Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Father's Birthday

Today is my father's birthday - I'm sure he will spend it the same way he spends every other weekday.  He will get up early, work hard, and come home late.  There will be no celebrating on his part - he won't "reward" himself with a day off, or a dinner out. 

When I was a teenager, I remember someone in the family telling me a story about my dad's childhood on the family farm in rural south Georgia.  This person told me that each fall my dad and his brothers had to miss so much school in order to pick the cotton crop that they would almost fail out.  I never asked my dad about this, but it has always stuck with me.  When I was growing up, he was INSISTENT that I get good grades, get a good education.  I used to think that I had to work so hard to get where I wanted to go, but looking back I see things differently now.  For one thing, I never had to pick cotton a single day in my life.

I did inherit a good work ethic from my parents though, growing up in the country where there is always work to be done and things just aren't as easy or convenient.  I sometimes wonder what kind of work ethic my own children will have.  I sure hope they have a strong one, but it's hard to know in a generation which is so drastically different than previous ones.  We live in town, "country" work doesn't exist at my house even if I wanted my kids to participate in it, and everything is conveniently located just down the street, making instant gratification awfully tempting.  I inherently learned how to physically work from watching my parents.  Will my children learn the same thing from me?

I love that our children get to go to their grandparents' house every summer for a couple of weeks and live a different lifestyle.  They get to feed the donkeys, look for chicken eggs (Bou's FAVORITE thing!), ride on tractors, and peek out of the bedroom window after dark to see if the deer have come up to the pasture to eat the corn they set out for them.  Last summer they got to go to the "Brooklet Peanut Festival" parade with my parents.  They both thought it was so much fun!  Buddy talked about the tractors there for two months.

This photo was taken on our last visit.  Buddy is helping my dad drive the dune buggy.  He would wait for Papa to get home from work so he could drive us around the fields and we could look for deer and rabbits in the woodline.  Those same fields my dad used to pick cotton in so long ago, I suppose...

Happy Birthday to the hardest-working man I know.  Your family in Hawaii loves you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

So What's It Really Like?

What is it REALLY to parent our post-institutionalized, adopted older child?  Well, we have only been at it for six weeks (six weeks today, to be exact!) but I will tell you what we've learned so far.  So many of my blog posts have been very positive portrayals of our adoption experience, because overall it has been just that - very positive.  But in the interest of being balanced, and providing a little bit of insight to other families who may be thinking about adopting from a laying room, I'll  write a different kind of post tonight. 

First - and this may seem like a no brainer, but it isn't necessarily - no matter how "good" the orphanage was or no matter how much some of the caregivers "liked" your child, life there still sucked.  It was still a far cry from a family.  I have been as open as I can be with people about the conditions of Bella's laying room.  I want to portray it accurately - to present a fair picture rather than constantly accentuate the negative.  I try to choose my words carefully, but I also don't want to sugar-coat it.   Are there things about the place that I will never blog about publicly?  Yes.  Out respect for my daughter's privacy, yes.  But in spite of that, the truth is that it seemed okay as far as orphanages go.  Okay in this context is such a relative term though.  It seemed clean and orderly - I frequently saw one of the workers hanging linens out to dry on the lines.

Did it smell? Sure, I think it's hard to keep 15-20 bedridden children cooped up in one room - have them eat, sleep, and do their bathroom business all in beds that they lie in 24 hours a day - and have it NOT smell.

Were there enough diapers?  No.  When I asked the caregivers (through my translator) what they needed most, the immediate and unanimous answer was "pampers".  Was there enough to eat?  I don't feel qualified to answer that question.  On the one hand, all the laying room kids I got to see were extremely malnourished.  On the other hand, I saw the food being brought in to the room every single day that I visited.  I believe that the caregivers fed those children to the best of their abilities given the resources they had.  I also believe that the profound knowledge deficit regarding the care of special needs children contributes greatly to their nutritional states. 

I was able to watch the workers feed Bella a few times, and even in my presence she was fed very quickly, another big spoonful pressed into her mouth before she was able to swallow the previous one.  Liquids were given in the same way - poured down the throat with a big spoon while she was flat on her back. She choked often.  I saw the other children in the laying room being fed the same way.  It wasn't easy to watch.

Was she medicated in the orphanage?  Yes.  Were they truthful with us about it? No.

What does all of that mean for Bella, and for us?  Well you certainly don't overcome it all in six weeks... you don't just come home and act like a "normal" kid after living in an institutional environment for years.  And yet Bella seems remarkably "normal" in her emotions and her behaviors.  She is a very happy girl - sweet, loving, full of joy, easy to please.  So easy to please that, after years of doing nothing in the laying room, she wouldn't mind doing the same thing here at home.  She would be happy if left on the couch all day to watch the world go by.  Of course, that is not what she does - she has a full life now!  But it leaves her exhausted.  Just the buzz of activity from two siblings and two family pets wears her out sometimes.  Each week, though, we can see that her endurance is improving.

And more importantly, she WANTS so badly to be involved!  In the beginning, her immediate response to the slightest discomfort (physical or emotional, real or perceived) was "Ya hotchu spotch" - "I want to sleep."  It was understandably her preferred coping mechanism.  Six weeks later, we rarely hear that.  She now understands that the discomfort is temporary and that fun will follow if she just perseveres for a little bit.  And when we are done she loves to exclaim "Good job, Bella!"

It also means that nutrition is a challenge right now.  While she happily tries any food, she can only tolerate a few bites.  We aren't sure exactly why.  We think that the excess fluid she has developed in her belly recently makes her nauseated when she tries to eat, especially since she has to stay reclined to eat while her hip heals.  If she eats more than a few bites she throws up.  This will improve as her overall health status improves.  It is also clear to us that she has a difficult time chewing a lot of foods.  Whether that's because she hasn't chewed much in her life (most of her food in the orphanage was mushy), or because she tires out too quickly, or because of the terrible condition of her teeth, we don't know.  She will be able to get dental surgery in a couple of months, but the dentist wants her to get healthier first.  You can begin to see how her poor health makes nutrition difficult, but the things that need to be done to improve her health are safer to do after she her nutritional status is better - it is a bit of a vicious cycle. 

Bella is still not able to drink from a regular cup.  She just doesn't know how to close her lips around it.  She can drink from a straw (thanks to her friend, Natasha, I am sure) and she has learned to drink from a sippy cup.  When we try to use a regular cup she just opens her mouth wide (I call it baby-bird style) and waits for us to pour it in.  She will be nine years old next month, and no one ever taught her this.  I have no doubt she will figure it out soon though. 

Our daughter has some deep-seeded fears:  having an accident at naptime (she is potty-trained), throwing up, the threat of falling or being dropped, rain.  These things have caused absolute panic in her, along with other triggers.  Our Russian-speaking friend has been able to shed light on some of them, and others we can only speculate about.    Thankfully she is easily reassured and seems perceptive enough to realize quickly that the rules in her new home are different.

So what IS it really like?  This post may make caring for Bella seem a bit daunting, but it isn't.  Yes, she needs to eat, drink, get stronger so she can tolerate more activity, and overcome some fears.  Before we adopted Bella, I prayed specifically that her heart, her joy, her spirit would be protected during the transition to home and a family.  I said that the physical challenges didn't matter so much, it was the emotional health we longed to keep intact.  My prayer certainly has been answered so far, and with two hospitalizations behind us, I still stand by my assertion about the physical hurdles.  They are secondary to Bella's story.  That doesn't mean I am unphased by them though.  The day after she was discharged from the hospital I was caring for her while my two year old son was napping.  I had to take a break, go in the bathroom and close the door.  I've cried over the conditions that children in Ukraine live in...I've cried over Bella's past...I've cried tears of sadness over many aspects of this whole journey.  But never until that day last week in the bathroom, with shades drawn and door closed, did the hot tears of bitterness fall.  And they fell furiously.  I wanted to lay blame - to people, institutions, an entire society - for the things that my daughter has to endure in life because of neglect.  And so I did.  I just let myself be bitter for that one day.  Will it be my last bitter day?  I really doubt it.  But I hope it will be the last one for awhile.  I hope that on most days I will choose to focus on moving forward with Bella in her new life.  And to focus on this smile - this absolutely RADIANT smile that we see all day long from a child who brings so much joy into our home! 

I am so thankful that God gave us the courage that we alone could never have - that he soothed our fears and cleared our paths.  He protected His child and made her one of ours, too.  So what is it REALLY like?  It is REALLY good!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bump in the Road

Tomorrow is our ten year wedding anniversary.  This photo was taken by my friend Amy when Rob returned form his last deployment a couple of months ago.  When I look at it, the emotions of all of our reunions come flooding back - I can actually FEEL them.  Each time he returns I feel as if we've accomplished something - our family bonds are even stronger.  Our world is right again, because as long as we are together we can do anything. 

This time last year, I envisioned us having a romantic weekend alone somewhere - maybe one of the neighboring islands - to celebrate (something we never get to do!).  Of course our lives have taken a different path and earlier this month we found ourselves enjoying time together as a new family of five, amazed and overjoyed at how easy it was to incorporate Bella into our home.  And while we realized that having a newly adopted daughter eliminated the possibility of a romantic weekend alone, we certainly did not expect to be where we are tonight. 

Bella was not herself earlier this week.  We initially thought she had a viral illness because she developed a couple of mouth sores, followed by a fever and vomiting at dinner.  Throughout the following day it became obvious that she was also in some kind of pain but we could not identify what was wrong.  On Thursday morning I took her to the doctor.  Other possible causes for her behavior were ruled out (at this point she was like a completely different child, not smiling or wanting to be touched at all).  The physician blamed her leg pain on her hip dislocation and muscle spasticity, but I was not convinced because the dislocation was pre-existing and had never bothered her like this before.   We discussed the possibility of a broken bone, but everyone agreed that was not the cause since there was no swelling or discoloration/bruising of the skin.  However, a pelvic xray was done and it showed a probable hip fracture, which was confirmed by CT scan.

So Bella was admitted to the hospital with a broken hip and scheduled for surgery the next day (Friday morning).  The operation went well and she is recovering in the Pediatric ICU for a few days, with an epidural pump for good pain control.  The surgeon remarked that when she opened her up her bones were like pretzels - and as a way to describe just how frail Bella is, she jokingly said that she wanted to tell the team not to breathe on her for fear that something else might break.

Finding out that your child has a broken hip that requires surgery and hospitalization just three weeks after discharge from the first hospital stay for malnutrition is very upsetting.  It was the first major bump on this journey.  The surgeon assured us that the fracture was inevitable due to years of laying on her right side (to the extent the her left femur is curved from being draped over the right leg in a side-lying position for so long), having a severely dislocated left hip, very poor nutrition, and osteopenia.  She said the real blessing is that it happened HERE and not in the orphanage, where it would have likely been lethal.  So there is the silver lining in the cloud of despair that we feel for our daughter, who has one more medical hurdle to clear.  

Yesterday though, my heart leapt with joy when she began to really wake up from anesthesia and it became clear that our happy, vivacious Bella was back.  It was such a relief to know that the pain was gone and that she is once again handling hospitalization so well.  I've said it before - her spirit is amazing.  As a wise friend wrote to me today " Bones heal and nutrition will improve again. Her heart is the key to the long term and it seems well fed by your loving family."  Bella, your family indeed loves you, we are so happy to have you with us, and we know the road to good health is long for you but worth every step.  Remember what I said - as long as we are together we can do anything.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

15 Pics for 15 Days

Dear Friends,

I have now been home from the hospital for 15 days!  Even though my mom says I am a very easygoing, sweet kid to care for, she still hasn't had much time to blog between the Christmas season events and activities, my doctor's appointments, and adjusting to her new routine with three children.  I thought I'd help her out tonight and show you what I've been up to these last couple of weeks.  I hope you enjoy!

1.  Taking a walk to see the Christmas lights in Kaneohe with my family - loved having my dad push me around in the stroller, and the lights were so pretty!

2.  Hangin out on my couch, with my favorite quilt and my favorite magazine (Parents - I'm mesmerized by it!).

3.  Playing with my "Dolly" - my mom ordered it for me from another adoptive mom who makes them by hand.  She is very special to me and I love to give her kisses and fall asleep holding her.

4.  My first movie night with my brother and sister - we watched "The Incredibles".  Every Friday night we get to fold out the sleeper sofa and eat popcorn while we watch.

5.  My first Christmas morning!  My mom's friend speaks Russian, and she asked me if I knew what Christmas was.  I told her I had never heard of it (only New Year's).  She told me what it was all about, but I think that next year I will understand it a little better.  Many of my friends and family gave me gifts for Christmas, and I was thrilled to have them all surrounding me (in fact, when it was time for my mom to finally put some of them away, I protested just a tiny bit!).

6.  The Christmas photo shoot - can I just say that my mama LOVES to take pictures :)  That's okay though - I am pretty cooperative.  Now when the camera comes out I exclaim "Smile!"

7.  Sitting up in the activity chair that my mom's friend Kelly loaned us.  Mrs. Kelly, if you are reading this, I want you to know that I am SO happy to be able to sit at the table and eat with my family.

8.  Floor time.  In Ukraine, I was never ever allowed to get down on the floor and play, so this is a treat for me.

9.  The beach!  Of course, I had to spend almost the whole time lying on a quilt under an umbrella, but I still had a great time.  When I was in the orphanage I only remember going outside three times my WHOLE life - once when I was transferred from my "baby house" to "dom invalid" and twice when I was taken to the hospital.  Other than that, I spent 24 hours a day on the second floor of an orphanage - never feeling the sun shine on my face or the wind blowing through my hair.  My mom was really nervous that I would be scared to go out into this big, wide, open, new world but you know what - I love it!!

10.  Matching my sister - don't we look cute?

11.  My own bed.  Each night my mom gets me ready for bed in the room I share with my sister, and after she tucks me in I tell her night-night and I drift off to sleep peacefully.  I sleep all night long, and wake up smiling the next morning.  My mom says this is too good to be true :)

12.  The dogs - I love em.  This is Chica and there is also a little one named Kocher.  I can frequently be heard saying "Chica Chica, ye tebya loobloo (I love you)" and "No no, Chica Chica".

 13.  Eating in a restaurant (please excuse the bread in my mouth - again, my mom was snapping pics while I was trying to chew!).  I love all kinds of food.  In fact when my mom's friend asked me what my favorite food so far is, I said "Everything!".

14.  My first shopping spree.  We went to TCP for a few new clothes, and I was so happy with it all :)

15. FREEDOM.  I am discovering that I can move, dance, sing, laugh, cry, and help myself.  I don't have to just lay here anymore and be helpless - I can DO stuff.  A month ago I kept my right arm completely flexed and tucked tight by my side all the time (chicken-wing style).  Now I raise both arms high above my head and I can completely straighten out my left arm.  My right arm is almost completely straight too.  My parents are excited to see what else I am able to accomplish in the coming weeks and months.  So am I!