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.”

 

Sad news, Cara news, waiting news and a wedding!

This week I learned that another little girl, an orphan in Eastern Europe, died, waiting for her forever family to come and get her. She had been chosen, and her family was rushing through the paperwork to bring her home. Orphans die every day. This is not news. It is horrific news, but nothing new. It is truly heartbreaking, and just a bit more when you know the family and have seen photos of the child they are rushing to adopt.

Little Susanna was only 6 years old. She had spina bifida. She rarely, if ever, left her crib. She never felt the warmth of the sun on her face, or felt the wind in her hair. She never smelled the deliciousness of spring, or felt the excitement and exhilaration of fresh, cold snow. And she never felt the love of a mommy and daddy as they snuggled her little face against their necks and whispered how much she was loved in her ear. No one to tuck her in at night, read her a story, laugh with her, and cry with her. No one.  Today my family will celebrate Susanna’s life here on earth and find comfort in knowing she is now in the hands of Jesus, whole and healthy, and able to run and play. I take comfort in knowing the scent of spring is far more delicious in heaven than it is here, and the colors far more vibrant. Knowing there is no more pain in a back that was never repaired, and that she finally feels the love of The Father, also gives me comfort. Run fast, little angel! Take it all in! Laugh, and play as you never could before. You will be missed, but your family will meet you there and you will know how loved, cherished and valued you really were down here in this broken world.

Cara continues to blossom! She is speaking English almost exclusively, throwing just a few words out now and again in her native language. She is learning letter recognition and sounds, as well as number recognition and counting. We are not doing anything too structured at this time, just having fun with it and using real life “teaching moments.” She loves to play school and write and copy letters in her books.

The weather has started to get better, so we bought her a bike with training wheels last month. Daddy had to get out and teach her how to pedal and brake (she is still working on that concept) and it is her new love in life! Every morning she gets up and looks outside to see if it’s raining or if the sun is shining. If the sun is out, she runs through the house in absolute excitement yelling “Bike! Bike!” I am always amazed at how little it takes to bring joy to this little girl. The things we’ve had all our lives and take for granted are truly amazing experiences for her. I wish I could have taken video of the first time she saw the stars! She had gone out with daddy to take the dogs out and came running in yelling, “Mama! Stars!!” She took me by the hand out on the deck and with eyes wide tried so hard to count them. When she first saw a full moon she was speechless! And for this child to be speechless…!

I am amazed at how well she is adjusting. She is an absolute sponge for love and so willing to love back. She’s also quite adept at the fine art of manipulation, stalling, and laying on the guilt. If she is not listening to me and I have to get a bit stern with her to make her understand that I’m serious in my request, she now says with fake tears, “Mama no like Cara!” The first time she said that she really got me. I was mortified! However, when I was telling Ron about it later that evening, she laughed and repeated what she said. She got me, once, but not again! My response to that now is, “I love you, but I don’t like your behavior.” I may be slow, but I’m not stupid!

A tantrum is so rare now it takes me by surprise when it happens. There is no longer any violence in the tantrum. She is learning self control, and learning to trust our love. Seeing this happen has been an overwhelming experience for me. Watching the trust develop over these few months isn’t something you realize until it’s there. It is nothing short of a miracle at how fast she has come to trusting and having faith that we will love her and take care of her.

I have enjoyed watching her as she has learned to play. Not just with us, but with her toys, especially her babies. Watching her nurture them, feeding, holding, and loving them is a great indicator of how she is feeling nurtured herself.

She is finally getting all the necessary dental work done on Friday, June 7th. She did not receive any dental care in the orphanage, and consequently she needs major work done. She has to have two abscessed molars removed, spacers put in to hold their place for her adult teeth, a crown, five fillings and her teeth cleaned. In order to make this as easy as possible on her, and get the work done all at once, she will be hospitalized on an out patient basis and the work will be done under anesthesia in the O.R. As much as I hate the idea of her being under anesthesia, it is necessary to avoid the trauma of multiple dental visits and Novocain. The two bad molars have been hurting her a great deal the past two weeks, and she is currently on antibiotics to quell the infection and ibuprofen for the pain. We’ve been told she will feel so good after the surgery and experience little to no pain at all because the root system in the baby teeth is so small. I pray they are right and she will come home ready to eat again. She’s struggling right now because the bad molars are on both sides.

We have news about Emma, but we still wait for someone in her country to do what is best for her.  I can’t remember if I mentioned that last December another family had started their paperwork to adopt our little girl. We were heartbroken that she may not come home to us here, but overjoyed at the same time that she would be released from her prison crib and have a family. That was our wish for her from the very beginning. We did not stop our process and lawsuit to have her placed with us because we were unsure how quickly the other family could get to her.  There is also the possibility that the family will reject the child when they travel to meet them, and refuse the referral This is exactly what happened when the family went to meet Emma. For some reason they rejected her and she has once again been listed on the government website as “available.” I have very mixed emotions over this. It saddens me that the family did not see her value and potential, her perfectness in the eyes of God. But it sure gives me reason to believe that she is coming home to be Cara’s sister, and our second daughter. It has been a little over a year now since we first put in our paperwork to be matched with Emma, and were turned down. It makes me sick that this child has been confined to a crib for 6-8 additional months because we were turned down. She would have been home with Cara if all had gone as expected. Home receiving all the therapy she needs to get stronger and develop. That this child was used as a pawn in the sick game of a corrupt government angers me to the point of physically shaking! Their sick game affected Cara’s homecoming too. She waited longer as we waited on the courts to see if we could bring them home together. Both girls should have been home by Halloween of last year. The positive side to this is Emma has now had 3 failed attempts at a family. I know that doesn’t sound positive, but it should certainly make us OLD people look better in the eyes of the government!  The one and only family that has stood strong in the desire to bring her home and love and cherish her is us. The family her government says is “too old” to be adequate parents for her. They feel she is better off being transferred to an adult mental institution where 85% of these children die within their first year, than being loved by older parents. Insanity at it’s finest. Maybe now they will be a little less insane and do what is best for this child and allow her to come home to older parents who will love and cherish her.

Children’s House International, our U.S. agency has asked our attorneys in country to approach the IAC and once again ask them to reconsider our request to adopt Emma. If they are successful, we will not have to go to court on June 5th and should receive a referral shortly. If that happens we may very well have this little girl home before Christmas! What a gift that will be!

Because of this news, we have again entered the realms of “crazyville.” This past week I’ve been rushing to get the paperwork finished to get our home study updated. Updates for  our background checks faxed to the appropriate agencies, financial report filled out, and  appointments for both of us to update our physicals. Everything our home study agency needs to get the update done and approved and once again off to USCIS!

My beautiful, beautiful daughter, Alexandra married the man of her dreams on Saturday, May 25th. It was an absolutely beautiful wedding, and she was a stunning bride. Her happiness and joy that day were so evident in her smile and in her eyes. Was it hard for me to see my “little girl” get married at 18? Yes!! But, I believe she is happy, and that makes me happy. The hardest part was watching her and her new husband, Derrick, drive away on Sunday to their new home in Oregon. Derrick took a job with the railroad and they will be living in Eugene once his training is finished. Having her so far away is terribly difficult for this mama! I miss her every day, but am so grateful for technology and my ability to skype with her! I wish the two of them a lifetime of happiness and joy! And a couple of grandchildren someday for me to spoil! 🙂