Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Melancholy Moments; Meaningful Moments

I am naturally a melancholy person.  That may be surprising to some people, even those who know me fairly well, because I generally try to hide my melancholia.  Don't get me wrong, I am happy...I do my share of dancing in the kitchen and singing at the top of my lungs; but the truth is, I am prone to feeling a lot of guilt, stress, and discouragement on a daily basis because I can't do everything that I feel like I "should" be doing or want to be doing.  I am a perfectionist, I am a worrier, and I am hard on myself.  To make matters worse, I am very aware of how incredibly blessed I am--I know that I have no reason to ever feel unhappy--which makes me beat up on myself all the more.

Unfortunately, when my husband is stressed out from work, he develops quite a bit of this temperament as well.  He's naturally an easy going person, but he craves peace, and when he works from dawn until midnight and doesn't get a moment throughout the day to relax (which seems to be the constant reality these days), he is not a very happy camper.  He becomes self-critical, discouraged, and overwhelmed.

So we've been a couple of Debbie Downers around here lately.  Not proud to admit it, but I am against blog facades in all forms, so I thought I would go ahead and acknowledge the truth.

Back in January, we chose a verse from The Book of Mormon as our family "theme" for the year: "And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27).  We decided that we wanted to spend the year focusing on being happier in our daily lives.  We thought we would devote each of our weekly Family Home Evenings to discussing a different aspect of happiness, and we also set daily goals that I call the "habits for happiness": personal and family prayer and scripture study, exercise, healthy eating, adequate know, the basics.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Wrong!!  Why is it so hard to accomplish all of these "little" goals in addition to everything else we have going on in life??  And we've only had FHE about three times since declaring our theme in January!  We are awesome!!

In all seriousness, I have a lot of thoughts about goal setting and happiness and perfectionism, but I am going to save those for another post, and I am going to end my day by focusing on something that does make me insanely happy: my adorable son.

Noah wakes up early.  I think it's Ryan's alarm that wakes him up (our apartment is very small), so Ryan will give him a bottle, change his diaper, and let him play in the bathroom while he gets ready.  This morning, I woke up to the sound of Noah's jabber moving closer and closer to me.  Confused, I opened my eyes to see where it was coming from, and I saw a shadow crawling down the hallway outside our room.  I couldn't stop grinning as I watched that little shadow getting bigger and bigger.  I knew that at any moment, Noah's cute little face would peek around the door frame.  What a way to start the day!

He is really moving now.  Sometimes when I turn my back for two minutes, I am shocked to turn back around and find him in a totally different room.  He is a little speed demon, and he loves his new mobility.  I am finding that all of his pants and pjs have dark brown spots on the knees...oops, I guess I better start vacuuming!

He has two tiny teeth poking through his bottom gums now, and when he grins, you can see them.  It is the cutest smile in the world.

Watching Noah grow is such a joy, and I know it will go by way too fast.  I often get frustrated with myself because I feel like I never change.  I have the same weaknesses that I had a year ago, which is sooooo discouraging.  But I try to remember that I can't spend my days focused on my same old imperfections because right in front of me is a little being who is changing--so much, all the time!  I have the rest of my life to worry about my to-do lists and my goals.  Witnessing my son learning to crawl and sit and pull himself up on things--these moments and milestones are so fleeting.

So I end tonight's post with some recent videos of Noah that make me happy.  The first is a video of him splashing like crazy in the bathtub (his favorite thing); the second is a video of him doing his "happy wiggle" while eating breakfast (Ryan filmed this moment sideways); and the last is a video of him giggling in delight when he first learned to crawl (this might be my favorite video of them all).

These are the moments to focus on when I am feeling melancholy.  I am one lucky mama.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I'm Just Full of Surprises

Though nothing could ever top the infamous banya date, I planned another surprise date for Ryan a few weekends ago.  I know, two fun dates in a month--amazing, right??  I am quite impressed with myself and don't expect this sort of creativity and spontaneity to happen again any time soon.  Our typical Friday night consists of putting Noah to bed by 7:00 and then sitting around on our computers--sad but true.  Sometimes we watch a movie together, if we're lucky.  We're boring.

To break up the monotony, I bought a Groupon to the Ice Castles at Silverthorne.  Silverthorne is in the mountains about an hour and a half from our house, but there is nothing I love more than a  long car trip with Ryan (truly), so we made an afternoon/evening trip out of it!

Miraculously, Noah napped on the way there AND on the way home, so we had lots of time to talk and hold hands and watch the sunset over the mountains together.  Perfect.

And look at how beautiful the ice castles were:

I think the pictures make it look even cooler than it actually was, but we had a good time.  We also got Ryan some new stylin' outfits at the J Crew outlet, and we hit Beau Jos pizza on the way home.  Doesn't get any better than that!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What was it like for them? A Birth Mom's Perspective

There's one final perspective on Noah's sealing weekend that I need to share: Katie's.  People often ask me, "How is she doing?  Seven months later, what is she feeling about the adoption?"  And of course, the common question: "What was that like for her to be in Colorado with you guys for Noah's sealing weekend?"

Before I get into Katie's thoughts on the matter, I want to say one thing: Every adoption situation and every birth mother is different.  Sometimes I worry that by sharing so many details about our experience, friends and family will think that every adoption looks like ours--or, perhaps worse, that I think that every adoption should look like ours.  That is simply not the case.  Adoption is a very emotional and sometimes complicated decision involving multiple families, and there is not one "right" way for  everyone involved to feel.  In sharing our experience, I am only speaking for myself, not every adoptive mom in the world, and in sharing her feelings, Katie is only speaking for herself, not every birth mom in the world.

I understand that open adoption does not work in every situation.  I also understand that adoption is not the "right" decision for every young mother, and I would never judge a young woman who chose to parent instead of place her baby for adoption, just as I hope no one would ever judge Katie for her decision.  These are intensely personal decisions.  I recently read a blog post written by a birth mother named Jill, and she wrote about how it makes her feel when others tell her she made the "right" decision by placing her baby for adoption.  She strongly feels that this is not their judgement to make, and I agree, and so does Katie.  

Our experience is our experience, and it doesn't have to be anyone else's.  We only share it to give one perspective of what open adoption can be like.  Just a few decades ago, the adoption world was very different.  Often, birth mothers never got to see or hold their babies.   The babies were just whisked away and never heard from again.  I can't imagine the grief or the lack of closure.  I am so glad that birth mothers today get to decide whether they want to place in an open or a closed adoption, and I'm so glad for the healthy, wonderful open relationship we've formed with Katie and Drew and their families.  If we adopt again, I know that the dynamics will be different depending on the wishes and circumstances of the birth parents, and that is okay.

But enough about all of that...on to the good stuff.  Katie always has such beautiful things to say, so let's get to it.  Here's an email from Katie, shared with her permission, about her experience in Colorado for Noah's adoption finalization and sealing weekend:

At first I was nervous that I would be really sad and emotional about the adoption being finalized. It was going to be "for real" now. But I wasn't sad at all. I think that I had come to accept it such a long time ago that it was just so special. All I could think about was how happy I was for both you and Ryan, and of course my little baby Noah (:
I think that for me, Noah will always be my baby, but he will always be your child. So, watching him grow up is not difficult for me. I really don't have any doubts that what I chose was the right thing for my baby. You three belonged together, you just needed a little help from me to get there. 
I am just so greatful that I got to be a part of all of it, and that you allowed Drew's and my family to be there with you. I love how close we all are and how our relationship is so good. It makes things a lot easier on the birth mother side to know that I made the absolute right descion, and I would never change that choice.  
It's the one thing in life I'm so proud of.

Love you!

As usual, Katie stunned me with her wisdom.  I love how she worded it when she said, "Noah will always be my baby, but he will always be your child."  So profound.  He was hers and hers alone for the 40 weeks that she carried him in her womb and in those first few days of his life; that sweet little newborn Noah will always be solely hers and Drew's.  And now he is ours, though forever connected to his birth parents not only through genetics, but more importantly through love.  

I read this adoption quote shortly after Noah's birth, and I thought it was beautiful and very true: "He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, yet he is hers in a way that he will never be mine; and so together, we are motherhood."

I love you, Katie Rose!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What was it like for them? A Birth Grandpa's Perspective

Yesterday I shared Drew's mother's thoughts about open adoption; today I will share Katie's father's.  

Just like Drew, Katie has awesome parents.  During the first conversation I had with Katie on the phone, I also spoke to her mother.  Katie and I had been talking for about an hour when she said, "Do you want to talk to my mom?"  I was a little nervous and intimidated (I wasn't sure what to say to her mom...and what if she didn't like me?), but I said, "Sure!"  When Elizabeth got on the line, she immediately put me at ease.  She started off by saying, "We've spent hours reading your blog, and we love you guys!!" She was so friendly, warm, and affirming.  What I remember most about the conversation is the way she talked about Katie.  She told me how proud she was of the way Katie was handling everything.  She told me that Katie had always been very mature for her age and that she is wise, kind, independent, and strong.  I assumed that Katie was standing right next to her mom listening to our conversation, and I thought of how amazing it was that she was hearing her mother speak such positive, loving words about her--in a time when some mothers might have spoken about disappointment or mistakes.  In the year since that first conversation, I have seen this mother-daughter interaction many times.  Through ups and downs, Elizabeth always makes it clear that she loves Katie unconditionally and will always see the best in her.  To me, that is true motherhood.  What an example for me to follow.

And Katie doesn't just have a great mom--she also has a wonderful father.  He is my mother-in-law Sally's cousin, and he was the first person to talk to her about the adoption possibility and to find out more about me and Ryan.  (To read more about that story, click here.)  Like his wife, he spoke so positively about Katie.  In a time when he himself was surely feeling a lot of conflicting emotions, he focused on supporting his daughter.  He told Sally that Katie would make her own decision, and he and Elizabeth would stand by her.

After Noah was born, Katie asked her dad to be there when she signed the papers relinquishing her parental rights.  I didn't realize this at the time, but in an email that Katie later wrote to me, she told me that after the papers were signed, her dad gave her a Willow Tree statue of an angel holding a little butterfly up in her hands, ready to let him fly away.  When I read about his symbolic gift and his accompanying words of comfort at such an emotional time, my eyes filled with tears.  What a dad.

So now, with no further ado, a birth grandfather's thoughts on open adoption, in his own words: 

I can’t say I was nervous about an open adoption with Noah. The truth is, I didn’t really have any expectation for myself or my wife and our relationship with Noah after Katie signed the papers relinquishing her parental rights. Nobody asks the birth grandparents to sign their rights away, although if it were required I certainly would have done so because I was convinced that it was the best thing for Noah and had been very confident in Katie’s decision to place him since she first told us she was pregnant. Truthfully, it had been a big adjustment just thinking that I was old enough to have a grandchild – and that my daughter was old enough to be a mother. I knew that Katie would want to be kept updated about Noah’s growth and his activities, but I hadn’t really thought about what I would want to know or see. While Katie was pregnant, we visited a friend of ours who had photos on her refrigerator of a grandchild who had been placed in an open adoption. That may have been the first time I realized that birth grandparents can still get updates about how the child is doing with the adoptive parents.

I do remember being happy for Ryan and Rachel’s parents and their chance to be Noah’s grandparents. In fact, one of the most memorable moments for me since Noah’s birth was when I first saw Ryan’s dad at Ryan’s brother’s wedding reception about a month after Noah was born. Although I had been with Ryan and his mom at the hospital, I hadn’t yet seen or talked with Ryan’s father, and I really felt joy for this blessing in their lives and the happiness that Noah brought them – while still adjusting to the idea that I was somehow connected to it all.

Perhaps the first sense I had of any role, however small, that I might have with Noah was when Ryan asked if I would give Noah a blessing before he left the hospital. Ryan had read a newspaper article about a BYU football player who had been adopted and who had been blessed by his birth grandfather before the adoption. The football player didn’t see his birth grandfather again until after he was in college. Ryan thought it would be nice to have me give a blessing to Noah. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is common for fathers (or a father figure) to bless their children at times when they might need comfort or confidence, such as before a school year begins or when they might be facing some kind of trial. (This type of blessing is not a formal church ordinance or a blessing that someone would receive if they were ill.) I was honored that Ryan and Rachel would feel comfortable enough with sharing Noah to ask me to do this. And that has really been the unexpected blessing in our lives: Ryan and Rachel are confident enough about their role as Noah’s parents that they are willing and encouraging about involving as many people in Noah’s life as possible. I haven’t ever felt any sense that Katie’s relinquishment of her rights meant that Ryan and Rachel had to possess Noah exclusively or that they needed to assert their authority by rejecting any member of the birth families.

Of course Ryan and Rachel are Noah’s parents and will make all of the decisions about how he is raised – but they are so willing to share their experiences with others. So that is how I, Ryan, and Drew’s maternal grandfather gave Noah a priesthood blessing. I didn’t want to infringe on anything that Ryan would want to say when Noah was given a name and a blessing in church after the adoption was complete, so what I felt like I should say was that Noah might be blessed during his life to know how much people loved him to allow him to be adopted. Because to me, one of the biggest concerns I have for Noah is that he is able to realize as he grows that everybody has tried to do the things that will be best for him in this whole process.
When Ryan and Rachel invited us, along with Katie, Drew and Drew’s family, to Colorado for the temple sealing and baby blessing, I didn’t think I would go. I knew that Katie would want to be there – and I thought my wife would want to go as well – but I still wasn’t sure that I really belonged in the picture. In fact, we booked airfare for Katie and my wife and I didn’t even get a ticket (until later that night or the next day when I realized that I should go also). I’m not sure if I was concerned about not wanting to compete with Noah’s adoptive grandparents or about somehow intruding in Ryan and Rachel’s affairs (even though they had invited us to come). Whatever it was, I was still looking at the situation differently than Ryan and Rachel. Perhaps that is something else I have learned in this process – I don’t need to feel uncomfortable or out of place if the reason why I am there is to support Noah and his parents in their happiness. I am who I am, and even though I don’t have a continued legal relationship to Noah, I am still connected to him (kind of like a distant uncle) and I can be supportive and happy for the family success that Ryan and Rachel enjoy with him. And that is what a temple sealing of a child to his parents really is, a family success and an opportunity for that family to remain together after this life is over. Of course, it certainly helps that Ryan and Rachel’s families have been willing to let us share this experience with them as well. Being in the temple with any couple (whether newlyweds or if they are being sealed later) carries such a feeling of hope for the future. With that knowledge, we didn't really have any feeling of loss or sadness. We look forward to the day when we will see these blessings for our own children and grandchildren, but that day isn't yet here. This day was about Ryan and Rachel and Noah - and that felt so right. 
I don’t know how other adoptive parents choose to involve the birth family – and the choices Ryan and Rachel have made to include us may not work for everyone – but everything about being able to spend the weekend of Noah’s blessing in Colorado has reaffirmed in my mind what truly wonderful blessings adoption can provide, and we are grateful to have been allowed to be a part of it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What was it like for them? A Birth Grandma's Perspective

When people hear that Noah's birth parents and their parents came to Colorado for his sealing and blessing, they always seem surprised.  "What was that like for them?" they ask me. "Were they sad? Happy? What were they feeling?"

I wasn't sure, so I asked them.

They have given me permission to share their thoughts.  In the adoption world, we don't often hear from the birth grandparents, yet they are such an important part of the adoption decision and process.  Choosing adoption is a sacrifice for an entire family, not just for the birth parents.  And without strong family support, it is much more difficult for birth parents to go forward with their decision to place the baby for adoption and to heal from their grief afterward.

Today I will share what Drew's mom wrote about their experience; tomorrow I will share what Katie's dad wrote.  I think you will agree with me that these families are amazing.  It is very unusual for an adoptive couple to have such a close relationship with both birth parents, let alone their families.  We are so blessed.

I loved Drew's mom, Shanea, from the moment I met her.  When we visited Utah to meet Katie and Drew in March 2011, we picked Drew up at his house and his mom invited us in.  We all sat in the living room and got to know one another.  I immediately noticed her warmth.  She is full of laughter and love.  I was impressed that she invited Drew's younger brother and sister to sit with us as we discussed adoption.  It was obvious to me that their family shares with each other and supports each other.  Drew's father passed away just over two years ago, and I so admire the way that Shanea has kept her family united in love, despite the immense trial they have endured.

After a bit of small talk, the conversation got more serious.  With tears in her eyes, Shanea told us about her feelings in the weeks since she'd found out about the pregnancy.  She told us how much she loves Drew.  He was sitting there blushing, as teenage boys do, as she went on and on about how funny, kind, and smart he is.  (It was adorable.  I love hearing moms talk about their boys.)  Then, she said something I will never forget: "I love this baby.  Though he was unexpected, I love him so much.  I need you to tell him how much I love him--he can never doubt that."

Since that evening, just about one year ago, we've had a relationship with Shanea and her family that has turned out to be so much deeper and so much better than I think any of us could've possibly imagined.  The thing with open adoption is, you just take it one day at a time and figure out what works for everyone.  I am so grateful that it has worked for our families to remain so close.

With no further ado, here is a bit about the experience of a birth grandmother, in her own words:

Drew, his mom, his brother, and Noah
Noah is wearing one of the many adorable outfits that Shanea has given him! :)

I was absolutely devastated when I found out Drew and Kate were going to have a baby. I really thought their lives were ruined. I know this sounds dramatic, but I thought they would keep the baby and I knew they weren’t capable of giving him the life that he could have with parents in a better place in life. But when they told me they wanted to place the baby for adoption, this was difficult too. Who would raise the baby? Would they be good enough for Jeromy’s first grandbaby? What if I didn’t like them? 

They told me about this couple that they'd found in a Christmas card, and I was skeptical. Then Katie's mom called me, and she said the couple had a blog and an online adoption profile with LDS Family Services. When I read the websites, I felt the spirit of peace for the first time since I had learned of the pregnancy.  

I had never given Kate the respect she deserved. When she first started dating Drew, I wasn’t kind to her at all so I didn’t know her and I just assumed the worst. I’ve since repented and she said she has forgiven me. During the pregnancy, I grew to love Kate so much. She was so strong and steadfast. Drew, on the other hand, was not very considerate of her most of the time, and it was hard to mother him. Drew finally “stepped up” while Kate was in labor and started being the man he needed to be. And Kate was just amazing. 

Then when Noah was born, and I saw Rachel and Ryan with him and felt all the love in that room, I knew everything would be okay. I was very worried about Kate and Drew and how they would recover, but I never worried about Noah. When I try to explain this to people, they just don’t seem to understand. My family “gets it,” but others look kind of baffled. I have no worries for Noah. I know he is in the right place with the right parents. I love him more than words can say, but I don’t ache for him, and I really thought I would. I thought I’d have a hole in my heart and I would never recover, but I'm happy to say, I don’t. I am happy for him. He is where he needs to be. I love to see him, I love to buy him things, I love to see his expressions (they remind me of Drew), I love to hear about him. I’m grateful for Rachel's blogs and the pictures and videos. He really is the most loved baby on the earth, and this experience has been such a blessing and a testimony builder.

I was a little nervous about the temple sealing. I thought maybe I’d feel Jeromy there and it would be too emotional or sad. I did cry my eyes out but not because I was sad--it was because the sealer spoke about  families and our children and repentance, and I really really needed to hear those words in that place and at that time. I needed to know that my children and I can be an eternal family, even if we mess up a bit here and there. I was so happy for Noah, Rachel, and Ryan. I know that this is right. I know Noah belongs with them and I am not worried about anything. I’m not worried about where Noah will be after this life. He will be with his family. 

I don’t feel I’ve lost anything, but I’ve gained everything. I’m so so blessed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Noah's Big Weekend, Part 3: Noah's Blessed in Church

Sunday February 12th was the last day of the Noah Extravaganza. :)  He was given a name and a blessing in church.

Since I gave a Mormon lesson in the last post, I might as well give another one now.  I hope no one minds.  I feel a little vulnerable doing this because my religious beliefs are very close to my heart and are easily distorted and often mocked; but I know a lot of people are genuinely curious about Mormon beliefs, especially in recent years due to all of the media attention we’ve been getting.  Please know that I am not preaching—just explaining.

In the Mormon faith, we do not baptize babies because we don’t believe that they have the ability to sin, nor do we believe that they are born sinful due to Adam’s transgression.  We believe that until children are eight years old, they are still learning right from wrong and cannot be held spiritually accountable for their actions.  Children may choose to be baptized when they are eight years old, after they have learned about Jesus, repentance, and God’s commandments.

Though we do not have a baptismal service in church for babies, we do have an ordinance where fathers are able to bless their babies, formally declare their name, and give them counsel for their lives.  If a baby does not have a father in his life, he can be blessed by his grandfather or by a trusted family friend. Most of the time, babies are blessed in the first few months of their lives, but Noah's adoption had to be finalized before we could bless him.  

We believe that men who diligently live God’s commandments qualify for His priesthood or the ability to act, serve, and bless in His name.  This isn’t reserved for priests or pastors, but any righteous man can be ordained to use the priesthood in his own home and to bless the lives of others.  Some people criticize the Mormon Church because it is only men who hold the priesthood.  Though this might seem “sexist,” I truly don’t feel it is…and I consider myself to be somewhat of a feminist.  I think it is okay that men and women have different roles in life and in religion.  Women are leaders in our church too, and they are still able to bless others’ lives through God’s power.  Gordon B. Hinckley, who was the president of our church from 1995 to 2008, said, “The men hold the priesthood, yes--but my wife is my companion, and in this Church the man neither walks ahead of his wife nor behind his wife but at her side. They are co-equals in this life in a great enterprise.” My parents modeled this kind of partnership in my home growing up, and it is the kind of partnership that Ryan and I strive to develop every day.

Ryan did a beautiful job blessing Noah.  He told him that the miraculous circumstances surrounding his birth had strengthened the faith of many people and that he will always be able to think of the selfless sacrifice of his birth parents as an example of Christ’s Atonement.  He blessed him with health, happiness, and understanding.  He told him that we love his energy and enthusiasm.  He encouraged him to learn from his mother how to serve others (yeah, this was basically the sweetest thing ever--made me feel so good).  He blessed him to feel his Heavenly Father's love and to remain close to Him throughout his life.  

Noah was an angel throughout the entire blessing.  I was afraid he would be fussy, but he was silent and content.  He was surrounded by all of the men in his life who love him so much—his uncles, his grandpas, his birth grandpa, and his great grandpa.  It’s a symbolic aspect of the blessing that the baby be encircled by those men who will support him, protect him, and mentor him throughout his life.  Such a beautiful sight.

After church, we all went to my dad’s house for a family lunch.  We ate all of my dad’s specialties--tortilla soup, cornbread, and Christmas salad.  Yummmm.

A quick word about my dad.  He is amazing.  As I watched him bustling around the kitchen in his apron (yes, he has an apron—though, in his defense, it is a manly one), I couldn’t help but think about how remarkable he is.  He has been a widower for nine years, and he has never let that stop him from hosting family events.  He did so much to make sure that Noah’s weekend was perfect for all of the visiting company.  He grocery shopped and cooked and cleaned for everyone...and it was a big crowd. He really is Super Dad, and I am so grateful for him.

It was such a fun afternoon with the family before everyone headed home:

Love this picture.  It's no wonder Noah is so cute...look at his darling birthparents!
Drew's family
Katie's Grandma (who is also Sally's aunt)
Katie and her mom
Uncle Derek and Aunt Alli
I love the way Noah is looking at his Uncle D in this picture.
Uncle Tanner
These two are buddies.
Uncle Cole and Aunt Sara
Aunt Ashley and Uncle Nate...
and Callum snuck in there too!
I tried to get a picture of Noah with everyone, but he was so tired by this point in the weekend that it didn't happen.  Poor baby was done with photos, and who can blame him?...

Wuv that wittle pout
Fortunately, we got him out of his stiff clothes and Grandpa cheered him right up!

What a weekend!  We are so grateful for all of the people who came to support Noah.  He is such a blessing in our lives.  

And now, I am going to go kiss him in his sweet sweet boy.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Noah's Big Weekend, Day 2: Noah Goes to the Temple

February 11th was the day I'd been looking forward to for years, ever since we started the adoption process.  We got to take Noah to the temple to be sealed to us for time and all eternity.

I don't often talk about the specifics of my religious beliefs on this blog, but since I have a lot of friends and family members who are not Mormon, I want to explain what we believe about temples and why this day was so important for our family.  Mormons have churches where we meet for weekly worship services and periodic activities, but we also have temples which we believe are the most sacred structures on earth.  We believe temples are the houses of the Lord, and we can go there as often as we'd like to make special covenants with God and also to ponder, meditate, and pray.

As I contemplated writing this blog post, I felt inadequate trying to explain just how important temples are, so I consulted  I decided to just paste their explanation of temples here because it is pretty straightforward:

"Anciently, the Lord directed Solomon to build a temple (1 Chronicles 28:1-6). This temple was a place where God could dwell, was a place of prayer, was a place of sacrifice and was a place where the principle and covenant of sacrifice was fundamental to worship...Like ancient temples, today’s temples are also sacred places where God may dwell; they are places of prayer and, although we no longer offer animal sacrifices because that was done away with when Jesus Christ became the Eternal Sacrifice for our sins, the principle and covenant of sacrifice is fundamental to our temple worship.  In temples, Church members participate in ordinances designed to unite their families together forever and help them return to God."

Temples are beautiful inside and out.  The atmosphere inside is so peaceful and holy.  Almost everything is white--the carpet, the wallpaper, the couches--which makes me feel closer to heaven.  Everything is quiet.  You don't hear phones ringing, loud music playing, or people arguing.   It is a place separate from the world, and every time I enter the doors, I am immediately struck by the peace.

One of the key doctrines of our religion is that families can be eternal.  Marriages are not just "until death do we part"--they can last for eternity if they are "sealed" by God's authority in His holy house.  We believe that Jesus Christ gave power to His disciples to seal families together forever when He said, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

When sealed couples have children, their children are born into the covenant that their parents made when they got married; when babies are adopted, they are joined into the covenant that their parents made by a sealing ceremony that takes place in the temple.  It is very beautiful and very simple.  Dressed in white, the baby's mom and dad kneel across from each other at the altar holding hands, the same way that they did when they got married, and the baby's hand is placed on theirs.  They then covenant with God to cherish each other and to keep His commandments so they can be an eternal family.

Our family and a few close friends gathered in a special room in the temple, while Noah played in the nursery with Ryan's mom.  We heard a brief sermon on the importance of families in God's plan.  I felt so calm, so happy, and so grateful.  I also thought, "If families are eternal, then I bet my mom is here with us today," which is a really amazing thought.  I have missed her even more than usual in the past year, as I've become a mom myself.

Noah looked so amazingly adorable when Ryan's mom came into the sealing room with him.  He was wearing all white and a little white tie, and he looked around the room at all of his family and friends with a bewildered expression.  Cue massive swelling of my heart.

Unfortunately, when he was with us at the altar, he was cranky as can be (go figure, right?).  It was his nap time, and he doesn't like being held still, especially in a new place where he'd like to be exploring.  :)  I will admit that I was a little disappointed that he fussed through the ceremony (though I shouldn't have been surprised considering his feisty little temperament), but it is a funny memory now, and what really matters is that he is ours forever.  I am so grateful for the knowledge that family relationships can last forever and that adoption is part of God's plan.

After the ceremony, we took some photos outside.  Unfortunately, it was about 15 degrees, so we had to make it quick! :)  Noah was wearing tights underneath his pants (yes, little girls' tights--hope he doesn't kill me for that later) and I layered several long sleeved onesies underneath his collared shirt.  Poor baby still has quite a red nose in the pics, but he was a trooper and didn't really seem to notice the cold during the 10 minutes or so that we were outside.  He was quite subdued because he was way overdue for a nap, but I'm glad we have at least a few photos to memorialize our special day, even if he's not grinning like he usually does.

Surrounded by family
Is this boy loved or what?
The two women who love Noah more than anything in the world
Families are forever
My family
Ryan's family
Katie's family
Drew's family
With Great Grampy and Great Granny
With Bapa
With Grandma and Grandpa Nielson
After pictures, we headed to the Olive Garden for a family dinner.  All I have to say is YUM.

Noah loves looking out windows.
It is one of the only things that calms him down when he's fussy.

What a day, huh?  February 11th will always be such a special anniversary for our family.  We love Noah, and we are so grateful that he is part of our eternal family.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Noah's Big Weekend, Day 1: Noah Goes to Court

On Friday, February 10th, we took Noah to the Adams County Courthouse, so his adoption could be finalized and official.

He's ready!
I was giddy with excitement.  I didn't really expect to feel that way because, ever since Katie and Drew signed the adoption papers, I've always known that Noah is ours.  But it was still such a special day, and we were so grateful to have a few of our family members there to celebrate with us.  Ryan's mom and his sister were visiting us for the week, and my dad took a day off of work and my older sister found a babysitter in order to attend the court hearing.  So Noah had a little fan club arriving at the courthouse with him on the morning of his big day.

Sarah, Dad, me, Ry, Noah,  Sally, and Ashley
Whenever I tell people that the adoption was recently finalized, they always ask, "So his birthmom could've changed her mind during all of these months?"  Adoption laws vary from state to state, but in Utah (where Noah was born), once a birthmom signs the papers, she has relinquished her rights and cannot change her mind unless she proves that she was coerced, bribed, drugged, etc. (We did none of those things to sweet Katie.)  However, the adoption isn't totally finalized for six months, during which time we are periodically visited by a social worker from our adoption agency.  She makes sure that we are indeed good parents, that we are attaching to the baby and the baby is attaching to us, and that our home is a good environment.  If she found that we were neglectful or drug addicts or otherwise unfit, the agency would take custody of the baby and find another home for him (with input from Katie, of course).  Adoption involves a lot of paperwork, visits, and rigmarole, but I'm glad that they take these precautions in order to ensure that children are safe and loved.

Our case worker helped us with all of the paperwork before Noah's birth and then did all of our supervisory visits after his birth.  She was awesome!  People always ask me if I felt like I had to have the apartment spotless before she came over, or if I felt like I couldn't be truly open and honest with her if Noah was having a bad day or week--not at all!  She is a mom too, and she knows what it's like to have a newborn.  She was a huge support to me throughout the entire process.  Here she is, snuggling with Noah at the courthouse:

Our lawyer is an awesome man too.  He and his wife adopted their first son through our agency about 25 years ago, so now he does the legal work for the agency's adoptive families for free.  Isn't that amazing?  He says adoption has been such a huge blessing in his life that he wants to make it more affordable for young couples like us.  So cool.

He is a giant.
Upon entering the courthouse, we had to pass through some intense security.  We didn't realize that we were going to have to take Noah out of his car seat for the screenings, so we all walked through before Ryan, and he was stuck on the other side trying to juggle everything.  He took Noah out of his seat and then sat him on the floor while he put the car seat on the conveyor belt.  Noah (who has been sitting solidly on his own for months now) folded in half and bumped his forehead on the marble floor.  Of course, right??  In front of an entire line of people heading into court!  Luckily, Noah didn't even cry, and everyone was chuckling not judging.  When Ryan got to me on the other side of security, he said, "The judge was behind me in line and just saw that!"  I panicked for a second, but then I realized he was joking.  Phew!

Then we went to our courtroom and waited outside while the lawyer went in and got everything ready with the judge.  At this point, I got a little nervous--I'm not sure why--maybe because it all felt so official.  Here we are, waiting for our hearing to start:

When we entered the courtroom, Ryan and I sat at the table in front of the judge, and our friends and family sat in the observers' seats behind us.  I got to hold little Noah.  He was so calm and angelic, which made everything even more special.

We all rose for the judge as he entered, and we took the oath (felt like a movie).  After our lawyer presented our Petition for Adoption to the judge, he asked us a few questions.  He asked Ryan why we were the best parents for Noah, and he asked me how Noah had improved our lives.  I don't think either of us was prepared to answer such big questions.  I mean, "how has Noah improved our lives"??  Are there even words?  I stumbled through a very cliche answer about how much we love him and how he's taught us about love and how he's "our angel" (yes, I really said that--cornball!!).  I felt kind of silly and quite inadequate trying to answer such an important question in just a few sentences.

But the judge seemed to like what we had to say because he approved our petition and banged his gavel (did he really bang it?  I can't remember, but I hope he did), and we had ourselves a son--officially and lawfully.

Here we are with the judge.  He had awesome hair.  Ryan said it was "straight from Britain."  And he gave Noah the little teddy bear.  Cutest!

As we walked back to our family, everyone surrounded Noah and gooed at him and talked to him and congratulated him, and I realized that all of these people will be there to support him every step of the way for the rest of his life, just as they've been there to support us.  Amazing.

Outside the courthouse, we got some pictures.  He's a Nielson!  And the cutest one yet, if you ask me (yes, he's usurped Ryan's title)!  

No, just balancing on Bapa's hand.

This was cause for a celebration, so we all went out to the Original Pancake House for brunch.  Yum!

After brunch, back at home, Ryan took a little video of Noah demonstrating his new rolling skills.  I think Ryan's commentary is really funny, especially at the end ("and rubbing my hand in it...and rolling on top of it" hahaha):

Later that day, the guests started arriving for the rest of the weekend's festivities.  Noah was settling down for a late afternoon nap when there was a knock at the apartment door.  Knowing who it would be, I picked Noah up from his crib and held him front and center while I opened the door to quite a crowd: Katie, Drew, and their families.  Noah greeted them with a huge, open-mouthed grin.  It was perfect.
Noah and his birth parents.
Love these three.
Noah and his birth grandmas.
Love them too!  They are awesome.
It was so wonderful to have Noah's birth parents and their families in town for his temple sealing and blessing in church.  Many of my friends who are unfamiliar with open adoption were very surprised to hear that Katie and Drew and their families were coming.  "Won't that be really hard for them?" they asked.  I didn't know what it would be like for them--but I knew that they were excited to see Noah and be part of his celebration.  I have since asked them what they were feeling throughout the weekend, and I will share some of their thoughts in an upcoming blog post.  I am excited to share a bit of the "birth family" perspective.  We've all developed such a close relationship over the past year, centered around one perfect little boy.

Noah played with everyone for a while, but then he'd had it (he'd missed a nap, after all), so everyone left, and Noah went to bed early.  While he was sleeping, all of Ryan's family and my little sister arrived--yes, Ryan's parents, all four of his siblings, their three spouses, and my little sister (whose husband had just deployed to Afghanistan that day) came from out of town for the weekend.   It was so humbling to have everyone put aside their busy lives and spend the time and the money to come celebrate our little Noah.  I know how very lucky Ryan and I are to have the families that we do.  We are so blessed.

We hung out at the apartment that evening and ate delicious Indian food (prepared by Sally and Ashley) and laughed, talked, and played games.  

Another sister-in-law!
Sal, hard at work as usual!
It was a great day from start to finish!  I was already exhausted but knew this was just the beginning of the fun because the next day, we were taking Noah to the temple!  (More on that in the next can you see why it's taken me almost a month to write about this huge weekend??)