Friday, November 19, 2010
Murmansk Adoption Journey
Okay, I wrote this a few years ago so bear with me. I still have to write the second half of it which I'll do later tonight or tomorrow. I had never finished this story. This is Nik & Alyona from Murmansk, Russia. Hope you enjoy their story. I'll post pictures later of them. BTW, tomorrow is their Gotcha Day!
Part 1—So the adventure begins….
So , last year at this time I was once again surfing the web. We had been home w/Bojan for almost a year when I started “looking” at photo listings. Yes, Warren says he’s going to dismantle the computer soon. Found a little girl on there but she had hold on her photo.
This was Alyona's Russian data base photo. Not the clearest thing.
I assumed she had found a family. Well, a few months later, I was looking again at the same site in March and found her again except this time, no hold by her photo. I figured what harm would it do to ask, right??? Live and learn—LOL. Called the agency and sure enough, Alyona was available again as the family that had traveled on their first trip and met her, had decided not to proceed with the adoption due to medical family circumstances at home. Okay, this was the end of March, and we literally had just days to decide b/c they were going to be raising their fees. Not by their doing but by a foundation they umbrellaed under. As long as papers were dated March 31st, we were a-okay. So, time to talk to hubby. Sent pics and said she’s the one. After MUCH discussion, we decided to proceed with the adoption. Paperwork was sent in late but graciously was backdated (shh). So, time to get things together again. We first sent off the I-600A and filled out for 2 kids. This was not because we had planned to get two from Russia but originally planned to get one from Russia and one more from Serbia. Long story and tell you all later one day. Plans change as you are well aware folks. Anyhow, we were told if we could have our dossier in by the end of May, we could travel in June to meet her. Since I'd already done so many dossiers, I figured, no problem. However, this was already May and events at school and home were kicking up. Needless to say, didn't get it done and over there in time. Actually, things happen for a reason and you'll find this out later in the story.
In the meantime, we were able to speak to the family that had originally turned her down on trip one and turns out they only live 45 minutes from us. In addition, they had a video of her, which we watched over and over and over again! Yes, we knew she had FAS but we also saw how intelligent she was to figure out the puzzles and how she was always smiling. Just a winning combination altogether.
Summer came and went and dossier and documents slowly got done. Won't bore you all w/ all the paperwork nightmares as we have all been down that road before. It is never ending. The summer spent in the pool you can just imagine your new children with you and how they'll all interact. That's when you know you made the right decision. Decisions for us to adopt have to be made extra carefully just due to the extreme special needs we have. Have to make sure that all are getting adequate attention and care.
Part II-- The BIG Decision......
If some of you recall, we had previously put on our I-600A approval for 2 kids. Not expecting to use it this time around but in Serbia a bit later. Well, some times plans change. And so the change started. It started with a call in September from the agency. They said they have a little boy that they need to find a home for ASAP. They were told they needed a family traveling to Murmansk soon and prefer a big family. The agency thought of us. Wonder why---LOL. I said send it on over. The information, that is. She sent only a picture and said medicals are to follow they have no idea what his special need is. Just told he was headed to the mental institution if he doesn't find a family in a matter of weeks. The picture she sent was so innocent and sweet looking.
Definitely NOT a typical referral picture. I was hooked and knew Warren would be too.
I didn't care what the need was at the time. The picture was worth a thousand words.
It's as if the picture said “mom, please come and get me.” I know that sounds nuts but it was in his eyes. A day later we received the medical info. They told me he was mute due to trauma. Said are you sure he's not deaf??? No, was what I was told. I was told he didn't utter a sound, just mute and that it happened when the birth mother came back to get him for six months. So, came on this board and looked up selective mutism and asked many questions. Sounded like something we could handle. So, we told the agency yes. Didn't even have to do another dossier---hooray. Now, this was in September. He was being moved from the baby home to the children's home. As soon as he arrived at the children's home, he was taken to the hospital for bronchitis, which he stayed in the hospital 3 weeks for.
Agency had us on notice saying we'd be traveling soon. Not holding my breath but okay. In the meantime, I had to adjust the 5 kids to the idea of having 2 more sibs, instead of just one. Also, had to explain the possibility of Nik not being able to speak. We bought sign language books and videos to help the kids prepare. They made us do what they always do when we are thinking of bringing home a new child or children. They make us print out multiple copies of their pictures. Hang them up all over the house, in picture frames, show them to everyone, etc. We never let them do this until we are positive they will come home. But it does help them get used to the idea. Our kids were able to let us know what they thought over dinner. Decided on assigned seats in the van and at the dinner table. They were very much a part of the whole adoption process.
In addition to all this happening and school starting back up, I posted a request on the Murmansk board. Won't tell exactly what I said but what transpired next was nothing less than a miracle. A woman contacted me w/ information on our son. Not only that, but she was his brother's mother! Following that?! Long story short, she lives in Maine now w/ his bio brother who was adopted in March of 2006. Not long ago either. This was his younger brother. What was even more invaluable was I was able to receive court proceedings of Nik's relinquishment and ALL the details of birth family and history. Nik has 5 siblings. That's right, there are 6 of them!!!! Well, Nik is obviously w/ us, Dima and Elena are also stateside. So half in US and half in Russia, all w/ different families. I knew at the time, the oldest child was living with the grandmother in Russia. His other two sibs were supposedly at the orphanage. I decided to call the agency and explain part of what I knew. Always remember folks, in adoption, ignorance is bliss! Anyhow, long story short, told yes, but they are NOT available b/c grandmother has decided to “guide” the baby throughout the orphanage. What?! Is that supposed to mean? The other child was supposedly still w/ the mother. Okay fine. Baby was 9 months old and other brother in question was 6 years old. Knowing full well we'd take them IF we knew they were available. Keep this in your head for later in the story. Gets even more interesting in court!
So, then we get the call to go.....This part, for another day.
Part III—The Call, The Chaos, & Trip One Thus Begins.....
The call comes on any other hectic chaotic day here at Chaos Manor. I have usually around 10 to 14 appointments on any one given week between doctor stuff and school stuff. So, you reorganize and delegate orders as to what has to happen. It is as though you are on a war mission and this is command central. Seriously, it has to be that thought out and intense. First order of business, airline tickets and a sitter. The two vitals that you want. You all know how the airline ticket ordeal is so I won't even bother w/ the glitches or anything else that happens w/ that. Now, the sitter is a different story. Since we really don't have family that will help out too often with the kids, we had to locate a sitter that was willing to take on 5 special needs kids. Easier said than done. Felt like that scene on Cheaper By the Dozen.....”how many kids???” I had several services try to talk me into paying for 2 nannies. I said if I can do this job than so can a PROFESSIONAL nanny! I was getting ready to call JoJo from the SuperNanny---LOL. We finally lucked out and found a wonderful young nanny who was right between jobs. I mean she was to start her new job the day after we got back. Talk about luck. She came over and spent 3 hours w/ the kids. They liked her, she liked them, we liked her and papers were signed. Main mission accomplished. Then it's time to reschedule all those appointments, make POA's, find money where there is none and pack for the trip of a life time. Remember, we had never ever had to make two trips before this for any of our other adoptions. This was uncharted territory for us. And not knowing the full extent of what was wrong w/ Nik was honestly a little scary. We knew these were our kids, just still a little nervous. I must say this, I have looked at hundreds of photos, probably about 30 medicals on children, etc. and I have always known from day one which children are ours. Amazing. I can look and say, hey, that's MY kid! Back to the story. Made the links of love for the kids, wrote notes to stick in their lunch boxes the day we left and cards for the time we were gone. Also have to make lists, phone numbers, and medicine dispensing charts. So much goes into us being gone and I never really realized until I left just how much happens at this house in any one given week.
And now.... the trip of a lifetime. Got everything ready, suitcases packed, visas in hand and off to the airport. We are ready to leave on yep, Friday, Oct. 13th. Anyone superstitious??? Get to RDU and told the flight is overbooked. Anyone want to change to a later flight. Though tempting, we weren't budging. It all worked out, which was great. Pretty decent flight and all went as expected. We landed and waited for the driver to meet us. He forgot. Said he was tied up in traffic. Got to the Novotel and settled in. Ate a great chicken fahita dinner for more than I would have paid for our whole family to go out to dinner. But enjoyed it nonetheless. Tried to sleep that night but w/ time change, it never seems to happen, does it. We got up and it was off to Murmansk. Had to wait and meet the kids the next day...Sunday. The wait kills you when you are in the same town. I just wanted to walk to the orphanage myself. But patience. Next day it is off to the MOE to be “referred” officially the children. I love playing pretend—LOL. Oh, yeh, those kids look great, how about them??? Nik was so new, they didn't even have his photo on the database. Won't even get into that one. Remember, they were ready to send him off to the mental institution. I feel personally, a lot of exceptions were made in our case.
Anyhow, on pins and needles just waiting to get to the orphanage. Stomach in knots. Been through this drill so many times before but each experience is new and exciting. Snow was still on the ground. We go up and down bumpy streets in the snow. We get up to a run down building and I knew this was it. We put on the mandatory plastic booties to cover up our shoes and get directed to the director's office. We get acquainted and then the moment to bring the children in arrives. She brought them in.
Oh, how different from the photos. Warren and I just stared at each other and didn't know what to say. What was standing in front of us was a skeleton of a child. We were afraid we'd break her if we hugged her. Literally afraid we'd break her.
Nik was plump and small but healthy looking. Alyona was sickly and had a yellowish coloring to her. She was as thin as could be. I put my thumb and middle finger around her leg and slid it up to her knee. Yep, that tiny. Beyond FAS petite. There was something drastically wrong and we knew something had to be done. She tired pretty easily. To this day, I think she had dangerous hormone levels. But nothing you can say or do at the moment. You have to just go w/ the flow and know in the back of your mind, she will be safe once home. They like how we interacted w/ the kids and didn't just sit there. We weren't afraid to do stuff w/ them, to them or even yell at them if need be. Yes, we yelled at her in front of them and they didn't mind. We do the same stuff there that we would at home. We don't put on a “show” for anyone. They knew we loved these kids but also could see we weren't going to let them get away w/ everything. We told Alyona we'd be back. She's always on edge b/c remember there was a family that promised to come back and never did. Poor kid asked to go w/ us. The next day we also got to visit and on the way were asked if we decided. We said yes. They said w/ a surprised voice...”Both of them??” And we said of course! So, signed the petition to adopt.
When we got to the orphanage and got out of the car, Nik left his group and ran as fast as he could in that snowsuit to us. Sweetest thing. Scooped him up and didn't want to let go.
I knew this day would hurt. And it was so bittersweet. Fun to play but hard to leave at the end of the day not knowing when I'd see them again.
Showed no tears b/c I couldn't have Alyona see us like that. She'd never understand. Orphanage staff said the last time someone visited and didn't come back, she went into a deep depression. I looked and her and promised we'd be back as soon as possible. She was ours and we would not let her think otherwise. She seemed okay w/ that. It was even harder to leave my baby that didn't understand. He couldn't even understand the words I love you. Sad but at least I could give him my love until I could teach him how to understand. Hope that makes sense. A final goodbye and away we'd have to go.
Next day was the airport dash. Started snowing when we left and was just gorgeous. However, I started really feeling bad. Got to Murmansk airport and really felt nausiated. But knew we needed to get home for the kids. Made it to Moscow.
Enter the Delta flight back to JFK. Felt really sick, felt like a panic attack and then I hear “she's going down!” Yep, collapsed on the plane right after they had shut the cabin doors. I had all kinds of people trying to hand me stuff. One guy handed me his zantac and another Russian guy handed me something. I was numb, hands and arms had gone paralyzed but was still semi-aware enough to yell Americanish Clinic! I knew I was headed to some hospital but was not about to go to a Russian Hospital. Well, they took me indoors to a waiting medical area behind the Delta center. Kept saying Americanish Clinic. They got the picture. They tried to give me a concoction that smelled like pure Vodka---thinking it probably was. Told me it was a sedative, yeh, right. Didn't take it. Finally, the ambulance arrived. I do have to tell you the manager of Delta was absolutely phenominal!!! He took care of everything and re-booked our tickets, took care of visas, etc. Wonderful. Back to what was called an ambulance. You have NO idea just how good we have medical care in America until you take a ride in a Russian ambulance. It is pretty much an old work van. Bumpy roads, no shocks I assume and medical workers ride up front. I was so nauseous, that I wanted to vomit. What confirmed it even more is my husband said whatever you do, don't look at the gurney (you know, the one I was laying on!). It was covered and I mean literally covered in old bodily fluids from urine, to blood to vomit. I thought I'd lose it right there. My husband was desperately searching for some type of bag for me. Asked the driver in Russian for one and they stopped the ambulance. He came back w/ what looked like a fishing tackle box and wanted to inject me w/ something. I blatantly refused and kindly asked for a bag instead. Found some old bag but fortunately was able to hold it in. Still have no idea how as DH said he almost lost it too! We played chicken w/ trolley buses and military vehicles. It took well over an hour to get to the clinic. Thank God I wasn't dying! Got to the clinic and they were absolutely the best. I mean wonderful people, well taken care of, etc. Blood work was all out of whack due to dehydration and exhaustion. I told him I drank water constantly. He said that WAS the problem. I essentially flushed all the nutrients I had in my system out. Hint for next trip....bring on the Gatorade and don't be afraid to drink soda, juice, etc. I said I can go home but they said stay here, it's cheaper than a hotel in Moscow and insurance will pay for it. That was it. And my goodness, the hospital room was like a luxury hotel w/ hospital beds. Beautiful shower, TV w/ ALL channels, and even a menu to choose from. Great food and a good nights' sleep. The next day, we were going home.
Got to the airport and all details were taken care of. Once on the plane, apparently everyone on Delta heard of my incident and greeted me w/ a huge bottle of water to keep w/ me. Offered me any food I wanted. I felt relieved and knew the kids at home were a-okay. They were well taken care of by a neighbor. They were not told why we were delayed b/c we didn't want to worry them. The flight home was non eventful. Thank goodness. Made it home safe and sound. Kids were thrilled to see us as we were them. Time to get life back in order. That and time to wait for the next call. And it would come even sooner than we thought.....
Part IV-- Preparation for a trip of a life time.....
Well, we were back in America and ready to get back to life. Had to get our annual Halloween Party organized and try to get the five kiddos at home prepped for a new sibling. Remember, a good many have several severe mental and behavioral issues. You have to do things in advance and get them used to the ideas of new things, including siblings. This is especially hard for RADishes to accept as you may well know. Alex has always been our most severely affected child w/ several issues. Approaching a new sibling would be tough. Well, at least that's what I thought. However, after speaking w/ his teacher, I realized he was not going to have much trouble. He was telling everyone at school about becoming a new big brother and how he was having to learn to tie his shoes soon so that he could teach Nik. I was thrilled. Yana had even turned herself completely around. She was failing almost everything in school, poor self-esteem, etc. Lots of problems. Well, she then was learning sign language so that she'd be able to communicate w/ Nik when he got home. She then taught her entire class some basic sign! And told them all about her new siblings coming home. Yana has since been receiving all a's and b's since her sibs came home. Amazing that the two “RADishes” seemed to be adjusting before the new ones even came home.
Besides trying to prepare all the kiddos, I was trying to arrange all the medical stuff and things of that nature. Okay, while on trip one, we obviously took lots of pictures. Sent them to the agency but their computer was down for a few days. When they finally saw the photos they called me immediately and the foundation. In addition, they called the grant committee. The pics were that different from when they first had seen her. It was horrific for us to see her as a skeleton and so sick. But when they saw the pictures and compared them to the original photos and video of her, they saw such a dramatic deterioration that they seriously thought her life was in danger. And so did we. We knew she had a heart problem and if it was indeed her heart, knew she was in trouble. Our agency even suggested we life flight her home. Yikes! Couldn't believe they thought it was that bad. Yet, after seeing her, we knew there was something drastically wrong. Just couldn't put our finger on it at the time. We arrived home from trip one on October 19th by the way. We were home a total of 6 days and got the call to return to Murmansk. The date was set to leave November 23rd...Thanksgiving Day. That was the day we were to fly out. Okay, we can get it together by then. No problem. Make all the arrangements but hold off on booking the apartment b/c our agency's foundation is notarious at changing dates. Well, while we were arranging all this, our agency was trying to intervene & tell the foundation that this is a serious case and if our daughter stays there much longer, she may not make it. Their response and I quote: “Well, she's not dead yet.” What?! The agency and us were outraged but knew we had to hold it together to get our daughter and son home. Well, apparently the bugging them worked b/c then we get a call a week later that we are now leaving on November 15th! So, reshuffle everything and then have to hunt down a nanny. Got all the little stuff down and rearranging of appointments. Alyona was to arrive home late Sat. Nov. 25th and first thing Monday morning end up at UNC Cardiology. We were told IF the heart condition is the cause of her problem, then she would be admitted on the spot. Tried to prepare ourselves for that as well. Crazy stuff.