Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas!

It took a few days, but I finally have pictures to share of our family's first Christmas as a family of four.

As many of you know, however, we are actually a family of six.  Two of our precious children are not with us.  They are always in our hearts, but there are few tangible ways to memorialize them.  At Christmas, we remind ourselves of our "true" family of six and hang stockings for all of our children:

From left to right:  Jacob and Zachary (born and died March 14, 2008), Jon, me, Chelsea and our Joshua.

We took our children outside on Christmas Eve to enjoy a dusting of Christmas snow.  We assume this was Joshua's first experience being out in the snow.  He wasn't entirely happy with it, but didn't want to go inside, either!

After our Christmas eve festivities, our daughter Chelsea decided to begin hunting for Santa Claus, and her little brother joined them.  However, there was no Santa sighting.

On Christmas morning, our son woke first.  We were pleased with this, as we wanted to give him some time to himself.  However, even on Christmas, breakfast must come first.  Joshua still doesn't know that there is always food here, and he knows he should eat before he plays.

We couldn't have been more pleased to give Joshua his presents and watch him enjoy and examine each one.  

When my daughter woke up, she had a wonderful Christmas too.


(note the left leg - it's the right in the picture)

And then...

A lovely pink cast a day later.  She suffered a broken ankle while descending the stairs in our home to retrieve a Christmas present from her bed.  It is the first broken bone we've ever experienced.  Thankfully, she's been an amazing trooper and will have the cast off before the end of January.  It was a shock to an otherwise happy Christmas

Despite the unfortunate injury to our precious girl, we were exceedingly blessed to have our family of four this Christmas.  We rejoiced over his arrival even as we prayed for those who do not have parents and may never know the love and care of families.  

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

At last! Pictures!

Apparently, I can upload pictures in Google Chrome, but NOT in Internet Explorer!

Our little boy, dressed to leave Pleven:

Scared and unsure in his first hotel lobby...

Asleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed (after refusing the pack and play crib!)

After his first bath.  He did fairly well with it, and definitely needed it!

Talking with Daddy.

A small bit of sightseeing in Sofia; such a big day for a little boy who had never traveled much beyond his city block...

Fed, and fed, and fed...never hungry again!

"We're going to America?  Awesome!  Let's go now!"

After a fairly good plane ride, and a very long way....we're home.  And there's a lot to smile about at home:

Trying to get a picture of the two children, but Joshua is convinced that HE is the star!

Covered in juice!

This is what redemption looks like.  This is what it means to save a child from a dark place.  In spite of more dishes, more laundry, and a whole lot of doctor's appointments, it is worth it.  HE is worth it.

Thank you.  Thank you for helping us bring our son home.  Thank you for blessing our family.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Every time I try to upload a photograph, I get this error that says "server returned invalid response".  So, while I'd love to share photographs with you...for some unknown reason, I cannot.

Joshua has been home just three days.  He was not the sickest little boy in Pleven.  He is not the sickest little boy you will see.  He will not shock you with his condition.

For some, this means that he is "okay" and would have been better served in his country of birth.  It means that our choice to adopt him wasn't the "most needy".  He does not yet have a formal diagnosis.  He is not skeletal. 

For others, you see these tiny, sick, precious little ones and think, "If that is adoption, I cannot do it.  I am not prepared to parent a child like that."

I want you to know what even a reasonably healthy child brings to the table, and why even these healthier children cannot be raised in institutions and will not be accepted in their home countries.  Orphans are outcasts, and if you think about it, even in a very developed country like the US, we have a stigma against children without families (like children in foster care).  It is not nearly what it is elsewhere, but it exists.  In Bulgaria, I had not one but two people - people who are not affiliated with the business of adoption! - stop me and tell me how my son would never have a future in his country and that someday, he will thank us for removing him from the orphanage he lived in.  I had to smile and remind them that we felt equally blessed.

Our son has the worst diaper rash I have ever seen.  We will bring him to the doctor on the 6th to get this checked out. 

He screams when we put diaper rash cream on him.

He rocks his head rhythmically when he goes to sleep.

He does not speak.  He cries primitively when he doesn't get something he wants.  He throws food when he doesn't want it and arches his back and thrashes when we do something he doesn't prefer.

His teeth are atrocious; I doubt he's ever seen a toothbrush.

Although he is only six months younger than his sister, he is a full five inches shorter than she is and more than 15 pounds lighter.

He likely has a bacterial or parasitical infection on the back of his head that has never been treated. 

He cannot climb stairs.  He cannot feed himself.  He only recently learned to walk.  He barely chews and eats little more than purees and broths.  He drinks nothing but water and will not eat anything that isn't sweetened.

And this is a "healthy" child!  Trust me, there is more to come with him.  There is much we do not know.  We left Pleven with little more than an immunization record.  The rest is lost. 

This little boy has a mother who lives in a village near Pleven.  Thus, by definition, he is a social orphan.  This means that he has at least one living parent but she isn't parenting him.  According to court papers, she lives on about 102 Leva.  This is about $60 US per month.  Yes, Bulgaria is a cheaper country, but trust me, it would be nearly impossible to live on this money. 

I know his mother meant him no harm when she relinquished him.  She did not understand about the baby house in Pleven.  She simply lived near there and that was the orphanage that was close to her.  She signed papers to say that she understood he would be adopted and she had a year to contest this or reclaim him.  I don't know why she didn't except that she likely couldn't afford to and thought it would be best for him to remain there.  She was an older woman who had a nearly grown son, according to what we now know.  There is claim that she had mental illnesses and was in and out of institutions for treatment.  I do not know if this is true.  I don't know if he was ever visited by her or not.  The papers said he wasn't, but who knows?  I don't pretend to blindly believe all that is written.

What I do know is that a reasonably healthy little boy lived in a terrible orphanage and he is home with us.  "Reasonably healthy" doesn't mean healthy.  It doesn't mean what it means to most of us.  Reasonably healthy means he wasn't skeletal and he wasn't diagnosed with some sort of birth defect. 

His story is yet unwritten; we do not know what he will become.  But we know that his chances of becoming anything on his native soil were pitifully low.  Yes, he could have grown breathing beautiful Bulgarian air, enjoying his native language, but as the woman in the one hotel said to me, "He is marked."  (She pointed to her forehead)  "I am Bulgarian, and I will say that children from the 'special houses' [she meant orphanages], they have no future here.  It is a sad thing.  I wish it were not so."

Orphans are a social problem and it requires societal changes to encourage domestic families to care for the children and recognize their worth.  This is happening, but change is dreadfully slow.  For many, the changes are not happening fast enough and they are languishing in institutions without proper supports and services - even food, clean clothes, etc.  It is not about raining money into broken systems.  It is about changing the systems.  Until those systems change, children will live without the basics of life and will never realize their potential.  They may live in their native countries, but they will never really live.

Our son, and many other sons, will live.  Please pray for the families who pluck these children out of these places, and for the children who remain there.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

We got him!

So sorry we could not update sooner!

But on Monday, November 26th, 2012, at around noon in Bulgaria, we went to Pleven and got our little boy.

We drove from Sofia to Pleven on Monday morning in the nearly endless, thick fog through the Balkans and winding through the roads until we reached the orphanage.  There was a moment when we exited the car and I felt my breath catch, seeing that familar building again.

We waiting in the lobby area, unsure what would happen.  The facilitator who was with us this time was not the same as before.  His English was not as good and we were confused.  There was a brief handshake with the director and then we were alone, waiting. 

But then the elevator doors opened and we saw him.  And he saw us...and ran from his much-loved Baba and into my arms as if he remembered us.

There is so much more to much more to say, but for some reason I can't upload any more pictures!  Still, I didn't want another moment to pass without updating in some way. 

We are overjoyed, overworked, and overwhelmed.  We returned home on Friday night instead of Saturday and I am grateful we were able to do that.  Joshua has made the transition fairly well, but it is always hard when a new member of the family appears.  Our daughter is used to being an only child, and we are still learning how to parent two children. 

I'll post more pictures when I can.  For now, thank you to all who have followed our journey.  The real work begins now!