for your amusement – some memories from a year ago

Today marks one year from the beginning of my trip to China to bring FangFang home. I feel all the feels as I remember that trip.

You can read about our first day of touring in Hong Kong here if you’d like, but there were also some cute, funny stories from that day that have been part of my reminiscing but that didn’t make it into that sight-seeing post. Adoption trips are intense, and while those first few days in country are always colored by the knowledge of that upcoming intensity, they are also fun. I treasured that time exploring a new city with just Madeleine CaiQun and my brother and sister-in-law.

As part of our Big Bus Tour, we were given cheap headphones, which could plug into a jack for each seat, and, upon making a language selection, you could listen to historical and contextual information about the island. Madeleine CaiQun was intrigued by this, and she asked me which language we should choose. When I responded, “English,” she said, “Oh, because we speak English?” I answered in the affirmative, and she responded with, “Oh. Well, what language do Uncle Danny and Sharon speak?!” She did not find it at all self-explanatory that they would also speak English 😉

Our language discussion then continued later that evening during dinner.

The restaurant we visited provided for ordering dim sum style – there was a card listing out the options, and we’d put a dot next to the selections we wanted to order. We discussed what we wanted to order, and Daniel filled out the card, after which the waitress came to get it. As she was walking away, Madeleine CaiQun asked, in all earnestness, “Mom, do we understand English, but she understands dots?”

It may have been the sleep deprivation, but we all laughed hysterically for quite a while. I hope it’s at least slightly entertaining to you 🙂 Happy Friday!

Post-Surgery and Travel Update

Thank you so much to all of you who prayed us through our travels to Omaha for FangFang’s oral surgery and our return trip back to Missouri!

We left early Thursday morning and made it to the hospital just in time to meet the dentists who would be performing FangFang’s surgery the next day and do our pre-op consultation with them. After that we had the evening to ourselves, so we went and checked into our hotel…

…and then went out to dinner at Block 16, a hipster sandwich shop downtown, which all of us enjoyed! We tried to get FangFang a good last meal with all her teeth 🙂

She went to bed pretty well, and she actually did better than I thought she might with not being able to eat or drink after 8:00 AM. I woke her up around 7:45 to give her a clear liquid breakfast (jello and apple juice were her choices), and then I let her play with an iPad as a distraction while Catherine and I took turns getting some breakfast. We had a 10:00 AM check-in time at the hospital, so the morning was actually reasonably leisurely, and it wasn’t long before we were playing in the hospital playroom with brief breaks to consult with our nurse, a nurse practitioner, the dentists, and the anesthesiologist.

She was pretty happy right up until surgery. I actually declined Versed, and everyone seemed to think that was a good choice, because she seemed so comfortable and happy interacting with everyone, but as soon as she got about 10 feet down the hall from me, she started wailing, and they said I could come back with her. Her oral surgery was taking place in the procedure suite, which apparently has a lower standard of sterility than the OR, so I was allowed to walk into the room with her. I really wish all hospitals would do that for all procedures, whether they’re in the OR or not. FangFang is going to need a number of surgical interventions over her lifetime, and I’d prefer that, as much as possible, she see hospitals as places that help her, as opposed to the locations of traumatic experiences. Nurses seemed very concerned that it might be overwhelming to me to see her go under sedation in preparation for the procedure or have her throat suctioned afterwards, and they didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable. I assured them that I’d witnessed my husband experience cardiac arrest, so nothing they were going to do that day was going to make me uncomfortable, and if I needed to get out of the way, I’d do it. And most importantly, this is about FangFang, not me – if she’s more comfortable with me there, that trumps all else. They let me hold her and sing to her while she went to sleep, and I was so glad.

Catherine and I grabbed some lunch at the hospital cafeteria and then headed back up to our room to wait for FangFang. The dentists came and talked with us and said they’d pulled 5 teeth – the offending back molar that had the deep cavity giving her so much pain and her 4 front teeth, all of which had significant cavities. Because they’d pulled so many, they hadn’t needed to cap any teeth, but the crowding in her mouth will continue to make brushing and flossing a huge priority. They do not believe she has dentinogenesis imperfecta but that it’s more likely that we’re playing catch-up from her years in an orphanage, plus the crowding of her mouth, which is good news, because it means there’s some chance she won’t continue to have such serious dental issues.

It wasn’t long before I was allowed to go back to FangFang in recovery, and I walked in just as she was starting to open her eyes. She was in pain and angry. We got her Tylenol right away, and she wanted to leave that area, so we got to go back to our room right away, but she was still mad. We gave the Tylenol a bit of time to work, but it didn’t seem to be taking the edge off at all, so it wasn’t too long before we requested something stronger, and once she had a dose of Oxycodone, she started to calm. She cried for the mouth pain and cried in hunger and cried from her sore throat every time she had to swallow (she’d been intubated for the procedure). We started gradually introducing some clear liquids – apple juice and water and then jello, and she handled that well (no projectile vomiting!), and just before 4:00 they said we could go!

We weren’t sure how FangFang would do on the car ride home, and I was so thankful to have another adult with me who could help monitor her while we drove. She was pretty content watching Frozen and Daniel Tiger, though, and slept just a bit. She was even happy enough to try on goofy hats at a truck stop where we stopped to give her more pain meds and get gas!

We made it back home just before 11:00 last night, and she was very happy to be back, as was I!

Honestly, the trip itself went pretty well. That was really largely due to Catherine’s presence with us. I so enjoyed getting to chat with her on our drives – it was so much more fun than just driving by myself – and as a mom to four, it almost never happens that I get 10+ hours to hang out with a friend! And she was so helpful in assisting me with everything FangFang needed, getting juice or jello or washcloths to wipe up blood, and entertaining her while I talked with the doctors and dentists. I’m so, so thankful she came – such a blessing and encouragement.

And I’m so glad to be done with the procedure. FangFang was in a fair amount of pain yesterday but seems to be feeling a million times better today. She’s really been in pain for almost a month, and I’m so glad we were able to get this dental work done quickly and be done with it.

Re-entry is always rough, at least for me. I’m so excited to see everyone, but I’m also worn out. I really just want to have some quiet, alone time to read a book and relax. But there’s unpacking to do, and I’m behind on my work week since I was gone for 2 days, and kids need to be fed and cared for, and things at the house are just a little out of sorts any time I return from being gone. It always feels overwhelming to me, and I get snippy. There’s nothing that reveals your selfishness like parenting – and I think that’s doubly true when you add in any special needs. I do feel stretched, and I do feel tired, and I do feel overwhelmed at times, but that’s not a license to be unkind to anyone else, and I definitely fail at living that out.

I’ve tried to spend some time helping everyone settle back in. FangFang and I snuggled and read a book this morning, and a bit later Madeleine CaiQun and I got some one-on-one time reading on the couch together. Miranda and I had some chats, and Atticus came and snuggled with me for a while.

Matt has the kiddos out at a park right now, and I’m hoping to use this time well, doing some catch-up on all the tasks I need to tackle, but also to recharge and be prepared to love well when the rest of the family returns. I spent some time reading my Bible and praying and journaling, which has helped to settle my heart. I’m hoping that when everyone comes home, we can have an evening of enjoying being together, both in cleaning up the house some but also in just spending time together. These people have my heart, and I want to live that out, day by day, moment by moment.

Another Trip to Omaha, Another Surgery

Early tomorrow morning, I’ll load a few more items into our van and take off on a road trip with my newest kiddo. This trip wasn’t entirely anticipated, but it’s necessary.

We knew before we even submitted our Letter of Intent requesting to adopt FangFang that it was likely that she’d have dental issues – dentinogenesis imperfecta is a significant dental condition often associated with osteogenesis imperfecta. Additionally, dental care is often not a priority or even feasible in orphanages. And from day one with FangFang, I’ve known with certainty that she was going to be spending a lot of time with a dentist.

We were working through the process of figuring out exactly what would need to happen and making a plan with our local dentist when the situation became more urgent. FangFang woke up one morning with severe tooth pain, in agony if food even touched one particular tooth that has obvious decay. We got her started on antibiotics and some pain meds right away, but still, she was in a fair amount of pain, and then her cheek started to look swollen. We had to switch her to a stronger antibiotic, and all through that time, we were working with our dentist’s office to determine the best course of action for actually dealing with the offending tooth, as well as some other teeth that are obviously problematic. Our local dentist’s office has been great – in the span of that first painful, sleepless-for-everyone week, I spoke with our dentist’s assistant 5 times and our dentist himself 3 times, including twice on his personal cell phone on a Saturday morning.

One of the things I actually most appreciate about people in general – but especially medical professionals – is a willingness to admit when they don’t know or are not going to be the best person to help you. And our local dentist feels like he’s probably not the best dentist to perform the extensive dental work that FangFang needs during this surgery. That’s a bummer, but we definitely want her to be getting the best care possible, and this is significant oral surgery with some potential complications. The term being thrown around is “total mouth reconstruction.” Add to that the fact that she has OI and that the treatments she receives for OI can change how bone heals, and her local dentist thinks it’s best if a dentist who has more experience doing oral surgery for kids who have OI performs this surgery.

We feel so bad for FangFang – she’s been experiencing tooth pain at varying levels for several weeks now and is about to undergo another surgery. And we’re bummed that it has to happen out of town and right now, right at the beginning of the semester, when Matt can’t take off, and we’re kind of cobbling together support to make the trip and the surgery possible, but this is what we need to do, so we’re doing all we can to make it happen.

Matt will stay here with Miranda, Madeleine CaiQun, and Atticus while FangFang and I make the trip to Omaha. I  had been dreading this trip, both because it would be yet another surgical intervention for my child and because I’d need to do it alone. I love road trips with Matt or with friends, but I really dislike them when I don’t have other adults with me and have to do all the driving and keep myself entertained and awake the whole time. That feeling is intensified when contemplating a road trip with myself as the sole adult with a rear-facing toddler, who, for the drive home, will be just recently post-op. I’d stocked up on road trip snacks, and I’d been praying that God would sustain me for the trip, that He’d help me make it through those drives safely.

But because we serve a God who sometimes comes through for us in ways that are beyond what we are expecting or even hoping for, I now have a friend who is going to travel with us! Last night was our church missional community group meeting, and my friend Catherine – whom FangFang loves – happened to mention that this is her “off” week in her 7-days-on-7-days-off work schedule. It occurred to me once we got home that maybe, just maybe, she’d want to join me for a road trip to Omaha, so I sent her a message, and she said the idea had actually occurred to her, too, and she’d love to come along us! That eases so many of my worries about the trip. I could do it myself, but it’ll be so much easier and so much more enjoyable to have a friend along!

I still expect these next few days are going to be pretty intense, but we’re doing what needs to happen to get FangFang all of the care that she needs, and that’s obviously important. Would you pray for all of us during this time? Here are some specific ways in which you could pray –

  • Please pray for FangFang and Catherine and me as we travel. Please pray for our safety as we drive and for us to make good time, as we’re shooting for an on-time arrival for our afternoon pre-op appointment tomorrow.
  • Please pray for Matt and our kiddos who are staying here. It’s a departure from routine and a lot of time without their mama for my kiddos who are used to being with me. I’ll miss them a ton, and I know they’ll miss FangFang and me, too. A friend is helping out in caring for them some, but it will still be a lot of solo parenting for Matt, who is also getting back into the groove of teaching.
  • Please pray that FangFang does alright with the restrictions on her food and drink intake prior to surgery. For kiddos who have experienced food insecurity, this is so tough.
  • Please pray for our sleep on Thursday night. Friday is going to be a big day, and it would be ideal for us to be well-rested heading into it.
  • Please pray that all goes well with the surgery itself – that the dentist makes wise decisions about exactly what needs to happen (with 3-year-olds, for whom it’s nearly impossible to get high quality x-rays until they’re sedated, some of the final decisions don’t happen until surgery), that everything goes smoothly, and that the work they do will ultimately give FangFang relief and protect her remaining baby teeth for as long as they need to last.
  • Please pray for her post-op recovery. After her last surgery, she was pretty sad and wanted a lot of food and drink, which ultimately led to several instances of projectile vomiting, but then rest. Pray for me to have wisdom about what food and drink to give her and how to care for her, and pray for everyone to be gentle and supportive in caring for her after surgery and to do what she needs. Please pray also for wisdom for everyone in determining when she’ll be discharged. This should be an outpatient procedure, but discharge timing all depends on her post-op recovery.
  • Please pray for pain management. The team I’ve been talking with has said that kiddos are actually often in less pain after a surgery like this, which has been precipitated by tooth pain, than what they’d been living with prior to surgical intervention. I’m hoping that’s the case, but we don’t really know how everything will go for FangFang, and I want her to be comfortable as she recovers.
  • Please pray for our travels back home. I’m really hoping for less vomiting and just a straight transition to the groggy restfulness after surgery. If all goes as planned, we’ll probably be discharged around 4:00 pm, and from there, we can just drive home, but we’ll still have a reasonably long drive ahead of us, especially with a kiddo who just came out of anesthesia and may be in some pain.

Thank you, friends. I’ll keep you posted as I’m able!

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!

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 🙂