I remember the day I was first introduced to Reece's Rainbow. I was searching on google for blogs about babies with Ds. It was the early days of Lily's diagnosis, and I was desperate for a peek into what our future would hold. I wanted a "real life" look at what living with Ds was all about.
I found Lisa's blog, Bridget's Light, (now called Living In The Light) and my heart stopped. Here was a beautiful, smiling, very normal little girl, playing happily with her family...and suddenly, life didn't look so scary anymore.
I needed that.
I needed to know that Down syndrome wasn't a death sentence- it didn't mean the entire dynamic of our family was going to change, it just meant life was going to be sweeter. And it is!
When I "met" Lisa, she was in the middle of her adoption process. She and her husband were in Ukraine, days away from bringing their precious baby girl home forever. I remember reading her blog updates to my husband as soon as they came in, and most of the time I couldn't get the words out through my tears. I was gripped by her story- here I was, processing the gift I had been given in Lily..and this mama was deliberately going to rescue a baby just like mine.
Fast forward to now...I am consumed with these little ones on Reece's Rainbow. Not a day goes by that I don't think about and pray for these orphans. I'm constantly asking God, "What do You want me to do?" I'm asking God for finances, and giving what I can.
I have to admit- when I first went to the Reece's Rainbow site (after following Lisa's story), my heart broke so much I couldn't go back. I was like a little girl who puts her hands over her eyes at a scary sight and thinks, "If I don't look, it will go away."
Slowly, tenderly, God began prying my hands off my eyes...and showing me that this horror before me wasn't going away. Just because we close our eyes or hearts to the injustices in the world, doesn't mean they will get better with our neglect.
I've blogged about it before, but I do believe God wants me- at the very least- to raise awareness for these precious children.
I contacted Lisa and asked to "interview" her...she graciously and instantly responded.
This is the first in a 2 part series of my interview with Lisa. If you're like me, you'll need to grab some tissues...maybe a whole box...as you read her amazing testimony.
Interview with Lisa Peele
1)What was your first introduction to Reece's Rainbow?
One year ago today, I was browsing Down syndrome blogs and noticed that several of my favorite blogs had the Reece’s Rainbow Angel Tree link newly (and prominently) featured on the sidebar. I clicked the link from one of the blogs, and the rest—as they say—is history ;).
We have a biological daughter with Down syndrome (Bridget), and to say that we adore her is an understatement. The beauty and richness we have known—through her and because of her—is beyond words.
When we found Reece’s Rainbow and saw all of the children who have been abandoned because of a diagnosis of Down syndrome (or other “special need”), our hearts broke. We see so much potential, beauty and worth in ALL of these children. Knowing what we now know, we see diamonds in the rough in every little face on RR.
2)Was your decision to adopt Alina a gradual process, or did you instantly feel that this was something you wanted to do?
I knew the minute I saw her that we needed to go get her. Her profile picture was terrible , and I felt like it would be hard for others to see beyond it. But Chris and I both saw a beautiful, amazing little girl who deserved every opportunity to live a full and happy life. All of the children pulled at my heartstrings, but I couldn’t get Alina off my mind or heart. We decided right away to donate to her grant fund.
I went to bed thinking about Alina that night—wondering whether she was healthy and warm, and whether anyone at the orphanage was loving or tender with her—and then I woke up thinking about her. My mothering instincts kicked in, and I realized that our little girl was half way around the world, where I couldn’t protect her.
I would have boarded a plane that day to go get her, bring her home and begin to restore her to the child she was always meant to be…a child, wanted and loved, with a mama and a papa and lots of siblings J. I was completely in. I knew she had to be with us.
Chris didn’t need convincing. He is a perpetual optimist and has the kindest heart. He knew that Alina needed a family, and that we were the perfect match for her. He thought Bridget would benefit from having a sister with Down syndrome. And I think he knew that I wasn’t going to let it go ;). Together, we decided that adopting Alina was something we could—and should—do.
***note: this is the same photo of Alina..with a little bit of light ;) ***
3)From that decision- to adopt- til the actual "Gotcha Day"...how long was the process?
Fast! 4 ½ months. There were many factors which helped us to move quickly, other than the fact that we hit the ground running and were determined to get to Alina as fast as humanly possible J. (1) We had money set aside for something else, which we decided to use to finance our adoption. (2) We live in the capitol city of our state (so we could drive downtown for state certifications, or apostilles, rather than mailing them). (3) We pursued our home study and dossier requirements concurrently. (Tip for others: be organized and know what is being asked of you here at home, as well as overseas. You can combine appointments and trips for certifications if you are aware of your paperwork needs). We had a few glitches in gathering our paperwork, but nothing which delayed us significantly.
And things were moving very quickly in Ukraine last spring. On top of all that, Alina happened to be living in a very “fast” region (where the traditional 10 day waiting period was waived, and where the “old” passports were able to be produced locally, saving several days). Since the wait was waived, there was no need to take two trips. Therefore, our time “in country” was shortened (one trip, three weeks total) and our costs were reduced. Alina was also born in the town where she was living, so we did not need to travel (once in her region) to get her birth certificate or other documents. The judge assigned to our case was sympathetic to adoptions of children with Special Needs. Though there is no way we could have known it when we committed to adopt Alina, we had ideal circumstances for our adoption
4)What obstacles did you face and overcome in adopting, that you might not have orginally anticipated?
Other than being delayed coming home from Ukraine because of the ash plume from a volcano? We definitely did not anticipate that ;).
Two words: The Beast. This is what we called our dossier, the huge packet of papers required for International Adoption. We didn’t know the first thing about what all it would take to get to Alina. The dossier process was just plain grueling. (I think we should have “trained” for the adoption in general. Ours was a whirlwind, and it was exhausting at times. Parents just starting the process: take great care of yourself! You will need energy and focus to complete the paperwork, and then even more so when you travel to your child’s country!)
We also didn’t know anything about Alina’s country or region, but we loved learning all about it…which included learning some Russian and trying lots and lots of new things. We had an amazing experience overall, and found Ukraine and her people to be beautiful and fascinating. We miss it!
5)Can you describe Alina's living conditions at the orphanage? Was it as bad/good as you expected? What (if anything) were you surprised by?
Alina’s orphanage was old, but very clean. Her groupa was quite active, and consisted of about 15 children, ages 3 to 5. There were 5 nurses at any given time. None of the other children in her groupa had Down syndrome or other cognitive delays. There were several children with physical disabilities or malformations, but the kids in her groupa seemed very healthy in general. Her room sounded like a preschool classroom. It was always bustling. Her “room” consisted of a large main room (where they would play and eat), a bathroom area and sleeping quarters, all adjoined. The children went outside twice daily for walks, but otherwise were kept in those same three rooms (save an occasional trip to visit the orphanage doctor, or to the “music room”).
We were surprised to see how the orphanage was laid out, and that the groupas are all completely separate from one another. We rarely saw other children, except when Alina’s groupa went outside for walks.
What they ate appeared to be fairly healthy and the portions were decent, too. There wasn’t a ton of variety in their meals, but we were pleasantly surprised with her orphanage diet. We were a little shocked to see how quickly the children ate and drank, especially. It was clear that meals were functional in nature, as we found most everything in the orphanage to be.
Alina’s nurses were kind to us, and to her. Some of the women were more outgoing with us, some less. Some of them seemed to be more attached to Alina, some less. But, in general, we felt that her care was very good. Alina was expected to do whatever the other kids were doing (her abilities, and the expectation that she do things herself, surprised us). She was encouraged, and rarely scolded, but the nurses kept a tight ship!
Alina was always clean (which is a total surprise, especially now that we know her…she is the messiest child!). She wore the same clothes most of the time we were there, but they were always clean and fresh looking and smelling. On a side note, she smelled like a new baby to me. Everything about her, even her little mouth.
There was good medical care at Alina’s orphanage. And there were therapists on staff (though we don’t believe that Alina was offered therapy of any kind). Her orphanage is considered “progressive”.
6)Did you "instantly" bond with Alina?
(Not everyone bonds with their adopted children quickly, though, and we were told to expect that she may not feel bonded to us, either. Many parents say they felt like they were babysitting someone else’s child for several months before they began to feel bonded to their adopted child. That made sense to me. Alina is someone else’s child. It just didn’t matter for us.)
We had no idea what to expect when we met her! She wasn’t “familiar” in the least, but at the same time, we loved her instantly. We thought she was AMAZING. She was “born to us” that day in April, and everything about her captured our attention. She was a miracle—a child who had lived without a family of her own for years, but who was finding her way, anyway. We felt the same sense of awe and deep love that came with the birth of each of our children.
Alina literally blew us away.
I wrote about meeting her here: http://lovingalina.blogspot.com/2010/04/details-details-details.html
7)What would you say to a family who has all the desire and motivation in the world to adopt from Reece's Rainbow...but who isn't in the financial position to do so yet? How much importance is placed upon a family's income?
Have faith! If you set your mind to it, you can find the money. Most people who adopt are not wealthy. There are plenty of families who successfully fundraise and apply for grants to help cover the total cost of their adoptions (it isn’t easy, but it can be done). There is also a large tax incentive, an Adoption Tax Credit (you recoup some of the money spent on your adoption, after-the-fact…so you have to have money upfront…but the credit is HUGE for 2011). Learn more about the Adoption Tax Credit here:
Also, here are the Income Requirements to Adopt as listed on RR:
8)What would you say to a family who is not interested in adopting, but wants to help Reece's Rainbow? Is it best to pick one child to contribute to who has a sizeable account (and might go home sooner with some help) ? Is it best to concentrate your efforts on one child/family?
Yea! Any help is awesome, needed and appreciated. Pray for, and advocate for, many children. Share their stories and their plight with anyone who will listen. Donate whatever you can, by whatever rationale makes the most sense to you. Kids who are “at risk” of transfer, or who have already been transferred to the institution, are a great place to start. But every single one of those children would benefit from a larger grant fund.
9)What would you say to someone who asked if their small contribution is actually doing anything to help?
It absolutely will help. Little by little, or by big chunks…any movement upward in a child’s grant fund is additional incentive for a family to commit to a child, or will help a committed family complete their adoption. Andrea (Roberts, founder of Reece’s Rainbow) always says that money is the only thing keeping the kids on RR from their forever homes. There are families who want these children, but feel they can’t afford to adopt.
10)How has bringing Alina home changed your family life? How is she adjusting?
Our family life is even more…exciting, busy, exhausting, and fulfilling with Alina in it.
Our home is filled with activity and laughter. Alina has added so much to our group! She is a curious, tender-hearted, energetic, and clever child who has such zest for life. According to her teachers, Alina is an “eager participant” in activities at school. Not surprising…she is the type of girl who jumps in with both feet, and a hearty laugh ! She’s the perfect compliment to sweet, dainty, social, cautious Bridget.
Alina is a gem. She goes with the flow. She is a typical toddler (who wants to assert her ideas at times), but she gets over things very quickly. She’s active, but even-tempered.
She has adjusted incredibly well. She’s the only blonde, blue-eyed person in our family, but you can tell she thinks she’s one of us…and she is…completely.
11)If there is anything you would do differently- looking back- what would you do? Are there things you know now that would have helped speed things up or go more smoothly, had you known them in advance?
Our whole adoption process was very smooth. But I would counsel other adoptive parents to sit down and map out your game plan right at the beginning. Be organized, determined and realistic. Above all, roll with the punches! International Adoption is a wild ride, so you will need to hang on tightly and stay positive. Know right off the bat that International adoption is not easy. It is expensive, uncomfortable and filled with uncertainty. But, if you have the desire and the heart for it, YOU CAN DO IT J! There are children out there who don’t have a chance if some of us won’t step out in faith.
12)Would you adopt again?
Oh my goodness, in a heartbeat. Will we? I can’t say right now. But would we? Absolutely. We have no regrets at all. Adopting Alina was an amazing, life-changing, life-affirming experience. We have been truly blessed. Our reward has been much greater than any challenge we faced in getting to Alina. No one ever promised it would be easy, just that all the energy and effort would be worth it. And she is so worth it.
There are so many families with amazing stories. Here are just a few:
Our Journey to Anna: http://www.fillmoresjourneytoanna.blogspot.com/
Micah Six Eight: http://covenantbuilders.blogspot.com/
Fetching Angels: http://whitesadoptionjourney.blogspot.com/
The Kacirek Family Blog: http://kacirek.blogspot.com/
If you want to read more about Lisa's amazing adoption journey, here are some links...
We discover RR and Alina: http://bridgets-light.blogspot.com/2009/12/to-give-with-love-and-care.html
Announcing our plans to adopt: http://bridgets-light.blogspot.com/2009/12/were-expecting.html
How we decided to adopt Alina specifically: http://lovingalina.blogspot.com/2010/03/blink.html
Our perspective on adoption and our hopes for Alina: http://lovingalina.blogspot.com/2010/02/leap-of-faith.html
Alina’s transformation/Our adoption montage: http://lovingalina.blogspot.com/2010/08/orphan-no-more-at-onetruemediacom.html
Q & A about our adoption
Don't forget to check back here in the upcoming days for part 2. Lisa will share with us a few thoughts about what people might consider and expect to work through once bringing a child home.
Also- if any of you have your own specific questions, please leave them in the comment section, and Lisa will answer them in the next post.
Thank you so much to Lisa for taking the time to answer all of my questions ...and thank you to all of you (especially Nicki, Stephanie, Ashley, Penny, Deanna and Cathy for "reminding" me about Reece's Rainbow) who are praying for and giving to "the least of these".
James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.