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!

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So much has happened since my last post. Ryan and I left Vika’s city the day our court decree was read to spend time with our other children in the US while we waited out our ten days until the decree takes effect. We flew through London on the way home and spent a wonderful, much-anticipated overnight with our dear friends AJ and Andrea, who live in Bristol now.

The next day we boarded our 11 hour flight back to California . . . and what a loooong 11 hours those were! But it was all worth it when were reunited with our other children at the airport.

After taking into account all of the travel, I had only 5 days at home. In some ways it seemed kind of silly to go all that way for just 5 days, but if I had stayed here the whole time, I would have been away for 4 weeks, and that’s just too long for me! The days at home went by much too fast but I am still glad I did it.

On Saturday I boarded the return flights to EE, but since Ryan had to stay at home to work, I’ve been so happy to have my mother-in-law with me. We arrived this morning by train and will have a very busy week before returning home next Saturday.

Today was a “down” day, where we got to go see Vika again and give her time to get re-acquainted with me. It was wonderful to see her again and we picked up right where we left off. We had lunch with our wonderful landlady at a Ukrainian restaurant in town, and then this afternoon we went and took Vika to have passport photos taken. Apparently it was the first time she had ridden in a car since she was tiny, and her eyes were as big as moons! I have a couple of pictures that I will try to post later. What a week that little girl is in for. . . an overnight train ride, a couple of days in the busy capital city, and then the long trip home. I hope it doesn’t completely overwhelm her.

I will take custody of her either tomorrow or Wednesday. I am hoping to wait until all of our business is done because there is really no need to uproot her from her comfortable surroundings any sooner than necessary. I am sure she will be happier at the baby house than she would be with us, running all over town for documents and papers that are needed.

Tomorrow we will travel to the city where she was born to collect her new birth certificate. I am very interested to see it and to get outside the city. I’ve now spent 16 days in this country and have yet to see anything outside of the cities.

Today is the day that we legally became a family of five. The judge has granted our petition to adopt this sweet girl.

Our new daughter!

Viktoria Laura Pedersen

Born October 23, 2008 – Adopted November 5, 2010

Vika’s first name was given to her by her birth mother at birth. We have chosen to keep it out of respect to her first family and culture.

Her middle name, Laura, is in honor of my grandmother, Laura Critchfield, who passed away in 2001. She was a wonderful, loving person and I was blessed to have a close relationship with her. We pray that Vika will follow in her example of love for the Word of God, kindness to others, and devotion to her family.  We are so happy to pass her name on to our daughter.

We are very thankful for the way God has worked in our hearts and lives over this past year, and how it has all culminated in this precious gift to our family. We can’t wait to bring her home!

Tonight we will say good bye to our new daughter, and then board the train for the overnight ride back to the capital. Tomorrow afternoon we will fly to London, where we’ll overnight with our dear friends the Culps, and then fly on to San Francisco (DIRECT THIS TIME!! YAY!!) on Sunday. We cannot wait to be back with our other children at home, whom we have missed so much in these past two weeks.

I will return to Eastern Europe one week later to finish up Vika’s paperwork. I am SO HAPPY that my mother in law, Pat, will be joining me on this second trip to get Vika. We plan to arrive back home in California with Vika on November 20!

Our court hearing was this afternoon at 3. All went reasonably well. Our paperwork was inspected, Ryan presented our case, and we were both questioned by the judge, jury, and district attorney’s representative. One humorous moment happened early on, when the judge asked us if we objected to him or believed he might not rule justly on our case and wanted to request another judge(this is a standard opening). Something happened in the translation and it came through to us as something like “do you trust this judge and agree to have him hear your case.” So we both answered “YES!”  in unison and everyone in the room burst out laughing.

The Courthouse

The Courthouse

After about half an hour of questioning and reviewing our paperwork, the judge adjourned and told us to come back in the morning to hear the reading of the decree. This usually happens very quickly after the case is heard, but it was late in the day and people needed to go. We were hoping to have everything finished today but really doesn’t make too big of a difference since we are here tomorrow anyway.

So tomorrow we will go visit Vika in the morning, then go to court to finish everything up. After one last visit with Vika in the late afternoon, we’ll get on the train Kiev, where we’ll catch our flight out on Saturday afternoon. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to Vika, but I’ll be back for her soon.

I get a Mama and Daddy tomorrow!!

Thanks for your prayers- we’re almost done!!

We just received word that all of our SDA paperwork is complete and will be on the train tonight. This means that our court hearing should go on tomorrow as planned! Praise God. . . it is this precious girl’s last night as an orphan.

Please pray that all goes smoothly with our hearing and that God gives us favor in the eyes of the judge who will be deciding our case.

 

(By Ryan) Another great day with Vika today. When we arrived at the baby house in the morning, she seemed like she may have not been feeling very well. However, midway through our visit we realized that she was just tired. Trying to keep her awake was the theme of the visit.

Unsuccessful Effort

The nannies have asked us to not let her sleep during our visits because it ruins her afternoon nap. This can, however, be very challenging sometimes. You can check out a couple of videos on Janeé’s facebook page if you would like to see what I mean. We did not have complete success today, and I (Ryan) had to shamefully hand her back to her nanny completely asleep. The nanny was very gracious, and could tell that we had not allowed her to go to sleep without a fight.

During our evening visit we got to see something very different. As we arrived, Vika and her group buddies were nowhere to be seen and we were directed down a hall where we heard music coming from a large room. At first I was envisioning all the children sitting and watching a movie as if in a theater. What we saw instead was pretty much all the kids from the baby house sitting in rows watching a man and a women in traditional costumes performing a play with a few different dolls (or at least dolls is the best word I have to describe them).

Baby House Entertainment

The kids were all so well behaved as they sat wide eyed focused on every scene. We waited for the end since we did not want to take Vika away from this wonderfully entertaining drama. It ended happily as a little girl was reunited with her family through the help of a very friendly bear. The theme seemed a little heavy in light of the demographic, but the kids certainly seemed to enjoy it.

Janeé Considers New Job Prospect

We then finished another very pleasant visit with Vika. We have just been so blessed to get to know her a little bit more each day. I cannot imagine these visits really going any better. We know that there will be some tough times ahead, but we are so happy to get this special time with her now and we are cherishing it.

We also got more good news today. Our local approval letter was received by Nina and taken to the SDA. We also have found out that I (Ryan) will be able to sign a couple of documents back home instead of having to go to the embassy here which would have required another day here. So even if our court hearing is delayed until Friday, we will still be able to leave on Saturday as we have hoped. We have felt so blessed that thus far everything has been incredibly smooth. God has been so good in guiding this process, and we spent a good amount of time today just reflecting on how gracious He has been to us. There are a few things left in our process that could cause delays, but right now we are just thanking God for how supernaturally well things have gone and trying our best to trust Him to guide the process in the next coming days as well. We thank you for your prayers and support.

Ryan Discovers New Work Outfit at Local Shop

Happy Monday to all of our friends and family, from “our world,” where one day is pretty much the same as the next! We get up, eat, check e-mail and enjoy any new blog comments or messages that came while we were sleeping, eat the same thing for breakfast every day (eggs scrambled with ham and cheese over toast and juice), shower and get dressed, go visit Vika, come back and eat lunch (salami, bread, cheese, and maybe soup), nap or read or try to find something to watch online, go see Vika again, eat dinner (either at home or at a restaurant down the street- they seem to have a lot of different food but only English words are the two large ones outside that say “Pizza” and “Beer,” so that is what we order whenever we go), kill more time online or reading or Skyping with our kids at home (how we miss them!!), and then fall asleep at around 8 PM.

Today while we were visiting Vika we got a call from Nina informing us of some possible problems with our court date on Thursday. We would be so appreciative of your prayers for these. I’ll try to explain as clearly and simply as possible.

1. As of this morning, the letter from the local authorities approving our adoption had been prepared but was still waiting for a signature. Praise God, Nina JUST called to inform me that it has been signed and will be coming to her by train tonight. So this prayer was answered before we even shared it.

2. Nina’s SDA contact is hoping to be able to prepare our SDA approval and have it back to us by Thursday, but they are having an extremely busy week because elections were held nationwide yesterday AND this is the week that the prosecutor is conducting their inspection/review of the SDA’s work. I am not exactly sure what this means, but please pray that she will have time to work on our case. Having the local approval letter coming is huge and would have been a dealbreaker on our SDA approval, so I am hopeful, but we are not in the clear yet. And this brings us to request #3.

3. Apparently as part of the SDA review, the prosecutor will pull adoption files for closer inspection. If our file is pulled, we could be delayed indefinitely. This is certainly our most important request- please pray that our case would be overlooked and we could proceed as originally planned.

Thank you so much for the prayers, e-mails, blog comments, Facebook messages, etc. We are doing quite well overall but it can be pretty lonely here without the ability to connect with people around us because of the language barrier. We have only been here for just over a week, so I can only imagine how difficult this becomes for people who end up staying for weeks on end! But anyhow, every little bit of outside interaction goes a long way to encourage us and lift our spirits. We know so many of you are praying and we are so thankful.

Our visits with Vika are going extremely well. We feel like we turned a corner with her yesterday. She is really starting to warm up to us, loves to be tickled, and is quickly turning into a huge Daddy’s girl! I posted a video on Facebook of her laughing at him. . . it is like music to my ears! For some reason I can’t post it here but feel free to friend me on Facebook and check it out.

We had a wonderful visit with Vika this morning. She seemed much happier the entire time than she has before. We have cut our visiting time back a little bit so as not to overwhelm her. We are technically allowed to visit for 2 hours, twice daily, but I think we all do better by just staying for around an hour each time.

Today she sat on Daddy’s lap almost the entire time! This was huge because before she’s always been much more nervous with him.

As you can see, they got along just fine today!

Doesn’t she have the most beautiful eyes?

When it was lunchtime we took her back up to her room (with no vandalism on my part this time, thank goodness). The nannies accepted a package of cookies for the children and let me take some pictures of Vika having her lunch. Here she is being fed by one of her nannies.

As we were walking back to our apartment, we started hearing music playing. As we came closer, we realized it was the song “Ancient of Days.” We found a stairway up the side of a large building and went inside to find a church service had just begun! We had hoped to go to church today but decided to go see Vika instead, so we were very happy to be able to do both. The entire service was in Russian so I can’t say we got much out of the message, but it was still nice to be there among other believers. Afterward someone tried to greet us but he spoke no English, so we went on our way. As we were walking back toward the street, he came running out with two young women in tow, who were calling out “Hello!” to us. They spoke some English and we were so happy to get to visit with them.  They insisted on giving us their phone numbers in case we needed anything while we are here, and also invited us to a “Breakdance Battle”  that will be held on Saturday. I think Ryan was secretly happy to tell them that we’d be gone by then! Judging by some of the dancing we saw in the service, I don’t think we’d do too well!

One of the wonderful things about being a believer is the family we can find almost anywhere in the world. Though we have nearly nothing else in common with many of these people, there is a commonality we find in Christ that makes us welcome among them. I have no doubt that I could call either of the numbers we were given and these people would do absolutely anything they could to help us. It’s a beautiful thing.

So quite a while back, a friend posted the picture below on Facebook with the caption “I swear this stuff only happens to me.”

Well, friend, you were wrong. I did this exact thing today, only it was a toddler-sized sink in an orphanage on the other side of the globe, while being watched by 13 curious toddlers and 3 Russian-speaking nannies who were, at best, less than amused.

After we’d enjoyed a nice visit with Vika, one of her nannies came and told us we had to bring her back for lunch. I brought her back up to her room, put her in her little chair, and was bending down to tie a bib around her neck when I VERY lightly bumped into the little sink on the wall and heard this enormous thud. All of the children stopped eating and the nannies made these panicked “oo oo oo” sounds as I turned and saw what I had done. Talk about embarrassing. Ryan tried to fix the thing but it had apparently been attached to the wall with some adhesive no stronger than a glue stick, and there was nothing he could do. I tried to appropriately communicate my remorse (mental note: learn the Russian word for “sorry” . . . I’d get a lot of mileage out of it) and the nannies just shook their heads and waved us to go. And go we did . . . some might say we fled! I can only imagine what they must have thought . . . “and we’re supposed to let these idiots walk out of here with this child in a few weeks?!?”

Apart from that disaster, our visiting is going well. We get to go twice a day and stay for about an hour and a half. Vika seems happy to see us but she is still coming out of her shell. She loves the toys we bring (and the snacks even more!) and she is happy to have people play with her, and she is slowly getting used to us. We are having to take things very slowly with her as she is easily frightened. She never, ever cries, but when she gets tired or stressed she sticks her little tongue out and starts sucking on it in the most adorable manner until the drool runs off her chin. As cute as it is, we know that means we need to back off and give her some time.

I do worry a bit about the trip home. Other than a stay in the hospital over this last summer when she was having breathing difficulties, it is safe to say she has not left the grounds of the baby house since she was brought here as an infant. I know the outside world will be overwhelming to her. Please pray that she learns to feel safe with us quickly.

Here’s a picture from one of her happier moments yesterday.

This afternoon we got the news we have been praying for for months: Our court hearing is scheduled for next Thursday, November 4, at 3 PM. If all goes well, we should be able to fly home on our currently scheduled flights on Saturday the 6th, making our total time in country just 13 days. If you know anything about adoption from this country, you will realize what an amazing thing this is. We knew when we booked these tickets that it was very optimistic to think that we would be done by then, but God has moved mountains on our behalf and our process has been unbelievably smooth.

We still need to get approval from the SDA before Thursday in order for this to happen. All of our documents will be going back to the capital via the overnight train tonight and Nina will try to get them taken care of ASAP. This approval usually takes around 5 days but she has a contact there who will be able to expedite it for us. Please pray that the paperwork will be back on the train to our region on Wednesday night so that we can have our hearing as scheduled.

Then on Thursday night we will ride the train back to the capital, where we will go to the embassy on Friday so Ryan can sign some papers. After a quick overnight, we will board our flights home!!

I will return 10 days after our hearing to finish up Vika’s paperwork and get her visa and passport. God willing, we will be home with Vika by November 20.

Our 2010 Ukraine Adoption Timeline

March 26 - Begin gathering homestudy and dossier documents
March 31 - Sign contract with homestudy agency, begin filling out paperwork
May 7 - File I-600a (without completed homestudy)
May 21 - Second homestudy interviews, turned in all documents
July 12 - Decided to add Down syndrome to our homestudy
July 16 - Third homestudy interview to approve us for a child with Down syndrome
July 26 - Homestudy finalized and overnighted to USCIS!
July 31- Received USCIS fingerprint date of August 26
August 13 - USCIS Fingerprinting (walk-in)
August 19 - USCIS I-600a approval
August 20 - Commit to adopting Vika
August 28 - Receive I-171h
August 30 - All apostilles done, ship dossier to Eastern Europe
September 2 - Dossier arrives in EE
September 16 - Dosser submitted
October 5 - Receive appointment date of October 25 to get Vika's referral!
October 22 - Leave for EE
October 25 - SDA appointment
October 28 - We meet Vika
November 4 - 1st Court hearing
November 5 - Court decree read- Happy Adoption Day!!
November 17 - I take custody of Vika
November 19 - Receive Vika's Visa at US Embassy
November 20 - HOME!

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