Monday, July 21, 2014

So about that gotcha week in Bulgaria... Part 1

Yes, we have been home with Ivelina for over a month now, and, no, I have not blogged about our pick-up trip. I'm past that trip now. My mind is on different things, new challenges, and joyous progress with our daughter, but I know I have several readers who prayed for our trip. I also know that I have always been blessed by reading the experiences of those who are just a little ahead of us in the adoption process. So, I feel like I need to write about our pick-up week in Bulgaria. That trip already seems like a lifetime ago, but luckily, I have a journal and the daily email updates to my family that can help me remember what the week was like.

So, here it goes. This is our experience with pick-up week:

Tuesday, June 3
Depart for Charlotte, NC. An 1.5 hour drive for us, but the journey was smooth and we arrived at the airport in plenty of time. Security was easy-peasy, and we called all of our family members one final time when we arrived at our gate. We shared one large check bag, and packed another large check bag for Ivelina full of clothes, toys, and snacks. Jeremy and I both carried our back packs w/wheels on the plane and my "personal item" was a little pink backpack for Ivelina (the same one we took to the orphanage every day in January). I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to see her pulling it through the airports on the way back home. Honestly, it was impossible for me to imagine the two of us becoming three at this point.

Wednesday, June 4

We lucked out with only two flights for this trip. We flew directly from Charlotte, NC to Rome. We had quite a layover there...5 hours! Our flight with United Airlines was full and we were stuck right in the middle of the row. In usual fashion, I absolutely cannot sleep on a plane, so I passed the time by eating and watching movies. I was so completely exhausted when we arrived, and the Rome airport is the most uncomfortable airport I have ever been in. We searched around for anything that resembled a place to rest. There are no benches, no lounge chairs, no seats without armrests. I even would have slept on the floor if there would've been some carpet somewhere. There weren't even any padded chairs. So, I was pretty crabby during our layover. We did grab a little piece of pizza and chatted with a nice lady from the States while we waited.

Later we flew another few hours to Sofia, BG arriving around 6pm. A man from our NGO staff was there to pick us up. He drove us to our apartment. We were glad it was the same one we stayed in during our first trip in January. That was at least a bit of familiarity. All my body really longed to do was crash, but we made ourselves walk to the grocery store to stock up on some food for the week. We got some fresh fruits and veggies, soup mix, bread, Nutella, jam, cheese, yogurt, and bottled water. Then, we decided to enjoy one last dinner out just the two of us. I still don't think it had really dawned on me that in just a few hours, we'd have Ivie in our custody and she would be ours. I was excited, but too tired to really process the whole experience. I was also a little sad. I have loved the almost eight years with just Jeremy and me. He's my best friend. So, I think during this dinner out I was also grieving a bit as well.

Then, it was time to get our apartment ready for Ivelina. We put all the food away. Hid all the snacks on a high shelf, hid the medicines, put her toys in a cabinet, and created a sleeping arrangement. After moving some furniture, here's what we came up with:

Thursday, June 5

This was gotcha day for us!  I had all kinds of high hopes for the day! We left our apartment at 6:30 a.m. and made the almost 6 hour drive to Shumen and then to our daughter's Village of Drumev. It was cold and rainy that day. I was worried about not having packed appropriate attire for Ivie. We thought it was going to be hot, so basically all we brought with us were summer clothes.

The sights looked familiar to me as we had already made the same trek twice back in January. Everything was much greener this time round though. We took her backpack filled with several changes of clothes, some pull-ups, snacks, a water bottle, and a new baby doll. I had plans to take lots of photos of the staff there. I wanted to get a group shot of Ivelina with all her care takers. I wanted to try again to get a photo of the bathrooms and her bedroom at her orphanage. (In January, they were pretty guarded with me about taking photos inside the facility.) They told her in January that we would bring her a dress when we came back. It was chilly and rainy, but I brought a dress anyway excited to get her dressed all cute for our first day together. I also brought a pad of stationary and a bunch of pens. I wanted to ask any of her caretakers that wanted to write Ivelina a note that we could keep for her. My plan was to ask my Bulgarian friend back home to translate the note into English on the back. Then, I was going to keep the notes in a scrap book for Ivelina to enjoy in the years to come. I also had about 20 additional questions written in my notebook that I wanted to be sure to ask the director.

We drove through Shumen and then started down the narrow curvy steep road to her village. As we passed the village sign, I felt my stomach getting all nervous. This was happening. Today. No turning back. In about 5 minutes we would be arriving at Kalinka Home for Children with Mental Delay. Would she be waiting for us at the door?  Would she remember us? How long would we have together at the orphanage? Would she cry when she had to say goodbye? Would she even understand what was going on?

Before I knew it we were being ushered inside. It was raining the day we left her in January, and it was raining when we returned. As we stepped in the entry way my eyes were darting down the halls looking for Ivelina. It was quiet. Where were all the other children? At school maybe?  It was a little after lunch time by the time we arrived. I couldn't hear Ivelina at all. Me, Jeremy, our translator, the director, and two workers crammed ourselves into her tiny office. We sat on a little uncomfortable couch. Everyone was talking in Bulgarian. They all seemed rushed. Our translator had already told us we needed to hurry because it would already be late when we got back to Sofia. They were exchanging paperwork and chattering in Bulgarian. Then, more workers crammed into the room.

I managed to ask if Ivelina had been healthy since January. She had been. I asked about her birthday that was just a week prior. They said she was asking where her present from us was.  So sad!  I hate that she had no gift from her mama and taty on her 8th birthday. They said she had looked at her photo book every day (the one we left for her with pictures of us). They said she definitely remembered us and was waiting for us.

All of a sudden, a worker + Ivelina burst into the office. She was wild-eyed and looked SO different! Her short hair looked kinda crazy. Someone had put it in a bunch of tiny ponytails. She was dressed in a long-sleeve shirt under a denim dress with a puffy vest over that and leggings with new black shoes. The worker told her to sit with us and she kind of collapsed on top of me. She was grabbing at the potted plants and kicking, squirming, and well just plain wild. Of course, she was carrying a baby doll.

From this point on, I was just so consumed with checking her out, hugging her, and keeping her under control that all my best laid plans fell by the wayside. I never even got my camera out. Then the director was having us sign some stuff. And another worker was reviewing all the things that Ivelina was taking with her. We had to sign a paper listing all the items she left the facility with. I was shocked by this because I was under the impression that she would leave with nothing. However, she had her toothbrush and a container of toiletries, she had a baby doll, a stuffed animal, some school work, a few clothes, and the outfit she was wearing.

Then, our translator said it was time to go. Before I knew it we were outside and the moment for goodbye's had come. Then, I panicked because I hadn't taken a single photo!  And I didn't hand out the stationary! We quickly snapped a few (bad) photos on the front stoop. Jeremy shot about 10 seconds of video of Ivelina hugging all the caretakers. She was wild and looked angry in every single photo. Not what I had imagined. She was ready to get in the car and go!

As we climbed in the car, I was really let down. I was mad at myself for not documenting the experience better. This was our gotcha day, and we didn't have a good photo or video of the experience. Moreover, I didn't get any additional information, I didn't get the letters, and I only asked like two of my questions from my list!

The whole experience was just simply overwhelming and rushed. Nothing went as I had planned, but we got her anyway.

The car ride back was long. She was wild, but did a lot better in the car than I thought. She loved the new baby doll we gave her. And she loved to watch us draw pictures of things she liked (babies, pacifiers, bottles, etc) When we got back to the apartment, the first thing we did was feed her. Mashed potatoes was all we fed her for this first meal. We were worried that her tummy might be upset from all the stress and changes, and we thought something bland was best.

I bathed her...kind of...she was screaming the whole time so I had to cut that short. In Bulgaria neighbors can call the cops if your child is crying too loudly for very long. We were paranoid about this all week. I got her in her PJ's and she brushed her teeth with taty.

When it was time for bed, she went with no fussing. She climbed right into her little bed and got under the covers. We hugged and kissed. I thought, "wow, is this too good to be true?" Turns out it was. Once we were all in bed and lights were turned down, her behavior was turned up. Three hours later, we arranged everything so that we could literally hold her in the bed. Another hour of squirming around and she was asleep. I was so worked up; nerves, stress, fatigue, frustration, & jet-lag were getting the best of me. Then, I only slept two hours! It was rough, and we were filled with doubts and fears. Will she do this every night? Is it always going to be this bad? Did we make a big mistake?

Stayed tuned for Part 2 where I will write about our next few days in country as we finished up all the requirements for our adoption.


  1. I had the same rushed experience at the orphanage when I picked up Emilia. I have zero video and only a few bad photos from that pivotal occasion. There's some regret about it, but I also realize that it was only one moment in time and that so much else is more important than that single experience.

  2. Love the honesty! Great post. I am always interested in seeing how various countries handle the adoption process.


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