Friday, April 30, 2010

"Nevers" Become "Firsts"

As I sit here reflecting on the day, I am thinking about how Zoya is experiencing so many firsts that quite possibly could have been "nevers."  Many children in Zoya's orphanage, and orphanages across the world, will experience "nevers," while Zoya experiences her "firsts."  A number of people have said to just forget the other get Zoya out and never look simply enjoy what we have with focus on the positive.  Of course we are so grateful that Zoya is home with us and that God has used us to save her life and allow us to help replace her "nevers" with "firsts," but the memories of the children left behind won't fade. Yes it's only been a week that we've been home, but I have a feeling the memories and visions of what we saw and the many children without homes and families will be just as fresh in my mind 5, 10, 15, 50 years from now.  I sometimes want the memories to fade because it would take a burden off my shoulders.  Mostly though, I feel like I should have this heavy weight on my shoulders...this feeling about all the children left behind, well, this feeling is nothing compared to what the children who are left behind feel.  As Zoya experiences so many firsts, I can't help but remember the children who will NEVER experience any of these joyous moments. 

We took Zoya to Presque Isle today.  Her first trip to "the beach" with trees, sunshine, sand, and a beautiful lake.  As we were strolling along I thought, every single child in this world deserves a day at the beach.  Every single child in this world, regardless of ability, or "worldy" worth, deserves to feel the sand in between their toes.  Every single child in this world, no matter their "baggage" deserves to hear the birds chirping and listen to the waves crashing.  Every single child in this world deserves to hear and feel the words, "I love you."  Every single child in this world, at least, deserves to have a home and a loving family to call their own.  No child should have to yearn for/wish for/hope for love.  Every child in this world deserves love.  It breaks my heart to know that so many children, 147 MILLION, to be exact, are waiting, just waiting, to experience the love they deserve.  And it breaks my heart even more to know that so very many of those children will NEVER get that chance.  It is as simple as that.  They will die never knowing love.

I know adoption is not for everybody.  But if you are feeling the call toward adoption, stop with the excuses.  Trust.  Take a leap of faith.  It is not all glorious and storybook-ish, no, I won't pretend it is.  But at the end of the day if you can put aside your worries and excuses, you can change one child's "nevers" to his "firsts."  I prayed that God would give me His eyes, and He has given me His eyes for the orphan crisis.  I'm trying to give you my eyes.  I'm sort of like the middle man, but if this blog pushes even one person to take the leap and bring home an orphan, then it is all worth it.  But I won't stop at just one orphan. I won't put it all behind me.  I won't forget the other children.  I won't ever be the same. 

For Zoya though, her "nevers" are finally becoming "firsts."  Because of us? Because we are wonderful people for giving this child life? NO! Because God loves Zoya so much.  Because He moved mountains in our path and cast them into the sea.  Because He showed us what life for Zoya would be like without us.  Because we took a risk and listened to the call, we stopped with all the excuses, we put our faith in God, we said Yes God.  That's ALL we did.  He did the rest.  And you might just be surprised with how much of a gift this child will be to you.  So not only are Zoya's nevers becoming firsts, but our nevers (had we not listened to the call) are becoming our firsts. 

With that said, we are in awe of all of Zoya's firsts.  It is amazing to see the world which we've lived in so long, in a new way, through her eyes.  Zoya has shown us a little bit of heaven here on Earth.  Her innocence, her joy, her happiness, with all she has been through, are teaching us so much.  Watching her hear the birds and turn and point at them, listening to her laugh when she sees us dancing like fools, seeing her big eyes looking at the world in amazement and wonder, remind us we've really been missing a lot.  We are laughing at ourselves more, taking unimportant parts of life a little less serious, taking time to express our love for others, prioritizing, and being thankful for all that we have in this life. We are so lucky to have Zoya.  We are so blessed.  We are so unworthy of this gift, but God loves us and He loves Zoya and he created our family, knowing what each of us could bring to one another, long before we could have ever imagined.  We are so grateful.

Here are some pictures from our trip to Presque Isle today.

This picture was taken on the car ride down.  Zoya is saying, "Feed the Poor" haha not really but she looks like it! She loves toys that are not really toys...such as a cool whip bowl!

I love this picture because she is always holding on to my hair like it's a rope! So sweet :)

And I thought the next two pictures were pretty cool.  I love light and dark in pictures...and we have a ton from Ukraine that will have to be a post all their own.  Light has followed us through this journey and it continues to do so.  You might chalk it up to bad photography, but I think it's more than that! 

Look at how the light radiates from the ground UPWARD in both of these pictures.

This one you can actually see the light surrounding Zoya's body.  I think the clouds look like an angel wing too!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Week Home

A week ago today we arrived in the good old USA! With each day that passes it feels more and more like Zoya has always been in our hearts. Each day that passes, we can't imagine what life without Zoya would be like.  I think she has almost forgotten her orphanage days. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but if you saw how happy this girl is (most of the time) and how comfortable she seems here, you might think the same.  She is blabbering more, she now says dada (her favorite word), mama, doggy, and more.  She is starting to get up on her knees and rock back and forth.  She is pulling herself up on all the furniture.  She is laughing, mirroring, interacting, dancing, clapping, giving high fives, signing "more," helping get herself dressed (giving us her arm or leg), army crawling at lightening speed, socializing with friends and neighbors, and so much more!  She knows this is her house, she knows we are her momma and daddy, she knows her routine, she knows and loves her new life.  She has already transformed from the lost little soul we met on St. Patty's day.

Has it been an easy week? I'd be lying if I said it was.  She is testing the waters and trying to see what she can get away with. I don't think she was ever told no in the orphanage and some of her attention-seeking behaviors are a sad reminder of how much she was neglected.  She learns quickly and understands rules but sometimes chooses to be defiant (like any almost 2 year old right?). The crying has been the hardest part for us.  We have definitely seen a lot of progress.  The first couple of days home were pretty rough and she was crying quite a bit for no known reason to us.  We chalked it up to having just had a 26 hour journey with very little sleep, being shuffled from one new environment to the next, and leaving the only comfort she has ever known.  She wanted to be held constantly, but not just held....held with us standing up and bouncing her.  You can imagine how difficult that was to do all day, especially after being on such long plane rides and already being tired and sore.  We tried our best to just scoop her up and hug her tight and love her though the loud crying and sad tears. The past couple of days she has had 1-2 of these episodes but they are much shorter and she seems to recover much easier.   The first few days though? Pretty ugly.  At the end of each day though, when she'd fall asleep in my arms and I got to just be with her and reflect upon this entire journey and reflect upon all her little tiny soul has been through all the tough moments faded away. Considering everything she has been through she is doing remarkably well.  She loves life.  She is teaching us to be better people each and every day. 

It was finally warm enough outside today to let Zoya play in the grass.  I think she enjoyed herself!

We took her jeep walker outside to the cul-d-sac and she was racing around like a maniac! Here is a little video.  We're in trouble when she starts walking! I'm afraid she might go from army crawl straight to running!

Here are some pictures from after we came inside. Here she is thinking about pulling Mya's hair.  Poor doggy.

I love how she has one hand on top of the other here.  That is her new thing!

She has her eyes on her high chair.  Mind you she just ate. She thinks if she makes her way to the high chair that means she gets to eat more.  Little Miss Piggy!

Here are some pictures from yesterday:

We've all felt like this when we ate a little too much turkey....

And of course this feeling always follows.....

Lovin on her Moma!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Zoya's Big Day Out!

This morning Zoya had her Doctor appointment.  With the help of the Down Syndrome Clinic in Pittsburgh, we finally found a doctor who was willing to take her. We put Zoya down for an early nap so she wouldn't be cranky at her 11:00 appointment. She was so happy when we got there and being quite a goofball.  After over a half hour waiting in the exam room with nothing but her diaper on, she got a little annoyed and by the time the doctor came in she was not having it! She was friendly and waving to the doctor in the beginning, but once the doctor laid her down she was screaming! I found it funny that while we were waiting Zoya, for once, did NOT want to be held! Go figure...little stinker! She wanted to crawl all over the table and rip up the crinkly paper that lays across the exam table.  Here is the outcome:

1. Her Heart: We are being referred to a pediatric cardiologist to check out Zoya's heart and make sure it is in fact fixed after the surgery she had in Ukraine.  We are working on getting the Russian heart records translated to English so we know exactly what the surgery did and to make sure she was in fact treated for an Atrial Septal Defect like we were told.  We asked about how her chest forms a bony "v" shape pointing out right on her surgery incision and the doctor said that it doesn't appear to be a problem and it was probably just how they closed her up. She said that is not how we would do it here, and maybe it just didn't close up or heal up correctly.  She thinks it is only cosmetic, which was good to hear.  So we will wait for the call from the pediatric cardiologist.

2. Her cough/runny nose: The doctor, to my surprise, prescribed an antibiotic to clear up her symptoms.  Welcome to America, here is your antibiotic! LOL.  I thought she was getting much better and barely has a cough, and has never had a fever, so I think we'll wait a few days and see if she is better before we give it to her.  I hate using antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. 

3. Her teeth: Her teeth look good from what the doctor can see although she said her gums were a little inflamed.  This could be a result of not having her teeth/gums brushed during her time in the orphanage.  We will follow up in a few months with a pediatric dentist, but good to know it doesn't look like she has any rotten teeth. 

4. Weight/Height: Zoya weighed in at 24 pounds, measured 32 inches and turns out to be in the 80th percentile on the down syndrome charts! My Big Momma!  She barely makes the "regular kid" charts, but good to know she is bigger than most other kids with DS.  This could be due to the fact that they fed her a ton of CRAP, mostly carbs, no protein, etc. So if we don't see any weight gain right away that is just fine.  Her body will have to adjust to her new diet, which includes much more protein, vitamins, and less carbs!

5. Parasites: We get the fun job of collecting stool samples to make sure she has no parasites! Oh the joy :)

6. Down Syndrome: Since we met Zoya, I had suspected the possibility of Mosaic Down Syndrome, which only occurs in 2-4% of the down syndrome population.  Basically Mosaic Down Syndrome means not all of the cells have an extra chromosome...some have the extra chromosome, and some do not....where as in typical trisomy 21 down syndrome, every single cell in the body has the extra chromosome.  I wondered if Zoya may have mosaic down syndrome because of a few things.  First, her facial features are more mild than other children with DS.  Second, I noticed that she doesn't have the typical single crease across her palms like most people with DS.  Her palms look like ours.  Third, another characteristic of DS is a big space between the big toe and the other toes, and Zoya doesn't seem to have this either.  She also seems to have an aptitude for music and I've heard people with mosaic DS are musically talented.  Obviously no two cases of down syndrom are the same.  Some people with DS have some characteristics and not others, some have all, some have fewer, etc. I didn't metnion anything to the doctor because this is not a primary concern at this point.  The doctor actually mentioned to me that she would like to do some chromosomal testing to test for mosaic DS since Zoya's features are milder than what would be expected of most children with DS.  We don't care which type of Down Syndrome Zoya has, but will probably have the testing done just to know.  People with mosaic DS have slightly higher IQs than people with typical DS.  Does this matter to us? No, but it might be a good bargaining tool when Zoya is school age to push for more integration. 

7. Tear ducts: We have to keep an eye on Zoya's tears as she has seemed to have an overproduction of tears since we've known her.  The doctor says that it is common for people with DS to have blocked tear ducts and that she might have to have a small procedure to unblock the tear ducts.

Here is Zoya on the way to her doctor appointment:

Happy girl thinking this is so much fun!!

Okay guys, this isn't so fun now that we've been waiting 30 minutes!

After the doctor appointment it was lunchtime and Zoya was getting hungry.  The doctor's office is right next to Panera and so we scooted over there to test the waters with Zoya in a restaurant! She did fabulous and ate some turkey along with some chicken noodle soup. She was very well behaved (always is when she is eating!) and was waving to everyone!

Here is Zoya at Panera:

After Panera we ran to the grocery store quick so I could get some ground turkey and chicken to make and freeze some food for Zoya for the next few weeks.  She is starting to get picky about eating veggies so I'm hiding them in her turkey and chicken burgers at the great suggestion of my brother :) We shall see...but I think she'll have no idea her veggies are hiding in there!

And to leave you with a cute picture from the other day.....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hold Me!

That is all Zoya be held.  It is like she is trying to make up for lost time.  I know she was rarely, like next to never, held in the orphanage.  The only touch she received was likely to change her diaper, which was probably only done a few times a day. A lot of the babies were fed in their cribs and not held or picked up when they were being fed. I'm struggling with holding her so much, not because I mind, but because I don't want to create a baby who has separation anxiety, but I guess right now she NEEDS to just be held whenever she wants. And she doesn't even want to be in the baby carrier, she wants to just be held tightly and hugged.  She still loves her jeep walker, but only goes in it for 15 minutes at the most before she is reaching up to be held again. We tried the pack n' play today thinking it might bring her some comfort since she pretty much lived in a wooden crib with no mattress during her orphanage days, but she got very upset so we just held her. She also likes her bumbo seat but will only sit in it for 5 or 10 minutes before she wants to be held again. Her "crying spells" seem to stop when she is being held most of the time and are decreasing in frequency.  She is still sleeping well and eating well....diapers are still pretty messy. Shawn has not changed a poopy diaper yet, who votes he gets the next one? I do, I do!

Several people have asked how Mya (the dog) is adjusting to Zoya.  Poor Mya.  She is jealous, but still wants so badly to love Zoya, but Zoya on the other hand, thinks Mya is a toy that she can hit and pull the fur on! Mya is starting to get smart and not get so close, but sometimes she gets a good hair pulling.  Poor puppy.  Mya is learning not to jump on Zoya or jump up to get her legs when we pick her up.  Mya thinks we are playing and doesn't want to be left out.  Shawn has tried hard to make sure he takes her for extra walks, just the two of them.  We also take her on our walk if we take Zoya for a walk and it is pretty funny.  Mya is afraid of the stroller, but getting used to it.  Mya doesn't want to walk in front of the stroller because she thinks she will get run over.  She also doesn't want to walk behind it, who knows why. So she tries to squeeze herself next to it and almost gets run over.  Mya is a sweet doggy and follows us and Zoya everywhere. She knows Zoya is different than other kids that have been in our house.

Mya is always a few steps behind Zoya just checking her out.

Mya still loves her Mommy time too. I told her she will always be my first baby. She just doesn't understand why when the rest of us leave the house together she can't come. I think she wonders why we don't leave Zoya there with her! Hehe.

She was helping to change Zoya's diaper! What a good dog!

Tomorrow Zoya has a doctor appointment just to get everything checked out and get some referrals to specialists. We have several health concerns, her heart being the biggest. We are told that the surgery she had in Ukraine fixed her heart condition (Atrial Septal Defect) but we will feel better after her heart is looked at by a cardiologist here.  It also appears her sternum did not heal together properly after surgery. It is a hard pointy v-shape in the center of her chest. Nobody ever mentioned this as a problem when we were in Ukraine but it just doesn't look right.  Her teeth are another concern and we are hoping none of them are rotted. She has bad breath which can be a sign, but her breath has been better since we've been home so maybe that is a diet thing. We were also told she has "far vision" so we will need to check into that as well.  She may need to see an ENT specialist too. We also want to make sure her sleep patterns are normal and that she is not requiring more sleep than she should be.  On Thursday we have her intake meeting to begin the process for early intervention services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy, all of which I'm sure she will qualify for.

We have been busy busy busy....tired and still trying to adjust to the time change, sore from the airplane ride and from lugging an extra 24 pounds around all day long, frustrated at times with Zoya's crying spells, but none the less, happy as can be to finally have our special little angel home and be living out this dream! As I got in the car to drive to the chiropractor while Zoya napped today, it was the first time I had driven since being home, and it suddenly hit me that we were back in "real life." Parts of our adoption journey seemed like they were all part of a dream (sometimes a nightmare hehe).  It seemed like for the past 6 weeks we were 100% focused on Zoya's adoption and consumed by it.  We had little idea what was going on in the outside world, were temporarily relieved of our career duties, had little contact with friends and family, and so all of those things made our time in Ukraine seem strange and, now looking back, somewhat like we were in a different world than the rest of you.  So today when I got in my car, for some reason, life finally felt like it resumed as it was prior to our time in Ukraine, except this time as a Moma to a sweet child. I'm not sure why it took being in my car driving to finally feel like we were back to life.  Maybe it is because it was the first time since we have been home that I was alone (other than my morning showers haha) and in control of where I was going.  It was nice to be back in the driver's seat knowing what each coming minute would hold. As much as I thought I had handed it all over to God, I remembered I still feel comforted by being in control, comforted by material things, and comforted by routine, mundane, every day happenings. I guess that's why we're human. We never quite learn the lesson 100%, but little by little, which each journey, we get a little better at trusting God and handing it over to Him one piece at a time.

Here are some fun pictures.  We've had some visitors from Zoya's fan club over the past few days!

Here is Seth and Abby. You can read about Seth HERE

Looking like a proud friend!

Look what daddy did to her hair!!

Zoya loves being outside. Today was rainy and chilly.

Still loving her Jeep Walker!

Beautiful Baby!

Zoya and her new "cousin" Alivia :)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Could Have (not) Been

We are still alive so I guess that's a start right? We had another busy day.  Zoya requires our undivided attention.  She is wanting to be held a lot, which makes sense for many reasons.  We held her A LOT in the orphanage because there was not much else we could do.  She loves being held and feeling our touch.  She has been deprived of that for so long.  She likes playing on the floor, but has now learned to put her hands up and reach for us when she is wanting to be held.  Before she would just cry when she wanted to be held, now she is able to communicate this want to us, so that is good.  She is still sleeping well throughout the night. She woke up once last night because she was soaked.  She is peeing a lot and I'm wondering if it is just her body trying to get used to actually getting enough fluids.  At the orphanage she only got about 8 ounces a day.  I'm assuming so little because they probably didn't want to have to change the diapers too often.  Other than waking up once, she slept from 8pm until 7:30 am! She went down for a morning nap again for about an hour and a half.  We took her to Babies R Us to get a new carseat since the one we have is too small for her.  She did well until the way home (which is around her nap time) when she started a crying spell.  She has some crying spells where nothing seems to actually be wrong, but she just cries and cries and it is very difficult to console her. This is typical for kids who have been adopted. 

Zoya has been demonstrating some orphanage behaviors too.  She hits herself on the head, pulls her own hair, throws herself back and smacks her head off the floor, bites (ouch), grabs everything, and grinds her teeth.  Some of these behaviors are sensory and impulse related, but most of them seem to be attention seeking behaviors.  We are working with her to show her acceptable ways to gain our attention, but obviously at the orphanage, these other behaviors were the only way she got attention.  We saw this first hand.  She would pull the hair of the caregivers and they would laugh smile. 

Eating is going better than I though it would and she has already gained one pound! We are feeding her soup, ground turkey, mashed potatoes, bananas, some baby food, chicken, and cheerios, to name a few things.  She is learning to chew up small pieces of food pretty well.  At the orphanage she didn't chew anything.  Everything they gave her was the consistancy of baby food.  I am trying to keep her diet pretty bland to make the diet change easier.  She has had some pretty bad orphanage diapers that I later found our are pretty typical.  We haven't started giving her any milk or milk products yet as this was not part of her diet in any way the the orphanage.  I got some rice milk and heat that up and give it to her before bed.  The rest of the day she drinks watered down apple juice or pedialyte.  She doesn't like anything cold so we heat up all of her food and her drinks are either warm or room temperature.  When she eats she is signing "more" on her own with a little prompting from me.  She really learned that fast! She claps her hands together for more since she can't make her fingers work the right way to do the actual sign, but I know what she means!

Zoya is loving her Uncle Bub (my brother).  He has been staying with us since we got home! Tonight he even cooked us dinner and played with Zoya while we ate...a much appreciated time to sit down and enjoy a meal.  I said to Shawn tonight, "Do you think we will ever go out to eat again?" Haha.  Anyway, she loves playing with her Bub and even said his name today! I knew when we met her that she would love his bald head!  She slaps it and kisses it and it is so cute.  She was getting some good PT by pulling herself up with the TV stand and then plopping into Bub's lap and doing it all over again!

Zoya in her Bumbo seat!!

Daddy and Zoya watching Mya play in the backyard.

Playing with some measuring most kids her favorite toys aren't toys at all!

Mama and nakey Zoya before bed.

My absolute favorite time of the day is rocking her to sleep.  She is so snuggly and cuddly and hugs me with all her might.  I love listening to her breathe and feeling her chest rise and fall on mine.  Her sweet little cheeks rest against mine and all is well in the world.  I can't help but be sad to think that she has missed out on being loved on like this for almost 2 years.  Every child deserves moments like this and love of a mama.  Every child deserves to be hugged and snuggled and rocked to sleep every night.  There are so many who will never know this love.  But as for Zoya, she will never have to go to bed alone and without kisses and snuggles ever again.  I hope she forgets her lonely nights and replaces those memories with the new memories we are making.  I usually sit with Zoya long after she has fallen asleep and just enjoy the moment.  This is becoming my time to talk to God about Zoya too.  There are so many things I hope for her.  I hope she can adjust well to all the changes, I hope she can feel safe and secure, I hope she can forgive me in my mistakes I make being a new mama, I hope she can bond well with us, I hope she can learn to love others like we love her....but above all else, I hope she is happy, simply happy.  Nothing else matters as long as she is happy.  Tonight while I was rocking with Zoya, I prayed that I could love Zoya in the same way God loves me.  I know that is impossible, but it is a goal to strive for.  I was (and still am sometimes) dirty, lost, sad, angry, throwing temper tantrums, distancing myself, running away, and demanding and God never stopped loving me.  No matter what I do God will never change his feelings toward me.  He will love me just as much from one happy moment to the next ugly moment.  He doesn't get frustrated with me, he doesn't get mad at me, he is always just there, loving me.  A humanly impossible unconditional love. 

I also thought about how I would not be in that moment, rocking my sweet baby to sleep, if we had not taken this leap of faith and listened to God's call.  We had every excuse in the book not to adopt Zoya. We convinced ourselves this couldn't be for us.  Finances. Time. Travel. Work. Life. Comfort. You get the picture.  Thinking about how close we were to choosing not to adopt her makes me sad.  Rocking her to sleep, holding her in my arms, feeling her heart beat, overflowing with love and gratefulness....thinking this may not have been because we were afraid.  It makes me wonder what I have missed out on in life due to fear, lack of faith, and selfishness.  If you feel you are being called to do something, listen to the call, take the leap, jump out of the airplane, because you won't be left to crash to the ground....if you just believe. We are NOT great, wonderful, extraordinary people.  We are average, weak, mistake-filled, every day people who chose to listen to God, listen to our hearts, push fear to the side, and take a leap of faith.  The reward is great.