Once we returned from Bulgaria, I got very sick (I am still sick!). Head cold, sore throat, the whole nine. My daughter and husband are sick too. I'm grateful to God that we did not get sick once in Bulgaria and that Chelsea did not fall ill while she was being watched by my family. I'm also grateful that our little boy is not with us. As much as I want him to be, this would be infinitely harder for all of us if we were this sick and trying to acclimate him.
Our trip to The Bad Place was a mixture of joy, surprise, and sadness. We saw very good things and very bad things. We saw progress and stagnation.
The new director of this place seems dedicated to improvements. She is young and businesslike and very attractive. She accommodated us and gave us some access through the orphanage. We had feared we would be left in one little visiting room for our visits but this was not the case. We were permitted to visit several rooms through the orphanage. We were even permitted to take our son, with only his Baba, to get his visa picture taken. We brought him to doctors as well. He is frightened of the car and cried constantly, even with his baba there. It was heartbreaking.
And oh, our future son. He feels so much more like "ours", though legally he is not yet ours. We signed all of the paperwork in Bulgaria to begin that process but until the court legally agrees that he is ours, he is just a little boy who we believe is meant to be ours. He is a light in that dark place. The changes in him are marked and real. The Baba we provide for him (in addition to the few hours that the foundation there provides) has made a huge difference. His Baba is a lovely woman. Truly. On our last day with her, we said through our translator that money can buy wages, but not kindness. She is KIND to him. She reprimands him. How many times I recall hearing, "Baba kasvah ne!" (Baba says No).
When we first met this little child, through pictures and videos, he was a boy that was lily-white from anemia. He could not stand up. He weighed 19 pounds at the age of 2, which was actually a good weight by comparison to other children. He was suffering repeated infections because he wasn't getting his diaper changed. He had rickets because of his malnutrition and lack of sunlight. He demonstrated a number of institutional behaviors, such as rocking without purpose. He did not speak.
He still does not speak and we don't know why that is. However, the child we met was a BEAUTIFUL BROWN! The baba said through our translator, "I hope they still want him and don't think he is black!" HEAVENS. We want him to be the color God made him - and God didn't make him lily-white! He is browner because he has been taken outside every day and is eating (though not chewing - they don't give him foods that can be chewed).
The beautiful boy SMILED. He could walk very fast and showed such determination. He clearly is attached to his baba and even became attached to us. He allows some affection, but runs around the playroom as an impish little boy. When he is there, the noise begins! He tries to climb things. All of the babas know him. They call his name. I like this because it means that his Baba really has taken him to places. The other babas smile at him and pinch his cheeks. I hear them calling his name and patting his head. He has gained almost 2 pounds since this baba began to care for him and the personal attention definitely SHOWS - and has changed him in ways that are remarkable and positive.
While walking through the orphanage, we saw his "old room". This is a room that (I believe) is on the first floor, near to a play room. The room was horrible. Full of cribs, it smelled terribly and was dark. No caregivers were present.
Our future son's new room is nothing like this. He was moved to a wing that was apparently remodeled by volunteers from Holland. It is (I think) on the 3rd floor. It is yellow and the floors are clean. There is AIR CONDITIONING beside his room in an attached play area. There is a sink for washing and it is clean. Unfortunately, it doesn't smell clean and he's still in a room full of children. I looked into the play room and saw at least four children who were there without anyone with them.
In fact, I saw many children alone.
Though our future son is supposedly fed in a regular chair (that's where we fed him the two times we were permitted) I saw children who were still fed standing up in their cribs. I was told that the caregiver-to-child ratio here is about 2 caregivers for every 17 children and is slated to be cut further. The reliance is heavy on foundation-provided babas or from private funds that pay for a baba (like we are doing). The state has little funds to offer to keep the proper number of caregivers for these special needs children.
I saw children every day outside in play areas or being taken out in strollers. Each baba now is required to take two children under their charge. Thus, some children only see two hours per day of individual attention. This is obviously not enough.
Some of the babas there are very good. They play with the children, interact with them, hold them, and love on them.
Some of them, however, are not as good. I saw as some of these babas pushed their children in strollers, treating them mechanically and not kindly. Some of them treat the children as nothing more than a nuisance for a paycheck. It is social hour for these babas. They sit as their children are not attended to and talk to each other until their time is up with the child.
The children who are known to be in the process of adoption are treated better than the children whoa are not. If you get anything from this entry, please understand that. The child's life will IMPROVE if a family steps forward for them. Not only will the child be someday in a family, but the care, nutrition, and even their room may improve. Most parents I'm aware of have the opportunity to pay for a baba for their child that will be with their child more often. Costs range from $100-$200 per month, depending on the foundation. This is worth EVERY PENNY. Our future son's life is so much better now because of this extra attention.
I will never forget the smells, the faces of the children, the elevators, or the experience that is this orphanage. I will never forget how happy the improvements made me feel, or the sadness I felt as I moved through the halls, seeing children alone. I was not permitted to take photographs of the children I saw there, but there were two children I saw very clearly, who are available for adoption.
I saw Penny:
I met the caregiver who was volunteering to be with Penny (from England). We have a photograph of her that we cannot post publicly (it was taken on a phone). This caregiver reported that, since last year, Penny has made some great strides. For me, I was struck by her smile. She turned to my voice and smiled at me several times. Though her body is broken, I know there is a little child in there somewhere, and she needs a mother to step forward. I know what her age says, but I also know that she is far more like a little child than an almost-teenager.
I also met Payton:
He is precious! He is just lovely. He needs his mommy very badly, however. He's been blessed to receive care from the medical fund, but this is not enough. He smiled at me too - it is was a priceless grin.
I saw an 18 month old little child who was a beautiful treasure, but who isn't available for adoption. We were told that this child's parents have not formally relinquished their rights and do come to visit about once per year. It is hard to imagine why a family who actually place their child in this terrible place, but until they claim this little one or give their rights away, this child will remain in this orphanage with minimal care.
In terms of minimal care...we were never permitted to visit the 6th floor. All we could do each day was stare at that floor and pray - fervently - that God would continue to open the door to that place and help the children there. The 6th floor is where the worst children live. The caregivers there are not terribly kind. Most of the children there are waiting to die. This is still happening there, friends. There are children who will die without families because of neglect and malnutrition.
Positives and negatives. Change, and yet little change at all. That is my assessment of The Bad Place. I'm grateful that my future son is doing much better, but my heart is heavy for the children who don't have parents and may not improve. Please pray for those children today.