Do you remember this face?
That look is how my heart has felt from the time I caught my first glimpse of the children waiting, waiting, waiting, up on Katie’s ward.
The Hopeless Ward for the hopeless cases, waiting for their miracle.
When I have read the adoption stories of others, often in the photographs of the parents with their new child I catch a glimpse of other children. Children who hang back around the edges, watching. When I see these photos, pain always rises up within me, and it is always for the other children, the little ones who have not been chosen.
When I was in the Hopeless Ward, the pain was unbearable. Pain for the other children.
Now our daily life is revolving around the preparations for our own precious new daughter. Do you think that has erased the pain from my heart?
I have not forgotten.
Observation: The weird thing is that the orphanage looks very nice compared to some that I’ve seen.
[Before you read my reply, understand that this observation was written by a new blog reader, who is adopting a child with special needs from a different orphanage in Katie's country. She had just viewed pictures of Katie in her diaper, which I have had to remove from my blog. This reader and I have exchanged many emails. When I wrote the following, which has been edited for this post, we had formed a connection based on a mutual passion on behalf of the voiceless, and I knew she could handle my reply. Please consider that fair warning.]
Reply: J, we are not baffled by the condition Katie is in. It is extremely shocking to hold a child who has suffered long-term starvation, but it makes sense given what we already know, including that there are undoubtedly several as-yet-unknowns impacting her. Did you watch the Serbia video? And the doctor’s explanation that children who are severely neglected stop producing human growth hormone? They simply stop growing. Some children would be more affected by this phenomenon than others.
In addition, children with Down syndrome can have very specific needs that must be addressed in order for them to thrive and develop to be their best. For nine-and-a-half years, Katie has been handled in the worst possible way for the needs that she has. Kids with Down syndrome can have mild to severe feeding issues. Some have no feeding issues at all. Katie very obviously was born with serious feeding issues similar to the ones Verity had. I spent most of my time during Verity’s first nine months teaching her how to eat enough to help her grow, and we are still helping her progress in her feeding/eating skills. Make no mistake, we are loving every minute! I will be enormously grateful every single time I see Verity drink through a straw or chew with her mouth closed, for years to come! How many moms get that kind of thrill out of watching their toddlers eat?
There are some therapists and babas in Katie’s orphanage now, which benefit some of the children. But any improvements that were made in her orphanage have come about in the past few years, since the 2007 documentary that exposed the plight of the children with special needs in her country. And for many of the children, it is far too little, far too late. Katie didn’t receive a baba until she was seven years old. Think about the progress she could have made in seven years! And I could readily see that her baba, loving as she is, had not been well trained in how best to help her.
Katie could have parasites, she could have celiac disease, she could be lactose-intolerant, she could have mishandled thyroid issues, and the list goes on. She needs skilled feeding therapy. None of these things are being properly addressed. The therapists often use outdated, ineffective methods. The doctors in her country have such a reputation that it is said that anyone who is treated by them ends up worse than before. Our attorney was damaged for life after her spinal cord was injured in an auto accident and the doctors operated on her without benefit of MRI or X-rays. Her own father died when his treatment was mishandled after a surgery. Travel advice: “Take your own medical supplies and whatever you do, do NOT get hurt while you’re there.”
Katie’s food is watered down, very lacking in many nutrients (we got details so that we could reproduce it ourselves), and given to her in amounts that maintain her weight, but do not allow for growth. The director stated emphatically that they already have enough good nutrition for the children, and do not need help with that. You realize, don’t you, that if the children were fed properly, they would grow bigger and stronger, they would consume increasingly larger quantities of food, and it would not be so easy to house them in their beds?
Katie’s baba has tried to spoon feed her, but I saw the spoon feedings in action, and they were all wrong. It was not being done in a way that would help a child with her long-term issues make any progress at all, and only succeeded in preventing Katie from getting the needed nourishment. When she was spoon-fed, she took in one-fifth of the usual amount. Our doctor has sent instructions to her baba to discontinue the spoon feedings.
If you were actually there in the orphanage, the brightly colored walls would not impress you when you saw the condition and treatment of the kids up on the top floor with Katie. Did you know that for 200-260 children (that number varies depending on how many healthy kids have been dropped off by parents who temporarily can’t afford to take care of them), there are about twenty caregivers, half of whom go home at 3 pm? Even with the ten nice young volunteers from the UK who were there when I was, there were not nearly enough helpers to adequately care for the needs of the children. Not close to enough!
I saw the caregivers treat the kids like things, not even interacting with them during the few hasty minutes that they spent caring for them each day. If you were actually there, up on the top floor where the “worst cases” like Katie are kept, you would smell a terrible stench that goes beyond the offensive odor of bodily fluids. When there are no volunteers or babas present, the diapers get changed once a day, but the smell goes beyond diapers. I’m pretty sure it comes from the children’s mouths. Katie’s mouth has a strong, horrible odor. The children’s teeth are never brushed, and you may have heard that the ages of the children are up to fifteen and sixteen years old. The smell is so bad that our attorney’s brother (our driver) pulled his shirt up over his nose and gagged, and had to quickly leave.
There is so much more. So much more. I could go on and on, but I wouldn’t need to if you walked into any of the rooms on Katie’s floor, and looked at all the children with your own eyes.
When I was there, the biggest thing I wanted the nice young volunteers to understand is that what they were seeing was not caused by the children’s conditions! For crying out loud, Katerina only has Down syndrome! Verity has Down syndrome and at sixteen months is light years ahead of Katie, who has had nine-and-a-half years of practice being at zero!!! Down syndrome does not cause starvation and zero skills at nine-and-a-half years of age!!! The condition of the children is caused by long term neglect on every level. Ignorance. The director said to me with a straight face about Katie, “When she is in a family, she will catch up and be like other boys and girls.” I had not yet seen Katie, and still I was speechless. I literally had no idea how to respond to that statement. Had she ever walked up to the top floor and looked at the child? Did she even know which one we were discussing?? Katie’s medical file describes her as being “in a satisfactory general condition.” It makes my blood boil! Who cares what color the walls are when the children are left to lie in bed all day, until they give up crying because they’ve learned that nobody responds!
NOTE: We have now heard from some other families who have adopted from this orphanage, although none of them have adopted from the Hopeless Ward. [If you are out there, could you please email us? Surely we are not the first?]
One of the families related their experience to me. In the following excerpt they tell about a little boy who was in the room where they were allowed to visit the child they were adopting~
“He had on a t-shirt with some pants that looked like they tried to make suspenders out of them and the ends of the legs were sewed shut. At one point he had kicked them off and did not even have any other socks or clothing on his poor thin bare legs.
…a caregiver came in by chance…
She saw that the little boy had kicked off his pants, and appeared to be scolding him for doing so. At this point, the little boy’s diaper was also soaked many times over to the point of sagging to one side and near falling off. She hauled the little boy off like a sack of potatoes with no love at all. Moments later she hauled him in the same way. He had a new pair of pants on but the same soggy diaper. She stuck him back in his playpen, not harsh like but not gentle either, almost like she was placing an inanimate object back where it belonged. His diaper was still soaked and minutes after she left he had gone…again and his new pants were now soaked.
This little boy continued to rock and play with his hands. When they brought in our future child, we could tell he was watching the whole time. At one point he stood up and rocked and growled while watching. I was very distracted by him while trying to give our future child attention. I was also not sure what the orphanage rules were on giving attention to children other than the one we were there for. I finally decided the poor little guy needed some attention despite whatever the rules might be. I reached out and touched his little hand. He immediately grabbed my hand and held it. He also calmed down instantly and let out some sighs of relief. All the poor little guy wanted was to be touched, to be shown that someone cared about him enough to give him some comfort.”
Question: If it’s okay to share, how many of the other children from Katie’s orphanage now have forever families working toward bringing them home?
Answer: I know of fifteen, but there may be a few more.
Our attorney discovered that many of the children with special needs waiting in Katie’s former orphanage have never been listed with her government. Until their files have been listed with the government, they are unavailable for adoption. It is the job of the social services in Katie’s city to list the children with the government shortly after they enter the orphanage at a few days old, after their parents sign off on their parental rights. As you know, many of the children have languished there for years! Either their files were never listed by the social services, or their parents never signed off on their parental rights. So their situation can look hopeless! But we know it is not hopeless! Not even for the children who are approaching the age of sixteen, when their chance of being adopted comes to an end! God has already done so much on their behalf, and we know that He can finish what He began!
Please, friends, pray fervently that the director and all other onlookers will get to witness loving families come into this orphanage one by one and take out every single child they consider to be hopeless cases that nobody would ever consider adopting!
Pray that God will open the way for the rest of the children…
…just as He has for “Nate,” aged 2 1/2, whose mama, my friend, just spent the week visiting him for the first time.
…just as He has for “Keith”, who has been waiting for four years, and will go home to a family full to the brim with love.
…just as He has for “Daisey”, four years old. I held this sweetness of a girl in my arms, kissed her cheeks, and whispered a message from her mommy, my friend, into her ears. Someday I will show you how beautiful she is when seen through eyes of love.
…just as He has for cutie-pie “Steven”, aged four years. You know him as Teagan!
…just as He has for precious “Annie”, four years old. Her family saw through her diagnosis to the treasure that she is!
…just as He has for “Butler”, five years old, who doesn’t yet know he has a family who loves him very much and can’t wait to bring him home!
…just as He has for “Mary”, also five years old. The amazing story of tiny “Mary” and her family, complete with photos, will be an upcoming blog post, Lord willing!
…just as He has for little “Val”, who has been waiting for six years. He stole my heart when I visited him in the infirmary. I grieved when I had to lay him back down in his plastic and metal cage and walk away. I can’t wait to see this precious little person safe at home with his family, including two brothers from the same orphanage!
…just as He has for Samantha, six years old. Her mom is eager for the day when she can pick her up and carry her out of that orphanage to freedom!
[I am not yet free to publish Samantha's photo.]
…just as He has for “Teddy”, also six years old. He is much more handsome than this picture portrays! I know, because I had the privilege of holding him in my arms, just like I did his two future brothers.
…just as He has for precious “Steward”, future brother to “Val” and “Teddy,” who has waited eight years too long for his family to come for him!
…just as He has for “Nika” (her Reece’s Rainbow name), waiting for nine years, seven months, one week, and six days. In a little over a week, she will leave the Hopeless Ward behind forever.
…just as He did for “Makayla”, ten years old. This sweet wee girlie just showed up on Reece’s Rainbow not too long ago! She hasn’t made it to Reece’s Rainbow’s My Family Found Me page yet, but thank the Lord, her family is working their way through the agency approval process! I will rejoice at her graduation one day soon!
…just as He did for teeny-tiny “Liliana” who waited eleven years, up in the Hopeless Ward. Her family is working hard to bring her home to life and love, with possibly three siblings who are yet to be publicly announced! There is hope for Liliana!
…just as He did for “Tommy”, waiting for twelve years. If you helped Teagan’s family, you were also helping Tommy’s family! Tommy and Teagan will be brothers, but in the meantime, they sometimes get to see one another when they are out of their beds!
So yes, there is pain, but the pain is not the end of the story! Even greater than the pain is hope. We can pray and work with hope! Hope in our all-powerful God, who is the hope of the hopeless!
A God who sometimes allows us a glimpse of the edges of His ways~
FW: Let’s get those kids
Dear, dear Susanna!
I read your blog post today with tears of joy! I can’t wait to see Katie home. What a work of love and grace and mercy God has been doing in your life. I just wanted to forward an email I received from my hubby a few days ago. With all your family is going through to help the orphans I knew it would encourage you. God is moving mightily! I don’t know how God will use this burden He has given us, but I know it will be for His glory! I can’t wait to start the journey!
Let’s get those kids
I prayed out loud to the Lord this morning that it had to be all Him to use us to get those kids out of those institutions in the former Soviet countries. I don’t know how it will happen but I know that God knows.