Not flesh of my flesh
nor bone of my bone
but still miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute
you didn't grow under my heart
but in it!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Catching Up

As is obvious, I have not posted to this blog in approximately 5 months. I hope to use this entry to catch you up on the past five month's happenings and then continue posting regularly as I was before. I feel it is important to continue with this blog because so many people have followed my journey to bring Gabriella home and now they want to follow her journey through toddler-hood. I also feel that someday Gabriella will enjoy reading this "public journaling" so she can enjoy the stories of this part of her life.

I have been in "hiding" since about February. As you may or may not know, I was in a bad auto accident in January 2008. The car I was in struck a tree head-on after skidding off the highway in a snowstorm. It was a work-related accident as I was on my way to the airport for a business trip in a company-hired town car. I was not very public about the accident because I didn't want to put the adoption in jeopardy. I have been battling numerous medical issues since the accident and was re-hospitalized during the first week of February for one week. While hospitalized, the company I was working for, Ocean Spray, called me in the hospital and laid me off; I was the only person laid off and it was clearly due to the disability. I had a wonderful job and so have been pretty devastated as a result. It obviously has been a huge financial hit since I was making a very good salary.

I am now facing two known surgeries, one for a herniated disc in my neck and a second to repair my clavicle which is a fracture non-union. I am trying hard to manage pain issues that the surgeries will hopefully alleviate. If things weren't bad enough medically, on Friday, June 5th, I unbelievably tore my Gastrocenemius muscle in my right calf. It happened out of the blue. I took a step, heard a pop, and fell to the floor. My leg is splinted from my foot to my mid-thigh and I am having to get around on crutches, which is not going well at all. When it seems like it can't get any worse, it does.

In addition to these personal issues, my grandfather, who I have always been very close to, has had an intestinal tumor for a bit over a year now and his health is very poor. He has been hospitalized a couple of times during my "blogging-hiatus" and his health is rapidly declining. He is currently hospitalized as I write this.

So, as you can tell, I have lots to deal with and it has been a trying time for me. Gabriella is the one and only person who has helped me through these trying times. She motivates me to push through the days and to count my blessings. She gives me so much to be thankful for, even when it seems like everything else may be falling apart. She helps me put life into perspective and she gives me the will to strive to pick up the pieces so I can give her the best possible life.

On the upside to all of the negatives, Gabriella is doing amazing. She puts a smile on my face every day. She is flourishing and is perfect in every way. During my time away from blogging, four holidays have passed, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, and Mother's Day. Gabriella had a Valentine's Day party at day care and traded Valentine's with all of her classmates. On St. Patrick's Day she wore her Irish-finest; she was fully clad in green!She enjoyed Easter but wanted NO PART of the Easter Bunny. I attempted to have her photo taken with the Easter Bunny but she screamed bloody murder when we got close to him. Easter Bunny photos were right after I had had her ear pierced; very, very bad timing on my part. We tried to minimize her sadness by having both ears pierced simultaneously, but she was still not happy. I got to hold her while it was done and Ken got to console her afterwards. Mommy always seems to get the "mean" jobs! She looked precious in her Easter dress and Easter hat on Easter Day and LOVED going through the Easter baskets (yes, basketS) that the Easter Bunny brought. She usually doesn't get to eat candy, but got her fair share on Easter! We attempted to go to Church on Easter morning but it was PACKED. There was not even a place to stand, no exaggeration!Mother's Day was nice with a nice family dinner. This was my second Mother's Day spent with Gabriella, but only my first with her in the US. On March 7, 2009 we attended a Guatemalan Festival north of Boston sponsored by the Guatemala Family Network. It was an event for families who have adopted children from Guatemala. We brought an entourage, me, Ken, Gabriella, Tia, Grammy, Grampy, Papa, and Bella! We arrived early and Gabriella had fun playing and running around the gymnasium, but once more people arrived Gabriella instantly clammed up, only wanted to be held, and kept her head on the shoulder of whoever was holding her. We decided to leave shortly after we noticed her demeanor change because we knew something was bothering her. We went out to eat as a family after we left and she was instantly back to herself. I talked to our adoption social worker about this and we have a couple theories about why she got upset, but we will never know what was actually bothering her. We assume that she saw "familiar" people and either 1) thought we were going to leave her or 2) it brought back her feelings of loss. The counselor gave me tips about how to help her through times like these without avoiding such situations or experiences. The key is helping Gabriella realize that we are her forever family and she is stuck with us forever! :) In October 2008 Gabriella was tested by Early Intervention and was found to be approximately ten months delayed in various verbal and physical categories. It was not a matter of whether she would be able to catch up, it was known that the delay was solely due to being from another country with a different language and being offered different physical opportunities. Gabriella began receiving Early Intervention services in October 2008 to help her reach age appropriate verbal and physical levels. She had her six month review on April 14th and tested out of Early Intervention. It was bittersweet. The help was great and the Early Intervention Counselor was a joy to work with, but obviously this was the result we were striving for. In only six months she developed the equivalent of ten months and tested at age appropriate levels in all areas tested. She tested highest in Emotional/Personal/Social/Interaction in which she scored at the 27 month level (she was 20 months at the time)! She certainly is a social butterfly! She definitely makes her presence known in any social situation, even in Church! After the parish finishes singing a hymn she yells "Yeah!" and starts clapping!

Gabriella saw her first two "theatre" performances! Ken and I took her to see "Elmo Makes Music" on April 26 at Agganis Arena at Boston University. We didn't know how she would react since she doesn't really like live, fury, human-sized characters. She sat still and quiet during the first half of the show with her fingers in her mouth as she watched. She tends to put her fingers in her mouth if she is unsure about a situation. She would occasionally react to the show, but not much. We walked around during intermission and she danced to the music (and bought her a TEN DOLLAR Elmo balloon…I know, RIDICULOUS) and this helped her to loosen up. She had a lot more fun and was a lot more interactive during the second half. The next show was "Dora the Explorer Live! Search for the City of Lost Toys" on May 8 at Boston's gorgeous Opera House. Grammy took Bella, Gabriella, and me and we sat only a few rows back from the stage. Gabriella was very animated and engaged through the whole show. She was waving to the characters as they came on and off the stage, she was yelling "Hola" to them, and she was dancing. She really enjoyed the show. Gabriella did a lot of airplane travel in April and May. The first time she stepped on to the airplane though, she was hesitant. There was a slight gap between the bridge and the airplane. I was holding her hand and when I told her to step onto the airplane she said, "no." I had to pick her up and carry her on. She has not had a problem on the numerous other flights we have taken since. She loves watching the airplanes from the airport and she says "bye bye" to everybody and everything that she sees from the airplane window. She enjoys lifting the window shade up and down and looking out the window.

This is Gabriella being silly on the airplane, balancing a diaper on her head!: The first trip was just her and me to visit Aunt Danie, Charis, and Sophie in Pennsylvania on April 5 – 10. I was worried about making the trip alone with her, but it was great. Gabriella was right at home and loved playing with the "big kids." It was this trip that she got to play on a trampoline for the first time. She also liked playing in Sophie's and Charis' outdoor playhouse. Even though we have cats of our own, she fell in love with their cats, especially their fake cat that looks real.

The next trip we went on was her first visit as a US citizen to Guatemala on April 30 through May 6. Grammy, Gabriella, and I went on this trip. The main purpose of the trip was so that her foster family could spend time with her. I also wanted to begin a tradition of "casually" traveling to Guatemala. In other words, I do not want travel to Guatemala to be a big, momentous event that she stresses out about. I want it to be a normal part of her life, like going to Pennsylvania – fun, but no big deal to be worried about. We did a lot of prep with her before we went on the trip. We continually told her that we would be going on an airplane to visit Norma, Daniel, Sandy, and Alejandra and then she would come back home on the airplane with Mama and Grammy and we would be back with Dada, Grampy, Tia, Tio, and the doggies. We did spend a great amount of time with Gabriella's foster family over the week. She was very hesitant with them at first. She clung to me initially and then slowly started to venture off for very short periods, all the while keeping her eyes on me. She had a terrible first night waking up a lot and crying in a scared way. She slept pinned up against my body. The next day we went to Hiper Paiz, Guatemala's Wal-Mart. She was very alert and kept watch of everything during our drive. In the store she only wanted to be held by me. After that, it was "smoother" sailing. She must have realized that she was staying with us and enjoyed the visits with the foster family more. She let them hold her, take her for walks, feed her, etc. She laughed a lot and seemed to enjoy it. Each night, though, as we were saying goodbye she was very cautious and wanted to be in my arms. On the final evening after we said our goodbyes, we walked the foster family out and watched them drive away. As they were driving away she reached for the car, said "bye bye", then "no", and then started crying. We comforted her and she had a good night. During this trip we went to the zoo in Guatemala City and we visited Lake Atitlan for the first time. Even though I took the trip knowing the risks, I am very glad that we went. She came home from the trip saying "Hola" A LOT and it continues to be a typical part of her vocabulary. She uses "Hola" and "Hi" interchangeably and sometimes together.

Our most recent trip was a family trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on May 23 through 30. Grammy, Grampy, Tia, Steve, Papa, Ashley, Ken, Gabriella, and I went on this trip. I had been on the same trip two years earlier with my parents, siblings, and grandfather when I was "kidless" and single. This trip was certainly a much different trip for me than the last! It was a relaxing trip in which we did lots of "nothing". We were pretty much beach-bound and pool-bound the entire week. Gabriella is not a huge fan of pool water, ocean water, or sand so we spent a lot of time helping her enjoy it. I have her signed up for swim lessons that begin this month that will hopefully help her to enjoy the water more. Gabriella had been battling a pretty persistent diaper rash pretty much from the time she came home. We had her to the doctor constantly, treated it as a yeast infection a couple of times, a bacterial infection, tried every diaper rash cream on the market and followed every piece of advice that was shared with us. Nothing worked. The major alarms went off when it seemed to have spread to her face. Her cheeks were blazing red and it was also persistent. She was on oral antibiotics and topical ointments and the rash only slightly improved. Her foster family had seen photos of her and recognized the issue as something she had experienced in the past. So when we went to Guatemala, they came prepared with a steroid ointment that did the trick after only one application. We saw a dermatologist on May 15 at Children's Hospital in Boston and she was diagnosed with Psoriasis. The doctor said it was something she would probably outgrow. The doctor prescribed a similar ointment to the one the foster family had given us, but much milder. The dermatologist said the other ointment would only be appropriate if the psoriasis didn't respond to the milder steroids. Thanks goodness, her skin has been clear since and we have more of an answer and remedy if it were to appear again.Shortly after Gabriella came home in September she had a tooth pulled due to decay, probably decay caused by her bottle. Not all of Gabriella's teeth have come in and I was especially concerned about her eye teeth that seemed like they have been trying to come out for quite some time. I made an appointment for her to see the dentist and it turns out that there was nothing wrong with her tooth development, but she did have a cavity! We brush and use fluoride so I was so very disappointed. She had to have her first cavity filled on June 2. I have never had a cavity, so this is all new to me. The dentist said that she will be prone to cavities.

As you may or may not know, I am readopting Gabriella here in Massachusetts. It is not required as her adoption is already finalized, she is legally my daughter, and she is a US citizen, but there are many pros to proceeding with a readoption. I was under the impression that we had to have three post-placement visits by our adoption social worker, but it turns out that we only needed one, which we completed in October. Once she was home for six months we were eligible to apply for the readoption and legal name change – her current legal name is Astrid Mariela Draper and I am changing it to Gabriella Astrid Draper. I filed for the readoption in April. When filing they told me that I would have to publish in a newspaper for her birthfather. This is absolutely ridiculous. The adoption is already complete and meets all requirements of Guatemala and is recognized by the US. Plus, there is an extremely high illiteracy rate in Guatemala, so publishing seemed like a waste of time and effort. I was also nervous about needlessly opening this "can of worms." Because all of the corruption in Guatemala, I am concerned that men will come forward thinking they will be able to get something from it and we will be running a million DNA tests. I filed a motion to waive the requirement of publishing for the birth father. I had the hearing on May 20 and lost. I was devastated. I am still waiting for the publishing requirements from the court and will have to proceed with publishing in a Guatemalan newspaper for Gabriella's birth father. I am furious and extremely concerned, but my hands are tied.

On a related note, we have begun a search for Gabriella's birth mother. I have thought long and hard about this. At a minimum, I owe Gabriella's birth mother a sense of peace by letting her know that Gabriella is well, is in a loving home, and is and will be well taken care of. Gabriella's birth mother has given me a precious gift and this is the least I can do for her. I wrote her a letter and attached photos and hopefully this will bring her a sense of peace. As a second potential outcome of this search, I am hoping to gain more information about her so that I may be able to better answer Gabriella's questions in the future. Less likely, but also a desire, is that I would also love to continue periodic contact with her so that we can keep an open dialogue. I think it is also important for me to have knowledge of her whereabouts so that Gabriella can have this information in the future if she wants it. The rest of the story is still unwritten. Will we find her, will we have continued contact with her, will we have a relationship with her…? All these questions have yet to be answered.

Gabriella seems to grow and change everyday. I am in awe of how she is growing and changing and developing into a "little girl". Gabriella has a powerful, commanding, and influential spirit. She's happy and full of life. She's active, inquisitive, interactive, and fun. She loves people; she is very personable and greets everybody she sees. We eat out a lot and she meets just about everybody in the restaurant! She is most happy when we are together with our entire extended family. She has a great time playing with other children. She loves animals, especially her dogs and cats. She loves making animal noises. She was stuck on "Woof Woof" and "Meow" for quite a while, but is now very much into impersonating a monkey! She enjoys playing outside, going for walks, going for wagon rides, and picking flowers. She is very passionate about music, loves listening to songs, tries singing along, and loves dancing along. Her favorite song continues to be "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", but she also likes "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", and "Ring Around the Rosy". We have a favorite CD that we listen to in the car and she repeats some parts of the parts at the right times – like the "A-choo" sneezing sound, and the monkey sounds in the songs. She is very intelligent. She is observant and a quick learner. She loves to watch Sid the Science Kid and likes D-D-D-D-Dora. Her vocabulary is ever increasing, but at times it seems like she knows more negative words than positive words! Her favorites include "Stop", "No", and "Don't"! She loves to test me…and it seems like only me that she tests! She is also going through a "Mine" phase, mostly triggered by a "game" that has evolved from "Who's mama's baby?" She answers the question by snuggling up to me and saying "Mine". She tricks me sometimes and snuggles up to my mother instead of me and says "Mine." She's also used "Mine" a couple times with posessions and crosses her arms across her chest while she says it.

So…that has been the past five months of our lives in a nutshell! I will work hard to keep up with this blog and allow you to continue to join us in Gabriella's story.


  1. Thanks for the update Melissa! We are so happy that you all are doing well. She is beautiful!
    Julie and Steve

  2. Hello stranger, Good to know from you and your precious daugther, I`m sorry to know about your leg, I wish i could help.
    Get well soon, take care,

    Geovani Barrera