"God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it." Unknown
Outside view of the Baby Orphanage in Votkinsk, Russia
It is the morning of Jun 16, 2004 (7am) and this has been the hardest 24 hours of our life. Things did not go well yesterday. We went to the orphanage to meet Albert. First, we can't tell you how shocked we were to find the orphanage in the state of poverty that it was. The smells made our stomachs turn and on several occasions I could feel my gag reflex doing flips in the back of my throat. After some awkward introductions, we spent some time with the orphanage director/doctor in her office and reviewed Albert's medical file more thoroughly. During this meeting, I tried to intently focus on the Russian words she spoke. Our translator would then look to us and do her best to translate the Russian medical terminology to English, all the while holding a medical dictionary in her lap. We found out that his mother had “abused alcohol” during the pregnancy. We were already concerned about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, so this confirmed our fears about his exposure. We also learned that his mother had a viral infection during the 15th week of pregnancy. We aren’t sure exactly what kind (lost in translation), but suspect it was a STD.
Right in the middle of learning about Albert's history, an orphanage worker brings him to us. We were not expecting to see him yet. We were also trying to concentrate on the words being spoken to us so we could learn more about his history. The situation in the room had begun to grow very stressful with the knowledge of Alcohol abuse and the mixture of stuffiness & foul smells was getting to us. We were shocked and taken off guard at the first site of Albert and then my heart instantly froze. It was his initial appearance. It is hard to go into detail in this journal, but needless to say, his facial features did not appear normal. We got to spend a couple of hours with him. He was a very sweet boy. He did not cry and he seemed to take a liking to us. We went through a series of “developmental” screening tests that the doctors had given to us (i.e. Can he turn over, can he pick up toys, does he react to sounds, etc.). He did ok on some and poorly on others. We took many photos at various angles and a little video.
When we left the orphanage, we were very concerned about his development. He is now over 8 months old and was unable to crawl (he can scoot) and he still does not sit up. He has difficulty lifting his head all the way up. The right side of his face seemed slightly out of proportion with the left side of his face. Needless to say, we were devastated at our first meeting. We had fears anyway, but we assumed that those fears would melt once we met face to face. It just got worse.
There are approximately 100 babies under the age of 3 living in this orphanage. There are usually only 5-8 caregivers.
We returned to our Hotel room and spent the remainder of the day and night talking and emailing photos to our international adoption pediatricians. This was all so hard. Here we are making what we feel are "life & death" decisions for this little boy. If we turn him down, do we then sentence him to a lifetime of despair? In our hearts at the moment we feel like the worst people in the world. I personally feel like I am letting myself down. I feel weak, little and undeserving right now. We are truly in turmoil. Our decision has come down to what 2 pediatricians who specialize in the health of Internationally Adopted children have to say, thousands of miles away and my gut. They agreed with our assessment and advised us to decline this referral. This is not something that we decided lightly. In fact, we have cried, prayed and questioned everything about ourselves and our faith in the last 24 hours. Albert was a sweet child, but we fear has severe medical issues that we are not equipped to deal with at this time. This has emotionally scarred both of us, but what do we do now? We could go home and give up, or we can stay here and try to find another child. It sounds so callous to think about getting another child at this time, but we have to think about what is best for this child. This is an extremely poor area of the country, worse poverty and living conditions than we have ever witnessed. There are many children here that need help, and we can’t help them all. We feel like we must stay and try to find a child that we can provide the best environment. We pray that the staff at the orphanage will care for Albert. You can tell that they really love all of the children; it is just a difficult situation.
We are not doctors, so there is always the possibility that Albert will grow up and be fine. Or he may be adopted by another couple who is better equipped to deal with a special needs child. We have to just pray that he will be cared for and that somewhere in this mess God has a plan. At this time we don’t see it…
Our Translator & Russian Associate are going to talk to the Ministry of Education today and see if there is another child available. If not, we may have to transfer to another region in Russia. Keep us in your prayers…
Baby Orphanage's playground.
Jun 17, 2004… The past 48 hours have been a nightmare. We received another referral, a baby boy with brown eyes and brown hair. This baby boy was at the same orphanage as Albert. I instantly bonded with him. His medical report was typical with no real red flags. He seemed very small for his age but all the babies were small for their age. He did better than Albert on the assessments and we left the orphanage so excited. As soon as we got back to our hotel room, we emailed the medical report, our assessments and pictures to our doctors. We spent several hours with what we thought was a healthy baby boy and later found out from our Doctors (both doctors were independent of each other: Jenista & Aronson) that they believe he is severely growth retarded and has what appears to be Microcephaly.
Are we idiots when it comes to children? Why couldn’t we have noticed this? The pictures we took of him are precious; we would never have expected this diagnosis. We are sleep deprived, emotionally exhausted and I am suffering from a painful sore throat. After several discussions with our agency, they want us to move to a different region…not to give up. We are continually asking the question of “why us”? Is this normal? Are there any healthy children in Russia? Why have we read hundreds of success stories and not horror stories? Excuse me for being self-centered/self –absorbed…whatever…but we deserve a happy ending. We are going to take a day off and rest. We think we need some time to get our heads clear. We are going to just stay in our hotel today and get some sleep. We think we need to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally. This will also give the agency time to work.
(I will try to post each chapter of our adoption story every friday during the Hooked on Fridays blog party, celebrating things that make us happy. Because ultimately this story makes me happy and has helped define who I am today.)
To read from the beginning...click here.