Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Littlejohn's are waiting for Tilek

Hello everyone! I am awaiting my weekly update from Lifesong for Orphans so I hope to post an update on donations in the next 24 hours!  Keep your fingers crossed that the fund is growing.

While we wait, I want you to meet another precious little boy from Kyrygyzstan.  Tilek lives in the same orphanage that Altynai lived in and he has an amazing family waiting for him.  

Again, my husband Eric and I had more trials in our future.  We struggled with what the doctors call “unexplained infertility” and over the course of five years we underwent 3 IUI's, 4 IVF's and 1 frozen embryo cycle with no success.  We still longed to be parents and decided that we would try to achieve having a family through adoption.  We considered both domestic and international adoption and ended up deciding to adopt internationally after a friend of ours told us of her wonderful experience adopting her son from Guatemala.  She and her husband adopted a beautiful boy and he was such a joy to her family.  I have always loved learning about other cultures and back in 1993 I was privileged to go on  a short term missions trip to India where I really got to see first hand how blessed we are in the United States.  I saw a culture that was so different than mine and learned how people are all the same on the inside, the only difference being the circumstance they were living in.  It was something that I had been taught growing up but that year I was able to experience it first hand and I loved it.

Eric and I began to look at countries that had adoption programs and we decided that we would adopt from Kazakhstan.  Shortly after our application for adoption was sent in, we learned that Kyrgyzstan had a program that was open with children from 3 months and up in need of families.  That certainly perked our interest because we wanted to adopt a child as young as possible.  We wanted to be able to experience parenting at every stage of our child's life so we switched countries and continued to work on gathering all of our documents needed for our dossier.  Our adoption process began in August of 2007.  Shortly after our dossier was completed and sent to our agency, we got a phone call on April 9, 2008 that we had been matched with a baby boy who was 3 ½ months old.  I was at work when I got  the call and I called Eric to tell him the news.  We were thrilled, scared, excited and hopeful all at the same time.  When we got home from work, pictures were waiting for us on our computer of the beautiful baby boy who would capture our hearts and soon be our son in a matter of months.  I believe seeing the picture of our son for the first time was like when a couple first sees their child through ultrasound.  Our desire was granted on that day.  There is a living person that you can see that you instantly form a bond with and you will do anything for that person.  Your life changes forever.

Shortly after we said “yes” to adopting Tilek, we learned that court dates that would determine travel dates were taking a longer time to be given.  And, in February 2009 the Kyrgyzstan government placed a moratorium on adoptions including the pending cases like ours who just needed a day in court to be completed.  We learned that we were in a group of 65 families stuck in the same situation and every one of us became fearful, because we did not know when these dear children we committed to could join our families.  There have been so many hills and valleys we have been on and now, over 3 ½ years since we saw our son's beautiful face, we still wait for him to join us.

Eric and I knew that we would keep waiting for Tilek but we also knew that we wanted more than one child.  So, in February of 2010 while I was home, due to the company I worked for being shut down because of a huge snowstorm, I began looking at the special needs children our agency was trying to place from China.  I was drawn in a way I cannot explain to a little boy who was 1 year old with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.  I couldn't wait for Eric to come home so I could show him the little video clip and pictures of this child who's eyes just drew me in.  I wanted to be his mama.  We were a little nervous about doing a concurrent adoption but God provided all our financial needs and in February of 2011 we were able to travel to China and adopt our son Logan.  He is such a joy with an infectious smile.  His personality is just so precious and everyone who meets him loves him too.  Logan looks at Tilek's pictures in our house and says his name.  I tell him that those pictures are of his brother.  There is an empty place in our hearts that will not be filled until Tilek joins our family.  We have no idea what God's plan is to bring him home to us but we have not wavered one second in our decision to adopt him.  We just received news last week that the Government of Kyrgyzstan will be having us start from scratch on our adoptions and that they will “re-match” us families with the children we were matched with over 3 ½ years ago.  So much can change and there is so much uncertainty.  We are trusting God to provide our needs daily as we miss Tilek and fear for his health, development and safety.  We will continue to trust Him to provide for our financial needs when we get the news that we can go meet Tilek and bring him home to us.  We trust that Tilek will bond to us and that we will bond to him as we've bonded with Logan.  We pray Tilek will feel like he belongs when he joins our family.  Nothing is in our control and we will continue to fight for our son, one day at a time. 

Jeremiah 29:11

New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Melissa and Eric Littlejohn

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kamila's Story

As I have learned over the last 3 years, adoption touches us all in a different way.  For some it brings out compassion beyond belief, like the family you are going to read about and for some disbelief and skepticism, like the Kyrgyz government.  The spectrum of feelings is broad which is where the conflict comes from.  No child is without value and no child should live their life without a family to cherish them, yet there are 148 million orphans in the world! No to mention the countless children in our US foster system.  If that is not a crisis, then I don't know what is. 

I hope you are moved by the Fenske's story as I have been. To say, I am in awe of Shannon and her husband, Kevin would be an understatement.  They have hearts of gold.  Now I would like to introduce Kamila.....

Kamila's 3rd Birthday!  The precious dress is from Shannon and Kevin.
Our adoption journey began in 2006, following two years of unsuccessful infertility treatments. We had reached the realization that what we truly wanted was to have a family and that perhaps the path God had intended us to take was a different one than the one we were on. We decided to pursue an international adoption from a new program in Kyrgyzstan. We applied to our agency in November 6, 2006 and received the referral of our son, Esen, on January 27, 2007. We met him April 24, 2007, and arrived home a family of three May 4, 2007. We completed our first adoption in less than six months’ time!!

While we were traveling in Kyrgyzstan and spending time at our son’s orphanage, our hearts were opened to the idea of adopting children with special needs. As it turns out, our son (who was initially referred to us as a healthy 4 month old) was indeed a one year old former preemie with significant neurologic damage, developmental delay and failure to thrive. We spent time with many of the medically fragile children at the orphanage and vowed to return as soon as we could to adopt again. Esen has thrived in our family over the last four years and has overcome many obstacles. He struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD, but is physically healthy and very well-adjusted. He is highly intelligent and excels at school. He is a very happy, healthy, normal little boy who puts a smile on the face of everyone who meets him.

In January of 2008, we began the process to once again adopt from Kyrgyzstan, this time requesting the referral of a child with special needs. On July 11, 2008, we received the referral of Kamila, a beautiful baby girl with severe bilateral complete cleft lip and palate who was found abandoned in the city of Bishkek. We accepted her referral and worked feverishly to expedite the process to bring her home. Sadly, the Kyrgyz Government placed a moratorium on International Adoption in February 2009 and we have been fighting ever since to get Kamila home. We have continued to extend support where possible and have been able to help arrange for a German craniofacial team to complete two of her corrective surgeries. We have struggled with Kamila’s adoption process over the past three years, but remain committed to her and will continue to wait until the day the Kyrgyz Government releases her to us. Until that time, we will do what we can to support her from afar.

A surprise blessing came to us in October of 2009. Shannon received a random email from a domestic facilitator regarding a baby girl that they were trying to place. We were not involved with a domestic adoption so she disregarded the email. Weighing on her heart, Shannon went back to it a few days later and read it closely. We researched the facilitator and were unimpressed with what we discovered. We still cannot explain what drove Shannon to do it, but she contacted the five child placing agencies in the state where the child was born and within a few minutes, Marissa’s social worker emailed her back. The proverbial ball was rolling. Marissa was born at 25 weeks gestation, was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator. She suffered two severe brain hemorrhages and developed subsequent hydrocephalus. Her long-term prognosis was unknown. The agency had not had a single family interested in adopting Marissa. We poured over her medical information, talked to doctors and prayed hard about her. We updated our paperwork and on October 31, 2009, flew to New Orleans, walked into the NICU of the Children’s Hospital and held our baby girl for the first time. Marissa has been an absolute inspiration and blessing to our family. We cannot imagine our lives without her. She has had a difficult road with over 25 shunt-related surgeries, 5 throat surgeries, multiple anesthetic procedures for line placements and other tests as well over the past two years; a third brain hemorrhage in February 2010, cortical blindness, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, countless hospitalizations, and partial paralysis of her left side. Despite her challenges, Marissa is a happy, beautiful, strong, little girl and an incredible gift to our family!

We have always wanted a large family. We never really had a set number of children in mind, but figured we’d have maybe four or five. When we learned of the two waiting children in Ethiopia who fit perfectly into the age range we were hoping to adopt and had special needs that we felt were manageable for us, God told us this was the right time. We know the adoption process is never easy and the financial part is always the hardest. It seems there’s never enough money and there’s never enough time to raise the funds, but somehow when you need it to be there, it is. If it’s truly meant to be and we firmly believe these children are meant to be ours, then we will be blessed.

We long for the day that all of our children will be home and our family complete.

Kevin and Shannon Fenske

To follow along on Shannon's blog you can read more at  http://www.chaoticandcomfortable.blogspot.com/

Monday, August 22, 2011

What is a video worth?

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so this video must be worth a million!  The video that you are about to see was created by one of the waiting mom's ( thanks Suzanne!).  The pictures you will see are of children that have been successfully adopted from Kyrygyzstan prior to the moratorium and pictures of those orphans that remain.  The saddest part for me is that this video is now well over a year old and still the wait continues.  Hopefully, due to the advocacy efforts of the waiting parents it will be over soon.  The Kyrgyzstan presidential elections are set for October 30th, 2011 and there is an urgent push to finalize the adoptions by that deadline. If not, then the battle will start from scratch with the new administration.  So while the families are aggressively advocating to make that happen, I will be urgently raising money for those families that need assistance with the grants and interest free loans.  Please know that no dollar amount is too small.  I think people often are afraid to donate if the gift will not be "substantial" but that is so very far from the truth.  I am hopeful that it will be the shear number or donations, not the size of any given donation that will make the impact that I am hoping for.  Very little bit counts!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Behind the scenes action

Altynai's fund was launched 5 days ago when I told many of the waiting parents about my plans (see the August 16th post). Since then I have been working behind the scenes on spreading word of the fund and the needs that truly exist AND working the overnight shift at the hospital. In retrospect, maybe a week on the day shifts would have been a better time to start this:) Historically, there have been six adoption agencies that have programs in Kyrgyzstan. Five with waiting families and one that had a very busy program prior to the closure. I have reached out to all them this week and so far everyone that I have spoken to has been very excited about the fund and very willing to help me spread the word. Over the next week, with their help we will be reaching out again to all of the waiting families and they will also be contacting those families that have successfully adopted from Kyrgyzstan in the past.

There is still a ton of work to be done though and hopefully a lot of money to be raised. I am excited that there are three families that are in the process of submitting applications and as of August 18th, $1300 had been donated! For those of you that have donated, thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! You have no idea what your generosity means to me. Please keep the prayers and donations coming and when possible, please share the news of my blog and of Altynai's fund. I have a few more night shifts to do and then I promise more exciting posts.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vladik's story

I want to thank everyone for reading about Altynai and Altynai's fund. I am so excited that several donations have come in. The PayPal link is to the right and it is working! Over the next several days/weeks, I will be sharing stories of some of the waiting families and children. You are going to be amazed at how devoted they are to their children that are so far away, especially when you consider that they have been waiting over three years to get them home!

When I was in Kyrgyzstan on our bonding trip to meet Altynai, I was privileged enough to do medical evaluations on several of the babies that had been matched with the same agency that we were using. Vladik was one of those little ones and even way back then he had those big "squeeze me" cheeks. I will never forget him because he was the happiest of all the orphans I met!  Meet Vladik.....

The Kahler's Story:

Our journey began in March 2008, unbeknownst to us, right about the time that Vladik was born.
We signed on with our agency to adopt from Kyrgyzstan where it was possible to adopt a child under one year of age. Our youngest biological child was only 16 months old at the time and we wanted to adopt a child younger than him to preserve our birth order And to save a child from having to spend their most formative years in an institution. How ironic now that we think about it.

We worked hard all spring getting our dossier finished and in August 2008 we received a referral for a beautiful 5 month old baby boy. He was gorgeous! His name was Vladik. We had a new son. We traveled to Kyrgyzstan two weeks later and held Vladik in our arms for the first time on August 30, 2008. He was even more gorgeous and captivating in person. We would have him home in two months they said.

We said good bye to Vladik and left Kyrgyzstan on September 7, 2008. The Kyrgyz Ministry of Education stopped signing approved dossiers in late September. Our dossier did not get signed. It still sits on someone's desk. Waiting.

In January 2009, missing Vladik, we returned to Kyrygzstan. We wanted to meet with anyone who would see us. We were stood up two times by the assistant to the Minister of Education but finally met with her by showing up unannounced. She pulled up our file on her computer. And told us, with excitement in her voice, that the newly appointed Minister of Education would start signing dossiers again in 10 days. We would have our son home, possibly by his first birthday. Ten days later, the Minister of Education did not sign any dossier. The Prime Minister declared a moratorium on international adoptions. Our son would not be home for his 1st birthday. Or his 2nd birthday. Or his 3rd birthday.

The first medical reports we received in Vladik's referral reported that he had congenital hip displasia. When we visited him in January 2009, he was 10.5 months old and could not sit alone. He could barely roll over and could not crawl. In the week we were there, we taught him to sit up. The latest reports we have of him (over a year old) say that he walks with a very obvious limp. Immediately you have to ask, "What precious time have we missed out on to correct these orthopedic issues? And how is this going to affect our boy for the rest of his life? How much has the last 3 years cost our son???"

We long to have him home. He now has three brothers and a sister waiting for him. Vladik's brother Ezra came home from China in October 2010. In the last 11 months we have seen the transforming effect that a family has on a child. It is a miracle to watch and be a part of. And the miracle that every single child deserves. The miracle of a family.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thank you!

I wanted to thank everyone who read my blog over the last two days and for all the words of encouragement! I know that yesterday's post was long and sad but I needed to tell our story and explain why Altynai's Legacy Adoption Fund is so important to me. In the future, I hope to share the stories of the amazing children and waiting families and hopefully the success of my fund raising adventure.

I was excited to hear from Lifesong today that we have already received some donations! THANK YOU!!! I also had several people have asked how they can donate and it is as easy as clicking on the DONATE button on the right side of this page. I will work on finding a way to make it larger and a lot more exciting looking. The DONATE link will take you directly to PayPal. The other option is to send a check to Life Song for Orphans at PO Box 40, 202 N. Ford St Gridley, IL 61744. In the memo section of the check you need to include Altynai's Legacy Adoption Fund.

That's all for tonight but check back tomorrow to learn about Asa.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Altynai's Legacy Adoption Fund

Hello all.

My blog has been silent for 17 months. My silence was because of sadness, frustration and guilt. Silence because I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening to the precious child that I had fallen in love with. Silence because I couldn’t get her home. Silence because I couldn’t make her well. Silence because of my heartbreak. Now I need to share my story and Altynai’s story. I also want to share the story of the other orphans that are currently waiting in Kyrgyzstan to have their adoptions finalized and the stories of the families that have remained committed to these children over the last three years. Lastly, I am asking for your support, in the form of prayers and if you are so led, a donation to Altynai’s Legacy Adoption Fund and I will tell you more about that later.

The following is the letter that I wrote the day that I learned that Altynai has passed away.

What happens when an orphan dies? Who comforts them in their last minutes? Who holds them when they take their last breath? Who pays respects to them after they are gone? How are you supposed to feel if you had hopes and dreams for that orphan?

We traveled to Kyrgyzstan, met and fell in love with Addison ( Altynai ) when she was 3 months old. She was tiny, quiet and absolutely precious. She had dark brown eyes and the sweetest little pink lips. We were awestruck! When we left her at the orphanage at the end of our bonding visit, we were told to expect her home within 2-3 months. Unfortunately, that was the last time that we would be with her. With in a month of leaving her, she had her first significant illness and a month after that they canceled the court date that would have finalized her adoption. Almost two years to the day of that dreadful news, we were notified that she had died and still the Kyrgyz government is not processing adoptions.

At 8 months of age, Addison finally looked like she had recovered from her illness. She was growing, alert, interactive and smiling. Oddly though, her head circumference was increasing rapidly but so was her weight and height so we assumed that her little body was making up for lost time. Unfortunately, months went by without updates and with the next set of measurements, it was obvious that she had hydrocephalus. I panicked because without emergent surgical care, the pressure on her brain would continue to rise and she would develop permanent brain injury and ultimately die. And still the Kyrgyz government was not processing adoptions.

Over the next 2 months and with the help of some amazing missionaries, we were able to get Addison her first surgery to remove the extra fluid from around her brain. She was 13 months old. Again, months went by without updates, only to learn that she had yet, another severe illness. We were told that her vision and hearing had been affected and at 16 months of age, she was now only able to lift her head. Her development had ceased and still the Kyrgyz government was not processing adoptions.

At that time, due to Addison’s worsening severe disabilities and the complex needs of our current family, my husband and I came to the gut wrenching decision that we would not be able to complete her adoption. That was not a decision that was taken lightly; in fact, it was the hardest decision of our marriage and one that still plagues me. I vowed that I would continue to advocate for her and that if her country re-opened adoptions, that I would work tirelessly to try to find an adoptive family that would be able to accommodate her special needs. Yet, months went by and still the Kyrgyz government was not processing adoptions.

When Addison was 22 months old, some prospective parents went on an advocacy trip on behalf of the sixty-five pending adoptions. Addison’s story was told at many governmental meetings. Their delays had cost her dearly. She had lost so much! They were reminded that if her adoption had been completed, as promised, that she would have had the best medical care available. Addison would not be alone; she would have a loving family that would have been forever at her side. She would have been someone’s daughter and we would have done anything for her! And still the Kyrgyz government was not processing adoptions.

Time continued to pass and her initial surgery failed and the pressure, once again, was building on her brain. The missionaries provided another surgery but within a month of returning to her orphanage, she died. August 9, 2010 was the day she breathed her last breath. She was just one day shy of being 29 months old. I have been told that she did not die alone. She was in the arms of her massage mother and has been laid to rest at a cemetery near her orphanage; the only home she ever knew. And still the Kyrgyzstan government is not processing adoptions.

I know how I feel today. I feel incredibly angry with her government, guilty that I couldn’t have done more for her and sad beyond belief. I know that she is no longer suffering and I find peace knowing that she is in our Lord’s loving arms. Sadly, her tragedy could have been avoided if her adoption had been finalized. Addison will forever have a special place in my heart and I will never be the same having walked this road with her. She suffered the ultimate loss and I pray that her story, and many others like hers will motivate governments and individuals to help the orphans of our world.

I love you Addison.

Suzanne Bilyeu, MD

It was a year ago on August 9th that Altynai died and I am marking this anniversary with the announcement of Altynai’s Legacy Adoption Fund. The fund is named in her honor but created to provide financial assistance to those families that are still waiting to bring home orphans from Kyrgyzstan. Over the years, I have continued to follow along with the amazing families that have been fighting tirelessly with our government and the Kyrgyz government to complete the adoptions that were started over three years ago. These children live in Altynai’s orphanage and other orphanages throughout Kyrgyzstan. Some have serious medical conditions and now they all have special emotional and developmental needs due the fact that they have not been raised in loving families. All of them have been deprived of the love, attention and security that only a family can provide and they ALL have the most amazing families waiting for them. Families who due to their unwavering love have never walked away, families who have planned birthday parties from afar and families who have done everything in their power to motivate the authorities to do the right thing and give these children loving homes. Although, I can no longer fight for Altynai my desire to help her fellow orphans has not diminished. In April, when President Otunbayeva lifted the moratorium, and several families indicated concerns that they would not have the funds to complete their adoption, my heart ached. The thought that even one of them would not be able to complete their adoptions due to financial constraints was simply unacceptable to me. That is were my fund raising dreams started. My wish was two fold. First, I needed to establish a way that friends and families of a specific waiting child could make tax deductible, targeted donations. Second, I wanted to start a general fund where money could be raised and then distributed to those families with the most financial need.

So after much research, prayer and a serendipitous phone call, I have partnered with Lifesong for Orphans and Altynai’s Legacy Adoption Fund was created. Although they typically set up and manage adoption funds for churches, they were so moved by my request and the perseverance of the waiting families that they agreed to help me create a private fund to help bring these little ones home. 100% of the money that is raised for Altynai’s fund will be distributed in the form of matching grants or interest free loans to those waiting families who qualify. Any money that goes unused, because of either excess funds or because the worst happens, and these children’s adoption are never completed, will go to fund other adoptions via Lifesong. My family and I have been blessed a son, Drew, through a successful domestic adoption so adoptions of any type are near and dear to my heart.

All donations received will be tax deductible and can be designated to go to a specific waiting family/orphan (once their applications are submitted to Lifesong) or to Altynai’s general fund. Donations to the general fund will be given out in the form of interest free loans or matching grants, depending on the waiting family’s need. Donations can be sent directly to Lifesong for Orphans (www.Lifesongfororphans.org ) or through the PayPal link on this blog. If you use PayPal please know that there will be a 2-3% convenience fee assessed. If you have any specific questions for me I can be reached via email at scbilyeu@gmail.com.

In closing, my life has forever been changed by my own adoption journey. One journey filled with shear heartbreak and one filled with shear joy. I truly believe that I have been placed on this path for a specific reason and that God still needs me to be involved with the families and orphans that I have come to love. I have always known that Altynai’s short life would touch many people’s hearts and now I hope that her lasting legacy will be to help other children have the loving, caring forever family that she was denied. Whether it is the Kyrgyz children we have been waiting for years to come home or children who will blessed with a forever family through adoption in the future, I find tremendous joy in knowing that there will be children thriving in families that they would not have had otherwise.

Lastly, please pray for the health of these children, pray for the government officials that need the courage to do the right thing and pray that the waiting parents may find peace and perseverance during the remaining battle. Lastly please help me share Altynai’s story, the stories of the waiting families and the goal of Altynai’s Legacy Adoption Fund.

Over the next several posts, I hope to share the stories of some of the waiting families and will update everyone on how the fund raising is going. Hopefully, in the near future I will also have the website that I have been working on completed.

God Bless,