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: 

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: 


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: 

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 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!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Introducing Our Daughter Zelie!

Wow, the last week has been such a whirlwind!! We are overjoyed to announce the birth of our daughter Zelie-Louise Layla Rose, who was born on April 6, and entrusted to us by her birthparents on April 10. Welcome to the outside world, Zelie, and to our family!

There is so much to say about the last few days....and we are operating on significantly less sleep than usual, so this will probably be short-ish, with more posts later. Here are some thoughts for now:

We were able to meet Zelie's birthmother and several members of her birth family prior to birth, which was really special. We ended up staying in the hospital on Thursday and Friday night, sharing a room with Zelie and her birthmother. That was a really precious time for us, and we hope that we were supportive to Zelie's birthmom too.

About her name: Zelie is pronounced like "Kelly" but with a Z. Zelie-Louise comes from two French saints, St. Zelie and St. Louis Martin, who were canonized in 2015 (we were there in Rome for the canonization!). They were a holy married couple. Google them if they're unfamiliar. One of their daughters is more well-known: St. Therese of Lisieux. Louise is also special because of our friend Louise who passed away in March. Layla Rose is a gift to Zelie from her birthparents, who chose that name for her. Rose is a family name for us too (Dan's paternal grandma was Rosina so we were happy to name her after his Grandma as well), and as a few friends have pointed out, St. Therese is associated with roses, so it all fits together! As we have been saying: it's a long name packed with a lot of love.

About Zelie: she is a delightful baby! Praise God, she is fairly healthy. She only had to stay in the hospital until Saturday and then was discharged at the same time as her birthmom. She is eating great, sleeping like a normal baby (she prefers to sleep in our arms but does okay in her pack and play too), she makes all kinds of cute noises and faces, and is just a pure joy. We love being parents for her! They also say "sleep when the baby sleeps," but it's hard when the baby is just so cute and you want to stare in wonder at her!!

About her birth: that really is her birthmom's story so we won't go into detail. One special thing to note is that her birthmom asked Bethany to be in the delivery room, which was such an incredible honor, and Bethany was able to cut the umbilical cord. We were impressed at what a strong and nice woman her birthmom is, and we have enjoyed so much the opportunity to get to know her while we're in California.

That's about it for now - more later! We'll leave you with a few more pics of Zelie :)

baby headband!

baby burrito!

She is listening to "ocean," like a true California baby :) 

Her Maryland outfit!
Eyes open and happy!
Some daddy and daughter cuddle time! More pics to come later...

Monday, April 3, 2017

Prayer List & Goals for our time in California

On the eve of our trip, in case you would like to pray very specifically for some intentions:

1. For baby and her health and safe delivery on Thursday morning
2. For baby's mom, her health, peace, wisdom, clarity, good health, speedy recovery from c-section, and everything else she needs at this time
3. For baby's father, extended family, and everyone who cares for them: for peace and good health and that they can be a support to baby's parents no matter what happens
4. For our safe flights, particularly that predicted thunderstorms tomorrow morning do not materialize or affect our flights, and that none of our luggage is lost
5. For all the doctors and nurses giving care to mom and baby, for wisdom, kindness, gentleness, and respect for the adoption situation
6. For our lawyer, his staff, our home agency social workers, and all the adoption professionals involved in this situation, for wisdom and kindness, and in gratitude for the help they've offered us all so far
7. (Not adoption related, but on our hearts) For the peaceful repose of Grandpa Meola & Louise, and for comfort for those who miss them
8. If the adoption proceeds - that we can give this little one all the care, presence, love, closeness, and everything else that she needs in the first few weeks of her life
9. If the adoption does not proceed - that even in our disappointment we can pray for the baby and her parents, and accept wholeheartedly that this was not meant to be our child
10. That we would stay in good health and stay close to each other throughout our trip
11. That we would decide on the perfect name for this baby!! :)

And some of our goals for the next few weeks (also prayers that we can do this!):

1. Pray intently for the baby, her birthparents, and all involved in their lives and the adoption.
2. In whatever way we can, show love to the baby's mother, father and anyone else from their family we get to meet.
3. Receive every moment as a gift.
4. Entrust the outcome of the adoption to the Lord, trusting in His perfect, providential plan for this daughter of God.
5. "Roll with the punches" and be open to the unexpected - "semper Gumby" (always be flexible)
6. Open our hearts to everything we will experience the next few weeks, no matter how difficult, unexpected, demanding, and so on

One Day Til Go Time, Final Prep & Another Loss

On Thursday we learned that baby will be arriving by c-section on April 6, so we booked our flight to California for April 4 (!!!) aka TOMORROW Oh wow is this exciting.

The mood - "One Day More" from Les Mis...........energizing!!

If you would like to pray - we fly out of Baltimore/Washington at 8:10 a.m. We are keeping baby and her parents in our constant prayer as the day draws near. We found a place to stay for a week when we arrive, an airbnb apartment rental that has a full kitchen and is about 20 minutes away from the hospital. After that, we'll see! Hopefully we'll have a good read on the situation: where we need to be, how close to the hospital, etc.

Preparations are going well for our trip. Bethany was in charge of packing baby's suitcase, which was a challenge! Mostly difficult to decide what adorable outfit NOT to bring.....we chose a medium-sized suitcase to keep it all reasonable. Only four pairs of baby shoes.......! haha (totally necessary, right?)

Dan chose his favorite onesie to take along (says Daddy's Girl). 

And here's our packing list - mostly checked off! (We are so not travelling light.....thank you Southwest baggage allowance.)

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Dan's mom arrived on Saturday evening. She's going to house-sit for us the whole time we're gone, which puts our mind at ease. On Sunday we introduced her to many friends at our parish so they can say hello at church and maybe have her over for dinner. One friend offered to mow the lawn for us, which was really sweet. We are so thankful for our church family! We've only been in Bowie since July and already it has become such a supportive place. 

Other preparations: we had a great hour-long conversation with a social worker at Barker (our home study agency) about what to expect at the hospital. Realizing that the situation will likely be fluid, emotions will be high for everyone, how to be respectful of the baby's mother, legal considerations, and so on. It was really helpful. 

We got a letter from the adoption lawyer to bring to the hospital social worker when we arrive. They will send a copy directly to the hospital. Since we will most likely be arriving before the birth, we plan on going to the hospital on April 5 to get a feel for it and maybe meet the social worker.

Monday was our final day of work. What a surreal feeling, saying goodbye to coworkers for several weeks/months. 

In sadder news......on Sunday afternoon, Dan's dad called to let us know that his grandpa had passed away early that morning. It was a bit of a shock. Even though he was 93, his health was fairly stable and he was still at home, with the help of Dan's dad, aunt, and other family members. What sad news to receive. Thankfully Dan visited him in Erie just a few weeks ago - he had debated travelling the 7 hours because of preparing for the adoption, but now is so glad he did. (Bethany had a work trip the same time, unfortunately.) Grandpa Meola was such a special person in our lives. He was an immigrant from Italy and kept a love for his native country alive, especially through food. Christmas and New Year's were feasts in Grandma & Grandpa's home. We've shared many a cup of espresso with him. He was a fixture in Dan's family and in our experience of visits to Erie - Sunday lunches, afternoon visits, and of course holidays. We are going to miss him so much and visits to Dan's hometown just won't be the same. (Grandma Meola passed away a few years ago.)

We miss you, Grandpa. Cheers to you.

Plus the sadness of not having Grandpa meet our baby....that hurts. We are now down to one grandparent (Dan's Grandma Cullen) and we for sure are going to get that baby up to Erie asap for a 4 generation picture!! And we know that Grandpa, and Louise, are still close to us and will be smiling down - can't wait to see them both again one day!