A Few Thousand Diapers Later: A reflection on my daughter's adoption

When my oldest daughter was ten months old, I bought diapers for her for the very first time.    

Ten months!  Do you know how amazing that is?  I'm not even sure that I do.  We never paid a dime.  Her diapers were gifts.

More so when she was an infant but even now, too, Piper's teachers comment on her cute outfits and extravagant hair bows.  

"Where do you get all of her clothes?" they ask.  Well, let's be honest.  They come from her grandparents.  They come in big brown boxes on the porch from her family in Texas.  They come in little pink bags, tied with fancy ribbons and a note that says, "Just because," from coworkers and friends.  

I rarely buy her clothes, and her closet is still overflowing.

I was humbled as we began the adoption process, when money would literally just show up on our doorstep or in our mailbox.  There were days when I would find myself in tears, unsure of how to respond to such generosity but very sure that we didn't deserve it.  Almost a year after bringing Piper home, I was once again overcome by the goodness of our loved ones.  I know that diapers are seemingly insignificant, but I also know that most parents don't wait ten months to buy them.  We were, and still are, so blessed.

The night that Piper was born will always stand out to me above all others for many reasons, but one thing is still particularly striking.  My parents had already waited for hours to see her, and when they finally were able to come upstairs at the hospital, my mom burst into tears.  In fact, I don't think she really stopped crying all night.  At one point, I said something like, "Mom, this is a happy day!  You don't have to cry!"  She responded,

"I know.  I have prayed for so long that I would love her just as if she were your biological child, and I really, really do."

She was always meant to be part of our family.

I knew it during the adoption process, I knew it the moment she was born, I knew it when I was buying diapers for the first time in ten months, and I know it today as she is opening her weekly mail from her family in Texas.  As her parents, we would love Piper regardless of any circumstance, but the continual outpouring of kindness from those who are dearest to us has proven to me that she belongs.  She's our daughter, but she's also a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, and a friend.  She is partly loved by others because we are special to them, but she is also loved because she is special to them.  

Whenever we tell people our story of infertility, we often get responses such as, "That must have totally sucked.  I'm so sorry."

Yes, it did "totally suck", in more ways than I can begin to articulate.  But no, I'm not at all sorry.  Had I become a mom at 22 like I wanted to be, I would not be a mom to Piper.  The timing of life events is commonly beyond our grasp, but it is always perfect.  Somewhere in Oklahoma in 2012, a teenager had to become pregnant, and simultaneously, we had to be waiting for a child instead of already holding one in our arms.  The waiting was excruciating, but I do not have an ounce of regret in retrospect.

Biological children are wonderful, cherished, and exciting.  I know this because I have one, and she is everything I had hoped she would be.  But there is something unique about adoption.  Piper is loved from so many angles, and it is precisely because her birth mother loved her so much that she was able to put her into another woman's arms.  I hated the writing of her story as we were going through it, but now, I'm so grateful that the Author penned it the way that he did.  Not everyone gets to experience the beautiful gift of adoption.  We did, and we will never be the same because of it.

A letter to my daughter's birth parents

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and every year, I think about posting something different on the blog than the following paragraphs.  But every year, I keep coming back to the fact that this is some of the best, most raw writing I've ever done, and this is a story that needs to be told.  So, once again, I'm posting this letter to my daughter's birth parents that I drafted over four years ago. 

Though we have an open adoption, we haven't had contact with Piper's birth father since 2013, and we only connect with her birth mother a couple of times a year (on her terms).  Despite rarely seeing them, the feelings below remain the same.  We will always love Piper's birth parents for choosing life for their daughter and choosing us as her mom and dad.

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national adoption awareness month

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Dear Amanda and Conner,

I have no idea if you'll ever read these words, but I have to write them.  I have to hope that, even if you never stumble across this blog or open the card that we sent on your court day, you somehow know the way that we feel about you.

I remember getting the call that you were at the hospital, Amanda.  It was June 28th, the day that we would meet our girl.  I had simultaneously anticipated and dreaded this day since May 16th, when I first heard your voice on the phone.  Although I was grateful to be allowed in the delivery room when Piper was born, I was also unsure of myself.  

Would I say something stupid?  Would I pass out at the sight of a live birth?  Would I be able to convey my excitement about bringing home Baby Girl without rubbing salt in your wounds?

 At least our case worker would be there to help us know how to navigate this situation that most people never face...

Except that when Andrew and I arrived at the hospital, you only wanted the two of us back there with you.

 Panic.  

I was honored that you and Conner trusted and loved us enough to let us experience something so special, but up to this point, we had depended on Bonni to help us know what to say to you and how to act.  Andrew put his arm around my shoulders, and I quickly prayed for the kind of strength and wisdom that could never come from me.  

Please don't act like an idiot, please don't act like an idiot.

When we walked in the room, my fears were gone, and I immediately felt at home.  "Hey guys!" you grinned.  Even in labor, you were beautiful and calm.

In a few minutes, the nurse came in to check you.  She looked at Andrew and me, hinting with her eyes that we should step out.  We took the clue and started to leave the room when you, Conner, stopped her and said, "No, it's okay.  They're family."  

I wonder if you know how much those words meant.

Time seemed to stand still as we spent the next hour or so talking with both of you and trying to wrap our minds around this huge thing that was about to happen.  Though we had met you before, those moments in the delivery room were especially precious to me as we actually got to know the parents of our little girl.  In the moments away from the agency, the paperwork, and the caseworkers, you became my friends and not just the couple who had chosen our profile book.   

When the nurse came back later, it was "go time."  Andrew and I stood awkwardly at your head and stroked your hair as we tried to think of something to offer other than, "You're doing great!"  Conner, you were a natural.  You knew exactly what to say and do to help your girl.  And Amanda, wow.  You made labor and delivery look like a walk in the park.  I honestly expected so much anger and frustration, but all I saw in that situation was love.  

I wish there was a way for you to have stood back and watched the scene like we did.  Your relationship with each other is inspiring, and your affection for a baby who you bore for someone else is, frankly, earth-shattering.  Those words that Conner whispered as you pushed, "Come on, Amanda, this is the last thing we can do for her," melted my heart in more ways than you'll ever realize.

Just 30 minutes after you started pushing, Piper was here.  I cried the happiest tears of my life as I took in her thick hair, her chubby cheeks, and her perfect little body.  Then I watched as the two of you held her, and my heart broke.  

This was the reason why I had been so afraid of our time together in the hospital.  You clearly loved her as much as I did, yet you knew that she wasn't yours to keep.  

You said that we deserved her, and I knew that wasn't true.

The nurses came in and out to check on Piper as the four of us bounced back and forth in our conversation between the trivial and the significant.   Andrew and I left for about an hour to pick up some food and to give you two time alone with Piper.  We got back to the room and ate dinner together, and I found myself wishing (though I knew the impossibility of my idea) that there was a way for the five of us to be the little family who lived happily ever after.

The hospital prepared a room around the corner for Andrew, Piper, and me, and we slowly collected our belongings to spend our first night as a family of three.  Before I went to bed, I walked down the hall to refill my water bottle.  Your door was open, and I stopped.  Conner, you were headed out for some fresh air, so I sat down in a chair next to the bed for some "girl time."  Amanda, as I listened to you share your hopes and dreams, as you talked about your friends, and as you revealed your plans for college in the fall, I felt connected to you in a way that few people will probably ever be able to grasp.  

Though we didn't always talk over the past nine months, we were in each other's hearts as we shared this journey.  We have a unique bond: I wanted so badly to be in your place (to be pregnant), and you wanted to be in mine ("established" enough to raise a baby).  There is no way to explain those feelings to anyone else, but I think you know.

The night passed uneventfully, and I began to think about how the two of you would be going home to a new "normal" in just a few hours.  I started dreading those last moments in the hospital.  Finally, around 2:30 the next day, both of you came down the hall.  This was it.  Andrew and I stepped out of the room to give you the space that you needed with Piper. We held each other tightly and prayed for the words to say as we waited for you to come out.  About five minutes later, the two of you entered the hall with Piper, and all the tears that I had been holding back came flooding out as I looked at your faces.  

 I never guessed that goodbye would be so hard.

Amanda, I've thought that you are unbelievably strong throughout this entire journey, so seeing you dissolved by emotion was almost unbearable.  It would have been wildly inappropriate to take pictures in the moments that followed, but the scene will forever be captured in my mind as you handed Piper to me for the last time and as you, Conner, hugged my husband like there was no tomorrow.  In those moments, every word I had rehearsed was gone.  Each of us knew that there was nothing to be said which could possibly convey the feelings we had.  In shaky voices and through blinding tears, we all said how much we love each other.  Amanda, you asked me to "take good care of her," and I promised that I would.  Then the two of you went around the corner and back to your lives.

I still cannot fathom how a day can be so joyful and so gut-wrenching at the same time.

Andrew and I walked downstairs to the hospital's chapel, where I buried my head in his lap, and we both sobbed.  I had thought that I would be filled with guilt when you two went home without a baby, but really I was overcome with profound sadness.  I was sad for you because of the difficulty of your decision, and I was sad for us because I felt like we had just lost two people who, in a matter of days, had come to mean everything to our family.  

"Be still and know that I am God," the walls of the chapel read, and this is ironically the verse tattooed on the wall of our bedroom at home.  Both of us found it difficult to "be still," because our hearts were so heavy for you.  We prayed over and over for God to give you peace, and I still pray every day that you've found it.

As I got ready to go home the next morning, I burst into tears all over again, and I wondered how many days would pass before I woke up without crying for you.  In the weeks since we have been home with Piper, time has slowly eased the hurt, but I don't think of you any less.  I have never once doubted that you would change your minds about the decision you made, but I have felt an unexplainable stillness in knowing that if you did, I would be okay because as much as I care about Piper, I care about the two of you equally.

Every night before bed, we tell Piper how many people love her, and the two of you are always at the top of the list because you will always be her parents, too.  

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I can't wait until she is old enough to ask questions about the picture of the four of us on the wall in her room, until she wonders how she got her beautiful black hair, and until she makes the connection that her middle name is the same as her birth mother's.  I can't wait for that day because then I get to tell her, once again, the story of two people named Amanda and Conner who loved her so much that they made the greatest sacrifice two people could ever make.

People say that you can't understand true love until you have a baby.  Although I don't fully agree with that statement, I do believe that I've experienced a fuller and deeper kind of love because I met you.  In your words, Conner, this situation was just "meant to be."

Through our whole adoption journey, I have been the most worried about our relationship with our child's birth parents, and that has actually come to be the most beautiful part of it all.    

You named our sweet girl Grace when she was with you for nine months, and grace has absolutely been the theme of our song.  "Thank you" seems so inadequate for expressing the gratitude we daily feel for your selfless gift, Piper.  Somehow I hope you know just how much you mean to us, not just for giving us a daughter who we could never have on our own, but because of the truly strong and special people that you are.  I love you and respect you both, and because of you, my heart is full for the first time in years.

Love,

Mary Rachel

She doesn't look like me.

My daughter is beautiful.

I get to say this because I'm her mom, but I also get to say it because it's true.

Since she was a minute old, Piper's dark hair has been the envy of everyone she meets.  She never had "baby hair"; her locks were always thick and long.  As my hairdresser's youngest client ever, my daughter got her first haircut when she was six months old.

Piper's olive skin tans quickly in the summer, and I already know that her big, brown eyes and full eyelashes will never need any mascara (though I'm sure she'll beg me to wear it).  She has her birth mom's dancer legs.

All of Piper's features stand in stark contrast to my fair skin, light hair, and blue eyes.  

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No one has ever told me that she looks like me.  

Most days, that's fine.  She doesn't look like me.  I know this.

But there are days when I wish that she did, not because I'd love her any more than I already do, but because there is this perception that she would "belong" more to our family if we shared some of the same outward characteristics.

Our biological child, Caroline, is a "mini-me" as far as looks go.  She inherited my wild, blonde hair and my pasty ghost skin.  No one has ever questioned that she is a Fenrick.

More so when she was an infant, but even now that she is four, people ask me of Piper, "Is she yours?"  

I hate this question.  Even though no one has ill intentions when asking, it represents a misconception.  Of course she's mine.  Have you seen how stubborn this kid is, how many peanut butter sandwiches she eats, or how much she loves reading?  Though our outward traits differ, many of the inward ones are exactly alike.  

She calls me, "Mom," but she resembles her birth mother.  That brings a twinge of sadness on both ends.  However, maybe it's God's gift to us, as well.  No one can ever take away how she looks, and no one can ever change how she acts.  She will forever simultaneously be a Fenrick and a Carson*.  

I wouldn't alter Piper's appearance for the world.  My adopted daughter doesn't look like me, but I don't really need her to.  She belongs, despite what the mirror may reflect.

*last name changed

More than the sum of my parts.

running

Since my sophomore year of college, I've been defining myself as a runner.

My husband and I had been dating for about a year and a half when he suggested that we train for our first half marathon together.  

"I could never do that," I told him.  "No way."

Then, in May 2008, I did do it. 

I haven't stopped running since.  

I guess there is a bit of pride that comes with typing "Distance Runner" into an "About Me" section of a profile.  I've always known that most people will never run a marathon, so that makes me one of the few.  (That probably makes me more crazy than awesome.)

Part of me loves running because it is healthy and stress-relieving, but a bigger part of me has loved running for the way that it defines me.

Lately, I've been able to let some of that go.  Yes, I am a distance runner.  But that's not all that I am.  I'm also a Jesus-loving, coffee-drinking writer, momma, wife, student, business owner and friend.  I am more than the sum of my parts.

This past weekend, I ran another half marathon.  I stuck with my training for the most part.  However, I also learned to listen to my body and to modify when necessary.

And it was all fine because sometimes, to be great at the other things that I am, I can be just an okay runner.  I'm not less or more of a person because I did or didn't run for one day (or a few, or a lot).  

All of the above is where my head was before the Prairie Fire Half Marathon last weekend.

prairie fire marathon

At that race, I set a new PR.  I had the run of my life.  But about halfway through, because I was feeling strong, I decided to revise my longstanding goal of crossing the finish under 1 hour and 50 minutes.  That goal was somehow not good enough anymore, and I started dreaming about a 1:47 time and about catching up with my friend who was a mile ahead.  At mile 6.5, I threw my training out the window to compete against everyone else instead of against myself.  It was also at mile 6.5 that the race was no longer fun.  My final time was 1:49:44, and I finished 6th of 93 in my age group, but I was angry and disappointed.  

I'm going to take a step back from running, which is uncharted and scary territory for me.   I saw the number I've always wanted to see on the clock this past weekend, I saw my friends on the podium instead of me ... and I let those things tell me who I am.  Until I've gained a healthier perspective and am able to appreciate running for what it is instead of who it makes me, I'll be on a break.

For everyone's sake, hopefully it won't be a long one. :)

Fan Club Friday: Doorpost Collections

Doorpost Collections nativity advent calendar

Okay, yes, I am writing about my own business today.  

Maybe I'm not supposed to do that, but I figure that since this is my blog, I get to decide what I post.  And to be honest, I've been excited for a long time about the day when I could finally announce Doorpost Collections.

Before I tell you about the Advent Collection I've created, let me first tell you about my awesome husband.  I never thought that I could own a business with Andrew.  We are so different.  But it is precisely because we are so different that I now cannot imagine owning a business without him.  

I can make crafts, and I can write.  Oh, and I know how to be nice to people.  Those are the extent of my business skills.

I created an advent calendar and script for our own family when my oldest was an infant, and it was at Christmastime last year when the teenager living with us suggested, "MR, you could totally sell these.  I bet people would use them."  

This had truly never crossed my mind, but then I thought, "Sure, why not try?  'If you build it, they will come.  Right?'"

nativity advent calendar

Wrong.  

My dear husband is a business analyst, and he gently explained to his naive wife that this is not the way entrepreneurship works.

Have you thought about marketing?

Where to sell?

Shipping?

Packaging?

Sourcing?

Pricing?

No, no, no, no, and ... no.

So, all that stuff on Etsy and basically everything that is not the actual calendar, storage box, or script itself?  That is all my guy.  I had a dream, and he made my vision a reality.  

It also helps that I'm trying to sell a craft, and Andrew works at the ultimate craft store, Hobby Lobby.  

Anyway, enough bragging about him.  I could go on and on about how opening a business has changed our marriage for the better and made me see things in him that I never noticed before, but I should probably talk about my products.

Currently, Doorpost Collection only includes items for the Advent season, but I plan to expand the shop to include an Easter/Lent collection as well.

nativity advent calendar

The standard advent calendar includes a 16x16 inch burlap board in its natural wood color, but there is also a whitewash option.  The board comes with 25 miniature nativity objects to be placed on it from December 1-25.  These items have been sourced from a variety of retailers, and a few are handmade.  Each miniature was carefully selected to tangibly represent a part of the story of Jesus' birth in the Bible.  

Inspired by Scripture and Noel Piper's Treasuring God in Our TraditionsI created a script to be read individually or as a family during the month of December.  The script tells the story of Jesus, but it also includes other verses of Old Testament prophesies and New Testament promises.  Each day, the beginning paragraph of the script is repeated, but a new portion is also added which corresponds to the miniature being placed on the board on that specific day.

nativity advent calendar

A handpainted and numbered 25-drawer storage box for the miniatures can be purchased separately or in addition to the nativity advent calendar.  If you're a DIY kind of person, I've included the script as an option to purchase separately, as well.

If this product sounds simplistic, it is.  That's what I wanted it to be.  The Christmas season is often so full of chaos that the true Reason for our festivities is lost.  Selling these advent calendars isn't about money for me; it's about bringing Jesus back into people's homes.  It's about giving parents a tool for teaching their kids to adore the Savior.  It's about redeeming a holiday that has been distorted.  

nativity advent calendar

I'll leave you with this letter I've written.  You'll find it in your box if you order from my collection.  

You can check out Doorpost Collections on my website, InstagramFacebook or Etsy.  

 

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Dear Friend,

I grew up in a home that did not acknowledge Christmas.  Classmates constantly questioned my religious background, wondering if I was Jewish or Jehovah’s Witness.  My response was and still is, “No, my parents are devout Christians.”  For reasons I couldn’t understand at the time, my parents chose to entirely forgo this holiday that the world has a tendency to misrepresent.

My husband, on the other hand, was raised in a family where Christmas has always been the year’s biggest celebration.  Yet, even with all of the festivities, the true meaning of advent was lost on him, as well.

Adopting our oldest child caused us to consider, for the first time, what we desired holidays to be for our own family unit.  I devoured Noel Piper’s Treasuring God in Our Traditions book in only a few days and then attempted to implement some of her wisdom into our home.  Unfortunately, the advent calendars and script which she sold when she wrote the book were no longer available.  So, I decided to make my own.

As I worked on this project, my heart changed toward Christmas and Jesus.  I had originally created the calendar to teach the story of Christ’s birth to our children through a digestible story and tangible objects, but I really ended up teaching the story to myself.  Writing the script that we would read in our home required extensive Bible research on my part, and seeing Old Testament promises fulfilled through the Messiah brought renewed joy to my spirit.  I found myself eagerly anticipating each evening during the advent season, when we would gather as a family and add another piece to the burlap board.  Seeing the wonder of the Savior through the eyes of my children sparked my own wonder, too.  For the first time in my life, Christmas had meaning.

The name, Doorpost Collections, was chosen with intention.  We, like the Israelites, are a forgetful people.  We need objects and routines which stir our affections for Christ.  My prayer is that, as you display and use Doorpost Collections in your home, you will be enabled to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

                                                                                 All glory to Jesus,
                                                                        Mary Rachel

15% of Doorpost Collections’ proceeds go directly to Peru Mission.  For more information, visit www.perumission.org.