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.