Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
Posted on January 22nd, 2017

​“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” 
― Corrie ten Boom
I love the above quote because of its absolute truth.  I have often felt the burden of carrying present moments as well as the concern for the future. It is a heavy burden, and rarely helps anything.  It also drains you of not only your strength but also your patience, love, and ability to think clearly and rationally about the present moment.  I have been working diligently on mindfulness, breathing properly, and managing the wide range of emotions that a completed adoption and pending adoption bring.  I'm still working on it, though, and there are things that are always at the back of my mind.  Here are a couple, the things I dread the most:

1.  I was reading a friend's blog post the a few weeks ago.   She is currently pursuing another international adoption in a different country.  She made a decision not to pursue a child from the orphanage her child who is already home came from because she did not want to step foot into those conditions again.  So, she chose the same country, but a child in a different orphanage.  It was at that moment that it hit me like a ton of bricks-- we are going to have to go back to that awful place.  We don't have a choice.   We are going to have to spend a whole week interacting with our sons there.  We are going to then, a few months later, have to go back there again to pick them up.  When we remove them from that terrible place, it will be such a wonderful feeling of relief, but it will also be mixed with having to see it again and being reminded of what we are removing them from.

I am working to emotionally prepare myself for this.  This will not be easy.  But it must be done.

2.  Getting on a plane and leaving my sons behind.  In our last Skype session, younger brother asked the translator, "Why can't they just take us home after the end of the first trip?".  Good question, buddy.  Because bureaucracy.  Because red tape.  Because even though the system made our family an exception, we don't get any exceptions to the rules.  So, after spending a week with our two beautiful boys, that Friday we will have to tell them goodbye for several months.  Doing this with the girls was the single most awful experience I've ever been through in my life.  I am not looking forward to doing it again. Dear students, friends, family, administrators-- if I am a walking zombie for about a week after we get back, please have mercy on me.  This is tough stuff.

3.  The wait between trip 1 and the court date.  As if getting on a plane without your kids isn't enough torture, there will be several months that we wait to receive news of a court date.  Information will the scare, we won't really know where we stand, and we will hope and pray that when the court date does come, there are no problems.  After the court date comes and we pass, we will wait several more excruciating weeks before we are cleared to pick them up.  This is so hard.  There were moments I harbored delusions of buying a plane ticket and going over there, renting a car, and driving secretly to the orphanage (I remember the way!).  Haha.  The only thing that prevents you from doing this is the knowledge that it would ruin everything.  So you stay in your place, and you wait, and you eat a lot of comfort food.  I am not looking forward to this stretch of time.  And, I am already asking for grace and mercy from my friends and family.  I was not pleasant to be around during these months last time.  I vow to do better.

So far, though, what gives me hope is that I am handling the process much better this time.  Knowing what to expect helps us all to manage our anxiety and fear.  I know this process backwards and forwards now.  There is no mystery.  I know exactly what comes next and can prepare myself emotionally for each step of the way.  Thus far it has served me well to understand better, anticipate more, and it also doesn't hurt to have two children at home already to focus on.  It leaves less time to angst.

I am also so much stronger.  Going through the last 9 months with our girls has strengthened me in ways I never imagined.  Things that used to upset me no longer do.  They have given me perspective beyond my wildest dreams.  Strangely, through working through their trauma, their past, their multitude of challenges, I have found a strange sense of peace through a new lens.  I see things differently.  What used to be a crisis no longer is because I see what an actual crisis looks like.  What used to be urgent no longer is because their needs are the urgent ones.  What used to be painful no longer is because there is no pain greater than understanding their past trauma.  How I used to define success is no longer relevant, because watching their small victories has changed my entire viewpoint and has allowed me to have grace and mercy on myself and others.  What used to make me happy still makes me happy, but there is no greater happiness than watching them thrive and overcome. 



Posted on December 31st, 2016

I am far from a perfect parent.  In fact, I've only been up for a couple of hours, but I'm sure I've already made some mistakes today.  I'm letting my children sleep in a long time this morning so they can stay up all hours of the night tonight to celebrate NYE, but any adoption therapist would tell you that this is probably a huge parenting fail-- letting them be all out of routine can prime them for major dysregulation.  But, sometimes my desire to be "normal" outweighs what I know is right.  And, sometimes, I have no idea what is right.

Before we completed our first home study back in 2014/2015, we had to complete 40 hours of training.  10 of those hours of parenting training were on the general challenges and unique rewards of international adoption in general.  The other 30 were focused on the difficult parts of raising older internationally adopted children.  We learned a lot.  We are also both voracious readers, researchers, and belong to a myriad of different discussion posts, support groups, and attend weekly attachment therapy and have since we came home.  Yet, we still face, every single day, behavior challenges that are related to attachment disorders.

I'd like to share some truths with you first:

1. Many in the Adoption Community are very protective over adoption and want as many people to adopt as possible because it is a cause they feel very passionate about.  I do, too.  If you don't know that about me by now... well, this is probably the first time you've stumbled across my blog.  However, where I may differ in some ways in my philosophy is that I would never want a family to adopt without knowing the reality of doing so.  We absolutely are committed to our decision to adopt, and to do it again!  But, we still have hurdles that are enough to bring me to my knees some days, and we also wake up every day to face our children's past trauma that we will never be able to erase.  That's a difficult pill to swallow for a parent.

2.  Because many in the Adoption Community do not want to dissuade others from adopting (a noble and respectable goal), fostering etc. people tend to write about the positive rewards of adoption.  Guilty here!  And, believe me, there are many.  I would never, ever choose another path for my family-- ever!  However, I think most people also realize that nobody likes a "Debbie Downer" and we tend to scroll past or block out negative posts, and people are also sometimes embarrassed to talk about the things in their family life that are not perfect.

3.  Been to the movies lately?  There are a lot of movies in theaters right now that talk about adoption, reference it, or the main characters are orphaned etc.  We, as a society, have an idealized view of adoption.  There's an orphan, a set of parents save the orphan, it's all good for the orphan now.  While the adoptive parents start their lives with that child at that moment, both the adoptive parents and the child(ren) bring heaps of baggage into the relationship.  Think it is just the kid that has baggage?  Nope.  Some of my greatest parenting struggles have been working through things I need to deal with.  So, again, the rewards are great, but the work is so hard, and I fail every single day.

4.  "All kids do that" or "Sounds like typical teenage behavior to me" are completely false statements.  To say that to an adoptive parent borders on insulting.  Behavior is a direct reflection/manifestation of emotion.  Especially in our case, where our children still struggle to express their feelings verbally, behavior is their avenue for expression.  We have to view behavior through this lens. Our children, as are most adoptive and foster children are, are working through all sorts of emotions that well-attached and well-adjusted children and teenagers will probably never have to work through.  So, yes, when my teenager rolls her eyes at me and gives me the bird, or my youngest has a meltdown tantrum, it probably is a "typical" response to an outside observer, but what that behavior morphs into outside of the public eye is something very atypical.  I'm not saying this to sound like I deserve a gold medal for parenting my children.  I fully realize I signed up for this, and I regret nothing.  I also realize that I am still learning them, and failing more than succeeding.  What I am saying, however, is that there is nothing "typical" about their behavior most of the time, and that is OK.  If we continue to pretend that it is "normal kid stuff" we can't treat the problem.

5.  Reactive Attachment Disorder is real.  I see it every day in my house in both of my children, more so from one than the other, and that will make sense to you as you read more about it.  Because RAD is something often limited to children who have had some sort of disruption in the attachment process early in life (adoption, removal from home, lengthy stays in orphanage, death of parents or some other sort of trauma related to parents/primary caregivers), it is not a heavily discussed diagnosis and leads to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in our day to day interactions with others-- even medical professionals who are not well-versed in this diagnosis.  Neil and I have sat in countless doctor offices, school meetings, etc. trying to get others to understand this disorder.  We also have faced shaming, judgement, comments about our parenting style and/or our children's behavior.  Most we can dismiss, but it still hurts.

As a quick example, one of my children is prone to extreme meltdown emotional outbursts.  She will scream for hours (literally, the longest we've clocked was 6 hours straight, no break, no tears, just blood-curdling screaming), hit, punch, kick, throw things, self-harm, etc.  We left Bulgaria in bruises, and I still get clocked in the chest, arm or face sometimes if I am not careful (but I bet you could never picture my child doing this if you know her!).  We have gotten much better at knowing her triggers and when these episodes are coming (they are always exclusively at home, I'll tell you more why later), preventing them, or shortening duration of them.  

However, recently when we were staying at a hotel she became triggered into one of these episodes as we were loading the van and getting ready to drive off to our destination.  Inside the van she became out of control- screaming, kicking, hurting us and her sister, destroying property in the van etc.  We have been trained to remove her from places where she can self-harm or harm us.  This is SO much easier at home!  We have a safe space that she can go to until she is ready to regulate and return to our family life.  Also putting her in public view helps (again, I'll explain more about RAD momentarily) because she typically reserves these behaviors for us, so we will often go for a walk.  However, when we are on the road, it becomes harder.  We sat her on the curb in the nearly empty hotel parking lot.  We sat with her for a few minutes until she was calm, and let her sit there to regulate herself before getting back into the car (about 7 minutes).  We were never more than 2 feet from her, she was never out of our watchful eye.  However, within seconds of us placing her there outside of our car, we had people calling the police stating that we were abandoning our child (we were sitting right there...), the hotel staff began photographing and video recording our family for the entire duration of the event and wrote a written report about us.  When our child was calm, we walked inside to the hotel and I addressed the videos and pictures.  I explained, in the easiest way I could about RAD, and that she was always in our care.  And, then, the hotel staff said the unthinkable: "We thought you kidnapped her because she doesn't look like you, and that you brought her here to abuse her.  We were concerned and were about to call CPS and the police."

And, there you have it, folks.  The silent nightmare that nearly EVERY adoptive family lives in.  Most of us live in perpetual fear that our child's behavior, different appearance, how we parent because we know it's the right way for OUR family will be called into scrutiny.  I have lost count of how many stories I've heard from other families just like this one.  I know of multiple children who have lied through their teeth to the teachers or any other adult who will listen about stories of abuse, neglect, not being fed at home etc.  And, because RAD children are typically rather charming to adults who are not their parents, the adults buy the story.  I know, personally, of many adoptive families who have been questioned by schools, police, and CPS.  For many of us, it is a matter of time.  As if we didn't go through enough scrutiny by these institutions BEFORE we brought our children home...

Because we were out of state and left the hotel quickly after this exchange, no police involvement ever came of our story.  But, we know many people have video footage and pictures of our family they could spin any way they want to.  We live in concern that these items will one day surface on social media.  Because they don't understand THIS:

Reactive Attachment Disorder: 

A simple definition via google search looks a little something like this:
​Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is one of the few disorders listed in the DSM-IV that can be applied to infants. It is a disorder caused by a lack of attachment to any specific caregiver at an early age, and results in an inability for the child to form normal, loving relationships with others.

But, I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so let me elaborate:

Normal attachment goes a little something like this-- parents have a child, infant has needs (food, diaper, sleep, shelter, soothing, etc.), those needs are repeatedly met by one or both parents on a regular basis.  Think about how many times those needs are met in just the first few weeks of infancy.  As the child grows older, those needs become more complex: child falls down, needs a band-aid and kiss on the boo-boo, child accomplishes something and receives praise, child gets sick and needs comforting medical attention, child struggles with new task, the same caregiver steps in to help.  Meanwhile, the cycles of feeding, nurture, and affection are still being repeated over and over again by the same caregiver(s)-- mom and dad.

In adopted children, most have a parade of caregivers.  The word "transient" defines their childhood.  When their needs ARE met (and oftentimes they are not-- my children often went hungry, did not receive medical attention, did not receive praise for good efforts, did not receive help with difficult tasks etc.), they are met by a myriad of staff, most of whom (in our empirical observation) do not have the best interest of children at the center of their motivation.  

So, what happens when a child has cycle after cycle of unmet attachment needs?  They often develop RAD.  They also learn to survive.  This can look different by the child, we see it manifest differently in both of our children, even though their circumstances were very similar.  One child survives by sheer determination and a desire to be fiercely independent.  The other child survives by controlling everything she possibly can and by exerting learned helplessness (often looks like laziness).  

Most commonly, though, these children learn to survive through charming adults.  Chances are, if you've interacted with my children, you've walked away saying that they are so charming and cute!  Especially my little one!  Oh my goodness, what a cutie and a little charmer.  Watch out, she's working you.  If you've had interaction with my youngest, you probably immediately noticed how friendly, outgoing, and affectionate she is-- even when she didn't know you.  That might make you feel good, but it makes us as parents very concerned.  This is called "indiscriminate affection" and is a red flag for RAD.  It can lead her into many dangerous situations, and can later manifest into promiscuity and reckless choices.  Our youngest child will hug anyone, charm anyone, touch anyone, follow anyone, and would transition right on into a new place if she had to.  If one day someone told her, "hey, you're going to come live with me now", she'd be like "ok, cool!" and the only thing she'd really miss would be her sister, because that is the only true attachment she's ever had (her sister functioned as a caregiver for years).  Think I'm kidding?  I'm not.  And, I used to take it personally, until I really did my homework about RAD.  It's not personal.  It's not about me.  It's about her trauma, and we are going to work on it as long as it takes.

The problem for us as parents comes in when trying to explain RAD to others who are unfamiliar with it.  The worst interactions, we've discovered, are professionals who work with children in some capacity, and therefore think that they know what is best for our child, and it often backfires.  It is difficult to explain to someone "please don't hug, kiss, pick up my child, give her special treats etc." because people look at you like you have three heads-- believe me, I know a lot of people who have a solid opinion about me that I am crazy for making these requests, in writing sometimes when there was a refusal to comply with our wishes as parents.  But, taking time to really understand RAD can allow for healing.  The only way to redirect these children and give them hope of understanding how to function in a family and how to build attachment correctly, is to have needs met by the parents as often as possible.... and not to fall for the charm!

Based on the many discussion forums I participate in, I know adoptive parents are dealing with this diagnosis daily.  I also know they are frustrated with the lack of accessible literature to help others in their lives understand RAD.  Let's change that!  I will plan to post candidly about our struggles and the behaviors we see.  Our successes.  Our failures.  I will always protect our family's privacy to the greatest extent possible, but if we are not honest, we cannot heal.






Posted on December 24th, 2016

"You must be so excited about your first Christmas as a family, tell me all about it!"

If I had a dollar for every time Neil and I have heard this comment in the last month or so, we'd be able to raise the remaining 40% of our adoption fees-- stat! :)

It's actually really daunting and intimidating for me when I start to really dwell on it.  Here we have two children who have never really experienced Christmas as most Americans do, never experienced it in a functional family unit, and so we are feeling ALL of the pressure to make this the most perfect, magical, wonderful time of the year.  The song says so, people, so we must!  But, I have to take a step back and remember, as I often have to, that I cannot fix the last 13 and 10 years.  There is no amount of Christmas cookie baking, gift giving, caroling, church-going, pinterest scouring,  ornament making, crafting, Advent devotion-ing, or eating that will make this "THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVVARRRRR!"  

Yet, I still feel obligated to provide this to them, and I feel like I am constantly falling short.  I am trying hard to give myself grace, and, before you say it, yes, I am trying to "remember the reason for the season", although this is challenging when your children are learning English and developmentally delayed-- they have a hard time with this message and are instead relying on what they've heard about at school (although they do not believe in Santa, I guess you become pretty jaded in an orphanage when he never visits-- we had to have a chat with Stella about how she was NOT to promote that at her school and that we WOULD find out and return all her presents if she told other kids that).

The second most common thing we hear is:

"Your girls must be so excited, and what a magical time for your family."

Nope.  Hasn't been magical.  It has been emotionally messy, trauma-laiden (yes, the celebrated Christmas in Bulgaria, and yes, there are lots of traumatic memories associated with this holiday, and yes they remember, and yes they take that out on us, their parents), overly busy, exhausting, and not magical.  It's been tough more days than not, and our family has also dealt with some delays in our current adoption of the boys as well as a lot of emotions from the girls about why it is "taking so long" (oh, sweet girls, we are on the fast track this time!).

We've had hospitalizations totaling a third of the month of December for one child, and projectile vomiting from the other child yesterday all over my van.  We've had countless concerts, rehearsals, and Neil has had playoff football games for the band, fruit sales, parades, and the list goes on.  Our family time has been stretched thin, and we all feel it.  I simply have not had the time to do some of the favorite things I personally look forward to and wanted to share with them this year.  I want so desperately for them to have a magical experience, but I fear I am not providing this and it is robbing my own spirit.

I have fallen short in so many ways.  I have not lit our Advent candle weekly and prayed devotionals with my children like I planned.  We didn't go see the lights at the zoo or at the park like we planned.  I made PRE MADE cookies for Santa.  Y'all, I don't do pre-made.  They are the ugliest cookies I've ever baked.  I have not kept up with our Advent countdown calendar, and I'm pretty sure the girls don't even know what the Nativity scene is for, but they do know not to touch it because it has been passed down to us by family LOL.

My prayer ahead of our beautiful Christmas Eve service tonight is that I be able to center myself around the right message, and that my children will have THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVARRRRRR but it will be because we are all finally united together and will be making videos for their brothers to see that they, too, were included in our family celebrations.

I am human, I am broken, I often fall short.  My prayer is that I am enough for my children in this season and that they do have happy memories, even if they weren't everything I wanted for them.  We are all broken together, our whole broken, imperfect, patched together family.  We will overcome the trauma, and we will arrive on the other side stronger.  This may be our first Christmas together, but it is one of many, and there will be time for other things later.  I just have to find a way to remind myself that the first may not be the greatest, and that as time goes on, they will be able to enjoy more as a family.  We all will.  Our brokenness will be healed year after year.

Merry Christmas to each of you, blessings for the New Year.  Know that our family considers our biggest blessing this year to be the support we have received from you through www.braceletsforourbrothers.com.  


Posted on December 9th, 2016

An Open Letter to Dr. William Scott Dacus of Lexington Family Practice in Lexington, SC:

This letter could be about how aggravated I am that, over the past several years, I have watched your practice steadily decline in terms of how it treats patients. It could be about how I don’t appreciate having my time wasted while I wait for at least two hours in your lobby every time I have an appointment. It could also be about how your staff never returns phone calls, and does not reauthorize prescriptions in a timely manner, forcing the pharmacy to extend a couple of pills at a time to me and other members of my family while I wait for you to respond to my multiple calls. It could be about how our pharmacy says that your practice is notoriously one of the worst about calling in prescription refills, and has referred to your practice off the record to me on the phone as “unresponsive.” 

This letter could be about how, in our first adoption, you were negligent and took weeks to fill out paperwork required for our adoption, and when you finally did fill it out, you did it incorrectly to spite our clear instructions. When we pointed out the error, you took weeks again to rectify it. It could be about how, when we determined we were adopting again, we searched for a new physician in our area, but your staff was difficult about releasing our records so we were forced to remain in your practice to expedite this portion of our current adoption paperwork. I could even write about the weeks you took to fill out our paperwork for our current adoption even though you knew how important it was that we finalize it quickly because our daughters are waiting for their biological brothers to be home with us. 

I could go on to elaborate about the many phone calls my husband and I made to your office this week begging you to please sign the paperwork. I could outline how our calls became more frantic as we saw our agency complete everything for our home study minus the paperwork they needed from you. I could talk about the messages you didn’t return, the lack of respect you extended to my family when we arrived at your practice today trying to get us to leave and come back later. I could write extensively about how abrasive, rude, condescending your staff was to me and to my children while we waited for hours for you to sign two pieces of paper. I could even go on a philosophical rant about the problems with doctors and how we, as patients feel that you view us as lesser than, that we feel our time is wasted and disrespected, and the obligations we have to ourselves and to our families are treated as trivial by those in the medical field.

I could write about how our daughters, home 8 months, will suffer damage from their traumatic pasts for the rest of their lives, and that every day your practice took to fill out two pieces of paperwork adds to this damage for their brothers who are still stuck there. I could write about the countless news articles I’ve had translated that outline the human rights violations that are occurring daily in the orphanage our girls languished in for 5 years—the one their brothers are still trapped in. I could ask for empathy from you even though you and your staff showed none to my family today. 

I could write for paragraphs about these things. But I won’t. 


Because what you need to know is this: you made my family stronger today.
So, consider this a letter of gratitude and not of complaint.

My daughters, ages 10 and 13, adopted from Bulgaria earlier this year (you probably forgot these details, so I am reminding you that we are real people) have had nothing but constant disappointment in their lives. Every adult in their lives prior to their adoption has let them down. Today I was not going to disappoint them. Although your office staff tried to get me to leave and “come back later” multiple times, I stayed. Your office staff also told me that I was "in the way of paying patients with appointments in the lobby" and needed to “sit down out of the way." I stood. Your office manager told me that you were “too busy to see to my paperwork because you were with actual ‘patients’”, but I guess you have forgotten that we are paying patients, too and have already paid you to complete this paperwork. So, I waited in line to be your last patient today. I was not leaving your office today because, if I had, I would have been like all the other adults who have let my children down-- time and time again.

Today I got to be a hero and a role model to my two daughters. They are learning what it means to be in a family. They aren’t quite sure how a mother is supposed to act. You afforded me the opportunity today to show them that a mother is to love them fiercely, unconditionally, and will fight to the end to protect their best interests. They saw that I am willing to do this for their brothers who are not yet home, and that this must have been what we went through to bring them home. I will protect all of my children, whether they are here or still trapped in an orphanage overseas. I did not back down. I did not leave when you told me. And my children were watching.

You also afforded me the opportunity to show them how to resolve conflict. Their whole lives they have been taught that conflict is resolved with violence. But, today, they got to see strength in peaceful confrontation, refusal to quit, and a fervent quest for what is right. I did not leave. I did not sit down. And their little eyes were watching closely.
My daughters are also learning what it means to be a woman and a female. Prior to their adoption, they had a very warped sense of what their value was. Because of their ethnicity, because of their gender, because they were orphans, my children learned to believe they were lesser than. My daughters saw and heard how you treated me and treated them. They saw, through your actions and words today, that you lack a true understanding of the value of their lives and the lives of their brothers. Today you afforded mommy the opportunity to demonstrate the power and strength of a woman and a mother, without ever raising a voice or a fist. I was not silenced. I was not put down. And their eyes and ears were watching and listening.

My children are raising money to bring their brothers home. They work tirelessly each night after school to create bracelets to sell to bring them home. They are deeply invested in this process. Today they made 54 bracelets while you had us wait in your lobby until you decided you had “time to deal with us.” (Believe me, we know that’s how you felt because my children heard your staff talking about our family). Perhaps you thought that by putting us off we’d just leave. We didn’t. Perhaps you thought that if you made us wait that would somehow punish my family for speaking out against what your practice is doing. But, today you afforded me to show my girls how to turn their anger into productivity, and to not allow someone else to control their time and destiny.

Maybe you will buy one of the bracelets they made today while you had us wait in your dark lobby for hours after your staff went home?


If you’re interested, our website is: www.braceletsforourbrothers.com

With sincere gratitude and thanks,
Genny, Neil, Evvie, and Stella

Posted on December 5th, 2016

I'm tired today.  Physically and emotionally exhausted from everything our family is experiencing right now.  Late nights, no down time lately, knee deep in adoption paperwork that was very difficult before having kids, now compounded by divided attention.  My fingers hurt from all these rubber bands.  My brain is fried from shipping labels, spreadsheets, Winter concerts, lunches to pack, papers to sign, lessons to plan, house to clean and decorate, adoption paperwork to complete (this is the worst phase of the paperwork), and the many other demands we have on our family right now.  My husband's work schedule this time of year doesn't help, nor does the fact that his football team keeps winning, so this is the marching band season that just. won't. end.  But, I'm not saying any of this to complain.  I am saying this to affirm my belief that God is providing our family a lot of strength right now.  With every challenge, we are made stronger, and our faith increases.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has questioned our ability to parent two more children, I'd have enough to pay for the rest of this adoption, I think.  Sometimes the questioning is rude, and not appreciated.  More often, the words are not said, it's just a look you get from someone.  Or maybe the comment is a well-intentioned  "good luck raising four kids" or "how big is your house" or "you only have two bathrooms, how is everyone going to get dressed?" or "but you both work full time" or "aren't your two girls a big enough challenge?".  And, sometimes the question is direct-- "Are you sure you can handle this?".  Sometimes the question comes from my own children, or my husband (he says "we", not "you"), and sometimes it comes from myself.

I am notorious for biting off more than I can chew.  I am driven, I am ambitious, and I am typically confident in my ability to do things.  I like to be busy.  I enjoy hard work.  And, sometimes I get myself in trouble this way.  So, I have had to pause several times throughout this process and do some pretty heavy soul searching.  Especially before we committed to the boys, I had to have a lot of long talks with myself.  Our decision was not hasty-- it was not without prayerful consideration for what was best for our family.

After lots of self-questioning, I have come to this conclusion: NO, I am not sure I can do this.  In fact, I am quite certain that, without the grace and mercy of God, I won't even get through the paperwork process.  Through our broken weakness, it is possible that we can be renewed and made stronger.  Through challenges, it is possible for our faith to become what we rely on to allow us to preserver through those difficulties.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.​


While our challenges are many, and our mistakes are even more in number, God's grace, mercy, and strength has allowed for amazing transformations daily in our home.  Today, the most recent standardized testing Evvie took revealed that, in 8 months, she is now reading and comprehending in English at a 2nd grade level.  Stella, who had no ability to play creatively or imaginatively when we picked her up, created a replica of our neighborhood with legos and toys yesterday-- complete with streets, cars, houses, and trees.  Praise GOD for his answered prayers for our girls.  We have no doubt he will continue to transform their lives, our lives, and the lives of these boys through the power of adoption.  

And, here's the latest visual proof:

LEFT: MARCH 2016, Pick up Trip
​RIGHT: November 2016

Posted on December 2nd, 2016

When I was growing up, my parents were my superheroes.  There was no need for Batman, Superman, or anyone else-- they could fix anything.  They knew how to make the monsters under my bed disappear, protected me from the big thunderstorms that used to scare me, and guided me through all of the emotional struggles we all tend to face during childhood and adolescence.  They were my champions, the ultimate support system, my advocates, my voice when I couldn't speak, and they always made things right, or as right as they could for me.

I can't imagine what it is like to grow up without a single advocate.  Sure, our girls (and their brothers) have had caregivers, social workers, NGOs, and private charities that have given to them, spoken to them, tried to help find them families.  But they did not grow up with the benefit of having a single champion ​ (or in my fortunate case of having two parents at home, two advocates/champions/voices/superheroes).  In fact, what they have learned is to be very distrustful of adults.  They are temporary.  They are transient.  They are illusive.  They are sometimes hurtful.  They are not to be trusted.

In their experience, adults sometimes lie, they leave them behind, and they reject them.  Stella and Evvie are coming to terms with just how much some adults have lied to them and rejected them.  As their emotional maturity strengthens, they have a greater understanding of their story, and are coming to terms with some difficult truths.  This is heartbreaking to watch, but it is also beautiful.  Born from this realization is the ability to trust and attach to their two parents.  But, the reality is, mommy and daddy will never be able to redo the first 9 and 13 years of their lives (nor the first 13 and 15 years of their brothers lives).  And that, as a parent, is difficult to process and live with.

Many parents come to the adoption process believing "love will be enough."  Fortunately we had wonderful communities of people preparing us for the reality of the fact that this is not true, and were prepared somewhat to deal with the reality of adoption: the grief, the pain, the fact that adoption is born from a place of loss.  Love is not enough.  Mommy and Daddy are not enough.  Therapy, years of hard work, supportive teachers/coaches/churches/counselors, doctors, medications-- all of that is sometimes enough with massive amounts of love.

Only time will tell how much progress our children will make with processing and dealing with their trauma.  Our observation across the last eight months is that they are doing a miraculous job.  Last night, out of nowhere, Stella began sobbing, crying, screaming out for her brothers.  We've seen this before, but this time it was different.  It was wisdom and maturity beyond her chronological and emotional years.  

Watching this process she has learned that it is not easy, it takes time, it is unpredictable, it is expensive, it is difficult,  it is unfair, it is often not in the best interest of children.  People lie, people love money, people mistreat children, people exploit children.  That is so unbelievably hard for me as an adult to come to terms with, I can't imagine her 10-year-old brain trying to process that (especially when she is so emotionally and developmentally delayed).  But, I saw it last night: raw, genuine, unfiltered.  It was rage, it was anger, it was sadness, it was realization, it was both beautiful and hideous all at once.

This outburst occurs in the car on the way home from our concert last night at school.  It is 9pm.  I have to pull over in the middle of nowhere.  She will not let me drive any further.  She needs me to be present for her.  

She is so trepidatious about how this will go.  Will we, as parents, actually be able to bring them home?  Why is it taking so long?  Why can't they be here now?  Why was this done to me?  Why me and why Evvie?  Why do people lie?  Why do people hurt children?  She screams these questions to me-- her pain coursing through body, her tears are fiery hot. Valid questions that I can only answer in simple sentences.  My only assurance is that I will "fix" this.  I will make it right.  I am sorry and it is okay to be angry and it is ok to cry.  I tell her that I cry, and that my anger about this, but also my love for her and her brothers, is my motivation daily to keep working through this difficult process. I tell her that I want her to use this experience to make her stronger, but it is okay to be brought to her knees sometimes, and that I am, too, brought to my knees at times.  I tell her that this pain is similar to what I felt while waiting for her.  This is the best I can do.

She is learning to trust me to meet her needs.  She begs me again and again to promise her to fix it, to bring them home.  Tears are streaming down her face, "please mommy, please."  And, in this moment, I realize I am not her superhero, and I never will be.  My children have already learned that adults are fallible, imperfect, and broken.  They learned this far too soon.  The lesson they now have to learn is that some people will love them correctly, provide for their needs, protect them.  I explain to her that every person who has bought one of her bracelets loves her, Evvie, and her two brothers (without even meeting them).  I praise her for her hard work.  She still doesn't believe me-- "Mommy are you sure you can do this?".  I hope so.  I tell her yes.  I look deep into her eyes and say, "Yes, I will do everything I can to make this happen."  She skeptically asks, "Promise?".  Yes, I promise.

People oftentimes say that they will not let a tragedy "define them."  I understand this statement, but at the same time I don't.  I want this tragedy to define my family, but not in a negative way.  I want for us to own this tragedy and trauma together. I want us to work on it together, because in the last few weeks as we have worked together on bringing their brothers home, amazing things have happened in our house.  Difficult things?  Yes.  But, amazing nonetheless.   And, whether I like it or not, it is our story.  This is not the life I chose, but it is the one that has been given to me.  I finally feel at peace with that, and am ready to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.  I continue to pray that God provide me the strength, the grace,  the right words, the wisdom, and the unbelievable amount of patience it takes  to parent all four of these beautiful souls.  I know that if we own our story, and let it define our purpose in life, we will come out champions over the tragedy, and, in that sense, it won't "define" us, but it will fuel us.



Posted on November 30th, 2016

​"When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments — tenderness for what he is and respect for what he may become." 
  — Louis Pasteur, French chemist and microbiologist 
Many people are moved by and are sympathetic our story because they realize the tragedy of our circumstances.  That tragedy is real.  The separation is real.  But, the greater tragedy is that, so long as these children are in their orphanage, they are not being given what they need to have a successful, happy, fulfilling, moral, and rewarding life.  There is hope, however, because these boys have a chance at all of these things.

If you'd like to know what your money is going towards, keep reading.  I finally have the courage to reveal some very personal things.  I feel I owe it to my readers and our backers to know the potential for what lies ahead.  Many adoption bloggers stray away from revealing personal information about their kids, their past, etc.  It's their story to tell, so they leave it alone.  And, while that may be true, it's also my story.  It's our story.  I will always reserve some level of privacy for both of my children, but the truth has set our family free.  So we will continue to be truth tellers.

Let's start with some basic facts:
Stella (age 9 at pick up) was 39 pounds and not yet 4 feet tall, wore size 5T clothes
Stella today (10) is now 61 pounds and 4'2'', wears 7/8
Evvie (age 13 at pick up) was 73 pounds and 4'6'', wore 7/8 clothes, some 10s
Evvie today (still 13) is 86 pounds and 4'8'', wears 12s and 14s

Stella and Evvie at pick up could not:

Speak English-- only about 5 words in English, none of them nice
Count very heigh in their native language
Use table utensils effectively
Did not understand the purpose of toilet paper
Did not have any sort of dental or hygiene routine
Could not add or subtract, even one digit problems
Stella was functionally illiterate, even in her own language; Evvie very limited skill
Could not count money
Could not perform any chores or basic tasks around the house of any kind
Could not dress themselves without assistance
Could not tie shoes
Perform basic gross and fine motor skills that other kids their age could do
Could not follow multi-step directions, even in their native language
Could not regulate emotions when angry, sad, or upset
Could not tell time or read a calendar, did not understand seasons or months
Saw no purpose in school, education, or learning
Could not engage in any imaginative play, they just stared at toys not understanding
Could not engage in any creative endeavor really
The list could just go on and on

TODAY:
Both girls have exceptionally great receptive language skills in English and can speak well
Can count well above 200 in English and understand numbers higher than that
They've mastered all utensils pretty well except the illusive knife!
Have much better hygiene habits and are so happy about it
Can add, subtract, and Evvie is currently working on multiplication, division and fractions
Both girls are working on reading, Evvie is currently decoding words at a 4th grade level
Both girls can count money, and enjoy earning it through household chores
Both are doing well dressing themselves and making good choices about clothing
The growth in gross and fine motor skills is incredible-- look at the bracelets!
Much better at following directions, even some complex ones in English
Have great coping skills for regulating their emotions of grief, anger, fear, and sadness
Can tell time on a digital clock, Evvie is learning on analog clock (calendars are still hard)
Both love school.  They are leaders and actively engaged in class according to teachers.
Evvie will likely make A/B honor roll this quarter if she keeps it up!

What else are they doing?
Evvie is learning to play the violin.  She has her first concert tomorrow.
Evvie is swimming competitively year round, she attends many practices a week.
Stella is on a running team through her school.
Both girls enjoy caring for our animals and do an amazing job
Both girls have learned how to engage in imaginative play and enjoy toys and crafts

Now, the anecdotal: 


I will never forget this moment as long as I live.  After about 48 (very sleepless) hours as a family, it was breakfast time in our apartment in Sofia.   I asked Evvie in Bulgarian if she'd like juice or milk, to which she responded angrily "F*ck this!", gave me the finger, and sat down at the table.  She was so incredibly proud of herself that she'd managed to speak some English and was certainly trying to shock me.  She got milk and a smile from me.  Later I locked myself in the bathroom and cried, but you can't show fear!

Today, Evvie has a grateful spirit about all the food and drink she gets as well as all the other opportunities being in a family afford her.  I never expect my children to be grateful-- they don't owe me anything.  Having a family is a fundamental right every child should have.  But, it sure is nice to hear "thank you" so much.  She enjoys going to the grocery store and helping me make selections.  She enjoys being involved in the preparation of food.  She would never dream of speaking to me or any other adult this way now.  Haven't seen that finger come out in a long time either.

Stella's rage and aggression manifested itself differently.  She would scream and rage for hours on end without let up.  Throwing things, breaking things, and would sometimes try to self-harm.  Because she would try to self-harm, she had to be restrained sometimes.   She would physically harm Neil and myself during these time.  We left Bulgaria covered in bruises.   

Now Stella is an affectionate, loving young lady who has learned a whole group of coping mechanisms to deal with her emotions.  She hasn't attempted to self-harm or harm her parents in a long time.  She has learned better ways of expressing herself and her feelings, even non-verbally.

I could go on and on about the improvements and progress we've seen in 8 months.  I can't imagine what the future holds for them.  We picked up two very sad, angry, rejected children who have both now transformed into happy, resilient, driven young ladies.  I could not be more proud of them.

When you give to our fundraiser, you are helping us to continue to provide them the medical care (OT, PT, CBT, immunizations-- they never received any), tutoring, resources, and extracurricular activities they need and deserve by not depleting our monthly income and take out loans to pay for this adoption.

When you give to our fundraiser, you are providing an opportunity not only for these siblings to be reunited and two boys to have a family, but look at the progress you just read about.  I have no doubt the same miraculous transformations will happen in them.  They want it.  We can see it in their eyes when they've sent us videos.  They want this opportunity, and we thank you for helping it to be possible for them and for us.

We know the work is hard.  It is challenging.  It is tough.  It has tested me to my core.  But, I prayed a sincere prayer before we committed to our girls.  My prayer was that God use this experience to fundamentally change who I was.  Before becoming their mother, my priorities were way out of whack, and I had very little purpose outside of my work.  I am busy, but now I live a much more balanced and happy life.  I have learned, through them, the value in everything.  They have changed how I live, how I teach, and how I view the world we live in.  So, prayers answered.  Prayers are continuing to be answered because I know that through this calling, I will continue to be tested, challenged, stretched, and brought to my knees.  

Bring it.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.​" Mark 8:34







Posted on November 28th, 2016

I'm going to write this blog entry in factual terms, so as to not confuse anyone into thinking I am making a political statement.  This is not a political editorial.  We live in a very polarized country right now, and so I am speaking only about facts and figures in this entry in an effort to discuss International Adoption.

Before I get to the facts and figures stuff, though, I will talk a little bit from the perspective of someone who has a great passion for adoption of any kind, someone who is not naive about the reality of the choices our family has made, and as a mother-- a mother with strong protective feelings about her children.  

Before you adopt, be advised that having a thick skin will help you a lot.  People will say very hurtful, ignorant, and down-right mean things.  Sometimes it is intentional, but usually it is not.  Most often, I have found that it comes from a place of being misinformed or uninformed.  I used to get really angry about some of the things that have been said to me or about me with regards to the choices I've made about building a family through International Adoption.  However, after realizing that most of the comments were made from a complete lack of understanding, I learned to calm down and use it as an opportunity to respectfully educate about a topic I feel very strongly about: ADOPTION.

One of the most common questions we get is why we didn't adopt domestically.  There are many reasons we didn't choose this route for our family (this is a great blog about this issue), but we respect domestic adoption and foster parenting as much as we do international adoption.  But, at the end of the day, every family needs to make choices that are best for them, not to please others.  And, my faith lead to me to adopt my two daughters, so that is the most important reason.  At the end of the day, I don't owe anyone an explanation as to why we chose the route we chose, but I do have to accept the fact that not everyone will approve, support, or like the decisions we've made.

Neil and I are not naive, and neither are our children.  Our children, although not fluent in English, are fluent in body language.  Neil and I are fully aware that many people do not support adoption of any kind.  In fact, if you don't believe me, Google it "anti-adoption" and you will get thousands of hits-- Facebook groups, message boards, articles etc.  Many of the articles and groups are focused on perceived unfair custody issues domestically,  government involvement in the lives of citizens, and the cost.  Many of these things I'm certain we could all agree on, but perhaps not a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater? 

The second most common question we get is "how much did you pay for your kids?"  Well, now you know.  We spent about $40,000 to bring our girls home, and we will spend about the same to get the boys home.  Now, out of that cost, a large percentage goes to our government and the Bulgarian government.  Very little goes to the people actually facilitating the adoption, and even less goes towards helping humanitarian efforts in actual orphanages.

Neil and I also understand that by making this website, going on the news, and putting our story out there, we are also opening ourselves up to criticism.  We believe it is very important to hear the perspectives of others.  And there are some valid points that are made: 1. there are children that need homes here (yes, I've addressed that already), 2. your children are too old ,have too many problems, and they will never amount to anything (sorry but I've got the empirical evidence to the contrary) 3. just have a child, it is a lot cheaper (sigh, but I don't want to).

Then there are the points that are ill-informed, so I am going to address some of those with facts.  Again, this is not political, it is not an opinion piece about immigration, taxes, refugees, whatever.  It's just not.  I do have opinions about all of those things, but they are just that-- opinions.  This entry is facts.

I'm going to address this one head-on.  This is a screen shot of a comment that was posted by an individual (don't know him) on WACH Fox 57's posting of our feature.  I know that reading internet comments is a dangerous practice, and I usually don't engage, but this person is sadly misinformed.  Facts below:


While I am glad that the majority of people in the world view adoption positively and as an act of a willing set of parents trying to improve the quality of life of a child(ren) by providing the stability of a family unit, and I am grateful to have some cheerleaders who took this person to task, he is simply misinformed on so many levels.

We could have a long philosophical discussion about who is an immigrant and who is not and why.  Not going to do that here.  But what I will say is this: our children are LEGAL CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  They hold legal citizenship, have Social Security Numbers, will be taxed just like everyone else when they are old enough to work, and you better believe we are raising productive members of society who will contribute to this man's Social Security benefits, just as I do.  

Anyway, let me share a little information about this:  

Neil and I paid thousands of dollars to USCIS Immigration during our adoption process, and will do so again the second time.  We were fingerprinted by the FBI multiple times (because, you know, fingerprints change), and went through a biometric process with USCIS almost identical to someone seeking a green card or citizenship.  And, that's just what we did on our end of the pond.  

There are many legal technicalities and intricacies that go on to ensure that children brought in to this country are legal citizens.  There is also a lot of red tape that costs a lot of money with very little to show for it other than the process taking a very long time.  Our dealings with our own government agencies were some of the most arduous and archaic parts of our first adoption, and will likely be the same this time.  So, in this respect, our family sort of feels like we "paid our dues" so to speak.  Oh!  This just in, USCIS has increased its fees this year, so this process will cost more in our second adoption.

Let me also share with you about the Hague Convention.  There is a lot I could say about the Hague, and a lot of opinions I have about its effectiveness (check the facts and figures, international adoptions are down about 75% from 2008), but again, we are just going to talk about facts here.  The facts are this:

-- before being placed on an international adoption registry my children had to be legally removed from their home and the birth family had to be confirmed as being the actual parents, and had to be informed of their rights.

-- without going in to person detail about the lives of our children, the correct legal procedures in this regard were taken, and on multiple occasions.

-- once parental rights have been revoked or relinquished, the child must be listed on domestic registries and must be rejected a certain number of times before they are eligible for international adoption

Let me break this one down for you: my children were visited by many Bulgarian families who decided they didn't want to adopt my children.  My children remember this.  They can vividly describe the strangers who came and inspected them, ultimately rejecting them.

-- so basically, before a child is listed on the international adoption registry, NO ONE in their home country has come forward to offer to adopt them.  Again, I am stating only facts here, so I will refrain from pleading my case about our moral and ethical obligation to children of any nationality blah blah.  But, what I am trying to illustrate here is that there is a need, and we met that need legally and it was a painful, costly ordeal.

I don't believe this man is heartless.  I do believe he is misinformed.  I do believe that he has not done the hours upon hours of research that I have about domestic adoption, fostering, international adoption, and the pending potential changes to international adoption that could have intense ramifications on the process.  I do hope that he will try to see my children as legal citizens and try to be more sympathetic to our family, but more importantly, I hope he can see them as human beings that don't really need a label at all.  They are just Genny and Neil's freaking awesome kids.  They are Evvie and Stella.  That's all the labeling we need right now.


 

Posted on November 28th, 2016

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  ​ Peter 4:10
When Neil and I were first reviewing the files of our two girls, we discovered they had a love for all things artistic.  When we were on our first trip to visit them, we went to a play place similar to Chuck-E Cheese-- pizza and play.  At one of the play stations, there were arts and crafts the kids could do for a small fee.  We paid for the girls to be able to make bracelets.  We quickly discovered they had quite the knack for it.  We also discovered that there were lots of tools available to them to make the bracelets, but they chose not to use any of them.  When we asked our translator to ask them why they didn't use them, they responded that the orphanage didn't have any of those tools so they preferred to make them using only their hands.
The girls worked tirelessly to make us several bracelets.  With orphanage-induced short attention spans and strange behaviors, this was one of the only times we saw them quiet, engaged, thoughtful, and creative on our first trip.
The five month wait between our first trip and second trip to take custody of our girls was torturous.  Neil and I wore our bracelets every day as a reminder of why we were doing this and as a source of strength.
Like most things in their lives, since coming home, their bracelet making has improved.  Their ability to think creatively and make new designs has come a long way.  Their willingness to be committed to excellence and craftsmanship has come a long way.  They can now focus on this tedious task for many hours at a time.  The have gained the courage to take risks and try new designs.  They are able to critique and evaluate their work and decide if someone would want to spend money on the bracelets or if the product is not up to their standards.

Therefore, in many ways, the bracelets are a beautiful metaphor for our lives together.  Our girls started with so much potential, but they lacked the love, support, resources, and encouragement to take risks and to have a foundation on which to build.  Now that these fundamental aspects of life are in place for them, they are blossoming.  They are thriving.  They are doing and achieving at incredible rates.  Although they still use their hands only to make the bracelets, the bracelets are are far more intricate and detailed.  But the two pictured above will always be our favorite, and we still have them in a safe place.

Scripture tells us a lot about using our talents for the service of others.  I have realized since beginning this project with my girls, that part of the reason our first adoption was so difficult was that I didn't have a real sense of purpose and drive.  Making the bracelets as a family has given us all a sense of purpose, service, and a way to get that energy out in a creative and productive way.  There is tangible evidence of our love for each other and for our future sons.  We can proudly display our love everywhere we go.

​“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Our family fundamentally believes that God provided us with this talent to be used for the good of others.  For right now, that good is for the brothers of our daughters-- our future sons.  However, we pledge going forward to never stop using our talents for the service of other families who commit themselves to adoption.  We believe in His provision.

 

Posted on November 27th, 2016

Faith: "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."​ -- book of Matthew

On October 19th, a date I will never forget because it is my mother's birthday, in 2015, Neil and I met our two daughters for the first time.  

There is really no way to prepare for such a meeting.  For an entire year before that, I'd tried to envision what the moment would look like and imagine what it would feel like to touch them for the first time.  I'd watched their referral videos hundreds of times (believe me, YouTube keeps track and was sending me subtle "you're a stalker" messages as the number ticked higher), and had their pictures tacked everywhere.  They were my daughters, and I treated them as such from the moment we signed the commitment papers.

The morning that Neil and I dressed ourselves and got ready to the orphanage, I couldn't eat.  I was jittery and a nervous wreck.  Would they like me?  Would they reject me?  Would they think I looked funny or smelled weird?  Would they like the toys and clothes we were bringing?  We'd made an extensive photo album through Apple (amazing quality, use them you guys!) that included pictures of our home, their schools, our pets, their rooms and neighborhood.  Would they like it, or would they hate our 65 pound greyhound (she's a little intimidating looking, but literally the world's sweetest pup)?  Would they enjoy our company and think we could be good parents?  Would there be chemistry and connection at all?  Would all of it be enough for them to love us one day?

The drive to the orphanage was about an hour.  Their orphanage is in a very remote part of Bulgaria, the Village of Dren.  It is truly a village, with one main drag that is only a mile or two long.  There are actually two orphanages in Dren, one in the valley, and one in mountainous region that sits above the village (our children were always jealous of the other orphanage because it is a a privately-funded venture with many more amenities).  
Once we stepped inside, we met the Director and were offered coffee.  The next thing we knew, there were the girls.  It was the most amazing, beautiful, overwhelming, thrilling, frightening, wonderful flood of emotion I've ever felt to hold them in my arms for the first time.  There are some things that cannot be put into words, and this moment will always be one too intense for verbal expression.  It was nothing like I envisioned, but that was perfectly okay.

The rest of the day we spent time in a neighboring town Radomir.  We enjoyed the sights and sounds.  We quickly began to bond with the help of a translator.  We shared lunch together, shopped together, and attended a festival.  By the time we were done in Radomir, the children in Dren were finishing school for the day and walking back to the orphanage.  We asked our translator if she'd ask the Director for permission for us to stay for an hour and observe our girls interact with other children.  She obliged.

The next hour we passed out candy and treats to all of the 24 children residing in the orphanage.  Many of the children are Romani, and therefore darker skinned than we are.  They were fascinated with our skin color (especially mine because I am so pale!).  They wanted to touch us, feel our hair and faces, and were clearly starved for a hug.  This hour was one of the hardest of our trip.  It became very clear that, for many reasons, many of these children will likely never be adopted, and this fact saddened me to my core.

After the initial fascination with us wore off, many of the children went about their daily play, but we noticed that two boys in the orphanage seemed especially consumed with us and also with our daughters.  Our daughters seemed very interested in showing off their photo album to these two boys, and the boys also were very interested in playing catch and other outdoor games with Neil and me.  We very much enjoyed our time with them, they were delightful young men, and they knew a little English.  They were excited to practice on us!

Later on, we found out that these two young boys were our girls biological brothers.  BAM.

I nearly had a stroke.  I couldn't breathe.  I couldn't fight back the tears and the panic from the thought of leaving them behind when we ultimately finalized this adoption.  What were these boys going to do?  It is so much harder for boys to be adopted, and especially older boys like these two.  We immediately understood the implication, and that moment changed EVERYTHING for our family.  Our fantasy of adopting two little girls and making a better life with them was gone.  Destroyed.  Abolished.  We knew at that moment, life was forever changed.  We had to do something.  I pleaded with Neil to ask our social worker the next day if they could be added to our adoption.  She checked, and said no.  Our only option was to start again.

How could we start again?  We'd scrimped, saved, lived frugally, made intentional choices with our finances for YEARS to be able to make International Adoption a reality for us.  We only planned to do it once.  HOW would we do this again?  And, then there were some other complications with the boys not being completely on board with the idea of adoption (it happens sometimes), and older children have to give consent to be adopted, so there were concerns there.  Ultimately we left Bulgaria that week defeated and feeling helpless.  

I cannot put into words how this knowledge changed my life preeminently.  It weighed on me day and night.  I sought intensive therapy for the feelings of guilt, sadness, and depression this knowledge caused.  Nothing worked.  My feelings only intensified not matter how many professionals told me it was for the best and tried to reconcile the choice for me.  It never, ever went away.  I will be honest in telling you my emotions ran a full spectrum: anger, rage, sadness, depression, guilt, remorse-- everything.  I was so angry that our family had been put into this situation.   We didn't ask for this.  Our family was and is forever linked to this real-life tragedy, and there was seemingly nothing we could do about it.

In March of 2016, we were finally able to finalize our adoption and bring our girls home.  Our oldest was very angry at us for the separation from her brothers.  She almost told the judge "no" in court, but ultimately decided to give her consent to the adoption.  However, the separation of brothers and sisters made it very difficult start our new family together.  Anytime a new family is constructed by way of adoption, things are hard, but this just exacerbated all of those feelings and challenges.

The day we picked up our girls from the orphanage to bring them back to Sofia with us, we were present for the final goodbye between brothers and sisters.  It was singularly the most horrific moments of my life.  I think I will experience many other awful things in my life, but this one will always stand out as the worst.  Tears, anger, rage, confusion... it was awful.  It is something I will never forget and is permanently a part of me and my life story, as well as the story of my family.

Our first few weeks as a family were horrific.  We had a few glimpses of what family life could one day be, and some nice connected moments.  But, the majority of our pick up trip was a nightmare.  Our girls will tell you now that they were trying to get us to send them back to the orphanage to be with their brothers.  Our oldest tried to bribe cab drivers to take her back to Dren.  Together they told the housekeepers of our apartment we were staying in that we were abusing them and to please take them back to the orphanage because they would rather be there.  They both tried to run away many times.

There were less serious aggravations-- they would run around the apartment screaming, throwing things, destroying the property inside the apartment (thankfully these apartments are designed for families who are adopting and they graciously did not charge us for damages).  They jumped on the beds endlessly, refused to sleep, and had rages and tantrums that lasted for hours on end.  These are moments we have previously never really talked about, and I am sharing them here only to illustrate the traumatic effects this separation had on our whole family.

Once we got home to the US, things improved immediately.  We, as parents, were on our playing field and were in control.  Gone were the days our children could request to go back to Dren or tell people we were abusing them because no one could understand them.  They also quickly realized that they could potentially have a wonderful life here filled with far more opportunity.  Things from that point steadily improved and the changes in our daughters are nothing short of miraculous.


 
LEFT: PICK UP TRIP MARCH 2016, RIGHT: HOME 6 MONTHS, SEPTEMBER 2016
LEFT: PICK UP TRIP MARCH 2016, RIGHT: HOME 6 MONTHS, SEPTEMBER 2016 ​
Our girls have made so much progress since coming home.  They participate in school exceptionally well, and are engaged in many activities (our oldest is learning the violin and swims year round, our youngest is on a running team).  Our oldest daughter has gained 2 inches in height and 16 pounds since coming home, our youngest has gained 3.5 inches in height and 21 pounds since coming home.  At nearly 10 years old in March, she weighed 29 pounds and the green shirt she is wearing in the picture above is a size 5T (she's swimming in it).  Adoption WORKS.  THIS is the evidence.  Look in the pictures-- on the left there is fear, no hope, emptiness.  On the right, there is excitement, joy, and HOPE.  Most importantly, there is health in both of them now.

Still, through all of this amazing growth, our family was still hurting.  No amount of therapy, talking it out, work with social workers, or family bonding was fixing the cloud of grief that was a permanent fixture in our lives.  Their brothers were still in the orphanage.  And, based on limited reports I was able to find (I'm a stalker of the Internet) they were not doing well after the separation of their sisters.  Send a care package (this is not really legal anyway) was the best suggestion we received.  How does this fix anything?  Do we just temporarily absolve ourselves of guilt by sending some socks and candy?  NO!  They are suffering.  Malnourished.  Trapped.  No future, no home.  Neil and I both know there is no way for us to understand this intense sibling bond that stretches far beyond the norm.  They were their only family for YEARS.  How was it possible for us to move on and not do something to try to rectify this situation?

In October of this year, our family collectively made the decision to step out in faith and trust His provision and adopt these two boys.  Neil and I never planned on having a family of four.  We also certainly never planned on having three teenagers in the house right now.  But, this is what GOD HAS CALLED US TO DO.  We are trying our best to be obedient to His will and trust His provision.  Every step is made in faith because, as we started this journey, we had zero dollars to make it happen.

The medical expenses our girls have incurred from years of abuse, neglect, malnourishment, lack of medical and dental care, lack of basic hygiene materials (toothbrush/paste, toilet paper, clean clothing) has left them with huge amounts of temporary and, in some cases, permanent damage.  We have pursued Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, CBT Therapy, thousands in dental work (with so much more to come) as we try to fix the damage done.  We still have medical bills that are in collections now from the immense damage we are trying to rectify here.  We are not asking for sympathy by stating this, just saying that we were in no financial position to start a process that will cost nearly $40,000 by the time it is all said and done.

But, here we are, walking in FAITH.  Trusting that our heavenly father will not abandon us, but will instead guide us through this process with grace, wisdom, and courage.  We are trusting that HIS will in this case will be done, and that we are being obedient to his call.  We have never wanted to ask for help, but we realize that without HIS provision, and without us asking for the help of many, we will not be able to finish this calling.

Thank you for reading our story.  

Matthew 7:  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.








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