Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A precious gift hidden in plain sight

Tonight, I watched a video that I have watched at least a hundred times over the last six months. I have memorized every frame, but I still continually search the screen for something new. Tonight, I was rewarded for my efforts by a tiny little smile that lasted no more than a second or two that I had never noticed before until now.

The video is of my son in Bulgaria and was filmed at his orphanage over a year ago. It is the only video of our child that Rob and I have. A woman is holding our son's hands in the video trying to encourage him to walk and play in front of the camera. I do not know for certain who the woman is, but something tells me that she is his baba (foster grandmother - see one of my previous posts about the granny program). My little boy seems uncertain of what to do and a little wary of the camera man whose voice can be heard on the video calling out my son's name to get his attention. He clings to his baba, and when he is put down on the floor he reaches up to her indicating that he wants to be picked up. His face is serious.

At one point, someone rolls a ride on toy over the hardwood floors and into the room where my child and his baba are standing. The toy makes a lot of noise as it is pushed across the floor, and the sound is amplified by the microphone on the camera. At the same time, there is another child off camera crying. All of the commotion off camera is very distracting to the viewer. My son looks toward the toy as it is being wheeled into the room and then back at his baba. As she is picking him up to put him on the ride on toy, she turns him slightly toward her. There it is! At that moment, a very sweet little smile emerges from his face that lasts only for a second.

I look forward to the day when I can see that smile in person and even hear a laugh coming from those sweet lips, but for now, this will have to do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another seminar

As I have said before, I like to keep myself busy as we are waiting for any news from Bulgaria so Rob and I decided to attend a seminar on international adoption this past Saturday. This one was held at a local church in a neighboring county. The seminar was specifically directed at parents who were still in the process and had not brought their children home yet.

All of the people attending the seminar on Saturday were in various stages of the adoption process. Some were just beginning and had yet to complete their home study while others were like us and had already identified their child/children and had completed their dossiers. Several countries were represented as there were parents adopting from Ethiopia, China and Russia. As usual, we were the lone family adopting from Bulgaria.

The seminar was well planned, and the speakers were very knowledgeable. Rob and I chose two break out sessions to attend that day. One session was on adopting an older child, which in the world of international adoption means a child older than two. Since our little boy is three, we would fit right in. Rob and I both learned a lot from this class in regard to studies done on children raised in orphanages and the social and emotional development of these children. Emphasis was placed on meeting this children where they were developmentally and socially, not basing our responses as parents on their chronological age.

The second class that we attended was called "Eyes Like Mine" and was taught by an adult adoptee from Korea who now works as a counselor at an adoption agency and does home studies for families. The class was on transcultural and transracial issues in adoption. It was both fascinating and informative to hear about these issues from an actual adoptee. She really made all of adoptive parents, including me and Rob, think about difficult issues that we are going to encounter once we step off the plane with our child. After all was said and done, I would say that Rob and I came away enlightened but still very sure of our decision.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Best laid plans

This week did not start exactly as we had planned in regard to our adoption, but isn't that always the case? A few words from the poet Robert Burns come to mind. "The best laid plans o' mice and men often go awry."

All of the craziness really began at the end of last week when our agency sent us an email to tell us that our caseworker would be going part-time. We were somewhat alarmed by this news but trusted in our agency that they knew what they were doing and that our case would still get the required attention. However, on Monday, we received another email from our agency stating that our caseworker was no longer employed there. The email also stated that a new person would be taking her place beginning on Tuesday.

At this point, I was beginning to get a little nervous because we lost someone with whom we had built a close relationship with over a period of seven months, but also because we still did not have a definitive answer about the status of our dossier. Had it been sent to Bulgaria yet? If so, had Bulgaria received it? What was our next step?

I then realized that no matter what had happened at our agency our next step was obvious. Rob and I needed to trust in the Lord and let him guide us. The Lord has shown us many times over the last few months that this little boy was meant to be with us, and this would not change because of any upheaval at our agency. A verse from Proverbs entered into my mind.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (New International Version)

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

So, we trusted in God to make this situation right, and he did. Rob called our new caseworker the following day to introduce himself and to see if we could get any new information on our status. Within three hours, she called him back with exactly what we needed. Our dossier arrived in Bulgaria on September 13th, and VESTA is now translating and authenticating all of our documents. This process will take four to six weeks and then our dossier will be sent to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in Bulgaria where it will be registered. The MOJ will have it approximately four weeks before notifying VESTA of our registration and our registration number. After that, it will only be a matter of time before we receive our referral and our travel dates. Sounds like there is a possibility with the new time line that we may be spending Christmas in Bulgaria!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The reason why

So many people have asked Rob and I why we chose international adoption and in particular, why did we choose Bulgaria. One of the answers can be found in the text of this sobering news article from the Sofia news agency's website, novinite.com.

Bulgarian Orphanages Shockingly Claim 240 Lives in 10 Years
Society | September 20, 2010, Monday

Malnutrition, cold, and deplorable living conditions have claimed the lives of 236 Bulgarian orphans in the past 10 years.

This shocking figure has been revealed through an inspection of the Bulgarian Prosecutor's Office and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committed, a NGO, whose results were presented on Monday.

In some of the cases, the cause of the death is unknown. Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev said his institution has started the investigation of 166 of the deaths.

According to the inspection results, most of the orphans died as a result of systematic malnutrition, pneumonia, and other diseases. Most of the kids died in the orphanages rather than in hospitals, which is taken to show that they did not receive the proper medical treatment.

"I cannot fathom how we allowed the deaths of 236 Bulgarian citizens from this most vulnerable group in the last ten years. In 80% of the cases nobody even cared to notify the police or the prosecutor's office so that the deaths can be investigated," Vlechev declared.

The inspection has discovered that orphans were tied or were given sedatives in order to be controlled more easily in at least 8 of the orphanages.

"We must take urgent measures to make sure there are no more physical injuries or chemical and physical immobilizing of the orphans," said lawyer Aneta Genova from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

The State Agency for Child Protection has pointed out that its role is to monitor the situation together with the prosecutors while it is up to the local authorities and the respective mayors to make sure that the kids in the orphanages are healthy and well fed.

In addition to the 166 deaths, the prosecutors will be investigating 27 cases of physical and sexual violence. They vowed to inspect the existing orphanages again next year.

The Bulgarian government has recently announced a program to shut down all orphanages and find care and accommodation for orphans with host families or with social institutions of a new type that are located in the cities rather than in faraway and almost uninhabited villages.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Keeping busy

Last night, Julia and I had a wonderful mother and daughter dinner at a local restaurant. Sometimes, she seems so much more than seven when she tells our server exactly what she wants for dinner. She also is very thoughtful and had many questions for me when we discussed her little brother in Bulgaria over dinner. Over the last few days, she has also begun praying in earnest to God to watch out for her brother and to bring him home soon.

After dinner, we headed to Target or as my friend Kelly likes to call it, the mother ship. I needed to pick up some things for Rob and Julia for the following week, but I was also wanting to pick out a few items for our little boy. Someone once asked me if you went through a nesting phase when you are adopting as many women do when they are expecting. My answer is a resounding "YES!" But, I must admit that looking for things for our son at Target also serves another purpose. In this time of waiting on news about our dossier from Bulgaria, there is not much to do in the way of adoption paperwork, but I need to feel like I am doing something for our child. Preparing for our first visit with him in Bulgaria and his ultimate arrival home gives me the much needed sense of doing something for him.

Once in Target, Julia and I went to the dollar isle first to see what jewels we could find. Julia found two sets of flash cards (possibly useful in helping a small child to learn English), and I found several coloring books and Winnie the Pooh books for fifty cents each. From there, we headed to the infant and toddler department to look at little boy clothes and other items. I have bought our son some size 4T clothing recently since he will be almost four years old by the time we get to bring him home, but I honestly don't know what size he is currently. I am just guessing. The only pictures we have of him are a year old now, and at the time the pictures were taken, he was only two and half. So for this shopping trip, I decided to forgo another clothing purchase.

Instead, Julia and I went to look at the baby blankets and sippy cups. Our teacher at one of our adoption training classes at our agency suggested buying our child a blanket and then sleeping with the blanket for weeks before giving it to our son when we arrived in Bulgaria. That way, my scent will be on the blanket and will help keep me in his memory when we have to go back to the states to continue the adoption process. I found a very precious and very soft blanket with a little puppy on it that I think will be perfect. Julia asked me why we were getting her brother a baby blanket even though he was a toddler, and I reminded her of how much she loved Soft Blanket (yes, she named it) and of how even though she was seven and Soft Blanket had lots of holes in it, she still kept it in her room and would not allow anyone to throw it away.

The puppy blanket will also go nicely with the little plush dog that I got for our son as a sleeping buddy. I am actually going to get him another one of these dogs just like the original in case the first one gets left at the orphanage. I will probably sleep with the plush dog for the next few weeks for the same reason that I will sleep with the blanket.

The thought of actually being there to give our son these items makes me both happy and sad at the same time. I am happy thinking about meeting him and seeing him with my own two eyes, but I am also saddened because I cannot touch him or hold him now. Sometimes, my heart actually aches with the desire to hold his little hand and to wrap in him in my arms. From looking over his pictures for these last six months, I have memorized every nuance of his sweet face. Now, I just long to hear his voice, see his smile and hold him close. I take comfort in knowing that his foster grandmother is giving him lots of hugs and kisses in the mean time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Empowered to Connect

Our dossier was sent to Bulgaria on Friday of last week so now we are waiting to hear from VESTA in regards to the referral for our little boy. We are praying daily that no errors or problems will be found with our paperwork and that Bulgaria will work quickly to translate everything and send us our referral. In order to make the wait less stressful, I have decided to keep myself even more busy than usual. This is somewhat easy to do since I have a seven year old who has karate two to three nights a week, who always has homework, who in constantly hungry because she is growing, and who is happiest when playing games with Mommy.

To keep myself busy on this past Saturday but to also give me the much needed sense of actually doing something to help with our adoption, I attended the "Empowered to Connect" conference in Nashville. Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of the best selling book on adoption entitled "The Connected Child", was the main speaker at the conference. Other adoptive parents also spoke and shared their struggles and stories of hope found on their adoption journey. It was so great to be in a room with so many people who were adoptive parents or who were in the process of adopting and who shared our desire to be the best equipped parents to raise these precious children who sometimes come from very hard places.

Dr. Purvis had my complete attention and respect after she spoke her first few words. She told the audience that in raising these precious children "love was not enough." I cannot count how many times well-meaning people have said that to me while on this journey, but it is difficult to explain to them in a few short sentences why their comments are sweet but simply not true. Rob and I have learned through the various adoption books and through our adoption training at our agency, in addition to speaking to other adoptive parents what the reality is for our children.

I have to admit that when I first started seriously considering international adoption I was very naive about many things, in particular what life was like for many of these precious children growing up in orphanages. Dr. Purvis' book was one of the things that really opened my eyes and what she said at Saturday's conference only reinforced what I had already learned.

I guess the best example would be to use my own daughter. From the moment of her birth, Julia has been cared for by two loving parents. In the first few days of life, she realized that if she was hungry and she cried then mommy would feed her. If she cried and needed comfort, mommy or daddy would be there to hold her and to rock her. If she had a soiled diaper and cried, someone would come to change it. All of these simple things built a connection between Julia and me, in addition to building a sense of trust within Julia that I would always provide for her needs. The act of her crying also gave Julia a voice even as an infant. She would cry, speaking her needs by her cry, and I would answer by meeting her needs.

For an infant in an orphanage, this is a completely different story. Infant rooms in an orphanage are said to be some of the most eerily quiet places in the world. Why you ask? Because the baby learns very quickly that when he cries no one is coming to feed him, change him or rock him so he then stops crying. There are simply not enough caregivers for all of the children to be given large amounts of individual attention. His voice, in effect, has been silenced.

My son will need love and lots of it. My heart is bursting with the love that I am ready to lavishly give my little boy. But, he will need more, so very much more than that from me and Rob, and we need to be ready to provide for him in every way. That is why I am using this time to read more on adoption and go to as many adoption events as I can. If you are adopting and haven't read Dr. Purvis' book, I highly recommend it. She also has a great website, http://empowerdtoconnect.org, which has lots of resources and tools to help adoptive parents with issues from attachment to sensory processing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Get Her Done!

Wow! We have had one busy and fruitful week, although it did not start out that way. On Monday, Rob took our remaining dossier documents to the Williamson County Clerk's office once again to be certified, and once again, we were denied. Apparently, the notary we used did not know the correct month or day that her commission expired and what she had put on our forms did not match with what the county clerk's office had in their records. I was at a co-worker's baby shower when Rob called to give me the news. My mind was swirling with thoughts of all the work I had put into those forms and how I would have to fill out all of them again. I could hear him saying over the phone,"It's going to be okay. Please don't cry." I don't know how many times he had to say this before I actually pulled myself together enough to agree with him.

The fixer in me began formulating a plan to get everything done and done correctly as quickly as possible. After all, a little boy in Bulgaria was depending on his mommy. A certain quote from Dumbledore in "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" kept seeping into my thoughts. "You have no choice. You cannot fail." For those who don't know me very well, I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. The words were true. Indeed, I had no choice but to start over and trudge through, so that is exactly what I did.

That night, I took our daughter to karate and then we came home to do homework. While our daughter was working on her spelling words and reading at the kitchen table, I sat across from her and worked on my dossier. By the time Rob came home around 11:00 pm from teaching his last class, I had finished them all and had gone over the dossier checklist at least twice to make sure that I had everything that we would need.

On Tuesday, Rob had to go to Carthage for work, so we decided that we would go to the notary on Wednesday when he got back. This time, we decided to use a notary at the Davidson County clerk's office and then all we would have to do to get the documents certified after the notarization would be to walk across the hall to another department. I cannot tell you how wonderful everyone was to us at the clerk's office. They were all very nice, helpful and expedient after learning that we had to go to the Secretary of State's office that day as well. Less than an hour later, we were on our way to downtown Nashville to the Secretary of State's office to get all of our documents apostilled.

In all, we had 21 documents that were apostilled. Later that evening after dinner and another karate class, we went to our local Staples store to make four copies of every document. The originals would go to Bulgaria, and the copies would be for our records and for Bethany Christian Services. We had no idea how long it would take to copy all of the documents with the apostilles stapled to them (we are not supposed to remove the staples). Therefore, we had sorely underestimated the time, and the store was about to close. Rather than gather up all of our paperwork and drive 25 minutes to a 24-hour Kinko's, Rob politely asked the store manager if we could stay to finish. The manager generously agreed, and we were done 20 minutes later. All I can say is "Thank you Staples. You have got a customer for life!"

The mission continued today. On my lunch hour, I laid the paperwork out on my desk and checked and rechecked the documents for the dossier. Then I was off to the Bethany office in Nashville to hand deliver our precious cargo to our case worker. When I walked out of Bethany's office after delivering our dossier, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I also knew that we were one giant step closer to meeting our little boy. A few hours later, our case worker emailed me to let me know that our dossier would be overnighted to the main office in Grand Rapids tonight, and after approval, it would be on its way to Bulgaria early next week.

Once this happens, I am hoping and praying that our referral will not take long, especially considering that we were told last week that Bulgaria had informed our agency that it was very anxious to get our dossier. I am excited about getting our referral for obvious reasons, but also because we get to see new pictures and possibly a new video of our son. Everything we have now is a year old, and I am sure that he has grown and changed a lot in the last year.

So, what do we do now besides wait? We begin working on our grant applications and on our next fundraiser. Details to follow soon!