Sunday, January 25, 2015

Home a month

It's been a month since we came home with Francesca.  I won't lie, because the point of this blog is to be honest.  It has been a bumpy ride.

First, I should start out by saying that there are lots of happy moments of playing and laughing.  Secondly, I should say that I do not expect for things to be going smoothly yet.  Finally, I want to write an open letter to everyone saying, "Dear Friends:  I do not routinely take pictures of our daughter when she is crying or inconsolable for hours on end.  Rather than grab my camera, I try to console her or cheer her up in those moments.  Therefore, she is not always happy as the blog or Facebook might imply.  Neither am I.  And, really, who is happy all the time, anyways?  And who wants to look at pictures of grumpy people?"  My hope is that this blog is a "real" medium for people to learn about our family, adoption, and thalassemia.  And I wouldn't want some "newbies" to stumble on here and think, "Wow, that Linguine Lady's kids are always happy from minute one!"  Because that's not how it really is.

All our kids are different and beautiful in their own ways, so I hate to compare them to each other.  But since comparisons are inevitable, Patrick and I are sure that Frannie has been the toughest of the nuts to crack.  I don't know if it is her age, or that she hates strangers (which we were repeatedly told), or if she just wants to exercise her prerogative to take her own sweet time to warm up to us.  But in any case, we are still waiting as patiently as possible for her to open her little heart to our love.

Other than running over to me and hugging my legs, Francesca does not offer any affection towards me.  She doesn't return hugs and squirms away from receiving them, and she turns her head away if I try to kiss her.  If either of us ask her if we can kiss or hug her, she looks away.  She will let us hold her and will relax briefly, but as soon as she feels herself relaxing, she will sit upright and squirm away.  She does not make eye contact with Patrick and I.  If I put my hand out and motion for her to put her hand in mine, she refuses, but if Emmie does the same thing, she plays along.  It takes quite a bit of work to get her to laugh or giggle at Patrick and I.  She is the happiest and smiliest around Emmie and Rosie, which is heartwarming to see.  She laughs with them and plays with them and seems very relaxed with them.  When she gets up in the morning and it's just her and I awake, I get no babbles, no smiles, and just sideways glances until Emmie or Rosie gets up.  Then the babbling, smiling, and playfulness starts.  I am happy about her comfort with her sisters, but I also look forward to the day when she is able to be comfortable with me.

While she is not generally affectionate with me, she does like to have me around and is very comforted by my presence.  She knows I feed her and take care of her, so she likes to have me nearby.  For instance, at the hospital, when I stepped away for a minute and left her with the girls and our Child Life friend, she started screaming for me the second I was out of her sight.  So, even though she was with her sisters who she favors, she knows I am her caretaker and protector and wants me close.  She knows that her sisters are not a replacement for me.  This is a good thing.

Francesca seems very comforted by food.  (Who isn't, right?)  She will sit and eat and eat and eat long after she must be full.  Sometimes as soon as she finishes a meal and I put her down, she starts crying and points to get back up.  Some of this might be that she is just a good eater (which she really is!), but some of it seems a bit extreme and as if she is using her time at the table as comfort.  She screams if she has to wait 15 seconds for her food to be ready, even if she's on her 3rd bowl of something and can't possibly be starving.  If I try to feed her while I am up and about the kitchen doing other things, she will scream and point to my chair, wanting me to sit down and feed her and give her my undivided attention.  This is when she seems to enjoy my attention the most.

She is not a good sleeper right now, despite the fact that she desperately needs her sleep.  I think this is because she hates her crib and does not like sleeping alone.  Even though she is sharing a room with Rosie, she still would prefer have me there.  But it's simply my presence and not my affection that she is looking for.  If I reach in the crib to hold her hand or comfort her, she turns away.  In the morning I bring her into my bed with me for some cuddle time.  Sometimes she just lays there stiffly and looks up at the ceiling.  Other times she'll cuddle a little bit, but she doesn't really relax or enjoy herself until Rosie gets up and climbs in bed with us.

All of this is hard on a mother's heart, but this is about Francesca, not about me.  I think the worst part is feeling like she is not truly happy in our home yet because I want so badly for her to be happy.  Patrick and I remark that she sometimes seems "lost" or just out of sorts.  That makes us feel sad.   I also feel sad that she is not enjoying our hugs and attempts at comfort because, let's face it, hugs should feel good and I want her to feel good!  I know in time she will lean into us instead of leaning away from our affection, but I want to be honest and say that it's hard being patient.  When you give, give, give and just get a frown or diverted eyes in return, it's hard not to take it personally.  And when you love your baby so very much, it's natural to want to hug them and kiss them and cuddle them without being pushed away.

While we wait for her world to settle down, we will continue to patiently work at it and love on her the very best we can.  At least I can look at Emmie and Rosie and know that this does get better, and that time is the only way for that to happen.  And we'll continue to enjoy and photograph those special smiling, happy moments we have together.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life in the Cocoon

I think I sat down for 4 minutes tonight after dinner.  Patrick was upstairs getting the girls ready for bed so I quietly snuck a piece of Christmas chocolate.  Ahh...a moment to myself.  And then, "Mama! We have another poo-poo!" So I swallowed down my chocolate and went upstairs to scoop the poop into the last vial to be cultured for Frannie.  How timely.  Now it's in quadruple biohazard bags in the fridge next to my chicken that's brining.  Ah, the joys of returning home from China.

They are the real joys of returning home from China.

So, my initial assessment is that three little people is hard.  Especially three little people aged 5 and under.  Let's face it, little ones are needy.  SUPER needy.  And it's not as if all of a sudden Emmie and Rosie became totally independent overnight just because we brought home Francesca.  Of course it feels like everyone needs parental help at the same time.  So when Patrick is home, the two of us run around with our hair on fire to manage crisis after crisis--and by crisis I mean anything from a diaper blowout to needing more yogurt to getting a boo-boo to being stuck in your Frozen costume.  But most of the time, I'm the one here running around...alone.  Just me.  That's life in the cocoon.

Some people cocoon, some don't.  I'm no psychologist, and I'm not equipped to discus the merits of cocooning with any sort of authority.  I just know that at least on the surface, it makes total sense to us.  There's this new, confused, displaced person thrown into your family and your house.  She's trying to figure out where she is and who you are.  It stands to reason that the more people and places you throw into the mix, the more confusing it will be.  So, that's why we do it.  But it's hard.  Now is when I'm feeling the most out of sorts myself and like I could use a helping hand, but now is when I have to juggle it mostly on my own.  I said to my mother the other day that now I totally understand why people have their mothers come and live with them or visit every day when they bring home a new baby from the hospital.  There is nothing I'd like more than to have some help here.  But right now I'm trying so hard to convince Francesca that I'm the real deal and win her over.  ("Look at me cook!  Look at me braiding your sister's hair!  Look at me wipe your tushie!  Look at me feeding you!  Look at me playing with you! Look at me loving on all three of you!")  I just don't think it's a good idea to throw much more confusion or stimulation into the mix.  But staying the cocooning course is definitely the harder route.

Overall I feel like I'm in slow motion.  Even when Patrick's around, just getting out of the house is a challenge.  Frannie will wake us up at 4:30am and with that much of a [reluctant] head start, we're still just piling in the car by 11:30.  Getting to Target is a huge triumph.  Last weekend we miraculously made it to the North End!  (I'm still wondering if that really happened or if it was just a dream.)

OK.  It was real.  We made it to the North End for pizza.

At Modern Pastry.  Frannie loves to eat.  After I took this picture, she
started licking the display case.  Not joking.  This germophobe wanted
to Purell her tongue but thought better of it.

On Hanover Street.  We enjoyed all the treats the North End has to offer.
She's indoctrinated already.

Caffe Vittoria for a mocha.  For the grownups.  Kids had hot cocoa.
Although Frannie looks like she might have hit the espresso. 

I will also be the first to admit that at least part of the problem is on my end.  I mean, after Emmie and Rosie, I thought all kids started at the age of two.  I'm not used to someone who wrestles me during every diaper change and who is harder to dress than an octopus.  And strapping her into the car seat...don't get me started.  "Cooperation" is apparently not in the vocabulary of a 16-month old.

I know it's going to get better.  But right now I'm feeling like I'll never be on time for anything in my life again.  My house is messy, my definition of clean (hair, clothes, kids) is getting looser, and a "good night's sleep" is any night that doesn't involve a 2-hour interlude in the wee hours awake with Frannie. I consider myself to be a decent cook, and the other night was the first time since we've been home where something wasn't burnt or overcooked because I was running in 7 different directions at once.  ("Don't you like the toasted garlic flavor?" has become a common question around here.)  As long as no one goes missing, everyone gets the correct medications, and people have two shoes on when we leave the house (they don't have to match), I think I've had a good day.

So here's to all you moms with 3, 4, 7, 12 kids...whatever it is.  I don't know how you keep it together.  You look so lovely in your Lulu Lemon yoga pants and perfectly straightened hair.  I looked at my hair straightener this morning and wondered if I could use it to quickly remove wrinkles from the pants I've been wearing for 6 days in a row, or if it would just bake in all of the different foods Frannie has dropped on them over the past week.

And, for anyone who thinks I am exaggerating about my haggard existence, here is a real conversation I had the other day. Because I can't leave Frannie with anyone yet, I had her and Rosie in tow when I went to the doctor.  This was my waiting room conversation:

Some Guy:  Wow!  You have two little ones there, huh?
Me:  [Um, duh.  You can count to two.  Great.]  Yes!  They are 1 and 4!
Some Guy:  Wow!  That's two little ones!
Me:  [Oh, my goodness again with the "two".  I KNOW YOU CAN COUNT TO TWO.]  Well, actually there's another who is at Pre-K.  She's 5.
Some Guy:  Three of them!!! wonder you look so worn out!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Three Years

From terrified little girl...

01.09.2012 my little Mini-Mama...

Emmie has brought us more joy than we could have ever imagined.  She was the first of three best decisions my husband and I have ever made.  She is beautiful inside and out, has a perfect heart and is an old soul.  She is sensitive and compassionate, stubborn and silly.  She is smart as a whip, and has a bit of a temper.  Imaginative, brave, girly, and friendly...she tests us hard and loves us harder.

When I think about her rough beginnings as an orphan, and our humble beginnings as a family, my heart swells with such love, pride, and happiness that it almost stops my breath.  This amazing little girl--and all of our amazing little girls--have changed our lives in every way, and all for the better.  I don't know what I ever did to get so lucky, but I am forever thankful.

For her special day, Emmie wanted to go to Build-A-Bear
to get some new duds for her teddy.

So Happy Emmie Day, to the little girl who made me a mother for the first time.  I don't want to think about what my life would be like without you as my daughter.

Of course my girly-girl picked the frilliest dress she could find!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Santa came!

When we agreed to travel to China to pick up Francesca and return on Christmas day, we knew that there was no way Santa was going to be able to visit our house on schedule.  So we explained to Emmie and Rosie that sometimes Santa has to make a special trip to families who can't be somewhere where they can get their presents on Christmas at 38,000 feet on an airplane from China.  We promised them that our elf, Frosty, would watch our family carefully after we returned home so he could tell Santa when we were all healthy, over jet lag, and Frannie was reasonably settled in so he could make his trip back here.  Feeling like those criteria were met, Frosty gave the nod to Santa last night.

When we told the girls that Saturday was our Christmas Eve, they were so super didn't make one ounce of difference to them that Santa was coming a little late.  They understood that we had something more important to do on the "real" Christmas.  As if on cue, the snow started falling Saturday night.  Emmie and Rosie broke out into "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and insisted that Rudolph would really have to use that red nose to light Santa's way back to our house.  The girls got a plate of goodies ready for Santa and the reindeer and we read "The Night Before Christmas" because, for us, it was the night before Christmas.  As the five of us sat around our tree, for the zillionth time Patrick and I knew that we had made the right decision to get Francesca before Christmas.  Even though our holiday season was far from "normal", it was perfect in it's own way.

"Christmas Eve."  Frannie was so excited and she didn't even know what she was being excited about!
Maybe she just thought that huge cupcake from Mike's in the North End was for her.

The closest thing I could get to a photo of Frannie.  I'm not sure if she knew what
was going on, but she stayed very busy with all of her new toys.

Did they get Elsa and Anna dresses?  Of course they did.  But they spent most
of the day wearing their new firefighter outfits and putting out fires.  Love my gals!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Us, New Year

Our first week home is behind is, and has gone reasonably well.  The medical stuff has been a little rough, but given that some families travel home with their children on oxygen and are met at the airport by an ambulance, I'm not going to complain.

Frannie was pale.  Paler than I've ever seen myself or one of my girls.  There wasn't a hint of pink anywhere on her.  Each time we brought home one of our girls, the first order of business has been to get them in for labs ASAP.  You just never know what the actual transfusion status of your child is until you get them checked yourself.  So after 28 hours of travel and one jet lagged night of sleep we headed to the hospital to get Frannie's labs checked.   To top it off, I headed to the doctor because I was having trouble breathing.  My oxygen saturation was low so I had a nebulizer treatment and some labs done myself.

First blood draw about 15 hours after returning home.

Big girl did a great job.

Later in the day we got both of our labs back and none of them were good.  Poor Frannie's hemoglobin was at a critical level of 5.9 g/dL.  My labs came back and while my hemoglobin was decent, I had an elevated d-dimer test, which is a screening test for a blood clot.  So while we were working out a plan for getting Frannie blood--and getting it fast--I headed into the Emergency Department with my dad for a CT scan to determine whether I was having a pulmonary embolism.  [Thal lesson for the day:  The reason for the worry is because patients with thal intermedia are at an increased risk for thrombosis, and the risk is even higher in asplenic patients. So, everyone was a bit alarmed.]  Exhausted, nervous for Frannie, nervous for myself, and generally miserable I spent 5 hours waiting for the scan and results, which were thankfully negative.  It turned out I simply had a horrible case of bronchitis, which would need to be treated outpatient with nebulizer treatments for the next few days.  My dreamy visions of our first days home singing "Getting to Know You", cuddling on the couch, and playing was quickly getting replaced by our usual return-from-China reality which has always included emergency appointments for myself and our new addition.

So for Frannie, our infusion unit was booked up and understaffed due to people being on holiday.  Because it was urgent for her to get blood, she was admitted to the hospital for the day on Sunday for a transfusion.  Getting blood on the floor as an inpatient takes much longer than in our infusion unit, so we were there for a 9 hour day even though she had her type/screen already done.  Hematology came by and said that while pale, Frannie looked good.  They also noted that even though she was getting a big transfusion, because she was so low it wouldn't bring her up to where she need to be.  So, we'll need to return soon for additional blood before she can get on a normal schedule.  Frannie did remarkably well at her transfusion, despite the fact that she was stuck three times.

Pale and very anemic, but otherwise doing great.

Blood flowing after three sticks.

Emmie and Rosie having a little fun time with Baba while we
were at the hospital.  (And by having fun, I mean going to the supermarket.)

The next few days were full of more medical appointments for my bronchitis, for Frannie's bronchitis and first check-up with the pediatrician, and for the girls' transfusion.  It was feeling a little difficult to spend any time as a "normal" family because someone was always at the doctor.  Still in the little calm time we had at home, Frannie was definitely starting to settle in.  Right from that first night home, she started exploring around our house, testing out the toys, and learning where things are kept.  She quickly figured out which seat at the table was hers and where the snacks are.  When it is time to go out and she sees Emmie and Rosie get their shoes, she'll go and get hers and bring them to me.  She's been making herself right at home, which really makes us happy.

Frannie has a few pet peeves in her new home.  She doesn't like her crib, and fights sleep with all her might.  It's been impossible to put her down for a nap, resulting in sheer exhaustion later in the day.  She protests when we put her in the crib at night.  She is also very anxious around meal time.  She screams and cries and pounds her tray while she waits for me to bring her food to her.  If she wasn't as plump as she is, I would think that she did not get enough food and was left hungry.  And she *hates* when I have to leave the house for a minute.  Which is unfortunate, because normally at this stage I would never leave the house for one single second, but I have had no choice because of the medical stuff.

Most of the time, Frannie seems quite happy.  She is a great imitator and definitely a bright little girl.  She likes to play alone, with us, and with the girls.  Sometimes she just watches her sisters' crazy games and smiles at them.  Other times she joins right in pretend cooking or chasing each other around the house.  She likes to color, have pretend tea parties, and knock towers of blocks over.  During one of our typical family dance parties, at first she just sat there and looked at us like we were crazy, but then she took my hands and joined in, laughing.  She is slowly warming up to us.  While she doesn't spontaneously offer hugs or kisses to us yet (and I wouldn't expect her to), sometimes she comes up to me and puts her arms around my legs and presses her head between my knees.  When she looks up at me, she has the sweetest smile on her face.  She is quickly taking over as the best eater in our house (well, not better than Baba).  She tries anything.  The only thing we've come across that she didn't like was a crinkle cut fry in the Executive Lounge at the Holiday Inn Shifu, and tonight she spit out a brussel sprout.  She likes hummus, pork tenderloin, and pastina, and I have had to really ramp up my chicken congee production.  The only problem with her eating is that she wants to do it all the time!

Very happy once the food is on her tray.
Like her sisters, she loves Nana's chicken soup.
Emmie and Rosie continue to amaze me with their maturity when it comes to our new family member.  It's not easy to have a new person touching all of your stuff, in your personal space, and vying for your parents' attention.  But they are handing it with such grace, sharing with her, playing with her, and trying to love on her.  It is so funny to watch how taken they are with her "baby-ness" in both positive and negative ways.  Emmie keeps talking about how excited she is to show off her baby sister when she returns to pre-K and Rosie wants to try to help feed her.  But Emmie also says things like, "Mama, she's disgusting putting chocolate cookies in hummus."  And they are fascinated with her needs like diaper changing.  One day, poor Frannie was having some tummy troubles from all of the changes in her diet, and as a result had some diaper rash.  Rosie-who thinks she has to assist every diaper change-saw how sad Frannie was as we were getting ready to put on more Desitin so she stroked her face and sang to her:

Oh, baby sister Frannie
Don't you cry
Mama will make you feel better
When she rubs that yogurt on your tushie

So that sort of sums up our crazy family, and our crazy first week.  Throw in a random high fever, a bout of terrible hives, a goopy eye, and some sort of irritation on her face, and that's Frannie's welcome to America.  She is such joy, and we are all really enjoying having a baby in the house for the first time.  And we're happy to report that we are all feeling better, and that the jet lag has begun to subside.  Hopefully the medical stuff will continue to settle down, and then the fun will really begin.

The gals getting new blood on New Years Eve.

The five of us all snuggled in, feeling better, and ready to celebrate
New Years Eve (ie, Eat snacks, have a dance party, say we're going to watch a movie,
and then pass out at 8:35pm.  Perhaps we are NOT over the jet lag yet.)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

And so...

I hate to leave you all hanging.  All three readers.  But, as you probably know whether you've adopted or know someone who has, or, heck, just traveled to China...the trip and re-entry tends to be a tad bit bumpy.

So after a really fun Christmas Eve and late night packing, we left the Shifu at 5am on Christmas Day to start the very long journey home.  Door to door it was about 28 hours of travel.  Leaving China with a new family member is always sad and happy for us.  It breaks my heart to think about what had to happen to this little perfect baby in order for her to be ours.  But I know that given her circumstances, becoming our daughter is the best thing that could have happened.  Especially for us. We are the lucky ones.

Christmas breakfast at Hong Kong airport Tsui Wah.

Goodbye, China.

Do not be fooled and think that the entire plane ride was this peaceful.
Or, that even 10% of the entire plane ride was this peaceful.

The first flight while long (13+ hours) went reasonably well.  The big girls slept on and off and were able to be entertained with videos.  The baby, on the other hand, was able to be entertained by...nothing.  Wriggling and wrestling me for hours on end was about it.

The Christmas Feast at 38,000 feet!

Snacks, snacks, and more snacks.
Our third daughter officially became a US citizen when we landed in Chicago.  By this time, I was clearly coming down with her bronchitis, so I was barely able to utter a cheer, never mind break out into the National Anthem.  It was a little different this time than with Emmie and Rosie.  Instead of the officer simply taking the hallowed Brown Envelope and sending us on our way, he ushered us into a back room at Immigration.  I overheard an officer say to another individual there, "Your fingerprints showed up in our system.  Do you want to explain the reason that might be?"  Another man was sitting there with his head in his lap, nearly in tears.  There were several interview rooms and for whatever stupid reason I got nervous thinking that they were going to ask me some questions I was not prepared for.  As it turns out, they went through our paperwork (and several other adoptive families returning home) pretty quickly.  We went through that annoying pick up your bags/recheck your bags scenario, rode a train for what felt like the entire length of the Red Line, and then relaxed for the rest of our 4 hour layover.  Well, as much as you can relax in an airport, feeling completely filthy, tired, and unable to breathe from bronchitis.

Christmas dinner part deux--McDonalds at O'Hare.
We were all feeling pretty beaten down at this point.

The last leg of our journey probably felt the longest.  We were all so tired we felt crazed.  The kids were inconsolable.  Patrick was still feeling crummy from the end of his latest illness, and I was getting sicker by the minute with Frannie's bronchitis.  With my ears feeling like ice picks being stabbed in them, we descended into Boston's Logan International Airport and I had the same twinge in my stomach I've felt twice before.  This is it.  Here we are.  I can see the Pru.  There's Boston Harbor.  Those are the streets we walk on when we go into the city.  The city we love is the same, but we are returning different.  And I feel scared.  Nervous that I am enough mother for this little person who deserves the very best.  Worried for her health.  Anxious about her tiny heart as it heals.  But we are not only different...we are better.  Better for what we have experienced.  Better because our hearts are fuller than ever with love for these three girls.  "Welcome to Boston.  The local time is..."  And before I know it we make that surreal walk through the airport +1, our weary selves are greeted by our family and we are home.

Impromptu late night Christmas Dinner redux.  This time with *real* food
courtesy of my mother and sister!  We have another meatball lover!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Twas the Night Before Christmas

I never, ever thought I'd be spending a Christmas Eve in China.  But here we are, after a busy day with our bags all packed and three little elves all tucked in their beds.  Three little elves.  Three perfect little blessings.  The best Christmas presents in the world don't come in a box.  They cry, they giggle, they pout, they snuggle.  They bring the joy of Christmas every day.  They are our girls.

Frannie has already changed so much since the day we met her with the crazy hair hat on.  We are seeing more and more of her personality every day.  She is funny and fun, but she also has quite the little temper on her.  She wants to be held by me or in the carrier constantly.  She's starting to show some affection, and snuggles into me when I hold her.  I want to smother her beautiful baby face with kisses.

I'm thinking a lot tonight about the changes that are still in store for our new daughter.  I remember well when Emmie--who had just started to settle down a little at the end of her adoption trip--walked into our house and started to cry.  It was as if she was saying, "Not this again.  Stop changing things on me."  For months after returning home she was terrified every night.  I would lay in her room for hours and hours every night until she fell asleep.  So I can't help but worry for Frannie, who has seemed to settle in to our routine here in China.  I hate the thought of her feeling scared when we mix up her scenery yet again.  It's OK to be hopeful, but it's foolish to think that the hard part is behind us.  Not to mention the fact that the day after returning home and jetlagged, we'll already be at the hospital getting her lab work done, which is sure to be traumatic.

So Merry Christmas to everyone from China and I'll sign off with some pics from the past two days, which have really been nice family days.  We are so lucky to have these girls in our lives.  Wish us luck on the very long journey home!

Visiting a Buddhist temple.  Patrick and I absolutely loved it and
everything Connie taught us.

Liuhua Lake park.  Connie said, "I planned the temple for the adults,
the park for the girls."  She was right on-the girls had a blast.

Late night dim sum.  Frannie can EAT.

Oh, shoot.  She's hooked on Starbucks already.

Pure joy!

Lychee Park.

Flower boats.

Enjoying a peaceful boat ride.

Emmie performing "Let It Go" on the boat ride.

Super excited to get a bowl of turnip cakes.  She eats and eats and eats...

Christmas Eve dinner.  A little different than usual.
Out celebrating our last night in China and Christmas Eve.

The pedestrian mall area was packed with people celebrating.

And, of course, Baba reading "The Night Before Christmas."