The First Week: A Timeline in Facebook Posts

Our first full week with Baby W was spent living with his foster family.  It was a truly life-changing experience that we will treasure forever!  The only downside was that we were so busy spending time with them and bonding as a family, we didn’t have much time left for updating the blog.  This past week, we have posted regular updates on our Facebook page because it is just quicker and easier.  We will still continue to do that, but are hoping to now get back into posting more detailed updates on here now that we are settled into our new apartment.  We still want to keep a record of our mini-updates from that first week, so here are all of our Facebook updates from then!

December 19

We are too exhausted/still processing to do a blog post update – that will come tomorrow, hopefully! Just know that it was a wonderful, surprising, perfect, surreal, life-changing day … the kind of a day you remember forever and ever. More details to come!

December 20

Wrote: “Meeting Him, Part I”

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Today was our first full day with Baby W, and it went better than we could have ever hoped or imagined! He is an incredibly sweet-natured, relaxed, and social little guy, which makes bonding happen much easier. He loves to play, is very curious, and loves making everyone around him smile and laugh. We are in love!!

Baba (the foster mother) has been a saint, though I know this isn’t easy for her. Rather than try to keep him for herself these final days, everything she has done has been to teach us how to take care of him and facilitate as much bonding as possible. Today she taught us to feed him, play with him, take him on walks, brush his teeth, mix up his bottles, give him his medicines, change him (Alex changed his first EVER diaper today!), and put him to bed.

She spent time around us in the morning, and then slowly backed off to allow us to try out alone time with him. By the evening, we had spent about four hours alone with just the three of us in the family’s upstairs apartment where we are staying. Because of this, we have made huge strides already! By the end of the day, he would hold eye contact with both of us for as long as his attention span would allow, snuggle, let us give him lots of hugs and kisses, and be perfectly content to be alone with us. At first, he was sad when Baba wasn’t in the room, but by bedtime he stopped reacting when she came in the room and then left again.

Baba said from our first meeting that Baby W is much more social and accepting of us than he usually is of strangers – thank you for the prayers!! By the end of the day today, I cannot fathom that we have only known him 24 hours. Baba suggested that we try having him stay in our room tonight, since today went so well. Like any first time parents, we cautiously did whatever we could to lull him to sleep, and then realized we need to move him and spent about ten minutes assessing the situation and Googling how best to move a sleeping baby. We do what we gotta do.

We got to video chat with some family members this evening to introduce them to our new little guy – they are all as smitten as we are. Tomorrow we are going back into the city with him and Baba to shop for his winter clothes. Let’s pray our progress from today continues into the week – and that we can sleep week tonight! What a wonderful first day as a family!

December 21

Wrote: “Meeting Him, Part II”

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Last night, the first night we spent with Baby W sleeping next to us, was also the first night in weeks that I have slept soundly through the entire night. No waking up every half hour or so, no being awake for hours on end during the night. Apparently all I needed was to know my little boy was within arms reach. After a solid night’s sleep, I woke up to a happy baby and husband. No better way to start my birthday!

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Well, friends, I don’t think birthdays come much better than the Polish one I just had. After an amazing night of sleep (this is a big deal for me …), my little guy woke up grinning ear to ear and So! Excited! About! Life!, as is his way. We then took Baby W shopping in Wroclaw with Baba, first to a grocery story so she could help us stock up on all of his favorites and then to a shoe store so we could buy him winter boots. Then we wandered through the street shops of the Christmas market for some gifts for our family, and visited our apartment so that we could collect a few things we forgot (read: so Baba could give her stamp of approval).

We spent the afternoon FaceTiming family so they could meet Baby W, and logging lots of quality snuggling/kissing/giggling/playing time. I wasn’t expecting much of a celebration with the foster family, as birthdays are not traditionally celebrated in a big way here. However, knowing that WE are used to celebrating birthdays, the family surprised me with a round of champagne, bear hugs and lots of kisses on either cheek, and a beautiful book of photography of landscapes and animals from the local countryside – including a picture they glued in the back of Baby W playing in the garden. These people … hearts of gold.

In the evening we were visited by the foster family’s son, who is about our age and speaks English. He graciously agreed to translate for us for the evening to allow us all to get to know each other better. We are SO thankful he came! We learned details about Baby W’s history we never would have learned otherwise and got to know so much more about the foster family and their life with him. Without this interaction, I may have never learned just how significant of a role Baba has played in my son’s life. Without her, he wouldn’t be here today. She quite literally saved his life when no one else thought he was worth saving – but this will require a blog post of its own. Tonight, we got to see their true personalities, freed from the bonds of a language barrier. I wish every night could be so free.

Tomorrow is another big day. We’ll be spending the majority of the day in Wroclaw with Baby W and Baba at the hospital to observe his many different therapy sessions. Baba arranged for his therapists and doctors to all be available to meet with us, as well as translators. Caring for Baby W comes with a bit of a learning curve, so this will all be very important! When we get home tomorrow evening, Alex has been assigned babysitting duty while I join the family in the painstaking process of preparing the traditional Polish Christmas dinner, including making over 100 pierogis. If we don’t start preparing dinner now, it will never be ready by Christmas! It’s a whole thing.

Well, my little Polish dumpling is sound asleep next to me, so I think it is time to sign off on the best Polish/American birthday a girl could ask for. Thank you all so much for the birthday wishes!

December 23

The last two days have been about two things: 1) Therapy, 2) Food.

Therapy!
Over the last two days, we have attended four of Baby W’s therapy sessions. They are primarily physical therapy (learning to crawl, walk, and develop muscle tone – his poor little arms and legs feel like limp noodles), speech therapy (learning to mimic sounds and form syllables), and occupational/developmental therapy (working on sensory processing, cognitive skills, fine motor development, etc.). On the day we met him, Baby W had just completed a 6-week in-patient therapy intensive, where he was basically in these therapy sessions around the clock. His therapists say he has improved dramatically!

After all of that therapizing, our little dumpling is exhausted. He was too weak and worn out to practice crawling this evening, took an extra-long nap, and fell asleep for the night during his evening bottle instead of staying up to play for another hour or so like normal. He is working so hard!

Basically, Baby W was born underdeveloped due to the poor health of his birth mother while pregnant. How he made such drastic improvements since birth is a long story (trying to find time to write that blog post), but he has certainly come a long way. He is still very small (only 17 lbs and wearing size 9-month clothes at just shy of 19 months old) and has a lot to overcome, but his therapists and doctors are continually amazed by his positive attitude and determination and say that he will catch up one day! Therapists will be visiting us in our apartment over the next month, and then we will continue from Iowa when we return home. We love our little miracle baby!

Food!
Guys. Polish people and their Christmas food … it is a whole, BIG thing. On Sunday night we were supposed to start making the Christmas pierogis, but by about 6:00 pm, Baba declared it too late to start, because we would not finish until the middle of the night. ?!?!? Sure enough, we started the next afternoon and weren’t finished until bedtime! We got to try a few, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. SO GOOD. Tonight, I spent the evening peeling and dicing a ridiculous amount of veggies for some sort of salad while Baba, her mother, and her husband fried up freshly caught carp for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. I have also seen them roasting chickens, baking the largest cheesecake I have ever seen, brewing soups, boiling veggies, and baking bread like there is no tomorrow. The back patio is covered in dishes, as the refrigerator filled up days ago.

Every day here I eat food I never would have been otherwise interested in, and it is all amazing. Oh, and did I mention that Poles not only hardcore celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but the day after as well? They keep calling it “Second Christmas”. I’m pretty sure we are just going to eat amazing food for three days, and I am down with that.

Overall, it as been a fun and educational couple of days! Although we miss our families this time of year, we are very excited about experiencing the Christmas season Polish-style! Check in on Christmas Day for Baby W’s name reveal!

December 24

A quick photo summary of a very special evening – Polish Christmas Eve! This is the when the bulk of the Polish Christmas traditions happen, and it was a wonderful experience!

10850024_738167909635224_5122851910094503568_nTop Left: The very fancy, very traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It began with Polish Christmas wafers (oplatek) personally given by every family member to every other family members to share love and well-wishes. It included many traditional courses, such as fried carp, pierogis, two different pickled herring dishes, a hot drink filled with dried fruit we couldn’t identify and more!

Top Right: After dinner, we moved to the living room for wine, dessert, and Christmas gifts. The traditional desserts served were makowkwiec (sweet bread with ground poppy seeds) and sernik z musem crytrynowym (lemon mousse cheesecake). Also my American cookies, which everyone seemed afraid of.

Bottom Left: Baba slapped a Santa hat on Alex during dessert and gestured for him to pass out gifts. We started with Baby W, as it was close to his bedtime. We all loved doting on him and taking a thousand pictures (which are on my camera to share later!). The foster family gave Alex and I each a box of fancy Polish candies and a bottle of Polish wine. So sweet!

Bottom Right: Our first course at Christmas Eve dinner – borscht! It is a traditional soup from this part of the world made primarily of beets. And in Poland, it is filled with mini mushroom pierogis (which I helped make!). I didn’t expect to like the borscht, but it turned out to be my favorite part of the meal!

Overall, it was an extremely special day. The foster family is family to us now, and Christmas Eve dinner is a very intimate affair here. We are very touched to have been so graciously included. Tomorrow is the first day of Christmas and begins with a special breakfast! We’re excited to experience more Polish Christmas magic!

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If you are still awake, please pray for us tonight! We’ve had a rough night so far (it’s 3:00am). All along we’ve been anticipating a few days of good, “showing off behavior” from Baby W, but knew eventually the bomb would drop – all our pre-adoption education warned us to be prepared for the changes to catch up to him and for him to have a major freakout. Well, that freakout finally came at midnight tonight! Hysterical, inconsolable crying, banging his head, wanting nothing to do with us, refusing to be calmed or to sleep. It took the last couple hours of soothing from us and Baba to finally get him to sleep. This is a difficult but important step, and is much harder in person than in books! He has to go through this grieving process to let go of Baba and attach to us. Baba was wonderful tonight – sitting up with us for hours and making sure I was the one to finally rock and sing him to sleep. This is the most difficult part of the process, so please pray for us to be able to remain calm (my anxiety starts going into overdrive when he his so hysterical!), and for him to quickly pass though this painful step! We know his firm attachment to Baba will make this part exceptionally difficult, but will make it much easier for him to attach to us in the long run! Thanks for the prayers!!

December 25

Name Reveal!

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Merry Christmas, friends! And what a Christmas it was … after our looooong, stressful night, we were all a bit traumatized (except Baba – she’s basically a pro) and beyond exhausted. The night was a vicious cycle of freak-outs. Elliott (yay, you know his name now!) would wake up in a panic, which would send me into a panic, and then I would panic at the realization that my panic was increasing his panic. When he would fall asleep out of pure exhaustion for a few moments, I would panic about him waking again and then panic about the impending panic that would come when he woke up in a panic. Are you panicking just reading that?!

By the time morning came, I was an anxious mess – nauseous and shaky and a little delirious from exhaustion, doing everything I could to stave off a full-blown panic attack. Baba called us down for the traditional Christmas breakfast, which included sausage, beet sauce, and some gelatinous blob of something relating to chicken. The anxiety of the night, the unfamiliar food, and the pressure of not missing out on our one and only Polish Christmas was enough to start pushing me over the edge again. I typed a message to Baba on our translator app about my stomach feeling too unsettled to eat, and she had me wrap up my plate for later, traded in my coffee for warm tea, and handed me some unidentified pill to take (still don’t know what it was). And a Merry Christmas to us all!

Seeing that we were dead on our feet, Baba suggested that she and her mother take Elliott for a long walk through the village so Alex and I could rest. Dear, sweet woman. I was passed out on the couch in minutes, sleeping through the whole morning, Elliott’s nap, and finally waking for lunch when other family members began arriving for the festivities. After the long nap, a shower, strong coffee and my familiar American cookies, I was feeling like a new woman. We spent the afternoon with Baba’s English-speaking son, teaching each other about our respective cultures and transcribing our favorite recipes of Baba’s from her memory into English.

More family arrived for the evening, which was spent eating dessert and socializing (Guys, I finally got them on board with my cookies!), us mainly with the few English-speakers. We gave Elliott a bath full of soothing essential oils, and held our breath as we tried to put him to bed. It look awhile – lots of snuggles, countless rounds of “Silent Night”, and back rubs until our arms were asleep – but finally he let us sooth him to sleep.

We don’t know what tonight will bring, but are feeling more prepared. We know Elliott’s true personality is the sweet boy we have fallen in love with the last few days, but right now we have to sooth the traumatized, terrified part of him. Such is life in a broken world, where children have to learn to love parents they never had. We have a bottle of porridge on standby (Baba’s trick) for nighttime meltdowns, and are savoring this quiet moments with the Polish wine the family gave to us and Christmas video chats with our family.

Thank you all SO MUCH for your words of encouragement after my desperate plea in the night! It was all full of reminders I needed to hear. This too shall pass …

For now, Merry Christmas! Thank you for the blessing you are to our little family of three!

December 26

Thank you so much for the prayers! Last night was 1,000x better with lots of important breakthroughs. He woke up a couple of times, but quieted when I came to him and fell back to sleep within minutes when I stayed with him and rubbed his back. This is a huge breakthrough, because it means that even when he is scared/tired/upset, he is seeing us as a source of comfort that can be trusted.

Baba and Great-Baba have been practicing a lot with Elliott in identifying me as “Mama”. They ask him, “Where’s Mama?” and then help him point or reach out to touch me. It has taken a lot of repetition, but he seems to finally be making the connection. This morning he woke up crying but again quieted when I scooped him up and snuggled him in our bed. Snuggled up in the quietness of the morning, I looked at him and asked, “Where’s Mama?”. Without hesitating, his eyes lit up and he reached out to place his hands on my cheeks, grinning. I thought maybe it was a fluke, so I continued to try it at random times. Every time, same reaction. The adorableness of it is matched only by his immediate look of triumph and anticipation of being praised. As adoptive parents, our job right now is to delight over his every action, which he is completely eating up. While I was feeding him lunch today, after every bite he would whip his head around to where Alex was sitting and wait to be praised. What a ham!

These are all extremely good signs, but we are far from out of the woods yet. This week has been all about transitions, as we have moved gradually to taking over his care from Baba in proportion to his readiness. Today, Baba and Jaja (Grandfather) are out of town visiting family for the Second Day of Christmas, so today is an important day. We are still in his usual environment, but have taken over 100% of his care. After a sound night of sleep, he is an absolute delight today, so all is going well!

Tomorrow is the big day, as we move out of the foster family house and back to our apartment in Wroclaw with Elliott. I think we are all both excited about what it symbolizes, yet dreading the grief that will accompany it. Please continue to pray that the remainder of our final day goes smoothly, and that we can all get a restful night of sleep to start fresh our new life as a family of three!

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Tonight was our best bedtime yet! I think we finally have his nighttime routine figured out. After a bottle, a little quite play to wind down, being rocked and then having his back rubbed, he just quietly fell asleep with no tears or protestation whatsoever! Let’s hope this peaceful day (minus the mean kitty face-scratching incident) and bedtime is a sign of a peaceful night! Tomorrow morning we move back to Wroclaw, and we want to be well-rested for maximum happiness levels all around!

December 27

Last night was a wakeful night, but we feel it was a victory! Elliott woke up many times, but calmed almost immediately every time when he heard my voice. We know it is common for an adopted child to bond most strongly with one parent before the other, and we decided to do what we can to make sure it is me that he bonds to first. Alex will be going back to Iowa a week or so before me, so we need him to be happy living with just me for a while! The fact that he now calms when he knows I am near is an enormous step. The night basically went like this:

1) Elliott wakes up, scared and crying.
2) I rub his back/belly until he calms, usually within a minute or two, while speaking softly to him.
3) Once he stops crying, I take one of his hands and rub it over and over my face, kissing his hand and telling him that I am his Mama, and I am here.
4) His body relaxes, his breathing slows, and he falls asleep.

Rinse and repeat. Many, many times. Exhausting, but hugely necessary. We have been reviewing our past research about toddler grief, which also helped a great deal. I felt calm and confident going into the night, feeling like I knew what to do when he was scared.

Elliott is processing the transitions and grieving the loss of his first caregivers, and sleep is usually the first thing to go in that process. We are sleepy today, but thrilled with the progress we made during the night!

We are now packing up to head to Wroclaw in about an hour. Baba and Jaja are coming with us to help with the move. It is important for them to say goodbye to Elliott and for him to see them leaving him in our care. An emotional part of the process was writing a goodbye/thank-you letter to them, trying to put into words all that we owe them. We know they will go on to touch the lives of many more children.

Please continue to pray for our move today! This is a very key moment for us all, that like all things adoption, is bound to be equal parts joy and pain.

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