October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Many of my friends whose children have Down syndrome take this opportunity to blog about it daily during October. I'm not a terribly consistent blogger in the best of times, but I thought I might try it, too. Yesterday was certainly the perfect way to kick it off as we celebrated the entrance of daughter #2 with Ds into our family. Today, I thought I would write a bit about the long process to even find Vera.
A few months after Emma was born and we were still in Canada, I started wondering about what happened to kids with Down syndrome in Russia. When we adopted Alex, we had been given several videotapes of Alex in his group and often there was a little girl with Down syndrome in the background. When we arrived to adopt Alex, however, she was not in his group. That orphanage evidently liked to shuffle kids and caregivers often. John and I were both disappointed that she wasn't there. Looking back, I think it's funny that we wanted to see her since we didn't even have a child with Ds then.
Back to Canada. We now had sweet little Emma and my mind turned to the little girl in Russia. I wondered if kids with Ds ever made it to adoption photolistings (which were still fairly new and small). I got online and started doing searches like "Down syndrome Russia" or "Down syndrome adoption Russia" or even "Down syndrome adoption." I never found a single child with Ds available for adoption during that time.
I did find something else, though: a report by Human Rights Watch on the treatment of children with Down syndrome in Russian orphanages, complete with pictures of their emaciated bodies, twisted limbs and vacant expressions. Mercifully, the report also included a happy ending of sorts. A doctor had gone into this orphanage and taught the workers to feed these children (the orphanage way of feeding does not always work in children with low muscle tone and they end up being unable to eat solid foods), to work on exercises to improve trunk strength, mobility, and other skills that had been ignored. The report ended with pictures of bright children now walking and plump, smiling and happy.
Nonetheless, those pictures of the children--clearly unloved, unwanted, discarded--stayed with me. It will surprise no one when I say that I sobbed and sobbed the first time I saw those children. I was sick to my stomach for days. I think John was actually worried about me. Problem was, every time I might get it out of my mind for a moment it would be time to hold Emma, change her diaper, do her therapies with her. I would imagine her, fragile and needy, abandoned in a place that wouldn't do a thing more than they absolutely had to for her, and my heart would fall again.
For the next almost three years I would still periodically do a search for orphans with Down syndrome in Russia. One day, one glorious day, a new site showed up in my search: The Shepherd's Crook. I clicked on the link and found descriptions, but no pictures, of two children with Down syndrome in Russia who needed homes. The little girl was almost 5 and the boy around 3: Vera and Ignat.
So, did I immediately know that Vera was MY Vera? Nope. All I knew is that I wanted to see her picture and The Shepherd's Crook had a wonderful way for me to do so: I could request a prayer card for her and they would print her picture, birthdate and name on it! That prayer card is still hanging on my refrigerator today! It's a funny picture of Vera as a 2-3 year old and she's obviously talking. I still didn't necessarily think that she was the one, but I knew I wanted to pray for her and for Ignat (whose prayer card I also received).
One day, while perusing The Shepherd's Crook website as usual, a picture popped up next to Vera's description!
It took God a couple more weeks to remove the scales from John's eyes (John can have some thick scales when it comes to adoption; I have thick scales when it comes to, well, almost anything of a practical nature). After a couple of weeks of praying and fasting, we felt God leading us to adopt Vera. I will never forget making that decision on a Sunday and having to wait until mid-morning Monday to call the agency in Seattle. I was so nervous! What if someone else had decided to adopt her, too, and had called before us! That picture would surely have moved hearts all over the country, right? How could you miss the potential, the beauty, the sweetness?
As it turns out, not one person had ever even called to ask about her. Not one, other than us. But one was all she needed.