Friday, July 29, 2011

What is Frustrating Me Right Now

Sigh. We’re in the final stages of this adoption and I’m getting irritated with my agency. It is like pulling teeth to get a status on where our package is. I sent a list of questions to my regional coordinator early this week - specifically “do we have the article 5 letter?”, “has our packet been translated?” and “has our packet been sent to the courts yet?” Those were my questions. Finally, after two days, I got this answer back… “We’re waiting on the courts.”
I read this as “yes, we have everything and it’s been submitted” but my husband says it could mean anything because it says so darned little. So I write back to my coordinator to ask “so, does that mean it’s been sent to the courts?” 
Nothing. No answer at all. Two days later and not even a shadow of a response.
I know that my hounding them will not do anything constructive. I know that they can’t really *do* anything right now, it’s all in the hands of other people in another country. But they can at least keep me updated so I have some idea where we stand. Is that too much to ask?? Am I being unreasonable here?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gender Bending

This has happened to me twice now. In both cases, I felt so immensely guilty at first, then I got over it because I realized I was tricked. That's right, tricked! I was misled into making the cardinal baby mistake... calling a child by the wrong gender.

Both times it's been adorable little girls. Beautiful little girls whom I referred to as "handsome guys." Both times, those adorable little girls were dressed in boyish clothes. Dark blue with thick, heavy brown sandals. Dark red or bright orange. No bows, no ribbons.

Look, I get it. We all want to dress our kids however we like without confining them to gender stereotypes. "I shouldn't have to dress my daughter in head-to-toe pink!" you say. I totally agree, but you're putting the rest of us between a rock and a hard place.

See, every mom gets ticked off when their kid is mistaken for the opposite gender. What you always hear is the angst about how a little girl covered in pretty pastels is called handsome, or how a boy dressed in solid blue gets called a gorgeous little girl. What irks people about this is the way these people have ignored the clear gender cues from the kiddo's clothing. So the rest of the world hears these complaints and says "Right, this is important. Go by the clothes to avoid ticking moms off." So that's what we do.

Ergo, if you dress your kid in clothing that is more suited to the opposite gender, or that is decidedly neutral, then be prepared for your child to be misidentified. The rest of us have only this to go on, dangit. We're so scared of messing it up, so we stick to the one clue that we figure is foolproof.

If you give us a red herring, you have only yourself to blame.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Giving Up

I recently read, on one of the adoptive parent message boards, a post from one family who has decided to give up on adopting. They have been dealing with infertility, then waiting to adopt. All in all, the wait had been many years and they were just giving up (theirs words, not mine.) I just don't get it.

I can't understand giving up. The waiting is hell, I'll agree to that any day. There are times that I feel like my heart is going to just crumble in my chest from the pain of waiting. I guess if we weren't trying to adopt we wouldn't have to wait anxiously for our daughter to come home. I guess if we had never started down this path I'd be blissfully unaware of how horrible the wait can be. But if we never started this, I'd never have met our amazing daughter. We wouldn't get the chance to know her or raise her.

I just don't think that giving up will make anything better. You wait and try for years for a child, and if you give up then you guarantee that you won't ever get one. As long as you are waiting you are still living in hope. When you give up, that hope is gone.

How could it feel "better" to just never have what you so desperately desire? How could it make anyone feel "better" to go from "someday" to "never"?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hard News

Today was my first appointment with our new daughter's future pediatrician. He's a highly recommended Dr. who has an extensive background in international adoption and special needs kids. We were very excited to find him, since many doctors really don't know what to look for or pay extra attention to when dealing with international adoption.

Most parents take their child's medical history in for review before accepting the referral because they want to find out if the child is truly healthy. In our case, we know our daughter has health issues and we don't care. She needs a home, we know that we are it. We will deal with whatever may come. Now, this isn't to say we were flippant about our decision. We had her medical file reviewed by our normal pediatrician and her videos viewed by a social worker to get an idea of what we were in for before submitting the paperwork for her. At this juncture, with us hopefully very close to getting her home, I figured it was time to bring in the big guns. Get better prepared so we can give her the best possible care.

The visit was great - he's an awesome dr. and so great with kids (Pumpkin was with me.) He was very thorough and obviously very skilled in his field. He was also very compassionate and listened well and truly understood where we were coming from. After reviewing her information and some videos I brought on the laptop, though, he had some hard news for me. Nothing major, but he thinks her current developmental delays point to some sort of mental handicap. He can't be sure at this time, but he believes she may be permanently delayed.

Did we already suspect this? Yeah. We did. We know it's not normal for a child her age to be at her current level. I don't want to get into specifics, but she's pretty far behind. We are not experts, but we know enough to know it's not good. Still, we hold out hope that she will "catch up" and that someday she'll be hardly different from other kids. That she'll live independently. Her dr. isn't so sure she ever will be capable of that, but he admits it's too early to tell.

This one was tough for me to hear. Hubby took it better, but for some reason it hit me hard for a little bit. It was sort of like walking up to The Resource Exchange to find out how to enroll in their assistance programs. If you haven't heard of it, every state is required to have a Resource Exchange for the mentally handicapped, to assist them and their families in coordinating their care and education and also to help them get enrolled in public assistance programs and respite care. Going to TRE was tough, because I felt like I was admitting something. Like I was saying that there really is something wrong, something that might not be fixable. Today I had to face that again.

We still have a lot of hope. The dr. does, too. He says that he anticipates that she will thrive in our home. He thinks she'll blossom and change a lot, but he thinks maybe she won't get as far as other kids would. We figure it's pretty soon to tell, and she's not yet in that environment. A re-evaluation after she has been in our home for a while will be in order. It's too soon to declare her limited. Perhaps she'll surprise us.

Today I was advised to enjoy every accomplishment, no matter how small. I think that was going to be our approach no matter what, really, but it's weird getting the same advice that he gives to parents of kids with Down's.

At any rate, this changes nothing in our commitment to her. If anything, it makes me that much more fierce about protecting and caring for her. If this holds true, then she needs us that much more. At any rate, if we don't give her a home she will spend her life in a nursing home. At 7 they would move her into an adult nursing home and she would stay there for life. I can't bear the thought of it. I won't let that happen to her.

It hurts me to think that this situation she is in, something totally beyond her control, may have permanently hurt her. I feel sad for her, a little sense of loss I suppose. Could the time she spent in the orphanage have stolen some of her innate potential? How horrible and sad to think that decisions made by her birth mother could have cost her so much. But then again, her birth mother could have chosen another way and cost her everything, snuffing out her life before she had a chance to live at all. It may not be as bad as it seems, and it certainly could have been worse.

Tonight, I am sad for my little girl. I'm sad that it took us so long to come together. I wish I had known about her when she was born. I wish I had been at the hospital to hold her right away. I wish I had been taking care of her from day one, giving her medical attention and love. I suddenly feel a bit jealous of parents who adopt infants at birth.

Sigh. I can't dwell on this, it's not helpful. I'll give myself tonight to mourn, and then it's time to start looking at the light. There's plenty of hope here to be had, I just have to be sure to keep my eyes on it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Mundane Than I Thought

Yah, so that big exciting appointment this morning? I talked with our adoption coordinator at the national office this morning via email and she made it sound about 4,000 times more mundane than our regional coordinator did. Oh well. At any rate, she told me the paperwork was with the NGO and they didn't say anything about it being too late, so she thinks we managed it. Yay!

I was thinking today about nicknames. I wonder what our new daughter's nickname will be?? Our other kids have them. In all cases, they seem to develop pretty much spontaneously. None of them seem to mean anything. For your fun and enjoyment, here they are...

Our son, age almost-5, used to have more nicknames, but they seem to be weeding out as he ages. Maybe I have some natural genetic thing that is intended to embarrass my kids less, but I seem to chill on the pet names as they get older. He started life as "munchkin", "munchykins," "chubba legs," bum-ba-lum," or "bum-bum." These days he seems to get called "buddy" or "bubba" when I feel like using a nickname.

Our daughter, age 1, started off in utero as "little lamb," but for some reason it stopped sounding right when she was born. She is now "pumpkin," "pumpykins," or "bubberstein." I totally stole that last one from another mom on the playground, by the way.

Daddy, Pumpykins, and Bumbalum coloring
I'm recording these partly for the cute factor... and partly so I can remember them when the kids are teenagers. When they start dating the nicknames come back!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's morning in Bulgaria...

I know that our Bulgarian NGO (non-governmental organization, for those not hip to the lingo) has an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia to submit for pre-aproval of our daughter's Visa.

Here's how the process goes from here:

1. Visa Pre-approval - A letter is generated by the Embassy when this is approved and that letter goes to the MOJ (Ministry of Justice)

2. MOJ sends the case to the Sofia Municipal Court - It's unclear to me if the MOJ sends it with a date attached (process on this day...) or if the Sofia Court just schedules it when it gets there. I believe, however, that the MOJ has the authority to tell/nudge/order the Sofia Court to expedite and process "immediately."

3. Sofia Municipal Court finalizes the adoption - This is when she is legally ours.

4. The NGO gets her new birth certificate and passport

5. We travel to Bulgaria to pick her up. (squueeeeeeee!!!!!) While in Bulgaria we take her to a medical screening appointment and then to the Embassy to get her Visa.

6. HOME (this is my favorite part, btw)

7. Post-placement updates - a social worker from our agency comes to visit at scheduled intervals to report on her health and wellbeing following her placement in our family.

These are the last 7 steps of a 30 step process.

We are truly in the home stretch. Everything that I have read in the MOJ's international adoption guidance says that our daughter qualifies to be processed immediately. We don't know how immediate that really is. The impression we have, however, is that immediate is, in this case, pretty...errr... immediate. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself yet, but I found myself doing the math and it seems within the realm of possibility that she could be OURS, legally, within a week's time. Could we be traveling to see her in two weeks or so??? Only God in heaven knows, but I'm praying like crazy.

The Plan...

So I thought I'd take this time to lay out what my "plan" is for parenting our new daughter. I say this with a smirk, by the way, since I adhere to the maxim that "no plan survives first contact with the enemy." (She's not an enemy, it's just a turn of phrase) I'm putting this out here so that, later, I can comment on how well it's working out and what had to be modified.

So anywho, I've been reading and re-reading a few wonderful books on the matter. Primary among the group is "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child" by Dr. Patty Cogen. The other two are "The Connected Child" by Karyn Purvis et al and "Handbook on Thriving as an Adoptive Family" by David and Renee Sanford. All three have been very helpful, but the first is my absolute favorite. It's a LOT of information to try to take in, but I've distilled the whole lot down to one general, over-riding principle.

We have resolved to treat our new daughter as if she is much younger than her chronological age. In chronological age she is three. Developmentally, she is more like 9-12 months old. In terms of the affection and attachment necessary for meaningful development, she's a newborn.

So she's a baby. We will hold her. A lot. Almost constantly. We will not allow other people to hold her, because she needs to learn who is "mama ee daddy." We will rock her to sleep, sing to her, spend as long as it takes to get her to sleep peacefully and then we will sleep near her so that if she wakes up in the night we are right there when she calls (she's a bit big for the co-sleeper.) We might move her bed into our room so she sleeps near us and then move it out when she's ready to work on sleeping in her room.

We will try to anticipate feedings so she learns to rely on us for food. We will wait a while before trying to potty train her. We will go slowly on the walking. We will give her simple toys that are not overstimulating. We will keep activity and excitement to a minimum.

We will redirect misbehavior, teaching her the concept of no, and we will NOT be punishing her or putting her on time out. Time outs don't work with a kid who doesn't care if they are with you, and threats of punishment are pretty meaningless if the kid doesn't speak English either. We will talk to her, a lot, to help her develop English. We might show her some baby sign language to get the communication ball rolling.

We will "spoil" her and if anyone has a problem with that, I can't guarantee I'll be polite about discussing it. We won't let her misbehave or get away with things, but we will be nurturing and teaching above all other things. Somehow we will have to figure out how to balance all of this with loving and nurturing and teaching our other two kids, but I think it will be ok. I don't know how yet, but I've got to believe it or else this would be a stupid idea, right?

I kid, but the reality is that I believe it will be ok because I know my God has us all in his hands. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and give you a hope and future.'"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Happy News to Stumble On

It turns out that another little boy we decided not to pursue at the start of our adoption process IS in the latter stages of being adopted. I won't post his pic, because I'm less certain about how privacy relates with that, but it makes me feel a little better. Cheers me up to know that kiddos are getting homes.

By the by, if people are wondering how I'm getting all this information then you should check out Reece's Rainbow. It's a great group of people who set up adoption fundraising for specific children waiting for adoption overseas who have special needs. Many/mostly Down's Syndrome, but other disabilities as well. It also allows people to donate to specific families adopting kids.

Sad News to Stumble On

In my random wanderings of the internet, I discovered that a little boy we saw in the waiting list has died. If I remember correctly, he had Down's Syndrome and a heart defect.

Early on in the process we decided that we were looking for a little girl. We were unsure about adopting a child with Down's. When I saw this little boy's profile, I thought he was a cutie but I didn't feel a particular "tug." Of course, then we saw our little girl's profile and that was it... no other child even registered on our radar once we saw our new daughter's picture.

But when you turn down (either in the form of rejecting an official referral or just in deciding not to request that specific child) one of these kids on the waiting list you do so with this hope in your heart that someone else will come along. "Not the right fit for my family, but he's sure to find a home someday."

No one came along for him, though. He died in the orphanage. I'm sure he was well taken care of, but no child should ever go to heaven having never been truly loved on earth.

It's times like this that I cry my eyes out because I feel so damned limited in what I can do. We can't bring home every kid in the orphanage. We certainly can't bring home all 30,000+ orphans in Bulgaria. My family can't give a home to the 150 million orphans around the world. We can save this one, and maybe down the road I'll trick, connive or convince my hubby to go back again. (You can tell him I said that, he already knows I'd love to adopt again and I already know he wants to see how the first time goes.) But I want to do MORE. I don't know what, but I just pray that God has something in mind for me that goes beyond a couple of kids.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Food Fight

Yesterday, an acquaintance told me about the way that family meals go down in her daughter's house regarding their three-year old girl. Dad heaps an adult-sized serving onto the 3 year old's plate, then demands she eat it all. She doesn't. He yells at her. She still doesn't. He puts her on time out. She still doesn't. He yells some more and sends her to her room.

For a lot of parents, meal times are stress times. Their child may eat next to nothing or perhaps their child eats only three things and no other foods can pass their lips without a wrestling match. I, personally, refuse to engage in battling over food. Here's why.

1. I don't start fights I can't win. Unless you plan to force the food into your child's mouth physically, you can't make them eat something they don't want. And I, for one, am not about to start jumping on top of my kid and shoveling food into their mouth while screaming at them to chew. It sort of smacks of abuse, no? As a parent, I refuse to have my authority undermined by starting something I can't or won't finish. Wanna look weak in front of your child? Fail to enforce what you say three time daily.

2. I know my kid is not stupid or suicidal. Children will eat if they are hungry. They don't go on Ghandi-esque hunger strikes... and if they do it doesn't last long. Your toddler will eat when they are hungry because they don't yet have the self-control to do otherwise. Or the stupidity, really. And your child is amazingly good at stopping when they've had enough, so long as you don't intervene in their body's ability to detect fullness by forcing them to eat beyond what they can hold.

3. I can be sneaky. Normally, I'm incapable of it. I can't sneak up on anyone without giggling so much that they hear me coming. But with my kids' meals, I'm a freaking master of subterfuge. Lasagna can get some spinach. Home made chicken nuggets can get some ground cauliflower in the breading. Muffins can sneak some zucchini or pumpkin. Just Google "sneaking vegetables into kids food." I got 451,000 results. If they won't eat those veggies, sneak them in.

4. I really don't want to screw my kid up for life. Rates of obesity among adults and children are ridiculously high right now. Forcing my kid to overeat, teaching their body not to feel full until it's consumed three or four times the food it requires, is setting them up for problems. Arguing with them about how much they eat can set kids (little girls especially) up for bulimia or anorexia. Teaching your children to respect their bodies by listening to them can only help them in the long run. Beyond that, I really don't want them to spend the rest of their lives remembering family dinners as hell on earth, full of screaming and threats and time outs.

Now I know what some parents will say. "My kid pretends not to be hungry just to get out of eating something they don't like." As they get older they probably will start feigning full to get out of those lima beans long enough to get a cookie later, but there's an easy way around that. Give them reasonable portions at the meal and if they don't eat it, put it in the fridge. When they say "I'm hungry" later on, bring the meal back out and reheat it. And if they don't eat the lima beans, offer more chicken or potatoes or something. Perhaps, instead of a cookie let them have some fruit. That way they get their "dessert" without eating crap food, and they learn to enjoy natural levels of sweetness rather than grotesque levels of high fructose corn syrup.

It's just not worth it, in my book, to make food into a battle.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"I never had kids."

I met a wonderful, sweet lady from Italy yesterday who told me that. I was a mite bit confused, since she had been telling me earlier about her 6 year old grand-daughter. She told me that the little girl was so funny, recounting a story about how "lippy" she had been one day and how funny it was. Then, in the next breath she said "We adopted a girl when we lived in Arizona."

I thought it sounded funny, but didn't pursue it. Not until she said it again later. "I never had kids," she said again. This time, I opened my fat mouth. "Yes you did," I told her. "You have your daughter and you are a mom, just as much as anybody else."

Years and years ago, infertility was a source of shame. Adoption was a taboo. People hid an adoption, from the kids, the family, the community, and secretly this was how they felt. "I was never *really* a mom," they told themselves, all while keeping up the facade. If anyone else noticed that the mom in question hadn't looked to be "in a family way", they talked about it behind her back but never to her face. Birth mothers slinked away into the shadows, to deny they had ever given birth and pretend it had all been a sad dream. Grandparents pretended not to know. Paperwork was forged, documents were redone, everyone's time and energy went into making sure the secret was kept.

That was then, this is now. Adoption is not a dirty word. Infertility is not a shameful condition. They have a name for women who adopt. It's mom.

Until adoptive moms stop slinking, hiding, and feeling ashamed then adoption will continue to sound like a byline. Something people only do if they have no other options or are nutty or perhaps in it for the money.

I fervently hope that this woman's words reflect a sentiment that is expiring from our society. I wish that women who adopt can believe that they are mom. That they don't feel the need to explain away their children, making it sound as if they are just glorified babysitters. I'm writing this because I fear that she is not one random person, but that a lot of moms walk around feeling this way, even if only in secret. The definition of mother is simple, in my mind. If someone calls you "mom", then you had children. End of story.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Whenever I Figure Hope is Lost...

... it comes back and finds me again!

Yesterday afternoon our I-800 approval arrived in the mail. This is great, but I was thinking "Well, by the time we get everything together and mailed over and all that... it'll be too late when it all gets to Bulgaria. We won't be able to have her home this summer."

Regardless, today I was planning on calling my agency rep and giving her the good news. Lo and behold, when I checked my email this morning there was an email from her with a scan of her cc: version of the letter. She already had it. I figured that's a good start.

I just talked with her and I have found out that the letter is also already in Bulgaria! An electronic version was sent this morning to our Bulgarian agency, and apparently the State Department notification is already in country as well. Our rep made the comment that "I know they gave us the 1 July deadline, but we're very close to that so who knows? Maybe you'll still be bringing her home this summer."

It's just a maybe, and I know it would be unwise to get all bent out of shape over it, but it feels good. After resigning myself to October, the slimmest possibility of having her home sooner feels great.

Hope is the food we live on around here.