Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Things Are Good...

I have always heard that being a stay-at-home mom is the hardest job in the world; and it's not that I ever doubted that, it's just that I never realized quite how hard it really is until I took on the role myself.

I still have a couple of weeks before I have to return to work, so I have been taking advantage of this one-on-one time with JJ. My 5-year-old nephew happened to break his arm last week, so I have also been busy taking care of him while my brother works. When AJ is not injured he is a wonderful helper. I can ask him to run and get things, help pick up around the house, get dressed by himself, etc., and he will eagerly help out with no questions asked. Now that he has a broken arm, I am (of course) having to do everything for him and JJ, and it has not been easy! I seriously do not know how some people do it and now have a new appreciation for moms that do this 24/7 without a break.

JJ seems to be adjusting perfectly. Since arriving home 3 weeks ago he has learned to crawl, pull himself up from a seated position, clap his hands, say "Mama", drink from a sippie cup, and is starting to feed himself with a spoon. He is learning everything so fast; there is no end to this kid's capabilities. He has only gained 1 pound so far, but has grown 3 inches. We are still feeding him as much as he'll eat, which seems like all the time! He has had to get 3 shots so far because he was so behind on vaccines, and he's had numerous tests run - all of which have come back normal.
Jerret calls from work every day and says how much he misses him. He keeps telling me how hard it's going to be for me when I go back to work.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's So Good To Be Home

It's been a little over a week since we've been home and we are just loving our little boy. He is so happy all the time and loves to smile and laugh and play. It's great. The picture above is from our last day in Almaty, but his demeanor is still the same. We are very lucky.
Monday was his appointment with the local international adoption doc, who will now be his primary care pediatrician. We were surprised to learn that he has grown 2 inches since his last appointment, but has not yet gained any weight. We are feeding him like crazy, but the doctor recommended giving him as much formula as he will take. He was only getting about 8 oz. per day at the orphanage (if that) and he has some catch-up to play weight wise, so we have accepted her advice and been giving him bottles in between meals.
The doctor said that JJ has a really bad ear infection in his right ear, which we were given a script for (just as the doc at the SOS clinic had told us). We really couldn't believe that it is such a bad infection because the kid never cries or pulls at his ear, and he hasn't had any kind of fever since we've had him. Before we left the office the nurse came in and said she needed to do a PPD test. Jerret held JJ while the nurse inserted the needle and JJ never made a sound.
The doctor also ordered all kinds of tests that will need run in order to make sure JJ doesn't have any hidden conditions we may not be aware of. We took him to the hospital lab yesterday and had to hold him down while they drew blood. It was very difficult to watch. He cried while we were holding him down, and the nurse needed to poke him 3 times before finding a good vein. The poor baby cried and cried, but he stopped as soon as the nurse was finished and I was able to pick him up.
Other than the appointments, we are just busy getting used to our new roles as parents. Jerret is very hands-on and will do anything I ask - even change diapers.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

We're Home!

We are finally back in the good old USA and happy to be home with our baby.
Monday was our last embassy appointment in Almaty and we were issued all the documents necessary to take JJ out of the country and grant him entrance into the US. Once this was finished we were free to leave and we hurried back to our hotel to begin packing. Our flight was leaving for Amsterdam at 7:20 on Tuesday morning and we could not get out of that place fast enough.

We met our adoption facilitator at 3:30 a.m. in the hotel lobby - she would be our escort to the airport and would translate our situation to the immigration police if needed. I began making small talk with her on our way to the car and asked if the other families were on their way home without any hiccups. She surprised me by saying one of the families was gone, but the other decided to cancel their flight when one of them became ill. This must have been a very hard decision to make. They had three children back at home and often talked about how much they missed their kids and couldn't wait to see them. Jerret said he wouldn't have stayed for any illness unless he was in danger of losing a leg or something. I agreed.

The flight to Amsterdam was absolutely lovely. We were on a 330 Airbus, and granted bulkhead seating with an infant bassinet for JJ to lay in. He was a little apprehensive at first, but after a while he adjusted and slept in it for a little over an hour, providing much-needed relief to my arms. The plane looked almost empty and had only about 50 passengers from nose to tail. There was so much room that many people switched rows and could lay across all three seats and sleep during the 7-hour trip if they wanted.

We didn't realize that we had a 5-hour layover in Amsterdam and fought to stay awake with JJ the entire time. In the line for our flight back to Detroit we met three guys who were on their way home from a sprint car race in Johannesburg, South Africa. After a few minutes of conversation we discovered that the men were not only from Toledo, but from the same small town that I am! It truly is a small world.

The last leg of our flight home was the longest. JJ didn't sleep much, maybe for only an hour total, and he wanted to be up doing something the entire time. We tried getting up and walking around with him, which seemed to work when it was possible, but was very hard to do without being in the way of someone. This last leg is also where we learned how important it is to pack the diaper bag with more stuff then you think you will actually need.

An hour before we were to land we discovered we were out of diapers, which we needed in a bad way. We didn't have any choice at this point but to wait until we landed and get a new diaper from our luggage. After a few minutes the smell became so unbearable that other people on the plane began to take notice. The girls in the row behind us even began spraying perfume to overcome the odor. Although we didn't have a new diaper to use, Jerret thought he could salvage the old one by taking JJ into the bathroom and "wiping it out." (I tried to convince him this wouldn't work, but he still thought it was worth a try). After a few minutes Jerret and JJ returned and I laughed out loud when I noticed a baby wipe sticking out of the back of JJ's pants. The whole idea of "wiping it out" didn't work too well and Jerret decided to let the baby enter the US commando, with about 7 wipes shoved down his pants. The wipes reappeared later when in line at the US customs office, only this time they were sticking out from the bottom of his pant leg.

Customs went smoothly and we quickly found our luggage and were met by the limo driver we hired to take us home. It was so nice to be in familiar territory and we were glad to be on our way home. We are both getting used to the time adjustment and are taking turns getting up with baby.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Our Weekend in Almaty

It was a relaxing weekend here in Almaty. Although there are so many things to see and do in this capital city, we made the decision to just lay low and ride out the last few days until we are able to leave and take our baby home. I know that many of you are going to ask about the culture here and the different sights around the city, but I have to be honest and say that we did everything at an arm’s length. This whole process of becoming parents for the first time coupled with the adoption process itself is so much to take in that we gave up trying to take the city in. It is just too much.

Saturday we took a trip down to the local farmer’s market. This looked much like the farmer’s market back at home, only on a much grander scale. Rows upon rows of flowers, spices, nuts, fruits and vegetables on perfect display lined the stands as different vendors shouted out to passers-by in Russian. Even vendors working at the same booth were competing for customers, shouting out prices in an attempt to under-cut the next guy. We stopped at a booth when a man from Tajikistan asked us if we were from “America?” When we told him yes, he came back with “New York?” – That is one thing about this place…it is so far on the other side of the world that the only concept they have of the US is New York City. Jerret ended up buying three oranges from the guy and we continued on through the market.

At the very far end of the market was the exact reason I refuse to eat at some of the restaurants in foreign countries. There, in the open air, with no refrigeration involved and for all the world to see, was the meat market. Racks hanging with sides of pork, beef, lamb (and I’m sure some horse was in there too), stood in the background of tables filled with butchered meat. We walked the length of the meat tables, which spanned the entire warehouse, and watched as vendors worked using various hand tools ranging from hatchets to hammers – things we would typically use on a home repair project. Near the end of the row a young girl stood organizing the days goods – lamb’s head and beef livers – and waited for the next customer to make a purchase.

At the table on the very end an older lady with her head wrapped in a white scarf worked intently, stuffing unidentifiable chunks of meat into sausage casings. We were amazed to see that she did not make any attempt to chop or grind the meat up, or even mix it with any seasonings. I tried to take a picture of her as she worked, but she stopped me, yelling something in Russian and waving her finger back in forth in front of her face. Whatever she was making was beyond us and it would have to stay that way. Directly across from her table was a small room that contained two bathtubs filled to the brim with pig intestines, which were being cleaned for their role in the mystery sausage preparation. (See pic)

Outside of the main warehouse was a bazaar where locals set up booths and sold everything from clothes to power tools to laundry soap. We passed many of the clothing booths where customers stripped down right in the middle of the aisle trying clothes on. If the booth had enough workers, it was sometimes one person’s job to hold up a towel or sheet in an effort to shield the customer. Many “booths” were actually random sections of the sidewalk where locals laid down a sheet to mark their spot and filled it with various odds and ends. Most of these areas contained such random goods that it appeared as though the people were selling their only worldly possessions. This intrigued us, and this area became the place we did the majority of our shopping.

The weather turned bitter cold in the short time we shopped, and I didn’t have a coat with me so we decided to head back to our hotel. On the way back we saw an elderly woman crying on the street, wailing out loud and crossing herself over and over again. From the window of our cab we saw three women begging in the street and one girl who looked to be about 8 or 9. Each of them would just walk up to the car windows and stare or point to their mouths asking for food. One lady held her crying baby in her arms and presented him to each car that passed. I told Jerret she must have been pinching him or something to make him cry that hard because that baby looked like he was in pain. I saw a lot of people give her money.

We stayed in for dinner that night and ordered pizza from room service. It looked well-enough like pizza from back home, but definitely didn’t taste the same.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Trip To See The Doctor

Our first appointment in Almaty was for the SOS clinic where they would check JJ for any obvious issues we may need to deal with before heading home. JJ’s appointment was at the same time as the other two babies in our group and we all made the short drive together along with our in-country adoption facilitator. After checking in we made our way to the waiting room where we met two other American families who had adopted from Kazakhstan. One mother was from Washington DC and reported that she had been waiting to go home with her child for seven weeks!

We didn’t really know what was going to happen during this check-up, only that it is required by immigration before we could leave the country, so I think it is fair to say we didn’t have any expectations here. I was holding JJ in my arms when a nurse entered the room and called out “Jack Hartman” and Jerret and I quickly jumped up to follow her. The nurse turned to us and said “This is for the test HIV,” and instructed us to sit down. I knew that it would be a blood test and began getting very nervous at how JJ would do and even wondered how Jerret and I would do watching our new baby being poked with needles.

I sat down in the chair next to the nurse and held JJ in my lap. Jerret sat directly across from us and pulled out a rattle, shaking it like crazy in order to distract JJ. The nurse said she could take the blood from his finger, which made me feel a little better about the impending pain we would be putting this poor boy through. She grabbed his hand and JJ quickly lost interest in whatever ruckus Jerret was making with the rattle. He sat and watched as the nurse pricked his finger and milked it until there was enough blood to fill two tiny vials. He never once cried and never made a sound, just watched.

After the blood test we were ushered into another exam room where they checked JJ’s height and weight. I was a little surprised to hear that he weighed only 17 pounds, as my forearms would say that number should be much higher. He was measured as 27 inches long. Our final stop at the clinic required a more thorough exam of the baby, who checked out just fine except for a minor ear infection in one ear and a rash, which the doctor provided medicine for.
Once the medical exams were over, all three couples returned to our hotel and were instructed to meet in the lobby at 6:00 to have dinner together where we would all fill out the paperwork required by the Immigration Police. We ate dinner at the SOHO Café, which is a local “American” restaurant with wall-to-wall New York City décor. We sat and picked at our food as we tried to fill out paperwork and take care of the baby all at the same time. This was one of our last required duties and we would have the next three days free before our meeting at the US Embassy on Monday.