Many people have asked me to write out the story of how we came to adopt our precious Paulina. So I have finally written it. My wonderful boys came to me in the more common way, though Shiloh's long labor sure didn't feel common! I am proud of all of my childen. The story is actually much longer, but hopefully I hit the highlights of our journey.
One day I was looking for links for some deaf friends. I kept accidentally hitting this page about deaf children available for adoption. Finally out of curiosity I began to read about these children. It seemed that many of them were from Eastern Europe. Our Pastor was very involved in mission work over in Russia, so I asked him about the plight of these children. It was heartbreaking. He told me about children not getting enough to eat, not having heat or warm clothing. The children had no one to love them or hold them. It broke my heart. He told me that the handicapped kids would never leave institutional life. Those deaf kids I saw would never go to school and have jobs and drive cars like my deaf friends. Kids who had minor problems were not getting medical care. The orphanages could barely afford milk for the babies, let alone formula. I wanted to run over there and save them all. I knew I couldn't. But, I kept hearing a voice telling me that I could save one of them. I could love one of them and take care of one. It was a crazy idea wasn't it? I kept going back to that site and then I went to other sites and learned more about Russian adoption. After a while, I knew I wanted to do it. More than that, I began to feel my child was somewhere over there. I tried to put the idea out of my head, but it wouldn't go.
Finally I told my husband I wanted to do it. He had a million reasons why we shouldn't. I had only one why we should. Some child somewhere belonged to us. I had no idea how we would pay for an adoption, who would watch our other children while we traveled, how we would deal with a child with medical problems, how we could afford to feed another mouth, how we could make time for a fourth child, or where we would put another child in our overcluttered house. I didn't know and I didn't care. By then I desperately wanted another child. I had two wonderful boys, and I was raising my teenage sister. But, some part of me had always wanted a little girl of my own.
The only problem, was my husband did care about all those things. I kept bugging him anyway. I think he thought I would forget about it. He never actually said no, just kept giving reasons why we shouldn't. Really good reasons, I might add. I kept doing research and ordered information from a dozen agencies. I laid all the information out on the living room floor to show him. He kind of looked at it, but I think he only looked at the numbers. Me, I only looked at the faces of the children on the brochures.
Finally, he gave me an answer. He threw out a number and told me that if we could do it for under that number, we could go ahead and do it. I was not happy, I had just shown him the numbers. The number he gave me was half of what the cheapest agency charged! How dare he! Well that night I prayed like mad. I begged God to change my husband's mind. I didn't sleep until early in the morning. I got up the next morning and went outside to check the mail. In the mail was a letter from an adoption agency, and a price that was just under the number he had given me! Ha, I yelled, I could not wait to show him. I had calmed down a little by the time he came home.
Well, he wasn't nearly as excited as I was. But, he had given me his word and he is a man of his word. So he was stuck. I knew he still had doubts, but I also knew he was a wonderful father. I also trusted him to somehow figure out the money problem. I am not a numbers person, and numbers have very little meaning, so I didn't realize just how impossible this was. Meanwhile I continued to do a lot of reading, research and praying. I knew we needed to do this, but Bob had doubts. I knew that if it was right, God would work with him, and He did.
It took a while before we were ready to tell our friends and family, but we finally did, with mixed reactions all around. My father thought we were going to adopt a little "Commie". Some friends and family worried that we didn't know what we were doing, that we were in over our heads, that we were getting ripped off, that we would get some child with serious mental problems. Well they were right, we didn't really know what we were doing. We could have gotten ripped off and we could have ended up with a child with serious problems. Some were thrilled and acted like we were heroes. I knew I was no hero, I was selfish, I wanted a little girl to dress up in frilly clothes.
After that things started falling into place. A series of coincidences caused us to save $2000.00 on a home study, get fingerprinted for free, and many other wonderful things. I knew we must be doing what God wanted. Things were going perfectly. It had to be a God thing. Then the waiting began, it seemed that after a charmed start, things were suddenly moving at the speed of molasses. But, looking back, the time it took for all these problems helped us to be more prepared. My sister Angie, who had been living with us, graduated and moved out to begin her Navy career. This left us with an empty room. The problems with Yugoslavia, which strained relationships with our country and Russia, were able to calm down. It seemed God knew best after all and his timing was indeed perfect.
Then again we had more surprises in store. It took forever for us to get our clearance from immigration. Then, it seemed our agency representative in Russia was stuck. It looked hopeless. So when the opportunity to move back to Texas and near family came, we took it. Just as we were about to give up we heard from another missionary. He told us about a little boy he had met. This boy was three years old. The missionary told us about the personality of this kid. He was missing one foot and the other foot was clubbed, but the child managed to get around and keep up with the other kids and had an incredibly outgoing personality. The missionaries fell in love.
I thought about this. Bob was intriqued by this kid, but he was a boy. I had specifically told God I wanted a girl. Of course I had said all along that God was leading us, but then here I was, as usual arguing with him. I kind of have a tendancy to be very willing to follow God as long as he is going where I want him to. God really called me on this attitude of mine. I repented and told him I would love any child he gave me. Suddenly I had an overwhelming peace. I knew I would love the right child, boy or girl.
Well, we decided to pursue this child. I began to do research on limb differences. I found a support group on-line. I joined the e-mail list and was amazed at what the parents were telling me about their kids. It seemed that missing or deformed limbs didn't slow these kids down a bit. I learned that we had moved very near an incredible hospital like no other. Texas Scottish Rites Hospital in Dallas is 30 minutes from us. They are one of the best in the world and they have never presented any patient with a bill for their service. Only God could have planned so well.
It was all going to be perfect. I was all set and in love with this little boy. I was nervous though, the wait had already been a year. I asked God for a sign, (I know, I know, bad Idea) I asked for the boy's name because we didn't know it. Well it came. His name was Rustam. OK I had my sign, I was ready. Well, God wasn't. Suddenly things fell through, we could not adopt him and I was heartbroken. I was about to give up again. I mean I had done everything right. I had prayed. I had been willing to accept a boy, I was all ready to go then BAM. What was the deal? I think Bob was relieved and dissapointed all at the same time. I was just heartbroken.
God's real plan
God it seems had other plans. One day I went out to check the mail and there was a letter from Russia. The letter was in Russian so I couldn't read it. It was a long day as I waited for translation. Finally I found out that the letter said our paperwork had been accepted. Gee it had only been there a year! Well, even though it said we had been accepted, it said it would be another year before we could receive a referral. But, then only a month later we received another letter. This one listed 9 children and told us to choose one. Our facilitator called about some of the children. They said they would send us medical information on the children. We waited and waited. A week later they said they could not send them. The law was changing in Russia and the officials were afraid to do anything. Finally they said I could come in person and see the children and the medical records and choose one. Then they would schedule court and my husband could join me.
Hmm, go to Russia alone? I have never been out of North America. I don't like to travel alone to the next town! To choose a child, without benefit of my husband's presence? Would he really accept a child I had chosen? Usually in foreign adoption you get to see a picture and a video and you can have experts review the medical records and video. I would have only my own instincts to guide me. Really there was no choice. I knew this was an answer to prayer and I knew I was not traveling alone. Getting the visa seemed to have lots of hitches too. I barely got it in time to catch my flight. I very nearly could not let go of my husband and get on that plane, I was so terrified, but I knew my child was waiting for me. So I blinked back my tears and walked into the unknown.
The first plane ride was uneventful. I managed to find where I had to go in New York easily enough. I had a couple of hours between flights, but God again provided. I was invited to have coffee with an older lady, whom I had helped find her gate. She was from Israel and had been visiting her grandchildren in America. Listening to her tales of life in Israel and her impressions of America was fascinating. (She thinks American children are totally spoiled) That killed the time for me in a very pleasant way. The flight to Zurich was different. Well, the plane was nice. There were little TVs for each seat. I watched movies and was able to track our progress. The bad part was that I had a window seat and the girl in the aisle seat (I was grateful for a female seat companion sexist I guess, but more comfortable for me) she fell asleep right after take off and slept almost the whole time. She was an exchange student going home for a visit. I could not get up and walk around or go to the bathroom the whole time she slept.
In Zurich I had to get my luggage and recheck it. Luckily luggage carts are free in Zurich, because I didn't have the right kind of money. Then I stopped and got tea and chocolate and settled in for a long wait. I had a nine hour layover. I was afraid to sleep as I had all my carry on luggage with me. So I watched this cool board that listed all the flights all day. It was one of those flip things, like the old fashioned alarm clocks. Every few minutes all the numbers and letters would flip, it sounded like rain. This thing was huge. I didn't find out what gate to go to until only two hours before the flight.
The flight to Moscow wasn't full so I had a whole row of seats to stretch out on. It was very nice. I was terrified of customs and stuff at the airport. I was carrying quite a bit of cash. It turned out not to be a problem. But I did have another problem. My ride was not there. All these taxi drivers were following me around trying to talk me into getting into their cars. I was very nervous. I had all these suitcases and I didn't know what to do. I waited 3 and half hours. It was awful. I was terrified. It turned out that my facilitator's car had broken down. For some reason before I left I had decided to memorize Psalm 121. I kept reciting it to myself that whole time. I think I did more praying in that time than I had in my whole life up till that point!
Finally in Russia
When my ride showed up, it was in a tiny car, somehow we got all the luggage in and went the two hours to the house. The house looked a lot like an American house on the inside. The outside looked like no house I have ever seen. It was duplex and one half was log and the other half had pink siding. Yes pink. The outsides was just a mess of unfinished parts and no lawn and no sidewalk. This was one of the only houses in the area with running water. There was a pipe running into the bathroom which meant the door didn't close all the way. I was shown the bedroom of a 12 year old boy (he was asleep on the couch since it was 5AM) I slept on his bed, which was a fold out chair. The other room had a fold out couch where the grandmother and the ten year old daughter slept. The 4 year old had an American style toddler bed. And the only real bed in the house belonged to my host and his wife. They were very proud of their home, they had visited America many times and had tried to make it look American. It did look very American. I was still shaken up from the adventure at the airport and nervous about my adventure so it took me a little time to fall asleep. Well, that, plus the sun rose at 4AM. But I finally fell asleep. At 9AM they work me up and said we had to leave. I threw some clothes on and went downstairs. I was served instant coffee in a china cup and a hot dog and slice of bread, then our driver was there.
We drove three hours to the town of Vladimir. The roads all have huge potholes. It was so interesting along the way to see women dressed in Itallian fashions and high heels coming out of thier homes and walking to the community well for water. All the houses seemed to be falling apart, but the women looked like they had just stepped out of Vouge. When we got to Vladimir it was lunch time, so I was led to a small diner in the basement of a building, There was no menu, just two different items to eat. I don't remember what I had. You got meat of some sort, one was like meatballs and the other some sort of pattie. You had a choice of rice or pasta with it and a small glass of tea. I was afraid of the water so was given seltzer water in a small (4oz) glass. Anyway, after I paid we were off to the Department of Education. We went down a couple of dirt roads that I thought were alleys. They were small one-lane roads squeezing between apartment buildings. Then we came to a building with a small sign. Inside I had to sit on a couch and wait. Then we were called in. The walls were lined with pictures of children who had been adopted. The lady told me how happy she was that I was there and that my paperwork was in order and gave us the names of three children. We then headed out to see the children.
First I saw a five month old boy named Igor. He had the biggest smile. He was missing most of his fingers and had a club foot. As I was being introduced to him, I heard English. It seemed there was a mission team visiting that orphanage that day. I met a missionary who visited the orphanage each week. Next I was introduced to Paulina, in the same orphanage as Igor. She would have nothing to do with me. She had a deformed hand and both feet were deformed. I was trying to be objective as I still had another child to see and at 9 months she was the oldest on my list for that day. I had been told that younger kids would adjust better. So I closed my heart for the moment and took the picture and notes on her medical information.
Then we drove to the next orphanage. This orphanage was very cold. I was handed a baby wrapped in blankets. At six months she should have at least been looking around, but she wasn't. The paper had said she had missing feet. It was wrong. Her feet were fine, her hands were slightly deformed. She had beautiful green eyes. They put little Diana in my arms. She didn't even blink. They told me she wasn't used to being held. Fearing attachment disorder, I sadly handed her back. Perhaps if I didn't already have two children I would have felt we could take her. But, I knew that a child who had never been held would likely have many problems. Still those beautiful eyes haunted me, she was so perfect and so delicate. I hated leaving her there.
All the long drive home I prayed and thought. Back at the house, I e-mailed Bob and sent him pictures of all three children. I sent the medical information and no comment on my opinion at first. I wanted to hear his unbiased opinion. It wasn't long before we both agreed on Paulina. I had at first been leaning towards the younger one, Diana, but something told me Paulina was my daughter and she seemed more socially ready for two rowdy big brothers. So Paulina it was.We also agreed on keeping her name. We were not so sure how to spell it, Polina or Paulina. We decided on Paulina because if that got shortened it would be more likely to be Paula than Polly. We liked the sound of Paula better, though we planned to go with Paulina. For her middle name, we choose Laurinda. The name of Bob's great grandmother, who took in four grandchildren at an age when she should have been retiring, and raised them all to adulthood. We felt we were following her example and wanted to honor her.
Well, I filled out tons of paperwork and went back to see her. This time knowing she was mine. I got to spend most of a day in a room alone with her. I got to see her smile for the first time. At first, she was very nervous and didn't want anything to do with me, but I had brought cookies and that helped a lot, though she kept listening to be sure her caretakers were still around and would smile when they walked into the room. It was so hard to leave. I wanted to spend every day with her, but my host was busy. He was the only one who spoke English and often he was gone when I work up and didn't come back until midnight. I spent most of my days sitting in the home of my host with the grandmother and the four year old. I read every book I had brought, I wrote in my journal, I did crossword puzzles, I watched "Xena Princess Warrior" dubbed in Russian, every afternoon. Some days I went for walks to McDonalds with my host's kids. (by the way a shake in Russia is a cocktail) I was bored out of my mind. Finally a few days later I got to go back to the orphanage. This time Paulina was sick. She had a high fever. She just wanted me to hold her. So for hours I held her and sang to her until she fell asleep on me. That night I was also sick. I think we both had the flu. It is awful to be sick away from home. I cried all night. A few days later I saw her again and she was better and so was I She was actually smiling at me this time. So I was very surprised when on the next visit they told us she had been taken to the children's hospital. They couldn't agree on why or what was wrong. They finally admitted it was so she would not get sick again.
We went to visit her in the hospital. It was interesting to put it kindly. The only way to get in was a back door with no outside doorknob. We had to wait for someone to come out so we could get in. Then we went down this long hallway. The hallway was dark and the ceiling was low, with ductwork and loose wires hanging down. You had to watch your step because of the cat stuff. There were cats everywhere, and no litter boxes. When I mentioned the cats in the hospital as strange, my translator asked if we had cats in the hospitals in America. I said no. He nodded and said, "Then you have rats." Very strange. The place was also filthy, and smelled like mildew. We got to the end of the hall to her wing. There were two doors that were kept locked but the windows were broken so you could just reach through and open them. When we got to her room, (which was not even in sight of the nurse's station) there was an entry way with a sink. They told me to wash my hands. There was no hot water and no soap. There was a towel that was so filthy it was stiff. I dried my hands on my skirt. They made me put on a filthy gown over my clothes. Then we went into the room. The room was empty except for a metal crib, a tiny rusty cot with no mattress and two chairs, one broken. And a changing counter. Paulina was all alone in the crib, no blanket, no pillow, a pair of size 4T shorts and a t-shirt. The room had a little space heater but it didn't work. It was freezing in the room. There was nothing on the wall to look at but the cracks in the plaster. No toys at all. She was sitting there alone. She was totally silent and totally still, nothing moved but her eyes. I had not heard her make a sound ever at this point. They let me stay an hour. I cried when I left.
A few days later, our driver's wife came with us to visit her. This time Paulina cried when I left, so did our driver's wife. I of course cried too. Our driver and his wife were wonderful people. He had been secretly taken by his grandmother to an underground church and baptised, and he had done the same with each of his children. He was hearbroken to see those children. He had always beleived the propoganda that the children in orphanages were "bad" or had "bad blood" of were mentally ill or criminals. Then he met Paulina. She was a very normal baby, except for her deformities, which you could not even see in her winter clothing. I had brought Russian Bibles with me and was able to give him one and he was thrilled. He had been praying for one for some time. He came to Christ while I was in Russia. I was thrilled. But even that couldn't cheer me up after the visits to the hospital. I was counting the hours till Bob arrived. When he finally did I was very happy. I didn't realize till I saw him just how homesick I had been. I never wanted to let go of him again. I felt much better, suddenly I felt like I could handle everything.
While all of this was going on, they began to find problems with our paperwork. It turned out our physicals were too old. Bob was able to get a physical before leaving, but not the appostille (seal from the state) So when he arrived we both had to have physicals in Moscow. Then came the day we were supposed to have court. We went to the Department of Education and the director told us there were too many things wrong with our paperwork. She told us good bye and that we had to leave. Our facilitator argued with her for several minutes. They shouted back and forth in Russian. It looked like it was all going to fall apart right there. We went and did more paperwork and they argued some more. Remember how I said that at the airport I had prayed more than any other time in my life till that point? Well this was where I broke that record. I remember thinking that it was the middle of the night back home in America, where I knew there were people who would pray for me. I asked God to please wake someone up to pray for me. Well he must have because, finally the director sighed and decided she would help us (for a price). We were able to go to court the next day. The night before court we stayed in a hotel in Vladimir. The hotel was not very clean, at least not by American standards. There was no place for the baby to sleep so we had decided that we would take the baby back to the house once we got her. The hotel had single beds, but we were very tired so we slept. Finally we went to court, and it went very well. We went to the orphanage and were told Paulina was still in the hospital so we went there and got her.
Once we had her we began running. We went to get her picture taken for her passport and to get her new birth certificate and her adoption certificate. Then they left me and Paulina at the orphanage for two hours while they went to get all the paperwork. Then we went back to the house. Everyone was crazy about Paulina. They had a big dinner to celebrate. The next day Bob and our translator went back to get more paperwork done. Paulina was already very attached to me. She didn't sleep though. She stayed awake for three days straight, fighting sleep. I tried to give her cold medicine to help her sleep and some homeopathic stuff I had brought, but nothing worked. Finally we thought we had all the paperwork to go to the US embassy and get that paperwork done.
We were wrong. Allour papers needed to be translated by an official translator. Luckily we met someone at the embassy who could help us get it done, but it would not be ready until the next day. Until then, we could go no further. We had been dropped off by our driver and facilitator, who thought we were going to be in there a while, so they left to get coffee. So we sat outside and watched Moscow traffic for an hour. Paulina loved the traffic. She hated the sun though. By the next day we had the right paperwork and were able to get her visa. The guy at the window in the embassy told us she had won the lottery in life. I don't think we understood it until back at the house. People would come over and we would be asked to pull out her visa. The visa was something considered very valuable. They all said how lucky she was to be coming to this country. We were reminded how blessed we are to have been born here.
We finally got to do some sight seeing in Moscow and then a few days later we flew home. Paulina was great on the flight. The only trouble was in Atlanta. She didn't like Customs and Immigration and because we had to run for our plane we had no time to change her messy diaper. On the plane we were separated by several rows. I changed her diaper in the airplane restroom. Luckily that was a short flight, only two hours. I met back up with Bob at the front of the plane. Together we walked down the tunnel and when we came out, there were our sons, Bob's parents, and a whole bunch of people from our church. They had banners and posters and balloons. It was heartwarming. To know that we were so loved and that Paulina was already loved. I was so happy to see my boys, I had missed them a lot. I loved being home. Paulina fit right in like she had always been with us. Her brothers are crazy about her and she is crazy about them. She loves our hectic lifestyle and is always thrilled to go "bye bye". She is tough as nails, but loves frilly dresses. It seems God knew the desires of my heart. Scottish Rite hospital was there to start treatment and soon to make Paulina's prosthetic legs. Everyone has been great and Paulina is talking non-stop and chasing her brothers everywhere. Her grandparents love her and she loves them. Everyone at our church considers her the church baby and indeed she is. They helped us bring her home in many ways. We have truly been blessed. Looking back, when we started this journey she wasn't even born yet. During that time when I was begging God to hurry up, she was not yet eligible for foreign adoption. God's timing was indeed perfect, as are all my children.
Note: Both Diana and Igor have been adopted and are now living happily in the US in the families that were meant for them and both are doing great!
Paulina and mom at the orphange, looking at the family album in one picture. Then at home with Dad and brothers.