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 @ gmail.com). 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!