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!

It’s Starting to Get Real – Some Travel Plans (and a Huge Prayer Request)

Since our Travel Approval (TA) was issued on Monday, my life has consisted almost entirely of staring at many browser windows, each containing many tabs, each containing a possible flight itinerary for getting us to and from China, plus a chat with a travel aficionado friend who was helping me look at our options, and then multiple phone calls and e-mails with our travel agent, our agency, and my brother and sister-in-law, who are traveling with me. It was all, to put it mildly, rather exhausting.

BUT we received our first choice Consulate Appointment date (12/20), and we now have our international travel tickets! I still need to arrange the domestic side of things, but that will hopefully come together this week, as well. The international piece was really more pressing. Here’s our working draft of our schedule!

  • Wednesday 12/07: Madeleine CaiQun and I will fly from St. Louis or Kansas City to Newark
  • Thursday 12/08: Madeleine CaiQun, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I will fly from Newark to Hong Kong
  • Friday and Saturday 12/09 – 12/10: We’ll spend these days acclimating to the time change and doing a bit of sightseeing in Hong Kong
  • Sunday 12/11: We’ll travel from Hong Kong to Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi, which is the province that our little Fang Fang is from and where her adoption will be finalized
  • Monday 12/12: Family Day! We will take custody of our girl <3
  • Tuesday 12/13: Adoption Day, when her adoption will be finalized
  • Wednesday and Thursday 12/14 – 12/15: We’ll be in Nanning waiting for Fang Fang’s passport to be processed. Depending on how we’re all doing, we may go to her city and request to visit her orphanage.
  • Friday 12/16: We’ll travel to Guangzhou, where the US Consulate is
  • Saturday 12/17: We’ll have Fang Fang’s immigration medical exam
  • Sunday – Monday 12/18 – 12/19: Free days in Guangzhou while we wait for the results of Fang Fang’s medical exam to be ready
  • Tuesday 12/20: Consulate appointment at the US Consulate in Guangzhou
  • Wednesday 12/21: If all goes according to plan, we should receive Fang Fang’s visa
  • Thursday 12/22: Travel from Guangzhou to Hong Kong and take a flight out of Hong Kong that evening back to Newark, arriving around 9:00 PM and spending the night in a hotel in Newark
  •  Friday 12/23: Madeleine CaiQun, Fang Fang, and I will fly back to St. Louis or Kansas City (probably with my dad flying with us to help – I’m not sure it would be wise for me to tackle that flight by myself with 2 exhausted kids in tow!)

I am so thrilled to be DONE looking at international flights. Because we have multiple people coming from multiple locations but wanting to converge before the international flights, and because we’re booking tickets reasonably close to when we’ll travel, and because we had flexibility in some things but definitely some preferences and no flexibility in other areas, it was pretty complex. And then there was some gymnastics involved in getting the actual best fares – in order to save about $1200, we have 4 of us booked on Cathay Pacific and one on American Airlines (but for the same flight) and 4 standard Travel Agent tickets and 1 direct buy ticket. It’s pretty crazy. Adoption Airfare was super helpful in working through all of it with me, though!

And now that we have more definite dates, we can get to work on planning the travel specifics and doing little things like packing 🙂

I’ll have a post soon with a whole list of prayer requests for our journey, but in the meantime, I have a pretty urgent prayer request. Fang Fang is, right now, at an amazing foster home that specializes in caring for children with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). Apart from a perfect world in which she could still be with her first family, this foster home is absolutely the best place she could be in China. However, her orphanage retains legal custody of her, and it is often the practice in China for kids to return to their orphanages after their families receive TA. Because of the difficulties inherent in caring for children with OI and because of the relationships our daughter’s foster home has generally been able to cultivate with the orphanages from which their children come, kids have usually been able to remain with the foster home right up until their families arrive. For so many reasons, this is so much better for the kids. We had assumed this would be the case for Fang Fang, but I got a message this morning that her orphanage is wanting her to return and does not seem to be receptive to the idea of her remaining at her foster home until we arrive. My heart is hurting at the thought of our sweet girl having to face yet another loss and yet another transition in her short life. The foster home is still in discussions with the orphanage, so there is still hope that she could stay there until we arrive. Please pray that the orphanage allows this. And, in the event that they would say no, please pray that she could stay as long as possible. Would you please pray with us for these things? We’d so appreciate it. I’ll keep you informed.

Throwback Thursday – Our Trip to the Indianapolis Children's Museum

One of the commitments Matt and I made to each other and to our then-future child when we decided to adopt from China was that we would pursue incorporating Chinese culture into our family’s life. From talking to and reading about the experiences of other trans-racial adoptees, we knew that our child, while fully part of our family, would experience the tension of living between two worlds. Raised with white parents in middle-class America, she would lose her ability to connect fully with the Chinese or Chinese-American communities, but neither would she fully experience life as a WASP. We want to do all that we can to help her navigate that reality. On top of that, we believe Chinese culture and history are fascinating, and knowledge and experience of them has so much to offer to us and to all of our children.

When we learned that the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, which normally has an exhibit focused on China and its culture, would also be hosting a temporary exhibit including some of the actual terracotta warriors crafted thousands of years ago in Xi’an, China, we were determined to make the trip. One weekend last September, we made it happen.

My brother David currently lives in Cincinnati, which is just a short trip from Indianapolis, so he was able to join us for the trip, which was an extra blessing. Even just the time at the hotel with him was a treat!

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We enjoyed some time at the regular China exhibit.

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We learned about the Chinese zodiac signs…

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…and about Chinese characters and calligraphy.

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The little market was one of the girls’ favorite parts of the day, and we went back there multiple times.067

We also took a little bit of time to check out the museum’s dinosaur exhibits.

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And then it was time for our entrance into the terracotta warriors exhibit! There was a short film about the terracotta warriors and their construction thousands of years ago and their discovery by local farmers in the 1970s, and then we were allowed into the exhibit. Matt spent some time studying and drawing this warrior.

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One thing I was very impressed by was the way the exhibit communicated information about the warriors and their history but also made everything fun and interactive for children of various ages. Both Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun really enjoyed putting together this three-dimensional puzzle to build a replica of the kneeling archer.

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We looked around at the various warriors…

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…and then we were able to construct our own miniature warriors using clay and molds!

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By the time we came through, a sizable army had already been constructed, and we added our figures to them.

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Then the girls put on some armor, and we practiced making our fiercest faces and being defenders of the emperor.

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We also enjoyed drumming, always a favorite activity, but especially with a large drum like this one!

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As the girls were only four years old when we took our trip, I’m not sure they retained a lot of information about the terracotta warriors or from the main China exhibit. That’s not really our goal at this point, though. Obviously any pieces of information they pick up and can recall later are great. However, what is important to us right now is that we are creating a family culture in which we are continually pursuing learning and, in particular, learning about China and its culture. As our kids get older, I expect there to be more and more opportunities for that, but we’re thankful we were able to take advantage of this one when we had the chance!