Wednesday, December 30, 2009

First Visit

Dylan with his birth mom, V.

The little man w/his Uncle, Auntie, and cousin

(who is so happy to no longer be the youngest!)

We had not seen Dylan's birthmom, V., since a few days after she was discharged from the hospital and while he was still in the NICU. We had planned for her to come visit us during Thanksgiving weekend, but a few days before, she let us know that they were having car trouble and wouldn't be able to make it. We told her we understood and hoped to reschedule soon. Then we didn't hear from her for a couple of weeks. Privately, we wondered if it was all just too hard for her right now and if it would be awhile before we connected again.

But I emailed her once more, indicating a few specific dates that would work well for us for a visit, and after a bit of delay, she responded enthusiastically!

The weekend before Christmas, we were delighted to have her to our home for several hours. The visit was preceded by a bit of my nervous scurrying to determine and buy some holiday gifts, tidy up the house, prepare a meal, and ensure the boy was bathed and adorable (the latter not being a hard thing!). I was actually really glad she was coming this time of year, as I love the way our house looks all decorated for Christmas. Bright poinsettias lined our entry stairs and the tree sparkled in the window; plus, we got to show off the beautiful stocking Dylan's aunt L. needlepointed for him, a true labor of love.

We were fearful that the visit might be canceled again, but V. called several times - the day before, again as they were leaving their town, and shortly before arriving - to reassure us!

She came along with her new fiance. They also brought their beautiful dog, who they had brought home that week from the SPCA. They joked a bit while she was here that we were adopting a boy, and they were adopting a dog...but it did feel a little odd. I am sure Freud would have a field day with it!

I wondered what it would be like for her to see Dylan for the first time in our home. I know it must have been hard. I suggested to M. that he be holding the little guy when they arrive, rather than me. For some reason, I just suspected it might be easier for her to see him with his daddy.

The dog's arrival - and our cat's presence - probably made those first minutes less awkward. We had to take the dog around the house and make sure he was all set in the back, which M. did with Dylan. Then they all came in the house, and while we were giving them a quick tour, M. asked her if she wanted to hold him. She did.

She held him close and made funny faces and talked about how much he'd changed. She said that his gorgeous long eye-lashes didn't come from her, which surprised me; I remembered her having really pretty eyes and associated this striking feature of the baby's with them. She seemed comfortable with him and with us...

They were very sweet and polite guests, complimenting our simple lunch, indicating how much they liked various things around our home and garden, etc. It's clear that our "approval" means a lot to her. She asked quietly what I thought of her guy, and I told her he seems so nice, and very into her (which is true).

After a leisurely lunch, I suggested we move to our front porch. I brought out our gifts, which they genuinely seemed to appreciate: for her fiance, a hot cocoa set (not too personal, but after all, we hadn't met him yet); for her son turning two this month, a set of Curious George books for his birthday and some sidewalk chalk and an activity book for Xmas); and for V., a soft, green sweater (which V. said she'd wear for their engagement photos), a Barnes & Noble gift card (to feed her appetite for reading), and a little craft kit with a photo frame on one side and stuff to "cement" a child's hand and/or footprints on the other).

The visit was complicated by the fact that we had previously made plans for my older brother and his family to stop by around dinner time on their way from their home about eight hours away to my sis-in-law's family, about 1.25 hours away. I thought that this was good timing, as V. has said many times how much she hopes to know and be involved with our extended family, I wanted them to meet her to help remove some of the "mystery" of our open adoption, and who knew when they'd be in the same area again. But in hindsight, I don't think it was ideal for a first visit.

Just as V. and her fiance finished opening their gifts, up pulled the raucous crew! My niece and two nephews (ages 12, 9, and 7) came racing up the walk. They were SO excited to finally meet their new cousin! It melted my heart, and I wanted to intercept them with huge hugs and lots of nuggies, their enthusiasm meant so much to me.

Introductions were made, and everyone was very friendly. But the focus was off of V.

We all spent more time together, mostly hanging out in the back yard (including cleaning up after the dog, whose poop my littlest nephew promptly stepped in). My relatives couldn't take their eyes and hands off of the little guy; I had to remember to make sure his birth mom had time to hold him. She did take him some more, and fed him a bottle. We made the frame memento, with both his little feet and hands fitting. To it, she added his name with the date and some hearts. She provided some mothering advice about various things and chatted with the children. In fact, at one point M. and I realized that she's actually closer in age to the kid with the poopy shoes than to us!)

Not long thereafter, V. made motions toward leaving. M. told me later that she had confided in him that she knew it would be tough to "leave" her son again. I wish I'd thought of this; I mean, I suspected that the visit itself wouldn't be easy for her, but I didn't really put it together that physically departing would pour salt in her wounds.

They did say their goodbyes to the motley crew, so I purposely put Dylan in his crib, and M. and I headed out with them. After lots of hugs, and good wishes, and promises to keep in touch and vague allusions to seeing each other in February, they pulled away with freshly-printed directions to a famous local attraction that they don't often get a chance to visit.

She left from her fist visit and I felt...relieved. I am so proud of V., that she followed through and really put herself out there. Plus, she saw an authentic slice of our lives...and seemed to appreciate it. Over lunch, she confided that though she is having a harder time with the separation from her son than she anticipated, she has no doubts that we are the right family for him.

I feel like we've passed a major landmark in open adoption: the first visit. Though there were things I wish had been different, I can see how this can work in the future. And I so hope it will, for all of our sakes...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Different World / A Different Life

Have I shared here that M. is a wonderful photographer? He's just "published" on his website more photos and reflections on the homestay during our trip to Vietnam this summer.

Though that was just a few months ago, so much has changed in our lives since then. I still think about those families a lot...

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's (Not) ALL Good!

About a week ago, I started drafting a post about how much I was enjoying our domestic tranquility. Feeling self-congratulatory, I was somewhat astonished by how much I was enjoying my temporary status as a stay at home mom. I was truly finding satisfaction in keeping the house (relatively) tidy, the laundry clean, the bills paid, and the groceries stocked, all while tending to the little human.

With the onset of the holidays, there was even more for me tackle successfully. I relished having time to identify special gifts for loved ones and shop for them (thank goodness of the internet!). And I couldn't wait to put on the holiday music, to start baking, and especially to decking the halls - things I do every year, but rarely feel I can enjoy fully because of the competing demands of my job.

Then fatigue set in. Dylan still needs to be fed a couple of times during the night. And even though my fabulous partner - who isn't on parental leave - shares this responsibility with me, it means I'm awakened to various degrees every few hours. Not much REM sleep in this house (at least for the adults).

And to make things worse, I really hurt my back. (Man, there is nothing like injuring your back to make you feel OLD!) Not quite sure how I did it, but it must have involved moving heavy boxes of decoration because the next morning, I had a sharp pain in my lower back, a horrible ache in my hip, and oddest of all, my right thigh was numb. Needless to say, the pain didn't help getting enough sleep or staying productive.

Poor M.! For a couple of days, he had to be on double-daddy duty, which he did with no complaint and much compassion.

I'm relieved to report that my back has slowly healed and as of today, it feels normal. But my thigh? It feels like it has a horrible sunburn. Odd, huh? Fortunately, its not slowing me down much anymore. I no longer have to hesitate before picking our little guy up.

Meanwhile, M.'s had a couple of rough days at work, AND he was attacked by a feral cat he was trying to capture so we could take her in to get fixed before she procreates AGAIN.

Christmas is almost here. There is more shopping to do, and much more wrapping to be accomplished between various "events." There are family relationships to negotiate, now including with Dylan's birth mother, V.

So, I'm not going to write that boastful post about how well I'm managing everything, about how much easier it is to be a mom at home than I anticipated, and about how I am brimming with holiday cheer. Instead, I'll admit it: this is hard.

My fuse is short, and I am a bigger nag to M. than he deserves. I am feeling guilty that I don't have more energy to give to interacting with Dylan. We're not sending holiday cards this year (and we finally have a cute kid to feature in it!).

Have no fear: this Bah Humbug mood is fleeting. I know that we're muddling through a huge change in our lives, and that I should be patient, and flexible, and gentle with myself and others. All I need to do is spend a few calm moment with my swaddled baby and adorable husband, snuggling quietly together on the couch in front of our beautiful, fragrant Christmas tree to know that we really are doing okay. In fact, we're doing great.

Thanks for "listening."

Tremendous Two's

Earlier this week, we celebrated Dylan's two month birthday. M. and I sang him a little song (you know the words) and his grandmom sent him a congratulatory email. And I've reflected a lot on how much can change in just eight short weeks.

Yesterday, Dylan had his two-month "well baby" pediatrics appointment. Now it's official: our boy is doing "great." Before hand, we speculated how much he's grown. In fact, he's gained more than three pounds in six weeks and is now almost 9 pounds and 3 ounces. He's also two inches longer. He's still very small for his (not preterm adjusted) age. But all we need to do is look at his chubby cheeks and thigh creases to know he's not our tiny baby any more.

At the doctor's, he got three different shots and an oral vaccine. Wow! I've never heard him scream like that. But then I held him close and he quieted right down. He's been a little extra "clingy" since then, but is easily comforted by close contact and some baby acetaminophen.

He is eating well - about three ounces, about every three hours, including at night. So no, he isn't sleeping through the night. We think that's still a few months away, since he has so much growing to do. At this point, M. and I are still doing "shifts." Typically, I stay up and feed him about 12:30 a.m. and then burp and change him and hope he'll settle to sleep so that I can too. M's shift begins at 3 a.m., and Dylan usually starts fussing again about 4 a.m. Usually, they will both get back to sleep pretty quickly after the bottle, though if Dylan's fussing, M. will "invite" him into our bed so that they can both get a few more hours of zees before M.'s got to wake up and start working. Usually, I keep sleeping and take charge of the kid again about 9 a.m. So, we're both getting about eight hours of sleep, which is plenty, though it is always with lots of interruptions. I'm not as exhausted at this point as I feared I'd be...but it would be lovely to sleep a whole night in bed, along with my husband.

Our biggest concern about Dylan right now is that we think he has a touch of heartburn, which the doctor thought was probable given the symptoms we described. Though he rarely spits up, and when he does, it's not much, he does get awfully pout-y and sometimes cries and "writhes" (wiggling all about) after feeding. The doc suggested burping him more throughout the feedings, keeping him more vertical, and propping something under his bed so that he lies on an incline. After just one day following those directions, it does seem to be helping a bit.

It's so fun to notice him developing. He's got eyebrows now, and very long, flirty eyelashes. He's discovered his hands and is getting them closer to his mouth each day. He's grasping. Every now and again, we catch him in a sweet little smile, though it still isn't deliberate. (Note: I'm predicting now that it will be by Christmas. What a gift that will be!) What's most captivating is how he stares deep into our eyes. He's also definitely following our movements, and seems to be taking it all in with his dark, soulful orbs.

I am on leave from work, and it feels really indulgent to have so much time to spend with him. My biggest stress during this time has been some ambiguity about my work situation. For more than a year, I've indicated to my boss that if/when I finally became a mom, I'd like to return to work less than full time. I presented various scenarios, always stressing how they could be beneficial to both me and the college where I work. It's been a huge relief that my boss was generally supportive, but (reasonably) citing uncertainty about when this significant shift might occur, she didn't make any commitments. She told me late last week that she's found a way to honor my request to return 60% least through this fiscal year; we'll reevaluate then.

So! My wonderful mom has agreed to watch Dylan one day a week, and M. and I will both provide principal care two days a week. Which means we won't have to find any child care for him! As we hoped - and as we indicated to perspective birth mothers - our child will be looked after just by loving family members.

On Sunday, M's sister and two dear friends threw us a "Welcome Dylan Celebration." My sister-in-law on the East Coast helped out too by coordinating the evites. What a joyful day that was! I realize that it is the kind of experience I have been fantasizing about for years: introducing my precious child to our friends and family.

There was some great food and a gorgeous cake, and many people brought thoughtful and generous gifts, which we've been opening slowly at home. But what was best of all was seeing so many loved ones from different parts of our lives come together and delight in our little guy. It was so fun to observe how different people responded to him. At some points, I felt like a traffic cop, needing to encourage one person to pass him along so that another would have time to hold him. He slept peacefully most of the time and awoke just enough to show everyone his gorgeous eyes.

And then on Tuesday, there was ANOTHER party in honor of our son. My wonderful friend and colleague hosted a reception on the small campus where I work and invited all faculty and staff to attend. One of the things I love about my job is that I'm involved with such a tight-knit community. More than a year ago, when we were debating how wide to cast our "adoption networking net," we made the decision to contact many of my colleagues to ask them to keep an eye out for a good match. It felt a little awkward at first, sharing something so personal so publically. But since then, I have been so touched by the support and encouragement we've received, often from surprising places. Many people came to this reception; a bunch of them baked yummy treats for the rest of us to enjoy. And again we were deluged by generous gifts. (Let me just say, Dylan will be one very well dressed guy for quite awhile!)

In our Dear Birthmother Letter, we said something about how we believe the African proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child, and our village is filled with friends and family looking forward to bringing our child into their lives." This week, I truly felt the power and warmth of our village.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Journey to a Foreign Land - Observations of the NICU

Dylan spent the first 12 days of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit ("Nick-You") at Crummy Hospital. I still hope to share his birth story in detail, which will involve more about what led to his admission there, but for now, I'll just concentrate on my observations of the NICU itself. For me, it was such a strange, foreign place that initially I knew so little about, and when I could take a deep breath and step back from the care my son was receiving, I found it fascinating.

I suspect there are things most NICUs and hospitals have in common, and others that are particular to "ours." Regardless of the time of day, there were always people milling about outside the hospital entrance. Not infrequently, there were patients in hospital gowns sucking hard on forbidden cigarettes under the flag pole. Other times, when general visiting hours were over at 8:00 p.m., there were family members conferring. Then, we felt a certain privilege, I guess, that because of our son's condition, we were allowed in anytime. Security would slide the doors open and we'd sign in.

There were posters everywhere warning about H1N1 and admonishing us to "gel" frequently. In fact, while we were there, the hospital was restricted to visitors 18 years and older because of the virus.

After several days of riding the elevator up to the fourth floor and down, we determined that climbing the stairs might be the only form of exercise we'd get in awhile. So, we began hoofing it and often arrived a bit winded.

To enter the NICU, we had to buzz at a door along a corridor and announce who was visiting, and then we had to relate (and sometime show a tiny camera) the number on our hospital bands. Only parents and grandparents of patients were allowed in. (V. and I got a chuckle when we announced to the speaker that Dylan's motherS were there to see him.)

Then we entered a world without day or night, without sunshine or weather, absolutely void of nature. The florescent lights were always on. Nurses and therapists and occasionally doctors were buzzing about. And it was always LOUD.

There were probably thirty kids in there, and I'd venture to guess they all had at least three different monitors on them, each of which would bing loudly if its input varied out of a certain range. For example, at one point, Dylan had four different "leads": one each for blood saturation level, heart rate, respiration rate, and body temperature. They were constantly going off - which was always a bit, urm, alarming! Then we learned that if he squiggled just a bit, they'd move off their intended target, thus triggering all the commotion. Though at first we were glad they were there, we came to view the alarms as very annoying.

Immediately upon entering the unit, we had to scrub our hands (to ensure we did it long enough, we were instructed to hum "Happy Birthday"), wipe with paper towel, and then also use antibacterial fluid. Anytime we touched something - our faces, a diaper, each other - we thought might be germy, we repeated the process. We did it so often and habitually that for days after Dylan was discharged, I was still trying to turn on faucets with a foot pedal like the hospital sinks'!

Then we'd nod greetings to various folks as we headed to our son. The unit itself seemed to be divided into different sections, depending on the level and kind of care required. Dylan was with the other "big" kids. It was pretty apparent to us as soon as we saw some of the tiny, tiny babies with all kinds of wires and tubes, that our boy was one of the healthier ones.

For the first eight days or so, he was in an isolette, a contraption we determined must cost much, much more than my car. Its a Plexiglas bassinet with temperature and gas flow and other controls. It can move up and down, be positioned on an incline, has breaks, and various portholes, some for hands, and some for wires and tubes. Most of the kids were placed in these, typically with little "sheepskins" designed to help prevent bed sores.

Initially, Dylan was in a more open isolette, so that there was easier access to him for various procedures and monitoring. We came to see the day he was moved to the "glass box" as a sign of good improvement. And ultimately, a few days before being discharged, they moved him to a simple clear plastic tub because he didn't need any more of the bells and whistles. (In fact, they even moved him off the unit into Pediatrics where we got to spend two very uncomfortable nights on a big lounge chair with him in his private room.)

Lucky for us, his isolette was positioned close to the one window in the big room that made the unit visible from the corridor. The day after our son was born, there was a crowd of non-parental relatives gathered, pressing their noses against the glass, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wee one.

Upon arrival at Dylan's isolette, we'd learn who was looking after him. This NICU ran on 12 hour shifts, and visitors were allowed anytime except during the shift change, between 6:30 and 7:30 both in the morning and in the evening. (We came to understand that they often did the more complex or uncomfortable procedures during the shift changes too, likely so the visitors wouldn't get in the way.)

For some reason, the same nurse was rarely assigned to the same patient during the same time period. M. speculated that this might be intentional, to avoid inappropriate bonding between staff, patients, and family members. I don't know if I buy this, because I don't know what the downside would be, but it did seem odd that every day, twice a day, we were introducing ourselves to new personnel.

During our little guy's stay, he must have had twenty different nurses, and (with just one small exception) they were all truly wonderful, warm, caring people. I was going to say "women," but he did have one very good male nurse while he was there, and in fact, one of the three "charge" nurses - the nurse in charge of the unit - was a really nice guy who helped us out once when Dylan was tangled in some cords and the "small exception" above was not paying attention to him.

Truly, the nurses were wonderful. As the days progressed, we began to observe that, as in other social microcosms, there were different cliques of nurses. While they all worked well and were friendly with each other, when there was a slower moment, or someone was headed off to lunch, we could see where there were stronger bonds. One clique was comprised of the Filipina nurses who sometimes chatted and joked in Tagalog. Another clique was comprised of South Asian nurses, who most often spoke English to each other, but occasionally I overheard another language (Hindi?). One of our favorite nurses - who came to check on Dylan and us often during his stay, many days after she was assigned to him - was from this group. And the third clique was young, mostly blond women from the area around the hospital. Oddly, a number of these nurses were new mothers themselves, so I enjoyed getting some new momma advice from them. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but it makes me kind of sad that the cliques seem to form around cultural lines.

Oddly, there were just two doctors - pediatricians - who were ever in the unit. One was assigned to Dylan. He certainly seemed dedicated and competent, but he wasn't "warm and fuzzy," and he was rather tight lipped. Since the nurses typically asked us to wait and get medical updates from him and he'd make rounds at different, unpredictable times on different days, many days we wouldn't see him at all. And sometimes we'd see him and delay our departure with the hope that he'd make his way down the row of patients quickly so that we could ply more information from him.

It wasn't just medial personnel with whom we interacted while in the NICU. We also got to know and appreciate some of the other patients' families. There was the very young mother of a tiny baby boy right next to Dylan. She came most days, sometimes with her gangsta looking beau, and sometimes with her very proud mom. She'd hold and feed and coo to her son. Once we saw her waiting at the bus stop in front of the hospital. She'd be taking public transportation to spend time with her precious boy from many months until he is big enough to go home. I was in awe.

There was a loving couple who explained to us that the daughter who was born ten weeks too early was their first, but that he had three from another marriage and that she had two as well. I was so impressed by their dedication. She always showed up with frozen bottles of breast milk. And you should've heard the way he flirted with his little girl! He tickled her feet, talked with and sang to her, and was so excited about her every little improvement. They were so nice about always asking us how Dylan was doing and telling us what a handsome son we have.

There was another nice couple whose son was there for only a few days. We were alarmed to learn that their little boy was named...Dylan. So much for our name being fairly unusual!

I also enjoyed my interaction with a young Sikh couple. I barely spoke with the shy young woman, but her husband was quite affable. He was clearly proud of his son, and after several days of friendly greetings, came over and chatted with me for awhile while I was feeding Dylan. He explained that he had just been in the States for 10 days for the birth, joining his wife who'd been here for the last four months. He and his wife were married just nine months before in Punjab, 14 days after they were introduced by their families. He asked me lots of questions about Americans, which I enjoyed trying to answer. I also told him that his young family was now living in a beautiful state, and I encouraged him to do what he could to travel beyond his new hometown to explore the mountains, beaches, and cities of California.

During our stay, we explained to so many people that we were adopting our son. Regardless of position or culture or connection, they responded enthusiastically.

I've told several people that, as eager as we were to leave the hospital and bring our son home, there were some advantages to his stay there beyond the obvious medical attention he was receiving. For one, it was very helpful to us newbie parents to have experts to show us how to diaper, feed, swaddle, and bath our little guy. It was also reassuring to see the way they handled him - so NOT gingerly. It gave me confidence that he isn't that fragile and that if I was reasonable careful, I wouldn't hurt him. They also advocated "kangaroo care," which we love so much we continue to do today at home. We lay the baby's head near our hearts and hold tight. It's a proven theory that this skin-to-skin contact calms little patients down, speeds development, and improves vital signs.

Having our son in the hospital for the first two weeks actually enabled a fairly soft transition to parenting. It was really nice to be able to leave the hospital, knowing he was receiving excellent care, and go out to a good dinner with a glass of wine or "home" to a full night's sleep.

I wrote earlier that we had hoped he'd be born at Fancy Hospital, but it ended up that he was born at Crummy Hospital. Turns out, we are very grateful he was. Crummy is a county hospital with excellent emergency and acute care facilities. We heard many times from people there and others completely unaffiliated that, because they have so many patients, and so many of them are so seriously ill, our son was at the best NICU in the county.

Indeed, the NICU wasn't pretty. In fact, it was a bit shabby in places. But we had a very positive experience there - well, as positive an experience as having your son in the hospital more than two hours from home could be. I think often of the nurses and other medical staff, the families, and the little bitty patients we interacted with while we were there. What strikes me most is that Dylan was born in this medically advanced country, at a time when his issues could easily be resolved with just a little time and attention. How very fortunate we are.