Imperfect blessings

I have really struggled in the past couple of weeks trying to find the right words in giving those that have been waiting, an update about Emma. There is just so MUCH to tell, yet I feel there aren’t enough words to say what I want to say. I think it’s because it is hard to describe what I feel each time I look at and just think about this little girl who finally came home to her family 3 1/2 months ago.

No one goes into parenthood wishing for a child with disabilities. We all pray for a “healthy baby” when we become pregnant, or discover we are going to be grandparents. I was no different. Each time I found out I was pregnant, I did everything humanly possible to bring a healthy child into this world and into my family. That didn’t change when Ron and I made the decision to adopt. We naively thought we’d bring two healthy children into our lives and go blissfully on our merry way, raising them into responsible adults just like we had done with our other children.

We started the long arduous road of international adoption with our heads in the clouds, completely oblivious to what was happening in the world where real children lived in real orphanages. We discovered a world where children were living in horrifying conditions, cold, hungry, and tossed away like garbage because they were not perfect when they were born. The sun was NOT going to come out tomorrow and there was no Daddy Warbucks coming to save Annie, or Ivana, or Dimana, or Yu Chang.

And this knowledge changed our perception of a healthy, perfect child.

We received an email from our agency, Children’s House International, with the file of a 5 year old little girl with Cystic Fibrosis. The photos and video showed a tiny little girl, with big brown eyes and a shy smile all dressed up in a white angel costume, complete with wings. Beautiful as she was, paralyzing fear ripped through me. When I was 5, a friend and kindergarten classmate of mine died of cystic fibrosis. I closed her file and refused to consider bringing home a child that could die before the age of 10, or even 6! We continued to look at files of other children, but I kept coming back to the video of the little angel dancing in the video. And I realized this wasn’t about me. This wasn’t about what my heart could handle, it was about a tiny little girl, living 5772 miles away and left in an orphanage in Eastern Europe because she wasn’t perfect. A little girl who needed proper medical care to treat her cystic fibrosis and a family to love her no matter how long she lived. I set my fear aside and brought this child home to be my daughter.

During the process of finalizing Cara’s adoption, we received the file of another little girl. A child not quite 2 at that time with a multitude of problems. Born not breathing, resuscitated at 3 minutes old, and abandoned by her mother because the doctors said her baby would not be perfect and would be better off in an institution. A little girl who by admission of the orphanage staff was sickly and they had no time for her, so she was left in her crib to her own devices day after day. No contact with other children, no adult to care for her other than feeding and changing, no toys, no interaction. They didn’t have time for children like her who were so very damaged. Her pictures showed another little girl with big brown eyes and a look of confusion on her pretty little face. My heart broke, and once again paralyzing fear ripped through me. She couldn’t walk or talk or even sit up by herself. We were “older” parents. We wanted a child that could walk and talk. I set the file aside, but asked continuously if a family had committed to her. I rejoiced when I heard a family had. And I cried when I found out the family backed out. By that time, the little girl had had her second birthday and I once again had to confront my fears. And so began the process of bringing home this imperfect child.

As I said, no one prays for a child with special needs. I was no different. Committing to these two little girls gripped me with a fear I’d never known. Yes, I had raised four children to adulthood, but they were all “perfect” by world standards. They were all healthy at birth, and we lived the normal life of a family with kids who played soccer, excelled in school, had friends, became those “I’m smarter than you are” teens we all know and love. They moved on to living their own lives as adults. We had no experience with children with special needs, either medically, physically, or mentally. We were walking into the unknown and had no idea what to expect.

Doing our due diligence, we learned our lives were going to change dramatically. Our days would be filled with doctor appointments, physical therapy, occupational therapy, pulmonary therapy, as well as emotional and developmental delays. Long days that would leave me exhausted and frustrated. Long days that would also leave me filled with such joy and amazement.

What I didn’t expect or know was the incredible blessings these imperfect children would be. And this is where I struggle to find the words to express what I want to say about Cara and Emma.

Cara has now been home two years. We celebrated her 2nd “gotcha day” on February 8th. We brought home a tiny, frightened 6 year old, developmentally about 3 years old, who has grown into a confident, outgoing, smart and funny, makes me laugh every day, 8 year old. She is a joy and a treasure.

Emma has been home 3 1/2 months. I could talk about Emma all day for a week and not be able to tell you all the progress she has made. She amazes me EVERY.SINGLE.DAY!

In May of 2014 when we were finally able to visit her in her orphanage for the first time, they brought us this limp little girl, literally hanging in a staff members arms like a limp dish rag. She was 4 years old. There was no spark to her at all. Ron and I looked at each other again with a fear neither of us had ever felt before. We took her into the room where we were allowed to visit with her and spent 6 hours with her that first day. Her eyes were vacant, and she was unresponsive to anything around her including loud noises. She could not or would not make eye contact and would roll over into a position of sitting on her knees and rock herself back and forth, head almost touching the floor in front of her and then hyper-extending her neck so far back it would press on her larynx to the point it would compromise her breathing. I fed her lunch and half her meal came up and out her nose. There was no question ever that we would back out of the adoption, but we were both terrified. What if she never improved? How would we care for her? Could we provide her with everything she would need? WHAT would she need? We spent 5 days with her, and finally by the end of the 3rd day we saw some improvement. A hint of a smile, tiny little fingers wrapping around mine and wiggling their way into my hair.

Without knowing Emma, and knowing where she was last May, you might not see the changes that have come about over the past 3 months. Some of the changes are so subtle, unless you spend every day with her, you might miss them. But for Emma, they are huge. The limp little dishrag now crawls and pushes herself all over the house on her back. The little girl we were told was cognitively a vegetable, will pick up a hair brush and put it to her head. She will roll away from me on the floor if she is tired of me trying to stop her from hyper extending her neck, so she can do it where she thinks I can’t reach her. She pulls herself up into a standing position. She pets the cat when he lays down next to her. She turns her head to see where noise comes from, and laughs and giggles when you tickle her. She cries when she is hurt, instead of laughing inappropriately because no one ever came to help her in the orphanage. She no longer pushes me away when I pick her up and now snuggles her little face into my shoulder. She reaches for me to pick her up when she wants to be held. She started crying huge, heart wrenching tears after quietly spending the  first 3 nights home in her crib because she no longer wanted to be in a crib. She responds to her name, and understands no, eat, cat, dog, and a few other words. We believe she has said mama and dada, but we are not 100% sure she knows what they mean. She is learning to  play with toys, and has a favorite. We’ve taught her to clap her hands, and clap one of ours. She now splashes in the bath and enjoys having her hair washed. She is holding her head up better and for longer periods every day.

She sees her physical therapist for an hour three times a week and works hard. She now has AFO’s (ankle-foot orthotics) to stabilize her feet and help her stand. Her knees, which she could not straighten, are straightening. She can stand for longer and longer periods in a stander, fully weight bearing.

She has been evaluated by a speech therapist who believes she may someday speak, and chew her food. She has had a barium swallow study that show the muscles in her throat aren’t strong enough to fully swallow her food, which is why it comes back out her nose. This has improved dramatically with v-stim therapy to strengthen those muscles.

She has been to see the ENT to rule out bad tonsils and adenoids, which are not causing her problems.

The ophthalmologist discovered she has pale optic nerves, which indicates optic nerve damage, most likely caused by a lack of oxygen at birth, but it is obvious she can see. Until she can communicate a little better we won’t know well she sees.

She has seen the dentist who wants to see her in 3 months to see if she will allow someone to clean her teeth. I’m thinking sedation will be needed.

She has sleep apnea and has an overnight sleep study in her future.

The visit to a pediatric neurologist confirmed the diagnosis of cerebral palsy and microcephaly. An MRI of her brain shows damage in the back of her brain consistent with an injury at birth, which we suspected. This was not news to us, just confirmation. He told us statistically, children who are not walking or talking by age 2 most likely never will, but because he doesn’t know how much of Emma’s issues are due to neglect and how much were caused by a lack of oxygen at birth he has no idea how much she may recover. We continue to believe she will walk and eventually talk. We know of other children who have started walking and talking after age 2, one child as old as 8, so we know the possibility is there.

Have the last 3 1/2 months been easy? No! Do I enjoy getting up early every morning to rush off to this therapy and that therapy and this doctor and that doctor? No! Do I regret any of it? No!. Would I do it all over again? Yes! Am I still afraid? Yes! Would I have willingly prayed for these imperfect children? No…  However, if I had allowed my fears to rule my life, I would have missed out on two of the biggest blessings ever offered and freely given.

I can’t explain what it is like to watch God’s miracles unfold right in front of my eyes. Seeing Him work daily leaves me humbled and awed. Watching Cara blossom into a healthy, confident little girl is amazing. Seeing Emma overcome the years of neglect and so quickly learn she can trust us to comfort her when she cries, feed her when she’s hungry, and just be there for her brings tears to my eyes. She has no reason to trust us. She has no reason to believe someone will comfort her when she cries, or hold her when she wants to be held. And she certainly has no reason to trust us enough to love us back. Yet she trusts…

These imperfect little girls have redefined the meaning of “perfect.”

 

Thought I’d update what little I know…

I haven’t posted here in awhile because there hasn’t been much to post. We are still battling for Irina. At some point soon the Supreme Court will hear out case and make a decision. We have faith they will overturn the ministry’s decision to deny us the adoption of Irina. When that happens, our file will be returned to the ministry for an official referral. And then we begin all over again. We will have to travel to visit her for 5 days, then come home and wait for i800 approval, our article 5 embassy approval, a signature from the minister, and then a court date to finalize the adoption. She will have to wait another 4 to 5 months after our visit to come home. By that time she will most likely be 3 years old. The longer this little girl waits for her mother to hold her close, the longer it will take for her to recover from the severe neglect she has received. My heart breaks every time I think of the delays her government is forcing her to go through. I know God has a plan and His timing is perfect, but it is hard to accept when there is an innocent child waiting, and waiting and waiting for the love she needs.

We are waiting for a signature from the minister on Cara’s adoption. She is the bright spot through all of this. We should get the signature this week or the week after. We pray we will get our court date in early January, and bring her home in February. I write to her every other week to keep her updated, and help to prepare her for her move and new family. I can imagine how frightened she is at the prospect of all the changes. I know I would be!

Orphan Sunday 11/4/2012

‎”Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” (David Platt)

 

Update on Irina

We were recently notified that we had our day in district court. We won, then lost the appeal. Now it goes to the supreme court. We are now more famous in Eastern Europe than we are here at home. Please keep praying for us and this little girl. If the supreme court does not overturn this horrible decision by the MOJ to deny this child a family, it means they will have all the power to make decisions regarding these children that is completely outside the laws of their country. A win means they cannot use these children as a play of power. They have decided this child is disposable, and are going to see that she is disposed of. It breaks my heart to even think this archaic way of thinking can decide the fate of any child, not just Irina. We need a lot of prayers for her to be able to come home to us.

http://www.youcaring.com/fundraiser_details?fundraiser_id=12812&url=saveemma We’ve set up a fundraising page if you’d like to donate to her adoption. Every dollar helps.

 

Waiting now for Article 5

I’m not even sure what an article 5 is, but we need one, and I think it is the document that has to be signed by the government in country before our adoption can be finalized in court. Whatever it is, we need it, we need a signature, and then we need a court date. Still praying we will travel to pick Cara up in February.

Where are the “Adults”?

Psalm 72:4

He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.

On the 2lst, the IAC and the MOJ suggested to our facilitator in EE that we chose another child, a healthier child, and closer to Cara’s age, to have added to our adoption. They said they understood we did not want to raise Cara as an only child, and would be willing to approve a healthier child. We asked to add a 4 year old little girl with no special needs other than normal institutional delays to our adoption. We were again denied. Now it is personal. This has nothing (and we’ve learned never did have anything) to do with our age, and everything to do with a show of power. We appealed to their sense of compassion  for a little girl who desperately needs a family, and they have now determined we are nothing but trouble, nothing but a huge boil on their butts, and to show us, they will not allow us to adopt another child. It is a sad, sad situation when adults act like the children they are supposed to be protecting.  A group of adults who sit and determine which of these children can have a family, which ones cannot. A group of adults who play God, deciding which children can live and which ones can die. A group of adults who can decide that they don’t like you anymore, because you don’t play by their rules,  and since they brought all the toys to to the table to play with, they have the power to take them all and go home, slamming the door behind them. A group of adults who would rather see children die, before they will allow them to be adopted into homes where they will thrive, and by thriving, embarrass them.  A group of adults who would hide the children with special needs so there can be no embarrassment, and they can all save face. Adults. Adults with power. Adults without compassion. Adults in charge of children, who are unconcerned with the best interest of those children. Adults who still think the world revolves around them and think only of themselves. Adults who have absolutely no business making decisions that affect so many abandoned children.

Once upon a time there were several children living in a very bad orphanage in an Eastern European country. I’m not naming the country, because this is happening all over the world. Children with disabilities are unacceptable; a stigma to society. They are to be hidden, and ignored. If we don’t see them, they don’t exist. They are confined to steel cages like animals, and treated like animals, fed once or twice a day, diaper changed once a day, and ignored the rest of the day. The opinion of the caregivers is that these children don’t really see, feel, experience pain, joy or suffer in any way. Sort of like “the light is on, but no one is home” mentality. They honestly believe this. So these children are hidden. On the upper floor where no one ever goes. No one is allowed up there to see the disgrace, the freaks of nature, those that should never have been born.

But one day, Jesus says “Enough!” and sends his angels down to crack open a door, and a child’s information is sent out to the adults that determine if this child can be adopted. She slips through the cracks, and an American family snatches her up! Near death, this angel arrives in the U.S. and receives healthy, nourishing food, and an overabundance of LOVE! And she starts to smile. And she eats, and she loses that gray, near death pallor, and starts to grow, physically and emotionally. And the adults back in Eastern Europe, those adults that allowed this child to slip through the cracks and escape her upper floor prison, are horrified! They are embarrassed! They don’t feel the joy and excitement that people here are feeling at the miracle this child is! She is not only alive, but she laughs and she smiles, and she loves, and is loved! How can this be? This child was nothing! How can she be something? And instead of saying, “Open the doors! There is life in these children! Find them loving families! Give them a chance! Let them bring glory to the God that created them, and bless their new families with their lives!” No, there was no joy. There was no excitement. Instead there was fear. Fear of being wrong about how worthless these children were. Fear of how “they” would look in the eyes of the world. Fear of losing face. They did not open the doors far enough. Yes, a few more of these children were given the opportunity to be released from their iron barred prisons, but not enough. And only in that very bad orphanage. Many other children were hidden again. Children from other orphanages. Children who were as yet unknown. Children who should be allowed families were hidden away. Several families asked for them and were denied. We were one of those families. Our paperwork arrived two weeks after the information about “the little girl who lived”. And the adults said “We can’t let this happen again. We cannot let a child from another orphanage slip through the cracks. If the same thing happens, we will again be embarrassed. We must hide her/them! We can open the crack in the door of the very bad orphanage a little bit wider,  because we can pretend we didn’t know what was happening. We can turn this into a huge plus for us, and we’ll  look like heros for  letting more children out. Look at us! We found out how bad this was, but we’re making it better!” Yet, at the same time, hiding many other children so there won’t be further embarrassment.

In another orphanage, far away from the very bad orphanage, lives another little girl. She has special needs the “adults” have determined are too severe to allow her to be adopted. Because she isn’t in the very bad orphanage, no one has to know she exists. She can literally be hidden. She lays in her crib, alone. If she is taken from her crib, she is left in a stroller, behind a door, facing a blank wall, alone (true witnessed story!). She is 2 1/2 years old, and deemed worthless by the adults who care for her. She is damaged goods. She has no value. She doesn’t feel anything, so she can be parked in a stroller behind her bedroom door, facing a blank wall. When she smiles at someone offering her a little kindness, those “adults” say it is nothing but an auto-response. It means nothing because she cannot feel pain, or experience joy. She is just an empty body.  Yes, these are the adults who determine whether she has enough value to deserve a family. Yes, those wonderful, loving, compassionate adults who are more concerned about saving face, not allowing children to be adopted from other orphanages because they might somehow embarrass them. Children that may thrive, and grow, and smile, and walk and talk and prove that the “adults” were wrong. NO! We cannot be wrong! Hide them! Sweep them under the rug where they can never prove that we were wrong.

I bring this injustice to your attention because it is our duty as Christians, and everyone’s duty as human beings, to stop this from continuing! Not everyone is called to adopt, but everyone single one of us can help!!

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

By doing nothing, we are no better then the adults sitting in power in Eastern Europe, playing God with children’s lives. It’s time to learn about these children and do everything we can to advocate to save them. We can no longer sit by and ignore what is happening.  Help someone with adoption expenses if you can. Get the word out to your friends and family as to what is happening to these children. Raise money to help better their lives! Do not allow another child to spend their days in a crib, or sitting in a stroller facing a blank wall.

I know this little girl has a family out there somewhere. We’ve tried desperately to bring her home to our family. In my heart she is my daughter, and we are heartbroken that she won’t be coming home to the family that wants her! That wants to love her and see her grow. I will talk about her to everyone I know until someone comes forward to be her family. Please share her story and contact me if you find them! With God, all things are possible. I am continuing our fight for this beautiful little girl, and know God can move mountains. Please pray for us and with us. We ask for prayers to win the battle. Either the battle to bring her home, or the battle to find her a family in time. We just ask for you to pray for God’s will to be done and a family to be found.

I didn’t get that memo

The news from Eastern Europe was not good. Our facilitator there and the IAC went at it again over Irina, and allowing her to be adopted by older parents. We learned a few things from their interchange. The Minister is really not child-friendly, and is more concerned about the their pride then about the children. Sad, but seems to be true. There is a bigger push to hide the children with special needs, and refer much healthier children than some people request. Many people are interested in adopting children with specific special needs, and those requests aren’t always honored. Maybe they already have a child with Down’s Syndrome and want to adopt another child with DS. Many times those requests are being ignored. The Minister feels Irina’s special needs are quite severe. I’m not sure where that information is coming from. American doctors feel Irina has a chance at a good life IF someone gets her out of there in time. No one truly knows what her needs are because no one has ever held her, picked her up, talked to her, or interacted with her. I doubt she acts much older than a 3 month old baby since she’s been left in an iron crib for 2 1/2 years now. There was hope the ministry would add her after this past meeting, but it just seems to get uglier. I don’t know what God has planned for Irina. I wish I knew. I hope He is as incensed as I am over the minister’s remark, “People over 50 are incapable of playing with a child.” I guess I never got that memo…

Baby Irina

Image

Sweet little Irina is two years old and waiting for her mommy to come for her. She had a family that was in the process of adopting her, but they had a family tragedy and had to back out. So she sits and waits once again. And I literally mean sits…. and if she’s not sitting, she’s lying on her back in her crib. Irina is in an orphanage where the number of children far out number the number of care givers. One care giver has explained that they “think” Irina has some special needs, and they are too busy to care for those children, instead focusing on the healthy children. Irina often has a runny nose, and they can’t be bothered with her. So she spent her first 20 months on her back, with no one to love her, no one to hold her, seeing someone only when it was time to stand over her crib and shove a bottle in her mouth or change her diaper. No one knows what gifts this little girl has to offer the world, and no one will take the time to find out.

Are you Irina’s mommy! Please contact Nina (ninat@chiadopt.org) at Children’s House International for more information about this beautiful little girl! If you’re not her mommy, please pray her parents find her soon!

How quickly life changes…

On a mild fall day in October of 2011, life was what we consider normal at our house. Our house is inhabited by two “older” parents, our 22 year old son, Daniel, our 17 1/2 year old daughter, Alexandra, a crazy chocolate lab, Molly, and two crazier Westies, Jaxon and Dexter. Oh… can’t forget the 3 indoor cats living here too. Normal is anything but, at our house!

The following day the storm hit. Not a natural storm with thunder and lightning and sheets of rain, but a storm of shock, followed by excitement, and then craziness beyond what our normal craziness is.

Let me back up just a bit. My name is Julie, and my husband is Ron. We are what others consider “older” parents. I gave birth to Alexandra when I was 40 years and 12 days old. Ron was 55 and several months. 🙂 She’s now 17 1/2 so you do the math. When we got married in 1989, Ron had two grown children, and two granddaughters. He inherited 2 more children, mine, from a previous marriage, ages 5 and 8. They are now 28 and 31 and living on their own. We then added two of our own, Daniel and Alexandra. Throughout our marriage we discussed adopting many times but, never really pursued it. The time never seemed right. Our house was too small, money too tight; a long list of reasons…  And then that fall storm hit last in October.

I brought up adoption again, wistfully mentioning how I wished we’d looked into it further. Several days later, Ron told me “We are probably too old, but why don’t you check it out.” I looked at him in disbelief! It didn’t take me long to get on the computer to start researching agencies, and emailing a few of them. The next morning I had an email from one of the agencies saying we were not too old to adopt, and should not give up our dream of adding to our family! More shock as I absorbed that information!

The following Sunday at church we both noticed in the bulletin that our church was sponsoring “Orphan Sunday” and beginning a new ministry to support adoption and adoptive parents. A new 6 week class beginning in early November. We both heard God calling us, but we were still hesitant.  We prayed, a LOT, talked to a few more agencies, talked to a social worker about the home study. Prayed more. And God started shouting at us, “Hurry up, you’re not getting any younger!” Did I mention I am 57 and my husband is 72? We heard the shouting, but I guess we weren’t listening. We both prayed together and alone, and  mid-November, we finally heard God’s shouting, finally listened close enough to realize what He was saying. We contacted the first agency we’d received the email from that first morning and moved forward. Our application was sent off  within a few days  and another application filed with the agency that would complete the home study. We had our first appointment with the social worker on December 13th, and our normal chaos became overwhelming chaos as we focused on “the paperwork” and the upcoming holidays.

I didn’t sleep for what seems like days and days! As I gathered documents, filled out forms, wrote my autobiography, soul searched my motivation to adopt, typed up my husband’s paperwork (not an easy task when he has trouble reading his own handwriting!), shopped for Christmas gifts, spent a day on the phone with the airlines correcting my oldest daughters “home for Christmas” flight, wrapped gifts, shopped for food, etc., etc. With God’s help, we finished filling out the home study paperwork the week before Christmas.  A storm…

In the midst of that storm, we found two special angels on the Reese’s Rainbow website that stole our hearts. Two little girls, sisters, who need a mommy and a daddy, and a forever family with brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. We are sure these are the children God has planned for us. We filed the paperwork with the ministry last week to be approved as their new family, and now we wait… Wait for the approval, wait for last two background checks to arrive, wait for the home study to be completed and sent for approval, wait for the fingerprint appointment with USCIS. If all goes well, the wait will end in September when we will bring our angels home.