Saturday, May 27, 2017

Levi's First Year

A year ago today, we received texts and phone calls that Levi's birth mother was in labor. (Of course, we were outside with family and I didn't have my phone in hand.) Once I saw my phone, we frantically commenced the packing and flight booking. As no flights were available, we opted for the first plane out in the morning. The 3 kids were already taken care of and set, thanks to incredible family. We just had to somehow fall asleep, knowing that in only a few hours, we'd be on a plane headed to meet our son and his birth mother. Sleep was hard to attain.

The morning was early, but we eagerly drove to the airport. When we arrived, I remember excitement fill my soul. We had been waiting for so long, or so it felt, and finally the time had come. We hadn't been matched with this birth mother for very long, and even during the weeks leading up to it (which was all the time we knew about it), I was cautious not to get too attached to the idea of this little boy and his birth mother. Certainly we'd had failed placements before....but we had never arrived at the hospital to be sent home after a birth mother's change of heart. That's an experience I know many have had, and one that I'd rather not experience myself.

When we arrived at the hospital, we waited. J wasn't ready to meet us, but I felt peace. I felt this confirmation in my heart that this boy was chosen for our family...that we were chosen for him...and his first mom just needed time. That peace and confidence was all I needed and we waited some more.

And then...

My heart melted when we met this angel boy. Soon after, J was ready to meet me officially. When I walked into the room, she exuded this beautiful spirit that just pulled me in. When I think about meeting her for the first time, I remember her smile and her warm, inviting hug. She was so outgoing and kind. We talked for a short time and she told me that after meeting me, she felt even more peace, that this was right. That we were the right parents for her son.

The 2 days in the hospital went by too quickly. I was ready to leave the hospital with Levi, but I wasn't ready to leave J. I wanted to know her more. I wanted her to know us more. I wanted...more. But every adoption situation is different...something I personally understand. But I cried as we said our final goodbye and she walked out the door with the caseworker. I just didn't want to stop hugging her.

When I look at Levi now...oh  my goodness he's 1...I see her. I see his first mother, the one who carried him, nurtured him, and sacrificed all she had for him. I see her personality, or at least the glimpses that I was lucky enough to see. Levi is one of the happiest kids I know! He's just - happy. Among our kids, personality wise he's most like Sammy. He laughs easily, smiles easily, and is just happy to be around people.

And yet, he's content to be on his own too. He plays on his own, explores, and does it all on his own schedule and time table. He didn't crawl until he was just over 10 months, and then about a week later he was standing on his own and taking steps. He walked independently about 2 weeks later. Eating? He wasn't interested in food at much so that his Grammy was nervous he may have a sensory problem. But now I can't keep enough food down him. He'll put nearly anything in his mouth that has calories! He loves everyone around him. Sure, he's suspicious of "strangers" and may take time to warm up now that he's older, but he'll usually smile for anyone. I truly believe one of his gifts is bringing joy to others. He heals hearts.

I remember one day, Micah wasn't so nice to Callie. He had just come home from camping with his birth family and Callie was so excited to see him. She ran outside to greet him and give him a hug...and he didn't reciprocate. In fact, he was a down right nasty little brother. Callie went inside and cried. I witnessed it and went inside to comfort her. It's hard for her to not have contact with her birth family, plus Micah just wasn't nice and sorta rubbed in it. As I talked to Callie, she asked, "Can I just hold Levi?" I handed Levi over (he was maybe 2 months old), and she just held him for about 10 minutes or so. After, she came out, her heart healed by this little bundle of joy. It's one of my best memories of both Callie and Levi.

I find that, especially as life has been happening and there have been several unexpected twists, turns, and inconvenient potholes -- I hold Levi in my arms a little longer. He feeds my soul a dose of heavenly love and comfort. As he lays his head on my shoulder and wraps his left arm around my neck, he reminds me that things may not be perfect or how I planned, but they are pretty amazing. I don't need to know or understand the why of all things, but I can feel the joy from most things. And that Levi is joy personified.

I can't imagine our lives without him. I used to dream about a little boy who was about 5 or 6 years old. It was a recurring dream, nothing too interesting happened other than this boy kept appearing and I knew he was my son. I'm not sure I can say that Levi is the boy of those dreams...but he is the boy of my heart.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Levi's Story -- Part 2

We were exhausted and cautiously excited. At this point, we still hadn't met Levi's birth mother. For some reason, that didn't seem to worry me. I felt peaceful about the entire situation. We spent some time with Levi, holding this beautiful, precious baby. We use these words for babies...precious, beautiful, angelic...because quite frankly, they are so absolutely pure and  you feel that just in their presence. So here I was, not just looking at this angel who had been waiting for his mortal journey, but I had the honor of holding him in my arms. I felt cautiously closer to feeling whole. It's hard to explain what it's like holding your baby....but knowing very clearly that he's not yours.

We left so J could spend some time with her son and we headed out to buy her some dinner. We went to Red Lobster and got one of her favorite meals and returned back to the hospital. I passed the meal onto the caseworker, and then, as we were walking back to the nursery to see Levi again, the caseworker stuck her head out the door and called me back.

"She wants to meet you."
"Me or us?"
"Just you."

I was so nervous. I had slept maybe 3 hours total and felt like I wasn't quite at my I took a deep breath and walked in through her hospital room door. I was greeted with the kindest, sweetest, warmest welcome. The first thing J said to me? "Ooooooh, you're so cute!" I was so taken back by her animation and immediate compliment, I could only return the same statement because, "YOU'RE so cute" was the truth! I laugh a little when I think about our first moment seeing each other, and I love that. I love that it's filled with such happiness and in such a heavy time...that there was this light moment of happy. We hugged and talked. She told me a little bit about her struggles during the pregnancy and about how she is ready to make some improvements in her life. I felt intimately connected with her as we forged this mother bond. Meeting your child's birth mother is always a sacred experience, no matter the circumstances.

When I think of J, I think of love and happiness. In our short moments together, that's what I felt. There's a happiness in her heart that pours out. She has a great smile that is infectious and you feel her love. There was no doubt, and remains no doubt, in my mind that she adores her son. She spent as much time as she could with him, preferring he sleep in her room than in the nursery. She truly wants what is best for him. I simply felt her love and I immediately felt connected to her and loved her.

We left the hospital so she could spend time with Levi and returned at 9pm to sign the relinquishment papers. When we got to the hospital, she had already signed her portion. We signed, and left, allowing her the entire evening to be with him knowing that in the morning we'd return to take him home with us. It was all surreal and completely bittersweet.

I cry when I think about what those hours must have been like. I'm not sure how a woman goes through the long 9 transformative months of pregnancy, becoming a mother for the first or third time, and then says goodbye. I can't imagine the pain and emptiness that must bring on. I can't imagine saying goodbye. I just can't. And as many times as I've said it, I only believe it more and more strongly each time...there truly must be a very special place in heaven for mothers who will sacrifice so much goodness for a pure hope for something better. The courage that takes, and the faith, is beyond my ability to measure.

The next morning we arrived at the hospital and said our own goodbyes. We spent a bit of time with J. Marcus came into her room with me so they were able to meet and talk. Unfortunately she was still suffering from some pain but overall doing a lot better than the day before. We took a few pictures, and J tried hard to keep moving along, being extremely kind but also trying to take care of business. Clearly, she did not want to cry in front of us and mentioned a couple times, "Ok, I don't wanna cry..." and would change the topic.

One of the hardest parts of the day was hugging and watching her leave the hospital. I felt my heart sink as she walked out. One day, months before, she found she was pregnant. She googled adoption agencies and stumbled across ours. She worked with them and took care of her son the very best she could. She flew to Utah to be with these  women who had been a support during the past few months, to give birth and place him in the arms of another mother and father. And then, after saying goodbye to this sweet, pure, and new life, she walked away with tears in her eyes and the heaviest of hopeful hearts. I remember when Micah was born, I imagined Lindsey leaving the hospital and it broke my heart. But I didn't see it. Watching J leave was real and difficult for me. And so bringing him home, leaving the hospital with him was bittersweet. I just don't think it's possible to go through an adoption without realizing that your joy comes from the pain born from another woman.

We are now a family of six. Transitioning from 3 to 4 kids has been much smoother than I anticipated. I think there are a lot of reasons for that...the school year was ending and so I didn't have to worry about schedules with a new baby. Callie is older and adores Levi, so she's actually quite helpful. Life has been really good. Levi is my little buddy. For the first 2 months he only wanted me to hold him. ONLY. He cried unless he was in my arms. We spent most of our awake and asleep time together. Now he's getting older and likes exploring a bit on his own, but still wants to be near me, and quite frankly...that's ok with me.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Levi Edward -- His Story

Now that Levi is nearly 2 months old, I suppose it's time that I write his story. Before I begin, let me just say, that even though I haven't posted as much and taken an insane amount of pictures, I'm totally in love with his boy. I feel like I've been waiting for him for an eternity and he has filled a part of my heart in a way that was unexpected. I love him so much and feel immensely blessed every time I look at him, and that's not an exaggeration.

So...his story...

Many months ago, our adoption agency presented his situation. His birth mother, J, was looking for an adoptive family with 1 or 2 children. She grew up with siblings and wanted that for her baby. I sent a message to our caseworker and said that we would be interested in being presented if she was ok with an adoptive family who already had 3 kids...because, well, we do. I suspected that having 3 kids would take us out of the pool for her to look at becuase, after all, there has to be a cut off somewhere among all the families.

Shortly after, we received a message that J had chosen a family already. We moved on and the entire situation left my mind.

Months later, just before Sweatin' for Sammy, I received a message from our caseworker.

"Marcus and Jenny: Do you remember the situation with J? The family she has chosen has fallen through. Would you like to be reconsidered?"

Marcus and I quickly discussed it and I sent a message back. "Sure. We'd love to be considered again." At that point, I was thinking that, once again, there was a large pool of families...that is until I got a phone call from the caseworker. "The truth is, J decided between this other family and you. So if you would like to, we can call this a match right now and I can let her know." She advised us to take some time, to think about it, ask her any questions we had, and get back to her after Sweatin' for Sammy. That, we did. We called, asked questions, discussed it, prayed about it, focused on Sweatin' for Sammy. On our end, every thing seemed to be lining up perfectly in terms of what we were hoping for with this adoption.

One item did trouble me, however. Why did the adoptive family back out? Was I missing something huge here? The answer to that question gave me such peace. I asked our caseworker..."You probably can't tell us this, but why would the adoptive family change their mind?" And this was her response, "You know, for a couple months they've been matched, but the adoptive mom just called me and said she couldn't shake the feeling that this just wasn't their baby, that this baby was meant for someone else and that their baby was somewhere else." When she told me that, the peace I felt was more than some kind of relief that there wasn't anything major I was missing...a divine confirmation settled on my heart and I knew this was right. It was like the Lord softly whispered, "He's the one I have prepared for you."

We officially accepted the match.

BUT. We've been through failed placements before. We were given a ton of information about what to do, blah blah blah. BUT, we've been through failed placements before. I couldn't bring myself to buy a plane ticket, because I just wasn't sure. We were told she was being induced on June 2, but something kept me back from buying those tickets. We hadn't had any communication with J and that was unsettling to me. It all felt a little unreal.

On May 28 we were celebrating my mother-in-law's birthday. All of Marcus's siblings were there. Bryan and Gaby had just returned from their honeymoon and were spending the day with us before driving back to Utah. We were in the backyard enjoying watching the cousins all play together and enjoying the perfect California weather when I went inside to grab my phone. That feeling I had had earlier, that I should keep my phone on me....there was a reason for it. I had several text messages and voice mails waiting:

"Call me! Your birth mother is in labor!"
"I hope you get this message soon! She's in labor!"
"Call asap! J is in labor!"

I immediately called, and the status was the same...she was in labor. The truth is, she had gone into the hospital at least 2 other times before thinking she was in labor, only to be sent home. But this time was not the case.

Over the next hour, we made plans for the kids (Callie and Micah to spend the night at Grammy and Grandpa's. Sammy would sleep at home and Colin would spend the night there with her. She was still in casts after her surgery and this would be much easier keeping her home in her own bed.), we bought plane tickets (the earliest flight was the following morning), and we were given text messages play by play of the labor and delivery.

I cried as I received those messages. And thank goodness for Lindsey because she spoke peace to my emotional heart. The last time we did this, I was in the delivery room with Lindsey. She was surrounded by me, her mom, her grandma...there was support. I was so heartsick thinking of J there, alone, without family around her. But Lindsey, in her wisdom, told me that J was NOT alone and that there were angels in her room to lift her during that time. I knew that was true because truly, it's the only way any woman is able to deliver a baby...especially a mother who is about to place her baby into the arms of another woman. The beauty of that heartbreaking sacrifice is never lost on me.'

And then at 9:00pm on Saturday, May 28, we received these two pictures on my phone.

The next morning, Sunday, May 29, we flew out. With only hours of sleep, we headed right to the hospital where we met our new son. It was surreal and the day we'd waited for for quite some time.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Callie's Baptism

We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And so, we try to live our life as disciples of Jesus Christ. Are we perfect? No. Not close. But we do believe that through Jesus Christ we can be perfected. It's a life long process. We believe that children are born innocent and pure. They don't have the ability to sin and they don't carry any sin into this world with them. Because Christ was perfect and followed all of His father's commandments, so must we. We need to follow his perfect example and enter the waters of baptism...and as we do so, we enter the gate that is mentioned in the scriptures. We make a covenant when we are baptized to be like Him, with the knowledge that we will continually need His help and will need to live of life of constant repentance, starting over, making small improvements each day, just doing our best. He knows we aren't perfect, nor does He require that of us right now. But what He does require is our heart and our desire to try and to do. That's what baptism represents to me. That commitment, that covenant, to constantly try, in His name, to do our try to live up to our divine nature and heritage.

We are baptized when we are 8 years old, or older. I don't remember my baptism details. I remember after being baptized, I wore a white dress with a pink ribbon around my waist. I thought that dress was beautiful. I remember my Aunt Geri gave me a gold necklace with a cross on it, and I cherished that necklace. I remember eating cake in a room in the church afterwards. But the rest is a blur. What isn't a blur is what that day has meant to me in my life. Because I was baptized, I have made different choices in my life than I wouldn't have made otherwise. I did stupid things still, but I always decided to do better next time, to turn back to God. That one decision to be baptized transformed my life. And I'm grateful for it.

Before Callie turned 8 years old, we talked to her about baptism. We really wanted this to be her decision, and if she didn't want to do it or didn't feel ready, then we wanted her to know that was ok. Sure we hoped she wanted to be baptized, but more important to us was that she was making this choice on her own. At one point, she didn't want to be baptized. Later she told me she didn't want people to look at her. Well, we could keep the baptism private with just family...but did she want to partake in that sacred ordinance. For months we had no idea what she really wanted. And then one day she said she wanted to...and she wanted Daddy to  baptize her.

On Saturday, February 6, 2016, Callie, along with her friend, Leo, was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The room was packed with people who love these two kids so much. We all felt the Spirit fill our hearts and it was a beautiful day.

Since Callie's baptism, I've seen her spiritually progress. In fact, I've seen her understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ advance more than it ever did for me at this age. It's a confirmation to me that these children have been set apart for this time...a time when we need stronger spirits, more determined to follow truth and light...that she is here to be a defender of truth and righteousness and to raise her family in love and light. She makes me a better person. I love Callie so much and I'm so very blessed to have her in my life. I would be incomplete without her.

Playing with cousins in the parking lot before the baptism. 

Aw, sweet Hayley.


Sammy and Micah weren't so compliant, but it was still a beautiful day. :)

Callie and Daddy

Micah seriously refuses to be in any picture. I hope this phase doesn't last too long.

I love my girl.

Callie was baptized by immersion...and before doing so, Marcus took his black socks off. ;)

Callie and Leo
Buds getting baptized together.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Feature Story News

Extra! Extra! 
Read all about it!!!

Or watch it, anyway.

About a week or so ago I received an email from a reporter in Washington D.C. 

Hi Jenny and Marcus - I came across your story, and that of Samantha, through the Foundation for Children with Microcephaly. I'm writing from Feature Story News in Washington DC - we make TV news for multiple English language channels around the world. While we are focusing strongly on the Zika virus at present we want to better understand the link with microcephaly but also (and absent from the coverage so far) better explain what a diagnosis of microcephaly means for children and their parents and how the condition is managed; I saw physical therapy was one aspect looking at your blog? If you would consider sharing your and Samantha's experience on camera please let me know. Best regards

Of course we'd be willing to help out, but see...we're not in DC. We're in California, Bay Area. That wasn't a problem for them. Within the day I was contacted by Rachel Silverman and we set up a time for her to come and visit our family. 

Yesterday Rachel came over. With her was Patrice, the filmer who flew up from LA that afternoon. They spent about 3 hours with us capturing different situations, talking with the kids, playing, and then interviewing both me and Marcus. Though I'm self conscious about what I probably look like and of course after the fact I wish I had said different things, we had a good time as a family. The kids were great and generally happy. Sammy was fun. And all in all, I'm just really glad that through our experiences we may be able to help others along their own journey.

The story will be done soon and they will send us a link to it when it's ready. I would have never imagined our life involving so many people from all over the world, but boy am I grateful for it!

 Sammy's a fan of Rachel's elephant sounds.

I felt a bond with Patrice. It was later that she told me that she has an aunt with down syndrome and could relate to a lot of what I said about the blessing of having special needs in our life. How grateful I am that someone with such a sensitivity and true love for the topic was able to capture our family on film. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sammy, Microcephaly, and Zika Virus

It's been a few weeks now, since that blasted Zika Virus shook up the world. Just before this thing was making headlines, I had an article published in The Ensign and was interviewed by Momscast for an upcoming podcast. Sammy was the topic. See...this little bundle is such an amazing little creature and she has made my life fuller. Some of our biggest blessings come in the smallest packages, ya know? In both the article and during the interview, I poured my heart out about what a blessing this earthly angel has been.

Then Zika showed up. People started asking me questions...which isn't a problem at all. Microcephaly, a word people hadn't heard of before, was all of a sudden in newspapers, on tv, shared all over social media. Awareness. There was a whole lot of awareness going on. And that's good.

But FEAR seemed to cover the globe with warnings not to travel to Brazil and nearby countries and warnings not to get pregnant for at least 2 years. Microcephaly. Devastating Crisis. I get it. It's scary. And before Sammy was born, I would have never said, "Yeah. Let's have a child with not only microcephaly, but spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, AND epilepsy! Yesss." It really is scary and there's a lot to do and think about and worry about. When we found out Samantha had microcephaly, we were devastated. It changed our life's trajectory. We cried. We worried. And sometimes we still worry. It's a part of parenting...and loving. You worry about those you love.

Then, the journalists of our incredible world started to step back and say, "We need to tell the whole story." (And I got excited because, guys, this rarely happens these days.) They have reached out to many families (ours included) so they can put a face to microcephaly. These reporters want to help diminish the fear and bring hope back into the picture. I applaud them.

Because what about the families who have children with microcephaly already? How are they coping with this crisis? And what about women who become pregnant? Is all hope lost? Come on. Let us not be so dumb!

A friend of mine -- though we don't chat on the phone or get pizza together, I still call her my friend -- Gwen Hartley is among those mothers who has shared her story. In 2012 I reached out to her because her two sweet girls have what Sammy has. (In the world of microcephaly...gosh are there a lot of variables. There are different reasons for microcephaly and different outcomes for each of those cases. What many don't know is that microcephaly is even more common than Autism. It's true. But not until this virus showed up did people even know about it.) The type of microcephaly Sammy has is more rare I reached out to Gwen when we found out Sammy has Microcephaly with Simplified Gyral Patterns. In Gwen I found realistic optimism. That's different from optimism. And I liked that.

So, here the news and all these online sources are interviewing her and I love it. She is the voice for so many of us. This is good because her voice is beautiful.

I'm getting over the flu and my sleep patterns are all messed up. So I was up way too late, looking at Facebook on my phone, and I saw one of her articles. I read through some comments. And I was SHOCKED!

So I'm here to set a few things straight. I've had this on my mind for about 24 hours and I need to get it off my chest:

Stick to the old phrase, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say it at all." You don't have to think our children are beautiful. You don't have to think they are as great as we do. You don't have to love them or take care of them. If it's not nice, then shut it.

Perhaps because you are on social media, you feel free to share hurtful comments. One day, technology will make it so we can reach across the screen and give you a good smack across the face. Or wash your mouth out with soap. Or something. Words hurt. Words matter. Don't be a Word Monger.

My child IS a blessing. My life has been infinitely blessed...yes...b l e s s e d, because of each of my children. I have grown and developed because of them. I am a better person for having each of them in my life. Sticking with microcephaly and Sammy, specifically, she has formed me, molded me, and perfected me in ways I could have never imagined. I have more patience, compassion, love, respect, faith, hope, diligence, and charity (among other things) because of her little life. Isn't that what makes the world turn? It's the love we have for our neighbor. It's compassion in our hearts that reaches out to those in need, to communities, and countries in need. Are we so base to think that something perfectly imperfect couldn't be a blessing? Am I perfect? Faaaar from it. (My rant here may be proof of that) But each day she is perfecting me...a process that will surely take longer than a lifetime. I am becoming who I was meant to be because of her life. I am not putting her through any grief or pain by allowing her to live. As her mother, I am hopefully showing her all the love a mother can. I am connected to her in a way that is very real. And I know she feels it. She is happy, and sweet, and kind, and the most forgiving person I know. I'm trying to learn from her. You should too.

Am I selfish? Are you implying that keeping a life that is imperfect is selfish? Perhaps loving, and caring...bathing, feeding, changing, clothing, rocking, nursing, loving, driving, therapizing (yeah, we made that up), and taking care of all a child's selfish. Maybe. But I don't think so. I don't feel selfish for allowing my child to live and adoring her. I don't feel selfish for being her mom. In fact, I feel honored. I don't feel selfish for giving her life and enabling her incredible, strong spirit to change us all. Nope. I don't feel bad about it.

But yes, I cry when things aren't easy for her. It hurts me. It rips at my heart. Just like it does for all my kids. And sometimes when I'm reminded that she's not like other kids her age, I get sad. I guess I still mourn from time to time. But those times are far and few between as her light fills the darkness in my heart. 

The truth is, those of you who think it's selfish to have "these" children or are utterly confused at the thought that we parents of children with special needs feel don't understand. In a very real and basic way, you don't understand the joy and love that beams from their eyes. Or how your heart flutters when they say a word, or take a first step.  You may never understand that. And that's where I find my peace with your hurt comments that you plaster on the Internet. You will never have the joy and yes, blessing, of understanding how...even in the pain and sadness and confusion and loneliness...of having a child who is not in the "norm," is incredible. In all Sammy's all we try to constantly teach her, I'm the one is the constant student. She is one of my three greatest teachers. 

So my truly confused friend, just know that I hope one day you get the chance to meet Sammy. I hope you get to sit with her and just observe. I hope you get to see her smile at you and hear her sincere giggle. She will melt that hard metal gate wrapped around your heart and you will have a glimpse into Heaven...and then you'll probably pray, just like me, that you'll get to join her there one day.

Because there's no doubt in my mind, eternity is looking mighty fine for this sweet angel.  


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