Oliver, Kirsten, Chris and Soren

Oliver, Kirsten, Chris and Soren

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

International Nurses Day

I remember my mom saying after a lengthy stay in the hospital that it's really the nurses who run the place.  They're the ones who spend the most time with the patients, tend to their needs and keep them comfortable.  Sure her doctors were renowned in their fields, and we were all thankful she was in their care, but in her eyes, they just waltzed into her room once a day for a minutes-long visit.  When she needed something, it was the nurses who were by her side.

For Kiera, there was also a very special team of nurses by her side.  Before we even knew of our daughter's existence, the nurses of the Labor and Delivery and Neonatal units were there to hold her, feed her, bathe her and swaddle her in her first months of life.  They played with her and doted on her.  They took her bassinet to the roof of the hospital to let her sunbathe as a remedy for jaundice.  They named her, but mostly called her by their nickname for her, which translated to "lovely girl".  They were sad when our daughter had to leave and sent her off with fanfare.

I'm sure they assumed they would never learn what would become of their Meng Meng, the lovely girl they had taken care of with whatever time they could spare on top of their usual round of patients.  It was a thankless job they did out of the dedication to their profession and as human beings. 

Three years later they finally got word that taking care of their unofficial little patient had a happy ending.  Meng Meng had a family.  She was happy, healthy and loved. 

Kelly, one of the nurses from the hospital who I've gotten to know over e-mails and WeChat, made a video of Kiera's story for International Nurses Day.  She wanted to celebrate the important work she and her fellow nurses do and thought Kiera's story was an inspiration.

The hospital where Kiera was born played the video for the hospital staff on International Nurses Day. The video got a wider audience when it was played for nursing students at Kelly's alma mater and, even more so, when it was entered in an International Nurses Day video contest in Guangdong province (and received the most votes!).

I'm glad Kelly and her colleagues finally got the attention they deserved. I'm also glad I was able to thank them. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Soren Update: 3.5 Years

Soren is in an odd position in our family right now.  He's close in age to his "virtual triplet" siblings, but often appears so much more developmentally advanced than Kiera and Matteo, who are still playing catch-up in many areas. The reality is that Soren is more advanced in many ways, such as being the only one of the three who can carry on a conversation.  For the time-being Soren has a lot more in common with Oliver, who he likes to build Legos with and engages in play with him that looks more collaborative than the parallel play Kiera and Matteo exhibit.  Yet it's not fair to compare him with Oliver either, who is two years older.  Soren is not new to this family like Kiera and Matteo are, who as a result, are given a lot of leeway in acclimating, and he's not old enough to process the last few months of change in the way Oliver can.  I need to remind myself that he's only three and a half. 

The first few weeks after we got home from China were pretty emotional for Soren.  So many people suggest that his feelings are the result of all the change in his life, whereas I see a little boy who held it together when his parents went away for three weeks and then let all his anxiety out once we returned.  He was happy we returned, even happy that we brought two new siblings with us, but those weeks were about learning to trust that we weren't going to leave him again.

Being tired probably also affects Soren's emotions. He hasn't napped for months now and if he does, he's awake until it's my bedtime.  He generally does fine, but that does not mean he isn't tired.  If we're driving somewhere in the afternoon, more often than not, he falls asleep. He's always been a pretty laid-back kid who doesn't meltdown when he's tired, but that doesn't mean he doesn't get sensitive.  I've just accepted that he's at the age where he's too old to nap, but too young to make it through the day. 

We came home from China surprised that Soren had started to refuse to wear pull-ups to bed and had been waking up dry.  We thought we were officially past the potty-training stage with him until he had a string of nighttime accidents not long after our return.  We encouraged him to give pull-ups another try and because we were exhausted, we were relieved he agreed, even if reluctantly. 

One thing Soren has become particularly sensitive to is having his picture taken. It's like having to stand and smile for the camera is too much pressure for him and he breaks down weeping.  I'm still holding out hope I'll get one much-sought-after photograph of all four of my children smiling for the camera, but until then, I have three wild cards (they don't fall apart crying, but they might or might not smile and might or might not look at the camera at the same time) and a fourth I can guarantee will have his head turned away and tears streaming down his face. 

Having his picture taken aside, Soren is much happier and less clingy these days. What has helped him, besides just time, has been getting back into our old routine, even if a big part of that routine involved me being back at work.  I leave for work and come home the same time each day and he is then with our au pair or at preschool.  As with most kids, this predictability is comforting for him.

Chris thinks we have a budding sports fanatic.  He reports that Soren likes to talk sports with him; although, I'm not sure how extensive that kind of conversation is at this point.  But every day he would inquire if the Wild were playing.  He would have worn his Wild jersey or Vikings t-shirt every day if he could have, but mysteriously, those two articles of clothing were often "in the wash".  Then one day he went looking for one his special shirts in his dresser and said with a tone of dismay, "None of my clothes are in here." What he was looking at were the next size up of clothes I had pulled from boxes of Oliver's old clothes.  Meanwhile, his beloved Wild jersey and Vikings t-shirt were passed down to Matteo.  

Soren also inherited Oliver's old bike.  Until this point, he'd ridden a tricycle, but now he has a real bike with training wheels.  He loves riding it.  It took him a few falls before he mastered the brakes, but he does great with it now. 

Now that the weather is warming up, Soren loves being outside.  Just like his brothers and sister, he wants to be outside as much as possible.  If they're playing outside when I come home from work, I have to grit and bear a lot of whining before I can get them indoors for dinner and once that's finished, they beg to go outside again until bedtime.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day to Me

I feel really guilty about saying this, because I really love my children, obviously I do, but every year on Mother's Day, what I really want is a day off.  It's rare I get even a couple of hours to myself, let alone in my own house.  All I wanted to do was go wherever I wanted to go or do whatever I wanted to do, even if that meant nothing at all.   

Chris granted my wish, (I'll return the favor on Father's Day) but when the weather forecast for Mother's Day called for a day of rain, I asked if I could take my Mother's Day day off on Saturday instead.  So this morning he packed lunches and loaded the kids in the car for an excursion to the Tamarack Nature Center. 

Chris said he and Oliver had talked about what Oliver wanted me to do on my day off.  Except when Chris asked him to tell me what those things were, Oliver couldn't quite remember and with a hint of question in his voice, said, "Join Paloma's [next door neighbor girl] family?"  With Chris helping to jog his memory, Oliver finally remembered he had really wanted me to "plant some flowers and go on a walk and look for dogs."

The only walk I went on was the few blocks to the running store to buy myself a new pair of running shoes to replace the ones I had worn down to the sole and had planned to throw away at the end of our trip to China.  But I did see all my favorite neighborhood dogs and got tons of slobbery kisses to brighten my day.  And I did plant A LOT of flowers.  All my window boxes are now stuffed with flowers and I can't wait until the plants are fully grown and bursting with color.

The only mishap in my bright and sunny, and quiet, day was I managed to smash a storm window over my head.  I was trying to open one of the windows on our three-season porch so I could access the window box from inside, when the top of the window popped out of the frame, tipped towards me, hit my head and shattered.  I gently lifted what was left of the window off my head and I felt mild stinging on my scalp.  The last thing I needed on my day-before-Mother's-Day-day-to-myself was a shard of glass poking out of my head.  I obviously couldn't see if anything was stuck, so unsure of what else to do, I knocked on my neighbor's door, and in the oddest request I've ever made of them, asked if they could make sure no slivers of glass were stuck in my hair. 

The broken window aside, the rest of the day was exactly how I had envisioned it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

It's Not the Stork

My neighbor and I were standing outside chatting one evening after work and watching our kids play.  Oliver and her daughter are pals and he's become a frequent visitor at her house and she at ours.  My neighbor told me that although she didn't think I'd have a problem with it that she still felt like it was her neighborly duty to tell me that the last time Oliver was over, they were discussing where babies come from.  She found their conversation pretty comical, as you would expect from kids at this age.  Although Oliver skipped over nine months of gestation by informing his friend that the "sperm's tail falls off when it touches the egg and then a baby pops out," my neighbor was impressed he knew the sperm's tail falls off.  That's a fact I actually didn't know until I ready a book written at a four- through seven-year-old age level.

I bought the book It's Not the Stork after it had been recommended in our Early Childhood and Family Education class, and it's been one of Oliver's more-requested books.  Soren enjoys the book too even though he doesn't have the attention span for it yet. It's written in a cartoon format and I think the pictures help keep his attention.

I was admittedly a bit uncomfortable reading the book out loud at first, but it quickly became just like any other book on the kids' bookshelf.  Developing this kind of comfort level was the whole point.  If I want my kids to feel comfortable talking to me about anything, I can't be embarrassed or awkward.

Even though I think it's important to start the conversation about anatomy and reproduction when children are young, these are awkward topics to know where to start.  This book has been great for me because it presents all the facts in an age-appropriate and engaging way and I don't have to worry about whether I'm explaining something well or whether I have my facts straight.  It keeps these topics in the forefront without forcing them.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lucky is a Complicated Word

"They're so lucky," are words that make most adoptive parents cringe. I know those who comment on how lucky Kiera and Matteo are mean well. They are excited that they are part of our family and their words acknowledge the reality that they do have more opportunity now. 

The problem with "lucky" is that it's a complicated word.  All four children, bio and adopted, are "lucky" they are part of a stable, loving family with the resources to provide them with what they need and a lot of what they want.  Why only two of them were born into this situation, I don't know.  Why were Oliver and Soren born to us and not to someone living in a war-torn country or addicted to alcohol or drugs?

Ironically, Kiera and Matteo are my two children whose lives have been the opposite of unlucky, much more so than their siblings, whose true "luck" is overlooked.  Kiera and Matteo were born to mothers who couldn't take care of them and then were raised by intermittent caregivers (as loving as they all were, they were no permanent or consistent).  They did not choose to become part of her family anymore than Oliver or Soren did, yet they had to give up their language, culture and everything familiar to them to do so. 

All my children are lucky, but only two of them will be told this over and over again, and that's a problem. I never want Kiera or Matteo to think they must feel grateful to us for adopting them or that having a forever family makes up for the losses they experienced.  I also never want Oliver and Soren to think they're less lucky or that they should feel guilty for what they didn't lose.

The truth is that Chris and I are the lucky ones.  We're so lucky that these four amazing children are all ours.  I tell them that a lot.  When I'm cuddling with them or when I kiss their sleeping bodies goodnight before I go to bed, I tell them how much I love them and how lucky I am to be their mom. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Behind the Lens for the First Seconds of Life

I love French photographer Christian Berthelot's exhibit "Cesar," photographs of babies just seconds old.

Says the author of the Huffington Post article where I first read about the exhibit:
"Far from the clichés and platitudes, I wanted to show us, as we are when we are born," photographer Christian Berthelot explains in his artist statement. Far from the pristine images of rosy-cheeked babies we're often used to digesting, Berthelot's raw photographs capture babies as almost alien creatures -- naked, screaming and drenched in bodily juices.
Berthelot is indeed a talented photographer, but these particular images are dear to my heart because his photo subjects were born via c-section.

Cale2créateurs exposition
As a woman who's given birth to both my biological children via c-section, it upsets me how much the debate about c-sections overshadows the miracle it produces, the same miracle a vaginal birth produces - a new human being.  Finally there's Berthelot's work to celebrate babies born via c-section, a procedure the photographer's wife, who delivered their son via c-section, described as a beautiful birth. 

I got my first glimpses of Oliver and Soren relatively quickly after birth, but only after they had been wrapped up in blankets.  I never got to see them as Berthelot saw his subjects.  What a gift he has been able to provide these families.

You can view some of the imagines from "Cesar" in this Huffington Post article or this Slate article. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bowing in Honor of Organ Donation

This is organ donation.  When 11-year-old Liang Yaoyi of Shenzhen, China was dying of brain cancer last summer, he asked his mother to donate his organs so that he could be a "great kid" and help others.  An unidentified photographer captured this powerful image of a mother's grief, a son's death and doctors' reverence for a boy's selfless request.