Wednesday, March 18, 2009

She's a U.S. citizen!

It's official - Julia is a U.S. citizen and we're cleared to go home!! There's not much to post in the way of pictures from the swearing in ceremony because cameras were not allowed past a certain point.

Tonight will be low key and we'll have dinner with some friends before doing some last-minute shopping and packing to come home. We leave the hotel to fly to Beijing very early tomorrow morning so we can catch our flight to the U.S. so this will probably be my last post before we get home. We'll try to get some new pictures on the blog but if we run out of time you'll be able to meet Julia soon enough!! Thanks to our family and, of course, Beverly's family during these last couple of weeks. We look forward to seeing you and letting you meet the new addition to our family.

We'll be getting in to Atlanta around 10:30 p.m. on the 19th, assuming our connecting flight from Newark leaves on time.

Love to everyone,

Gwen, Jason and Julia

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Loving our little empress

Julia is quite the drama queen, but a very cute one at that. She's still doing good and overall is a very happy little girl. She hasn't done any major grieving that I can tell and that makes me wonder a bit what her life was like in her foster home. Maybe her young age has something to do with her easy transition so far but there's really no way to know for sure.

So far her favorite things to do are to take us on walks, play with the toys we brought with us and laugh at the funny faces we make at her. She hates having her diaper changed, her clothes changed, and water poured over her head during her bath. She becomes quite a little fireball.

We come home in two days and we can't wait. Jason is craving basic food such as a ham and cheese sandwich and I crave being able to order something without having to point to a picture. I love China, but it's been an exhausting couple of weeks and we're ready to come home and settle in with Julia. China actually has - believe it or not - Papa John's pizza (at least in this area) so we ordered some at the hotel tonight for a taste of home for a night.

Not too much else going on these last couple of days. Yesterday we did the traditional red couch photos at the White Swan and today Julia's visa paperwork was submitted to the U.S. consulate. Tomorrow she gets sworn in as a U.S. citizen and will receive her visa! After that we're cleared to leave for the U.S. and our flight will leave early on the 19th for home.

As great as our trip has been, it hasn't been without its hiccups. Julia got a cold that's been working its way through the families in our group and it turned into an ear infection. We took her to a clinic that is in the hotel and was put on an antibiotic. It's one I hadn't heard of before but I checked with Dad and he said it was fine. Hopefully it will be enough to help her until we can get her to our pediatrician at home.

Also we found out that Anna has had a seizure while she was at Beverly's home. It's crushing for me to think that I was halfway around the world and unable to help her, but I also know that she was in good hands with Beverly and my family. It's impossible for me to be able to express the amount of gratitude that I feel towards Beverly and her family for keeping my sweetheart safe and watched over for me. There's nothing that I could ever give her that could show that. I'm also thankful for my family being there and driving to the hospital from Athens to be with Anna. I'm lucky to have such a wonderful family.

We miss everyone at home sooooo much and can't wait for Julia to meet our family and friends!

Julia showing her little personality before the red couch photo. She's just too cute for words! (She knows it too!)

The red couch photo - try getting 11 screaming children to sit still for a picture. This is what happens.

Hanging out with Ma Ma and Ba Ba.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More pictures of our newest princess

Julia's still doing great. We haven't done much these last couple of days since the orphanage visit, which has actually been pretty nice as everyone is tired (parents AND kids). Plus, the weather has been cold and rainy so we've stayed at the hotel a lot. We wanted to explore more but we'll wait until we get to Guangzhou where the weather will be in the mid-70's. Speaking of which, we got Julia's Chinese passport today so we leave for Guangzhou tomorrow morning. We will be staying at the White Swan hotel while paperwork for the U.S. consulate is completed. We can't wait to get to WARM weather.

We are absolutely LOVING Julia and we know she will be perfect for our family. I already can't imagine my life without her. I can't wait to get back so she can meet the rest of the family, particularly Anna, Kaitlyn and Robbie.

Julia's really showing off her little personality and she's getting into everything. I love it. Oh, and Kaitlyn was curious about the squatty potties that I mentioned in an earlier post, so there's a picture of one just for you below along with other pictures of Julia.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


It's been a couple of busy days, as to be expected with a 14-month-old. She's doing very well despite having her entire life changed in a matter of hours. Her little personality is really starting to show and she babbles quite a bit. She doesn't cry nearly as much now as she did in the beginning, which we are VERY thankful for. At first she didn't want us to put her down at all and would get upset if we would even sit down while holding her. Our guide told us that she didn't feel safe at first which was why she was getting upset. Such a change - yesterday she was even feeding us Cheerios. One of the waitresses at lunchtime wanted to hold her and Julia reached back for Jason which is a very good sign of ongoing bonding progress.

Almost all of the babies seem to be adjusting very well so far. One of the babies, a 2-year-old, is grieving particularly hard but the parents are doing a great job with her and being very patient. Another child, a 5 or 6-year-old, also is giving his new mother a run for her money. It's pretty amusing on our hall of the hotel and I feel sorry for the other guests. At any given time there's usually a baby crying somewhere.

The day after we got Julia we went back to the civil affairs office and finalized her adoption - she is officially ours! We're done with the China paperwork and just waiting for her Chinese passport so we can go to Guangzhou and complete paperwork for the U.S. so we can go home.

Yesterday we went and visited the orphanage where she stayed for a short time before going to foster care. We were able to take some pictures outside of the orphanage buildings but once we went inside we had to put away the cameras for the privacy of the children. Most of the children from this orphanage are in foster care and most of the ones that are still there are young babies that have not yet been placed in foster care or severe special needs kids. It was sobering to see the conditions there. It was very clean and the kids appeared to be well-cared for but it's still an orphanage. It's hard to describe what it was like unless you see it for yourself. There was a nice therapy room for the special needs kids which was good to see. Doctors were actively working with several of the children there. One of the things that Jason and I are keeping in mind is that what we saw at the orphanage is what China wants us to see. There are other parts of the orphanage that were off limits so we don't know what else may have been there. The orphanage director was very gracious though and seemed to be pleased that so many children now have homes.

After we left the orphanage the bus driver took the families to the finding spots of their children. Julia was left at a children's hospital so the bus took us by there so we could take pictures. I think these pictures will be valuable information for Julia as she gets older and tries to understand what happened.

Overall things are going very well here; better than I could have hoped for. I can't wait for everyone to meet her. Here are some pics from the last couple of days.

She's ours!! We're at the civil affairs office holding her adoption certificate that makes it official.

This is a close-up of the certificate.

On our way to see her orphanage.

We're going to the babies' room at the orphanage. These are some of the only photos we were allowed to take.
This is the children's hospital where she was left when she was only a month old.

Monday, March 9, 2009

We've got her!!

Today has been a huge day. We have her and she's doing great. We all went to the civil affairs office at 9 and they brought the babies in together at once. When they handed Julia to me she didn't do much of anything, just looked around. She was calm the entire time we were at the civil affairs office and during the walk back. However, once we were at the hotel she began to get upset and cried on and off until she fell asleep. She drank a little milk though. Julia napped for about an hour and when she got up she was in a much better mood. (Well, that is, until we changed her clothes and she didn't like being messed with.) After we got her changed we went to the hotel restaurant and she ate a big bowl of congee, which is pretty tasteless rice soup. We then went and got ourselves some pizza in another restaurant in the hotel, which actually was pretty good. She was great during that entire meal and she snuggled with me and Jason while we ate. We then went back to the room and she enjoyed sitting on the floor playing with stacking cups and a few other hand toys. She began babbling to us while she played and, of course, we were quite pleased that she's obviously becoming more comfortable with us.

While we were at the civil affairs office the reps from the orphanage gave us a picture book with pictures of her at her foster home, which will be great for her to see when she's older. We also got back the toys we sent her in the care package and the disposable camera that we sent for her foster mother to take pictures. We'll develop it within the next few days.

It's been a great day. I think she's going to adjust just fine and she is cute as can be. We've attached a couple of videos of us getting her at the civil affairs office.

Oh, and we just discovered she likes Cheerios!!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Today's the day!

Yes, it's not even 5 a.m. here and we're up already. We actually woke up at 4 and couldn't go back to sleep. We get Julia in four hours! The crib is already in the room and ready to go. Please keep Julia in your thoughts and pray that the transition isn't too traumatic for her. We're gaining a daughter but she's about to lose her homeland, culture and the only family she's ever known.

I'll write as soon as I can with pictures and video of her.

By the way, Anna's doing great and I'll be eternally grateful to Beverly for watching our sweetheart for us. It gives us peace of mind in a tough situation.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Great Wall and tomorrow is Julia day!!!

Jason and I right before we trekked up the Great Wall.

I haven't been able to post again until now because today was a travelling day. We're now at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Zhengzhou, which is the capital city in Henan province (Julia's province). Tomorrow at 9 a.m. we go to the Civil Affairs office to get her! We're very excited and can't wait. I think it goes without saying that I probably won't sleep well tonight. All of the parents-to-be in our group are on pins and needles right now.
In the meantime, I'll fill you in on yesterday. It was another extremely busy day and we toured for approximately 13 (!) hours. We left the hotel just after 8 a.m. and didn't return until after 9 p.m. Jason and I were so tired that we ordered room service dinner and went to bed.
We started the day by going to the Jade Factory. The jade was so beautiful and we were very tempted to get a large piece for our home but I doubt it would have made it back to Atlanta in the same condition.

We then went to the Great Wall, which is just unbelievable. Our guide told us the Great Wall is about 4,000 miles long. Jason and I did pretty well with it even though we're a couple of out-of-shape police officers. We made it to the second tier and I don't exactly know how far that is, but someone mentioned the distance to the first tier was more than 600 steps, to give you an idea. The steps were uneven and very steep, so it was quite a challenge. The effort was worth it though because the view was fantastic.

After the Great Wall we went to lunch at a local restaurant. The food was very good but we didn't try anything out of the ordinary this time. After lunch they took us to see the Bird's Nest and the Cube which, of course, was very neat to see. We couldn't go inside this time because a delegation from the Chinese government was in town.

We then went to a local spa where those who wanted a massage paid $45 for a 90-minute full body massage. Jason and I opted to walk around the local neighborhoods and soak in the culture. It was very neat to watch people in their daily lives without the tourist distractions around. People were very nice and curious, of course, as to why these crazy Americans were in their neighborhoods. The area had a very cozy, neighborly feeling to it and we were very glad we went. We also found a newpaper/magazine stand on a street corner and bought a Disney Mickey cartoon magazine in Chinese, which was wrapped in plastic and we will give it to Julia.

By the time the others finished their massages it was time to go to the acrobatics show at 7:15. By that time we were so tired that we dozed off during part of it. The show, or what we saw of it, was very good though.

So, that was our day. Below are a few more pictures that we hope you'll enjoy.
Jason and I at the end of our climb. See, we don't look like we're about to pass out, do we?

This is the section of the Great Wall that we climbed. We made it to the second tier (third from the right).

This picture gives you an idea of how steep the Great Wall is in some sections.

China has some very interesting architecture. This building is actually an upscale hotel across from the Bird's Nest. The guide told us Bill Gates rented the top penthouse here during the Olympics.

The Cube where the swimming competition was held during the Olympics.

The Bird's Nest, of course. By the way, it wasn't an overcast day. That is the smog.

This is one of the neighborhoods that we walked through. No, we didn't stick out AT ALL.

Friday, March 6, 2009

More notes from the day

I'm up early again today, so I thought I'd add a bit more to our post from last night.

- If you ride a bicycle you take your life into your own hands here, unless you're in the bicycle lanes which many are not. It's amazing the way people drive. Traffic lanes and lights are merely a suggestion. The interesting thing is that we didn't see any accidents, whereas in the states people run into each other all the time. Go figure.

- Many of the signs are in Chinese AND English, which presumably was done for the Olympics.

- Our guide told us that China, which still is a communist country, is also gradually moving more towards a capitalist society instead of socialism.

- I haven't seen any chocolate here. What's up with that???

- I've mastered the squatty potty. It's actually much more practical once you figure out how to maneuver around your pants and figure out how to keep your balance without ending up in the bowl. Think of it this way: it's much more sanitary than sitting on a toilet that hundreds have sat on before you.

- I'm just not coordinated enough to maneuver chopsticks. Jason, on the other hand, is quite good with them. They haven't slowed down his eating at all.

We're off to get some breakfast and meet up with the group at 8. I hope everyone at home is doing well. Group 2: We all wish you could be here with us.


Ni hao, y'all

Wow, what a day. We're totally exhausted. It was a long day but we had a great time and learned a lot. After breakfast we met up with our group at 8:30 a.m. and we toured all day until 6 p.m. We didn't get back to the hotel until 7 because traffic was so bad.

We started off by going to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. On the way there we couldn't help but notice how clean and new most of the city was. Pretty much every car we saw was a newer model. Later our guide told us the reason all of the cars are new is because of the economic boom in China during the past couple of years and now many people can afford cars. We also thought we were going to see a coat of smog over the city but it was a beautiful day and the skies were blue.

We then went for lunch and that was very good. One of the dishes served was shrimp cakes (it was fried and looked like a crabcake) and Jason really liked those.

The guide then took us to the silk factory so we could see how silk was made and, of course, buy souvenirs. After the silk factory we took a rickshaw tour of the Hutong neighborhoods and that was quite interesting. There was definitely some poverty that we saw here and it really makes you appreciate everything that we have at home; however, what was impressive was that despite the poverty the people have a lot of pride in themselves and their homes. Someone that lives in this neighborhood let us see his 200-year-old home.

We then visited a porcelain shop and were able to buy some souvenirs here too. We bought a jade "family ball" which is a ball with several other spheres inside it. Each layer is supposed to symbolize a generation and the outer layer holding all of the spheres together symbolizes unity.

After all of this we finally made it back to the hotel and went to dinner at the hotel restaurant. We were too tired to try to find anything else. Tomorrow we're going to the Great Wall and the jade factory. Our guide also said she was going to take us by the bird's nest too (the stadium from the Olympics). We're going to the acrobatics show tomorrow since everyone was too tired today. Here's a few pics from our day:

This is the lobby of our hotel.

Jason and I in the Forbidden City.

Part of our group at lunch.

This was taken at the beginning of our rickshaw tour. Yes, it was very cold.

One of several McDonald's in the area. No, we haven't tried it yet.

That's about all for now. We're extremely tired so I'll add more later.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

We're up early, so ...

Thought I'd post a few notes of interest that I didn't have a chance to mention yesterday. It's 5:30 a.m. here, but I've slept as much as I'm going to for the night. It was actually quite comfortable but we're not yet used to the time difference. Jason went walking around the lobby this morning and he said the bellman and waiter were asleep in chairs. :-)

- It takes some getting used to being considered the foreigner. We haven't been outside the U.S. much so it's definitely unusual for us. Even at the airport the lines through Chinese customs were for "foreigners." It was funny though - when you go through the representative's line at China customs there's a button panel to rate the service you receive. There were four buttons with smileys on them. Each button was for very satisfied, satisfied, waited too long or poor service. Can you imagine if they did that in the U.S. to check customer service??? Ha.

- The hotel room has some interesting amenities. In the bathroom there's the usual assortment of soaps, shower cap - and a condom.

- Our guide told us that cars here are actually affordable but the car tags are extremely expensive. He said the government does that on purpose to keep everyone from owning cars and making the traffic much worse than it already is. Maybe they should do that in Atlanta? I've seen some bike lanes around Beijing and it's a common way to get around. Again, Atlanta should take a cue from other countries.

- Beijing, at least, is by far from being a third-world country. It's a developing country and from the little I've seen so far it's a mix of the historical/traditional combined with modern advancements. There is a lot of construction going on downtown.

- Jason told that during his stroll he found a massage room in the lobby where you can get a 40 minute full-body massage for about $35 and a foot massage for $15. I may have to try that later.

Post more later after our tours. Hopefully we'll have pics for you then too.

We made it!!

Jason and I are in Beijing now at the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel. We're exhausted, to say the least. We left Atlanta at 8 a.m. and made it to Newark for our connection with no problems. We landed in Beijing on time at 3 p.m.

The long-haul flight was very pleasant .. about as pleasant as a long flight like that can be. We flew Continental and were lucky enough to get bulkhead seats so we had some extra room, which was nice. There were also individual entertainment systems at each seat which helped pass the time, along with several naps. The flight was smooth until we were landing in Beijing and hit some rough air pockets. I heard that a few people on the plane actually did toss their cookies.

Three other families in our adoption group also were on our flight. After the plane finally landed we all met up with the adoption agency guide who escorted us back to the hotel and helped us get checked in. The hotel is very nice, although the beds are hard as a rock. The guide told us the nicer the hotel, the harder the beds. It doesn't matter; we're so tired we could sleep on an actual rock right now.

The traffic here was bad, of course. It reminded me of traffic in New York City minus the constant honking and yelling. You risk you life as a pedestrian if you don't watch where you're going. :-) Beijing is going to be fun to tour though .. I can't wait to see more of it.

The rest of the evening will be pretty uneventful. We're going to meet several families for dinner soon and just relax. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day with a LOT of touring, so we need to rest while we can and adjust to the time zone difference.

Hope things are well at home .. I miss my Anna already!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Leaving my heart behind

As thrilled as I am about finally getting Julia, after such a long wait for her, I'm feeling a lot of agony because of having to leave my big girl, Anna, behind. Anna will be staying with her daytime sitter, Beverly, while we're gone so she can still go to school and receive therapy. I trust Beverly and I know my family will be nearby, but I've never left Anna for more than a night. Realistically, I know that taking Anna to China would have been too hard on her and us and she'll be much happier at Beverly's where she can play and sleep without being cooped up in a plane for 18 hours each way.

So, tell me, how do I do this? Leave half of my heart at home while I go pick up the other half? We'll have access to Skype so we can make webcam calls home from our hotel room. Still, it's not the same.

I'm going to miss her badly.

Our itinerary

We're almost ready to go, just finalizing last-minute details and paperwork. I'm nervous, but mostly about the northeast being affected by the snowstorm because we connect through Newark. Cross your fingers for us that the weather stays clear Tuesday and Wednesday!

Here's our in-China itinerary:

3/4 Leave U.S. for Beijing.
3/5 Arrive in Beijing.
Go to the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel.

3/6- Tour Beijing.

3/8 Depart Beijing for Zhengzhou on China Southern flight CZ 3180 (11:40-13:00). Go to the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

3/9 (Monday) Receive Julia this morning!

3/10 Complete the Adoption Registration in the morning (adoption finalized!).

3/11 Free time or rest. Optional tour to the provincial museum.

3/12 Free time or rest. Possibly visit child’s orphanage.

3/13 Free time or rest. Receive child’s passport in the afternoon.

3/14 Leave Zhengzhou for Guangzhou on China Southern flight CZ3971 (10:50-12:55).
Go to the White Swan Hotel.

3/15 Sunday. Free time. Rest, tour, shop.

3/16 Have Julia's visa photo and physical completed today.

3/17 Today is the appointment at the U.S. Consulate.

3/18 Go to the U.S. Consulate to take the oath in the afternoon.

3/19 Leave Guangzhou for Beijing, on Air China flight CA 1330 @ 09:25.

We're in for a busy couple of weeks. I can't wait!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

We're leaving next Wednesday!!

After a lot of worrying and obsessing (mostly on my part, of course) we finally have everything scheduled for China. Our agency called us yesterday morning and told us we have an appointment at the U.S. Consulate for March 17 and she will be sworn in as a U.S. citizen on the 18th. Once we got those appointments we were able to book our flights. We will be on a Continental flight leaving Atlanta on March 4 (next Wednesday!!) at 8 a.m. and connecting through Newark. We will then fly nonstop to Beijing and arrive there on March 5 at 3 p.m. The flight back will leave Beijing on March 19 at 4 p.m. and will connect through Newark before Atlanta. We will be back in Atlanta at approx. 10:30 p.m.

There is soooo much to do before next Wednesday and we are so excited!! Can you believe we will have Julia in our arms in a little over a week?

Monday, February 23, 2009

New pictures and updates!!

Thanks to a service that delivers care packages and calls orphanages for adoptive parents I was able to get new pictures and some additional information about Julia, plus a copy of her finding ad. A finding ad is a mandatory ad placed in the newspaper after a child is abandoned. It is required that a finding ad is published before a child is adopted so that birth parents have an opportunity to come forward and claim the child. We're thrilled to have these new pictures of Julia. Can you believe we're going to meet her in less than two weeks???? We hope to get our appointment for the U.S. Consulate either today or tomorrow so we can book our flights.

Here's some of the information provided to us from the orphanage by

What are her favorite toys?
She loves dolls and toys that makes sound.
What foods does she eat?
She can eat some noodles, rice and steamed bread.
Who chose her name and why?
Her name was given by our staff. Because 2008 is the year of rat, her name has a “Zi”. Xuan is given name.
Does she have a nickname?
No nickname. We call her Zi Xuan.
Are there any other children in her foster home with her?
There is another child from out institute whose name is Guo Xin You.
Is she walking?
She can walk by one hand holding onto handrail.
Her updated measurements:
Height: 78cm; Weight: 9.5 kg; Head: 43cm; Chest: 44cm; Teeth: 6; Foot: 11cm

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's official! We leave for China soon

This week I received what is probably one of the best Valentine's and birthday presents I could have received: We got our Travel Approval!! Our agency notified us today that they received our Travel Approval from China today and they expect us to travel the first week of March. They have tentatively told us to expect to leave on March 4! We are SO excited we can barely contain ourselves. We'll be travelling with a group of about ten other families.

Our agency is confirming with the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, our appointment date to get Julia sworn in as a U.S. citizen and then we'll be able to book our airfare!! In the meantime we are going to be swamped getting things ready for her at home and getting packed. As soon as we get our final itinerary we'll post it for you, but I'm pretty sure we'll be flying into Beijing.

We were also fortunate this week to get an update on Julia. As of February 5 she is 13 months old and weighs 20 pounds!! I wish we had updated photos but we'll see her in just over two weeks!!

Other things going on:
Anna is doing great. She is still doing a lot of independent standing in the pool and we are thrilled. She has come so far and I'm so proud of her.

My stepdaughter, Kaitlyn, just bought a car!! She worked a long time to be able to get her car, a red Kia (UGA colors!!) and we're thrilled for her. It's so hard to go to college and work at the same time.

Our dog is still a pain in the you-know-what. He's got this thing now where after we leave for the day he'll take the loaf of bread or whatever happens to be on the table and eat it all. It's been cold/rainy so we don't leave him outside all of the time. Any ideas on how to break him of this would be appreciated.

My parents have figured out how to get revenge on my sister: give her son (Robbie, 1) M&M's!! He's wired for hours after he has chocolate. It's so cute though!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happy Birthday to Anna!!

My baby is five.

It's hard to believe sometimes, especially after everything that she's been through. Every birthday is a celebration, not just of her being with us, but also of the progress she's made the past year.

Anna's birthday party will be small and we'll celebrate it with my parents on Super Bowl Sunday. We also sent cake and ice cream with her to school today as a treat for her and the other kids.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A day of extreme joy and sadness

First, let me just say: We're going to China!!! I'm excited to say that we received our Letter of Acceptance (LOA) from China today; all we're waiting on now is our Travel Approval. Our adoption agency has told us that, assuming everything goes OK, we will travel to China to get Julia in the next four to eight weeks!! I'm hoping for the shorter end of the time frame, of course. In the meantime, we have to start finalizing our paperwork and getting our visas in order. There's going to be a LOT to do these next few weeks as we prepare to travel. Our LOA will get to us from the agency by Monday. We then sign it, get it back to our adoption agency and they will send it on to the CCAA (China Center for Adoption Affairs). By the time it gets to China it will be the end of the Chinese New Year and hopefully the Travel Approval will get processed quickly.

On a more somber note, for those of you who don't yet know, we've been at the hospital with Anna since last night. She's been battling a bad stomach virus and finally we needed help from the local children's hospital to stem the vomiting and keep her hydrated. I'm happy to report that she seems to be doing much better today and we should be discharged tomorrow. There are also two other "mito" families at the hospital at the same time and my thoughts are with them as well. The child of one of those families is in very serious condition and it pains me to think of this. I honestly feel that I have nothing I can realistically complain about when I know they're going through such a hard time right now. Our situation seems like nothing in comparison but times such as this always keeps my priorities in order and reminds me how much I value and love my family.

We're at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. It's such a phenomenal hospital and it's worth the long drive from our house in order to get Anna the great care she receives here. One of the great things about CHOA is that not only do they treat the kids great, they also try to pamper the parents (well, as much as is possible at a hospital). We truly value having such a great hospital fairly close to us.

Congrats to all of my online adoption friends who also received their LOA today!! We'll be travelling together soon enough.

Update: Anna is feeling much better now. She was discharged from the hospital on Friday and seems to finally be over the virus.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No different than you

I saw this in a recent edition of the FOCUS newsletter. Recently someone said to me how strong Jason and I are for taking care of Anna the way we do. When I saw this in the newletter I started to cry because it was so similar to the way I sometimes feel that I could have written it. Thank you to Lisa Ringenberg for writing it. But, here it is:

No Different From You ... by Lisa Ringenberg (FOCUS atlanta group)

One day, I was over it, you know? I’ve heard the same thing too many times when what I really needed was a hug or something (a big cry probably!). I ended up writing, as I usually do, and this is what came out. I thought I’d share it, because I am sure that people hear this same type thing when going through a divorce or losing a job or whenever we wear our brave face. I think sometimes saying nothing and just sitting with the person is a gift that is worth its weight in gold. We are all “over it” sometimes and just need a good cry, right? 99.9% of the time I really am just fine; I know you won’t think less of me for knowing the real truth. I hope this somehow serves you too:
You say “Special children are given to special parents.” I am no more special than any other parent. Truth is, sometimes I feel like not running this race and I am barely hanging on. I do not have super powers or special abilities to make this load any easier than if it happened to you or anyone else. My burden is the same as it would be for anyone else, I just don’t bore you with the details. Truth be known, many parents given the same circumstances as me, walk away.
God didn’t pick them as special parents, now did he? I am no more special than anyone else.
You say “I don’t know if I could do what you do.” I don’t know each day if I will be able to do what I have to either. Can I bear hurting her one more time, or staying in the hospital for another week? I don’t know either, but the last time I checked, I had to. My only other choice
is to lose my daughter to someone else who can step up to the plate, so I have to. There is no choice here. I don’t set out to be super woman everyday and see how much I can endure. I don’t want to play this game or live this way, I don’t choose to, I have to, there is no choice.
Do you really think there is a choice involved? Many, many mornings I wake up and think I can’t do this anymore. But I somehow do. You say “You are always so strong.” No, I am not. Saying so makes me realize that you do not know me. I cry, and I hurt like you would never imagine. I am sick with worry and fear and my own life has passed me by while I was hanging onto every day with my kids. Hoping for just one more day with her. I cry alone, I cry out loud, sometimes I shed just a single tear to make a little more room for some other emotion. There is no one who can make this better, I am alone, I am scared, I am not in control and I am beyond sad. I am not strong. You should know that if you think I am strong, you just haven’t seen me break down yet. I am not super-human, I am not above it, I am not beyond it. I am like you and it hurts like hell sometimes. Actually, more often than you probably could imagine. Whew, that feels better!

Madison Ringenberg will be 6 in January. She is moderately compromised
with DiGeorge syndrome and Tetrology of Fallot. We are preparing now for
her 3rd open-heart surgery.

For more information on FOCUS (Families of Children Under Stress) please go to

You know you parent a special needs child when ...

You compare ER's instead of grocery stores.

You compare your child's oxygen saturations.

You view toys as "therapy."

You don't take a new day for granted.

You teach your child HOW to pull things out of the cupboard, off the bookcases, and that feeding the dog from the table is fun.

The clothes your infant wore last fall still fit her this fall.

Everything is an educational opportunity instead of just having plain old fun.

You cheer instead of scold when they blow bubbles in their juice while sitting at the dinner table (that's speech therapy), smear ketchup all over their high chair (that's OT), or throw their toys (that's PT). You also don't mind if your child goes through the house tooting a tinwhistle.

You fired at least 3 pediatricians and can teach your family doctor a thing or two.

You can name at least 3 genes on chromosome 21.

You have been told you are "in denial" by at least 3 medical or therapy professionals. This makes you laugh!

You have that incredible sinking feeling that you've forgotten SOMETHING on those few days that you don't have some sort of appointment somewhere!

You get irritated when friends with healthy kids complain about a sleepless night when they're child is ill.

Your vocabulary consists of all the letters OT, PT, SP, ASD, VSD, IFSP, etc.

You keep your appointment at the specialist even though a winter blizzard is raging because you just want to get this one over waited 8 months to get it.....and besides, no one else will be there!

Fighting and wrestling with siblings is PT. Speech therapy occurs in the tub with a sibling.

When potty training is complete, you take out a full-page public notice in the Washington Post.

When the Doctors/Specialist/Hospitals etc. all know you by your name without referring to your chart.

You keep a daily growth chart.

You calculate monthly statistics for the number of times your child vomits, and did this for more then one year.

You phone all your friends when your child sits up for the first time, at age two.

With a big smile on your face you tell a stranger that your four-year-old just started walking last week.

Her medical file is 25 inches and growing.

You have a new belief...that angels live with us on earth.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

There's busy, and then there's busy

Have you ever had a week when you wonder how you’re going to fit everything into the week? That’s us. Every week. Some weeks better than others, but I digress.

First our jobs as police officers comes with its own demands. Unpredictable schedules, odd days off and working late just come with the job.

Then we have Anna’s therapies. Every week she has preschool Monday through Thursday from 11 to 2, plus she has physical therapy, pool therapy, music therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Some people shake their heads when they hear about her schedule, but do you know what? It really wouldn’t be much different if she was a typical kid. Instead of pool therapy she would have swim lessons, and music therapy might be a day at Gymboree instead. So, it’s all relative.

Doctor’s appointments. No explanation needed there.

Adoption paperwork and planning is kicking into high gear, and I’ll address that more in depth soon. Speaking of adoption, Julia might have issues of her own and we’ll meet those challenges head-on.

So, we’ve been extremely busy lately and sometimes I wish for a few days when I don’t have to do ANYTHING. But do you know what? Last week Anna was able to stand alone in the pool for two minutes at a time, several times, during pool therapy. It’s all worth it.

So when you're so busy that you want to scream, I hope you find your gem amid all the madness.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Julia's room!

After a lot, and I do mean a LOT, of discussion we've finally settled on a pattern for Julia's room. We wanted something that will be pretty but not too babyish, and I think this will be perfect for her. Hopefully the order will come in this week and Jason will start painting (and he is so excited about that. Not. ) I will post some pictures when everything is finished.
Update: The bedding set came in today!! It's even more beautiful than it looks in the picture! Hopefully we (and I actually do mean "we") can start painting this week.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Redefining "lucky"

Ever since we got matched with Julia I've heard many people tell me how lucky Julia is. I don't blame them for saying so; if I hadn't been around the adoption community as much as I have I'd probably say the same thing. After listening to what many adoptive parents have to say I'd be more inclined to say how unlucky my new little girl is. Jason and I are the lucky ones.

Let's examine this a little more closely. We have a little baby who, in her first year of life, has been abandoned by her birthparents. She's now with a foster family who, I hope, love her (it is not always the case with foster parents.). In a little over a month she's about to be ripped away from them for reasons unknown to her. See, we've been waiting for her, and for a very long time. But the reality is she has NOT been waiting for us. Then, she will be taken away from the only place she has only known, a place where the smells, sounds, foods and faces are familiar to her. She will be taken halfway around the world by virtual strangers to a place completely foreign to her. As she grows she will have to learn to trust that this set of parents will not abandon her or turn her over to another new set of parents. She will also have to come to terms with the fact that she was abandoned and will probably never know the reasons why. I only hope I can help her work through these issues along the way.

It worries me that many people will tell her how lucky she is. As she grows up I don't want to her feel like she "owes" us for adopting her or that she "should" feel grateful to us. I only want her to appreciate us in the way that a child should appreciate his or her parents, regardless whether it's a biological or adopted child. And, the parents should also value the child in the same way. No one "owes" family anything. If she thinks "I love my family" the same way I do, then I've succeeded.

So is she lucky? Well, I don't think so, and that's just my opinion. But I know we are.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The night of "The Call"

Some say that blood is thicker than water. I say that love is thicker than blood.

Many of you know by now that we seemed to be in a perpetual wait to be matched with a child. Based on the timelines I was hoping we'd be matched by the end of 2008 but on the other hand it didn't seem real since we'd already been waiting such a long time. But, it finally did happen and it caught us completely by surprise. Here's how it went down:

Gwen: So, it was the middle of the week and I was at work assisting with a homicide investigation. It was around 5 p.m. and I'd just returned to the police department and was waiting for other detectives to get back so we could discuss the case. Jason called me and said, in a very low, odd tone: "We have a baby." I was busy and I thought he meant he picked up Anna from the babysitter. He said again "No, WE HAVE A BABY." I finally realized what he was trying to tell me and I began jumping up and down in my cubicle. Jason emailed me Julia's picture and the paperwork from our agency while I tried to recover from my shock and called family. Luckily my supervisors were VERY understanding and they let me go home so we could celebrate.

Jason: I was home with Anna when I received a call from a CCAI representative and of course I knew right away that it something important because there was no other reason for them to call. I was worried that maybe something was wrong with the paperwork. It didn't register at first what she said. She said "Hi, this is CCAI, I'm looking at a picture of a beautiful little girl that needs a mommy and a daddy." I hate to say it, but I don't remember much after that. I remember she told me the basics, such as her date of birth, and the fact that she has a cleft lip and palate. I also remember her asking if we were interested in her, as if there was any doubt. She agreed to email me the pictures and information and I told her I would call Gwen and tell her.


We submitted our Letter of Intent to adopt Julia to our agency and it was sent to China on December 10. We received PA, or Pre-Approval, from China on December 29 and we are now awaiting the final Letter Of Acceptance (LOA) from China. A few weeks after we get LOA we will receive the Travel Approval and we will go to China from one to three weeks later. We hope to be in China at the end of February or beginning of March. We won't know the exact dates of travel until we get the Travel Approval. It's a lot of hurry up and wait, but let's face it, we're dealing with government agencies.

Once we get the dates we'll finalize our itinerary, which I will share with you of course. While we wait we are preparing Julia's room and learning about China and Julia's province. Julia, meanwhile, is being cared for in a foster home in Henan province. I'm very grateful to this foster family for loving her until we can get to her.

Here she is!! Our second little lovebug

Introducing Julia ...

Dang Xi Zuan,
soon to be
Julia Xi Zuan
DOB 12-24-07
Waiting for us in Kaifeng, Henan province
"Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute that you weren’t born under my heart, but in it."

Our first little lovebug, Anna

On January 27, 2004, Jason and I were blessed with a beautiful little girl. Everything seemed as perfect as I hoped it would be. Most people don't prepare themselves for the possibility that medical issues can sneak into the picture, but that is what happened with us. Anna is perfect all right, but she did come to us with a very serious medical condition called mitochondrial disease.

When she was five weeks old she began having small seizures and thus the long, arduous process of tests, tests and more tests began and lasted for several months. We visited a pediatric neurologist who steered us to a geneticist in the Atlanta area. This geneticist, Dr. Fran Kendall, wanted Anna to have a muscle biopsy as a final attempt to figure out what was causing the seizures. When Anna was 8 months old the biopsy results came back to show that Anna has mitochondrial disease, complex 1. In short, the mitochondria in her body don't produce enough energy for everything to work as it should. Depending on the location of the defect in a specific person's mitochondria, the symptoms can vary widely. Researchers are finding out more about mitochondrial disease including the likelihood that it's related to other major diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and even autism. For more information on this disease go to

In Anna's case, her defect has resulted in seizures, developmental delays and sensory issues. We're fortunate that overall she's been medically stable and she keeps progressing. She's a very happy little girl and she loves going to pool therapy and music therapy. The seizures are difficult to handle but we do the best we can.
Many times it's difficult to juggle the various therapies and the fact that Anna's prognosis is unknown is sometimes hard for me. But Anna has also bestowed unexpected gifts upon us. It's easy to love the child who sails and excels, but for the child who struggles the depth and quality of love ends up being breathtaking. Anna has stretched me the furthest and taught me the most. She has taught me about bravery and perseverance, strength, grace and humility. When I look at her I see the courage of a fighter and the heart of a hero.


Family and friends,
Thank you for choosing to follow along with what I believe will be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. We will be bringing home a child from China who, although we didn't have a face to the name until recently, has been in our hearts for many months and we are so excited to finally bring her home. So, I decided to do this blog for a couple of reasons. First, I hope it will make it easier for you to follow along during the trip to China as I plan to give daily updates and photos whenever possible. This blog will also give an opportunity to share information with those who don't get to see us very often and aren't familiar with what brought us to this point. Finally, even though this blog will focus on the trip to China, I'd also like to share information about Anna and spread awareness about mitochondrial disease. I hope you enjoy the blog.