Wednesday, March 18, 2015

One Wild Year....

Well, this has been a year for the record books. I just turned 32. And man, has it been one crazy year. This time a year ago, I was in Africa. In fact, I was meeting my future daughters. Only that I had NO idea that they were my daughters. I mean.... NOOOOO idea.

You see, I don't do babies. I'm just not a baby person. Babies are very stressful creatures. You always have to check to see if they're still breathing. You have to decide on vaccines. They wake you up in the middle of the night.... Not that I dislike them really. But they don't even talk. And I am only mildly amused by their cuteness. Just not my thing. I've said a million times that I would never adopt a baby. I REALLY wanted to adopt a 10 year old boy. DEFINITELY not a baby.

But, my friend and I were at this particular orphanage to deliver medical supplies and hospital beds. For some reason, the Aunties there put the babies in our arms. And took pictures with our cameras. Like some sort of photo-op. Whatever. We just went with it. As we left the orphanage that day, I sat in the taxi and told my friend that I just don't know why people are so eager to adopt babies. I told her that I just wasn't attracted to the idea at all. I didn't even give a 2nd thought to those twins. Seems so odd to say that now. But there was nothing there. It wasn't in my plan. AT ALL. But, God apparently had another plan. (And was probably laughing at me that day.)

You see, a month later, I saw this message on facebook:

It is with much sadness that we share the news, that our twin baby girls have been diagnosed as HIV positive, are very sick in hospital, and the doctors expect them to survive only another few months. Please keep these precious little girls in your prayers and thoughts. We miss them so much already at the orphanage, and are heartbroken to know they will not be coming home to us.

So I did what anyone would do- started looking for someone else to adopt them. This plan IMMEDIATELY fell through because the adopting family would've had to have already met the girls prior to adopting them. And they'd have to have photo evidence of meeting them (as well as passport stamps) to provide as proof to the court. This is the only way the adoption could be processed in time. After some discussion, the orphanage agreed to care for the babies if the adoption could be processed immediately.

So there it was. There was no option. NONE. And an amazing thing happened. God started to burn these children into my heart. It had to be Him. Because it sure wasn't like me to become so fiercely in love with babies. Remember, that's just not my thing!! But all of the sudden, I would do ANYTHING in my power for them. And we did.  We had to fight hard to get them here in time. We had to willingly lay down some relationships due to fear. We had to give up our easy life with only 3 older kids. (NOTHING is as easy with two babies.) And during this whole process another cool thing happened. God took the blinders off of my eyes. I can't believe I hadn't seen it coming. He had been preparing us all along!!

First of all, He had led me to this orphanage. I had only made contact with them to look for info on a long lost relative of my older kids. That contact was maintained until I actually went there on a mission trip, where I would meet the girls.

For some unexplainable reason, I had become intrigued by HIV a couple of years ago. I read. ALOT. I followed people's blogs who were open about their HIV kids. And I learned alot. So much that I couldn't stop talking about it. I've had several conversations about it with multiple people at the pool just because. I would find a way to throw the topic into any conversation I could. I just wanted people to know how different HIV is now than it used to be. I even told my friend Lisa once (the same one who was with me in Ghana) that if I ever adopted again, it would probably be HIV+ kids. (Because apparently we always adopt in pairs.) Of course, I meant OLDER HIV+ kids. Because that's my thing.

I had dreamed many, many times that I had twin baby girls. Each dream, a chief in Ghana would bring me two baby girls and say that I should raise them as my own. But of course, dreams are always off-the-wall stuff that makes no sense, right? Or so I thought.... As it turns out, the orphanage director- the one who helped me with the adoption- is a local chief.

My older girls had begged for twin baby sisters. (Because they each wanted one to play with like a doll.) They had planned out the sleeping arrangements. (Each girl would have a baby sleeping on a trundle bed with her, and would just tuck the bed back in every morning.) I just kept telling them they'd have to wait til they had their own kids. But they were convinced they should have twin baby sisters.

In fact, when me and Marie went to pick up the twins, Marie found twin African dolls (with babies on their backs) that she wanted to buy for the girls. But I had to tell her no. Because we already had them. Malorie and Serwaa (my older daughters) had happened to find those SAME African dolls at Goodwill the year before!! They insisted on buying them in case they ever had twin baby sisters to give them to. (This was probably before the twins were even born! Or at least around the same time!!)

I really don't know how I didn't see it coming. I'm sure there was more that I'm forgetting. It all makes sense now though. Not AT ALL what I had planned. But His ways are better than my own.....

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Update on the Twins....

A lot has been going on for our girls this month. They have met with a nutritionist, their infectious disease doctor, and had an evaluation for physical therapy. We are so lucky to have such an awesome team of people to work with our girls!

The nutritionist: Has given us a few things to change in the girls' diet. We will now be gradually switching Akos from formula to Pediasure (to increase her calorie intake). We were unable to do this from the beginning because of the dangers of 're-feeding syndrome'. (Which we have learned is deadly. Severely malnourished kids have to be careful to not overwhelm their systems. Or something like that.) We also have to feed her as much organic food as possible. This has something to do with having a weaker immune system. (The girls were getting very fidgety by this point in the conversation, so I'm not as informed as I should be!) Akos is now at about the .5th percentile for weight/height for her age.

Ataa is still struggling to grow. She is only in the .078th percentile (which is not even on the chart). She still has horribly dry, itchy skin. The nutritionist suggested that we at least try a month-long trial of being completely milk-free. Her formula was switched to a high calorie lactose free kind. If this helps her skin, she will stay on it for a good long while. Even though she eats baby food and some table food, the formula will help ensure she is getting all she needs until she gets to a safer weight.

Infectious Disease: Had some great news. When Ataa first started treatment for HIV, her viral load (number of HIV copies in a milliliter of blood) was over 260,000. After only 2 months of treatment, her viral load is now around 2,866. Akos' viral load started out at around 160,000 and is now around 2.400.  Their CD4 cell count started out in the 300s. While they weren't able to get enough blood drawn to let us know what it is now, we can assume it is increasing! (Enabling their bodies to more effectively fight off infections.) Furthermore, we get to skip a month of blood draws! We don't go again until January! It is very possible that the virus will be undetectable in their blood at that time!

In fact, the ID doctor has always made it known that HIV isn't even the big deal. Right now the biggest threat to their health is actually a different diagnosis: Failure to Thrive.

Infants or children who fail to thrive have a height, weight, and head circumference that do not match standard growth charts. The person's weight falls lower than 3rd percentile (as outlined in standard growth charts) or 20% below the ideal weight for their height. Some children who fail to thrive exhibit the following symptoms:
  • delays in reaching developmental milestones such as rolling over, crawling, and talking
  • learning disabilities
  • lack of emotions such as smiling, laughing, or making eye contact
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • delayed puberty in teens
And lastly, they discussed the girls' umbilical hernias. He said these should go away on their own. If they don't, they will have surgery around 5 years old to fix it.

Physical Therapy: The twins' recently had an evaluation to see if they qualify for in-home physical therapy due to their developmental delays. It was determined that they are both delayed pretty much across the board, and qualify for services. Many delays come from lack of stimulation. Others (like the inadequate facial muscle tone) do not. We are being set up with a professional who will come out on a weekly basis to work with the girls toward reaching developmental milestones.

Akos is actually already crawling. She is very active and is making some pretty interesting 'words'. She can easily pull up to stand, and is excellent at feeding herself. And she will dance to ANY beat she hears! She is now 14 lbs.

Ataa is still much weaker, but pretty alert. She is trying really hard to crawl, but gets frustrated very quickly. She is very lethargic most of the day, but does have small bursts of energy every once in a while. She can't pull to stand on her own. And she's not quite as precise about feeding herself as Akos is. She is babbling more and more, but still mostly makes beginner sounds: ba, ma, da... Ataa weighs 12 lbs now!

So, that's about it. They still have a long way to go. But I think they're off to a pretty good start.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

HIV, AIDS, and Life....

Just in case you are REALLY interested.....

Here is a little more info on HIV & AIDS. (Yes, I do think it's that fascinating.)

As we have already established, CD4 cells (T-cells) are what helps your body fight infections. So, what should your CD4 count be? Well, here's a chart:

When your CD4 count drops to 200 or below, you are diagnosed as having AIDS. Contrary to popular belief, AIDS isn't a disease for dirty, poor, homosexual, drug using men. That's ridiculous. People with AIDS are not monsters to be scared of. Nor is everybody with AIDS on their death bed. They are JUST people who have a low CD4 count. In fact, if a person is diagnosed with AIDS, then starts taking medicine & gets there CD4 count back up over 500, their diagnosis sticks with them. You can be super healthy and still have AIDS. It's nothing to be ashamed of, although many people are made to feel that way.

(Right now my kids' CD4 count is pretty low. I can't help but wonder how they would be treated if it had been slightly lower, and we told people they had AIDS instead of HIV? While there is a lot of fear surrounding HIV, the mention of AIDS seems to strike terror in many. My hope is that people who read this won't be afraid of AIDS if it is not shrouded in mystery. It just signifies that at any point in their life, a person's CD4 count dropped below 200. That's all.)

Then there is viral load. (The amount of virus in your blood.) The goal is for it to be undetectable. And yes, that is very possible! At this point there is no cure for HIV, but there can be so little of it left in your body that it's 'undetectable'. Once you reach that point, your  immune system is working great, and it's no big deal if you get sick. Your body can fight it off, just like any body else's!

Medication for HIV has come soooo far. What will it look like from here for our girls? Well, they have started their medicine routine. Their CD4 count should start going up. (It usually rises quickly for children.) They will have to be very adherent with their medicine so as not to give the virus a chance to become resistant. (Sometimes people decide that they look and feel great, so they don't need the medicine. This give the virus an opportunity to mutate and become resistant. This would require them to switch medication to something that works. If you consistently stop & start meds, you eventually run out of meds to switch to.) Anyways, their CD4 count will eventually reach normal levels, and they will live normal lives. (Aside from taking daily meds, but that's true for LOTS of people!) Once they get old, their CD4 count will begin to decline (somewhere between 60s -80s). This is a natural occurrence anyways. It's why they suggest older people get the flu shot every year. Because older people have a lower CD4 count, so they can't fight off infections as well.

In general, my girls' lives will look much the same as yours. They won't need to grow up in a bubble. They're not that fragile. They will grow up to see their grandchildren. (Whom, by the way, will be born HIV negative. More on that later.) Yes, they will have more doctor appointments than the average person. But it won't slow them down!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What is HIV.....?

It's still kind of a mystery to many. Most people know it is somehow related to AIDS & Magic Johnson, but that's about it. So, just in case you were wondering..........

What is HIV.....?

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. Since it can't reproduce (make copies of iteself) on its own, it attacks the cells in your body and uses the cells 'machinery' to make copies of itself.

CD4 cells are a favorite target of HIV. It turns  infected CD4 cells into HIV factories. HIV makes so many copies of itself that the cell eventually breaks down & dies. As more CD4 cells die, the immune system gets weak. A weak immune system makes it hard for the body to fight germs and avoid infections.

So then what is AIDS......?

AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) is a medical term that means you have advanced HIV infection and are at high risk for Opportunistic Infections (infections that your body can no longer fight off because HIV has destroyed too many CD4 cells). With AIDS, your body has so few healthy CD4 cells that it may not be able to fight other infections or diseases like cancer.

The most common Opportunistic Infections are:
Thrush, Cytomegalovirus (a viral infection that causes eye disease), MAC (a bacterial infection causing fevers, stomach problems & serious weight loss), PCP (fungal infection that can causes a fatal pneumonia), Toxoplasmosis (an infection of the brain) and Tuberculosis.

Some HIV related terms:
Viral Load: How much HIV is in your blood. The lower your viral load, the fewer viruses that are attacking your cells and the less likely it is that HIV will make you sick.
CD4 Cell Count: How many CD4 cells you have in your blood. The higher your CD4 count, the better your immune system will work to fight off infections.

The goal is to have a low viral load and a high CD4 count. Luckily, there is medicine for that!

So is HIV a death sentence.....?

Nope. With daily medication, regular laboratory monitoring, and lifestyle changes (e.g., exercise, adequate sleep, smoking cessation), HIV can be manageable as a chronic disease. People living with HIV can enjoy healthy lives. <*>

While there is no cure, medication has come a long way. People can now get their viral load down to undetectable levels, and grow up to be grandparents. And advances are still being made in the field of HIV treatment. HIV is no longer the disease it was in the 80s. Unfortunately, most people's information on the disease is still from the 80s. It is time that we replace fear with knowledge.....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Whole New Story.....

Hey. Remember me? I'm Carrie. The one who used to (not-even-so-regularly-then) post on this blog. Ya know, back in the days when we were adopting our two kids (Serwaa & Konto) from Ghana, West Africa. But then the kids got home. And I kinda stopped writing. Not that I had nothing to say! There were soooooo many funny things that I wish I would've recorded over the last few years! There were lots of firsts for the new kiddos. There was lots of sibling jealousy. There was an endless amount of hilarious stories due to my children not fully understanding English.... I just got busy and stopped blogging.

But I'm back. (You're welcome. Haha!) And I have a lot to say. But first- I guess I should fill in what all has happened since I last posted. Here's the quick recap:

In March 2014, I went back to Ghana. This time it had nothing to do with adoption. It was more like a mission trip. (We now have a small non-profit working in Ghana.) We were there to deliver medical supplies to a new hospital, purchase chickens for an orphanage poultry farm, have clothes made for the orphanage kids, deliver Bibles, and pay school fees for the high school & college age orphans. (And probably some other things I forgot...) Anyways- that was it.

While there I met 6 month old twin baby girls at one of the orphanages. No big deal. I'm more of a fan of older children. That was mid March. Near the first of May, we got news that the twins had fallen ill, been diagnosed as HIV+, and were taken to (and left at) the government hospital where they were expected to 'expire'. No one was able to care for them due to their illness. Furthermore, it was going to be fairly impossible to find an adoptive family in time. (The Social Welfare officer in that area was requiring that a family meet the kids, then return in  a month to adopt if they still felt compelled.) On top of that, this particular orphanage had never done an adoption. A family would need an agency to walk them through the process. Unless...... that family was VERY familiar with Ghana adoption & could proceed without an agency. (This would be ideal because the process would go quicker without hiring an agency and waiting for them to get everything in order.) But- the family would have move very quickly in order to get through court & file immigration paperwork before the US law changed (on July 14, 2014) to REQUIRE families to use an agency to adopt. This wouldn't be possible- unless the family had already met the girls a month prior (thus skipping the month-long waiting period SW required). As it so happened, I had already met the girls, was familiar with the process, and we were comfortable working without an agency. So, it began.

After a very short adoption process, the girls made it home on September 20th, two days before their first birthday.

Well, I said I was going to tell the short version. I may have lied. Sorry. But now you're caught up. So here we are with 5 kids. And two of them with a disease that terrifies most of the world.

That's where I'm stopping for tonight. But it is only the beginning of what I have to say.....

Monday, May 20, 2013

Finally Someone's.....

A friend of mine is in Ghana today. She is there to spend time with two boys who are very near to the hearts of my family. (And the hearts of any other family who has spent time with them!) These two boys have been the source of many sleepless nights around here. I often wondered if I just shouldn't have agreed when a very serious 12 year old boy asked me to promise that I would try to find him a family. Considering the odds of two teenage boys actually getting adopted, that has been a very heavy weight to bear. For 2 years, it seemed hopeless. I was so desperate that I actually emailed 30-something churches just to ask if anyone there would be interested in adopting 2 boys! Not a single one replied.

The first attempt at social media didn't go over well either. But eventually, something happened. A wonderful lady had the idea to start a Facebook page specifically for waiting children who had no agency to advocate for them. On this page, detailed info could be shared with families. Info that I wasn't comfortable posting openly all over the internet. People started caring for children they never met. Some wonderful people started very actively advocating for the boys.

And then one day...

By 'chance', the right family happened to find these boys. Their sons.

I am just thrilled thinking of those two teenage boys who finally have a 'mum'. I am so thankful for the amazing family who was willing to take a chance on two older boys. I will be eternally grateful that I will never have to get another text begging me to not forget.

I will never have to answer the phone again to hear, "Please, will someone come for us?"

My sleep comes much easier these days.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I'm So Boring....

It's no secret. I am getting rather boring in my old age. (I recently turned *gulp* 30!!!) I am almost always at home. People generally don't even bother inviting me out anymore, because I rarely actually go!

So... Saturday evening, I was shopping at Kohls. The kids were at home. When I was finished shopping, I had a wild idea to just not go home yet. The night was young- I could go meet up with some friends who were out! I mean, I was already dressed! (Well, my hair did NOT look spectacular on said day. BUT- I was dressed, bra, shoes and everything!) I tried to get myself all pumped up about the idea of going out- and I drove home.

It was already 10pm, so I told the kids to get undressed & ready for bed. When I went to tuck Konto in, he asked me to sleep with him for awhile. He explained: "Me, sometimes I get scary in the evening." So, I laid down with him. He threw his arm around me, gave me a few kisses, then snuggled as close as humanly possible. I thought. Everytime I thought he was about to suffocate, he'd get closer!!! I ended up laying (very uncomfortably) for 2 hours with a (very big) 9 year old boy completely wedged up under me!!

I finally got out of the stranglehold, and moved back far enough to watch him sleep for awhile. I started thinking about the orphanage. How he'd gone to sleep every single night for over 5 years with no goodnight hug. Just doesn't seem right. Then I started thinking about two friends of his who are still at the orphanage. Two teenage boys who are finally being adopted. I just can't wait for them to get home. I can just picture their new mommy, leaning over two big ol' teenage boys, tucking them in for the first time, and giving them the first goodnight kiss they've had in a decade. Telling them 'I love you.' Maybe it will the first time they ever remember hearing those words. I just can't wait! I'm sure people are gonna think she's a crazy momma for choosing such old boys. But- they have no idea how lucky she is!!

Anyways- When I was done pondering these things, I decided to get in my own bed . It was midnight. I left Konto's room- only to find my daughter, Malorie, (wearing her slip as a nightgown) standing there with big, sad eyes. She felt left out, & wanted to know if I still had time to lay down with her. Of course. So off we went to her room...

It was after 1am when I finally made it to my own room! Same time I probably would've made it home had I gone out with friends. And while I'm sure my time at home was far more 'boring' than the bar- I'm okay with that. I like this kind of boring, and I wouldn't miss it for the world!

(*Side note- I did make it out Sunday night for (almost) a full 2 hours! But I came home promptly at 9pm to read a book about a very macho hamster named Fluffy. This is a glamorous life I lead! )