Friday, December 10, 2010

A Family for Dusty

I can still vividly remember the day when Jacob chose Dusty as "his boy." We sat in front of the computer and scrolled through the Reece's Rainbow Angel Tree page at least a dozen times and each time Jacob paused when he came to Dusty's picture. This process didn't surprise me in the least bit. Jacob is very particular and very thorough. Once we had reached the bottom of the page for the twelveth time he asked me to go back up the page. As soon as I reached Dusty's picture he told me to stop and then declared, "Yep! He's the one!"

It is amazing the love a child can have for another child he has never met. Jacob took his responsibility as a prayer warrior for Dusty very seriously. Not a single day went by that he did not remember Dusty in his prayers. And if, by chance, he did forget, he would immediately, without prompting, bow his head once more and plead with his Heavenly Father on Dusty's behalf.

It is no surprise that our Savior commands us to "be like unto little children." One evening as I was rushing through our bedtime routine, tired from the events of the day, so many things still left to do, I hurried Jacob into his bed, tucked him in, kissed him goodnight and turned to leave. "What about my prayer mom?" he called after me. I turned around, bowed my head, closed my eyes and began to listen and, more importantly, learn (again) from my sweet, compassionate, Christ-like little boy.

"Dear Heavenly Father, please bless Dusty that his family will find him soon so that he won't have to be alone anymore. Please send him a mommy that will give him lots of hugs and kisses and love him like my mommy loves me."

There were tears in my eyes as he concluded that prayer. I could feel the pure love of Christ eminating from my amazing 5 year-old son and, at that moment, I was completely overwhelmed by the gift that he is!

After a year of "storming heaven" on Dusty's behalf, I was able to give Jacob the best Christmas gift I think he has ever received a few days ago when I shared with him that. . . .


How I wish I had thought to pull out my camera when I made the announcement at morning scripture study! That video would have been priceless! The joy on all of my children's faces was evident (the happy dances and the screaming were fairly clear signs as well). And what an incredible opportunity it was to share with all of our kids the evidence that our Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers and that He is mindful of each and every one of us!

This morning I shared with Jacob a special note that he had received from Dusty's Mommy:

Thank you, thank you, thank you... for praying for Dusty. I am filled with joy to know that you have been praying all year long for him. God answered your prayer! We have welcomed Dusty into our hearts and hope that soon we will have him in our arms! Thank you for raising money for his adoption! We are very grateful to you and your family. Merry Christmas!
Dusty's Momma

Needless to say, Jacob was thrilled! As soon as I was done reading he looked up at me with a HUGE smile on his face and said, "I knew Heavenly Father would send Dusty a good mama!" Gosh I love this kid!

We continued our celebration this evening as we gathered around our kitchen table, drank sparkling grape juice and worked together on Dusty's quilt!

Designing hearts for the quilt squares

Jacob drawing a special picture for Dusty

Want a sneak peak of the quilt?!?

We will continue our "Stitched Together by Love" fundraiser until the end of the month so there is still time to donate to Dusty's Angel Tree Grant. His combined grant fund (Angel Tree and General) is just over $800. Won't you please help us bring his grant to $1000 by December 31st?

If you'd like to learn more about the amazing family, hand-picked by God, that will be making Dusty a part of their family you can visit their blog here. You can also make a tax-deductible donation to the Family Sponsorship page at Reece's Rainbow to help them on their journey to bringing Dusty home!

PS- If you have donated to Dusty's grant fund directly through Reece's Rainbow by paypal or by check and would like to be included on the quilt or in our "Perfect Love" art giveaway, PLEASE contact me! I am only made aware of the donations made through the chipin on the sidebar or by contacting me personally (Reece's Rainbow cannot disclose donor information to outside parties) and I don't want to leave anyone out!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

God does not care where you were born. . .

Very rarely do I post in anger in response to a comment or question, but, over the years, I have grown very weary of one question in particular that we are frequently asked. International adoptive parents, I believe that you will all recognize this question because, chances are, you have also been confronted with it in one way or another on many ocassions. It generally sounds something like this:

"Why are you adopting internationally when there are so many children in the US in need of loving families?"

Of course, that is the nice way of phrasing it. More often than not it is asked venomously and sounds more like this:

"What? Aren't OUR children good enough for you?"

I realized early in our adoption journey that, most of the time, this question is posed by individuals who are ignorant to how adoption works, both domestically and internationally, and so I have tried not to let it get under my skin. I have recently come to the conclusion however, that accepting people's ignorance is not doing anyone any favors.

This morning I received a comment from "Anonymous" on this post asking this very question:

"It is great what you're doing for these children, but what about all the homeless, hungry and abused children in the United States? All the adoption blogs I read are from families who adopt out of America. There are kids in need here that are forgotten because they are not designer babies."

Because "Anonymous" has chosen to remain anonymous I cannot be sure of what their level of involvement in and knowledge of the adoption community might be, so I will address this question as I do with others who are ignorant of the topic.

In Fiscal Year 2009, there were approximately 424,000 children in the US Foster Care System. Of those 424, 000 children, only 115,000 of them were legally available to be adopted. 57,000 children were adopted from the US Foster Care System in 2009.

There are approximately 143,000,000 orphans internationally. According to the US Department of State, there were 12, 753 visas issued to internationally adopted orphans in 2009. In Ukraine alone (approximately the size of Texas), there are over 100,000 orphans. In 2009, only 610 were adopted by US citizens. Or consider Ethiopia. According to Unicef, in 2005 there were approximately 4,800,000 orphans in Ethiopia. In 2009, only 2,277 visas were issued to orphans adopted by US citizens from Ethiopia.

Most countries with international adoption programs DO NOT have a functioning foster care program. This means that the majority of orphans are living in state-run orphanages or on the streets. Unlike most of the children living in our US Foster Care System who have the advantage of living in a family environment, who receive an education and are entitled to all of the medical care and therapy that they need, international orphans, more often than not, do not even understand the concept of family (most have lived in orphanages their entire lives), receive little to no education and do not receive medical care or therapy for any condition requiring it.

Because my son Evan was born with a severe special need, he spent the first 3.5 years of his life lying in a crib. He received none of the necessary medical intervention and/or therapy needed to improve his condition and was slated to be transferred to a MENTAL INSTITUTION where he would have lived the rest of his life in a laying room, confined to a bed, receiving no education, no medical treatment, no therapy and never knowing the love of a family.

On the other side of the coin I have several close friends who have adopted children from the US Foster Care System. Their children have suffered abuse and neglect of the ugliest kind. They have been moved from family to family. They have known hunger, rejection and physical and emotional trauma that we could not even begin to fathom. As a result they suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) among many other things.

So please tell me "Anonymous," which of these children "deserves" to know the love of a family more?? The child laying in an orphanage overseas (possibly sedated or in their own excrement because the ratio of caregivers to children is so unbalanced) slated for a life in a mental institution because of their "designer body" or the child in the US Foster Care System who has suffered unspeakable abuse and neglect? Which one of these children do you think God loves more?


Can you tell me where in the scriptures we are commanded to care for the widows and the fatherless, but ONLY IN OUR BACKYARD? Can you show me where in the scriptures our Heavenly Father tells us that He loves only "the least of these" living in the United States??

God does not care where in the world His children are born, whether in the United States, Ethiopia or Ukraine, HE LOVES EACH ONE OF THEM! They are His children!!! And He has commanded EVERY ONE OF US to care for the "least of these," to reach out and love and serve HIS children regardless of where in the world they are.

It is so easy to point the finger of criticism at those of us who are trying to follow the counsel and command of a loving Heavenly Father to care for the widows and the fatherless, but might I ask a question of YOU "Anonymous?" It is the same question I now ask of all who, upon learning that many of our children are adopted internationally, ask of me, "What about the hungry, homeless and abused children in the US?" It is simply this:

"What are YOU doing to help the hungry, homeless and abused children in the US? What are YOU doing to help the hungry, homeless and abused children of the world?"

As you can see from the statistic posted above there are MANY children being adopted from both the US Foster Care System AND Internationally (though, as you can also see, the number of international adoptions is significantly LOWER). As you can also see, the need is still great in BOTH areas.

Adopting from the US Foster Care System can be difficult. Of all of the international adoptive families that I know (and there are many), more than half of them have tried, at one point or another, to adopt from the US Foster Care System. In the past 5 years, our family has inquired about at LEAST a dozen children available for adoption in the US, only to be told that our family was "not what they were looking for." Another friend of ours has submitted their homestudy 57 times for children in our system and has never had a child placed in their home for adoption. Why? Because their family was considered "too big" (they have 5 children). If you browse this photolisting of children available for adoption in the US, you may be surprised at how many of their profiles say things like:

"This child would do best in a home with no other children, where parents can provide the child with the attention that they need."

"This child would do best as the youngest as the youngest child."

In some cases, this truly is in the best interest of the child (for example, if a child has been known to be aggressive towards younger children, it would probably be best to place them in a home with no younger children), but nothing saddens me more than to see a child that we inquired about YEARS ago, still available for adoption, still without permanency and the love of a family, because a social worker was not willing to consider a family outside of they believe to be the "perfect fit". So, "Anonymous," you might be surprised to learn that, often, it is not families looking for "designer babies," but a system in need of some major overhauling, looking for "designer families." It is not simply that the children in the US Foster Care System are "forgotten" or unwanted, sometimes it just comes down to the fact that there are not enough families interested in adopting who the system considers a "perfect fit."

There is not a single day that goes by that I am not burdened for the "homeless, hungry or abused" children in this WORLD (the children of the United States included). The scriptures teach us that WE are the body of Christ and that ALL of us are needed in order to accomplish His plans and purposes. So, "Anonymous," rather than asking the question, "Which child is more important to our Heavenly Father?" why not ask instead, "Lord, how do You have need of me?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

And then there were 8

Today, November 29, 2010, at 1:00 pm in Bulgaria, a judge declared Alexis to be our daughter. We are now, officially, the proud parents of 8 beautiful and amazing children and Alexis is an orphan no more!

Officially introducing. . . .

Alexis Rayna Rieben

We are still working to finalize travel plans, but it looks like I will be returning to Bulgaria to bring her home the first week of January! I can't think of a better way to begin a new year! Once she is home we will FINALLY be able to move forward, full speed ahead, with Gage's adoption as well, so this day was a pivotal day in the lives of many! Once again, we are humbled and grateful for our Heavenly Father's continual outpouring of blessings! Our sweet little girl is finally coming home!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Celebrating Christ

Dear Family and Friends,

This year will mark a radical change in the way that our family celebrates Christmas.

For years we have struggled to find a balance between gift giving/receiving and celebrating the real "reason for the season," the birth and life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. While we feel that we have come closer to finding that balance each year, we still walk away feeling mediocre at best. As the Christmas season has crept steadily nearer, we have found ourselves on our knees many times, pleading with the Father for His guidance on how we can best celebrate Christ this Christmas.

As I was studying my scriptures I came upon a passage in Deuteronomy (24:19-21):

"When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow: that the Lord they God shall bless thee in all the work of thine hands.

When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow.

When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow."

As I read and reread that passage, I was overcome by the peaceful presence of the spirit. We have been blessed my friends, SO BLESSED, both temporally and spiritually. We have a roof over our heads, warm clothing, and food on our table. We have a steady soure of income, access to wonderful medical care, clean water, education, and reliable transportion. We are surrounded, daily, by loving family and friends. And most importantly, we have been blessed with the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have "harvested our sheaves, beaten our olive trees and gathered our grapes" and, because we have been so richly blessed, it is time for us to share those blessings with "the stranger, the fatherless and the widows."

This year friends, there will be no presents under our Christmas tree. There will be no Black Friday Christmas shopping, no toy catalogs, and no visits from Santa Claus, because from this year forward, our focus will be entirely upon fulfilling our Savior's "wishlist," because He has given us the greatest gift of all. . .His blood and His life in exchange for ours.

And what exactly might one find on the Savior's "wishlist?" His request is simple:

"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25.40)

Our toy catalogs have been replaced by this, this, this, this, this and this. The time we would have spent shopping will be spent caroling to the residents of several local nursing homes, baking and delivering treats to our friends and neighbors who are unable to be with their loved ones during the holidays, providing meals and crafts for the families and children at our local Ronald McDonald House, sending cards, letters and care packages to the men and women fighting for our freedom overseas and to the missionaries working so hard to "publish peace" and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our Heavenly Father's children around the world. And in the evenings as we gather together around the Christmas tree, adorned with ornament depicting the Savior's birth, we will read one of the many testimonies of the Savior that we have asked friends and family to record for us.

We may not walk away with new shoes, clothes, toys, or electronics, but we do hope to walk away with a gift more precious than all of those combined. . .a deep and abiding love for our Savior and Redeemer and those whom we serve in His name.

Our "capstone" Christmas project this year will focus on a precious little boy in Eastern Europe. Dusty is a 5 year-old little boy living in an orphanage in Eastern Europe. He was born prematurely, with Down syndrome and abandoned at birth. Last Christmas, each of our children chose a child on the annual Reece's Rainbow Angel Tree to sponsor and to pray for. Jacob chose Dusty. He has faithfully prayed for a family for Dusty every single day for the past year and his tender heart just can't comprehend why no one has come for "his boy."


As many of you may know, international adoption is expensive. While there is never a shortage of families willing to adopt, sadly, there is almost always a shortage of funds. Dusty is lucky to still be at the baby house, but institutionalization is imminent. The mortality rates at these institutions are high and it is very likely that, if transferred, Dusty would not survive childhood.

Dusty is truly "one of the least of these" and our gift to the Savior this Christmas is to raise as much money as possible for Dusty's grant fund so that finances do not stand in the way of a family being able to commit to bringing him home. This precious boy deserves to know the love of a family.

In an effort to raise money for Dusty's grant fund we will be hosting a fundraiser called "Stitched Together by Love." We will be putting together a "Heart" quilt that will be presented to Dusty's family once they have committed to bring him home (each heart pattern has been designed by my children and will be appliqued to the middle of each quilt square) . For every $5 donation, the name of the donor will be written on a heart that will be stitched to a quilt square. For every donation of $25 or more, your family's name will be stitched to the square. For donations of $35 or more you will also receive a beautiful Christmas ornament from Reece's Rainbow with Dusty's picture (when donations are made BEFORE December 15th).

In addition to having your name written on a heart, for every $5 donation your name will also be entered into a giveaway for a 16x20 matted and framed print of Del Parson's "Perfect Love" (Recognize this picture? This is the picture on the puzzle that was "Pieced Together by Love" earlier this year that now hangs in my girl's room as a testament to just how loved they are!).

To make a donation you can click on the "Stitched Together by Love" widget on the sidebar, click on Dusty's "Christmas Warrior" button (This will take you to Reece's Rainbow's Angel Tree. If you choose to do this, please make sure you specify Dusty when making a donation) or mail a check (again, be sure to specify that the donation is for Dusty) to:

Reece's Rainbow
PO Box 4024
Gaithersburg, MD 20885

All methods of donation are linked to Reece's Rainbow (including our Chipin) and are therefore tax deductible. Only donations through our "Stitched Together by Love" widget will notify us of your donation, so please be sure to let us know that you have donated if you choose to donate directly through Reece's Rainbow's website or by check. This quilt will be given to the family that commits to bring Dusty home and we want to make sure that he and his family are wrapped up in your love!

As you are considering your gifts to the Savior this Christmas, won't you please think of Dusty? Give the gift of family, love and life and help make this the last Christmas Dusty ever has to spend without a family!

The Rieben's

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NEVER a dull moment

First, let me say THANK YOU for all of the great questions that you have submitted! Richard and I have really enjoyed reading through and discussing them and we are looking forward to sharing our thoughts with you. I had planned to begin on Monday evening once Evan and I arrived in Philadelphia for surgery, but after a long day of driving and a long week ahead of us, sleep found me before my fingers could find the keyboard.

In addition to the bilateral femoral stapling (to correct the flexion contractures in his knees), Evan was also scheduled to have hardware (plates/screws) removed from a previous surgery. Shortly before surgery his doctor also decided to perform bilateral tenotomies on his feet because they were, once again, beginning to turn back in.

Evan was taken to the operating room at 11:30 am. At 4:30 pm I received a call from the doctor. All of the procedures had gone well, but there was a problem. A few minutes later he met me in the waiting room. When they had gone in to remove the hardware from the upper left femur they discovered that the bone had grown over parts of it. They worked carefully to remove it, but had to remove small portions of the bone with it as well. At this point in our conversation I already knew exactly where this was going. . .I know my son and I know his bones and I knew what was coming. Later, as they were stretching the left foot after performing the tenotomy, they heard a pop. His left femur, already weakened from the hardware removal, had snapped.

Unfortunately for Evan, that means that he is back in a hip spica cast (he spent 6 weeks in a spica earlier this year when he fell off the couch and broke his right femur). His doctor feels terrible, but I am relieved that it happened in the operating room, under anesthesia and in the skilled and capable hands of his doctor. You see, knowing my son and knowing his bones, I have a good feeling that a fracture may have been inevitable. With his left femur already weakened by hardware and bone removal, all it would take is one wrong move for his bone to snap. What if that had happened once we arrived home, 10 hours away from his doctor? So, while my heart is aching for my sweet boy, I am grateful for what is very likely a blessing in disguise.

Evan is doing well. He was under anesthesia for six hours so he has spent most of the last 18+ hours sleeping. They are managing his pain beautifully. He has yet to complain of pain and/or discomfort which is wonderful. He is scheduled for discharge on Saturday, but Evan and I are both hopeful that he may be able to get out early for "good behavior" (I never cease to be amazed by how quickly he bounces back). His doctor is hopeful that he will be able to remove the spica in four weeks.

In addition to the unexpected fracture and subsequent hip spica (which Evan lovingly refers to as the "stinky cast"), Richard's grandfather passed away yesterday morning. His funeral is scheduled for this Saturday. . .in Arizona. It is not likely that I will be home until Saturday/Sunday. Initially Richard and I felt that it would not be in Alayna and Lily's best interest for BOTH of us to be gone, but after a lot of thought, prayer and a generous offer from my mom to take care of the kids at home during the interim, we have decided that he needs to be with his family.

I think it might go without saying that there is truly never a dull moment in our lives and, while it is often exhausting (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually), I find myself deeply grateful that the refiners fire is always burning bright, molding, shaping and strengthening us into the precious gems that our Heavenly Father intends for us to be.

As always, we appreciate your prayers and want you to know that each and every one of them are felt.

Thank you all for your patience as you wait for the answers to your questions! I promise that they are coming and soon!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Adoption Month- Q&A

November is National Adoption Month. Although the primary purpose of National Adoption Month is raising awareness of children available for adoption through the US foster care system, I would like to take this opportunity to be a voice for the millions of children available for adoption throughout the WORLD (because they are ALL deserving of a loving home and family no matter where they were born).

Two years ago I attempted to "Blog for Adoption" every day in November. I failed miserably. Rather than set myself up for failure again, this year I would like to focus my time and attention on answering YOUR questions. Are you considering adoption? Do you have questions about adopting an older child or a child with special needs? What about adopting out of birth order? Want to know how our children feel about adoption or how adoption has changed our family dynamics? Or how we ended up here in the first place?

Questions do not have to be specifically "adoption-related". If you honestly want to know how many loads of laundry we do each day, what a "day-in-the-life-of-the-Rieben's" looks like or how we manage to homeschool all of our children and still maintain our sanity, ask away! While these questions may not seem to be adoption-related, you might be surprised to learn that insight into these aspects of life are often exactly what prospective adoptive families are MOST interested in. I receive at least one email each week from prospective adoptive parents wanting to know HOW we do what we do and how life might look after they take that leap of faith. It is always my prayer that, by sharing our family and the love (and joy, frustration, faith, tears, and happiness) that exists in our home, those who may be "on the fence" about adoption will see that they CAN do this, that it IS possible and that adoption can make an already beautiful and blessed family, even more beautiful and blessed!

If you aren't comfortable posting your questions on the blog, please feel free to email them to me (desisdelights @ Also, if you are worried that your questions might be too personal, but you are really just dying to know, don't bottle it up! Remember, we started our family with triplets and chances are, we've probably already been asked every "personal question" in the book. If you are unsure, just use the email address. While there are some things that we would prefer not to publish on our blog, we would be happy to share some of those details privately.

In addition to our Q&A, we will also be taking the time to advocate for many children waiting for families throughout the world and also right here in the United States and we will be launching a Christmas fundraiser for a very special little boy who is very near and dear to our hearts and has been waiting for a family for a very, very long time.

And now. . . any questions? :-)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Here we GROW again!

Just in case you weren't entirely convinced that we are NUTS! Just in case you are one of those people who still thinks we are "amazing" rather than COMPLETELY CRAZY! I think this little secret that we have been harboring just might do the trick!

You see, it appears that the Lord isn't quite done with us yet!

And we find ourselves, once again, humbled by His amazing plans for our family and the call that He has extended. . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . .to return to Eastern Europe in 2011 to grow our family once more through adoption!!

If you think you're shocked, let me assure you that, we were absolutely stunned when we received the urgent and very direct prompting to move forward, just TWO WEEKS after arriving home with the girls and with Alexis' adoption still not finalized. So shocked in fact that, I am sad to say, we initially tried to push those promptings aside, rationalizing and justifying right and left why it would be next to impossible to do this thing that our Heavenly Father had laid upon our hearts. You'd think that we would know by now that it is really no use arguing with deity! For every rationalization and justification we threw at Him, for every "We can't," He threw, wide open, the doors and said,"You can!" And then He reminded us gently, lovingly, but very directly that these children were chosen to be a part of our family long before the world was and we knew that He was right and that it was time for us to take, what will be, by far, the biggest leap of faith we have ever taken, knowing that our Heavenly Father will light our path every step of the way.

The precious little one that will be joining our family is "Gage!" Gage has held a special place in my heart since the day that he was listed on Reece's Rainbow. I have seen his sweet face almost every day for the past 2 years, but when I sat down at my computer after the girls arrived home and saw his beautiful brown eyes staring back at me it took my breath away. Tears flooded my eyes and I KNEW! I absolutely knew at that moment that he was our son and that it was finally time for him to come home.

Gage (September 2010)

Of course, knowing how difficult it is for us to do things one at a time, there is another little one, currently in the same orphanage as Gage, that we are also hoping to bring home, but because there is a possibility that Gage will be transferred to an institution prior to us traveling (he turns 5 at the end of November), the Reece's Rainbow leadership team has requested that we commit only to Gage at this time until we know for sure that the children will be in the same place at the time of travel. We feel just as strongly that this other child is meant to be with us and, as always, we look forward to seeing where this journey leads us!

So now you know! We really ARE nuts!! And we wouldn't have it any other way!


It has been almost 3 months since I last saw my little girl's face and held her in my arms and I miss her fiercely! How grateful I am for the 7 other sweet little people who have kept me busy and have made the wait a little more bearable.

Despite my lack of updates, Alexis' adoption IS progressing! After arriving home with Lily and Alayna we had to meet with our social worker to update our homestudy (to include the girls and to state that, after meeting with us, the social worker still recommended us for an additional child) so that we could file our Supplement 3 (having added members to our family) and our I800. Initially this set us back about 3 weeks, but fortunately things have progressed at a steady pace since then.

We made it through the I800 approval process without a hitch and, although several families within our agency had recently experienced difficulties with the US Embassy in Sofia issuing their Article 5 letters, we were blessed to make it through that stage of the process, no questions asked (well, they did ask one question when they discovered that Alexis would be #8. . ."Are they done?" but I'll address that question in another post!) thanks to the prayers of many mighty prayer warriors!

Our paperwork is now at the Ministry of Justice where we are waiting to receive the two signatures needed to release our paperwork to the court. Once our case is in the court system it will be registered and assigned a judge and a court date. Once we have our court date we will have a much better idea of when I will be able to return to bring Alexis home. At this point there is still a chance that we will have her home before Christmas, but until we have a court date there is no way to know for sure (okay, let's face it, until Alexis and I are walking out of the terminal at the Dayton Airport, there is no way to know for sure, but you'd better believe that I am praying for it with all of the energy of my soul!).

Please pray with us that the MOJ will release our paperwork soon and that we will be assigned an adoption-friendly judge who will issue a quick court date that is followed by a judgment in our favor! We are so anxious for the day when this beautiful, fiesty girl is ours forever!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A medical update

Those who are familiar with adoption, particularly those who have adopted children with special needs, know that the first few weeks and months home are generally filled with doctor's appointments, evaluations, tests and procedures. We have not been an exception to the rule. Our days have been filled with doctors appointments, blood work, xrays, stool samples, immunizations, brace fittings, exploratory surgeries, medications and list goes on. Fortunately all of those appointments, tests, and procedures have paid off.

For those who are unfamiliar with Alayna and Lily's special needs allow me to give a brief synopsis of what we knew prior to bringing them home. Alayna was born with multiple orthopedic special needs effecting both legs/feet as well as her spine. In Bulgaria she had been diagnosed with "Polymalformation Syndrome" and kyphoscoliosis. Lily was born with cleft lip/palate. Although both had been repaired, we discovered that she still has a hole towards the front of her palate caused by what our pediatrician believes was incomplete/improper healing. She had also been diagnosed with "Malabsorption Syndrome," (at 7.5 years old she came home weighing 28 lbs. and wearing a size 3T), though the orphanage doctors assured us that she had "grown out of it" (don't worry, we didn't believe them!).

Upon arriving home the girls were seen by our pediatrician who ordered the first round of tests and referred us to various specialists. Highest on our priority list was getting to the bottom of Lily's "malabsorption syndrome," which she had, quite obviously, not "outgrown." In addition to the height and weight discrepancies, Lily had constant loose stool/diarrhea, her abdomen was severely distended and she ate dirt like it was a dessert (this is a condition known as Pica and it is usually a sign of anemia which the orphanage doctors had told us she had struggled with in the past). I requested a referral to a Gastroenterologist (suspecting that she might be suffering from Celiac Disease) and, while we waited for the appointment we ran blood work to test for anemia.

Lily's belly was so distended she couldn't walk without waddling.

Not surprisingly, the labs came back positive. A few days later Lily had her first appointment with the GI who confirmed her diagnosis of severe iron-deficiency anemia and immediately started her on an iron supplement (to give you an idea of how severe her anemia had become, normal hemoglobin levels in children are between 11.5 and 16. Lily's hemoglobin was at 7.4 and steadily falling. Cardiac arrest generally occurs when hemoglobin levels reach 5 or below. Scary, no?). The GI (who also suspected Celiac or Inflammatory Bowel Disease) then ordered the intial tests to check for Celiac or IBD (this included more blood work and a barium swallow with small bowel follow through). Both tests came back elevated and the GI suspected that Lily might have a dual diagnosis of Celiac and Crohn's disease. The only way to know for sure was to perform a colonoscopy and endoscopy (which we now affectionately refer to as the "dual"oscopy) and biopsy both the small and large intestines. We quickly scheduled the procedures knowing that if she was suffering from Celiac disease, it was likely that her hemoglobin levels would continue to fall despite the iron supplements (since her body would be unable to absorb the iron). Again, not surprisingly, but much to our relief, the "dual"oscopies revealed that she did, in fact, have Celiac but, thankfully, not Crohns Disease (or any other IBD).

We immediately started her on a gluten-free diet. We also scheduled an appointment with the hematologist (to monitor and treat her iron-deficiency anemia) and ran more tests to pinpoint any other deficiencies that may have been caused by 7.5 years of gluten consumption. The tests for vitamin deficiencies came back showing a severe vitamin D deficiency (which confirmed our suspicions of early osteoporosis, though we are still waiting for several more tests to determine bone density and how advanced the osteoporosis is). Now, in addition to the iron supplements and gluten-free diet, she is also taking a heavy duty vitamin D supplement.

I am VERY happy to report that, after just a few weeks of following a strict gluten-free diet, my sweet little Lily has finally emerged! At a follow-up with the hematologist last week we learned that Lily's hemoglobin levels are finally at the low end of normal (11) and rising! She is no longer eating dirt. Her belly is no longer distended. She has gained 8 lbs.!! And my tired, withdrawn, sad little girl has transformed into an energetic, giggly, happy and finally healthy little girl! Her transformation is truly, truly AMAZING!! How can I even begin to thank my Heavenly Father for guiding us down the path that has led our sweet little Lily to physical redemption!?

We have yet to meet with the cleft lip/palate team at Shriner's Hospital for Children in Cincinnati, but now that Miss Lily is on the pathway to health we will be arranging those evaluations shortly. Fortunately, her palate does not seem to interfere with most activities of daily living (eating, drinking (she can't do a straw, but can drink from an open cup with no problems), etc.), but because her speech is so greatly effected, it is not something that we can put off for long (though after the barrage of GI tests and treatments she has been through for the past two months, I think she deserves a break).

In the midst of working to obtain a diagnosis for Lily, the kids and I loaded up the car and made our first trip to Philadelphia so that Alayna could be evaluated by "our" wonderful team of doctors at Shriner's Hospital for Children (the same doctors who treat Joshua and Evan). At the appointment the doctors confirmed that she is missing her right fibula completely (Type 2 fibular hemimelia). Her right foot (also missing bones) is severely clubbed. Her right leg is in flexion contracture (stuck in the bent position at 110 degrees). Her left leg is in extension (locked in the straight position; she can hyper extend, but can only bend to about 50 degrees.)She is also missing bones in her left foot and, although she was blessed to have had multiple surgeries in Bulgaria to repair the clubbing of the left foot, her ankle bones are in a "clothespin" formation and will eventually need to be repaired or she could suffer long-term damage from weight bearing. Her kyphoscoliosis was also confirmed. Her spine has a 72 degree curve (WOW!) but, thankfully the kyphosis (outward curve) isn't fixed and her spine is flexible enough that bracing may prevent her curve from progressing for the time being (though, at that significant of a curve, bracing will NOT correct the problem).

Ever wondered what 7 children packed into a tiny exam room looks like? This is it :-)

Our plan of action for Alayna is as follows: Due to the involvement of her right leg, our doctor feels that it will be in Alayna's best interest to amputate her right leg at the knee and fit her with a prosthetic. Initially I was resistant to the idea (prior to going to Philadelphia. . .at this point I know enough about this area of orthopedics that I knew as soon as I saw Alayna's leg what the options would be and, by the time we arrived in Philly, had already arrived at the same conclusion), but soon after arriving home from Bulgaria, I realized that this was going to be the best course of action for her. The other option is using an external fixator to straighten AND lengthen the right leg (because she is missing her fibula, her right leg, even once straightened, would be significantly shorter than her left). Once her leg is straightened and lengthened, her foot (which is stunted at about the size of a two year old and missing several supporting bones) would then need to be repaired. The process to complete those procedures would be lengthy (think YEARS) and external fixation carries with it a great risk of infection and subsequent complications and there is no guarantee, after all is said and done, that she would even be able to bear weight on that leg to be able to walk. Honestly, I cannot imagine putting her through all of that only to have her end up being unable to use her leg. Amputation and the use of a prosthetic would allow her to walk (and SOON!) and I can assure you, there is nothing this spirited girl wants more than to be able to be up on her feet and running with her brothers and sisters. This is the first surgery that she will undergo and will likely take place early next year.

Our next course of action for Alayna will be to manage her scoliosis. Because her curve is significant and can and will eventually effect her lungs, she will have a device known as VEPTR (titanium rib) implanted to stabilize her chest cavity and hopefully, slow the progression of her curve until she is old enough for a spinal fusion (if it is needed). This procedure involves telescoping rods that grow with the child (unlike a fusion) so that scoliosis can be treated and more effectively managed from a much earlier age. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, her spine is fairly flexible so, while we are waiting for this procedure, she will be braced in order to slow progression of the curve.

Once both of these procedures are complete and we have been able to assess how her left foot (whose ankle bones are in "clothespin" formation) handles bearing the weight of her body, she will likely have an external fixator placed in order to bring the bones into alignment to prevent permanent damage from occurring.

Whew! And now you see why it has been so long since my blog and I have sat down for a nice chat (and I haven't even gotten to the attachment/bonding, homeschooling, current adoption and secret-harboring posts)! Although it has been a VERY busy 2.5 months, what an incredible blessing it has been to watch my beautiful little girls grow and thrive!

We were blessed with an extra special treat on this trip to Philadelphia! We were finally able to meet our friend and fellow Reece's Rainbow adoptive mom, Tammy Enberg and her AMAZING Ukrainian AMCer's, Ben and Sophie! Here is Evan, Ben and Sophie at the Ronald McDonald House after a LONG day at clinic. And just in case you're wondering. . .Tammy and I have already arranged Evan and Sophie's marriage :-)

Ever tried to get 7 children to look at the camera at the same time?
Attempt #27

Attempt #62

Okay, fine! 6 children looking at the camera will just have to do!

Breaking the silence. . .

It was never my intention to abandon my blog (and those who follow) upon arriving home with my girls, but let's face it, homeschooling 7 children, managing multiple special needs, and working to finalize Alexis' adoption (among many other things) has left me with very little "screen" time and, I am sad to say, that my computer and I have become virtual strangers over the past few months.

Fortunately, now that we have settled into a comfortable routine with school and the initial barrage of medical tests, appointments and procedures is beginning to slow, it is time for the outside world and I to become reacquainted!

The girls have been with us for 2.5 months now and they have adjusted beautifully! The first few weeks were challenging (as is the case with most adoptions), but so far, we have made it through most of those challenges with flying colors. A lot has happened in the past two months. So much that, rather than provide you with the Reader's Digest version of those events in one post, I would like to give each topic the time and attention it deserves.

In the meantime, please enjoy some photographic evidence that we are, in fact, alive and well!

Our first family road trip (to Northern Virginia for my mother-in-law's wedding) as a family of 9! Here Richard is trying to convince the kids that mommy's driving is like riding a roller coaster :-)

Sisters! (For those of you wondering. . .Yes! Maren is loving almost every moment of having sisters!)

Our first week of school

Evan! Looking forward to sharing updates on Evan's progress in school! He has made HUGE strides just in the last two months! Talk about a shining star! This boy never ceases to amaze me!

Our first trip to Philadelphia! Here we are at the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey (Camden)

Loving life :-)

Alayna and Evan enjoying a hayride on a beautiful Fall day

Beautiful girls

Mommy and Alayna

My precious peanut, Lily! Just thinking about the transformation of this sweet baby brings tears to my eyes. It is amazing, AMAZING what love can do!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Home :-)

You know what I hate? Following someone from "homestudy to home" and then having them fall off the face of the earth ;-) I have probably sat down at my computer and started at least a dozen posts only to find myself in a puddle of drool on my keyboard minutes later (EW, I know! But it's the truth!). I AM EXHAUSTED!! Happily exhausted however, and now that I seem to be able to hold my eyes open past 8 pm, I feel that it is time to turn some of my attention back to the prayer warriors and cheerleaders who have helped me to get to this happily exhausted state!

The trip home went as smoothly as can be expected when you are traveling halfway across the world with two children whose worlds have been turned upside down and inside out. Honestly, they both did much better than we expected them to. Alayna proved to us once again just how adaptable she really is. Aside from asking to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes and refusing to sleep (she was so excited to finally be going to America, I think she was afraid that if she closed her eyes, she would miss it), I think it is safe to say that she was having the time of her life! Fortunately, Lily appreciated the opportunity to curl up on mommy's lap and get some sleep, allowing mommy and daddy to get a little rest as well. Unfortunately, sleep was the only thing Lily appreciated about our time in the air. When she was not sleeping, she was begging the stewardesses for juice (which, we have learned the hard way, is not kind to her system) and trying her hardest to lead me to the nearest exit :-) Take-offs were especially difficult for Lily. On top of being terrified of the loud noises, warp speeds and the sensation of lifting into the air, poor Lily was in pain! Although she has had surgery to repair her cleft palate, it did not heal properly and there is still a hole in her palate making it nearly impossible to keep her ears from popping. The look of fear, confusion and pain in her eyes still haunts me.

Officially US Citizens! Sitting in the Chicago airport watching the planes as we wait to board our final flight.

We made it home without incident and we were lovingly greeted by family at the airport (and, thanks to my step-mother, Tina, we have photo documentation)! I wish there were words to describe just how incredible it was to fall into the arms of loved ones after such a long journey! Although I know that the girls were confused, exhausted and overwhelmed, they hardly let it show. Alayna immediately began talking up a storm to anyone who would listen and Lily could not wait to finally get into the car (her absolute, favorite thing) after a long day of flying.

Our family waiting to greet us at the airport!

I honestly expected the first few days home to be somewhat chaotic, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case! This was, in large part, due to my amazing brother and sister-in-law, Ben and Lauren, who did an incredible job keeping the kids on the schedule/routine that I had worked to establish before we left (have I mentioned that they VOLUNTEERED to take two weeks out of their own busy lives (less than two months after getting married) to take care of our five, very active children, without compensation!?! We are blessed)! Because they had run such a "tight ship" we were all able to fall into a beautiful routine from the beginning and it has been WONDERFUL!

The kids are all getting along beautifully. It is as if they have always been together. In the beginning, several of the kids were a little shy due to the language barrier, but it didn't take long for all of them to realize that the language of play is universal!

The Magnificent Seven playing in the dirt in the backyard!

Lukas, Alayna, Jacob and Joshua enjoying some bounce time

Maren and Alayna helping mommy "make" chocolate chip cookies

Alayna has adjusted well from the beginning. She is an absolute wonder to me! At 8 years-old, I expected her to come home with a lot more "baggage," but, aside from the occasional waves of sadness from missing "home" and friends and a few "orphanage behaviors" (a separate post that is currently "in progress") you would never know that she spent the first 8 years of life in an orphanage! She is loving, compassionate, smart, funny and absolutely NUTS (Lukas has finally met his match for the title of "Class Clown")! She could spend hours playing in our play kitchen and/or with her baby dolls/stuffed animals (which really just blows my mind as, knowing how to play is something that a majority of post-institutionalized children must be taught how to do). I absolutely LOVE watching her hold, love, kiss, rock, sing to and tuck her baby dolls into bed! She LOVES peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches and would probably eat them for every meal if I let her and she is a girl after my own heart when it comes to chocolate! She wants to be wherever I am (which is another reason I haven't had much time to update) and I think it is safe to say that Alayna and I are firmly attached!!

Isn't she gorgeous!?

Lily is a whole new ballgame for me and I will save most of my update on her for a separate post (because there are many things I feel are important to share and I want to be sure to give those things the time and attention they need). Lily has had a much harder time adjusting and has a lot of emotional hurdles to conquer, but we have already seen HUGE progress in the week+ that we have been home. When we first arrived home Lily completely shut down emotionally and it has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and love to draw her out, but we are finally starting to see the "real" Lily! She LOVES being in the car and this is one place where she lets all of her walls down (and we get lots of smiles, laughter and even singing!). She also loves the bathtub and playing in the water (though she isn't a fan of the pool) and she could spend hours and hours digging (and she is literally covered from head to toe in dirt when she is done. . .so it's a good thing she loves the bath!). She could live off of oatmeal with homemade strawberry jam and milk, pizza (soaked in water. . .gross, I know) and. . . . .pot roast (this kid is serious anemic! I'm afraid that, if I live cow walked by, she wouldn't think twice about devouring it on the spot!). This beautiful little lady is a fighter (in every sense of the word) and, although it will take some time, I know that she will eventually blossom into the incredible person that the Lord intends for her to be and we will be here to help and love her every step of the way!


Covered in dirt from head to toe. . .Lily's favorite fashion statement!

All-in-all, this transition has been much easier than it was with the boys almost three years ago (can you believe they have been home from almost 3 years!?!) and I find myself grateful for all of the extra time we had to prepare ourselves this time around. Though there have been many "surprises" nothing has truly been unexpected and that has made dealing with those "surprises" much less overwhelming. There is still so much to tell and I hope to have the opportunity to share all of our experiences with you, especially those that will benefit all who will follow in our footsteps.

Friday, August 6, 2010

So long, farewell, DOVIZHDANE, goodbye. . .

With passports and visas in hand, in just a few hours, we will finally be on our way home. The girls medicals and visa interviews went well yesterday. Lily had a bit of a meltdown while at the polyclinic. She gave it her all for about 15 minutes and, once she realized it wasn't getting her anywhere, decided it was no longer worth the effort!

We spent our last morning in Sofia exploring the market, enjoying ice cream and taking in the sights of the city one last time. This afternoon we received the girls passports/visas and said goodbye to Toni.

Both of the girls are very excited about our trip home. So excited that Lily insisted upon wearing her shoes to bed :-)

This girl is the craziest sleeper I have ever seen! I don't think she stays in one position for more than a few minutes and could cover the entire surface of the bed in the duration of one night!

Jacob will be happy to know we have another thumb sucker in the family!

Now we are just praying that their excitement will translate into a smooth and uneventful trip home (I know. . .wishful thinking)! We leave Sofia at 6am (11pm EST/Friday) and touch down in Dayton at 6pm (Saturday). We are so excited to get home and finally have all of our "babies" together (well, almost all of them. . we are certainly carrying Alexis with us in our hearts).

We have very much enjoyed this week in Sofia with our girls. Some things that we will miss:

1. The Backstreet Boys CD that plays in the hotel restaurant every morning at breakfast :-) It always gives Richard and I a good laugh and what better way to start the day than with laughter!

2. George, the hotel concierge. We LOVE George and wish we could pack him in our suitcase and take him home with us (unfortunately we are out of room). He is the nicest guy you will ever meet and goes above and beyond to make sure we have everything we need. He is also wonderful with the girls (and I'm pretty sure Alayna wouldn't mind packing him up and taking him with us as well)!

3. Bulgarian food!! The food here is amazing and just about everything is FRESH!! My stomach and my palate are really going to miss this cuisine!

4. The History. It is always fascinating to visit a country whose history dates back THOUSANDS of years. We have enjoyed visiting many of Bulgaria's historical sites, as well as a history museum, during our stay and we are happy to be bringing that knowledge and experience home with us.

5. The people and the culture. The people of Bulgaria are wonderful! Everyone we have met here has been helpful and hospitable. One of the things we have loved most is the opportunity to be out among all of the people during our daily "excursions" in Sofia, to exchange smiles and greetings and to observe daily life in the city.

6. The language. As nice as it will be to hear people speaking English (though many do here), I will truly miss hearing Bulgarian spoken everywhere I go. I have enjoyed learning the language (and will continue to do so) and the immersion has really helped my understanding and fluency. Fortunately I have at least one more trip to look forward to and some time to practice in the meantime (Alayna and I have enjoyed teaching each other our different languages)!

6. Team Vladimirova. What we will miss most about Bulgaria is our amazing friend and attorney, Toni, and her wonderful family. Toni is one of the most inspiring and Christlike people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She works hard to have a personal relationship with EVERY family she works with and she loves these children with her whole heart. Finding homes for Bulgaria's orphaned children is her life's work and she is an amazing instrument in the Lord's hands, always, ALWAYS giving the glory to our Heavenly Father. What a gift she has been to us (and our children) and what a blessing it is to be able to say those things about our agency/attorney!

And now, as we close this chapter in our journey, I must also give all of the glory to a loving Heavenly Father who has seen us through every step in this process and who has ultimately entrusted us with the loving care and guidance of two of his most precious and beautiful daughters. We are humbled by the trust that He has placed in us to lead and guide them back home to Him and know that it is only through His continued guidance that we will be able to meet all of the challenges that come to us as a result of that responsibility.

One journey is ending, another is just beginning. . . . .we will see you on the other side!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Family Fun

We have had an enjoyable few days as a "family of four!" On Tuesday we enjoyed our routine walk in Sofia. As we walked down the street we ran into three missionaries from our church outside of the immigration office. We enjoyed talking with them and I am sure that they enjoyed being able to speak English for awhile (especially Elder Jones, who just arrived in Bulgaria a week ago).

At times it was difficult to navigate Alayna's wheelchair in a city that is not very wheelchair accessible, but eventually we made it to our destination and the girls enjoyed playing at the playground for a while. While at the park we met two other American families (both couples with two young children). One family just arrived in Sofia two weeks ago and is here working for the Embassy. The other family is in the Peace Corps and has been here for two years (we were excited to learn that this family also lived in Uzbekistan for 5 years). It was neat talking to them about their experiences living abroad with their families.

This was the first time that Alayna was with us for our walk and she really enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city. I was also pleasantly surprised by how few people stared as we walked down the street, played at the playground and ate our lunch (don't get me wrong, people definitely stared, but no more than we are used to in the US). It is extremely rare to see people in wheelchairs out and about in Bulgaria (and the few we have seen are usually begging) so it was nice to be able to take Alayna out, without being the focus of everyone's attention, and hopefully change a few perceptions in the process.

This morning we took the girls to the Sofia Zoo and a great time was had by all. Unlike the zoo's in the US, this zoo was much smaller and very low key (there were very few people there and I have a feeling this is the way it is most of the time). So, for those of you following in our footsteps, if you need a low key and inexpensive activity to do while you are here, I highly recommend the zoo.

It's almost scary how close you are to some of the animals!

Hmmm. . .I could be wrong, but I doubt this tiger would be handing out big, slobbery kisses if you got close enough to touch!

People feeding the animals is a big problem at this zoo. We saw people throwing cheese puffs, pretzels, etc. to the animals at most of the exhibits. We thought this sign was particularly amusing :-)

Alayna enjoying some ice cream at the zoo (please excuse the dress. . .we are still working on modesty)!

Lily enjoying her ice cream. This is the first "sweet" thing I have seen her eat since I've known her.

Swinging!! There are little playgrounds throughout the zoo and we stopped to play at this one on the way out. Not a very flattering picture of me, but I love the look on Lily's face. Both the girls love to swing!

We generally keep our afternoons very low key and yesterday and today were no exception. We spent both afternoons in our hotel room napping, coloring, doing puzzles, painting nails and taking baths.

Alayna and Lily enjoying some splash time

The girls are both doing well. Both have "orphanage behaviors" that we are working on (and will likely be for some time), but nothing that we are unfamiliar with or unprepared for (I will go into more detail about these things once we are home and settled because I think they are important to discuss). The days are long and we are all ready to head home, but I am grateful that we have been able to spend this time in Sofia with the girls. Obviously because it is nice to be able to focus our attention completely on them for a few days before we get home and have to divide our attention seven different ways, but also because I feel that, in a way, having the girls with us in Sofia for a week puts us all on common ground. We are all in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, speaking an unfamiliar language and it certainly makes it easier to understand even a fraction of what the girls might be feeling.

Tomorrow morning we will take the girls to their medical appointments and, in the afternoon, we have our visa interviews at the US Embassy. It will be a long day for all of us. Please keep the girls in your prayers, especially Lily as, the last time we were on "official business," she had a major meltdown and I am worried (more for her than for me. . .at this point in motherhood, I am seasoned veteran when it comes to meltdowns) that tomorrow could bring more of the same for her.