Heading to Omaha This Week!

Later this week we’re packing up and heading to Omaha for their OI clinic! Why, you might ask, would we do that?

When we were reviewing FangFang’s file, before committing to pursuing adopting her, we’d gotten in touch with our pediatrician, who reached out to one of the orthopedic surgeons in the area. He let us know what treatment would generally entail (surgeries and bisphosphonate infusions) and said that care could all be handled locally. And it likely could. So why travel? Why, in fact, change our insurance coverage to a different, likely more expensive plan, solely so that we could travel?

Osteogenesis imperfecta is an extremely rare condition. Approximately 25,000 – 50,000 people in the United States are estimated to be affected with OI – which means that in a country with a population of approximately 324,349,000, less than 0.02% of the population is affected. There is an OI Clinic right here at Mizzou, which, based on the most current data, sees…6 people per year. In contrast, in the same year, the clinic in Omaha saw 176 people. That number is still so low – but it’s almost 30 times higher than the number seen at Mizzou. The doctors involved with the OI Clinic at Omaha Children’s Hospital are recognized internationally as experts in caring for children with OI. Their research relates to OI, they speak at OI conferences, they consult with other doctors, and their expertise shines through when they interact with parents. As we began to research OI and speak with other parents of kids with OI, they almost unanimously recommended making the trip to Omaha and having these doctors involved in our daughter’s care.

Additionally, the clinic has a multidisciplinary approach. In just a couple days, we’ll be able to have FangFang do all the testing that is needed to give her doctors the information they need as they determine the best course for her treatment going forward, and see all of the doctors we need to see. We’ll do x-rays to get a good look at her bones and a DEXA scan to measure bone density. She’ll have an audio test (because our hearing is dependent upon the tiny bones in our ears, people with OI are more likely than others to have hearing issues), and we may do bloodwork and run some genetic tests. Then we will meet with a whole team of doctors and other medical professionals, including an orthopedic surgeon, an endocrinologist, an audiologist, a dentist, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a nutritionist, and a social worker, each of whom can speak to some facet of FangFang’s condition and give us insight into how best to care for her.

And this girl? In combination with these doctors? She’s going to kick some OI butt 🙂

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These are going to be some long days, but I am oh-so-thankful for the opportunity to go to this clinic and see these experts. We want to do everything we can to care for FangFang as well as possible, and that means getting her to the OI experts who can best advise us and help us to care for her. We’re excited to meet them, excited to hear their thoughts on a treatment plan for FangFang, and excited to get started doing whatever they recommend!

The Littles

Upon my return from China with FangFang, Matt and I started referring to groupings of our kids as “the bigs” (Miranda and CaiQun) and “the littles” (Atticus and FangFang). It’s unclear to me whether this was an actual misunderstanding or a purposeful attempt at redefinition, but it became clear one day that Miranda was using the words rather differently. In her mind, “littles” was a category that included Atticus and FangFang but also CaiQun, whereas she, Miranda, was grouped together with Matt and me in the separate “bigs” category. This is classic Miranda. We’ve attempted several times to explain to her our conceptualization of the groupings, but she seems to remain unconvinced. However, for our purposes, “the littles” are our toddlers, Atticus and FangFang!

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The littles have an interesting relationship, and we’d anticipated this even while we were reviewing FangFang’s file, and we’d discussed it with our social worker. There is a term in adoption – “virtual twins” or “artificial twins.” It’s usually defined as two biologically unrelated children in the same family whose difference in age is less than 9 months. This is obviously not a naturally occurring phenomenon, and it can come with a number of issues, and some social workers and adoption agencies will not allow adoption of a child whose adoption would create a set of virtual twins.

Technically our big girls fall into this category, though they’ve often not seemed like it. Miranda has always been very verbally advanced, and Madeleine CaiQun seemed so much younger than her age when she came home, that they seemed farther apart developmentally than they were chronologically. Now they seem much closer to being twin-like, and I do think that exerts a certain amount of pressure on each of them, but at least right now, I don’t think it’s significantly different than the experience of siblings born within a couple years of each other, and honestly, I think they benefit from having each other. They are each others’ best friend and playmate.

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The littles are not technically virtual twins, as FangFang is 14 months older than Atticus. However, practically speaking, they are much more virtual twins than the bigs were. This is due in part to the effects that osteogenesis imperfecta has on FangFang’s size and gross motor skill development. She’s smaller than he is and is quite adept at scooting herself around the house on her butt but does not crawl, stand, or walk. Additionally, as she is transitioning from Mandarin to English, her English language capabilities are obviously behind his.

This small age gap was honestly, something I was excited about. We’re ready to be done having babies, and we are loving the age that our bigs are at. We like playing board games and doing puzzles. We are dorky people and love reading books together and doing homeschooling. We’re looking forward to being able to travel more, to visit museums and historical sites together. Having all of our kids pretty close in age will allow us to do a lot of that together as a family. And it will simplify homeschooling in some ways. But most of those are future advantages to which we’re looking forward. The current reality is that we have two toddlers, two in diapers, two who are not safe to stand alone in a parking lot, two who need help getting dressed, need help falling asleep, and on and on. Even as a somewhat experienced mama, an adoptive mama for several years, and a mama to artificial twins already, I think I slightly underestimated the challenge that this next year or two may really be!

The first few days home were particularly rough. If one little one was on my lap, the other wanted to be there. If I was holding one, it didn’t take long for the other to find me and request to be held, as well. It was pretty overwhelming.

Home almost 2 weeks now, I’m seeing some light. She’s actually more jealous for my attention than he is, which I had not anticipated – the foster home at which she was living was also caring for several other young children around her age, so I’m certain she did not receive continuous one-on-one attention, but she sometimes seems to think that’s a right to which she’s entitled! I’m doing my best to give both littles some good quality time, and I think they’re each getting used to the other’s presence.

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I still think this relationship is going to be a challenge. They’re both similar to your average 2-and-3-year-olds in terms of their interest in sharing, which is to say that they have no interest in sharing anything 99 times out of 100!

Right now, with Matt in the midst of winter break, we’re able to do a lot of tag-teaming in terms of parenting the two of them, but that’s obviously going to be reduced significantly in a week and a half when Matt goes back to work. That’s going to be…shall we say…interesting. Honestly, that’s going to be the true test of how we’re doing as a family of six, how we do once Matt returns to work. But it’s not here yet, and I’m trying to take things one day at a time!

I do see incredible glimmers of hope in this relationship. The other day, FangFang hurt her leg a bit, and as I was comforting her and looking at her leg to make sure it didn’t seem like a fracture, Atticus came over, saying, “Gentle, gentle,” and laid down right next to her. She rolled toward him and tucked into him, and they put their arms around each other and just rested that way.

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Cue mama happy tears!

We’re also really trying to limit competition between the two of them. Atticus, as a third child, has very few possessions that are truly his – most toys in our house are communally owned – but he does have a few things for which we defend his ownership, including a Little Tikes car, which he loves. Her eyes lit up when she saw it for the first time. We put her on it, and she was ecstatic, and asked repeatedly, “FangFang car?” He, of course, responded definitively, “No! Mine car!” Future requests for a turn for FangFang were also answered with a concrete “no,” so back to Amazon we went, and a second car arrived yesterday around lunch time. And now? Happy toddlers 🙂

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Of course we’re going to work with them on sharing and kindness – we’re not always going to have two of everything – but it’s also okay to give them each a few things that can be just theirs.

This dynamic is going to be interesting in the coming months and years! Of course, when you’re a part of our family, that’s forever, and we work through whatever challenges we face, and we do it together. I think this relationship will have its hard aspects, and we’ll work through those, but I also hope (and truly believe) that it’s going to be an incredible blessing for them both.

Home, Sweet Home! – Reunions and Introductions

When we walked in the door on Friday afternoon, Atticus was in the middle of his afternoon nap, and Matt had fallen asleep with him. I got to give my sweet Miranda girl a big hug, though! It was so good to see her – I’d missed her so much! FangFang was definitely a bit overwhelmed even with this smaller contingent of the family, so we took the introductions slowly at first. She stayed near me and gradually got acclimated to the others.

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Having some toys nearby – as we always do at our house! – definitely helped, and it wasn’t long before we were able to snap a pic of those 3 beautiful sisters all together! These girls (and their brother) have my heart.

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FangFang was really nervous around Miranda at first and didn’t want her nearby, and my heart broke for my big girl. As an adult who knew what to expect and knew the reasoning behind kids’ rejection of their new families, it was still a challenge for me to continue to pursue FangFang as she rejected me, and I knew that it would be so much harder for a six-year-old. Miranda and I talked about how it would take FangFang some time to warm up to everyone and get to know all of us and trust us, and it can be sad and frustrating when she rejects us, but our job is to love her no matter what, and we need to respect her wishes but also continue to move toward her in gentleness and kindness. Miranda flip-flopped some, sometimes willing and able to do that, and sometimes needing to walk away for a while, but the consistent undercurrent for her has been wanting to play with and love her new little sister, and I’m so thankful for her heart in that. Hours of effort on her part went into the creation of this happy pre-bedtime moment.

img_4820After a bit of time at home, we went upstairs and woke Matt and Atticus, and it was so good to see them again, too. I wasn’t sure how Atticus would respond to my return – Matt had been telling him I’d be home soon, and he had been increasingly frustrated with others’ presence instead of mine, telling my mom and dad and brother to go away. He was happy to see me, and the feeling was more than mutual! It was so good to hug my little buddy again! And of course it was great to see Matt, too 🙂

Atticus and FangFang quickly settled in to the dynamic that currently pretty well defines their relationship – jealousy of each others’ time with me!

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If one is on my lap, the other wants to be there, too. If one is being held, the other wants to be held, too. FangFang actually seems more jealous of Atticus than he is of her, which I would not have predicted. That makes me especially thankful that I took another kiddo to China with me, so FangFang did not have 2 weeks of completely undivided attention – I think coming home to sharing the limelight as one of four would have been even harder for her had she not had to share adults’ attention with another child while in China.

This dynamic is definitely a challenge for me, though I knew it was a likely possibility. I love, love, love my kiddos, but I am an introvert who appreciates a few moments of quiet, alone time a few times a day, and right now there’s not much of that other than at nap time and after bed time. I’m trying to strike a good balance, to cultivate attachment and bonding – hold FangFang when she wants to be held, sit with her when she wants me to sit with her, and play with her. But the reality is also that I have 3 other children for whom to care and a household that needs to be run. My mom was here through Monday, my dad through this morning, and my brother leaves tomorrow, and it’s been a huge blessing having them do so much of the food prep and dishes and cleaning and other household stuff. I’m trying to do the bare minimum to keep the household running, while also cultivating attachment with my newest baby, while also caring for my other kiddos, some of whom I was away from for 2 weeks, all while still being jet-lagged! It’s pretty exhausting. I am continually reminding myself of the counsel that I’ve given so many other adoptive mamas before – “You’ve only been home for a few days. This is not what the rest of your life is going to be like. Everyone is reeling right now from all the adjustments, and half your family is still super jet-lagged. It’ll be 2 weeks before you’re even fully over the jet-lag, and that makes such a difference. Give yourself time. This will get so much easier.” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I am so thankful for the timing of our trip and the fact that Matt doesn’t have any teaching responsibilities right now or for the next couple weeks. And mostly I’m trying not to think about the fact that he is going to have to go back to work eventually – and we’re going to have to do school again someday – and I’ll have to go back to work, too – eek! We’ll just not think about that! Anyway, it is so sweet to see the beginnings of Matt’s new relationship with FangFang! Just look at that girl and that daddy – so sweet 🙂

ah, my heart melts!
ah, my heart melts!

She prefers me – she seems to have decided that since Danny’s and Sharon’s departure, I am her safe person, which makes sense, as she’s known everyone else for even less time than she’s known me. She’s getting more and more comfortable with Matt, though, and she’s been pretty open to him from day one.

I’d been hoping to stay awake that first day until the kids all went to bed around 9:00, but my body, having been awake since 3:30 AM central time and running on only about 8.5 hours of sleep during the entire 75 hours prior to that time, quietly gave up on its resistance to sleep and fell into a brief nap on the couch that evening. Thankfully FangFang was getting more and more comfortable with the other kiddos, and they happily scooted around the house with her. She doesn’t crawl but scoots herself around on her butt quite deftly, and the other kiddos, Miranda especially, have taken to doing so with her 🙂

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It was a good first evening together. These relationships are still growing. It’s always complicated adding a new member into a family, and I think that’s infinitely more true when the new family member is not a baby but a small child with already-formed opinions and desires and preferences of her own – some of which she can communicate and some not! But it’s also a beautiful thing, seeing those bonds truly start to come to fruition.

The next morning I posted this photo with the caption, “I’ve been awake since 4:30, and yet I’m still not dressed, and there are toys everywhere and suitcases still to unpack. AND I’M HOME WITH MATT AND ALL FOUR OF MY BABIES!!!!!!”

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It still feels surreal, being here with everyone. It’s hard, but it’s good, and I’m ever so thankful to have all four of my babies here, together, with Matt and me, all six of us home together before Christmas! The real journey lies ahead of us, but it’s a relief to have been able to start it now. I’m quite blessed.

Thursday – Friday – Travel Days!

Thursday morning it was time for us to head out! Our guide met us in the lobby of our hotel at 9:00 AM to help us get to the train station – our first step in our journey toward home! We had a lot of luggage, so our guide helped us to hire someone to get our largest suitcases onto the train for us, all for less than $10 – definitely worth it when you’re negotiating the train station in a foreign country with 2 kids, a stroller, 5 suitcases, and an assortment of backpacks, diaper bags, and purses!

The train ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong went smoothly, though it’s always a little emotional for me to be leaving the country of my children’s birth. Last time around, I knew that – barring catastrophe or direct instruction otherwise from God – we’d be back to adopt again. This time I don’t think we will be. In fact, Matt is quite certain we will not. I think we’ll be back to visit, maybe someday even for an extended period of time if we can make it work, but we think our family is probably complete at six – and so, I don’t know when we’ll be back to this place that has blessed our family so immensely. I know that in the next few weeks, FangFang is going to begin to lose her Mandarin. She’s going to become more and more at home in American culture and less and less part of Chinese culture. There is both loss and beauty in that, and it always strikes me in particular as we leave China to head home.

Once we arrived in Hong Kong, we waited in line for taxis to take us to the airport – due to our large amount of luggage, we needed to split up into 2 separate taxis. Any time we had to split up was a little nerve-wracking, since we didn’t have the same ability to communicate with each other by phone as we would in the States, but it all went just fine. We met up at the airport and got ourselves and our luggage checked in. The customs and security checkpoints there were pretty intense, so we were glad we’d given ourselves hours of extra time at the airport. We’d thought we’d be sitting around for a few hours just killing time, but by the time we had gone through all the lines we needed to do, it was about 4:00, so we finally started looking for a restaurant at which we could eat a very late lunch! Then we collected our things, bought some bottled water, and headed over to our gate.

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Unfortunately, there was yet another security checkpoint as we boarded the plane, and they wouldn’t let us take any of our bottled water with us – frustrating!

We ended up arranging ourselves differently than I ever would have predicted ahead of time – we had a row of 3 seats from window to aisle and then, in the row behind, the middle and aisle seats. On every train ride we’d taken through that time, FangFang had insisted very strongly that she sit with Danny and Sharon, so while I never envisioned my newest child sitting anywhere other than next to me on her first flight, it seemed pointless to make it a point of contention, so we buckled her in between Danny and Sharon, and Madeleine CaiQun and I settled into the row behind them, with the plan that I’d swap with Danny or Sharon for a bit when it was time for FangFang to go to sleep.

This was FangFang's idea of how best to sit in her airplane seat. She wasn't sure why we were all so amused.
This was FangFang’s idea of how best to sit in her airplane seat. She wasn’t sure why we were all so amused.

Mei Mei actually did great with all the travel – mostly due to the provision of a well-stocked iPad for her use 🙂 She also enjoyed the in-flight entertainment options and watched some Hello Kitty and Doc McStuffins shows. Sitting next to her was quite relaxing, and I actually got to do some reading on our travels!

About an hour into our flight, just as the flight attendants were serving dinner, we began to hit some major turbulence – the flight attendants crouched down behind their dinner carts and soon abandoned serving food in favor of buckling themselves into their seats. They did later return to delivering dinner – much to Madeleine CaiQun’s relief. I’d been the last person served before the turbulence hit, and, engrossed in her show, she failed to notice for a few minutes but then, oblivious to her volume, yelled out over the sounds coming from her headphones, “Where’s my food?!?!” But even as the flight attendants began to move around the cabin sporadically, the turbulence remained pretty significant, and the “fasten seat belt” sign was on for four or five hours. I was so nervous – probably my biggest fear prior to traveling was that our plane would crash, and I’d never see the rest of my family again. I knew the probability was small, but still, I worried about it. I spent most of those turbulent hours praying. I certainly wasn’t going to get any sleep.

Finally things settled down. I wasn’t really able to get any sleep, though, before FangFang woke up (she’d just gone to sleep next to Danny and Sharon). And then Danny said he hadn’t slept at all yet, either, and he wanted to switch with me and have me take over with FangFang so he could try to sleep, so I went and sat with her while everyone else slept. She wasn’t thrilled to be with me again, but she calmed down pretty quickly, and I did my best to entertain her in our confined space. And after a few hours, she curled up with her blanket and went to sleep again, and I was able to sleep for a couple hours, too. FangFang certainly did better than I thought she might on the long flight – sometimes kids are just miserable and scream and cry for hours, and we were certainly glad that was not our reality. Mostly it was just long and exhausting, and I just wanted to be home.

We landed in Newark around 9:00 at night and needed to go through customs and security and immigration, and ChenFang became an American citizen! After we collected our luggage, we waited around for our hotel shuttle and finally made it to the hotel around 11:00. Sharon’s parents were there hanging out with my dad, and we all spent a bit of time together before Sharon and Danny headed out with them. I was a bit concerned about how FangFang would do with saying goodbye to them, but, perhaps for the best, we lacked the language facility to communicate that this goodbye was for more than a few hours, so she seemed alright with it.

I got the girls in bed and then got a few hours of sleep myself. I was able to fall asleep just fine, despite the time difference, but FangFang woke me up around 4:30 needing a diaper change, and I was never able to get back to sleep after that, so eventually I got up and showered and started packing up our stuff. I woke the girls, and my dad and I took them down to breakfast, and by 8:00 we were on the shuttle heading back to the airport.

There was a little bit of drama with the seat assignments – the seat Madeleine CaiQun was supposed to sit in was broken – but after working with the gate agent and having a friendly passenger offer to switch her seat with us, we were able to get 3 seats in one row and 1 in the next row, so we were all close together.

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It felt great to be finally really heading home! We were, of course, completely exhausted.

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But still, we were happy to be close to home. I told my dad I didn’t even want to stop anywhere for lunch – I just wanted to get home – so we got a couple things at the McDonald’s drive-through, and I had some snacks left over from what I’d taken with us to China, and that sustained us until we got home.

Finally around 3:30 PM on Friday, approximately 46.5 hours after we’d left our hotel in Guangzhou, we rolled into our driveway, and I could not have been happier to be home! More details on our reunion and introductions in the next post 🙂

Wednesday – Shamian Island, Dinner with a Friend, and Packing Up

Wednesday was another waiting day – this time waiting for the US Consulate to issue FangFang’s immigrant visa, so we could officially bring her into the United States. Assuming all went as expected (which it does, 99.9% of the time), our guide was to deliver it to me at our hotel around 4:30, but we had a free day until then.

We got up and did a little bit of packing and got ready for the day. FangFang loves lotion, which is great, because parents rubbing lotion on their kiddos is such a great way to get in some healthy, good touch. We adoptive mamas never stop thinking about attachment and bonding!

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Then we took a taxi over to Shamian Island for the morning. The island has a lot of western influence, and it also has a lot of history within the China adoption community. Years ago, the US Consulate used to be located there, and all American adopting families stayed on the island in the White Swan Hotel. A while ago, the consulate moved closer to downtown Guangzhou, and the White Swan underwent renovations and marketed itself more to a business clientele, and very few families now stay on the island at all, but it’s still a great place to visit. There are a lot of pedestrian walkways, and it has a quiet, relaxing feel. If I ever lived in China, I think it’s one place I’d love to live – so close to the city itself but a bit removed and so peaceful.

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We took some pictures of the girls with these statues with which adoptive families often photograph their kiddos.

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This was particularly sweet to me given my memories of this same spot from almost 4 years ago!

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We also walked around and did the last of our souvenir shopping, visiting Jenny’s (a shop that’s been around for years and years) and a Gift from China (a shop whose proceeds benefit care for orphans), and eating lunch at Lucy’s, a western-style restaurant.

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Then we headed back to the hotel for a nap for FangFang, some packing for me, and my appointment with our guide to get FangFang’s visa. I encountered some technology issues trying to get a few more things downloaded onto an iPad for Madeleine CaiQun and didn’t get as much packing done as I would have liked, which was frustrating. Danny and Sharon had gotten most of their packing done that morning.

We’d plan to meet up with a friend of ours for dinner that evening. Jackie is a former student of Matt’s, originally from Guangzhou and now returned there, helping students prepare their art portfolios to apply to schools within the United States. It was great to catch up with her, and having a Mandarin-speaker with you has its advantages – we were able to get a private room at the super-crowded restaurant and were definitely able to order better!

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And then it was back to the hotel for bedtime and packing! Packing days were a challenge for me. Being the primary caretaker of the kiddos meant that it was hard to get a solid block of time to devote to packing – the best times being during naptime and after bedtime, but those times necessitating packing in the dark. Finally I finished our packing around 1:30 in the morning and fell into bed, ready to head for home in the morning!