Friday, June 29, 2012

Haiti Journal — June 10-16, 2012

It is Wednesday, June 13th, 110 degrees with the heat index, and I am sitting down to journal the thoughts and experiences that we have had so far on our journey to meet the boys. (After day one…the rest of the journal entry was written on the flight home. Too many wonderful moments to soak up while we were in Haiti to make time to journal.) There is already so much to share, and I don’t know where to even start? The last few days have truly been a whirlwind. We left home at 6:15 am on Sunday June 10th for the airport. Jill Peterson drove us there, and we were filled with excitement. We had a 7:30 am flight. We spent much of the day in and out of the air. We had a short layover in Chicago and then landed in Miami, Florida about 2:30 pm eastern time. It took a while to gather our luggage and head out for the hotel. We were tired and decided to have a pizza night with a movie. We walked to Pizza Hut (an adventure in itself in Miami…the lady at the desk said it was three blocks away…turned out it was “three blocks” away…which really meant a mile!) and watched Spy Kid 3-D Game Over. It was then time for bed because the next morning was another early flight.

We left for the airport at 4:45 am on June 11 for a 6:50 am flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We were still very sleepy but totally excited. We had four large suitcases and two carry-on bags to juggle and the kids did a fantastic job helping out. Aiden was a champ manning the two small bags and the girls were in charge of their own large bag. We only got stuck in the elevators about three or four times! Not too bad considering. We would have been able to travel with one big bag and two carry-ons if we didn’t pack supplies for Elijah and Judah. We also had several donations to bring for the orphanage.

It was quite the process filling out the travel documents on the airplane to enter Haiti as our three kiddos handed Sprite and juice and electronics back and forth across the aisle to me. Thankfully the only mishaps were one spilled Sprite and one birthdate mistake on the entry paperwork. We were ready!

A month ago when we found out that we would be meeting the boys for the first time on June 11th, it struck me immediately that we were going to be meeting them on my mom’s birthday. This was so special to me. It felt as though she was watching over us through the entire day. What a blessing.

As we flew over Haiti, it was familiar to Craig and me, but it was an experience watching the kids as they began to see the degree of poverty the Haitian people are living in. Aftyn thought that the shape of the country was “cool”…but it didn’t take long for them to realize that the make-shift huts they were seeing from the air and later alongside the road were actual homes. They said it made them feel sad for the people.

We were met at the airport in Haiti by Angie, who runs the orphanage, and Erin, who is our adoption representative from our international adoption agency. It was wonderful to put faces with the names and voices that we had become so familiar with over the last year. There were ten families traveling to visit their children and six of them were from our agency. Many of them had children with them which was a blessing because we knew that our children would have fun together. We loaded all of the traveling people and luggage into two vans and one tap-tap and headed for the hotel.

When we got to the hotel, Angie informed us that they had had some changes at the orphanage medically in the last week and she needed to talk with us about it. She shared that there were several cases of chicken pox at the orphanage and that they actually had to create a separate room just to isolate these children. She also shared with us that one of the little girls in the infant room had been brought to the hospital the day before and after completing several tests was diagnosed with viral meningitis. I swear that my heart almost stopped. I have worked with people with that diagnosis and know how serious that can be. Knowing that she had been in the same room as the boys was enough to cause me some alarm. I prayed on the spot and knew that all I could do was trust. After the discussion, we had just enough time to check in, bring our luggage into the apartment and then head out to the tap-tap to go pick up the boys from the orphanage.

I will never get used to the driving in this country. It literally feels like an accident could happen at every turn….but it never happens. There are very few rules of the road and people pass at any time, even when cars are in the oncoming lane. I am not sure how, but there must be someway the drivers know who will stop and who won’t. Intuition, I guess. We arrived safely at the orphanage and the lump began to form in my throat almost immediately. All of the families gathered on the front porch waiting to be presented with their children. We were told that we needed to be patient with the process…but were so blessed because we did not need to be patient for long. Eli and Jude were the first children presented to their family! Angie came out with the boys together…one on each hip. Tears were immediately in Craig’s and my eyes. It was the same type of feeling I had when I was walking down the aisle to meet Craig and after the births of each of our biological children. It was surreal…almost like being in a fog of emotion. Many of the other families were snapping pictures of us and I can’t wait to see them. The emotion was so raw.

My initial thoughts were excitement over how small they still are. We knew of them when they were just three months old, and I was a bit saddened over how many months had gone by before we could meet them. I wanted to see them when they were tiny….well….they were still small and oh, so sweet! Craig says that he just immediately thought, “There are our boys!” Angie handed Elijah to Craig and Judah to me. We recognized them immediately. They were beautiful and snuggled into our shoulders right away. We took several pictures with the boys, and then Judah fell asleep in my arms shortly after.

We only stayed at the orphanage for about a half hour as each family was presented with their children and then walked around to tour. It was so much fun to see two of the families presented with children that had been on the waiting child list. I had accessed this list daily while we were waiting for referral and had been praying for each of the children. There was one girl and a set of boy triplets. What a blessing to see their forever families come together for the first time.

The orphanage was just like it looked on the videos online and in the documentary. When we walked into the infant room, there were two women bowed in prayer and two women feeding and holding babies. Several babies were sleeping in their cribs and a few in bouncy chairs. All of the children looked content and the love for the children was immediately evident. This was a huge blessing to me. I have been praying for their care to be wonderful. It will help the time between visits knowing that they are well cared for.

We gathered up everyone and headed back to the hotel with all of our little ones. We went to our apartment and spent some time getting acquainted. Honestly, it was a bit of a rough evening because we were all tired from traveling and doing our best to adjust. Haley and Aiden had some trouble with the Haitian food choices for dinner and this caused a little drama….but eventually everyone had something in their tummy, and we were ready for an early evening to bed.

It was easy getting Aftyn, Haley and Aiden all tucked in and they fell asleep almost immediately. Aiden requested to sleep with one of the little boys while he fell asleep. Judah and Aiden were so sweet wrapped together in sleep’s embrace. Craig and I transferred him to our bed so we could go to sleep. We don’t have any cribs or pack-n-plays, so we decided to sleep together in the queen size bed with the two boys between us.  This was not the wisest decision. Each time someone moved or snored (Judah was a bit stuffy) all of us woke up.

We were also able to experience what it is like when parenting twins and having them on opposite schedules. I am not sure that we were able to sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time. I guess you could say that we made the most of our time on the first day with the boys. Craig and I alternated each night which boy we were caring for so we could have some special one-on-one time with each of them.

We woke on the 12th heavy-lidded and filled with excitement and anxiety over the day’s activities. My stomach was immediately upset, and I decided to start my antibiotic medication. I am not sure if it was the water, the anxiety or just the extreme fatigue but I knew that I would never survive our US Embassy appointment without some sort of medication. We left for the orphanage at 7:00 am to bring Elijah and Judah there so we could head to the Embassy. The nannies were busy praying in the infant room when we arrived. It was touching to see that they start their day there in the Word of God.

We had an appointment at 8:00 am, and we were the only family going to the Embassy that day. We were able to have Erin accompany us which was a blessing as she helped explain each step of the process. There was a line when we arrived there, and we had four different security checks to go through. We had to leave all electronic devices and liquids at the door. The method of keeping track of our items (expensive camera, water bottles, jump drive, baby bottles, etc.) was a little more than primitive. It was a very warm day and by the time that we were sitting down waiting for our names to be called, we were exhausted. We were able to find chairs eventually and spent close to three hours waiting. We were able to present our documents to the U.S. Embassy and had a little more anxiety when we discovered that a few things were missing from our required list. We were supposed to have a photo of each of the boys provided by the orphanage, the G-28 form which gives power of attorney to Pierre Alexis (director of the orphanage) and the twins’ birth mom’s death certificate which still has not been received. There was a pit in my stomach when this was happening, but we were quickly reassured that the forms could be turned in at a later date. Hopefully this will not delay things at all.

I have to say that I have never been more proud of my children than I was during this lengthy waiting time. The kids were so patient and stayed quiet and polite during the wait. We were all thankful when the wait was over, and we were able to go re-claim our items at security and load back into the van with Jackson (our driver) and Vanessa (our security officer).

On the way back to the orphanage, we asked to stop to pick up some bread and peanut butter. The peanut butter we had brought along had to be thrown away at the first security check in Miami’s airport on the way to Haiti. Craig went into the Haitian grocery store and asked for peanut butter and was led to  Tobasco sauce instead. The manager had to come help translate for him and brought him to the butter. Finally Craig found the peanut butter and 9 American dollars later, we had Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter and a loaf of white bread.

We headed back to the orphanage to get the boys. The nannies had taken care of the boys beautifully. Their clothes were changed, they were fed, and they were busy being snuggled by the nannies. It was fun talking to the nannies in our broken Creole/English. The love that they feel for the boys was clear in their eyes. This was exactly what I had been praying to see, and it was such a blessing to my heart.

When we arrived back at the hotel, I was completely exhausted, lightheaded and queasy. I think that Craig could tell that I had used up the last reserves of energy. Eli had fallen asleep on the way home and Craig suggested that I lay down with him. I burst into tears and couldn’t control the emotions that were coursing through me. The extreme heat and humidity made it difficult to sleep, but I was able to rest and this was such a blessing. When I woke up, the apartment was quiet. I peeked into the kids’ room and all three kids were napping on their beds. I went downstairs and Craig was holding a sleeping Judah. He is quiet obviously a rock-star!!! What an amazing husband. I felt refreshed. I sent Craig up to take a nap with Judah, but Judah decided it was time to wake up. I spent the next hour entertaining the twins while the rest of the family slept. It was so much fun to play with them and enjoy snuggles with each of them. It was evident that the boys were already getting attached to us. Every time I stepped out of Eli’s view, he would cry out and come crawling at top speed. When he would get to me, he would pull up on my legs to a standing position and start to try to crawl up my legs. What a sweet boy.

I got the boys changed, sun screened and into their swimming trunks. Then as each of the other kids woke, I did the same for them. Shortly after, Craig came down (with a splitting headache) ready to swim. A lengthy nap, two Tylenol and some refreshing pool water later and the exhaustion began to subside. We played in the pool for quite some time, went back to the room to freshen up and went to the restaurant for dinner. We had rice and beans again for dinner because it was so wonderful the first night. The kids tried the pizza and liked it much more than the spaghetti they tried the first night. Later that night, we noticed that while taking his bottle, Judah was scratching in his hair line quite a bit. We began to suspect that he might be developing the dreaded chicken pox! It didn’t change his sweet snuggles or beautiful temperament though.

The next morning we were able to start the day with breakfast at the hotel. We tried the pancakes and they were wonderful. We had been looking forward to this day because it was the first day that we just got to enjoy being a family. We spent time swimming and playing with the kids all day. It was so much fun being able to watch the twins in all of their moods and providing their every need. The kids were such wonderful helpers. It was fantastic seeing Aftyn, Haley and Aiden bond with the boys and help out with them when we needed it. The twins barely had a chance to cry!!

We met a group later in the day while we were sitting at the pool, and they had an infectious disease doctor with them. He was able to take a quick look at the boys and diagnosed Judah with chicken pox and Elijah with a boil on his forehead. He provided us with Zithromax for Elijah and told us that we didn’t really have anything to worry about…but that Eli would likely end up with the chicken pox as well. Craig and I had both had it already and the kids had each been vaccinated already…so we didn’t have to worry. The mosquitos came out early that evening and we ate quickly and headed back to our apartment to keep from getting bit and possibly getting malaria. It was another sweet evening with the five little ones. Our new, larger family was beginning to feel normal after spending a full day together without the stress of an Embassy appointment. We headed to bed early because we had another appointment the next morning.

We woke up early on the morning of the 14th so we could eat breakfast before going to the orphanage to drop the twins off. One of the first things we noticed was that Eli had a bump on his forehead and we were pretty certain that he was just starting a case of the chicken pox. We didn’t have time to fret over this though because we had an early court appointment along with two other couples and had to leave. One of the other families had offered to watch Aftyn, Haley and Aiden for us and allow them to play with their kids at the hotel while we had our court appointment. The kids really wanted to stay and play, and we knew that this appointment would be relatively short so decided that was fine.

It was a long bumpy drive to the “court house.” Before we arrived, the other families and Pierre Alexis (orphanage director) explained to us that the court house was not like one that we would find in America. It was good that this had been explained because it was strange to push through the crowd of people outside the door as a prisoner in cuffs was forced through the doors as well. We barely entered the building door and there was a person sitting with a spiral bound notebook. She flipped through the pages until she found one that had our boys’ names on the top. Craig and I each signed our names on the lined paper…and that was it! This was the proof that we had traveled to the country to see the boys. Not very official…no dates, proof of identification, or anything. It was shocking. Also shocking was watching the prisoner that had been pushed through the court doors hauling around rebar as part of his punishment. The men in the van took several photos of this.

We then stopped by the orphanage to pick up all of the kiddos. We headed back to the hotel to spend the evening together as a family. We ate lunch together by the pool and played in the water a bit more. I really don’t know what we would have done without the pool.

We also took a moment to sneak outside of the hotel gate to look through some of the souvenirs for sale outside of the hotel walls. We were able to find a beautiful wooden globe and a handmade drum. We also picked up bracelets with a Haitian bead on them for the boys. Later that night, the girls and I were able to go out by the pool to look through the Rubble Wear, and we each found a necklace. They are beautiful and were made from pieces of rubble from after the earthquake. Each one is unique and a piece of art in itself…but even more importantly, they are made by the nannies at the orphanage and the money earned from it helps to restore the homes and lives of these Haitian people.

That night was bittersweet. We knew that we were preparing for the last night with the boys and our hearts were already beginning to break. We snuck in extra kisses and snuggles whenever possible and soaked up every moment.

We tucked in all of the kids and were about to head to bed when I decided to go get some lotion.  Craig was standing in the doorway of the bathroom looking like he had a secret. When I asked him what he was doing, he didn’t answer me. I was a bit nervous and afraid that something was wrong….soon after I learned that he had gone into the bathroom to get ready for bed when he noticed a LARGE cockroach on my toiletry bag. We developed a plan and my hero used his sandal to bat at the cockroach flipping it into the tub where he proceeded to pummel it to death. I would say “poor cockroach” but I am really not sorry. Especially after the next morning when I headed to the bathroom and the cockroach was still in the toilet! It took three flushes to get him to go down he was so big!!! (We promptly made a plan not to bring our bags inside the house when we arrived home until they were thoroughly searched and all of the clothing washed!!)

Amazingly we slept well…fully enjoying the night time feedings with our precious sons.

The morning of the 15th came far too early…with the roosters calling and dogs barking. Eli and I woke up and decided to let the others sleep. We got up and wished the other families goodbye as most of them were heading to the airport at 7:00am. Lots of hugs and shared email addresses and the van pulled away with the other adoptive families inside. I snuggled into Eli and began to cry. I couldn’t believe that the time was already coming to an end. I couldn’t even imagine going back to normal life after this journey.

When I returned to the apartment, Craig and the others had woken up. We decided to head to breakfast and planned to have a lazy day by the pool. It was wonderful watching the kids play in the water together. Our family truly felt complete. There were only three families left at this point, and we were all families that had traveled to meet our children for the first time. It was wonderful talking to each other and encouraging each other.

The day went by much too quickly. I went through all of the supplies in the room to determine what we were going to give to the orphanage and what we were going to donate to one of the other families. They decided to have the wife stay in Port-au-Prince for an additional month to teach at the orphanage and spend time with their sons.

We brought the boys back to the orphanage at 3:30pm and it was truly one of the most painful experiences that I have had. Other than the loss of my mom, I don’t think that I have experienced this type of pain before. It was made even more heartbreaking because I had to watch Craig, Aftyn, Haley and Aiden all experience this same pain as well. We were all unusually quiet on the drive to the orphanage. I held Judah and the girls held Eli on the drive. Getting out of the vehicle, I took both boys in my arms. Heavy hearted and with a golf ball-sized lump in my throat, I stepped up onto the porch of the orphanage.

One of the nannies asked me if she could help me with one of the boys. Through the lump in my throat, I could barely squeak out “Not yet.” Tears began to flow quickly down my cheeks and despite the attempts to slow them or to stop the sobs that shook me, I could not. She nodded and the look in her eyes showed me that she understood. Craig and the other kids gathered around and Craig took Judah from me. Eli had fallen asleep and was all snuggled into my chest. We walked back to the baby room and the nannies watched sweetly as we said our goodbyes. Aftyn, Haley and Aiden were watching us closely as they wrestled with their own emotions but none of them had cried yet. Craig and I had tears streaming down our cheeks as we kissed both of the boys. I tucked Eli into his crib and kissed him one last time. I stole a kiss from Judah and Craig placed him in his crib…but a nanny picked him back up. Somehow this eased the pain a little. We then began the tearful walk to the van to head back to the hotel.

The ride home was painful. It is so hard to fall so madly in love in such a brief time frame and then to have to set those powerful feelings aside as we wait for the paperwork and process to catch up with the emotions. It is impossible to set the feelings aside. I am quite aware that these emotions are going to sneak up often in daily life and remind us of the love that exists for two beautiful boys in a sweet baby room in a modest orphanage in Port-au-Prince. We only pray that the time will go quickly between now and our next visit…and then the time that we are able to bring them home to their forever family.

We got back to our apartment and we all fell apart. Aftyn raced upstairs upset and Craig followed her. They shared their tears and worked though their pain. I sat on the couch with Aiden and Haley. They were both tearful and frustrated that we couldn’t bring the boys home with us. My heart was heavy with the same pain. We cried our way through several squares of toilet paper and then decided that we should channel ourselves into a game of UNO to help transition out of the pain.

We played a couple games of UNO (Aiden very sweetly wanted me to win—my eyes must have been the reddest—and I did win the first game!) We then put on our swimming suits to rest at the pool. I floated on the mattress and the kids did stunts at Craig’s request. They loved it! We also had the opportunity to visit with several people that we had met at the hotel including a woman that volunteered at Maison, the orphanage, early that evening. She said that the boys were doing well, but that she could tell that they had been held for a few days. I am sure that it is a process getting them back into their routine as well.

We ate dinner down by the pool and had our last helping of red beans and rice. It was wonderful and the kids enjoyed their chicken strips and fries as well. We were emotionally drained and decided to tuck in the kids pretty early. We got them settled in and began an evening of packing. It was hard to crawl into bed without a little boy beside me to tend to in the night. I snuggled up next to Craig instead.

We woke up at 6:00 am so we could finish the last minute packing and grab some breakfast before heading off to the airport. It was a beautiful morning and while we were enjoying our freshly squeezed orange juice, French toast and pancakes, Angie snuck up to the restaurant to visit a little and then say goodbye. The van arrived and we headed off for our 9:00 am flight to Ft. Lauderdale.

Everything went smoothly and we were surprised to find that we were loaded into first class seating for the trip to Ft. Lauderdale and then from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas. After experiencing the poverty of Haiti and struggling with eating due to upset tummies, this was quite a transition back to the American lifestyle. It was nice to be pampered, but we were only able to eat a tiny bit of the food. Thankfully, I was able to store some of it away in my purse to snack on later. You know me, I hate wasting!

When we were in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, I did some catching up on Facebook and posted a status that said, “Broken hearted, but so hopeful. Can’t wait until the checkbook says that we can travel back to Haiti to hold our beautiful boys.” Literally about an hour later, we were waiting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport and they offered a $300 deal to take a bump on Aftyn and my flights. God is so amazing! It is awesome to watch the blessings come when we are in His will. Now we have $600 to help with the next flights to see the boys! We were able to make our connecting flight in Dallas with Craig, Haley and Aiden to Sioux Falls, and it was nice to have the bonding time with Aftyn on the flight to Dallas.

When we landed in Sioux Falls, reality began to hit pretty hard that “real life” was still moving forward even though we had left a piece of our hearts in Haiti with the twins. Jaron, Heather and their girls met us at the airport with a welcome home sign and my heart broke immediately. It is hard to feel home when the heart is divided between two countries. The transition to life as we knew it went pretty smoothly. We attended church the next morning and spent a little time with family for Father’s Day. We were also able to sneak in a refreshing nap before beginning an evening of laundry.

We are still behind in our rest as I write this portion of the journal four days after arriving home. Our hearts are still broken, missing our boys in Haiti. We returned to work and have been trying to catch up on the laundry and household things. We continue to prepare to sell our home and the ground has been broken on the new home we are building. I am thankful that we have many decisions to make and responsibilities as we face this lengthy wait to be reunited with our boys. I only pray that it will make the time go faster.

“Dear God in heaven, please be with our family as we journey down this path of adoption. I thank you for the blessed time that we shared with the twins in Haiti last week. I thank you for the reassurance that you provided that they are receiving incredible care there. I pray that you keep them safe from the diseases and illness that are so prevalent in a third world country. I pray that you would place your healing hand on our hearts as we wait to be reunited. I pray that if it be your will, that you would speed up the process so all of the families worthy of adoption will be united forever with their children. I thank you for giving Craig, me and our biological children the strength and bravery to face the difficulty of leaving the boys at the orphanage. I pray that you come along side of us through this entire process and to go ahead of us to smooth the process in ways that only You can. We love you with our whole hearts and put our faith in You fully. Amen.”

Broken-hearted but filled with joy,


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 2012 trip to Haiti to meet the twins photos!

We will be typing up our journal of our trip to meet the boys shortly, but in the mean time I wanted to share a link to our photos from our trip.  You do not need to have a Facebook account or be FB friends with us to view the pictures.  Enjoy!