Sunday, April 25, 2010

Q & A

I didn't get a chance to answer everyone's questions while we were in Ukraine, so I will try to get to some of the questions left in our comments section. Please email me or leave comments here with anything else I can answer for those who are interested in knowing more about our adoption process or experience with Alina.

Q. I tried to follow your time line you have listed and wanted to ask you, did you only have to make one trip to Ukraine for Alina? If so, wow...how did you guys pull that off?


Q. Please give me your secret.... things have gone so well for you hope I have the same luck. Will you have to wait the 10 days?


Q. Are you kidding?!?!? That was the fastest court ever! And the 10 day wait will be waived?!?!? Is Marina your facilitator?


A. Since there have been many questions about our quick timeline, I'll try to address several issues at once.

I am happy to answer questions about our adoption process. Each family's experience is different. Even families traveling to the same orphanage can have wildly different experiences based on many factors (such as specific facilitators, judges, groupas, etc.). Even slight adjustments in adoption policies or requirements, or the political climate in a country can have large impact as well. Things that are out of our control, such as power outages, national holidays, a particular person being on vacation--or a VOLCANO (!)--can come into play in any adoption and make a difference on timeline and cost. Flexibility, creativity, determination and faith are all key.


The disclaimer: Please know that whatever I write about refers specifically to our experience which may or may not be similar to what others have experienced or will experience.

With that said...we were in a VERY FAST region and had a lot of good luck while in country.

We made one trip and were gone for exactly 18 days. We were in region for only 6 of those days. We had a few extra days in Kiev at the beginning (because our SDA appointment fell on a Thursday afternoon and we couldn't get the referral paperwork/travel in time to get started in region on Friday...so we had to wait until Monday to begin there). We were in Kiev an extra few days on the back end because of the volcano and difficulty getting a flight out.

Once we got to Alina's town, we did not have to wait for any of our documentation or appointments, which is unusual. We were also fortunate to have received our Interpol Clearances, which are done in batches, exactly when we needed them. Alina was actually born in Zaporozhye, so that made things easier for us as well.

In addition, many of the officials were sympathetic to our cause. The 10 day wait is often waived where we were, and the "old" passports (the red as opposed to the blue) are still available and are produced locally, so they can be done very quickly. Our wait was waived and we were able to get the old passport for Alina.

I cannot say enough about our Rock Star facilitators (Serge, Yulia, Marina) and what they did for us. They ran the show and know exactly what they are doing. We just went where we were told to go and did what we were asked to do. They handled everything else.

Q. I should know this, but can you remind us how old she (Alina) is?

A. She turned 3 in March. Bridget will turn 4 at the end of July.


Q. How did you raise funds so quickly? Do you have any suggestions for us? We have not made any commitment yet because the cost of the adoption process is a bit daunting. Any suggestions would be great. I know you are very busy, so whenever you get a chance that would be encouraging to hear how you dealt with the cost.

A. We had money set aside for something else, which we applied to Alina's adoption instead. Fundraising is often one of the most daunting aspects of International Adoptions. We do know several families who have been very successful in raising money for their adoptions. It seems like the most important things are creativity and persistence--and being willing to ask anyone and everyone for help.


Q. You will be on the look out for Tanner, won't you? If you see him, tell him mommy and daddy are coming?

A. I feel so sad that we couldn't get to see the other kids we were looking for! We tried many times to see the other RR children, with no luck. The kids are just so spread out, and they are behind closed doors. The groupas do not interact as far as we could tell. The orphanage also has several buildings, and there is no way to know who is where. Access is very limited, even within the rooms of your child's groupa. Paperwork is required to enter any room at the orphanage, and we only had paperwork for Alina's room.

Q. Are there any kids with Ds in her groupa?

A. There were no other children with Ds in Alina's groupa. We only saw one little boy with Ds outside being pushed in a stroller by a visitor. He was little--maybe 1 1/2 years old. We did not recognize him. (The kids were all in snowsuits and hats when they were outside, which is the only chance we had to see other children, so it was very hard to get a good look at them!) We recognized "Bella"--other angels--though, in Alina's groupa. We were able to observe and photograph her for the family who is coming for her :).


Q. Lisa, the picture of Alina doing your hair reminds me of you doing mine as a little girl! :) Did she yank it very hard? HA!

A. Ah, paybacks Marcy :)! Alina LOVES to brush hair, and she is so sweet when she does it. She is very careful. She did decide that she likes to try to pull my hair at other times though. It is not in an aggressive way...it happens more when she is excited...like
wow, we're having fun now! Yippee for me and my way-too-long hair. Guess who will be wearing lots of ponytails and buns for a while ;)?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

HOME

We had to take planes, trains and automobiles, but we made it home last night and are so happy to be here! We are all doing very well!

Alina was such a trooper on the long trip back. One of the flight attendants said she could teach some of the adult passengers how to behave on an airplane :).

We flew from Kiev to Amsterdam on Thursday night (a 3 hour flight), stayed overnight in a hotel at the airport, and left early yesterday morning for Detroit, MI (an 8 hour flight). Rather than wait out our scheduled 7 hour layover in Detroit, we rented a car and drove home from there (a 3 hour drive). We were so ready to get home!

Alina slept the whole way from Detroit to Columbus!

The kids were already home from school and anxiously waiting to meet their new little sister.

Here are a few photos of Alina's homecoming:






Alina seemed very happy to meet her siblings. She was full of smiles and was very relaxed, even though she must have been a little overwhelmed--she was surrounded by all the kids on the kitchen floor.

Alina figured out that the kids think she is cute and funny--and she was enjoying all the attention.

Bridget and Alina seemed to recognize one another. They are adorable together! They're about the same height and weight, although Alina is almost 9 months younger than Bridget.

Their hands and feet look almost identical, except Alina's are a bit more chubby :).

There was one point last night when I had them both on my lap, which was overwhelming in itself--it is a moment I will never forget. I keep thinking about the two of them together. They are a unit now. My almost-twins, born apart but raised together.

When we were in Ukraine, someone asked us why we think God gave us four healthy children and then Bridget, a child with Down syndrome. Chris and I have a long answer to that question that we may write about here someday. The short answer, though, may be that Bridget arrived in our lives so that we would save Alina.

There is so much more to share and say. Please stay tuned for more on the end of our stay in Ukraine and on our transition home.

Thank you for all of the genuine support and well wishes. We are feeling the love...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Leaving Kiev

We are leaving tonight! We'll fly to Amsterdam, stay overnight, then fly to Detroit in the morning. We should be home Friday afternoon :).

Sorry for the lack of posts the past few days! We have spent all of our time doing two things: (1) trying to make alternative travel arrangements--our flight was canceled yesterday morning and were re-booked for the 29th--and (2) learning about Alina and trying to keep her safe :). It has been interesting managing a busy and curious toddler in a tiny flat in downtown Kiev! She has a new nickname: "Hands" :). This little girl does not telegraph her every move, and she is as quick as a cobra striking when she goes to grab something! We have had to move all items from the lower cupboards and drawers in our small kitchen space and have turned the bedside tables with the drawers toward the wall. The free-standing mirror now has a sheet over it, and we have created a suitcase barricade in front of the phone and internet wires. Alina can open the doors in our flat, which includes the one to the bathroom--and she is very interested in (trying to play in) the toilet. Yippee!

Alina is as busy as they come, and as sweet as they come. She is a little love bug! She is sleeping well and eating well for us. She seems to know that we are mama and papa :). And we feel like she has been ours forever. The bonding has been very natural.

We have learned some words and phrases in Russian, and she is listening to us :)! She followed direction very well at the orphanage. When we first brought her home, she would grin and look at us like I have no idea what you are saying! I don't understand English, people :). So we are trying to speak to her in Russian and in English. It seems to be working.

Alina is saying "Hi" and waving. She is also starting to sign more and thank you. She has figured out how to drink from her sippy cup, which has made life easier and less messy :).

We are so looking forward to getting home and introducing Alina to her siblings and extended family.

She is more than deserving of a life full of love and happiness. We are thrilled to be able to offer her that chance, and to be able to experience life through her and with her!!

More when we return home!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

We Have a New Roommate...

...and she is supposed to be napping, but she is busy trying on my high heels and hauling a huge jug of water around like it is a purse.

Sorry about the ambiguous post yesterday! We did not realize that only the title had been posted!

Alina is doing great, and yes, she is here with us!

With each moment that passes, we are learning more about our amazing little girl.

We have realized that she does not like orange juice, cheese, or salami ;). By the healthy physique on this child, you would think that she does not turn anything down. However, when we offered her these items off the breakfast tray this morning, she was not shy about expressing her opinion. She spit them out with a disgusted look on her face. She chucked the cheese after trying to spit it out, then grabbing at it like we had put a bug in her mouth. We had to giggle. This little girl knows just what she wants and what she doesn't want.

And, who knew that Alina LOVES Eskimo Kisses and that she giggles. A lot.

Other things we have discovered:

She puts on all pants she finds. Including Daddy's jeans.

She likes to dab her mouth with a napkin while she eats.

She thinks it is hilarious when she falls over.

She puts her shoes on herself. On the right feet.

She is easily soothed.

She pats herself on the back when she begins to cough.

Her skin is as soft as velvet.

She likes girly things, but she also likes matchbox cars and sticks.

She sounds just like Bridget when she sleeps.

Some photos from Gotcha Day yesterday:










We had an especially difficult time coming up with what to say yesterday. It was an exciting and emotional day.

And it all hit us at once last night. We have saved a life. This precious little ruby, this innocent child, has been hidden away since birth. What if we had not come for her?

Our hearts are so full and grateful for her and for this journey. At the same time they are aching for the life she has missed out on for three long years, and for all of the other little ones we had to leave behind yesterday--especially the ones with no families coming for them.

At this point, it is all too fresh to write about clearly. We are honestly moved beyond words...

We leave on the train tonight for Kiev. We have a few days of Embassy paperwork and will head home as soon as we can get a flight out :).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

New Life

When we arrived in Zaporozhye this past Monday, it looked like late winter. In less than a week's time, the trees have started sprouting leaves.

There are cherry blossom trees all over this town, and they are in full bloom right now. They are gorgeous and have become our symbol of this new life--for Alina and for us.


There is a new blossom on our family tree...


Alina Caroline
Adopted into our Family
April 16, 2010
Zaporozhye, Ukraine


Our Little Cherry Blossom

A New Day

We are getting ready to leave to visit Alina, so this will be short...but here are a few pictures from the past few days. We have so many more pictures, of all kinds of things. It takes a while to upload and edit, so we are doing the best we can in keeping everyone updated :).

Yesterday, we realized Alina can put on--and take off--her pants and shoes by herself. She even unties her shoe laces and the string on her hat.

When we came inside after our morning walk, one of her caregivers saw me trying to help Alina get undressed. She motioned to me to let her do it. She gave instructions, and Alina listened to them. She did EVERYTHING the woman asked her to do, including placing her little shoes in her locker.

Her caregivers want her to try to do everything by herself. She does need extra help sometimes, but they realize how capable she is, and that she needs to be encouraged to try things herself. They expect a lot of her, but they are patient with her and help her readily when she really needs it.

This little girl is AMAZING. And someone has done something very right with her. She gets dressed and undressed by herself (with a little help), she puts all of her things away, she eats by herself (with a little help), she blows her own nose. She likes to play with toys and pretends to talk on a phone, put on lipstick (she is using her aquadoodle pen as lipstick), and fill her purse and say "Paka" (goodbye). She is a trip!

Looking at her bracelet with Daddy


Feeding Mama yogurt


Pretending to eat out of the empty yogurt container :)


Outside on the grounds of the orphanage

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Orphan No More


Solnitchka


Alina's locker and orphan shoes




This is brief...but EXCITING developments here...

Alina will only spend one more night as an orphan. Tomorrow, she will officially be ours!! We will be in court at 2 pm tomorrow (Friday)!!

We should be in Kiev early next week and should be HOME by the end of the week if all goes well...maybe even sooner.

Love to all. Thanks to all for following, for believing in us and in Alina, and for the thoughts and prayers.

To say we are elated is an understatement. We are so grateful for this experience, for this child, for the opportunity to offer her life outside an orphanage--and to get to spend every day with her from now on.

She is a little treasure--a sparkling jewel no longer hidden away--who will be loved and cherished by a family of her own and all who choose to see her beauty and worth.


Going to get Alina's passport photo taken


More tomorrow...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Day 3, Afternoon Visit

When we arrived this afternoon, the same woman who was helping Alina eat earlier came to the door to greet us. She said, "Alina cry when you left before". Oh my goodness, she is starting to really get attached to us. She reached for us both at different times today, and when we were outside walking, she held out her hand for Chris to grab it when he stepped aside to take a picture. And she kissed my nose. Each visit gets better and better.

She seemed apprehensive at first. She made little noises (like she was thinking, "oh no, what is going on here? Where are my people? And who are these people?). We heard some of those sounds the first two days, but not today.

She laughed today, and smiled more. She giggled when I tickled her back. She is super ticklish!!

We stopped at a market and bought shoes for her today. The ones I brought were way too small (we took them with us anyway and donated them to the groupa...and when we arrived this afternoon they were already labeled on the bottom and a little girl was waving them in the air...they have been reassigned!).

When we took out the shoes we bought for her, Alina saw them and kicked her old shoes off immediately. She tried to put the new ones on herself. She was very proud once she was wearing them and didn't want to take them off.

The little girl who has the pair of shoes we brought is the most adorable little creature. I would scoop her up in a minute. She really likes Alina. She pats her cheeks and kisses her forehead as she says, "Lina!!" with a big smile. She looks out for Alina, too. When another child grabbed a book from Alina, she came over, took it and handed it back to Alina. She said, "no, Alina's" to the other child. It was so incredibly sweet. Chris and I were teary watching the interaction.

All of the children wave to her when they pass through the locker room where we have been playing with her. They like to talk to us, so we are a distraction, which we feel badly about. But man are they cute!

We are only approved to bring home one child, but we would be in major trouble if we had asked for permission for more!! These children are precious...

Day 3, Morning Visit

Remember this picture on the left? It is the initial picture of Alina that grabbed our hearts. Our instincts told us to look deeper than what was on the surface. And we are so grateful for that moment of insight, that moment where our experience with Bridget intersected with love and hope for a little girl we did not know. Our hearts must have known her, as we were firm in our commitment to bring her home from the minute we set eyes on her.

Nowhere does this picture say that this little girl is clever (as her Russian-speaking caregiver said to us today in her best English), or determined, or strong, or sweet. Nowhere does it say that she is full of potential. She looks blank here.

And yes, she will blossom even more with the love of a family. But we are learning that if you could look below the surface of the photo on the left, you would she that she has been given opportunity here, and she's been cared for with good intention. Now that we are here with her in person, we can begin to see the whole picture. The picture below is the beginning of the story of her life outside the orphanage. The bleak, expressionless part of her life is fading away as her new life with a family begins.

We are grateful that someone picked up on Alina's value and potential. We do not know how she came to live with typical children, but we are grateful. She has been given a chance to grow and develop alongside children who unknowingly encourage her to reach higher and go farther than she would if she had been underestimated from the start.

We realize that Alina's situation might not be the norm, and while we are relieved that this is her reality, we are sad for all of the children who are not encouraged, who have less of a chance to reach their full potential...especially the ones without families coming for them.

Switching Gears...

This morning's visit was awesome! Alina (wearing the same green dress, new tights--red with ducks) came out ready to have her picture taken for her passport :). We were asked to play with her for a few minutes in the area by the lockers and wait for the photographer. A few of her caregivers speak a tiny bit of English--enough that, combined with gestures, we are able to understand (fairly) clearly what is being said to us. The staff are all very patient with us, and with Alina. They have allowed us to do most everything we have asked. We are keeping our requests simple and within reason, but they have indulged us when we have asked to take her to the music room, or to go outside, etc.).

Here is video of Alina eating lunch. The woman who was helping her to eat was really good with Alina--you can see in the video. We are so thankful to have been able to sit with Alina while she ate to see that her caregivers have been helping her and encouraging her, even though she needs extra assistance with eating. We know that it takes time and focus when both of those things can be in short supply with such a large group of children to watch over and care for.





We were able to take Alina outside for a walk, which she liked very much. She was getting tired, so Chris snuggled her in and she fell asleep in his arms. It was precious. When we took her back inside, she found the sunglasses I had set down by my bag. Hmmm. Another child who loves sunglasses, purses, bracelets and such. Maybe Bridget and Alina are genetically connected after all...



More soon...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Details, Details, Details :)

So catching everyone up a bit...

It is hard to believe that we arrived here in Alina's hometown yesterday morning! It seems like a week has already passed. We have been busy!!

We took the overnight train from Kiev on Sunday night, and got into town just after 6:30 a.m. yesterday morning. We had about an hour after we got to our hotel to shower and eat a quick breakfast, and then we were off for a marathon day which included making a quick visit to the orphanage to meet Alina and meet with the head doctor there, going to six different places to gather paperwork, documents and signatures, then going back to the orphanage for afternoon visiting hours.

Meeting Alina

After retrieving the necessary paperwork from our social worker to get permission to meet Alina, we headed straight to the orphanage. Our facilitator stopped in the main office to let them know we had arrived and to sign a few more papers. Before we knew it, we were climbing the staircase to her groupa's room. We were both a little dazed and confused at that point. We had been planning the meeting for months, and it seems like we have waited so long to finally travel. But as soon as we boarded the plane out of the States, everything began moving in fast forward.

As we rang the bell outside the door to Alina's room, our translator realized which room she was in--she said, "This is very good news. The children in this groupa are all typically developing!" We were surprised by this and elated. It means that someone sees her abilities and her potential. It also means that her delays are not as significant as they could be, given her diagnosis.

We were greeted by an older woman--speaking Russian, of course, so I have no idea what she actually said, but our translator told us we should wait in the small room just inside the door where the children have their little lockers.

I had just looked at Chris and squeezed his hand, "This is it. We are going to meet our little girl" and then we heard her coming--clip, clip, clip. A moment later, we saw our little blondie heading toward us. One of the caregivers was standing in the doorway behind her, encouraging her to move along--she said, "Alina, mama...papa" and sent her on her way. Alina was all dressed up, with a bow in her hair. I put my hand to my mouth. "It's her. Oh my...here she is..."

"Priv-yet, Alina (Hello, Alina)!!"

She came down the small hallway by herself, whimpering a little as she made her way to us. She seemed apprehensive, but she was really, really cute. We looked at each other with tears in our eyes. It was a moment neither of us will ever forget.

We saw some very neat things in Kiev, but the real show was here, in the middle of Ukraine, when a little girl with Down syndrome walked down a dark hallway and right into our life.

As Alina came into the room, she stepped around us and moved toward a caregiver who had walked in just after her. She seemed intimidated by Chris, or a little scared of him (there are rarely men in the orphanage), and we both wanted to give her some room. So we quietly watched her for a few minutes as we tried to soak in the significance of the meeting.

Our translator began speaking to her in Russian and Alina went right to her. She said, "Do you have a toy or a cookie to offer her?" We didn't--we weren't sure we would get to see her for more than a minute that first morning. So our translator pulled out a pen from her purse and a notepad, and asked one of Alina's caretakers to bring a toy for us to give to her. She was interested in both things, so we were able to interact with her right away. She seemed to prefer anyone speaking Russian over either of us :), which makes absolute sense.

She did discover her daddy's Blackberry--hmmm...sounds like Bridget :). You can see her holding it in many of the pictures from our first couple of visits! She LOVES phones.


We were able to spend about 15 minutes with Alina before we had to leave to visit with the orphanage doctor, who gave us the full report on Alina's medical history. We learned that she has a very strong immune system and recovers quickly from colds and such. She has a small atrial septal defect (ASD) according to her file--which is the defect Bridget had. Without going through all the aspects of her medical records, it is clear that she has been very healthy and is well cared-for.

Our translator asked the doctor about Alina's personality and nature. The doctor, who had been very nice--but business-like--got teary-eyed. "She is calm. She is not aggressive. She is not a cry baby. She is our little teddy bear...." And with that, we were all in tears. She then added, "She is so funny. When she gets her check-ups, she lifts her shirt and pats her belly." This woman has an obvious affinity for our little Alina. It was very reassuring for us to be able to visit with her and see that she has had thorough medical care while at the orphanage, and that the staff like her very much.

After the meeting with the doctor, we continued our paper chase for the documents which need to be submitted before we can receive a court date for her official adoption.

We finished shortly before evening visiting hours, so we were able to go back Monday night and spend a full two hours getting to know our new little girl.

Our evening visit was wonderful. We began to understand how able she is, and how much she understands. Alina is very sharp and very determined. She was interested in all of the toys we brought (we came prepared this time!).


We handed her the little photo book we had made with pictures of her immediate family. She didn't let it go the whole time we were there--even when she was interested in another item. She put several things down to grab another, but not that photo book. It was darling. She can turn the pages very well!

Tomorrow's post will include more details about our little girl--yes, our "little tank''--she is solid!! I am guessing she weighs 10 pounds more than Bridget and her feet are 2 sizes bigger than I had guessed. She is so incredibly cute and sweet.

A few pictures from today...We brought a little comb, and discovered that she likes to have her hair brushed...and to brush other people's hair...again, sounds like her sister, Bridget :):





More tomorrow...