My Ukrainian Maternity Experience, So Far…

Folks, we’re gettin’ close. Only 5 more weeks and we’ll have another little Johnson in the house! OMG. At 34+ weeks I’m at the stage in pregnancy when you are just ready to be DONE. My body is done. But, I’m also not quite ready for the baby to be out. Right now he/she is very easy to take care of and demands zero amount of my time. That’s convenient when I have six others that demand all my time and attention. So, as much as I’m ready to be done, I’m also not quite ready for a newborn. Make sense?

Lots of people have asked what the medical care has been like here in Ukraine, so far during this pregnancy, so I thought I’d share. It has been one gigantic learning curve that’s about to become reeeeeeeal steep here in a few weeks. I’ll start out right now by saying that nothing I’m writing here is meant to bash Ukrainian healthcare. I have felt very well taken care of over the past several months. I have zero doubt about the skill of the doctor I have been seeing. It’s not about that. This is all about the differences between my experiences in the US and my experiences here.  I’m not speaking to others’ experiences, only my own. I’ve birthed three biological kiddos in the US and am also an RN with many years of experience in postpartum and infant care and 13 years of hospital work experience. We’ve also been foster parents in the US to 10 newborns/young infants with special needs. In other words, I’ve been around this mountain before and am quite a nerd about it. I also have loads of opinions about it all…but I’ll try to spare you some of that. The differences between the cultures and medical systems here in Ukraine and the US are vast and the topic interests me endlessly. So, yeah, there is no bashing at the heart of this post- only interest combined with  some amusement, confusion and fascination. 🙂

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In Ukraine the public healthcare is provided by the government. There are many free public clinics in our city. There are two free public maternity hospitals. The care is meant to be free, but the funding is sparse and the doctors are paid so little, it is expected that patients should tip as they are able. You also need to purchase many of your own supplies. I have a big ol’ list of supplies to buy and bring to he hospital for delivery. There are also private clinics here in our city, but no private hospitals.

The difference between private clinics and public clinics are vast. In a private clinic you make an appointment, come at the stated time, and with little wait you see the doctor you were meant to see, or get the test you were meant to receive. In the public clinic you just show up, ask who is the last in line, and then take your place behind them.  There are no appointments. So….as you can imagine, you can end up waiting a long time…but such is life. The waiting rooms are not what you would imagine if you have only been in US clinics. They are simply chairs in a hallway- bare minimum (or zero) lighting, concrete floors, no tv, no music, no magazines, no coffee machine, no nothing. Just people waiting. Fun times.

When I first discovered I was pregnant (Holy moly. The shock was intense.) I called a dear friend in our town who speaks great English and asked her to help me. I knew the system had to be so different and I had no idea even where to begin! Bless her heart, she said yes, and has been a big help to me ever since! Thank you, dear Olya! We first went to a private clinic for an early U/S, just to confirm the pregnancy because I’ve had a tubal pregnancy in the past and wanted to make sure we weren’t going to have a repeat of that sadness. That was a great experience and very similar to what you would experience in the US.

After that, around 10 weeks or so I needed to register with a doctor at a public clinic here in town. I decided to go with the doctor who Olya had seen during her pregnancy. In Ukraine you see one doctor throughout the pregnancy, and then when you near delivery (around 36/37 weeks) you choose where you will deliver and register at the hospital. A different doctor delivers the baby- not the doctor you have seen for the pregnancy.

The doctor has been very kind and pretty much laid back. At each appointment she weighs me, measures my belly, and listens to the baby’s heartbeat. Just like in the US. Major difference: the doctors here use Pinard Horns (a wooden horn thing) to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. I’d never even seen one of those in real life!  Think “Call the Midwife” and you’ll be spot on. Can you believe I’ve never heard my baby’s heartbeat? Only the person with the horn can hear the heartbeat. Old school. In fact, I’ve been watching a lot of Call the Midwife lately and feel like there are many similarities to the resources here and there.

I had an U/S at 12 weeks and then again at 19 weeks. I think that’s pretty similar to my experiences in the US. The 19 week U/S was much more brief here. It lasted maybe 10 minutes? I didn’t get to watch, but Jed did. 🙂 We requested to keep the gender a secret, so we’re still waiting on that big surprise! My doctor doesn’t do any ultrasounds but they’re done in an office right next to hers.

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One massive difference between Ukraine and the US during pregnancy is the PAPERWORK and TESTING. Holy smokes! So much paperwork and so many blood tests! Wow. I feel like I’ve been poked more times here than in all of my previous pregnancies combined! Basically every 3 weeks, before my appointment, I need to have some sort of test done. At my appointment my doctor will give me little slips of paper that are for the next round of tests. She writes my name on it, her name on it, the hours you can go for testing (normally like M-F 07:30-09:00) and the room number where the test is done. Before my next appointment I need to show up at the different little rooms, stand in line, and go in to do my test. It’s customary to give a few griven (Ukrainian money) to the lab person, along with the little orders slip. For some tests I need to buy my own syringe and needle and bring that along, but most blood tests have been finger sticks. The finger stick tests are done in one room and the blood draws from the vein are done in a different room. I have more than 3 kids, so technically, I don’t have to pay for any of the tests.

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The next round of tests I need to do before my upcoming appointment.

In the room where you get your finger sticks there are several different women sitting at desks with a bunch of little glass vials sitting in front of them. They take a metal, almost needle thing, out of a manila envelope and prick the end of my finger. Then they use a glass pipet to collect the blood and smear it on a microscope slide. When I look in front of them at the rows and rows of collected blood in different vials I can’t understand their system at all. There are no patient labels, no lids, no plastic (all is glass)…how do they keep it all straight? How do they separate dirty from clean? How do they not always mess up people’s blood work? I have no idea. It’s so fascinating to me.

I also need to bring a urine sample from home every time I have an appointment. You can bring your urine in a jar of any kind, or you can buy little plastic specimen containers from the pharmacy. Urine needs to be dropped off the day before the appointment, so Jed usually does that for me, bless his heart. 🙂

Another MAJOR difference between here and the US is that everything is done on paper and there is not a computer to be seen (hence the lack of patient labels in the lab). Private clinics have computers, but public do not- at least not in our town. Everything is written on paper. My doctor has a shelf of active patient records in her office. Because there are no computer systems linked between different clinics and hospitals, and you have no electronic chart following you, your patient record literally needs to stay with you. Everything needs to be written twice. My doctor writes notes in her chart for me (like a notebook) and then writes them again in my own personal chart/notebook that I take home and bring back and forth to appointments. There are two copies of every lab result and one copy is stapled into her chart and one into mine. That way, when I change to the delivery doctor, I have my chart in my hands. At this point in pregnancy my little notebook is just jam packed with notes and results and such. The lab where they do blood draws has a big binder where they write patient information- just like the Call the Midwife logbook. 🙂 It’s really interesting.

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My personal patient chart and one of the lists of things I need to buy at a pharmacy to bring to the hospital for delivery.

For me, the big looming decision was where to deliver the baby. I have to have a c-section (huge bummer) because I’ve had three previous c-sections. My babies all love to position themselves bottom or feet first. Grrr. Anyway, because of that, I felt really nervous about where the surgery would be done. My options were delivering here in our town, at one of the public maternity hospitals, or in Kyiv, at a private maternity hospital. It would cost about $4,000 to deliver at a private hospital. The main question wasn’t money, but where we felt safest and most comfortable.

Again, I’m not saying I think Ukrainian doctors lack skill. C-sections are done here every day and everything goes just fine. It’s not like my situation is so unique (except 4 c-sections is actually considered very unique here in Ukraine!) that I need some special treatment. It’s not that at all, it’s just that when you are in a situation where the system is totally new, you don’t understand everything (medical terminology and such in Russian and Ukrainian), and you know you’re already going to be stressed, you want to feel like you made the best decision for you and your baby. It was a difficult decision for us! I would say I understand 85-90% of what my doctor says to me. She speaks great Ukrainian and I’m super thankful for that. But, that is rare in our city. Most of the lab techs and others I encounter speak Russian to me and I don’t always understand them as well. I know when I’m stressed and in surgery my mind is not going to want to think in Ukrainian or Russian. I will need to be able to trust and know that I’m in good hands.

In the end, we decided to deliver at the public hospital here in our town. It’s 10 minutes from our house, as opposed to 2.5-3 hours away in Kyiv. Especially with having Boris home now, it’s important that we stay close to home. It’s convenient, for sure, but the biggest deciding factor was the doctor. One of our closest friend’s mom is one of the head doctors of labor and delivery at the maternity hospital near our house. She has over 20 years of experience and has agreed to do the c-section for us. I feel great about this decision. She knows us, she knows our family. We matter to her- we aren’t just random people. She speaks no English, but I know that she will do her best to make sure I understand what’s going on and that means the world to me. Also, she is very skilled at her job. I know she’ll watch over me closely and I need that reassurance, being so far away from everything that seems normal to me.

I’ll for sure write about our delivery and hospital experience after the baby comes, but I can tell you now some things that I already know will be very different. I’m slowly coming to grips with these differences, even though I don’t like them one bit! For one, Jed doesn’t get to be in the operating room. This one absolutely kills me. He’s always been present for the births of our babies and I can’t imagine being in the OR without him! I know I’ll be an emotional wreck. But, we have no choice in the matter. They told me that he’ll be in a room next door and as soon as the baby is born and they show him/her to me they’ll take him/her straight to Jed and he will have the baby with him while they finish me up and take me to the recovery room. I can’t believe we won’t be together when we find out if it’s a boy or girl! I’m so sad about it. 😦

The doctor told me it will be about two hours before the baby gets to be with me again, and during that two hours he/she will be with Jed. The first day and night I will stay in a special post-op area with the baby and Jed doesn’t get to stay. But the next morning, if everything is going well, they will transfer me to a regular room and then Jed will stay with me the rest of the time. We will pay for a private room so we can be by ourselves, as opposed to a ward room. No thanks!  Eek! The doctor reassured me that the baby will be with either me or Jed 100% of the time. At no point will they take him/her away. I’m really glad about that. They do a TB vaccination here while the baby is still in the hospital, so we need to decide if we will do that or not. I’m not big on newborn vaccinations, but I also know that TB is a real threat here and I want to be wise. We need to do our homework on that one.

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The maternity hospital

Another big difference here is that the kids will not be able to visit us in the hospital.  They don’t allow children to visit at all. I have to stay for 5 days, so that will be brutal. Thank goodness for FaceTime! I’m certain the hospital has no wifi, but we recently got 3G in our fine city (woohoo!), so I should be able to connect, at least briefly. And Jed will be able to go back and forth and check on everyone. My in-laws are coming from Montana to stay with us and help out when the baby comes, so they can be at home with the kids. I’m so thankful they’ll be here. I don’t know what we would do if they couldn’t come! I’d probably be even more of an emotional wreck. Ha!

That’s my experience so far. It’s been different, for sure, but definitely fine. I’m blessed to have very straightforward pregnancies, so far so good. I’ve enjoyed learning another part of Ukrainian culture- especially as a nurse. We are getting so very excited to meet our little treasure in less than 5 weeks. We sure do appreciate your prayers for a safe and speedy delivery and recovery. Thank you, Friends! 🙂

 

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All About Boris: One Week Home

On Christmas Day we had much to celebrate. Not only is Christmas always the best holiday EVER, but this Christmas we celebrated one week of having our sweet Boris home.

Yes! On December 15th the guardianship committee granted Jed’s petition for guardianship in a quick and easy 10 minute meeting. I realized that I said I would come back and share the news here on the blog, but I forgot! Sorry to keep you hanging. I share much more frequently on our Wide Awake Facebook page, just so you know. 🙂

We waited for the documents to be drawn up and ready, and then on Monday, December 18th we brought our boy to his forever home on the Homestead.

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I still can’t quite believe Boris lives with us! It’s unreal! I remember the many hours our team has spent sitting with Boris at Romaniv praying and crying over him. We cried over the injustice of his life and we prayed for his freedom. Now those prayers have been answered. It’s miraculous.

I would say that overall, Boris is doing much better than we anticipated! We definitely have some big challenges, and the road to healing will be steep and long, but I’m actually shocked at how well he is doing. For instance, I thought that we wouldn’t be able to take Boris out of the house for quite some time. I imagined that the stimulation of going new places would be far too much for him, but he has proved me wrong. He loves going in the car and we have already seen improvement in his ability to cope with new surroundings and new people. Yay!

I know many of you are very curious about every aspect of this journey, so I will try to be faithful to share. I also want to make sure in sharing that I always guard Boris’ dignity. He has had so much stolen from him over the years, I don’t want to be yet another person who steals from him. He deserves better than that. So, I will share our experience, but many details I won’t share.  This is Boris’ journey as much as it is ours, and I want to be very careful to show him respect. Thank you for understanding!

Medical. Medically, we don’t really have anyone to guide us. Boris is a total medical mystery. He is the size of our 7 year old, but Boris is almost 26 years old. The only diagnosis he had at the institution was “severe mental retardation” (not my words, just the literal translation). We have no idea what kind of condition he was in upon coming to the institution in 1998, so we really don’t have any way of knowing how much of the Boris we see now was preexisting, and how much of who he is now is caused by living at Romaniv for 19 years. I’m just assuming that the main things we are dealing with are a lifetime of abuse, neglect, and constant stress and trauma. There is no handbook on how to navigate the path to healing for someone like Boris so we are just praying for wisdom and creativity and taking it one day at a time.

I’m an RN, so I’m thankful for that background right now. We took Boris last week to get a bunch of lab work done, just for some baseline numbers. Some of the labs came back quite concerning, so we will need to dig deeper into that once we find a doctor that we feel we can trust with Boris’ medical care here. We also took him for a full abdominal ultrasound, just because his body shape is so strange and he is obviously not healthy. We just have no idea what is going on with those organs in there. The US showed some abnormalities that, again, we will need to address once we find a medical home for Boris’ care. Right now we are just doing these tests at a private clinic and just ordering them ourselves. Once we collect a few more specimens for evaluation we will present all our findings to a doctor and get recommendations on how to proceed.

We will be applying for a passport for Boris ASAP so that we can get him to Germany for medical evaluations there with some of our partners. He has a foot/ankle and arm (humerus) that were broken at one point and never healed correctly. The breaks really hinder his mobility, so we are eager to find out what a surgeon will say about that.

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Physical (Daily Life).  Boris requires pretty much full care. He can walk, but really only around the house. He has no stamina, pretty poor balance and the odd shape of his foot makes finding suitable shoes a real problem. We are borrowing a wheelchair from some friends while we look for a permanent chair that will fit him correctly. The wheelchair is not needed at home, but is a necessity when we are out and about. He really likes being wheeled around, so that’s a bonus!

I thought that food would be a big obstacle, but honestly, he’s done amazing! I remember Vladik being SO picky when he first came home. He would only eat pureed textures and if anything had much taste at all he would say it was “spicy”. I expected Boris to be even more picky, but boy has he proved me wrong! He hasn’t turned down anything! I’m so relieved about that. Sure, we have the food insecurities and the food obsession going on, but at least when he’s given food he’ll eat it. We all just have to be careful not to eat in front of him when it’s not his mealtime. If you eat in front of Boris you better be prepared to share! He is capable of feeding himself, but his coordination is quite poor and he crams the food into his mouth way too fast. It’s really not safe, so for now we are feeding him. Once he begins to learn that no one is going to steal his food and food will always be there when he wants it, we’ll start to work on independent feeding skills. At first he was turning down all liquids except soup, but already in one week he has changed his tune. He’ll drink basically anything except water at this point, so that’s a big victory!

Boris is not able to dress himself, so we help him with that. He wears a boys size 8. What a little peanut! He is so darn cute.

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Communication. Boris is nonverbal. He doesn’t speak at all. He also does not know any signs. It’s been fun to begin to learn his ways of communicating. Some of it we already knew just from knowing him at Romaniv, but he is already much more communicative, after just one week! Having your needs consistently met encourages communication. It’s beautiful. His main methods of communication are reaching for things, or walking to the room where the need can be met (going to the kitchen for food, going to his room when he’s ready for bed, going to the bathroom when he wants the toilet). He also makes eye contact and then makes a kind of grunting sound when he wants to communicate a desire. He shakes his head when he is saying no. Like if he is grunting to me and I ask him if he needs the toilet, he will shake his head, or he will get up and start to walk to the bathroom (if we’re lucky…toileting is a whole other beast we are tackling. Oy.).  It’s really difficult to know how much Boris understands. He definitely understands simple commands, and obeys them well. How much he understands at a deeper level, beyond just simple language is impossible to ascertain at this time. Only time will tell.

As you can see on his face, Boris has quite a history of self-harm. Years and years with almost zero sensory input can lead the boys to self-harm in order to get some sort of sensory input. Right now it doesn’t seem that Boris is hitting himself for any kind of sensory input. Right now it almost seems like communication, or just his way of processing his emotions. Like, if we tell him we’re going outside, he’ll get really excited and his go-to reaction is to hit himself in the head. Or when he first came home he would hit himself very aggressively when it was time for his clothes to be changed. He has already backed way down on that. We make sure that two of us are present for big transitions and one of us will be on “hand duty” to try to keep the hitting to a minimum. We know we can’t undo the past 19 years in one week, but we can sure try. 🙂

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Emotional. Emotionally, Boris was at the best he has been since we met him when we took him from Romaniv. His one on one time with his intern, Mira, has helped him to begin to develop. He is able to process this huge transition in a more positive way than he would have before. That really is one of the goals of the internship, and of our work at Romaniv, to prepare the boys for life outside of the institution. It’s awesome to be able to reap the benefit of the internship with Boris. Three years ago he would have been a complete disaster- he was self-harming almost constantly and his arms were always tied up to try to keep him safe. He’s come a long way since then. God’s timing is perfect.

Even though he can’t speak, Boris makes it very obvious that he is happy with his new life. He is so happy that today one of our kids described him as being “jolly”! Anyone who has met Boris before would be shocked to hear that word used to describe him. In this past year, at Romaniv, Boris began to laugh at appropriate times and in appropriate situations. He would laugh when his favorite volunteers were near or when he was taken outside, but it was not frequent. He was generally quite serious. Not anymore!  He will laugh appropriately at the kids when they do funny things. When he’s happy with his food he’ll make sure to catch your eye and smile and laugh. He loves music and smiles a lot when good music is playing. He especially smiles when he’s been gone in the car and realizes we’ve arrived back home. Ahhh, home sweet home.

A lot of times the laughing is appropriate, but it is also often inappropriate. Inappropriate laughter is laughter that goes on and on and on for no apparent reason. We’re talking laughter that goes from midnight till 2am without a pause…yeah, at that point we can safely assume he’s not just really, really happy.  We are aware that he is processing more complex thoughts and emotions through the limbic system.  As he heals and his brain reorganizes itself we hope to see his processes advance and change.  We’ve noticed that the manic kind of laughter happens more frequently when Boris has been overstimulated- maybe we were out and about too much, or had a houseful people (all things that are hard to avoid the week of Christmas). While Boris handles the activity and commotion quite well, he seems to pay for it later. So, we are trying to be more aware of that.

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Family. It’s truly wonderful how well Boris has melded into our family. All our kids have commented on how different he is than how they expected. He’s more mellow than they expected, but also louder than they expected (hello laughter!), and he has a lot more personality than any of us expected. It’s amazing how in the institution the boys are just shells of their true selves. It only takes love and a sense of safety for their true selves to start to show up. We’re just getting glimpses of the true Boris, and he is so fun! I love watching our kids delight in him.

Many people have asked how Vladik has reacted to having Boris in our home. He is doing great! We talked about it a lot before Boris came, so Vladik was prepared. He likes to tell everyone that he has a new brother. 🙂 People have asked if Vladik and Boris were friends at Romaniv, and truthfully, no, they weren’t. I would say that the majority of the boys at Romaniv do not have “friend” attachments to any of they other boys. Many of them function socially and emotionally at such a low level that there is just not the awareness of others to form any attachments. Vladik had a peer or two that he had some attachment to, but Boris did not. Boris rarely interacted at all with any of the other boys. Honestly, all he did every.single.day was sit. Sit and sit and sit. He did not have friends.

When Boris first arrived he definitely reacted to Vladik. I assume that he, of course, remembers him! Vladik likes to talk to Boris and seems quite happy that he’s here. Vlad doesn’t love sharing attention, so he’s made sure to make his attention grabs, but that is very appropriate for where Vladik is in his emotional development. He’s adjusting just fine.

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We are quite aware that this road to healing for precious Boris is going to be a long one. He has been damaged by others in every way possible. But I can honestly say that so far he has brought us immense joy. I honestly didn’t expect it! His laughter lights up a room. He is teaching our kids a new level of empathy and compassion and we are thankful for that. Taking care of him is physically demanding and requires creativity, but the feedback he gives is a gift. It is our joy to introduce him to true living.

Thank you so much for your encouragement and love during this time of transition. It blows us away how many people have reached out to cheer us all on. We need your prayers for wisdom and energy and creativity. We value your ideas and input. Thank you to every single person who has helped to make this dream possible. A life has been saved and you are a part of it. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

What Does the Next Yes Mean?

On December 15th a committee will meet to decide if we are allowed to take guardianship of our precious friend, Boris. The committee has never visited a case like ours before (non-relatives pursuing guardianship of an adult with disabilities), so we are totally unsure of the outcome. Jed has submitted all the requested documents and the law is on our side, along with institution administration. There is really no reason why they should deny our petition, but they could always ask for more documents and endlessly require more from us…there is just no saying! We are preparing our home and our hearts for the possibility of bringing Boris home on that day, but at the same time not setting our hopes too high. It’s an impossible heart situation that will only be solved with time.

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So what does this “guardianship” word mean, in our case? I’ll tell you!

Legally, Boris can not be adopted by us because he is almost 26 years old and US law does not allow international adoption of adults. Also, if the goal is deinstitutionalization of all our boys, international adoption of ALL of them is probably not the most effective solution. Adoption is extremely expensive and the restrictions of who can and can’t adopt would limit our options for help in the years to come. Guardianship seems to be the best solution.

Ukraine has the options of an individual gaining guardianship or an organization gaining guardianship. In the future, once we have more homes on our property and are bringing out more boys we will most likely go the organization route. That makes more sense when you are looking at maybe having helpers in the family-style homes that are not able to commit the rest of their lives to these boys and this place. Having Wide Awake Int. remain the consistent guardianship overhead makes sense. For the boys that will be living in this house with our immediate family, like Boris, we decided to go the individual guardianship route. For one thing Wide Awake is not yet registered as a Ukrainian non-profit, but only as a US one at this point. More importantly though, we see the boys who will live in this house with us as becoming our immediate family, and as they will become a forever part of our family, it is right that we should personally be their guardians.

By law, the transfer of guardianship is from one individual to another. So the assistant director of the institution must express his desire to transfer guardianship of Boris to Jed, which he has done. The administration is totally supportive of this. They are behind us and have only helped the process so far. We are extremely thankful for that! It’s super important that they understand this is something we can do with them, not something we are doing to them. This gives them the opportunity to be an active part of the solution. Win win! Jed will have ultimate legal responsibility of Boris and will have total legal authority to make decisions on his behalf, as Boris is at this time unable to speak for himself. Through the coming years, as Boris gains his voice we will partner together in helping him become all God has made him to be with as much independence as he can safely have.

So that’s the legal side of it. What does a transfer of guardianship mean for our family? Well, that remains to be seen! Of course we have no idea what this will look like in the coming years, but we are committed to our friend. In our hearts and minds, this is an adoption. Boris will not gain our family name, but he will gain our family identity and heritage. For all intents and purposes Boris will become a Johnson, with a different last name. 🙂 We are committed to him for life as if he were our own child, born from my womb. Sure, he’s only 12 year younger than us (ha!), but to us that makes no difference. Once he is with us he will be here to stay- forever, as a beloved son and friend.

It’s funny, Jed and I were talking the other day and realized we needed to decide how we would refer to each other when talking to Boris. On paper, we are way too young to be his mom and dad, but developmentally a mommy and daddy is what Boris needs. He is like a baby in many ways and has been neglected for so many years. He needs to cocoon with family like a newborn for as long as it takes for healing to come. We decided we will be Daddy and Mommy to Boris. He’s missed out on that relationship for far too long.

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Because we are not adopting Boris, he will not become a US citizen. Vladik has US citizenship because he is adopted, but Boris will remain a Ukrainian citizen. That does make things tricky, as far as when we need to visit family and partners in the US. As a family we usually plan to visit the US for two months every 2 years. As soon as we have legal custody we will get Boris an international passport and then apply for a US visa for him. It’s a total toss-up as to whether he would be granted a visitor visa, but it’s worth a try! It would be great if he could travel with us for visits, but if he is denied a visa we will ask loving friends to stay here at the Homestead with him while we are gone. It’s not optimal, but there really aren’t many options. We are hoping for and expecting great healing for Boris-spirit, mind and body. But we are not unaware that a big trip across the ocean might not be what’s best for him at any given time. So we are trying to be very open handed with all of that. God will give us wisdom.

Medically, Boris is a total mystery. We have no idea what is going on in his body. He is obviously in poor health and will need the support of many specialists. We are hesitant to pursue initial medical evaluations here, as we are simply not confident that Boris will be seen as valuable and worthy of the best medical care available. Simply said, we live in a society that does not, as a general whole, accept people like Boris, so we would like to take him out of Ukraine for some baseline testing and examinations. Thankfully, Ukrainians can now travel visa-free in the EU for 90 days at a time, and also thankfully, we have loads of friends in the medical profession in Germany who are ready to welcome Boris with open arms. We are excited to get our boy a passport and begin to sort out that body of his so he can be as healthy as possible.

As time winds down till the committee meeting I find my heart in alternate states of peace and chaos. As I sat in his room folding all his precious, clean clothes and placing them at the ready on his shelves I felt such peace and anticipation. This is what we came here for. This is what the building project was all about. For Vladik and Boris and the ones yet to come, they are why we left everything and moved our family to Ukraine. FINALLY our boys are leaving Romaniv and my heart is so thankful and at peace. We love Boris and can’t wait to bear witness to his healing. What a privilege! What a joy! We can’t get him here soon enough!

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Then minutes later, when I’m missing my parents or feeling lonely for a friend my heart will jolt with the reality that this is forever. Once Boris enters our family everything changes. When Jed legally becomes his guardian we are effectively saying “Here we stay. Here we will live, ‘Till death do us part’.” That, my friends, is no small thing. We are not superhuman. We get it, what we’re saying, and it’s hard. It’s a heavy statement that we’ve been building up to for many years now. It’s not a decision that we take lightly. The weight of it can panic me a bit, to be honest.
But, this is our act of love. This is our service to Jesus. This is how we give of ourselves in the biggest YES we’ve said yet.

Right now I can’t think of forever or I might freak. So, I’m trying to plan for the future but not resting my heart there. I’m attempting to be fully present today and then tomorrow and ask God for the grace to live well in these moments right in front of me. I fail so often (daily), but living well in the present is the only way I’ll even be mildly successful at loving Boris well. And he deserves to be loved well- as do my other children, and my husband.

We have no idea what the day to day will look like, but we know it will involve lots of diapers, lots of pureeing food, lots of trial and error, lots of firsts, lots of sacrifices, lots of documents, lots of healing, lots of tears, lots of joy and laughter and lots of YES. We are as ready as we’ll ever be. Right now we just want our boy home for Christmas.

Thank you for your prayers and your love and support as the journey of YES is about to get a whole lot wilder. Please don’t ever underestimate how much your notes of encouragement mean to us. We need each other along the way, so thank you for loving us.

Hopefully I’ll be sharing good news on December 15th!

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Wide Awake Family Grows!

Happy Fall!

The trees are so so beautiful here right now and the weather is unseasonably  mild. The day before yesterday I roasted a pumpkin and made a pumpkin cheesecake treat and then yesterday cooked up some pumpkin soup. Fall has officially made it’s way to the Homestead. Bring on the cozy!

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Hava, school friends, and pretty fall colors

I always love to make a cozy home, but this year I have even more reason to create coziness. If you follow us on Instagram or our personal Facebook you already heard, but yes, our family is growing. We’re havin’ a baby!

I know, I know. We were rather shocked too. (to put it mildly)

In the middle of the crazy month of June when teams were coming and going and we could barely keep our heads on straight we found out the news. I remember the shock and the overwhelming feeling of “how in the world are we going to do this?”  We decided to keep our little surprise a secret until we could really wrap our brains around it.

We thought the baby days were long gone for us. Seven year old Seth was the last baby we had in our home, and after 7 years straight of newborns- bio and foster– we were more than ready to say goodbye to diapers, bottles, bouncy seats, and sleepless nights. We had moved into the magical season when no one needs to nap, everyone can potty independently and get their own drinks of water. And then BAM! The bomb dropped. 🙂

After the initial shock wore off and the crazy summer slowed down a bit we were able think straight. It didn’t take long for us to see the joy in our unexpected gift. How precious it will be to witness new life once again. Our lives here, our work here is surrounded by brokenness. Our boys are so broken. They have endured years upon years of abuse and neglect. The nurturing they missed out on as little babies is visible in their bodies even today. Our Vladik has come so far, yet every day we work with him to repair the brokenness inside.  It’s a hard and painful road, but one we are called to walk down and we do, with joy and sadness mixed. We pray that this baby will be like a healing balm to our family and to our boys. How amazing it will be to have the opportunity to nurture this little one, to meet his or her needs and to watch him or her grow- surrounded by love- the way God intended. How encouraging it will be to not have to fight against years of neglect, and how joyful it will be for our other kiddos to be a part of the process.

We are so happy and we are so thankful. God truly does know what we need.

So it is with great joy that we share our wonderful gift of new life.

I’m 23 weeks pregnant now (more than halfway!), and baby is due to make it’s appearance right around Valentine’s Day. We never find out the gender beforehand, so we’re keeping it a surprise this time around too. We already have boys and girls, so it doesn’t really matter- although our girls feel pretty strongly that they need a sister to even things out. It’s been 9 years since my body has done the whole growing  a baby thing, but so far so good, even if I am considered “advanced maternal age”. 😉 I definitely feel it more this time around, the discomfort and all that, but my body is generally pretty good at being pregnant, so I don’t have many complaints.

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Baby and me at the halfway point

Navigating a pregnancy here in Ukraine is definitely an adventure I never expected to have!  Of course the whole system is vastly different than what I’ve been used to in the past, but so far so good. I’ve mostly encountered a bazillion blood tests and a bazillion documents. I go to one doctor now, and then will switch to a “delivery doctor” when we are closer to the due date. Many people have asked if we will fly to the US for the birth, but that’s really not practical, for a number of reasons. Ukrainian women have babies here every day and do fine. I don’t see why it should be any different for me.

So I’m cozying up the house, taking advantage of quiet moments when the kids are at school (soon the quiet will disappear again!), and trying to be kind to my advanced maternal age body by putting my feet up when I need to (not easy to do when dishes pile up and boxes need unpacking STILL and 5 kids need me, but I’m trying). I know soon everything will change again, so I’m attempting to not rush this time, but to treasure the moments we have as a family of 7. Hopefully it won’t be long before our first Romaniv friend joins our family, and the baby soon after, so living in today is becoming an important skill to develop. It’s so interesting how the physical and spiritual align themselves. As we have been preparing the home for our boys and expecting them, things around us have changed. We have long compared the building of the Homestead and now the legal process of gaining guardianship as a kind of “pregnancy”. Now we also have a physical pregnancy. We are joyfully “expecting” in more ways than one.

Thank you to all who have shared our joy. Your encouraging words have blessed our family. We will be so excited to introduce our new baby to you in just a few short months! Yay for seasons of growth! (literally!) 😉

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Back to School 2017

September first came and went and Ukrainian schools are back in session!

Let me just tell you, the feeling that came with not being the new people was such sweet relief. We’ve been the new people at school for the past 4 years, and we were so over it. How wonderful to be known, to not be gawked at (mostly), to belong! Moving to a new culture has cured me forever of taking belonging for granted. Belonging is so hard to come by, and so amazing when it’s found. We found it for our kids and I’m beyond thankful!

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This year promises to be quite challenging, as full immersion can’t help but be, but we already feel the successes of last year’s hard work, so that’s encouraging.

Our goals for putting our kids in a Ukrainian local school are:

  1. Ukrainian language fluency.  This is our home and we want our kids to be able to communicate in every situation. While they are young, and their brains are growing so rapidly we feel it’s in everyone’s best interest for them to be immersed in Ukrainian language. I wish I had the opportunity! Their language has already far-surpassed mine.
  2. Integration into Ukrainian society. I’m a homeschooler in my heart. I adore homeschooling and I miss it like the dickens. BUT, I realize that homeschooling our kids here is not what is best for our family right now. It would be easy for them to stay home and live on our sweet little American island, but…they would be totally isolated. They need peer relationships. They need to learn how to function in Ukrainian society independently. They each need to find their place here, and as much as I want them all home with me, I know that I know it’s not what is best for them right now.

So, we press on with local school and all of it’s blessings and challenges.  It’s cool to look back on the first week of school last year compared to this week. We have come so far! Our kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds. They have much more of an understanding of how Ukrainian school works (completely different from American school, if you’re wondering), and they’ve pretty seamlessly picked back up where they left off. Last year we had buckets of tears. This year we have kids who feel successful. My heart is full.

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Seth entered first class, so now all the kids are at the same school together. He seems to be ready, and three days in, so far so good. We anticipate some learning difficulties, due to his history, but we’ll just have to take each day as it comes. Socially and emotionally, he is ready, and for Seth that had to happen in order for him to have a chance at success. His teacher was Ezra’s teacher last year and she’s great. She knows our family and we “get” how to communicate with each other. I’m hopeful for my baby.

Hava is in second class. She has her same class of kids and same teacher (they keep the same teacher for the first four years) so she’s all set to go. She adores her teacher and already has friends, so we’re golden. 🙂

Ezra skipped a grade and is now in sixth class, which is appropriate for his age. We really wanted him to have a fresh start this year in a new class and with new confidence. He’s going to have to work hard to catch up, but he’s motivated, so I think he’ll be okay. Ezra’s our introvert, so Ukrainian school is pretty challenging for him. I’m so proud of how far he’s come!

Addy is the one who’s probably going to have the biggest challenges this year. She skipped two grades and is going to give eighth class a try- the appropriate grade for her age. Due to being the only foreigners and then spending a school year in the States, then entering a new school as the only foreigners again, poor Addy has been held back FOREVER! Last year she was two grades behind her peers and it was starting to be a big problem for her. I know that in the whole big scheme of life, it doesn’t really matter, but when you’re thirteen and you’re in a class with eleven year-olds, it matters a heckofalot. 😉 She’s a super smart girl, she has just never been given the opportunity to try to catch up and prove herself. We fought hard for her and Ez to be moved up, so hopefully we made the right decision. For Addy it was very important to have this chance, so she is super motivated to work her tail off to be successful.

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Vladik has the same set-up as last year. Our friend is teaching him individually, and then he will be integrated into some lessons with the same class as last year.  Our goal for Vladik this year is to be integrated a bit more into the fabric of the school. Socially, he’s ready for it. Academically, we are limited on what he is able to do, but we are working to give him opportunities to be included at the level he is able. Right now we’re hoping to have him join the sixth class in P.E., music, art, and handicrafts. He adores his teacher and he LOVES school. I’m so thankful he has a place there.

That’s the scoop on school! It’s a lot of work and a lot of figuring out what the heck is going on, but we’re ready. When I was first researching putting our kids in local school the stuff I found talked about how the first year would be super challenging and the progress would be slow, but then the second year was when you would really see progress and the fruit of all the hard work. I’m trusting that will be the case for our kids this year. They are all so brave. I’m so very proud of them.

Here’s to a new school year and a new year of growth. Let’s do this thing!

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