Join Angela, Axel, Abel and Asher as they welcome their new sibling home.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The End!

With four adoptions and five kids with Down syndrome, that's it. We're done. Audrey completes our family. I am closing the doors on this blog, but would love if you'd follow along on our family blog as Angela, Axel, Abel, Asher, Audrey, Dean and I learn to be a family together. We  have lots of adventures ahead of us in our little Garden of Eagan. Come join us there!

HOME!

When we arrived in Minneapolis we were the very last people off the plane. I figured Dean would wonder what happened to us so I plopped Audrey into a nearby wheelchair, handed Axel the roller bag and off we went! It wasn't very far so we were happy to be able to move around! When we got to the escalator I told Axel, "Papa is right down here Ax! He's right through those doors!"

Now, this the same door we go through every time we arrive at the airport. Every time! Imagine my surprise when we come through the doors and there is no Dean! Seriously? In my head we were going to have "that moment" coming through the doors and now it was gone. LOL Then I heard someone calling my name and realized my friend Nance and some of her kids were coming toward us with welcome home posters and balloons!

 It was so nice to see them! But…where was my family?? I called Dean "Where ARE you?"

This is us, wondering WHERE is our family???


They were waiting at the OTHER end of the terminal, by the door for international flights!







"Dean, I came from DC, I didn't come on an international flight. Have I *ever* come through that door?"

Dean and the kids, rushing to the other end of the terminal! LOL


…..sigh….

I was trying really hard not to be irritated. I turned and noticed my bags on one of the carousels, so Nance helped me grab them. Suddenly I heard Axel behind me yell, "PAPA!!!!" The next thing I knew, Angela giving me the best hug ever!

These pictures are in no particular order but I'll put notes with them.

Angela hugged me long and hard, then a few minutes later hugged me again. Then she stood back, wiping her eyes, "Why am I crying???" she said. It was so sweet.

Abel wasn't really thrilled with the fact I was home. 



 Not sure who missed who more.

Finally, I handed Audrey over to meet her Papa for the first time! 









Angela asking "Why am I crying?" as she wipes her eyes again. She's so sweet. 









Angela and Axel had a very long conversation. Actually, I think Angela was telling him all that had happened while we were gone, and he was just being a good ear. I love how she leans down to talk to him, as if he is still much smaller than her. LOL






Our first family picture! 


Finally, all suitcases and kids accounted for, it was time for us to go HOME.



Thanks so much to my friends Nance and Becky for taking pictures for us at the airport! The kids loved the posters you made too!

Getting Home

With each of our adoptions, the trip home has been an adventure of its own. This trip? Pretty boring! Boring is good!

I never sleep the night before we leave. I sit up packing, cleaning, drinking coke and generally just being really anxious to get moving. And, I'm sure the coke really helps that. ;-) The trickiest part is letting the kids sleep as late as possible while still having enough time to get them breakfast, dressed and ready to go, the suitcases down to the main entry of the building, and the last of the clean up done. We arrived at the airport, got checked in and to our gate, only needing to wait about 25 minutes before boarding.

Audrey was pretty afraid during the flights. This is the only look I got the whole trip home.

Before traveling I was really worried how I would manage feeding Audrey on the plane. It is an extremely messy process and difficult to contain that mess! I needn't have worried, because she wouldn't eat or drink for me the whole way. No, she was pretty scared, even during layovers.

I always get wheelchair assistance bringing my kids home. Axel, in particular, needs some assistance. When I'm traveling alone with him I can manage on my own, but traveling with Audrey and Axel together I needed an extra set of hands.  It makes getting around the airports, particularly a traumatized child, so much more simple and fast. In Vienna they were especially helpful and brought us through a totally different passport control area, screened our carry on, and had us right up to our gate in a matter of minutes. We only had to wait about 15 minutes before boarding our flight, which was great! We did get to watch two elderly women fight over which one was supposed to get in the wheelchair first. That was ..ummm…interesting.

That long flight was pretty uneventful. We flew Austrian Air for the first time, and the food was actually quite good, the flight attendants were very attentive, and it was just a good flight! Because of how much help Axel needed going up/down the isles when we went to Serbia, this time I requested seats either at a bulkhead, or in the very back close to the bathrooms. This proved to be a good move! I was able to go to the bathroom myself and still keep an eye on the kids while I was waiting. Not that they were going anywhere, but I sure felt better about it. We had plenty of room to move around and it was just generally a comfortable flight.

When we finally got to our gate in DC, it felt so good to be able to call Dean and work and let him know we were in the US, Audrey was now a citizen, and we were only a couple hours from home!!!

Getting on our last flight in DC, we had to go out on the tarmac and climb up the very steep steps of the plane. Yeah..umm…these were MUCH steeper than the plane to Belgrade. The flight staff is not allowed to physically assist a person up those stairs, so I had Axel ahead of me, pushing him with my shoulder in his butt, which carrying Audrey on my hip plus getting the carry on up the narrow steps. Fun times. But we did it, and all was well.

My only complaint about the entire trip is the immigration officer we dealt with in DC. I don't really understand it, but every single one, through four adoptions and two ports of entry, have been nothing but a bully. Not a single one has been friendly, and every single one has absolutely made up a reason to YELL at me, bully me, and threatened to make our entry into the country extremely difficult. They're just mean, and I think the Department of Homeland Security needs to have some kind of training in place to address that issue. I don't think they do. If they do, it doesn't matter. These officers know travelers are exhausted and easy to push around at this particular time.


Next stop? Home!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Last Goodbye

One of the most difficult events I've ever participated in during the course of our adoptions was the last goodbye for Audrey.

On the second day of my visits to the foster home I was allowed to take Audrey for the day. We brought her back to our hotel room and played. (it was pouring rain or we would have gone and done some fun stuff!)

I was told what time to bring her back to the foster home, and that her birth family would be there to say goodbye.

I didn't know if I could do this. I didn't know if I could witness this event. It is a lot of heartache, and I just didn't know if I could do it.

We arrived at the foster home and her birth family arrived just a few minutes behind us. Her mother, aunt, and two teenage sisters. I had already been informed the birth father had passed away the year before.

We spent two hours visiting and playing charades to understand one another. It was a bit awkward, but not uncomfortable. I ended up leaving before the birth family did. I cannot imagine how difficult this was for them, and I'm glad they were able to have that time with Audrey without me there. They were able to say goodbye in their own way.

I have so much more I could say, but it is very private, and is Audrey's story. And her first family's story. We will be able to stay in contact should they decide to.

Adoption is trauma, in all kinds of different ways. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reuniting

As you have realized by reading the blog, Axel came along so he could meet with his birth family. But he came along for another reason too! Audrey was in the same foster home where Axel spent nearly three years. I knew his foster parents and extended family would be thrilled to see him, and I have had a feeling for awhile now that Axel wonders just what happened to those people he sees pictures of now and then. We didn't even have names for everyone so we couldn't help him retain the memory of their names.

Let me tell you about the first day we went to the foster home….

As you enter the city of Kragujevac, there are two large roundabouts. The second one has this Fiat sculpture in the middle.

When we arrived in this roundabout Axel got very excited. "House! House!" he signed, pointing in the direction of the foster home. It is right on the other side of this roundabout. To know he recognized where he was. Oh! I was so excited for him!

We pulled into the driveway and got out of the car. Just then the foster father came out the front door to the driveway. Axel saw him and RAN. He RAN to the father and threw his arms around him. Oh, I was in tears, our facilitator was in tears, the father had a tear in his eye.

We walked into the house and Axel strutted in like he had never left. He gave his foster mother a big, warm hug and said hello to those he remembered (social workers, etc.) Over the course of the next three days while we visited, every extended family member, along with close friends, came to say hello to Axel. Nobody could believe how much he'd grown, but even more…how he is just a typical teenager now. They gave him his favorite Serbian snacks, and loved on him for three days. Axel soaked it right up.

Before the trip I was nervous. Would Axel worry I was going to leave him behind? Would he want to stay there instead of coming with me? Would the emotions of this reunion be too much for him?

I needn't have worried. Axel understood why were were there, to "get the new sister Audrey", and that he would be staying with me. He truly loved seeing everyone, but was also ready to return to the hotel with me at the end of a visit. Axel understands we are his family, forever and always, and that in a land far away, on the other side of the world, are people who also love and cared for him, enough to let him go. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Too Good to be True

Well, it was too good to be true. With all three of our previous adoptions we have managed to get all the Belgrade end of paper-chasing done in one day, fly out the next.

But that is not to be the case this time around.

There is a new woman preparing the passports, and she has not done one that was adoption related. She didn't have a clue what she was doing, and Z. swears she printed out the entire passport law to figure it out. It took two hours to get the passport. By then we'd missed both the medical appointment and our appointment at the Embassy.

Once that disappointment was over with, we picked up the translated documents, then had the visa pictures taken. We rescheduled the medical appointment for 7:45 pm tonight.

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. we'll have our appointment at the US Embassy and hopefully get the Visa without issue. Please pray for that. I've been warned by two embassy staff that in the past week they've been having problems with the system. Lovely.

Fortunately our plane tickets were purchased in such a way that we had one full business day to void them without penalty. Flights have been re-booked for Weds morning Belgrade time, with us arriving home at 7:00 pm Weds evening. (that's 18 hours travel time after you subtract the time difference.) 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Carefully orchestrated series of events

Tomorrow (Monday March 17th) should be a very busy day. It is day known in the adoption community as "the paper chase". Now, part of this process happened on Friday in Audrey's birth city.

When the adoption ceremony was complete, we quickly walked three blocks to the police station where she was issued a new birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, the passport ordered and the necessary pictures taken. This whole process took a couple of hours, which is very typical. All of those steps had to be completed in order for the events of tomorrow to happen.

Now tomorrow, each step must happen in specific order or the subsequent steps will be postponed. Here is what the day *should* look like.

1) 12:45 Pick up translated adoption documents
2) 1:00 Pick up passport
3) 1:30 get Visa picture taken
4) 2:00 Have medical appointment
5) 2:30 return to apartment to complete USCIS form i260 online
6) 2:45 Embassy appointment.

The most crucial step for tomorrow is step 2, picking up the passport. If it happens the passport is not ready the rest of the day comes to a screeching halt and is postponed until Tuesday.

Assuming the passport is ready, the next critical piece is #6, the Embassy appointment. When we adopted Abel the embassy completed our paperwork and handed over his Visa in a matter of a couple hours. Usually this is a two-day thing, requiring the family to return to the embassy the next day. If we get the Visa tomorrow, we will be on a flight out very early Tuesday morning. If we  have to return on Tuesday morning for the Visa, we will fly out Tuesday afternoon.

I really do not want that Tuesday afternoon flight because it gets us home at 11:30 pm but that is only if all the flights are on time and there are no hold ups with Immigration like last time. But what I really want, more than anything, is to be on a plane…any plane…sometime Tuesday that is headed the direction of home!

The adoption has been VERY fast. From the day we committed until I arrive home with Audrey will be less than three months. The in-country process was 15 days, but we arrived early and will have been here 20 days. We're ready to go home. ;-)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

On feeding

Oh my word. I thought Asher's tongue would drive me crazy when we adopted him. He sucked on it constantly, which built it up to twice the size it should have been, and he could do nothing else because he was constantly sucking his tongue. It took a few weeks of constantly giving him a different kind of oral input so he didn't feel the need to suck his tongue anymore, along with corrections when the habit overtook him. Not only was his tongue a really bad habit, but it caused major difficulties for him to eat anything other than pureed foods. He had no idea what to do with his tongue, and it took us two years of intensive feeding therapy to get him chewing well enough that I didn't have to send pureed foods in his school lunch! Today Asher chews most of his meals, with certain things like Pizza being foods we still puree. Oh, and he will gladly show you where the food grinder is in case you don't know.

Along comes Audrey. Many of you commented on how she looks so much different in this picture.

The only difference between that picture and others you've seen is her tongue. Audrey's tongue thrust is extremely strong, and she has been resistant to me touching her face or really doing any kind of physical cues to her face at all. She completely shuts down, moves to a corner and will have nothing to do with with me. And, since she can hold quite a grudge,  I decided not to push this issue anymore until we got  home.

But feeding…feeing is a big problem! I wondered how in the world I would feed her on the plane when the mess she makes covers a four foot radius! I did learn why she was so tiny when the foster family got her. In the institution her diet consisted mainly of pureed foods, but her tongue thrust is too strong for her to manage pureed foods, so most of it got pushed out of her mouth. In an attempt to find out just where her feeding and oral motor skills were at, this was one of our attempts at pureed foods. Please note the towel covering the chair. After this session I started feeding her in the hotel shower so we didn't get food on every possible surface.

Feeding was difficult, and frustrating. In the foster home she learned to eat solid foods, but the technique left something to be desired. It was a bit like watching a wild animal eat. Now she needed to learn to take single bites, chew and swallow before stuffing more into her mouth. This is a common problem for post institutional children, and it can be very frustrating to deal with. With all of our kids I have started by my feeding them every bite of food. Not only does this teach them a different rate of speed to eat, but it's also good bonding. It helps the child learn that every bite of food comes from mom or dad.

I've noticed a few things. Audrey can't eat pureed foods because she doesn't know where the food is in her mouth. Her tongue is looking for it, which causes the increased tongue thrust. Here is a video of her eating bananas one week ago (March 9th) you'll notice her tongue come snaking out of her mouth as she's trying to move the bananas around. That tongue is the reason for all the mess. You'll also notice she doesn't close her lips on the fork, instead using her tongue and kind of scraping with her teeth to get the banana off the fork.


I've also discovered she does really well with crunchy foods, like cheerios. They give her a lot of input so she can feel where they're at in her mouth, and there is very little tongue thrust when she eats them. In an effort to give her increased input with other foods, while at the same time using up all the pureed foods I brought along, I've been adding cheerios or other crunchy things to her foods.

Today for lunch we had…well…it was supposed to be like goulash, but whatever. Soft noodles are something she has trouble with so I added some dry corn flakes to the stuff just go give some hard bits for her to feel. The results are wonderful! Is she using her lips perfectly? No, but wow! Look, her tongue doesn't come snaking out and she isn't loosing 1/2 the food from just letting it fall out!


The other thing we've been working on is keeping her tongue in her mouth during other parts of the day. Like all day. In the foster home she always wore an infant drool bib because the drool was constant.  Guess what! She is doing it! Her tongue is in her mouth at least 90% of the time! And guess what else! When her tongue is not hanging to her chin she's not drooling all over the place. She also likes to lick her hands and arms, but that is just not allowed anymore. "You are a beautiful little girl, and beautiful little girls don't lick themselves." No, she can't understand a word I was saying to her, but I hope she understood my tone of voice.

Now we're at a point we hit with Asher. Her tongue is in her mouth all day, and her mouth not hanging open, so now she thinks its impossible to make any of her singing or happy noises. Keeping her jaw from hanging open, and her tongue in, is not comfortable yet, and actually takes a lot of work, so she can't even consider that she can still make noise. I'm missing her happy noises, which she has a lot of since she is a very happy little girl. I know they will be back very soon as she discovers this is not so horrible after all.



Friday, March 14, 2014

Introducing

Today
March 14, 2014
5095 miles from home
in 
Kragujevac, Serbia
one little girl became a permanent 
part of our family 

Julijana Audrey Spring