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Adoption memories

We had Patrick’s g-tube study done. (Great results! Nothing wrong. Just a slightly upward angle that makes positioning the tube tricky.) As part of the history, they asked when the gastrostomy (g-tube hole) was created and I realized last night that I could have answered “exactly two years ago.”

Why do I remember that? Well, because exactly two years ago yesterday, the court officially named us as Patrick’s legal guardians. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.

A friend of mine has been doing something special this month on her blog. Because it’s national adoption awareness month, she’s been posting daily adoption related posts. She invited me to be a guest blogger and, by coincidence, will be running my post today… a very significant 2 year adoption anniversary for us.

So, I thought I’d share with you what I wrote for her. Here goes:

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Ours is not a typical adoption story, because Patrick is not a typical little boy. His life was meant to be something different, something miraculous, and so it required that it start in a very different and miraculous way.

But my part of the story starts the way a lot of others do. We wanted to have children. When that didn’t happen easily, we involved doctors. For years, we went through the ups and downs of charting and temperature taking, tests and medications. Finally, after several years and a minor surgery, our doctor sat us down for “the talk.” He explained that there were several causes of my infertility. The cards were, essentially, stacked against us. He still felt it very possible that we could have children, but only with major medical intervention. We had some big choices to make.

We talked about it and we prayed about it. And then, that Sunday, as we sat in church, we received a clear answer that it was time for us to stop medical treatments. Our child would come to us through adoption.

With a path finally before us, we moved forward quickly. I’ve never felt so driven to do anything before in my life. In under a month, we completed the application process, training classes, and were mostly done with our home study.

During our home visit, we had a conversation with our case worker that would play a major part in bringing Patrick into our family. She’d looked at our “preferences checklist” and noted that we seemed more open than most to adopting a child with special needs. We explained that we felt that adoption was a faith process. We believe that Heavenly Father puts families together. We knew we’d never turn away a child born to us with medical problems. So, if God was in charge of adoptions, too, then why would we limit His options? We knew Heavenly Father would help us find our child and that, if the child really belonged in our family, race and health wouldn’t stand in the way.

We decided to adopt in June. Our application was approved in September and we hunkered down for a nice long wait. We figured two years, at the least, was the average we’d heard. And still, by the end of October it felt like far too long. My heart ached for a child it knew was missing.

Then, on a very snowy morning the first week of November, my phone rang. It was my case worker. She started out by saying, “There was a little boy born on Halloween in Michigan.” My heart skipped a beat. I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and started scribbling notes. She told me he was Korean. And then, she went on to tell me that he’d had a birth defect. His intestines had developed on the outside of his abdomen. The doctors were saying he had a life expectancy of 1 to 2 years. They needed to find an adoptive home quickly because doctors wanted to discharge him from the hospital. All she could tell me about his family that his birth mother wanted him to be able to go to the temple to be sealed to a family.

She said she’d send an e-mail with more information and a picture. She encouraged me to talk to Brian and decide if we’d like to be among those families considered to adopt this little boy, and then to call her and let her know.

As soon as I gathered myself, I called Brian. But he wasn’t at his desk. Meanwhile, two e-mails arrived. One was a short paragraph from the baby’s caseworker in Michigan explaining his medical needs and the unconventional and hurried search for parents. In the other were two photographs of a sweet little Korean boy with great big eyes and an IV in his head.

Since Brian wasn’t at his desk, I called the insurance company to find out if this we even had coverage to pay for this kind of medical problem.

That’s how Brian first found out about the offer. While I was on hold with the insurance company, he called back on my cell phone, so he heard me finish the conversation about “preexisting conditions” and “adoption”.

I gave Brian the information and, after a quick moment of thought, he said he’d come right home.

We had a prayer together, then went to the temple – the perfect setting to make decisions about life and death and eternity.

I knew that families are eternal. I knew that mortality is not the end of life. And yet, I was filled with grief. It was as if I’d just been told I was carrying a child with a terminal illness, but he wasn’t even mine yet. And I was scared. I didn’t know if I was ready to leave the life I knew then.. abandon it all, and become mom to a child who would need so much help, and who had such an uncertain future.

Still, when Brian turned to me and said, “I think we should pursue this,” my heart leapt with joy.

So, we called our caseworker and gave her a list of questions we had. And then we went to visit our parents. We felt we should tell them about the offer, because we knew that whatever happened, we were never going to be the same. And we both wanted father’s blessings. We showed them the little boy with the angel eyes and explained that we didn’t know if he was ours.. But from that moment, all of our families were praying for a little boy whom the e-mail called “Patrick.”

That was Wednesday. Thursday, I sent a copy of our profile. Friday afternoon, as I on my lunch break with Brian, our case worker called my cell phone. The birth family had seen our profile and had chosen us to adopt their baby.

Now, we had a choice to make. Because we’d been selected, we could finally start filling in the gaps in the medical information we were getting. And boy, where there gaps! We called the baby’s caseworker, who referred us to the hospital social worker. Finally, we decided we needed to talk to doctors, and we needed to do it face to face.

I called my mom and told her to take my credit card and buy airplane tickets. Then, I went back to work, explained what had happened, and asked for a leave of absence. After that, we went to the adoption agency where we signed pre-placement paperwork required for us see the baby in the hospital.

Friday night, we tried to get ready. We booked a long-term stay hotel room. We faxed legal documents to Michigan. We make a shopping list of nursery items. And we tried to pack.

I packed my bags that night not knowing what exactly I was packing for. We still didn’t know enough to say if we could take care of this baby. We didn’t know if or when he’d be discharged. We didn’t know how long it would take before we’d be given permission to leave the state again.

And yet, Saturday morning as I sat on a plane to Detroit, 10 rows ahead of my husband, I felt a quiet, happy calm. If nothing else, I knew it would be ok.

We met Patrick, his family, and his doctor Saturday night. It wasn’t what we expected. Due to unforeseen problems, things were tense at the hospital when we arrived. We felt like we knew nothing at all about his condition when we heard the doctor’s account. His case was much more severe than we’d understood, but the immediate prognosis was better.

At last, they led us to his room. My first impression was of how small he was. He was SO tiny! Just a little ball with wires and tubes attached. Without them, you’d have never guessed there was anything wrong.

They let me hold him while we talked. He felt so small and fragile.

I thought that the moment I met my baby, or the moment I held him, that I’d know he was mine. But that isn’t what happened for me. There were too many questions, still and I’d have to wait for that confirmation.

Sunday, we arranged to spend the day with Patrick. The nurses were so kind to let us change his diapers and help with other aspects of his care. I sat for hours singing him lullabies and watching monitors and letting him sleep.

When we arrived, the nurses warned us that he had a reputation as a very irritable little boy. There was even a sign on his door warning not to wake him. He was famous for screaming hysterically if his sleep was interrupted. But that’s not the baby I met. He was just a sweet, tiny little boy who wanted to be held.

I remember singing to him: “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.” And my voice choked on the words because I knew that right at that moment, Patrick didn’t have that. I couldn’t imagine how any little boy could go through all he’d need to go through alone.

That night, as we looked at pictures from the day, I came across one that showed just his face with a white background. I knew, when I saw that picture, that I loved him.. and I wanted to keep him.

Monday morning, we held a “family conference.” It was a business day so we finally had been able to confirm that there were doctors to take care of him at our hospital at home. Our insurance confirmed that he’d be covered. Brian needed to hop on a plane to go back to work. (He was running a conference that week.) So, knowing we had the resources to provide for his physical needs, we asked Patrick if he’d like to be a part of our family. I swear, he looked up at Brian and smiled.

The case worker rushed to the hospital and by 1, we’d signed paperwork, and I was on my way to the airport with my husband. I was staying behind to start a whole new life.

The next few weeks in Michigan are among the sweetest of my life. With nothing else to do but hold my new baby and learn to care for him, I virtually lived in the NICU. My mom came for a week and shared with me in Patrick’s first feeding, first bath, and first time wearing real clothes. This time was also some of the hardest I’d experienced as I received a trial by fire as a mom of a child with major health problems. Patrick had his second surgery the day Brian flew back to be with us.

Two weeks after we signed papers, on my birthday, the birth parents appeared in court, and we were named as Patrick’s legal guardians. A week later, we had permission to bring him home. At 4 a.m. Thanksgiving day, Patrick and I arrived at Primary Children’s Hospital by air ambulance. He’d spend the next few weeks there as the doctors here got to know him and made arrangements for us to take care of him at home.

Because of his medical needs, the courts granted an early finalization of his adoption and we were able to take Patrick to the temple to be sealed as a forever family in February when he was just 4 months old.

Patrick just turned 2. He is an active, happy toddler who loves cars and music and Elmo. He is a living miracle! Patrick’s birth defect came with a rare complication. As a result, at birth he was missing over 95% of his small intestine. Without intestine, he doesn’t get nutrition by eating. In fact, eating large amounts puts him at risk for dehydration and bowel obstruction. Instead, he is entirely dependent on a form of IV nutrition called TPN. He has a permanent IV tunneled through his chest, into a vein in his chest or neck that runs to his heart.

The TPN leads to complications like infection and liver disease. In his short 2 years of life he has already struggled with both. Patrick’s doctors warned us before we adopted him that we’d become such regulars in the E.R. that we’d be on a first name basis with the staff. We soon found that to be true not just for the E.R. staff, but also the IV team, the infectious disease team, the PICU team, most of the residents, several of the medical students, and the entire gastroenterology department.

At 9 months old, as a result of infection, Patrick’s heart stopped. The fact that he is alive now is nothing short of a miracle. No doctor who hears his story and then meets him can help but confess that he has beaten the odds in countless ways.

Patrick will eventually need an intestinal transplant. He is already running out of places to put new IV’s and each new infection makes him a little more fragile.

Since they don’t do intestinal transplants where we live, we have chosen to have Patrick listed at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Patrick has been on the waiting list since April of 2009. He is status 1A and will have his transplant is soon as a donor match is found.

People try to tell us sometimes what a tremendous thing we did in adopting Patrick. We don’t really feel it’s something we can take credit for. As we told our caseworker when this all started, Heavenly Father puts families together. He knew Patrick needed us. And what’s more, He knew we needed Patrick.

Raising Patrick has taught us more about life than any other experience. We have learned to rely entirely on the Lord. We have learned to live each moment to it’s fullest. We have learned to lean on one another when things are hard and we to trust in hands of friends and strangers when we felt too weak to stand on our own. And we have learned to love like we didn’t know it was possible to love.

Adoption Reflections: The journey home

I think this will be the last in my adoption reflections series.

Things started to come together quickly once the court granted us full custody of Patrick. The adoption agency put in a petition for something called an “interstate compact” or “ICPC”. Basically, Michigan and Utah had to formally agree on which laws would govern the adoption. Meanwhile, the hospital social worker and discharge planner started working on the bigger question of how exactly we’d get Patrick home.

Patrick’s care needed to be transferred to specialists in Utah. He needed doctors here arranged and home care set up before he could leave the hospital environment. That meant he couldn’t just be discharged from the hospital so we could fly home commercially.

Eventually, it was decided that our best option was a medical flight. It took some juggling, negotiating, and everything short of outright begging to come up with the $20,000 cost of the flight, but eventually between our insurance company, a private donor, and our own savings, we had enough to book the flight.

Two days before Thanksgiving, the ICPC and flight were arranged, Patrick had a bed and a doctor at Primary Children’s hospital. We were coming home!

There wasn’t room for both of us and our month’s worth of luggage on the flight home, so Brian flew home Tuesday evening with the luggage. I stayed behind to take care of Patrick.

We were scheduled to fly out early in the afternoon on Wednesday, but some bad weather put the flight crew behind so it was after midnight before we left. We bundled Patrick up as warmly as possible. Then they strapped him to a stretcher. We went by ambulance to the airport, where a Leer Jet was waiting. We flew at 70,000 feet to stay out of turbulance. Patrick just slept the whole way.

Finally, we landed in Salt Lake and took an ambulance to the hospital, arriving about 4 a.m.

It was so disorienting to be in a new hospital. Nothing was familiar. I was tired and somewhat lightheaded from the long trip.

Brian met us at the hospital, and once we were checked in, took me home to rest. Leaving my baby all alone in an unfamiliar place was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I knew I had to take care of myself.

After a couple of hours’ sleep, we got up and got ready for Thanksgiving. I finally got to see the nursery Brian and our friends had put together for us. We took hundreds of pictures with us to Thanksgiving dinner. And then, once we were rested and fed, we went back to the hospital – where’d I’d spend most of my days for the next 2 and a half weeks.

For the first time, it was our last name on Patrick’s nametag. We were just the parents, not the “adoptive parents”. Our families got to finally meet him. It would be a couple of weeks more before he left the hospital, but Patrick was home.

This year, he gets to come with us to his first ever Thanksgiving dinner. Two of them in fact! We’ve come a long way to get here. Probably the best journey I’ve ever experienced.

Coming Home

Well, it took a few days longer that we’d hoped… But on a grand scale we actually made incredibly good time at getting back home to Utah. The ICPC came through late on Monday… unfortunately too late to do anything about it. So – Tuesday morning arrangements began to be made for the air ambulance. We were scheduled to leave Michigan at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Since space on the plane was limited, and there were things to do at home, Howie flew home Tuesday as soon as we’d made arrangements. I stayed behind to tie up the last loose ends and to take care of Patrick.

Of course, the best laid plans… Weather and mechanical things put the air ambulance enough behind that they had to take an FAA required break… So instead of leaving at 2 p.m., they finally made it to the hospital at midnight. I did my best to sleep before then… but Patrick wasn’t too keen on that idea so I was pretty tired even before I left.

The trip home was a very unique experience. 3 flight nurses and 2 EMT’s showed up around midnight and talked to the nurses at Beaumont to make sure they understood Patrick’s needs. Then, we wrapped him up in the snowsuit I’d bought for him at the last minute and strapped him into the carseat, which had been secured to a stretcher.

We made our way out through the ER of the hospital and were loaded into an ambulance. When transporting an infant, their biggest goal is to keep them warm… So the ambulance was a bit like a sauna. It took 45 minutes to get to the airport in Pontiac.

They put me on the plane first to get settled while they got things warm and ready for Patrick. Then they brought the rest of everything along. (Everything means Patrick in his carseat and a tiny little vital signs monitor and a tiny size pump for his TPN). Plus the flight nurses. We rode home in a leer jet so the space was quite cramped, but pretty comfortable. There were two nurses, a respiratory nurse (to make sure Patrick didn’t get hypoxic), and two pilots.

We flew at 70,000 feet because there is less turbulance at that altitude, so the climb took forever. But Patrick, who’d been asleep since we’d put him in his snowsuit, barely stirred. Once we reached altitude, I got to trade seats so I was closest to Patrick. But he was determined not to wake up. I had to work really hard to get him awake enough for his feeding, and then he fell asleep again right away.

Since he was determined to sleep, I went back to the comfier seat myself and tried to get some sleep in. I think I slept for about an hour and a half, and then woke up on time to start recognizing the silhouettes of mountains. One of the most stunning sights from the flight was the moon setting over the rockies, seen through the front windows of the jet.

We landed at the Salt Lake Airport about 4:30 and it took about 40 minutes to get loaded into the new ambulance and up to the airport. We found the NICU at just about 5:30. The hospital staff knew we were coming, but had expected us several hours before. And, for some reason, the ambulance crew didn’t think to call ahead and came in through a back entrance they weren’t expected to use… so we caught them a bit off guard.

They did an exceptional job through getting us in. I guess that, although the hospital had been in communication with the GI accepting Patrick, that information didn’t get passed along to many people. So, fortunately, the staff at Beaumont had done a great job educating us and we were able to help provide the basic information they needed to get started with his care.

They did pull me out to do some admissions and orientation stuff. And right about then the stress of the past day and the flight hit me. I was so glad for a stash of food and water in my bag because for a few moments there I was sure I was going to pass out. Fortunately, Howie finally got to us (he’d missed us because we came in an unexpected door) just as I hit the non-functional state and was able to take care of the most crucial things there.

Then, with Patrick mostly settled, we went home to get some much needed rest. I would have liked to spend a few hours with him, but I’d about hit my limit. So we got home at 7 a.m. Boy was it nice to see my own car and my own house!

We slept a few hours then got up, put the 200 some odd pictures we took in Michigan into a photo album (Howie had all those digitals printed), and then went to Thanksgiving dinner. It was early afternoon before we made it back to the hospital but Patrick was doing pretty well when we got there. He wasn’t sleeping, he was just laying there looking at his new surroundings. (He’s in a much busier room and I’m sure was confused).

That night, he got to meet my dad, his grandpa, for the first time.

Now we’re just trying to get things settled. We brought stacks and stacks of pages from his chart in Michigan with us. But- as we’d been warned they would- for most information they are relying on us to help explain. Again, we are so grateful for those doctors and nurses who took time to make sure that we really understood everything from Patrick’s care to his treatment, tests, and diagnosis.

This is a bit of a big adjustment for us. Different hospitals do things in different ways. Of course, the hospital wants to do their own assessment, so we’re repeating some things. He has to earn his way back off of pulse-ox and back into a crib. But they’re also being pretty proactive in his care. They’ve tried continuous feeding… but it sent his output levels through the roof. So now we’re trying progestamil by mouth… and he seems to be doing fine with it. We’re hoping to be transferred into the infant unit instead of the NICU pretty soon… but that all has to wait till the end of the assessment period, so it may still take some time. Some of the fun changes in this hospital are that we are dressing Patrick ourselves and he gets a bath 3 nights a week. I got to give him a bath last night, and boy oh boy did he love the baby lotion massage afterwards.

We expect things to pick up once we make it through the weekend. Yesterday, as people came back from the holiday, we started to meet some of the important people who’ll be involved with Patrick’s care. Monday we expect to see the most progress as things are finally back to work as usual.

The bestest birthday present ever

This year, my ultimate birthday wish came true. On Tuesday we were given custody official legal custody of Patrick. This was done in what was pretty near record time for the state of Michigan. Now we only have a couple of hurdles left before we can bring him home.

If you haven’t heard the sorry, we were contacted on November 5th by our caseworker and told about a little boy who’d been born the week before in Michigan. The details of his medical condition were pretty sketchy, but in essence, we knew that he had to be fed through an IV and that his chances of living past age 2 were pretty slim.

Our gut reaction was grief, mourning for the loss of what we’d expected in becoming parents. But, at the same time, we’ve always felt that adoption is a faith process and we at least owed this opportunity some serious thought and prayer.

Brian came home from work and we said and prayer and went to the temple. And – decided that we should keep learning more. The next day we got some additional information from our caseworker and sent a copy of our adoption profile to Michigan. We really didn’t expect to hear much more and did not expect at all to be chosen.

But – the next day, as I met Brian at his office for flu shots, the phone rang and our caseworker told us that Patrick’s birthparents had chosen us. (I didn’t care so much anymore if it might hurt to get a flu shot). We quickly got in touch with caseworkers and the hospital in Michigan to learn more. We decided that the best way to assess the situation was to fly to Michigan where we could see things first hand.

We arrived in Detroit Saturday evening and, after cleaning up a bit at the hotel, went to the hospital. We were met there by a bit of drama between the birthparents… and were not met by the caseworker here. We were introduced to the birthmother and her family, and then to Patrick. We learned that Patrick was born with a defect called short gut, meaning that most of his bowel is missing. Because of this, he’ll need a bowel transplant to survive. But – he is so small that he can’t have a transplant until he at least doubles in size… and his chances of surviving infection and liver damage that long are pretty slim.

We went back to our hotel room completely overwhelmed and quite ready to just go home. But – we’d promised ourselves that we’d spend a day with him, and so Sunday that’s what we did. We spent a day holding him and learning what kind of care he needs. One thing to know about Patrick is that, unless you know something’s wrong, only the tubes attached to him would give away his condition. In every other way, he is a happy, healthy little baby boy. And by the end of Sunday, he’d pretty much wrapped me around his finger.When I got back to the hotel I started copying pictures from our digital camera. When I came across the picture at the top of this post, my heart just kind of sang. I knew that I’d fallen in love with this little guy.

There were still a lot of questions to be resolved, though. We didn’t even know if the hospital in Utah would be able to care for him. So we spent Monday morning talking to doctors, nurses, insurance, and social workers.

Brian had to fly back to run a conference in Utah that same day. His flight left at 1. And we had to make a decision the same day. We really didn’t know exactly how things would work out… but we couldn’t leave Patrick anymore, and so we called the caseworker and signed the documents to begin the adoption process.

Michigan requires that the birthparents appear in court and be questioned to ensure that they made the choice to place a child for adoption of their own free will… so we had a tense few days as the agency prepared paperwork and worked to get an early court date. Fortunately, Howie had plenty to keep him busy at home and my mom was able to come spend the week with me here so that we didn’t have to face that anxious time alone.

And – finally – just two days ago on my birthday, the court placed Patrick in our custody.Now we’re praying for smooth sailing as the interstate compact is worked out and, even more importantly, as we try to figure out how to get Patrick home. The price tag on an air ambulance to Utah is $30,000. The care manager at the hospital is trying to persuade the insurance company to pick up the tab for most of that, but they (understandably) aren’t sure that they want to do it.

So, we keep praying and working, and most importantly, enjoying our new little son. The best part of any day for me is being able to sit with him snuggled up to my chest… especially now that Howie’s back to share the moment with me.

It’s too hard to keep up with all of our loved ones by telephone, so we’re going to do our best to keep you in the loop through this blog. Thank you all for the love and prayers and support on our behalf thus far.