Friday, April 12, 2013

It Matters

Robert "Ethan" Saylor mattered.  He was a son, a brother, a nephew and a grandson.  He had a warm personality, and he liked pizza, Bob Marley and all things dealing with law enforcement. 

It has been three months since Ethan died, and important questions are still unanswered. His death at age 26 has left his family and advocates across the country and around the world wondering: How did a young man with Down syndrome die over the cost of a movie ticket?

On January 12th, 2013, Ethan Saylor attended a showing of Zero Dark Thirty at the Regal Cinemas (at the Westview Promenade shopping center) in Frederick, Maryland with his personal care worker. When the movie ended, Ethan wanted to watch it again. He refused to leave, and a theater employee called security, saying that Ethan either needed to buy another ticket or be removed. Three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies moonlighting as mall security guards arrived and asked Ethan to leave the theater. When he refused to leave they grabbed him out of his seat, wrestled him to the ground and restrained him, face down, with three sets of handcuffs. Within minutes, Ethan suffocated and died.

His death has been ruled a homicide, yet an internal investigation by The Fredrick County Sheriff's Department found no wrongdoing. The officers responsible continue to work in law enforcement. A Frederick County Grand Jury heard the case in March and also decided that no crime had been committed, thereby rejecting criminal charges and ruling that no further investigation was necessary.

What's worse, Ethan Saylor was blamed for his own death: "The autopsy found that Saylor's developmental disability, obesity, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and a heart abnormality contributed to this death."  Further, the autopsy report from the Maryland Medical Examiner claimed that anger issues and health problems made Ethan "susceptible to sudden death".

Ethan wasn’t armed. He wasn’t trying to rob the Federal Reserve. He resisted leaving a movie theater. 

The situation never should have come to a place where he was hogtied, face down. Where was the common sense and compassion on the part of the theater personnel and the officers working mall security that night? Would it have been unreasonable to let Ethan sit in his chair until his caregiver returned? What threat did he pose by remaining in his seat longer? Was he not worth the time or the effort to be patient?

Ethan was frightened and resisted leaving--he cursed and kicked at the officers. He didn’t like to be touched, particularly by strangers (this is mentioned in many news articles on his case, and interestingly, it likely applies to a majority of people with and without a diagnosis of Down syndrome). The officers, who were not in their uniforms, physically removed him from his seat. No one knows how Ethan processed the encounter. But why wasn’t the goal to de-escalate the situation? Ethan’s mom was called to the theater, and was on her way there as Ethan was dying and calling out for her.

Ethan Saylor should never have died. How could this have happened? 

It seems all too clear that Ethan's death (and the lack of justice in this case) is a horrible reality in a climate of deeply rooted and continuing prejudice toward people with intellectual disabilities. We live in a world that is running toward non-invasive prenatal testing for Down syndrome, hailing it as an important scientific advancement, without pause. We are screening out people with Down syndrome, and very few are asking, “What does this mean?” 

Knowing firsthand the value of those with Down syndrome, family members and other advocates struggle to understand why it is necessary to explain that people with Down syndrome are people, and that fundamental human rights apply to all of us. We're passionate and dedicated to the cause, and yet we’re keenly and painfully aware of how much is stacked against us. 

We fight prejudice and stereotypes about Down syndrome, because there is intense need to do so. Our society is laced with bias against those with the diagnosis and other developmental disabilities.  At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it has to be said: that bias is deadly.

To sweep Ethan Saylor’s death under the rug, or to blame Ethan or his Down syndrome for his death, is wrong.  Without a more thorough investigation of the actions on the part of others that January night, we won’t know what really happened to Ethan and what can be done to ensure this never happens again. 

It matters. We won’t forget.


*Last night, Down syndrome and human rights advocates took to Twitter to gain the attention of celebrities, media and the general public and ask for help in the push for #justiceforethan; and over 600 people from around the world attended an online vigil honoring Ethan’s life and offering support to his family. More activism is planned in the coming days and weeks. Please follow this link for ways to get involved and make your voice heard in the push for justice for Ethan, and please sign this petition, started by Ethan’s family, to demand an independent investigation into his death. 

**For a deeper look at the Uncomfortable Truths surrounding the death of Ethan Saylor, please go here.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Re-emerging

**This is a brief note to preface a post which will appear here later this week.

I have been quiet--at least on the blog--for the past year, though I have been advocating daily for the girls and others with Down syndrome.  We are all doing well, and are keeping busy with everyday life.  The girls are thriving and healthy. 

This post is to say:  there are some big issues swirling in the Down syndrome community that require our attention.  As a blogger and public advocate for Ds--even though my blog has lapsed--I know I can't sit idle.  This is not a time for inaction or for silence.  I will post some updated pictures and information on the girls following a few important posts regarding the current state of the Down syndrome movement.**

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Days of Awe (New Down Syndrome Diagnosis)

If someone would have told me that the days and weeks following Bridget's unexpected Down syndrome diagnosis would be bountiful...I would have thought they were crazy. 

Earlier this year, I caught a link on facebook to this blog (a friend just reminded me of it yesterday), which got me thinking about how we were in that same position five-and-a-half years ago.

I so wish we could have had even a tiny glimpse into our lives today. There was no reason to fear the future. But we didn't know that yet.

The news that our brand new baby needed surgery--and had a genetic condition that would impact her life in untold ways--was tough news to bear.

We wanted to celebrate, but we felt sad. We didn't want life to be hard for her, or for us. She was a brand new person. She was just beginning, and yet somehow it seemed that she was already behind the eight ball.  

I wish I had a picture of Bridget lying under the warming lamp recovering from her surgery. It would be even better if that picture included all three of us--Chris and I on either side of her little bed, facing Bridget and one another at the same time.  

We didn't need words to explain what was happening. The tears that fell in those moments were quiet tears of relief, of gratitude, of hope. We’d both had an epiphany and the fear began to dissolve.

We could do this. We could raise a child with Down syndrome.


For anyone just beginning this journey, please feel free to ask questions here or to visit one of the many wonderful resources for parents with a new diagnosis. Here are a few great places to start:

>Down Syndrome Pregnancy
>Real Life Down syndrome (Resources page) (List of Blogging Families)
>Down Syndrome New Mama
>What Parents Wish They'd Known

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shining a Light on Prenatal Screening: Implications of the New Tests

This is a piece I wrote for a series of posts on the new prenatal test to detect Down syndrome early in pregnancy.  Please take some time to check out the entire series over at A Perfect Lily.  And please join the conversation.  It's too important for any of us to sit this one out...


People with Down syndrome—and their families—are overwhelmingly happy with their lives, as recent studies published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics show. And yet, advocates for Down syndrome (including self-advocates) have been working overtime to get the message out about what it actually means to live with the diagnosis, for good reason: they’ve found themselves in the unusual position of having to defend and explain why people with Down syndrome deserve to live as much as anyone else.

People with Down syndrome have their own gifts, talents, hopes and dreams, just like the rest of us. They can and do make significant contributions to their families, their communities and to the world at large. They have value and worth (and self-worth). There is a chorus of voices, of parents and siblings of people with Down syndrome, and of people with Down syndrome themselves, expressing a loud and powerful message: A life with Down syndrome is a life worth living.

The emergence of new prenatal tests to detect Down syndrome early in a pregnancy means that even more women will be sitting in a doctor’s office receiving a Down syndrome diagnosis wondering how to process the news and how to proceed. The reality is that outdated images and negative stereotypes of Down syndrome do exist in a large segment of society, in the media and even within the medical community. And though there is plenty of information readily available for parents with a prenatal diagnosis (websites, pamphlets, blogs, advocacy groups, and support groups ready to provide information and guidance), many expectant parents receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome are still not given balanced information or appropriate counsel regarding Down syndrome or their options. On too many occasions, women are still guided or encouraged to terminate.

While safer genetic screenings theoretically benefit both mother and child, the existence of these tests themselves (20 years and millions of dollars in the making) suggests they are beneficial because Down syndrome is a “problem”—an unintended and unwanted consequence best found while there is ample time to reconsider the pregnancy. Often referred to as a “seek and destroy mission,” there is still upside to early diagnosis beyond facilitating termination: it can provide parents a longer window to seek information on Down syndrome, to link up with support groups, and to process the diagnosis. Parents are free to make either choice—to continue or end the pregnancy—though the prevailing mentality often supports the latter.


*** 

We have mapped the human genome, and have uncovered exciting possibilities for improving the health and quality of life for people with all sorts of illnesses and diagnoses.

We have also begun to use the same science and related technologies to detect and eliminate humans with specific conditions. Prenatal testing itself has existed for some time. But today, our federal government has passed legislation (full document here) that all pregnant women be offered (at no cost to them) a new, safer genetic screening which detects Down syndrome in the first trimester of pregnancy.

With a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, or any other condition, there is no way to predict a particular child’s potential or long-term prognosis, and the way a Down syndrome diagnosis is delivered is quite often literally a matter of life or death. Despite the increase and widespread nature of the testing, there isn’t an equal increase in the amount of information available to parents about the diagnosis, and there are no universal standards for the type of information parents receive, or for the way a diagnosis is presented.


*** 

Some things to consider:

- Even “perfect” scores in prenatal testing cannot guarantee a person’s ability, health, happiness, achievement later in life. In having children, there are no guarantees.

-Ability is a continuum. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum, and are more or less “able” in the various areas of lives. Disability is part of the human condition. Fear or discomfort with disability is natural, too, but is often overcome with information and experience.

-Most parents, even those whose children do not have a specific diagnosis, say that being a parent is one of the hardest jobs out there. Yet, most parents would also say that the time, energy and money it takes to raise their children is entirely worth it. Parents of children with Down syndrome are no different. It doesn’t take a saint or a hero to love someone with Down syndrome. The loving part comes as naturally as loving anyone else.

-Economic (cost-benefit) arguments which rationalize people with Down syndrome (and other “genetic defects”) out of existence may make logical sense, but are morally bankrupt. We are not talking about things, we’re talking about people.

-“Human” cannot be taken out of the human condition. We are not robots, or genetically engineered creatures devoid of morality and at the same time guaranteed to achieve and to be free of health issues or “problems” ourselves. Being “human” means that there are complexities of condition and of mind that set us apart from animals and machines. Unlike robots, we do not fully function without compassion, empathy, values, or morals. Our conscience—and our awareness of our own imperfections--is an essential part of what it means to be human.


*** 
If it seems like this is a heavy discussion, it should. The current prenatal screening debate carries within it some of the deepest issues facing mankind. What makes life valuable? What makes a person worthy of life and love? What things in this world can we—and should we—try to control? What is too imperfect, too expensive, too much of a burden or just too undesirable?

Yet we’re seeing a common theme in today’s thrust for universal prenatal screenings: there are those among us who are too expensive, or too burdensome to live. Today, we're talking about people with Down syndrome—people with unique challenges who can, and do, live happy and vibrant lives. This line of thinking could apply to any one of us at some point in our lives. Every single one of us needs extra help at times or will need extra help—possibly a significant amount of extra help—at some point in life.

The debate over the newest forms of prenatal screening has elicited arguments from all of the angles we would expect, as each individual is coming at this from his or her own set of values and considerations. But at its core, this debate isn’t about politics or religion. It isn’t even about being “pro-life” or “pro-choice”—terms which have embedded political and religious connotations and labels that are not mutually exclusive. A person can hold a belief that the government shouldn’t be able to tell us what to do with our bodies and at the same time can still value all life. No one can know another person’s whole story, or the circumstances surrounding a pregnancy.

This is about making sure expectant parents get all the support and information they need to make informed, educated, thoughtful choices. It’s about having our eyes wide open and understanding that we’re at a critical point in the history of civilized societies. We now have the capability to “know” all sorts of information about a person before birth. What we do with the technology we’ve developed and how we use that information is our choice to make.


*** 
It is imperative that we stop and think before accepting these tests at face value, before running headlong into this new era of “earlier, safer” prenatal testing. This is a discussion that needs to be taking place everywhere—in schools, churches, coffee shops, at kitchen tables, online and face-to-face. Each of us needs to be asking: What do these tests mean for us and what are the implications? 

At the very least, an increase in solid, balanced information on what life can be like with a diagnosis of Down syndrome (or other detected conditions) must accompany the increase in testing.

This issue is too important for any of us to sit on the sidelines. Get involved in helping others to understand what these tests do, and what they mean. Take the time to educate yourself on all aspects of this debate, and to discuss with family and friends.

Here are some questions to encourage and inspire further discussion:

· What makes life valuable?

· In what ways are you more and less “able”?

· Which potential hardships trump the value of a life (realizing that we’d be speculating about the impact of those potential hardships)?

· Chromosomal abnormalities (not all of which are incompatible with life) are the current focus. Which condition is next? Do you or a loved one have—or are you predisposed to—diabetes, breast cancer, alcoholism, mental illness, autism, learning disabilities, or any other condition or diagnosis others may feel is “expensive” or a burden to them? How would you feel if a prenatal test was developed to detect any of these conditions for selective termination?

· The technology is here and will continue to advance. Where do we draw the line? For example, what happens when prenatal testing is applied to particular preferences (such as eye color or sex of the baby)? If we can engineer humans for intellect, beauty, athletic prowess or career success, should we?

· Should the doctors who recommend prenatal tests be required to provide accurate and balanced information about any condition detected through the testing?

Which questions do you think are most important for understanding the critical issues in moving forward? Please join the conversation.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Sliver of Light

**This story is not for the faint of heart.  Please note that some of the names and details have been removed from the original post in order to protect specific individuals as well as current and future adoptions of children with special needs in Eastern Europe.

My eyes sting.  It is hard to swallow or catch my breath.  And there's a pain in my chest that won't go away.  

I am heartsick.  Heartbroken.  And I don't even know if I can gather my thoughts to write about this in any coherent way.  As a parent who adores her children with Down syndrome (and as a person who understands that all people are the same within), I'm torn apart into tiny pieces.  But as an advocate, I know I can't shut down or turn away.  And I hope you won't either.

The many examples recently of disregard for people with Down syndrome--(read here, and here) are hard to process and bear.

This most recent story, though--of a mother who has just traveled overseas to meet the child she intends to adopt, and found her little girl dying of neglect and starvation--is something I will never forget.

Susanna's story (the story of the children no one wants) must be told and retold if we're ever going to have a chance at changing minds, and showing that all people have worth and deserve to be seen, and heard, and loved. 

How can a child that is nine years old weigh only ten pounds--literally skin and bones? I can hardly wrap my mind around it. 

There are many other children with special needs in this same building--at least 50, 17 of them with Down syndrome--wasting away, starving, alone and forgotten. They are so damaged from years of neglect, that many of them will not live to come home to a family. 

And while this is the worst example of neglect and mistreatment that most of us have heard, there are surely many more that have been hidden from view for far too long. 

No outsider has stepped foot inside many of the laying rooms that house children with special needs in the orphanages and mental institutions found all over Eastern Europe. The stories, from the few people who have been allowed access, are horrifying.

I have to believe that the people who are leading the charge to eliminate or hide people with Down syndrome from the world have never loved anyone with the diagnosis. 

People with intellectual disabilities are not disposable, or unfit to see the light of day. They have as much right to life, and to be treated with dignity and respect, as the rest of us.

We must speak up. We must act.

And this is where a story of heartache becomes a story of hope. One family's mission to save one little girl has become something much larger. When Susanna and her facilitator made their way through the doors of the orphanage where Susanna's little girl lives, other hearts and doors began to open. 

As soon as word got out about the condition of the lost children in this Eastern European orphanage, good things started happening. An eleven-year-old girl with Down syndrome (who also lives in this facility, and also weighs just ten pounds) now has a committed family, and enough money was raised (over $23,000 in 24 hours!) to cover her entire adoption.

And, there are at least four more families who have stepped forward to rescue a child from this orphanage.

There has been such an outpouring of love for these children.  What are you going to do?

***
Where there is love, there is light.

And where there is darkness, there is also light.

There need only be a tiny sliver of an opening

for the light to enter and reach all in its path...

***
Please visit Susanna's blog to learn more.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Five

It's been five years today since this little girl arrived in our lives:
Each year it becomes more clear that Bridget's arrival (more to the point:  Bridget's Down syndrome diagnosis) brought fear and anxiety that was unwarranted.  Each year, it becomes more and more evident that we wasted time and energy feeling uncertain when we should have been celebrating.  

This little girl is so worth celebrating!

Bridget, you are everything I could ever have imagined, and more.  From every angle, and every vantage point, you are precious.  Your joy is contagious.  Your light is undeniable.  How lucky we are to love you!  Happy Birthday, my beautiful, sweet girl!









Monday, July 11, 2011

Sharing: Keeper of My Heart, A Giveaway

As I tucked my two littlest girls into bed tonight, I whispered a quiet prayer of gratitude for the two of them, and for the richness they bring to our lives.

I remember well the nights I went to bed thinking of Alina before we traveled. I wondered whether she was safe, warm, and getting enough to eat. I wondered how she was being treated, and whether she was healthy. I wanted to feel the weight and softness of her little body in my arms and to protect her. I wanted her under my roof and in my care. Every moment of every day before we brought her home, these were the thoughts that occupied my mind.

My friend Amy doesn't yet have the luxury of tucking both of her boys into bed at night. One of them is waiting for her to come and rescue him from an orphanage in Eastern Europe.

Remember this sweet little face? This is Davis, Amy's sweet boy overseas. He's already worked his way deep into her heart. And they both need our help.

Amy and her husband John are busy completing the many steps and mountains of paperwork necessary to bring this precious little guy home. They are also going to need over $25,000 to free him.

Please stop by Amy's blog and check out the awesome giveaway they are running to help raise the funds. There are some amazing prizes (including an iPAD2, a $100 Amazon gift card, an autographed Conny Wenk book, and a slew of offerings from some adorable Etsy shops). For every $10 donated, you'll earn 1 entry into the giveaway. For $50, you get 20 entries. So you get the chance to win some incredible prizes while helping a sweet family to get to their sweet boy. It’s a win-win! What are you waiting for? Head on over to Amy's blog for all the details and to learn more about the Jupin family. (Feel free to donate through the Chip In below, just be sure to leave a comment on Amy's blog post to be entered in the giveaway!)

The Keeper of My Heart Giveaway ends July 21st, so there's still plenty of time to donate, blog, share on facebook & Twitter. I heart this family!  Please help me spread the word!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sunshine Girls

June 29.  Sunrise:  6:06a  Sunset:  9:06p

The forecast says it is going to be 72 degrees and sunny at 9 pm tonight. 

We're at the point in the summer when the days are long and there's more time for leisure.  There is finally time each day to stop and take a breath. 

It has been over a month since I've posted here, and it isn't because there hasn't been material for the blog.  

I've taken a necessary break from technology to transition from the school year to summer break.  I needed to go dark--and quiet--to focus on my family and the little moments that make up our life.  This may be the first step away from the computer that I haven't telegraphed.  It just sort of happened.

I've slowly re-organized our closets and our schedules, and am finally making my way out of the piles of laundry and paperwork.

Last summer was a complete blur.  Alina had only been home for a month when school ended, and I was literally running while trying to figure out how to handle six kids going different directions, including one new (and busy) toddler from another country.

This year, we're back in our groove.  

The girls have been in a summer preschool program for the past few weeks, and we have a set of sisters providing respite care during the week.  

We're no longer stuck inside or spending our days moving from one obligation to the next.  We are finally coming out to play :).

As we head into July, we are looking forward to a family vacation and many more days without specific plans.

Though the sun is shining brightly today, our Sunshine Girls keep us covered in light no matter what the weather. 

Proof (and scenes from the month of June):














We're taking a break again over the 4th of July, but I hope to return to posting more regularly soon.  Happy Summer, everyone!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Is There a Smile

...hiding in the heart of this sweet child?  I'm sure there is!  This is Albina. (Isn't she adorable?)  Look at her little face.  She needs someone to hug her and tell her she's perfect, and beautiful, and wanted....someone to help her find her smile.  She needs a family!
 
Albina is an orphan in Eastern Europe.  Simply because she was born with Down syndrome, she is considered a burden to her society, an outcast to be hidden away.  But she deserves so much more.  She deserves to come zooming down a slide and land in the arms of her very own Mama or Papa, like this little one.

And an anonymous donor has committed to matching dollar for dollar donations for Albina up to $5,000.  If you'd like to donate to her grant fund and also be entered in a drawing to win a Canon Rebel SLR Digital Camera, go here.  If you could be Albina's forever family, contact Reece's Rainbow.  

Let's get Albina home where she belongs :)!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A New Journey Begins

Spring is a time of renewal, growth and new life—the perfect time to begin anew.

And it just so happens that one of my favorite families is growing--both literally and figuratively--through adoption.

My sweet blogging friend Amy and her husband John are beginning their journey to Davis, a beautiful little boy with Down syndrome in an orphanage in Eastern Europe. 

Isn’t he the sweetest thing? He’s gonna steal some hearts with those big brown eyes, I am sure. Davis turns 4 this month (thank goodness, his family found him just in time). He’ll join siblings Josh (9), Anna (7) and Ben (4, Ds). 

Please stop by and show this awesome family some love!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Look Back: One Year Ago, Alina Comes Home

One year ago today, Chris and I brought Alina HOME.

Here's a look back, from the day we left the town where she was born through the day she came home to her forever family for good:


Leaving Zaporozhye

On the train with Mama's iPod
and the picture book

Self portraits while waiting in the cab in Kiev
for Daddy and Niko to finish grocery shopping



Still waiting in the cab, the first big smiles we got to see
(We'd known Alina 1 week)

Laughing while Mama tosses a hat in the air





Our short time in Kiev on the back end of our trip (with a busy toddler) was a bit different than our longer, and more free flowing stay there in the days surrounding our SDA appointment ;).  

In addition to Alina's final required medical appointment and finishing up our Embassy paperwork, we spent our few days there getting to know Alina and trying to keep her occupied in a very small city apartment.  We were also trying to figure out how we were going to get home since our flight out was cancelled due to the volcano.  

If you are interested in reading a few details of our short time in Kiev before coming home, go here.  

After much work, Chris found a way for us to get home by traveling KLM Royal Dutch Airlines through Amsterdam--staying overnight, and then re-boarding for Detroit the next morning.  There's a long story about getting a temporary visa for Alina (still a citizen of Ukraine) so we could stay in a hotel just outside the airport doors.  We eventually did get an overnight clearance to leave the airport terminal, and had a wonderful night's rest in a lovely and very comfortable room at the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel.

Welcome to Holland :)!

In Amsterdam, on the trip home
getting settled for the night

Alina was a total trooper for us on the long trip home.  We were all exhausted, but so happy to be coming home to reunite our whole family, finally together under one roof...  

WELCOME HOME!!

Meeting Emmy and Sara

Meeting the Siblings

Sweet, little feet

Baby Dolls & Crackers





From the adoption blog:
Alina seemed very happy to meet her siblings. She was full of smiles and was very relaxed, even though she must have been a little overwhelmed--she was surrounded by all the kids on the kitchen floor. Alina figured out that the kids think she is cute and funny--and she was enjoying all the attention.  Bridget and Alina seemed to recognize one another. They are adorable together! They're about the same height and weight, although Alina is almost 9 months younger than Bridget.  Their hands and feet look almost identical, except Alina's are a bit more chubby :). There was one point last night when I had them both on my lap, which was overwhelming in itself--it is a moment I will never forget. I keep thinking about the two of them together. They are a unit now. My almost-twins, born apart but raised together. 
When we were in Ukraine, someone asked us why we think God gave us four healthy children and then Bridget, a child with Down syndrome. Chris and I have a long answer to that question that we may write about here someday. The short answer, though, may be that Bridget arrived in our lives so that we would save Alina.

One year later and the experience still leaves me breathless and searching for words.  We were so privileged to be able to make that journey, and to bring our little girl home.  

Thank you so much for taking the trip along with us, for loving us and for loving Alina.  We are grateful for all of it....

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Look Back: One Year Ago (Post 6)


Gotcha Day

On Friday afternoon, while having our hurried, brief and last official visit with the orphanage director, we were told that we could take Alina out of the orphanage any time between then and Sunday since they finally had all of the documents necessary to close Alina's file. The director handed us the small slip of paper shown below.  It was up to us to decide the date and time of her "Gotcha Day".  

Permission to take Alina forever

We were scheduled to take the Sunday night train out of Zaporozhye back to Kiev, and decided we should do a little bit of last minute sight-seeing (since we had done NONE yet) and shopping on Saturday morning, before we had Alina with us full-time.  We agreed we'd go and get her Saturday afternoon and spend that night and most of the next day with her before heading out Sunday evening.

On Khortytsia Island

Our cab driver, Igor (pronounced EE-gur) picked us up at our hotel mid-morning that Saturday and took us on a ride through Zaporozhye along the Dnieper River, and over the bridge to historic Khortytsia Island, a 16th to 18th century fortified military camp and home to the Zaporozhye Cossacks (very interesting for others heading to Zap).

We then asked if he could take us to a market where we could purchase a few celebratory items to leave with the nannies and the groupa when went to get Alina.  

We ended up at the largest store you have ever seen under one roof, think WalMart and Sam's Club combined, and then some (and we'd just been remarking how wonderful it was to experience the outdoor markets and small mom-and-pop grocery stores in Ukraine compared to the big mega-stores so common in the States).  But this store had everything we needed:  chocolates, champagne, balloons and little toys for the orphanage and some diapers, food and snacks for Alina for the next several days.

Getting Alina

My description of Gotcha Day itself will be brief. It took more time to drive to the orphanage than it did to walk in and come out with her.


We had no idea what to expect from Gotcha Day. We'd heard descriptions from other adoptive parents of send-offs which ranged from very small, quiet and almost somber goodbyes to full blown parties including both celebration and ceremony.


Playing it safe, we figured our experience would be somewhere in between. So we brought items to give along with our sincere thanks, and planned to spend as much time as we were allotted to express our gratitude to the caregivers and say goodbye to the other children and the only life Alina had ever known.


We brought a large bag filled with gifts, our camera and a small bag with Alina's outfit, coat and a few toys for the ride back to the hotel.


It was a pretty day, with big blue skies and lots of sunshine. Chris took a couple of short videos with his Blackberry before we entered the room:


 


 

The door from the locker room area to the main room was open, and it was unusually quiet in there that afternoon.  We didn't recognize the woman who came to the door, but she knew why we were there and motioned for us to wait outside the room. 

Just like the moments before we visited Alina for the first time by ourselves, we once again waited in silence, standing just off the short hallway leading to her room.  We were both looking around, trying to focus on each little piece of the room where we'd met Alina and spent most of our time with her so far.  We looked at her locker, the one with her name taped to the front and a sticker of three small balloons--one blue, one yellow, one red.  (Her locker was now empty).  We looked at the board with the nursery rhymes used for circle time and the board of pictures of children who had already been adopted from her groupa, at the lace curtains and the tiny blue benches.  We wanted to take in everything about that moment.  Leaving felt as sacred as meeting face-to-face.

All the other times we visited, Alina came clipping out on her own, but that day one of the nannies we didn't know very well came to the door carrying Alina, who was wearing only a diaper.  The woman handed Alina to me, turned and walked back into the room, closing the door behind her. 

I took that as a cue to dress her.  We took our time, talking quietly to Alina as we put her new clothes on her.  She noticed, and I think she understood that the clothes and shoes and coat were hers.

We sat there for a few minutes trying to determine if we should peek our heads in and ask if they would like us to bring Alina back in the room to say goodbye to everyone, or if we could bring in the gifts we had for them.  We didn't know if there was a little party planned, or if there would be some other formal time to say our goodbyes.

Just then, two of the women who really seemed to like Alina came out into the locker room area.  They each gave her a long hug goodbye.  I picked up the bag of gifts and motioned that we would like to give them to the caregivers and the groupa, and one of the ladies motioned to the table, indicating that we should leave the bag there.  I hugged each of them before they went back into the groupa's main room.

As Chris put on his coat, one of the other nannies came into the hallway, patted Alina on the head and waved goodbye to her.  She turned back around and shut the door.

And that was goodbye.  

These are the moments directly following:

 

Images of the day we took Alina out of the orphanage...forever:







 




This was the beginning of Alina's new life.  From our adoption blog:

It was an exciting and emotional day.  And it all hit us at once last night. We have saved a life. This precious little ruby, this innocent child, has been hidden away since birth. What if we had not come for her?  Our hearts are so full and grateful for her and for this journey. At the same time they are aching for the life she has missed out on for three long years, and for all of the other little ones we had to leave behind yesterday--especially the ones with no families coming for them.
At this point, it is all too fresh to write about clearly. We are honestly moved beyond words...

 
In our hotel room that night