Monday, April 2, 2012

Meeting Our Girls

Below is a [very long] summary of Days 3 & 4 of our trip – the days we got to meet and get to know the two little girls that we are adopting! Just as a reminder, I can’t post any face pictures of them until we pass court in Ghana so you’ll have to use your imagination – but let me tell you they are BEAUTIES! :)

Once we arrived into the foster home we approached the gate, and chaos ensued as the orphans in the home saw that the awaited visitors had arrived!

There was a mix of people as house mothers, children, our group of tripsters, agency workers, and another adoptive family all began greeting each other with smiles, hugs, and conversation. I started scanning the faces to see if I could pick out our girls from the image in my memory of their referral photo. I spotted our littlest one first, sitting with one of the house mother’s right outside the gate. But as I surveyed the crowd I saw a lot of little ones about the same size, so I began to wonder if it was her. The house mother walked up to us and I asked her if the little one on her hip was ‘F’. She nodded and smiled. I reached out to touch F’s little hand and she pulled away, gave me a look that said “who on earth are you?!?”, and then turned in the opposite direction of me and nestled her head onto the house mother’s shoulder. I giggled and went to the other side of the house mother and tried making eye contact with F and talking with her. Again she glanced at me with a look that said, “I am really unsure of who you are, and a little scared too!” and then she quickly turned her head in the opposite direction of me. I knew it was going to take some time for F to warm up to us, and it was strange how my first interactions with her reminded me so much of Jake’s first meetings with Adjoa in Asikuma! The running away from him, the crying, the looks of complete terror – and now Jake is one of Adjoa’s favorite people in the world. She actually cries when Jake leaves and she tries to follow him! We were going to have to work just as hard with F over the next few days to help her to become comfortable with us. Jake had already walked in through the gate so I decided to let F be for now. As I was enveloped into the crowd of children I noticed a tiny little girl looking up at me and watching my every move. It was like she knew I was the one she had been waiting for, but I didn’t realize who she was yet. At first glance when I saw her I thought she looked too tiny to be our oldest girl, ‘J’. Her hair also threw me off because it had been relaxed and was longer and straighter than how it was in the referral photo….but she kept watching me. I knelt down and when I got close to her face my heart melted and I realized this was indeed our J! I whispered her name to make absolute sure it was her and she nodded yes and smiled. She was so quiet and gentle and so, so, so much tinyer than the little girl I had pictured in my mind. I scooped her up and smothered her cheeks in kisses and thought that her tiny frame might snap in two with the pressure of my hugs. Jake was standing right there and clicked our picture right as my face started getting all scrunched up as I tried to fight back the tears and keep my composure. There is just no way to describe the warmth that was in my heart during these moments. After taking in my initial perceptions of J’s demeanor, I came to the conclusion that she was perfect. And my heart was humbled. Because, when God closed the door on Yaa and Adjoa’s adoption, there was a tiny part of me that had questioned His plan. Just a little whisper in the back of my mind that sincerely doubted that my heart could be filled again with such a strong, natural feeling love as I had for Yaa and Adjoa. But in these moments of meeting J I realized that God had done something in my heart over the past weeks. Coming face to face with this child that the Lord had literally picked out of the masses of orphans, and gone to great lengths to lead our family to – I just, once again was reminded that God knows us each so intricately and personally. He foreknew J’s deep needs and said, “I have just the mommy for you,” even though I sat on the other side of the world and didn’t believe it yet. Thank you Jesus that your plans are ALWAYS better than mine.

A little while after my mind had soaked up the excitement and emotion of these moments the very kind house mother holding F motioned for me to try and take her. Much to F’s dismay, the house mother handed her over to me and there I stood in the very cramped quarters of the foster home with my future daughter screaming her head off! Yep, more humbling moments! After about 5 minutes F was still not allowing me to console her, so back into the house mother’s arms she went where she clung for dear life and gave me a look that said, ‘don’t ever do that again.’ :)

After our memorable introduction to our girls, we got down to business handing out the loads of donations that we had brought just for the foster home. Shorts, t-shirts, and shoes for the boys, and fancy, decorative pillow case dresses for the girls. It always gets a little chaotic and crazy when the donations start getting handed out (no matter how organized you think you are), and I felt like I was in a whirlwind for about 30 minutes straight. Little J waited patiently in a chair right next to me as she watched me outfit the kids with correct sizes of clothes. Some of our other tripsters got into the groove of sorting through sizes and handing out, so I grabbed J’s bag of gifts that we had brought just for her and kneeled down beside her. We started flipping through the photo album that showed our family, house, and life here in the U.S. With every new photo J could barely handle the excitement of what she saw and she would let out these adorable SQUEALS of pure delight! It was the cutest thing ever!

Eventually our group realized that these kids really needed some face-to-face interaction and attention! There is a quiet street right in front of the foster home, so we led the kids out there and played bubbles, football, read stories, and started getting to know each of the kids individually. Many of the other children that lived near the foster home couldn’t help themselves and ventured over to soak up some attention too.

This also allowed Jake and I the chance to work on inching our way into F’s heart a little bit. By this time she had settled down and was swaddled to the back of the house mother. Jake started trying to steal kisses from F and it got to be hilarious because she was playing the old turn her head trick on him every time he got close. He was able to catch her cheeks in a smooch a couple of times though….

Eventually it started getting dark and our group needed to head back to the hotel which was just a few miles from the foster home. We were given the option of having J spend the night with our family, which we hadn’t realized would be offered! We all agreed that it would be too hard on F to come for the night, but we were so excited to spend more time with J! Since I didn’t know J would get to hang with us, I hadn’t packed any clothes or toys for her. But thankfully we had a suitcase full of clothing donations still at the hotel so I rummaged through it and came up with an oversized t-shirt and comfy bottoms for pajamas, and a couple of pillowcase dresses just her size for the next few days. I also found her some smaller flip flops that fit her better than the ones we had brought for her which were a few sizes too big! And then we also had brought a handful of games, coloring books/crayons, etc. that we had intended to play at the foster home at some point so we had plenty to do. Our night finished out with grabbing some dinner at the hotel, and then J fell asleep on the restaurant chair with her belly full, heart smiling from the day, and Jake gently rubbing her back. I ended up waking her because she really needed a bath, so we went up to the room and washed away all the dirt from the day. Seeing J’s recovering distended belly from her malnutrition, and tiny, tiny frame absolutely tore my heart up – this girl has suffered. I loved getting to lavish her skin in the comfort of cocoa butter lotion, and then get her all cozied up in her pj’s. I tucked her under the covers, read her a Bible story, sang a song, and she was off to sleep and our night ended picture perfect.


Woke up the next morning around 6:45am to a little girl playing with my hair. After about 5 minutes she tapped me on the shoulder and motioned to ask for some water. J doesn’t know how to speak English yet, but we’ve been able to communicate quite easily by using hand signals. I could tell that she was ready to start the day so we got her some water, got dressed, and went down to see about ordering some breakfast while the boys slept. We ordered oats, boiled eggs and toast and then went back up to the room and started in on a mini-tournament of the matching game. She LOVES this game! I’ve never heard so many squeals and giggles and just plain outbursts of delight and joy! At the end of one of our matches, much to my surprise, J started counting her matches in English and got all the way to 14 speaking each number out loud. Then, a little while later when we had gotten the coloring books out I noticed her flip to this page and immediately go to town on writing her numbers….

Her hand writing is really good and Justice’s was too. Part of the foster care fees that we are paying go towards sending J to school, so I was thankful to see this. Throughout the morning we got to watch J fit right in with our family – chasing JJ around outside playing tag, allowing Justice to teach her how to play games on the nook, and taking pictures of all of us on Daddy’s phone.

About 2 hours later we were on our way to the inauguration ceremony for the new orphanage. When we arrived I spotted F sitting among the crowd with the house mother. Before and after the ceremony Jake and I did everything we could to inch our way into F’s heart and comfort zone. As we tried to offer F food, loving touches on the arm, kisses on the cheeks, and eye contact/interaction F first clung even tighter to the housemother. But right before the ceremony started we had a small victory as F sat on Jake’s lap for a good couple of minutes while playing with a bracelet. By the end of the ceremony F was dancing to the music, accepting food from us, and looking us in the eye. Right before it was time to go I noticed the house mother slowly inch herself out of sight. We had all been sitting around playing, and F was distracted by dancing with another little girl her age. The house mother tucked herself behind some cars and peered over the hood with a smile as she looked at me – I knew this was my chance! Pretty soon F started looking around for the house mother because she realized she was gone. Then she started wimpering in worry. I scooped her up (huge progress that she allowed me to do this!) and was somehow able to fully distract her by walking over to show her some ants crawling on a tree trunk, and then watching a worker take down balloons. All in all I got to hold her for about 20 minutes – then she caught sight of the house mother and it was all over! No worries though – I’ll take what I can get. We were all headed to the foster home next anyways, so I knew we would get to have more time connecting.

Some sort of switch must have been flipped between our time at the ceremony and getting to the foster home because F completely let her guard down with us! She let us hold the water bottle for her while she took sips, she sat on our laps numerous times and we finally saw her giggle and smile while she playfully interacted with us! Yay!

Our group spent the entire afternoon loving on the kids at the foster home, and the many other street children who happened by. We had brought loads of coloring books and crayons, and I am not kidding the kids colored for almost 2 hours straight. This is considered a special activity to them, because they don’t get the chance to do this in everyday life.

Once evening time rolled around we got all the foster kids rounded up into the van [and a couple of street children who snuck in too] to head to a little outdoor restaurant up the road for a meal, soda pop, and some dancing! It was a great opportunity to get the orphans out of the cramped foster home area and into a fun, relaxing setting.

Little F rode on my lap in the car to the restaurant [no car seats here folks!] and was quite content to sit on my lap for THE NEXT 2 HOURS outside at the dinner!!!!!! WOW! The house mother was at the dinner as well, but she positioned her chair perfectly behind a bush :) so F never saw her. I was able to feed F her dinner of chicken and rice which she gladly accepted from me with smiles. A couple of times other people would come up and say something to F and she would turn away from them and cling to ME tighter. It was huge, huge progress. By the end of the night she was sleepy, calm, and very relaxed in my arms.

Because of our progress, we were encouraged by others to have F stay the night with us as well on this night. I went back and forth in deciding, wondering if it would be too much unfamiliarity for her with all of our new faces plus the new surroundings she would encounter at the hotel. I didn’t want to stress her out, but I also knew that this was precious time to bond and help her to become comfortable with us. In the end we decided to make the most out of our time in being with the girls and set out for the adventure of having them both stay with us at the hotel. I mentally prepared myself that this could be a long night. On the way to the hotel F fell asleep in my arms in the car. We stopped alongside the road to grab some ‘porridge’ that she would need for a feeding in the night. By the time we had made another stop at the foster home F woke up and began crying, and continued until we got out of the car at the hotel. The boys decided to hang out at the hotel restaurant, so I took my girls upstairs and started in on their baths. How fun it was to watch F who was expecting cold bath water, to be pleasantly surprised by the very warm water we had access to at the hotel because of the water heater. She was so prepared to cry the second I got her in the tub, but then she completely relaxed. My heart ached though as I took in how teeny, tiny she was. Kofi had mentioned earlier that F was in pretty bad shape when she first came into the foster home’s care. Her hair had lost its pigment along the hairline (we could see this from the referral photo) and her skin was peeling off – both signs of malnutrition. He said she looked very, very sick in the first photos, so much so that he could barely look at them. She’s on the up and up now, but Kofi told us to be prepared that she still ‘looks’ malnourished because she has just started getting proper nutrition.

After baths J got snuggled into bed and was asleep in no time. I had to work the ‘mom sway’ with F because she had realized that it was bed time and she didn’t know where she was. She cried for about 5 minutes, but fell asleep in my arms soon after. Eventually I did the old hold-your-breath-and-hope-she-doesn’t-wake-up-when-you-lay-her-down-move and it worked. She stayed fast asleep.

For about 45 minutes that is.

And then she woke up shrieking for “MA!” So we swayed, she fell asleep, and this routine kept up for a few hours. After the first couple of rounds I realized that F was most comfortable sleeping on my tummy, belly to belly. I think she probably would have slept through the whole night that way, but I was so afraid that I was going to fall asleep and roll over, sending her onto the floor! Eventually I was able to maneuver her off of me, and get her to her belly on the bed and this kept her sleeping for almost 1.5 hour stretches each time. But poor baby just wasn’t sure where she was when she would wake up, so she would start tossing and turning, lift her head up and flail her arms around for me until her hand hit my face. Then she would shriek “MA!” until I picked her up and would sway her back to sleep. Midway through the night I knew in my mom-heart that she had to be hungry, but she wouldn’t accept the bottle of porridge from me and I offered it each time she woke up. Then 6am rolled around and as the light started coming through the window she was up again but this time she happily took down her bottle of porridge and wouldn’t you know it – she conked out right after the last sip for over 2.5 hours. Stinker! Because of course, by this time little Miss J had gotten a glorious night of sleep and was up and ready to roll! Ha! Honestly the night reminded of me of what it’s like having a newborn in the house, and even though I was tired, it was so worth the bonding and getting to teach my future daughter that I would be there to meet her needs. I also did get the sweetest picture of F conked out with porridge running down her face and using JJ’s stuffed bear as a pillow.

The best part was when F woke up later in the morning. You know what it’s like when your baby wakes up in their crib by themselves, cooing and talking and happy as ever? That’s how F was. She actually woke up while J and I had gone down to the front desk to order breakfast! We came back up stairs and she was wide awake just looking around the room quietly while everyone else still slept. I soon realized that a major diaper change was in order, and ended up needing to give her another bath. Once she was all fresh and dressed she sat on the bed with all the kids - giggling, playing, rolling around on the bed and just plain content. As I walked around the room packing up our things she would holler out to me, “Ma!” And then I would say, “Yes?” And then she would just give me this look like, “Just checking to see if that is what I am supposed to call you.”

Who would have known? Who would have known that when I set out in life hoping all my dreams would come true that the Lord had a much different plan than I did. God has opened up my eyes to the needs all around me in this fallen world. He has broken my heart time and again over the lives of His children who are afflicted and wounded and oppressed and in need of something so simple, yet so profound – LOVE IN ACTION. Oh that we would say YES when God asks us to stretch a little further, to bend down to the level of the hurting, to die to our selfishness and plans and need for control, and give tiny pieces of our so called ‘dreams’ away! When we do we may find that life as we know it or as we planned it is LOST, but that the Lord has actually granted the desires of our heart along the way.


Christy said...

:) This makes my heart smile.

Barb said...

That is sooo wonderful that you got to spend time with your girls. I hope it doesn't take you long to get them home forever!!!

Lisa said...

Janel, I loved, loved, LOVED this post on your daughters! Praise God for the bonding time He allowed all of you together. He is such a great God to orchestrate all the details in His perfect timing. We are so excited to see your family grow again--a testament to His redeeming love.