Friday, December 24, 2010

From Our Home to Yours

~Wishing you Love and Light this holiday season 
and throughout the year~

The Peele Family

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Moments Like These

...more than make up for the moments of chaos around here ;).  
Waiting for the bus
New dress-up outfits from Nana
Chef Bridget
Chef Alina
We are busy with holiday preparations and activities, celebrating the season and helping others in need.  We are giving thanks for all of our blessings each and every day.

This is a magical time of the year.  It is also a season of miracles.

Do you remember beautiful Elizabeth

She is getting a family for Christmas--she is being rescued!!

Amazing things have also been happening over at A Perfect Lily! Thank you so much to everyone who has donated, advocated or prayed for sweet Olga.  Patti has already raised over $12,000 from the iPod giveaway for Olga's adoption fund!  This is a HUGE amount, and should be an enormous incentive for a family to come forward for her.  I know it will happen, I just hope it is soon!

Patti has been so successful in raising money and awareness for Olga, that Andrea at Reece's Rainbow has asked her to advocate for a second child, beautiful little Kareen (who is also nearing imminent transfer to an institution).  You might have guessed what this means that TWO children are going to be saved, and there is a new giveaway to make that happen sooner than later! 

Please go here to learn more about how you can have the chance to win a brand new iPad, AND be part of a Christmas miracle for Olga and Kareen :)!  

There are many, many other children who are in desperate need of families.  If your heart is leading you to it, please visit Reece's Rainbow and do whatever you can to help.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A New Life

Tonight, as we were sitting in our family room watching The Sing Off, Alina was all cuddled up next to me on the couch. She had two baby dolls and Minnie Mouse tucked in under the blanket with us.  I had leaned over to Chris and whispered for him to look at her--at how incredibly cute and content she is just hanging out with the family--when she looked up at me, smiled, and pursed her lips for a kiss.  Melt my heart. 

This past spring, right before we were getting ready to travel and meet Alina, we received an updated picture of her.  I had been so excited to get a new picture, and was really hoping to see her smiling (or with another expression that would give us a hint about her personality), and to see her with hair.  My heart sunk when I opened the attachment and found this:

March 2010
Oh goodness...there was the same blank expression, and she looked so lost and sad. I knew she needed us, and I felt an even stronger pull than ever to get to her, but at the same time I had the first doubts I had felt during the adoption process up until that point. I began to wonder how much work we had ahead of us, and whether Alina was "reachable". 

When we got to the orphanage, we saw Alina being photographed for her final file picture. The photographer came into the hallway to Alina's room just after lunch and before afternoon nap time. She stood Alina in front of the main door and quickly snapped a picture. Alina was stunned and I think a little bit scared. We guessed that she was not photographed very often at the orphanage, and immediately understood why the above picture (and her initial RR profile picture) looked the way they did, when she is so full of life.

Who would have guessed from those pictures that Alina is vibrant? She has expressions and personality to spare. She's our Funny Bunny, our very own Whirling Dervish, our Sweet, Sweet Lina.

August 2010

I've just finished Part II of my interview about our adoption of Alina with Patti on A Perfect Lily.  Check it out if you are interested in an overview of some specific issues potential adoptive parents may want to consider.

The more important reason to head over to Patti's blog is to be a part of a Christmas miracle for Olga, a beautiful child who is in dire need of a family as she is close to transfer.  Patti is holding a drawing for an iPod Touch with the hopes of raising enough money to inspire Olga's forever family to come forward for her ASAP.  Please help give Olga a chance.  Even a small donation will make a difference!  See Patti's blog for details!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Every Day...

I think about the orphans. How couldn't I? I've got one (less) orphan in my home. And I feel like I should do more.

My heart is aching...because I know.  

I know because I have two children now with Down syndrome.  I know because I was there.  And I know because of what others have shared:

The Sad Reality, about life in an Eastern European mental institution, and The Sad Reality, Part II, the follow-up post.

- And this post about a little girl--a beautiful, creative and intelligent little girl with Down syndrome who has already been transferred to an institution where she will likely die if someone doesn't come forward for her soon.

Before December of last year, I knew that most people in the United States who find out they are carrying a baby with Down syndrome will choose to terminate the pregnancy. I also knew that, here in the States, children born with Down syndrome are often stowaways, their secret undetected until arrival. 

But unsuspecting parents, after going through a period of grieving the diagnosis, most often come to adore their children with Down syndrome and find peace and joy in their life together. (There are a small percentage of parents who are aware of their child's diagnosis before birth, and who knowingly choose to give that child a chance. They, too, most often have incredibly positive feelings about their child).

Parents and family members of people with Down syndrome are their biggest fans and advocates. We tend to wish that everyone knew the joy of knowing and loving a person with Down syndrome, and that others could see life with kind and open eyes.

What I didn't know until last December is that there are children all over Eastern Europe (and in many other parts of the world) who have been abandoned simply because they have Down syndrome or another specific diagnosis.

These children are the survivors, who have been born, despite a general notion that they are worth less. Through no fault of their own, they are often seen as the unwanted

A year ago, I clicked a link to the Reece's Rainbow Angel Tree from another Down syndrome blog, and was instantly forever changed. 

I sat silently, with tears streaming down my face. 

All of these children with Down syndrome and other specific needs...they have been devalued, underestimated and left alone. I had no idea. I had no idea that there were so many. All of these children...who is going to go get them? 

We were able to save one child.  Just one.  But she is a treasure.  And one less orphan is still one less orphan.  It is a step in the right direction.  

We are not Saints. We are just a regular family who fell in love with our fifth child (just as we did with the rest of our children), a little girl who happened to have an extra chromosome.  Bridget opened our eyes to the worth and beauty in all people. 

Reece's Rainbow opened our eyes to the many, many children who share Bridget's diagnosis and who have been abandoned because of it. They are fortunate to have a voice through this organization. 

But they need help, and lots of it, to escape from their chains. 

I know it is to hard to think about all of the kids in need, but we can't look away. 

No child should have to live life in an orphanage or a mental institution. No child should be without the love of a family.

Realistically, not everyone will be able to adopt. But I hope more people will begin to think “Why not us?” instead of “Not us”. Or at the very least, “My eyes have been opened. Now what can I do to help"?

**If you are interested in learning more, I was recently interviewed by Patti, at A Perfect Lily, about Reece's Rainbow and Alina's adoption.  Find that here

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Little Patient

Bridget was diagnosed with strep for the first time the week after Alina came home.  Since then, she's had it six times, and her tonsils were staying huge. 
Waiting, watching Little Bear

Each time she began to get sick with strep, her tonsils would become even more swollen and she'd have trouble breathing at night because of it :(.  So, we did some research, had a consult with her ENT and made the decision to have them removed.  

Last Tuesday morning, Bridget and I packed our bags and drove to Nationwide Children's Hospital.  We valet parked (thank goodness for that option, since I packed like we were going on the Amazing Race) and went straight to the surgical floor for check- in.  

Pre-op, Ready to Go
Before long, we were called into pre-op, where Bridget was given a quick check-up and where we met with each member of her operating room team.  Well, I met with the doctors and specialists while Bridget watched Little Bear ;).

A nurse brought Bridget two handmade dolls (one for her, and one for Alina) and a play doctor's kit.  Another nurse brought the mask they planned to use to put her to sleep, and it was strawberry scented, which Bridget thought was "Yummy!".  She kept sniffing it and placing it on her doll's nose :). 

She was then given Versed, a medication to make her sleepy and to ease the anxiety of separating from me and being in the operating room with a bunch of strangers.  I wish they had given me some, too.  Watching her being rolled away in a hospital bed was hard for mommy :(.

But the surgery only took about 20 minutes and went very well.  

After Surgery, Little Bear again :)
While Bridget was in the recovery area, I went to get my parent badge and a keycard to access her unit (she stayed overnight in the hospital, as is typically recommended for kids with Down syndrome or other health issues).

I took our bags to her room and ate a quick lunch before they brought her in.  She was awake and alert.  She even eeked out a hoarse, Hi, Mommy :).

Bridget was such a little trooper in the hospital.  She was very polite, saying a sweet little thank you to anyone who brought her a popsicle or ice, and shouting a hearty NO THANK YOU when she didn't want something (like pain medicine by mouth, or having her blood pressure taken).

After surgery, Enjoying a Popsicle
Overall, she seemed to be in very little pain that first day and night (she was stuffy, a little warm and a little restless, though).  

She kept wanting to get up and walk around the floor, and so we did.  Lots and lots of times.  We played in the play room on her floor, checked out the vending machines in the waiting room and visited each of the four nurse's stations (several times each).

She ate a full dinner and drank so much that she peed the bed in which we were both sleeping.  

Bridget caught on to me using the nurse's call button and began leaning over randomly, speaking into it saying, Um, red.  Okay.  Thank you. (I'd like a red popsicle) and, Juice.  Ice.  Thank youOkay, bye!

She also was quite fond of having her blankets straightened and having her pillow fluffed :).  She kept climbing out of bed trying to do it herself.

All of this (walking, requesting popsicles, straightening the bed) went on through the night.  The nurses kept telling me that Bridget would be "sleep off" the anesthesia.  But she didn't.  When she finally fell asleep, the shift changed and her new nurse came in to check her vital signs. Then she fell back to sleep and a fire alarm went off (a false alarm, but still...seriously?).  Between all of those things, beeping monitors and sharing a bed, the two of us rolled around, walked around and watched Little Bear through the night.

There's a reason they say that you don't get any sleep in the hospital...because you don't! 

Bridget's doctor showed up at 6:25 a.m. to check on her (I was awake and dressed) and cleared us to leave.  It's a good thing...we were both ready!
From her Preschool Classmates
I have a few other notes, details and tips from Bridget's surgery and recovery experience that I will post here soon.  Check back for those if you are interested.  And if other parents of kids with Ds have questions, please ask! 

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

Something on the Road, Changed My World

Sara Groves ~ I Saw What I Saw

I saw what I saw and I can't forget it
I heard what I heard and I can't go back
I know what I know and I can't deny it

Something on the road, cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your face a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what I'm afraid of
(what I am made of)
and what I know of love

we've done what we've done and we can't erase it
we are what we are and it's more than enough
we have what we have but it's no substitution

Something on the road, touched my very soul

I say what I say with no hesitation
I have what I have and I'm giving it up
I do what I do with deep conviction

Something on the road, changed my world

November is National Adoption Month.  There is great need here in the U.S. and all over the world.  Take some time to learn about the Orphan Crisis--143 million children without homes.  Be changed.  Even if you are not in a position to adopt, everyone can do something.  How will you help?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Living in the Light, Explained

When we merged Bridget's Light and Loving Alina, there was little question whether our new blog title would include the word light.  Our whole story revolves around it.

We couldn't have predicted how Bridget's arrival would change us, would enrich us.  Or how Bridget's light would lead us to Alina--and how Alina herself would further enrich us.  But it did, and they did.  Bridget and Alina have brought a special warmth and clarity to our family that we didn't know we were missing.  

With open eyes and open hearts, we now live a new truth.  We are keenly aware that all people are the same within.  Though none of us is "perfect", we are all perfectly made

We all have challenges...and gifts.  And each one of us adds to the whole.  Our youngest girls add in so many ways.  Above all, they've multiplied the goodness in our spades.

We've gained perspective--we see Life through a new lens.  We waste little time worrying about the superficial, and our home is filled with laughter and warmth.  Our two littlest girls are a huge part of that--they shine.

Things aren't always easy, or sparkly, at our house.  We're not exceptionally virtuous, though we try our best to live right and to be grateful for each day.  We're living an ordinary life, but we're aware, joyful and appreciative.  

We are Living in the Light.
These two little girls have blessed us beyond belief.  They're vibrant, beautiful people who are so very loved and enjoyed.

Please join us as our family story continues to unfold.  Day or night, you are welcome to come visit here.  Come laugh with us and learn with us, and be empowered.

There's a whole lot of darkness out there.  Let the light in...

Love, Lisa

*Alina was named by her birth parents...her name means light.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New Baby Diagnosed with Down Syndrome--What Do I Say (Part II)?

Down Syndrome Diagnosis 101, What to Say to Others

Does your new baby have Down syndrome?  Have you wondered how to tell others about it? 

As parents, it is tough enough to navigate our own feelings when our child is diagnosed with Down syndrome, let alone manage other people's reactions. We've all wrestled with how and when we should reveal our child's diagnosis to others.  

We chose to adopt Alina, and everyone knew that she had Down syndrome.  But Bridget's diagnosis was a surprise.  Our first challenge was making calls from the hospital, and filling in all the details of her birth.  We were shocked, and still reeling from the additional stress that Bridget needed surgery as soon as she was born.  

Our next challenge was her birth announcement.  We felt we should tell our family and close friends about Bridget's diagnosis, and spent some time thinking about what to say, but thought they definitely needed to know.  Here is what we sent:
 Celtic meaning:  Strong, Resolute, Saint
Dear Family and Friends,

For those of you who do not already know the events of the last several weeks, I thought I should explain…  

My water broke early in the morning on July 23 at just over 34 weeks into my fifth pregnancy.  We anticipated a quick delivery, and hurried to the hospital, but my labor (which was slow and steady) lasted most of the day. Just before 6 p.m., Bridget was born. Our beautiful little girl was pink, crying, moving vigorously and breathing completely on her own.  

As soon as she was born, though, we recognized that Bridget had an enlarged area by her umbilical cord. We learned right away that she would need surgery to correct the omphalocele (in her case, a small section of the small intestine was outside her abdomen and had to be placed back inside), and that she would be transported to Children’s Hospital later that night. In addition to the abdominal issue, we were told that Bridget displayed other characteristics typical of a baby with Down syndrome.  

We did not know any of this before she was born. The anxiety and worry about Bridget’s surgery and overall health were really tough at first and we went through the range of thoughts and emotions while adjusting to--and accepting--our new reality. As soon as we got to spend time with Bridget, though, the clouds parted. Chris and I looked at each other and smiled. She’s one of us…and she’s a perfect addition to our family.  

Please don’t be sad for us. We are not sad or disappointed. We hope you will feel the same as we do--we’re happy and proud!  

Bridget is a sweet baby and her name suits her perfectly. She's filled with quiet determination. She is so pure, and so strong (body and spirit)--she is amazing.  

Bridget recovered quickly from her surgery and spent several weeks working on feeding (a common issue in preemies and babies with Down syndrome). She exceeded the doctor’s expectations at every turn and touched us all with her sweet disposition and her vigor at the same time. She came home after one month in the hospital to much fanfare and we are enjoying her immensely. 

She is doing everything babies do at this point (mainly eating, sleeping and pooping--sometimes all at once!). She's about 6 1/2 pounds now, and eats like a champion. She loves her siblings and seems so happy to be at home.  

We look forward to sharing Bridget with all of you as she grows.  


 Lisa & Chris

There was relief after sending out her birth announcements.  They were well-received and people were incredibly kind and supportive.  

But it was still hard to know how to talk about Bridget's diagnosis in public.  I remember thinking, "Am I required to tell ____ that Bridget was born with Down syndrome?" (Sometimes it was a friend I hadn't seen in a while, or a stranger in the grocery store, or even an acquaintance at the dance studio or the school.)

I wasn't sure
what to say, or how to say it. And then there were the many things people said to me that threw me for a loop.
So how do you talk to someone about your child's diagnosis for the first time?  What do you say when someone casually asks about some facet of your child having Ds?  Do you have a quick comeback when someone makes an insensitive or ignorant statement?  Or, do you have comments "in the bag" for just such an occasion?

I decided that I would tell people if I felt like it, and if it made sense. If I didn't feel like explaining, I just didn't say anything about her diagnosis. And I made a promise to myself that I would not feel badly about that. In other words, I started to cut myself some slack. 

I am a great advocate for Bridget and Alina. I love them and believe in them wholeheartedly, and will speak up when it makes sense to do so--but I don't always have to take on the world. (Some of our best advocacy work is just being out there, providing one example of a loving family living a happy and full life which includes Down syndrome.)

People make insensitive comments so often without even realizing it. 
When Bridget was a baby, and I was still trying to absorb her diagnosis and figure out how to tell others about it, I started to understand that we all need to find things to say that fit our personality as well as the situation.

I used to just stand there--a little stunned--when someone made a comment that hurt (you can't always see it coming). You replay the situation in your head for days, trying to figure out what you should have said.

I now have all sorts of statements in my "bag". 
I'm usually straightforward and positive, and I remind myself that each of these situations is a chance for me to advocate for my girls and for other people who have a diagnosis of Down syndrome (really, for people with a diagnosis of any type).

It is important for all of us (parents and family members) to be well versed on the basics (why Ds occurs, the range of delays associated with the diagnosis, physical features, common health issues, improvements in medical care for people with Ds, current terminology, new opportunities & advancements, etc.).  People will ask about those things. Most people will not have personal experience related to Down syndrome.  Your child might be the first person they've encountered with the diagnosis.

Here are some ideas:

If someone seems to be wondering whether she has a diagnosis, I'll just come right out with it: "Bridget has Down syndrome". In case they can't see for themselves, I always follow with: "She is awesome".

I often ask the person if they have any questions about her diagnosis. It takes some of the stigma away when we don't make excuses or apologies. (She is who she is, and she is amazing.)

When people comment about physical features or health issues ("she doesn't look like she has Down syndrome" or "she is so high-functioning...she must not have a severe case"), I say, "There is no such thing as a mild case of Down syndrome. You either have it or you don't. Some people with Down syndrome have more significant delays than others, and some have more serious health concerns. As with all people, there is a huge range in physical characteristics, health and abilities in people with Down syndrome."

A shorter version: "That is a stereotype. People with Down syndrome, like everyone else, have a range of abilities and challenges" or
"Everyone has strengths and challenges. She does, too."

I also say things like: "We know much more about Down syndrome today than was known even 20 years ago. People with Ds are capable of so much more than ever thought possible. I'd never want to dictate to any of my children what someone else thinks they can't do. Only Alina can tell us how far she will go and what she will accomplish."

I will always highlight my daughter's personality, her abilities and potential, and the fact that she is a child--a person with a diagnosis--not the diagnosis itself.

While there are some things that are unique about her because she has Down syndrome, she is just like everyone else in all the important ways.

Feel free to use any of the above information (in whole, or pieces and parts).

New Baby Diagnosed with Down Syndrome--What Do I Say?

Down Syndrome Diagnosis 101, What to Say

Do you know someone who has received a diagnosis of Down syndrome for a new baby?  Are you wondering what to say and do?

Even well-meaning friends and family members tend to stumble over words, and often don't know how to help, or how to process the diagnosis themselves.

It is important to remember that every new parent desires and deserves congratulations on the birth of a new baby.  Parents who have been told that their baby has Down syndrome should be shown the same kindness as every other new parent--along with a little extra awareness and tact. 

A diagnosis of Down syndrome may (or may not) be difficult for parents to process and absorb.  If there are any additional health concerns for the baby, the early days may be especially frightening for the parents and family.

Some parents accept the diagnosis quickly, while others really struggle.  Both are completely normal reactions when unexpected information arrives along with a new baby.  

Look to the parents for cues.  A general rule is to welcome a child with Down syndrome (or any other diagnosis) the same way you would welcome any baby.  Be sensitive, supportive and positive.   

Important things to consider:  

(1) All babies should be celebrated, and all parents should be supported in welcoming new life.  

(2) There is no telling what an individual will accomplish in his or her lifetime--especially if that person is loved and valued and given every opportunity to succeed.   

(3) There is every reason to be hopeful. 

There are several sources for information on what to say and do when your friend's baby has a diagnosis of Down syndrome.  I'm linking to one blog post, which covers the topic particularly well.  Please visit the above link for more detail, but here are the highlights:
First, bring a gift (a receiving blanket, an adorable outfit, a rattle). Second, say “Congratulations!” or “Congratulations on the birth of your baby boy/girl!” or “Oh, (s)he’s beautiful!” Then ask to hold the baby (if you can). Just like you would with any other baby. The birth of a child is something to celebrate, and an extra chromosome doesn’t change that. Your friend’s baby is a gift, just as any baby is.

If you have positive experience with Down syndrome (i.e. a cousin or a friend had it, and they did fine/were adorable/whatever), share it.

{If you feel it is appropriate} Give them a copy of Kathryn Lynard Soper’s book Gifts. Because Gifts tells the stories of 63 different parents, it’s a chance for your friend to meet 63 people who’ve already been there. {There is also now a follow-up to Gifts, which is called Gifts 2, How People with Down Syndrome Enrich the World.}

Offer to care for other children if they have them. Bring in meals. Visit them at the hospital (and bring food that isn’t cafeteria food). Run errands for them. Ask how the baby is doing.

Try to get the terminology correct. In the U.S. it’s “Down syndrome,” not “Down’s syndrome” (because it’s named after the guy who identified it, not someone who had it). And it’s a “baby with Down syndrome,” not a “Down’s baby.” I know this sounds really nit-picky, but it’s important. This way, it’s a baby first, who happens to have Ds.

If there is a Down syndrome support group in your area, get a contact number for your friend. But don’t be surprised or hurt if she doesn’t contact them for a long time (or at all). Everybody has different needs.
Mostly, your friend just needs to know you love her and that you will love the baby too. 
I'd add two things:  First, please don't say, I'm sorry.  If you are concerned about your friend, say just that:  I am concerned about youI care about you and will be here for you.  But saying I'm sorry sounds as though the baby is a reason for sadness.  All babies should be celebrated, even if some of the details were unexpected.

Second, send your friend a link to one of the many family blogs which give examples of life with Down syndrome.  There is a huge support network out here for individuals and families living with Ds.  Your friend is not alone!

Please see the original post for a list of things NOT to say,  and check back here for tips on talking to others about your child's Down syndrome diagnosis.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Look at this darling little girl!  She needs a home.  Could it be yours?

You may remember beautiful Anna.  Her story reached--and touched--many people earlier this year.  And a family had committed to her.  But sadly, they could not complete the adoption and she is back on the waiting child listings on Reece's Rainbow.  

Anna is from the same orphanage as Sofia and Zoya.  Jen, Sofia's mom, took the above photograph and her husband, Hector, wrote about seeing Anna and her mother in May.  Zoya's mom, Sarah, saw Anna this spring and wrote about it here (she initially thought Anna was a boy, but the mother and child she saw--and describes in her post--was Anna and her mom).

It is a huge benefit for adoptive parents to know of others who have seen a waiting child and have adopted from the same orphanage or region.  Jen and Sarah can share other observations of Anna as well as of the baby home and city where Anna lives.  They will be a great resource for the family who steps forward for little Anna.

Someone, please, give Anna a chance, a home and a family.  I hope her mama and papa are reading this and will make the decision to go get her and love her forever!

Girl, Born January 4, 2008

Anna has dark hair and dark eyes.  She is so pretty!  She was born with a minor heart murmur, and should be seen by a cardiologist once home.

From one of our adopting families who visited with her in April 2010:  “I met Anna’s mother today….a beautiful young woman….she LOVES Anna and visits her often…brings diapers and soap…takes her for walks, kisses her, and picks flowers for her.   They are BEAUTIFUL together.   It breaks my heart.   She wants her child but can’t care for her.   We need to find Anna a home so this mother can know her daughter will be ok…she would probably love to stay in contact too…oh how complicated she must feel.   Anna is ADORABLE!”  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alina - October

Alina is three and a half years old.  And though most people are shocked to hear it, Bridget is bigger than Alina, who looks much more "sturdy" than her older sister.  (Alina is 36 inches and 30 pounds.)   

She adores Bridget (who she now calls Bruh). She truly looks up to her.  It is too cute.  Whatever Bridget is doing, we will usually find Alina nearby doing the same thing or sitting and smiling while watching Bridget. 

She also "tells on" Bridget by pointing while saying Bruh! (look at Bridget!) to let me know that Bridget is getting into something or doing something she is not supposed to be doing.  As innocent as Bridget looks, this happens more often than you might think ;).

Alina loves to eat!  She's not picky.  At all.  She is game to try (and will finish) whatever we offer her.

Alina wants so much to talk, and is really trying.  She is making progress, though at this point we are hearing more sounds than clear words.  Her speech therapist at school is working on sound production while also offering her a variety of other creative methods to communicate (picture options as well as devices with switches and buttons that she can manipulate to show what she wants and what she understands).

Alina is downright dangerous with the t.v. remote. Every time she gets a hold of it, she's making something purposeful happen (and not just changing the channel or turning it off).  She's been caught trying to order Hot Tub Time Machine more than once, and recently, she somehow recorded 13 days worth of infomercials. 

Alina loves to tickle other people's feet (Emmy says it is one of Alina's talents...she really tickles).

Our two youngest girls are buddies...and complete opposites. 
The laughing that goes on at our house (and there's a lot of it) is a perfect example of the difference in our two little girls.  Bridget is a hee hee hee kind of a girl, while Alina is definitely the huh huh huh type.

While Bridget hugs, Alina waves.  She is the perpetual mayor, greeter and beauty queen, quick with a hearty Hi!, a wave and a smile.  

Bridget is a girly-girl.  Alina is a mixture, a tomboy-girl--she is rough and tumble, but loves (and I mean loves) playing dress-up.  No matter what she is wearing, she is also always in a tutu, or play shoes! 

And while Bridget is cautious, Alina is our risk taker (and has the bumps and bruises to prove it).  She approaches life, in general, with vigor.  She's quick to jump in and participate.  

To give a little more insight into our youngest daughter, here are some observations from her therapists at school:
"Alina has acquired her sister's love of giving orders!  We can't go more than 5 feet without her telling me to TOP!  (stop) :)"
"Alina is so friendly to the students we meet in and around the school!"
 "At snack today, Alina requested ah. puh. mo. (more apple) with prompting.  She signed it, too :)."
"Alina is doing super!  She seems to be getting into chairs safely--though she did try some acrobatics once in a chair :)."
Alina has added so much to our lives.  She's active and curious and adventurous, and she keeps us busy.  She also has a wonderful disposition and sweet spirit.

She is her own person...a beautiful and amazing person we are happy to know and love!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bridget - October

Bridget is four now, and she is definitely the Big Sister :).  She's still pretty tiny (at 37 inches and 31 pounds), but is a mighty little thing.  

She's very socially aware and can name each student in her preschool class.  She's playing with other kids this year and seems to be enjoying her new friendships.

At home, Bridget wants to dictate what activities take place, who participates and how they will play.  She likes to rule help Alina.  She loves to pin her down and pretend to take her blood pressure take care of her with their pretend doctor's kit.  (Alina is a usually a good sport about it, but will also protest when she's really not happy with what is going on.)

Bridget loves and looks after her little sister.  She will pat Alina on the back gently if Alina is sad, and will let me know if Alina seems to be needing anything.  If she wants a particular doll or toy, she will first make sure Alina has a different, satisfactory one ;)--which accomplishes two things:  looking out for her sister and getting what she wants.  Pretty clever, that one.

Bridget is our resident Hugger

She greets people with hugs, says good-bye with hugs and gives hugs when people are sad or mad.  She'll often tilt her head to the side and ask in a sweet, little voice, "A hug?"  (Yes, please.  A hug from Bridget is usually just what the doctor ordered :).)

Each day, I give her a big hug right before she gets on the bus.  And each day, she climbs the steps, turns around and shouts (HUG!) with her arms outstretched.  (One More Hug should become a common practice.  What a great way to start the day!) 

Last year at this time, Bridget was talking very little.  She was signing quite a bit and saying one word at a time.  She is talking a lot more now!  She keeps us laughing with her expressions (My word, Oh Goodness!, Give it!) along with some of her other requests, like asking for a paper towel--rather than toilet paper--when she's done using the potty, or shouting, TISSUE! when Alina needs her nose wiped.  

Bridget has started adding an "ee" sound to the ends of words, just because she thinks its funny--"cup" becomes "cup-py", "sock" is "sock-y".  I have no idea why she started doing this, but it sounds hilarious coming out of her little mouth.

Oh, and she is no longer Jibby.  She's "Ji-jit", "Me, Ji-jit" or "Brrr...Ji-jit".

Right now her favorite things include:  riding the bus, taking care of baby dolls, laughing and having tea parties with Alina, dancing with her siblings and watching Little Bear.

She's matured so much in this past year.  I guess that's what happens when you become a Big Sister ;).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Checkmarks, Bubbles and Dots

...can never paint a full or accurate picture of a person.

While this type of questionnaire might provide some broad information, these dots do not represent my child.  They don't even begin to say what it is about her that makes her unique, special and talented in her own right. 

Whether or not my daughter can call her friends by name, can button her coat or knows at least two opposites, does not have any impact on who she is.

Two of my daughters have Down syndrome. They are not Down syndrome. 

They are amazing little girls who deserve to be seen as such.

My girls are not best described by a certain number of chromosomes, a list of health concerns, a score on a standardized test, or by the answers to questions on a fill-in-the-bubble developmental inventory.

Development charts and formal assessments provide limited information and perspective.  Yes, Bridget and Alina have Down syndrome, which includes developmental delays.

They both also have many skills and abilities.  They are loved and cherished and supported--and we see their huge potential. 

They deserve so much more than a label.  

They defy definition :).

*Tomorrow's post will be an update on Bridget.  Wednesday's will be all about Alina.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Common Threads, Namesakes & Blessings

“The Red Thread” is a Chinese proverb which says that the people who are meant to know one another in this life are connected by an invisible thread. The thread may twist and tangle, but it will never break.  It is not affected by time, place or circumstance. Those connected by it will find each other, one way or another.

It is impossible to predict which people and circumstances will be significant in our lives and which will pass quickly through. 

Sitting across from Sara's third grade teacher at fall conferences six years ago, I had no idea that one day Sara and I together would lead her to her daughter. 

The following is a fairly long post, but it tells a story you will want to hear--of the "red thread" which connects Sara and I (and Bridget and Alina, as well as a few other people you may know) to Sara's teacher and her family. 

This is a story of love and light, of faith and fate, of hope and fulfillment of destiny.  It is a story about taking chances, giving thanks for blessings, and making a difference.

* * *
Fifteen years ago on this day, October 22, 1995, we welcomed a precious little girl into our lives.  (We were--and still are--such proud parents.)

Sara is the oldest of our six children.  She is wise beyond her years and has the kindest heart.  She's my right arm, helping wherever and whenever I need it.

Sara has always adored Bridget, and even though she was only ten when Bridget was born, she saw "the bigger picture" very quickly--that people with Down syndrome are people first.  She was excited about life with her new little sister and envisioned the wonderful relationship they now share.

When we discovered Reece's Rainbow Down Syndrome Adoption Ministry (RR) last December, Sara was deeply moved.  She saw beauty and potential in the waiting children.  I remember her talking about all the ways Bridget has added to our lives, and about how much it hurt to think of all of the children who are without homes simply because they were born with Down syndrome. 

I told her we would do whatever we could to help the children on RR.  Sara is often my sounding board, and I confided in her that I was going to talk to her dad about saving Alina.  She was in.  Immediately.

Fast forward to one day in early June, after Alina was already home.  I was going through the waiting child listings on RR, and came across a picture of this little girl (right), which stopped me in my tracks. How had I never noticed her before?  She grabbed my attention, and my heart.  And her birthday was the same day as Sara's.  I felt myself starting to ask the question...Is there any way...?

I sat down and wrote about her here, with the hopes that she would capture the heart of a family who was in a better postition to go get her and bring her home. 

Little did we know, there was a family--a family we knew--who was looking to make a difference in the world, and whose hearts were being moved toward adopting a child with Down syndrome. 

Right before school started, I received an email from Sara's third grade teacher, Shelly Archer.  The message came as a surprise, as we had only crossed paths and exchanged hellos in the halls at school from time to time since Sara was in her class.  But she'd heard about Bridget's diagnosis four years ago, and had also heard of our decision to adopt Alina.  It was her family who had been talking about ways to give back.

The Archer's had discovered Reece's Rainbow through Loving Alina.  They began reading Bridget's blog and several other blogs from our blogrolls, and had learned all about Down syndrome and the plight of orphans with Ds in Eastern Europe.  Like us, Shelly and Andy had not been planning on adding to their family.  But also like us, they felt the pull towards adoption.

I'll let Shelly's post fill in all the details, but the short version is that the Archer Family is bringing home the beautiful little girl with the brown eyes in the pink dress :), so she will be living in our community.  And they will be naming her...Sarah. 

There is so much significance in the name they chose for their little girl--it brings me to tears any time I think about it.  Our Sara and Sarah Ely (a young adult with Ds who blogs about her life and also lives in Ohio) were instrumental in the Archer's decision to bring their daughter home.  Shelly and Andy also followed Sarah B's blog (Angel Eyes, about adopting Zoya). 

Sara, Bridget and I met Joyce and Sarah Ely last March.  At the time, none of us had any idea that--together--we'd inspire another adoption. I'm smiling thinking of the five of us (Bridget, Sara, me, Joyce & Sarah) talking and laughing & enjoying the moment, yet having no clue that we would play a huge role in saving the life of another child with Down syndrome. 

Sarah and Shawn B. were in Ukraine to get Zoya at the same time we were there to get Alina.  We almost connected in Kiev, but the volcano threw things off.  We ended up coming home the day after they came home. 

There is a common thread that connects all of our families.

Beyond the name Sara(h), there are so many meaningful connections.

There are blessings beyond belief.

Happy Birthday TODAY to Sara & Sarah (and some other very special people: Pops, Uncle Sid and my dear friend Sally--whose given name is...Sarah!)

Thursday, October 21, 2010


There is a specific reason this story is posted today.  Check back tomorrow to learn the significance...

A Regular Baby (Bridget’s Arrival)

Written by big sister Sara on her 11th birthday (10.22.07)

Bridget looked just like a regular baby. She didn’t look any different than I thought she would. She was really beautiful and sweet, but I was worried about her health and what her life would be like. I was sad about all the things she might not be able to do. When I first saw her, I remember exploding into tears. I don’t know exactly why—I just did. I felt a mix of emotions. I was excited that she was born, but I was also a little disappointed. I was just hoping for a regular baby that we could take home in a couple of days.

I’m 11 and the oldest of five now that Bridget is here. I thought our family was big enough already with my two little brothers and one sister. When my mom told me she was pregnant with number five, I cried. I was happy—and surprised—and a little worried about the added responsibility of having another younger sibling. I had no idea how all of our lives would change the day she was born.

We were all supposed to wear pink t-shirts to the hospital to meet our new baby sister. But, she was almost six weeks early and the shirts we ordered had not arrived yet. My dad came to pick us up, and we had to hurry because Bridget needed surgery and was being moved to a different hospital. When we got there, I could tell my mom had been crying. She said Bridget would be fine, but that there was something other than the surgery that we needed to know about. “Bridget has Down syndrome,” she said quietly. We talked about what that meant as a family for only a few minutes before the nurses brought our new baby sister to see us.

As I looked at her, I felt sad that she couldn’t come home with us. I didn’t like seeing her in that plastic bed with all the tubes and wires attached to her. I wondered how long she would be in the hospital and what life would be like once she came home. I did not know what to expect.

After her surgery, I spent many hours at the hospital with Bridget. As I got to know her, I discovered that my baby sister was just a regular baby after all.

I realized that she was absolutely perfect. She was warm and soft and she smelled sweet. She even looked a lot like I did when I was a baby. I ached when I had to leave without her. I slept with clothes she had worn that we brought home to wash. I couldn’t wait to have her home with the rest of us.

We had all been so sad when Bridget was born needing surgery. And then there was the Down syndrome part. I didn’t know when we would be happy again, or if we would even be celebrating her birth. But, when she was finally able to leave the hospital--after a month-long stay--our whole family walked around her hospital floor like we were in a parade. My mom carried Bridget. We were all smiling and waving and proudly wearing our pink t-shirts. The nurses were clapping. It was a great celebration.

I know now that you can’t just hear an explanation of Down syndrome, or go on the computer and research it. The way to learn about Down Syndrome is to know someone with it.

Before Bridget was born, I never thought much about people with disabilities. I didn’t really pay attention. Now, when I see people with handicaps or disabilities, I pay more attention. I know they sometimes have to try harder to do the things most of us take for granted. I see people with disabilities as regular people who are just trying to learn and to enjoy life like everyone else--and I think of the families that love them.

To me, Bridget is the most beautiful baby in the world. She’s adorable and funny and she likes for me to hold her against my chest. I know she loves me because she smiles at me. I feel like we are going to be really close. I think Bridget was made especially for our family. She’s like a puzzle piece that fits perfectly and makes us complete. We didn’t know it, but we were waiting for her all along.