Seems like the way I do awareness months is to drag my feet until the last day, huh? But it IS still September, so here we go…

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is where our lifelong journeys with both adoption and cystic fibrosis began. 

During Joanna’s 34-day stay in the NICU up in snowy South Dakota in November/December of 2019, we became a family of three (and part of an extended birth family) as we transitioned from visitors to Mom and Dad. It’s where we learned how to hold, soothe and care for a 33-week preemie, and where we started learning how to manage her cystic fibrosis. 

We spent hours and hours taking turns holding our precious girl. We introduced Joanna to friends and family who were able to visit (thankfully this was 4 months before Covid hit). We listened to our favorite songs and lay on blankets and pillows from home to try and bring some of ourselves into the sterile environment. We crammed our coats, computer bags, snacks, adoption papers, books, everything we could into the cupboard in the corner. Taped up pictures and scrapbook pages made by the sweetest nurses celebrating little milestones. I kept cardigans, a robe, and a pair of Crocs at the hospital. I had a little caddy in there with pens, notepads, chapstick, and everything I might need during the day. We FaceTimed with loved ones, phone resting on the plastic lid of the isolette that helped regulate her body temperature. We arranged her stuffed animals and gifts wherever we could, and eventually set up a Christmas tree and nativity set.

We got into a routine. We ate quick, quiet breakfasts at the Ronald McDonald House before rushing out into the snow to get back to our baby– Mike went first, and I took a little longer to get ready and listen to the news in solitude (which was my first lesson in taking little bits of time for myself as a mom). We ate meals in the hospital cafeteria that were graciously donated and saved us lots of time and money, but didn’t always leave us feeling the best. We said prayers together as a family before walking back across the street for the night. We watched TV reruns and old movies, did work, filled out adoption-related paperwork, managed our household from 90 miles away, and were only occasionally bored. We met amazing nurses, practitioners, therapists, doctors and support staff who each brought a unique set of skills, gifts and heart to their work. While everyone was great, we definitely had favorites 😉 and relished the days we got to spend with the nurses and doctors we knew we could relate to or joke around with. The days were long, and sometimes hard, but every moment was precious.

Our girl grew and thrived and was loved in the NICU. We learned about so many generous people in the community who pour out love to families like ours on a regular basis with gifts of snacks & treats, baby goodies, blankets, toys, books and more. We felt just as cared for as our baby. 

I’ll also add that as an introvert it’s one of my greatest achievements to have survived five weeks of 12-14 hour days where another person could come into my space at any given time. 😅 But I would do it all over again for my girl. 

All in all, we had a wonderful time in the NICU, and I realize that is not the typical experience. We hadn’t just gone through a high-risk pregnancy, or a c-section, didn’t have other children at home, and were able to drop everything and focus on the joy of becoming parents. And while Joanna certainly had some growing to do and a lifelong health condition to navigate, she had very few complications and was in stable condition during her time there.

We met a few other families whose babies were truly fighting to live, or facing scary long term effects of premature birth and/or health conditions, and we heard some heartbreaking stories. While we were basking in the rosy glow of our tiny but healthy baby, I was very aware when I walked into the hallway that any other parent I encountered could be having a terrible day. Any interaction with other parents was tense at first, like we were nervous to ask them how their day was going, and vice versa. Most of the parents didn’t talk to others at all. That was so hard, because I felt such a connection with them… it was hard to know what to do, so while we all quietly crossed paths, I prayed for God to carry them as he was carrying us.

That was our experience, but some things about the NICU are universal, so here are my “tips” or encouragements: If you know someone whose baby is in the NICU right now, please don’t wait for them to say what they need. Go ahead and send a gift card for coffee, takeout, or a big box store. Send it to their home or to the hospital. If you’re close with the family, ask what their days are like and get some gift ideas from the conversation. Some of my favorite gifts were tea, chapstick, little snack bags of trail mix, Target gift cards, and special NICU baby clothes with Velcro closures to accommodate Joanna’s wires and tubes. I also picked up a few cozy pieces of clothing for myself because of all the time I spent sitting in the recliner with Joanna. We were away from home, too, so we still had to buy breakfast food for ourselves and some meals out when we got sick of hospital food. We were also able to have a few “date nights,” because as the nurses reminded us, we would probably never have such skilled babysitters again! I would also recommend a massage gift certificate as a “homecoming” gift for moms and dads, because all of those sweet, snuggly hours in the recliner can do a number on your back. Some other ideas would be: help with cleaning or laundry at home, school pickup, taking the family’s other children to a movie, lawn care, snow removal, etc.

If you know someone who has been in the NICU, no matter when it was, ask if they’d like to share with you about it. (They may not want to, and that’s okay.) But it’s a unique experience and a place that can benefit from community support, even during the pandemic. You might consider donating new or used baby clothes, baby gear, or gifts for the families and babies. 

I would also encourage you to support Ronald McDonald Charities. They were our home away from home and were just the best! (They serve all kinds of families with children who need to be in the hospital, not only NICU families.) Every location is a little different, so call for specifics, but I know they accept donations of food, household items and gifts for the kids and families. And this next idea wouldn’t fly during a pandemic, but make note for the future– during our stay, one very sweet family whose daughter is a NICU nurse brought their Thanksgiving feast and their entire family to the Ronald McDonald House and shared everything with any of us who wanted to join them. It was the sweetest thing, and I know that others in that community would bless the NICU staff with holiday meals, too. If you have a creative idea, just reach out because you never know what’s possible until you ask.

We are so grateful for the strong start our family was given during our baby’s NICU stay. The place and the people are forever in our hearts. 💗

A Year of Waiting, a Month of Awareness

It’s been a little over a year since we became an approved waiting family with our adoption agency. Many people have asked how it’s going since we announced our pursuit of adoption back in the spring of 2018, and we’ve done our best to share what we can in those moments, but sometimes there’s nothing going on, or something going on that we can’t share, or we’re just not sure what to say. So I figured I would write a summary of the past year-ish, because I know there are so many of you who care about us and hold us in your thoughts and prayers. THANK YOU for loving and supporting us!!! We can feel it.

There have been highs and lows on our journey, to be sure. We’ve had times of feeling excited and hopeful, imagining the future with joy. Other times we have felt discouraged over the long wait, or not being chosen for a particular situation, or over the deeper feelings that can come up for us related to infertility, the loss of our two babies, or what God is doing in the midst of this when we don’t see it yet.

We’ve gone through phases of preparation in our home— researching and buying a carseat and stroller, clearing furniture out of our spare room, painting and decorating to turn that room into a nursery, assembling the crib, etc. But there have also been times when there’s nothing baby-related going on; nothing to do in the nursery, no word from the agency.

A corner of our nursery

A refresher on how the domestic infant adoption process works: expectant mothers (sometimes with the expectant fathers) come to our agency to explore adoption as an option for them and their baby. Part of that exploration process is to view “profiles” of hopeful adoptive families. (The profile is a photo book the family puts together to show what their life and home are like and why they want to adopt.) Once the expectant parents are ready to look at family profiles, a message is sent to the agency’s waiting families with some basic details about the expectant parents and baby (due date, brief medical history, level of openness desired), and we decide if we’d like our profile to be shown to them. Once they have viewed profiles and taken some time, we are notified if we have been chosen or not, and what the expectant parent is planning to do next. Sometimes they choose to parent, sometimes they choose a family right away from the books they look at, and other times they get it narrowed down to a couple of families they’d like to meet with before making a decision.

Our profile book

(I also want to say this, although it’s a bit of a digression… when the expectant parent/couple selects a family, it doesn’t mean they are officially placing their baby for adoption with that family. They are intending to make that choice, but the choice is not official until the baby is born, the state-mandated waiting period is cleared— usually between 48 to 72 hours— and papers are signed to terminate parental rights. They could still choose to parent their baby, and the baby only has one set of parents until the legal process takes place. When a hopeful adoptive family is selected, they are essentially invited into the expectant mother/couple/family’s space, with the expectant mama in the driver’s seat. I just feel like this is an important explanation to provide.)

In our wait so far, we have seen 19 profile opportunities, and asked for our profile to be shown to 13 of those. Some of the opportunities we passed on were because of high legal risk, medical needs we felt were too much for us to handle, or because the expectant parents wanted a very closed adoption. But each one of them tugged at our heartstrings, for sure.

Something I didn’t foresee was how strongly I would be drawn to pray over these women and how deeply my heart would be touched just by reading a few short lines about their current situations. It really is an honor and privilege to know about and pray for these mothers (and fathers) and babies. For some of them, we may be the only people who know about the pregnancy, or the only people who know they are considering adoption. The pull toward prayer has been very strong; whenever we’re waiting to hear back about a situation I feel the pull at night as I’m falling asleep, first thing when I wake up, and as I go through my daily tasks and wonder what this other woman is doing and feeling as she considers the possibility of adoption. Our prayers are always that the mama/parents can get to a place of peace with their decision, that they will find support for whatever they choose, and of course that everyone will be healthy and safe. I also pray that God will prevail over any toxic outside influences. I imagine it’s hard enough to be expecting a baby and not have a plan; if haters start hating it can only steal peace, and to that I say NO. Often we’re led to pray in other ways based on the details we’re given, but that’s it in a nutshell. We would welcome your joining us in prayer over the women who seek help from our agency. They are supported through whatever choice they make— not only if they choose adoption. I’ve got a longer prayer list at the end of this post, too.

Anyway… as you can guess, we’ve gotten a big fat string of “no” responses so far. (Don’t worry, our social workers use much gentler wording than that!) One time this summer we were in a short stack of 3 profile books that a mama took home to consider, and this fall we were one of two families being considered by an expectant mom, and had the honor of meeting with her so she could see us and ask some follow-up questions. Both of those mothers chose other families, but still, it was an honor to be a tiny little part of that decision for someone, and to pray for her as she walked through a heavy, complex, emotional process.

As I’ve shared about this waiting process with people, most think the “rejection” of not being chosen must be painful. I thought it would be, too, but there’s been a lot more peace than I expected. It’s still hard to hear when we aren’t chosen, but it doesn’t feel personal, or even like rejection. The biggest reason for this is all the education we’ve sought out, specifically stories from birth mothers’ perspectives. It’s hard to feel personally rejected when you know more about the other side, where a mama who has chosen life is trying to decide if she should parent her child or entrust her child to another family for a lifetime. That is in NO way about me. If part of my wait includes waiting for someone to make the choice to place her baby in someone else’s arms, I can find the patience to endure my side of the story until our paths meet. Another surprise for us on this journey to adoption has been how much our hearts have opened toward the expectant parents. For us the purpose of our adopting a baby has expanded to include loving and connecting with Baby’s first family.

With all of that said, there are ways in which this wait IS about me. Even though I’m coming from a position of privilege and am content to wait, God still cares about the desire and condition of my heart. The hardest part of not being chosen is that we have to keep waiting. Every opportunity that comes up brings the possibility to get off this seemingly never-ending ride, and the tunnel seems dark and long when we hear another “no.” It doesn’t feel personal in terms of an expectant mother not liking me or anything like that, but it can feel personal in terms of my relationship with and beliefs about God. This is where the real wrestling comes in and I have to confront false ideas I didn’t even realize I held. The gifts God has brought out of discouragement, loss, and waiting have been rich: hope, faith, humility, truth, patience, and so much more.

Another gift I’ve received from the time spent waiting has been all the education I can take in. Some of it has been in the form of books, conferences or webinars, and some of it has been from our agency or other organizations, but the richest education has come from listening to voices from the adoption community: adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents who are walking ahead of me on the path and are sharing their stories with courage and generosity.

From adoptees I learn to listen and validate, and to hold space for any pain or confusion our future child(ren) might feel related to their adoption while still celebrating who they are and their place in our family. From birth parents I learn the importance of keeping promises and being an open and generous “host” as an adoptive parent someday. From adoptive parents I get a glimpse into what it looks like to honor first families, to hold grief with joy, to shepherd a little person into who they were made to be, and of course the practical things like how to answer or deflect nosy grocery store questions. Adoptive parents also encourage me to keep waiting for the little one who will become mine, because while we can’t know the “why” of everything in this world, it seems pretty universal that a lot of things make sense once you meet your child.  I am SO thankful that God led me to all of these voices. Through my listening God is growing my heart in compassion, understanding, patience, grace, humility and hope.

Today actually marks the start of National Adoption Awareness month, and I’d love for you to learn along with me as I prepare myself to someday become an adoptive parent. Last year was the first time I followed along with #naam, and in a word it was overwhelming. It was my first time hearing some of these different perspectives on adoption, and I was thrown for a loop. I leaned in to listen, even when it was uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel like I had much to say since I was still pretty new to the space, and my mind sometimes reeled from all the processing.

This year I have more understanding, more perspective, and a little more to say, although I’m still not sure how valuable it is— there are definitely other voices worth listening to that have WAY more experience and authority.

So: if you don’t know much about what adoption looks like these days, or how adopted people or birth families view adoption, please consider checking out Instagram this month. It’s where the conversations and change are really happening. I’ll be there listening and occasionally speaking up, and will share some of the voices I think are important to listen to. You can find me as @deep_delightful_life, or search for #naam19. I hope I can shine a light on adoption issues and provide some encouragement for anyone who’s in the shoes I wore last year— new to the adoption conversation and Overwhelmed. Please reach out if you’d like to talk.

How to pray: As I said at the start, we have so many amazing people supporting us on this journey, and we are forever thankful. If you’re holding us in your hearts, here is how you can join us in hope and prayer…

-For us we ask for patience, peace, hope, and strength for the wait ahead of us, however long it might be. It can be a heavy thing to hold at times, and we aren’t always able to share what we’re going through since it involves confidential details about someone else’s life.

-We are asking God to prepare us to parent the unique baby who ends up joining our family, and asking for a healthy and trusting relationship between our child and family and at least some members of their biological family

-Our families and community: may God prepare everyone who will be part of our child’s life to support them as they grow

-For the expectant mother and father who will eventually choose to place with us, and for their families, we pray for peace, wisdom, and support for the decisions they will face and the road they will walk before and after placement

-For Baby we pray for healthy development, peace, safety, and for loving and informed adults to help them through birth, adoption, and growing up

-We pray for our agency’s social workers as they strive to operate ethically and with compassion for expectant/birth families and waiting/adoptive families. This is a tall order!!!

-For the process of being selected, meeting expectant mom/family, waiting for birth, meeting Baby, etc. we pray for grace on all sides as we walk through that delicate process in agency offices and hospital rooms

-Thinking past birth and placement to the newborn days, we pray for ALL involved. There will be joy, but there will be grief— baby separated from mama, mama without her baby, and two new clueless parents holding an infinitely precious and undeserved gift.

I’d better stop before I cry. Yes, adoption is beautiful, but it’s so very complex.

This is not a complete list… I could think and pray forever and not come up with all the hopes, desires, and requests that populate my prayers… but this should get you started!

THANK YOU for reading. If you’re also in the adoption wait, considering adoption, or would like to connect for any reason, please reach out here or on Instagram. 

Our Path to Parenthood: Change of Course

Oh, hello, blog. It’s been a crazy bunch of months since I last shared about our personal life. First, I want to share my most recent Facebook post.

The latest from the Henrys…

We’re adopting! (Or starting to/hoping to!)

We don’t have a ton of details to share yet, but might be able to answer some FAQs. Check out the link for more!

In a nutshell, we are pursuing domestic infant adoption. We are working with an agency and are just beginning the home study phase. As far as what we need, please PRAY for us- for wisdom, strength, peace of mind and heart, and for financial provision. (On that note, we will be sharing details in the near future on how to partner with us IF you feel led. No pressure, but we’ve had people asking about this already and are starting to make plans.)

Please pray for the baby who will (hopefully) join our family, and for their first parents and family members. We pray that they will also be blessed with peace, wisdom, and strength for their own journey.

We invite you to read more on Kristen’s blog, deepdelightfullife.com

…And here you are! Welcome to Mike and Kristen’s adoption announcement FAQ!

Why are you adopting? Most of you know about our history of infertility and miscarriage over the past few years. After my last medicated cycle at the end of November 2017, we didn’t feel like doing any more for the time being. It is such an arduous process that takes a physical and emotional toll, and to be honest… we didn’t like our odds as we continued to roll the dice. It felt like time to stop pursuing the biological route, but at the same time we still felt strongly called to parenthood, so adoption seemed like the next step for us. There’s already been a HUGE sense of relief to be off the “TTC” (trying to conceive) train. We don’t feel like biological children can never happen, but we will not be trying for that for the time being. Ultimately, we just want to be parents, and I feel reassured that we can do this because for both of us, our life’s work has been devoted to loving other people’s children. We know we have the love and care to give to someone who needs it.

How are you adopting? We are working with an agency on a domestic infant adoption. In this type of adoption, the baby is typically placed with the adoptive parents shortly after birth (a number of days determined by state law). We feel that this is the best option for us– we definitely considered them all!– and we look forward to knowing a child from almost the very beginning of their life. We are open to locations other than our home state of Iowa; we live in a tri-state area with Nebraska and South Dakota, so it’s possible baby could be born in one of those states, and we are open to other states as well.

How much does it cost? This is a common question. We are looking at a grand total of around $30,000 for all of the agency and legal fees, and possibly more for travel and legal if baby is born in a different state.

Where are you in the process? We are currently beginning the home study phase with our agency social worker. This is essentially a series of interviews, references, and background checks to make sure we’re safe, trustworthy, and capable to be parents. We are also required to go through some education about adoption during this time, which we’ve begun already by attending a conference and listening to some audio courses. It can take several months to complete this phase, so we hope to have it all wrapped up by Fall.

What happens next? After the home study is complete, our family profile will be shown to expectant mothers who are considering adoption (and fathers if they’re involved), and we will wait to be “matched” with an expectant mom or couple. We’re told the wait can be anywhere from a few months to two years. A lot of that time frame depends on how open we are to different factors of the parent/baby profiles (which is pretty open). Once we’re matched, it may be someone who has a few months left until her due date, or just a number of weeks or days. Sometimes the match occurs after the baby is born. We might share publicly once we’re matched– depending on how quickly things happen and what the situation is– but we’ll have to hold off on sharing details until things are official and baby is in our care. After baby is placed with us, it will be a while longer before the adoption is finalized by a judge (but we’ll be able to share pictures and info before that, don’t worry!).

Are you going to have an open adoption? Yes, we anticipate that there will be at least some openness between our family and the birth family. Openness looks different for every family, and depends on many different personal factors. We are very open to communication and visits– essentially a relationship with the birth family– but openness is determined by the birth and adoptive families together, so we won’t know until we meet them and discuss it. We do plan to be open with our child from the start about their adoption and their first family, too. A lot of the education we’re going through covers to these topics, so we feel like we’ll be as ready as we can be to handle them as they come up.

What do you need from your friends and family as you start this process? The very first things we ask for are prayer and understanding! We feel absolutely called to go through this process, but there are so many unknowns that it can feel reallllly overwhelming, so we need peace of mind and heart. We also need patience since we’ll be waiting for indeterminate amounts of time as we go along. Then, there are a lot of decisions to be made, many of which feel pretty heavy and important (probably because they are!), so we’re in need of wisdom. Pray that we will grow closer together as a couple and that God would use this experience to make us better parents, better partners….. just people who are more like Jesus and who lean on the fullness of God’s character.

Please also pray for our future child and their first family. Pray for the expectant mother, as she is the one who will be making most of the decisions– the decision of life for her child, the decision to make an adoption plan, and all the decisions in between. I can only imagine what it feels like to go through that process, and I am praying for her for grace, peace, wisdom, health, safety, clarity, hands to hold, and ears to listen to her. But it’s more than the mother. Baby will have a father, of course, and grandparents and extended family. We want to cover them all in prayer as they will have to go through their own journey before and after adoption is chosen. Please pray for these requests when you think of us!

As far as understanding, we ask that you bear with us when we don’t have any news to share, or are frazzled from decision overload, are going nuts from waiting, or whatever! When we get to the point of meeting expectant parents we may need emotional support when we have not been chosen yet. And, while we hope it won’t happen to us, sometimes a match falls through and the baby you think is “yours” …does not become yours. Just like our fertility journey, this new road is bound to have highs and lows. We hope you will rejoice with us, too, as we check off each part of the process that brings us closer to parenthood!

We would also ask that you join us in learning how to speak respectfully about adoption. There have been changes to how people in the adoption community are speaking about the different roles and parts of the process, and while the changes may seem small, they reflect a greater understanding of what each party in the adoption triad is going through. We’re still learning, too, and will probably make adjustments as we get farther along in the process. Still being new at this, I am hoping and praying I haven’t been offensive at any point in this post! Anyway, check out this short article about what to say.

Another way we will need help is for some to consider giving financially. It’s humbling to ask for, but we know we will need it. We have trimmed our budget and continue to find ways to do so, and have opened a line of credit with our local bank to cover some of the upcoming expenses. Once our home study is complete we can start applying for grants, but we’re pretty sure we will still need help. We want to keep our debt as low as possible as we look toward becoming a family of three, because that third little person will bring expenses of their own into the picture! The pre-existing budget is sufficient for adding children, but we’d like to avoid paying for adoption for years to come.

We will be sharing fundraising details once we have made those plans. Please hear our heart here: we hope that no one will feel obligated to give– just know we’re sharing for those who feel led, not because we’re trying to track down every last person and guilt them into it. 😉 So far, everything we’ve read and everyone we’ve talked to says that the money comes in, even when it looks impossible. Well, other people seem to be a BIG part of the money coming in! Please know that when we share about fundraising it is from a place of vulnerability and not of entitlement or expectation. We are not going to keep track of who’s NOT giving!

I think that sums up the FAQ. We would welcome your reaching out with questions, encouragement, etc. Because of the intense emotions and overwhelming nature of the adoption process (much like the fertility treatment process!), we need YOU, but it can be hard for US to reach out because of all we are carrying. So if you are feeling led, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You will not bother us. If it’s not a great time we will get back to you when we can. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, the church lobby is usually not the place for the in-depth check-in! 😉 That’s where the simple “praying for you” or meaningful hug is welcomed, and speaks volumes. BUT….. I want to express just how much I have appreciated the emails/messages/texts/notes from people checking up on us and showing support in the past… we may both appear strong, but our hearts could always use a little more encouragement.

Dear friends and family, we love and appreciate you! Thank you for being part of our lives, and for reading this update!

To any readers who I don’t know: if you found this post because you’re thinking about adoption after infertility, or are planning to announce your adoption plans…. welcome! You are not alone! I’m planning to write more on the topic here because getting to this point has been very emotional, and I can’t be the only one, so I’d love to connect with you. In the meantime, I have written about infertility, hope, and encouragement from God’s Word if you’d like to read some of those posts.

If you’re reading this and are farther down the road in your adoption journey…. I’d welcome your ideas and encouragement!