Thursday, December 29, 2011

But You Don't Hear Me, Though

Let me lead by sharing the good news - Geri's surgery was a rousing success! Dr. B said before the operation that he didn't think he'd be able to find her natural drainage in the right eye, because with all the swelling and distortion the eye's anatomy gets messed up and the microscopic structures are nearly lost. Well, he found and cleared about 75% of it! In today's post-op he was startled to find that she could definitely see him from that same right eye. He moved towards her and when she tried to get away from him he started back and said "She can see me!"

Which is what I told him at the pre-op. Tonight, reflecting on our experiences so far, Nick and I have come to the realization that no one believes anything we tell them about our daughter. They are not used to a child in her situation, and they don't really hear us.

Before the surgery, we explained in detail to the pre-op nurses that we needed to be there with our daughter as she awoke from the anesthesia. "Oh sure, as soon as she starts moving someone will come and get you. No problem," they told us. The message apparently didn't get through to the post-op nurses, though, because they didn't come and get us until she had fully roused and tried to rip the bandages off her face and her arms had been boarded. By the time I finally got to her, she was beyond terrified.

"Oh, kids always get scared coming out of anesthesia," the nurse tells me with a sympathetic smile. We couldn't make them understand that this isn't the kids you "always" see. The kids you always see have at least one loving person in their lives and are confident that, if they are in need, someone will come. My daughter knew nothing but neglect and possibly abuse before six weeks ago. The kids you always see are familiar with the English language. My daughter has no clue what you are saying to her. Most kids can talk to you, tell you how they feel, express their pain or fear. My daughter never learned to speak and has only recently started crying at all when scared or hurt. The only familiar thing she has at all is us. You have no idea how much of a life preserver we are for her. She is just starting to understand that, if mom or dad are there, we will take care of her. If we are not present, she has no idea what to expect. Oh, you're a nurse? Yeah, so were the ladies at the orphanage who rendered her utterly terrified of bathing and of having her shirt removed. The title "nurse" means something entirely less Florence Nightingale for her than for another kid.

Similarly, Dr. B (who is a fantastic doctor, I don't mean any of this disparagingly) heard us telling him that she could see and seemed to think we were nuts or imaginative. It didn't jive with what he was seeing in his office - a child who was almost entirely non-responsive to all the toys and flashing lights. We couldn't seem to make him understand that the child he sees in his office is not the child we see at home. Our daughter shuts down in new or different places. She's been going to church with us for 5 weeks now and no one has heard her speak at church. They have never seen her walk. She will not even attempt to vocalize, walk, or eat in an unfamiliar or scary place. She has eaten in a restaurant only a few times, and almost all of those times were in our favorite pizza joint where they know us and we treat it like our own house. The other time was in a nearly empty McDonald's play area. In short, when you start trying to prod her and shine lights in her eyes, she shuts down. She becomes almost entirely unresponsive. Oh and by the time you came in to start looking her over, your nurse has already come in and pissed her off and put her in shut-down mode.

All this makes me think two things. First, it makes me so grateful for her pediatrician, who has 14 years of experience working with internationally adopted kids. If you are adopting, do yourself a favor and find a primary care physician for your child who has seen other adopted kids. You won't realize it until a little down the road, but it's the only way for your child to get comprehensive and complete care.

The other thing is that perhaps medical professionals working in pediatrics should be getting some sort of training in this area. Even if it's just a brief seminar to help them understand what they're dealing with. Why it isn't totally bizarre for the parents to have almost no medical history. Why you should expect this kid to have major emotional meltdowns at things that other kids could easily handle. Why this kid might act way younger than their chronological age. A general understanding of the situation from which this kid is likely coming. Why you need to move slower, watch for nonverbal cues, and keep this child with their parents even more vigilantly than with the other children.

If nothing else, they need to listen to the parents and take their input very seriously. No, I'm not a hover-parent, being overprotective. No, my requests are not silly anxiety. No, I'm not exaggerating.

My kid is not the kid next door.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pre-Op... AAACK!!!

AAACK because of the Murphy's Law misadventure that was the appointment. Sigh. This was a trying morning!

We were fortunate to have a dear dear dear friend from church offer to watch our other kiddos while all of this medical mayhem is going on, and today we took her up on it. She arrived early, with her two kids in tow, so I was able to head out with Geri right on time (rather early, actually) without a shred of worry. That was really nice. So I loaded Geri in the car and headed off to Denver for the appointment. I gave myself about 2 hours of travel time, just in case of traffic. On the way up, I stopped off at a Starbucks for some grub and coffee. All things were going great.

Until I totally got confused. See, this surgeon is part of a rather large practice, and they have 7 locations. Yes, 7, all in Denver. And the docs move between different locations! So this week we have three appointments with one doctor... at three different locations. Today was the Englewood location, tomorrow is at Children's Hospital, and Thursday's post-op is at the Wheat Ridge office. Oh, but everyone calls the Englewood office "the Centennial office" when they talk to you. Even though it's referred to as Englewood in their literature. Confused yet? Because I sure was! I made the drive up to the Wheat Ridge office, rolling in 15 minutes ahead of our appointment time and feeling like a success.

Then they told me that I was in the wrong office. The right office was about 20 minutes south. You know, south? That direction I came from? sigh So I threw Geri back in the car while the Wheat Ridge office called the office-formerly-known-as-Centennial, and raced back in the direction from whence I came. I got there at 1030, thinking that I wasn't massively late so it should be ok. Then I opened the door to get Geri out of the car to find that she had vomited all over herself. Did I mentioned she got carsick that one time in Bulgaria? I must have been driving like a Bulgarian today, because she blew chunks huge. I picked up the larger, more solid bits and wiped her off a little with diaper wipes and raced into the office.

Once in the office I had to fill out the new patient paperwork, which is really easy when you're toting a non-verbal toddler covered in puke. I finally got all the paperwork together and picked her up and that was when her diaper leaked. All over the right side of my shirt. Luckily, I had a change of pants for her. No such luck for me. Oh well, I managed to get her changed and cleaned up, even got her jacket largely cleaned of vomit, and then went back to the waiting room where a well-meaning mom sitting across from me did a really bad job of not staring at my daughter. Or maybe it was me. I don't know, which would you stare at - the manically rocking girl who was way too big to be a lap-bound child or the wild-eyed mother with the purple hair and the hundred yard stare?

We were finally called back, where the nurse attempted a few minor tests before giving up and leaving the room. Then we waited. A lot. Our 10:15 appointment became an 11:45. For the record, I don't blame the doctor's office for this. I was late, I know that means I had to be squeezed in somewhere else and made it impossible for them to honor my appointment time. Geri decided to carpe that waiting time and partially fall asleep in my lap, which was at once encouraging and a bit annoying because of course she decides to finally submit to a nap when there's no way I can oblige. Kids.

The actual appointment was very informative. Her doctor told me that he wasn't going to worry about getting a bunch of examination stuff done in the office today because he would be examining her eyes under anesthesia tomorrow. Fine by me. He explained that the surgery he intends to perform involves opening the eye to get at the natural drains that should be in place but with a membrane blocking them. The biggest difficulty is going to be the fact that he eyes are so swollen. The swelling changes the anatomy of the eye, moving the drains out of position and flattening them to slits and making them very hard to find. If he can find the drains he can remove the blockage, but if he can't then he has to install synthetic drains. They work fine, but the problem with them is that they only last about 4 years... meaning she'd have to have an operation every few years to replace them.

 He told me that he believes her right eye still has sight but her left eye does not. He wants to operate fully on her right eye. On the left eye, he wants to use a laser to blast and partially kill the portion of her eye that produces fluid. He said that, since he doesn't think there's vision to be saved in that eye, he isn't sure he wants to operate on the eye right off. For the record, his goals for each of her eyes are very different.  In her right eye, he wants to reduce her pressure to the normal range, getting it below 21. In her left eye he wants to get it below 30. Why 30? Here's an interesting tidbit about glaucoma that you won't find on WebMD... if the pressure of the eye stays over 30 for too long (not sure of the actual time frame) the eye will actually die and shrivel up and rot in the socket. So if he doesn't get it below 30 on the left side, she'd lose the eye entirely.

I disagree with him, though, on one fine point... I don't think that left eye is a total dud. I guess she could be so used to relying on her right eye that the compensation is hard to detect, but I tried to test her today. I held my hand way off to the left side and wiggled my fingers. She saw it, turning her head to get a good look with her right eye. She definitely relies on the right eye, but I think the left one works at some level. He will be able to tell tomorrow when he examines her under anesthesia, because he'll be able to look at her optic nerve and see how much damage it has sustained. He did say that if any of that nerve still looks healthy, he'll probably do the surgery on the left side as well as the right. I think I would like him to do it anyway, because I think that just slowing the production of fluid isn't going to be enough. But he went through med school, so I feel like I should listen to him. This is one of the hardest parts of parenting - knowing when to argue with the doctor on your child's behalf. Do I trust my gut or his training? Do I want to be that pain-in-the-butt mom who presumes to know more than the professionals? Do I want to be the mom filled with regret later if his more cautious approach doesn't work and I am left wondering if we would have seen results had we gone all the way?

At any rate, we are on for tomorrow and I think we have all the info we need at this point. We'll get more details tomorrow, before the surgery. He did make a point of telling me that she will be on drops to maintain her eye pressure for life. And that she will probably need repeat surgeries in the future and very frequent eye exams. He said that, with this condition, your ophthalmologist's office becomes a second home.

Well, if you can find it.

In other news, she astounded me today by cruising a very long distance on the furniture. And not a straight shot, either. She started at the bookshelf on the far side of our bed, then went across my hubby's nightstand, up the side of the bed, across the end, transferred to her bed, down the side of her bed to the door, out the door into the kitchen and turned a left to make her way along the counters to the bathroom door, which transferred her to the toilet and from there to her objective - the sink! I watched the whole thing with the biggest grin on my face and called Nick to tell him as if she had just proven string theory or something. And tonight she took another bath without any problems. That's two nights in a row! And this time we put her in the tub with it partially filled and the only time she cried was when we took her out! Go figure. She used to scream when we put her in it, now she's going to throw her fit when we take her out. Kids.

I'm going to wrap this very long entry up by asking everyone to please pray like crazy. Pray that we get there on time and without all hades breaking loose on the way. Pray for her safety under the anesthesia. Pray that the doctor will find the natural drains in her eyes and be able to open them. Pray that her optic nerves will still be at least partially intact in both eyes. Pray that her doctor will make the best decisions in her surgery, and that we will make the best decisions in advocating for her. Pray that her corneas heal and have no permanent clouding. Pray for God's will to be done in our daughter's life. Pray for a healing miracle. Pray that this ordeal doesn't set her back too much in her bonding and adjusting. Pray that I'm able to handle the two weeks of recovery with two very needy girls, one in a lot of pain and the other too young to understand it all. Pray for TJ to be patient during all of this.

Jesus opened the eyes of the blind before. Pray He will do it again for our daughter.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas?

It's tempting, as a parent, to hear some piece of wisdom about kids and say "yeah, but not MY kid." When I read and was told that, for adopted kids, the holidays are very difficult, I mistakenly thought Geri would be immune. I think I figured that, since she is so delayed in her development, she would be too infantile to be affected. Or perhaps I thought that we were keeping things pretty low key, so why would she have trouble?

sigh. another lesson learned.

My definition of a low-key Christmas is not my daughter's. I failed to factor in the days leading up to it, honestly, and the relatively new concept of gifts in her mind.

On Friday we got up very early to get Big Brother from the airport. He had traveled to visit his bio-dad's family and was returning in time for Christmas. This meant rousing the girls to drive up to Denver at o'dark-thirty. We figured, although why we thought this I'll never understand, that Geri would sleep in the car on the ride up so it would be moot. In the car at 5:30 in her PJ's, she would sleep until we got there and wake at a near-normal 7:30 and then eat some oatmeal at McDonald's before a ride home and a nap at the normal time. Wow, that is so naive in print... What really happened is that she woke up at 5:30, refused to sleep in the car, refused to eat at McDonald's, and returned home cranky and agitated and unable to eat or sleep. The upset of that day would lead to poor sleep that night, followed by no nap the next day, followed by poor sleep the next night... you get the picture. By the time we were going to Christmas Eve service, she was unhappy with us and we were about ready to keel over from exhaustion. When Christmas morning rolled around, everyone was out of sorts.

Then, cue the insanity. She was NOT ready for what unfolds on a typical Christmas morning. All of the chaos of presents being torn into, paper flying, new toys squawking and singing and lighting up all around... it was more than she could handle. She was only able to open about three presents that morning, the rest happened slowly over the course of the day. In the brief periods of happiness in between tantrums.

It was not the picture of the ideal Christmas day, but I'm learning to let go of ideal things. There were some definite moments of happiness. And really, what is life about but to hold onto the moments of happiness that God grants us and let go of the rest?

By the by, my husband gave me the best present possible. A 2 hour nap, totally uninterrupted, in the guest room downstairs. What did I give him? Today I gave him a similar break, out on the porch with his pipe. :) It's the little things.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Miracles Behind, Miracles Ahead...

This week, on Thursday, we took Geri to the appointment about which we have been most excited - the ophthalmologist.

In short, we knew when we adopted our daughter that she has congenital glaucoma, meaning that she had been born with improper drainage of the fluid in her eye leading to increased eye pressure. This increased pressure causes blindness by damaging the retina and optic nerve, the degree of the damage being related to the amount of blockage and how long it is left untreated. When we brought her home, we knew that she could see lights and outlines, high contrast and bright light being easiest for her.

The ophtho was amazed at what she found. Normal eye pressures are in the 10-20 range. At 30, the doctors are alarmed. Hers was almost 60 in each eye! (The dr. compared it to having a blood pressure of 400/240.) Congenital glaucoma is always treated with surgery in the US, typically performed by 6 months of age. Geri was diagnosed at 6 months, received no treatment at all until 3 years, and then was given eye drops. Drops which the doc said are the least effective ones they could possibly prescribe. The pressure of her eyes has caused them to swell, stretching the cornea and causing clouding due to the tissue being essentially pulled to the breaking point.

The first words out of the the doc's mouth was "Has she been evaluated at the School for the Deaf and Blind?" She assumed, just looking at our daughter, that she was entirely blind.

She was shocked to find that she is most certainly not. She repeatedly said that Geri should NOT be able to see as much as she can. She was amazed to see our daughter track objects, reach for them, and follow light with her eyes. She was so amazed that she actually called a med student in from home to see our daughter because she said he would never see anything like this again. She examined Geri's retinas to see how many blood vessels are still intact. Over time, the pressure kills off the blood vessels and the loss of those vessels causes a corresponding loss of vision. She expected to find around 20-50% of the vessels still intact.

They were completely intact. Near as she could tell, and our daughter was not cooperating so there is a margin of error here, there was almost no loss of blood vessels in her eyes. There was evidence of damage to the optic nerve, but that doesn't relate as directly to loss of vision as the condition of the retina.

There is still a chance of regaining some of her vision. The doc said that, in her opinion, it's possible. It shouldn't be, but it is.

Next Tuesday we will take her to Denver to meet the surgeon and get his opinion. The surgery will happen regardless of whether he predicts any potential gains in vision, but it will be interesting to hear what he thinks. If nothing else, reducing her pressure will make her more comfortable. On Wednesday, he will perform a surgery that is 3 1/2 years overdue.

We are praying for a miracle, and we are asking others to pray with us. I firmly believe that there will be a miracle, because God has already started it! The tiny amount of vision she has now is, without a doubt, a miracle. She should not be able to see anything at this point, but if I hold my hand out with a toy in it she will reach out and take the toy without hesitation and without missing her aim. If she is sitting on the floor near her toys, she will reach out and pick up something that is just sitting there inert. Without movement or sound or flashing lights as clues, she can find an object in 3D space. She loves to look at herself in the mirror. If I hold out my hand to her, she takes it. That's a miracle, and that's after four years of receiving no real treatment. What more will God do when the best doc in the region repairs the damage with a surgery shown to be 80% effective (assuming he opts for the open angle surgery, which I think he probably will based on my reading)?

It wouldn't be the first time he opened the eyes of the blind.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Pictures

Long overdue, here are some of our family photos!!
A family complete at last!

Our Kiddos!

All three sucking their thumbs. For the record, TJ just did it for the pic.

Our side of the road tree. Literally.

Kicking it on the little couch

The Memorex shot...

The new arrival!

She tolerates us ok. :)

Beautiful girl!

Still in love. :)

Can you believe they let us be in charge?

We will always have a special bond from our time as a family of two. 
 Lessons learned: try on the dresses beforehand. Kids' clothes are sized so funny... Geri's dress was crazy short!! We had to get her a different one for church on Christmas day. It just didn't feel appropriate to flash the congregation... Well, not for her at least. I'm still deciding if I want to. jk

Oh, and it's ok that we cut a tree down from the side of the road. We had a special permit from the forest department, and it was in the cutting zone. :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Week.... This makes 5

So today marks 5 weeks since we took our girl out of the orphanage, one month home in the U.S. To celebrate, Baby Girl and I have both gotten sick. Still, there's a lot of good news for the week.

It looks like Princess is starting to take naps. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because she needs them and it improves everyone's mood in the afternoon. Bad because it gives her more energy to fight falling asleep at bedtime. Still, the sleep issues are improving overall. We have purchased a rocking chair for the bedroom and now we hold her and rock her each night and she is very good about it. It's nice to have her snuggle up.

She's starting to show some nice signs of forming a bond with us. The other day she picked me over a neighbor who was offering to walk her. She turned right back to me and wanted to be picked up. She has also stopped trying to launch herself into the arms of anyone who gets close. She also wants to be with us more around the house. She used to go around exploring on her own sometimes, but now she wants to follow us and even vocalizes for us when we leave the room. Again, a good sign of a growing bond.

We had the appointment with the cardiologist this week and found out that our little Princess has two very minor heart defects. She has a VSD, or "little hole between the two chambers", and a bicuspid valve. The VSD could actually close on it's own as she gets older, but the valve issue is permanent. Still, the dr. said it won't keep her from doing anything and that, if she ever did need surgery for it, it would not be until she was much older. He cleared her for anesthesia, which paves the way for treatment of her eyes and for various other procedures she needs. We get to clean her teeth! Yay!

The Prevacid seems to be helping with her acid reflux. Her breath smells a LOT better these days! haha

Oh, and I almost forgot the biggest good news of the week... a bath!! Not any bath, but a HAPPY one!! I think I already blogged about our new method of putting her in the empty tub, stopping it up, and turning on the hand sprayer to let her play in the spray while it fills up around her. This has worked twice, so I'm declaring victory. It's a lot better than before, when she would scream and cry while we plopped her in the tub and hastily washed her.

Overall, we're doing fine aside from this little bug that has mom and sister out of it. Big Brother is in Michigan for a visit with his grandparents and I miss him like mad, but he's having lots of fun so it's worth it.

We're still standing, by the grace of God. :) What more can you ask for?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Answered Prayers ROCK!!

I'm amazed by the times that God answers prayers very quickly and clearly.

Today was a ROUGH day. When Nick called around 9:45 to see how I was doing, we were about 45 minutes into a dual child meltdown. This was the second such meltdown of the morning. I was about ready to dissolve into a puddle of tears myself, so he hightailed it home from work to help. While he gave the girls their snack, I went into the other room to bawl and emerged rather bummed and listless. I sludged through the early afternoon, and all of his praise and pep talks did little to help. I was feeling horribly overwhelmed, to the point of yelling at God "why did you ask me to do this?"

After picking up Big Bro from school, we hit the Walgreen's for a couple of errands and when we got the whole brood back to the car Nick said "Let's just go for a drive in the mountains." I was so glad he said that, because I honestly didn't feel ready to go home and try to engage in being mom right yet.

During our drive I told him "Right now, the prayer of my heart is this - 'God, I know it's all going to work out and be okay, but I need you to say it right now. I need to hear it, from you, that everything will be alright. I know it's in the Bible, I know it's in your character, I know all of that but I've just got to hear it from you right now.'" Now, I'm not nutty enough to mean that I thought God would split the sky to say in a booming voice "It's all good, Lauren. Chill," but I was hoping for some sort of sense of peace or a feeling of reassurance or something. We headed home, my heart still heavy in my chest.

When we got home, I felt a sudden burst of renewed emotional energy and I brought our new little Princess into with me while I cooked dinner. Then, at dinner, she decided to start exploring her food. This is VERY new for her, and it's a very nice development. She even ate with her hands a bit, which is huge. And yet, the best was still to come. After all that food play, I realized she was going to have to have a bath. This has been her hardest area - bathing. Baths are spent screaming and crying, then getting on her PJs causes more of a fit, and it puts her in a miserable mood until she falls asleep... which takes longer when she's so unnerved. I decided a new approach was in order, so I tried something a bit different.

If you are in the above situation, I invite you to steal this idea because it WORKED. I sat her in the empty tub, turned on the water and use the hand sprayer to spray water over her feet and legs. At first she cried, but soon she was reaching for and splashing in the spray. I stopped up the tub and allowed the water from the sprayer to slowly fill it. As the water rose, so did her confidence and the amount of fun she was having. Eventually, she was splashing in the water and playing with bath toys. We even put her sister in the tub with her (Baby Girl needed a bath badly) and the two of them played together. It was amazing, watching her have so much fun in the bath that had scared her to death before. She remained mostly calm during the PJs and was in a great mood for bedtime. In fact, it took forever to put her to sleep because she was so pumped and happy that she was having a hard time settling down! She was feeling too playful to sleep!

God is so good, and I'm so grateful that He answers prayer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Weekly Recap Celebration!

Tomorrow marks one month since the day we took our beautiful daughter out of the orphanage forever! It's flown, truly flown, but it's been great. This week, though, has been especially awesome because we seem to have hit a true turning point.

Most of the week was pretty "normal", if you can call it that, but Friday was nuts. It seemed like, from the moment she woke up, our new Princess was holding us at distance and determined to go it alone. She threw fit after fit, rejected my attempts to comfort her, was completely unable to focus. She ate poorly, was generally grumpy and unhappy. It wasn't just a bad day, though. I could feel this tension, this wall, that she was putting up between us. Her distrust was palpable. The day before, I had felt as if we were starting to develop a real connection, so Friday was deeply disappointing for me. I put in my best effort, I was consistent and patient... but by the time it was three in the afternoon I needed a break. The physical toil was painful, but it was nothing compared to the emotional toll of this new coldness between us. I called Nick and asked him to come home early and let me go get my hair and my sanity did.

When he came home and relieved me, I have to admit that I was at my wits end. I had spent the entire day attempting to calm a screaming toddler, and often she would set off the other toddler and I would be trying to manage two at once. I love my kids, but I needed to get in the car alone and go somewhere they weren't because it gave me a much-needed opportunity to talk to God and cry my eyes out so I could come back renewed, which is the amazing miracle He always works for me when I truly need it.

The hardest part was the giant step back. We had been making good progress in terms of her ability to trust us and connect with us, and there was lots of spontaneous contact developing and good interactive play. She was really enjoying us and vice versa, and suddenly it was all lost. It broke my heart to see her past sneak up and pull her down when we were starting to move forward.

I realize now that Friday was a decision day for her. She was struggling so hard that day, trying to decide if she was really going to trust us. She was testing us, all day, and we somehow managed to pass it because on Saturday the wall came back down and now we are at a new level of connection that is beautiful. It's still hard for her, as she tries to process some of the other people in her life and figure out this confusing new dynamic, but she's clearly doing better than ever and trusting us more than before. It's even become easier to give her the medicines she needs... although bath time remains as challenging as ever.

Friday was a hard day, but on Saturday we reaped the rewards of loving her through the storm. In fact, it just proved what I've been feeling for a while now. Sometimes, truly loving your kids is a lot like hugging a tornado. And yet, it's so amazingly worth the effort.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The kids are allright

I bet some people were starting to wonder if we still have those other two... the answer is yes, we do. I've been blogging primarily about our new Princess because I see this as an opportunity to tell the world what adopting internationally is really like. I'd be remiss, however, if I left out the other kiddos.

Baby Girl is learning to share. She's not good at it. In fact, it's not that she doesn't have any idea about it at all. It's worse - she had entirely the wrong idea about it. She walks up to her sister and says "share! share!" and then proceeds to take whatever toy her sister was playing with. Sharing means taking things from other people.

I'm not terribly surprised, though. Due to the age difference between Baby Girl and Big Brother, she has lots of time during the day where he is gone and when he does come home they don't want the same things. I can also appeal to her older brother in a logical manner and easily correct scuffles by saying "whose toy is it?" Not so with two girls who are effectively the same age. They want the same toys, and they have a mutual pool of toys to share, so lines of ownership are not as clear.

I have, however, noticed some really cute interaction. Sometimes the girls will trade toys back and forth or play together, and that's nice. Baby Girl is very interested in her big sister and wants to help her. This whole experience might be helping Baby Girl to become more social, too. At church this week, she voluntarily went to Sunday School! And had fun!

Big Brother has reached a state of peace about his new sister. I try to ask him what he thinks and talk with him, and it's revealing. One day he said "Mom, she needs you all the time!" and then, a few minutes later, said "I changed my mind. Geri needs you a lot right now so it's good when you help her." I thought my heart would pop with pride when my boy said that little bit of selfless wisdom! I've been making a big effort to give him about 5-10 minutes of cuddle time before bed. We lay on his bed and talk about the sort of things a 5-year-old boy is interested in... mainly robots, superheroes, space travel, and electricity. Oh, and home improvements. He's very interested in talking about the various major projects I have in mind for the house. He's the next Bob Vila.

Just the other night he asked me if he could bring his sister to school as show and tell. He said he wants to introduce her to his class and tell them about how her eyes are bad so mommy and Nick give her drops and she hates it. As she is a person and not an object, she's not going to be her brother's show and tell. However, he has a class party for Christmas on the 15th and we will attend so he can introduce her to his friends.

He continues to do well in school, tempted by stickers that earn rewards, and I'm always amazed with the things he says. And the things he does. He's a ball of energy - lots of thrust, no vector - and I have to keep telling him to chill out and leave my butt alone. Sigh.

All in all, the kids are fine. They're coming together, no one seems to be feeling particularly lost or neglected, and everyone is basically getting along. Sort of. Mostly. In a way.

Close enough for government work!

Bearing Witness

Every day, twice daily, I have the opportunity to bear witness as my daughter faces her deepest fear - the vulnerability of sleep.

I must admit that I have only recently started thinking of it this way. At first, the task of putting her to sleep felt arduous and stressful. It was hard to pick which was worse - nap time, when I was guaranteed failure, or bed time, when I was guaranteed success but would have to fight hard for it when already exhausted myself. It's not surprising that, with that mindset, I was losing patience. For a while Nick and I traded off, but that seemed to be adding to her anxiety and just making the whole thing worse. We decided that I would take over all sleep routines, since I needed to be able to put her down for a nap and she needed the same person to put her down every time. I think it took me about a day to get burned out.

Then, I was sitting with her and I had a revelation. Her sister was already napping in the other room, and I had a list of things I "needed to do" running through my mind. Suddenly, a little voice said "What do you have to do that is more important than this?" Ummm.... nothing.

See, every time she falls asleep she is facing down a huge fear. She's used to facing it alone, and she's used to fighting like hell. She knows that I'm nice and I take good care of her, but she's not yet sure if she can truly trust me. Her sleep routine is a great opportunity to teach her to trust me, and if I can view it that way then I'll be able to appreciate the gift that it is. If I am worried about the end goal, about getting her to fall asleep, then I am setting myself up for frustration.

So now, I view it as bearing witness. I watch - watch as she fidgets and fusses and bites her own thumbs to stay awake and bangs her head against the bed to keep from falling asleep. I listen - listen as she babbles and giggles manically to keep herself up, listen as she cycles into the most fearful and despondent crying you ever heard, listen as she sucks her thumb and pats or rubs the mattress to stay awake, to feel safe. I feel the warmth when I'm holding her and she wets her diaper - feel that she is actually so scared that she loses control of her bladder. What scares YOU so much that you would pee your pants if you encountered it? I witness her battle, try to key in on what is truly happening here, and I do everything in my power to give her strength and comfort through my presence.

I try to be with her while she fights, to reassure her and teach her that this is a safe place and she can trust me to take care of her. She doesn't know what it means, yet, to have someone there to help you fight your battles. Every day, for an hour and a half in the afternoon and another 20 minutes at night when her exhaustion is my ally, I use gentle pressure from my hand and the sound of my voice to remind her that I'm still there and she's not alone.

For two hours every day my daughter fights to survive, or at least that's how she sees it, and I bear witness.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Week 3 Recap and Progress

I can't keep up with the daily journal format, and you probably don't need all that detail, so here's a very general summary of the highlights. Hurray for brevity and ease!

It continues to be daily bits of progress in one area or another. One day she seems to do better in the car, meaning less self-soothing rocking, the next day she is calmer about playing on the floor, the following she might stand independently for a few seconds. I think if I were just watching one specific area, I would be thinking nothing were happening, but across the board it's constant progress. This week, her general comfort seems to be slowly but steadily increasing. We've noticed that she perks up when she comes home. She becomes more verbal, explores and plays better. Out of the house she sits in our laps or stays in our arms and becomes easily discomfited by noisy groups and lots of talk. She handles it like a trooper, and she seems less bothered by dispersed groups as in stores or restaurants, but she is visibly and notably more comfortable at home. She is less upset by me taking off her shirt, although she still hates it when Nick does it. Bedtime continues to get easier in tiny increments, but naptime I am not sure about. She flinches less when I touch her face and she seems less jumpy in general.

There are things that, of course, we are looking for in her development. I've been re-reading "Parenting your Internationally Adopted Child" by Dr. Patty Cogen and, while she shies away from an "ages and stages" approach with these kids, she points out some phases of adjustment that are helpful to watch for. We're not yet sure that we are seeing preferential clinginess (wanting Mom and Dad only to hold or care for her) because we really don't give her the chance to cling to others, but she did go to a friend briefly this week and very quickly wanted to go back to Dad. So perhaps we're on the right track there. The big development this week was pickiness with food. All of a sudden, she's the pickiest eater ever. Part of it, I think, is the thrill of being able to say no to something. I figure she didn't have that before. Part of it is probably the abundance of different foods. She's realized that, if she says no to a particular food, another food will quickly appear. I also think some of it is her growing hair. I know, it sounds silly, but her hair is growing out a bit and when she shakes her head vigorously it sort of swings and I think she likes it. It's the swishy skirt effect. All girls love the swishy skirt.

One of Dr. Cogen's other big issues is eye contact. Kids from an orphanage setting are notoriously bad at making eye contact, and it's an issue of control and of connection. Eye contact is very personal, and most of these kids have never had it. Well, our daughter is blind so initially I was tempted to write that whole issue off. I have since realized that, although she is essentially blind, she has her own version of eye contact. It's basically being face to face in close proximity. Sort of nose to nose. When she is in your arms and she turns her face towards yours, that's her way of sharing personal space and connecting. I try to keep an eye on her general willingness to do so, and it seems to be increasing.

I've also noted some really great interactive play. She will sit in one of our laps and play with a toy and she even hands things to us and tugs on us to do certain things. Also, during her water play in the sink she actually took hold of my hand and started splashing it in the water. So that seems, to me, to be a great start in that direction.

It's so hard, though, to gauge her progress. Some of the things that seem positive at first wag could be negative from another light. For two parents with aching backs and a mountain of chores piling up, it seems great when she plays alone for a bit. But if she's not checking in during the playtime then it's not good for her attachment. If she seems to cling to us, we celebrate. But if she clings too soon it may just be an indication of her deep fear of further change, not of any real bond with us. Right now it seems as though there's no way to win. And the sudden food pickiness is supposed to be a good thing, but it doesn't feel like that when you're on the sixth food option in one sitting and she shakes her head again.

Suffice it to say, I've had to redefine my concept of progress. First, I've had to drop the idea that it would be like landmarks on a road trip. "Ok, here's the junction of 25 and 70, so I must be going in the right direction." Second, I've had to set my sights for generally heading in a roughly positive direction. I feel like I'm driving to Rhode Island with no compass or map and directions that go sort of like "Head East-ish and keep going until you get someplace nice."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Appointment #1

Today we had a wonderful appointment with Dr Kim at ABC Pediatrics. He has a lot of experience in international adoptions, and it really shows in working with him. He was extremely thorough in exploring our daughter's history, and in understanding her current state. He was honest and direct about his thoughts, and respectful about listening to ours. He was encouraging without candy-coating things. In short, he left me feeling that we're in good hands for her medical needs.

It seems her case is even more complicated than we thought. Or it COULD be. Hard to say until we finish all the multitude of tests that are being proposed. Tomorrow there will be a complete lab workup, and he's going to be ordering a full brain and spine MRI and a genetic analysis. Of course there's the referrals to the ophthalmologist, neurologist, PT/OT specialist, and a feeding clinic. Oh, and he wants a full exam of her hearing to be sure it's ok. Sound overwhelming? yeah, that's because it is.

Yet, I feel calm. Dr Kim told us very clearly what to expect of him - he will be sort of like an overall care manager. He'll tell us which appointment needs to be first, when the tests should be conducted, which specialists are best, and where to go for various treatments. His office will help us haggle with insurance, when necessary. He also said clearly that he will be our advocate to any specialists or other doctors if their findings don't make sense to us or to him.

It's hard hearing all these dismal possibilities for our precious girl. It's overwhelming if I allow myself to go off down a rabbit hole, thinking about a lifetime of care for a medically complex child. I feel confident, though, knowing that we're starting with a great doctor and he'll be guiding us through the whole thing.

Of course, I realize that the biggest comfort for this situation doesn't come from Dr. Kim. It comes from God. He made our daughter, He meant her to be this way and I know that He has a plan in mind. Sometimes God's plan sounds crazy at first, but if you follow Him then He will make it all turn out for your best. It sounds crazy, what we are embarking on. It sounds crazy, I'm sure, to go through all this time and energy and expense to get a kid who many would view as "damaged goods."

And yet, this was God's will for us. So call me crazy, but I believe He's going to make it turn out.


“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"  - Matthew 7:9-11

Monday, November 28, 2011

Connections

When our sweet Princess first arrived in our mini-family in Sophia, the fact that she wanted to walk constantly seemed awesome. We were happy to oblige, almost non-stop, and we viewed this as a great bit of progress because she needs all the practice she can get. So we walked, nearly non-stop, around the little apartment the whole time we were hanging around in Bulgaria getting ready to come home.

I now wonder if that was quite so awesome as I assumed it to be.

It wasn't until we got home with her that we realized that our Princess doesn't know how to play. She can entertain herself just fine, scooting around on her butt and exploring the stuff around her, but when she encounters another adult human being she instantly wants to grab their fingers and walk around. It's not long before you begin to feel a bit like a puppet or a prop or a tool, rather than a human being. And that's because that is what she sees you as.

I don't mean this to sound like I'm calling my daughter selfish or cruel or manipulative. She doesn't know how to interact playfully because she never learned that skill in her previous environment. The kids never sat down with a caregiver to play, and at her age she would never have played interactively with her peers, since she never roomed with children above the age of about two. Two year olds don't play interactively, they play in parallel. So even when she had developed to a point where she could begin to play cooperatively, no one else around her was ready.

In all of her previous experience, my daughter has been taught that caregivers are there to meet basic physical needs and that's it. End of story. No cuddling, no playing, no songs and games, no sharing a toy or activity. There are too many kids to care for and not enough time. In Bulgaria, when we could focus all of our time on her, we became the most attentive and cuddly caregivers ever, but we were still simply the big people who do stuff for her. Now that we are home with her we are realizing that all the walking was a sign of development, but not the type of development we need to focus on.

The first thing we need to be concerned with is creating a connection with our new daughter. Teaching her to walk, to speak, to chew, etc. are admirable goals but they can't be pursued until that first one is at least underway. A child without a connection to their caregivers will rely on their own survival skills, they will be hyper-vigilant and on edge waiting for this caregiver to check out like so many others, and that focus on survival will leave them with no energy for growth in other areas. We can walk her around like crazy, and she might get better at it, maybe even proficient, but it won't develop the thing she needs most, and that is a relationship with us.

The past couple of days I've taken a new tactic of focusing on creating a relationship with her. I try to sit her facing me as much as possible. I touch her as much as possible. I hold her when I can. I carry her around. I sit her in my lap, facing me, and engage her in shared play. Her interest in walking has become less obsessive, it seems. She doesn't leap out of bed pulling us out to walk around the house for a solid hour, taking an interest in nothing else and throwing tantrums when we try to engage her in play. This morning she went straight from the bed to Nick's arms and then to breakfast and didn't flip out. That's sort of a big deal. This evening we were walking and she led me to her favorite toy table and sat me down and we played together. She walks to the sinks to have us turn them on so she can put her hands in. I managed to read a book to her and her sister this evening - twice! Previously I couldn't read to her because she would tear the book out of my hands and throw a fit because she wasn't walking. And, not for nothing, but she was asleep in 10 minutes tonight. (She politely declined her nap, so that's certainly part of it, but still...)

I guess I was surprised to realize just how pervasive the need to connect is in adopted kids. Biological kids have a big head start on this, what with nine months inside your body and all, so it's easy to miss this if you haven't adopted before. I'm starting to believe that if you seek first a connection, other issues will fall in place far easier than if you put connection at the bottom of your list or assume it will "just happen" while you are working on other things.

Connecting with your new kid is a big deal. It deserves to be a specific goal.

Week 2: Recap

Again, this more for me than you but here it is...

Day 8 - First day all alone with the new fam. She's eating a bit better, which is good. Her appetite was down for the travel day and the following day at home. We even went on a family outing to Chik-Fil-A for a school fundraiser. She did great! Rode in the back with her siblings without even rocking in her seat. She ate very well - lots of chicken noodle soup. Her notable new skill for the day was a tantrum. Her version of a tantrum is to throw herself down on her butt -hard- and scream and kick and throw herself backward. She threw it because I didn't walk her around when she wanted me to because I was trying to play with her and Baby Girl at the same time. So perhaps I should be glad that she shows a will. Sleep was more of the same and we are utterly exhausted. Something's gotta give, so we are dragging her bed into our room to put her to sleep in it.

Day 9 - First day of trying to put her in her own bed in our room. For the record, co-sleeping in a queen sized bed with a 3-year-old is a dumb idea destined for failure. Just saying is all. At any rate, could NOT get her to take a nap in it, no way no how. Tried for a solid hour and half and got nowhere. As a result, she was exhausted and fell asleep quickly... at 6:30. Putting a kid to bed at 6:30 scares me because I know what's coming at 3 am. Today, in the new developments department, she stood independently for a couple of seconds.

Day 10 - Sleeping in her own bed is awesome, but waking up at 3:30 is not. After an hour I got her back to sleep until around 7. Today we all took a walk to the park. She liked the swing, but was oddly unenthusiastic about it. Walked around on the uneven grass with only one hand for support. Threw a small fit when I made her sit on the ground with me, but calmed when I sat her in my lap facing me and then explored sand with me for a few minutes. Tonight she threw another set of tantrums because Daddy and I weren't walking her around like she wanted. After a few tantrums and some cuddling we had another breakthrough - cruising. She was holding the table and making her way around it alone. Lots of one-handed walking tonight, too. I make her do it by hiding the other hand behind my back! Fell asleep fast at 7:30 in her bed. Oh, and today I said to her "Diaper, Geri. Time to change your diaper." and she walked to the edge of the changing pad we keep on the floor in her room, sat down and laid back to be changed. Smart girl!!

Day 11 - More developments in terms of her balance, gait and ability to entertain herself. Nick did the math - we got about ten minutes of time, total, where she was playing with something instead of walking all around. Most of this was little bits and pieces when one of us sat down on the floor and just refused to walk. After the tantrum, there would be a moment of calm where she might find a toy and amuse herself with it. Brief, but nice. Feels like progress. However, I must admit that the whole thing is draining and we were feeling more than a little stressed tonight. A lot of the trouble is that we have both fallen ill! It was a good night for some Bible study, so we each went off into the Word to find the reassurance we needed. He found it in Matthew, I found it in Psalms. At any rate, it put our hearts back on the right track.

Day 12 - Wow, a day of awesome new developments and the reminder that God is the ultimate Healer!!! Our daughter spoke her first English word - "Up". She said it multiple times and always in the same context - turning to us with her arms outstretched to be picked up. It was amazing! She also stood independently a few more times today. As soon as she realizes she is doing it, she gets scared and drops to her butt and cries. Poor thing has been conditioned for nearly four years to think she can't do anything. By the time we're done with her, she'll be trying to conquer the world!!! But the true gem of the day was a solid 10 minutes of quiet play on the floor with her siblings. How sweet it was to be curled up on the floor with all three kids while they played. Not together so mach as in tandem, but still. It counts. And then, in the afternoon, she spent another 10 minutes or so scooting around her bedroom exploring and playing. So we DOUBLED the amount of quiet playtime today from yesterday!! Oh, and tonight she saw sister and brother take their baths and decided it looked like fun. She cried when I tried to undress her, but she happily sat on the edge of the tub and splashed and kicked in her blue jeans. It's messy, but I'll take it. Baby steps count, no matter how much water they splash around the bathroom. And it was A LOT!!

Day 13 - I can't seem to remember much, but I figure that means it was a good day. We mostly hung around the house. I decided to try to put her down at nap time, since I'm the one who's going to be doing it when Nick goes to work again, and it didn't work out very well. Naptime is the toughie... she doesn't really want it. Bedtime is easier, she's out in about 40 minutes max. Naptime we can easily spend 1 1/2 hours trying before I give up. Sigh. It's worth the effort because eventually she'll learn to expect it and then it might start to work. She needs the sleep, that's for sure.

Day 14 - Sunday... we went to church! It was great! Otherwise, a good day with lots of quiet together play. I'll have to post on that separately to explain....

All in all, we're doing really well. Mommy and Daddy have gotten more sleep and that has a lot to do with out positive outlook. :) As our dear friends Brett and Shanny say "It all comes down to a nap - you or them!"

Friday, November 25, 2011

Progress and Reflection

My next weekly recap is going to be full of new developments, but the most noteworthy of them all is that Geri spoke her first word. I keep saying it's her first English word, but the reality is that it's her first word ever. That's right, at almost 4 years old she was completely without speech in the orphanage. She "uttered random syllables," as they describe it in her medical profile, and that was it.

It was this piece of information that led our pediatrician to warn us that she may be mentally retarded. He said it would probably be mild, but he couldn't come up with any other reason why she wouldn't be speaking at all. He said that the environment just didn't explain it. The orphanage, from our description, sounded like a very good facility and she was being fed adequately so it sounded like a nice enough place. If she wasn't speaking yet, something must be wrong with her. That was his reasoning, and I can see why he arrived at that conclusion.

This blows it all out of the water. In 12 days with us she has accomplished what they couldn't do with her in almost 4 years. Why? I could speculate all day, but I won't. I don't want to appear ungrateful to the facility that kept her alive for us. It's hard to guess at the reasons without seeming to blame them, and that's not a road I want to toddle off down.

I, for one, have decided that it's God's good will. He wanted us, her parents, to be there for all her firsts. Her first word, her first steps, all those things that you write down in the baby book and treasure in your heart. Those firsts are going to be ours, a part of our family history, instead of part of some shadowy past that we can't fully access or understand. I'm grateful for them. God has given us something beautiful, and in the process we get to witness miraculous improvements in our beautiful girl.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tantrums

Does this count as a new skill? The Princess has started throwing tantrums. She throws herself backward onto her butt VERY HARD and then kicks and screams and throws her head back. It's definitely a first-rate tantrum. So far, it's kicked off by not getting what she wants... which I guess is stating the obvious in this area. All tantrums are from the kid not getting their way, right?

The biggest trigger is the issue of walking. She loves to walk but doesn't do so independently. She has to have someone holding her hand, and she prefers to have you hold both hands. In fact, she's thrown a couple of tantrums over being given only one hand to hold. Can I blame her? No. She wants to explore her environment and she likes to move around, but she is unable to see, scared, and her balance is bad. Unfortunately for all of us, or perhaps it's fortunate for her, we just don't have the ability to spend all day granting her every wish. If she were an only child, sure. But we've got two other kiddos demanding our attention and basic survival needs so we can't spend all day on a trek of the abode. Not to mention our aching backs and the crushing monotony of walking in circles all day.

When Nick saw her tantrum for the first time (I saw it first while he was picking up the dogs from the boarders) he rushed in to tell me to give her what she wanted. "She's just a baby!" he said to me. "Not exactly," I corrected him. "She's at around the level of a one-year-old and at that age is when I stop caving to every single demand. I want her to be happy, but this has got to be sustainable. Walking her all day is just not." The issue was, of course, not resolved at that moment.

Then, later on, he tried to play with her on the floor and she threw another tantrum and he looked at me and said "You're right. What will you do when I go back to work and you can't just walk her all day? But what do we do?"

Well, I got to thinking. The cause of her tantrums is frustration at being unable to do something, right? Then the only real answer is to empower her. Whether she likes it or not, this girl needs to learn to walk in order to make herself happy - never mind what we think. She wants to be able to move around, and being blind doesn't mean she can't do it. She can. She just has been taught her whole life not to and is scared.

So now we start on a new campaign of pushing her boundaries. We didn't bring her home to maintain her in the same lifestyle and at the same dismal rate of development she was accustomed to. We adopted her to give her hope for a future, and that means she will grow and change and learn. We've started denying her that second hand when walking around, and we started pushing her to let go and cruise on the furniture. I'm hoping she'll figure out how to push the dining room chairs around soon - Baby Girl did that and it was the thing that catapulted her into walking. I know they aren't the same, but it would be nice if that same magic worked twice. If nothing else, I hope she finds the walls and realizes that they can be followed through the whole house, go figure. Every room seems to have them! And they all connect!!

In the meantime, we have a way of handling the tantrums. When she throws herself down, we pick her up and hold her. It stills her almost instantly. And after a few rounds of it, she seems to accept that she isn't getting her way and takes our compromise. It seems like she even ends up enjoying it, believe it or not. If nothing else, walking with one grownup hand means the other hand is free to get into stuff.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hope for the Sleep Deprived

Yesterday I was utterly terrified at the idea of my mother-in-law leaving and Nick and I having to face our new family alone. I know that probably sounds weird, like our kids are a firing squad or something, but that was how it felt. Over a week of sleep deprivation, stress from attempting to console an inconsolable child for hours on end, muscle spasms from swinging and lifting and carrying a 30 pounder all day, and the general drain of the constant demand for attention can really gnaw at your sense of competence and wellbeing. When we were in Bulgaria, starting to care for our new daughter, it felt like treading water. When we got home and started adding the other two kids on the heap, it suddenly felt like drowning.

I suppose every parent faces a time when they feel like they are breathing water. Some get hit when their kid is tiny in the form of colic. (Ironically, I always said how glad I was that none of my kids ever had colic and now I have a daughter who appears to have the toddler version of it. If only I had ketchup to put on my words before I have to eat them.) Some get it in a terrible diagnosis and the medical fallout from the initial blast. Others catch it in the teen years, when their previously lovable child suddenly becomes a surly misfit. Maybe it's telling your kids about the divorce or lost job you never saw coming. At some time or another, we all get that panicky sense of going under.

Yesterday I felt pretty bleak and hopeless. Today, I'm happy to report that things are going better than we thought they could. We were on our own today, and I am glad to report that we rose to the occasion. At least, I think we did. Everyone is still alive, at least. That's gotta be worth something, right?

Hang in there, moms and dads. Even on the mornings that you wake up feeling certain that you can't handle it, there's still hope. Keep plugging away at it and you'll be just fine. Your kids probably will be fine too. And at the end of the day, you just might still like them!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Week 1 Recap

Ok, so tomorrow is one week since picking up our daughter at the orphanage. Here's the run-down; which I'm doing more for my sake (being able to see progress) than for anyone else's.

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...
Day 1 - She remembered us. Yay! We got there to pick her up and it turns out she was given phenobarbitol to "calm her nerves" a couple of hours before we arrived. We were given another dose for the following day. We were also given the drops for her eyes and a script to pick up more. She responded well to us picking her up, changing her clothes, and taking her out to the car. Driving was another story... she was not happy. She threw a fit and fell asleep, woke up to puke (car sickness - VERY common for these kids since they have most likely never driven before), threw another fit and fell asleep again. That night she ate well and seemed happy. Within an hour of getting to the apartment she was babbling up a storm. She hated the eye drops. She doesn't like it when we try to speak Bulgarian to her. So I guess it's a good thing that I didn't work on that one more. During diaper changes she doesn't lay flat - she looks like she is prepared to bolt if needed. She's on high alert. Bedtime was rough - she cried for about an hour.

Day 2 - Nervous when she woke up but calmed when we started walking around. Babbling again. Eating well. Naptime was rough, but she fell asleep eventually. We had to go to a medical appointment and the car ride was terrible. She screamed and kicked and cried the whole way. Both ways. Tried to give her a shower but she was absolutely terrified. Tried a sponge bath but that was no better. Bedtime was awful. Two solid hours of screaming in my arms. Had to hold her, though, because she kept trying to get out of bed.

Day 3 - Stayed home all day, thank God. Woke up nervous again, but calmed quickly. Ate well. Fell asleep in my arms for nap after about 20 mins of crying. Started to "scoot" on her butt and explore more of her toys independently. Self soothing is down. Her gait is improved. She lays flat and is relaxed for diaper changes. Her skin tone is much better. She stood independently once today. Bed time was tough. Three hours of on and off crying. Eventually, Nick got her down and he shared a great insight with me. He said "Love, just give her what she needs." Simple, but hard to do when what your kid needs is for you to pick her up for one minute and then put her down again for another minute and repeat over and over. Still, I can't force her to take comfort the way I think it ought to be given.

Day 4 - Embassy interview. She did great in the car!! We made sure she had lunch and a nap first, so that helped. At nap she fell asleep "her way", which means a lot of self entertainment. She flaps her arms, flops on her face, plays with her fingers, etc. Finally she just rolled over and fell asleep. It took a while, but she didn't cry more than a minute when I made her lay back down. Embassy went fine. She had her first "bath" tonight. I filled the tub in the apartment and she came running. She didn't have pants on because she had just gotten her diaper changed, but she climbed into the tub in her diaper and shirt! She had a blast sitting on the edge and kicking the water, leaning over with daddy holding her to play in it with her hands. She actually sat in the water a couple of times.  Bedtime was a long affair, but not a crying one. She fell asleep her way, which meant very little crying but took forever.

Day 5 - Hung out around the house. Went for a walk. Generally, a calm day. Ate well again, she took a good nap and bedtime was fairly smooth. Petko brought over her papers and that was awesome! She seemed to have forgiven him for that whole "car thing." Tried another bath, this time when the water turned on and she came running I took off her shirt and diaper to let her try it fully undressed. She was okay until she actually sat in the water and then she got scared and had to come out. But when she got scared she wanted me to hold her and not put her down. A good indicator, I think. She's looking to me for comfort. By the way, daddy and mommy are exhausted. When we finally get her down to sleep we say up to talk in the living room. It's a combo of being in the wrong time zone, mentally, and desperately needing to connect.

Day 6 - Travel. This day sucked. Big time. She was inconsolable most of the day, refused to eat. The silver lining is that we have a Boba carrier and that made it so much easier getting around airports. The downside to that is our aching backs. Now this may be controversial, but let's go back to the phenobarbitol the director of the orphanage (medical doctor) gave us for her. On day 2 we skipped it because it seemed unnecessary based on how she was doing. Since we still had it, we decided to give it to her today. Did it help? I don't know. It's impossible to say how much worse it would have been if we hadn't done it. She did break out in a small rash on her neck from it though, which we didn't see when we picked her up so that was a surprise. It wasn't a magic bullet, so neither of us is certain that it was truly worthwhile. At any rate, she did ok on the trip and we all survived. When we got home it was late, but her new siblings were up with Grandma so we had some introductions. Big Brother is smitten. Baby Girl was so tired it was hard to tell her feelings about it. Grandma's in love. I put her to bed at about 10:30 and she screamed for a while but finally fell asleep and slept all night.

Day 7 - Rest. This would be today. Oh man, this is going to be tough! She wants to walk constantly. Her siblings love her, but it is hard for mommy and daddy to keep up. Grandma helped where she could, but with minimal holding of Geri so as to not confuse her. She shows a bit of the excessive friendliness with female strangers (she kept trying to get on one lady's lap at the airport), so I'm wary. Grandma was very understanding. Her sibling love her so far. Brother gets a bit confused by why she acts like a baby, being that she's so big, and sister doesn't love sharing her parents. Yet, they all are getting on ok. She and Brother had a great hug today, and Sister gave her some nice sloppy baby kisses. She is wary during diaper changes again. Nap was about 20 minutes of crying before settling down. Her appetite isn't great today. But bedtime was awesome! She cried for about 5 minutes and was out in 20. She fell asleep with my hand on her back, too. Still, we're exhausted and feeling a bit overwhelmed.

I'm already seeing gains with her. Her skin tone, for one thing. When we got her, the skin on her hands and feet was so pale, thin and waxy that you could see every single vein. Now, they look nearly normal. Pink, only a few veins. When we got her, her feet pronated so badly that she was nearly walking on her ankles. A week of being allowed to walk around, without shoes, to her heart's content is helping. Also, her feet are splayed outward less when she walks. She's chunking up a bit, too. I see it in her hands. When we first met her I thought her hands looked strange and I couldn't figure out why. After I few days I realized that they were too thin. She's still young enough when she should have chubby little baby hands, but her hands were thin and her fingers were thick and it looked weird. Now her hands are chubbier and even getting those dimples on the backs of the knuckles, and they look normal and very cute. She's babbling and exploring, although not scooting yet in the new environment.

Grandma leaves tomorrow and we are scared to death. This is all so exhausting and our hearts are being affected by our tired bodies, I think. We probably need to stop looking ahead and stick with one day at a time. I feel like Dory. "Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!!"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

WE'RE OUT OF HERE!!!

At long last, it's here. In just a few minutes we leave for the airport. I'm overwhelmed, in one sense, with what we are about to do. On the other hand, I feel as ready as I'm ever gonna be.

My excitement can't even be described. Just keep swimming, Lauren.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hump Day!!

Wow, it's Wednesday already! This week seems to be flying by. Which is nice, because on Saturday we are on our way!!!

People keep asking me how I feel and saying, "You must be excited!" I wonder if they feel disappointed by how not excited I look right now. I'm feeling unnaturally calm and patient at this time, which is a welcome change because I could go insane otherwise. When I truly stop and think about what is coming, I feel like my heart could burst and I want to cry with joy! But, as it would be awkward in my daily life to be constantly crying with joy, I am keeping my head down and trying to not think about it. Well, not concretely. I think about it in the abstract all the time!

Still, it's neat to be hitting my "milestones." I kept thinking to myself "Ok, Thursday Nick's mom gets here and we have the Operation Christmas Child party. Friday the kids are home, there's shopping and packing, and my friend Nikki's bachelorette party. Then SATURDAY and travel!!" It's sort of a way of keeping myself grounded, of keeping the pace and such. But here we are, about ready to hit those milestones! Tomorrow, my mother in law gets here. We have a day and a half to get her and the kids acclimated, then we go.

It is going to be VERY hard to leave our other two kids behind to go get the third, but we thought long and hard about it. On the one hand, we thought it would be so great for all the kids to meet right away. We didn't want to be apart from any of our kiddos, and we didn't like the idea of the stress on them. Immediately followed by the stress of a new sibling. But on the other hand, we knew how stressful it would be trying to manage all three, brand new situation, totally different environment, with all the appointments and such... it seemed like a lot to handle at once. We wanted Geri to get a few days of direct contact before having to share us. Plus, airfare is pricey. Did I mentioned that already? ;) Oh, and Big Brother needs to attend school. I refuse to have him miss days for anything but illness and snow.  So, we did the mental math and this is what we came up with. I know it's not the solution other families arrive at, but each situation is different and parents have to follow their gut. Ours said "Leave the kids. Take the cannoli."

Oh, and in other news, this crazy new idea of giving our kids more attention is working out. Big Brother is having his best days at school, yet. He completes all his work, even gets to do special extra stuff like ST Math, and his teacher is giving him high marks on his behavior. We're noticing a calmer, more focused demeanor at home, as well. We've also decided to cut back his "consumption" of violence and violent play. We don't give him access to anything violent (movies, video games, etc) but when he wants to play sword fight we usually oblige. Lately we've been avoiding games that have anyone getting injured or killed and spending more time on "quiet" activities. We've also made more of an effort to direct him to consider the effects of his play violence. If he says "that guy shot that guy!" we say "ouch! that must have hurt! he'll have to go to the hospital and see a doctor!!" The goal is to consistently reinforce the idea that hurtful actions have painful consequences. Hopefully, this will help. Already, I'm pleased to see his behavior return to the way it used to be. He's acting more like the sweet, good-natured,  boy he's been since day one.

Gah, all this stuff going on. I'm looking forward to having everyone back home so we can start settling in and trying to figure out what "normal" looks like for us. I'd also like a pony and rocket ship that will take me to the moon so I can eat the cheese up there. :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tales from the Trenches

I have always prided myself on being a really good mom. It's the reason I felt justified giving other people advice, and the reason I felt I was up to the task of adoption. I figured my two kids are so fantastic, I must be great, ergo I should be entrusted with another. Well, recently I've ben a crummy mom. I want to share what's been going on because I think maybe it could help someone else.
We bear the dubious honor of being a "blended" family. For those not hip to the lingo, that means a remarriage involving kids. I brought a beautiful, wonderful son to our new family when Nick and I married two years ago. Our boy is blessed to have a biological father who remains involved with him, and a stepfather who loves him dearly, but I know that it is hard for him. The hardest part is visitation. As much as he loves his dad and stepmom and brother, it's always a tough adjustment before and after a visit. The two households are, naturally, quite different and it's hard leaving your home and friends behind for the trip. We have noticed that he tends to get a bit "scattered" in the week or two before he travels, and for a week or two after he returns. Behavioral problems spike. He's not himself.
My recent failure as a mom involves not being sensitive to my kids' emotional state and needs. With all the run-up for our adoption, I've been a bit distracted. So when Baby Girl started getting clingy and having trouble sleeping, I wrote it off as her teething. And when Big Brother started acting up a bit, being rude and disobedient at home, I thought he was just testing us. He sometimes does that. His behavior at school was a bit off, his ability to focus was nil, and I had this vague feeling of not being in control of the situation. I imposed new rules, I set up a reward system for good behavior at school, I enforced homework more strictly. Still, he was crabby and ill-tempered.
Then, yesterday, it peaked. I got a call from Big Brother's school saying that he had gotten into trouble for trying to cut a preschooler on the face with a pair of scissors. I honestly had no idea how to respond. The principal said that no one had been hurt, that he had spoken with my son about safe hands, and that my boy was under strict observation for the rest of the day but was not suspended. Suspended. In kindergarten. Could he actually be suspended in kindergarten??? The fact that he seemed to have gotten very close to it made me scared.
It's a good thing this call came mid-day. I had a lot of time to think about it, to ponder it, before having to pick my son up from school. My first thought was "how do I punish this?" Then I began to think deeper. I began to wonder where this was coming from. What would make my normally sweet boy want to hurt another child, totally unprovoked? And why was he acting like a raging lunatic at least 50% of the time?
After a lot of prayer and consideration, I realized that he's been needing our help for a while now and we've been too busy/selfish to notice.
When kids are struggling, they "act out." What that means is that they take what they are feeling on the inside and bring it out as an action. My boy was acting out some serious internal struggle right there.
First of all, there's the impending adoption and his struggle to find his place in that all. We're gearing up for a trip, and it is bringing out some of the same emotions that he experiences before a visitation. He may not be traveling, but it does affect. Second, his Christmas visitation with his father was cancelled. He's going to his paternal grandparents' house instead, so I figured he would be fine, but I failed to realize that he really wants to see his father. It's hard for him to lose that planned visit. It hurts him. Third, Baby Girl has been teething and it's made her super clingy. He's been getting short shrift lately, and he's missing our attention.
Bottom line, we've been enforcing rules without fostering relationship at a time when he needs our love desperately. For the record, that does NOT work.
We decided that the response to this outburst at school would be two-fold. First of all, he did get punishment. His actions have consequences, and this was a serious offense, so he got some serious consequences. But the other part of it is to step up the loving attention. We need to reaffirm him. We need to foster his relationship to us.
At the time that we are expanding our family, we somehow forgot to be a family.
If you are a parent in a "blended" family, take heed. Divorce and remarriage issues will affect your child for their whole life. It's been three years since me and his dad split, and two years since Nick and I married, and Big Brother still struggles. Regularly. Deeply. Be sensitive to your child and their emotional state. They need you.
If you are a parent who is adopting a second, third, whatever child, take heed. Your kid may be perfectly accepting of their new sibling but still feel a certain upheaval in response to all the changes. It's not a rejection of the new child (Big Bro is super stoked about his new sister) but it is hard for kids to process change and they need a lot of love while adjusting. Also, refer to the "blended" family advice. Adoption and divorce are both disruptions of the natural family arrangement. There will be emotional struggles for the rest of your child's life, and they will need your love and care during those struggles.
Today we have spent a lot of time together as a family. Part of his punishment was to miss his soccer game, and to not go to a friend's party. But this day of hanging around the house has been great, and he already seems more like himself again after just a day of getting our attention.
I just wish I hadn't waited so long to see what my kid needed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guinea Pig... still

I posted previously here, here and here about my struggles with menstrual migraines and my attempts to treat them without using the prescription migraine medicines. Why avoid the migraine prescription? Because my migraines manifest as extreme fatigue, and the main side effect of the migraine meds is fatigue. Well, darnit, that does me no good! I want to be able to function, not be in bed all day unable to get up. Besides, the problem is my hormones... so let's address the problem rather than treating the symptoms. And treating them poorly, I might add.

So I wrote previously and glowingly about my discovery of Phyto Prolief by Arbonne. It was helping me a lot. I still felt a bit run-down after my period, but I was up and running and that was enough for me.  Until last month, when I went to the emergency room for what we all though would be a burst appendix. Turned out, my appendix was fine... what I had experienced was a ruptured ovarian cyst.

I've never had anything like this in my life. My mother has had ovarian cysts for a while now, leading up to menopause, so there is a family history. However, I thought it was strange that when I tried a new hormone cream I suddenly developed cysts on both of my ovaries, where there had never been any before. When I had my follow up with the GYN, I asked him about the cream and about the cysts and he agreed that it might be related. Crap.

Take two of these and call me in the morning. 
He recommended I try a prescription estrogen gel. He though this would be a better alternative to the progesterone cream for a couple of reasons... first, it might reduce the cysts and second, progesterone has a tendency to wreak havoc on the emotions (I didn't personally find this to be a factor, but I suppose it's worth being ahead of the curve). Another plus is that the estrogen is only used during your period, as opposed to applying the progesterone cream daily all month and twice daily during my period. Less added hormones is probably better. Oh, and the estrogen gel is less expensive, too.

This month I tried it. I went off the Phyto Prolief entirely and applied the estrogen gel once daily during my period. The first thing I noticed is that my period held off a bit longer. My cycle is usually 3 weeks, but this month it was 4. That's a nice change. Yesterday was the first day after my period ended and I did experience a migraine, but it was very mild. I had a bit of a headache, on and off through the day, and I felt pretty tired... but I was up. I was operational. I was functioning. In fact, I was across town food shopping and picking up stuff for the kids and I went to a potluck at my husband's work, then I picked up our son and cooked dinner and went trick-or-treating. I even made a late-night run to the store. I didn't feel as foggy or out-of-it as I have in the past. Was I tired? Oh yes, I was. There was a period where I put a movie on for the kids and vegged out because I was so tired. This morning I woke up slightly groggy, and I'm thinking I might take a little nap, but I think that has more to do with the baby waking us up twice last night.

So far, so good. I will be calling the GYN to find out about getting a prescription and picking up a full supply of the gel. Hopefully I will continue to see success with this. The other route he mentioned was oral contraceptive pills. I am not enthused about this one, since I have a hard time remembering to take them daily. Still, it might come to that. Anything to avoid a migraine and a ruptured cyst.

In no way does this change my opinion of the phyto Prolief, by the way. I still think this stuff deserves a look by any woman who is having menstrual migraines. The caveat I would now add is "if you don't have a history of ovarian cysts in your family." I suspect that this tendency was already genetically present and the cream just perked it up. It's entirely possible that I was already having them, they were just milder and I didn't know about them. Hard to say. At any rate, it was an experience that I have no desire to repeat. I suppose this points to the need to be open-minded and willing to experiment if you are trying to find the right solution for your health. You probably won't find the "magic bullet" on the first go, but if you keep at it you just might find something that works!

I'll let you know when I'm sure that I've found what works. I'm going to keep going with this one, but we'll see how I feel next month and beyond before declaring victory. Cautious optimism is the other thing I've learned from all this...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Microbiology 101: TJ Version

Tonight Big Brother gave me this little gem while we were talking about our friends who were sick today and missed church.

"Mom, a germ is a little ball that goes into your mouth and down to your stomach, but it stops there and comes back up. Then it goes into your throat and into your mouth and in your mouth it evaporates and breaks up and then the little ball germ makes your mouth open and you have to put your mouth in your sleeve and cough. But the germ gets killed when it goes into your soft because the soft is very strong and stronger than the germ. And the soft breaks up the germ and kills it. "

I believe "the soft" is his technical term for fabric.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh Wow, It's Real

Today we bought tickets. Actual, real live, honest-to-goodness plane tickets. And not only for us - for our daughter as well. Oh man, this is really, truly, actually, honestly happening.

I must admit there have been times when it felt almost unreal. She was more idea than person and I wasn't really sure she would ever be here. Just after we met her, that fuzzy dreamlike feeling was lessened, but in the waiting it has returned some. The videos and pictures help put it back in perspective, but it still felt like a possibility rather than a fact. Now, it's a fact. Wow.

So how do I feel about this? Great. I mean, a bit nervous and scared but more happy and excited. Tonight I was talking to a friend about the good news and our imminent trip and I felt like I didn't even know what to say. There aren't words for where I am right now, mentally and emotionally. I guess I feel pretty ready, though, and that's a relief. I at least feel like I've studied enough for the test and all I can learn from now is experience.

The idea of taking her in my arms and walking out of that orphanage with her is unbelievable. I'm trying to avoid any preconceived notions, any pictures in my head of what it ought to look like, because I know the best way I can manage my expectations at this point is to not have any. Whatever it is, however it goes, we will get through it. We'll deal, manage, adapt, overcome, and generally come out the other side stronger and more connected. That's what truly matters. It can be a messy trip so long as everyone still loves each other at the other end. It will be a messy trip, I'm sure.

I'm also trying to put things into true perspective. We haven't reached the end of the road. This is coming up to the beginning. It's like when I was pregnant. The point isn't to give birth, and you can't declare victory when the baby is born. The point, from conception on, is to raise this baby to be a functional adult who isn't a big pain in society's butt and whose life honors God and fulfills their potential. Milestones feel good, but I won't be "done" raising these kids until the good Lord calls one of us home. Hopefully me first, because they're already cooler than I am so they should stick around longer.

Gosh, I hope the next two weeks passes quickly. I say that knowing I probably am going to regret it. The last time I prayed for God to make a period of waiting pass quickly, He really whacked me with some crazy stuff. Good stuff, but totally crazy. It made the waiting fly by, but am I ready to go into that wringer again? Ehhhhh... I don't know about that.

Hooray!!

We have official travel dates! We will be in Bulgaria from 13-19 November! That means we travel on 12 November and return on 20 November! Hooray!!! I'm so excited to finally know that dates, it's such good news.

Of course with every "up", there seems to be a bit of down. I complain a lot, don't I? I certainly feel like it, lately. My modest complaint is actually a warning for other parents... airfare. For some reason I do not even remotely understand, United Airlines charges $1200 for a roundtrip, adult fare from Denver to Sofia and back again... but a one-way child's fare from Sofia to Denver costs $3,000!! Now why would it cost more than twice as much money to fly a smaller, lighter body one way? In terms of actual cost to the airline, a one-way ticket obviously incurs less and a child's body even more so. Heck, even if they were to charge the same amount for  one-way ticket as a round-trip ticket, it would make me say "hmmmm." But the fact that they want substantially MORE money just makes my jaw drop to the floor.

We're still working the solution, but I'd like to share an idea from someone else that I think we will be using. See, you can't just buy a third round-trip ticket from Denver to Sofia and back again, because when your child fails to board the first leg of the trip their return booking is automatically cancelled. So someone suggested buying her a round-trip ticket... going backwards. She will board her first flight, and then "miss" the second. I'm not sure if it'll work, due to her age and such, but I will update you all on how it goes. Until the airlines learn to charge reasonably (hahaha yeah RIGHT) we all have to stick together.

And now, pictures of my daughter. In celebration of the happy news, I brag!

Isn't she pretty? She was very interested in my hair. I promised she can grow hers out. 

A quiet moment in the sun. My sweet Bulgarian princess. 

Sleeping peacefully in daddy's arms on day 2 of our visit. 

A very happy daddy!! He spent the whole time grinning like that. 

She likes to eat! She'll fit in nicely with the other kids...