blue sky shining over

Category: adoption

progression | part 3

december 14

we had to do it alone.

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we were alone when we summoned his body from the earth, and now, alone, we return the sum of our bodies to the earth and water and air and elements.

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these ashes feel hideously indecent, powdered triune nakedness.

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web ready-010i pour into my hand and they slip through my fingers, soft and caressing like a baby’s touch.

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fine like baby powder.
fine like powdered baby.

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i strew my heart and my passion and my future and my body along this river. spiritual and carnal comingle, cold rain and hot tears. the water and ash make mud in my hand, and this is creation. i hold the stuff of adam.

creation and desolation, beginning and end.

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alpha omega is here, in this infinite moment.
distilled and destroyed image of god.
breath and dust.

i breathe. i choke hot dusty sorrow. it is finished.

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but it is also beginning.

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a small seed of rainbow, the root of ash, nestled in the womb, a circular room that circles from beginning to end. sky’s life began and ended here; ash’s life begins … and begins again. old mud is formed into a baby who is not yet powdered, bringing forth order from chaos.

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i have two babies: one knit into order, the other flung into chaos. earth and water and breath course through the baby of order. the baby of chaos is in the earth and air and sky. my sky child, and my ash child.

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a paradox:
my baby who is ash is not called ash, and my baby who is called ash is not yet ash.

web ready-035the beginning and the end curve together into a circle, and binding them in orbit is love.


progression | part 1

i feel it is important to clarify that this will be my story of ashal emmanuel’s adoption, not his.

we have almost no information on ashal’s 38 weeks and 5 days in utero, and not much more on his first 12 days of life. his story starts in a place that is unreachable to me, and it will emerge as he finds the words to tell it. the story that follows is my story of motherhood, an evolving story of loss and confusion and unexpected joy. of finding myself and god and a world of mystery in the complexities of mothering children who are both living and dead.

it is a picture story, because photography is an essential part of how i make sense of life. sometimes it’s awkward. it’s awkward to pull out a big fancy camera in moments of great emotion, awkward to focus my lens when my eyes are full of tears, awkward to punctuate the music of crying with clicks, awkward to ask a stranger if i can take her picture. but i do it anyway, because, well, it’s what i do.

my refrain, starting last january, was “i can’t get through another christmas with no children, no family.” over and over throughout the year; i can’t get through our 9th christmas with just the two of us. can’t is such a cruel word. each time i have said i can’t over the past year, that which i could not do came and went. i didn’t explode or disappear, but each time the tyranny of my self-professed inability chipped away at hope. i can’t is not a statement of fact, but of despair. i knew i would live through another childless christmas as i had each one before that, but … i can’t.

in november, our first adoption opportunity arrived. a baby would be born at the end of november, and we were one of two families considered to be his parents. it was a protracted affair, with certainty pushed off more times than i could count. each time we heard “no word today. hopefully tomorrow.” my heart said i can’t. after 10 days of this, i wrote the following journal entry:

i really should be doing a better job of journaling this adoption process. so many emotions and memories and thoughts – tidbits of learning that fall like the parable of the seeds on the road, trampled by the stomping of strong emotions and complex experiences.

i feel certain tonight that this mom won’t choose us tomorrow. and i can’t really say i feel peace about it – more of a sad acceptance. we will spend this thanksgiving without the present hope of a child. this whole year, the grief year of losing sky, must be lived out, loose ends must be tied, and ashes must be scattered.

we’ve tried so hard to start the next thing before finishing the first, and i don’t think the universe works this way. maybe it does. one could certainly say that the universe multitasks. but i must bring the silence into my soul before it can be filled with hope again; of this i am sure. joel says that 90% of life is just showing up and bringing what you have, but i think that, to take this next step into present motherhood, i must prepare my broken heart.

this premonition proved to be true, and we set about finding ways to bring some amount of resolve to our mourning hearts, never dreaming that a child would come into our family exactly between sky’s birthday and christmas, the tiny window between finishing that which we had to complete, and spending another christmas alone.


i get the weirdest looks when i tell people that we are practicing adoptive breastfeeding. the weird look usually precedes an incredulous response along the lines of, “is that even a thing?!” some are too uncomfortable to ask, and merely pack an impressive amount of obvious curiosity into a couple of raised eyebrows and an “oh.

so, for those who are reading this and asking, “is that even a thing?!” and for those who are in the too-uncomfortable-to-ask camp, here’s the lowdown on my experience.

lactation is not merely a magical byproduct of pregnancy. it is a unique process, linked to but not dependent on pregnancy. women who are not pregnant can lactate. women who have never been pregnant can lactate. some women who have been pregnant cannot lactate. many men can be induced to lactate. (sound fun?)

the essential equation for lactation is breast stimulation + natural hormones produced by breast stimulation. throw in some herbs, medications, and artificially added hormones, stir, season to taste, and you have breast milk. there are as many combinations of these elements as there are women, but the most effective protocols for inducing lactation follow this basic recipe.

since i’m not an expert on inducing lactation, i can only share my own experience. to create the optimal hormonal balance in my body, i started taking a high-progesterone birth control at the end of september, skipping the monthly week of sugar pills. i also took domperidone, an anti-nausea medication that is frequently prescribed for increasing milk supply, and a “mother’s milk” herbal supplement.  this mimicked the effects of pregnancy in my body. of course, the hormonal feast of pregnancy is no picnic for many women, myself included. i experienced headaches, nausea, exhaustion, and depressed moods – symptoms typical in pregnancy.

at the end of november, i was desperate to not be “pregnant” anymore, and decided to enter the pumping phase, even though we didn’t have a baby lined up at that time. for me, the hassle and discomfort of pumping was preferable to the headaches and lack of emotional resilience caused by the hormones. i went off the birth control cold turkey, and started pumping, 15 minutes per session, 8 sessions per day.

pumping is not a sexy activity.

i initially had a very hard time with pumping, because the exposed, inorganic nature of the process conflicted ridiculously with my culturally ingrained concepts of femininity. every couple hours i hooked my breasts up to plastic pieces shaped like exaggerated inversions of a breast shape, winced as the machine wheezed and pinched and tugged for 15 minutes, and collected the precious few drops in a mason jar to freeze at the end of the week. the whole process felt degrading and violating. joel encouraged me to find ways to honor the sacrifice and strength of what i was doing, and so i started calling my pumping sessions “nobility sessions,” and my domperidone and herbs “nobility pills.” (as in “oops, i forgot to take my nobility pills.” or “i have to go – i’m due for a nobility session.”)

it helped a little.

breast suction piece with milk collection bottle

breast suction piece with milk collection bottle

my big blue hospital grade breast pump. the tubes hook up to the collection bottles and provide the suction.

my big blue hospital grade breast pump. the tubes hook up to the collection bottles and provide the suction.

as the weeks passed, i celebrated every drop as my supply rose incrementally. first nothing, then 2 drops per session. 5 drops per session. 1 ounce per day. tiny victories.

when we left to get ash, i had maybe 16-20oz of breast milk frozen from a month of pumping, enough for him to eat for 1 day.

i continued to pump in florida, because babies who have been bottle fed for 12 days do not transition straight to breastfeeding. the day after we picked up ash, i put him on my breast. he nursed for almost 30 whole seconds, before spitting out my nipple and screaming his head off. believe or not, that was actually a success.

babies are smart creatures, and they learn how to get food from the source they are given. ash had already learned to suck from a bottle, and bottles feel very different from real breasts. he struggled to latch on, but just didn’t know how. after a few minutes, in which he would suck for a few seconds at a time, we would switch to the bottle as he grew increasingly confused and hungry. we kept trying once or twice per day, and once again, celebrated tiny victories. 30 seconds. 2 minutes. 5 minutes.

after we got home, we had a nice long 3 hour meeting with my lactation consultant, a warm, knowledgeable woman who somehow makes an extremely modest person like me feel comfortable being topless around her. i tell you, the woman is magical. though breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t come naturally to most women and babies. it is an art, a learning process, and a relationship, more than it is an instinct. melissa taught me a few tricks, taught ash a few tricks, and most of all, provided the encouragement we needed to keep trying.

(melissa: “remember, lani, with inducing lactation, raising your supply, and introducing breastfeeding, you’re doing the work of feeding triplets.”
me: “but i don’t want triplets!)

she also diagnosed ash with a couple slight mouth deformities (tongue and lip ties) that we are having fixed in a small, outpatient surgical procedure on friday. this will improve his latch now, and hopefully prevent speech and other problems when he is older.

for now, we continue to muddle along, learning to know each other through this strange and very occasionally wonderful relationship of breastfeeding. ash is healthy – he gained more than a pound last week – and, most importantly, we are bonding.

bonding, this elusive component of the breastfeeding relationship. as we bond, he learns to trust me, to take comfort in my smell and heartbeat, and to latch onto the individual pair of breasts through which i can feed him. i learn to gauge his moods, read his cries, and my body learns to respond to his particular nutritional and emotional needs. in a typical nursing relationship, the mother and child spend 9 months in intense physical bonding, each shaping the hormonal and cellular development of the other, mingling heartbeats. ash and i have had 13 days.

considering that, i think we’re doing pretty good.

lani and ash, 25 days old


adoptive parents with baby at airportoh, blessed rain!
blessed hippies
blessed evergreens
blessed messy bedroom
blessed excited housemates
blessed home cooking
blessed shower with water pressure
blessed clouds
blessed cats
blessed friends

welcome home, ash.



dear florida,

please accept a goodbye kiss from ashal.

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… cause we’re going HOME!

our ash baby is about to experience the wonders of life in oregon, where daddy isn’t the only guy around with facial hair, mommy isn’t the only one who greets strangers on the street, and a host of people are waiting to love him!




we gave ourselves the entire plane trip to pick out a name for our 12 day old, yet-unnamed baby, forgetting that the plane would have no internet access. how the heck do you name a baby without the internet?!

the process went something like this:
watch an episode of seinfeld.
“what name do you like the best right now?”
“you answer first.”
“let’s watch another seinfeld.”
(lather. rinse. repeat.)

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ashal was a name that we had briefly considered before sky was born, but never even reached the “let’s research this name” phase. basically, we wanted to call him ash, but give him a slightly more dignified full name. “asher” had a little too much R action with our last name (asherrrrrroberrrrrts), so ashal was a lovely alternative.

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my dad did some research on the name. (cause, you know, he had internet. such a useful invention.) he found that it means “tamarisk tree” in hebrew, and “a flower in the heavens” in arabic.

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joel asked why the baby even needed a middle name. i informed him that depriving a child with the ridiculously common last name of “roberts” of the many internet-age options a middle age name provides is not very nice. joel capitulated.

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ashal’s birth dad is haitian, so i used our half-hour layover in phoenix to look up popular haitian names for inspiration.

unrelatedly, the phoenix airport carpet is weird. (though i suppose a pdx native can’t really boast in the matter of airport carpets.)

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and there, right near the top of the list.

god with us.

it all came together.
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today we’re snuggling our little flower from the heavens, who brought the hope of god-with-us back into our life after a desolate year of pain and grief.

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merry christmas.


i don’t like the term “easy baby,” but if there ever was one then ash is it. he eats, sleeps, hates to be changed but forgives us quickly, and soaks up as much cuddling love as he can get. we’re working hard to start breastfeeding, and i’m so impressed with how well he’s doing! we’ve managed to establish a good latch a few times, and we’re slowly moving toward more and more human milk, and less formula. (woohoo.)

mommy’s learning that babies don’t have anti-migraine properties, and forgetting to eat for hours on end doesn’t do anyone any favors. (headslap.) daddy’s taking the lead on sling tying (check), bottle making (check), laundry doing (check), and delivering that special dad-brand of wit (check).

here are a few unedited pictures from the big camera from meeting ashal at the agency and our first day “home”.

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ash with mom, day 2


it’s been almost exactly 24 hours since we brought ash home (i.e. extended stay america) from the agency. yesterday at this time we were in whole foods, buying baby wipes, cocoa butter, and big people food. we’re spending as much time holding him as possible to promote bonding (i.e. all the time), so instead of carrying his carseat through the store i carried him, swaddled in his little receiving blanket and drawing stares from everybody. one lady, beaming at him, wished us good luck.

he’s been giving us plenty of time to sleep. he rarely fusses unless we put him down, and is content and alert when he’s awake. today’s itinerary includes a first attempt at the intricacies of babywearing, continuing to slowly introduce breastfeeding, and finding milk donors in southern florida.

oh, and snuggling. lots of snuggling.

ashal emmanuel

IMAG0180 joel holding ashal IMG_20121220_173519_970(more pics to follow when i decide to delve into my real camera. for now, this is what you get.)



yes, that’s a carseat i’m holding … and it felt weird, let me tell ya. the us airways check-in man is named rico. he asked where the baby was, and we told him. he asked if this was our first time, to which i still answered yes, and then stuttered a bit. our first time […]