Saturday, July 31, 2010

Settling In

Today has been a much better day for Miss Lily. After a good night's sleep, Lily and I laid in bed this morning for about an hour while I ran my fingers through her hair (she LOVES this) and snuggled.

Loved walking into our hotel room this afternoon and seeing our pillows lined up!

While Richard went downstairs to get breakfast for us, I gave Lily a bubble bath. At first she was not quite sure about it, but after about a minute she sat down and started splashing and playing with the bubbles until they all disappeared.

After baths and breakfast we decided to take Lily for a walk. She was thrilled to ride in the stroller and to finally be outside. We walked down to see some of the historical sites (Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Russian Church, etc.), then grabbed some lunch at McDonalds (we generally try to avoid McDonalds and enjoy the local cuisine when we are in other countries, but, because food is an issue for Lily and we knew she would eat the fries, we decided to stick with what we knew she would eat) and then walked to a local park to enjoy our lunch. The park was alive with families enjoying the beautiful weather and there was even a group of musicians/storytellers there to entertain the children. It turned out to be a wonderful family outing.

Mommy and Lily in front of the Russian Church (it wasn't until we got back to the hotel that we realized this was the only picture we had taken! Oops!)

We kept the afternoon very low key and spent the rest of the day in our hotel room. Lily was not a big fan of that plan and just wanted to get back into the stroller and go, but eventually she accepted just sitting in front of the window in the stroller and watching the hustle and bustle from there.

Thank goodness for a room with a view!

She is definitely still mourning the loss of life as she has always known it and I know that this will be the case for quite some time. She spent a good portion of the day looking through the photo album of her friends and caretakers and went to bed tonight with the album turned to her favorite picture, tucked in beside her. Though she is obviously still hopeful that, at some point, we will get back into the car and take her back to the orphanage, she has stopped fighting and is content to be here with us and to allow us to love and comfort her. She enjoys having me close by and especially loves to have her back rubbed or for me to run my fingers through her hair, but every now and then she needs her space and we give it to her. This is an enormous change for her and very traumatic and she needs time to process and grieve.

Sitting in the stroller with the bag she packed (with her bear, photo album, clothes and shoes) in front of the window.

Like most children her age, she wants what she wants when she wants it and there has definitely been some testing of boundaries, especially where food is concerned. If she had it her way, she would eat french fries and juice for every meal. Due to the current condition of her palate (it has been "repaired" but there is still a fairly significant crevice as well as a small hole) her diet is limited to mostly soft foods like yogurt, soup, banana's, bread, etc. Though she often puts up a fight when presented with these foods, she is quickly learning that, if she wants to eat, she will have to eat what she is given (and, thanks to her caregivers, we know exactly what her diet normally consists of and this is what we offer).

She has also had some trouble with the potty. She is potty trained but she has always used a "pot" rather than a regular toilet and, at this point, she has refused to sit on the toilet. She has had an upset stomach (diarrhea) since we left the orphanage and, after going through several pairs of underwear within the first few hours of arriving in Sofia, we decided to put her in pull ups for the time being. With her upset stomach and the trauma of leaving everything familiar behind, this is simply a battle that we feel will be better fought at home once she has had some time to adjust.

Again, I am very grateful that we are able to spend the weekend focusing on Lily and helping her to process through this traumatic time before bringing Alayna into the mix. It is absolutely what she needed and I have little doubt that the timing of things was absolutely orchestrated by a loving Heavenly Father who already knew just what she would need.

We thank you all for your prayers and support. We know that they are heard and we feel the effects of each and every one of them. What a blessing it has been to know that there are so many people praying for us and for our sweet little girl.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Allow me to be frank. . . .

Today was an emotionally exhausting day for everyone. As much as I would like to report that Alexis walked back to her group with an understanding smile on her face and Lily walked out of that orphanage never to look back, that is just not how things went down today. Let's face it, adoption is rarely all sunshine and roses. Fortunately, we understood that when we signed up!

We were able to visit with Alexis for about an hour this morning. I knew from the moment that she walked into the room that this visit would be different. While she normally runs down the hall yelling our names and burst into the room and into our arms, today she simply walked into the room, stopped and stared at us. She absolutely knew what would be happening today and she was not at all happy about it. For the most part, she kept her distance from us today and throughout the visit she would ask us again and again why we were taking Lily and when we would be taking her. We were able to catch a small glimpse of the vibrant, feisty girl who has stolen our hearts when we gave her the teddy bear we made for her (it says "I love you" in Bulgarian and English). She LOVED it and sat and pushed the button over and over again while repeating the words.

Alexis with her bear

Mommy, Alexis and bear preparing to say a temporary goodbye

At the end of our visit Toni, the psychologist and the doctor all explained to her again that we would be leaving but that we would be back for her soon. We then gave her huge hugs and kisses and said goodbye. Oh, how it broke my heart to watch her walk away.

Once Alexis had returned to her group it was time for Lily to say goodbye. Her clothes had been changed, documents has been signed and gifts had been given. The psychologist walked her out to the car, kissed her cheeks and handed her off to me. We waved goodbye, climbed into the car and watched the orphanage fade into the distance. Lily was a little scared at first, but as she drank in everything around her, she relaxed and soon she was laughing and playing with her daddy.


Lily finally got to ride in a car. . . .she LOVED it!

We stopped at McDonalds on the way back to Sofia and learned that she REALLY enjoys fries. It was actually a relief to see her eat because, in the 10 days that I have spent with her, I have never seen her take a bite of anything that was offered.

Yummy french fries

We arrived in Sofia around 3:o0 and checked into our hotel. As soon as we were in our room and Lily realized we would be staying she began to panic. She ran to the window and then to the door and she opened it to leave. When we explained to her that we would be staying here she began what would be a 3-hour melt down complete with kicking, screaming, and crying. For three hours, one of us always had to be by the door so that she couldn't get out. For three hours she raged and grieved. She even packed her bags to leave (filled a grocery bag with her clothes, shoes, photo album and bear) and tried to drag our bags to the door as well. Fortunately, she allowed us to try to comfort and love her as she experienced the first waves of grief and loss that are often felt in adoption. We comforted and loved, but we also allowed her space.

When she was finally done, she crawled up into the bed with me, lay down and asked me to cover her with the blanket I had brought for her. She was absolutely exhausted, emotionally and physically. As she settled in she began to do what adoptive parents know as the "orphanage rock" (a self-soothing, full-body rock). I placed my hand gently on her arm, gave her her teddy bear and she stopped. I can't wait to get her home so that I can rock her every day and teach her that she no longer needs to rely only upon herself for comfort. Right before she drifted off to sleep she looked up at me and I smiled at her. She smiled back at me and then reached down and pushed the button on her bear and I heard my own voice say "I love you" in Bulgarian and English. It was just what I needed at the end of a very long day.

I am VERY glad that we will have a few days to focus our undivided attention on Lily before we pick up Alayna on Monday. This transition is going to be difficult for her and the grief and loss that she is feeling runs very deep.

Right now she is sleeping peacefully in our bed, just a few feet away. It is so surreal to finally have her with us after such a long journey. She is an incredible little lady and we are very blessed to have her as our daughter. As you can see, the "end" of this journey is really only the beginning. All of our girls have a long road ahead of them, but we are so very grateful to be able to bring them into our home, take them into our arms and show them the unconditional love of a family and of their Father in Heaven.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A roller coaster of emotions

Today was our last full day of visits with Alexis and tomorrow we will have to say a temporary goodbye to a beautiful little girl who has completely stolen our hearts. My heart is breaking just thinking about leaving Alexis behind.

Of course, it will also be an incredibly joyful day because Lily will finally be free to walk through the front doors of her orphanage and her new life will begin. I am so excited I can hardly wait!

The roller coaster of emotions continues.

The girls are blessed to be in a wonderful orphanage (as wonderful as an orphanage can be of course). The children here are well-fed, well-dressed, and very well loved. They receive therapy (physical, occupational and speech) on a regular basis and even celebrate birthdays and holidays (complete with gifts and goodies). The psychologist at this orphanage is a gift! She works primarily with the older children in the orphanage,but she also takes the time to hold the babies and provide needed stimulation for them which helps facilitate healthy attachments and development. The benefits of this kind of care are VERY evident in our girls. She has done an amazing job preparing Lily for the dramatic change that is about to occur in her life and, although I am sure the transition will not be without its difficulties, Lily is ready and excited to begin the next chapter of her life! Not only has the psychologist done a wonderful job preparing Lily for the transition, she has also anticipated future needs and has put together an amazing photo album full of pictures of friends and caregivers for Lily to take with her. This is a priceless gift!

While tomorrow will be an exciting and wonderful day for Lily, it is sure to be a difficult day for Alexis. Not only will she have to say goodbye to mommy and daddy, but also to her best friend. Although we have explained many times that we will return for her soon, I am sure that, to her, it will still feel as though she is being left behind. I will admit, although I have known since the day we committed to her that we would not be able to bring her home on this trip, after spending a week with our girls together, it feels very unnatural to be leaving one of them behind. They are "sisters", a packaged deal, two peas in a pod and, while my heart rejoices that Lily is finally coming home, it is aching for the daughter we will leave behind. It is a blessing however, to know that I will be leaving her in the loving hands of the psychologists (and caretakers) who have already promised to remind her daily that we will return for her and to prepare her for the new life that awaits her.

Showing Alexis how to use the camera

The results of those photography lessons :-)

Tomorrow morning we will visit with Alexis for the last time. At the conclusion of our visit, we will kiss our feisty girl goodbye, sign the necessary paperwork, change Lily's clothes, and walk out of the doors of the orphanage with Lily in tow. It will be a big day for all of us.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words. . .

From the first time I met Lily, all she has ever wanted to do is walk through the front doors of her orphanage, get in the car and leave this life behind. She loves to stand in the window and watch the cars come and go and she is constantly asking when she will get to "go in the car."

This morning she stood in the window again, watching the world around her from "behind bars", and it struck me that, in just a few short days she will finally be free of those bars. Free to run, free to play, free to fully experience all of God's amazing creations and free to finally get in that car and go. . ..home. Freedom is near my sweet girl and I cannot wait for you to taste it!

We had another wonderful day with Lily and Alexis and I cannot help but feel blessed and privileged by the opportunity that I have to be their mommy. When they bring the girls to us for our visits I can hear Alexis coming from a mile away! "Mamo? Mamo! Kuhde? (Mommy where are you?)" and when she sees us she breaks into a run and jumps into our arms for hugs and kisses. Her favorite phrases are "I want this/that" and "Give me this/that." We are working on our pleases and thank yous ;-) She LOVES my iPod which is filled with Bulgarian children's songs. It puts a smile on everyone's faces to watch her sing and dance along.

When she is not using the iPod to listen to music, it becomes a phone. I receive at least a dozen phone calls a day from my little Bulgarian beauty!

"Alo Mamo!"

I continue to be amazed by how much Lily has changed since my first visit. The transformation is truly incredible and, if she has blossomed this much just since my first visit, I cannot wait to see how she grows and changes once she is outside of these orphanage walls. It has also been wonderful to watch the bond between Richard and Lily grow as they get to know each other. They shared some tender moments with each other during our morning visit and I'm afraid that Richard is well on his way to being wrapped around her finger!

Lily and Daddy sharing some snuggles and laughs!

It was a gorgeous day in Stara Zagora so Richard and I took some time to walk around the city this afternoon between visits with the girls. We enjoyed people watching at one of the parks at the city's center- parents playing with their young children, old men playing chess and couples, young and old, enjoying the beautiful day. Tomorrow we will go to the History Museum and learn a little more about the city of Stara Zagora and, because two of our children were born here, we hope that we will be able to pass on some of the things we learn to all of our children, but to Lily and Alexis in particular.

Richard, Flat Stanislav and I continue to eat well. On the menu tonight:

Mish-Mash (eggs, onions, peppers and Bulgarian cheese)

Chicken skewers with bacon (SO yummy!)

Melba (ice cream with fruit and a berry glaze)

Ayran (a drink made of plain Bulgarian yogurt, water and salt. . .sound gross? Don't knock it til you try it!!!)

Monday, July 26, 2010

"She said Konnichiwha"

I already love the relationship that Richard and Alexis have developed. They both love to tease each other and, even though they don't speak the same language, they always seem to know what they other is trying to say. This video puts a smile on my face every time I watch it! Enjoy!

Introducing. . . .

Alexis Rayna Rieben

It has been an incredible, incredible day and that doesn't even begin to describe the joy and gratitude we feel! We started the day by officially meeting Ladybug #3, to be known from this time forth as Alexis. I had the opportunity to meet her earlier this year while visiting with Lily, but didn't get to spend much one-on-one time with her then. Let me just say, this girl is NUTS and we absolutely adore her. Our Heavenly Father could not have picked a more perfect child for our family! She is so full of personality and she kept us laughing all day long. She and her daddy had an especially good time together today and I think that they are going to be two peas in a pod! She is loving, outgoing and bossy (watch out Maren) and she is SO excited to have a mommy and daddy. We heard the words "Mamo" and "Tate" (tah-te) (mommy and daddy) no less than 500 times today. I can only imagine how good it must have felt to finally be able to have a mommy and daddy to call her own! How grateful I am that we followed the promptings that there was a third child waiting for us because there is no doubt in my mind that this amazing little person was meant to be a part of our family.

Mamo and Alexis

LOVE this picture of Richard and Alexis! She is a daddy's girls already!

She loves to laugh and be silly! And did I mention that she is BOSSY!?

Our morning visit was just with Alexis. We wanted to be able to give her our undivided attention so that she could get to know us and feel safe and comfortable with us. We also wanted to be able to explain to her that we were Lily's mommy and daddy as well and that Lily would be coming home with us this time and that we would be back for her soon. She took the news well and we were relieved.

The afternoon visit was spent with Lily and Alexis together. Oh, how I have missed my beautiful Lily! It was so good to see her again and to be able to introduce her to her daddy. She has grown and changed SO much since I saw her last. When we arrived this morning, the orphanage psychologist told us that Lily was so excited that her mommy had finally returned to bring her home. I was excited to hear that she remembered me! The head doctor also told us that, after I visited, Lily had really come out of her shell and that she had made significant progress in her development.

When she came into the room this afternoon and we saw each other for the first time in 5 months, her face lit up and she walked right to me for hugs and kisses! It felt so good to hold her and kiss her again.


We had such a good time visiting with the girls together and watching them interact. They have been together for a very long time and you can tell that they love each other very much. They are also already very much like sisters and I am so glad that they will have the opportunity to continue to grow up together. I have a feeling that the coming separation will be difficult for Alexis.

Lily and Alexis together

Bonding with my girls! Lily is my hairstylist and Alexis is making me talk on the "phone" (my iPod) while she sings along with some Bulgarian Children's songs.

We could not have asked for a more amazing day and we are looking forward to spending the rest of the week with this wonderful duo! The thought of leaving Alexis behind on Friday is already breaking my heart, but I know that it won't be long before we are blessed to see her smile and hear her laughter every day!

Just to put in perspective how much Lily has changed since my last visit, prior to today I had exactly one picture of her smiling (that was 5 days worth of pictures). Now I have MANY (in just 2 hours of visiting). That smile rarely left her face and it really made my heart soar to see her so happy and to know the reason why!

We are SO blessed!

In other news, we continue to enjoy the Bulgarian cuisine. Here is Flat Stanislav enjoying some find dining at the hotel restaurant:

Grilled Pork Ears (believe it or not, they were actually quite good)

The "Big Meatball." Pork stuffed with cheese, pickles and. . more pork (ham).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

We have arrived!

We made it! Although the flights were long and we are exhausted, we arrived with all of our baggage, and without incident.

Flying high with Flat Stanislav

Richard and Flat Stanislav waiting to board the plane in Dayton

Toni and her brother Marty met us at the airport and dropped us off at the hotel where we showered and napped. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Sofia enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city.

How I have missed Bulgaria and how excited I am to be able to share this experience with my husband this time around! Tomorrow morning we will have the opportunity to attend a small branch of our church. We are really looking forward to spending time with the wonderful church members/missionaries here in Sofia.

Tomorrow afternoon we will leave for Stara Zagora and on Monday we will begin our visits with Ladybug #3 and get to see sweet Lily (though, she will remain at the orphanage until Friday at her director's requesst). I cannot wait to see my girls again (and introduce them to their daddy)!

Thank you all for your prayers of safety and success! They are all felt and greatly appreciated.

Stay tuned my friends. . . .the best is yet to come!

Richard enjoying some Chicken Kavarma at the hotel restaurant. This is one of my favorite Bulgarian dishes! Have I mentioned how much I LOVE the food!?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

And we're off. . .

In just over 12 hours, we will leave for the airport. As the song goes, "all our bags are packed, we're ready to go!"
Two backpacks, a duffle, a Ukrainian "carpet bag" filled with orphanage donations, and a stroller for Alayna. For those of you adopting older children unable to walk, this umbrella stroller is AWESOME! It is The First Years Ignite and it can hold up to 50 lbs. and is very sturdy (50 lb. Lukas helped us test it out), but lightweight and folds up nicely for travel. We won't be able to bring Alayna's wheelchair home with us, so this stroller will be priceless, especially as we navigate the airports!

Although this week has been busy and, at times, chaotic, we managed to finish all that needed to be done this afternoon and we were able to spend the evening relaxing and enjoying our last night as a family of seven!

In addition to the packing, I also managed to finish one of the quilts I have been working on for the girl's room. It is now resting nicely on Alayna's bed just waiting to be snuggled with. One down, three to go :-)
The front of Alayna's quilt

The back of the quilt, done in super soft, pink polka dot, snuggle flannel. There is lots of good snuggle time to be had under this quilt!

Once again, Flat Stanislav will accompany us on our trip and will help us document this exciting journey for those that will be left behind.

I can't believe we are finally at this point in our journey. In just a few days I will see my sweet Lily and Ladybug #3. In just over a week I will hold my precious Alayna. And, in just over two weeks, the four of us will step off of an airplane in Dayton, Ohio and be greeted by an eager sister and brothers and we will officially be united as a family of nine! I am so grateful to my loving Heavenly Father for bringing us to this point, for leading us to our girls and for safely guiding them home.

In just a little over 12 hours, this journey that we have been on for almost 18 months will truly begin. . . . .

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Motherhood: An Eternal Partnership with God

It has been an exhausting and emotional week of preparation. Preparation for our trip, but more importantly, preparation for transitioning two more children into our family. Having been through this process before, I know that we will have to hit the ground running once we return home. Hit the ground running with two little girls who will, no doubt, be experiencing some level of grief and trauma from having their lives turned upside down (regardless of whether that change is positive) and five other children who have been without their mommy and daddy for two weeks. Doctors appointments, visits from the social worker, paperwork and another round of fingerprints (for the adoption of Ladybug #3) already occupy the first week home. In anticipation of the chaos that is sure to ensue upon our arrival home, I am working hard to ensure that our newest little ones will arrive home to a peaceful, loving and organized home where the focus, despite our crazy schedule can be on helping them transition, bond, attach and feel safe with, their new family.

In all of this preparation, a friend of mine shared the following video with me and I was reminded once again of the privilege that is mine to work in partnership with my Heavenly Father every day in this sacred calling of motherhood:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I LOVE Surprises!

This afternoon I sat down at my computer, opened my email and found this waiting for me:

My beautiful Bulgarian princess, Alayna, soaking up some sun and daydreaming of mama (okay, I doubt it, but a mama can dream right!?)! My friend Amanda and her husband Tim are currently in Bulgaria meeting their two Bulgarian sweethearts. Their daughter-to-be, Gloria, is in the same orphanage as Alayna and they were kind enough to snap this picture for me and send it my way! What a gift! Needless to say, I have been staring at it all afternoon. I dream of the day when I can finally have this little lady in my arms forever and see her sweet face every single day! After such a long journey, that thought seems so surreal, but in just a little over two weeks, that dream will finally be a reality! I can't wait!