Like most people, Johanna's story began in a hospital. And like most babies born with Down syndrome in Eastern Europe, it was the last place she would see her biological mother. I don't know anything about her birthmom except that she left her baby girl due to "characteristics of Down syndrome", and soon after signed paperwork allowing her daughter to become a ward of the state and free for adoption, domestic or international. She soon went to a baby house where she had surgery to repair her heart. This would be her home for the next 3 years. That's the director, Dr Alexander, aka "Dr Sasha", holding her in the pictures above. He's a kind and gentle man, and truly loves the children under his care.
About 2 years ago Mandy Rohrer made my day by sending me 15 pictures of a baby girl she met while visiting an orphanage in Kiev. At the time we were adopting a little girl the same age with Down syndrome, and she looked so much like the 2 pics we had of Jessa, we were sure it was her.
We didn't even know about Johanna at the time. But when we found out there was another little girl with Ds just 6 months older at the orphanage, we realized the pics weren't Jessa after all, but this little mystery girl.
We had NO IDEA that once we adopted Jessa (and Amelia, and Peyton) we'd turn around and go back for this little muffin as well. Having these baby pictures of her on my computer was the icing on the cake!
These are pics of Johanna with 2 women who visited the orphanage on a mission trip with Mandy. The other baby they're holding is Micah Ray, I believe. They were in the same groupa until going home with their new mommies within hours of each other last summer.
This was the next picture of her I would receive... from Michelle Zoromski when they went to meet Lilya. We were still thinking this was Jessa. I remember Michelle describing her as a bouncing ball of sunshine! :0)
Later when we were there adopting "Real Jessa" we would see this little monkey
every day in Peyton's groupa. They looked like brother and sister,
but we had yet to imagine that they really would be someday.
She'd break my heart by reaching for us and crying when we'd take Peyton off to play. She so badly wanted somebody to play with her, too! Most of her days were spent in one of the raised wooden playpens outside, leaning over the rail, lonely and bored.
I remember watching her in the stroller one day as they rolled her past a cat that was sunning itself on the window sill. I'll never forget her sweet smile as she waved hello to that kitty with her chubby little fingers. That was the moment she stole my heart for good.... there was so much inside this little girl. So much love waiting to be shared, but no one to share it with. I think I blogged back then how I could feel love welling up in my heart, like God was telling me This is your daughter. Which, while I would have loved that, seemed ridiculous... impossible! We were already undertaking what felt like an astronomical task in adopting a baby and two toddlers. I had reeeally wanted a little girl and now I had two. How did I dare even think of being so greedy as to try for THREE?!? In my mind it was out of the question. But of course God knew better... After I went home, Dr Sasha's parting words, I will take good care of Lesia for you rang in my ears.
We talked about trying to go back for her. Remember our pact, Michelle? We couldn't stand to think of her not in one of our families. But after we came home with the 'Original Crew', and it didn't look like the Zoromski's would be going back either, we hoped someone we knew would adopt her.
I remember thinking how happy I'd be if she could only live in the same state as me...
Remember Peyton's shirt from the Buddy Walk that fall?
Within a couple of weeks of coming home, the big McDonald's arches smiles came back!
Three days a week she and Jessa go to preschool. Yes, usually in matching outfits. I waited 20 years for little girls. Don't judge me.
If you know Johanna, you know that elbow means she's about to get her dance on.
You know the one, where she trots around smacking her booty. I did not teach her this, she came home from the orphanage with that classy move. ;) All 3 girls also love ballet and will watch mesmerized, lifting their legs, and twirling with their hands above their heads. Then cheer for themselves and sign "pretty dancing"!
Every single morning when I wake her up she says, "School?" Then runs to the bathroom saying "Hurry, hurry! BUS!" A refreshing change after (what is it now, sixteen years??) of pokey boys who would (and have) gladly let that bus roll on by.... But I digress.
I'll always be a little sad that I never got to hold that baby in the blue pajamas. And sad for the woman who carried her for 9 months only to leave the hospital empty-handed. I pray for peace and comfort for her today if she's thinking about her daughter, now my daughter. I know she must be...
I wish for Johanna's sake and ours that we didn't have to miss the beginning of her story... but I'm so grateful that God allowed us to be here for this part!
We love you, Hannie!