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I’m not ready!

The first time we saw you -
you both wore pink.
Your pictures in an email showed our missing link.

Our first hug came next.
We traveled 14,000 miles.
We knew you were ours.
The four of us -
with permanent smiles.

When we finally brought you home,
we made a family of six.
Two girls, two boys.
Our own special mix.

We weren’t there when you were born.
We don’t know how much you weighed.
We missed your first steps.
And thousands of other memories made.

But from here on out.
We promise you this.
Every first, every milestone -
will not be missed.

So forgive me today.
While I walk you into school.
I will probably cry.
And lose my cool.

Our journey wasn’t easy.
And that was meant to be.
My beautiful daughters -
You are loved, endlessly.

Kindergarten today.
Then college will come fast.
You both have bright futures.
And a most beautiful past.


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FOSTERING IS HARD

Right now.
As I type this.
While you’re reading this.
Nearly 10,000 Kentucky children are going to sleep at a home that’s not their own.
In a bed that’s not theirs.
With a family that’s different from their own.

It’s overwhelming.

What’s the solution?
Help families before their kids are taken away?
Tackle the daunting and massive opioid epidemic?How do you stop neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and drug-use?

I’ve written in my news stories a hundred times: the state and private agencies are in desperate need of quality foster parents.

Here’s the God’s honest truth.

Fostering a child is hard.

My boys came into our home October 30, 2017.
I had prayed, begged, and pleaded with God for kids.
Here they were.
And I was in shock.

The first week was a blur.
We had to learn each other.
My youngest - who was 1 at the time - threw unbelievable tantrums 80% of the day.

One night in the very beginning, I told my husband I couldn’t do it.

But we did.
I lived day by day.
Sometimes minute by minute.
And slowly, a village grew, to help me take care of these boys who needed us.

Everyday got a little easier.
We found a great daycare, special therapies, and we learned how to parent these little boys.

I’m writing this because Monday is WLKY’s Adoptathon. An organization I’m part of, Wednesday’s Child, is raising money for children in Kentucky’s foster care system. We are also recruiting families to foster and adopt.

But I don’t want to sugar coat it.
This is hard work.
You will have hard days.
Hard nights.
Overwhelming moments.
Just like I presume people do with their biological children.

But think about the impact you can make.
Simply by providing a safe space.
A healthy home.
A happy place to be.

Something I’ve told myself again and again during this journey: nothing worth having comes easy.

It took a lot of pain for my little (now big) family to get where we are, and we’re continuing to find our way. And there are still plenty of painful moments.

I will never regret joining the foster and adoption world.
It changed our lives for the better.

Please consider learning more.
You can quite literally change the course of a child’s life.



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OCTOBER 27

Today marks one year.

It was a Friday.
My last day of work.
(Well, last day as a full-time employee.)

I was at my desk, putting together an easy story for the day, when my phone vibrated.
I recognized the number.

The woman said I probably wouldn’t want them, but she described them anyways.

Two baby boys.
Brothers.
Likely needing a new forever family.

I felt butterflies in my stomach.
We waited more than a year for this call.
And the timing was clearly planned by someone greater than me.

So despite an impending trip to Malawi, and the potential international adoption of two little girls, we said yes to the boys.

(We’ve said yes before, and didn’t get picked. This time was different. Our boys were coming home.)

In the two days that followed, we frantically prepared for two babies.

I filled multiple shopping carts at Target and Kroger.
Brian put together two cribs.
Neighbors, friends, and family gave us the rest.

By Monday morning, two social workers arrived at our house.
One brought balloons that said “It’s a boy!”

Then our sweet babies arrived.
They were scared.
And Brian and I were clueless.
But we were ready to love them, protect them, and provide them a happy home.

After 365 days with us, our sons are still in the foster care system. And they were in the system long before we met them. (Working on the adoption - nothing is quick.)

This process is hard.
But we’ve witnessed them grow, and mature, and learn, and love.
And I’m lucky to be their mom.


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HARD LESSONS

This one is hard.

I’m an open book when it comes to my struggles with infertility.
I’ll tell anyone about my journey with the foster care system.
Or the difficulties related to international adoption.

But this.
This I hate.

That’s why I’m sharing it.

A few years ago, I called my mom while I was at work, intending to have a quick catch-up session.
I walked outside the newsroom to spend a couple minutes on the phone.
It still hurts to recall this conversation.

My mom told me my oldest brother was addicted to heroin.

My brother.
The smartest person I know.
A neuroscientist.
A doctor.
A scholar.
A talented musician.
A gourmet chef.

An addict.

Over the next few months, and years, my brother had a support network, including friends and my selfless parents, that helped pull him up from rock bottom.

Today he is better.
Although I’m sure this is a life-long battle.
(And he allowed me to share this story.)

As a reporter, I spent years writing stories about the country’s opioid epidemic.

But I was naive.
I didn’t get it.
And admittedly, I didn’t empathize with addicts.
Until it hit home.

This disease can happen to anyone.
From any walk of life.
And I’ve learned not to judge.
But to support.

It’s a lesson I’m trying to remember right now.

Like many other children in Kentucky's foster care system, my two sons were born on drugs.
And their biological mother still struggles with drug abuse.

It would be very easy for me to judge her.
Look down on her.
And hope that she never contacts my boys.

In fact, if I’m being honest, those thoughts have crossed my mind.

But that’s not fair to my sweet sons.

While my husband and I fully intend to adopt them, I hope one day, when they’re older and ready, my boys can know their biological mother.
They deserve to know their roots.
If that’s what they choose.

I’ve never met the boys’ bio mom.
She doesn’t know me.
And I don’t know her.

But instead of judging her, I’m learning to pray and hope for her recovery.

(The boys were taken from her home for several reasons that I can’t share.)

I want my sons to know they are loved by so many people.
Including those who weren’t healthy enough to take care of them.

This is hard stuff.
Please share with me your similar stories.


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MY DAUGHTERS' MOTHERS

November 25th, 2013.
It was a Monday.

Malita Malidadi traveled from the small village of Mtamba to Chiradzulu District Hospital in Malawi.

The babies were coming.

Malita was a talented singer in her choir.
She was outgoing.
She prayed often.
And she worked hard to support her son and daughter.

Today her family was growing.

Malita arrived at the hospital thinking she was having twins.

Doctors delivered triplets.

Three beautiful baby girls.

The tiniest went to Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) - Malawi’s version of the neonatal intensive care unit.

But Malita got sick.
Her country’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.
She - and one of the baby girls - didn’t make it.

So Malita’s sister Agnes stepped in.

Agnes brought her new nieces back to Mtamba.
She loved them.
Provided for them.
And kept them safe.

But resources in the village were limited.
At times, Agnes took care of more than 9 children in her humble home.

She wanted more for the girls.
More opportunity.
Possibility.
And hope.

So she brought them to their first orphanage.
That’s where the girls finally got their names.

Francisca.
And Prisca.

(Prisca was healthier now, after her time in KMC)

When the girls were two years old - they moved to Good Samaritan Children’s Home, in Blantyre.

And they met Thandie.

Thandie Chickefunji is a mother to more than 100 kids at the home.

She is selfless.
Dedicated.
Passionate.
Fiercely strong in her faith.
And unapologetically committed to making the world a better place.

Thandie loved the girls from the moment they were in her care.

She snapped two photos of the twins when they arrived, hoping to find them a forever family.

And she did.

14,000 miles away.
I got the pictures on October 13, 2015.

It was my turn to be mom.

Each woman who came before me has helped shape my daughters’ journey.

The girls have a piece of Malita.
Agnes.
Thandie.
And probably others who I will never know about.

As they grow, I want my girls to learn about the love that got them here.
The sacrifices.
And the hope for a good life.


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UNEXPLAINED INFERTILITY

What a fun phrase.
Unexplained infertility.
I'm joking.
It's terrible.

Unfortunately I (and many other women) fall into this category. Doctors use this term when they see no obvious reason a patient can't get pregnant - or the diagnostic technology available cannot identify a clear reason. Two doctors told me I have 'bad eggs' but can't figure out why.

So I read dozens of books, articles, and websites on improving egg quality.

I avoided BPA by throwing out all of our plastic. (That was a fun phase.)
I reduced exposure to phthalates by buying different make-up, lotions, and perfume.
I took Vitamin-D supplements, Coenzyme Q10, DHEA, folic acid, etc.
I went to an acupuncturist and herbal medicine specialist, who made me a personalized tea to drink three times a day. (I was not good at that.)

IT CAN MAKE YOU CRAZY.

Over the course of a few years, we went through three IUI procedures and two IVFs.

Nothing worked.

Finally my husband and I made the decision to try one more round of IVF, with a new doctor here in Louisville.
We got pretty deep into the process when I had a change of heart.
Something was pulling me a different direction. And that's when we made our first trip to Malawi.
Then we got the call about our foster boys.
And life took over.

Let me be clear.
My house is now full of LOVE.
I am forever grateful.
I have four beautiful, BRAVE, amazing kids.
This is what I prayed for.

However, if I'm honest, there will always be part of me that grieves the fact that I cannot conceive and carry a child.
That does not diminish the love I have for my kids.

There are so many women out there going through infertility treatments.
I SEE YOU!
KEEP FIGHTING!
YOU'RE NOT ALONE!

(Below is a picture of the petri dish that held our three embryos during my second IVF. Doctors put all three in, but we did not get pregnant.)

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MEMORIES FROM MALAWI

My husband and I traveled twice to Malawi (in 2017 and 2018) to complete our girls' adoption.  
The process took YEARS, and it was HARD and COMPLICATED.

But we fell in love with the country.  

The Good Samaritan Children's Home treated us like family. And when we traveled to our daughters' village, they welcomed us with open arms.  I can't wait to bring the girls back when they're a little older.  For now, I'll show them this video - with some of our favorite memories of our home 14,000 miles away.

 
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DRUGS AND FOSTER CARE

When I worked at WLKY in Louisville, I gravitated toward stories involving Kentucky's adoption and foster care programs. I researched and wrote dozens of pieces involving Governor Matt Bevin's plans to strengthen the system.

Now I can see it all firsthand.

More than 8,000 kids are in the state's foster care system. And a growing number of them were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) - meaning their birth mother was using opioids while pregnant.

(Doctors I interviewed don't like saying babies were born "addicted" - so they say babies were born with withdrawal symptoms.)

Since 2001, the number of babies in Kentucky born with NAS has increased 27-fold, from 46 to 1,234.

"In the state of Kentucky, the growth of this particular issue is outstripping the national growth and it is something we all need to be concerned about," Dr. Lori Devlin, with Norton Children's Hospital and UofL Physicians, told me during my time at WLKY.
(See article here.)

"They have issues and problems with central nervous system, GI system and their autonomic nervous system," said Devlin.

At the hospital, infants with NAS stay in rooms with low lighting, quiet sounds, and they're wrapped and held in specific ways to help sooth them. "We treat opioid withdrawal with opiates. We use very small doses. We ween them very very carefully," said Devlin.

The process can take two to six weeks. And while the goal is for babies to leave with their mother, 30-percent of these infants will go home with a different family member or non-related foster parent, while birth mom gets help.

Doctors said more research needs to be done about long-term effects of NAS. But there are a few things they've learned so far. "When they hit school age, there's an increased risk for depression, anxiety, ADHD, and if you ask the teachers at school they are seeing this on a regular basis."

Watch the WLKY video below!
It shows a cool way health care professionals are helping these newborns.


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MAKING MOVES

I remember the moment my husband and I decided to travel 14,000 miles to check on a court date.

We were sitting in front of the TV in our basement. Netflix was about to play another episode of House of Cards.

The conversation went like this:

Me: (frustrated, discouraged, emotional, crazy) “That's it. Let’s just go to Malawi and figure it out!”
Brian: “Okay.”

So we agreed to travel to Africa, in hopes of moving our adoption process forward.

We met the girls at the airport in Blantyre.
The orphanage director, Thandie, dressed them in the clothes we sent.
I spotted them first.
Then Brian.

Finally.
It didn’t feel real.
I prayed so long for this.
We hugged our girls!

We spent weeks in Malawi.
We got to know the people there, we ate their favorite foods (chicken and chips), we learned words in their language (Chichewa), we dressed in their clothing (a lot of long wraps for me), and we experienced their beautiful culture.

Our goal for the trip was securing a court date.
But as much as we accomplished, we could't get a hearing.
We left Africa heartbroken, in tears, and without our girls.

The trip changed me.
I quit my job, after 11 years in the business, I became a foster mom to two boys, and I knew my priorities were different.

Eight months later, we got our day in court, and we brought Francisca and Prisca home - to a fuller than expected house.

A few years ago, when we were in the throes of infertility treatments, I scoured the internet for information. I wanted to find other women going through this struggle. Now I hope I can help others see there is light at the end of the tunnel.

(Then you're in a new tunnel called parenthood, which also very hard - and now I'm scouring the internet for more help!)


 
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WRITING MY STORY

“Just take me wherever you go today, I'll be right here."
I remember my mom saying that while she was ironing.
I could see her - pixelated - on my iPad screen.
She knew I couldn't talk, because if I did, I would cry. So she did the talking.
She brought me - via FaceTime - wherever she went that day.
She cleaned the house - I watched.
She sorted through mail - I watched.
She made dinner - I watched.
All I could do was stare.
In my pajamas.
From 900 miles away.
I was numb.

My husband, Brian, and I had just learned our second attempt at IVF failed. This time around, our doctor put three embryos in.
Three chances for a baby.
I prayed.
I begged.
I pleaded with God for it to work.

It didn't.

I never dreamt this this would be my struggle.
I never knew I'd become an all-consuming expert on every detail of the male and female reproductive system.

You name it - we gave it a shot.
From IUI and IVF, to ancient Chinese medicine, to yoga, reiki, and acupuncture.

Nothing worked.

Finally - we agreed adoption was our route.
And we slowly realized it was our true calling.

Our PURPOSE.

I vividly remember the moment I first saw our girls - in a picture. I was slamming together a script for a noon liveshot at work, standing in front of the Louisville Urban League. My phone rang - an 859 area code. I knew who it was. And I knew it would either be really good news or more terrible news.

It was good.

14,000 miles away in Malawi, twin girls just arrived at our orphanage. Their triplet sister and biological mother had died.
They needed a mom and dad.

They were ours.

People driving by could see me jumping up and down in the parking lot, my hands were shaking, frantically texting Brian, who was in the middle of a trial.
Then - their pictures popped into my email.
Francisca - looked scared, but strong.
Prisca - smaller, possibly mischievous.

I'm sharing part of our journey because I know there are women reading this who are going through what I went through. Women who feel that wave of pain when seeing a pregnancy announcement. Women who ache to be a mom.

In the midst of our Malawi adoption process, we were BLESSED with two little boys, through a local foster care agency. And now we are hoping they stay with us forever.

These processes have taken years.

My path to motherhood has been a battle. And we’re still fighting to make all four of the children 'officially' ours.

Please. Never stop fighting for what God wants for you. As trite as it sounds, it IS worth the wait.