Thursday, June 16, 2011

Disturb Us, O Lord

Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.

Prayer by Sir Frances Drake
(shared with me by a friend adopting from Ethiopia)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cleft Palate Surgery

My son's cleft palate surgery was on Tuesday morning. The day before, I couldn't help but pity our son, as I thought, "he has no idea what tomorrow will bring." Though I was more than obliged to provide all of his favorite foods on Monday, including 3 pancakes for breakfast, chicken and sweet potato fries for lunch, and 3 servings of lasagna for dinner...thata' boy.

Tuesday morning, my husband and I sat with our rather cheerful son who had managed to somehow not think about breakfast, so it was that much harder when he, so cheerful, went in the OR for surgery. The surgery was from about 9:15 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. The nurse called us from the OR twice to give us an update and let us know that things were going great.

When he came out of surgery we heard him crying, and the doc lead us into the recovery room. He looked so pitiful. I couldn't help but cry thinking that he had been through this kind of surgery once before - but in China and with no parents there to hold his hand and sit with him while the anesthesia wore off and the pain mounted. Such a brave little boy.

The surgeon said that the surgery went great, and that he had great muscles and tissues with which to construct the palate. He had quite a bit of bleeding and was drugged for most of the day, so the first day was difficult - miserable in fact. He slept well the first night given what he had endured that day, though I'm sure it was because of the morphine. The next morning after the surgeon came to remove the stitch in his tongue and clean out his mouth, he was a new person. He was eating and drinking, laughing and watching his favorite movies. So well, actually, that we were able to come home that afternoon.

Funny to think that a boy born in China, living in an orphanage with a special need now lives in America, has a family who loves him dearly, and no longer has a special need.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Next Tuesday is the Big Day

Next Tuesday, Levi will have his cleft palate repaired. I have every confidence in the surgeon. She is a wonderful, very optimistic physician and she sets my anxious mind at ease with her bedside manner. However, I am not so confident in my son's pain tolerance and will be relying heavily on prayers and God's grace to get through some difficult recovery days in ICU. I can't imagine having to go through all of the changes that he has had to endure in such a short amount of time, though albeit they are all good changes. Please keep him in your prayers. Next week will be rough, no doubt, but how awesome is it that a boy who was born with a special need living on the other side of the world in an orphanage, now has a family who loves him and soon will no longer have a "special need". So glad I can be part of this miracle.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oxytocin "The Bonding Hormone"

Excellent article from Holt International:

Oxytocin “The Bonding Hormone”By Abbie Smith, LCSW, Director of Clinical Services, Holt International

Since the last e-newsletter, I have learned about a hormone often considered integral to self-regulation. Oxytocin has been called the anti-stress chemical, the love hormone, the soothing, healing, regenerative hormone – the human race’s “social glue.” It creates feelings of attachment and is responsible for making us feel loved and secure.

The release of this hormone is a learned response. It is not automatic, like the adrenalin that releases when we are frightened. In fact, oxytocin is the body’s natural counteraction to adrenalin. Adrenalin hypes us up to fight or flee. When we realize there is no danger, oxytocin calms us back down. However, without proper nurturing care in the first three years of life, children’s brains don’t develop an effective oxytocin response. Consequently, they don’t calm down. In cases where one suffers prolonged neglect or abuse, the oxytocin response may be so underdeveloped that the child’s system gets locked in the fight, flight or freeze response. Sound familiar? Let’s look into this a little deeper. The information in this article is based on the book The Chemistry of Connection by Susan Kuchinaskas.

A baby’s brain develops at an astonishing rate within the first three years of life. The quality of care a baby receives strongly influences this development. Trillions of neurons just lay in wait for a certain type of repeated experience to jiggle them awake so they can grow and connect with other neurons. These connections make pathways that strongly influence who this little one will grow up to be.

“Mothering also trains the baby brain to release oxytocin in times of safety and comfort,” Susan writes in The Chemistry of Connection. “In response to loving care, the neural network begins to branch out. How many oxytocin receptors the baby brain develops, how sensitive they are, and how much oxytocin is produced depends a great deal on how much nurturing, love, and intimacy the baby gets in the first few months of life.”

“The oxytocin response should begin to form in the first few months, and continue to develop through the first three years,” she continues. “But it won’t happen automatically. It seems that mothering – the right kind of loving attention – is what sparks the genetic potential for a brain rich in oxytocin into realization. Being nursed, cuddled, and cooed over by his mother stimulates the growth and directs the pattern of oxytocin in the infant brain’s reward center. If he doesn’t get much attention the parts of his brain designed to handle social interactions won’t develop the complex interconnections that make those responses strong and healthy.” When she’s picked up and comforted, her pituitary gland releases oxytocin, which counteracts the adrenalin and cortisol. In the months of holding, rocking, cuddling, nursing, and baby talk, Mama’s soothing touch will set the pattern for the down-regulation of fear. The newborn learns to generalize the oxytocin response from the primary caregiver to other people in the family, and then to an ever-widening circle of relationships.

By the end of the three-year period of rapid brain evolution, a child’s emotional thermostat – how she reacts to stress and intimacy – is set. Luckily our brains are flexible and can learn to increase its oxytocin response at any stage of life. It takes concerted and sustained effort with a lot of repetition to reset this emotional thermostat. Remember it took three years to build so remodeling it won’t happen overnight. Let’s look at some ways to help reset your child’s thermostat.

First, parents need to calm themselves down and be emotionally available to their child. This will take a bit of preparation. Arrange for someone else to attend to the other children in the home and give yourself time to relax, unwind, and get into a loving feeling. Children can tell when adults are stressed so be sure to do whatever works for you (exercise, warm drink, hot bath) to get yourself in a calm and open emotional space.

Child Preparation

Start by creating a soothing retreat – some place that is quiet and has a safe-seeming environment. Lots of kids like being in a cabinet or a cardboard box from a large appliance, so these may be great places to start. An area in your child’s room may also provide a quiet, safe-feeling space. In this case, there should be a comfortable chair and soothing colors, dim lighting and soothing sounds or white noise. At first it may be hard for your child to settle down. Keep expectations quite low in the beginning and gradually increase the time spent together as you observe your child’s tolerance increase. You can look into each other’s eyes. If your child looks away, just accept that. Over time, you can teach your child progressive muscle relaxation, visualization or diaphragmatic breathing. Eventually just going to this tranquil place will have a calming effect. After this calming time, go on to the touch or food techniques.


Some children may not be able to tolerate touch. (If this is the case with your child, be sure to have your child evaluated for sensory integration issues by a qualified occupational therapist.) Carrying small children in a sling or backpack places the baby’s body against his parent’s, where his nervous system can pick up the mature rhythm of the parent’s heart. There are baby carriers that can carry children up to 40 pounds. Tummy rubs, back rubs or a warm shower in Dad’s arms focus parent and child on their connection, creating soothing pulses of oxytocin. Enjoying a calm hot tub together also works. Activities that involve cuddling, reading together, shoulder rubs, back scratches, foot massages, stroking the child’s head or brushing hair or just running your fingers through your child’s hair. For older kids certain games or a massage with a parent may be more palatable. Games such as Twister or The Cow-Tipping Game, which is one Susan Kuchinaskas talks about in her book. To get the most oxytocin-producing benefits from a massage, choose a soothing style. The Swedish or Esalen styles use gentler, rhythmic motions that have been shown to elevate oxytocin levels in animals


Eating can also stimulate an oxytocin release believed to closely mimic that of being fed at the breast. Experts believe that foods with a high fat content can stimulate oxytocin and one small study found that just 25 grams of fat in one serving was enough. “Ice cream, that supreme solace of the lonely and sad, works its magic at least in part by triggering an oxytocin release in your brain that may be similar to what you’d experience if you were with someone you loved,” writes Susan. So for kids, it would be most helpful to be with them and lovingly attentive to them while they ate ice cream. Chocolate, cheese and real mayonnaise (tuna, egg, or potato salad) also increase the oxytocin response. Again, it’s important to maintain the loving interaction with your child while she eats. Sharing the same food will also increase the impact.


Singing! A 2003 study by Grape et al. followed amateur vocalists and found that they all experienced an oxytocin boost after a 30-minute choral lesson. These women also lowered their levels of cortisol. The group resonance effect is important in this technique. They mirror each other’s physical posture, their voices match each other’s tone, pace, and volume, and breathing is in unison. Find a choir for your child or start a children’s choir.

Simple, friendly social signals release trust-building oxytocin (Paul Zak, 2005). In the case of international adoption, parents need to be sure they understand what’s considered friendly in their child’s birth culture.

Helping your child’s body to increase its receptors for oxytocin takes a long time. Remember, an infant develops this system over the course of three years through a nurturing parent relationship. You are helping to remodel your child’s neural network and this takes many repetitions. Think of how often a parent picks up a child under the age of 3 to calm her down. It can be done, but it takes parental commitment to keep going and to note the small progress made over the course of months. For more information on this subject, please read the book The Chemistry of Connection by Susan Kuchinaskas.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Post Adoption

I've recently been impacted by a tragedy within our adoption community which resulted in the untimely death of a newly-adopted, 4-year-old child. She had been with her new family less than 100 days. It's been a devastating experience for me to witness given that I knew the family. A year later, I'm still left grappling with how in the world this could happen given the many post adoption resources that are available to all adoptive parents.

We all know that the time leading up to adoption is filled with many emotions. It is stressful, exciting, highly-anticipated, and often full of expectations; however, some of these expectations can set us up for failure. Though adoption is a wonderful blessing, it is not immune to its fair share of challenges. Adoptive parents are faced with situations that biological families will never encounter and, most likely, never understand. When you break it down, adoptive parents and their adopted child are strangers coming together. We initially work through the physical differences - appearance, our mannerisms, interests, and language, which are all new and foreign to each another. Then there's the emotional layer that we must begin to foster - namely, trust-building and bonding that has to take place on both sides, sometimes taking longer than expected. We also must address the disruption, trauma, fear, grief and loss that this fragile individual has experienced since the very start of his/her life and the many psychological, emotional, and physical complexities that go along with that, which many of us don't instinctively know how to approach.

So how do we prepare for this monumental change in our lives and in the newly adopted child's life? These are a few of my thoughts on the topic:

1). Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best. Be prepared and realistic going into adoption. Know from the start that it's going to be challenging, possibly one of the most difficult things you've encountered. But also know that there are many resources out there to help with healing and provide hope as you and this child become a family.

2). Be proactive. Though many of us, read all that we can before adoption, post-adoption education is essential and must be ongoing for adoptive parents. In fact, after the adoption is really when education and hard work begins.

3). Stay connected to your social worker and to an adoption community, whether it's a local adoption support group, social networking groups, blogs, or on-line groups related to adoption parenting.

4). Seek out support and resources continually. Arm yourself with information by finding post adoption resources to add to your adoption parenting "toolbox". Books, on-line groups, websites, podcasts, and conferences all offer invaluable information on various adoption-related topics. Here are just a few of my favorite online resources:

Journey to Me to Me offers an extensive audio library and collection of articles.
Post Institute Bryan Post is an expert in the field of attachment and trauma.
Adoption Voices is a very resourceful adoption social network.
A 4ever Family is a great site for information regarding adoption attachment
Theraplay  discusses treatment for trauma in adoption.

One of my favorite book regarding parenting an adoptive child or/and a child that has been through trauma is The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis.

5). Do not be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to your social worker or agency if you are struggling to parent your new child. Contrary to what you may think, seeking help is a sign of strength. You recognize your needs and are seeking a positive solution. No man is an island as the saying goes. We need support.

6). Most importantly, be willing to meet your child where he or she is, not where you want them to be. And remember that love is a choice, not a feeling.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oct. 25 Levi's 2nd Birthday

Monday, Levi turned 2-years-old. Birthdays can be bittersweet for adoptees. It's a celebration of their birth of course, but can also be a reminder of their losses. As with China, most children are abandoned on or near the date of their birth, for various reasons, but usually due to special needs or the one-child policy. Most police reports detail the finding spot of the child, the date, and the name of the person who found them, but most adoptees never know this person, let alone ever have a way to contact them to fill in the gap of the day they were found.

I received an email the day before Levi's birthday, from the couple that visits his orphanage annually to do mission work. They said that they had an interesting story to share. They have a recently adopted granddaughter from Levi's orphanage who is a teenager. Two of her teen friends from that orphanage have also been recently adopted by American families. One of her teen friends, Lucy, saw Levi's picture on our blog. She said to her adoptive mother in broken English, "I founded him." Her mother replied, "You mean you are fond of him?" She said, "No, I found the grass." According to Lucy, she took Levi back to the SWI because she was happy to miss English class, which was her first subject and not her favorite.

The police report says that Levi was found by a school child near the gate of the orphanage. That school child was apparently Lucy, who is now living one state away. She remembered finding him! Remarkable, to say the least.

I really can't express how miraculous this is for my son, to have a link to that fated day that changed his life forever. It is amazing to me that God has brought these people into our lives who have a connection to our son's orphanage and to his past. I hope that for each birthday that he celebrates, his losses will be overshadowed by the incredible, fateful day that he was "founded".

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I was unpacking my backpack and came across a disc that I received at some point during our time in China. I can't remember who gave it to me. Anyway, I didn't know what was on the disc until just now. I was so happy to discover that on the disc there are at least 50 pictures of Levi from the time when he was first received by the orphanage through present! Included are pictures of him with caregivers and with other children at the orphanage as well as pictures before his surgery and after surgery for his lip repair. I'm thrilled to have these photos to add to his lifebook. I'm sure he will be thrilled one day too.

Friday, Oct. 22 Homebound!

We left our hotel at 4:45 a.m. and flew out of Guangzhou to Beijing. We had 2 other families from our group on our flight home. We left Beijing around 4 p.m. for a 12 hour flight to Chicago. The kids travelled great. Levi slept for 10 hours and Elyza slept for 8 hours; however, Jay and I got about 1 hour each. On our flight from Chicago to our city, the kids fell asleep again. So despite 28 hours of travel and little sleep for Jay and me, it was fairly easy with the kids.

When we got to our car, I was dreading putting Levi in a carseat. I anticipated that he would flip out. Glad I was wrong! He smiled and giggled. My friend had left some yummy cookies in the car for us, so the kids happily ate their cookies on the short ride home. It was surreal seeing Levi in the backseat of the car for the first time. Though we had been together in China for a week, it was like he was out of "context" in the backseat of my car. So strange, surreal, and wonderful of course, to finally be home with him!

We arrived home around 9:30 p.m. He was all smiles when he walked in his new home for the first time. He and Elyza played with their toys for a little while, then they had baths and went right to sleep after a very long day.

Elyza was up bright and early in her usual fashion at 3 a.m. the next morning but Levi slept until 8:30 a.m. (thata boy!)We spent our first day at home enjoying the beautiful fall weather at the park. We all took a long afternoon nap and then went back outside to play.

It is so great being home!

All American Boy with his Red Sox hat

First breakfast at home!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Just a few more days

Well, we are inland (about 2 hours northwest of Hong Kong) and are
feeling the gusty winds already from the typhoon. Please pray that we
will be able to fly out safely from Guangzhou on Friday (Thursday
night US time). I expect it will be a turbulent flight which I am not
looking forward to, but as long as we get home safely on Friday, then
that's the main concern. We are concerned that fights will be delayed
in Beijing if flights out of Hong Kong are cancelled or delayed.
Please keep all travelling adoptive families in your prayers. We are
all eager to get home soon!!

Good Wishes,

Courtney ~ where community supports adoptive families
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The Boy Who Stole My Heart

Levi is such an amazing little boy! I feel grateful to be his mama! He is so loving (especially to his mama), playful, smart and funny. We are blessed to have him as our son! He's a perfect fit!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oath Ceremony

Another leisurely day in Guangzhou. The weather has been perfect. We went to the US Consulate with about 60 other families today to do the oath ceremony. The next two days are optional tours, but I think we may just stick around here to preserve our energy for travel home on Friday. We are flying out of Beijing, but most families are flying out of Hong Kong which is expecting a typhoon. We're all hoping that travel is not delayed due to weather. Many families have children at home so they are eager to get back. Please pray that travel will not be interrupted for any of us. Our hearts all yearn for home!

Tomorrow is the red couch picture day. Will post photos afterwards. Always fun to see all the babies together.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Elyza and Levi / Jie Jie and Di Di

Great Day Today in Guangzhou

We've had a great day today! Levi has been so happy all day, with no
meltdowns. He is an absolute sweetheart when he is happy! He played
with Jay and Elyza a lot. It's great seeing his transition from a shy
and timid boy when we met to delightful and happy child just days
later. He is so perfect for our family.

Tomorrow is our swearing in oath. Can't believe we'll be heading home
in a few days!

Thanks again everyone for your prayers. We certainly feel them!

Good Wishes,

Courtney ~ where community supports adoptive families
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Rest of the Day (Sunday)

Today ended really well despite a rough start. E's head bump is okay
and Levi's fever went down. jay and Sandy stopped in at Susan's Store
and ended up having tea with the owner for an hour. They had a really
good time connecting with the locals. We had a late lunch and then
went for a stroll around. The kids had fun on the high bar (in China,
parks will have workout equipment for the adults). We came back to the
room and had a fun playtime before bed with lots of laughs. I made
Levi a palate on the floor, and no tears! He obviously detests the
crib. I have a lot of great video of the kids playing, but can't post
to Youtube from here. They have a lot of fun together! Thankful for a
good ending to this day.

Good Wishes,

Courtney ~ where community supports adoptive families
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Medical Appointment

Fun Times at the Park