Forever Family of Four

Hello! It’s us! Apologies for being such strangers but life has been fun, full, and super busy the past year and half! We figured it was about time to bring everyone up to date on our lives at present as a forever family of four.

As most of you already know, we went to China in September of 2016 to bring our second son, Conor, home. This past Friday marked eight months since we met our little guy and he continues to amaze and delight us almost daily.

Our second trip to China was much more challenging in many ways than our trip to bring Gabriel home. But that is a post for a different day. Conor was 33 months old when we met him. His birthday is Christmas day! So Conor is now a few months over 3 years old. Our sweet Gabriel turned five years old this past March. Can you believe it? Next Thursday (May 18) will be Gabriel’s second Family Day with us! That means it has been TWO YEARS since we met our big boy! All those who told us time would pass by far too quickly? You were all more correct than I would have ever believed. I was reading over our older posts and getting teary eyed looking at his pictures and thinking back on how much he has grown and changed in his two years with us.

Look at these sweet brothers!  

For those that don’t know, Conor has some special needs just as Gabriel does. Conor has what is called ABS or Amniotic Band Syndrome. For him, this means that when he was in his birth mother’s womb, the fibers in the amniotic fluid got wrapped around his left arm, left hand, and left foot. This resulted in his left hand being formed differently as well as leaving several bands around his wrist area, his fingers, and a couple of the toes on his left foot. After many trips to and consultations with many doctors for various things, we decided to take him to Shriner’s Hospital in Lexington, KY to have surgery on his hand/arm and foot. As I type this, we are in a hotel room as he is heading into surgery tomorrow. They will be doing surgery to release the bands (as these can constrict growth and cause future problems if not addressed) and to reduce the swelling/edema in his arm, hand, and toes. He will be in a full arm cast for two weeks and have bandaging on his foot. While all of this will be challenging for him and for us, I think the hardest part will be that he cannot eat in the morning before his surgery!!! This is a child that wakes up in the morning and the first word out of his mouth is often, “Hungry”. This kid LOVES to eat! So I am honestly more concerned about getting through until his lunch surgery time without too many meltdowns than I am for his actual surgery. Ha! Well, that isn’t entirely true. We know he is in wonderful hands with his surgeon at Shriner’s. His was the second opinion we received and his prognosis for being able to hopefully give Conor more use of his left hand was much better than the first opinion we received. We asked many questions and feel confident his care will be exceptional tomorrow and throughout any follow up visits. We have had nothing but wonderful encounters the few times we have been to Shriner’s either with Gabriel or now with Conor.

We would like to ask that you keep Conor in your thoughts and prayers tomorrow while he undergoes his surgery. This is a very big deal for him in that the surgery itself will likely be scary for him. He hasn’t experienced anything like this while with us or that we are aware of before he was with us.  But it also has the potential to be fairly life changing as he will hopefully have better use of his hand as well as his foot after he has healed from the surgery! We are so excited for him and for what the future holds for both our amazing boys.

I will post more another day about Gabriel’s incredible progress since my last post I wrote not long after he had been home with us. For now I will tell you it has been incredible on pretty much every level I could have imagined. And the same has been true for Conor as of this writing.

As we are nearing Mother’s Day, I find myself, as always, unceasingly grateful that I get to be these kiddos’ mama. It is an honor and a privilege that I hoped for and dreamed of for many years. I love them with every molecule of my being with a fierce love I never felt before becoming a parent. But, also as always on Mother’s Day (and many other days), I think of their birth mothers. I wonder what their circumstances were that they had to make the heart wrenching choice to give up their babies. I wonder who else was in their mothers’ lives at the time and who is in their lives now. I wonder if they have other children and hope that they do as I feel like it may ease their pain maybe a tiny bit. Maybe that is naive of me. But I want to believe they have been able to make a small amount of peace with their decision. Or maybe it wasn’t their decision at all. Maybe it was parental, spousal, or societal pressure. Whatever the reason, I cannot imagine having to make that choice. And I wish I could tell them how grateful I am to them. For that awful choice was what allowed me to be a mother. That unbearably sad loss for them resulted in the most immeasurably amazing gifts I will ever receive. And I still cannot fathom how they must feel. But I can try. And I will continue to send them the most loving of thoughts and gratitude at this time of year and always.

I will try to update on our “baby boy” Conor following his surgery and subsequent recovery to let everyone know how he is doing. In the meantime, here is a recent pic of our little men in all their cute glory. Man, do we love these smart, sassy, funny, loving, remarkable boys. They are the greatest of blessings.

Happy Mother’s Day from our forever family of four!

 

Almost a Family

Sunday was it. The final one. The VERY LAST big holiday we will spend without our son. The last time we will celebrate a holiday not as a family of three. (I’m not really counting Mothers’ Day this year – at least for us – as we will be in full on China travel prep that day so I hope to not really notice it.  Although, of course we will celebrate our own moms and all the other wonderful mothers in our lives!) Naturally, we can’t WAIT to celebrate Easter with our little guy next year!

It still seems like a dream in many ways. That we will actually be holding our boy in a little less than six weeks. Thirty nine days – give or take a few hours –  from this exact moment we will be meeting Gabriel for the very first time. Of course we have no idea how that will go. Will he be afraid? Most likely. Will we be afraid? Of course we will! We are first time parents and no amount of training and reading and asking and watching parenting videos can sufficiently prepare you for that role. But we know that we will put every ounce of love and heart and everything else we have into that sweet little man. We already love him with every fiber of our beings. And we know that we will have done everything we could to be as prepared as possible. And it will all be okay. Because we will finally be a family.

As we have mentioned before and as our social worker told us early on – this process is not for the faint of heart. We have had delays upon delays. Each one harder than the one that went before because each time we have been closer to being able to travel and also more in love with our child. There was the delay early on where we lost a month because a background check wasn’t sent by the state of Georgia in a timely fashion. Then we lost 2 weeks in February because a form for immigration was lost and we had to re-send everything. Then right when it looked like everything was falling into place, our adoption agency cancelled the trip in mid-April we were set to make. Some agencies allow you to travel as soon as all of your paperwork is in place. Ours only travels in groups and they only travel to each province once a month. This was the hardest of all the delays because we were so close. We played around with the idea of trying to leave the first of April but it would have cut everything too close. So we decided to make peace with leaving mid-May as that was the next time our agency would travel to Gabriel’s province. As things have a way of doing, it all works out for the best in the end. As tough as it has been to know we have to wait another month to meet our son, other (mostly work related) reasons have presented themselves since then that have made it fairly clear it was best to wait.

This past week we received our official travel approval from China and Gabriel’s visa appointment has been scheduled. We will leave Nashville on May 14th. We lose a day on the way over due to the time change so will arrive in China on the 15th. We will spend Friday night and some of Saturday in Shanghai and are excited about that. On Saturday early afternoon, we will travel to Wuhan (Gabriel’s city) in order to rest up a little in preparation of becoming parents to a very active toddler! On Monday, May 18th, we will finally become a family. It feels pretty incredible to even type that. This little family we have dreamed of creating pretty much since Dave and I met is actually happening at long last. The enormity and bliss of that likely won’t fully hit us until we are on the plane heading to China. But it does hit us now and then in both expected and unexpected moments. Like when we received the email with our travel dates. There it all was in black and white in front of me – FINALLY. I broke down and had myself an ugly, yet happy cry. The relief, the joy, the reality, and – yes – the mild panic – all hit me at once. But mostly the relief and the joy mingled together with just a bit of sadness that he is still not yet in our arms. And it was certainly a moment. Or like when I see the other families we have “met” online that were actually on our same timeline before our delays and who are now in China meeting their little ones. We are overjoyed for them and their kiddos are gorgeous! But there is still that little twinge of wishing we could be there already, too! And as tough as it can be to stay positive, there really is no other option. I mean, what lies at the end of this journey is absolutely worth every moment of waiting! And just when we needed it, last week we got an email from our agency with two new UNEXPECTED photos of our sweet one! WHAT JOY!!!!! Look at that face! I just want to smooch on those cheeks all day long!!

Gabriel outside      Gabriel outside sitting

The unexpected photos are rare so are even extra appreciated. Normally we are only sent new videos or pictures when a milestone is reached in the adoption process. While we did hit a HUGE milestone (getting our final approvals and everything booked), we did not expect to receive any new photos. The flip side of getting these is that we see him growing up with every new photo we receive and that is sometimes challenging for us because we are missing some important stuff. But it is only six more weeks now. 39 days and we will actually be KISSING HIS FACE!

We were incredibly blessed this past month to have many, many friends and amazing people help us with a benefit show to help us raise funds for our adoption expenses. Our longtime friend and Kat’s bandmate, Mike Grimes, owns a couple of clubs in town. He gave us a Friday night at his club, The Basement, and allowed us to hold a benefit show and silent auction on March 13th.

Adoption Fundraiser Flyer

We received very generous donations of gift certificates from local restaurants (City House, Lockeland Table, Tin Angel, Cabana, Baja Burrito, Margot Cafe, Ugly Mugs, Yazoo Brewery) as well as gift certificates and merchandise  from local businesses (Practical Massage, BarreAmped, Hip Zipper, Fork’s Drum Closet, Kelly Judd Massage, Cassity’s, Shay Studio, Cognito Salon, Jen Deaderick at Green Pea Salon, My Veggie Chef, Alegria, Hardwear Merry, Dogtopia, The Frist Center) and some awesome donations of other items like baked goods, wine, make up, and other great stuff from our sweet friends! MANY talented musicians (whom we are also very lucky to call our friends) also donated their amazing talents at the event and performed some super fantastic music. I don’t have room to name everyone here but we are eternally grateful to all the members of The Coal Men, Brian Ritchey and band, the mary nails, Hip Jelly, and Guilty Pleasures for being a part of this wonderful night. With the donation of most of the “cover charges” as well as the silent auction, we were able to raise a little over $2000 and have a blast in the process!! Special shout outs to those friends who came early and helped us set up and make this night as great as it was. Blessed doesn’t even begin to cover how we feel.

We will be having one last fundraiser – another “yard/garage” sale on Thursday, April 30th and Friday, May 1st at our training center. We decided we would have an indoor sale this time and just see how that goes. It will hopefully be a little easier than our last sale especially since we will be leaving 13 days later! If anyone is doing spring cleaning and wants to drop off some items for the sale, you are welcome to do so! Our facility is located at 2605 Winford Ave in Nashville.

garage sale sign

 

 

 

For those that have been asking about where they can donate if they aren’t local and weren’t able to come to the benefit show or yard sales, you can visit our online site to make a tax deductible donation at:

adopttogether.org/ourrayofhope

Because we had to wait an additional month to travel, the costs also went up some as the flights and hotels became more expensive. So we are super grateful for every little bit of help in that department!

For those of you that are on Facebook, we have created a closed group where we will share photos and videos as we journey to China to meet Gabriel and bring him home. We will post a little on our personal pages but prefer to keep most of our journey a little more private and for those that really want to follow it. If you would like to do so, you can request to join our group page. Our Ray of Hope: Bringing Gabriel Home at:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1559429154311993/

We can’t wait to share our first family photos and our experience in China with you guys! I mean, who doesn’t want to see Dave Ray eating salamander on a stick???

We have our visas.  Chinese Visa pic

We have our travel approval. TA header TA seal

Flights and hotel are booked.

Pet/House Sitter is booked.

Packing has begun.

IT IS HAPPENING!!!!!

All we need now…

I have arrived

is our son.

And now we wait…

Today was a big day for us. It is one of the biggest yet in our adoption journey thus far – other than our match day, of course. Today our dossier was finally sent off by our adoption agency and is currently making its way to China. In Chinese adoption lingo this is know as DTC. We felt the below photo was an appropriate way to announce our big news considering who we are and what we do. 🙂

DTC Glory

I actually find that I am almost in tears as I type this as it is such a huge step closer to Gabriel! Having never gone through the process of being pregnant and awaiting the birth of a child, I certainly cannot make a fair comparison to that journey. However, with our current estimated timeline of 10 – 11 months from starting the process to having him in our arms, it is hard not to see some similarities! Dave and are certainly expectant parents in every sense of the phrase! We are nervous and excited in equal parts. We move from wanting Gabriel in our arms RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND to realizing just how much there is left to do to ready our lives and home and world for him. We plan and then change that plan and then go back to the original plan again. We have been watching some wonderful dvds that our agency sent to us about parenting adopted children and they are wonderfully insightful, educational, and, at times, very eye opening. We are reading all we can to ready our selves to the best of our ability. We are learning from other adoptive parents – some we know personally and some we only know via social media. At the end of the day, though, we know that everything will be okay. And Dave and I will do every single thing we can to be the best parents to Gabriel that we can possibly be. And we can’t wait!

Except we must. In fact, that is what we will be doing for the next 2-4 months (according to current estimates) while we wait for China to give us the final official approval to adopt Gabriel. Apparently once that happens it is “all downhill” from there and everything moves pretty quickly. And I, for one, am pretty grateful for a little break from all the paper chasing, notarizing, certifying, authenticating, and driving all over town in order to get everything sent and where it needed to be in the timeliest manner possible. I was happy to do all of that, though. Because everything was bringing us closer to Gabriel. Closer to our son. Closer to becoming a family.

When we sent our dossier, we were also allowed to send a photo book and a couple of toys for Gabriel. Of course, we chose to send a stuffed dog. We were told his favorite toys are balls so we also sent a rubber ball that lights up when you bounce it. Dave and I had fun with it in the store so we’re guessing he will like it, too. We included pictures of us, the house, the pets, his future grandparents, his aunt, uncle, and cousins, and the Nashville skyline. One day soon we will get to explain to him in person about the Batman building. We can’t wait!

Here is a photo of our dossier (all 3+ pounds of it) along with the photo book and little dog just before we rushed off to the store to pick up the ball and then on to FedEx last Friday night to get it all overnighted to our agency.

Dossier & toys

For those of you who have inquired about how you can help, I have included a tab above that will take you our AdoptTogether website where you can make a tax deductible donation. The site was not working at first but is live and working now. We are also doing our “Baby Bottle Boomerang” right now if you are interested in us getting a baby bottle to you. All you do is put your spare change in it for the next weeks or months and when it is full, you can bring it back to us or we will come get it. Some of our sweet friends have asked for two bottles! And we have already had a few people bring us back some full bottles – THANK YOU!!! Here is our friend Lauren’s daughter, Avery, who shared her change with us to help us bring Gabriel home! Her mom said they are teaching her about saving money but also about the fact that families can be created in many different ways. What a great example of how to parent! LOVE IT!

Avery

The orphanage where Gabriel lived before moving in with his foster family in May sent us a surprise video of him a couple of weeks ago. It was perhaps one of the best surprises I have ever received! It is 23 seconds long and he is moving much better than he was in the videos we received from just a few months ago when we were originally matched. For me, it is 23 seconds of pure, unadulterated happiness. I can’t even begin to count how many times we have watched it. I think I have every moment of it memorized. And these moments are what keep us contented while we wait. And contented is enough for now. For now…

We would like to introduce you to…OUR SON!

It is official!  We have a match!!  A son.  A SON!!  It seems so strange and wonderfully amazing to type those words!  We wanted to wait to get the official news from our adoption agency that he is actually going to be ours before sharing. Talk about a tough couple of weeks of waiting!  But we now actually have that sweet face to put with our dream!  Which means we can begin to focus our energy on getting everything ready for our little man.  Our SON!!

Part of the name our little boy was given by the orphanage staff is “Qi” (pronounced “chee”).  And he is perfect!  In his file it says they gave him the name Qi because “QI means special, we hope he could overcome difficulties in his life and makes others think amazing, so we gave him the name QI.”  We DO think he is amazing and special!  He is 2 1/2 years old and since he was a week old he has been in an orphanage that offers wonderful therapy and care to the children there.  And he has received the best care possible while in this orphanage. In May he went to live with a foster family. We are very happy that he is getting to experience what it is like to live in a family setting.  We know it will make it that much harder for him when it is time for us to bring him home but we definitely want him to get to have the best possible experience he can until that time does come.

We are extraordinarily fortunate in that we were sent not just a few pictures of him – but dozens of pictures as well as lots of short little videos.  Some of these are from almost a year ago and some are very recent.  So we have actually been able to see his progress and watch him grow!  What an amazing gift!  We don’t know much yet about him as far as his favorite things and such.  These are things we hope to learn soon.  But for now we know that he is shy with strangers but a “little chatterbox” at home.  His paperwork also says that he “has big temper which means he is clever”.  Be still my heart!  We have watched his videos over and over and memorized the way he cuts his little eyes up at someone or how he moves his eyebrows while he is concentrating.  I think he has the cutest little mouth I have ever seen.  Dave loves his little nose.  We are goofy about him.  And we are totally okay with that.  Because he is our son.  The one we have longed for, dreamed of, and sent kisses.  The one for whom we have done our best to wait as patiently as we are able.  And the one we will continue to wait for until we are holding him in our arms.  Tightly.

Without further ado, please say hello to our son – Gabriel Lin Qi Ray.

201311042 462Elliot snip edited

Good Things Come…

to Those Who Wait.  Is there anyone that has not heard this phrase over and over again in their lives?  And we all know it to be true.  Yet Dave and I have never felt the power of these words as strongly as we have these past couple of weeks in particular.  This adoption journey has been much like a roller coaster thus far.  We knew this would not be an easy process.  Our social worker even said to us in the beginning, “Adoption is not for the faint of heart.”  But I am not sure we were truly prepared for just how challenging it would be at times.  Others that have been through the adoption process have shared similar experiences with us.  So we know that this is all part and parcel for some families.  

We learned this the hardest of ways this week.  As soon as we had decided on which adoption agency we wanted to use and that we did indeed want to pursue the China program, we were told that we could request information about children listed on our agency’s website.  I won’t go into all the details here but we did find a child we had hoped to pursue for adoption.    And we held out great hope while waiting for news about our request.  Because what else would we do?

 

 

 

 

 

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Unfortunately, we found out after about a ten day wait that this was not going to happen for us with this particular child.  And our hearts were broken.  And we felt devastated.  I didn’t know I could feel this way about a child I had never met.  We had seen only three pictures.  We had been sent a 45 second video to watch.  That was it.  Yet we felt this huge sense of loss when we were given the news.  Which probably sounds strange to some of you reading this.  And it is probably impossible to explain to anyone else that has not been on this journey before.  And, to be fair to our agency, this is not normally how the process works.  Normally, you complete most (if not all) of your paperwork and then you begin the matching process.  So we did “jump the gun” a bit at this point.  But that doesn’t take away the sting.  It was one of the hardest things we have ever experienced.  Yet still there is this great sense of hope that overrides the pain.  Why?  Because we have complete faith that OUR child is still waiting to find us.  Or for us to find him or her.  That child was meant for a different family.  And we are slowly coming to be at peace with that.  And therein lies the roller coaster ride we find ourselves on for now.  There was both great excitement and great sadness during this time.  And, slowly, the excitement is beginning to return as we feel that hope again.  And we again tap into the faith that never left us.  And we learn to cultivate the patience that is essential on this journey.  The patience from which we will learn.  The patience that will serve us well once we actually do have that little one in our home and we are all learning to be a family.  

 

Greatest Prayer is Patiemce Quotes 

A few HUGE positives right now:

Our home visit with our social worker went exceptionally well this week!  AND we have an immaculately clean home to enjoy for a while as a result!  

Our home study – one of the biggest parts of the process – is pretty much complete as of this week (home visit was the last part of that process).  Our social worker will be sending it to our adoption agency for review.  They will, in turn, send it along to the US Government for our immigration approval.  So in about 2 months we should get that.

We finished a lot of other dossier paperwork this week and got our passport applications/renewals sent away today as well.  

So, little by little, we are making strides both small and large toward creating our forever family. 

We are so grateful for those that have shared stories and experiences with us.  We are also super thankful for those that have simply offered support on even the smallest of levels.  We take great strength from knowing how much love and support there is within our community of friends and family.  We will likely need to call upon that love and support many times during this journey both to our child and afterwards!  Your words and hugs and love help more than you know.  And even though the road may get a little bumpy sometimes, we know with complete faith and certainty that what waits at the end will be more reward than we could have ever imagined.  So, thank you.

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First Steps…

So….this is happening!

Dave and I knew before we were ever married that we wanted to adopt.  At least one child.  The long term plan is two children – eventually.  But for now, as we begin our journey into adoption, we have decided that we are going start with just one!  And we are now in the process of pursuing the adoption of a Chinese child.  We began this process not really knowing what the first steps would be or how to even make them.  But as with all first steps, you take them with a bit of trepidation, some blind faith, and, more often than not, a heck of a lot of help and guidance.  And we have received that in spades from friends both new and old.  Some we knew well, others we only knew casually, and some we’ve never even met in person!  Yet they have been there to answer anything and everything.  We are realizing that this new community of which we are becoming a part is one of total love and support.  Those that have been through this process – some of them multiple times – are not only willing to help but are eager to do so!  They are excited and overjoyed about what we are doing and more than happy to hold our hands while helping us to navigate these first steps.  And we are so excited, so encouraged, and so very grateful for all those who have already offered guidance in the few short months we have been on this road.

While we are still in what is considered the beginning stages of this process, it feels like we’ve already been at it for much longer.  I have pored over adoption sites and the different programs available.  We have a wonderful social worker that is helping us through this process and who also came highly recommended by several friends.  At the very beginning we felt drawn to adopting from China.  But we wanted to be open to the different options out there and available to us.  We looked at domestic adoption.  We looked at the programs in several other countries.  We thought about going ahead and jumping in with both feet and getting two kids at once – ideally a sibling group.  But due to either the status of certain countries’ adoption programs being either on hold or not so above board, our not meeting the exact criteria of certain countries for various reasons, and personal choices, we have found ourselves returning to the now certainty that China is where our child is waiting.

We were initially somewhat surprised to learn that the adoptions in China now are actually 51% boys and 49% girls.  We had always heard that most of the adoptions available in China were girls.  Over recent years, that has changed and there are now boys available, too!  We are fine with either gender so we were happy to hear that this is the case.

We have learned some new terminology over the past several months that we wouldn’t otherwise have possibly ever known.  I think my favorite is that we are now what is known as “paper pregnant”!  And, believe me, that is NOT an understatement!  According to those wonderfully helpful friends, we have only touched the tip of the iceberg of the paperwork that will be required of us.  And I already feel like I’ve filled out more forms, done more photocopying, and spoken with more state and federal officials than I have in the past ten years total.  But it is all worth it.  Because the other thing all of our friends and family members who have taken this journey as well have shared is that once we are holding our child in our arms, all of this will be a distant memory.  And I know that is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.  We have already spent time imagining holding little hands and washing little faces.  And we cannot wait to do it for real.  We visualize the end goal as we wade through the process and never doubt that every signature, every stamp, and every visit to an official’s office is simply one more little step that leads us to the child we cannot wait to meet.  And hold.  And love.

red thread