"What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters
compared to what lies within us."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

9,192 hours of hope

This post has taken me a really long time to write. So many emotions come flooding back when I see these pictures.  Things I wish I hadn't seen. Things I wish I could change.

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.

                                                                    June 2011
                                  (Victoria was 21 months and Francesca was 27 months)

June 2012

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 I had no idea why she was so withdrawn.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. 

This is Victoria's room. None of the toys on the shelves were ever used. The children never played on the rug. This was the quietest room full of children that I have ever been in.

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.

Finally, finally, the day came to take the girls out of the orphanage. I had never been allowed to take off Victoria's clothes before and they mostly kept her in layers. I knew she was malnourished, but to actually see her little body broke my heart. I was terrified that she wouldn't make it until we got back to the United States. We still had a few weeks to go.

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.

 Francesca always was a bit of a drama queen.

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!

I will spare you the details of the flight home. 15 hours of non-stop crying was not fun, but we were home! Not exactly though. We went straight to the children's hospital with Victoria. The doctors were so shocked they didn't even know what to say. She stayed in the hospital for over a week.

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.

 The first doctors I met with didn't think Victoria would ever be able to walk. They said, "walking is not going to be her thing". Obviously, I ignored them and found a better doctor! Victoria has been through four hospitalizations and three surgeries.

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! 


  1. I feel blessed just to have followed the journey. It has changed me forever. You are an awesome family!

  2. Oh man. I don't really know what to say other than THIS is why we advocate and adopt. Because now your kids are full of life and love and mischief, when before they just had the hope of a few drops of water, licked off a hand..

    This breaks my heart.

  3. I agree Nancy. This has been such an eye opener for me. How incredibly blessed they and you are to have each other! This blog is one of my favorite parts of the day.

  4. I am so glad and thankful these wonderful girls are in your family now! Look at the stunning difference. They are both so worthy-so sweet, so smart, so determined!!

  5. LOVE! So happy you never gave up on those girls. I cried (am actually still crying) looking at their before pictures. I just don't understand, these are children! Sweet, beautiful children! why are they treated like this, how can anyone look at their faces and hurt them :( Makes me so angry and yet at the same time so helpless feeling. I pray, advocate and donate, would adopt them all if I could, which sadly I cannot, just feel like it can never be enough.
    Thank you, thank you for sharing your journey for the girls and all the wonderful moments they are experiencing living life as they are meant to.

  6. This was so beautiful - I loved reading it! I look forward to your posts and your humour brings a smile and a laugh most days.
    The difference in Victoria and Francesca is so amazing - what love and a family can do!
    May your family be wonderfully blessed this next year and may the girls (and all the others) keep making such amazing progress!

  7. Wow, what an amazing journey! I can't believe how much all your kiddos have changed and grown! Great job mom!

  8. This is such a sad but joyful post. Your girls are so blessed. It's so glorious to see how far they have come with a mother's love and dedication. I wonder why anyone would want to work in an orphanage if they don't like children.

  9. This post just made my cry. How amazing the difference love and care, faith and trust, has made! God bless your whole family!

  10. Thanks for sharing your story. I've been following your blog quite a while. I fell in love with Victoria before you adopted her. If I were going to adopt last year, she was the one I wanted. Thank God she did not have to wait for me. I remember being so happy when I found out that she was going to be adopted. I remember being disgusted upon hearing that the doctors would not help her overseas. I remember when she was hospitalized in the States and wondering if she would live. God has saved here. It has been a privilege and joy to watch God rescue Victoria through you and to give her the joys of life. Your family is an inspiration. Thank you for giving Victoria what she needs to gain movement and speech. I thank God for these precious miracles-Victoria and Francesca and their awesome siblings and their loving parents!

  11. It just brings tears to my eyes to see how much your girls have changed. I remember seeing Victoria on RR before you adopted her.

  12. What an incrediable journey! I have tears of pure joy!!
    They were so meant to be your daughters! you hve a wonderful, fun family!


  13. This is one of THOSE posts, the one i want to send to everybody I know and don't know, the one that stays with me for days, the one I want to make required reading at school.

    Thank you again, Catherine, for sharing this!

  14. Oh my Lord. Jesus have mercy. I see my "Oliver" (on RR) in this post. Dear Lord, this is as bad as Pleven! Thank you for your love and please keep speaking for these children! We must find families for these babies!

  15. Amazing, terrifying, and beautiful.

  16. Blown away. . at the redemption of your girls, your endurance, your belief, and the destitution of their journey starting off. Thank you..

  17. Love, love , love reading about your girls!The bit about Francesca never meeting a food she didn't like was hilarious. Keep up the good work Mom!

  18. Teary over here in Texas. :) They are doing so awesome! You are the perfect mom for them too!
    Sunshine, breeds sunshine. :)

    Have you sent pictures back to the dungeon, I mean orphanage?
    They need to see! They need to KNOW that it is NOT OK to STARVE babies physically and emotionally!

  19. Found this post via a link on FB. All I can say is brace yourself - God is surely about to use your faithfulness to further testify to His greatness. This may also be the catalyst in another family's life that affirms their calling to adopt and therefore change even more lives. You've certainly blessed me this day. :oD

  20. Beautiful post! The before and after photos are wonderful. It's clear that the girls needed you, but it's so obvious that you needed them to complete your family. Just amazing.

  21. Wow, astounding before and afters! I'm so glad they're doing well. I'm so sad that those children are treated that way and I hope that more people come to rescue those sweeties.

  22. Beautiful post. Love your family!

  23. What a great post and update!! So happy to see how far your babies have come!! Love your blog!

  24. You are my hero. I thank God for people like you.

  25. AWESOME! This is just beautiful! To see the girls before and after so starkly contrasted. I hope you are able to share these pics and stories with their orphanage.
    I pray for the Lord to make a way to train the folks in these horrible places. Even if they don't want to do the therapy necessary for them to be the best they can be they can at the very least care for their basic needs. I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why the WHO hasn't stepped in. These institutions are concentration camps.

  26. What a blessing you and your sweet family are. Tears here, happy and sad. What beautiful little treasures you have been given.

  27. Oh wow, I'm tearing up reading this. I've been following your blog since before you left to pick up the girls in Ukraine and have been amazed and delighted to watch their transformation. Your blog is one of my favourites, always a joy to read about your wonderful children!

  28. Your girls are beautiful! I love seeing the chub. Of course, the journey broke my heart and the ones that still wait...your post is going to make a difference. It is going to be the post that is shouted around the world. And people will come. From all over to rescue those children and demand justice.

  29. Like everyone else here I'm tearing up while I read this! I think of my wonderful friend who's just arrived in the Ukrain to see her little boy for the first time. I pray she has the strength and endurance yall did and that her next year will be as awesome as yours! Your little girls are adorable :) GOD bless your family

  30. Thank you for sharing your wonderful family with us. There is something about Victoria that grabs this grandma's heart. God bless.

  31. Thank you for sharing your girls! I have been following your story for quite a while and had honestly forgotten they were ever in such bad shape. So sad but they are look wonderful now. They have come so far! It's amazing. I love them!

  32. Oh, I've been teary eyed many times reading your blog, but today I'm in tears. May God continue to bless you and your wonderful family. It breaks my heart - all those who still wait.

  33. Thank you for writing this, it made me sick to my stomach and happy at the same time, is that even possible??? I'm praying daily to be able to adopt, my husband is not on board at this time unfortunately. But God... :)

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for answering God's call so many times.

    (PS Dude is that your son in the last pic?? my goodness he's changed whoa!)

  34. What a beautiful, loving, caring mom you are. Seeing the difference a year has made in their lives is awesome. You deserve a medal. You should show others how to do this and how to show these children love. What I would love to do is give those girls a hug and tell them what lucky girls they are. Wonder how many kids are still in the house they came from? May God richly bless your family and you. You are special people.

  35. I had no idea that Victoria had been treated so badly. No wonder she is more reserved and careful about everything. I am so proud of you and your family for working so hard for these two little dumplings.

  36. I loved reading the sweet redemption! I almost wish you could take Victoria back and say "look how wrong you all were"! Except she'd probably be terrified. Thank you for saving them.

  37. Beautiful post, thanks for the morning cry. And thank you so very much for letting these beautiful gems into our lives too!!!!

  38. I would like to join Victoria and say


  39. Thank you so much for bringing these girls home.

  40. Amazing children...amazing family. A blessing to share in their story today. Prayers for continued amazing adventures for your sweet family. Blessings, Jennifer

  41. I simply adore you and your family. Adore you

  42. What an amazing journey! Thank you for sharing it. I love that last picture. :)

  43. Thank you for sharing your beautiful daughters journey and healing. If ever there was a testimony to the power of love this is it. I am so glad you found each other. God bless you all!

  44. This is awesome. I hope I will be able to do this someday.

  45. Each new picture of Victoria fills me with joy. (And each new pic of Francesca gives me giggles!) I am so very very glad to be following your journey. Thank you for inviting all of us along.

  46. How incredibly heartbreaking and uplifting. Do you know anything about the children in the playpen. The redhead is pulling at my heart with those blue eyes.

  47. So amazingly encouraging. Thank you for your courage to DO when you did not feel...a scary place to be. What joy those little ones have!

  48. Thank you very much for your post, for the blog. You are an amazing inspiration! My friend in Poland has little girl like Victoria and I am going to write her about your beautiful blog and direct her to you. What a beautiful girls they are, showing all the love you give them. I have little girl Amelia who has achondroplasia (born on the same day as Kullen!!!!). Sending you hugs and best wishes on your beautiful journey.

  49. They have changed so much! Thank you for saving them, and for sharing your amazing family with us!

  50. Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for taking so much time to write this post. No child should ever endure that kind of neglect. Just look what love can do!

  51. A difficult but most needed post, thank you! I shared on my FB page if you don't mind. Praying that God continues to use you to open doors for more children to come home! Also praying that more Christian nationals will rise up in their own countries (including here at home!) and stand for what is right!

  52. Thank you so much for writing this post. Not only does it make me fall in love with the girls all over again, but it gave me an easy way to share with someone else just how devastating the lives of these precious children across the ocean can be. I think it's important for others to see your love and compassion for "the least of these". It's so wonderful for people to see your story. Thank you for being so self-less, and such an angel for these precious children.

  53. Hey-if you got any comments here or on FB from my nasty brother in law, Kevin Hagemann (may come up Joseli and Kevin Hagemann on FB) please forward me that info. I need it. And I apologize if you have become one of his targets. Thanks

  54. My "yes" is on the "table" for the Lord.

    My husband does not feel comfortable with adoption for our family.

    He read your blog yesterday and was "really touched" thinking about your girls not getting what they need and especially about Victoria laying in a crib all day long.

    He's now praying about adoption for our family, giving the Lord his "yes". He asked me specific questions about the logistics of your adoption and others I have had the privilege of reading about.

    THANK YOU for writing this, THANK YOU again for answering God's call for all your girls. (thank you to your family too :)

  55. Wow!!! Thank you so much for sharing your story!!! I love it. What a wonderful family.

  56. We are adopting Rose on RR and I just found your blog via the Yahoo Col**bia group! I remember your girls and I am so happy to see how GREAT they are doing!!!

  57. It's been a blessing watching their lives transform. Such a wonderful answer to so many prayers. Love from the Ristow7

  58. It was a very motivational post, Catherine. Thanks for sharing. God bless, Lillian Godone-Maresca

  59. O my God! I am from Ukraine. I am shoked! I even didnt know that such the terrible things are taking place in our country nowaday. Thank you for saving these poor children! You are amazing people! Excuse my poor English.

  60. You are amazing and you have such a beautifully blessed family. You all will forever be in my prayers! I hope you do not mind but I would like to add your blog to my blog list on my blog. You are definitely a true inspiration!
    Anne Hurd


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