Monday, September 30, 2013

Friends and Families

I have been looking forward to writing this post, because it regards an inspiring story belonging to friends, and is also very relevant to my own story.

Introduction

When I was a child, our family attended (and sometimes hosted) reunions of a few housechurches that my parents had been involved in, mostly before I was born. When you are a child, you are often missing a lot of information. And I didn't really know why we were gathering, how these people had met, and what their individual stories were.

Several of the families had adopted at least one child. Here, again, I didn't fully understand certain issues: adoption, abortion, orphanages, foster care, fertility/infertility, etc.

I remember noticing different colors of skin, different eye structures, as well as some physical limitations. Do we need to mention these things out loud? Grown-ups don't always talk about them in plain language. Of one boy, I finally asked what was "wrong" with him. It turned out he had Asperger's.

Meanwhile, one particular family consisted of Hector and Sue Badeau and their children, and they lived in another state, but we saw them once a year or so. They had a lot of kids! They all looked pretty different, so they were probably adopted, but where did they all come from? How did they all live together? I think when you see a family that big and don't know them personally, it just seems like a crowd. Like that family on TV, the Duggars. How do they keep them all straight?

Well, Sue and Hector answer that question in their book that came out recently. The full title is: "Are We There Yet? The Ultimate Road Trip: Adopting and Raising 22 Kids!" Sue had shared some of it with me back when I was trying to help match some Russian kids up with local families here. But the book gives even more backstory, including from the housechurch days that involved my parents and some other friends from growing up.

I was fascinated to read the stories of each individual child, including all the family dynamics.

Here are a few thoughts that stood out to me. I hope the authors will forgive me for not using page number for now as I'm using Cloud Reader!

1) Adoption always starts with a tragedy. This is what I was thinking about when I read the part where another adoptive mom tells Sue, "Never forget, Sue, your joy as a mom to Jose is built on the ashes of another mother's grief." I remember going to a Russian summer camp with a missions team, and the director telling us, "The orphanage groups have several new kids. If they're new to the orphanage, that means they have some fresh trauma." It's something that is a part of someone's past that we can forget because we're so eager to help them start new lives.

2) God's calling. While praying about adoption decisions, Sue and Hector felt led to focus on children who were "most in need of a home and least likely to get one." I find in my own life that the paradox of God's will is that it feels extraordinary and natural at the same time. I think it's incredible that I ended up in Russia, but at the same time it feels just right. When I think of the 20+ children that Sue and Hector have raised, it is difficult to even fathom, and yet when I read their story, I realize that they are just "ordinary" people who wanted to obey God. Am I His vessel too, ready to be used?

3) Siblings! One of the more specific areas of advocacy that touched me was Sue and Hector's insistence on keeping siblings together. I forget exactly how many sibling groups they adopted, but it often took special efforts. I will never forget the story of Adam, a terminally ill child, and his brother Aaron, who was initially kept in a different family. Apparently, Adam was deemed "too disabled" to even know he had a brother.

"Adam almost never smiles. He’s not generally a pleasant child. He doesn’t snuggle or even like to be hugged. He frequently flinches when someone approaches him to wash him up, change him, feed him, or even give him a hug. His body is often stiff, and his movements are sharp and flailing. He makes some sounds, but unlike Wayne and Dylan, who delight us with their peals of laughter and funny noises, Adam’s verbal utterances tend to be cries or moans more often than contented sounds..."

And then, the reunion of the brothers...

"As soon as the bus attendant lowers the lift and Adam’s wheelchair hits the pavement, Aaron runs up to him and gives him a big hug. “Tubby!” Aaron says gleefully. And then the most wonderful thing happens—Adam’s face lights up into the biggest smile we’ve ever seen."

This sibling issue is something I would love to see fought for in Russia, too. Siblings are often split up among orphanages here. I know part of it has to do with them needing to attend certain schools, but it's sad that they can't have unlimited access to their only family members. I even have mixed feelings about this when the siblings are in the same orphanage, yet on different floors, for example. 

I still haven't quite figured out how this whole advocacy thing works in Russia. I feel like American society is more rewarding towards people who are gung-ho enough about their cause to break down every door until they see results. Resilience is a necessary trait in Russia, too. But there is a different set of etiquette, a different social hierarchy, and a different way to challenge unsatisfactory decisions. Most of it is still over my head. 

So for now I have to trust the Holy Spirit, our Advocate on high.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Adoption Again

Feeling iffy about posting this, but I guess I'll go for it!

I had wondered what my views on adoption would be like after becoming a mother. What do I think of it now, having stepped back a bit, and yet, having gained insight into the parent-child relationship?

I've realized now that part of the answer lies in this post, where I talk about people rejoicing over each other's engagement and baby news. The thing is that everyone knows that marriage and parenting are challenging, yet they STILL are genuinely thrilled for other people to enter the journey. Some have hands-on knowledge and others are still waiting for their turn to come, but not lacking in insight.

So many people can vouch for the joys of marriage and raising a child (or two). If they don't share about the rough patches, it's not that they're being dishonest or insincere. It's just that the trials are worth it, a part of God's design.

There is something of a loss of innocence that comes about once you've come over to this side. Having a "soul-mate." Being responsible for a little person's life. I'm not sure if I can put it into words, but there's no going back to your former state. You become vulnerable in new ways. Your heart is divided in a certain sense. There is pain in loving deeply.

And that's how I feel about adoption. I've seen some of its darker sides. I've felt the sting of disappointment in dealing with the policy/bureaucracy side as well as the relational side. I've seen adopted children and their families struggle to start their new life together. I have siblings who are adopted. I cannot paint a pristine picture. And yet, I weep for those left behind.

So why would I weep for those left behind, if adoption brings such turmoil? It's because I still think children (of all ages) need a permanent home. It's because I still believe that adoption in a relational and legal sense is the best option for orphans and the one that fits into God's design. When we say our marriage vows, we know we will have conflicts with our spouse in the future. We can prepare all we want, but no one can tell us exactly how it's going to be. No one has seen this exact combination of personalities put together, and no one can read the hearts of all involved except for the Lord.

I am an adoption advocate. Whenever I meet an orphan, I desire with all my heart for that child to find a family. However, I cannot recommend adoption to just anyone. I cannot recommend it enough, but at the same time I cannot recommend it without certain caveats. I'm not sure if I expressed this the way I intended, but in the next week or two I'll be sharing some more specific examples.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back to normal life again

This most recent bout with bureaucracy wasn't as frenzied. However, we did have a few snafus which almost created a last-minute mad dash. But not quite.

What happened was that we were running around to different places and got the schedules wrong on at 3 occasions. And by "we" I mean mostly "me."

RECAP

First, to District A to get Stamp #1: Approval. In order to claim this elusive reward, it's necessary to get in line on a Tuesday to get on the list for Thursday. Unfortunately, we I had the Tuesday hours wrong (I found the information as I was heading out the door, too late). Which meant we didn't get on the list for Thursday, which meant waiting until the next week. Which brought us one week closer to my previous registration running out, but I still had 2-3 weeks left, which is GOBS of time compared to other times when I've been a day or two shy of being deported.

Attempt #2, a week later, was successful. The Tuesday part, at least. But while she was signing me up for Thursday, she gave me a packet of documents. WHAT? Had I known, I could have been working on them last week, for goodness' sake.

Now, here was the catch: My 3-yr registration in my friends' flat was expiring. Andrei and I own our flat, but have been told that our "district" is the worst in the city/region as far as number of people and lines at the Immigration Office. Switching districts could mean waiting in line for hours at TWO different offices. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Know what I'm saying? I'd been down that road before with my last name.

Since registration must be completed within a week, I had 2 days (until Thursday) + 7 days to figure out what I was doing and how.


ONE QUESTION ANSWERED

When I hinted to my friends about renewing my registration, they said it probably wouldn't be possible since there had been 2 babies born (to different siblings) in the past 3 years, also registered in the flat and bringing the number of people per living space up above the quota.

So it looked like I would need to be registered in our flat, or at Andrei's parents'. Since they're in our district, it would be the same packet of documents either way.

I began to feel that it was God's provision that I was "forced" to register in our district, though there were still several hurdles in our way...


THOSE FORMIDABLE FORMS!

One ubiquitous form here is "Form 9." It can be obtained at the housing office, but there are SO MANY of these various offices around the city, called by identical long names differing only by number. I looked up the information and it looked like the office was only open Thursdays and Mondays (for 2 hours each), and Thursday was already booked because of our visit to Immigration. If I got the form on Monday, then I'd only have 2 business days left (the subsequent Tuesday and Thursday) to hand everything in.

That was as far as I got with my research...


DISTRICT 1 AGAIN

We decided to attack the problem from all sides, and on Thursday we got in not one line but TWO. The first line was actually only hypothetical since they were going to call us by name. And the second line was for the registration officer so we could ask her all about the process. Andrei got me on the list in the morning, then went to work. I got up with David, then Nina came to stay with him while I went to resume my place in line. For the first two hours the other line-holders and I kept watch while people slowly went in and out of the little room visiting the registration officer. Then the other inspector started calling people. So I might be called by both at once! Thankfully I was able to have my turn with the registration officer and ask her my questions before the other inspector called me to get my stamp.

After getting my stamp, the inspector reminded me to register within 7 days. "And if you're having trouble getting everything together, you can always just register temporarily," she said rather off-handedly. Say WHAT?


TWO PATHS

"Temporary registration" is what David and other visa-holders have. It seemed silly to have permanent residency without the registration to match. On the other hand, Vladimir had registered David successfully several times in our district, without waiting in line for TOO long. So evidently it was possible, and I wouldn't be left without registration.

On the other hand, if I was going to do the long-term registration at SOME point, wouldn't it make more sense to get the nervous-wreck part over as soon as possible?

So I continued to work on the forms.


RECONNOITERING

On Friday, David and I went to check out the housing office to confirm the hours and see where it was. The sign did indeed say only Thursdays and Mondays. When Andrei called on his way home from work, I told him about the trip and our notes seem to match up what he described from getting the form last year.

Later, we managed to intercept his parents who were also planning on heading our way to check out the housing office. The plan was in place for Monday to go get the form. Andrei only had a 2-3 hour break between his morning and evening classes in the event that I needed him (as the second property owner). But it looked like it was going to work out. We had the temporary registration option as a back-up.


FORM 9

Nina came over on Monday and we went over to the housing office together, though she and David stayed outside to avoid the multiple flights of stairs. I was there a little early, but I asked a woman in the hallway if I had the right day. "Wrong building," she told me. It turns out I'd been wrong all along! But the right building was next door.

In the right building, it was the typical Russian "live line" which means you have to discuss with everyone who is last and each subsequent person also confirms who is last as he enters the room so he knows whom to keep track of.

So there were tons of people, but it all moved pretty quickly and getting the form took about 30 seconds, whew. I had told Andrei to head over, but then called and told him to go home for lunch instead.


YOUNG EMPLOYEES

Next stop: the bank, to pay the government fee. In the past they used to know what I was talking about and give me the proper form or just use the code on their computer and print it out on the receipt.

Well, this was a new low.

"I'm here to pay the registration fee for Immigration."

"What's the code?"

I was completely stunned by the fact that countless people come in to pay this fee and the bank didn't have the information to make the transaction. She told me to go home and look it up on their site. I didn't understand why she couldn't actually use the fancy-looking computer on her desk to look up the site. Then I asked..."So, you don't have it in the database?"

"Oh, we have it in the database." Huh???

She told me to go over and get the "consultant" to help me make an electronic transaction. I still wasn't understanding why this paid employee couldn't look something up for me.

The consultant "helped" me navigate a stubborn touchscreen menu at the electronic terminal. It took a lot of guesswork to try to find the option I wanted, and even as it printed, I wasn't sure it was exactly what I needed. But since it was electronic, there was no way to override the system and write the receipt the correct way. Grumble...


REVELATION

Monday, 11 pm or so. We're all set to get on the list Tuesday morning and then they take people from 2-8 pm. I'm still filling out forms and have discovered that my copier is running out of ink, so we'll have to stop by somewhere tomorrow.

I decide to double-check the schedule.

"They're open Tuesday MORNING, not afternoon!" How could I have mixed that up? Well, seeing as how they work in the morning 2 days a week and in the afternoon 2 days, it's easy to get confused, but....arrgh!

My forms aren't even filled out. We'll have no time to stop at a copy center. Andrei was at work all day and is falling asleep at his computer. But he takes my documents and scans them for his parents to print out and bring to me.

At first glance, I had wondered why my first time filling out the forms 3 years ago had resulted in staying up until 4 a.m. But now it is becoming clearer.

This time, I finish them by 3...


REGISTRATION DAY

Andrei and I are up at 7 to leave by 8 to get there by 9 for opening. I'm stressing that there will be a huge line by the time we get there. I'm also shaky from lack of sleep and feel too yucky to eat breakfast.

There are 2-3 lists already going, and we put my name on two of them. It turns out that all the different processes are divided differently than in the other district. That only makes it more confusing!

At first, we're fourth in one line, which seems too good to be true. Sure enough, it turns out this is the line for temporary registration. So if we'd chosen that option, we would have been done in a matter of minutes. It's good to know for the future. Long-term registration is a different window at a different time, for two hours before lunch and one hour after. Not too long considering people might have piles of documents. It was all one line in the other district office.

The line is moving steadily enough. The first hour goes by and now we have one hour until the break. It would be so nice to be out of here by then. That's probably what everyone in line is thinking. I pace and check my forms over and over again. I shuffle the papers, putting them in order. I check the list. I notice one photocopy missing. Andrei runs to go make a copy. Whew.

The suspense is prolonged as a few people step in right as my turn comes up. They need a blank form, they need to ask a question, etc.

I make it up to the window and she starts checking everything, not seeming bothered by my transferring from another district. She seems pleasant enough. I don't know these inspectors yet. She asks where my "photos" are and I respond they I don't have any; they weren't on my checklist. She shrugs and moves on. Piece of cake.

I'm told to come back September 30th for the Final Stamp. I'm almost there.

It is SUCH a relief to have taken this step. And it feels right to have transferred to our district. I think people were wrong that our district is "the worst," though I'm glad to have handed in my initial application elsewhere. A great load has been lifted off our shoulders. Thanks be to God!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

This and That


My residency booklet

"No press, please!"

It's fall. Bet you can guess what this post is about!

I went in to claim my permanent residency this week, and boy was it anticlimactic. I am feeling sort of too lazy to give a play-by-play (maybe I will later), but one of the more frustrating parts was when I was signing up to come in and collect my actual permit, and then the inspector handed me a packet of documents to be filled out for me to get registered (within a week). Say WHAT? If I'd known, I could have gotten a head-start. WHERE IS THE PRACTICALITY?

I guess I just thought I could keep my registration from my temporary residency. Of course I do realize I was registered for 3 years and the 3 years are coming to a close. But redoing it all just seems so symbolic and pointless that I have trouble working it out logically in my mind.

To put it in perspective a bit, I guess it's sort of like being required to have a permanent mailing address. It's called your place of residence, but it's sort of implied that you probably don't actually live there. Now, imagine you moved and didn't inform somebody or other of your new address, and then you got in big trouble. Or imagine you didn't have time to do it right then and put it off for a month or two. Not going to cut it here in Russia-foreigners have to be registered within 7 days. But since the address doesn't necessarily have to be a building you ever set foot in...I don't know, it just seems silly.

So I've been stressing somewhat about the usual combo of filling out incredibly annoying forms with too little space for the amount of text, and standing in lines miles long where fights are known to break out. I don't have to do it myself, though. Andrei usually helps, while Nina is with David and Vladimir does some research into the problem.

I'm plugging away at those forms (read: whining about them without really making any progress), and clinging to a sense of calm from the Lord's goodness. The last time I did this was SO anxiety-producing and detrimental to my physical and emotional and mental health. I even have trouble going back and reading about it, 3 years later.

In lieu of attending a church picnic, we stayed home today to unwind a bit. David slept until almost 10 a.m. and that was quite a gift.

I can't wait to have this next step over with. There are so many other things I want to focus on. I'm even starting to think about Christmas!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Journey with Diastasis Recti

Introduction: After spending a lot of time thoughtfully typing out this post, I peeked back at an older post, only to find that I'd already written almost the exact same description, ha ha! In lieu of deleting most of the following story, I think I'll leave it as is. I want this particular experience to have its own tribute. So there you have it. Sorry to my more observant readers for the repetition! ;)

Post-partum Bellies

I was "all baby" when I was pregnant. And I figured it would just melt right off. Well, I think it would have if it weren't for a problem which I hadn't foreseen.

It can be hard to gain explicit information on the post-partum body. To be fair, there is so much variation that it's difficult to pin down a common path of healing. However, there are plenty of conditions that are more common than we're led to think. And why are we not told, or at least checked for them? We need more information than to look for a fever, excessive bleeding, or to just "give it time."

The thing is, that "common" isn't the same thing as "normal." What about looking for remedies, rather than just accepting certain aches and pains as your fate? It seems that a lot of post-partum issues are presented as inevitable or just common battle wounds that go with the territory; "accept your new body and move on." I am thankful that I live in an age where I can ask questions and get information on the Internet without needing to be embarrassed.


Diagnosis

Several months after David was born, I started Googling things like "baby bump not pregnant" and "stomach sticks out post-partum." Of course a lot of the initial results talked about "Mommy Tummy," and having a "pooch" that you try to eliminate by doing intensive workouts and LOTS of crunches. In other words, Welcome to the Club.

Not that I was eager to take up fitness in the first place, but even with the added incentive of wanting to look my best, something just told me my body was broken. And when that's the case, you don't want to work it harder. I didn't want to abuse my poor body until I knew what was going on.

At the moment, it's hard to find those original search results thanks to Royal Baby publicity. ;) But I eventually found a condition that perfectly matched what was going on: a separation of the abdominal muscles, as opposed to just extra flab. It's called diastasis recti.

I did go to a doctor to have this diagnosis confirmed. Guess how the doctor did it? She had me lie on my back and lift my head up a little. BINGO! Funny alien ridge in tummy.

That was 13 months post-partum.


Prognosis

"It will never close without an operation." Sounds harsh, right? But if we back up a few months, I'd had plenty of time to investigate on my own while I was waiting for my appointment. In fact, what the doctor said may as well have been scripted-I'd heard that medical professionals will mostly recommend the surgery and nothing else.

In her assessment, there was nothing that could be done. The flipside to that is the intense ab workouts you see advertised, guaranteeing a flat stomach. I really wasn't into that, and once I'd read up on diastasis recti, I realized that those could make the problem worse.

But I wanted to get better, and I was encouraged when I stumbled upon a handful of resources that offered healing via gentle exercise, as well as testimonials of women who had seen improvement even YEARS after having babies.

Fit2B Studios is where I first ran across the idea of "tummy-safe" exercises. You pay a membership fee to access the workouts, but there is lots of information on there too. I'm able to memorize the basics of the workouts, to use throughout the day whenever I get a chance. And even when I don't necessarily use the videos a lot, I don't regret supporting this cause.

Other than specific exercise routines, I found a community of other diastasis recti sufferers, both on Fit2B and on other women's blogs. It's one of those things where the problem is common enough that a LOT of people have it (though may not know it), but not common enough that your closest friends and family would be aware. This has happened to me with a lot of women's issues, actually. What's a bicornuate uterus? What's an umbilical cord cyst? What's granulation tissue? What is diastasis recti? Again, I'm thankful to be able to check this out in a larger community via the Internet.

After my official diagnosis, I also paid a visit to a physical therapist. I told her that I was concerned with closing my diastasis and working on my core strength. She did an assessment and confirmed that my hips are really weak (chronic). While she didn't talk much about my abdomen, she did make sure that any of the moves she showed me were "tummy-safe." In fact, she was impressed with how I had already learned how to safely get up from a lying-down position. That's thanks to the diastasis recti material I'd read online. So she didn't solve my problem, but she helped me work on other underlying issues, and hopefully that will contribute to a healthier me (if I can remember to do the exercises!).

So, my treatment plan went/is going like this:

-Internet research
-Diagnosis by a medical professional
-Support from an online community
-Assessment by a physical therapist
-Exercises appropriate for the situation

And of course, those of my real-life friends and family who know about this have offered prayers and supported me in looking for help.

This post is getting too long, but I just wanted to say that I've become interested in raising awareness of diastasis recti. So if you are anyone you know seems to be suffering from this condition, I'd be happy to recommend some resources. :) And of course I'm interested in any ideas you'd have to share, as well!