Category Archives: Adoption

Seven Days to a Miracle

August 11, 2015
I am reading a trashy romance novel and wondering why my husband chose to stay in St. Louis with his family for another day. I know he was too tired to drive the five and a half hours back home, but I hate being alone in the house, and our dog isn’t helping by barking hysterically at every little noise.

The phone rings, and the caller ID reads “Out of Area.” This normally means it’s a telemarketer – but at 11:30 at night?

newbornA very soft voice says, “Stefanie?”

I say, “Yes.”

The voice says, “It is Dave*.”

My heart starts pounding 1,000 miles an hour. “She had the baby,” he says. I don’t say anything; I try but I can’t.

“I guess that you are a mom,” he says. I manage an, “Oh my God!”

I ask how Mary* is and tell him that he sounds tired. He admits that it has been a strange experience. I tell him he has been brave. (Why did I say that?) He snorts. Then he says, “Don’t you want to know? It is a boy. He was born at 11:07.”

“Tonight?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “He’s either 7 pounds, 6 ounces or 7 pounds, 4 ounces.” He apologizes because he can’t remember.

I realize now that I am crying. I try to not cry on the phone with Dave. I do not want him to be uncomfortable. “Will you call us again?” I blurt out. “Just tell us how she is doing, how he is doing. You can call collect, anything.”

“Sure,” he says. I tell him that we respect their decision for us to not be at the hospital, but we just want to know how they are doing. He says “OK” and “goodbye” and we hang up.

I call Brian at his parents’ house. I wake up his mom. She must have heard something in my voice, because I hear her anxiously say, “Get up! Get up! It is Stefanie!”

“She had the baby,” I say.

“What?” Brian asks. “I can’t understand you. Why are you crying?”

“She had the baby,” I scream. “Mary had the baby.”

“Wow!” he says. “I love you. I love you so much. I will come home really early tomorrow.” Then he hangs up!

The phone rings. It’s Brian. “I am never going to be able to sleep now!” he says. He tells me he loves me and says he will be here soon.

Anticipation

I try to read. I try to gather my thoughts. It is impossible. I call my mom. She is stunned and just keeps saying, “Wow! We are so happy for you.” Then she says that she will pray for us for the next 72 hours.

I get off the phone with her and remember that I am supposed to call our adoption agency when Dave phones us. Does this mean tomorrow? Does it mean tonight? I call.

I can’t describe what I am feeling. Am I scared? A little. I am definitely anxious. I know that this could be our son. I know they have every right to parent this miracle, but I can’t help being excited. Is this it? Is our baby here? What does he look like? Is he doing OK? How can I be so worried about someone that I have never seen? Heard? Held?

They say adoptive parents in this stage should be cautiously optimistic. I am trying really hard to be cautious, but the reality is that my heart will break if something happens. We will go on and try again, but I can’t not wish and wonder!

This is not our baby, yet. He is Mary and Dave’s baby, and maybe they will give us the most incredible gift anyone could ever give us: the ability to raise their child as our own. I do not dismiss the magnitude of their decision. I can’t possibly understand what they are going through right now. We just have to wait and see if it is our time.

August 18, 2015
On Monday, Brian and I visit what just could be our little boy. Mary and Dave have left the hospital and have signed a form stating that we can see, hold and care for their baby.

At the hospital, we wait for the social worker to call and OK our seeing the baby. They are making sure that Mary and Dave have not changed their minds. It’s a long 30 minutes, but a nurse pulls the bassinet up to the window.

newborn2

I don’t burst into tears the first time I see him. I am just in awe. This little being fascinates me. He doesn’t look like a newborn. He doesn’t have the puffy face and squinty eyes. I just stare, and Brian is speechless. I think he is close to tears. After 15 minutes, the nurse pulls the baby into the station and tells us that we can touch him in the bassinet until the social worker calls.

Once the call comes, we are given a room. We are told how to care for him, and then we are left alone.

We stay for five hours. The entire time, one of us is holding him, and the other is taking pictures or excitedly talking on the phone.

We finally leave and decide to get a hotel room where we can get our final full night of rest. We order pizza, and I am asleep by the time it arrives. Brian wakes me, and we eat in silence. Finally, he says, “I can’t believe that we are parents.”

I agree. I try to go back to sleep, but I can’t.

The next day, we go back to the hospital. We sign the papers and go home. It is anti-climactic. Shouldn’t a band play and a thousand white doves be released?

Homecoming

At home, we sit him on the couch and stare at him for hours. He sleeps the entire time. We call our parents, and then the phone calls start flooding in.

The night goes well. He wakes about every two hours and drinks about 2 ounces each time.

He is beautiful. I can’t believe how perfect he is! I spend hours just staring at him and admiring what amiracle he is. I cannot get enough of him.

 

So You Want to Adopt? A Beginner’s Guide

Making the decision to adopt is hard enough. Figuring out what to do next can be a bit overwhelming. How should you begin the process?

Common Myths

adopt1Several myths surrounding adoption need to be dispelled. A common one is that you’ll walk into an agency and get a child a short time later. “Adoption is a long, complicated process where the parents have to jump through a lot of hoops that take time and energy,” says Erin Brown Conroy of Portage, Mich., a child expert, author and parent of seven adopted children. “The whole process can be overwhelming, but if you keep your mind on the goal that child in your arms and take one step at a time, then the process doesn’t seem so daunting.”

Another myth is that you should adopt a newborn so you can raise the child properly, says Dr. Stanley Grogg, a pediatrician who teaches at Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and who has helped prepare hundreds of families for the adoption process. “There are many things that you would know about an older child that you couldn’t know about a newborn,” Dr. Grogg says. Certain genetic disorders and the outcome of the effects of prenatal drug or alcohol use may be obvious in an older child while unknowable in a newborn.

Dr. Grogg says that many people think internationally adopted children arrive with several problems. While it is true that early interactions with a child have a lifelong effect, once the child has a consultation and therapy, the long-term complications can be minimal. Not only do internationally adopted children not have major problems, but neither do children in foster care. “Children in foster care are frequently from parents who do not want to care for the child for various reasons,” says Dr. Grogg.

Common Concerns

Now that several myths have been cleared up, you probably have some concerns, like the cost, which varies.

Usually newborns and internationally adopted children are the most expensive, says Dr. Grogg. Prices may range from $5,000 to $30,000. “On the other hand, foster children adopted through state or local social services can be done without significant cost,” he says. “If a family works through a private agency, the costs are likely to be higher.” Children with special needs can have grants or gifts attached to their adoptions to help place the child, adds Conroy.

If you’re worried about the biological parents taking your child away, this should put your mind at ease: Once the adoption is finalized, the court terminates the rights of the birth parents.

adopt2And how long will you wait for the adoption to be finalized? The length of the wait depends on the kind of adoption. According to Dr. Grogg, adopting foster care children usually takes four to 12 months. Newborns can take from one to 12 years. International adoption usually can be completed within two years.

First Steps

To actually begin the adoption process, search for an agency in your area. Agencies “usually hold ‘free’ informational meetings on the type of adoption placements they offer,” says Maxine Chalker, founder and executive director of Adoptions From the Heart, based in suburban Philadelphia. She suggests going to one or many of these to compare information and find the agency that meets your needs.Some things to consider, courtesy of Adoptions From the Heart, are:

  • How long has the agency been in business?
  • How many children does the agency place a year, and what are the ages of the children?
  • What are the qualifications and experience of the agency staff?
  • How and when are fees collected?
  • What are matching fees?
  • What are the agency’s requirements?
  • What are the agency’s policies?
  • Are international placements done by the agency or referred to another?

Remember to take your time and do your homework. “Don’t just go with anybody,” says Conroy. “You’re entering into a close relationship with lots of personal contact, time and resources spent over many months and even years, with follow-up visits required by [some] staes or countries.”

Once you decide what agency to use, that agency will tell you what the next step is. At Chalker’s agency, they utilize applications, interviews, study groups, home visits and educational courses and meetings. If they’re doing an international adoption, there are additional paperwork and procedures to complete. They then wait for a referral from that country and usually complete their adoption overseas.

If choosing an agency isn’t a big enough decision, you have to decide what kind of adoption you prefer. In addition to domestic versus international, newborn versus older child or foster care child, there’s adoption of more than one child from a family, transracial, special needs and open versus closed.

adopt3“Many people make snap judgments about what type of adoption they want to pursue based on what they have ‘heard’ from others,” says Connie Haessler, director of adoption at The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh. “Many times, [these are] the nightmare stories from the media or from well-intended, but not so well-informed, friends or family members. People need to make their own decisions based on information they learn from adoption professionals.”

To help with your decision, Conroy, who’s in the process of adopting an eighth child, suggests asking the following questions:

  • What kind of child do I want to parent or do I feel capable of parenting?
  • How much money do we have to spend?
  • How long do I want to wait for a child?
  • Do I want contact with a birth mother or birth family?

 

Embassy Day Update

We just got back from the US consulate and we are very happy to announce that we are finally coming home!  It’s hard to believe that we are 48 hours (plus the 11 hour time change) away from the end of this entire process!  We now have all of the documents necessary for Anika to become at US citizen — all she has to do is land in the United States.

The whole consulate process was actually interesting.  It turns out that the US consulate is on the 17th floor of a seventeen story office building that is otherwise non-descript (that is, it looks like all of the other high-rise buildings here in Almaty).  Security to get into the building is just as draconian as it is for getting on a flight.  Maybe a little more.  You can only bring one small container of liquid (e.g., a sippy cup), and you can’t bring in any recording devices, cell phones, etc.  We couldn’t bring in any bags whatsoever.  You go through a magnetometer, and have to check in with your passport.  You’re escorted by armed guard everywhere – to the elevator, from the elevator, down the hall.  The door to the waiting room was like a bank vault door, with two guards at the entrance.  All business is conducted through bulletproof glass windows and microphones, all under the pictures of the smirking Bush, the scowling Cheney, and the sinisterly squinting Condi Rice.  Truth be told, I’d rather see another picture of Nazurbaev.  But I digress.

Apparently all of the adoption interviews are conducted at the same time, so when we arrived, we saw about 6 other babies and their newly adoptive parents.  I chatted briefly with a woman had just adopted a little girl from Kyrgyzistan but had to come to Almaty because we don’t have a consulate in that country.

The whole thing took under an hour.  We filled in a one-page adoption survey where we were asked a number of “customer satisfaction” type questions, such as what agency we used, who our Almaty coordinator was, how much the process cost, how much travel cost, how much other expenses cost, did we have complaints or problems along the way, etc.  Then we went to a window and paid our fee for the visa, and waited to be called for our interview.

The interview was very brief – and more of an informational session than anything.  We were told that all of our paperwork was in order and that there weren’t any problems.  We signed a handful of documents: the I-600 petition, a certificate saying that we’d vaccinate her on our arrival home, and her visa application.  We were given Anika’s Kazakhstani passport with her US immigrant visa, her new Kazakhstani birth certificate, and a number of the original documents from her file.  We were also given a large brown sealed envelope that is to be hand-carried to the immigration office at her point of entry to the US.  We were congratulated by the consular officer and then sent on our way!

We made a stop at the KLM office on our way home and managed to change our flight to Friday morning, meaning that we’ll be back home by Friday evening!  Anika is clearly delighted, as we are.

Tomorrow we’ll get wrapped up – some last minute shopping, packing, and early to bed.  More soon!

Embassy Day!

Things continue to go well here in Almaty.  We are anxiously awaiting our interview at the US Consulate this afternoon.  According to our Almaty coordinator, Oleg, everything is OK with the paperwork, meaning that if all goes well, we’ll have our walking papers before too long.  I have decided that if there is enough time to make it to the KLM office this afternoon, I’m actually going to see if it is possible to get onto the Thursday morning flight.  Despite the fact that this would mean rushing to get packed up and off to bed in time to wake up at 4:00 am (not a problem for Anika) tomorrow, it would be entirely worth it to get out of this hotel room and into our home.

Truth be told, for what this is, we’re actually very lucky.  The hotel has a restaurant in the basement and the room service isn’t half bad (although you only get an English speaking person on the line about half the time).  The location is also good: close to restaurants and stores.  Plus we have two queen-sized beds, a bathtub (not Anika’s favorite, yet), and a crib with enough room to be able to walk around.  However, as I mentioned before, the tiny fridge, no microwave or teapot, only sporadic internet access (one-time, one hour connection for 700TT), and the fact that Anika still requires 3 naps/day means that we’re stuck in the room for most of the day.  We’ve been working hard to figure out her routine and her cues.  We’ve definitely learned when she’s hungry, and that we had seriously underestimated how much food she could hold for the first couple of days.  Now we know that she needs a substantial breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and a substantial dinner in order to be happy.  We definitely her good mood emerge once her belly is full.

Sleep-wise, we’ve managed to get her to sleep through the night, with occasional late-night arousals.  Last night we got her to sleep around 7:00 and she stayed mostly asleep until about 6am.  Then, to my surprise, she hung out in bed with us for about 45 minutes more before wanting to eat.  I don’t think that’s so bad given that it’s only our 4th day with her.  Figuring out the nap times when we have different things to do during the day is bit more of a challenge.  For example, as I write this, we’re probably going to have to pack her up and leave in about an hour, but despite an hour’s walk around town and some quiet play, she’s standing in her crib pretending to be Galileo as launches every pacifier and toy over the side of the crib while happily babbling away at us.  We’re hoping that she’ll sleep now so that she doesn’t lose it completely when we are traveling to and from the consulate (not that it isn’t entirely entertaining to listen to, and watch her, do all of these things).  As I said, it would be worth it to get home as soon as possible, just so that we can begin to recover from the jet lag and get her on schedule.

She definitely seems to be re-attached to us.  From the way that she’ll sit and stare out our faces as we hold her in the carrier, to the way that she stands at the crib and smiles back at us, and especially the way that she’ll crawl into our arms while we’re playing with her, it seems that she’s truly happy around us.  This doesn’t mean that I think that she’s completely recovered from the separation from the orphanage and her regular caretakers, but I’m a lot less worried about her being comfortable with, and bonded to us as her parents.  As promised, I finally had my hands free enough to get some good pictures of her in all of her glory.

If we don’t leave until Friday, then I’ll go and visit the Almaty Postgraduate Medical Institute tomorrow.  Yesterday I had a fascinating (and unexpectedly long) visit at the Scientific Center of Pediatrics and Children’s Surgery.  The trip was arranged by Dr. Azhar Nugamanova who works for the ZdravPlus project, which is a medical assistance project organized through USAID.  The hospital was outside of Almaty in what looked like a poorer residential district.  I was picked up by a USAID driver and the trip took about 45 minutes.  On arrival, I was greeted by Dr. Alzhan Salpynova, who is one of the hospital’s pediatric gastroenterologists.  She had fairly good command of English, and served as my translator and guide for the trip.  After dropping off my bag and coat in the physician workroom (a very small office with 4 desks and a couple of computers), I was told that the head of the hematology department was busy and was offered a tour of the hospital.  Much to my surprise, the hospital was less modern than I expected, but not surprisingly, I was told that it was “undergoing renovation”, which is what I’ve been told about every other hospital that I’ve visited here.  I was shown a number of wards, including the hematology ward.  In Kazakhstan, the hematologists treat malignancies of the blood and bone marrow (leukemia) as well as non-malignant conditions (aplastic anemia, ITP, hemoglobinopathies, etc.).  This is different than in the US where oncologists treat leukemia.  The ward I was shown was pretty big, and very crowded.  Between the two hematology wards, they had the capability of holding about 40-50 patients – the entire hospital has about 250 beds.  Most of the rooms on the hematology ward were doubles or triples, with beds for the parents along with beds for the children.  There were a small number of laminar-flow isolation rooms.  Interestingly, there was a community dining area, as opposed to the in-room dining that is standard in the US.  I was also shown their activity room which was well-equipped and very crowded.  Outside in the hall I came across a group of boys who were playing with a miniature pool table.  Theirs was the one and only picture that I took (with the boys’ permission) during my time at the hospital since I ended up being busy talking to so many people.

miniature_pool

This hospital is one of two pediatric hematology centers in Kazakhstan that is equipped to treat children with leukemia.  As such, children from all over the country, as well as from nearby countries, will come and stay for the duration of their therapy, which can sometimes be many months time.  This facility sees about 80 new diagnoses of leukemia per year, and about 600 new patients per year (all blood disorders combined).  The government covers the cost of both the hospitalization, the medications, and the transportation.  Parents (usually the patient’s mothers) stay in the hospital with their children.  Kids with leukemia who complete their induction therapy and go on to receive outpatient treatment  can be cared for by pediatric hematologists in the larger towns and cities in their home region (oblast).  I asked about the numbers of pediatric hematologists/oncologists in the smaller cities and towns, and was told that while there weren’t enough, there was some available in the larger regions.  With regard to solid tumor patients, I was told that children with solid tumors are cared for at a different hospital in Almaty.

Kids with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) here are treated according to the German BFM protocol.  When I enquired about survival rates, they told me that their 5 year survival rates were about 70-75%.  For acute myeloid leukemia (AML), their survival rates are only about 50%, but this rate is higher than I expected given the more intense chemotherapy required, and the fact that AML patients are at much higher risk for relapse.  Right now there is no capability for either autologous or allogeneic stem cell transplantation, but I was told they hope to have this capability in the next year or two.  From what I understood, doctors here will often travel to other countries to learn these techniques – for transplant, they will probably go to Israel to learn.

I was subsequently taken to the radiology department where I was introduced to their “CT doctor” and shown the CT scanner (Toshiba).  I was told that in the new hospital building that’s being constructed, they’ll have a new CT scanner (Philips) with a digital imaging system instead of their current film-based system.  They also told me that when this new building opened in 2009, they would also have an MRI machine as well.  From radiology we next went to the neonatal ICU where, pleasantly, conditions were much better than in Kostanai.  There were a number of brand new isolettes and ventilators, and I was told that this hospital had the ability to support premature infants as small as 600 grams.  Surprisingly, I was told that in the near future, Kazakhstan will adhere to WHO guidelines and attempt to resuscitate and save premature infants as young as 22 weeks gestation.  While I didn’t have a chance to see them, the hospital also has wards for gastroenterology, trauma (including burns), general surgery, and two “reanimation” units (ICUs).  Alzhan, my guide, took me to meet her mentor, Dr. Mashkeev, clearly one of the senior doctors in the hospital.  Both doctors are very interested in celiac disease and are looking for any international collaborators to assist with their research and the care of their patients.  They peppered me with questions about celiac disease, which is about as far from pediatric brain tumors as you can go, and as such I felt bad that I had little to tell them about what was available in the US in terms of diagnosis.

Before long, it was time for me to give my talk.  For reasons that remain unclear to me, of the topics that I offered to speak on (based on the previous tumor boards and talks that I’ve given over the past few years), they asked to hear about Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), an uncommon disease that is only somewhat like cancer (it’s an interesting disease where a certain type of immune cell proliferates in bone or skin).  I had a chance to describe the current treatment protocol that we use for treating this disease, and despite the fact that this hospital sees only 3-5 cases per year, they seemed very interested based on the half-hour long question and answer session that followed the talk.  From what I gathered, one of the bigger problems here is the limited laboratory capabilities.  While they have CT and ultrasound imaging, doing cytogenetics and immunohistochemistry is a problem due to lack of access to specialized reagents.  Hopefully, when I get back to the US, I’ll be able to dig around and see if there’s any assistance to be offered by companies that make some of the antibodies used for diagnosing this disease in tissue sections.

After the talk, I had a long visit with Dr. Kulyan Omarovna, who is the director of pediatric hematology.  We spoke at length about the treatment modalities available here, the types of diseases they see, and the directions they want to go in the future.  Then, to my surprise, she ended up presenting me data from three very challenging clinical leukemia cases, seeing my opinion.  One of the patients – a 15 year-old girl from the southern region of Kazakhstan who has been impossible to diagnose over the past month of her hospitalization – sounded to me like like she needed a bone marrow biopsy to make a definitive diagnosis.  You can imagine, then, how shocked I was when Dr. Omarovna asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing the biopsy on the patient myself.  She even went so far as to bring me the needles and the anesthesiologist!  Having been previously told that it was not possible for me to see/treat patients here (not that I would’ve minded doing it), I demurred as best I could, and was ultimately saved by the anesthesiologist who told me that since the patient had already eaten, it wouldn’t be possible to anesthetize her until much later.  I sincerely wish that I had better command of Russian, because there clearly is a great deal of need her for additional expertise and assistance with some of the more difficult cases.  Nevertheless, I told detailed notes on all of the cases and told Dr. Omarovna that I would contact the leukemia experts at my program and see if they had any advice to offer, and then relay that information to her by e-mail.

By the time I got out of there, it was nearly 2:30pm and I still had a long car ride back.  By the time I got to the hotel, I’d been gone for 6 hours, meaning that Julie had been single-handedly taking care of everything for that entire time.  When I got to the room, I could tell that she needed some relief.  She must’ve really had her hands full, because I learned later that after ordering room service she inadvertently gave the waiter a 2000TT tip (about $16) instead of a 200TT tip (about $1.50) for her 1000TT lunch.

For the afternoon, we packed Anika into the carrier and took her for a walk, and then fed her and took the post-meal good mood as an opportunity for us to head down to the restaurant for an early dinner.  It’s amazing how quickly we’ve gone from the dinner-reservations-for-8pm couple to the alone-in-the-restaurant-at-6:00pm family in 4 days.  Nonetheless, Anika was in a great mood during dinner, and we both managed to eat a proper meal and have a much-needed drink.  We were happy to eat in the bar area but were moved by the hostess to the main dining room because the bar area because the bar area could be a little cold and was “not good for baby”.  At dinner, we realized that Anika was beginning to understand the concept of gravity as she began to purposefully launch her toys onto the floor with obvious delight.  Afterwards we decided to try the bottle/book/bath/bed routine, leaving out the bottle and the book for now.  She wasn’t particularly thrilled about the bath, but she tolerated it, and once she was fed, washed and changed, she was feeling good and we enjoyed her playfulness and managed to get her to sleep in short order.

The next installment will hopefully be stories of packing our suitcases, or even better, will come from Schiphol Airport as we begin to make our way home.

Officially Official!

We were very pleased today to receive word from Zhanat that she has in hand, a fully stamped, certified, and absolutely finalized copy of our court decree. The mandatory 15-day appeal period is now over, and Anika is officially ours. While we were both confident that everything would go smoothly, it was wonderful to see this in writing (or electrons, I suppose, to be more specific). Tomorrow, Zhanat will begin working in earnest on getting Anika her new birth certificate, and then a passport and visa.

From what we understand, everything is still on track for us to leave next Friday. I never imagined that I’d be so happy to return to any place that wasn’t home. Believe it or not, I was so homesick for something Russian that I ended up wandering down to the Russian Village, down in Washington Square. It was an absolute joy to once again browse the aisles of a Russian grocery. I ended up buying a 2-liter bottle of квас (pronounced “kvass”), some breaded and fried headless fish snack, some ikra for Julie, some Russian chocolate, and some good Russian rye bread. I also managed to find карбонат (carbonat: Russian smoked pork), which made me very happy. Plus, hearing Russian spoken again made me feel a lot closer to Kazakhstan than I have in a couple of weeks.

We received our new visas in the mail, and are starting once again to gather up the things that we’re going to pack. We have a bunch of extra baby clothes that we’ll send back to the Delphin Baby House, along with a big stack of medical supplies. This time, we also need to bring clothes for Anika for the week, along with baby supplies.

Provided that nothing exciting happens over the next week, I will be taking a break from the blog until Friday, November 30th, when I’ll start on the last chapter of this adventure in earnest. Until then, I’ll refer you to a wonderful story by Eric Weiner, who writes for Slate Magazine, which details his 2005 trip to Kazakhstan to adopt a little girl.

Day 27: We Are Tired

We are tired.  Very, very, tired.

Julie and I are ready to wrap things up and be settled at home with Anika.  Julie has completed her 1500-piece puzzle and that’s a clear sign that it’s time to get out of here.  We’ve also crossed off just about every box on the calendar.

Anika was so tired today that within 10 minutes of putting her in the carrier and walking outside she was fast asleep … and snoring.  Every picture that we have of her today shows her as completely unconscious.  Despite that, they’re all still very cute.

We’ll have a full update Thursday night (Thursday morning stateside).

Vodka: An Emotional Epidural

About six months ago, Julie and I went to the annual meeting of the Adoption Coalition of New England (ACONE).  We were fairly early in the process, and to suddenly be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of couples involved in international adoption was a surreal experience.  We attended a number of seminars and perused the different “vendors” (mostly adoption agencies).  In a far-off corner we came across a table with a bunch of T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “pregnant on paper”.  Apparently this is how people in the adoption world refer to themselves during the waiting period once your paperwork is in process.
Well, if the pre-travel/paperwork phase is the equivalent of being pregnant on paper, then being here in-country is definitely being in labor.  Last I checked, there are no anesthesiologist-recommended emotional epidurals (or so Julie tells me).  However, we’ve recently found that  an occasional Kazakhstani vodka (for Julie) and/or Moldovan Grand Muscat (for Sam) is a pretty good substitute.

We’re (halfway) kidding here.  Today is day 21 following our first official visit with Anika, and day 29 since we left home.  We were hoping for some word on things before today’s Republic Day holiday, but we’re still on hold.  Right now it looks like Sunday will be the earliest that we’ll get some word on our legal proceedings.  We, of course, don’t know what that word is, but at least it will be something.  The worst case scenario that we’re imagining is that there will be a delay until our court date, and we will have to weigh the cost of returning home against the cost of staying here and waiting.  No matter what, we are still very confident that in the end, we will return home with Anika (at some point).

jigsaw-puzzle

We opted to stay in today – the weather was really gloomy and wet.  Julie found a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle that will either be a good way for her to pass time, or the thing that precipitates a small stroke.  She swears that pieces are missing as part of some bizarre Southern Siberian torture methodology being perfected here.  The Delphin House dog (which we had previously thought to be male), has herself found two new ways to pass the time here.  We only wish that she and her new friends had gotten a room.  Fortunately, we were able to shield Anika from this object lesson in the birds and the bees and hid out in the downstairs lounge.  She seems to be restless and bored with the same surroundings, and truth be told, so are we.  Clearly, what would be best for her would be a change in venue, and we look forward to providing this for her in the coming months.

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We’re starting to develop some patterns, or at least we’re beginning to learn hers.  She clearly wants to be held more during our visits, and there are some things that Julie does that are absolutely fascinating for me to watch.  To see how she settles down as Julie sings to her, or how she looks out the window as Julie makes up stories about what’s going on outside, and how from time to time she’ll stare into Julie’s eyes is nothing short of beautiful.  I seem to play the role of clown and chief acrobat, best able to raise a smile or get a laugh by throwing her into the air, or rolling her up in my arms and tickling her neck with my nose.  For the first time today we saw her fuss when we took something out of her hands: it was the end of our visit and as we were packing up, Anika had a firm grip on a packet of tissues that she had been happily gnawing on.  When we took it from her to put into the backpack, she began to fuss.  It’s the first time that we’ve seen her do that, and I doubt it’ll be the last.  It’s not the cutest developmental milestone, but we’ll take it.  Today was also the first time that she really fussed when we left – we had sat her down in the crib and waved goodbye, and I swear that she understood that we were leaving and started to cry.  Fortunately, we were able to distract her with a toy long enough to sneak out.  It’s nice to think that she likes us enough to care if we’re not there, but it also makes my heart heavy to think about the possible impact on her when we’re gone for a number of weeks during the “appeal period”.

It was chicken night again tonight, and as usual, Julie did a fine job.  We saved a bunch of scraps for the DBH dog, who is clearly going to need them (and probably a cigarette or two) after her rendezvous today.  We’ll probably start a movie tonight – after all, somebody once said that television is the opiate of the masses, and for labor, opiates are likely to be a good thing.

[Authors note: Julie wants me to let you know that she didn’t write this, and approved only after much eye-rolling.  She also wants to tell Kyle that she will do everything possible to make her appointment to get her roots touched up.]

Four Weeks Away From Home

Today it has officially been FOUR full weeks since Sam and I departed from Boston.  As I am sure those of you who have been here before are aware, the excitement of being in a different country is starting to wear off.  There are a lot of things about simply “being at home” we miss.  This makes our 90 minutes a day with Anika even more important for us.  It is the one thing that enables us to remain focused on why we are here. dsc-0245-3-tm

One week ago we completed the 14-day bonding period that is required by law here in Kazakhstan.  Last Friday (October 19th), our coordinator filed our papers – our request to adopt Anika – and by that afternoon we were randomly assigned a judge to preside over our case.  This assignment process is now done by computer a change that was instituted just three days before we filed our adoption request.  From our understanding, the judge has three days to review the case and assign a “pre-court” date where we are to appear to hear when our “official” court date is.  Today is Thursday and the only information we have received so far within the last week is that the judge has not been available and our coordinator is to arrive on this coming Sunday (8 days after he was assigned to our case)  with all of our documents to meet with him.  We also learned that the judge we have been randomly assigned has not presided over an international adoption case before.  Sam and I are unsure of how we should look at this, but both of us cannot help but feel absolutely frightened by this information.  We have been here for almost four weeks and have heard first-hand from a few other adoptive parents about some of the roadblocks that have been encountered with the legal system here.  Our hopes are that these recent obstacles do not forecast a long, drawn-out process ahead.  We are putting whatever confidence we have into our coordinator and adoption agency to get us through this process as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Each day we wake up and try to focus on Anika along with gathering the patience we need to understand that the adoption is going to take longer than predicted.

We know that our family members, friends, and colleagues have gone above and beyond to enable Sam and I to undertake this process.  From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you and hope that you can understand that we are doing whatever we can to complete this.  While we did as much as we thought we could to prepare logistically and emotionally for this process in Kazakhstan,we are encountering aspects of the process that we were never aware of before arriving.

On a less stressful note:

We arrived home after our daily visit with Anika and headed to the GROS supermarket to stock up on the basics.  Last week we kept a running tally of how many 5 liter bottles of water we go through and it turned out to be 8 bottles in one week.  Now, that water does not include the smaller bottles of water we use for drinking.  This is just the water we use for: coffee, tea, brushing teeth, cooking, rinsing vegetables, and washing fruit.  Sam was busy perusing the aisles for “new” snacks so I went over to get the boring items: toilet paper and tissues.  I pulled a pack of toilet paper off of the shelf and was trying to decide what type of tissues I wanted when a woman struck up a conversation with me in Russian about the toilet paper I had in my hand.  I just smiled and nodded and she started pointing to another brand.  I again, smiled and tried to act as if I was considering the information she was offering.  As if to make it seem like I understood her, I suddenly found myself returning the package of toilet paper I had to the shelf and reaching for the one she was pointing to.  She exclaimed “nyet-nyet” and motioned to me to keep the package I had.  I thanked her and scurried off as quickly as I could.  I really wish I would have spent more time in actual conversational Russian than just reading it from a book!  My brain just doesn’t have the capacity to process Russian when it is spoken that casually.  Sam and I have taken to watching the local news each night on television to see if we can understand any of it.  We can usually grasp one or two words pretty quickly and then with pictures thrown in, almost know what is going on around here!

To take our minds off of our frustration we decided to go out for dinner tonight at the Baron Munchausen restaurant.  Besides the fact that the name refers to an axis-2 disorder, it was actually one of the better restaurants we have been to so far.  To our surprise, the wine selection on the menu offered more than the usual Moldovan and Georgian fare.  I have given the Moldovan wines several opportunities, but have not gotten past the fact that they taste just like a glass of liquid grape Jolly Ranchers.

When we arrived at the restaurant, it was completely empty.  In Russian, we indicated that we would like to have dinner.  There was this beautiful moment in time – about 5 seconds – where the hostess assumed we were actually locals.  That was completely ruined when she answered us in Russian and my eyes widened and I just said…”ummmmm, excuse me?”  She immediately rummaged through the stack of menus and pulled out the “anGLIYski” menu.  Oh well, it was nice to think we blended in for those few seconds.

We loved looking at the menu.  Most of the items appeared to be as literal as a translation as possible.  My favorite item was a salad called “the food that comes from the most honest person on earth”.  I was tempted to order it just for good karma.  The first page was devoted entirely to explaining why the service at the restaurant takes longer than an English-speaking diner would expect.  This is the third restaurant we have been to that has made this notation somewhere on the menu.  Obviously, the slower than expected service was an issue that was addressed enough times to warrant an explanation on the menu!  It is a bit unfortunate that, in America, our mealtimes are reduced to fractions of time that sometimes require us to just stand or continue driving the car while we eat.  Sam and I have enjoyed the fact that when we go out to dinner here, we pretty much anticipate spending a few hours at the restaurant.

The food was great!  I had a salad of cucumbers, cabbage, celery, walnuts, olive oil, dill, and garlic followed by a roasted salmon filet with lemon and vegetables (the first green beans I’ve seen).  Sam  had a salad composed of smoked salmon, cheese, olive oil, tomatoes, and cucumber followed by mushroom soup, then bacon wrapped chicken livers, and finally a beef dish with mushrooms and potatoes.  I am really hoping that there is some special anti-oxidant property to cucumbers because I think I have eaten at least one a day here!

So far, this experience in Kazakhstan has touched on every emotional aspect of ourselves.  While our experience has unfortunately encountered this very frustrating standstill along the way, we are doing what we can to remain focused on the most important aspect of this – Anika!  I know that Sam had indicated in a previous posting that we were going to go to every other day postings to prevent ourselves from rambling on and on about nothing.  We will save you from knowing just how bored we can get at times.  However, it means more than you realize to know that our friends and family are thinking of us!  Even if it is just to say “hi” we appreciate any e-mail you send!

Oh, we’re also upset that we couldn’t watch the Sox whomp Colorado 13-1 last night.  Oh, the sacrifices that we make on behalf of our children (she’s worth it, though)!

Day 17

Just a quick note today.  Julie has a terrible cold today and I’m suffering from a terrible case of cabin fever.  I’ve gone through 36 hour-long episodes of The Wire out of sheer desperation and now talk like I’m from West Baltimore as a result.  It’s time to put away the videos and get back to books.  I finished “Inside Russian Medicine” and am now working my way through Naguib Mahfouz’s book Palace Walk.  Julie finished The Apprentice by Jaques Papain and is now into The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

We had a nice quiet visit with Anika today.  It was my turn to feed, and because Julie wasn’t 100%, I had a chance to spend more time with her today trying to keep her occupied.

We’re a both little more anxious today because tomorrow Zhanat will meet with the judge that has been assigned to our case and hopefully get a sense of how things will go.  One of the more difficult things that we’re dealing with is that there appear to be no set-in-stone standards, or perhaps more accurately, a greater degree of variability in procedures.  Moreover, because there are so many different factors involved (different regions, judges, prosecutors, agencies, coordinators, etc.) it’s impossible to take anything that you hear from anyone as more than an anecdote.  We’ve met five other families here over the past 3-1/2 weeks, three of which have had some type of complication with their proceedings.  For a type-A analytical personality, to have to put this out of my mind and accept that I have no way of predicting how things are going to go for us is a difficult pill to swallow.  That being said, focusing on Anika appears to be the best coping mechanism that we have.

Tomorrow’s meeting with the judge will be the first (indirect) indication that we will have of how the legal proceedings will look.  As an aside, we found out today that the Kazakhstan Republic Day celebration (10/25/07) is three days long, during which all things grind to a halt.  We hope that this doesn’t add too much of a delay to the process of getting us a court date, because that’s really our ticket home.

In any case, given that our routine is getting fairly repetitive for us, we can imagine that this blog is getting fairly repetitive to others, so we’re probably going to switch to every-other-day updates unless there are new discoveries/experiences or important news.  Feel free to e-mail us – the contacts from home are a big help to both of us in keeping our spirits up during this long wait away from friends and family.

I’ll close with some pictures from today’s visit with Anika.

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A few last images from the day …

I wanted to include a few last snaps from the day. As Julie mentioned, we won’t go to the Delphin Baby House to meet our child until Monday at 9:30am. So until then, to help keep ourselves from going bonkers, we explored a little more. Zhanat got us to the mall and we picked up some additional supplies. I have my eye on a toaster for 1400 tenge (about $10). The bread here is really good, but there’s no toaster. If anything it’d be a nice thing to leave in the apartment for the next family.

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We also hit Gros again to pick up several things that we forgot yesterday. We walked a little down Lenin Street. I didn’t see any Lenins. Apparently after the fall of communism, they tore down all but one. I did see this rather daunting looking Kazakh fellow.
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We found some new towels. Of course, figuring out how to use the washing machine, whose buttons are labeled in Russian, was another task. Julie turned, of course, to her trusty dictionary. Fortunately, the Russian word for polyester is a cognate, as is the word for delicate. We figured that the other option was regular wash and went with that one.
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After we got home (and made it through the blast door)


we played cards and closed the evening with a photo in front of the curtains. The apartment is conspicuously decorated in the Kazakh colors of light blue and yellow.
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And with that, we’ll say goodnight. It’s hard to believe that in less than two days we’ll be meeting our daughter. It sounds so weird to say/write that. My mind has barely gotten used to the fact that we’re actually here in Kazakhstan, and hasn’t even started to process the fact that it involves the permanent adoption of a child! It still seems so abstract.

I often think about the fact that my parents had me when they were in their early-to-mid 20s. Up until recently, I thought that there’d be no way that I could handle raising a child that young. When I was 26 (my father’s age when he had me), I was subsisting on coffee and Raman noodles, working the wee hours in the lab, and sleeping most nights on a futon couch. But on the flip side, I don’t think that at 26 I was nearly as introspective and navel-gazing as I am today, and therefore less likely to dwell on the significance of taking full responsibility for the life of another person. I suspect that there is some evolutionary advantage to having children younger besides the fact that you’re more likely to be around for them for more years. This may only apply to some, but perhaps it’s that when you’re younger and less caught up in your own introspection you’re less afraid to take the leap into the unknown. When you’re young you think you’re invincible, and therefore able to handle children. To go through this now, while easier from a financial security point of view, feels like it’s a lot more challenging mentally and emotionally for me than it would’ve been 10 or 15 years ago.