Meeting Our Daughter

Today we had our second visit with Janna.  The first visit was hard, not on us, but certainly on her.  They wheeled her out three different times.  Initially they tried to bring her out while we were still discussing her medical records with the doctor.  I smiled at her for a minute and our facilitator asked for her to be taken back until we were finished talking.  (Which I was grateful for because she was obviously overwhelmed by the new environment and all the strange voices!)

The next time she came out the nanny sat down on the couch next to her and said her name to try and comfort her.  She sat there holding her hand and listening for her voice and was much calmer, though her coping behaviors were still evident.  I said her name a few times and she ignored me at first, but about the third time she turned her face in a shy sort of way and giggled.  It was our first “connecting moment” and it was so sweet.

We talked to her nanny for several minutes and so someone wheeled her back down the hallway again.  Again, I was happy for that as she was not doing well while her nanny was distracted.  She needed constant reassurance or she would resort to her loud vocalizing, rocking and appearing quite distressed.   Poor sweetie.

After we finished all our conversations Jake and the kids came upstairs and they brought her out one more time to meet the whole family.  The nanny stayed by her and held her hand, talking to her the whole time, but she was already overstimulated at this point.  She could not focus on any one person and that seemed to agitate her, and she was very nervous.  We didn’t stay long.

We both felt immediately connected to her, and after meeting Janna there was no real doubt in our minds that we would bring her home, but we slept on it just to be sure.  This morning we called our facilitator with our decision and after our visit this afternoon we went to the notary office and signed the paperwork needed to begin the court process in her region.

Today’s visit went so much better.  I wasn’t expecting to see any progress after yesterday’s short meeting, but the nanny carried her out and handed her right to me.  That sort of contact kind of demanded progress!  She melted into my arms and held on super tight.  I never wanted to let go.  It was such a beautiful moment, and one I had been waiting for so long.

Evie and Stephen said hello to their new sister and then Daddy took them downstairs so she could relax a little more.  There was much less rocking and vocalizing.  Sometimes when she rocked I would start bouncing or rocking for her, which she just absolutely loved.  The best way to calm her down when she would start crying out or becoming distressed was to sing.  Singing totally relaxes her and she soaks it in.

She also loved, loved, loved skin-to-skin contact.  That was the one thing she was constantly seeking during our visit.  She loved holding hands and touching my face and hair, and when she wasn’t doing that her hand was always resting right on my chest, sometimes even under my shirt, so she could have that skin-to-skin.

That was totally fine with this Mama!  I know how important it is for babies especially to have that, and she has never had it.  I am so glad that she is seeking it out, because that sort of touch will do wonders for her not only in bonding with us but in her healing process as a whole.

I was also told she understands speech.  I called her “My sunshine” in Russian.  I also told her I was her mama and that I loved her.  When I first told her “I am your mama” she got a huge smile on her face.  I really would love to believe that she completely understood what I was saying.  And she did relax for me a little more after that.  The cynic in me thinks she was just glad to hear me speaking a familiar language… but I really hope she knows her Mama is here now.

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There is so much to say, I can’t possibly get it all down in one post!  She is such a spunky, fun girl.  She has a big personality, and it shows even now.  When I was trying to switch her from one arm to the other she tensed all of her muscles half way through (it’s a bit of a process at this point with her being so stiff) and wouldn’t let me keep going!  I stopped and looked at her and said her name in a mind-your-mother tone of voice to which she just laughed!  It was so funny!  And she LOVES Evie and Stephen; we brought them in for a few minutes while I was passing Janna off to Jake for his turn.  She is so interested in them and reaches out for them all the time.

Stephen is still pretty reserved around her, he holds her hand and just kind of stares.  But Evangeline wants to play and chat and she bounces around.  Janna is obviously wanting to follow her and is very interested, but I can tell she also gets overwhelmed quickly by all the activity.

We had about an hour with her today, which was just about the perfect amount of time.  We will try to lengthen our daily visit as she gets more comfortable with all the attention.  I would love to do two visits a day, but the orphanage is far away so driving there is pretty expensive and I think we’ll be able to do the bonding we need to do before Gotcha Day with just one.  Ok I will stop rambling now.  I was just so excited to share her with everyone!  She is such a priceless treasure!!

Eto Maiya Mama

Today we said good-bye to Juri for the next week or two as we prepare to travel back to the capital to get Janna’s referral.  Our train leaves tonight, hopefully I will sleep this time.  Today has just been difficult for me.  Two words: attachment and bonding.  Last week when we got here it was so wonderful just to see this child we have been dreaming of for the last year, to hear his voice, his laugh, to be the reason for his smile.  I have been using pregnancy metaphors so, I suppose, to continue that I will liken it to those initial few contractions that you are so giddy about.

On the very first visit he started calling us “mama” and “papa”.  “Eto maiya Mama” (This is my Mama), is a phrase I have gotten used to hearing these last few days.  Even his group appears to understand, as when I walk up they all run back to him excitedly exclaiming in Russian “Juri, your Mama is here!”  And I’ll be honest, I have enjoyed it, but today it seems at best bittersweet.

You see, no one ever told Juri that we are his Mama and Papa.  His nannies said that he had visitors, but that is all.  We gave him presents and treats and lots of attention.  And for him, that is what a “mama” is, it’s a lady who sits on a bench with you for an hour every day and gives you snacks and toys.  He is always overjoyed to see me, but what child wouldn’t be overjoyed to see the nice lady who always says nice things, gives him extra snacks and plays with only him every day?

Juri has had some serious amounts of fun this week that he usually is never privileged to have.  But he hasn’t had a family experience.  He hasn’t really been a part of our family or been introduced to what it means to live in a family environment.  He’s had extra food and extra toys and extra love, but to him that is all that we are.

I am his Mama, in my heart, and hopefully soon legally, practically, and forever in every way.  But my son has many “mamas” in his life, and he has no real idea what that word is supposed to mean.  His first mama left him, the woman he calls “mama” now is a paid nanny who works at the orphanage and “his mama” is the nice lady who plays with just him and no one else.

It’s so difficult to explain all the emotions, and part of it is that I know we are leaving him for a while.  I wrote a sweet paragraph that I asked the nanny to read to him before I left.  In it I told him we would be gone for one or two weeks.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but there was no reaction at all.  It was as if it didn’t even bother him that we weren’t coming again tomorrow.

I don’t know if he was just not listening or if it honestly didn’t matter to him.  But the truth is, even with all the wonderful days we’ve had, there’s no way to know if he’s bonding yet.  Attachment is much more difficult than that for a child who has seen every adult in his life as totally interchangeable.

IMG_0353Reality is beginning to set in after the very joyous rush of meeting our son for the first time, and it’s a hard reality for me to face.  It was almost easier to love this boy that I had never met than it is to now love a boy who I have met and who does not know to love me back.  I’m sure it will come with time, but there are no expectations of him, and even if he never really loves me I will always be his Mama.

Adoption is a beautifully redemptive work.  But that word “redemptive” is key, it means that something first had to be lost.  Adoption is a joy that always comes from loss.  Today I am feeling a very tiny part of the loss that Juri has carried his whole life, and it is painful, but a burden I pray that I can learn to rejoice in helping him carry in the days and weeks and years to come.

I Take it Back

Everything I said about Juri after our first visit was totally wrong.  When we first met Juri, I thought he was very delayed, more than just the typical orphanage delays.  This boy could not count or remember any numbers without assistance, he could talk a little, he didn’t know how to play properly with toys, he couldn’t drink from a water bottle, he could not balance himself well and certainly couldn’t stand without substantial support.  Mentally and emotionally he seemed to be two or three years old, and we know that the lack of therapy had caused his CP to flare uncontrolled for some time.

We were expecting an essentially cognitively typical six year old boy with some weak legs.  What we found instead was a semi-responsive child whose entire body was affected by his CP and who appeared to be much younger cognitively than was his biological age.

Of course, we were not disappointed in him, but in the circumstances we knew had led to his deterioration.  We loved Juri and knew he would always come home with us – no matter the condition we found him in.  We were undeterred, but overwhelmed nonetheless.  We accepted his referral and we have come back each day to visit him.

Today was my fifth visit with our Juri.  And today I take it all back, everything I said on day one.  This boy is not the same child they handed me last Friday.  That boy was merely a shell, a glimpse of the child that once was and the child that can be again.  Juri is sweet and tenderhearted, he has a sense of humor and a brave soul.  He is persistent and independent.  He has ambitions and dreams.  But even more than that…

This kid is smart!  He is so smart.  And he is capable.  After just a few days of counting with me, he can now count to five almost completely on his own.  This child they told me had a poor memory and could not learn to count.  He can talk, oh can he talk!  When he is engaged and focused his speech sounds very typical of every other little Russian-speaking boy I have seen on our trip.  He plays wonderfully!  There is a learning curve, but he’s getting there.  He did drink from the bottle today, refusing to use the straw. He was going to teach himself how to do it!

Juri can walk with minimum assistance.  I hold his hands and he goes.  He can stand for long periods of time holding on to a table and he can sit totally unassisted.  When we first came his legs were so tightly scissored together that it made many of these things probably more difficult.  But after a few visits they are looser than they were and I even was able to carry him on my hip with one leg in front and one in back!  I was ecstatic, and he seemed more comfortable that way too!

Mind you, I am no therapist.  I have very little knowledge of CP.  All I am doing is caring for him a bit and inspiring, encouraging, loving him to do and to be all that I know he is.  Juri does not have a mental delay.  Not at all!  I just don’t believe it.  A speech delay perhaps, but that is common for his condition and speaks nothing of his intelligence.

After just five days of love and attention he is breaking out of his shell.  The child who would pretend to not hear me when I told him affectionate things or praised him now smiles when I compliment him or love on him and has even repeated the phrases once or twice.  I am not fooled.  His road to healing will be an incredibly long journey and we’re only just getting started.  But friends, what a great start!

So I take it back.  I take everything back that I thought and said after day one.  He isn’t incredibly delayed.  His physical situation is worse than it was, but already getting so much better!  Bringing him into our family is going to look very much like we thought it would.  He is the little boy I was expecting, and oh my goodness SO MUCH MORE!  I cannot wait to see his story unfold, may God continue to write it just as masterfully as He is now.  How very blessed am I to have a front row seat.

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