Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bonding is hard

I've mentioned a time or two that we completed, roughly, 18million hours of training before our trip to China. There wasn't a week that went by in the last 12 months that we weren't sitting in front of a computer or reading some book about what this process would look like. We also talked a lot with other adoptive families and read blogs.

We hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. I knew that our boy would probably not know how to receive affection, wouldn't want to be rocked to sleep, and probably wouldn't even know how to play with toys.

But even knowing all those things, it hasn't exactly made the last five days easy.

Benjamin laughs often, smiles quite a bit, and loves to show off in a crowd. But he also enjoys hitting, grunting, shying away from most forms of affection, and being a stinker in general.

He loves his Daddy, and hates for him to be out of his sight. And he sometimes likes his Mommy just okay enough.

For the first two and a half years of his life, our boy only knew women to be strict and harsh. While we don't know exactly how the nannies in the orphanage treated him, we can hypothesize that they most likely did not rock him to sleep, cuddle him, or praise him very often. Evidence of this is shown by the way he self soothes when tired, rejecting any form of nurturing. Based on the fact that he only weighs 19lbs, we can also assume that he was not fed like a two year old should be.

It takes time to undo the trauma that has been inflicted, whether intentionally or unintentionally, on our boy.

It will take time for him not to hoard food in his mouth for hours after a meal time, because he's afraid he might not feel full again.

It will take time for him to recognize that a woman is not just for reprimanding, but is good for snuggling, rocking him to sleep, playing and even kissing his boo-boo's.

It will take time for him to accept the soft, reassuring touch while he is trying to close his eyes to sleep.

It will take time for his little body to recognize its deep need for liquids and to take drinks often.

And it will take time for us to win his unwavering trust and love.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

Medical Appointment


While in China, there are a few really important things that happen in between all the eating, sightseeing, shopping and eating. (Yes. Eating belongs there twice. In China, we eat all the food.. and its all delicious.)

Typically, you arrive in China, adjust to the timezone for a few days, meet and receive your child. Then, you sign all the documents saying you will love him forever and ever and ever and ever, and that he will be yours for that long. A few days later, you receive your child's passport. And then you're off to Guangzhou for more important stuff. 

The first thing on the agenda is your child's medical appointment. Because being handed off to two strangers and adjusting to them being your primary caregivers, being on a different routine, and traveling halfway across your birth country isn't traumatic enough, we'll throw in a mini-marathon doctor visit on top of all that!

Our adoption agency has arranged for some pretty great guides to... well... guide us each step of the way. And we are so grateful! 

We enjoyed an amazing breakfast at our hotel's buffet dining room this morning. Not only was the food great, but the company was even better! Our agency arranged for several families to travel together in a group. We spent a few days together in Beijing, departed for different provinces and now, we're all back together! It has been such a wonderful blessing to have the camaraderie with them!  And on top of that, our hotel is like adoption central. There are so many families staying here that are bringing their precious China babes home. It's been fun to see lots of other families in the same shoes as us.

After breakfast, we met our guide downstairs to make the trek to the medical office. Our first stop was to get an official picture of Benjamin taken for his file. Next, he had to be weighed. 

You could say he strongly disliked being weighed. How dare Daddy put him down!
We were shoo'ed into a room for a general "once over" where a Doctor asked questions much like a pediatrician in the United States would. The Doctor also checked his heart and lungs out, and prodded here and there. We've been praying that his appointment would go well today.. and specifically for his heart. Benjamin received heart surgery to correct a heart murmur and valve when he was almost a year old. The reports we received showed the heart surgery was a success, but I was still slightly anxious whether the reports were accurate or not. And Praise God, there was no detectable heart murmur when the Doctor checked him out today! 
As long as Daddy is holding him, everything is okay. (Most of the time.)
Next, an ENT checked Benjamin's ears, nose and throat out. While not fond of the Dr's headlamp, our little champ did pretty good.
Waiting on the ENT to work his magic. 
Then, Benjamin was taken into a room to do a blood-draw. It was the first time he'd been out of our sight or our hands since he's been in our care. And we weren't allowed to go in the room with him. It was heartbreaking to hear him crying on the other side of the door, but it was over in about a minute. He came out grateful to have hugs from Daddy.. and a few snacks from Mommy. 

All in all, our medical appointment went pretty great for Benjamin. Like any kid in his situation, he got a little frightened and didn't really want a few doctors messing with him. But he calmed down easily when Daddy would hold him or reassure him. (He's still learning that Mom loves him too. Its quite hard for him to adjust to two people doting on him nonstop.)

Now, we wait for our appointment at the Consulate for Benjamin's visa. And then, we wait for that to be processed and ready. 

And while we wait, we'll soak up all the time with our great new friends and fellow adoptive parents. 


********************

After the medical appointment, we went to Walmart... no really, it was a real Walmart. We made sure to stock up on all the essentials, like Lays potato chips, coke, snickers, and water. Oh.. and diapers, wipes, and a few healthier snacks for our little peanut.

We opted NOT to get a live fish out of the tanks though. (Talk about fresh seafood!)

Nor did we get a live turtle or frog for consumption. 
Oh, China.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Gotcha Day



There were approximately 5million hours of training for the adoption process. (Insert slight sarcasm font there.) In addition to the hours and hours of training, we took it upon ourselves to read lots of blogs and talk to lots of friends about their adoption processes. And as the time to travel came near, we prepped ourselves big time for what Gotcha Day might look like. Would our boy kick, scream, hit? Would he want anything to do with us at all? Would he be reserved and subdued? Would he even show the slightest interest in toys.. or us?

We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. We prayed a lot. We asked other people to pray. We knew, that for our boy, it would mean a day of tremendous loss. He'd be losing everyone and everything he'd ever known. He'd be confused, in a new place and with people he'd never even seen before. 

May 8th started much like every other day of our trip in China. We woke pretty early, had a delightful breakfast, lounged for just a bit, and then ventured out into the city. My emotions were all over the place, and I literally had All The Feels. Staying in a hotel room, waiting for our son, would not make The Feels any better. 

Our first stop was Zoo Coffee right across the street from our hotel. Um. Wow. China knows how to do atmosphere. 

We opted for lattes and were surprised with latte art!

To kill more time, we meandered down the road a ways to the local mall. We took our time browsing the many floors and especially loved the Children's floor! (Each floor of the mall caters to a specific style. First floor is makeup and perfumes. Second floor is women's clothing. Etc.) 
Every store should have a HUGE Bumblebee, right?
FINALLY, it was time to eat some lunch and make our way back to the hotel. Nervously, I tried straightening everything and making it just so. Usually, adoptive families meet the Orphanage Director, the child's nanny and their (long awaited and prayed for) child in a banquet room at the hotel. However, we're the only family adopting from Gansu province this trip. So all the people and our boy were coming up to our hotel room. I wanted our room to look inviting, but also orderly. 

When everything had been placed in its place for the third time, I finally decided to sit down,  calm down a little and pray. After about 20 minutes, I realized that if I looked out the window, I would probably be able to see our boy arrive at the hotel. Peering over the windowsill, I spotted a car pull over. A woman emerged from the car, another woman, and yet another woman. Finally, I saw the tiniest little bundle emerge from the car. 



If All The Feels hadn't been going crazy enough, it's like they were kicked into hyperdrive. The day we've prayed for and dreamt about for the last 3 years was finally here. I saw my precious tiny boy in the flesh, 100+ feet down- but still-, for the very first time. Any moment, he would be within arms reach. I knew everything he was going through was frightening enough. So, I tried my best to keep my emotions in check. A frightened and confused toddler would probably not be comforted much by a strange woman doing the ugliest of ugly cries. 

In the blink of an eye, there was a knock at the hotel door. I opened it, and had to peer out to get a glimpse of our precious Benjamin. He stood between his nanny and the orphanage director.. so tiny.. so wonderful.. so much more than we could have ever prayed for. 

He reacted about as well as you would think a shy little boy might. I approached him slowly, cautiously with my arms outstretched. He was quick to back away from my embrace. With the encouragement of the onlookers, I quickly embraced him and picked him up. The fists starting flying in perfect synchronization of the flailing feet. To round out the "Total Toddler Meltdown" experience, his back bent backwards away from me and his little voice let out a nice sized wail. I spoke in soft, reassuring tones while the nanny (I'm assuming) gave the same sentiments in his native language. To my surprise, he calmed down quite quickly and seemed to be not as mad about the strange American woman holding him. We introduced him to all his new toys and delighted in the fact that he wanted to play with them. 

Soon, it was time for all the people that were familiar to Benjamin to leave. He was none too thrilled about this, and let us know he was sad to see them go. After a few minutes of hugs, he was ready to play again. We were astonished to see the ends of his sweet little mouth curve into a reserved smile after some teasing and playing. And not long after that, he let out a few shy chuckles. We relished in the way this precious boy played and seemed to be comfortable in this new, strange place. 

Benjamin's paperwork describes him as a shy little boy who likes to be quiet. Um. Maybe for the first 10 minutes you meet him.. or in a big crowd. 

But the Benjamin that has wreaked havoc on our hearts is boisterous, funny, enjoys being loud, has personality enough for 10 toddlers and is anything but reserved. My limited vocabulary isn't expansive enough to begin to describe the numerous ways for which we are grateful for not only this day, but how well our boy has done today. He did kick and scream. He wanted nothing to do with us. But then, he quickly adjusted and liked the idea of having every ounce of attention he desired. He was eager to "perform" for us, to make us laugh by doing silly things, and to "ask" for things from us. (He doesn't quite talk much, but Benjamin is well versed in the communication ways of toddlers world wide. He does a fabulous job of letting you know exactly what he wants.) This brilliant boy proved to be anything but subdued. And the whole "no interest" in us thing? Well, this sweet boy is already taking quite a liking to his new Mommy and Daddy. (More so Daddy. But hey, this relationship is still young! He'll be saying "I love you Mommy" in no time! Hah!)

And now, the most beautiful black haired baby with the most beautiful set of almond shaped eyes is snoring sweetly beside me. And now, without fear of traumatizing this precious boy of mine any further, the tears are flowing. Tears of gratitude that he is, in fact, ours. Tears of gratitude for the smiles we saw, the deep belly laughs we heard, and for the words "Mama" I heard come out of that perfect little mouth. Tears of gratitude for all the "firsts" we got to experience today: his first book, his first meal with us, his first bottle, the first time I rocked him to sleep. My heart grieves for the many "firsts" we did not get to experience with him.. but I am rejoicing for the many "firsts" we will get to have. 

***********


Tomorrow, we sign all the official forms proclaiming that our boy will be Benjamin James Brantner for as long as the Lord allows. After a few days, his passport will be ready and then we fly to Guangzhou. There, we'll do more paperwork, have a medical appointment and fly home to live as Brantner Party of 6. We're praying that Benjamin falls more and more in love with us, that he will begin to understand deeply the true meaning of the words Mommy and Daddy, and that he stays well. (Lots of adopted kiddo's are prone to sickness during the process. This is quite a lot on their little bodies. Many have never travelled outside of their province or experienced so much.)

***********

After the Orphanage Director left, our guide took us to a photographer to have our first family photo made. It went as well as you could expect. Being the only Americans in Lanzhou with a Chinese Baby means we are gawked at just about every time we step foot out of our hotel. Benjamin was uber confused, but didn't cry. So, I guess we succeeded at our first formal picture experience with him.

We let Benjamin recover from the first outing for a while. We played, read books, and basically did whatever he wanted to do to make him feel comfortable. If he threw a toy, we laughed like idiots. If he dropped a book, we exclaimed "uh-oh" with gusto. If he did something totally adorable, we clapped fervently and gave a hearty "yay." But dinner time drew near, so we prepped him for the "cold" and threw a hat on his head. The Chinese believe your child must be layered in 5million layers if the weather is at all below 100 degrees. Benjamin came to us with two pairs of pants, a t-shirt and two jackets on. I'm sweating just thinking about it. While we opted to go with only one pair of pants, a t-shirt and light jacket for dinner, we thought it best to cover his head lest we be shamed by some well-meaning Chinese Grandma on the street.

The first few minutes were mere tolerance of his new accessory. But, he grew to be quite fond of it. He'd pat his head every few minutes just to make sure it was still there.. which is probably best, since he has about 10 more hats waiting for him at home!


After a long day, it just felt good to be snuggled up with my precious boy. Benjamin is every bit of 2 years old, and doesn't enjoy sitting still longer than a few minutes. So, you better believe I soaked up all the cuddles I could while he enjoyed his bedtime bottle.
This picture. (And the 5million others we took today.) So many things. First, the look Benjamin is giving his new Daddy.. the eye contact.. the way he will grab a book, sit you down and then plop himself in your lap now? The way he curls so perfectly and fits just like he has belonged in your lap for years and not hours? It's a picture of God's grace.. of His goodness... of His faithfulness... of His provision. 





Friday, May 5, 2017

China, you're beautiful

The weeks and days leading up to our impending travel left us excited, anxious, and an array of other emotions. With all the nervous energy, our sleep dwindled each night preceding our departure. We tried our best to get some sleep on our long flight here, but didn't have much luck.

Last night, we fell asleep quickly and soundly. But woke up bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 5:30 a.m. after a mere 7 hours of sleep! I guess when your body is used to working on 4-5 hours of sleep, 7 seems like a lot.  Being worn out and sleep deprived has probably helped us quite a bit with jet lag.

This morning we meandered downstairs to enjoy breakfast in the hotel's dining room.

I decided to stick with the more traditional options for breakfast. A few pastries, fruit, and coffeeCoffeeCOFFEE! Surprisingly, the coffee is DELICIOUS in China and easy to find!

After breakfast, we met up with our new compadres and fellow adoptive families. One thing I love about our agency is that they orchestrate adoption trips so that many families travel together in a group. There are 2 other families here in Beijing with us. Because of different arrival times, we didn't have a chance to connect yesterday. Today was a sweet time of getting to know each other and seeing the beauty of Beijing.

Our first stop was the Great Wall. And OhMyLanta. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Mountains flourishing with green paint a picturesque backdrop for the Wall. 

We climbed quite a ways. The stairs are mostly varying heights, and narrow in some spots. I started the trek up, and made the mistake of turning around. In my mind, all I could see was myself tumbling down the stone steps. Carefully gripping the railing, I made my way back down very slowly. Matt continued on though with a few others from our group. We both came to the conclusion we are way out of shape and will be feeling the aftermath of lots of flights of stairs in the morning.

To fuel up for the next stop, we ate at a beautiful Chinese restaurant. Our food was served family style with a wide variety of dishes. It was all so very delicious!

We spent the next several hours touring the Beijing Olympic Park. Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008 and is set to host them again in 2022. For now, tourists have the opportunity to explore the grounds for a nominal price. I'm so glad we did. It's not likely we'll ever be in the general vicinity of a park, much less make it to the Olympics as spectators. It was pretty great walking through the Bird's Nest knowing so many amazing athletes had competed there a few years ago.

Tomorrow holds more adventures, bonding time with our new friends, and fun distractions from the anxious energy we're all feeling leading up to meeting our sweet China babies for the first time on Monday.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Here We Goooooo!!

The last several weeks have been filled to the brim with lots of hustle and bustle. After we received our official Letter of Approval from China, we had lots of other paperwork and minor steps to complete before we could travel to bring our precious Benjamin home. Each step is somehow agonizingly slow but also very fast.

An eternity later, all those small steps were completed, and we were FINALLY given Travel Approval to travel to China. (And by eternity, I really mean a measly 8 weeks. In the adoption world, that's a pretty great timeframe for receiving Travel Approval.) 

In the midst of all that, we squeezed in much time as possible with our 3 little blondies., 2 HUGE adoption fundraisers, life-events and general mayhem. Then, we started packing.. and re-packing. Printing this checklist and that. Prepping all those 5million important documents to travel halfway 'round the world with you. 

Before we knew it, it was 10:30p.m. on May 2nd and one of our dear friends was at our home to take us to the airport. I can't say enough about the village of people that have come alongside us, served us, and encouraged us in the last 3+ years of our adoption process. We are humbled and grateful for the countless ways people have shown so much love to us!

Upon arriving at the airport, we made our way to the check-in counter. The marvelous thing about flying in the middle of the night is the airport is nearly a ghost-town. So, everything moves much quicker! Nearly no-line at check-in and security took less than 15 minutes! But in true Brantner adoption process fashion, we had a slight snag at the check-in counter. We don't know exactly what happened when the agent scanned Matt's passport, but within a matter of seconds he was off speaking to a supervisor about it. For a split second, I worried I might have to make the trek to and from China by myself. A few minutes later, the agent reappeared, slapped the tags on our suitcase and sent us on our way. Phew!



We breathed a sigh of relief and made our way to the gate. Every which way we looked were beautiful dark haired people with beautiful almond-shaped eyes. And so many precious babies! I made it my personal mission to be the weird lady that stared at all said babies with a huge grin slapped on my face. The anticipation and reality of being so close to getting our Benjamin was palpable. 

Aside from being squished in a tiny space for 15 hours, our flight was pretty great! The flight attendants were so attentive, our co-passengers rocked, and I caught up on a few movies that I've been wanting to see. 

A little sore and tired from being confined for almost a day, we made our way through the Beijing airport. Excitement built as we waited patiently for our luggage to come through the carousel. We were able to rescue one piece from the round-a-bout. But the second suitcase never appeared. We spoke with the airline representatives and we're praying to have the suitcase delivered before we leave for Benjamin's province. 

We're excited to spend a few days in Beijing soaking in the culture, learning some of the country's rich history and hopefully, recovering from jet lag. On Sunday, we fly to Benjamin's province where we'll get him (on Monday), have a court appointment and receive his passport! 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Settle in for a story...

Some few years ago the Lord burdened our hearts for orphans. We knew that one day we would love to expand our family through adoption. We didn't know for sure what that would look like, or when exactly that would come to fruition. We prayed a lot about it.

At one point we thought our adoption story would start by fostering children in our area. But as we wrapped up the final classes to become licensed, it became clear to us that was not the path for our family at that point in time.

Shortly thereafter, we started the international adoption process. In late March of 2014, we sent a check for a large sum of money to an international adoption agency. There were a few hiccups in those early months of the adoption process. At one point, I recall saying something along the lines that we won the prize for taking the LONGEST amount of time to have a homestudy completed.

FINALLY in December of 2014, our homestudy was finalized. We were hopeful that the pace of our adoption process might pick up a little bit.  Most of 2015 was spent on the "paper chase". The paper chase is a friendly way of saying you are rounding up the 500million documents needed for your dossier.

The paper chase ended as we sent our 500million documents to our agency, ready to adopt from Haiti. But as our documents were arriving at our agency, they were receiving some troubling news from Haiti. The adoption process is never speedy, and there are almost always some unexpected's along the way. We were well advised to not get too discouraged if troubling news came. The news we did receive still shocked us a bit. Instead of the process taking 2-3 years, the process would most likely take anywhere from 4 to 6 years to complete. Haiti was at a near stand still for processing international adoptions.

I remember feeling defeated when we received the news. I remember praying.. asking for clarity, even asking the Lord "Did I hear you right? Is this really what you want us to do?" Honestly, we just weren't sure if we were ready to be in a season of limbo for another 5+ years. We communicated quite a bit with our agency about what all of it meant and what our choices were.

In November of 2015, we made the decision to switch countries. I wondered why the Lord didn't just have us start with China to begin with? Why... why would we be in the adoption process for over a year and a half just to completely change our course to the opposite side of the earth?

Several months passed before we began the laborious process of chasing papers. I spent the hot summer months of 2016, specifically July, gathering 500 million more documents. In a sense, it's almost easier since I'd already done it once. I knew what to expect, I knew where to go, and I knew just what was needed. Gathering documents for China was a breeze.

From there, most of you know that all those 500 million documents travelled to China in December of 2016.

But let's rewind for just a minute.

In March of 2014, as a young family from Texas began the international adoption process, the Lord was weaving together a beautiful creation on the other side of the world. In a northern province of China, He started knitting together a precious boy in a mother's womb.

In December of 2014, as that family was moving forward in the adoption process, that precious boy in China took his first breath of life.

That family received disheartening adoption news in 2015 that rocked their world. And that little boy was fighting for his life. His sweet little heart, although beautifully and fearfully made by a loving Creator, didn't tick just the right way when he was born.

In November of 2015, as that family changed gears in their adoption process, that little fighter was receiving heart surgery to make sure his heart would tick in all the right ways.

In July of 2016, as that family started the paper chase yet again, that little peanut spent a bit of time in the hospital for pneumonia.

In January of 2017, that family's world collided with his in the most beautiful way. And all those questions of why.. all the frustration of timing... all the wondering if we REALLY heard the Lord correctly in this whole adoption thing... They were all laid to rest when we saw our sweet boy's picture for the first time.

There have been countless times that I've said "Only God" throughout this process. A lot of those times I've even blogged about them. Truly, only God could have orchestrated this. Truly, only God could have woven our stories together like this. Truly, only God.. in His Goodness.. in His timing could have known what would happen, when it would happen and why. And sometimes, He's so good to let us see the answers.

Please allow me the pleasure of introducing you to our beautiful boy.



Benjamin James

Benjamin, after Matt's grandmother, Bennie. A wonderful matriarch who loves fiercely, prays often, and fears the Lord. Benjamin, the son of the right hand, favored, loved. May our Benjamin know how loved he is for now and always. James, after my grandfather. A man that kept us laughing and made us all feel secure and safe until his last breath. A man that loved deeply and was generous in showing his adoration of his family. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. May our James know the loving kindness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; and may he serve Him.

We long for the day we get to see this precious face in person. For now, we're busy filling out immigration forms. We're anxious for all those government agencies to process all those forms and let us know when we can hug our boy! (Based on trends and current statistics, it looks like we'll be heading to China in late April to get our boy.)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

In Case You Were Wondering

2 and a half years of emails. 2 and a half years of driving here and there gathering documents. 2 and a half years of phone calls made. Countless hours of preparation. Unexpected twists and turns. 

And then, 7 days of sleepless nights. Tears that pour out at the most random times. Grief. Longing. Hope. Lots of thinking of all different kinds of thoughts. Lots of talking with lots of people. Prayers. Many prayers prayed by myself (and Matt), and others on our behalf. Scripture being read.. and more scripture being poured over.

Finally, a sound night's sleep. Deep, deep sleep for the first time in what seems like a very long time. And a dream happens. It's such a really good dream. I wake up refreshed, but somehow confused. 

At that point, all the noise just has to stop. It's time to take a deep breath.. be still.. pray some more.. read more scripture. Unexpected phone calls come in, more talking and words are thrown around. Peace abounds. But still, it feels like there's just one last question mark that needs to be resolved. 

But Chinese New Year is coming up, and quickly. With a 14 hour time delay and a massive National Holiday looming, it seems unlikely that the big question mark will go away. Much to our surprise, some communication happens.. and the question mark vanishes as if it never existed. 

While his file seemed daunting at first, we spent lots of time dissecting it. Each phone call made, each email received only provided more and more answers. Lots of medical jargon and prognosis were thrown out. What would have seemed scary to us years before, didn't sound troubling at all. We felt peace. We asked lots of questions to some really wise people. We prayed a lot. We asked our agency about things and stuff. More answers were given. 

On Tuesday, January 24th, it was confirmed in our hearts what I had felt from the morning hours of January 12th. This little boy is ours to pursue. 

For us, we found that sweet spot between leap of faith and being prepared. We learned all we possibly could. We found the right questions to ask, and were given answers. We took the leap of faith. 

On January 25th, we sent China a formal letter stating our desire to make this boy a Brantner forever. 

There's no telling when we might receive a response. The entire country shuts down for about 8 days for Chinese New Year. 

We've never heard of a family not receiving a Letter of Approval. And we're really praying we aren't the first. :)