Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Adoption Pilgrimage, Round Two!



That's right - we have officially started the process to adopt a second baby who will be Zelie's little brother or sister :) We had been talking about taking this step for a while - we would love to have a few kids, God willing! - and decided late summer would be the best time to start: Zelie is over a year old now, so we have some parenting practice under our belts; we're coming up to the end of Dan's PhD work this Fall (hooray x1000); and we feel emotionally & financially ready (or as ready as you can be!) to jump back in to the world of paperwork and the waiting pool and all the ups and downs of trying to adopt.

Please pray for us!!!

This time around, we'll still be doing our home study with Barker in Bethesda, MD who we LOVE and have learned so much from over the years. Sadly the wonderful staff person who guided us through our last home study has moved on to other exciting ventures - but we're looking forward to getting to know the new staff there since our last go-round in 2015; they've all been great. We've met with Barker once so far to talk through the second adoption and to get the expected big, big stack of paperwork to complete.

For placement, we'll be working with An Open Door agency in Georgia, who we had actually been fully signed up with in 2017 for a few months before we ended up adopting Zelie through different channels. But we had a great experience with An Open Door for the time we interacted with them and we think they'll be a good fit for us this time around.

In case you're wondering (as we were), yes, we have to do pretty much an entire home study once again. The reason for this is 1) certain forms we've already done have expired, for example background checks; and 2) our family now looks different than when we were trying to adopt the first time around, namely we are 3 persons! So our agency wants to examine our current family and talk through the dynamics that are different.

There are some things that will be simpler/easier for this home study. For those who are curious, here is what we have to do this time around (with notes about whether/how the second home study is different):

- monthly expenses sheet
- overall financial information with documentation (bank account, retirement, etc.)
- evacuation plan & floor map of our house (already done)
- fire safety survey & fire inspection (have to do it again)
- our autobiographies (just need to update them)
- guardianship agreement
- employer letter for Dan
- certified driving records
- fingerprints (these expire after 1 year)
- child protective services background check (also expire after 1 year)
- child support background check
- physicals for adults
- Dr. letter for Zelie and overall health history
- copies of: birth certificates, marriage certificate, adoption decree, latest taxes, auto insurance, and life insurance
- several "sign and date" forms, such as the fee schedule and service agreement with our agency
- 4 reference letters plus 1 reference who meets in-person with our social worker

And after all this: several in-person meetings with our social worker, who writes the official home study report

Writing it out, honestly it doesn't seem like as much this time (which it literally isn't). Of course it will be work and take time (and cost money), but doing this again feels a lot less daunting than the first time around! And we know some tips and tricks, like: the fire inspection will probably require whoever is here to completely remove a first floor window...the physicals require fasting the night before for the TB test...don't mail originals of stuff b/c they might get lost...and so on. We're basically pros now ;)

Concurrently with this work, we'll be consulting with An Open Door about when to start their application process, which will necessitate much of this same information and some different things as well. And we'll be updating our profile book to include our beautiful daughter!

Our working goal is that we're "LIVE" in the waiting pool just after Dan defends his dissertation in the Fall - since that's one of verrrrry few life events that he can't not show up for, even for a baby that needs us to come right now and pick him/her up! So that means that at the very latest, by the end of the calendar year we'll be ready to consider possible adoption situations (God willing).

Pray for us!

- Dan, Bethany, and Zelie


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Traveling Internationally with a Toddler

And now for something not quite adoption related....but Zelie related :) We had the opportunity to spend 12 days on pilgrimage in Poland this summer, visiting sites important to three powerhouse saints: St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. It was an amazing time! I thought it would be fun (and possibly useful for others, or for us in the future!) to share what we learned about traveling with a toddler overseas.

One of my fav pictures....I love her energy and joy! With the mermaid patroness of Warsaw in the background


Cliff notes: The good moments on our trip were made extra good by having Zelie with us, seeing her excitement and wonder and experiencing Poland as a family - and the challenging times were...a bit more challenging (or a lot), having a little person to care for in foreign country, away from lots of our usual "tools" for parenting. It was definitely worth it to be together as a family, but took a good amount of extra thought and preparation, and extra flexibility while there, much different than trips we've done just as a couple.

happy traveler, in a traditional Polish outfit


Below, some gear and tips we found useful on our trip:

Traveling - Plane

Goal: arrive safely to destination with toddler! without losing our minds!

Tips:

  • If possible, fly overnight so the toddler feels ready to sleep during the flight; we had an overnight flight to Paris on the way there, and she fell asleep easily - we put her in pajamas before boarding and then snuggled her with her bunny and a bottle, as close to home as possible
sleeping peacefully somewhere over the Atlantic - note the "baby seatbelt"; it attaches to the adult seatbelt and at least for Air France / KLM is required on take off and landing

  • As a gesture of good will to nearby passengers, we brought along earplugs and candy to hand out (laffy taffy - haha) and proactively apologized for Zelie's potential noise! Only a few people wanted the plugs or candy, but everyone smiled and I think it did help when Zelie cried
  • At least for Zelie's age (15 mo's) toys were overrated - we did all this research, bought several new toys, and she was mainly interested in pressing the TV buttons, throwing stuff on the floor, and walking up and down the aisles with us; hey, whatever works! The only toy that kept her interest for a while were suction cups (see below)
  • Lots of airports have play areas for kids - Dulles and Warsaw both did, and we made sure to give Zelie time in there before the flight to burn off some energy; and we definitely cleaned her hands very thoroughly after she was done! #germs
  • Absolutely use the family boarding! I don't know why you wouldn't, but it is pretty sweet to get to board almost-first, get out the gear, etc.
  • Realize there's only so much to do when the toddler gets cranky! We did our best just to stay calm, have a sense of humor, take turns / take breaks, and remember that the flight wouldn't last forever and we would never see the people around us again....
  • What we look like at 6:30 a.m. Paris time / 12:30 a.m. DC time - aka our 5 minutes in Paris

Gear: 

  • Two small travel pillows that "puff up" when you unzip them and then squish down to pack; we put these on our laps so Zelie could lay on them and it minimized the heat from our bodies (she is a HOT little girl!) - and they were more comfy than the thin pillows provided by the airline.
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow for Camping, Backpacking, Airplanes and Road Trips, Amethyst, Small: 12” x 16”
Thermarest compressible travel pillow
  • Several changes of clothes - our worst nightmare was running out! which we didn't
  • Comfort animal - Zelie's is a stuffed bunny
  • Suction cup toy - we brought three along. These are neat because they stick to almost anything - the window, tray table, etc. They kept her interested in unsticking them, stacking them, and of course throwing them on the floor (which told us the game was over! haha).
"Fat Brain Toys Suction Cupz" (yes, with a Z)
  • Lysol wipes to wipe down the tray table (germiest part of the plane), back of the seats, arm rests, etc.
  • Powdered milk to drink (mix with water) since we couldn't count on keeping real milk cold the whole flight; we did get real milk from the stewardess once or twice
  • Overnight diapers to extend the time she could wear them - honestly this didn't seem to make a big difference, but it was worth a shot

Traveling - During Trip

Goal: get happily from one place to the next

Our pilgrimage was fairly intense, with lots of walking, visiting churches, doing stuff, etc. So we put thought into how to make these full days good for Zelie, and us.

Tips:

  • Realize traveling with a toddler will mean some adjustment; Zelie needed time each day to run around and explore, which didn't also fit with our group's schedule. One of us would "hang back" from the group during a tour, for example, to give her wiggle time, and there were two days that Bethany and Zelie stayed behind completely as the group traveled - but it was definitely worth it to go even if we couldn't participate in everything
Happily stretching her legs at the WWII memorial in Warsaw
  • In the same vein, transitions (from place to place, vehicle to place or whatever) may or may not fit with Zelie's nap schedule, food schedule, etc. We just did what we could to give her time every day to rest, run around, explore, etc. - and she turned out to be pretty flexible and could adjust as needed.
Gear:
  • Rain cover for stroller - we only ended up using this once, but were glad we had it; Poland was supposed to be more rainy than it was, so better to be prepared!
The rain cover is folded back but ready to use - it didn't add much weight to the stroller and was nice for quick showers (Jeep brand)

  • Light blanket plus clips - the clips let us attach the blanket to the stroller top when Zelie fell asleep, so she could sleep longer while we were out
Napping - stroller reclined, light blanket clipped on. Also cooler hanging off the back.

  • Stroller - obviously the most important piece of the puzzle; ours is a Chicco Capri bought from Craigslist. Pluses are that it is VERY light, which was great for all the stairs we had to carry it up; it folded up super easy; was comfy for Zelie; and reclined somewhat. Cons are that the shocks didn't seem that great, so cobblestone streets got really bumpy; and the under-stroller storage was teeny-tiny. If we did it again, I would probably look for more storage and maybe slightly bigger / more sturdy, although I hesitate to go heavier...it's a trade-off.
  • Sun hat is important since weather can be unpredictable
sun hat coming in handy

  • Same goes for a rain jacket for toddler & parents
  • Portable hand sanitizer - this was used every day multiple times; we clipped it right onto the outside of the diaper bag so instantly accessible 
PURELL 3909-09-ECSC Advanced Hand Sanitizer Portable Bottles - 1 oz. Variety Pack Travel Sized Jelly Wrap Bottles (Case of 8)
clutch


  • Baby carrier - we used our Tula every day, both when it seemed Zelie needed some extra cuddles/a nap and for places where the stroller couldn't go (Krakow's ancient Wawel castle/cathedral being an example) We used it in back carry mode when she was awake, and front carry when it was her nap time. It's a bit bulky so mainly we stuffed it under the stroller (where it took up all the space).

Nap time at the Archbishop's Residence in Krakow - she would sleep for up to 2 hours like this, which was perfect if we were at a place for that long

Eating

Goal: getting toddler enough food!

We are fortunate that Zelie is a good eater who will try just about anything, and likes most things. Right now she still has bottles of milk or juice for nap/bed/comfort, and other than that eats solid foods. We did bring some food along (see below) but mostly just gave her stuff off our plates when we ate, plus had plenty of juice or milk at the ready.

Gear: 

  • disposable travel placements we could stick to the table so Zelie could grab food - this was great for places that had a high chair but no tray table
EXTRA STICKY Disposable Placemats Baby - Perfected Design! Ultimate Mom Hack - Tidy Tyke - Table Mat Stays in Place! BPA Free Plastic, Stick on Placemat - Keeps Toddlers Neat & Safe at Restaurants!
worth it
  • a silicone wipe-able bib that catches food and was full coverage - great for all meals, especially when we were holding her (no high chair)
Enjoying Pope John Paul II's favorite dessert, a super sugary cream cake

  • lots and lots of squeezy pouches for times when other food wasn't accessible - these were great because they didn't require refrigeration and were familiar to Zelie; I bought 40 before leaving home - a plus was that as we went through them, we then had space for souvenirs
  • squeezy pouch lids, so she can't make a huge mess (we use these at home too)
ChooMee SoftSip Food Pouch Top | 100% Silicone | Prevent spills and Cushion mouth | 2CT - Orange Aqua
so useful
  • a medium cooler to keep bottles, pouches, snacks, and an ice pack - this hung off the back of the stroller so it wasn't an extra thing to carry
MIER 9 Can Insulated Lunch Bag for Women Leakproof Soft Cooler Tote, Orange
9-cup size, Mier brand - this worked well, a good size with straps that fit on the stroller handles
  • powdered milk, especially for plane travel and also for nighttime feedings so we didn't have to walk a distance to the kitchen
  • Hand & face wipes were perfect for cleaning up after meals in the absence of washcloths
Johnson's Hand & Face Portable Wipes 25 count Alcohol Free (pack of 4)
we used so many of these


Tips: 

  • you can take ice packs through security BUT only if they are frozen...which became an issue for us on our Paris layover on the way there; we had to go through security again (not sure why) and because the ice pack was melted, it was now "forbidden" according to the security officer....and tossed. Good thing we had a second (unfrozen) one in our checked luggage!
  • For us, we always made sure to have at least 2 bottles - for Zelie, bottles are her "relax" time that I think helped on the long days; we would use fruit juice (available almost everywhere) or milk when we could get it, and pack it in the cooler with an ice pack
enjoying a bottle in the bell tower of Wawel Castle.....only a giant bell from the 1300's, no big deal, keep drinking...

  • Whatever you do....do NOT pack an OPENED tin of powdered milk in your husband's luggage....even if you think the lid is on good and tight, you just might open his suitcase in Warsaw, after traveling all day and just wanting to sleep, and discover that the tin has opened and a fine dust of powered milk is all over ALL of his clothes......and so you have to do laundry with the tiny little washing machine and no dryer when you can barely keep your eyes open....not that that happened to us or anything ;)
  • Seriously, squeezy pouches are the BEST; they filled in so many gaps for us so easily, were fairly light to bring on our trip, and gave us peace of mind that we'd have something healthy and yummy for her during the days


Sleeping

Goal: everyone get at least *some* sleep!

Gear:

  • Sound machine so she had familiar sounds as at home
  • Adapter plugs for wherever you're going (listed here b/c the sound machine is so important)
  • Batteries for sound machine (we did plug ours in, so this was "just in case")
  • Place for baby to sleep - we were able to borrow a pack & play from our guide's sister in county, so we used that
Tips:
  • We tried to replicate our routine at home as much as possible: clean diaper, pajamas, bunny, bottle, snuggling, bedtime; most nights it did work fairly well - of course she was up some nights, or needed to come into bed with us, but we were fortunate that she still slept fairly well while on our trip
  • Jet lag! Is hard on toddlers! For whatever reason, the 6-hour time zone difference didn't seem to faze her much traveling east to Europe - maybe because she had a fairly normal night sleep during our overnight flight? But coming back home - ouch. It took about 5 nights for her to sleep until at least 6 a.m.....the first night home, she was up at midnight, ready to go! That was rough. The most we could do was try to convince her it was still nighttime: darkness, quiet, bottle, rocking. And basically just waiting for her internal body clock to get re-set.
Bathing: we gave her a full body water bath twice (once in a tub without a shower, once in a shower without a tub, go figure) but the other days we used the Johnson & Johnson head to toe wipes, which were perfect for freshening her up without a full bath.

Final thought: Traveling with a toddler overseas is more work, takes more thought and more adjustment, but is definitley doable and worth it!! 

Happy to hear any thoughts from folks who have also traveled with their toddlers!


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Zelie's Adoption is Finalized!

We are happy to share that Zelie's adoption has been officially finalized and she is now a Meola!


How it all happened:

We met with our Maryland social worker for the third and final time in September 2017, after which she sent in her final report to our California social worker. Then in late November, we had to send some notarized forms to our lawyer's office, official court forms stating that yes, we intend to adopt Zelie. Once those were received, our lawyer requested a court date for Zelie's finalization hearing. Since it was the end of the calendar year and coming close to Christmas, we didn't get a date until January 2018. January 5th, to be exact.

So that Friday, Dan took off work and we made ourselves available all afternoon. Our lawyer and one of his coworkers would be present at the court on our behalf, and at some point the judge would call us to be part of the process too. We knew it could be any time that afternoon (morning in California) and we were both surprised to be kind of nervous! Even though the finalization hearing is pretty much bureaucratic (all the big "pieces" are done and approved), it still felt like a big deal to be talking to a judge!

Finally the judge called and we were sworn in, had to promise that yes, we would tell the truth, and yes, we were Dan and Bethany. From there, the whole conversation took less than five minutes! The judge asked us to reconfirm that yes, we knew that by adopting Zelie we would be responsible for her as her parents, that she would inherit our estate (that one kinda made us chuckle....all our ancestral lands tee hee ;)), and basically yes, we do want to adopt her. All softball questions! 

At the end of this short exchange, the judge said very officially that "I now pronounce you Zelie-Louise Layla Rose Meola." (!!!!) It reminded us a lot of a wedding! Pronouncing a new name, a new place in a family. Wow! We both were more moved than we thought we would be, and some happy tears were shed.

Zelie did beautifully, too! She enjoyed a yummy bottle very peacefully the whole time :) All in all, it was a beautiful moment for our family and reminded us very much of the amazing gift it is to be Zelie's parents.



What's next:

We received the official adoption order in the mail about a week later, and we will use that for all kinds of things: getting Zelie a social security number, applying for her passport, filing our taxes as a family of three this year, and officially changing her name on insurance cards and such. So (surprise!) there is still more paperwork to do :) But functionally, our adoption of Zelie is DONE. Period, full stop, closed parenthesis. For the first time in over two years, we're not "in the adoption process" - it feels a little strange!

So this blog has chronicled our adoption journey from beginning to end.....and God willing we will chronicle adoption #2 here as well whenever we start on that journey! For now, we are just so filled with gratitude at this amazing little girl who is almost 10 months old, and we thank God every day for her courageous birth parents and all the people who love her so very much.





Saturday, November 11, 2017

"From Zero to Zelie"



Happy National Adoption Month! :)

A friend asked us to write an article about our adoption journey and what we've learned, and we were thrilled to do it!

"Adoption is very near and dear to our hearts. After six years of marriage, and many prayers for a child, earlier this year we welcomed our daughter Zelie-Louise Layla Rose into our family through adoption. This experience has been a profound journey of faith for us—a pilgrimage—and God has taught us so much through it, and through the people we’ve encountered along the way."

Full article:

http://www.frcblog.com/2017/11/zero-zelie-our-adoption-journey-and-what-weve-learned/ 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Catch-all Life Update

It's about time for a new post! During the time of waiting for an adoption match, and specifically preparing to welcome home our daughter, we posted fairly regularly because it felt like so much was happening that we wanted to remember and share. Now that Zelie has been with us over six months (!!) we've settled into a nice day-to-day routine and haven't felt as inclined to write in this space. But it would be nice to catch up the story since where we left off, which was "Our Time in California Part 1".

Coming Home

Skipping to the main point: we made it home, all three of us :)

More specifically, we flew back from California earrrrrrly on April 24th. (Early as in, get up at 2:30 a.m. to get to the airport for our cross-country flight.) Zelie did so, so well on the plane! She slept, then ate, then slept some more.

Relaxed on the tray table
Oh my, was it a JOY to see our home state appear below us after descending through the clouds! We showed Zelie - this is Maryland! And it was oh so GREEN! California is beautiful, for sure, but we hadn't realized how much we missed the green, verdant, hydrated landscapes of our east coast home.

At the airport, both of our moms were there to greet us and to meet Zelie for the first time. We were all fairly jet-lagged and exhausted (Zelie the least since she had slept so well on the trip) but those moments were so precious, having Zelie's two grandmas meet this much prayed-for and hoped-for baby.



Much cuddling was done!

Upon arriving home, Zelie greeted us with to-date her BIGGEST diaper blow-out ever.....while we are scrambling to get more diapers, and wipes, and clean clothes, all on basically no sleep and a screaming baby! Definitely a memory. And thanks, baby, for saving that until we were off the plane!

Adoption news since coming home

The time after bringing a baby home (really, after parental revocation papers are signed) is called the post-placement period and (surprise!) there's quite a bit of paperwork, haha. Since we are finalizing in Zelie's birth state of California, we received a quite sizable packet of forms from the social worker who will be handling our case. We hunkered down and filled out all of those - quite a few that were similar to what we did in our home study, but they just needed their own copies. 

We also had to have three post-placement visits with our local Maryland social worker, the same one who did all of our home study visits. She came for the first time the week we got home, again about two months later, and for the third and probably final time in September, when Zelie was 5 months old. ["Probably final" because there's a chance that California will ask for one more - that is pending.] Those visits were really special! Our social worker has known us from the beginning of our adoption journey, did one yearly update with us, and now got to meet our daughter. Pretty cool. She has been throughout such a wealth of knowledge about adoption and now about child development too, so it was great to be able to ask her questions and get her input on situations that we weren't sure how to deal with. 

Another thing is that when Zelie had her pediatrician appointments, we had to fill out extra forms to send both to California and Maryland - just another check that the baby is doing well.

gratuitous adorable picture

The whole post-placement period, before finalization happens, is all about making sure that the baby and parents are adjusting well to their new family structure, and of course (worst case scenario) to make sure there is no abuse or neglect going on. Sad to say, I'm sure it does happen and of course the baby shouldn't be in that environment. But there's not a question of whether Zelie will stay with us or not. The revocation of parental rights has happened already, and barring fraud, the adoption proceeds toward finalization. At finalization Zelie will be issued a new birth certificate with our last name on it, plus a social security number.

Per California rules, Zelie has to be with us for six months before the social worker writes her report. So now that that's happened, we are waiting for a copy of the report, which will also be sent to the CA courts. We're not entirely sure when it will all be finalized, but it would be really special if it happened before or around Christmas!

Non-adoption happenings

The other big thing in our lives lately is that Bethany is now a full-time stay-at-home mom. She ended her job of 7+ years on September 1st. It was a fairly emotional time, saying goodbye to wonderful coworkers and stopping a job that she enjoyed and put a lot of heart and effort into. But of course this has been our dream for so long, and it has been such a blessing to have her at home taking care of Zelie day in and day out! During the week she takes care of a friend's baby too, so the days are still full but in many different ways.

We did a bit of traveling over the summer with Zelie: to Orlando for a work trip, where Zelie went to the pool for the first time: 

Stylish!

And we spent a wonderful week vacation with two close families, here at our house, a night at the beach, and in Virginia. So Zelie got to see the Atlantic Ocean! Not many 5 month olds can say they've been to both coasts already :)



Other than that, Dan is proceeding with his dissertation. He finished his third chapter in September and has started work on his fourth and final chapter, so if all goes well he will graduate in the Spring, about a month after Zelie turns one!

It has been a complete joy to be Zelie's parents and we are grateful for every little moment. It has also been so beautiful to see how our friends, family, church and community have welcomed her with open arms. We detect some budding friendships already between Zelie and babies her age.... :) And it has felt really healing to get to experience so many firsts with Zelie, from first time grabbing a toy to first time rolling over to first time eating food and everything in between. Thank you, God!

We'll plan to note here on the blog when Zelie's adoption is finalized and other happenings!

Until then, a final adorable shot of our priceless little girl:






Sunday, May 14, 2017

Becoming a Mother Through Adoption

Soon after we found out that we were matched with Zelie, Bethany was asked to write a column for the organization Fathers for Good, run by the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic men's organization, and also Dan's employer). We worked on it together, and it was published in the May issue of Columbia magazine (p. 23).

Here is an excerpt, followed by a link to the full article. What a blessing it was to write this!



Called to Adopt

Four years after our wedding, my husband, Dan, and I were still childless despite our fervent desire to be parents. After prayer and discernment, we decided to embark on the journey of adoption — specifically, domestic infant adoption. We quickly learned that welcoming a child through adoption is a calling. It requires sacrifices of time and money, as well as the willingness to open your relationship, health, home and finances to evaluation. We call our adoption journey a pilgrimage, a walk of faith, with daily — sometimes hourly — opportunities to deepen our trust in the Lord.

Full text: http://www.kofc.org/en/columbia/detail/called-to-adopt.html 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Our Time in California Part I

Here's a bit of a run-down about what our time in California was like. There is just so much to say, so many grace-filled moments, challenging moments, exhausting moments...we feel like we've crammed months of life into three weeks!

Tuesday April 4: We woke up early and Dan's mom (who house-sat for us while we were gone) drove us to the airport. The car was packed with stuff! A suitcase each for me, Dan, and baby; a pack and play; a backpack, roller bag, car seat and stroller. Getting through security was crazy - our stuff took up the whole conveyor belt! Thankfully the people around us were patient, but wondered where the baby was! We told them we were adopting and people were very kind. Once we got through the line, we had over an hour before our flight, so a chance to catch our breath, and get some coffee and breakfast. We were able to gate-check the stroller and car seat to our final stop, so it was nice to be down to only a backpack and roller bag for the flight.

Ready for our adventure!

The flight to Oakland was quite long but smooth. We dozed, read a bit, and looked out the window. The descent into Oakland was really neat because we circled close to San Francisco and could even see the Golden Gate Bridge! In the airport we had about 40 minutes to hustle to our gate, buy some Chinese food for lunch, and board again.

We landed safely in Ontario (east of LA) and all our luggage arrived, yay! We were met at the airport by a friend's dad and mom, who were kindly lending us their extra mini van. (Unfortunately, we had to get a rental car a few days later because our car seat didn't work in the van...but it was really sweet of them and saved us some money!) We drove to our rental (airbnb) in Riverside, pinching ourselves that were were finally in California!

Jet lag really set in that evening...we went to a nearby grocery store and were just barely able to get some essentials before going to the apartment and crashing.

Wednesday April 5: We slept in (as much as you can when you're on Eastern time still...) and got bagel sandwiches at the ironically named East Coast Bagel. Then we ran some errands and drove to the hospital to check it out. It was an easy 20-minute drive and the scenery was really striking. Lots of hills in the distance (including some with snow on them), palm trees, long vistas - it seemed like something out of Jurassic Park or Lord of the Rings.

view from the hospital

At the hospital, we found the maternity ward and introduced ourselves to the head nurse. She showed us the waiting room and said to announce ourselves when we arrived tomorrow. It was surreal being in the place where the baby would be born the next day! We were happy to see that the hospital was clean, the staff seemed friendly, and it was small, not nearly as loud and overwhelming as hospitals around DC.

We went out to eat before going to bed early in anticipation of our VERY BIG DAY tomorrow.

Thursday, April 6: We got up super duper early to get all of our stuff together and get to the hospital. We knew that Zelie's birthmom was asked to be there at 5 a.m. but the nurse said we didn't need to get there before 7:30....we got there around 6, haha - just too much anticipation!! To our pleasant surprise, Zelie's birithmom asked us to come back to her room right away to meet her. What a special moment that was! We were able to visit for quite a while before she had to get prepped for the c-section. We also met a few members of her family, which was special.

Around 9 or so, we went to get something to eat. The hospital actually hosts a farmer's markets on Thursday so we had some delicious fresh berries, a breakfast burrito and some pastries - yum.


We went back to the waiting room, and another very pleasant surprise - Bethany was asked by Zelie's birthmom to be present for the delivery. So she suited up in the mask, head covering, robe, shoe covering, and was taken into the operating room. It's impossible to describe the incredible honor this was, both to be present to Zelie's birthmom during the c-section, and also to hear Zelie's first cries and see her in the very first minute of her life....we will be forever grateful for this memory. Bethany also got to cut Zelie's cord after she was born and hold her. Her birthmom was still on the operating table but got to give Zelie some special mama kisses.

Zelie then went to the recovery room to be weighed, measured, etc. She got to spend some special time with her birthfather there, and a bit later Dan was able to meet her and to help give her the first bath as doctors checked her out. All of these moments were so rich and happening so fast, it was impossible to take it all in - we just tried to receive each moment as a gift as it came.

My first time seeing Zelie! So overwhelmed with joy! I fell in love at first sight :-) 

Saying hello, what an adorable face!

A bit later, Zelie and her birthmom were taken to a postpartum room, where we joined them. When her birthmom was able to eat again, we asked what she wanted to eat (knowing hospital food is bad!) so she requested sushi. Dan drove half way across town to get the finest sushi :-) . Later that evening, we were invited by her birthmom to stay in the hospital room overnight - what a privilege that was. So we went back to our rental to get pajamas, etc., and then returned to the hospital. It was a big double room and we each had a single pull-out bed on one half. We loved spending time bonding with Zelie and feeding and changing her. It was such a joy to spend all of these moments with Zelie and her birthmother.

Friday, April 7: We spent all day at the hospital with Zelie and her birthmom, other than going back to the rental to shower and going out for food. What a special time this was, and always will be for us and for Zelie. We had lots of time just to talk with Zelie's birthmom and get to know her more, and also to appreciate all the little things about Zelie. Of course nurses and doctors were in and out pretty regularly, so it wasn't completely restful, but it was a wonderful experience.

One of her 100,000 cute faces. She is so expressive!

A funny story: in the middle of the night, Dan got up to quiet Zelie and change her diaper. Knowing that she generally screams during diaper changes, he decided to push her cart into the hall so as not to wake the ladies. Well, that is a no-no....as soon as he got in the hall, a voice came over the loudspeaker: "Sir, please put the baby back in the room." Oops, the baby had an alarm on her leg which he set off!! He insisted he wasn't trying to steal the baby, just change her quietly! Lesson learned, he changed the diapers in the room from there on out.

Saturday, April 8: The day was similar to Friday, lots of time with Zelie and her birthmom, not a whole lot of sleep! In the morning, the doctors let us know that Zelie and her birthmom could be discharged today - yay! We were all ready to get outside, together - we'd been able to go out singly but of course someone needed to stay with Zelie, who could not leave the room (see above). Of course there was lots of paperwork to do before discharge (more so because of the adoption) so we didn't end up leaving until later in the afternoon. The birth father visited as well which was nice. But what a wonderful moment to leave the hospital! Zelie had her first elevator ride, first breath of outside air, and first car ride all in quick succession.

1st car ride!
We were honored to take her birthmom and birthfather to their homes, which gave us all a little more time together. We also got some photos printed on the way (Walmart) so Zelie's birthparents could have hard copies. Tonight was the first time we had Zelie on our own, which was very special. She slept like a normal baby! Up every few hours to eat, but generally easy to comfort.

Holy Week: Sunday, April 9 - Saturday, April 15

We were able to spend some more time with Zelie's birthparents on Palm Sunday, which as always was very special.

A lot of this week was spent just getting used to having a sweet little baby in our care! Zelie had her first check-up on Monday morning and did great. She had dropped in weight a little, which is normal, and was very healthy, praise God!

Snuggle time

On Monday at 5 p.m., Zelie's placement into our family became irrevocable. Her birthmother had chosen to waive the 30 day "revocation period" in California and entrust her to us early. We happened to be in the car at 5 p.m. and said a Rosary for Zelie's birthparents, knowing that this was likely a difficult time for them, despite their conviction in choosing adoption for their daughter.

Tuesday our friend Fr. Jon visited and gave Zelie her first blessing. Dan and Fr. Jon were college roommates and good friends, and Father is a priest in Los Angeles. What a blessing!

Our priest friend Fr. Jon feeding Zelie!

Zelie's first blessing by Fr. Jon!

On Wednesday we ventured out to a vineyard with Bethany's brother Ben and his girlfriend Natalie, who live in Los Angeles. It was gorgeous weather! And very pleasant sitting in the shade, sipping wine and talking. A great way to pass the time. Zelie enjoyed meeting her first uncle.

All of us at the vineyard! So beautiful!

Zelie's happy Uncle Ben! Check out those cute flamingo pants and sun hat! She is a model :-) 


Enjoying the vineyard under a veranda together!

Thursday was Zelie's one-week birthday! Good job, Zelie!!

On Friday we took Zelie to church for the first time, to the Good Friday liturgy. The church near our hotel, St. Martha's, turned out to be quite lovely with wonderful music. They had a full choir for the service and the church was packed! Zelie slept through the entire two-hour service.

Zelie's first church service! Can you find Zelie?
On Saturday we went back to the vineyards, this time meeting up with local friends who had also recently adopted!

Easter Sunday: April 16

We went back to St. Martha's on Easter morning for Mass and it was even more crowded than on Good Friday. People were spilling out the back doors where we stood. After Zelie had a bottle and a diaper change, she again slept through the whole service. It was her first Mass! After church, we visited with Zelie's birthmom for the afternoon and did a fun Easter photo shoot with Zelie - bunny ears and all! Here are some cute pictures from the day.

Zelie after her first Mass! She enjoyed it sleeping peacefully in the Lord!

Like we said, isn't she a cute little model? So beautiful!

Little family snuggle time together.
We are so blessed by Zelie, the joy is overwhelming! We feel very surrounded by God's grace. More to come later about our time in California and our travel back to Maryland!!

Please continue to keep us, Zelie, and her courageous birthparents in your prayers!