Posts filed under ‘Kiev’
Our kids are growing up differently than expected.
In Ukraine I resigned myself to the fact that they loved to eat fish and at some point in life their Russian would be better than mine. It became less important that their childhoods didn’t look like mine. They thrived while living in Ukraine.
Then we had Polly and moved back to the States and now they are into High School Musical 3 and Dancing with the Stars. They ask for frozen pizza for dinner. I resign myself to the fact that their childhood doesn’t look like mine even in Chicago.
Last night Elaina found a photo album of our last six weeks in Ukraine before we moved back to the States. We took turns staring at photos of family and friends. We tenderly touched the pictures; faces, hair, hands. And I started to resign myself to the fact that, for now, their childhood experience would not include Ukraine.
It made me sad.
But the girls are growing up, in spite of where we live. Their experiences living different places; Michigan, Kiev, Chicago have only enhanced them as individuals. They are little girls with big life experience.
Having a sister with Down syndrome has caused them to grow up as well. They learned quickly that life doesn’ always go as planned. They learned that people are different but just as important. In fact, they are crazy about the idea of adding another member to our family who happens to have Down syndrome.
They are growing up well, thanks be to God. They are growing out in their understanding of faith and helping others.
That makes me happy.
Having Polly home, dressing her up, giving sponge baths, willing her to eat her three ounces of formula before tiring; it all helped. It made the connection real. She was my daughter.
The first day home from the hospital my mom, Sergei and I took turns feeding Polina. She fed so slow that by the time she was finally done it was time to start again. It was similar to nursing a baby; waiting for the milk to come in although my milk had dried up before I even got to hold her.
When it was bedtime Sergei pulled out our green sleeper couch and made it up. My mother would have been no use to us without sleep so she stayed in our bedroom were she initially was installed.
Polly was nestled in a carry size bassinet on top of the living room/dinning room table up against the wall. She sleeped soundly while we watched reruns of Mad About You my mom brought from the States. Sergei would laught so heartily, I remember it made me angry. How could he laugh effortlessly, totally engrossed in a half-hour sitcom when our lives were changing as quickly as the wind. I lie there in the night, exhausted, unable to sleep, listening for Polina’s breaths…and then it was morning and I frantically jumped up and checked the baby, realizing I had not fed her at all in the night.
My sleepy husband patted my shoulder, went to the kitchen for a bottle and handed it and the baby to me. He had been up with her most of the night and did not want to wake me.
Thus started our life after the birth of our daughter Polina. The next few weeks found us packing up boxes of things to store at a friend’s house. Our church in Michigan was preparing a place for us to stay. Airline tickets were purchased. We put a for sale sign on the car and met with the owner of the apartment to break our lease. Sergei forfeited his position as pastor and friends and family came by throughout it all to hold the baby and spend time with us.
We left for America three weeks later. I was sad to go but ready to touch down on American soil. Our closest Ukrainian friends stayed at our apartment late into the night the day before we left. They did not want to say goodbye and although we still had last minute packing to do, we sat with them and talked and prayed till the morning hours.
We left Ukraine unsure of the future; unsure of Polly’s needs or how to meet them, but a family of five nonetheless.
For the next year in Michigan my mood flipped and flopped from grief to thankfulness to joy to fear to grief again. I remember when I first started talking to other parents of kids with Down syndrome. One mother told me to let the baby change me. And slowly, through Polly’s first year, she did.
I grieved the loss of the child I expected, that’s true. But I have been blessed with so much more than I could ever imagine.
Tomorrow is the last day of Down syndrome Awareness month. I wanted to end these posts with a nice bow but I didn’t get as far as I thought I would.
Check back tomorrow. I have a new story to share.
This picture is the group of family and friends who came to the hospital the day Polina and I left the hospital. She was three weeks old. We were told that the hospital had a tradition of a champagne toast when a family leaves and in the same breath were also informed that they were not planning a reception for us because our daughter had Down syndrome.
Even in the midst of my inner struggle I was appalled at this kind of discrimination. Sergei and I called everyone we knew. People came with flowers and balloons, presents, smiles and happiness. Americans, Ukrainians, young and old. Someone said it was the largest group they’ve ever had for a goodbye.
We toasted Polly’s little life and Sergei prayed and thanked God for our new daughter and asked that she would fulfill the purpose he had for her. I squeezed the baby close and tried to pray too with every fiber of my being. The tears that fell from my eyes had a hint of joy.
After the hugs and well wishes we all piled in to the car to go home to our apartment; me, Polly, Sergei, my mom, Elaina and Zoya.
The city looked different to me.
We were in the hospital a total of twenty days. The last week Polly was well enough to be out of her incubator. During the day she stayed in my room with me and we sat on the high hospital bed and I tried to get her to drink two ounces of formula out of a bottle. It would take forty-five minutes. She tired easily and her suck was weak.
Polly was so small, so bird-like. I willed her to drink formula, whispering softly in her ear. Having her in my arms helped my depression, although I was still scared about the future, hers and my own.
Sergei brought Elaina and Zoya over occasionally to visit us. I’d laugh when they walked into the room, their hair all done up, Zoya wearing Elaina’s shirt, two sizes too big, Elaina squeezed into a pair of Zoya’s pajama paints. My mom did the best she could in a foreign country, hours on end with two rambunctious girls ready to play, too afraid to leave the apartment. She ate a lot of M&Ms for six weeks.
The girls decorated Polly with kisses and affection. I watched them love her effortlessly and wished I could follow their lead.
I was ready to leave the hospital but fearful too. Polly still wasn’t eating well and I knew once I left my little tan room life was going to get crazy.
We decided to move back to America. I could hardly believe it. Suddenly, all the things that I struggled with in Ukraine and about Ukraine were endearing. It was mine. Something getting taken away from me.
When I thought about leaving all that we had worked for, all that God had done in and through us in the last three and a half years I was sick to my stomach. And in the next breath I was sure that we were doing the right thing. The best place for Polly to thrive, to receive therapy and medical attention was in the States. It was the right decision for our family.
Sergei was already scrambling around, passing on the baton at church to a gregarious man who was ready for the call. He met with the land lady to sever our lease.
The plan was to leave the hospital with our new daughter that week. And it seemed the whole hospital was unsure about what to do. Nobody knew how to send us off.
The news sank in and I scraped myself off the floor and tried to pay more attention to my daughter. It was strange to be in the hospital still. I was well enough to leave but allowed to stay there with her.
I had no outlet. I am a gatherer and I wasn’t able to look for any information about Down syndrome. Our lives were on pause. The hospital had nothing to offer. I hear about women in the States who deliver babies with Ds. Some say they had to actually call some organizations like NADS and ask them to please stop calling.
And Polly was gaining strength. She was breathing more on her own, her blood platletts were better and after almost two weeks of life I was finally able to hold her. She was long and thin like Elaina when she was born. Crying before I took her she quieted down in my arms. I was amazed that this little person made so much commotion.
The nurses showed me how to give Polly a bath with cotton balls and oil, starting at her ears all the way down to the bottoms of her feet. She didn’t like being naked and thrashed her head from side to side, her little cry attempting to fill the space around her.
A sweet American woman, a grandmother to two children in the States with Down syndrome came to visit me one day in the hospital, armed with stories and photos. I looked in amazement at a family who seemed happy and content, even thankful for their family. The mother of the children wrote me an email and as I read her words, one mother to another, about God’s view of perfection and what she has learned from her kids, I cried. But the tears were a bit different then before.
I received other emails. Sergei brought print outs with him when he visited. So many people I didn’t even really know took time to write to our family.
And everyone basically said the same thing.
“Everything will be alright.”
So I have missed two days out of the 31 for 21 challenge. It makes me sad but what are you going to do with stomach flu? And I just figured out that if I post at night it’s already the next day at WordPress. Oh well. Now I’ve confessed and I am moving forward.
I wanted to go back to the way things were.
In the apartment a picture of my oldest daughter sat on our coffee table, a gray cold stare, no smile, no semblance of America. She was beautiful yet so different then how I was at that time in my life. She was Ukrainian. Old yellow photos of my childhood, year after year of a girl with brown hair and a wide, mischievous grin were stuffed away in my parent’s hutch. I was American.
I sat through a ‘welcome to school’ meeting for Elaina’s preschool in Ukrainian grasping at words that sounded like Russian, trying to act like I was taking notes like all the other dutiful, sullen mothers in the auditorium. Zoya no longer complained about adorning tights and pants and a thick black snow suit just to step out the door for half of the year. The girls were growing and thriving by eating fish and beets, salads and potatoes. I finally found a few clothing stores I liked for me and the kids. I actually enjoyed going to my Russian class.
Almost every week someone new showed up at our house church on the second floor of an apartment complex in the Pechersk region of Kiev. I loved Sundays, people stuffed into our living room, the enclosed balcony opened up for one or two more to fit in. There was singing and laughing and food and growth as I sat in the corner of our living room and tried to follow Sergei’s quick mouthed Russian sermons. Mounds of open faced sandwiches were tirelessly prepared after church; mayonnaise and sausage, butter and fish on slices of thick bread with a twig of fresh parsley on top. Toddlers who didn’t make it to the bathroom in time fumbled around the apartment in my kids’ pants.
To say that I was not prepared for Polly’s diagnosis is putting it lightly.
The first few days after we knew the test results were positive, I was dehydrated and shattered and shocked. It was not really a shock but more like continual zaps.
Each day was like a labor contraction. I fell asleep thinking that I absolutely could not bear the next day. But the next day came, like all labor contractions do. Many moms have said, and I agree, that the anticipation of a contraction during labor is almost worse than the actual contraction. That is why the rests in between are unbearable.
The only thing I could say over and over after Polly’s diagnosis was, “I don’t want this.” I could not say that I did not want her. Well, not out loud anyway. I was a missionary for heavens sake. But I didn’t want her. I had horrible thoughts. Thoughts that a mother assumes she is unable to have. “Maybe she won’t wake up today. Maybe I will get my life back.” I’m a Christian. I am not supposed to believe in luck. I felt like the most unlucky woman in the world.
A time in life that is supposed to be a hallmark of great happiness, lay deflated in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t paralyzed with grief, I was deadened. I was living in a different, fuzzy world. I tried to put on a brave face like a layer of make-up every time I left my room.
It was difficult to sit in the nursery with Polina, unable to hold her, unable to care for her physical needs, not wanting to care for her emotionally. Sometimes I was able to get outside of myself and then I was ashamed of what I saw. As believers we are told to be good testimonies to others. The hope is that others will get to know Jesus by watching us. What a horrible knock-off. I tried to muster up the strength to pretend that I was handling it all well. Mostly I rolled with the disconnect I felt towards my child and towards my life and towards my faith. I would sit quietly by my daughter in the nursery for a while and then race back to my room and cry until I fell asleep.
Remember when we were little, how sometimes an elementary school day felt like it lasted a lifetime? You would find yourself looking at the clock, thinking, ‘surely it’s time to go home now,’ only to find that it wasn’t even lunch time yet? I imagined that my life would now be a really long day in school.
Sergei came to the hospital early every morning, a black thin-lined Bible tucked underneath his arm. He took turns sitting with me and the baby all day long. We cried, we prayed, we talked about the “what ifs” of our future. We wondered about how to live now. Most days ended in a good place having successfully broken through the chaos of our emotions, grabbing on to whatever comfort we found in God and in one another. Then he would leave my little hospital room around nine at night, unto his next duty of taking care of the kids and my mom at home and I would sit on my bed, underneath the large fluorescent wall light, on top of the crisp white sheets, completely lost again.
My middle daughter cannot sleep without her favorite pillow. I could not breathe that week without my husband. The next day he would find me lumpy and sad, and we would start again our attempts at healing for the day.