We're All-In!

“We’re all-in!” Those were the words I said this morning, January 27, 2011, as I spoke to our adoption-worker.

We are pursuing the adoption of N.

We are beginning the long and tedious process of adopting internationally, (again).  Tomorrow we will begin gathering our paperwork, but this time hopefully we will be bringing home a son!

We will fly to Bulgaria sometime in the next 2-3 months to visit N.  We will spend five days with him.  After the trip is when we will officially decide whether or not to adopt him.  At that point, we can actually start to prepare for adding a child to our family.  Currently, we are trying not to become too attached to N. until after we meet him.  (Ok, Chance is trying and I am planning for the next 13+ years of our lives... I’ve already lost this battle to attachment!)

Today, I also spoke on the phone with another employee of Madison Adoption Associates.  The man I spoke with was named Martin and he is an immigrant from Bulgaria.  He speaks Bulgarian and was actually raised part-time in an orphanage.  Until he was six, his mother worked during the week and left him at the orphanage, but then she would pick him up on the weekends.  Martin has also worked for an equivalent of Early Intervention in Pennsylvania.  He teaches college courses at Temple University concerning children under the age of three who have developmental delays.  Needless to say, we had a lot to talk about!

I asked quite a few questions of Martin concerning the conditions of orphanages in Bulgaria.  Martin has personally visited around 40 of the 150(ish) main orphanages in Bulgaria.  He remembered that he had been to the one in the village of "O" (where N. lives), but he did not remember much specifically about it or its facilities.  He actually admitted that this is probably a good thing; if he didn’t remember it, it probably wasn’t too horrible.

Martin stated that the orphanages in Bulgaria are comprised of almost 80% Roma children, just like N.  Heidi Malcolm (my sister-in-law) has worked with some missionaries who minister to this people group, so she was very helpful in educating me on this culture.  The Roma people are also known as Gypsies.  They are despised by the Bulgarian citizens.  Actually, “despised” is not a strong enough word.  They are completely shunned by the Bulgarians.  These Roma children have little to no hope of finding a home within their country, just because of the family line into which they were born.

When I asked Martin about the orphanages, he was quick to reassure me that the children were typically clean, well-fed, and well-dressed.  They are very structured institutions, and there is little room for one-on-one attention or specialized teaching.  For example, Martin told me that the children are all potty-trained in the same way.  The moment they wake up in the morning, they are placed onto their potty chairs.  Then, the children are not allowed to get up until they have done their business.  This might require them to eat breakfast on their chair.  It also might require them to spend the next three or four hours on the chair.  Rather than being taught to use the restroom properly, the children are forced.

The Bulgarian orphanages also take pride in offering decent medical care.  That would explain why there is quite a bit of information in N.’s report from his doctors.  Martin also told me that the doctors overall are very negative as they write the reports.  Chance and I had expressed some fears that maybe the reports were “jazzed-up” in order to make the children sound more appealing, but Martin said the contrary was true.  It is almost as if the doctors focus solely on the negative aspects of these children’s development.  Not much is said about what they are capable of doing, but quite a bit is said about what they are unable to do.  I reassured Martin that I didn’t mind the negative reports, since it helped us mentally paint a more accurate picture of this child.

One of the major downfalls of the Bulgarian orphanages, according to Martin, was the lack of social-emotional development.  The institutions are run on a very tight schedule.  There are continually large-group activities being done.  Children who need more motivation or more attention seem to fall behind because of their inability to connect and participate.  Also, it is a widely-practiced Bulgarian custom to not show children affection while they are awake.  Parents only kiss their children while the children are sleeping.  They are not to know that affection is being shown to them.  If this is true in homes where the parents deeply love the children, I can only imagine the disconnect between the orphanage caregivers and the babies!  Many of these children are very behind in their social-emotional skills.  (If that’s not enough to make me want to catch the next flight to Bulgaria to wrap my arms around little N., I don’t know what is!)

Martin continually emphasized that the caretakers in the orphanage are not unkind, they just don’t know or understand how to do better.  Many of the things they are doing would be considered neglect in the United States, but they are acceptable customs in Bulgaria.

While I had Martin on the phone, I asked him what his professional opinion was of sweet little N.  First, Martin explained to me how to say N.’s name properly. Ask me to say it the next time I speak to you!)

Once we got that important detail down, we moved on to talking about his health and development.  One of our main concerns about N.’s report was that he suffered from “mild to moderate asphyxiation.”  “Mild to moderate” is vague to begin with, but even more so when it is being defined by another country’s standards.  Martin agreed with our doctor-friend from church (whom we consulted on Wednesday), and thought that if much oxygen had been lost, N.’s color at birth would have been reported as being blue, as opposed to red.  He also stated that it seemed like N.’s physical development was on target, which ruled out signs of Cerebral Palsy.  Those were both promising statements.

Since N.’s mother was 47 when he was born, Downs Syndrome could be likely, but he does not appear to have that issue.  Also, his birth weight was surprisingly normal, considering her age.

Overall, Martin believed that N. mainly needs to be taught using a different method than what is being done in the institutions.  He believes that N. probably would thrive in a situation where he receives love, support, and one-on-one attention.  (And hugs and kisses while his precious eyes are open!  I’m not attached at all, see? :-P)

Martin has also put in a request for more up-to-date reports and pictures.  This action requires permission from Bulgaria’s Minister of Justice, but the permission could be granted as early as next week.

Finally, Martin clarified that there was a mistake in N.’s initial reports (besides the inclusion of another child’s information) as he did not have a cleft lip or a cleft palate.

Martin and I finished our conversation by talking about the paper work that will need to be filed prior to our visit to Bulgaria.  We hope to start collecting this paperwork very quickly.  We are waiting on Madison Adoption Associates to gives us more detailed information about these documents and forms.  We are actually the first family to use Madison to adopt from Bulgaria, so this entire process is part of a pilot-type program.  We hope we can offer useful feedback so that many more families can find their children in the orphanages of Bulgaria.

I’d like to list some very specific prayer requests and ask you to join us in praying for these things:

  • every day, we will pray that N. has a full belly, a good night’s sleep and someone to show him love and affection
  • we are going to pray for quick movement in both the U.S. adoption system and the Bulgarian adoption system
  • pray that Chance and I would continue to strengthen our relationship as we prepare to add another person to our family

Thanks for your support!

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