Monday, February 28, 2011

Olga, Brady and Brian

This journey of adoption has been amazing. Stretching my faith and my comfort zone in so many ways. It has also shown me the love of Christ for these children through others graciousness and giving. Not every family is able to go to another country for weeks on end and bring home a child - but I have witnessed how MOST can support by sacrifice of time, talent, finances, and prayer to help those families who have set out on the mission of rescuing those children who would otherwise be left to their cribs.
Tonight I ask that you pray for, and visit the blogs of these following families:
The Abells, The Hartmans, and The Burgers
All three families are friends with our family. All three have stepped out on faith to rescue these beautiful children. All three are needing help and support - and encouragement.

~ ~ Olga ~ ~
** for the Abell family**
The Abell family have just recently been told that it will cost $48,000.00 to bring Olga home. That is a crazy amount of money. However, Olga is worth far more than that. She has just turned five and it is not clear if she has already been transferred. The Abell's are committed to bringing her home. They are committed to rescuing this child from cold refines of a bed. The financial burden is great ~ but God ... is greater. You can visit the Abell's blog here.
~~ Brady ~~
** For the Hartman Family**
Many of you may remember my plea (along with other bloggers) for sweet Brady. Brady is a teeny tiny six year old who also has Down syndrome. Brady has already been transferred to a very remote institution. He is the smallest child there - and his future was very bleak. I say was ... because the Hartman family has stepped forward to bring this sweet baby boy home. They are working hard to fund raise and Melanie (Brady's soon to be mama) has been making her own soap - right from their farm: The Happy Hartman Farm.
I know firsthand how hard it is to "ask" others to donate, how uncomfortable it is to fund raise. The truth is that it is a necessary thing to do. Who has an extra $30K just laying around? Yet, if everyone just gives a little - well, it adds up - just as we witnessed through our own adoption of Max and Ivanna. Please, even if it is giving up your latte this week - please consider donating to Brady's grant account. You can visit the Hartmans here.
~ ~ Brian ~ ~
** For the Burger Family**

Awe. Be still my heart. Brian's little face, is just adorable. I remember when I first encountered Reece's Rainbow and saw Brian's face. The phrase "cannot be adopted once transferred" cut through my heart and left my cheeks tear streaked. Brian is in the same orphanage that our sweet Brady was transferred from. Brian just turned five in November and is at a higher risk now to be transferred. There is no guarantee that Brian will be transferred to the same orphanage that Brady was taken to. This is why it is so imperative that the Burger family get to Europe quickly to be able to accept Brian's referral and start the adoption process in country. The Burgers are close friends of ours, and we have known them for years. We love them and desire to be a help in any way we can. Please stop by their blog here and bid on some desserts - or make a tax deductible donation on their link located to the side of this post on my blog. Let's help save Brian from what could be a life sentence within a mental institution.

I will tell you that while we were still in the midst of fundraising, if we saw our family sponsorship grant go up even the slightest - we were so joyful. It wasn't just the money. It meant that there was another family or person somewhere who was supportive, who may even be praying on our behalf. It meant so much to us. It is a huge encouragement in a time that encouragement was so needed. All these families have one thing in common. Faith. Faith that God has called them to this journey. Faith that our Lord is caring for their children half a world away. Faith that He will provide the funds needed. Faith that this adoption will be finalized and the children brought home. Faith, that if even this does not happen for some reason - God has a perfect plan. Let's build these families up. Let's be apart of something bigger than just our normal routine.

Let's help bring these very special 'extra leaves' home.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Physical Therapy

Today was the first of many physical therapy sessions for Max and Ivanna. I found a fabulous therapist that comes to our home. This is ideal when you home school five children and are super busy with day to day "home stuff". I liked her right off the bat when she was able to really explain to me her thoughts on why Max walks stiffly and has an odd shaped hip region. Her theory is that he has learned to walk in a way that uses a form of projecting out his hips - this makes the inner leg work more than the rear. Thus, this is why his tush is non existent and his legs are super strong. If you watch him walk, this does seem to be the case. He walks sort of like an old man, with his hips pushed forward. Hard to explain, but I am excited to have someone who "sees it" too. She could also tell by his range of motion that perhaps some of his ligaments within his hip are shortened due to non-use. So, we are working on hyper extension exercises now and some others as well. She seems to have a real heart for kiddos with Ds - and Ivanna is always smiling and tugging at her - so that is great. Once Justus ages out of the Early Intervention program, she will also do his therapy sessions.
Ivanna surprised both the therapist and myself today when she did some movements that we did not expect her to be able to. So, that is very promising. Let's just say - that girl will probably be walking pretty soon. I really stand in awe of her at times, and then when I ponder it all - it really is an awe that reflects the mighty things my Saviour is doing for Ivanna - and strengthening my faith along the way.
Remember - this is a girl who has lived for FIVE years in a crib. Seriously. She went from her sleeping crib - only to a bigger play pen type crib in the groupa's central room. Not a lot of stimulation. The fact that she is taking steps - is miraculous.
So, I have had three different health care providers now mention to me that based solely on Max's appearance they think that he is Mosaic Down syndrome. What is Mosaic? Well, there are three different types of Down syndrome. Trisomy 21 (the most common - and what Justus was born with), Translocation (hereditary), and Mosaic (the higher functioning). Why is Mosaic higher functioning? Well, the extra chromosome pattern is scattered throughout the body - not affecting every cell like what you see with Trisomy 21 and Translocation. This type of cell pattern usually means that the affects of Ds is lessened or not as severe as can be in some cases.
What does that mean to me? Well, haven't really thought about it much. Should it mean something? Does it mean I should be doing something differently than I already am? I would have to have a blood test to determine what type of Ds Max has - and I HATE, HATE blood tests on my babies. So ... I'm thinking I'll just pass. What do you think?

Besides, whatever Ds Max has - it's absolutely perfect!

Ivanna is lovin' the vacuum cleaner.

So ... I know I promised picture overload, but I haven't had a whole lot of time to take pictures. (shocking, yes - I know)
So - I promise - the camera comes out of hiding tomorrow! ;)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Therapy and More Therapy ...

I think it was last week when we finally had Max's true swallow test. We went to the local children's hospital to have it done by a speech therapist and radiologist. They had me bring a very hungry little Max and some different bottles, cups, liquids, and solids to test his swallowing technique and ability. They sat Max in a chair and had me feed these different items (which had been mixed with barium) to him as this machine shot moving pictures of his airway, etc. Wow! I was so thankful for the procedure being done. It showed us that Max aspirates (chokes as it goes into his airway) on any liquid that is not the thickness of honey. So, now Max is on a "honey thickness" diet for six months and then we will re-do procedure to see if being in his new home, doing new therapies will help his swallow technique develop. If not, it's off to a specialist. I almost wish we could just skip the six month "wait and see" period and skip right to the specialist. My concern is that he will dehydrate from NO liquids. Just praying his ability to swallow improves. Could it be his tongue thrust? Oh, and he is not allowed to use a cup - only bottles with a criss-cross cut in the nipple. When Max uses a cup, he really aspirates.

We also have a wonderful physical therapist who is willing to come to the home for Max and Ivanna. She seems so knowledgeable and kind that I really am excited to see how both children progress with her instruction. She already has given me some wonderful ideas to help Max, who has a stiff sort of walk. Remember me mentioning his hips? Well, she has some great ideas as to how to help him lengthen those ligaments which probably have shortened from improper use. YaY! Once Justus ages out of his program at age three, then she will do all three children with Ds here in the home. A HUGE blessing for sure! Between homeschooling, medical appointments, piano, church, etc. things get busy here. Anything I can do here at home is a great big benefit.

I also have a friend who is a nurse that mentioned to me at church that she thought Ivanna might have thrush. I had suspected something, because Ivanna would wake up every morning with terrible encrusted lips and sort of white spittle at the sides of her mouth. Her tongue looked burnt and her taste buds were raised. I had some medication for that because interestingly enough Justus also had thrush when we returned from overseas with him. Could he have gotten it from the orphanage? Anyhow, I have been treating her and viola! ... no more lip crusties. However, now I see little red spots on her tongue. Maybe it is healing too. Time will tell.

I also ordered glasses for Max and Ivanna and am SUPER excited! I think it will be so cute to have them in glasses. Plus ... they get to SEE! Imagine that! Can't wait to see how this helps them develop better. Ivanna's strabismus seems to be doing ALOT better by patching the one eye. She actually will look at something with both eyes. **We ordered from Specs4Us and let me just say ... THEY ARE AWESOME to work with. Go check it out: here. Glasses specially made for those extra special little ones.

Speaking of Ivanna's eyes, I have noticed that she has a REALLY hard time looking AT someone with straight on eye contact. I know she can do it. I know that she can see. But often times she will turn her head to the side and swat at her subject from the side. I do catch her looking at stuff, but when it comes to people - it's the turn the head routine. Thoughts?

Oh ... and our friend ... H.Pylori ... is a little stinker. Literally. We re-tested and Ivanna is now negative (praise the LORD) but Max is positive. So ... now we have a referral for a GI specialist. By the way ... Gretchen ... if your reading this - I'm interested to know how things went?

So ... that is life lately ... lot's of appointments ... therapists ... speech evaluations .... and hopefully in the end things will settle and we will have more answers.

**hmmmmm ... blogger is acting up .... so no pictures. Will picture overload in next post.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


There has been a bit of a debate recently.
Do you stand up and cry "fowl" on behalf of the special needs orphans abroad - given the conditions of which they live - in hopes that change will result, or do you not; in a cautious effort to avoid closure of that country? Good debate. A few decades ago America herself was guilty of much of the same atrocities that we can point the finger to internationally. For instance, many who gave birth to children with special needs or deformities were heavily encouraged to place that infant in an institution because the burden of raising that child would be entirely too much for the family to endure. In some states, it was even passed into law - making institutionalization ... mandatory. Yuck. My heart breaks even typing those words out. Through widespread grass root efforts - that line of thinking eventually started to fade, and slowly started to give way to parents who chose to care for their special needs children - thus realizing the absolute blessings that they are.
Should we be surprised that much of the same western practices forty years ago are plaguing other countries? We should not. Should the fan of change be flamed through social networking, journalism and just plain shedding the light on the plight of these orphans by crying from the mountain tops, thus resulting in the embarrassment of the offending country - propelling them to change? Well, this is where it gets sticky. There is a very real risk. We have seen it before. A country is labeled as behaving badly and treating their most vulnerable in deplorable fashion
. . .and . . .
they close down .... for good. Children awaiting forever families - lost forever. No voice. No hope.
What is our motive? Is our motive for social change, and care of the orphan through pointed fingers and accusations, or is it one of displaying a testimony of love for their unwanted children through the very powerful act of adoption? It's a cliche' saying, but so true ... actions speak louder than words. The act of love ... charity ... is a testimony of so much more than desiring to rescue a child from a life sentence of being bedridden. It can confound those who "see" your adoption journey play out. They want to know ... why? Why would you do this? What is your reason? Once they know that this is a higher calling, one given by Christ Himself - a seed is planted.
My desire is that a country could acquire the hope of the gospel, thus inheriting all the principles that come along with faith. Namely, the sanctity of life, and thus lies the REAL CHANGE. While shouting from the rooftops now could potentially result in fast social change due to embarrassment or even realization of their error - it also carries the real danger of closure. If a people could be reached for Christ - their motivation for abandoning these children diminishes exponentially. Perhaps families would realize their child is not such a burden, but a gift. Perhaps those who work in the institutions could look upon a child ridden with bed sores and skinny from improper nutrition - and be MOVED with compassion. Perhaps the ROOT of the problem would finally be reached.
While there were changes in America with the movement to end institutionalization of the special needs child - another movement snuck in. That of termination. Now, statistics like 90% of children suspected prenatally of having Down syndrome being aborted, ring true.
So yes, change came - and on many levels - great change. However, I can't help but to think if the motive for America's change had been different - could the outcome have been even greater?
I don't know for sure.
I do know that the POWER of Christ is MIGHTY.
Mighty to change . . . .
. . . yes, even nations.
So while we debate this, let's remember that there is a very real danger in acting hastily by pointing fingers and drawing much attention. This is not a knee jerk reaction to fear, but one of caution, respect and acknowledging that there are families and children in the mix. Both parties waiting to be united. There is a bigger picture. I do not want my actions or words that I speak today to harm the next family's hopes of adoption tomorrow.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Max's Birthday

Balloons! A HUGE HIT!

Okay ... see Max, there's this game we play here in America. You fill a box up with candy and then beat it with a baseball bat. When the candy falls out, you scramble and rummage through wet slimy grass for some treats! Fun, eh?
"Huh? ... Crazy Americans!"

Max's first pinata!

He was happy with one little toy.

Max's first cupcake and candle!


He takes over the feeding.

A gift all the way from OHIO! THANK YOU Marks Family!

Saturday was Max's sixth birthday. It really is hard to think of him as six years old, because he is so tiny to me. We had just family and a couple of friends over to help Max celebrate his first birthday with us! On a child's birthday I typically think back to when they were born and retell the story to the child. With Max, I started the day just thinking about his biological mother still in Eastern Europe. I tried to think of what might be running through her mind this day. How she must be feeling. Does she know Max was adopted? If she does, is there comfort? Max was actually taken to the orphanage when he was over a year old. His mother could no longer care for him and so began his five years within the orphanage. I can only imagine that his mother loved him very much. I can't fathom how she felt as she walked away with her baby left behind in the baby house. Yet, there are no records of her ever coming back for a visit. Did it hurt too much to visit? Did she know what fate Max faced in the orphanage system? Either way, I can only assume that she did what she thought best. She must have loved him very much. How can you not love your child who has been living with you for nearly a year and a half? I'm thankful to her for giving us such a beautiful boy. I mourn for her as I can only think of what she must feel on this day. A day that is meant for celebrating must bring a painful reminder back to her. I sincerely pray that she seeks peace in Christ.
I also thought about how very special this particular birthday was. Max turned six. The age limit in his old orphanage is six years old. Once a child turns six, they are taken to a mental institution to live. Not something to be celebrated. Yet, this birthday - there was no longer that fear. There was just reason to party ... to celebrate this beautiful boy ~ beautiful life!
Max had many firsts on his sixth birthday. His first cupcake, first birthday candles, first birthday song sung by friends and family, first pinata, and first birthday presents meant solely for him. That's alot of firsts for a six year old! ;)

I just love this little boy. I really, truly do. I look into his eyes, and I just smile. I feel giddy inside. He's my sweet baby boy. I hold his head in my palm and put my lips to his ears so he can hear me say "I love you" over and over again. I'm tellin' ya... I love him ... a bunch!
So ... Max ... Happy Sixth Birthday (a little late) and thank you for your sweet giggles, sparkly eyes, open mouthed kisses and arms that wrap around my neck. You mean so much to me, son. I love you ... I love you ... I love you ...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

She's A Walkin' ...

.... sort of ...
Today I got Ivanna ready for church first, and did her hair in pigtails. Seeing how absolutely cute she was, I decided to get the camera out. I stood her up against the cabinet, and lo and behold ... she decided to walk to me. I was able to get some of it on camera. I was able to get a video using my phone later - and uploaded that to Facebook.

Ivanna is smiling from the applaud and praise for doing a good job in walking! She LIGHTS up when we praise her. Chloe is such a proud sister!!!
This was taken a few days ago. These "Sing-a-ma-jigs" are a household HIT! They sing in harmony with one another and sing one note at a time. Max loves to line them up and take turns hitting their bellies and making them sing.

Love the concentration

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Two Months

This picture was taken about a month ago at the Hartman's home. The Hartman's are a great family and are so excited about adopting Brady! We had a GREAT time of fellowship.

Well, tomorrow marks two months since Max and Ivanna landed on U.S. soil. Two months. Wow. It seems just like yesterday, and like a lifetime ago - all wrapped up into one. There are good days, and then there are the not so good days.

I would be lying to you if I tried to present things as if there were never a hiccup. It is ridiculous a notion to think you can take two children with special needs who have been raised (and partly neglected) in an institutional type setting, place them smack dab into a family with six children and call it flawless. There are things. Things that the rest of the family have to adjust to and things that Max and Ivanna are learning as well.

For me, I think that the biggest challenge has not come in the form of having EIGHT children, but having what many could consider three babies in diapers and needing a little more hands on care than typical.

Ivanna is super needy when it comes to meal times. When we first brought her home, she refused to hold her own bottle. I literally had to put the bottle in her hands, wrap her hands around it and hold them there myself as she tried to wiggle away. Praise God that Ivanna learned fast, and now holds her own bottle. We feed her a bottle three times a day with rice cereal mixed in it. We also feed her mashed up/blended up food or baby foods for her meals. She will not/cannot feed herself. She also packs food away in her throat and will allow you to continue to shovel the food in, while she isn't really swallowing the rest. This is something we learned the hard way, after a few scary choking episodes. We now pace her. All of this work is paying off. She was 20 pounds when she came home. She didn't even register above 1% on the Down syndrome growth chart for a five year old girl. She was VERY malnourished. Now Ivanna is right around 27lbs. (not entirely sure, but she will be weighed on Thursday). That is amazing.

As Ivanna is coming to life before our eyes, she is doing new things. She is finding her voice. We never heard her utter much at the orphanage, but now she is - what Phillip calls - cooing. Except, this isn't what many would describe as cooing. Sometimes it sounds like shrieks, sometimes it is like moaning here and there - and other times she is laughing and giggling at who knows what. There have been new sounds recently too - almost like babbling. Ivanna is also scooting around in her walker like crazy, and has mastered climbing out of it to get back on the floor. Sometimes Ivanna drags her baby around with her - pushing and pulling her along on the floor as she crawls from room to room. Her eyes seem to focus better on things. We have been patching one eye to strengthen the other. All in all, she is doing fantastic. I do sometimes think that she is showing some institutional autistic behaviors. However, I am no expert in the matter - and don't really know for sure. She seems to have a hard time remaining still, and there are other things as well - but really not a big deal.

There is just something about Ivanna. She is such a strong little girl, with a survivor's spirit. Yet, tender and loving it when I take my hand and caress her cheek. I marvel at her sometimes. She is such a beautiful little girl, with big eyes and long lashes and full lips. Her hair is growing out and now I can put it in little pigtails. She was a diamond in the rough awaiting in the orphanage.

Then there is Max. He is a constant giggle machine. Max was doing well when he first came home and so there isn't a HUGE noticeable difference in behavior or health, but there are a few. When he first came home, we learned quickly that we could not just put food in front of him - he would shovel it down FAST, without swallowing. That freaked both of us out. So, we started feeding him and pacing him. First it was primarily baby food, because he also did not swallow. However, over the last two months I can now give him crackers, cheerios, and other small items and he does just fine. I also set his plate down now and let him feed himself. Max would also grab cups/food off the counters like mad when he first got here and lunge at anybody else's plate. He doesn't do that any longer. His reflux was horrid, and we still fight that - but not to the degree it was. The one thing that has not changed is his choking when he drinks liquid. I HATE listening to his drinking. He coughs and sort of chokes it down. He has a swallow study next week to determine what the problem might be. Max has also gained a few pounds since being home. There are a few things that concern me. One is that he is NOT verbal at all. He will cry if hurt, or sort of moan if you pick at him - and he definitely giggles and laughs, but no speech pattern ... at all. He also has a weird protruding hip thing going on. Makes him walk a little stiff, and I wonder if I should be concerned??? The finger sucking is getting better. He still does it, but usually when bored or sleepy. Max has been giving kisses and will pat my back and snuggle into my neck for cuddles. He is a doll.

To say that the Browning home is busy ... is an understatement. As I said before, there are good days, and bad days. (and sometimes just bad weeks - like last week with the stomach flu ... blech!) Having Max and Ivanna home is teaching me alot ... about me. Patience. That is one thing I am learning. There is alot more. I'm far from perfect, and so I have to bow my knee and ask for forgiveness and wisdom quite frequently from the only One who is: Christ.
As always, we appreciate you coming along with us on this continued journey. I will continue to try and post Max and Ivanna's progression and adjustments.

Two months down ... a lifetime to go ...

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