5.17.2016

of luck and love.

From the moment we adopted Carmen, we heard it:

She's so lucky to have you.

This isn't an offensive statement, of course. She is lucky to have us in the way anyone is lucky to have someone they love, someone who loves them. It is the tone used most often that irritates me most, an implication that Carmen's birth mother carried and delivered her and then simply handed her off with the carelessness of someone incapable of love. You see, Carmen was lucky to have her birth mother because she loves her with the love only a mother can possess.

Carmen's birth mother loves her with every ounce of herself. She loved her too much to bring her up in a life of instability and so she chose a lifetime of emptiness for herself for the sake of her baby. She chose to ache every day, to miss and long for a baby she loves every single day, so that her child could know security and family and stability. Those are the makings, to me, of what defines an extraordinary human being, of what define what a mother should be.

On a regular basis, I laugh and joke with fellow sleep-deprived mothers as to what sacrifices being a mother entails: yoga pants, unwashed hair, bags under the eyes, broken nights of sleep. Carmen's birth mother made a sacrifice that trumps any first-world problem sacrifice I have ever had to make. She is more mom than me, more woman than me, more strong than I could ever hope to be. She has given me my daughter and I have given her the promise that Carmen will know only love for the entirety of her lifetime. Carmen's birth mother will ache every day while only hoping that I make good on my promise. And that's the thing about adoption: I will devote every second, every minute, every hour of my lifetime making good on my promise. I will make good on my promise every moment of every day, even when my bones ache from exhaustion and both children have been simultaneously screaming for an hour. I will cherish every moment. I live to be the mother my children deserve and the mother that I have promised Carmen's birth mother I will be. For her to choose me to parent her beautiful baby girl, well, it goes without saying that I am the lucky one in this equation.

Unlike the few of my friends who have adopted, ours isn't an open adoption. We never had the opportunity to meet Carmen's birth father and though I have seen pictures, a piece of me will hurt every day missing someone and loving someone who I don't know. In her face, I see his face and that makes it impossible to not love him, even if he is a stranger -- which is a word that doesn't seem to fit, considering I am raising his child. Things are always a little messier, a little more intricate than those outside of the adoption seem to understand.

Adoption is so deeply rooted in love, and so deeply rooted in loss, and so deeply rooted in general in the sense that many hearts and lives are entwined together far beyond choice. I will admire Carmen's birth parents and live to make them proud of me, something that has become to feel as natural as breathing.

"She's so lucky to have you," people will continue to say. When I look into her face, my heart swells knowing just how many people love her, how many lives she's touched, how many hearts have special places carved out just for her very being to sit. For all of that love, she is lucky -- but how lucky I am to be her mother? Nothing can compare.

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5.09.2016

the day after

Mother's Day in 2014 shared the day with my father's birthday. The days often overlapped and that made me sad growing up, knowing the joy that my father's birth must have brought his mother wound up being surpassed by her untimely early death that left him a child without a mother. It was like some circle of utmost joy and mother-child love and sadness and life and all of that, and so I usually prioritized my father's birthday over Mother's Day. In 2014, Mother's Day also shared the day with a dance competition my sister was competing in and that trumped any other celebration. Ethan wasn't three years old yet and so I spent the latter half of the day without him, my hugely pregnant belly shoved into auditorium chairs listening to the shrill shriek of dance moms in the crowd as my stomach rolled. Kicks, punches, the incessant need to pee forcing me to squeeze past twenty overtly caffeinated moms in bedazzled studio jackets. There were food trucks and I had a s'mores Italian Ice with graham cracker pieces crumbled on the top. My sister placed at the bottom as all authentic hip-hop performance pieces will place when judged by accomplished ballerinas and then she begged us to go for pancakes. It was late, I insisted. I have a doctor's appointment in the morning, I argued. Like I said, my sister's hobbies and interests trumped anyone else's celebration and so I checked in with my husband and Ethan through text (they were both in bed) and accompanied my family to IHOP. I had a water and a waffle. My stomach was upset from the snow cone. I had a sugar headache. I also had three bites of my sister's sundae because I was pregnant and there was chocolate, damn it, so much chocolate.

The next morning was my doctor's appointment. This aggravated me. It was hard having to wake up Ethan to drop him at my mother's house and then get myself to the perinatologist for my routine monitoring. I had preeclampsia with Ethan and so as a precaution, my doctor ordered me weekly routine ultrasounds from my second trimester onward. I had two more to pass before they could ease up on me and let me finish out my last weeks of pregnancy like a normal person. The ultrasound technician was quiet and thorough. This aggravated me, too. I was hungry and I just wanted to pick up Ethan because we had plans later that afternoon with a friend. I was worried my mother was feeding him sugary breakfast cereals and chocolate milk and the entirety of our day would crash to pieces. The technician finished and then I was dressing, wiping the globs of goo from my belly. And then a doctor walked in. Not my doctor, but a different one who had seen my scans in passing. "Can you just lay down for one more minute?" She had a gentle face, a nice face, but I knew. "Is it her heart?" I screamed this into the darkness and I'm not even sure what prompted me to think it.

Five minutes later, my world would come crashing down on me as I sat alone in a doctor's office. The cardiologist referral came next, I'm sure of it, but I don't remember much else except for the world ending. I'm still not sure how it all resumed.

---

I still believe, after all that I went through, that diagnosis day was harder than birth. Medical professionals spoke of my beloved daughter in the past tense, with I'm so sorry remarks and hand squeezes as her little feet kicked at my insides. Soon, her movements would slow. Eventually, they would stop. In just a couple of weeks, I would be giving birth to my daughter who never even got to take a breath. But diagnosis day will always haunt me the most, even more than choosing her urn while she wiggled inside of my body.

---

The day after Mother's Day was a rebirth. Well, it was more like a descent. A descent into a hell that I could not climb out of but Ethan needed me to and so I tried until my fingernails were worn down to the quick and every muscle in my body ached.

Two years later and this Day After is being spent just like this, right now, and I am unable to form the words. In a few short weeks, I should be celebrating my eldest daughter's 2nd birthday but she will not be turning 2. I am hanging onto this little one for balance. As I stare down at this sweet face, I know that this will be the Day After were the ascension begins. There is renewal in her life, her existence. She has given us so much of ourselves back.

I think her big sister would have loved her just as much as we all do.

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5.05.2016

almost but not just yet five

Ethan is almost five.

Five.

For some reason, this is the birthday that is hitting me like a ton of bricks. Don't get me wrong, I collapse into a puddle of tears more than once with each birthday that comes, each bit of baby shed. But five? Five is a whole new ball game. It's a new, frightening territory and descent into boyhood. Of course, it is my greatest privilege to watch Ethan grow up. My heart swells with joy over thoughts of his many milestones to come: his first love, the day he gets his driver's license, first jobs, graduations, seeing him starting his own family (if he so chooses). Watching him grow up is my greatest adventure, my greatest joy and the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon anyone. But five? This one is a doozy.

We decided to redshirt Ethan a couple of years ago. What that means is that he should be in Pre-K this year and beginning Kindergarten in the fall, but he will be a year behind and thus starting (very part-time) Pre-K this fall and Kindergarten the next year. He will be among the oldest in the class instead of the youngest. While we had many reasons to make this choice, the biggest factor was knowing Ethan. He wasn't ready. We fully embrace following the child and knew that a natural progression towards beginning separation would happen on his own terms. Over the last three to four months, the strangest thing happened: he became ready. He began to ask me to drop him off at his drop-off classes, not just be the sole parent sitting inside the room. He never wanted me to go far, and at first asked me to check in every couple of minutes. And then less, and less. I caught myself sitting in the courtyard, sipping on a Coke and waiting the hour and a half to pick him up from art class and my stomach tied itself into knots. We had followed our child into independence, on his own terms, and here we were.

Five. Did I mention it's a doozy?

Sometimes when it's quiet, when Carmen is asleep and the house is dark, I stay up and I try to replay all of the memories we've packed into the past five years. The busy mornings, the adventure filled afternoons, the zoo trips and museum visits and breakfast dates and enrichment classes. I can close my eyes and still see him, sprawled across his tummy time mat as I lay next to him on his bedroom floor, wriggling and cooing in his newborn newness. I catch myself often saying something along the lines of "and then I blinked and he grew up," but I realized lately why that never sits right in my heart once it comes out. I didn't blink, because then I would have missed something. As I reflect back on our five years together, I know in my heart that I fought blinking with all my might. All of it. All of the chaos and growing and living, I feel it with all of my might. I don't know that I truly existed before he breathed the life into my world.

Sometimes I wonder how this little boy could have fallen so beautifully into his role as big brother. It had been, for all intents and purposes, just us for so long. From the moment Carmen arrived, he welcomed her with the compassion, love and warmth that is so uniquely Ethan. He is the pacificer finder, the hand holder, the lullaby singer. Today I stepped out of Carmen's room, her on her play mat and Ethan on the rug across from her, to throw a dirtied cloth diaper into the wet bag in the laundry room. As I walked back towards the room, I heard Ethan singing her Riptide by Vance Joy in a soft, soothing voice, stroking her cheek so lovingly. Sometimes I can't believe he's only four. Just this afternoon, he spent forty-five minutes crying over the death of Selena.

The birthday invitations have been printed. In just a couple weeks time, they will be stamped and sent out in the mail. In a little over a month, his friends will gather and sing him happy birthday and he will blow out the candles and be five and it is so obvious by looking at him. Five.

It's been a good reminder to keep fighting against blinking. Even when the days are long, when they are hard and when I am so tired. There's not a second of his life that I want to miss.

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5.01.2016

carmen's heart.

On a whim a little over two weeks ago, we learned that Carmen had some very mild issues with her heart. I want to preface this post by saying that I am grateful for how minor her issues were and how fortunate we are to know that surgical intervention is highly unlikely. However, I am a mother who found out -- on a whim, nonetheless -- that her deceased child was dealt a fatal set of congenital heart defects and there is something to be said about such a trigger. Even knowing what I know now, I can still feel the twisting, suffocating ache of feeling like your grip on your beloved baby is coming loose.

Ethan had a sore throat, which is how it all started. He was miserable. I brought him in for a precautionary check-up to rule out strep and any other such yuckiness as a precaution since we had a newborn at home. We were to see a newer pediatrician who we don't see often, but who was young and fresh and kind and fun. For some reason, Ethan -- who typically begs for throat cultures because he's an odd duck that way -- decided in that minute he did not want one. Cue screaming. Cue stress. Cue me just wanting to grab my children and leave. Still, I asked the patient pediatrician if she would mind looking over Carmen as a precaution. My neurosis knows no bounds, thanks in part to that time in May 2014 when I arrogantly plopped my pregnant self down on an exam table with annoyance only to learn my baby was going to die. It has taken me some time to even be able to watch when they listen to Ethan's heart on normal check-ups. The dread and fear in my stomach prompts me to believe they're going to tell me I'm going to lose him. The same fear and dread carried over into Carmen. My eyes dodged in the opposite direction as the doctor listened to Carmen's heart. She was listening to her heart for quite some time, but I blamed that on Ethan whining and yelling in the corner of the room. "I hear an irregularity," she said gently, knowing nothing of our past or of Wylie's brief existence -- and then I lost my mind.

I lost my mind because here we were again. I don't even remember what happened next. Ethan was escorted to the front desk to color, Carmen was safe in the arms of a nurse and somehow my mom and husband were making their way to the pediatrician's office to meet me so we could walk over to the adjacent cardiologist's office. The doctor we saw when Wylie was first diagnosed. The doctor who had the unfortunate disservice of breaking to us the worst imaginable news.

The initial exam was horrific. I was barely functioning. "I'm sure it's fine," my mom urged me and I didn't want to -- I couldn't -- hear it. It was all anyone regurgitated to me the first time when things were, in fact, not fine. I noticed the exam taking forever, with Carmen sat atop the same table I sat on for my fetal echocardiograms with Wylie. "I found something," he said, and that was all it took. I don't even remember the rest of the day. I don't even really remember the few days following that day.

Carmen had three very minor and common congenital heart defects. She would not die, the doctor assured me. Not even close. She likely wouldn't even need surgery. They would likely all heal on their own, or at least enough to avoid surgery. It was good news and, yet, it wasn't. I simply wanted to hurl myself on the floor, kicking and screaming about how unfair it was as all of my friends with healthy, easy to conceive and come by children tried to comfort me with reminders of what great news this all was. The bitterness stung at my throat. I worried that she would die in her sleep. The doctor assured me there wasn't a chance of that. I worried about the car being too hot, too cold, the music too loud, the bumps in the road to hard.

We saw Carmen's cardiologist for her check up and he was amazed -- smiling with joy -- that her heart has healed a lot faster than he believed it could. Her heart was looking fantastic and we are to return in a month to hopefully hear that it's all an issue of the past. While it's hard to consider the painful trigger and flashback and unfortunate scenario good luck as many want me to, I am grateful for the mild issues they wound up being and the progress her heart has made on it's own. I won't lie and say something to insinuate my worry is gone. I won't lie and say that I won't be up vomiting with anxiety before her check up in June or any routine visit thereafter. I won't lie and say that my bitterness has been erased completely. For two days, Ethan would ask me at all hours of the night if Carmen was going to die and that alone speaks volumes about the path we've walked and the heavy burden we all carry. The hard-pressed optimist in me knows that our strength is greater because of it and that we can lift Carmen through whatever she needs, even if that winds up being surgery (which it very much likely won't be).

We are probably out of the woods, but we still have to waltz ourselves back into the cardiologist's office to confirm or deny this and I'm unable to put into words what that feels like, having been through what we went through. I could live forever without having to step inside a cardiologist's office again waiting for news on my children's hearts, even if statistically speaking we're going to be receiving good news. It's all very confusing at best.

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4.29.2016

two months

Carmen turned two months old on Wednesday! The first thing Ethan wanted to do when he rolled out of bed was take her "birthday photos" and so we did just that. He offered his input and expertise on prop placement and other behind the scenes opinions and that in itself sums up so much as to how he is as a big brother. Aside from one initial stint with jealousy, he is hands-on and involved and engaged. He is loving and caring and patient -- and so is she, because no matter how much he's driving her nuts, she's always all smiles to see her big brother.

Carmen had her two month check-up yesterday and is weighing in at 8 pounds, 11 ounces and she's 20.5 inches tall. She's still in some newborn outfits but also starting to move (slowly) into some 0-3 month clothing. She's wearing size one Seventh Generation disposable diapers which seemed like such a milestone, having moved up from newborn! We are trying to work with her on eating and gaining, which is something new for me because Ethan never had such issues (according to his baby book, he was wearing 3-6 month clothing and eating 7-10 ounces per feed at this age). When Carmen can polish off 4 ounces in a feeding, we celebrate the rare victory. She had her first set of vaccines yesterday with no reaction and slept her longest stretch at night yet -- four hours and ten minutes!

We have Carmen's cardiology check-up today (which is another update for another time).

At two months, Carmen loves the car, being worn in the Boba wrap, music and listening to her brother talk. She is giggling more often, too! She is a pacifier fiend which is another new thing for us seeing as how Ethan never took one.

Perhaps my favorite milestone was that she had her first class at My Gym on Wednesday as well! Her big brother began his My Gym classes at the same age, two months old, and this time he got to accompany her to her class. (The cuteness and sweetness of this deserves it's own post, too. Bear with me.)



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