Thursday, October 30, 2008
We have arrived in the States! Alia became a U.S. citizen the moment our plane landed. I made sure to shake her hand and give her a big salute to commemorate the occasion!
We are sitting at Gate C4 right now waiting to catch the 4:15 flight to St. Louis, where we will find Angela and Luca waiting to welcome us home. Only a short trip to Carbondale, and our own beds!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I am anxious so I thought I would share my anxiety with you, dear blog readers.
I have checked arrival information for the Almaty-Frankfurt leg of the flight a few times. It is delayed by about 10 minutes. They only have an 1 hour 40 minute layover in Frankfurt. Scott is going to try to get one of those shuttles to take them to their gate - I would say grandma and baby qualify. I hope that Alia is serene Alia not freaked out Alia. I am sure they are all going to be exhausted regardless.
I still don't believe that they are finally coming home. I feel like I am preparing for a very special house guest. I just can't wrap my brain around the fact that Alia and Scott will be here, sleeping in their respective beds tomorrow night.
I spoke with Scott this morning and he sounded pretty worn out. He and his mom have been such troopers. I can't say that enough. I am so pround of them. Scott's mom Jean has never been outside of North America . . . and here she is spending 4 weeks in Kazakhstan.
Scott is an amazing father and husband. I know it has been hard for him to be away. He is most definitely a creature of habit. He has not complained once about being gone once. We miss him horribly.
I am rambling . . . full of nervous energy. I just can't think of anything else.
We have Alia’s visa! We can come home now!
Went to the U.S. Consulate this afternoon, along with two other WPA families. We paid our money, and went up to the window, signed a few papers, got Alia’s passport, birth certificate, and adoption certificate back, as well as a super-secret folder THAT MUST BE KEPT SEALED until we arrive in the U.S. We’re then supposed to hand it over to the Immigration folks. Took us about 30 minutes, and that was only because there were at least three other adoptive families in line ahead of us, in addition to all of us WPA folks.
Went back to the sisters’ office for an exit interview/debriefing. Kind of tough to finalize payments and listen to what I was being told about the papers Gulzhan was giving me because all of the women were trying to play with Alia, who was sitting in my lap the whole time. They were talking to her in Russian, squeezing her cheeks, fawning over her outfit, the whole bit. And she met all of the attention with a scowl. “I don’t know you people, and I don’t much care for your attempts to curry my favor through baby talk and peek-a-boo!”
Vitalii is due to pick us about in about two hours and take us to the airport. After that, we’ll be out of touch until late Thursday. So glad to be bringing Alia home with me to see Angela and meet Luca. Can’t wait to settle down for a while and get back to family life, complete with our daughter.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
[Scott here again]
Well, today we went to visit the International Clinic to get Alia's medical check-up for the Embassy. I'll admit that I was definitely not looking forward to this day. Alia is very suspicious of strangers to begin with, and does not much care to be held by anyone she does not know well, much less poked and prodded by some strange doctor. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to the visit.
We arrived a few minutes early for our appointment and were almost immediately taken by a nurse to get Alia’s weight and length. Alia didn’t much care for being placed on the scale or stretched out to get measured, but she calmed down quickly after they gave her back to me. We thought that she had been gaining weight, if the chubbiness of her cheeks is any guide, and that was confirmed today, as she weighed in at 18 ¼ pounds. When we weighed her in Kokshetau, she was close to 16 pounds, so she’s been doing well. She is also about 27 inches long. Both measurements are well within normal parameters.
The nurse then took us straight upstairs to see the doctor – a nice Kazakh or Russian woman. I’ve heard that the doctors at the Clinic come from all over the world, so I’m guessing that she could have been from elsewhere. I fully expected a lengthy exam with blood being drawn and shots. Well, the doctor looked in her ears, her nose, listened to her heart and lungs, and…that’s it! Nothing more! I was so stunned when she told us we could leave, I just gathered up Alia and away we went. No questions asked. We were in the Clinic for perhaps 20 minutes at the most. The visit was even shorter than I expected because I left without paying! No wonder it was so quick! Janara called from the Agency to tell us that we had forgotten to pay about 30 minutes later (I realized it once we got back to the apartment, but after Vitalii had left). Vitalii was gracious enough to come back to the apartment and offered to go pay the Clinic. So, I gave him the money and he went and took care of it for us. Later in the afternoon I went out for a walk and was just aimlessly wandering around town when I looked up and realized that I was right in front of the Clinic. I went in and apologized to them for the mistake earlier in the day and we all had a nice laugh.
We went out for dinner again tonight - this time to Govinda's a vegetarian restaurant operated by the Hari Krishna community in Almaty. When we lived in St. Louis, I loved to go to the Govinda's run by the Krishna's there, so I was excited to be trying out a Krishna vegetarian meal 8,000 miles away from the last one. I was not disappointed. The food was excellent and reasonably priced. I had a potato/cauliflower/cheese dish and mom had a potato spinach dish. We also had a couple of samosas and an order of fried bread stuffed with potatoes (noticing a theme here?). It was very nice to get out and enjoy a good meal. Alia sat quietly and played with (chewed on) her toys. She really does so well when we go out.
Tomorrow, we have an appointment at the Embassy at 3:00, and then...WE GET TO COME HOME! Our flight leaves Almaty at 2:35 Thursday morning, and the get into Carbondale late Thursday afternoon. Cannot wait!
Monday, October 27, 2008
[from Scott who is in Almaty with Alia & Jean, his mom]
Well, we all landed safely in Almaty Sunday night and got to the apartment fine, thanks to our driver, Vitalii. Alia was a real trooper. We started the day with a four hour car ride from Kokshetau to Astana on some roads that were in serious disrepair. They are doing some major construction on the main road from Astana to Kokshetau, and in a couple of years, it will be at least three lanes in each direction of brand new smooth highway. But, for now, you make do. Alia did well on the flight, but she hadn't had much sleep in the car and that caught up with her, and made for an unhappy baby for a bit, but she was able to sleep for a while on the plane. In all, I'm amazed at how well she handled everything - the long car ride, being around so many people in public, the flight, and not getting to bed until almost ten o'clock that night. She's resilient, that's for sure.
We are staying in a very nice two bedroom apartment in a high rise apartment complex (complete with elevator - thank you Altynbyaev Sisters!) about a two blocks South of the Children's Palace and only a few blocks from the Sisters' office. Vitalii took us straight to Janara's home last night to give her our paperwork so that she could get started on it. Then, after he dropped us off at the apartment, he took me to the Ram Store to buy groceries. It is right next to the sister's office and well within walking distance if we need to restock before we leave.
Today, Vitalii picked us up and we went to a photo shop and had Alia’s picture taken for her Visa, and then went over to the Sisters’ office to complete some paperwork. I have to admit that it was a little difficult to work with all of the women coming into the conference room to fawn over Alia. She’s a tough sell though. She is still very skeptical of anyone new getting too close to her, and will scowl at anyone trying to get her to smile or laugh. That’s still reserved for Mom and Dad.
This afternoon, while mom and Alia napped, Vitalii took me to the Tsum store. It doesn’t seem right to think of it as a single store. It’s like lots of little vendors in a big department store sized building. The first floor is all electronics and home appliances. Today was a holiday, so it may have been more crowded than normal, but it was amazing to watch all the people buying cell phones. There were cases and counters like you might find at a jewelers, packed with cell phones. And each of those counters was crowded with people clamoring to buy one.
The second floor is mostly clothes, and it was significantly less crowded. I headed up to the third floor, where you can buy everything from a crystal chandelier to hand woven wool rug, to a fermented milk container made from horse hide. I spent A LOT of time on the third floor buying souvenirs. I think I’m going to go back tomorrow!
This evening, we got adventurous and went out to the street corner and hailed a taxi to take us to dinner. I read that you can just stand on a street corner in Almaty and within a minute or two a cab will stop and take you anywhere you want to go in town for a couple of bucks. Well, I put my hand up, and some nice couple in a Mercedes pulled over, because they thought I was in some kind of distress, I suppose. After realizing that they were indeed not a taxi service, and I was not in need of assistance, they went on. We did finally hail a taxi and went to Mad Murphy’s Irish Pub, for a little familiar atmosphere and food. We had a very nice time, and it is reminiscent of pubs you would see back in the States, but you pay for that atmosphere. I had shared some of mom’s fries (very good), and had probably the most odd (imaginative?) vegetarian lasagna anywhere. After it was reheated (frozen solid in the middle), it wasn’t too bad, but it definitely would take some getting used to. Alia sat in the booth next to me and chewed on her bath book version of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and responded not at all to the women at nearby tables who were trying to get her attention.
Tomorrow, we take Alia for her medical visit and shots, and then the Embassy on Wednesday afternoon. Our flight leaves Almaty at 2:30 in the morning on Thursday. We’ll try to take the tram up to Kok Tube, and I’ll probably do some walking around town in the next couple of days. Hope to update you soon.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
She wrote, simply, life goes on and so does death.
There is no handbook for life after the loss of babies. I know because I desparately tried to find it. The closest thing I came to was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking which is about the sudden death of the writer's husband and her daughter's sudden and seemingly inexplicable, grave illness. The "loss of children" books that I read never addressed continuing to live with the loss of such tiny children. One author wrote that people who experienced neonatal loss involving multiples had a whole slew of other issues she would not deal with in this particular book. So, I groped my way through grief, anger, rage, sadness, blame, shame, despair sometimes with grace, much of the time not. All the while I got up everyday and functioned - much of the time on autopilot - but I was functioning I assured myself. My internal voice often said, "I have always gotten out of bed! I have never stayed in bed depressed!"
But, I was doing some pretty nutty stuff . . .
. . . like drinking very little water. I used to drink lots of water. You know, because it is supposed to be really good for you. When I was in the hospital fighting the infection that took the lives of Hope, Meret and Annalisa, the nurses and doctor encouraged me to drink as much water as I could to keep the fever down and I am not sure what else. I drank gallons of water - no exaggeration. It was the only thing I felt I could control. It didn't work, so I boycot it now.
I have been hanging on to a giftcard that graduate students in Scott's department so generously chipped in to buy us once our pregnancy with triplets was public knowledge. I have had that card for 3 1/2 years. I have not known what to do with it. At one point I thought we would donate it to our Women's Center. At another I had the idea of buying books for our public library in their names. I even thought we could use it for our next child, but then thought that that would not be fair somehow.
All these seemed like perfectly okay ideas, but at the same time none of them felt right. And, that really has been the theme here. What does one do after three babies die anyway? A lot does not feel right. I received a flyer for a children's book drive today so I am back to buying books for book drive with the giftcard. At least I think I can actually do something with it now.
My dayplanner used to be the biggest I have ever seen - truly. Inside I had elaborate grids and calendars to plan out my weeks and months with multiple colored pens to keep track of my progress. My life was divided into sections a la Stephen Covey - Partner, Family Member, Lecturer - so that I always knew what had to be done. I all but burned that thing after the babies died. It just felt so pointless keeping track of all this minutia. I started to wing it. I skipped birthdays and stopped sending thank you cards (gratitude?! not so much). I didn't return emails or phone calls. I didn't clean the house. Stuff piled up. I cared but didn't at the same time.
There is more . . . I just can't think of all the ways this loss has been incorporated into the very fiber of my being. I guess by hanging on to all these habits, quirks and feelings I have been keeping the triplets present in our everyday life somehow. I tried to not let life go on - to grind my heels into the ground - because how could it?
What I was waiting for was someone to say was that death goes on. I didn't know that is what I needed to know until I read it. I did know that I was full of grief and self-blame and could not figure out where I could put it. There is a great song by Beck call Missing and one of the lines is "I can't believe these tears were mine. I'll give them to you to put away in a box." I think that's what I thought was going to allow life to go on - putting the deaths of Hope, Meret and Annalisa away in a box.
Here's the thing - the more I have tried to box everything up, the more life does not go on.
So, on this rainy October day, a week before Scott and Alia come home, I remember Hope, Meret and Annalisa . . . and not only their deaths, but their lives as well. There have been so many times throughout this process of adopting Alia when I have felt their little souls were there with us. And, for that I am grateful to them.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Scott has the papers to prove she is officially Alia Reinoehl Comparato. Touch down is only 9 days plus a few hours away - October 30th. Can . . . . not . . . . . wait!
Saturday, October 18, 2008
[Scott here - Hi Everybody!]
Well, it's been a long wait, but it has now been 15 days since we went to court to adopt Alia. We haven't heard anything, so we have to take that as a good sign that no one has come forward to challenge the adoption and that Alia is now legally our daughter!
I apologize for not posting to the blog earlier but...well, I guess I'm just not as into keeping up on the blog as much as Angela. I apologize to some of our regular readers looking for an adoption-related blog fix, but hey, I've been changing diapers and fixing formula for two weeks!
Honestly, the last two weeks taking care of Alia have been wonderful. She's a tremendous little girl. It's amazing to see the progress she's made since we first met her at the Baby Hospital. When we first picked her up, her hands were just frozen, balled up, little fists. And her muscles were so atrophied it took an effort on our part to straighten her arms and legs. And she was silent - made not a sound. She just watched - watched us with an intensity you couldn't imagine from a 6 month old baby. The depth of her stare was striking, with her dark eyes following us wherever we moved around the room, studying every feature of our faces.
But within a few days, her muscles began to loosen up more and more as we did little stretching exercises with her. We brought in toys - stacking cups and a rattle - and she started to grasp them in her hands. And she started to talk. She'd coo and giggle when we'd play with her. She'd smile at us from the crib as we entered the room every day. The progress we saw in her was remarkable.
Now that we've had her here at the cottage with us the last two weeks, those changes have continued at a rapid pace. She now grabs onto everything! Trying to talk to Angela and Luca on Skype with Alia in my lap is a distinct challenge since Alia thinks that the usb cord to the headset is a toy to be played with, pulled on, and put in her mouth. Kind of hard to talk when a baby is trying to pull the receiver out of your hand, or slobbering on it.
Overall, her motor skills are developing really well. She's a strong kid! She can roll over without any trouble, and is trying her hardest to crawl. She just can't seem to get the timing down. She'll push with one leg, but she isn't lifting her belly up, so nothing happens. She does push with her arms, so she tends to move backwards. We have also been putting her in the walker for a little while each day (someone was kind enough to leave one here in the cottage along with A LOT of toys), and she is starting to discover that she can put some weight on her legs. Not pushing herself around yet, but I don't think it will be long. She also sits up on her own, which she could not do when we brought her home from the hospital. She just couldn't balance, but she's doing very well at it now.
And her vocal abilities have...improved, to put it mildly. She is babbling, cooing, gurgling, squeaking, and laughing all the time. However, having discovered her voice, she is also learning how to use it to get our attention when she wants something from us. She is certainly not shy about letting us know what she wants and when she wants it. I fear that this may be a pattern that will continue through her teen years.
My mom has been a tremendous help with Alia. I cannot say enough about how helpful and good natured she's been about everything. I guess 'smitten' would be the best way to describe how mom feels about Alia. It's very gratifying to see how happy she is for Angela and I, and how much she enjoys Alia. I'll post more about mom specifically in the future, but I'm very glad that she agreed to come along and help.
We'll be in Kokshetau another week, and then it's off to Almaty for medical exams and paperwork. I'll try to post more frequently over that time.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
This was a common sight during the first week or so. Our last few days, she wasn't interested in naps anymore.
Snuggling with Dad - another favorite activity
Laugh caught on camera! A miracle!
One of our family pictures for court - how could the judge say no?
He said yes! Last photo in the hospital - paka!
First (and last for a while) bath - not a happy baby!I bought this outfit when we submitted our dossier. It is perfect for our little Alia . . . except she will probably grow out if it before she gets home!
Out for a walk
Paka. Next stop - HOME!
I should be grading exams, but I have given up on that for today. Don't tell my students.
We are about 1 1/2 days away from the end of the 15 day appeal period. I am not sure when the final papers are signed - maybe Monday?
I have been having a hard time with Scott and Alia being gone. When I think of them, my heart literally aches. It doesn't matter when or where I am. They pop into my head and I just long for them. I was at Kohl's yesterday and I picked up an outfit for her. I am still kind of reticent about buying stuff for her, but her arrival home is becoming more and more real to me. I just got all choked up when I was looking at all those clothes and trying to decide what would look best on her (everything!).
All the while I am really enjoying my time with Luca! He is on a big Sid the Science Kid kick. It is a new show on PBS that he LOVES. Yesterday, the big event was looking at rolly polly bugs and centipedes with a magnifying glass. This morning he told me that was the best thing he ever did. Wow!
Things are still clicking along in Kokshetau. Our first set of roommates picked up their son last week and left on Tuesday, so Scott, Alia & Jean are on their own again. The other couple's interpreter took Scott and Jean out last night. Scott said it was pretty amazing - 1 1/2 hours of mostly Kazakh musical performances for 500 tenge. Can you imagine all the costumes and musical instruments? Luba, cleaning lady and babysitter extraordinaire, took care of Alia. Apparently Alia missed them. She was still awake when they got home an hour past her bedtime.
Here come the random thoughts . . .
I lost about 15 pounds since August. I got out some pants that had gotten too small and - viola - they fit. I am calling it the jet lag diet. I was never hungry because my body was not used to eating at 1 a.m. Heck, I think I burned extra calories because my body wasn't used to being AWAKE at 1 a.m.
Dealing with jet lag was the biggest surprise to me. Noone could have prepared me for how hard it was.
I know it is the 21st century, but I am still amazed that a person can get on multiple planes and wind up on the other side of the planet in a completely different world. It still seems like magic to me.
Tuesday was Scott and my 13th wedding anniversary! What a way to spend it . . . Luca and I had Chef Boyardee pizza to celebrate on Tuesday night. Scott loves Chef Boyardee (even took one to Kazakhstan - I bet they are saving it for a special night), so it is pretty fitting. Who would have thought that we would adopt a little girl from Kazakhstan 13 years ago. Wow! We are hoping that we can do something to celebrate together before the end of the year.
Last night we Skyped with Scott and Alia. It was time for her morning bottle, so she started to squirm and fuss. We hung up with them and Luca said, "Is Alia frustrated because her mom can't take care of her? I think she is." I said I don't know, but right at that moment she was probably frustrated because she was hungry. Then he said, "I think she is happy now because we can take care of her."
I cannot wait to see Luca with his little sister!
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Just a little over 48 hours after Alia was named our daughter, I left Kokshetau to fly out of Astana early Monday morning. After 35 hours of travel, I arrived back in Carbondale Monday night. I was greeted by Luca, who was watching his favorite show Ninja Warrior, and my mom who has taken such good care of Luca both times we were gone.
Scott and his mom stayed in Kokshetau to take care of Alia and finish out the process. They are due back at the end of the month. This arrangement is not easy at all, but it is working. Why did we decide that I go home? We didn't think that we could ask Luca to go 4 more weeks without us. He has been great. He has been a trooper. My mom has taken good care of him, but it is still a lot for him to handle. His life has barely changed for the last 5 years and now we were gone for weeks, he has a new sister on the way and started kindergarten where he is learning in a completely different language. We thought he would benefit from some stability before Alia joins us at home.
I am also teaching 2 classes. It is hard to remember that sometimes :). I was so lucky to have a colleague and Graduate Assistant take over my classes during the last trip, but I felt I could not miss 4 more weeks of class (that would be half the semester!). Scott, however, is on sabbatical, so he does not have any classes this semester.
All is well at the cottage in Kokshetau. Scott, Jean and Alia are getting along well. Scott reports that she is a happy baby. She is sleeping and eating well. They went on their first walk today. He strapped her in the Baby Bjorn and they went and sat on one of the benches that lines a pedestrian walkway to the park. Apparently, she intently observed everything around her. This was the first time she spent any significant time outside.
I am not surprised that things are going well there. Scott has always been a hands-on dad. He gives Luca a bath and puts him to bed almost every night. He volunteers in his classroom at school. Scott takes him for outings and works outside with him every weekend. At school Luca was asked for an example of people working together and he responded by saying, "Washing the car with my dad." Scott has a great bond with Luca because of these things and much more. I am sure the same will be true of he and Alia. He is an excellent father and for that I am grateful.
I know you all are waiting patiently for a photo. We will post lots after the 15 day appeals period is over. We are so close and don't want to take any chances. Thanks for your patience. Believe me, I cannot wait for you to see her!
Friday, October 3, 2008
Then the judge grilled the MOE representative (social worker?) and the doctor. The prosecutor couldn't have been more disinterested in all of this. He didn't ask us one question. The doctor did not have some paper the judge wanted. Our interpreter needed to present her actual English/interpreter diploma, not a copy. After all this, the judge said get the stuff and come back at 3. There was much rushing around the courthouse to try to figure out exactly what he wanted from the doctor. We waited in the cold, cold lobby wondering what the heck was happening. There was also some hope that we would not have to come back and could go straight to the hospital to pick up Alia as planned. No such luck.
We had to go back to the cottage without Alia. It was hard and I was really worried. I went upstairs and curled up in bed. We froze our tails off at the courthouse - the heat hasn't been turned on here yet. I could not get warm. I actually managed to sleep a bit. I felt numb inside and out.
We went back at 3. Everyone provided what the judge requested. He asked us about 3 times if there was anything else we wanted to add. I thought of flinging myself on the ground and begging him to grant our petition. But, that was probably not such a good idea. There was a new prosecutor this time and he was more disinterested than the morning one. People were visibly annoyed with the judge and his probing. Everyone said they supported the adoption and then the judge said he would be back in 10 minutes. 40 minutes later he returned. Thank goodness for our interpreter and the supremely nice court secretary. I was about to jump out of my skin. Apparently, he was drafting the 4 page decision in his office. When he returned, he read the entire statement.
He named us Alia's parents at the very end. Hooray!
We were rushed off to the hospital to pick her up (in Kokshetau, parents may take custody of the child during the 15 day appeal period). Everything happened so quickly because it was so late that we barely got pictures.
It still feels unreal to me after all the flights and our literal day in court. But, she is laying in a crib upstairs snoozing away. Alia is 15 days away from officially being our daughter. And, for that I am grateful.