Wooing a hurt child’s heart

August 16th, 2011

That was the best part; now I will tell you the rest before the memories begin to blur together.

And in order this time.

Remember when I promised to tell you the truth?

Here it comes.

Monday afternoon

I have from ten o’clock until eleven-thirty with Katie every morning, and from four o’clock until five-thirty every afternoon.  But nobody seems to be paying much attention, and as far as we have been able to determine, Katerina is the first child to be adopted from this floor of this orphanage, so any caregivers we see seem to be clueless about the expected procedure.  Remember that over half of the staff goes off-duty at three o’clock.  Nobody is being strict about the visiting times except for us.

Since it is so difficult for our attorney to get into the orphanage building, and because of the terrible stench permeating Katerina’s floor, we decided that I would visit with her outdoors every chance we could.  This would also give us more privacy and quiet, with no distractions between the two of us.

I cannot get away from the odor, though.  A nauseating stench also permeates my baby.  We think it is originating with her mouthful of never-been-brushed teeth.  I am concerned about the redness of the gums around her teeth, and the risk of an eventual blood infection from the bacteria.

Do I seem to speak this calmly?

Because she has special needs, in all her nine years of life, nobody has brushed her teeth??

Her orphanage sits on three acres.  Just as you pull into the gate, you see a little square of grass with a few swings on it.

I gestured toward it and told our attorney that it seemed like a small play area for so many children–two hundred right now.  She confidently stated that of course there would be more behind the building; there always were at other orphanages.

That sounded promising.

So on Monday afternoon, when we drove around to the back of the building to find a good visiting spot, we were speechless to see…

…utter neglect…

…of what could be a useful…

…and invitingly beautiful space.

Well, not quite speechless.  I heard our attorney breathe, “Unbelievable.”

We found a seat with a back and a cushion for me to sit on with my baby bird.  It is near the dumpster, which is on its side with mounds of trash spilling from it.  There are constant flies.

I carry Katerina out to the bench as carefully as I can.

She becomes agitated every time I move her.  She can’t yet tolerate much touch, or much movement.  When she is lifted from the bed or carried through the room, she shows agitation.  If I take one finger and lightly touch her, she immediately pushes at my hand.  If I shift my weight under her, she immediately shows anxiety.  At first, I was puzzled by this, especially since we learned that she has had her baba for two years.

I sit very still and talk softly, allowing her to become accustomed to my voice, my scent, and the feeling of sitting on my lap with my hands around her middle.  I start each visit this way, and she slowly relaxes, giving a sigh now and then, and ceasing to push away at my arms and fuss.  I respond by almost imperceptibly turning her legs to the side until she is sitting sideways on my lap, with her head resting on my arm.

I do not force her to look into my face, as that is an intense interaction which demands something of her.  Instead I gently show my openness to eye contact by gradually repositioning her to make it easier for her to choose it when she is ready.  I give her total control over whether she looks, and I keep my face and voice calm when she briefly and courageously lifts her eyes to mine.  I tell her I am so proud of her, that she is a brave girl.  I thank her for working so hard at this scary new challenge.

Because of the unfamiliar environment she was in, and because she had to be carried to it, she was unsettled for most of this visit.

Our attorney and I both forgot about the camera until almost five o’clock, and time for me to take my tiny one indoors and feed her supper.  I placed her on our attorney’s lap so she could feel how frail and weightless this miniature person is, then suddenly realized that here was an opportunity to get some more photo evidence of her condition underneath her clothing.  Those particular photos are now traveling to all those who need to see them, those who are working to help us appeal for expedition of the adoption, those to whom we are appealing, and those who might help us find a way to get her to the United States on a medical/humanitarian visa.

Katie’s hand on one of the lovely hands that Jesus is using to bring orphans into families.  Toni told me that all her adoptions are of children with special needs, and that God has sent only Christian families to her thus far.

My beautiful Bulgarian sister in Christ held our severely damaged Bulgarian child, in grim and grieving shock.  She has taken this whole situation very hard, and is pursuing the possibilities for a remedy for the children in this orphanage.  She is thankful to know that so many, many people are praying for this as well.  This battle will not be won without an act of God.

Baby bird was barely tolerating this visit, so our attorney snapped a few pictures, including this one which shows Katie crying and chewing on her wrist, her typical response to feeling upset…


…and sent me back up to the top floor, with her brother along as translator and photographer.  His stomach is not strong, he cannot tolerate the smell without gagging, and before too long he must leave the ward.

Can you see the giant hole in the bottle nipple below?  We have been told that she is fed one of these bottles five times a day.  Sometimes a sort of gravy made of flour and water, with some meat, white bread, and possibly potato in it, sometimes yogurt that is thinned with water to flow through a bottle, and once a day, a fruit puree.  It all looks like yogurt water to me, some with a fruit juice scent.

She is accustomed to being fed flat on her back.  When I tried elevating her to feed her, her latch is so leaky that she loses a good bit of her meal down her neck and front.  She does not lift her hands to the bottle.  She gulps rapidly, and the bottle is empty in a couple of minutes.

A caregiver comes in with other bottles for the other child-babies and I motion to show her Katerina’s soiled clothing. She rolls her eyes and vents loudly in rapid Bulgarian as she yanks open drawers, avoiding my eyes and telling me her opinion of a nincompoop who can’t feed a child without making a mess–and now look at her, she will have to be changed to clean clothes–and so on and on until she huffs out of the room again, shaking her head.

I change my baby’s clothing, my mind hardly able to take in this miniature living and moving skeleton. How is she still alive?

And now my time is up. I lay her back in her bed under the gaze of two caregivers who stand at the edges of two cribs, speed-feeding and loudly chattering to one another. A quick glance around the room reveals propped bottles in the remaining cribs.

Only Katie was held for her feeding tonight.

Tuesday morning

We met Katerina’s baba!!

We found out that she had mistakenly thought that we were going to be taking Katerina home today, so she had come to stand outside to see her go.

When she realized who I was, I was enveloped in an immediate and joyful hug!

I was able to give her the bag I chose for her, filled with things for Katerina.  Our attorney translated as I explained each item and how it is to be used.  There is the blanket that a sister in Christ made for our girl.

This mom and her husband are bringing two little boys with Down syndrome home from Bulgaria this week, and without missing a beat, are beginning the process of adopting three more little boys with Down syndrome.  All three are in the same orphanage with Katerina, and I have permission to see them, hold them, and take pictures of them, along with little “Daisey” who is being adopted by another dear sister!  Remember Daisey?  Stephanie Carpenter asked her Bulgaria families to choose another child from the list, and pray that God would provide a family for that child!  Our family has Daisey’s picture on our refrigerator next to Katerina’s, and we all rejoiced when we learned that God had answered, “Yes!” to our prayers for her!

I gave Katerina’s baba her blanket and a small, lightweight stuffed bunny rattle, and our attorney explained to her that I had slept with these two things to give them my scent, and that she could see to it that they were only used for Katerina.  I gave her a bag with many small containers of baby care items–oil, ointment, lotion, wash, shampoo, and explained every one.

Last of all, we showed her the photo album we had prepared, containing pictures of each family member and some other pictures from our home environment.  Last night at supper, our attorney kindly labeled each picture with phonetic spellings of our names and the other appropriate words or phrases.

Katie’s baba took them all eagerly, smiling and nodding with understanding and agreement.  Our attorney said later, “She oozes with goodness.”








John Michael





We all went upstairs to see Katerina, and in short order, I discovered that her baba put her right back into her bed as soon as she would fuss.


Quick swoop up; kiss, smooch, squeeze, slurbert, swoop back down to the bed.


We asked her about it, and she explained that Katerina does not like to be out of her bed, or to be touched or held, so she couldn’t do it for very long at a time.


So we explained to her that she could learn to tolerate it, and that it would be good and necessary for her to learn this. I demonstrated the first step for her, and briefly explained how to help Katie progress, and the reasons why I did it this way. I asked her to please do this with her when she came back from her vacation, and I could see ready understanding in her face, and she nodded with enthusiasm.

She told us that she brings bread from home to feed Katie. I asked if it was white bread; it was. After a good bit of explanation and conversation, it was agreed that instead of bringing bread, we would pay her to buy fortified formula and possibly baby vitamin drops with iron. She would bring them in her bag and add some to each bottle that she feeds Katie during her shift.

Our attorney took all her contact information and willingly offered to be the go-between to help us give her the money to buy the formula.

I asked our attorney, “Please tell her that I love her.”

She immediately responded by coming forward to hug both of us at the same time.

Then she took my face in her hands and kissed me, first one cheek, then the other.

And off she went with bag in hand, my baby’s Bulgarian granny, for two years a marvelous answer to prayers that had not yet been prayed.

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40 Responses to “Wooing a hurt child’s heart”

  1. Coleen says:

    Thanks for another update! I’ve been watching for one all day!
    Continuing to pray….

  2. Carol says:

    Thank you so much for staying up so late to post all these details. I know they are not just for the readers, but also for you, your family, and Katerina to have a record of these precious days. Still, I am so grateful too as you share of the beginning of your bonding with Katie and of the wonderful, wonderful meeting with her Baba. What a blessing to be able to give her those gifts and to explain about helping Katie get used to being held. You continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. Your brave obedience and willingness to let your light shine are such an encouragement.

  3. Deanna Rabe says:

    Thank God for Katie’s Baba!
    And for Toni….

  4. Stephanie Blanchard says:

    Sobbing again.. hopeful that Katie’s Baba fills the gap as we pray for things to be expedited. 

    Praise GOD for this woman… in this emotionally cold land… with a heart for those that are cast aside… Thank you Jesus for her! 

  5. Angiedawn says:

    More tears………I really teared up when I looked at the precious faces of you Joe and all of the children.You are such a wonderful family! I just love you all!!!

    I am so thankful that you got to explain so much to Katerina’s Baba and that she was so willing and loving!!!!!!!!! What a wonderful thing!!!!!! Poor, poor babies……..It is unbelievable how skinny she is…….I can’t wait to see the difference in her when she gets home to her family!!!!

  6. Elizabth says:

    Found you on the Reece’s Rainbow blog today. I am the Prayer Warrior for Faith (15H). But, I pray for EVERY SINGLE ONE of these children when I pray for her. And, I am praying for you. Thank you for what you are doing.

  7. April (justonemorebaby says:

    Thank you for sharing all of this with us. What an amazing God we serve. I am praying!!

  8. Mary Stolz says:

    Thank you for sharing with us your journey. We are praying for you and your family, as well as for all of the orphans, especially those in [the city where Katerina is]. We almost chose one of these angels when Jacob/Henry passed away. I cannot imagine the horror you are seeing here, but you clearly see God’s Joy in her eyes as well.

  9. Danielle M. says:

    Oh Susanna!  I was unable to see the pictures you posted previously (my computer filtered them out), but these ones-oh my.  I am SO GLAD that you were able to meet BaBa, and that she is going to be an allie in helping little Katerina.  I will continue my prayers for you and everyone involved in this adoption.  Oh my heart breaks for the little ones in the cribs in the background.  How God’s heart must grieve, how HE loves the little children and to see them in such misery.  How very patient HE is with this sinful world. 

  10. Amy says:

    Susannah, We have never met.  In fact, I only know your story because a friend linked to your blog on facebook this morning.  I’ve had your family and your precious Katie on my heart, on my mind, and in my prayers all day.  I cannot comprehend the depth and variety of emotions that you must be feeling.  I am blessed by the evidence of your faith through all of this.  As an adoptive parent, I have tried to mentally walk in your shoes, but it is beyond me.  Please know that a growing number of people, many whom you do not even know, are praying for you and for Katie.  My husband and I prayed together tonight that the expedition of paperwork would fall together quickly and that she will soon be home with you receiving the care that she needs.  May God grand you stamina, peace, and wisdom on this journey,  And know that there are people in Maryland praying for you tonight and through this time until your entire family is together.

  11. Gretchen Thibault says:

    God bless you. I am praying for you and for your sweet daughter. I will pray for those who care for her in your absence.  

    Jesus loves her. 

  12. Sarah Scott says:

    I dont know you but you have the sweetest , most gentle face! I know Katie will grow so fond of looking at her mommy over time! Precious thing!!

  13. jeanne says:


  14. Jen Dawn says:

    I was thrilled to see an update–have been praying for you nonstop and thinking about your incredible journey non stop. Seeing Kate and her Baba will help me sleep tonight thinking about how her smile and knowing she has someone who loves her while we pray that her case is expedited. I cannot put into words my admiration for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your journey. Sending you many, many hugs and prayers. Katie’s story has had such an impact on me. Your story together is an example os Christ’s incredible love.

  15. Shari~hotfudgecustard says:

    Ditto what Carol said above!  : )

    Love to you!!!  Thanks for posting all of this.  Praying so earnestly for everyone involved.

  16. Kelli says:

    My heart breaks for this little girl.  I hurt just looking at your frail little girl.  I can only hope that miracles begin to work soon so that you can get your little girl the help she needs soon.  

  17. Stephanie Lynch says:

    Following your story and praying for Katerina’s strength in the Name of Jesus…oh dear Jesus we lift Katerina up to your throne right now and ask that you sustain her life, keep her strong, she is perfect and she is loved…sustain, sustain, sustain her. May this adoption be immediate…stay strong little one.  You are loved.
    In Jesus Name. Amen.

    Dear friends..I am also writing to let you all know about another little one at that orphanage (I am not 100% sure, but have read) that Katerina is in.  Her Reece’s Rainbow name if Liliana.  She is 11 years old and weighs 10 pounds.  She is hanging on to her life just like Katerina.   Please look for her…RR families are blogging about her and are praying that God sends someone soon to rescue this little one from her death.  You may be aware of this little one, but just in case you were not.

    Stephanie Lynch 

  18. Angie says:

    Thank you for keeping us in the loop!  I am so anxious for you to see how the Lord does a Miracle here.  That is what I am praying for, for both of you.

  19. Diane says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It is such a blessing to hear about this precious baba. 
    I just wanted to let you know our family is praying for you and sweet Katie.  I have decided to fast for Katie’s safety and protection and that her paperwork would be handled extremely quickly. And too, that God would quickly open the doors for our family to begin our special needs adoption. 
    You don’t know me.  I only wanted to let you know that someone in the north east is praying and fasting for you and your beautiful new daughter. 
    God bless you for your willingness to follow Him!

  20. Leah says:

    So many tears and prayers continued. 

  21. Susanna says:

    @Stephanie Lynch, Liliana’s bed is a few feet away from Katerina’s bed. I have multiple pictures of her on my laptop now. They are getting where they need to go.

  22. Jennie says:

    Dear Susanna,
    I am so heartbroken to hear and see Katie’s sad sad story!  But I am so thankful to the Lord for you and your family, and her baba and Toni and all the people who are praying for you!  I am in tears reading your posts, but know also that the Lord has His hands in this and is giving your precious little girl a chance at life–a really good life with people who love her so much even though they have just met her!!!  God bless you and your family for opening your hearts and your home to her—I will keep you in my prayers daily and I sooo look forward to the post you write when you bring her home!!! 

  23. Marilyn O says:

    Praying! Tears…… Believing God for more miracles. Love you dearly.

  24. Shauna says:

    Spreading the word as much as I can to get the power of prayer moving!  Thanks for keeping us updated, I am obsessively checking my computer to be sure I miss nothing and pass it along to everyone who has a heart.

  25. Kim Yeatts says:

    It’s all so beautiful in such a painful way. I am honored and so blessed to be on this journey with you. Thank you, dear sister.

  26. What an amazing God we serve!!  Praising Him for the way He has been working.  You have been on my heart and in my thoughts often, I’ll continue to keep praying and I’m so glad you were able to talk with Katie’s baba and explain so much to her.  She seems to love Katie a lot.  :)  She looks like a dear person.
    Praying for you today, I know you should be doing your second visit of the day with Katie right now, it is so helpful that you have the time in [that country] posted on your blog!  (((hugs)))  
    Praying the Lord will continue to work mightly and that Katie can come home to her family soon!!

  27. Jillian says:

    Praying hard. Praying for all of the children in Katerina’s orphanage. Thank you Susanna for choosing to follow God all the way to [that country].

  28. Adina says:

    I wish there was a simple way to get her home with you.  It is obvious all of your prayers will be answered if you get her home.  I do wonder will she even be able to fly or will you  need to stay with her and get her well first.  She is in a condition that no one should ever be in it is so sad.  Imagine the potential she has underneath if given the right amount of love, nutrution, and medical needs.  More prayers for your family.

  29. Ginger says:

    What a precious precious Baba! She clearly loves that little girl and only ignorance has kept her from doing more for Katerina. I literally relaxed reading that she is willing to do so much more for her. Gift of God!
    What grace God has shown Katerina in allowing her to live through such atrocities. Who else could do what He has done for her?
    All my children and I are praying for you and your family. For your faith to be strenthened, for His grace to be sufficient in your weakness, for Him to be glorified again and again. 

  30. Lani mom to 6 says:

    Susanna,  Praying hard here.  Love to all. 

  31. Kim B. says:

    Praying each day. Believing for Gods miracle moving mountains!

  32. Dusti says:

    I can’t stop crying, tears of grief for all the children there, and tears of joy for deep in Katie’s soul she is finally feeling love.
    Dusti from MOMYS

  33. Aunt Carol says:

    Thanks so much for sharing the information.  It is so heartbreaking the life this poor little baby has had to endure.  Am so glad the Lord led your family to make this precious one a part of your lives.  Am continuing to pray.

  34. Mandy says:

    How much does the fortified formula cost? Is there any way we can donate specifically for that purpose and know for sure that it’s going to help these children on Katie’s floor who need it most?

  35. Lianna says:

    Susanna, your story is amazing, and I am praying for your little Katie.  I just recently found your blog, thanks to a friend.  I guess I don’t know the whole story about Katie, but did you say she is 9??  I’ve been seeing her picture for a few days now and thought she was 4 or 5, and so tiny even for that age :(  My heart is broken for her, but thankful that she has someone fighting for her now. 

  36. Emily says:

    These pictures of Katerina just Break. My. Heart. I am subscribing to your blog, sharing this post, and praying for your beautiful daughter to be!!

  37. Wendy says:

    Tears are streaming down my face.  Oh dear God why?  I am praying for you and your sweet girl.  Please Father, please expedite this adoption!  Bring that sweet one home to her loving family.  Oh Lord, I beg you to sustain this child.  I have subscribed to your blog and I will be following this.  I can’t wait to see God’s glory in this sweet one.



  38. We are praying fervently for your daughter and all the other children there to find families.  What a blessing to watch this amazing story unfold.  Praying you can get her visa expedited and home asap!

  39. wow wasnt expecting all of that. I cant even see as i type from the tears falling so hard.  i am putting a post together about you and someof the precious children in this horrid condition if you dont mind.  God has laid this strongly on my heart I just hope the words flow the way i think they should;) god bless you all   praying for your sweet girl

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