Saturday, June 25, 2011

Paul's 30th Birthday Extravaganza At The Lake

We've been spending the past few days up at Huntington Lake with Paul's family, staying at some condos/cabins in the woods.  Paul turned 30 on the 23rd and we had quite a fun day.  The weather was nice, so Paul played lots of tennis with his brothers and dad.  Paul has a wicked serve.
Clara was enthralled from the sidelines.

Since the weather was lovely and warm, we donned our swimsuits and went to the pool with our baby-girl.  I changed Clara into her swimsuit (a gift from Grandma Casebolt) at the tennis courts while the boys were playing doubles. 

Her little bum doesn't quite fill out the bottom of the suit yet, even with her huge diaper.  I love the little halter top on the one-piece suit from Janie & Jack.  The darling monkey blanket was a gift from Clara's Aunt Jennie - it is my favorite.
We were worried that Clarabelle wouldn't like the water or it would be too cold for her, but she took it in stride and just kind of hung out and relaxed.  She didn't squawk or complain once and we had her in there for quite a while.
 Clara with the birthday boy.
 Me and my girl. 
I tried to get her to smile, but Clara wasn't sure enough about the water yet for that kind of a reaction.  But look at her little legs and arms and that double chin!  I am obsessed I tell you.
We even have a little video of Clara and Paul that I took on my iPhone, if I can get it to upload:

It wasn't until after we got out of the pool that Clara got upset, and that was just because we didn't have swim diapers for her and so her Pampers were massively swollen and probably not too comfortable.  But once we got that off and wrapped her up in dry towels and blankets, she was happy as could be.
Paul's brothers and their families are here with us - it is a family reunion of sorts - and so we had a big group swimming with us in the pool.  This is Paul with his brothers Dave and Bobby and his cousin Emiliano (Emi) in the background.
Dave and Deborah were there with Colton, our 8-month old (?) nephew.  Deborah took a turn holding Clara for me while I was photographing the goings on at the pool.

Paul's brother Bobby was there with his family too.  This is Bobby with our nephew Robert who is turning 1 on the 4th of July.
And this is Robert's sister, Elizabeth.  She was the only grandchild up until a year ago, and now there are 4 with one more due in November!  She just finished 1st grade and has been losing her teeth.  It has been hilarious watching her dance to music videos on the Disney channel whenever they come on.
 Paul's cousins are here with their children as well.  Tanner (the little guy below tentatively testing the water) is one of my favorites.
 Kevin dragging around Tanner and Dallin. What a good dad.
After everybody got out of the pool, we had a birthday celebration complete with three different kinds of dessert (since there were over 30 people I thought that I might as well take advantage and make a variety of sweets).  There was Raspberry Dessert (a family recipe that involves Nilla Wafers, chantilly whipped cream, raspberries, and jello), Mississippi Mud Brownies, and good old Devil's Food Cake with Rainbow Chip Frosting.  I ducked in for a quick photo with Paul on his 30th birthday, but then I got back behind the camera to document the lighting of the candles.
Dave, Paul, and Bobby in very strategic and optimal dessert-getting positions.  John and Angelica didn't arrive until 4:30 the next morning.
 Daddy daughter time.
 That's a lot of flame.

After the candles were all blown out (in one breath I might add), the desserts were pretty much decimated.

Then to finish the night out, we had a bonfire.

 Grandma Donna was keeping Clara warm. 

It was quite the birthday celebration!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Clara's Adoption Story - Part III

Parts I and II of Clara's Adoption Story are here and here.

I flew to Texas on Sunday May 8th - Mother's Day - to be there for Clara's birth. I had originally booked a ticket for the 10th but Kayli had had a contraction earlier in the week and started dilating and there were a few potential complications with the birth father that made it seem like it would be best if I went earlier rather than later.  So I went.

The biggest concern was that the birth father, who is in the armed forces, was being reassigned to a base away from Dallas and we were worried that he would be difficult to reach when the time came for him to sign the paperwork and that he would not be cooperative about making this any easier for anyone. We have never met Clara’s birthfather and most likely never will.  Knowing that he would be leaving the Dallas area around May 12th, Kayli made a plan to be induced if necessary. But these stressors were relieved when Kayli learned that there was a caseworker whose husband served on the base that the birthfather was being assigned to, so when the papers were ready we would have easy access to the base. This caused everybody to breathe easier and we nixed the inducement plan in favor of letting Clara make up her mind about when she would be born.

While we waited on Clara to decide when she wanted to make her debut, Kayli and I watched movies, got massages/facials, went shopping, made cards, and spent time with Kayli's family. I stayed with a family in Kayli’s ward from church right up until the day before Clara was born and each night I went back to the house where I was staying and talked to Paul about his day at work and my time with Kayli. Paul deserves huge credit for staying behind to work and solidify his position at his new firm while I went off to be there for Clara's birth. It was painful to spend nights apart from each other and I have found that I can hardly sleep by myself anymore.  In 7 years of marriage, the most we have ever been apart from each other is maybe 2 days. Paul would say that he liked having the big bed all to himself, but I know that this is just a front.

From this point on, I have already blogged about Clara’s actual birth and how Kayli was in the hospital when we found out that Clara flipped into a breech position and all the crazy things we did to try to get her to flip back to where she was supposed to be.  I will just link to that blog post rather than reiterate it all here since it has extra pictures and I don’t want to be too repetitive. 

On the Tuesday after Clara was born we took her to do a photo shoot with a newborn photographer.  After taking photos of me, Paul, Clara, and Kayli as a group, the photographer spent another 4 hours molding Clara's tiny, sleepy form into the most darling poses.  It was one of the most soothing, fun things I have ever seen.  The photographer had white noise going and space heaters blowing warm air over Clara to keep her comfortable and relaxed.  Paul, Kayli and I just sat and gazed at our precious girl the whole time and I might be biased, but I think that the photographer was a little enamored with Clara's easy-going demeanor.  She said that some babies had to come back multiple times in order to get enough photos for a true newborn shoot because they fuss so bad and can't settle.  For Clara, it was a piece of cake. 

I am also just going to link to the blog post that I wrote about Clara’s placement.  Just to add some dates for Clara’s benefit in the future, I wanted to clarify that we don’t really feel like there actually was a “Placement Day” with her – we were there from the beginning and even though paperwork hadn’t been signed, Kayli had allowed us to take Clara home to the hotel early so that we could have as much early bonding time as possible before Paul had to head back to California for work.  Clara was born on Thursday, May 19, left the hospital on Sunday, May 22 to stay with Kayli for a night, and then came to stay with us in the hotel Monday, May 23.  Paul and I signed “at-risk” placement paperwork on Wednesday, May 25, which might be considered “Placement Day”.  Clara’s birthfather, Carlos, signed his relinquishment of parental rights on Thursday, May 26, and Kayli finalized her divorce and signed relinquishment papers on Friday, May 27.  It was quite a week. 

Clara and I flew home with my mom’s help on Thursday, June 2, just six days after all parental rights had been relinquished and two weeks after Clara’s birth (she was born on a Thursday).  I had been in Texas for just short of a full month.  Clarabelle was a phenomenal little traveler and slept the entire time.  Here is the link to the blog post I wrote about her first plane flight.

Now we are together as a family and the final stages of the adoption won’t take place until late November or possibly December when we are finally able to go to the courthouse and have the adoption finalized in front of a judge and then go to the temple and have Clara sealed to us as a family for all eternity.  It is amazing to think that Clara is already 4 weeks old.  Just this past week she has really started using facial expressions and she is sleeping even better than she did right when she came home.  There was even one night where she went to sleep at 10 and only woke up once – at 2:45 a.m. – to eat.

We call her Clara-girl, Clarabelle, Claradactyl, or we just stick to Clara or Clara Jane. 

Thanks for all of your beautiful and kind comments to everyone who has left messages for us.  We're glad you like the photos of our sweet daughter (hopefully we will get more photos from our photographer soon - these were just the sneak peeks she sent in an email to me).  And we are grateful to be able to share our story because to us, adoption is one of the most beautiful things in the whole world. 

We love our Clara-girl so much and it makes us happy that so many other people feel love for her too.  I am typing this from the rocking chair in her nursery while I listen to her alternately coo, sigh and grunt in her sleep and I am feeling truly blessed.    

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Clara's Adoption Story - Part II

On a Thursday night in late-March, Paul and I called Kayli and we all talked for over 2 hours. Paul and I had worried that it might be awkward talking to Kayli over the phone having never met in person and I even debated coming up with a list of talking points, although I ran out of time because of projects at work.  But the conversation flowed so naturally and freely – it was like talking to an old friend.

Kayli explained how she had felt when a family friend who had built their family of 6 through adoption had suggested the idea of placing the baby for adoption when Kayli was trying to decide what to do at around 6 months pregnant when Clara’s birthfather had told Kayli that he wanted to separate and did not want to be a part of the baby's life.  Kayli told us about how she had decided that if she was going to place the baby with another family, that she would not change her mind after placement. She talked about an email that Paul had sent to her where he had expressed his thoughts on growing up with all boys and what it would mean to him to have a daughter, and how that had been so important to Kayli's decisions about whether we were the right couple for the baby she was carrying. We talked about the amount of openness we were hoping for in the adoption, including visits, phone calls, and emails.

Late in the conversation, Kayli hesitantly raised the issue of a name for the baby. Paul and I have favored the name Clara for our first baby girl for quite some time, and late last fall we had been lying in bed trying to think of a middle name to go with Clara.  We had tried family names, popular names, unusual names, etc. but nothing seemed just right even if there were a number of names that seemed “okay.”  Then Paul suggested "Jane.  There was a surety that this would be our daughter’s name – Clara Jane – and we both knew it immediately and had talked about her as Clara Jane for months.

But before we had the chance to explain all of this to Kayli, she rushed on to say that she knew we probably had names we loved and that she wasn't trying to require us to use a name she liked, but asked if we would at least consider giving the baby the same middle name as an influential friend of Kayli's who had changed Kayli's life for good at a pivotal time for her. The friend's name was Rachel Jane. My jaw dropped open and Paul's grin nearly split his face as we realized that we had already decided on the very name that Kayli had wanted. I had read of this happening before between other adoptive couples and birthmoms, but never imagined that it would happen with us. Not to get all superstitious or hocus-pocus, but it felt like so much more than just a coincidence.

That was the moment when we really felt like our little girl had found us.

After our first phone call, we booked plane tickets to visit Kayli and her family in Texas and we continued to get to know each other through emails, texts, and more phone calls. Kayli forwarded photos of Clara's 18 week ultrasound and we compared them with photos from the 32 week ultrasound while Kayli pointed out Clara's four-chamber heart, her little mouth, or her arms, ribs, or other developing parts over the phone.

Our visit to Texas truly did feel like a reunion and the love we already had for Kayli by that point - just one month after receiving her first email - grew even more as we saw what kind of person she is and what kind of family she comes from.

The remaining weeks until Clara's due date went both fast and slow. Friends began sending gifts for Clara, we set up the nursery, I started winding down my projects at work while Paul left one job and began another at a larger law firm. I washed tiny newborn pajamas, blankets, and sheets so that we could make Clara's bed and pack her bag. Bottles were sterilized and a diaper bag was packed. A moment of reality for me was cutting off the tags to all of the tiny dresses and shorts and tops that I had picked out for Clara, knowing that once the tags were removed there would be no chance of returning the garments to the store in the event that the adoption fell through.

As solid as everything seemed with Kayli, there is a niggling of doubt that I imagine hovers around the minds of every adoptive couple. We worried about the birthfather and whether he would decide to contest the adoption. We read stories about failed placements that were occurring with other couples who had felt so sure about their adoptive situations. When I began telling people at work about my need to go on maternity leave, I felt it was necessary to damper everyone's enthusiasm with a disclaimer that adoptions are known to fall apart last minute and there was a chance that I would be gone on maternity leave for just two weeks only to return to work empty-handed and broken hearted. As sure as I felt about Clara being our daughter and about Kayli having the courage and faith to place Clara with us, my heart ached every time I gave one of these sobering reminders to those around me.

Up next, birth, placement, and ever after...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Clara's Adoption Story - Part I

*Although we have told significant portions of Clara's story, I haven't gone through and written it out from start to finish and I really wanted to do this for Clara's personal history.  Hence, there may be some overlap between this series of posts and previous posts. 

Clara's story really begins on August 28, 2010 when I got home from work before Paul and felt a very strong prompting to kneel in our living room and have a heart-to-heart conversation with Heavenly Father about the future of our family. I was filled with love and hope and a sure knowledge of what I needed to do after I said "Amen." I went straight to my computer and pulled up the LDS family services website, input our zipcode, and found the contact information for the caseworker closest to us. Within minutes, I was talking with a caseworker about an adoption plan, acquiring initial paperwork, and getting reference forms for our friends and ecclesiastical leaders. If Paul was shocked when he came home from work to find me printing off questionnaire's and making lists of what needed to be done even though we hadn't planned to begin the adoption process until January once my maternity benefit kicked in, he didn't show it. Instead, he started scanning driver's licenses and gathering tax returns and signing his name next to mine in blue ink on the forms that would hopefully lead us to our child.

Two weeks later in Texas, Clara’s birthmother learned she was pregnant.

Paul and I spent hours and hours completing the frustrating paperwork that any adoptive parent can tell you is both annoying and exciting to fill out. The process was intrusive and involved interviews and home studies and parenting education hours. The wait to get approved seemed endless.  We spent the Fall of 2010 building our adoption website, our online profile with LDS Family Services, gathering photos and writing our story, and ordering pass along cards.  Just before Christmas we went public with our plans to adopt and asked all of our friends and family in our Christmas cards to start looking for potential birthmoms for us.  Everyone who received a Christmas card also received multiple pass along cards, even though we knew we still wouldn’t likely be approved for a couple more months. 

When Paul’s Grandma Madge saw our pass along cards she said “oh, it’s too bad you chose that picture – it is not very flattering of the two of you.”  Grandma Madge is truly an individual and we love her quick mind and honesty.  Everyone else was very complimentary though, so we didn’t take the criticism to heart. 

January came and went and by then it had been over 5 months since we had begun the process.  Finally, in early February, 2011, our fingerprint forms came back from the government and we were officially approved to adopt a baby.  Our profile went live on the itsaboutlove website.  Right around that time, Kayli – Clara’s birthmom – was reaching her decision that she would place the baby that she had been carrying for more than 5 months.

Just about a month after our profile went live, Paul and I received an email from a girl in Texas named Kayli, expressing an interest in getting to know us better. Kayli explained that she was pregnant with a baby girl due in May and that she was looking for the right family for the baby - the family that this little girl was meant for.  Here are just two lines from her email to us:

In no way do I want to intrude or try to "co-parent" as some people are inclined to do. To see her grow through pictures, emails, etc. and some face-to-face meetings would be a dream come true. I feel very strongly that this baby was meant to come through me to be someone else's blessing.

Full of faith, Kayli wanted her baby - a girl, she knew - to be sealed in the temple for eternity to a mother and a father who loved her. So Kayli had met with a caseworker and begun looking through profiles online of hopeful couples praying for a miracle child. I won't tell all of Kayli's story because really, it belongs to her, but I want to highlight her goodness, strength, and faith. She exhibited these qualities in all of our communications. Kayli is a woman of grace, beauty, and courage, and we hope with all of our hearts that Clara inherits many of these qualities from her.  We have had many, many questions about the openness of Clara’s adoption and all I can say is that it is easy to have such an open adoption with a person like Kayli.  Of course we want Clara to know and love her Kayli.    

The first few emails back and forth were tentative and heartfelt - neither party wanted to say anything that might be too prying but it was obvious that there was a strong connection on both sides and we wanted to get to know each other better. Kayli explained that she was just about to turn 20 and was going through a divorce. She wrote about how she had been raised in a home where family prayer, family scripture study, nightly dinners together, and family home evenings were important and she wanted that for this baby. Paul and I told Kayli about how we had been hoping and praying not just for a child, but for someone like Kayli. It had always been important to us to pray for our childrens' birthmothers as well as our children. We wrote about what our lives are like together and how we love each other and were ready to make a home for a daughter who would be so loved.

Through our emails, we discovered many mutual interests and similarities from the important to the silly. We bonded over a shared love of travel and adventure through conversations and exchanged photos of trips to Europe, and Paris in particular. We talked about attending the temple and how Paul and I have made it a priority to go each month and how Kayli is preparing to go there herself. There was a lot of talk about the different foods we love and favorite family traditions or vacations. Kayli asked if we could talk on the phone and we said yes.

Up next, the phone call and Clara’s name…

Funny Video

A friend posted this on Facebook and it just cracked me up so I thought I would share.  Because I am always on the lookout for new jokes you know, even if the punch line does get lost in translation.  It is from an interview between an Austrailian news reporter and the Dalai Lama.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Baby Shower

This past Saturday one of our amazing friends, Ginny, threw a baby shower for our little Clara.  We had so much fun and Ginny worked so hard to make it special.  And we were so glad that so many of our close friends in the area could show up.  We loved seeing everybody!

I had mentioned to her that I loved the idea of a book-themed shower to add to Clara's scant library.  So she made these darling garlands with little pink "books" and she invited everyone to bring their favorite children's book for Clara.  Amazingly, every book we received was different - no duplicates! 
 Then Ginny made a theme menu around nursery rhymes.  Things like "Peter Piper's Prawn Salad" and "Little Boy Blueberry Scones" were served and everything was so yummy.  

Ginny had prepared nursery rhyme themed games like answering trivia to questions such as "What did Georgie Porgie do that made the girls cry?" or "What time did the mouse run down the clock."  I didn't know that 4 and 20 blackbirds were baked in the pie. 
Ginny and I are both in pink in the photo below.
Carolyn (the master of all nursery rhymes), Melanie, and Hailey working on their trivia.

Paul was having a really good time as the only guy there.  Clara was true to form and slept pretty much the entire time. 
Another game we played that I LOVED was coming up with all the words that you can make using the letters of Clara's name.  I'm keeping this for her scrapbook.
Then we opened gifts.  Everyone was so sweet and generous and Clara got some very thoughtful presents.  These blocks were made by our friend Melanie.
 I was kind of excited when I saw the darling little dress for Clara that Ginny brought back from a recent trip to Mexico. 
 And we got books galore for reading to our little girl.  It was really fun seeing how each family has different favorites for their children. 

Yep, this girl was sooooo sleepy!  You would think we work her to the bone at home or something. 
This photo is for my mom who wanted to know what Clara wore to the party.  I took this photo afterwards while Clara was doing her daily exercise regimen tummy time.
Thanks so much to everybody who came to the shower and for all of the beautiful presents!  And thank you Ginny for going to all that hard work for us!  We love you guys!