Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Leila's Story - Part II

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Mia is 32-months old. As I look at her little body standing next to her much taller sister, I am reminded that she is the exact same age Leila was when we first met her in an orphanage in Moscow, Russia more than four years ago. Nolan and I had waited for parenthood for a long and emotional seven years. When we decided to build our family through adoption, we pictured our first child as an infant. God had something else in mind for us. He chose for us a two-year old girl who stole our hearts the moment we first saw her face. (See last post: Leila's Story - Part I.) When we were finally able to travel to Russia, I believe my first words when I saw her in person were, "Look, Nolan. That girl looks a little like Leila, but I don't think that's her." I didn't immediately recognize her. Seven months had passed since we had seen the video of her and we had not received any updates since that time. Her hair had grown, her face looked thinner and I couldn't see that luminous smile that I had dreamed about for months. Instead, I saw a scared, little girl who knew something was about to happen to her, but wasn't quite sure what. A girl who didn't want to look at us; who wanted to stay on the opposite side of the room from us. When the women brought out her lunch (which Nolan and I believe was a special four-course meal, just for show, as we did not believe the children were fed this well all the time), she let us sit beside her, but still no touching and no looking at us. In fact, even with prodding from her caregivers, she didn't look up from her food the entire time. That was OK, though. Her life, for nearly three years, did not involve us. Who were we to her, but strangers? I was a woman who was trying to speak her language, but in a weird accent that she had never heard before. And I'm sure she had never seen anyone who looked like Nolan, with bright red (well, orange) hair. This first visit lasted about an hour. No direct eye contact was involved.

We were allowed to go visit her later that evening for another hour. This time, we were left alone with her in a small toy room that they used for indoor exercise. They opened up all the windows for fresh (very cold) air and bundled her in a brightly-colored, bulky winter jacket, heavy boots and many layers. This time we came bearing peychanias (Russian for cookies) and bubbles. We fell in love with her seven months prior, seeing her sweet face on a TV screen at the home of our adoption coordinator. She fell in "like" with us that evening over Ted*dy Grahams and bubble-blowing. During that hour, she began to cautiously reveal to us a little of her personality. We saw her sweet smile and even heard some giggles. And as we were leaving, she did not hesitate to give us a brief hug and kiss when the caregiver asked her to. We left the orphanage that night with our hearts full. Overflowing, really.

We had several more visits with her during our first trip to Russia, but then it was time for us to return to the U.S. for three weeks to finalize the adoption in the eyes of the Russian government. For anyone who has done this: Finally meeting your child and then having to leave your child, you know how heartbreaking it is. When we were able to return to Moscow and take Leila with us, she recognized us, but did not want to leave the orphanage with us. I will never forget that ride back to our hotel. She cried a loud and deeply painful cry the entire 20+ minute ride, plastering her face against the car window and covering it with her crocodile tears. Back at the hotel, however, it didn't take long for her to come out of her shell. We played hide and seek, blew more bubbles, gave her tons of hugs and kisses, introduced her to pizza and french fries and walked miles and miles in the hotel hallway and on the Moscow city streets, popping wheelies in her stroller which made her giggle every time. And although she was still frightened, reserved and cautious, the progress continued after we returned home. She thrived in her new environment. We did have some struggles during that first year, but some of it may have been equally attributed to the fact that Nolan and I were first-time parents of an on-the-go preschooler. We were learning things with each new day, just as Leila was. A healthy diet also did amazing things to her body. Diagnosed with rickets in Russia (a weakening of the bones as a result of Vitamin D and calcium deficiency), her body quickly grew strong (and tall!) and her hair grew in extremely thick, filling in the patchy bare spots. After several months, she outgrew her awkward gait that was a result of the rickets and wearing blankets in lieu of diapers at the orphanage.

When I look back at these pictures, I am reminded of how far she has come. She went through a lot in her first 32-months - the details of which I do not wish to post about. It is her story, which we will reveal to her in time. But I can tell you this: I am so proud of her. I am amazed by how strong, resilient and brave children are at such a young age.

God has truly blessed us. We have come to trust that His plans for us are far better than the ones that we have for ourselves. He shined a light on our Leila, when we thought we were looking for something different. The same holds true for Mia. The second time around, we wanted to adopt an older child, between 3-5 years of age. In fact, we chose the Special Needs program because of this. Instead, He gave us Mia, who was seven-months old in her referral photo and 13-months old at the time of adoption. We praise God every day for these two amazing girls that He has placed in our care. We are so grateful for His perfect plan for our family.

A photo from Leila's referral video (The only photos we had of her were taken of the TV screen.)Leila Referral


First meal with Leila in the orphanage.Nolan with Leila 1+


My favorite photo of Nolan and Leila. Nolan with Leila 2


Our first walk outside the orphanage.

Mom with Leila 1


Actual "Gotcha Day" Photo:

Gotcha Day


First day home:

Leila Home


Leila today: An all-American girl who loves swimming, soccer, gymnastics, hula hoops, roller coasters, Hannah Montana, trips to the zoo (with a must-do horse ride), taking vacations, Sunday School, dressing up like a Princess, lip gloss, playing with her friends, sister and cousins, popcorn on movie nights, riding her bike and so much more.

20080617_31

My how you've grown. We love you, Leila!

10 comments:

Bella's mama said...

Michelle,

That was beautiful.

As I sat here and read your post, tears welled up in my eyes. I can not imagine how scared Leila must have been in the beginning. It made me think of the day Isabella was place in my arm, her fear was overwhelming, I am so very thankfully that love, tenderness and security took fears place in the lives of our daughters.

Thank you for sharing your families precious story. It is a pleasure to read how God brought her into your life and gave her a family that she could forever call hers~

Krista

mommy24treasures said...

Praise God for His wonderful mercy.
I absolutely love hearing how He works in bringing His children to their forever families.
What an amazingly strong beautiful girl you have and no doubt He has wonderful plans for her future.
I love seeing the pics. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

Joe and Jane said...

What a touching story. Thanks so much for sharing it. It is astounding to think of how far she's come on her journey and how it much have felt to her along the way.

Steffie B. said...

Michelle,
Beautiful post....she is just a precious jewel....your blog is lovely and I LOVE the pictures of your girls in your side bar. They are STUNNING!!!!

Don and Lisa Osborn said...

Hi Michelle~

I found your blog and had to come over and say hi. You have a beautiful family and I love how you acknowledge God's almighty hand in bringing you together.

I look forward to coming back and reading more about your family when I don't have my three year old, Lindy, climbing all over me...

Praising God for the gift of adoption!!!

Blessings~
Lisa
Mother to Lindy Li-Xiao
LID for her mei mei 11/7/07

Ronda said...

Michelle,
I loved the story of Leila, as we to adopted an older child. She is beautiful and seems so happy. It is amazing what love, diet and a stable environment does to a child. I loved the picture comparison-you two look very much alike. Just God's way of showing you that she belonged in your family. Thanks for the tender story of Leila.
Ronda

Global Girl said...

How special. Thanks for sharing :)

Leslie said...

What a great post Michelle. I can't wait to show my DH Larry. He will love the post and the pages you did with the writting in Russian. So neat that are stories have fallen into almost the say pattern.

JinXiu said...

A Big happy Birthday to Leilia

Wow, the 4th og July. What an american girl

I loved the story. I had tears rolling down my eyes. I cant imagine how scared that poor child must have been. You are all trully blessed. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story of your beautiful girl

Bella's momma said...

Hello my friend,

When you have a moment please go to my blog~ I left you something there!

Hope you are having a great weekend,

Krista @ bits and pieces