Posts filed under ‘Prayer’
Elaina and Zoya both have new haircuts.
Sergei and I try to spend one on one time with each kid here and there. My focus has been mainly on the adoption these past four months. My kids understand generally and we are all in this together to get Evie home but it still is important for them to get our full attention, at least once in a while.
So we do dates. Me and Elaina at Panera Bread. Serg and Zo at Dunkin Donuts, Me and Zo at a cafe, Serg and Elaina at Starbucks. And we spring it on them. “Guess what? Tonight mom is taking Zoya on a date!” And away we go. We also go on family walks after dinner, read together, eat dinner together as a family almost every night. Most recently each girl had a turn to go with me to get a haircut.
When I’m with one of the girls I try to see how she is doing in general. We talk about school and the adoption, about what they want to be when they grow up (and I might add, these conversations are very entertaining); about shoes or books or music.
There have been a few comments made, either to me or indirectly, about peoples’ concern for our kids regarding the adoption. Some people think that adding another child with disabilities to our family is unfair to the children we already have.
These comments hurt.
But then I have to step back from that hurt and hear what is being said and actually think about it, for all of our sakes.
It would be dishonest to say that Polly’s needs and schedule do not take up a lot of time. It would also be dishonest to act like there is no fear about bringing Evie into our family.
I have felt guilty this year because I’ve only been in Lainie and Zo’s classrooms once each, I never think to set up play-dates, I have no idea who is the room mother for each class.
I think about how it will affect Elaina and Zoya and Polly and Sergei and me to add a sixth member to our family. I think about physical therapy, occupational therapy, developmental therapy, speech therapy, doctors visits, hearing checks, fittings for glasses, ordering orthotics, IEPs times two. Doing all that we’ve done with Polly again. Everything from here on out X2 as far as therapy life goes. Everything from here on out X4 as far as kids go. I do think at times, just like parenting any child, it will be difficult.
When Sergei and I were praying about adoption, before we committed to anything, our kids knew. They prayed about it with us.
We talk about Down syndrome a lot in our house. And Elaina and Zoya have enjoyed the company of many different individuals, various ages and functionality, who happen to have Ds.
Although I don’t volunteer in Elaina’s class like the inner mommy tells me to, I was in tears at her parent-teacher conference, hearing words like “compassionate,” and “thoughtful” being said about my daughter.
“Mrs. Marchenko, Elaina is a joy to have in class. She is always looking out for the underdog and makes sure that everyone is included at all times.”
I remember what I was like in 2nd grade. Words like ‘compassion” would not have been equated with me. In my elementary years, I painfully tried to fit into my new school (my family moved across the state my 2nd grade year). My best stab at fitting in, that is, take the focus off of me, was to ridicule someone else. Usually someone who was slower or un-coordinated or had orange hair or smelled strange. Someone everyone else picked on for being different.
Elaina’s and Zoya are growing up another way.
I sat there, squeezed into the tiny 2nd grader plastic red chair at my parent-conference, trying to hold it together, my heart gushing with thankfulness to God that he is teaching my children at the ages of 7 & 8 what I’ve had to learn in my 30s.
At times, our lives are difficult. At times our lives will be difficult.
I have no idea how I will manage four children daily. I am starting all over with another child with low muscle tone. Who isn’t walking. We may need to use the stander. We’ll be ordering orthotics for Evie and getting her heart checked. There’s possibly another tonsillectomy in our future. And depending on how life goes she may live with us in her adult years. Her sisters may step in at some point and help her and Polly out in life as need be.
But I know God has called us to adopt this little girl. And I believe in my gut that what He has for us is good. He’s called all five of us…Sergei, myself, Elaina, Zoya and Polly to adopt her as a daughter and as a sister.
And that’s my stake in the ground.
God willing, next year around this time, I’ll be writing posts about four hair cuts, about fitting dates in with four little perfect creations that God has asked me, for a time such as this, to mother.
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.
“Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way. This all happened on the sixth day.” Genesis 1:31
The sixth morning of Polina’s life was bright and clear. The air outside was crisp. The sun was already high in the sky.
I stood looking at my daughter, my hand pushed through the plastic window, resting gently on her leg, my fingers gripping her heel. I was happy because she had her eyes open.
It was a busy morning in the nursery. People rushed around, going this way and that; some were washing equipment, others changing babies, giving them wash cloth baths and putting on clean fitted sheets in the cribs. I wasn’t used to so much action. It made me tired.
About this time every morning I would meet up with the doctor on call, the one looking after Polly. I was not surprised when I heard footsteps coming from behind. Turning I saw the rock star Pediatrician.
“Dobre Utra” I said, greeting her with a smile.
The Doctor looked down at her feet and when she looked up her gaze did not meet mine. She looked passed me and focused on the sunshine streaming in through the window.
The morning after my daughter’s traumatic birth a sharp needle broke through her placid skin, diving into a vein. A vile quickly filled with her blood. Then it was closed up, labeled and sent off to be tested for an extra chromosome in her cells.
We were told it would take two weeks to get the results.
Polina’s blood was to determine our future.
I have always been afraid of heights. This fear is shared with others in my family; my father, my oldest daughter. In middle school I was the kid who wouldn’t go on rides at amusement parks. I worked hard those days, pretending I preferred the carousal or that I really did think my recording of The Wind beneath my Wings had talent, but everyone in my class knew that I was scared.
I am even a little jumpy in elevators. Anywhere you can fall.
“I am here to tell you, with disappointment, Gillian, that your daughter has Down syndrome.”
No “good morning, how are you today?” No “will you husband be here soon because there is something I’d like to discuss with you.”
Sometimes I dream that I am free falling. They say if you actually hit bottom in your dream that you are dead in real life.
I stared at the woman in front of me. I blinked a few times. I hit bottom.
My earliest memory of a person with disabilities is enclosed in fear. I was a young girl, a toddler really, at an outdoors barbeque with my parents. The whole morning I had played and swam and ate watermelon. That is, until I saw a woman with Down syndrome. I noticed she was different right away and it scared me. I found a place to hide, a tent. All day long my parents tried to get me out of the tent. They lured me with ice cream and hamburgers. I wouldn’t budge.
I looked around my daughter’s nursery room. There were cribs and nurses and diapers and equipment. But there was no place to hide.
The doctor droned on. Her painted face was hard, like a brick wall.
“So what do we do now?” I cut in.
I wanted to fling myself on the floor, bang my fists and tare my clothes but instead I stood silently, blankly. As adults we want to look together. It is one of the most nagging sins.
The Doctor talked about other health concerns. Her words had no sound. I watched her painted face contort as she mouthed words. My ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton balls. It was like I was under water.
When there was a lull I blurted out a hurried “spaseeba”, my attempts at a thank you.
A better woman would have bent down and drawn close to her baby. She would have looked into the baby’s sleepy eyes and vowed to love her and to protect her and to treasure her.
I turned and ran out of the room. I did not even look at my child. If I stayed, I might have turned to salt, like the woman in Genesis who looked back to her city as she fled. I reached my room across the hall, already sobbing and yelling. And some how I was detached, it was like I was watching a scene unravel in front of me. I didn’t recognize who this person was crying and screaming. I fell onto my bed and howled like a person getting put into a straight jacket.
In the last five days while sitting for hours in my quiet tan hospital room I had considered every scenario in my head. I played them over and over and prayed to God for strength. I knew there was a great possibility that my daughter had Down syndrome. But I had never thought about how it was going to feel.
Instantly, several women surrounded me. One nurse patted my arm. Someone handed me a small plastic cup filled with thick purple liquid. Each woman carried on her own personal monologue directed at me. Dazed, I gulped down the syrup. The rock star stood closest to my head on the right.
“Stop crying”, she told me. “Yes, it is terrible that your daughter has Down syndrome. But there is nothing that can be done. Now stop crying!” The other women nodded in agreement, still patting me and saying “neecheevo, neecheevo, it’s nothing, Gillian, it’s nothing.”
I have given birth three times in completely different ways.
The first time was the easiest. I had an epidural. The birth was pain-free. Soft music played in the background, the doctor on call was a little miffed to be woke up in the early morning and took out her aggression on the chipped red polish on her nails. I breathed deeply and pushed with all my might three or four times and we had our girl.
The first six months of Elaina’s life she cried seven hours a day and I sat on the couch in our little Chicago apartment and waited for Sergei to come home from work, beside myself, convinced I was the only woman in the history of mankind who did not possess an innate mothering intuition.
Zoya’s birth was long and painful. I let a friend talk me into a natural water birth and the pain was like none I had experienced before or since. I lugged my huge body out of the tub, down the hallway and back to my hospital bed in the hopes for some last minute drugs, a towel draped over my shoulders.
Only Zoya could not wait. She shot out of me while I stood next to the hospital bed, one leg hiked up on the mattress. She was caught like a football by my mid-wife, her robust cry filled the whole hospital floor. I fell into bed, oblivious of new life, a black haired, swollen little girl. My second daughter.
They say that as soon as a woman bares her child, she forgets the pain and struggle of the labor. Because she gives birth. She actually delivers a life. I have given birth three times. But the last time, I feel like I didn’t actually give birth. I think it was taken from me. I do not remember the third birth experience.
I have to make up the first few moments of my third daughter’s life.
And I imagine silence.
I imagine the baby, blue and tiny, doctors scurrying around the room, hooking her up to monitors and beepers, sticking a breathing tube in her nose. No cries, no tears of joy and laughter from the proud parents, no welcome and congratulations from the doctors and nurses. No inquiries of her name.
I imagine a pause, doctors noticing that beside her struggle for life that she showed some outward markers of Down syndrome.
I imagine pity.
I imagine professionalism kicking in and the doctors jumping to the task of saving my child’s life.
I have no memory of remarkable joy when she came into the world. I don’t get to have those memories because they do not exist. In those first few moments of living, in her struggle, did she wonder where her parents were? Did the doctors treat her with any love or tenderness as they slowly pumped life back into her?
After a quick kiss from Sergei, I was whisked through double doors. The temperature dropped twenty degrees in seconds. My teeth began to chatter. I felt very small and alone. Nurses and doctors buzzed around the room while Russian words swirled above my head.
I remember being asked if I would like an interpreter for the birth when we signed our agreement to deliver in this hospital. Thinking Sergei would be there to help, I said no.
A thin blue paper robe stripped me of armor and eloquence. I was rubbed raw, unable to play the part of a person confident in her maker. My mind was cloudy without a clue of what came next, unable to understand basic Russian words memorized in the first six months of language classes. I could hardly think of how to extend pleasantries to the staff because of nerves. Prerecorded prayers I had memorized to date were no where to be found in the usual places in my mind.
“Help me Lord. Help us.”
The smiling doctor was in the operating room with several nurses and the pediatric team and an anesthesiologist. She greeted me and started to explain about the epidural going into my spine. Her breath reeked of cigarette smoke and her voice was scratchy.
The room was the kind of cold you feel in an old woman’s hand or when you sit outside on a cement bench on a winter’s day.
I felt a stinging prick in my lower back, smack dab in the middle. Immediately warmth spread passed my belly and out to my toes.
A nurse laid me back on the gurney and placed a mask over my face. I thought I would be awake for the birth like those television shows you see; the little curtain at the woman’s mid-section, the husband seated on a high stool up by the wife’s head. The baby’s cries fill the room as the doctor lifts up the child to proclaim “it’s a girl!”
The nurse told me to count backwards from ten and I was confused. I didn’t know if I should count in English or in Russian. The hum of the fluorescent lights screamed in my ears. “Deysyet, deyvyet, vohsehm”, my voice shook, “sehm…”
I floated upwards away from the smiling doctor, a scowl now on his face as he bent over me, away from the anesthesiologist waiting for her next smoke break, away from my friends keeping my husband company in the lobby by swapping birth stories, away from the little one struggling in my womb. I floated upwards towards a bright yellow light. Relief flooded my body. I was asleep.
J and her husband and L arrived within the hour.
They were upbeat, commenting on the private hospital’s nice rooms, shyly cracking jokes, squinting at me through the room’s bright lights. All three tried to act like it was the most natural thing in the world to be hanging out in a Ukrainian hospital room at one in the morning.
I loved them for it.
The smiling doctor with the thick gold necklace was found and L told him we needed a Cesarean section right away. He was unsure of the soft spoken American woman. Once again he said we should wait and see if the IV helped. But L persisted, looking to my husband for linguistic assistance and nodding incessantly as words poured out of her mouth in a mixture of English and Russian. Her face was stern and her words were pleading. Eventually the smiling doctor agreed to take a closer look at the baby.
I found myself waddling towards the ultrasound room, a white bath robe tied loosely around my expansive middle, my black slippers swishing down the hall.
Everything happened quickly once the baby’s extreme distress was proved on the ultrasound machine. An anesthesiologist was shaken out of her sleep and on her way to the hospital. The smiling doctor hurried off to prepare for surgery. The pediatrician on call put on her scrubs, elastic snapping over her shoes.
Back in my room ready for surgery, I perched on the end of my high hospital bed and looked around at the warm tan walls. A wooden desk and a matching chair stood against the wall in front of me. I watched my feet dangle above the cold white tile floor. They seemed separate from my body. I wandered where they were taking me and if I even wanted to go.
I thought about Elaina and Zoya sleeping in their Estonian made bunk-beds at home. Sergei and I had searched all over Kiev before purchasing the pale colored wooden beds. Thick cotton blankets pulled up tightly to the girls’ chins, in an attempt to keep the frosty night air that lingered inside our old apartment at bay. Their Babushka slept in the room next to them ready if needed for a drink of water or a trip to the bathroom. My little girls, unaware that in about a half hour their baby sister would be here.
Heavy footsteps came down the hall and I saw my smiling doctor who wanted to learn English poke his head in the door of my room.
I nodded that I was ready and suddenly two other men were at my side helping me down from the high hospital bed and on to a cold gurney with a thin white sheet. I settled and my husband came close to me. He covered my hands with his and prayed for God’s protection, for our child’s health and for a peace in my heart that would surpass my understanding. When he finished his prayer he looked at me and smiled. “She’s coming tonight!”
The orderlies wheeled my gurney down the hall with my husband walking next to us. Our friends set up shop in the waiting room. They didn’t want Sergei to wait alone and J wanted to be there to take a picture of all three of us together when the surgery was over.
The first two years we lived in Ukraine I studied cultural norms and learned how to buy ingredients for borscht and leaned heavily on my American teammates. They were a life boat in rough waters.
Having been through culture shock and language classes, many could roll with superstitions still prominent in the culture; spitting over your shoulder three times to keep the “evil eye” away from babies or not whistling indoors to ensure prosperity and wealth. They had a basket of topochkee near the front door of their apartments for visitors to wear inside instead of shoes. The call to live and serve in Ukraine was strong and true. It helped on days when someone was ready to pack up and go home.
I loved getting to know Ukrainians but I appreciated American banter at team meetings and praying with others in a language that was comfortable when everything else in my life was uncomfortable. It took so much energy to even attempt to acclimate to the culture. With teammates and other ex-pats, I breathed, I rested.
After settling into my room at the hospital the day I was admitted, my friend J called my cell phone.
“I hope you don’t mind, Gillian, but I called L to tell her about you and the baby.”
L was another teammate who before moving to Russia and later to Ukraine for a counseling ministry was a post natal nurse in the States.
J was only looking out for us. She really was a great mother hen for the whole team. But I was on edge and a bit flustered and scared. Her phone call provided me with something to replace my worry. At least for a couple of minutes.
“That’s fine, J. I am glad she knows so that she can pray,” I lied through clenched teeth.
My friend sensed my frustration and continued on anyway,
“We are coming up to the hospital. My husband and I are leaving the kids with a sitter and we’ll pick up L on the way.”
I was not given a choice. Thank God.
A few minutes later the telephone rang again. This time it was L.
L is a wonderfully sensitive, soft spoken woman. I imagine she is a fantastic counselor because when you talk with her she gives you her full attention.
I explained that the baby had not grown at all since the last visit, how I was admitted and on an IV with glucose and other vitamins. I told her about the green squiggly lines on the monitor screen, how the baby’s heart beat dropped low, very low when I’d have a contraction.
There was silence on the other end of the phone. And then,
“Gillian, I will be there in a half hour. The next time your doctor comes into the room you need to demand an emergency c-section. I don’t want to scare you but in the States your baby would have already been delivered. She is not doing well. Listen to me, you have to talk to your doctor.”
I held the phone up to my ear taking in L’s words. Was this some kind of bad dream?
We hung up and I told Sergei what L said. He went to find the doctor.
I closed my eyes and exhaled.
“Please God. Keep this baby alive. And help us to know what to do.”
I was sure I was watching a scene unfold in someone else’s life.