Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why do orphans need families?

I am so very excited to be partnering with Show Hope as a blogger for the Show Hope Blogging Network.  I'll be writing each month to raise awareness and encourage discussion about the global orphan crisis. 

Why do orphans need families?

The answer to this question is simple.

You know the answer.  Well all do.

Everyone needs a family.

But if we explore this question beyond the surface, the reasons orphans need families is so much deeper than a one sentence statement.

Seven years ago I found my "face".

What is "a face" you ask?

It is that which makes the orphan and the orphan crisis REAL for an individual.

Her name was Gabriela.

My mother and I had arrived in Guatemala to visit our son AJ.  This was my second trip as Jeremy and I had met him a few months before.  My baby boy's first birthday was approaching and if he wasn't going to be home, I desperately wanted to be in Guatemala.

We had arrived the day before with duffel bags of teddy bears and supplies for the orphanage.  Our translator picked us up and drove the 0.5 mile to the orphanage.  When the green, steel gate closed behind our SUV, I heard the children.  We walked into the back door and were greeted by a sea of smiling faces and a chorus of ¡hola! My broken Spanish allowed me to quickly conversate with the children and move quickly behind our interpreter.

Our agency had asked us to take photos of a few children while we were there.  This had become a an expected request and a desperate connection for waiting families.  We had been on the receiving end of these photos many times and were happy to return the favor.   I had my mental list of children and got my camera ready.

Gabriela.  She was seven years old.

She was the waiting child of a family whom we had grown very close to here in the US.  I knew her story and was so very anxious to meet this precious girl.

The large Spanish style wooden door creaked open to the courtyard where the older children were playing.  Our translator murmured words and Gabriela crept up between the sea of faces.

Her face was smooth and shy.  Her demeanor was sweet yet a bit timid.  She looked at us with such hope, worry, and despair.

When I asked if I could take a picture of her, everything about her changed.

I saw the world in her eyes.

Her deep, brown pools of reality were staring at me and I could not run and hide.

I could not shut off the tv, rip up the donation solicitation mailing, or just shake my head in general discomfort and change the subject.

She was right.in.front.of.me.

Her eyes reflect everything that was right in this world...and everything wrong in this world.

She slowly revealed a smile that is forever etched in my brain.

She never uttered a word, yet she told me EVERYTHING.

Are you going to be my family?  

No?  Ok.  But this is going to my family so...

Please love me.


I'm happy.  Well kind of happy, but know I could be happier with those who love me.

I'm here but not because I want to be.

Pick me.  Pick me.

I will smile for my Mommy and Daddy.

I won't cry, I promise I won't cry.  I will be good.

I'm just a child.  

I deserve love.

I deserve a family.

Yes you do sweet girl.  Yes.you.do.

Every single child in this world needs a family.  But for some reason, which I have yet to pinpoint one rational reason, the orphan crisis and need for families is out of reach.  Foreign.

Its not personal.

My own initial experience with our son did not change me like my experience with Gabriela did. I had been so wrapped up in him, just our son, I had merely scratched the surface into the world of orphans.  I had yet to plunge into the water, I had simply dipped my foot in the shallow end to test the temperature. His story was personal to me, but the others?  They were not. Gabriela opened my eyes and gave me a much wider lens of orphans and the orphan crisis. I saw more than just my son in that orphanage after that visit.  A few months ago we visited our daughter in Bulgaria in her orphanage.  I saw more than just her when the door opened and those children flooded the room.

I didn't GET IT until I saw it and couldn't look away.

As a culture we tend to avoid that which is hard.  We live in such a time of convenience, immediacy, and insatiability. Facing the question of why orphans need families is hard. They need families because all children should have families. This is where we end the story and find something else to talk about.  When we categorize these children as they, it becomes impersonal and far from reach. Intangible.

But indeed, these children are tangible.

We weren't made for lazy-boys, my dear friends.  We were made for purpose.

Orphans need LOVE.

Orphans need HOPE.

Orphans need SUPPORT.

Orphans need HOMES.

Orphans need FAMILIES.

Families who will hold them in the middle of the night when the trauma(s) of their past comes raging like a bull and they don't know how to process it.  Families who will be patient and encouraging along the attachment and bonding process. Families that will love, feed, clothe, bathe, shelter, teach, and provide stability.  Families who will laugh at the silly and cry in the sorrow. A family is a basic human right.

I think about Gabriela a lot. Her story does not have a happy ending.  Perhaps this is why she sticks with me.  Her reality is the reality I needed to ignite the fire in my heart for orphans. The rest of her story is protected for safety and privacy, but I desperately needed to share my "face" with all of you.

Why do you think orphans need families?  Do you have a "face" to share?


Psalm 68:6
God sets the lonely in families

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In The Quiet

This is when I stop moving long enough to hear my own heart beat.

To hear his heart beat.

This is when the world crashes and my shoulders fold.

This is when I let go, let it out, and release.

When the silent tears fall on the pillow and my breaths are quick slow, quick slow.

This is when I see his pure desire for love.

Without the daily smokescreen we call life.

This is when I see his raw, stripped need for his Mother.

This is when the tears flow harder, and become larger.

When he struggles to calm his body and accept human touch.

When the battle is over and he is relaxed.

This is when I stop moving to soak it in.

This is when the hardships of the day, the week, the months all melt away.

This is when my heart fills with so much love I can't breathe.

This is when I grow in faith and motherhood.

This is to be treasured.

Bottled up. Sealed. Stored for rainy days.

Rainy days that should be every single day.

This is when he folds his hand in mine.

This is when he sighs in comfort and safety.

This is when I see my privilege.

This is when I exhale.

In the quiet.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

"Don't waste the wait"

Earlier this week I gave in and emailed our agency asking them to contact Bulgaria for an update on our case.  I don't do this very often.  Why?  Why do I choose not to drive our agency insane? Because I know it only makes this more maddening when you ask and receive confirmation that there is no news.

Indeed, there is no news in regards to our case.  We continue to wait for our official referral and travel approval to visit our baby girl.

When I read those words, no news, I instantly felt peace.  

I was not expecting to feel peace. I was expecting to feel angry, frustrated, and irritated.  The emotions of adoption are like a merry-go-round.  They change as you go around and around.  

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus  -Philippians 4:7

Peace. Calm. Relief.  I felt all of these as I read the email from our agency.  

And I felt guilty.

Guilty that no news was a relief.  How is that possible?  How was this static information bringing me peace?

I think it is because I need a few moments off the ledge.  WE need to be off the ledge for a bit.  I need to experience a few days where I am not jumping sky high every time the phone rings.  We need to be fully (or at least mostly, lets be honest) engaged in conversations, events, and well- life. I need to put my phone down and stop refreshing my email 5,394 times a day hoping for an update.  Especially when our agency will call not email.  

This wait.  Is hard.  We are at the mercy of someone else.  Surrendered. Paralyzed?  Yes. And sometimes, I don't like it.

As we've endured this wait, I have been privileged to take part in an adoption group for Bulgaria. There has been a lot of movement with cases.  A lot.  While this is promising, it can be heartbreaking when it is not your case.  You feel a split emotion of "YAY and BOO" at the same exact time.  Yesterday, someone took the time to recognize those of us that have not experienced movement.  In short:

For those of you waiting, please don't be discouraged. Hang in there...and don't waste the wait.

Don't waste the wait.  

Oh.  OHHHHHHH.  

There is purpose in our waiting.  We knew this before, but this statement- THIS statement was like the Gibb's head-smacking thing on NCIS. 

Duh.

The wait has allowed us to reflect and cherish our adoption process with AJ.  It has reminded us that much more of what a miracle he is.

The wait has allowed me to tear up when I look at pictures of our process thus far.  It has allowed me to tear up when I hear the phrase "sin on a plate" and see chocolate cupcakes.  It reminds me of the friends who baked up a storm for our bake sale.



The wait makes me tear up remembering the enormous amount of donations we received for our first (yes, I said first-that's some foreshadowing for you) rummage and our auction fundraiser . The generosity and split-second "we want to help" makes me choke up.  Every.single.time.






The wait reminds us to trust God and remember that we are not going at this alone.  His plan is far bigger than ours and we don't need to understand all of it.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And yes, I realize this is a cliche.  And sometimes NO, I don't want to hear it. But we know in our hearts, this is exactly where we are supposed to be.





The wait is giving us time to navigate the additional paperwork, fees, and other costs that have entered our adoption process.



The wait allowed Jeremy to have a much needed shoulder surgery.



The wait is making me squeeze AJ harder and give him Mama smooches more often.


The wait is allowing us to prepare for AJ's upcoming surgery and attack some relatively new needs and issues in relation to his disabilities.

The wait has allowed us to witness family and friends celebrating our baby girl's birthday without ever laying eyes on her.  That's love people.





The wait has made me appreciate the friends who have written, printed, and signed 3,239 reference letters for us as we plug away applying for grants.  Your time and efforts are precious and yes, it makes me cry.  Every.single.time.

The wait has brought texts and Facebook messages from friends who remember "Wednesdays" were days to hold our breath hoping for news on our case.


The wait has brought emails and phone calls saying, "I was just thinking about Mimi".

The wait has enabled this little girl to have a massive wardrobe thanks to the generosity of people wanting to help.

The wait has allowed us to build stronger friendships.

The wait has given us time to learn so much about AJ and given him time to communicate to us that he knows what is going on.  He knows he has a sister.  He knows.

The wait allowed me to finish my Bachelor's degree.

The wait allowed Jeremy to take a much needed break from his NP program and secure clinicals for the next semester.  A.blessing.

The wait has allowed us to help a friend in need.

What am I saying?  The wait hasn't been all that bad friends.  I don't want to waste the wait.  I don't want to sit on a ball on the couch bawling my eyes out every day because my baby girl isn't home.  Some days I'd like to.  But I don't want the wait to paralyze us either.  We are trusting that she is happy, loved, and being well cared for.

This wait is making the moment we get to hold her in our arms even sweeter.  
None of this is any comparison to our forever with her.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Q&A ~ April 2014

In an effort to answer everyone's questions we thought we'd do a little Q&A:

Q: Are you still adopting Mimi?
A: YES!

Q: Tell me again...where is she?
A: Bulgaria.

Q: How long have you been in the process now?
A: We decided to adopt in March 2013, so we are in over a year.  If we are talking about Mimi specifically, we are 10 months into her process (received her information in June 2013)

Q: Do you get pictures of her?  Or updates on how she is doing?
A: No we do not.

Q: Why don't you get pictures or updates on her?! That's awful!
A: Bulgaria is a Hague country.  This means they signed onto the United States Hague Convention which has strict rules set in place to protect the children, birth parents, and adoptive parents. The Hague requires intercountry adoptions to be completed under internationally agreed upon rules and procedures to make sure children are provided with permanent, loving homes and that adoptions take place in the best interest of the child.  The Hague also exists to prevent child abduction, sales, and trafficking.  You can read more on the Hague HERE.

The Hague does not allow us to have contact with anyone associated with her care.  This includes her orphanage and our in-country organization handling our case in Bulgaria. We know nothing with exception to her original referral information and aren't allowed to know more until a certain point in our process.

Q: Isn't that hard?
A: Incredibly.

Q: But she's your child, right?
A: Technically, no.  She's not ours yet.  We are committed to her in writing and she is "on hold" for us.  See more in the Q&A's below.

Q: Did you pictures of AJ?
A: Yes we did.  We received pictures and basic medical updates pretty much monthly.  The pictures were a Catch 22.  Hard to see him grow up without us, but also pieces of hope that helped us through the process.  They would always show up in my inbox at the exact moment we needed them to. Guatemala was not a Hague country.  Adoption in Guatemala ended in 2007, just months after we brought AJ home.

Q: Does AJ know who Mimi is?
A: Yes he does!  He recognizes her "voice" in videos and can accurately choose her from a group of people.  He gives her kisses on his iPad and is in her room a lot.  We are working on an experience book for him about our first trip so that he can learn where we are going and why.

Q: What's the latest with Mimi?
A: This is a loaded question.  Short answer: We are still waiting on the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to issue her official referral which gives travel approval for our visit.  I know, I sound like a broken record.  But honestly, we should be hearing any day now and surprise-it can be any day-not just Wednesdays! This official referral lists her name and our names on the same piece of paper.  And its official.  Its pretty exciting.  We've already received the verbal referral where they've approved us, now they just need to type it!

Q: What is taking so long?
A: Meh.  Another loaded question.  This is the way it works, folks. We are at a point where we are under the mercy of others.  It is quite literally out of our hands.

Q: So when do you visit her?
A: We are hoping for June.

Q: How long will you be gone visiting?
A: We are required (yes I said required) to spend five working days with her.

Q: Will she know you are coming to see her?  Does she know she has a family?
A: We know that they do tell the children when we are coming to visit and the travel has been finalized.  They often teach the kids to say Mama, Tata (Daddy), and I Love You.
Sigh.

Q: What happens during the visit?
A: We will spend a few hours with her at the orphanage each day.  How long we don't know.  That is determined by the orphanage director's kindness and willingness as well as her schedule/routine. We will have a translator with us the entire time and be able to ask as many questions as we like about her.  We will have access to several professionals that know her well and we'll all be talking a lot about Mimi.

Q: What happens at the end of the visit?
A: We travel back to the capital city of Bulgaria and sign some official documents that yes, we still do want her.

Q: What happens after you come back from your visit trip?  
A: LOTS.  Here is what will happen:

1) We come home and fill out an I-800 form for USCIS (US Immigration).  This form identifies HER specifically.  If I-800 sounds familiar, that's because we filled out the I-800A earlier in the process, applying to adopt "an orphan" from Bulgaria.

2) I-800 is approved

3) USCIS sends notification of our approval to the US Embassy in Bulgaria.

4) US Embassy in Bulgaria notifies the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in Bulgaria that the US has approved us. This is called the Article 5 Letter.

5) MOJ signs off on the Article 5 Letter. *This has been taking a while---sad face*

6) Our case is issued a date in Family Court.

7) Court says YES! She's ours!

8) We post 3,548 pictures of her on Facebook and the blog.

9) Pick Up Trip

Q: So, what's the timeline on all that whoo-ha?
A: Um, your guess is as good as ours.  Let's just say it won't be simply a month between trips.
Sad.sad.sad.face.  Bulgaria shuts down for the first two weeks of May and the entire month of August so we will hit both of those delays.

Q: Wha??? When is she coming home?
A: At this point, we are hoping for Fall 2014 but it could be between Fall and Christmas. 

Q: Why so long?  Isn't this longer than you expected?
A: I wish we had a straight answer for this question.  We are at the mercy of how fast each of the above steps are completed.  Longer than we expected?  Way longer.

Q: What can we do for you?
A: Pray.  Pray for Mimi.  Pray for us.  Please do not forget about our baby girl.






Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Will Not Take These Things For Granted...

Drip.  Drop.

Drip. Drop.

Swish.

The rain was falling gently as the windshield wipers washed the slate clean.

I cried.

He was gone, so I could.

We had just sat in a sterile exam room.  We left with several starter kits and books on the potential drugs my husband *might* be injecting into his body because he *probably* had Multiple Sclerosis.

Drip. Drop.

"The oral medications were just approved by the FDA.  I do not recommend them.   There are so many side effects.  Take it and you slow/block MS flair-ups buuuuutttt you get cancer instead".  

Injections it is.  

That.  That was almost FOUR years ago.

Injections we did.  Who am I kidding?  Injections he did.  Three different medications.  The first made him so incredibly sleepy he was put on Ritalin.  The second burned his skin.  The third, which was most effective, his body built up an antibody to.  Very rare they say. We laughed.

You see, I am married to a fighter.  And a fighter married to a fighter? Well, you would think that would cause fights between us.  The opposite is true.  We fight against the enemy.  Together.  I have watched my husband stand up when he could have sat down.  So I do not sit down.  I'm not good at it anyhow.

When we began the adoption process, we knew Jeremy's diagnosis might be an issue.  Might?  We knew it would be a red flag at some point.  Indeed it was, from the moment we said yes.  We spent months, in quiet, exploring options, countries, routes, the whole kit and caboodle.  We worked with a placement agency who was gentle and kind, holding our hands as they asked for specific detailed information about Jeremy's conditions.  We get it.  Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes look scary on paper.  Paper doesn't represent a person.  Have you heard me preach on insurance companies and their denials of claims?  My child is not a case number or a file on your desk!  We knew we'd have to prove his health, stability, and ability to be a parent.

Our choices became very narrow.  Simply based on his diagnoses.  That, my friends, is a very big black dark hole just waiting for someone to come wallow.  We didn't.  

China?
NO.

Philippines?
NO.

Vietnam?
NO.

Every other country but TWO.
Said NO.

But TWO said YES.
Yes.

Bulgaria and Ethiopia.  

Praise the heavens we chose Bulgaria.

We were cleared to begin the actually application process (yes all this occurred before the formal application) and then Mimi happened.  And we switched placement agencies.  And the questions came at us again.  

We held our breath.
They said YES.

Fast forward to three weeks ago.  Our agency called and I already knew it was not good news.  Our case had been bumped from the Ministry of Justice in Bulgaria. They wanted additional information regarding Jeremy's treatment and health.

This came as no surprise as our dossier did not reflect detailed information of his diagnoses.  I was more rattled by the other items they requested.

And then I thought about the caseworker who opened our file. 

What did she think?  What did that paper say to her?  Did she imagine my husband as an invalid?  

What did she think as she flipped to the back and saw our pictures?  

Oh to be a fly.

Adoption does this crazy thing where it challenges you constantly.  Are you sure you want to do this?  Are you sure you can parent?  Are you sure you are good enough to parent?  Fill out another form.  PROVE IT.  So how do you prove something that on paper looks like doomsday?

You prove it.  With details.  With providing the information they want. We were as specific as possible in reporting Jeremy's treatment.  He is healthy and THRIVING.  He is now on those crazy oral medications, as four years has brought improvements and none of those craaaazy side effects.  It is amazing to me to watch him simply take a pill that does the work of all those shots he went through.  It is a blessing.  He is followed regularly by his specialist, who attributes Jeremy's positive attitude to his continuous health.  He has MRIs that we pray will not show any changes when the scans come back.  If they do, and they have before, we move forward.  Life is unpredictable.

While the issue isn't present with a fanfare and a spotlight, it lies in the corner.  Its a thorn.  That could potentially prick you if you grab the rose stem at just the right spot.  

We do not take the opportunity we have in adopting Mimi for granted.  The song from Toad the Wet Sprocket has been on repeat in my mind for weeks.

Every single delay, form, correspondence, setback, frustration, mood-swing, celebration, and milestone reminds me we are IN THIS PROCESS.  Every moment is a moment we are IN IT.

It is not a dream.  It is not a wish.  It is real.  We do not take that for granted.

Is it hard?  Absolutely!  Is it cumbersome and maddening?  Sometimes! 

 Is it worth it? 
YES.

We fight.  For her.  Because we are blessed to be able to do so.  



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Worth the Wait

He was so tiny.  Emaciated. Weak. Frail. 

His stomach was distended.  Solids will start tomorrow, we said.

The OT gently worked her hand into the always fisted left hand.


And he screamed.  And screamed and screamed.

Hello sensory processing disorder/sensory integration disorder.

He stiffened his body all the time and often arched like this while being held.


It was not normal.  It made us uncomfortable.  It made others uncomfortable.

It made me cry.

His physical needs took precedence over his other needs.

He needed solids and Pediasure to assure growth.  
Malnutrition almost robbed him of his own life.

He needed therapies to work on his sensory sensitivities , 
to learn where his body was in space, and to use his body.

Eventually that hand opened.  He began using it.  He began using his body.  
He grew.  He thrived. He loved being held, but only in certain positions.


And underneath all of that physical was emotional.  

He was the boy who explored every toy by tapping it to his shoulder over and over.

He was the boy who came home with not one but many orphanage related stimulation.

Like staring at his hand.


And laying, flipping his body in rocking motion.  
This eventually turned to sitting and rocking
 when he was strong enough to do so.


He had rubbed the scar on the back of his head (origin still unknown) 
open and scabbed multiple times.  

He had pulled out his hair in a few places and rubbed his head bald in his bassinet in others.

We chose to have him sleep in his own crib when we brought him home. 
 I comforted him immediately any time he woke up crying, upset, or the like.  
But he never woke in fear or terror.  He always had a smile on his silly face.  

I could not rock him, no matter what approach I took.  
This is supposed to be bonding.  Why won't he let me do this?
All the books and webinars and training say he'll get used to it. 
He's just not used to it, right?

How do you know when its your child's emotional or physical issues reacting to your attempts?

You don't.  You guess.  You guesstimate.  You pray.

You cry.  And try again.

You fail.  

Only certain body positions were comfortable to him.  
We cuddled and bonded through play and lots of movement.
He wouldn't attend to books.  
He couldn't attend to books.  

He couldn't use his vision properly and he couldn't hear us.  
All those lullabies I sang to the walls trying to comfort my baby.

He just arched more and screamed at me.

We bonded in other ways, but these events left scars on my Mama heart.
Early on we learned to throw the manuals out on 
all this straight-cut on adoption and his diagnoses.  

AJ was AJ and that was that.

He learned to come to midline and do things with both hands. 
He stopped fisting.  We did many therapies to encourage that left hand.

When he started preschool he still had some rocking tendencies when activities 
were new, foreign, or routines changed.  
The tapping of the toys on the shoulder had stopped.  
He had stopped arching, for the most part.

When he heard the world, more stims fell away.  
His sensory processing made accessing this new sense difficult for him.
Very difficult. 
No matter what we did, what approach we took, 
what method, we could not force it.

The day he put his own cochlear implant on and 
WANTED to hear was a day of celebration.

It never gets old.

The day he watched and attended to Veggie Tales 
for a small snipit of time was a victory.  

The rocking had resurfaced as an odd body rolling motion 
which usually meant his body was tight and he was uncomfortable.  

How frustrating it must be for him to be unable to express when he body hurts.

I've only seen this motions a handful of times in the last few months.  
Progress and pain-free moments have released him from this stim too.

The last few months have left me in awe and thanks more times than I can count.

Once the physical needs were met and being managed, AJ's emotions began to emerge.  
Is it cognitive?
Is it this?
Is it that?

It has taken years.  

Like the night a few months ago he wanted me to stay in his room 
after I had given him his nightly massage.
And wanted me to just simply have my hands touching him.

He would not fall asleep without me keeping my hands on his legs.

What an honor.



"Honey, please come take a picture of this 
because I do not want to forget this moment"

One night he reached out for my hand and wouldn't let go.
And my tears stained his bed sheet.



This last week he snuggled next to me 
and listened as we read books in my bed.  
Listened.

We moved on to books on his ipad and he snuggled closer 
as I held the screen for him to view. 

He started to drift off about half-way through the Ponycorn story.

His daddy entered the room.  He saw him out of the corner of his eye and smiled.
He looked up at me, smiled, closed his sweet eyes, and fell asleep.


Giving kisses has only happened over the last few months.

Today he came to his Mama specifically to give me a kiss.

When bedtime came and I gave him a kiss, 
he reached up and kissed me back.
Several times.
And I cried.  A LOT.
He giggled.

This boy has a way of healing my heart that I cannot explain.  
We have been waiting for these moments for years.
Years.
Such simple things with such profound meaning and purpose.
SO worth the wait.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Dear Baby Girl ~ January 2014

Dear Baby Girl,

It's the last day of January. The last few weeks have been full of action and news.  The first news we learned was that you will not be moved from your current home.  Praise God!  I can't tell you how many sleepless nights Mommy had over the thought of you being moved to another place.  Just moments after I shared our fear on the blog we received confirmation that you will not be moved.

Our dossier arrived in Bulgaria.  It takes my breathe away to know that it is the same country as you are.  Mind-blowing.  The last we heard was that it was in translation.

And then the not-so-fun and not-great-for-you news...

We learned that our pick-up trip, to come and get you will indeed be 12-15 days instead of the initial 5 days.  Things are changing in the midst of this process. As much as we try not to dwell on projected days and timelines, it naturally happens.  It just does.  We all crave a little structure, don't we?  This trip will require additional funding and makes Mommy worry about being away from your brother for that long.  This is going to be a big adjustment for ALL of us.

We also learned that some of the paperwork process has changed, which means this:

MOJ Log-in
Travel to Meet
Return Home
File I-800 with US Immigration (follow-up to our initial immigration application)
Wait for approval
Approval is sent to US Embassy in Bulgaria
US Embassy notifies MOJ via Article 5 Letter
THEN our case goes to Bulgarian Court
(Court Approval)
(Pickup)

No movement will be made on our case on the Bulgarian side until our I-800 is approved and the MOJ is notified.

There will be more than a month or so between our trips.  And I am heartbroken.  Right this very moment I long to rock you to sleep.  It's night time here and I've been struggling to focus on an assignment when all I want to do is rock you to sleep.  Sing you lullabies and know you are safe.

Safe in my arms. Snuggled tight. In the rocker Grandma Cheri just finished for you.  It's beautiful and makes me long for you even more.

Have you ever seen a mobile?  The fan in your room has three small lights with glass domes over them.  When the fan runs, the light bounces around the walls.  It looks like diamonds dancing on the wall  and reminded me of a nighttime projector your brother had when he was little.

Are you by a window?  Can you see the stars?  Do you make wishes?

Do you have a blanket to keep you warm?  Do you hear a comforting voice at night?

I would run to the moon and back for you, baby girl.  You are so loved and now that we are even closer to meeting you, SO missed.  I cry thinking of our first meeting.  I cry leaving you on the first day. I cry leaving you at the end of first trip.  I'm sort of crying all the time. Daddy and I hug A LOT without saying a word.

We will endure this process, we will do whatever it takes.

But it doesn't mean this is easy or fair.

None of this is fair to you.  This waiting.

You should have your dancing diamonds and most of all-LOVE.  Real.whole.human.love.

We love you baby girl.

Good Night Sweetheart.  We'll see you soon (I hope).




Love,

Mommy and Daddy

Friday, January 10, 2014

Breakfast at Tiffany's

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, we received confirmation that Mimi will not be moved from her current orphanage as she is already "in-process".  Say it with me-THANK GOD!!!!

Raising AJ has taught me a lot of things.  I mean a lot.  The largest curve ball by far has been the transformation of a self-proclaimed introvert becoming a wildly knowledgeable advocate and actually being that advocate.  I was the little girl who was terrified to go and pay the bill at the restaurant after dinner.  Terrified.  It was those little experiences that built and egged on my social skills.  Practice, practice, practice.  When AJ arrived, I was thrust into this world of juggling therapies, therapists, insurance companies, products-you name it.  If he needed it I was on the phone or in person duking it out.  I've gone from that scared little girl to taking control and and advocating for my son; controlling what I can in the best way I know how. Quite a 180.

So when I spoke with our caseworker yesterday and she solidified, yet again, our lack of control within this adoption, I cried.  And found myself realizing it was time to write this post.

If you've been following our adoption process, you've come to know that our timeline and theories as to when things would/should be happening has changed quite a bit.  As we neared toward November and December, I started to think about whether or not she'd be home for her 3rd birthday in the spring.  And then I remembered what her paperwork said.  And panicked.  

Mimi is in an orphanage that is considered a baby orphanage...from infant to age 3.

THREE.

Do you see where this is going?

If we don't have her home by her birthday, she could be moved to another orphanage.  

The conversation with our caseworker yesterday left me with a pit in my stomach.  A confirmation of helplessness and grief for my baby girl.

"It is out of (the attorneys office), our, and your control as to whether or not she is moved".

Why is this a big deal, you ask?

I will try not to go all adoption 101 on you, but please understand that she has already experienced trauma.  And this, this move, will be more trauma for her.  And us picking her up, more trauma.  But in regards to her special needs, this potential move could be well, two-fold tramatic for her.  Where she is right now is familiar.  And while it is our personal opinion, from the referral information we received that she is loved, well cared for, and in a facility that is maintained well and has adequate resources for the children, it still isn't a home or a family.  So while it breaks my heart that she is there, it is also comforting to me that she is there...and remains there. 

She has been at this place for a long time.  She knows the space, what it smells like, what it sounds like.  She has her place at the table and her bed. She knows the people who care for her and the children she calls her friends and family.  This is her temporary home.  And while she's not putting up pictures or painting, she certainly isn't still living out of boxes and eating Ramen.  Do you see what I mean?

We have no control over this.  My gut says they will keep her there, because she already has a family in process.  But there is no guarantee. Which I suppose shouldn't surprise me because you really aren't in control when you adopt.  Period.  We won't have an answer until we travel.  My prayer is that our case is logged-in soon and we can visit and pick-up before her birthday.  That, my friends, is honestly a long shot.  My second prayer is to be logged-in soon, visit, and make a personal plea to keep her where she is until we pick her up.  Usually (said lightly and sarcastically) there is about a month between the visit and pick up trips.  I sure hope so. 

Earlier this week I went a little crazy was on Pinterest and decided to create a board for her 3rd Birthday.  After searching "girls birthday party" I came upon a Breakfast at Tiffany's party.  Oh my. And thus, the entire board is filled with this theme.  Trust me when I say this fits her to a "T". It was a moment of pure bliss planning for her. Black, white, Tiffany blue.  Oh my. The tiaras, little black dresses, the pearls.  All things girly and sweet. How I long to celebrate her and wish her all the good things in life.  You see it is not about the dress, or the pearls, or the gifts. It is about celebrating our precious daughter who deserves to be celebrated.  

Will you join us in praying for this birthday situation?  Please pray for her little being and for us to find comfort in peace with whatever may happen in light of her birthday and her adoption process.


Oh, and I bought this. Just because.




Sunday, January 5, 2014

Big Brother

Sometimes, the complexity that is AJ leaves me breathless.  Sometimes in a not so good way.  But other times, in a state of disbelief.  Because we've had him in our lives since he was three months old {via adoption referral and photos}, we've had the distinct pleasure to watch him grow, change, and break through some pretty thick brick walls.

The last few months have been incredibly challenging for AJ is a physical sense.  His body has been none too kind and has been growing constantly.  His gains have been quiet and consistent, which is a change as he's usually an all or nothing, get the most "bang for my buck" kind of kiddo.

This was the second year he smiled for his class picture.

This was the first year he did not have a Christmas program at school.  This mama was unaware that they stop at 1st grade.  Sniff.

{Cochlear Implants}
Just before school began we had our yearly CI mapping.  When we arrived at the appointment, AJ walked in the sound booth, his audi announced we were going to do VRA (visual reinforcement audiometry) and test him with each CI individually and then together.  I shrugged and said lets give it a shot.  Note: we have not done this type of testing in a long, long time.  This kid waltzed in there, sat down on the floor (under the mark on the ceiling of course), LISTENED, and turned when he heard the sounds/his audi's voice through the speakers.  The visual part?  There are light boxes attached to the speakers with moving/light up cartoon characters as a reinforcement for turning).

We were all thrilled beyond belief.  Gone are the days of his sitting in the special chair with the tray with 10,000 soundless toys to keep his attention.  Gone are the days of me bouncing on a yoga ball while his audi distracted him with those same toys.  He just waltzed in there and did it.

And to top it off, he tested at 25dB across the board.  ACROSS.THE.BOARD.  We haven't been able to get real #'s on this kid for a long time.  It was awesome.  His audi adjusted his sensitivity on both implants as well.  This is what we call his "bubble".  This will enable to him to once again eat in the so freakin' loud lunchroom with his friends.  He will still hear what is going on in the room, it just won't be so overpowering and the focus will be more on what is directly around him.

Since that appointment, AJ has been wearing both his implants with more consistency instead of just the right.  The right is still most definitely his dominant ear, but it is music to my eyes-er, a wonderful sight to see when he purposely puts his left coil back on!! In fact, I may do a happy dance when this happens.  I try not to attract to much attention to my celebrations because I don't want him to stop doing it!  This activity is consistent between home and school.

His school staff has used his sensitivity setting for school assemblies and has seen great results.  We have used the setting for church and have had great success as well.  He's identifying sounds correctly with just his left implant.  Oh how far he's come!!!

{Cerebral Palsy}
'Tis my least favorite of all things AJ right now.  This is the physical piece I was talking about.  He had his last Botox injections in October.  The normal four injection spots in his left leg: adductor, gastrocnemius, tibialis anterior, and his hamstring.  We have gone through three different strains/types of Botox.  So let's call them B1-3.  B1 did wonders for a long time.  Then it stopped. Earlier this year we tried B2 which does not have protein in it.  The thought was it would last longer since he burns them off faster than they are supposed to last {of course}.  It didn't make a difference.  So we are now on B3, and he's had two doses of this thus far.  The wonderful side effect {no really, it is awesome} is that it dries his mouth out a bit so the drooling ceases a bit.

However, this last round burned off in around a month and didn't do much at all.  Other than stopping the drooling.  That it did.  And that little side effect showed me just when it was starting to wear off.  SIGH.  We're at a crossroads again.  And you know we will do everything in our power to avoid surgery.  I have an appointment scheduled with his Physical Medicine doctor (CP doc) to discuss our options.  His muscles are pulling so tight they pull his foot up, so he looks like he's a toe walker- and a mean one at that.  It is extremely painful and now, his leg is not only up but turning in again. His right foot/leg has begun to also be rigid, as it is overcompensating and trying to match the left leg, so he's toe walking on both feet.

My gut says we should trying one more round of botox, with two injection sites instead of the four. We already decided against phenol injections, as 1) THANK GOD he is not scheduled for a surgery or procedure in the near future 2) his CP doc wasn't wild about it when it was mentioned.  She's all kinds of amazing, so I trust her opinion and I wasn't too thrilled with the idea to begin with.  Phenol injections are typically done while a patient is already under (hence the other procedure scheduling). With AJ's history, it is way, way, way too dangerous to put him under anesthesia for 15 minutes to give him injections.  We're upping the usage of his night brace and his TENS unit to see if that will help give him relief.  Also on the docket are having our whirlpool tub finally fixed and of course, his continued deep tissue massages.

Night Brace

TENS Unit


We are in for -50 degree weather tomorrow.  Ohhhh my mama heart is so thankful I don't have to take him out in that.  He would, no doubt, have tremendous difficulty walking.  Cold makes his spasticity whip around and say, "Hello old friend! Miss me?!"  This week alone he rolled on his ankle twice walking out of school.  Winter is not his friend. We just keep plugging away.  Right? Right.

{Epilepsy}
Things have been pretty quiet in this deparment lately.  Which is a very welcomed blessing!  He had quiet an active few weeks during the beginning of the school year, which allowed his entire school staff to witness his seizure patterns.  While I am not thankful for the seizures, I am thankful that the staff was able to witness them and now knows what to look for.

Recently, I've wondered if AJ's seizure patterns are triggered by his Botox injections.  Of course, I am not absolutely certain, but this is one small reason as to why I am open to trying one more round of Botox, to see if there is a correlation.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't want my child to have seizures.  But, it may be a process of elimination.  There are some other things we can do for his spasticity (in addition to what we already do) including chiropractic care and/or accupuncture (meh).  This will be a definite discussion with his CP doc.

Back to the epilepsy, he seems to be holding steady. 

{Keratosis Pilaris}
For some, this is a tiny diagnosis and for some it is major.  I would say AJ's in the moderate to major range.  Since switching to "Free" products, including ALL Free & Clear laundry detergent, Aveeno Sensitive Body Wash, Sunscreen, and the Aveeno Baby Lavender Calming Lotion, he's been doing phenomenal.  I bought a different type of "Free" laundry detergent a while back and saw a change in his skin.  I guess they aren't all created equal.  AJ's face frequently breaks out in a rash when he's had something acidic to eat, and the acidity can range from low to high and he'll still break out, but we're able to clear that up with some good 'ol hydrocortisone.  It is such a relief not to see all those tiny little bumps on his skin.

*I am in no way being compensated to like these products.  We just truly LOVE them and they work for AJ.

{Communication}
iPad: We recently changed the communication program we've been using on AJ's ipad.  Since he began using an ipad two years ago (holy smokes!), we've used iCommunicate.  This app was friendly for his staff to use and navigate, but wasn't so AJ friendly in terms of independent use.  So, after much discussion with his SLP we chose to go with GoTalk.  This app is amazeballs.  Ha!  First time I've used that um, word???  I've been programming his lunch choices in so he can tell the staff what he wants for hot lunch every day.  The schedules are much more user friendly and he's getting the hang of it.  He's able to independently navigate his iPad now, turning it on, swiping to unlock the screen, choosing the correct icon menu (usually his Sensory apps) and choosing the app he wants.  If he wants out, he presses the home button and goes to another app.  He's even learned how to get to the start of one of his apps after he's accidentally gone to the instructions page.  Smart cookie.

RPM: Speaking of a smart cookie....  Over the summer, I posted a frustrating post on Facebook. AJ and I had a very rough day due to his inability to communicate.  This still happens, yes it does.  I had met our local RPM specialist at a non-profit event I was working last year.  I had heard of RPM, but didn't think it was a good fit for AJ for several reasons.  She messaged me and the thought of AJ being a candidate for RPM began to swirl in my head.

RPM stands for Rapid Prompt Method.  It was created by the mother of an autistic child.  Now bear with me, as I am explain this at the most basic, fundamental level. It is AMAZING.  To be honest, AJ's RPM journey deserves its own post.  However, I wanted to include the basics in this post.  RPM users go from using the working tool (pencil) to point to their answers.  Their choices are written out on several pieces of paper, with the paper ripping into small pieces as the auditory cue that it time to answer the question.  From here, users use the working tool to trace letters on a stencil board.  From the stencil board it goes to pointing to letters on paper, and then eventually writing or typing.

AJ had his first consult a few months ago and STUNNED us ALL.  This is working for him.  When his RPM provider said, "I'm not sure if he knows how to spell yet, but...".  That word...
YET.  RPM has taught me to stop underestimating this child.  Even when I am doing so unconsciously.  Again, I will go into more detail in another post, but for now, AJ is using RPM at school for math and reading, answering WH questions, oh I just can't get enough of this.  It's been a huge eye-opener and we can't wait to see what he'll do next.

From all of this, we have learned that AJ is a multi-approach child.  Limiting him to one form of communication does not work for him.  What is so amazing is how he uses all of these things together to communicate his world.  Amazing.

{Vision}
Nothing new to report. Hooray!

{Eating}
AJ's been throwing us for a loop with his eating recently.  Time to bust out that Nuk brush and Z-vibe and get at it again.  With all the growing he's done, I know that his entire mouth, throat, etc. feels different, just as the food and liquid going down it feels different.  He gets so much of his overall body awareness and coordination from his mouth and when that's all jacked up, so is the rest of him.  We will keep working on it.  But overall, there is only one food on his NO list, and that is celery.  He's come a LOOOOOONG way.  He enjoys hot/flavorful sauces on his food.  If it doesn't have enough zip, he's generally not interested in it.  He's also quite obsessed with frozen fruit pops.  After a long conversation with his feeding SLP we have discovered that he gets quite a bit of organization from these cold tubes of delight.  It used to be super spicy foods, now its the cold.  We just keep rollin' with the punches.

{Lil' Sister}AJ has surprised us with his attention to things changing around here.  He can identify and choose his sister's voice during his speech time at school.  Be.still.my.heart.  He continues to watch her videos with us.  We don't want him to forget about her even though she's not here yet. He helped get her room ready.  He likes to play in her room, and steal her shoes.  All in all, the beginning of a beautiful friendship, I think.





Friday, December 27, 2013

Dear Baby Girl ~ December 2013

Dear Baby Girl,

Oh how things have changed since the first draft of this letter to you.

The last two weeks have been a fierce whirlwind.  Our dossier {the big packet of forms that goes to the Bulgarian government saying we want to adopt you} was requested early in order to get a jump start on translation.  By early I mean we had everything except one form. Bulgaria contacted our adoption agency to ask where we were with dossier completion.  Sweet girl, this does not happen.  It just does.not.happen.

Mama's heart broke a little when our agency confirmed that the Bulgarian government closes down for Christmas.  But then! Oh then, when our dossier was requested, it was clarified that it was requested so that translation can take place now and the entire dossier be ready for submission to the Ministry of Justice when they open post-holiday. The last piece of our dossier is the United States immigration approval.  This gives us permission to adopt from a specific foreign country.

Last week went something like this:

Tuesday~Momma runs around like crazy getting things notarized, picking up extra documents and having Daddy sign more documents after some much needed clarifications.  Momma calls the Secretary of State's office in Madison and begs for expedition of apostilles on our documents, explaining the circumstances. Momma mails documents to Madison to be apostilled.

Wednesday~Momma emails USCIS: Hague Adoptions to inquire on our immigration application status.  Momma goes to have her hair done.  She sits in the salon and checks her email to find an email from USCIS stating we have APPROVAL. Momma shouts YES! at the top of her lungs and the entire salon turns their heads.



Saturday~Apostilled documents arrive in our mailbox.  Momma and Daddy do a VERY happy dance.  Momma opens the envelope to find that two documents were not able to apostilled.  The process has changed and they need to be done different, and through a different office.  Momma makes copies of everything and mails everything to our adoption agency.  It has arrived at our agency, now we just wait for the immigration approval (with apostille) to arrive at the agency and everything goes to Bulgaria for translation.




Sunday~We finish the initial preparations for your room and take pictures for the dossier.  Your brother helped!



Monday~Hard copy of our immigration approval letter comes in the mail.  Momma and Daddy do another VERY happy dance.



Tuesday~Christmas Eve. Momma stands with your brother in the aisle so he can watch the music and lights and sheds tears, knowing that next year I'll have two hands to hold in this very moment.

Wednesday~Christmas Day.

I hope your orphanage is full of Christmas spirit.  I hope you have a tree to stand awestruck in front of and yummy treats to celebrate.  I hope you are enjoying Bulgarian children's Christmas songs.  We've added as many as we could find to our own Christmas music listening.  I have felt so blessed to have such amazing technology and access to research your culture, your world, your heritage.  I hope there is sparkly garland hanging on the walls and across the windows.  Christmas is a big thing for your country, so I have no doubt you will be celebrating it. We are praying you were celebrated there as you are here.

But oh how we wish you were here with us.  The Christmas before we brought your brother home felt bittersweet and out of place.  Someone was missing.  This year was and is no different.  You are missing, my baby girl.   You are SO loved and SO missed. Listening to Bulgarian Christmas songs makes me cry.  I long to hear your sweet voice in person. Our Christmas theme this year at church was Wonderstuck.  That, my dear girl, is what our journey to you has been all about.  Has anything left you wonderstruck?  Ab.so.lutely.

We decided to decorate our Christmas tree in honor of you.  We chose all red ornaments.  Do you like it?

You have your own tree in your room, too.  See?


Grandma made you your first stocking:


And you received your first Christmas gifts:









We love you SO much.  Christmas isn't about gifts.  Christmas is about THE gift.  We are so thankful to Christ for coming to this world.  We are so thankful for His blessings.  You and your brother are our blessings.  Even though we long to hold you, cuddle you, watch you marvel at the magic of Christmas, fluff your pretty dresses and have you pose next to your brother, we know the GIFT of YOU is well worth waiting for.

Merry Christmas Baby Girl.

Love,
Mommy & Daddy


















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