Vika is ours!! Yesterday was the big day most adoptive families refer to as “Gotcha Day.” For whatever reason, I have an aversion to that term . . . but yeah, November 17 was Vika’s Gotcha Day. Now that she is officially in our custody, I can stop using the innocuous term “Eastern Europe” and call the country I am in by name: UKRAINE! Vika’s region is called Mykolayiv (Ukrainian spelling) or Nikolaev (Russian spelling). This is where we have spent most of our time here in this country.

Vika meets her Babushka!

Monday was spent introducing Vika to my mother-in-law, Pat, and then after a nice long visit, we got to have lunch with our sweet landlady, who speaks pretty good English. It’s a rarity in that region and we enjoyed her company so much. On Monday evening, as I wrote earlier, we took Vika for her passport photos. Of course they were adorable, and it was fun taking her out of the baby house. I’ve got to admit, for someone as OCD about car seat safety as I am, it’s a very strange feeling to be driving around with no seat belts and a baby on your lap!

On Tuesday morning, our driver, Valera, took us to the courthouse to pick up the court decree. This is something that we would ordinarily do with our facilitator, but her train didn’t arrive until 11 and we needed to make the most of the time. Valera was great and took care of everything we needed.

After Masha arrived, we headed out for Bashtanka, the town where Vika was born. It is about an hour from Nikolaev (the capital city) and it was so nice to get out of the city and see what the Ukrainian countryside looks like. The landscape was mostly low, rolling hills covered in green grass, with patches of barren trees here and there. We drove by many small homes and villages, and saw lots of geese, chickens, and cattle. It was all very interesting. Bashtanka is a medium-sized town with shops and businesses and small houses, unlike the large apartment buildings that fill Nikolaev and Kiev. We had to come here to get Vika’s original birth certificate and the new one, with our names on it. It took a few hours but everyone was very friendly and we enjoyed walking around and seeing a little bit of the town. After one more stop back in Nikolaev for more paperwork, we were done for the day.

Entering Bashtanka with Valera and Masha

Wednesday was much the same, only all of our paperwork was able to be completed right there in town. Most of it was done by Masha while we killed time walking around town with Valera. There was a vendor selling those small mylar balloons on short little sticks, so I bought 12 of them to give to all of the children in Vika’s group.

Flower stands in Nikolaev

Finally Vika’s passport was ready, and we headed to the bank to clear out her account. When special-needs children come into orphanage care, the Ukrainian government opens an account for them and makes monthly deposits. If the child is adopted, the new parents close the account and collect the money. It is customary to give this to the orphanage as a donation. Vika’s account held close to $2000. While we were at the bank, a lot of elderly people were there collecting their pensions. A monthly pension here is $87. Masha said it is a mystery how these people are able to survive on it. You can imagine some of the looks we got walking out with such a large stack of bills.

At around 4:30 everything was done and all we had to do was go to the orphanage to collect Vika. We stopped and bought juice, cookies, bananas, and tangerines for all of the kids in her group, and chocolates for the nannies and nurses and then headed over to the orphanage.

I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I have had two babies, but I know how to take care of a newborn. And then as they grow, you figure things out about them and learn as you go how to best care for them. It’s an entirely different thing to take over all of the care of a two year old who you know pretty much nothing about. I feel like a brand new mom, and it’s humbling in ways that I wasn’t really expecting.

At the baby house, I gave the kids their balloons, which were a HUGE hit. There are 9 little boys and 3 girls in Vika’s group, and they were all SO excited about them. It wasn’t a good time for the juice and snacks, so we gave them to the nannies for later. I hope they enjoyed them. Masha said that the orphanages have a budget of about 60 cents per day to feed each child, so as you can imagine, they don’t get a lot of fresh fruit or extras like juice.

Balloons for Vika's buddies

I think I expected a bit more formality after all of the months of work and papers we’d signed and all of that. But they just handed Vika to me and took the rest of the group outside. I changed her into the clothes I’d brought for her (a gift from my mom!) and then we went outside and played with the kids in her group for a little while longer while we waited for our driver. The kids in her group are all so wonderful. Some have conditions like cerebral palsy or fetal alcohol syndrome. Many are available for adoption. I hope and pray that each of them finds a family before it’s too late.

Some of Vika's nannies and children from her group

Finally Valera arrived and we were on our way to the train station. This was definitely one of the things I was most worried about. A 10.5 hour train ride didn’t really sound like the idea way to spend the first night with my new baby. But I shouldn’t have worried: we made up a little mat on the floor for her to sleep on, put her down, told her to go to sleep in Russian, and didn’t hear a peep out of her until we were getting off the train in Kiev this morning!! Masha and Pat and I are convinced so far that she is pretty much the easiest baby ever.

Masha, Vika, and me on the train

Vika, sound asleep on the train

Today we got into our apartment here, showered quickly, and then headed to the medical clinic for the mandatory medical exam we need for her visa. That took about an hour, and then we headed over to the embassy for our intake appointment. It was very quick, as Masha and Nina had all of the paperwork in good order. Tomorrow I will take Vika back for the visa interview and if all goes according to plan, we will be on our way back home early Saturday morning!!

Vika continues to amaze us. She is totally content and so easy to care for. She kind of panicked with her bath this afternoon (probably her first tub bath ever), but living for two years in an orphanage has taught her the art of self-soothing, and her cries didn’t last long. And I have to say, she is MUCH cuter fresh and clean from the bath than I’ve ever seen her before!! I don’t know what it is because she never really seemed exactly dirty before, but the change in her appearance after washing her hair and bathing her and rubbing lotion into her skin is just astounding. She smells so good now and is even sweeter to snuggle than before.

Not exactly a fan of the bathtub

I hope to share a lot more in the next few days but this post has gotten long enough for now. Thanks for the support and encouragement as we’ve gone through this process. We are so thankful to have a supportive community as we welcome our new daughter home.

Our little Ukrainian sweetheart!