Sunday, May 31, 2009

all clear!

Our facilitator worked very hard to get the information sent off to Austrian Airlines and we just got an email from them - Em has the all clear from the flight doctor! Hoping for no complications with the Embassy tomorrow and we are on our way home on Tuesday! :)

43 hours to go

It seems like ages ago I was counting down to our flight here. Now we are counting down to our flight home!

We are slowly but surely making progress with Emerson - we have finally found a few baby food/cereal combinations she likes (and several others she doesn't LOL) and she is a much more tolerant, pleasant child when she has a tummy full of food she approves of LOL! Hmm... sounds like 4 other little kids I know. ^_^ She is napping better, sleeping well at night and paying more attention to us, making eye contact and occasionally giving us a few smiles and coos. I know it's going to get so much easier and better once we are in our own house again.

It has been quite a stressful couple days for us; we have been having problems with Austrian Airlines - which we will be taking for the first 2 legs of our journey home - because after asking them about prescription requirements for carrying on medication they eventually started demanding medical clearance for Emerson. Our facilitator helped with submitting the form they wanted, but it was not good enough for them. There has been concern over her oxygen saturation levels - the one and only time they were tested here they were 78% - and of course all the airline thinks about is their liability. There have been many moments we have wondered how we are going to get this child home.

Well hopefully today we are close to resolving this. An amazing favor from a doctor friend of J, we took Em in today to have her blood gases measured (peripheral, not arterial) - up a full 10% to 87%, not bad at all for a little girl with a big hole in her heart! All the other parameters were within normal range, too and none of the doctors here are concerned with her flying. We are relieved and hoping with this new information sent to the airline, they will be satisfied and let us on the plane LOL!

Tomorrow morning we will take her for her medical exam and then in the afternoon we have her visa interview. We have one more day where we need everything to fall into place.

We can't wait to get home!!

Friday, May 29, 2009

passport: check!

Although the new Serbian passport process is supposed to take around 48 hours, as of this afternoon our facilitator has Emerson's passport in her hands!! :)

Finally, something happens sooner than expected for us, instead of later LOL. This means we don't have to worry about picking up the passport Monday morning and then hoping we have time to rush to a medical exam. Her exam is scheduled for 9 am on Monday and her Visa interview is at 2 pm. Barring some awful complication, we should be able to wait for Emerson's visa and pick it up right away - and we will be on our way Tuesday morning.

Today has been trying for us all. We took a short walk up to a photo shop to get a picture of Em for her visa, and she has no tolerance for anything like that - the instant we shifted her toward the camera and held her out a bit she started screaming. After about 10 minutes we finally got one picture where she was looking up with her eyes open, though it wasn't looking quite directly at the camera. The whole time the young woman taking the pictures was rolling her eyes and sighing - not mother material I guess LOL!

We're nervous about her not looking directly at the camera and about the size of her head and its proximity to the top edge of the picture. We called the Embassy afterwards and asked them and they didn't really give us a straight answer - just that it has to be 5x5cm and there has to be enough room around the head for them to scan it in. We are thinking we might take her to another photo place tomorrow, we found one just one block from our apartment on the way back (go figure!) - we cannot afford for the picture not to be good enough.

She did not eat very well again today, even when we tried giving her a bottle of mixed baby food/formula with the wider nipple hole. She gets tired so easily and was just generally unhappy and fussy. I am guessing she will need oxygen at least at night. She seems to have a few teeth coming in too so maybe that is part of it, we can only hope once we get her home and start taking care of her heart and all of those physical needs that she begins to brighten up.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Today was our first full day with Em - phew!

She did great last night - drank 2 formula/pediasure bottles eagerly, took her heart medication without too much fuss, took a bath without crying at all and fell asleep relatively easily once we got her comfortable. She slept rather crazily - moving all over the place, flopping here and there, waking up coughing a few times - until about 3am when her coughing settled down and she seemed to be sleeping more deeply.

This morning we went for her passport appointment at the police station, where we had to lift her up into the range of the camera (while carefully staying out of the shot) and try to get her to look up (without crying, as she was doing most of the morning) for a good enough picture. Finally they were satisfied and her passport may be ready tomorrow afternoon, or Monday morning at the latest. We are hoping for tomorrow because Monday is going to be chaotic enough with her physical exam and visa interview.

It was a rather overwhelming day for all of us, as we basically know nothing about one another - it is like having a newborn all over again LOL! For some reason she is miserable being upright - supported sitting, leaning against us on our laps, even being held over our shoulder unless we are walking her around - and only tolerates it for a bit before she starts whining, crying and arching toward the floor. As soon as we got her back to the apartment and laid her down with her toys she was happy again. It's very strange and we're not sure if it's just a sensory thing - she's used to lying down most of the time, a sick thing - she still has a cold and probably isn't feeling too well, or a heart defect thing - she seems to get tired very easily.

It will make all of our appointments on Monday that much more difficult though and we are a terrified of the 9 hour transatlantic flight LOL! Austrian Airlines is arranging special seats with a bassinet for her so she will at least be able to lie down to rest.

Feeding did not go so well today - she usually loves her formula/pediasure bottles but sometimes she will drink for a few seconds happily and then suddenly turn away and start crying. We don't know why. We took one of our bottles, enlarged the hole and made a similar food-and-milk concoction she got at the orphanage, and she drank so fast she lost at least 1/3 of it. Gave her a formula/pediasure bottle before bed and again, first crying and turning away, then tried again 15 minutes later and she drank the entire thing and cried when it was gone. It's baffling.

Sometimes she will be playing happily with us with a toy, and will suddenly just start crying. It's hard not knowing what's wrong, what she's feeling or thinking - maybe this is just her way of saying hey, where am I? what happened to my usual routine? It takes a lot of effort not to get overwhelmed though, especially since I am missing the other kids and worried about being away from them these extra few days.

Four more nights after this one. They can't pass quickly enough.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

no small miracle

In this life we cannot do great things.
We can only do small things with great love.

- Mother Teresa

At about the same time the sun was rising back home in New York, we welcomed a new daughter into our family.

Andjela Schafer (soon-to-be Emerson Andjeline Schafer, once we do the readoption process at home), is officially ours! :)

It was a very busy and exhausting day, much paperwork at the Social Work Center followed by a dash across town to get her brand new birth certificates and ending with a long wait in the police station to change her last name in preparation for our passport appointment tomorrow morning. We then headed to the orphanage one last time, had chocolates and Turkish coffee (which I love LOL) with J and some of the staff, dressed our still-sick little sweetie in a pretty pink dress and headed back to the apartment. She is perfectly at ease and curious about her new surroundings and hopefully she gets over the cold she has very soon. We are relaxing and waiting for our next busy day to begin - one we finally get to face together.

It has been a very long and difficult journey filled with many hurdles and many moments of doubt and uncertainty. One year and one day.

All worth it. :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

tuesday it is

After emailing with our facilitator, we are going ahead and changing our plans so that we come home next Tuesday. Of course it's not what we were hoping, but it's just 3 days more and still a better outcome than it might have been if we didn't have people here fighting for us.

Good news is our apartment is available for the extra nights and there were only 3 seats left on flights on Tuesday and our travel agent nabbed 2 of them. We also got a very kind email from someone at Austrian Airlines and she is arranging special "bulkhead" seats for us with a bassinet for Emerson since she doesn't like being upright for very long.

I'm emotionally drained right now but hopeful that the rest of this process will go more smoothly and we will soon be back home adjusting to life as a family of 7!

day fourteen

After our facilitator and lawyer pushing very hard on our behalf, we are happy to say we are still going to be adding one more citizen to the U.S.

For a little while we thought we were going to do the ceremony this afternoon - which completely surprised us - but though that didn't happen, we WILL be doing the ceremony tomorrow at 11 am!

We are very unsure right now if we have any chance at all of still going home on Saturday because the Serbian passport process takes 2 days and the American visa process takes 1 day, so Matt just headed down to a payphone to call the Embassy and see if we can schedule the visa interview for this Friday afternoon optimistically, if it is not too much trouble to change it to next Monday if we find it's impossible to finish the passport in time. We would then be coming home on Tuesday. Still a stress for us, because it will cost us so much more to stay longer and any days Matt takes off work next week will be totally unpaid, not to mention the extra days Grandma and Grandpa will have to devote and the fact that I just want to get home to my kids.

But we will just be grateful we get to bring Emerson home at all and dare to hope just a little that we will still be going home on Saturday.

Emerson is still sick with something, fever of about 101 this morning and a dry hacking cough, and we just found out we need a special form filled out by one of her doctors to even be allowed to take her on the flight because of the heart condition and medication we will be bringing with us. We can only hope she is healthy enough to pass her physical exam and we do not have trouble getting this paper signed.

We deeply appreciate all of the support that has been sent our way.

Monday, May 25, 2009

an invisible red thread (part II)

connects those who are destined to meet,
regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.

- An ancient Chinese belief

In two hours it will be May 26. It will have been one year since we made the committment to adopt Andjela. I thought we might have our ceremony tomorrow. I thought it would be sweetly ironic, straight out of that novel I keep meaning to write.

The Minister signed the paper today.

Andjela's Social Work Center is not "ready." They cannot do the ceremony until Wednesday or Thursday.

I don't think we've been very impatient. I think anyone who waits one year for a child they have never met surely could not be impatient.

I never thought I would be in Belgrade, walking up Kralja Milana and wiping tears discreetly from my cheeks, life busy going on around me. On the way back from the rather depressing ballet we saw tonight, we stopped for ice cream. The woman couldn't understand we wanted two cones - one lemon, one chocolate - and when she handed us one cone with one scoop of each, we grabbed a paper cup and spoon and meant to make do with what we were given. Well the top scoop missed the cup and landed on the sidewalk and I promptly saw the symbolism of this entire adoption and started crying in earnest. At least it was dark.

However much we are willing to stay longer, we must leave by next Tuesday. We will, without exaggeration, not be able to afford anything further. Any day Matt misses from work next week will be unpaid and may put his job on the line. Matt's parents cannot stay any longer than that - they have been amazing to take so much time out of work and life to be there for the kids, and they must get back to those things. We have 4 children at home and 1 on the way and we must think of them, too.

We are going home by next Tuesday, even if that is alone. If we cannot complete the adoption on Wednesday, we are going home this Saturday as planned.

Reflecting on that proverb above, I realize for the first time that it does not say we win in the end. It says we were meant to meet. And we did. And maybe adopting Andjela was not what was meant to be from this journey. Maybe it is something I will never understand.

No comments on this one. These words are only a shadow of a pain they can't express and I'd rather let them echo in the silence.

day thirteen...still waiting

It's Monday, it's 3 pm here, still waiting for the Minister's signature.

We got to tour the rest of the orphanage today; it was very sad, what else can I say? I'll never understand how a mother can turn over her child to such places. Ever.

Emerson's over the chicken pox, the spots are completely healed. Now she's sick with something else - slight fever of about 100 this morning, lots of congestion in her nose and a dry cough. *sigh* Her ears don't seem to bother her, but we really just don't know what she has now. I want to get her into the audiologist as soon as we get back as we are concerned with hearing loss - it might just be environmental but she does not respond to sounds as she should. Dawson is due for a routine follow-up anyways so hopefully we can take them together soon.

A couple pictures from today. I have a few videos of her too but the internet is so slow here it takes an hour to upload even 30 seconds, so those will have to wait until we get home...whenever that may be.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

two palaces, a piano & a pizza place

Despite the fact that we did not visit with Emerson today (which feels strange - I miss her face), we were very busy and did just as much walking - a new blister on my toe to prove it.

This morning we went to a concert given by 4 pianists; it was very lovely but I couldn't help wishing my ears were more schooled in such things - and couldn't help wishing I understood enough Serbian to laugh at the jokes made by the woman I assumed was the producer of the event at the end. :)

Then J took us to meet with the Desmarais family, the Canadians adopting an adorable little boy on Reece's Rainbow, to head for the Royal Compound tour. We had a few nervous laughs when we realized some of us weren't up to the "dress code" given for visitors of the Compound - no, no miniskirts or tube tops LOL, just good twill shorts like most of us North American yuppies live in for the summer. I was making dramatic plans to sit out with them in peaceful protest of the policy but it turned out to be a nonissue and we all got to spend the next 2+ hours seeing many beautiful things in many tiny rooms with many, many other people.

Did I mention I have a touch of claustrophobia? ^_^

Everything really was amazing but my favorite part was the home theatre in the stuffy basement. Imagine this brightly colorful room decorated with the arches and swirled paint of some Sultan's dream, throw in a huge projection screen on one wall and a few remote controls and the latest new releases from the video store sitting carelessly on the table between armchairs once occupied by the leaders of each district of Yugoslavia. It was so... human. I wonder if they've seen the bootlegged copy of Angels & Demons? :)

On the bus ride there and back we got our first up-close look at the skeleton buildings remaining from the NATO bombing in the 90's. We wondered if Biden drove by these buildings, and if he did if he felt even the slightest desire to jump out of his limo and start rebuilding them. I wonder if most Americans even remember those bombings, and how they would feel watching them limp across a bus window.

Serbia is a very strange country, strangely amazing that a people could come through so much struggle still somehow as one, still struggling to be more one than we could really understand. Maybe if we did we'd understand why they hope to keep it that way. ^_^

But enough philosophical meanderings - we were very kindly treated to a delicious dinner in the Bohemian Quarter by our new North American friends, had the sweet creamy ice cream in the Pedestrian Zone we've been meaning to for a week, and scoped out the Pizza Hut everyone keeps raving about - we have plans to celebrate (or cry) over a few pies, breadsticks and beers (nonalcoholic for me, of course) tomorrow night after we finally get (or don't get) the allusive Minister's signatures!

We can't wait to go home, but we are happy to be in such good company while we're here! :)

A few pictures from the Palace site:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

day eleven

Although the strap on my very favorite purse (and the only one I have here!) broke on the way home from the orphanage, overall it was a much better morning - I think Emerson is finally over the chicken pox as she had no fever at all, her skin would be clear if she stopped reopening the tiny scabs with her sharp little fingernails LOL, and she was so happy and energetic until her usual meltdown time around 11 am when she was ready for a nap.

We've been talking with a few families who have come before and we feel pretty sure we can get her visa the same day we do the exam/interview so I feel more confident that as long as we complete the ceremony on Tuesday we will still be able to go home next Saturday - I'm cautious but more optimistic.

And although (as luck would have it) Matt's manager is out of the office next week, he was able to get ahold of her boss and she is taking care of his FMLA - so no missing paycheck!

Tomorrow we are going to take a tour of the Royal Palaces, one of the things I most wanted to see here, and Monday night we are going to a concert of choir music - hopefully our last night without a child to keep us happily busy! :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

day ten

Finally, Emerson seems to be getting better. This morning her fever was down to a slight 99.5 F, her spots are only the tiniest scabs now and some on her legs were gone completely, and she seemed much happier and more energetic. Maybe tomorrow or Sunday her fever will go away entirely and by Monday I think her skin will be clear.

No signature from the Minister today, so we have to hope for Monday. If we do not do the ceremony until Tuesday, we will be really crunched for time to finish the passport and visa but we are hoping we will still be able to. Tomorrow will be only one week until we are supposed to go home - I have looked forward to tomorrow since we arrived here, but it is hard to be as excited as I thought I would be when we really don't know if we'll actually get to leave next Saturday as planned.

We have not been going out sightseeing as much as we would like but it has been so hot here and we are trying to restrict our spending as much as possible in case we must make our money stretch another 4 days, it is better to stay in.

I miss my sweeties so much. Tonight I have been planning birthday parties - Parker's and Emerson's - and that has lifted my mood a little. Nothing cheers me up like dreaming of birthday cakes. ^_^

Thursday, May 21, 2009

day nine

Em is still sick; her fever was about 101 F this morning. I think she must still be feeling very yucky too or maybe getting an ear infection or something as the last couple days she hates sitting up or being upright at all (even being held) - she starts screaming like she's in pain, and only calms down once she's lying down. When we came for our afternoon visit today she was still napping. We waited for about 45 minutes but she was still asleep so we walked the mile back to the apartment.

Good news is all of the paperwork that must be done before the Minister can sign off on our adoption is done. Bad news is we are not sure when he's going to sign. He has been busy because of Biden's visit (I can't get over our luck - first time since Carter I think that such a high-level U.S. official has come to Belgrade, and it had to happen while we're here doing an adoption) so it will probably not be until Monday - at the earliest. Then we have to have the official ceremony. And only then can we start getting her passport and her immigrant visa. We are pretty concerned over still being able to come home on the 30th. If we don't do the ceremony by the end of the day Monday, I think it is unlikely we will get everything done in time. If we have to stay longer, it will have to be at least another 3 to 4 nights just to get to the next business days to continue doing the passport and visa stuff, meaning over $500 more in expenses for us. To top it all off, Matt's FMLA leave still has not been approved, waiting for some paperwork from his manager, and if it's not done by next Tuesday he likely won't get his next paycheck until it gets straightened out. Everything is always out of our hands.

Matt's more optimistic than I am, but really I think I used up all my optimism for this process many months ago. Right now I'm just drained. I miss my kids, I'm worried about Emerson, now I'm worried about spending even more to stay here even longer. And I just want one thing to go our way, just this once.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

days six and seven

Yesterday we walked down to the US Embassy to pick up the paperwork we will need to complete to apply for Em's immigrant visa. The families that have gone before have had pretty easy experiences, but of course we shouldn't have expected that for us LOL!

We waited an hour with a room full of locals, no American to be seen, when we were finally shuffled into a little room with two chairs. Across the glass was a Serbian gentleman who seemed to understand what we were asking but then left and said to wait for someone else. Ten minutes later another Serbian man came in and he spent the next fifteen minutes confusing and upsetting us - asking us if we knew for sure that Em is a "real orphan" because "Serbia has no orphans." Um, okay. We said yes, we had a lawyer and had met with the Ministry officials and all legal necessities were being taken care of - he said that didn't mean anything and our lawyer wouldn't know anything. We asked him what proof he wanted of this and he said none, we just had to know LOL. Later he changed his story and said yes, they needed documented proof. Clearly he didn't know anything about American immigration law or Serbian adoption law! Finally I gave up arguing with him and just said give us the papers and we'll check on everything. It was by far the worst experience we have had in Belgrade - at our own embassy!

Em is still sick, this morning her fever was high again and they gave her some medicine, something like Tylenol I think. I am a bit concerned by how long her fever has lasted - usually with chicken pox it is gone within 2-5 days. Today she had some congestion in her chest too so I am trying not to think about worst-case scenarios like varicella pneumonia. Surely at some point our journey has to get smoother. Right?

She is very comfortable with us, but when she is running a fever she gets very tired and fussy. We can't wait til she's feeling better! :)

This is Em's upset face - of course it's adorable LOL!

This was the shocking "small" portion of a grilled meat patty at a wonderful restaurant near the orphanage - that is a regular large dinner plate it's on. Yikes!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

day five

Once again we only visited with Emerson this morning. She was still running a fever, though not as high as yesterday, and the blisters look like they're reaching their peak. She was still a bit tired and not happy sitting up, only wanting to play lying down. But she was so happy this morning, giggling and smiling and babbling more. She smiled for the first time freely - without us having to tickle her or work for it in anyway. She just smiled. :)

She is still taking her bottle upright very well, spilling less and less each day. And we are slowly trying to get her used to the toothbrush we brought for her but she is not happy when we do that. She is playing with it in one of the pictures LOL.

Tonight we went with J to see some beautiful churches, they have the most lovely paintings inside and even when they were not able to finish them they are still so beautiful. I tried a delicious apple and walnut dessert and Turkish coffee, which I was surprised to like so much. ^_^

Another adopting family, from Canada, arrived today so it will be nice to have some more company! Tomorrow we go to the US Embassy to pick up the paperwork we will need for Em's visa - time is passing slowly but surely!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

day four

We spent just a little time this morning with Em - she was running a reasonably high fever and her blisters are starting to erupt so she seemed very tired and just wanted to lie down to play. Hopefully she is feeling better soon!

We spent the afternoon with J on a wonderful walking tour of one part of Belgrade, where the pedestrian zone is and Kalemegdan Park and Fortress. It was hot today but there was a nice breeze and I didn't realize I was getting a sunburn until we got home LOL! Afterwards we ate at a cafe - we had Mexican food and Italian desserts LOL!The Mexican was not as good as American Mexican food, but the Serbian food we've had so far is so delicious, we will have to stick with that! The desserts were heavenly though!

It is so very beautiful, I wish we were closer so we could see it everyday. It is nice being so close to the orphanage, but we feel tucked away in the city, far from the most wonderful things that made Belgrade, well, Belgrade. :) The buildings are all so amazing, it is hard to imagine any soldier flying over willing to drop bombs on such beautiful history. Some buildings are sadly covered with grafitti writing at the base, so I guess it is not always enemies that forget their respect!

I will have to make a slideshow of all of our sightseeing when we get home, but I had to post a few of my favorites. The first picture is of St. Sava's Temple, it is so big you can hardly imagine - it was huge from the airplane when we were descending and it is only 2 blocks from our apartment and it guides us when we are out walking. :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

spots, feet and a wallet

Sometimes it's hard not to be overwhelmed by how bumpy this road has been for us - we often have to choose between crying or laughing! :) Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus - you know, the Greek guy forever forced to push a heavy rock up a hill, at which point it rolls back down and he must do it all over again.

So many times we wondered if this adoption would happen - even times we wondered if it was the best decision to continue - but now being here, seeing all the children, we realize what a little thing this is we are doing, but how right we were to not give up, even when giving up seemed like the more practical decision. The right thing isn't always the easy thing, even if it means spending forever pushing a rock up a hill. :) We saw so many beautiful children yesterday, I was very good holding onto my emotions but we both know why all the families who have gone before want to come back.

Last night we went for a "little" walk more into central Belgrade with J - oh my these people know how to walk! Our feet have been getting more and more sore each day and eventually we had to abandon our walk and head home, where the veins in the front of my ankles looked dark and swollen and I wondered if I could walk across the apartment LOL! This morning they were better but after the 4 miles of back-and-forth walks for our visits, the backs of my calves hurt and I have a few blisters on my toes. Hopefully next week our poor feet and legs will get used to such hard work and we'll be able to do more walking to see the sights!

This morning we couldn't find my wallet - ugh! We dug through every bag we had, then started wondering if it fell out of the pocket of our backpack yesterday (or some expert pickpocket helped it out!). More bad luck. I called our bank right away, a $20 call since Skype wasn't working for some reason.

Emerson has chicken pox. Usually not such a big deal, but after talking to my sister and having her ask my mom, we're not sure if I had it as a child. I did have an illness with fever and a blistery rash, but it was never confirmed to be chicken pox. Being exposed when less than 20 weeks pregnant can be dangerous to the baby - more bad luck. The incubation period is 10-21 days so we might not know for weeks if I've caught it. The chances of baby being effected are less than 2% but still - I want to throw up my hands and say ENOUGH ALREADY! GIVE US A BREAK! LOL

A little good luck - our facilitator helped us find my wallet hidden away in the backpack of donated books we brought this morning. :)

I miss the kids so much, I can't describe it. The days are easier since we're busy and excited to see Em, but the nights are hard. It feels like my heart has split between two continents. The thought of another 2 weeks without them is agony and we can only hope and hope we will complete everything and be able to come home on the 30th as planned.

And yet, no regrets. Emerson was so sweet today, she seemed to recognize us when we first saw her this morning and she just seems so much more alive than that first day. We spent some time outside today; it felt more like we all belonged. Giving her back gets harder each time, I can't wait til she's ours forever. :)

Enough words. Pictures!!