383 days ago I left Ukraine with the girls. So many things have happened in just one year. The babies have changed so much. They have changed me forever.
(Victoria was 21 months and Francesca was 27 months)
What a journey we went on together! This is the first time I saw Francesca. They liked Francesca at the orphanage. She was an expert at getting attention with her cute smile. She knew how to work a room. They even dressed her up fancy for our meeting.
This is the first time I saw Victoria. I was shocked. They told me she had no spirit. They said she wasn't able to learn or move. They told me I didn't want her. Her eyes were so haunted. I was terrified. I wanted to run. Jump back on a plane and leave and forget. I had no idea why she was so withdrawn. I think this might have been the first time she had ever been out of her room in her entire life.
That night, I prayed and prayed for guidance. I felt a sense of peace. I knew what I had to do. The next day we trekked back to the orphanage and told the orphanage director that we would accept Victoria, that we wanted her. The director was surprised. "Are you sure?" she asked us over and over.
We began to slowly learn about the girls. Why couldn't Victoria open her hands? They were clenched so tightly that we couldn't pry them open. She could only use one finger. We learned that she had never been given anything to hold, so her Arthrogryposis had just got worse and worse.
We wondered why Francesca was always so desperate for water. We wondered why she kept having fevers and they wouldn't let us see her. She would lick a drop of water off her fingers, over and over. We found out that they usually had one little tea cup for all the kids in her group to share.
They kept so many layers on Francesca. No wonder she had a fever!
Whenever we lay Victoria down, she immediately tried to protect herself. She would grind her teeth constantly. They wouldn't let me feed Victoria. They told me that food made her throw up. (She has never thrown up once since I have had her)
Victoria never smiled or made a sound for the entire 6 weeks that I was in Ukraine with her. I wondered what the inside of her mouth looked like. I wondered if she could even open her mouth.
My heart broke for her and for all the others that I couldn't help. This little boy is available for adoption on Reecesrainbow. He was in Victoria's room. He has a form of dwarfism. He was never let out of his crib. His postion was never changed. They kept him covered up with a blanket so no one would have to see him.
This little girl was two years old. Her name is Anastasia. She had CP. Though she had trouble swallowing, they fed her laying down. She also was never allowed out of her crib. Never.
This little guy was always so smiley. I wonder what will happen to him?
The lives these children live is horrific. This is a picture of the bruises on Victoria's legs. She was not a favorite.
The children in Victoria's room were never given any toys to play with. The kids who were mobile were allowed the privilege of being in this big pen together. They had to be quiet though, or they might be smacked or even thrown.
There was a wonderful therapy room that the babies and I played in. I never saw any other children ever use it. Going to the orphanage everyday was spiritually draining. Some days I just wanted to hide under the covers and stay at the apartment, but I knew that if I didn't go, Victoria wouldn't get out of her crib that day.
Victoria was still pretty lifeless. She seemed resigned to whatever happened.
I don't mean to paint a terrible picture of my time in Ukraine. I made some wonderful friends on this journey. This is Anya. She is from the city of Kremenchuk, where the baby's orphanage was. She was so helpful and kind. I don't know what I would have done without her!
I met my dear friend, Jen, who adopted Sammy. He was in Francesca's room.
She also adopted Gloria, who was in Victoria's room and Seth. Yes, three children at one time! I feel like I have known her all my life!
I also met my wonderful friend, Catherine, at the embassy in Kiev. We ended up on the same flight coming back to the US. She lives in Philadelphia, so I get to see her every time I come to Shriners. We are bonded for life!!!
Some of the nannies were kind. In Francesca's room, this nanny really seemed to care about the children. Some of the nannies in Francesca's room were very harsh though. Often, the children sat on a mat watching static on the television for hours.
Sometimes Victoria was too weak to even sit up.
Francesca was busy eating everything in sight. She didn't like sleeping though.
Victoria had a horrible diaper rash with blisters. Anya arranged for me to see a doctor there. I thought Victoria also had reflux, so I figured the doctor would prescribe some medicine to help her. The doctor wouldn't give us anything. The doctor didn't think she was worth trying to help.
This picture shows the spirit Victoria had. As weak as she was, she grabbed for Francesca's cup.
Finally, we traveled back to Kiev. Our journey here was almost over. Hang in there Victoria! Help is coming!
We all decided to all stay at the hospital with Victoria. We brought in the air mattress and camped out.
Victoria got splints for her hands to help stretch her tendons. They hurt, but she began to be able to use them.
She was given a NG tube so she would get more calories. The doctors believed she had a contracture in her jaw. They said she might not ever be able to open her mouth.
I am so thankful for all the people who came to the hospital to help! We were stocked with all kinds of delicious food! People even stayed overnight so we could come home to rest.
I will never forget you all! Your kindness meant so much to all of us!
We finally were able to come home! We had been home about a week when she actually smiled for the very first time!
Francesca never had any food issues. She's never met a food that she didn't like.
Victoria's biggest fear was that we were going to force the food into her mouth. She had to learn how to eat solid foods.
I can't believe that little Catherine used to be able to pick up Francesca. Francesca weighed 17 pounds when we brought her home.
Now Francesca weighs 32 pounds. She outweighs Catherine!
What a shock! She could actually open her mouth! Victoria weighed only 14 pounds when she came home and now she weighs 30 pounds!
She began to learn how to trust.
Then came the surgeries. Francesca had four surgeries this year.
This was the fun cleft palate, cranial vault surgery.
Therapist doubted that she would speak. They told me to teach her to point and be happy with that. Of course, I didn't listen to them either!
Victoria now says a bunch of words and sounds. The other day, I exclaimed, "WOW!" Victoria looked up at me and said, "wow". She doesn't use a lot of expression in her voice, so when I got all excited and said, "Did you just say wow?" She promptly said, "wow" again, very deadpan. She is hysterical. I really think she just needed someone to believe in her. Don't we all!
So, thank you Francesca, for showing me what it means to always look on the happy side of life!
(Francesca, a year ago. Such a skinny little thing!)
Thank you for showing me to always find joy in everything (except for water, grass, whipped cream and sand!)
Thank you Victoria, for teaching me never to give up!
(Victoria, one year ago)
Thank you for teaching me about the important things (of course, chocolate is one of them!)
Thank you for being in our family! We are blessed to know you both!
Can't wait to see what the next year brings!