Don't Spread Peanut Butter on the Dog

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Ahh... the things we now find ourselves hollering out in our household. There are also the occasional nonchalant comments of "Kristina, put your clothes back on please... streaking is still illegal in NJ as far as Im aware", or "Alex, stop eating the cats food, your lunch will be ready in a minute..." Whether emphatically or matter-of-factly communicated, we many times have to stop laugh and shake our heads at how much our lives have changed and how happy we are for it.

Our adoption trek began back in May of 1999 after almost two years of trying to conceive that I asked my husband if we could start really looking into the adoption process we had always mentioned we wanted to do. I had always envisioned having some children biologically and adopting as well. Feeling the biological pressures taking their toll, I asked if we could switch the batting order and get going on the adoption end of things.

So there we were all set to embark on this wonderful process and we didnt have a clue what to do. I reached out to a few people whom we knew had adopted, but did not get the fastest responses (at least not fast enough for an eager adoptive parent to be). Thank goodness for the internet. After months of research and receiving many glowing references, we chose Building Blocks to help us create our new family. We have thanked God many a time for having taken our adoption path with BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION. We feel like we not only gained two wonderful children from Bulgaria, Alexandar and Kristina, but a special Aunt ("LaLaa") Denise as well.

We signed up with BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION in August 1999, initially in the Russian program and later switched to the newer

Bulgarian program. We started the homestudy process in August of 1999 as well, and hit quite a few months delays with the NJ agency we chose to use; mainly due to lack of proper experience with Bulgarian adoptions. We didnt have a complete and correct homestudy report until April 2000 (words of advice folks, read your homestudy reports and check your notarys status at the County level). Finally we were surpassing the initial paperwork chase and getting the ball rolling. We got our referral of Alexandar (14 months) and Kristina (13 months) in May of 2000 and accepted in early June 2000. Another thing we learned is to take American Doctors consults on your referrals with a grain of salt. Make sure they are familiar with foreign children in orphanage situations I will not elaborate on this important point any more but to say we are so glad we went with our gut feel and did not listen to everything the doctors had to say.

Very soon after we accepted our referral we were contacted by Denise wondering if we could travel on July 19, 2000 to go meet Alex and Kristina for the first time. We were contacted on Monday morning July 17th to travel on July 19th. Denise apologized for the last minute approach, but travel plans had changed amongst some other families and a spot suddenly was available. Could we make it, otherwise we may not be able to travel until September 2000. Could we make it? How could we not? Well, when we first got quoted $4,200 per person round trip airfares, I thought we may not be able to make it (2 days notice on international flights, you get clobbered). Thankfully we were able to get our airfares down from Pluto and went for $1,034 per person round-trip. The key was we flew out Stand-By unbeknownst to me, and I arranged the travel plans. My husband chuckled as I rather emphatically explained to the girl at the Check-in desk "...no, you dont understand... there can be no stand-by, we are adopting." She was wonderful about it and made sure to get us on the over-booked plane. We found many people to be quite supportive and helpful when they learned of our adoption endeavors.

After our eight-hour flight from NJ to Zurich and being delayed for five hours because our plane ran into some construction equipment, we finally were able to finish the last two-hour leg of our trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. Once there, we were greeted by two weary but smiling individuals, Vladi and Valeri. What wonderful, kind people they are; they made us feel so comfortable and welcome! Vladi is Valeris son and serves as the interpreter for all the local traveling (to town, airport, etc). Valeri is the Bulgarian representative for BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION and is one of the warmest and most wonderful gentlemen we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION genuine concern for the children is made evident from the great staff in the U.S, and from Valeri and his representatives in Bulgaria as well. Rochow was our interpreter for our first trip out to meet the kids. His fluency in English and out-going personality, along with Valeris desire to get to know us made our numerous hours of travel to the two orphanages quite enjoyable. We met Alex and Kristina (ages 16 mos & 15 mos at the time) for the first time on July 21, 2000; one of the best days of our lives! My husband John and I sat with Kristina by ourselves in the Directors office for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, just playing with some of the small toys we had brought and taking lots of video and pictures (our video footage was very important during the wait to come). Kristina had to go eat her lunch and we had to make tracks to Alexs orphanage another hour away. We were able to sit with Alex in one of the offices and play, take pictures and video for about three hours. Dr. Panova (Alexs Doctor / Orphanage Director) was attending a conference and asked if we would wait for her, as she wanted to meet us. Here yet is another one of the warmest, genuinely compassionate and just all around wonderful individuals we have had the pleasure of meeting. She loves her kids at her orphanage, no doubt about it. She sat with us and we showed her the pictures in the little photo album we brought to leave with her. You just got the feeling she really wanted to get to know the people who were going to be adopting one of her kids.

When it had come time to leave Alex & Kristina behind from our first visit, we were not sure how we would handle it. To our surprise we were fine with it. When you see how happy and well cared for the kids are it helps to quell the anxiety of leaving them behind until your next trip to bring them home. Our ride back to the hotel from having met the kids was filled with beaming smiles and excitement of making our trip back to pick them up. We couldnt wait to introduce them to one another. We arrived back at the hotel at around 9:15pm and went out to a lovely Spanish restaurant around the corner for a wonderful celebratory dinner. As we were leaving from our first trip I expressed to Valeri that he had given me "Happy Tears".

Upon departing from Bulgaria having just met our children for the first time we were now entering the Hades on Earth known as "The Wait". We had heard about "The Wait"... were warned about "The Wait" and how hard it is. We didnt have a clue what it meant until finding ourselves in the thick of it. After a few months The Wait was starting to take its toll on my husband, and we being male and female and all (who deal with things in totally opposite manners !)... I couldnt understand why he didnt want to look at the video for the 64th day in a row like I did. I would just play it over and over to here their laughs in the background. It was my way of staying connected.

Because of a lot of unrest in Bulgaria surrounding foreign adoptions, our much dreaded and anticipated Wait of six months turned into 9 1/2 months. I busied myself at Christmas time with buying and wrapping many gifts, as well as all of the gifts and medical supplies that were donated at my baby shower in November 2000. My family decided as a Christmas present to myself and my husband they would put all the grab bag $ toward our airfare so we could make an interim trip to go visit with the kids. I cant even begin to express how much that meant to us and how touched we were by that thoughtful gesture. I ended up going with my sister at the end of January 2001 back to Bulgaria to go visit the kids. We had a wonderful time! Not only did we get to spend around six hours each with Alex & Kristina, my sister got a chance to see how enjoyable Bulgaria can be as well. We love the food in Bulgaria and enjoyed walking the streets of Sofia and shopping. My sister loved the Hotel Rotosar just as much as John and I did. It is so nice, clean and the staff is so warm and friendly. We were escorted by a different interpreter, Camen (spelling ???) to the two orphanages. Yet again another wonderful representative for BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION! What a kind, professional, intelligent and literate individual. He and Valeri were very enjoyable to talk with on our trips to and from the orphanages, and as always we were made to feel very comfortable, safe and welcome.

After the interim trip at the end of January 2001 with my sister, The Wait for February and March of 2001 was not easy but more tolerable. I thankfully had my memories, pictures and video from the interim trip to cling to, as well as the quest to learn my Bulgarian language tape and a nest to finish preparations on. My husband on the other hand was sinking fast, as he hadnt seen the kids since July 21, 2000. We were asked over and over, day in and day out by all of our friends & family if we had heard anything. Everyone was living The Wait with us as well. It got to the point after a while where we just didnt want to talk about the fact that we didnt know when exactly things were going to be finalized because of a lot of turmoil arising in Bulgaria surrounding foreign adoptions. Its hard to express that to people who are only asking out of love and concern. So you just smile and say "No... not yet, hopefully soon though". I have to share one of my favorite questions though that came our way a few times... "So, do you think youve been scammed?" Now while I was amazed at the outpouring of love and support we had from friends and family throughout our entire process, I was also occasionally awe struck at the questions people feel perfectly comfortable asking others. Keeping in mind those occasional duzies are usually out of concern, you have to just let them roll off of you (and do your best to stifle your muttering).

Word finally came our way early in April 2001. We were scheduled to travel on May 5th, pick up the kids on May 7th, conduct some other required steps in finalizing the adoption and would be returning home to the U.S on May 10th. Life as we once knew it would never be the same. We were as ready as we would ever be for the unexpected craziness of the instant family we were creating with our (2) two-year olds awaiting us in Bulgaria. Our travel plans and flights went smooth with no "Stand-By" episodes and no crashes into construction equipment. I can not come up with one word to describe the day we picked up Alex and Kristina from their orphanages to bring them back to the beautiful spacious apartment we would be residing in for the next three days. There were so many emotions going on; sheer happiness as we held and cuddled our long-awaited children, as well as appreciation and sadness for the Directors / Caretakers whom you know loved these children very much as well. It was important to me to bring a framed picture of the kids for them to retain as a keepsake.

The next few days were spent just watching, hugging, cuddling, kissing, feeding, bathing, cleaning, laughing, sharing tears of happiness and just enjoying our time together. I cant even count how many times the kids would do something and my husband and I would cast great big smiles at each other, or call the other to come quick to see what Alex or Kristina was doing at that moment. We were exhausted, but we couldnt have been happier. The three days we got to spend with just the four of us in bonding in Bulgaria was a very special and memorable time for us. We hope to be able to return someday to visit so the kids can see where they came from, and so we can all enjoy Bulgaria together as a family once again.

We have been home now for almost three months and have been settling in to our new life quite nicely with much love, support and enthusiasm from our family and friends. Words cant express the true gratitude we have for every single person that shared our adoption path with us along the way. The amount of love and support that we felt from EVERYONE has touched us so deeply. We feel so fortunate and blessed to have two wonderful children we love with all of our hearts, as well as warm memories to cherish of all the love and support we experienced the whole way through. It is a feeling of fulfillment that words cant describe. Sincere thanks to Denise, Valeri and the wonderful staff at BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION for making our dreams of a family a reality. We truly have been blessed in so many ways and thank everyone for the tears of happiness we have been fortunate to experience. Theres no other feeling quite like it.

Leslie & John Thoma.

Mom & Dad to......

Alexandar & Kristina (28 & 27 mos.

I sat for almost a month each night on the computer researching & contemplating all the different adoption paths & issues that you could make a flow-chart of (Open vs Closed? Domestic vs: Foreign? If foreign, what country?). It became apparent to me how important it is to find a good agency that you are comfortable with. Once we discussed and identified our path to be Closed, Foreign and probably Russia I set out to find our agency. By that point my husbands head was spinning from the questions or issues I would come to him with each evening (or early next morning if he had fallen asleep the night before).

While beginning our adoption process we were still under-going artificial insemination treatments & testing (not invitro, we decided to stop at artificial insemination... I didn't want to feel like a science experiment with invitro and was so excited about adopting that the yearning to be a mother was quelled). The trying and no luck routine was getting pretty old for us, especially under a doctor's care for almost 6 months. When I mentioned we were beginning our adoption process to the nurses or doctor(s) I would always get a mildly stunned and reassuring "...dont give up! You'll get pregnant..." Now to these people I would smile and explain that it didn't matter I was quite happy and excited about our expecting via adoption and if another one should come biologically, the more the merrier. Inside I was stifling myself from snapping at them "...I just told you my great news, don't insult me with your ..oh, you've given up and had to settle attitude about adoption..." that just makes my skin itch. Thankfully I was able to stifle myself when put in these situations (way too many times). I'd walk away stifling and scratching.

During our search for an adoption agency I went to many web-sites and was instantly drawn to BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION when I read their introduction. I felt like their words were so true, understanding and heartfelt; that they spoke very matter-of-factly about the process not being easy but they would do their best to be there for you. My gut feel (which I resorted to through out most of the process) felt very good and strong about BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION just from what I saw on their web-site. Of course we did our due diligence and went to some other Eastern Europe sites to try and get references on 6 agencies we had chosen. We were thrilled to see the 10 15 or so people we had emailed for a reference for BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION all responded immediately and in nothing less than a glowing manner. The references for the other agencies came back with some positive, a few negative, but the positive ones were rather unemotional. They just did not glow like the references did for BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION. I was so happy to get such a great response on BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION because I already had such a good feeling about them and wanted to really like our agency. After all, your agency is such an integral part in creating your family, who wants to feel that they are just OK.

Everyone we dealt with at BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION during our process was so kind, courteous, supportive, prompt and professional. I thanked my lucky stars many a time when things would get a little hectic with the paperwork or the wait just seemed unbearable, because Denise and Wendy and the staff were always right there for us to help us through. I can.

Again, I was able to see how well the kids were cared for and how attached they seemed to be to their caretakers. That helped to calm some of my anxieties that had developed after six months of waiting, and made me realize too how hard it must be for the caretakers when the kids do leave. I really do feel for these women who take very good care of the kids, just as if they are their own and have to eventually part ways. On our last trip out to pick up the kids I brought framed pictures of Alex and Kristina for the Directors / Caretakers to retain as a keepsake. .

Some are quick to compare to American growth & development charts just based on measurements and will try to cast many doubts your way. We struggled with some very negative comments from a couple of American doctors about our son Alexandar. We had positive comments from other doctors, but of course the negative ones just make you crazy. When Denise sent some more pictures to us we looked at his face and went with our gut feel that we wanted him. We are very thankful we did so. .

I began keeping a journal once we got on the plane and I finally recovered from the "Stand-By" episode. I wrote on the plane quite a bit, and in the hotel in Bulgaria, as well as while we drove in the car with Valeri (our Bulgarian representative). I tried to catch everything (big and small) that we were feeling or experiencing in the days leading up to our first meeting with the kids. I look forward to being able to share my journal and BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION emails with the kids someday when they get olde.

The first few months of our anticipated six month wait went by and I was fine, my husband was getting a little withdrawn by the 2nd month. The Wait was hitting him before me, and we being male and female and all (who deal with things in totally opposite manners !)... I couldnt understand why he didnt want to look at the video for the 64th day in a row like I did. I would just play it over and over to here their laughs in the background. This sufficed for me for the first few months, then along the fourth month or so I was starting to come down off of my high from the first trip. There wasnt much news, so there was nothing new to hold on to. My emails to Denise began to become more agonizing with my questions and angst from The Wait. She and Wendy were kind, understanding and supportive through and through. Because of a lot of unrest in Bulgaria surrounding foreign adoptions, our much dreaded and anticipated Wait of six months turned into 9 1/2 months. I busied myself at Christmas time with buying and wrapping many gifts, as well as all of the gifts and medical supplies that were donated at my baby shower in November 2000. My family decided as a Christmas present to myself and my husband they would put all the grab bag $ toward our airfare so we could make an interim trip to go visit with the kids. I cant even begin to express how much that meant to us and how touched we were by that thoughtful gesture. I ended up going with my sister at the end of January 2001 back to Bulgaria to go visit the kids. We had a wonderful time! Not only did we get to spend around six hours each with Alex & Kristina, my sister got a chance to see how enjoyable Bulgaria can be as well. We love the food in Bulgaria and enjoyed walking the streets of Sofia and shopping. My sister loved the Hotel Rotosar just as much as John and I did. It is so nice, clean and the staff is so warm and friendly. We were escorted by a different interpreter, Camen (spelling ???) to the two orphanages. Yet again another wonderful representative for BUILDING BLOCKS ADOPTION! What a kind, professional, intelligent and literate individual. He and Valeri were very enjoyable to talk with on our trips to and from the orphanages, and as always we were made to feel very comfortable, safe and welcome.

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