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I kicked the red dirt off my scuffed black flats, the nicest looking shoes I could find in my suitcase.


I leaned down and kissed the curly mop snuggled into the baby carrier on my chest.

I glanced at two giant folders with stamped, signed, and sealed papers spilling out.

I squeezed my husband’s hand, and we looked at each other as we walked the dusty path to the U.S. Consulate, ready to finish the months-long process of adopting our son Joseph.

The hard part was over.

We’d traveled across West Africa, clustered in small holding rooms with a toddler on our laps, waiting for days to catch a meeting with the correct child welfare officers.

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We followed every ethical procedure and policy, procuring every required signature and every official’s initial.

We traveled by air and past oil rigs to visit the right offices.

We sat in an intense courtroom proceeding with a magistrate and lawyer, nervously answering the court’s questions.

We saw compassion of others extended to us and the sweet child we were advocating for, and we also saw the corruption that so easily fills the man whose heart desperately grasps at power.

And at what we thought was the end of our journey—we exuberantly held documents confirming what we already knew the minute we met him—in the eyes of his home country’s government, Joseph was now our son.

Papers in hand, we walked the littered West-African road to the U.S. Consulate, exhausted but confident, ready to obtain our new son’s visa.

Our first clue that things wouldn’t be go as planned was when armed guards refused our entry into the U.S. Citizen line due to that sweet toddler in my arms.

So there we stood, dressed in the best we could muster, waiting in the hot sun trying to fill five hours entertaining and caring for a tired, fussy toddler as our line-mates watched with what at best can be described as intrigue.

Welcome to motherhood.

As we inched our way toward the Consulate check-in point, hope and excitement grew.

My aching feet didn’t seem so tired.

This was the moment we had been waiting and praying for.

We finally passed each security checkpoint and entered a room reminiscent of every DOT in America.

We were instructed to take a number and have a seat.

We sat on the hard plastic chairs, watching nationals answer entrance interview questions and raise their right hands as they passed their visa exams.

This adoption journey was finally coming to a close.

We would finally go home as a family of three.

We could finally get our son (our son!) the health care he deserved.

My husband could finally end his unpaid leave.

Every tear, every unexpected bump in the red dirt road, was worth this moment as we anticipated the next chapter of our lives.

“23B, you’re up.”

I smoothed my dress and swept our trail of Cheerios and grabbed our stacks of papers.

We walked to the glass window, where we were instructed to pick up a phone to communicate with the guarded Consulate worker on the other side.

We laid out every required U.S. immigration approval form we had received, every piece of paper documenting our son’s previous orphan status, and finally, every legally obtained court document pronouncing our son’s adoption.

The cardiganed-American on the other (air-conditioned) side glanced at the papers and informed us that she’d be back in a minute.

A minute turned into ten turned into twenty, and finally, she returned and motioned for us to pick up the phone so we could hear her.

“You will not be receiving a visa for this child. You may leave now.”

Surely, there was a mistake.

Her cold words didn’t sink in.

Hadn’t she seen we had painstakingly, obediently followed two country’s requirements? What about all the approvals U.S. government agencies had already given us? Wasn’t this supposed to be the last step?

Tears started streaming from my burning eyes as she refused to pick up the telephone again.

Her face held a mixed look of apathy and pity.

My tears turned into sobs that turned into uncontrollable shakes as the shock of the news sent waves through my body.

I fell to my knees, literally begging for more information as an enthralled waiting room turned its eyes to the scene I found myself in.

My husband stood stone-faced and closely held the sweet boy we had already been named legal parents of in the eyes of his country’s government.

What would we do?

I sobbed and shouted my way through the stages of grief as we walked the dusty road back to our temporary apartment.

My heart shattered into a million pieces for the innocent, chubby toddler who had already experienced more tragedy and trauma in his little life than most do in a lifetime.

He deserved a family.

He deserved a mama who would fight for him.

So we cancelled our flights home to the U.S. and stayed. And fought. We scheduled meetings.

We emailed.

And called.

And faxed.

We spoke with congressmen and senators and child advocates and attorneys and State Department officials.

We pushed for answers and, even when I had to kiss my husband goodbye so he could return to work in the U.S. after an already extended family leave, I pushed some more.

I asked questions and piece by piece, discovered the bureaucratic red-tape we faced centered more on varying interpretations of a specific foreign law regarding international adoption in general and less with the an error in our specific process.

No one questioned orphan status or if ethics had been followed or validity of paperwork.

Pushing back was exhausting, but my son gave me the strength to wake up and fight another day. I was not alone.

We were together, and that was the fuel I needed to fiercely advocate for my child like any loving parent would.

That apartment off the red dirt road became our den as I transformed from scared young woman into fierce mama bear.

In so many ways, it was us against the world.

Thirty long days later, with literally hundreds of calls and hoards of emails logged to Consulate officials on our behalf from government officials in the U.S., I received the call we had been waiting for.

At about 2 a.m. his time, my husband called me from our Midwest home, telling me our son’s visa was ready. We were coming home. When my husband asked why head of the Consulate had called him—and not his wife, who was literally two blocks down from the Consulate—to share this news, the director confessed that it was “stressful” for him to talk to me.

My transformation to mama bear was complete.

I laced my dirty running shoes and donned my college t-shirt and worn-out shorts.

I triple-locked the bulletproof doors of the apartment, put my son’s chubby body in the carrier on my back, and breathed the thick air with determination and grit dripping from my pores.

I trudged the same path we had walked a month before, but this time, I was refined by fire.

I was prepared to wait in long lines, but no pull-a-number was necessary.

They simply placed the required packet in my hands, and we were on our way to book one-way tickets home.

Mother and son, just like before.

The privilege and magnitude of becoming a mother to a life I did not create is as humbling as it is empowering.

The struggle I waded through in West Africa is nothing to the hurt my young son has faced and will continue to face as someone who has lost birth family and birth culture.

Adoption is rooted in brokenness, but I am thankful to have experienced that love is what makes a family whole.

May I never take for granted the profound honor I’m bestowed every time I’m called mommy.

Kayla Craig is a full-time journalist turned work-at-home writer. She’s married to a shaggy-haired pastor, and together they’re raising two sweet (and wild) little boys in the heart of the Midwest. She’s a mom via birth, and international adoption from West Africa. Kayla’s crew is currently in the adoption process again, and she’s expecting in April. Kayla writes about finding worth at Many Sparrows.

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

loleez

When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

This article was sponsored by Lolleez. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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The nurses and my husband were pushing the stretcher as I tried to put some makeup on; I have always loved red lipstick and bought a new one for this special occasion. I want to look pretty in the pictures, I can not be seen with this face, I thought.

My brown skin contrasted with the white of the operating room—I was there because twins generally means it's high-risk pregnancy, so this was an extra precaution before starting to push. Doctors were ready; clean and sterilized. My husband was dressed as an astronaut and I? Well, I was disheveled, with huge dark circles and no sleep, but extremely nervous and excited.

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"Push, push, push," they said when everyone was set up, but I was just trying to get my hair in a ponytail. There is nothing glamorous about giving birth.

Labor began shortly before 11:00 in the morning. At 11:04, my daughter was born and by 11:07 my son arrived. The two of them were vaginal deliveries. No cesarean. It was so fast that I didn't have time to put makeup on or do my hair. I had no time to get picture ready even when I had spent 37.5 weeks waiting for this moment.

My daughter cried softly and my son was tiny. I could only hold them for a couple of minutes, just a short skin-to-skin hug before they were taken to the NICU. They needed more oxygen and some tests.

From the operating room, I had time to send photos to the family, give the good news on WhatsApp and post something on Facebook. Their dad ran behind them as they went to the NICU. I was left alone, but not empty. I was happy, proud and full of love; I don't know if the epidural was working its magic, but I was never afraid.

Then I was back in my room. A nurse bathed me, braided my hair and put a little makeup on my exhausted face. My mom came to see me, probably a little disappointed that the twins were not with me. Everything happened so fast. Just half an hour after the delivery, I was in a wheelchair on my way to the NICU to see those little strangers that had formed in my belly.

They were twins, but completely different. My daughter was a brunette, but my son was more likely to be blond; she was fully awake and he was sleeping. You could definitely tell that she would be the one with a strong personality and he would be the sweet mama's boy. They were two tiny individuals that grew together in my belly.

"I'm mom," I introduced myself in a whisper.

It was the second time they saw me and I made sure that I looked a little bit better this time. It was not the makeup or the hair, love made me look pretty and I was full of that wild and inexplicable new emotion.

Then something happened. It was just a second, a click.

We recognized each other and loved each other instantly. My mom told me about that "magical connection" but I never really believed it until I felt it.

I was a brand new mom with no experience at all (I have to confess that I even took classes to learn how to change diapers and use a stroller). And, of course, I didn't know what to tell them or how to lull them; there are no classes to prepare you for that. It was so unexpected that I, a writer and a journalist, was out of words.

I was so in love that I was speechless. They were so tiny and had so many tubes and machines on them that I was afraid to do or say the wrong thing.

So I sang. I sang every single lullaby in Spanish that I could remember while I rocked them to sleep. In the beginning, it was one by one, in their own rooms and then, together, one on each arm, like the family we've been since then.

I spent my first night as a mother away from them, yearning for them and missing them. I spent the second night in a larger room with no crib or babies. The third, the fourth and even the seventh—and others—I spent in the NICU, with them.

Our boy was still in the hospital and our daughter in my arms. I discovered the magic of motherhood amid pediatricians and nurses, pumps and tubes. But, even with all that chaos, I found true joy and the most frightening fear.

It has been five years now. Today they are no longer babies; they say they are a big boy/girl now. I know it's true. Where did the time go?

They have grown a lot, but they are still my babies; they can bathe alone and brush their teeth making circles as the dentist taught them, but they are still looking for my arms, my kisses, my touch and my words of love.

They think they need me, but in reality, I need them more. We're a team; we are family. We love each other, we accept each other, we challenge ourselves, we—almost always—like each other, we push ourselves to the limit, but with the same intensity we love each other.

I'm so blessed to have them in my life. I'm lucky and beyond. I'm so excited to walk with them in this life and I'm so thankful that they chose me to be their mom.

Larga vida, mis cachorros. Los amo.

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I have a secret to tell you.

I really, really loved breastfeeding my babies. I loved it so much I fed them both from my breasts for nearly two years each. I nursed my first son while pregnant with my second. And man, I loved every single second of it. I cried for two days when I decided to wean my second and last baby. I will always remember the way the tops of their heads looked and smelled as they nursed. It is a memory emblazoned in my soul.

I am afraid to admit this though because I have been told that if I did I would be shaming other moms who struggled to nurse. I would never want to make another mother feel bad about her choice or struggle.

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You see, I think sometimes in an effort to "not shame mothers" (all for the not shaming btw), we have made celebrating our own joys as a sort of shame-inducing thing for other mothers. And man, I think that kind of stinks.

So here is my plea... Moms, dads, SAHMs, working mamas and every kind of mama, can we bring back more of the celebration? Feelings of accomplishment no matter the feat. Praise for a job well done, whatever that job is.

I am never going to say "breast is best" or working moms have it harder, or anything like that. Nope, I am not here for that. I am, however, going to do my very best and do what works for me. I would love some space to feel good about that. And in turn, I would love to praise you for your choices, your accomplishments and your mommy style

I want to hear about how great your kid is at soccer. I really want you to brag as much as possible about her athletic prowess. She scored three goals today? So amazing! We need more of that mom-brag and swag.

I will tell you right now, my kid is not that soccer star, but you sharing how awesome your daughter is will not make me feel ashamed. I want to celebrate you and revel in your pride even while my kid is taking his 10th water break of a 20-minute game.

Mom life is legit hard right? If you are anything like me, you worry approximately 7,453 times a day about your kids— are they "normal," are they succeeding, am I making sure they are not turning into legit insane monsters?

Mom life is also riddled with self-doubt (hey there, talking about myself again!), insecurity and uncertainness. So I understand the need to make sure we are never shaming another mama. I work hard at this, and I also work hard to make it clear that just because a mama parents differently, it doesn't mean it's better or worse.

Since mom-life has all these stressors, I really want to see if we can let go of the idea that sharing our joys and triumphs means we are shaming one another.

Your kid sleeps through the night every night at 2 weeks old? Um, so I may be the most jealous ever, but goodness, I am so happy for you and genuinely want to celebrate you.

Your kindergartner is reading chapter books and mine is over here coloring outside the lines and still gets confused between his b's and his d's? I am so proud of your buddy and you! Mine will get there, in his own time, as it is meant to be.

Share with me, celebrate with me, beam with pride, mama.

What do you say, mamas? Can we start to share those joys a little more? Celebrate those accomplishments of the tiny humans we are working so hard to raise? Find the joy in our friends' kids and our own?

I'll start. Today my 3-year-old only cried a little when I dropped him off at preschool. He typically screams. Tiny victories Mama, they count too.

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Your to-do list is kind of under control. The kitchen is mostly clean. You just finished that big work project and to celebrate, you scheduled a lunch out with the girls tomorrow while your little one is at school. As you rest your head on the pillow you think to yourself, “Okay! I might actually sorta-kinda have this whole thing under control!"

And then you hear it from down the hallway: cough cough.

Your eyes shoot open. No. It's fine, just a little tickle in her throat. She's fine.

Cough cough cough.

Nope, it's fine. If I lay here and don't move nothing will be...

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“MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYYY I don't feeeeeeel goooooooood."

Sigh.

You break out the humidifier, the Tylenol and the snuggles. And then comes the inevitable question—can they go to school tomorrow? It's not an easy question to answer, for sure.

On the one hand, kids are basically walking booger factories at all times—if we kept them home for every sneeze and cough they'd never go to school. On the other hand, we don't want to put our kids in a situation where they could get sicker—or make other kids sick.

When in doubt, you should always give your pediatrician a call for guidance. Most schools have policies on it as well.

But as a general rule of thumb, here's what to know when your child isn't feeling well:

On fevers

The most clear cut of all symptoms are fevers—if they have a fever, they stay home. A fever is any temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or greater. A child needs to be fever-free for a full 24-hours before they can return to school.

Note: If your newborn has a fever she needs medical attention right away. It could be an emergency.

On stuffy noses and coughs

A mildly stuffy nose, or an occasional cough isn't enough to warrant a day off from school. But if the mucus is really thick and/or the cough is frequent, loud, or just sounds “gross," it's probably best to keep her home.

Coughs can linger for a long time in children, but if it persists for several days, or she has a fever with it, give your doctor a call. If the cough sounds like a seal barking, and certainly if she is having any trouble breathing, get medical attention right away.

On tummy troubles

Or as my daughter's preschool teacher called it, “intestinal mischief." If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home (and should stay home for 24 hours after the last incident). Make sure everyone at home washes their hands really well, as stomach bugs tend to be very contagious.

Remember to encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. If they aren't drinking, call your doctor right away.

On skin issues

This can be tricky—between marker explosions, dry skin and rashes, it seems like my kids' skin looks different every day. Rashes are almost impossible to diagnose over the phone, so if you are concerned, they'll need to be evaluated by their doctor to help determine the cause (and contagiousness) of the rash.

If you suspect your child has lice, they should stay home as well—and you'll probably have to give the school a call so they can ANONYMOUSLY alert the other parents.

Along the same lines is the dreaded conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Usually your child (or lucky you) will wake up with their eyelids crusted shut, or they'll have a very pink eye with lots of goop (sorry—but we're all moms here, we can handle the eye goop convo right?)

This is highly contagious, so they should for sure stay home from school. Depending on if it's viral or bacterial, you doctor may prescribe medicine that clears it up quickly.

On pain

This one is tough—kids often complain about various boo-boos, especially when it means that they get a Frozen Bandaid out of the deal. If they complain of pain persistently, if the pain prevents them from playing, and of course if you witness a bad injury, keep them home and get medical help right away.

Remember that you know your child best. Ultimately, you get to make the decision. Your pediatrician will be there to guide you, and one day, ONE DAY, you really will get that whole to-do list tackled... we think?

You've got this.

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"I understand what you're going through."

"That happened to a friend of mine."

"Everything happens for a reason."

"It wasn't meant to be."

Silence.

On the rare occasion that I open up about our experience with family expansion losses, disappointments and tragedies, I almost always find myself faced with a loving person who has no idea what to say or do. Reactions typically range from awkwardness to avoidance. And while it certainly hurts to watch friends fumble, I get it.

The reality is, there is no perfect way to respond. It is tricky terrain. But here are some thoughts I encourage you to consider before sharing your words of support.

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No, you probably can't relate. We all have different experiences in life.

Not all failed pregnancies are the same. My husband and I have had a failed pregnancy when the stakes were low—early in our efforts when we were younger. We've had a failed pregnancy when the stakes were high—after countless cycles of crushingly expensive, time-consuming, emotionally draining IVF with the last healthy embryo we'd (likely) ever create. They weren't the same.

Not all failed adoptions are the same. We've had a failed adoption that cost us zero dollars. We've had a failed adoption that cost us 40 grand. We've had a failed adoption that happened within a week. We've had a failed adoption that happened after 6 months of dreaming and planning. We've had a failed adoption in which we never met the child. We've had a failed adoption in which we held, fed, changed and photographed ourselves with the child.

Thankfully, we've never experienced a failed adoption where the child was removed from our home after a year. But this has happened to families we know.

Even if you've had an experience related to the same topic, please don't assume you can understand the experience. It's highly likely that you can't, and that's okay.

You don't need to tiptoe around the topic like you're on eggshells.

If you treat a person like they're broken, they may start to feel as if they are. They're in pain. They're hurting. Their dreams may have been shattered. But they are not broken.


There have been times when friends haven't included us in their joyful moments because we weren't experiencing ours at the same time. I'm sure they thought it was kinder to do so as they likely deemed the events not "relevant to us" and being present might cause us pain. But the reality is that blessings in their lives are not things we want to avoid. If someone I know is pregnant while I'm not, nothing they do will make me forget my reality.

Assume the best.

I believe that most people can be happy for others even if they haven't received the same gifts. I know I can. For instance, I don't fly first class to exotic locations around the world, but one of my best friends does. When she returns from her adventures, I love to hear her stories and look through her pictures.

I do wish that someday I can join her on an adventure, but for now, I am simply happy for her. She's living her best life, and that's exactly what I'd wish for her.

I have a big heart, and it has space for the joys of my loved ones. If you're bringing another child into your family, that's a blessing. Might I sit in envy for a little while? Maybe. Might I shed some tears wishing I could have what you do? Possibly. But that's human. A true friend will work to carry themselves through those feelings. Assume they will.

Please don't judge. It isn't about anyone else but those going through it.

Along this journey, I'm sure there have been times we haven't been "ourselves." All we needed from those around us was a little patience until we were feeling better again. Sometimes that can take longer than usual. Trauma can do that to a person. Repeated trauma certainly can.

I had a tendency to drown myself in work. Sometimes we distanced ourselves from friends. Occasionally we didn't leave the house for an entire weekend. As long as people kept inviting us out, even when we repeatedly declined, we felt supported. Eventually, we rejoined them.

The last thing we ever needed while going through those hard moments in our lives was to feel guilty for the things we weren't doing with our friends. It was a period of grief or us, and getting through it took every ounce of our energy.

We remember.

We have anniversaries that no one else may know about. We can't and won't forget about them because they've been part of our journey. We haven't needed others to know about them or remember them if they were told. All we continue to need is the grace to let us handle those times in our own way, and be kept in their hearts.

As for where we are right now…

Are we through our pain? To some degree.

Do our hearts continue to heal daily? They do.

Will we always need our friends and their loving hearts? We will. We always will.

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