Christmas 2013

I remember last year in December, when Arie was home just a couple weeks, one of our friends gave him his very first gift. The mom gave the gift to her toddler daughter who placed it in front of Arie: a brightly colored gift bag with crinkly tissue paper sticking out the top. Arie was sitting on the floor of our living room, gift bag placed before him with great anticipation. The other mom and I along with that sweet little girl all watched in anticipation, waiting for Arie to open the gift. 

He looked down at the gift bag then up at our expectant faces then down at the gift bag again... and burst into tears! I knew it was his first gift, but somehow I failed to realize he would had no idea what he was supposed to do when we put it in front of him!

This Christmas that boy who didn't know how to open a gift was nowhere to be found. In his place was a gleeful little boy who insisted on "helping" everyone else tear off wrapping paper and open their gifts. It is so much fun to give this little boy gifts because he delights in everything he gets. From the first present he opened on Christmas Eve to the last gift he got at my family's celebration on the 28th, I shot picture after picture of his enormous smiles, sparkling eyes, and little excited clenched fists. Amazingly, it never got old. For any of us!

John and I gave Arie a book, a stuffed alligator, and a marble run for Christmas. He spend all of October and most of November talking about alligators, but of course as soon as John ordered the little stuffy online, we didn't hear one word about the creature! Thankfully, his alligator passion has been reignited and this reptile has already been to Ontario and back again with us, clutched between Arie's little fingers.

The marble run has also been a hit, although mama and papa have spent more time than anticipated helping to build and "fix" it for our little man! Secretly, we both love playing with it too. Ha! 

While we of course love watching our little boy showered with all the fun and excitement that comes with getting gifts at Christmas John and I (like most parents) also wanted to be intentional about combating the potential entitlement/spoiling effects of Christmas. Leading up to Christmas we talked frequently about both the religious meaning (Jesus birth) and the gift giving. My mantra on repeat through December was, "At Christmas we give each other gifts to celebrate Jesus' birth!" On Christmas morning I woke Arie up and told him, "Jesus is born!" Much to my heart's delight, he repeated that line to me throughout the day. "Mama- Jesus born!"

In order to include Arie on the gift-giving side of Christmas, we made a number of our gifts with him. Now, I'm not super crafty so don't get any pinteresty images in your mind. What we did was bring him pottery painting and screen printing to make tshirts. Not only did we have a blast actually doing these things, but we loved giving our family members little gifts with great sentiment. We hope they will wear their "dumpty umpty" shirts and drink from their ugly mugs or use their splotchy painted spoon rests with warm fuzzies all year long.
Spoon rest made with love and lots of zest by Arie. 
My mom is the best gift reactor, next to Arie.
My mom sewed this puppet theatre! How cute is it?!
With Grampi and his uncles, all wearing their Arie-made "dumpty-umpty!" shirts. 
This next series of photos might be my favorite because they capture how gleefully Arie opens gifts. His little body just cannot contain his excitement!
Canada mittens for all! 

As I sat beside a handful of different Christmas trees this December, surrounded by the warmth and love of different friends and family members, I thought back through my journey to motherhood.

Four Christmases ago I sat there thinking, "Next year I will either be pregnant or have a baby in my arms at Christmas!" Hopeful and longing.

Three Christmases ago John and I sat beside the tree and cried as we received a number of generous donations toward our adoption expenses. Humbled and grateful.

Two Christmases ago we celebrated the season for the first time with our son in our arms. Joy-filled.

This Christmas I buoyed between the great joy of my son and the same hopeful longing I felt four Christmases ago- praying that next year I will have gifts for two little ones under my tree.

This verse from James 1 has been my theme: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." 

The shadows have certainly shifted for me over the past four years, but in both dark and in light I have been the recipient of so many good gifts from my heavenly Father. Though my life changes and my faith falters or grows, God remains ever present and faithful. I look at the most precious gift of my son this Christmas and as I watch him delight in the love of his family, I ask God for a greater faith: one that looks to His faithfulness in four Christmases past and trusts in his purpose and plan for those that wait before me. 



Infertility, grief, and sharing joy around the Christmas tree

Today I want to share something that has been on my heart for a few weeks. It was a difficult thing to express because I'm addressing areas of both great joy and great pain. I hope I shared it with sensitivity and love. 

Because John and I are so public about our infertility, our friends and family have been wonderfully sensitive. They don't make any jokes about when we're going to add more children to our family and when friends have announced their pregnancies to me in the last few years, they've done so with loads of grace. I cannot tell you how loved I feel when my friends share their special news with so much kindness. This is one of the biggest announcements they will make in their lives, and they are thinking about my feelings. When they share their news with such sensitivity, it allows me to truly join their happiness rather than fend of feelings of jealousy and pain. It is truly a blessing to have such kindness shown to me during such a difficult season in my life. 

Many people who have not struggled to conceive cannot understand that infertility is a major life crisis. When you couple that life crisis with the fact that many couples struggle secretly or privately, there is (too) much opportunity for hurt to arise. Especially during the holidays when friends and family reunite and the passage of time from one year to the next is made so clear, couples who are coping with infertility may feel like they are walking through a field peppered with land mines. Personally, I can share that this is the third Christmas in four years when I can remember thinking the previous year, "Next year I'll either be pregnant or have a baby in my arms." That's a hard thought. As someone suffering with infertility, you feel so vulnerable, never knowing when a hurtful question or comment (accidental or otherwise) will catch you off guard and hit you with grief. 

Today I want to ask something of all you wonderful fertile friends out there: will you give those of us struggling with infertility some extra grace this Christmas? If you know a couple and you're wondering when they're going to have (more) kids, will simply you not ask? Can you avoid jokes about cousins so-and-so who seem to be producing "like bunnies?" Will you focus on the blessing of your little ones or the funny things they do rather than complaining about them to people who would give anything to be up all night with a baby? We know- we infertiles- that you don't mean anything by those jokes or comments or questions, but if we're being honest we'll tell you: they still hurt. 

I know there are going to be couples who have a special announcement to make this Christmas. Maybe it will be the perfect time to share your news! But can I ask you just to think for a minute if any of your loved ones sitting around the Christmas tree might be struggling with infertility? Can I ask you to consider waiting until after the celebration to share? To allow your loved ones to enjoy the day without the weight of infertility heavy on their hearts? Or, alternatively, to share your news privately with your infertile friends before the big announcement? If we feel prepared, it makes a difference. 

It's not that we don't want to share your joy. It's not that at all. Grief is just such a funny thing; we can't always override it with strength of will. We'll get there. We just need a little extra grace on the journey. 

To my friends on this infertility roller coaster: let's remember this Christmas that another person's blessing doesn't take anything away from us. Infertility is the enemy; not our loved ones. Be sad for your pain and loss. Be angry that you were dealt this hand. Then breathe deep. Choose joy. In this area of life, we've been given the harder path. We've also been given the opportunity to rise above envy. To choose kindness and grace over jealousy. To celebrate new life even when it feels like ours is crumbling. Let's be kind to ourselves and gentle, but let's not allow bitterness to win. Choose joy and trust that in time, it will come. 

"Get rid of all bitterness.... Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Ephesians 4:31-32




It's only been about 16 hours since I woke up from surgery but I don't think it's too early to say that I loved my laparoscopy.

Much of infertility is disempowering. It has- so far- robbed me of my ability to get pregnant and carry a child; it has robbed me of the very thing my body was designed to do. For many years I have felt angry and powerless over infertility. Undergoing our three IUI procedures was a great step forward in the battle; it was us, deciding that we wanted to fight. However, because we didn't know if they would work (and they didn't), I still felt subject to my infertility.

On a spiritual plane, I've been able to appreciate these feelings of disempowerment because they- along with similar feelings of helplessness from our adoption- have been my hearty invitation to rely on God and his sovereignty. The best thing about coming to the end of myself in these journeys is that I have found where the richest part of my faith in God begins. When I am the weakest and feel the most powerless, I have discovered the strength and power given to me in Christ. 

 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 1 Corinthians 12:10. 

The laparoscopy, however, was empowering. It felt like a heavenly gift. Finally I was able to address a cause of my infertility in a real, aggressive, and powerful way. I can tell you that I have not felt this positive about our chances at conception in a very, very long time. Since about the third month of trying... which was four years ago. Wow.

John and I arrived at the hospital around 11:30am, two hours before surgery. I wasn't nervous because I so excited for the surgery day to have finally arrived! We checked into the outpatient wing of the hospital and after a short wait we were brought to a pre-procedure room where I answered some questions, changed into a purple paper gown and- surprise!- got a leg massage! Well, sort of. To prevent blood clots, the nurse strapped on these white bands (similar to blood pressure cuffs, but bigger) to my calves. They tightened and released like a massage. That was nice!

John and I waited in that partitioned "room" for a very long time. Each time we heard footsteps coming down the hall we got excited. That went on for almost two hours, which seems like an eternity when you're antsy. Which we were.
Waiting, waiting, waiting... 
Finally the footsteps came toward us and a nurse moved us down to the operative waiting area. I was wheeled on my bed and John walked behind. In the operative waiting area a nurse put my IV in and every member of my operative team came one by one to meet me (surgical nurse, surgeon, anesthesiologist, and an intern- to whom John and I excitedly referred as "Meredith Grey!!!"). They all explained in great detail what was going to happen and asked if I had any questions. The whole thing was very reassuring, although by the time the fourth person came by I just wanted to say, "No I do not have any more questions!! Just get me on the table!"

On a related note: nurses- you are amazing! I was so impressed by how kind and genuinely concerned all the nurses were with me. Not only that, but I heard a few of my "neighbors" launching major complaints about things such as the state of their pillows (not fluffy enough) and the like, but never once did I hear a nurse respond with anything other than compassion. Truly amazing how patient and kind these nurses were! Nurses? You have a tough job. My kudos to you!

Immediately before I was rolled into the operating room, the anesthesiologist give me a dose of something "to relax" me. She said I might not remember anything from that point on. I remember saying goodbye to John, entering the OR, and breathing in some oxygen from a green mask. Dr. Colbert (my RE and surgeon) asked me if I had met everyone in the room- I said yes I had and the next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery!

It was a strange feeling waking up in the hospital. I didn't feel worried or surprised because I was so groggy, but I was trying to figure out why I was there. My train of thought was something like, "Huh. I don't think my surgery was today. Was it? .... Why else would I be in the hospital? Maybe it was today. Wait a minute. It is over??! YES!! I wonder how it went..."

The surgical nurse was immediately by my side, asking me how I felt. I was parched since I had not had anything to drink in a long time, so she gave me some ice chips which then made me nauseous, so she also gave me a dose of anti-nausea meds through my IV. That helped. My sense of time was all off so I'm not quite sure how long I stayed in that area, but it seemed like only minutes before I was wheeled out into the outpatient recovery area. I didn't have my glasses at this point but in the hallway I saw a man standing there with a balloon and gave him a smile. What a nice guy I thought. Turned out to be John! Yep. What a nice guy!

The nurse who helped me in the outpatient recovery area was incredible. She was about the same age as me and when she heard that we were struggling with infertility she shared that she and her husband had been down the same path. She made my favorite infertility joke which is that her husband always said they should probably do some drugs and climb into the back of their car for some "fun" and they will for sure get pregnant. That is exactly what John and I always say to each other and I immediately knew I had found a kindred spirit.

The most spiritual moment of the day happened next. Earlier that morning before John and I left the house, I checked my facebook inbox and found a note from a friend of my mom, newly pregnant after a very long struggle with infertility. She sent me Chris Tomlin's song "Sovereign"which, as the title suggests, is about God's power and presence in every season of our lives. John came into our bedroom as I had it playing and loved the song so much that we stopped by a Christian bookstore on our way to the hospital to pick up the CD! God's sovereignty seemed to be the theme of the morning.

After the surgery was over and that kindred spirited nurse was helping me get up out of bed to the bathroom, she said a few words about her infertility journey and learning about- you guessed it- trusting in God's sovereignty. I don't remember exactly the words she used because I was still so groggy, but I remember feeling my heart glow as I connected the spiritual dots between my mom's friend sending me a similar message, the Chris Tomlin song, and the nurse's testimony. The nurse walked me over to the bathroom and closed the door behind me. Alone for the first time since the surgery, it is hard to fully describe what happened but I felt as if a part of my soul that had been so injured by my infertility began to heal.

Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
with me in the dark
with me at the dawn 

In your everlasting arms
all the pieces of my life
from beginning to the end
I can trust you. 

... God, whatever comes my way: I can trust you. 

Sunset in the city from my recovery room window. 
The surgery itself was also a big step toward healing. Dr. Colbert removed the cyst we had been seeing on all my IUI related ultrasounds and- as he suspected- found moderate endometriosis on both ovaries and around my uterus. He gave me pictures of my insides which I found extremely cool and which almost made John faint. ;-) John was actually the one who got the report from Dr. Colbert as I recovered, but he tells me Dr. Colbert was extremely happy with the results of the surgery and optimistic about getting me pregnant in the next few months! We have a follow up appointment in 2-3 weeks to talk about what kind of additional treatment (if any) we should pursue moving forward.

I spent another hour in recovery at the hospital and then was back home by 8:30pm. Today I have some pain in my abdomen: mostly by the three small incisions from the laparoscopic tools. So far I've been fine only taking half the dose of pain meds they prescribed me. My biggest challenge has just been that they make me feel nauseated, but that should diminish even as the anesthetics from yesterday leave my body.

I am blessed to have my awesome mother-in-law here to take care of Arie so I can stay in bed today and John can do some work from home.

Thank you for all your prayers and encouraging remarks left for me via facebook and instagram! I read them all from the hospital and felt very supported by you all!

Thank you Thank you!



Love showed up: held up and held together

A couple weeks ago my friend and fellow blogger Leanne Penny wrote an awesome post about grief and the cliché things we say to try make people feel better.... that typically only leave them feeling worse. She got a lot of response to that post which propelled her to write another post about what we actually can do to help our loved ones through hard times. Both posts were top notch. You should really read them if you haven't. 

Leanne has now started a new series that I think is much needed; it's a series about love and, as she puts it, "the best of people in the worst of days." It's a series of stories by people who've been through nightmares but survived with the help of their people. This morning I am sharing one of my stories- a time in my life when "love showed up." A testimony, if you will, to the power of community. I invited you to join me: 

Six years ago this fall my mom was on her deathbed. She had emergency surgery on her abdomen in late August and then aspirated waking up from anesthesia. Aspirating damaged her lungs and she had to be put on supplemental oxygen as she recovered in the ICU. Her condition worsened.  Soon she had to wear a big black mask that forced air into her lungs. Then she was put on a ventilator; first with a breathing tube down her throat and then directly into her trachea. Her blood saturation levels dipped dangerously low. She was transferred to a larger hospital. She went into an induced coma. She got sepsis. She lost almost all her muscle mass. My dad called me at college twice to come home and say goodbye to her; her doctors didn’t think she was going to make it...

Continue reading here. 


IUI #3 results

Third time is not a charm. I am not pregnant.

I feel sad, but not as devastated as last cycle. My sister is getting married next summer and had this cycle worked, my due date would have been her wedding day. As much as I would have been thrilled to be expecting, I am so happy that I will be able to attend her wedding. Now I am praying that I will do so with a giant GIANT belly. Swollen in the summer heat, sweating my bump off as they tie the knot.... I want to meet every "pregnant woman at the wedding" cliché. Anyone need a designated driver? I'm your ride! *winks*

Anyway, I'm very much looking forward to my laparoscopy as a giant step forward toward our baby.

Looking for silver linings on this cloud and for once- actually finding them!

Surgery one week from today! Bring it on. :-)



St. Andrew's Advent Novena

Not too long ago a friend of mine invited me to be a member of a private facebook group for Catholic women dealing with infertility. I'm Protestant, but was warmly welcomed under the big umbrella of the Christian faith. Around Thanksgiving, one of the women in the group posted a prayer on the board called St. Andrew's novena. I had to do a little googling to figure out what a "novena" was, but it turned out it is simply a specific prayer prayed over a certain length of time- usually nine but sometimes more- days.

St. Andrew's Novena is an Advent prayer, prayed from November 30 through December 24. It is supposed to be prayed 15 times each day; I've been averaging 6-10, but even falling short, the practice has brought me great peace this advent.
Note: Since I'm Protestant, I leave off the "and of his Blessed Mother" line when I pray.
We Protestants focus on the fact that grace is given to us freely. We reject a merit based system. We believe that God's salvation is a gift; we don't do anything to earn it and we can't do anything to loose it. I love that and I believe it with my whole heart. However, what I've remembered 10 days into praying this prayer is that while all God's good gifts are given freely to me, they aren't actually free. They were secured on the merits of Jesus, on the merits of his birth, life, death, and resurrection.

That's what I love about this prayer. Where my prayers have mostly been asking for my desires based on.... well, mostly based on just the fact that I want them, I'm now asking for them based on the merits of Christ, which are applied to me in my salvation. 

I know I don't deserve any of God's good gifts. Asking God for anything based on my merits is useless.  I've asked for a pregnancy with a dozen different reasons: because my heart longs for it, because I've dreamed of it, because God put this desire in my heart, because that's what women are supposed to be build for, because life is so good and God loves new life, because having that experience would allow me to relate and minster to so many more women.... I've both prayed myself and had others pray for me that God would "make his glory known" by granting me a pregnancy. Lately I've been less and less convinced of those prayers. 

God doesn't need me to convince him of why it would be such a good idea to grant me my desire. He doesn't need to make his glory known by granting me anything. His glory has already been made known in Christ! Surely he knows best how to display his splendor. I've stopped trying to convince him with reasons why he should grant me my desires and instead, I've begun asking for them on the merits of Jesus Christ. 

I can remember my Sunday School teachers telling my little girl self that when God looks at me, he doesn't see me and all my sin; he sees Jesus and his perfection. That's the idea I'm learning again in a deeper way. If God grants me any good gifts it is because those gifts were secured for me in Christ. 

"...and grant me my desires through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ." 

Why should I boldly ask God to grant me my desire? Because he humbled himself to be born in a manger, to live faultlessly on earth, to suffer, to subject himself to death on a cross, and to rise again, securing our abundant and eternal life for his own glory. Through those merits I am asking for the desires of my heart. 

As I walk though Advent this year, the image of baby Jesus in a manger has become so much more powerful. His birth- the astonishingly humble entrance of our Almighty God into the world- is one of the merits through which my salvation and my ability to ask God for my desires was secured. 

"Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16. 

I am both humbled and emboldened by this prayer.

Though I deserve nothing, I am able to ask for everything, and receive with gratitude anything God grants me on the merits of Christ.

I've found great peace in that.



Our "what's next?" fertility consult

Pending the results of our third IUI (two week wait: one week down, one week to go!), John and I put together a new fertility plan with our doctor. I feel fantastic about it!

Our history in brief review:

Testing and Diagnosis: 
We tried to conceive for 15 months starting in 2010.
John had a semen analysis done after 7 months which came back normal.
We stopped trying when we initiated the adoption of our son from Russia in 2011.
We started trying again after our adoption for about 9 months with no success.
We saw our RE (Reproductive Endocrinologist) in August 2013.
I had an HSG in September: all clear.
I had blood work in September that showed elevated FSH and decreased AMH; both indicate diminished ovarian reserve.
I had an ultrasound done in September that showed a cyst on my left ovary.
We are currently (as of December 2013) at about 28 months of TTC with no success.

Our RE put me on The Fertility Diet (which is detailed in a book by the same name.)
Both John and I were told to take fish oil and Co-Q10 supplements.
IUI#1 (with 50mg Clomid and Ovidrel trigger) October 2013 - negative
IUI #2 (same meds) early November 2013 - negative
IUI #3 (same meds) late November 2013- pending

Which brings us to today.

Remember that cyst on my left ovary that was described as "probably nothing?" Well, it hasn't gone away. Based on this fact and my diagnostic and treatment history, our RE is "99% sure" that I have endometriosis. Endometriosis is when endometrial tissue (uterine lining) grows outside of the uterus. Exactly how it causes infertility is a current area of study, but about 30-40% of women with endometriosis are infertile. It is likely do not have it only on my ovary, but also in other places not revealed by my ultrasound.

I am surprised by this diagnosis, but also relieved and optimistic because it gives us a way to move forward that isn't IVF, which I was not ready for. The treatment for endometriosis is a laparoscopy which is a small surgery done to remove the tissue. When we first saw our RE he offered to do a laparoscopy but since I did not have any symptoms of endometriosis, I declined. (Some women do not have any symptoms, as I found out!) The surgery itself can cause scar tissue to form around the reproductive organs, which I did not want to unnecessarily inflict upon myself. However, now that our RE is so positive that this is indeed a problem for me, I am not only willing to do the surgery, but excited for it! A step toward healing our infertility.

After the surgery, we will have about one year of increased fertility before- statistically- the endometriosis grows back. I'm okay with that. I have come to peace with the idea of only having one pregnancy and birth experience.

Our RE reiterated my elevated FSH and diminished AMH and also told us that John's sperm count was coming back on the low end of normal. In itself, those numbers would not stop us from getting pregnant, but coupled with my two diagnoses of diminished ovarian reserve and endometriosis, they help explain our infertility.

He also gave my some interesting statistics: 80-90% of couples become pregnant within one year of trying. Of the couples who are left trying after that year, 50% will become pregnant in year two. Once you hit year three of trying, only 20-30% of those couples will conceive. Since we are now entering year three, I feel really good about taking this next step and having the laparoscopy.

Two more pieces of good news that had me praising God:

1. Treatment for endometriosis is not considered treatment for infertility by our insurance company, so our insurance will help pay for the surgery (finally!!).
2. Usually our RE is booked out a month or two for surgeries, but they had a cancellation and I got to scoop up that OR time! December 18- less than two weeks away.

In January we can decide if we want to do more IUIs with injectables or try on our own. Our RE seemed hopeful that we could conceive on our own after the surgery, but I am feeling like I want to start with injectables and more IUIs right away. We'll see. We will use the rest of the month to think it over.

In the more "natural" front, I'm going to up my Co-Q10 dosage (incidentally, does anyone know an affordable place/brand to get this stuff? It is expensive!), and start taking vitamin D3 & DHEA. I also asked about baby aspirin as many of you recommended; he gave the go-ahead but said he doesn't think it is necessary or that it will help since it is supposed to help with recurring pregnancy loss, which I have not experienced. Since it can't hurt, I'll probably start after my surgery.

He was very clear that I should not take any herbal supplements so I will avoid those while I am on prescription treatments.

Phew! Kudos if you made it this far. I'm trying to share the somewhat boring details of our journey with the hopes that it will help someone else out there!

I'm still praying and believing that all of this will be for naught. I am believing that I will get that positive pregnancy and make one glorious phone call to cancel my surgery. Either way, it feels really good to have a plan in place.


Parenting in the Pew update: quiet bags

I'm trying out something new on the blog today: a video!  Here's what I put in our church "quiet bags" for Arie- at age three- to use during the sermon:

Bag: Timeless Memory Pouch by Thirty-One.
Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Re-useable stickers and scenes by Melissa and Doug

Click here to read my past posts about parenting in the pew.



Toddler adoption gear: gifts, registering, and what to buy

Registering for my pre-adoption shower was one of the best experiences in my waiting-to-adopt phase because it made me feel like an expectant mom. I was so excited to take hold of that little hand-held scanner at Target and "beep" away to my heart's content, imaging my little boy putting every item to use.

Not sure why I didn't look pregnant? 
When John and I arrived at the store on that magical day, I was beaming as I approached the registry counter. "We want to start a baby shower registry!" I announced happily. The young woman behind the counter paused for a moment, looked at my non-pertruding belly and asked slowly, "Okay.... um, when are you due?"

Ha! It turned out that she herself had been adopted and when we told her we were adopting, she gasped in delight, making up for her earlier bewilderment. She helped us get set up and then right before we took off into the store, handed us our "registry gift." If you've ever registered for a baby, you'll know how totally unhelpful this "gift" packet was for us; it contained: a newborn diaper, breast pump bags, a formula sample, and breast pads.

Wohmp whomp.

We also registered at an independant children's store in town and our "gift" at that store was a coupon for a free mold of our baby's footprint before 6 months of age. Thankfully, I was so happy to be registering, I just smiled and said thank you.

Today, though, I am reaching back to that experience I had over a year ago and- with all the knowledge I have gleaned over the last year as an adoptive mom- I am offering you my own creation: a guide for registering for toddler adoption. If you are a first time mom adopting a toddler, you deserve to have a special list created just for you! No more editing those stock baby registry lists. No more wondering what items you should and should not scratch off. A list especially for toddler adoptions!

This list is fairly minimalist. I am a big advocate of living simply, especially in parenthood, so while there are many fancy gadgets to help you in your parenting journey, you won't find many here. This is bare bones with just a little bit of skin.

At the end of this post, I've provided an abbreviated list.

*Disclaimer: Some of the items listed below are to be used for therapeutic purposes. I am not an expert. I am an adoptive mother and these recommendations come from my personal experience and what I have learned from other adoptive moms about toddler adoption over the last year. Please consult a pediatrician, therapist, or other healthcare professional if you have any questions regarding their safety.*

Household Essentials and Toddler Proofing Items

Crib or toddler bed
     mattress pad (to protect mattress from leaks)
     warm blanket
Night light
High chair
Meal time items like sippy cups and non-breakable plates
Gates for any stairways
Latches to keep little hands away from cleaning chemicals and sharp objects
Toddler proof door latches to keep your escape artist inside when you're in the bathroom!
Outlet covers

Sensory/Expressive toys:

I polled a number of my adoptive mama friends and these toys were the most recommended:

Bath toys and bubble bath
Aquadoodle (we love this one! Painting with any mess!)
Sensory bins (check out Play at Home Mom for ideas)
Blocks and building toys like Duplos
Dolls and stuffed animal toys
Paints, crayons, papers and other crafts
Outdoor ride-on toys
Doctor kit to model and play before you take your child for an exam

Therapeutic Items: 

A weighted blanket or lap pad. Toddlers coming especially from institutionalized settings often have a hard time calming their nervous systems down. Whether as a result of past trauma or neglect or simply due to the enormous life change their adoption ushers in, they go into "fight or flight" mode. Weighted blankets are simply what they sound like: specially designed heavy blankets. The pressure helps little bodies calm down and relax enough to go to sleep.

You can also buy smaller lap pads to help restless littles ones sit comfortably at the table, on an airplane or in the car, or in church, for example. Please research the correct blanket weight for your child. I purchased two of these blankets for another adoptive mom via etsy seller Studio Minkyz and was thrilled with the quality. There are many great sellers out there with all kinds of designs so you can get creative with your choices!

John wearing our toddler size Kinderpack by Kindercarry
Baby wearing gear: "Wearing" your child after adopting is a wonderful way to promote bonding for both of you. When our son came home we used an Ergo brand carrier and then switched to a toddler sized Kinderpack from Kindercarry once he was too big for the carrier. I loved both but I would recommend the Kinderpack over the Ergo since soft structured carriers can be expensive and the bigger size of the toddler kinderpack will last many more months/years than the ergo.

Essential oils  Toddlers who were left alone in their crib or put to bed without a soothing routine will likely arrive home with some self-soothing techniques like rocking and thumb-sucking. Parents should not necessarily try to stop a child from self-soothing, but should slowly offer other or additional more positive soothing techniques as the child matures. We spray water mixed with lavender oil on Arie's pillow before he goes to sleep. He loves this part of our bedtime routine! 

There are not very many safe over-the-counter cough and cold medications for toddlers with colds. One of the ways I give relief to my little guy when he is stuffed up or coughing is to add geranium oil, eucalyptus oil, and lavender oil to his bath. It is important to use a correct dosage with essential oils. I use and recommend the book The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

Picture Album As you familiarize your child with your new family, using a photo album complete with pictures of your child with new family members will be a great tool to tell your child her story and re-emphasize the fact that you are now a family forever! Once you are through the initial busy-ness of becoming a new family, do some research on "life books" and try creating one for your child! 

Clothing Essentials: 

Buying and receiving clothing for your new child might be one of the most fun parts of your new parenthood! You might not know exactly what size your child will wear so err on the side of buying items that are too big. They will always grow into it! In case clothing is not really your thing, here's a list of bare essentials: 
  • 7 pair of socks
  • 10 pair of underwear, unless your child is in diapers. I love these thick toddler underwear by Gerber. 
  • 7 bottoms (pants/skirts/shorts depending on the season) 
  • 7 tops 
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 pairs of PJs 
  • 2 pair seasonally appropriate footwear 
  • Coat and hat (in winter: 2 pair mittens, 2 hats, snow pants)

Medicine Cabinet:

Children's acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Children's ibuprofen (Advil)
First Aid Kit with bandaids, antiseptic cream, etc
Homeopathic cough & cold medicine (Homeopathic because most cough and cold medicines for children are not approved for toddler age. I like Hyland's brand.)
If your child is not used to being in the car, you may want to buy some anti-nausea meds.


Adoption storybooks: There are many, many great adoption books out there! My favorite general adoption book for kids is God Found Us You. If you can, try to find a book that features adoption from your child's specific country or that features a child adopted domestically/from foster care. Our favorite Russian Adoption book is Mishka: an adoption tale. Lastly, if you adopt internationally, I recommend finding English language books that take feature folk tales or are set in your child's birth country. This is a great way to honor your child's (and now your family's!) heritage. My husband and I recently discovered a Russian folk story called The Miraculous Child for Christmas time and reading it will be a new tradition in our family for the holidays!

"First Words" book: If your child is a bit older you might think these books are too young, but especially if your child is learning English these books can be awesome! Your child will use them both to express needs to you and to learn new, often used English words. Try look for one with "lift the flaps" which will add another dimension of learning.

For parents: My two favorite adoption books for parents are Toddler Adoption by Mary Hopkins Best and Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray. I found myself referring back to these books time and again as Arie and our family went through different phases of attachment. Attaching in Adoption was my single greatest resource and I recommend it to all parents adopting toddlers!

Toddler cookbook: In general I think it is better to introduce new foods as they are so your child will recognize the ingredient and learn to appreciate the taste. However, for little ones who may be undernourished and need good nutrition and lots of calories now, check out Jessica Seinfeld's recipe book Deceptively Delicious. I especially loved her avocado chocolate "pudding" recipe for packing in the calories and healthy fats!

Here's an abbreviated shopping list: 

Now it's your turn! Have you adopted a toddler? What would you add to this list? If you usually comment via facebook, please also leave your advice in the comments below so other readers returning to this page can benefit from your wisdom! Many thanks to you and my sincere congratulations to all you soon-to-be adoptive parents out there!



IUI #3 scheduled

I went in for my mid-cycle ultrasound this morning and was happy to see one beautifully mature follicle. It was a bigger/more mature follicle than I've had at this stage in my cycle, so I was encouraged by that! I was hoping and praying for multiple mature follicles, but the truth is that you only need ONE so I am choosing and trying to be grateful for that one. Here's hoping it is half of my future baby!

Tomorrow we will celebrate Thanksgiving with John's mom, sister, and uncle and then Friday morning we will have our third and probably final IUI. It feels surreal to think that we are already on our third try. I scheduled our "what's next?" consult with Dr. Colbert for before we find out the results of this IUI because it gives me comfort to at least know what our future options are, if we need them.

Hard as it may be, I am also choosing to believe that this cycle is the one. Choosing hope and trusting that optimism is better than despair.

Way back before John and I adopted Arie, I talked to a friend-of-a-friend who was studying to be a naturopathic doctor. After I detailed our fertility journey she told me, "You know- you are NOT broken." As much as I understood that message from an emotional health standpoint, I've never been able to accept that. My body isn't doing what it was designed to do. I should be able to conceive and carry a child, but for some reason I haven't been able to do that. To me, that means my body is broken. I know I need a healthy way to think about my infertility, but to me saying, "My body is not broken" just feels like denial.

Recently I was listening to Chris Tomlin's song "I Will Rise" and I a new part of the song spoke to this area of my heart and mind:

"There's a peace I've come to know- though my heart and flesh may fail- there's an anchor for my soul. I can say, 'It is well.'"

Though my flesh may fail, I can say, "It is well."

Both in a "now" and in an "eternally" sense, this idea gives me great comfort.

Because even though my flesh- specifically my ovaries- may be failing, Jesus has overcome. Even if all these fertility treatments don't get me pregnant or if we are only left with options we cannot afford to pursue, Jesus has overcome and it is within his power to give me the desire of my heart. I have been feeling so devastated about both our failed IUIs and the enormous expense of other options like IVF, but lately I have been focusing a lot on the idea that with the power of Christ, nothing is impossible; even achieving a pregnancy with a diminished ovarian reserve.

Eternally, it gives me hope because if the very worst happens and I am left with my unfulfilled longing, it will only be for a time. I pray that if God does not answer my prayer, he will take away my desire for pregnancy so that I won't feel so heartsick all the time. But even if he doesn't, I take comfort in the idea that God has set eternity before me and when I pass from this life to the next, I won't take the heartache with me.

This journey will end. I pray desperately and with my whole being that it ends with a baby, but I take great comfort in knowing that regardless, it will end with peace.

As I anticipate my next (successful!) IUI, I'd love to hear some success stories! IUI/IVF success, a surprise "natural" pregnancy, finding peace another way... especially from anyone who has been diagnosed with elevated FSH or diminished ovarian reserve. But really, from anyone. I just want to hear some good news stories! :-)

Much love to all of you this Thanksgiving season. I truly thank God for you and all the wonderful encouragement you provide to me and my family!



Using your support system after adoption

Today I'm guest posting over at onethousandforone.com on my experience having (and using!) our support system after adoption. It's my hope that as I share my experience, other soon-to-be adoptive families will find ways to make the most of the blessings their own communities have to offer. Please share with your soon-to-be adoptive parent friends! 

Driving away from the orphanage; a family forever.
When my husband John and I brought our two-year-old son home from Moscow last fall, we used a post-adoption bonding practice that is sometimes called “cocooning.” Cocooning means that, for a period of time, the new adoptive family keeps their world very small (house, yard, park, minimal outside events like doctor visit or grocery trips) and the adoptive parents are the only ones to meet their new child’s needs (feeding, bathing, putting him/her to bed, providing snuggles and comfort). The idea is that the cocoon will intensify the bonding and attachment between parent and child and start the process of healing the injury that occurred when the child was relinquished from his or her former family or caregivers. The length of the cocooning period varies, but a general rule of thumb is one month for every year that the child received sub-standard care. Our son was 28 months when he came home, so we cocooned for 2 ½ months and then slowly introduced him to a bigger world.

Our experience cocooning with our son was a very positive one, and today I recommend the practice wholeheartedly. While this intense attachment phase comes with many blessings and joyous moments, it can also be exhausting and isolating for the adoptive parents. It is important for the parents to have a support system in place during this intense season. Based on my experience as an adoptive mother, here are the most important people in your support system and ways they can help your family while you cocoon. ....follow me over to onethousandforone.com to read more! 


Gotcha Day Anniversary Q&A video(s)

I ask, Arie answers.

That ending "More!" *sad face* is totally Arie's style. He's cute and yes he knows it. Oh boy.

I've posted this one before but can't resist sharing it again: our adoption video! Getting our boy home:


Our first gotcha day anniversary

To resilient little boy, after one year in my arms:

Arie, happy gotcha day. One year ago today you walked toward me with your nanny, proudly waving the monkey lovey your papa and I got you. You were dressed in the clothes I carefully picked out for you, the buttons of your plaid shirt done all the way up to your chin by a meticulous nanny. You were ready to join your forever family.

That day was the most miraculous day of my life. To think that God drew us together, across an ocean, to call each other Mama, Papa, and son... it moves me to the deepest gratitude I know.

On that day, you wavered between great happiness and great fear. It was your first time in a car. Your first time away from the baby home. Your first time going to sleep in a new place, eating new foods, and having a new mama and papa care for you.

You were my brave little boy. You still are. Over the past year you have learned English, learned how to speak, how to be held and touched, how to eat new foods, and how to be loved. You are so tender hearted. You are easily delighted and easily scared. My boy- I am amazed and so thankful that your hard life has not hardened you. You left everything you knew when we brought you home from Russia but you were not consumed. You learned how to trust, how to depend, and how to love.

Your favorite song right now is "I am not Forgotten." You sing at the top of your lungs, "I am not forgotten! God knows my name!" I ask you each time, "Did God know you when you were a baby in Russia?" You answer gleefully, "Yea!" "Even before Mama and Papa knew your name?" "Yea!"

I pray that your life will be defined by that truth. You have never been forgotten. You have never walked alone. Each year on this day we will look back and marvel at how far you've come, but the even greater truth is that when you soar, you soar in the strength of the LORD who has brought you this far.

Artem when you were born I did not whisper your name with love in your baby ear. I did not exclaim it loudly when you first learned to walk. When the apartment door in Moscow finally closed behind us and we were alone together at last, I used your Russian nickname again and again as if making up for lost time, "Tioma! I love you! I love you, Tioma." At home we called you, "Tioma-Arie!" for a while, usually through giant smiles as we watched you do everything in sheer awe- pet the cat, play with blocks, or fall asleep. You amazed us. Now I call, "I'm coming Arie!" when you wake up from your nap or call me to play with you from another room. I use your name a hundred times each day: calling, asking, warning, laughing.

Someday, in fewer years than I like to think about, you'll leave our house to start a life of your own. I know I'll think back to that day- November 19 2012- when I carried you in your little body out of that orphanage at last. I'll probably reach up to hug you by then, and tell you, "I love you Arie. Goodbye." And I'll cry. But I'll remember you dancing around my kitchen, stomping your little feet and singing in your little baby voice, "He knows my name!"

Indeed he knows your name! He knew it before I did. He'll know it every single day of your life. He'll know it even after I've grown old and gone.

You were never forgotten and you will never be.

I am so blessed today to know your name and watch you soar.

I love you- like you love to ask- "A little bit?" "No...

Forever and ever and ever and ever!"



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