So you wanna go back to Pleven?

January 29th, 2014


Some of you suggested a monthly or every-other-monthly update and that sounded to us like a sensible idea.

You see…

I’m still writing.  Can’t help myself.

Not blogging, but writing, just as I did in the days before The Blessing of Verity.  Apparently, writing is to me like breathing, even if most of it is never written down.  Even if it must be “here a little, there a little,” just like the rest of life.

When my husband heard what was happening, his pleased, almost gleeful reaction surprised me.  He’s watched me relax (and get more sleep!) without the constant mental pressure of blogging expectations, but he also knows me very well.  He knows God designed and built me to write.

So…a tentative plan of a blog update once a month or so.  Because He also designed me to plan like I breathe.

But no promises and no pressure.

I’ve missed you all and love and appreciate you more than words can say!



Sometimes insight dawns slowly and quietly.

Sometimes it comes all at once.


Ah hah.

We’re in a very healthy and happy place right now, all of us.  Our marriage is stronger and more joy-filled than it has ever been.  We have great hopes for 2014 as a year of reclaiming and rebuilding together.

We’re in the middle of making some major changes for the long-term health and well-being of our family as a whole.  Help is on the way.   But a few weeks ago, that was most emphatically not the case.

Tommy has had times of happiness and times of sadness.  Right now, he’s in a happy season.  During his sad stretches, if we are doing something directly with him, he is grimacing and crying; if we’re not, he’s grinding his teeth, making loud, impatient noises and gestures, and giving everyone who approaches him what another Pleven mom aptly calls “dirty looks.”

When an adopted child is happy, even enormous personal sacrifices feel worth it.  When Tommy is unhappy, it is indescribably hard.  We all want Tommy to be happy, and we all feel uneasy when he’s not.  Even the little children will ask, “Why is Tommy crying?”

We’re pretty sure that Tommy hasn’t let go of Pleven on the inside, just biding his time until he’s taken back to his familiar place.  After a couple of months home, Katie would have been miserable left in her bed all day.  But after eight months home, we can see that Tommy would gladly go back to his old life.  No more unfamiliarity, no pressures, no hard work, no G-tube, tooth-brushing or standing.

We didn’t realize just how desperate we were for relief.  We just saw that we had no margin, that I was slipping, and that we were supposed to be adding three in-home therapies per week to our schedule.

I was exhausted to the extreme in every possible way and starting to let some pretty important balls drop to the ground.  For an organized planner, this is an obvious clue that all is not well.  Leaving the crockpot in the back of the van all week is one thing.  Forgetting about Tommy’s heart echo and missing his IEP meeting because I got the date wrong?  Both within the space of a few days?  Quite another.

Going back through old photos for this post was the first trigger.

Photos breathing warm memories of life as we knew it.  A relatively carefree, calm, predictable life that is now out of our reach.

The second trigger?

Well, I guess I’m not ready to tell that story here yet.

A rub-it-in-my-face experience of what we have lost and may never regain.  If there had been time and privacy for tears, the tears may not have stopped for days.

We’ve been living in urgent mode for months, with chaotic interruptions and nearly non-existent breathing room, from week to week thinking that surely now, things will ease up, but instead, facing greater and greater challenges with every change.

Daniel is working full time, including many evenings, so I have little to no back-up help as I used to. 

Tommy is getting bigger, stronger, and more restless, but vomiting at random, day or night, if we speed up his feedings. 

Katie’s stronger and faster, getting into more mischief like taking her clothes off, pulling towels down off the shelf behind her potty seat, turning the bath water on, pulling speakers down off the walls and ripping the wires out of the back, losing the “golden egg” of the music she loves in her determination to get more of it. 

Ben shrieks louder than any baby you’ve ever heard, and purposely tries to get Tommy going so they can “talk” together.  He will only nurse well if I take him to a quiet place with no distractions; he is also getting very mobile, very fast, and very determined.  But I have four active little boys who need constant supervision.  The element of chaos is growing so great that our wonderful school schedule is nearly out of reach.  And that’s not okay.

Poor Verity is surrounded by shrieking.  She simply shuts down and cries loudly and inconsolably.  I’ve spent far too many days for too many months watching her from across the room, seeing her make very little progress and even regressing in some ways behaviorally.  Her needs are not being met, I feel helpless to change the situation, and that awareness is an expanding knot in the pit of my stomach every moment of every day.  Surely soon things will ease up and then there will be enough time for Verity.  She doesn’t need therapy; I know how to teach her.  When she gets quiet, focused one-on-one time with me she absolutely blossoms.  I rarely have opportunities to give her quiet, focused one-on-one time.  I miss her dreadfully.    

The blunt truth is that we have made tremendous personal and family sacrifices with very little direct emotional reward.

Not small sacrifices of things that don’t matter anyway, like carpets, favorite necklaces, floor space, and stereo speakers.  Or to quote an adoptive special needs mom friend,  “Shaving legs?  What’s that?”  <grin>

In attempting to keep the mere basics of life going, I was gradually losing more and more sleep, until I was struggling to hold on to three or four hours per night.

Losing more and more of the most valuable intangibles of life, like time for deep, significant connections with friends and family (the more impossible it becomes, the more vital it is!), time for creativity and reading and other activities that feed and grow the soul, and time for purposeful quality connections with each of my children.  Most painful of all was the sacrifice of the time I used to spend interacting with Verity, knowing this lack now will impact the rest of her life.

A close friend who is very familiar with our struggles assessed our situation bluntly, “I know families who have disrupted adoptions for less than you’ve been dealing with since you brought Tommy home.”

What has happened to our family?  Where is our calm, welcoming, sweet-smelling home?  What has our life become?  Life as we once knew it is gone forever.  Our former lofty ideals and goals have been snatched out of our reach, replaced by a simple desire for an unstressed, happy home.

My prayers were reduced to desperate cries to God for mercy, like an animal caught hopelessly in a painful trap.  In reply, it seemed as if He was saying, “Now I am taking away this thing you love and enjoy.  Now I’m taking away this other thing you love and enjoy.  Now I’m taking away this other thing you love and enjoy.”


I recognized the grief when it came.  I’ve been down that path more than once in the forty-two years God has given me on His earth.  I’ve learned by experience that there’s no healthy way to get past grief without going through it.

From the time I opened up to the other women in the church [by means of our private online group; I usually am unable to make it in to see everyone], light glimmered at the end of the tunnel.  They surrounded me with love, prayer, understanding, support.



I knew that grief and even depression are sometimes part of the post-adoptive experience.  We have suffered loss.  The normal response to loss is grief.  In my case, it hit when I was already brought low by caregiver exhaustion, another experience I had been prepared for.

And it came to me in a flash.

I am acting just like Tommy.

God keeps wrenching me–His beloved child, adopted many long years ago–away from where I am most comfortable, stripping away so much of what made my life enjoyable, and relentlessly piling on the hard work, making more and more difficult demands of me.

And I’m crying, holding on to the past, grieving my losses, squirming and writhing away from His hands as they work on me, making loud, impatient complaints to Him.  Ouch!  I don’t like it!  Waaaah!

But I need it, this hard providence, this most merciful and loving intervention.

Just like Tommy.




“Sometimes he had half a thought to go back: then again he thought he might be halfway through the valley; he remembered also how he had already vanquished many a danger, and that the danger of going back might be much more than for to go forward: so he resolved to go on.

Yet the fiends seemed to come nearer and nearer; but when they were almost come even with him, he cried out with a most vehement voice,

“I will walk in the strength of the Lord God!”

So they gave back, and came no further.

And by and by the day broke: then said Christian. “He hath turned ‘the shadow of death into the morning.'”

~John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress




Not many great photos this month, but such as I have give I thee~


Possibly Katie’s last day of IV treatments for her bones.  We’re awaiting the word of a bone specialist for direction on whether she needs to continue.  Her DEXA score went from -5 to -3.5 in the past year, the bone building process slowing down as her bones grow denser and stronger.



I was praising her enthusiastically for something she was doing for the first time–playing appropriately with this toy rather than trying to wrench it from her tray and throw it to the floor.



What a big girl, Katie!!  I am so proud of you!!



Waiting for her first post-op with Dr. Jin, her outstanding pediatric ophthalmologist at DuPont.



And again playing appropriately with a toy!



Ellie is taking after her owner, Joshua–already big for her age at six months old.  He’s doing a fine job of training her.



Love these little monkeys and love teaching them history using BiblioPlan again–this year Early Modern.



Tommy loves Stephen, who is always kissing and hugging and playing with him.



“I love you, Tommy!” says he, many times a day.



“Tommy, you are my best friend!” 



Kate-Kate reached a MAJOR milestone this month!  With minimal assistance, she can feed herself with a spoon!  A year ago she would shake the spoon off her hand immediately!  I would hardly have believed she would come this far in only a year’s time!
















Way. to. go. KATIE!!!!!!!!! 



Sweet morsel~



Tommy’s smile is like the sun coming out on a cloudy day!  I took this picture because it’s so unusual for him to be excited about eating!



A cloudy day.  When Tom-Tom is happy, he can stand for an hour at a time.  When he’s sad, he begins to cry right away.  It is a most heartbreaking sound.



After taking that picture, I moved him to his favorite chair for the rest of his feeding.  “Thank you,” he says without using one word.



Tommy has grown more active since I took this photo, and we can no longer put him in this chair for his feedings, since he can move enough to pull his feeding tube out of place.

Can you spy a speedy little mischief-maker in the background gnawing on Tommy’s feeding tube?  “Ben, no-no!”





A good friend took Joseph and Lindsay’s engagement photos and did a fabulous job capturing this brief time in their lives.









Lovely inside and out, both of them.  We love them so much.



Tommy hit two big milestones this month!

He can now put himself into a sitting position from his back!  About two weeks after he mastered this on his bed, he was able to do the same thing on the harder surface of the floor.  He is a little more independent now, so proud of himself, and looks so cute!  He falls asleep sitting up now, and I go in later to move him down to his side!



What is almost more amazing to me is that it only took seven months home for the bald spot on the back of his head to disappear!  His hair has completely grown in now!

Tommy, your sparkly-eyed smile is just the best!



Five-year-old Stephen and almost twelve-year-old Katie.  This piano is actually Joseph’s and will be moving to its new home soon.  We plan to get a keyboard for Katie’s birthday, as she will miss her piano playing so much!



Sweet-Kate is showing remarkable progress in focusing on books and recognizing pictures in them.  Again, a year ago I would have been amazed to know how far she would come by this time!



But then, we are a bookish family, so eventually it had to rub off on her…




Sweet Doodle’s getting funnier and more talkative by the day.  Her latest–

“Hi Mama!  Say, ‘Hi, Verity!'”



That morning, Joseph signed the rental agreement for an adorable little country Cape Cod in their first choice of locations, only fifteen minutes from us!  That night, many of their family members gave it a thorough official inspection.  For some reason, seeing this house with the love birds in it finally tipped me over the edge into giddy excitement!



And the next night I gave a teary goodbye hug to my firstborn son, whom I love greatly.



Friday night!  The four older children and Joe were away for the evening.  The four littlest children were in bed.  What a perfect time for four little boys to make a tent with table and sheets…



…lie on your stomachs inside the tent with Mom…



…and chew on beef jerky like a real pioneer while Mom reads Laura Ingalls Wilder.

[If you keep them up late on Friday night, they sleep in on Saturday morning with all the big people.  Ahem.]



If you look carefully, you will see that Tommy always keeps his tractor within arms’ reach.  If I come to pick him up, he immediately grabs his tractor to bring it along!



Thanks for stopping by, friends!



Please don’t forget sweet twelve-year-0ld Mikah, who is still waiting in the baby house in Pleven, Bulgaria!  Pray that God will send a family after him!  If you think you may be his family, please email Shelley Bedford at!



And tune in again for February’s post:  The Blessing of Verity




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60 Responses to “So you wanna go back to Pleven?”

  1. Melissa says:

    I was just talking with my mom last night about this very subject. I wanted to be a parent, yet when we got our first foster child (17mo), I had a mini-breakdown a week into our journey. After my son was asleep, I told my husband that I needed a little time away, and i went to Mom’s and just poured out such confusion and overwhelmed feelings and, yes, grief. She was very wise and reminded me that we had a toddler, not a wee baby, and that this was indeed a large life shift overnight (not having 9 mo to prepare). She said it was okay to feel overwhelmed, but that we would find our way and start to enjoy our lives again–though they would be different. Neither of my kids have ‘designer genes’ :) (although one may have lived his very early life in a very difficult setting, and his behavior hinted as much) so I can imagine that what I felt must be multiplied many times over for you. You do things that would put me not only in bed but under it. This must be truly difficult, and I understand wondering where in the world the joy went.
    This is what I pray for you: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38).

  2. Anna T says:

    Loved the post dearest Susanna.   We are enjoying a day at home with the beautiful snow outside.  
     ((Hugs)), prayers and love to you and yours!!

  3. Monica says:

    Thank you for writing.   May God continue to richly bless your family with many graces!

  4. Alison says:

    Hi Susanna, just wanted to thank you for your update, it was so good to read how things are progressing for you and your family.  Love to you all from Scotland.

  5. S. says:

    You might want to check this site: these belts might keep tommy from pulling at his tube when it’s closed and hey also have one which is made to direct the tube from little hands. Just a thought.

  6. Stephanie Lynch says:

    You ARE AN AMAZING MOM AND FAMILY.  We are an adoptive family of one with Down Syndrome and we have a biological with Down Syndrome also (4 kids total)….I am in awe (and always have been when I read your blog)…of everything you go through and your grace.  May God Bless Your Family — your sacrifices have been great — thank you for your writing.

  7. Holly says:

    What a gift to us, Susannah.  I hope that it blesses you, too.  (())

  8. Colleen says:

    I spoke to a friend last night who will be getting her second adopted child with DS on Monday. Her youngest son also has DS and is a month older than H.; they were at the same foster home for a few months. I told her that reading your blog is like reading a devotional.  I shared with her that I can see all the puzzle pieces to the Lord’s leading us to adopting H., but that your story was the largest puzzle piece.  I have admired you and valued your wisdom since before Verity, when we were both on momys regularly.  I love the blog, and I love your family, even though we haven’t met.  However!  I am praising the Lord that you are on a break from blogging!  You need rest!  You need time!  Take it!  You do not owe the world wide web another post!  I get behind on reading your blog, and it is only on these hiatuses that I am able to catch up, and I only have four children!  Thank you for giving your life away.  Be blessed.

  9. Kim says:

    Ahhh sweet friend I am sending you hugs and laughter.  You are in the toddler stage when I want to pull my hair out (and hide ALL the toys!!)  I will pray for you and hope that you get some rest.  Love you!! xxxoooo

  10. Kristi says:

    Awwwww Susanna. Thank you for your honesty. I cannot imagine how difficult this is, and you and your family will be in my prayers.

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