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