Saturday, November 14, 2015

Skype Date with an Angel

This week has been so weird. First, I got a job offer to go and interpret for a week in Ethiopia for a research project. I desperately WANT to go, but I would be working daylight hours so I would not be able to get anything done for my kids, and would have a hard time even being able to make time to get away and see them. Plus, I can't go back to Ethiopia because I promised Micah that when I come again, it will be for court. And I can't break that promised and then leave him again. I have left him six times. I can't do it again. But I also can't go and NOT see him. So I can't go. I could try and see if I could stay an extra week to fight for him, but I found out some new information about his case and basically my being there would do nothing at this point. Or would it? It's so hard.....everything is SO hard. 
I turned the job down. Abe doesn't have that much vacation and I'd be losing money and it wouldn't help any of my kids. Plus I think I would die if I left my babies again. So no. 

Saturday, November 7th, I was feeling desperate to hear something about Micah's case. I texted my contact and begged for information. This person has only responded to me once since June 17th, the day they dropped Felecia and Matthew's case. I doubted I would get an answer (I have only texted, called, FB messaged, emailed, Vibered, and audio texted in Amharic thirty bazillion times), but I sent the text anyway. It was 7:01pm
I got an response less than five minutes later. The message was unclear and I texted back, asking if it would help if I was back in Ethiopia, to try and push things along. They didn't answer me. 
I was frustrated. Tired of sitting on my hands. Sick with the wait for my son. So I emailed the person that brought me to the government when I was in Ethiopia. This person is a powerful figure and there are a lot of details I can't share, but I sent a message begging for help. I appealed to them in every way I could, based on what I know about them and their personality. 
Hi _________!!!

I hope you are well. :) I am good....working a lot, and fighting hard for *Micah.

May I ask for your help? __________ (a head official) needs *Micah's region to send the papers so he can sign them. Can you help get him the papers? Can you contact anyone? Can you do anything? I know you have so much influence!!! And I know that you have a good heart and want the best for *Micah! And you are a Type A. You are a fighter, a persuader. You get things done. You love to be a leader. Can you help me? Please? Abakah (Amharic for "please")??? Please help me get my son cleared?

I'm begging, _______. Please help *Micah? Help me with the "impossible"? Someday *Micah will change the world and he will look back and thank you. Please ______? My friend?

Jegna Mari
I also sent a picture of my three tattoos (all in Amharic: Hero/Warrior, Strong, and the number 6 for all my babies) and a photo of me and Micah from March. 
When I woke up at 3am for work, I had three emails in my inbox....all from the person. saying they would do their best to help me. Even though I don't even know if they even CAN do anything, the fact that they ANSWERED me, and the fact that they seemed WILLING gave me such relief. Gave me a little hope. 
I went to work....and then at 6:14am they emailed me again, saying they were where Micah was and asking if I wanted to Skype with him. 
My heart stopped. I emailed back so fast that my fingers were tripping over each as I tried to type. I basically freaked out and said YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We set up the time and I punched out at work. I didn't even care. I ran into the break room kitchen and set up my phone. I added them on Skype. And then I clicked the video connect button. I couldn't even breathe. I was nervous and excited and about to cry from happiness and sadness all at once. 
The video connected and the person came into view. They waved at me and handed the phone off and suddenly Micah's face was looming in the screen. And I burst into tears. 
He was so beautiful. The internet was terrible and the connection was pixelated and delayed, but it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. He didn't know how to hold the phone with Skype so it was just his head most of the time, but I could see that he was wearing a jersey and jacket I had brought to him from Levi. He was smiling and happy, but I could see confusion in his eyes. "Mom, where have you been? Why haven't you come back for me? Why is this taking so long?" 
Because he doesn't really sign, I couldn't answer his questions that filled his sweet eyes. I couldn't tell him that it's out of my control and that I am fighting every second that I am alive for him. That I barely sleep, and that I cry every day for him. Actually, I did tell him that last part. I used all the signs we had established in March and I gestured and acted out the rest. I told him I love him with all my heart and that I will come back. I WILL. That I will not leave him. That he is my son and I am his mom, and that will never change. I signed our "never let go" sign and he reached towards the phone to connect us in a single sign. I told him that every day I pray for him. Every day I cry for him.
I had to go back to work, but I was told I could call after. I raced home as soon as work was done and called again, and there was Micah's face, grinning and rolling his eyes a little when I hugged the phone like my life depended on it. He's such a teenager. :) 
 I showed him his pictures on our walls and the little pipe cleaner designs he made for us that hang in the livingroom. I showed him the Origami paper crane that we made together in March, and I kissed it. During all this, his eyes shone and I could see he knew. He was signing back, "ILY" and grinning, and I knew he knows he is loved. I introduced him to the dogs and taught him their sign names (and tested him on them) and he was especially excited to see Mowgli, because he didn't even know about him yet. Then I walked him around the house, showing him everything. He was so happy to see his room; he has pictures of course, but he was thrilled to see it live, and to see his picture on Levi's bureau. I showed him his bed and I could see his puzzlement at the 30 pairs of shoes lined up on it (waiting to be drawn on for his fundraiser project). I didn't even try to explain; I just looked at him, shrugged and laughed, and kept going. 
I showed him the paintings I had on hand that I have done for his fundraiser and asked him if he was still drawing. He LOVES to draw and I had brought him supplies before. He went to his room (with me getting seasick on the phone as we ran and bounced through the orphanage and courtyard) and he showed me his most recent work; a portrait of one of his roommates. I tried to get a snapshot off my phone, because it was amazing. He has gotten so much better! He is using shading and shape and making his work 3D and he is definitely going to be some kind of artist, graphic designer, or engineer. The child is incredible. 
We hung out for 40 uninterrupted minutes, and it was one of the greatest gifts ever. I cannot even tell you how grateful and happy I am and what a blessing and merciful thing it was for me to see his precious face after eight long months. I don't know when this boy is coming home or when I will see him again, but my heart is so, so thankful. He knows I love him, he loves us, and he knows he is mine. He knows I am fighting. 
I'm coming for you, baby. 
P.S. Please, PLEASE keep praying for him. I found out that his case isn't even the real problem; his region is closed and apparently his case is "guaranteed" but the region is actually investigating SEVERAL kids cases and wants to process them as a batch; and they won't sign Micah's paperwork or send it until the other kids clear too. I want those kids to clear of course, and I want them with their families, but it has taken me five years to get to this point and my baby can't communicate or go to school. And I just want him cleared. NOW. Especially if they are going to do it anyway. But God has other plans, or a way to work around the horrible disappointments that keep hitting us, so I am holding on. Honestly, it's easier after seeing Micah. I feel renewed. I feel grateful. I feel happy. 
Update on our paperwork: We got our I-600A clearance. I sent our dossier affidavit and power of attorney to the capital to be authenticated. As soon as those get back, I will be mailing out our dossier. And then our paperwork will be done and just waiting for Micah to clear. 
God, please bring him home. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

And then it was my turn.....

And then it was my turn. 
I haven't posted a lot about being sick. I mean, it's depressing and not very fun. Plus then people feel bad for me, and I don't want people only viewing me as only sick. I deal with it and function as normally as I can.....there's nothing I can do about it so why dwell on it?
Long story short, I have been sick for many years. At first, I wasn't even sure. I didn't think too much of it. But it started progressively getting worse. Especially when we were in the adoption process for Levi and Z. But I didn't go to the doctor because being seriously sick could have messed up their adoption, and right or wrong, hell or high water, I was bringing my babies home. 
When Levi and Z came home, I got sicker. I ended up in the emergency room because of severe, random, and seemingly uncontrollable allergic reactions. You can read about that here:
Long story short, I have seen five specialists and many doctors. I have been tested and on guinea pig treatment plans for the past few years. I have tried all natural remedies and healing processes, and medication. A lot of what is wrong with my body happened because I work so much and never sleep and I understand that, but even if I had known what would happen and could go back in time to redo it, I wouldn't change anything. My kids needed to be home desperately, and I would give anything for them. And I did. Working 80+ hours a week for seven years and sleeping 3 (sometimes) less hours a night destroyed my already sick body. But I would do it again. In a heartbeat. 
Basically, here's what I am dealing with:
-I have all the symptoms of several autoimmune diseases, except joint pain, which is a major factor, so the doctors are hesitant to label me with anything. 
-My liver is not working properly; it's not filtering out toxins, so they are continuously cycling through my body. My body then tries to fight itself, resulting in severe allergic reactions to random (and ever-increasing) things: soap, metals, cloth, etc. 
-I have three hormones that my body is not producing: cortisol (critical for your brain), adrenaline (critical to deal with any shock, surprises, or need to a quick reaction), and progesterone, related to my mood among other things. I am currently in the 4th and final stage of adrenaline failure. Most people in this stage are bedridden. 
-Because my body has no adrenaline to deal with ANYTHING, it puts my heart at risk. So I am not allowed to work out, or stress (good luck) or anything that could strain my heart. Because it doesn't have a way to deal. 
-I have been getting vertigo. Fairly often. and migraines. Sometimes vomiting. Abe has had to stay home multiple times because I am in so much pain. I am literally out for a day or two at a time. 
-I had uterine issues last year and I will spare you the details but they are bad. I was told I needed two more surgeries for them, but to try medication for a year and see if it helped. 
-Because of all these issues, I am also pre-diabetic, have high cholesterol, and am borderline hypertensive. I have gained a ton of weight. Literally, like 60lb. Which is so sad, because my diet consists of chicken, fish, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, egg whites, water, and an occasional sweet potato. So unfair. My body can't handle anything. It just gains weight no matter what because it's just not working. My thyroid is borderline underactive, and that's not helping either. I am just going to say here, thank God for Abe. I can't even say in words what he means to me. He always treats me like I am the most beautiful person on earth and he never criticizes my body or talks about when I was fit. He just tells me how beautiful I am and how blessed he is to have me, and how gorgeous I am. I freaking love him. This man the ultimate. 
Anyway, back to my story: I went on some meds for a year for my progesterone. Unfortunately, they didn't work, and the issues that are occurring put me at a super high risk for cancer. I was told (by a fourth doctor), that I should get an ablation to try and avoid cancer. Thankfully we were capped out of our premiums this year for medical insurance between all the kids and my many doctor appointments, so I went ahead and scheduled it. Ironically, it was scheduled for November 3rd, three years to the day since Levi and Z came home. 
I have to admit, I was a little nervous. It's scary to have to go under on the operating table when you don't have any adrenaline and you have a million issues. The morning of, I made sure to do my makeup extra nice. Technically the instruction sheet said no makeup, but last year (I am thinking of making double surgeries my own personal November tradition) they told me I could have worn makeup if I wanted to. So I took full advantage of it this year. Abe's exact words were, "Wow, you aren't going for subtle, are you?" Hahahaha! :) I am proud to say that I received many compliments on my eyebrows from the nurses. :) Actually, the very first lady to take me back exclaimed, "D*** girl, them eyebrows is SHARP! I just gots to touch 'em!" and then she proceeded to try to wipe one off! When it stayed put (thank you Anastasia Beverly Hills), she exclaimed, "What, are they tattooed on there???" #bestcomplimenteverrrrrrrrrrr

Several people remembered me from last year and everyone made me feel more relaxed. They were super kind, and we joked most of the time. They even let me have my phone right up until I went to surgery. My surgeon was the same person as last year and we laughed about my November visits. 
The surgery went great I hear (I was out, of course) and I woke up right after. Abe had told me that last time I took almost two hours to come out of anesthesia and this time I was determined to be faster. Apparently I woke up ten minutes after surgery. I wish I had slept longer; I was sick as a dog and in so much pain. I was determined to win the time crunch though. Abe kept rolling his eyes at me and being like, "Babe, SLEEP!!!" But I refused. 

It hurt really bad. Like, INTENSE. They did a D&C and then they did the ablation.....meaning they radiated my uterus. I'm just gonna say.........PAINFUL. I went home, and for the first two days I was in pain, but it wasn't unbearable. It wasn't unmanageable. I was only on ibuprofen, and I rested on the couch. Now apparently when you have an ablation, you basically get contractions. Which is why my abs feel like I worked them out for 500 hours (I wish I was getting a six-pack out of this :)). 
Thursday night, I fell asleep and woke up to the worst cramps in history. Sort of like waking up to a Charlie-horse, but way worse and in your stomach. I wanted to start screaming. I dragged myself to the bathroom where I cried like a baby and dry-heaved like I had the flu. I was pretty sure I was dying. Abe ran in and stayed with me while I suffered through a long and horrid night, where I hugged the toilet like it was a lifeline. I am just gonna say, it was hell, and I am super mad that I had to go through that and not get a baby in the end. Not that I want a baby at this moment, nor can I ever carry one now, but I wanted some kind of reward for that. Imagine going through labor contractions and cramps from Satan, except your uterus is all freshly burned inside. And the pain is so bad you can't stop throwing up. That was my Thursday night. Really fun times. 
I called my doctor and she said that it was pretty standard and to try and rest. So on Friday I took Z to physical therapy, and we went to an eye appointment for me, went to FedEx for a missed package, and then back to the optometrist. Then I cornrowed Z's hair (it was in a fro and pretty much on the brink of tangle-city) and basically collapsed. 
So that's the story of my surgery. Today was my first day back at work (2am-noon) and it's 8amand I am hanging in there. I have a Starbuck's passion tea lemonade (which is basically the only thing I have been drinking since Tuesday night.....pretty sure it makes up 75% of my body fluid right now) and I am 2/3 through my shift. 
Thanks for all your prayers and really means the world to us and we love YOU!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I'm So Tired

once heard that "Adoption has the highest highs, and the lowest lows." 
It's so true. Adoption is also like a rollercoaster. A never-ending one. One minute you are climbing to new heights with anticipation  and excitement, and the next, something bad happens. There is a sickening drop.....and then you're falling, falling, falling, and your heart is in your throat. You're terrified and screaming, and you're sure you will die. 
That's how the adoption process feels. Except maybe a hundred times worse. 
My adoption roller coaster has been derailed mid-ride, and now it's ricocheting full-force down the tracks. The brakelines are cut. My children are hanging off the sides and the only thing keeping them from falling to their death are my aching, exhausted arms. They are crying and screaming for me to help them, and I am trapped in the tilting car, struggling with everything I am to hold onto them. I will not let go. I will not lose them. But I am SO. TIRED. Every jolt, every ricochet, every teardrop, is wearing on me. I'm not getting weaker. I'm not giving up. I WON'T. But I am SO tired. 
A few months we got the incredible news that we had gotten a signature for Micah. One that took five YEARS to get. That was amazing. A miracle. A time of rejoicing. Our rollercoaster had climbed to the highest peak yet, and we were on top of the world. 
A week later, I heard the sickening thud of car derailing as I got word that Felecia and Matthew's case was being dropped (AGAIN) and that it was permanent. I frantically contacted anyone and everyone who might be able to help and they all gave me the same answer: impossible. 
I believe there is such a word as impossible. Impossible as far as human effort alone. But I also believe it's used far to frequently, applied to situations where extremely hard work is required to make things happen. And I think many people are not willing to do the work. Not willing to fight. Not willing to give everything it takes. 
Sometimes, it takes everything. 
That was June 17th. Part of my world fell apart. But I can't. I'm not allowed to. I don't have that luxury. If I fall apart, who will take my place? Who will protect my babies? No one. So I press on. 
Instead of fighting the news, I suppressed it. Pretended it didn't happen. Because here's the truth: if I stopped and thought about what happened; if I let the pain of that get to me....I would lose it. I think I would have a breakdown. I just, CAN'T. It hurts so bad that I CAN'T think about it or process it. And I don't have time. Micah is running out of time. They are ALL running out of time, and I can't be lying on the floor sobbing hysterically. There can be time for that later. Right now, I have to drag myself up, and I have to run forward. RUN. 
I spent June 17-September 30th without hearing a word on Micah's case. I can't go into fact, I wish I could write a secret blog and then post it every year, so you could catch up on everything that has happened to us, but I don't dare write about it. Not that I'm afraid to write, but I'm not stupid. I will not endanger my kids. But know that 1/2 the story is ALWAYS missing. I spent June-September in AGONY. Waiting, and repeatedly trying to make contact, just to hear one sentence regarding Micah's case. It's a terrible form of torture. 
Finally, on September 30th, I got a single sentence message, promising that Micah would clear within four weeks. Four weeks to the day from that text would be October 28th. The day we arrived back in Ethiopia to bring home Levi and Z. THAT would be incredible. But it's so hard to believe. I am choosing to; choosing to open my heart up to hope. But it feels terrifying, because we have been doing that for five years, and I always end up sobbing into a pillow, clutching a picture of Micah. 
It also feels like the new agency we are working with is against us. I mean, it feels like they are doing everything in their power to PREVENT this adoption, and that is confusing and hurtful and exhausting. I am so tired of proving ourselves and being required to do the stupidest things over and over. They give us tedious, repetitious busy tasks and then repeatedly deny our paperwork for no reason. It's like a bad joke. Satan does NOT want kids to have families. Satan does not want you to follow God. And Satan will try to wear you down however he can; even through people who are probably good at heart. 
You'd think Satan would have figured out by now that I just keep bulldozing. 

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

These don't even need captions. Here's what you missed since April. :)

Black Eyes Are For Strikers

First things first. Levi got a job!!!! He's actually been working since early September now, but in case you didn't know......!!!! He is working at a veterinary clinic and he most does laundry, sweeping and mopping, cleaning cages, taking out the garbage, and preparing the surgical trays. He loves it, and they love him. He's only working six hours a week right now because he has varsity travel soccer three days a week too. 
I went with him his first day and interpreted for his training. But ever since, he has gone on his own. The owner (a vet) learned 10-15 signs for him, and one of the techs tries to learn too. Levi made them a YouTube video with signs to help them be able to communicate and he has a little pad of paper that he writes back and forth on. I am SO proud of him.

For soccer: he is on a homeschool varsity travel team. They are GOOD. Second in the league; and the kids who beat them play rough. The league is made up of high school teams (public and private). I forget what division the league is, but they are good. The boys on Levi's team are super nice, and inclusive, and they like him a lot. Which in turn makes me like THEM a lot. The coaches are great, and Levi has learned a LOT this summer. He's also made some noticeable improvement. He is playing striker, which is tough because that's new for him. He's used to playing center or right midfield and he doesn't have a super strong kick or very good aim, so it's been a lot of learning and struggles. Some games he plays a lot, and some he doesn't. But he always cheers his teammates on and fist-pounds them when they come off the field, and he is always respectful and cheerful, even when he is pulled from a game. It's hard because this is varsity, so if he isn't scoring during a game, then he gets pulled and become sub, and that's hard for him. But he handles it with grace and humility, and I am so proud of him. Like, beyond words. 

We had an interesting game last week. We played the deaf school. The one that was unwilling to work with Levi regarding his education. The one that told us that Levi could not play sports for them because he was homeschooled. The one that said Levi would be lucky to ever get to third grade, or acquire basic language. The one who said I wouldn't be able to teach my kids. 

Funny thing about that team. They had several DEAF homeschoolers on their team. And that stung. Not for me, but for my poor son who was rejected and tossed aside like garbage because of the cards that life had dealt him. Discarded because he was a "hopeless" case. I was hurt when I heard they had deaf homeschoolers. Levi was hurt. He acted like it didn't matter, but I saw the smart of betrayal in his eyes. And I boiled inside. 

It was a good game. 

We beat them. 

And I was exceedingly satisfied. But I hurt for my son, who looked at that other team and saw kids just like him, able to communicate together and be FRIENDS and then I saw him look to his team where he is alone and where an interpreter is required for communication; where he is left out so often.....and I hurt for him. Maybe I don't want him learning to play dirty, or use foul language, or snub people because they aren't deaf (all things I saw at the game), but I hurt for him.  An aching pain of seeing your child crushed and there being nothing you can do. Because life isn't fair. Because being deaf in a hearing world isn't fair. And even though I want to, I can't fix the communication barrier. I can't give him friends, true friends, his age, who can sign with him. And it kills me. 

I will say, a couple of boys came up to him after and introduced themselves and were very nice to him. They tried to recruit him. And all I could think was, "We aren't the reason that he isn't on your team." Sometimes I wonder which is the lesser of the two evils.....let Levi be on the team that builds his character and trains him better, and plays clean, or talk to the school again allow him to join a soccer team with people who can understand some of what he goes through on a daily basis from a personal perspective; people he might be friends with and could communicate with fully, BY HIMSELF.

Why is life so hard, and why can't I take my kids' pain away?

We had one game this year that was scary. Levi was going for the ball and he was trying to do a header. They were up against the only team in the league who has beaten them all year. Unfortunately, Levi was up against a player who has a rep for being the dirtiest player in the league. As Levi was coming up for the ball, the kid (who is almost as tall as Abe) came down throwing his whole body into his elbow; and his elbow into Levi's eye socket/cheekbone. Levi went down like a rock and didn't move. I knew something was really wrong, because he always rolls like a tumbleweed and keeps on going. It was a scary couple of minutes waiting for him to move and then waiting to see if he would be okay. When he finally got up, he was bleeding and in a lot of pain. His face was already swelling. We got him ice and cleaned his cuts. He was out the rest of the game .
By the time we left, his face was slowly ballooning. The next day it was worse. The following day, his eye was swollen hut and he was hardly recognizable. The day after that, I called his doctor. I was worried that he might have fractured his cheekbone, since he didn't grow up with calcium either. I took him for an X-ray, but it came back clean. They told us to keep him on ibuprofen and ice, just like we already were. It took about a week, but his swelling finally went down. 

What a summer. 
Levi is also doing 6th, 7th, and 8th grade this year. How crazy is that? The child who couldn't hold a 3-letter word in his memory just three short years ago is spelling words like "pomegranate" after seeing it one time. He is doing great, and he always wants to work. I think he would do school overnight if I would let him. I can't tell you how proud I am! Imagine trying to learn a language where you can't actually be exposed to it, or hear how it is used. You simply have to memorize thousands of words, and then those words sometimes have 2-5 meanings each, and there are hundreds of exceptions. The words change depending on other words that come before or after them, and all you can do is memorize. How is it even possible? 
Levi is an overcomer. All my babies are. I want to be just like them. 

Natalie's Eye Surgery

Poor Natalie is definitely the third child. I mean, I didn't even get to a one year home post about her. I wanted to, believe me, I wanted to, but between her eyes, and Z's feet, and the whole crappy adoption process for Micah, I just haven't had a spare minute. I have been working at 2am instead of 4am (so I am adding work hours and reducing sleep even more) and I draw shoes and do paintings to sell every 'spare' second: breaks at work, brief minutes between helping the kids with schoolwork at gymnastics, etc. I literally run around the clock and use every. single. minute. Also, the fight for Micah this summer has literally drained me. I am SO. TIRED. 
So here we are. 
So Natalie has always had a lazy eye, and we were patching her when she came home, and she had regular check-ups with her doctor, who is also a surgeon. Then in the middle of the summer (July?) her eye started acting up again. Only this time, instead of it looking a little off, it would drift super far, and when she would try to focus it, it would jump back and forth repeatedly. She complained that her eyes hurt, and she started walking into things. When we would sign at her, she would appear to be looking at us, but would be blank-faced. All these symptoms happened within a couple of days, and I immediately made her an appointment. We went in and got her checked and they told me that she needed surgery on her left eye immediately. 
I'm not gonna lie; eye surgery on my deaf child scared me. I mean, she NEEDS her eyes. It was so hard to say yes, even when I knew it was what we needed to do. It flat-out scared me.
She got a surgery date very quickly. I was nervous because of the horrible experience she had had with me at a hospital only a year before in Ethiopia. She was so traumatized then, and she believed I was the cause of her pain (she had no language and she didn't know me; of course she couldn't trust me). And now here we were again, at a hospital, with me about to let strangers cut into her eyes, and I was nervous that she would not understand and be furious with me. And what if the surgery went bad and she went blind and it was my fault?
During the pre-op appointment the surgery team and told me that she would most likely be blind for three days or so. At first I wasn't too concerned, because she would still have her right eye. But the day of surgery, as I was signing the consent forms, I noticed the paperwork said, "I hereby give permission for ____________ to operate on one or both eyes..."
I was like, "Wait, BOTH eyes???" and the surgeon explained. He was going to cut the eye muscles on either side of her eyes, shorten them, rotate her eyeball, and reattach them. He wanted to do them both to avoid another surgery later, and to make sure both eyes were perfectly aligned. Which made perfect sense, except, it's her EYES. And she's DEAF. And they had told me she might be blind for three days. How do I explain that to this child??? How do I tell her to trust me and let them take her into a scary room and give her shots, cut her eyes open, and then have her wake up blind? How do I prepare her for that????
I didn't know what to do. I prayed and I thought about the reasoning the doctor had given me. I signed the forms. And I told him, "I need to be Nat's interpreter. I have to be in there with her." "Oh no, we can't allow parents in the O.R.," he replied. "We will get a translator for her." "You don't understand, " I said, as respectfully as I could, but with my fighting voice. It doesn't allow for argument. "Natalie won't understand an American interpreter and she doesn't have the cultural background or experiences to be left alone in a hospital. I need to be there to make sure that she understands what is happening. She uses a mix of ASL, home signs, Amharic sign, and relies heavily on classifiers and pictures." "Well we can find an Amharic translator," he said, "You can't be in there." "She doesn't know Amharic sign," I explained, "She grew up with zero language. She won't understand anyone but me, and I have to be in there, or we won't do the surgery. I can also have you talk to my lawyer, if you would like." He frowned at me. "I would have to call and get special permission." "Absolutely," I said. "I would be happy to speak to anyone necessary, so that I can explain the situation." 
Long story short, I received permission to be with Natalie and interpret. The day of the surgery, she and I sat down and we tried to make up some tactile hand signals for her, in case she went blind for a few days after the procedure. She was nervous. I was nervous. Luckily, the nurse who greeted us was really kind, and she brought Natalie to a toy cupboard and let her choose a reward for being brave. Nat chose a doll. Then we went and got ready. I can't imagine how confusing and scary it was for her; a sterile environment where she had to wear a flimsy gown and strange, scratchy hat, and people in white clothes and masks running around pushing needles into her arm; cables and wires dangling from her body, EEG wires taped to her. 

(Getting ready)

I tried to keep her calm. I told her funny stories from my childhood; how my sister and I tried to fly by jumping off the barn roof with a homemade parachute. How we built a raft that sank. How we had baby robins that we raised. A nurse brought me a bag and told me to get dressed. I don't know how to explain it, and we didn't get a picture as my phone had to be off and left at a nurse's desk at that point, but basically it was a giant space suit. It was like a giant pair of baby footie pajamas that zipped up the front, along with booties and gloves and a cap. I looked like balloon. Or Baymax from Big Hero 6. Nat. was. dying. That seriously cheered her up. 
She was so brave, and although she wanted to cry, she held it together all the way into the O.R. Then it was too much; all of the people running around attaching wires to her, the machines, the bright lights. She started crying. I grabbed her hand (we had already talked through what the surgery would be like, and the anesthesia, etc.) and told her it was okay, that I loved her, and that it would be okay. They put the mask on her and she was out within seconds. 
Immediately all of the doctors and nurses started telling me what a good job I did. Apparently parents don't do good seeing their children put under anesthesia. They clearly have no idea what I have been through for my kids. That's nothing for the Ruper clan. 
I went to the waiting room. I had gotten permission to also be with Natalie when she came out of anesthesia, which is also typically forbidden, so I got rid of my Baymax suit and gathered my stuff from the nurses' desk. (In case you are wondering where Abe was; he and Z were getting one of Z's casts on during all of this!) When they came and got me, Nat was asleep. The nurses warned me again that when she started to come out of anesthesia, she would probably be wild and out of control (she'd still mentally be asleep and her body would be acting out). Plus, if she WAS temporarily blind, it could cause panic when she actually woke up. 
I knelt next to her, stroking her arm and using the tactile signs we had come up with. I love you. Mommy's here. You are safe. Stay calm. Her eyes were closed, but pink liquid dripped out of them and traced trails down her little cheeks. All of a sudden, she reared up in the gurney, eyes wide open but unseeing. Her eyes were bleeding and bulging out of her head and she started tearing at them and the cords attached to her. The nurses lunged in and tried to pin her arms, but Nat started swiping her face against the bedrails. The drugs and adrenaline made her so powerful. She was punching and hitting and thrashing like a wounded animal. I didn't even hesitate. I slammed through the nurses and grabbed Nat, pinning her down. She fought and she was SO strong. I took one hand and signed, "It's okay, it's Mommy." She passed out. I released my hold but about a minute or so later, she started flipping out again. I pinned her again and tried to soothe her. The nurses said, "Wow, you are REALLY good at this!" (Thank you sheriff's department defense tactical training!) 
All in all it was about 30 minutes of pinning and fighting. Finally she calmed down and when I signed, "It's Mommy," she signed back "ILY." And then I knew she was awake. She reached out with her little hand and touch my face, signed, "Mom," gave a little smile, and passed out again. When she finally woke up again and opened her eyes, she blinked and tried to focus. I signed into the air, "Can you see?" "YES," she signed back and I grabbed her up in a hug. She wasn't blind!!!! Not temporarily, not permanently. SHE COULD SEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Her recovery ever since has been good. She was in pain for a while and her eyes looked SOOOOO bad, but she had a couple post-ops and they said she was healing beautifully. She had to be quarantined, and if you were a friend who showed up at our house and I ran outside like a manic and made you park at the bottom of the driveway and refused to let you cross a line drawn on the pavement, well, just know that I love you so much. Thanks for helping keep Nat safe and illness/infection free during recovery. She literally had holes in her eyes from the lasers. It was crazy. 
We had one small scare where her eyes got all red again about four weeks out from surgery and she was rubbing at them and saying they hurt. I immediately took her back to her surgeon to have them checked out. He told me it was the super deep inner stitches dissolving, and that her eyes were healing perfectly. I was so relieved.  
She just started back at gymnastics two days ago, and she is feeling great. She is so happy to not be seeing double and to have the blurriness be gone. Because she was so good throughout the pre-ops, post-ops, and the surgury, I rewarded her with "Rapunzel" extensions. Now we have to watch her walk with an exaggerated sway around the house, while her hair swishes back and forth across her lower back. When you call her, she flips it over her shoulder with one toss of her head before looking at you. # sassypants #canthelpbutloveher 
So there is the latest on Natalie for you. She's doing great, her sassiness has hit a new high, and her eyes are looking perfect! Thank you to anyone who helped pray us through this!

Why Zahria Is A Bionicle

So I feel terrible that I haven't kept up with my blog; not only to keep YOU updated, but just to document everything for ME! :) I am so tired that most of the time I can't even remember my own name, so I definitely already forget the details of 90% of whatever happens to us. :) 
So this summer started out with Zahria moving up to team (Level III) in gymnastics. This is a big deal, as she has only been at the gym for two years. She has been working SO hard to get here. 
When she made the team, her training basically doubled. She went from ten hours a week to almost twenty (which she was ecstatic about haha). However, after a couple of weeks of training, she came to me complaining that her feet were hurting her and that she was struggling at gymnastics; falling off the beam, doing backflips with incorrect form, missing her vaults. At first I wasn't concerned. Her pain tolerance is pretty low and her spring session was almost over. She had two days left and then she would be off for two weeks. She did both days (complaining) and I put her on ibuprofen and ice, and we elevated her feet. They appeared fine. The two weeks off seemed to help, but she still occasionally would tell me that she was hurting a little bit, and that they felt swollen inside. 
The first day back at gymnastics, she came home almost in tears. I called the doctor. They sent us for an X-ray. Nothing showed up. I told them, "She definitely has stress fractures; she's never complained like this, and she has all the symptoms." They assured me there was nothing wrong with her. 
So of course, me being me, I brought her to a sports ortho specialist. 
She took five minutes to look at Z and the X-ray and diagnosed her with multiple stress fractures, including growth plate fractures. She also said that Z had tendonitis, and bruised bones. 
You have to understand, in the past 2.5 years, Zahria has grown 13" and put on 50lb. It's INSANE. I mean, the girl is a GIANT. She is super tall, and super jacked, with a six pack and arms that put Tony Horton to shame. You look at her and you KNOW which sport she's in. 
Combine that with the fact that she had basically no calcium growing up and you have the mix for a perfect storm: her body couldn't handle the insane growth, her tendons and ligaments couldn't keep up with the bone growth, her bones grew too long too quickly, and were already not super strong from the lack of calcium, and she pounds her feet with her muscular little self a million times a day by doing tumbling passes. And she doubled her gym time. 
It all equals catastrophe. 
Long story short, we went through a huge array of treatments all summer. We tried ankle boots and leg boots to keep her immobilized. We tried casts. We saw multiple specialists (ortho, sports ortho, podiatrists, bone specialists, etc.). Zahria was X-rayed repeatedly, and had an MRI (which confirmed the multiple stress fractures, bruising, and tendonitis). She went through physical therapy and then was put back in a cast. Her doctors tell her they have to help her heal because they know she will be on TV someday. She tells them she's going to the 2020 Olympics in Japan. 
Currently, she's in her third cast and her other foot is in a big boot to her knee. She clomps around like a bionicle. An adorable bionicle. We had an appointment with another bone disease specialist in February (yeah, he's booked out pretty far). She is being treated by two specialists and is getting this cast off on Wednesday, when they will reevaluate. She will have PT again whenever it comes off. 

She has been SO. GOOD. during all of this. Her attitude has been exceptional, and she has handled everything with grace and perseverance. I am so proud of her. She has continued attending most of her gymnastics classes too, so that she can mentally learn the routines and hear the teacher's explain new tricks, as well as to continue bonding with her team. 

When she got her third cast a couple of weeks ago, she was definitely down. It was the closest she's coming to crying in the doctor's office. The lady putting on the cast felt so bad that she gave her two colors: purple AND pink, in candy-cane fashion. Then I took her to Wal*Mart where we bought a bunch of stick on little "diamonds" puffy paint, butterfly puffy stickers, sparkly ribbon and purple sparkle glue. We wanted to deck. that. cast. out. 
It totally failed. 
The glue wouldn't hold the ribbon or even the stickers to the cast. So instead she had dark glittery streaks all over her cast. Then I painstakingly glued diamond dots all over the cast and applied dots of puffy paint around them, making beautiful flowers. I drew a pretty butterfly in the paint. And then I told her to sit still and watch a movie while the paint dried. Of course, being Zahria (it has been torture trying to keep her down and off her feet all summer.....she's still doing splits in her casts), she immediately tried to do a bridge off the couch. All I heard was a thud, and then a giggle, and then, "Mom???? Can I have a paper towel?..............and does paint come off the couch???"
So all our hopes and dreams for an epically beautiful cast were smeared into my couch. And now a giant black blob which is all that remains of my butterfly decorate the front of her cast. And the pretty flowers, with the sparkling diamond centers are sad thumbprint like dots. It looks ridiculous but we just laugh and she rocks it anyway. :) 
So that's the update on Zahria. Stay tuned. She's going to make her comeback. 

P. S. They aren't sad in this last picture. This is their TV face. #theyarentplaying #concentration #ilovethem


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Addis Tesfa

April 28th. 
In Amharic (Ethiopia's national language), the word for hope is "tesfa". Today was the opposite of yesterday. Today I have tesfa. Addis tesfa (new hope). Today we experienced FOUR miracles. 
Today I was told that a committee that we have been waiting for to sign Micah's papers, signed off on him. They haven't even been able to get together as a group, and they are seven hours away so it isn't easy to get someone there to request that they meet. And yet, they met, reviewed Micah's case, and signed the paperwork, agreeing that I could adopt him. 
WHAT THE WHAT?!?!?!??!?!?!?!!?
Now that paper needs to go back to Addis and to the government official that I went and spoke to while I was there needs to sign. And he had given me a verbal promise, so that should be fairly easy. He liked me a lot, he loved that I spoke Amharic to him and hhe loved my jegna tattoo. He promised to give me Micah when the paperwork got there. I KNOW he will remember me, and I know he will sign. But just in case, I sent a messenger with this picture and my Ethiopian name: Jegna Mari (Mary). 

I also found out another miracle happened. I can't talk about it, or give details, but it is incredible. Almost unbelieveable. I asked God to move mountains and He is truly showing His power. And I am so, so grateful. I cried out and my Father is answering. And I feel ehfoyta (relief). I don't understand His timing, but my God is BIG, and I am so grateful to Him for these miracles. 
Our third miracle: the agency we will be working with has agreed to let us start our paperwork even though we don't have official clearances yet. We have to sign waivers of course, stating that we understand that these adoptions might fall through, and that we will not be refunded any money, but we will be able to START our paperwork. So that maybe, just maybe, our babies won't have to wait so long. Anyway, they have not even considered letting us do paperwork or sign before, so we are just going to go with it. Dossier 567,000, here we come! :)
Fourth miracle. One we still need mega prayers for (as we do all of this)....I was told that Felecia and Matthew's case is looking promising. That there is hope they will be cleared in six weeks. And then we can start THEIR adoption paperwork. 
SIX WEEKS. Do you understand what this means??? Maybe all, ALL, of my babies in Ethiopia will be coming home together. Maybe our family will finally be whole. My kids all under one roof. I can't even explain what that feels like. The thought of going to bed knowing all my kids are safe with me is unreal. I'm almost scared to hope, because I have been here. I know how adoptions work: no control and nothing ever goes right. But God is giving me miracles as proof of His power and for me NOT to hope would be stupid. THAT would be faithless. And faith is something I have, even when I don't understand. 
So I hope. 
Addis tesfa. 

When prayers run dry......

It's been almost seven weeks since I was in Ethiopia. Seven weeks since I left my son, crying and alone, with only a promise to hold on to. Forty-six days since I held my other two children, and whispered in their hair that I would come back, that I would bring them home, that I love them with everything I am. 
Forty-six days where not one positive thing was accomplished since I left. Not one step forward. 
I am heartbroken. Sick. Feeling beaten, although I refuse to give up. I'm like a bulldog with something clamped between my teeth. I don't care what happens--I WON'T let go. In fact, you would have to kill me and pry the object from my cold, locked jaw to get it. I don't care who you are, or what you tell me. You don't understand my love for my son, or the lengths I am willing to go for him. And that's all there is to it. I will fight to the death for him. 
But inside, I am exhausted. On April 4th, I received information telling me that without multiple miracles and thousands of dollars, nothing could be done. I emailed everyone who might be able to help. I had contacts making calls in Ethiopia for me. I used every resource I had, every friend, every favor. 

"If you want to know, how far my love will go, just how deep, how's more than the drops in the ocean." 

remember three years ago, at the end of April, getting devastating news about Levi and Z. I was told they were never coming home, that their case was impossible, that everyone was giving up, that I needed to move on. I remember almost vomiting from the feeling of loss, the horrible pain, and the agony of losing my children. I screamed at God, I sobbed my eyes out, I was depressed beyond words. But I came up fighting. And God fought for me. And I got a referral at the end of that June. 
Today, I received devastating news about Micah. I feel like it must somewhat compare to being told to pull life support on a loved one. No one else involved directly in the case believes there is any hope left, and no one is willing to do anything anymore. It's over. I was told today, from the last person I could depend on, that Micah will not be coming home. That his case is truly impossible (what everyone has been telling me for four years), and that there is nothing left to be done. His case has flat-lined, and he's gone. Time of death, April 27th, 11:17am. 
I don't take no very well. First, I locked myself in my bathroom and started sobbing. The kids were doing school work in the kitchen and I was incapacitated on the bathroom floor, drowning in my own tears. I started furiously texting the poor soul who was giving me the bad news. I started begging, pleading, demanding. I brought up past promises that I had been given.....and I sent photo after photo of my son, eyes filled with hope. Then I sent a photo of him and I, along with a text that said, "Micah HAS to come home. He doesn't have a future. He doesn't have ANYTHING. Ask __________. Ask ________. I would die for him. Please don't give up on him." 
I am not going to lie; I have been a lousy prayer warrior for my family as of late. I know all the right answers and all the right things to do. I know what is expected of me. I know that God is all powerful, and that He loves Micah more than me, and that He is in control, but honestly, I have been a mess. It's easy to say those things, but it is VERY hard to live it. Especially when your child is far away, unsafe, can't communicate with anyone, and you have had to walk away and leave them SIX times. It's hard to hold onto God's promises when every hour for four years, I have begged for my child. This isn't a faceless person.....this is a little boy whose face is burned in my heart, who I have held a hundred times now. I have stared into his dark eyes, and I have told him I love him. That I am his mom. That I will come back for him. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I hadn't met him. Maybe then it wouldn't hurt so bad. Every time I have left that gated building, my heart has been wrenched from my chest and left there, bleeding. Unless you have been through this, you cannot understand what it feels like to look your baby in the eye, a baby who cannot communicate with ANYONE around him, a baby no one wants, and tell him you are leaving and don't know when you are coming back. And then to have him cling to you, crying, and to pry him off you and turn your back on him.......I swear to you, I know God must have felt so much worse, but oh my word. I feel a comparison. It is HELL. A living hell. 
Anyway. I have been a terrible prayer warrior. Because I have run out of prayers. Out of words. There is nothing left to say. God knows how much I want him. God knows how much I love him. And I have prayed like crazy for years. I know prayer can move mountains. But lately, I feel more like the mountains have caved in and trapped me. I still know that God is in control and He can do whatever He wants. But I can't ask anymore. I am simply existing. I am out of prayers for this. I thought I was out of tears, but that's not true. I still cry every day. Silent rivers running down my face, leaving me red-eyed and puffy. I just can't pray about him anymore. The Bible says when we can't pray that angels intercede for us (or the Holy Spirit.....honestly, it's 4am and I am exhausted, so I don't remember which) and that's what I need. Because I will fight to the death, but I need to see mountains moved. I need to see this power. I need to SEE GOD. 
I won't lie either, I may or may not have screamed at God after this news about Micah. Because WHERE IS HE?!?!? If there are willing families, and hurting children, then why aren't they together? How long can God allow my child to suffer?!?!??! Haven't I been faithful in all this adoption stuff, for years and years? Take it out on me, but bring my child home. Let him be safe, and loved. Why is he alone and lost???? WHERE IS GOD'S POWER AND HIS PROMISES?!?!?!
Don't give me any pat answers. I know them all. This is called honesty. I know who is in control and I know that in the end, there is a bigger picture, and I know that there are reasons. This is not my first time around the block. I have seen it before, and I have seen so many miracles. I love Jesus and I am doing my best to follow Him, and I always will. I know He can do this. But right now, my precious child is suffering and alone, and that kills me. So this is me, being honest about how that feels. 
It's hell. 
Also, just to clarify. Just because I am out of prayers for this, does not mean I am giving up. I WON'T give up. Ever. I am his mom. He is my son. And I know that he WILL come home. It's not an option. It just IS. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Day 13

Today is bittersweet. In some ways, I had such a great time and in others, I am ill. The happiness wars with the sickening pain inside my chest. 

Today was a last of "lasts". My last time to drive to the juice shop and have a smoothie. My last time to hug my dear friends. The last time to snuggle the little kids and kiss their foreheads. The last time to hold my son close and promise him everything will be okay. 

Today, Micah was clingy, at least for him. He kept his elbow on my leg or his chair touching mine. We managed to enjoy our four hours together, playing card games, drawing, telling stories, reading books, and playing with his kitten. We watched an over dramatic film and we did gymnastics. I took countless pictures and videos. 

I gave Micah his sign name. His Ethiopian name means "lion" and a lion is strong. Just like us. So with the help of my dear friends from the U.S., I gave him a sign representing a lion, his intelligence, and God. Micah was so proud. 

In the last half hour, Micah said, "You're going to fly." 

"Yes, baby. But I promise I will come again. I promise I will never let go of you. I promise. I love you with ALL my heart."

"When are you coming back? How many days."

I started crying. "I don't know, baby. But I promise I WILL come back. You be Jegna! You are a lion. I will come back."

His eyes filled with tears. He smiled bravely, and nodded. And then he buried his head in my chest and I squeezed him. 

I can't go into much more detail because I am in the airport terminal, about to break down and sob and everyone is staring. The little kids clung to me, kissing me and telling me they loved me. I was blinded by tears, stumbling around hugging the babies, the nannies, the guards. We left the orphanage, and I was silently sobbing, inconsolable. My driver was distraught. He encouraged me, he tried to comfort me. He asked me if I wanted a caramel macchiato. I just shook my head and cried harder. He took me anyway but I couldn't order because I couldn't speak. The waiter stood there at a loss. People from all over the street came up asking why I was crying. Everyone begged me to stop. But breaking hearts do not mend in a moment, and the pain continued to spill out. 

We went back to the guesthouse and the girls there tried to comfort me. My driver did too. In the end I went to my room and just laid there looking at pictures and watching videos of Micah. And I cried. 

I only had two hours to pack and be ready. I showered and tried to fix my face, red and blotchy, my eyes swollen into glassy orbs. I gave up. What did it matter? 

Downstairs, people had gathered to say goodbye. My friends gave me gifts. Micah had given me a beautiful picture of himself. I gave him a sweatshirt and an Ethiopian cross necklace. One of Micah's roommates gave me a bracelet that I know he loves. "Jesus loves me." I tried to not take it but he begged me. It's proudly fastened to my wrist now. My driver and one of my best friends in the world gave me a beautiful necklace and earring set. My girlfriend gave me a scarf, a purse, and another item. My other girlfriend gave me a bracelet and a traditional Ethiopian shift. And everywhere, left and right, people gave me berbere, shiro, mesir (lentils), cookies, kollo, etc. I have enough food to feed an army. 

My friend drove me to the airport where he told me not to cry, to remember that God is in control and loves Micah, and that everything will be okay. He promised me to check in on Micah. 

We said goodbye (so difficult; his family is my family) and he waited until I was out of sight. I saw him and his van, tiny miniature figures against the black sky and streetlights, him waving as big as he could. My brother. 

Now I'm alone in the airport. I know the routine like the back of my hand, and with no kids in tow, I get through security quickly. Then I sit, alone and quiet, waiting to board. I am fighting tears and there is a heaviness in my eyes, a choking lump in my throat. Tears well up, but I told my brother I would not cry anymore. He told me to be Jegna. Tenkara. I told him that being Jegna doesn't mean you don't cry. It means you might cry, but you keep on fighting. He hates it though, it stresses him out, so I won't cry. I will be strong. 

I want to sleep. I want to numb the pain and then the tears to memories. I want to check out and go where my mind is blank, where my hurting heart can have respite. 

There was a small boy near me who resembles Micah and has his hair cut. He turned and looked at me and I started. Took a step forward. Realized it wasn't my child. 

JEGNA. Tenkara. JEGNA. Tenkara. 

It's 9pm my time, which is 3pm ET time and is 2pm EST. I tried to look through my pictures but it only hurt worse. 

I am lucky. I got all my food through security. Now if I can just get it home......

I am lonely but if someone were here, I wouldn't be able to talk. The lump in my throat is too big; my hands are silent at my sides. I want someone but I don't want to talk. I just want to survive. 

JEGNA. Tenkara. JEGNA. Tenkara. 

I've been in the air for 18+ hours now. It's the end of my first flight and we are descending to D.C. I've slept almost the whole time.....a restless and uncomfortable sleep, but I am still thankful for it. When I'm asleep, I can't think about my pain. And now that I am awake, I am numb. I can function without tears, though my eyes are heavy and dry. I feel nothing right now, except the desperate need to hug my other babies who will be waiting for me after my second flight. 

I take it back. As soon as I typed the word "babies" I remembered my tiny son, all alone across the world. And now I'm fighting tears again. 

JEGNA. Tenkara. JEGNA. Tenkara.