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!


  1. That was so beautiful! Thank you for sharing this journey with all of us. What an amazing testimony to God and his faithfulness!

  2. This is heart breaking and gloriously beautiful at the same time. We are adopting our 5 year old son from an institution in Ukraine; he is blind and has a LOT of institutionalized behavior that he will have to overcome...we are nervous about how it will all go so its very comforting to see your families story. God ALWAYS has a plan and his mercy and faithfulness leaves me in absolute awe of his glory. Bella is in our prayers...may she continue to improve and grow in the light Christ and the love of a family.

  3. Thank you for sharing! That was beautiful, as is the subject. :) That smile is radiant!!

  4. what a wonderful post. thank you for sharing your journey...smiles..tears...and all! It is truly a blessing to read and see how God is at work in your lives

  5. What a beautiful and truthful post. You are Bella's light and she is your heart!

  6. Thank you for sharing both the hard and the beautiful!

  7. Lisa - Thank you for the candid post. Bella's smile lights up my day! God brought her home to a beautiful family.

  8. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you so, so much.

  9. RADIANT is such a perfect description of her. What a beautiful little girl! So happy she found her way into your family. What a blessing you all are to each other. Appreciate the honesty. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I was reading another adoption blog earlier today named "Tiny Green Elephants" by Amy. She is advocating for an older girl "Iris" and posted a video of "Iris" with a lady and a little girl. The little girl bears a very, very strong resemblance to your Bella - with that beautiful smile.