Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas

Well, my cards are ready to go, but this blog will serve as my letter for 2007. So much has happened in the past year, I'm not even sure where to begin. I guess the biggest is that at this time last year I had just received Pre-Approval to adopt Li, Xiao Mai - an orphan from Xiamen, Fujian Province in the People's Republic of China. Lucy (Lucille XiaoMai) has now been home for over 5 months, and we are settling into life. She is an amazing little girl, with a huge sense of humor, a ready smile (except for Santa) and a finger at the ready to point out all the things that her sisters should not be doing.

Lucy is doing well health wise. She had surgery in China for a heart condition known as VSD - ventral septum defect - a whole between the lower chambers of her heart. She'll be monitored her whole life, but it should not cause any reason for her not to do whatever she wants to do. And she is definately taking that to heart!

Ella has started kindergarten, although sometimes this little 6 year old of mine seems like she is 26 instead of 6. She is bright, articulate, and thoughtful. She is a ray of sunshine for me on the tough days, and makes me smile no matter what is going on. Ella still struggles with not being the youngest any more, but loves her little sister, and is a great role model. Matter of fact, today Lucy dressed herself with Ella's help for the first time! Ella is healthy, although we found out this past fall that she is a Thalassemia Type B carrier - not a big deal, but she will need to deal with genetic testing before having kids. She has promised me not to get pregnant and have children until she is very old - like me - at 40 or so... Great.

Gwenn is now in 3rd grade, and is going to be 9 years old this spring. This year has been a busy one for us. Last year was sort of a wasted year at school, and so this year I'm working hard to be sure that we've identified all of the issues that are going on with my little sweet potato. She is such a sweetie, but she is definately the one that makes me the happiest, but also the most frustrated. Besides her SPD (Sensory Processing Dysfunction) we know that she also has a slew of other things she has been diagnosed with - RAD, OCD, ODD, LBLD, CPD, APD and more. My goal is to get her whatever help is the best so that she is a happy adult. She is amazingly bright and such a good kiddo, and it's hard to see her struggle - in school, with friendships, and in activities that she wants to do.

As for me, I'm extemely grateful for my three amazing children. No one could have prepared me the challenges, but the extreme thanks that I feel each day when I watch my children grow. My job continues to be a bright spot - I'm so lucky to have found such a great employer as Microsoft, and I contstantly am challenged to learn new things, and push myself to new limits. I also have had the honor to start an adoptive parents group that is really taking off - and that has been a lot of fun. I'm now President of Families with Children from China NW. We are having growing pains and it's been a challenge in determining how to get through them all and bring the organization out on the other side, stronger and more vibrant.

Well, I've promised the girls to head to bed before midnight so that Santa can come, and I'm not one to get in Santa's way. The girls left him cookies and milk, and I left him a glass of wine. We'll see which he prefers. Since he's been going for a long while, and we are one of the last time zones, I'm putting money on the wine...

If you click on the picture, it should be hyperlinked to the Norad site where you can view video of Santa on his rounds...

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Birthparent searches

NY Times article on searching for birthparents is interesting. It is one of those interesting things - to search or not to search.

When I first adopted internationally, it was attractive - not knowing who the birth parents were. But now that I've adopted 3 times, I think it's the hardest part.

Two lives emerged from the ashes

Great article in the LA Times on the book "Saving Levi", which I read recently. Lisa Bentley works with the Philip Hayden Foundation, which I have donated to for a few years. Great read - both the article and the book!

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer December 12, 2007

Levi Bentley at age 4 in Langfang, China. He is standing in the field where he was found when he was about 6 weeks old, so badly burned that he wasn't expected to live. Lisa Misraje Bentley was a bored U.S. homemaker when she reluctantly went to China with her family to open an orphanage. A charred baby boy would change everything.

BEIJING -- Lisa Misraje Bentley watches the boy in the No. 8 jersey as he careens across the soccer field and she marvels. His lower face a mask of scar tissue, his left arm gone at the elbow, the toes on his left foot missing, he zigzags along the green grass in defiance of his disabilities."Isn't he happy?" she says. "Look at the joy coming out of him!"

Bentley knows the boy probably should not be alive. Five years ago, he was left for dead in a cornfield, his tiny body so ravaged by fire that the villagers who found him thought he looked more like a charred log than a 6-week-old baby.

Back then, Bentley was new to China. She had come begrudgingly with her four children, following her husband, John, from Washington state. Together, the couple founded a Christian orphanage for special-needs children -- those most at risk in the Chinese child welfare system, which often lacks the resources to meet the demands of the disabled.

They wanted to help the undesirables. And when Bentley first saw the abandoned baby, gasping for breath inside a hospital incubator, she knew she had found perhaps the most undesirable one of all.

What happened next would test the limits of modern medicine and put Bentley in conflict with local customs, laws, national bureaucracies and even her own family.

Who could have predicted the impact of one small life in China on a bored suburban homemaker from the Pacific Northwest?

Six years ago, Bentley sat in her four-bedroom home in Vancouver, Wash., and felt like crying. As a stay-at-home mother, she lived the good life: Her husband was a successful lawyer. She was pregnant with her fourth child. There was the minivan and the sports car. Yet she was miserable."I thought, 'If this is my life, this stinks,' " she says.

Then came an opportunity. John always had a fascination with China, and had seen his brother start a Christian orphanage in Africa. He wanted to start one in Beijing. Assured financial backing for one year by a Christian philanthropist, John quit his job and prepared for the journey.

Suddenly, the support fell through, but John still wanted to go.Bentley wasn't so sure. She wanted adventure, but China was like another planet. She had no Chinese language skills, and had always had a Woody Allen-like obsession with hygiene. China was no place to take four young children.

"I thought John was insane," she says. "But I said, 'OK, three months.' Then I figured I'd raise hell and we'd come back."

The family's first image of China didn't help. As they landed in Beijing, Bentley's 8-year-old daughter, Emily, looked out the plane window and remarked, "It looks like a trash can."

The couple settled in Langfang, a rural town an hour outside Beijing, and rented a concrete-block home without heat. Bentley remained a mother on guard, listening for the rats that scampered inside the building walls. Both she and John took jobs at a foreign-run orphanage.

No matter how hard she tried to comprehend the culture, China remained mysterious. She had run-ins with local hospital staff and officials, who considered her another pushy American. Bentley didn't fit the image of a Christian aid worker. She's hip and outspoken, likes '60s clothing, and doesn't come on strong with Bible-speak.

She didn't connect here, and she wanted to go home.

The ghastly discovery came on a dreary March day in 2002: A badly burned baby was found in a field. A cluster of curious villagers encircled the infant as he wailed in agony.

The baby's bright yellow jumper was soaked with blood and body fluids. Someone had carefully tucked a 10-yuan note -- less than $2 -- into his pocket.

One by one, the crowd drifted away. What could be done? The baby was sure to die. Except one old man. He saw that the infant's head had been shaved and a bandage remained where an IV had been inserted.

A desperate mother had no doubt tried to save this child and then, in defeat, abandoned him. The old man understood why: This no longer looked like a baby. He reached down. The infant was so charred that ashes fell when he tried to lift its left arm. The little hand was blackened, clenched.

The old man gathered up the baby and rode his bike to a local government office. He left the infant on the doorstep. The boy was rushed to a hospital, diagnosed with third-degree burns over 70% of his body. The orphanage was notified.

When Bentley arrived, she looked down inside the incubator. What she saw "grabbed me by my heart." The baby wailed in agony as he tried to suck his badly burned thumb -- his wounds so deep Bentley could see muscle, tendon and bone.

"This child had no mom, nobody pulling for him," she says.

Just then, Bentley recalls, the baby's eyes flickered. He looked right at her, expectantly, as if to say, "Are you my mother?"

Then Bentley made the decision that changed everything. Ignoring conventional wisdom limiting the jurisdiction of a foreigner in a strange land, she assigned herself as the child's advocate. Doctors discouraged her. They had never seen anyone so badly burned. No matter how much time and money she spent, they warned, this boy is dead.

Bentley named the boy Levi. She liked the sound of it. Later she learned the word means "to bind and unite." She liked the sound of that even more.

Levi's first surgery was a success. Doctor's removed part of his left arm and performed numerous skin grafts. But days later, infection set in. They operated again, taking more of his left arm. There would probably be more amputations.

Bentley flinched. Levi's scarred face and body were bad enough. She felt as though she was losing him limb by limb. That's when an orphanage colleague told her of an e-mail from a Boston surgeon. When told of the burned orphan, the doctor had offered to come to China. Bentley wanted more. Why not take the baby right to physicians at Boston's Shriners Hospitals for Children, where they could use their own equipment in their own surroundings?

She began a race to accomplish something others considered foolhardy: getting a dying, undocumented Chinese baby into the United States. She hadn't even registered Levi's hukou, or permanent residence, with Chinese authorities.Such documentation takes months. Bentley had days, if that. Chinese doctors were preparing for another surgery, perhaps to amputate the boy's remaining hand. She had to act fast. With the help of orphanage staff, she began a telephone and e-mail campaign aimed at foreign charities here and government offices in China and the U.S.

With each call, she learned a little more about how things get done in China. Hardball was out. She had to use connections, or guanxi, with people who were sympathetic to the boy's plight."I couldn't go in as the pushy American, become too highly emotional," she said. "In the U.S. that works. Go in, be the tough bitch, get what I want. That did not work here."

Friends donated baby clothes. Strangers who encountered the boy opened their wallets. People who knew people in power offered to make calls."

Lisa has this innocence, this naivete, about her that gets things done. People want to help her," said Melody Zhang, associate director of an adoption agency called Children's Hope International. "She's not good in dealing with government. Sometimes she has no idea. But she ignored everything for this boy. She had this connection with Levi, a mother's love as strong as it could be."The bureaucratic waters began to part. Levi was granted a hukou. He was issued a passport, and then a U.S. visa. Bentley's cold calls resulted in a free flight for her and the baby.

At home, the situation was not going as well. John felt Lisa was neglecting her family. She wasn't seeing the big picture.The two bickered. Colleagues in the Christian community took notice and began to whisper. "It became a problem for our marriage," John recalls. "Nannies were raising our children. We had 25 other kids at the orphanage. This was just one child."The tensions would eventually lead to talk of a divorce. But Bentley couldn't stop. With $50 in her purse, she boarded a plane for Boston with a baby still bleeding fluids.

Levi approaches a stranger in his kindergarten classroom."I only have one arm," the 5-year-old says cheerfully. "Will you tie my shoes?" He points to his left foot. "This one doesn't have any toes."So far, he has endured more than 20 surgeries, with more to come. As he grows, scar tissue rips and bleeds and must be removed. His left ankle remains bent at an odd angle.

Sometimes, children taunt him, holding out a crooked arm, saying, "I'm Levi!" Some don't want to sit next to him. People stare.But he perseveres with the help of his mother's discipline. She treats him just as she does her biological children or his fellow adopted sibling, a Chinese-born girl named Orly, who's 9. When he falls, he gets up by himself.Slowly, this rambunctious boy is developing a sense of self. He likes dinosaurs and singing his own rap lyrics. A recent self-image shows him as he is: a boy with a missing hand and toes. He even drew the scars.

There are setbacks. In Texas for surgery to create fingers on his right hand, Levi told the doctors he was a big boy and wouldn't cry. His mother had warned him the surgery would not produce perfect fingers, but she knew he hoped it would."When they removed the bandages, they were raw and stubby, not like mine," she says. "I saw his eyes. I knew his heart shrunk."She knows his most difficult days, emotionally, are yet to come, "when he falls in love and physicality becomes an issue." It is pain even a vigilant mother cannot prevent.

And today Bentley is emotionally and legally his mother. Levi was officially adopted in 2006.Lisa and John worked on their marriage, taking a year's leave of absence to return to the U.S. for couple's therapy.Not long ago, they faced a dilemma: If they didn't return to the U.S. immediately, the Bentleys risked losing their home and cars to repossession. They stayed put. China was home now, and their work with orphans was too important to abandon.Now, life in the U.S. suburbs seems like the other planet. They run their own Beijing-area foster home, Harmony Family House, with a deaf school to help poor Chinese mothers cope with raising special-needs children. Bentley calls these mothers heroes.

The circumstances behind Levi's injuries remain a mystery. But Bentley doesn't blame the mother. "I believe it was a terrible accident that befell a poor mother without resources," she says.She produces a tiny yellow bootie, part of the outfit she calls Levi's burial clothes. "How can you condemn her? She did what she could for her baby. Then wrapped him up and left him to die peacefully. Imagine how hard that must have been."

For years, Bentley was hard on herself, thinking she was never good enough. That's changed. At 43, she accepts who she is, the kind of kooky redhead who dares to be different, who knows it's all right to stand out either within the Christian community, back home in the U.S. or even here in China."I'm no longer afraid to say, 'This is the way I am.' I'm not trying to hide anymore," she says. "For the first time in my life, I'm comfortable in my own shoes."And a little boy no one else wanted made that happen.This year, she published a book on her experiences. It's called "Saving Levi: Left to Die . . . Destined to Live."Bentley knows the boy wasn't the only one who was saved.

BBC Photo Essay

BBC News has a great photo essay on life in a Guatemalan Orphanage, Asociacion Primavera Children's Home. I wonder how often these kiddos are at risk due to trafficking and when they are not - and if they are not, it's a shame about the slowdown - but they should eventually make their way to adoptive homes if everything is above the board.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Well, we had Santa pictures this past weekend - and it was a load of fun. Lucy wanted nothing to do with the old man, and was not sure why I made her stand with him. Ella tried to comfort Lucy and tell her it was okay, and Gwenn took advantage of the time, and talked for 10 minutes about all the stuff she wants.

In the end, we got some cute pics of the girls - although Lucy was a tough nut. Her brows stayed furrowed until we were all done. Once she walked away she turned around, gave a winning smile, and said "bye-bye" to Santa and the photographer. That's my girl.

Friday, December 14, 2007

New Newsweek Article on China Orphanages

Well, here is quite an extensive article from Newsweek on China's orphanages. It's a nice human interest story, and a nice look at how many orphanages now run...


Well, there is an article on Yahoo today about a dutch family who have relinquished custody of their 7 year old daughter (adopted from South Korea) for aparently no better reason than I can read than because they now have biological kids. They should be arrested and jailed for abandonment. And, since it is a diplomatic family, shame on the Dutch government for not firing this guy and sending their butts to jail somewhere.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Life on the street: Cairo

Very interesting article on young girls on the street in Cairo. Traffiking is such a huge issue, and I'm not sure when folks will deal with it.

Newsweek: Give me a BREAK

OK. Newsweek just published this amazingly horrid sounding article: When Adoptions Go Bad. The tone is negative, and starts out with a parent killing their adoptive child. What they didn't share is that most of what is listed in the article is actually symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder. It was disappointing to say the least that instead of talking about a serious subject, it was treated like FOXNews with the sensational story.

I'm going to need more time to think about this...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Well, it had to happen at some point. The girls have webkins, and I have now activated their accounts. To be honest, it's kind of cute - and just as addictive as I heard other parents tell me it is. I've now racked up a ton of points for each of the girls, before we even get on. Stunning. I'm glad I'm putting my time to good use...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Medical Updates, while we are at it...

Since I'm in here, we have lots of medical updates to share.

Lucy: Now that we have confirmed that she is 6-10 months younger than her paperwork states, we need to get a full cardiac work up. Except that Childrens hasn't opened it's schedule for 2008 yet - so each Monday I get to call and wait on hold, hoping to find out if the calendar is open. Finally today I got through and have an appoinment for late January.

Ella: Ella has now been officially diagnosed with Thalassemia - an inhertited, genetic blood disorder that causes chronic anemia. In her form, she has inherited from only one parent, which is very, very good. However, she will need to confirm that her S.O. is not also a carrier - the version from two parents is devastating. Worse case, she can adopt - which she tells me already she wants to do. Learn more at:

Gwenn: Gwenn, Gwenn, Gwenn. How much to say here. This week we have her MRI scheduled at Childrens. Next month is the full neuropsych eval and her VEEG at Childrens. The social worker with the pediatricians office is also working on a care meeting with all of the folks involved - pediatrician, neurologist, neuro-psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, regular therapist, etc. Gwenn has also been dismissed from the counseling at the Kindering Center that we were taking advantage of. They believe that she is dealing with attachment disorder, and so we have a re-evaluation with Attachment Center NW next week. She was seen there just about 2 years ago, and they thought nothing was going on. However, the same issues are still here and amplified, and since the counselor has recommended, they are going to evaluate her again.

Some of you have asked to learn more about Sensory Processing Dysfunction, and other related issues... you can learn more at some of these places:
Eide's Neurodevelopmental Blog
Developmental Trauma Disorder
Attachment Center NW
Families for Effective Autism Treatment
Great list of books about SI

Lara: Still sound like I'm about to hack up a lung. Cannot WAIT for this to be done.

We're back

Well, I can't say that the break has been enjoyable. I'm just finishing my 4th round of antiobiotics for some nasty bronchitis that won't go away. I still sound like I've walked off of a 1950's TB ward, and feel like I've been sucker punched in the chest. But, I'm getting better...
So... what have we been up to, besides listening to me cough?

Cheerleading has ended. Gwenn accepted trophies for both herself and Ella, since Ella was sick that weekend (that is what started it all).

Halloween occured - and we were very successful in the candy department this year. The girls loved dressing up, and it took Lucy only one house to figure out what the deal was about. She ran at full steam from house to house, yelling "tree" (she can't say treat yet) and getting candy. All in all, it was a good day... Viivi also carved her first pumpkin, so that is big stuff!

Lucy continues to grow and suprise us all. She is getting more hair, loves to talk on the phone, and has learned how to undress herself. All in all, she is keeping her mom and sisters very busy!

And, Lucy has continued to rage - although not like she did in China. Now, it's mostly a 2 year old thing, and we are having fun when she gets into it. This episode was sparked by Ella not wanting to hold Lucy's hand during dinner (Ella's hands were busy putting food into Ella's mouth...)

The "big" girls and I went to see Disney Princess on Ice Tour. It was very special - we joined the hundreds of other little girls in their princess costumes heading to Key Arena for the skating. It was a very nice, expensive, Disney kind of night. It's amazing how well they know how to tap into our pocketbook. I need more marketing lessons from them!