First Visit with Mama J & Finalization Trip May 2018

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How do I put into words such a whirlwind trip that was so significant to our family in many ways? When we left FL after our ICPC clearance back in October, the plan had been to complete our adoption finalization hearing over the phone and to make a trip down to FL to see Mama J the following October. We had told her that we were open to annual visits and October worked well since the kids would have a fall break out of school and it was right before Nathan’s first birthday. Tom had already requested the week off of work with his new job.

In January/February, my heart started changing the plan. I wanted to go down to Florida for the finalization. I wanted to take all four of our children to the hearing. I wanted the culmination of our adoption process to include all of our babies (though the kids did not understand why Nathan would “officially” be their brother when he had been their brother, and a Christianson, for 7 months already.) Also, I wanted to spend time with Mama J. I wanted Nathan to interact with her. I wanted her to get to hold him and feed him and kiss his chubby cheeks and watch his perfectly long and beautiful eyelashes as he slept– all the things that I get to do every day. I wanted those things for her. Honestly, I was also worried that if we waited until he was a year old that he would be reluctant to cuddle with her because a.) stranger and separation anxiety tends to develop in babies between 6-7 months and 12 months old and even though we Face-Time every couple months, it would not be the same as knowing her in person and b.) mobile babies are busy and he might want to be on the move vs. being held/snuggled.

I knew Tom had a very demanding ICU schedule and that going to FL depended on when the adoption attorney could get us on the judge’s calendar AND it lining up with an “easier” work week for T. The poor legal assistant of our adoption attorney was probably so sick of my emails. First, we needed to finalize our adoption before our move to Tennessee so that we did not have to update our home study and re-do our post-placement visits with a new social worker. Second, I kept pestering her about the timeline in which we would receive all the necessary documents for finalization. Third, I kept sending her “optimal weeks” for scheduling so that we could come in person. I did not mention this new plan (coming for finalization vs. waiting until October) to Mama J for months because I did not want to get her hopes up that we would come to visit soon and then not be able to follow through due to T’s work schedule. Fun fact- We did not get one of our optimal weeks, but T’s boss was very accommodating and gave him two days off WHILE scheduled in the ICU so that we could go to FL. We also cleared it as excused absences with Noah’s school (because court proceedings are excused) and his teacher sent his make-up work before our trip.

Once we had everything lined up, we shared the good news with Mama J–we would be making a super short trip to Florida to see her! We left our house at 10:30am on Sunday morning and pulled into our driveway again at 9:30pm on Tuesday night. This was Tom and my third trip down to FL to see Mama J, but the first time for the 3 older kids. It had been 7 months since Nathan and I hugged Mama J goodbye. And though we have talked weekly and Face-Timed several times over those 7 months, what would it be like to meet again in person? Would she cry? Would I cry? (Guys, I cry at all the things. I get it from my Mama.) Would Nathan be reluctant to go to her? That was probably my biggest fear– that she would feel unloved or unwanted by Nathan if he wanted us to hold him instead of her. He tries to throw himself out of other people’s arms in my direction, a habit that makes his Daddy crazy. Would our other children ask her hard questions about adoption and make her feel uncomfortable? Would it be even harder to say goodbye after this visit than it was when Nathan was just a few days old? My mind was racing with ‘what if’s’ as we started yet-another movie on the long trek down I-95. A couple hours from our hotel, I got a phone call from Mama J. She wanted to let me know that she was feeling nervous and overwhelmed about our visit and asked if I could meet her, just Nathan and me, before she met our other children. She was feeling all those same emotions, asking all those same questions as she awaited our arrival. I am so proud of her for communicating those fears with me, so that together we could come up with a plan that made everyone more comfortable.

Mama J and I agreed to meet at a Starbucks down the street from our hotel after our family arrived on Sunday night. No one cried, well, except Nathan who was mad that I put him in his car seat again after a 9-hour drive. He got over it quickly. He watched Mama J for a few minutes. I wonder what his little mind was thinking in those first moments. She reached for him and he went to her. She held him for most of our short 45 minute visit. We gave her her Mother’s Day gift, after all this was her very first Mother’s Day, a framed bouquet of Nathan’s handprint flowers. We mailed a card earlier in the week so that she would get it on Saturday (for Birth Mother’s Day.)

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She thanked me for meeting her, told me that she had worried about being rejected by Nathan, but was so relieved now that she had held him. She commented about their similarities and differences. “That’s not my hairline or my nose, but he has my eyes and ears.” 🙂 We made plans to see each other again the next day.

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The weather did not exactly cooperate with us during our trip. We had not packed appropriately for rain. I also booked a hotel with an outdoor pool, that did not get much use. Because rain. The kids did get about 45 minutes of swim time Monday morning before the rain started. They spent most of that time going in and out of the “hot pool” because the big pool was too chilly for their liking (and much too cold for the grown-ups!) Mama J met us at our hotel room around 10:30am that morning. We spent about an hour together there while Nathan napped in her arms, then headed to Chick-fil-a for lunch so the kids could play in the indoor play area. I texted a friend that lived in the same town to give me some ideas of kid-friendly indoor activities in the area and she suggested the indoor trampoline park between our hotel and the beach that had a special jumping and inflatable area for preschoolers. Jumpstreet was a hit! Yes, Eli had a potty accident on the trampoline while I went down the street to get hot water to warm Nathan’s bottle but that didn’t slow our fun train down one bit. *insert wide-eyed and face palm emojis, haha. Mama J and Noah dominated a few kids playing dodgeball for a while. Nathan got to show off his sitting skills. It burned some much-needed energy AND we were close enough to the beach at that point that we could take advantage of a break in the rain to go see the ocean. (Eli had been asking about going to be beach since we crossed the Georgia/Florida state line the night before.)

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We left Jumpstreet around 3pm and headed towards the beach. Eli was already in his swimsuit (because potty accident,) but we told the kids that they were NOT swimming. We had about 45 minutes before the rain started again, so we were only walking the beach, looking for shells and putting our TOES in the water. (Both twins rode home in a t-shirt and pull-up because they did not follow these directions and those were the only spare clothes I had in the car.)

We definitely have some beach-lovin’ kiddos. Nathan was not really sure what to think of the ocean. He watched it intently.

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Our hotel was about 25 minutes from the beach, but I wanted to go just as badly as Eli. Yes, the beach is my happy place, but I wanted our WHOLE family to go there together. Mama J included. Back in September, when we met Mama J for the first time, we went to the beach together. We walked with the ocean tickling our toes, looking for interesting sea shells, while Nathan kicked inside Mama J’s belly. I felt our boy with my hand on his first mama’s belly in my happy place that day. It was a perfect moment. Coming back to the same beach with our boy in our arms felt full circle to me.

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For those that follow me on Instagram and know that I always cover Mama J’s face to protect her privacy, I want you to know that she gave me permission to use these photos in our blog post. A heart over her face does not do these precious photos justice in the least. These photos will be framed and cherished by our family, especially Nathan, for years to come.

After our mini beach excursion, we drove Mama J to her apartment and said our goodbyes. Nathan and the twins had fallen asleep on the trip to her place. I bet it was hard for Mama J to just kiss Nathan’s sweet, sleeping head goodbye while he was in his car seat vs. snuggling him close for a few minutes longer 😦 We drove away knowing that it would be another several months before we would spend time together again. I sent Mama J the photos I had taken of her and Nathan together throughout the day and added them to our private Facebook page. She text me later that evening and said that it was wonderful to see us with the kids and “how good {we} are with them” and that it “makes it 10 times better” seeing us together with Nathan and knowing how loved and happy he is. Statements like these are why open adoptions are so important. Why 90% of domestic adoptions in the US are now open. Open adoptions promote healing for the birth mothers because they are able to see and know that their child is loved and happy. Of course, Mama J still misses the every day moments and new milestones when they first happen, but she gets the opportunity to know us and Noah, Eli and Emry Jane and, most importantly, know Nathan in ways that are not possible with a closed adoption. Nathan gets to know his first Mama. He gets to know how fiercely loved he is by such an incredibly brave and selfless woman. It’s just as important to us that we get to know her, as a person and as a permanent member of our family.

That night, we went to dinner with Ms. Rita down the street from our hotel. Ms. Rita is the sweet woman that Nathan and I stayed with the first few days after he was born. She was a total stranger to us before we showed up at her doorstep (invited!) and she took great care of us during our 4 days in her home. Now, she’s claimed herself as another grandmother to our kiddos! You can never have too many grandparents spoiling you, right?! IMG_3736

This was her first time meeting Noah, Eli and Emry Jane, but they did not waste any time getting to know each other at dinner. We had already invited her to join us for our finalization hearing the next morning because we were not exactly sure how the court room would be set up and thought we might need someone to sit with the twins during the hearing. Our hearing room was a small conference room, so even though the twins just sat in rolly chairs on our side of the table beside us, we were glad that Ms. Rita joined us.

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Our adoption attorney took about 20 photos with my real camera for us. Every one of them was blurry and the judge was always looking at Ms. Rita and not at our camera.  At least, we have photo-proof under the Great Seal of the State of Florida that Nathan Andrew is finally and legally our son. (I say finally because we were told that this process would take 4-5 months total, not 7 months.) Our judge, Judge Carithers, was super nice. He kept telling us how happy he was that we came to finalize in person vs. over the phone… and that we had brought the whole family! (He said that he had finalized an adoption that morning for a couple’s ELEVENTH adopted child and that they had brought all 11 children to the hearing with them that morning!) After a few questions from our adoption attorney, Judge Carithers said that there was one more thing to do to “officially” make Nathan’s adoption final. He told Noah, Eli and Emry Jane that he needed their help to bang his gavel to finalize the adoption. Boy, were they excited to bang that gavel! Eli, who went last in the gavel-banging, raised it high over his head like he was trying to ring the bell at the top of that carnival game you see in movies. *insert wide eyed emoji. We had to tell him that he had to bang it gently so that he wouldn’t break the gavel! We took photos behind Judge Carithers’ desk to be able to get the seal in the background, so the judge asked Emry Jane if he could hold her up for the photos. They became fast friends. He told Emry Jane’s brothers that she was very special girl and that they all had to watch over her!

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I asked the security officer in the hallway to take a picture of us with Ms. Rita after the hearing.

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Our last photo from our trip to Florida– a family photo in front of the courthouse where Nathan legally and forever became our son on Tuesday, May 15th 2018. It didn’t feel any different than the day, week or month before the hearing. Nathan has been our son for over seven months. From that first phone call in August with Mama J to feeling Nathan kick for the first time on that beach to seeing him on ultrasound at 36 weeks to watching him enter the world at 5:11pm on October 11th, he has always been our son. He was our son from the moment Mama J chose us to be his parents. The only thing that changed today is that now our names will be on his birth certificate, which I am excited to receive in just 8 short weeks! Then, I can apply for his social security card, should we plan to travel by airplane and need those documents sometime soon! (Though It will probably be a decent amount of (read: long) time before we feel brave enough to travel with all 4 children on an airplane!)

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