our family in...wait for it...2 WEEKS!!! We are still in shock. Someday soon I will write and tell you all the many beautiful details, until then, there are a few things that we want you to know. The first is that we are extremely happy. We have been praying for another baby every single day for the past 2 years and now that it's here on our doorstep we are overwhelmingly filled with peace and joy. The next thing we want you to know is that this little sweetie is going to be brilliant. He is going to be brave. And he is going to be special, literally 1 in 100,000. You see, he has something called Caudal Regression Syndrome. It means that his little legs did not develop properly and we will not know all the ways in which that will affect him until after he is born. The doctors are optimistic and his Birthmom says she feels him kicking all the time, which is a good sign. He is strong, he is a fighter, and he has a head full of thick, black, hair and chubby cheeks already visible on the sonograms. It has been a strange and wonderful experience to be presented with this situation and been given a choice. It means that we have had to draw ever so near to the spirit. It means recognizing that our hearts were being prepared for this long before now. It means that our capacity to love and trust in God is growing. It means that, really, everything is going to be okay. Please keep our family, the baby, and his amazing Birthmom in your prayers. Miracles are already unfolding before our eyes and we are going to need them. 
Ben, Kindle, and Isla(very enthusiastic big sister)