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one family deep in the trenches

Update 10.24:  The total on their fundraising page needs to hit $14K for this family to be fully funded.  Just about $6500 to go!  THANK YOU for caring so deeply for this little love and her precious family. 

I shared this post with you all last week.  So many of you rushed in to help and I cannot tell you how grateful I am!  Emma’s Mom shared their story with me and it just broke my heart.  The great lengths this family has gone to to fight for a little girl’s life and her right to have a family who loves her so passionately moved me to tears.  I asked Julie if she would be willing to share their journey with you. I am reminded again that every life is worth fighting for–life discarded by man, life that has no worth or value, and life that is so fragile that no one else is willing to give it a chance. This precious family has stood up and fought with everything they have for the sake of a child!  All LIFE is precious in His sight!  The Monteleone family leaves THIS FRIDAY to bring Emma home (after a long two year battle!).  Can we please help them to cross the finish line?  It’s been such an expensive fight for their Emma’s life and they have depleted their resources…but our God…He owns those cattle on a thousand hills (and He uses US!). Let’s be a part of this unfolding miracle, Church!

Shared by Julie Monteleone

Adoption has always been very close to my heart. As a little girl in elementary school, I always felt the day would come when my family would include children that had come into my family through adoption. I never realized just how long it would take for that to become a reality.

After raising six biological children, the youngest two 17 and 22, adoption once again pulled at me. I was 57 and my husband was 72. We both felt the time had passed when we would be able to add to our family, but after a great deal of prayer, we felt God was truly leading us in that direction.

Over the following weeks, I contacted several agencies and was politely told we were too old. We contacted the foster care system in our state and were told we could possibly be approved to foster children, but never adopt, again hearing “you are too old.”

God continued to push us, and we contacted an agency in Washington state and were told we were not too old to adopt in Bulgaria! Bulgaria had no upper age limits for parents, and we would have no problems adding to our family. And so began our journey!

In January of 2011, we were matched with a beautiful little girl of 5 suffering with Cystic Fibrosis. We named this beautiful angel, Cara, and started the paper chase of putting together our dossier to bring her home!

A few weeks later, our agency listed another little girl they were calling Irina. Little Irina was not quite two years old. She came into this world in a very depressed state, and stopped breathing at 3 minutes old. She was resuscitated within another 3 minutes, but the medical staff at the hospital recommended her mother walk away as her baby would never be healthy and most likely suffered severe brain damage. Irina spent 2 months in the NICU, then was placed in an orphanage where she has been severely neglected. A staff member commented “We, the staff are few. We only have time for the healthy children. This one always has the running nose. She does not speak, but I do not think she can learn to speak if no one talks to her. One thing she has has taught herself is to roll over in the bed. She does not walk, but I do not think she can learn to walk when she spends all day in the crib.” Her medical file was frightening, but there was a spark in her eye, and she stole my heart. We were home study approved to adopt 3 children between the ages of 3 and 10. Irina was too young for us to adopt, so we began to advocate. She needed a family right away! We talked to everyone about little Irina, and prayed for her family to find her. We blogged, we posted on Facebook and we prayed some more! In late March, we learned from our agency that she had a family. Our prayers were answered!

In early May, we learned of another child that touched our hearts and decided to add her to our adoption of Cara, a little girl that would not yet be 3 when our dossier was submitted. We contacted our home study agency and had our home study amended to approve us to adopt between the ages of 2 and 10.

In early May, while waiting for USCIS re-approval, another family came for the little girl we were trying to add. The following day we also learned that little Irina’s family had experienced some family issues and had to back out of the adoption. I was heartbroken! I started a new blog post, begging for a family to come forward for this precious child! I knew she would bless a family if they would step out in faith and not allow her frightening medical file to scare them away. I was haunted by her sweet little face as I wrote into the wee hours of the morning, wanting to finish that blog post for the few people who read my blog. I prayed someone would share it and her family would once again find her.

At 1 AM, I turned off my computer and bedroom light. As I laid my head down, I heard God clearly say, “This is your child. Go and get her!” I froze! The words rang through my head over and over. I flipped on the light, and grabbed my computer, searching to find Irina’s file to check the date of her birth. We had the amended home study to now include a child age 2, but she wasn’t two when we first saw her. But that was a couple of months ago. How old was she now?

My mind was reeling with questions! God just told me this was my child, but she wasn’t old enough, was she? I found her file on my computer and there it was! One week prior, on April 29th, little Irina had her second birthday. The tears poured. Tears of joy, and tears of great sadness as I imagined this small little moppet, alone in her crib, no celebration to mark the 2nd anniversary of her birth. No mommy to hold her, no mommy to bake her a cake or wrap a gift in pretty paper to surprise her with in the morning. No pretty dress or sparkly shoes to show daddy when he came home. No one at all to tell her how special she was, or make the day ahead special. Just the cold steel of the metal bars of her crib to look through and maybe watch as people walked by, never stopping to touch her, or smile at her, or even whisper a kind word to her.

This would never happen again! I was her mother! God just finished telling me she was my child, and to go get her. More tears! I did not sleep that night as I fired off emails to our agency and waited impatiently for their response. At 5 AM my husband, Ron, came to kiss me good-bye as he headed off to work. I told him Irina was ours. God told me she was! I said, “I want you to pray! He will tell you too!” Looking back, remembering the expression on his face, I pretty sure he thought I’d lost my mind, but he promised he would pray.

When he got home that night he told me he did not hear God’s promise that Irina was ours, but he believed that I did, and we needed to move forward. This was all I needed to hear. We started the process to add this child to our adoption of Cara. Little Irina was now Emma Louise.

At the end of May our dossier was sent over to Bulgaria, along with the official request to adopt Emma, and put her on hold. We’d been told by both our agency here and our foundation in Bulgaria we had nothing to worry about, so we didn’t. Our youngest child was graduating from high school in a week, and we were kept very busy as family arrived from several states to stay with us and celebrate this huge milestone with us.

We were returning from a trip to the airport, dropping off the last of the relatives when we received a call from our agency here. I answered, ready to pull over and celebrate, but we received the devastating news that the IAC had refused our request to adopt Emma. I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. I had to have misunderstood. This isn’t right. God told me, very clearly, “This is your child. Go and get her!” How can this be? And WHY? Our agent explained, “The IAC feels you and Ron are too old to adopt a child with the severe disabilities Emma suffers from. They feel she will never be able to live on her own, and you will not be able to care for her as you get older. They asked what will happen to her when you die. ” But we have to provide guardianship for our children! She is only 3 years younger than Cara! Why would they approve us to adopt a 5 year old? “They approved you to adopt Cara because they don’t believe she has a very long life span.” I don’t know how I made it the rest of the way home. I was stunned, but I was angry!

We appealed. I had friends write letters of recommendation. Our personal care provider wrote a letter attesting to our good health, expressing we were both far younger than our chronological ages. We wrote a heartfelt letter of our own, explaining our desire to adopt Emma, and provide her with the love and medical care she needed. We were denied. In July, our foundation went to bat for us again, also pointing out that no other family had come forward for this child, and we were more than qualified to parent her. We were again denied.

I cannot even begin to express how confused, hurt, and heartbroken we were as a family. We continued to pray and advocate for this little girl, not knowing what else to do. In August, our foundation in Bulgaria asked us if we wanted to take this to the Bulgarian courts. She felt we had a very strong case, and felt we had a chance. “YES!” was our response. “Whatever it takes!”

In late September, our U.S. agent traveled to Bulgaria to meet with the foundations they worked with. We were excited to learn that she planned to meet directly with the IAC to personally plead our case, and also make a side visit to Emma’s orphanage! We would get an update, and maybe a new photo!

The meeting with the IAC did not have the positive outcome we had hoped for. They were more determined than ever that we not allowed to adopt Emma. Our agent was told again and again that we were too old, and “People over 50 are incapable of playing with children!” When our agent went to visit Emma in the orphanage, she could not be found. She was not in her crib and the staff had no idea where she was. Emma was finally located behind a door, strapped in a stroller, facing a blank wall. No one had any idea how long she’d been left there.

We were horrified at this news. We knew there was neglect, but this was beyond anything either of us could comprehend. How can this happen to a child? A baby? How can any human being shove a child strapped in a stroller behind a door and walk away as if she didn’t exist? We were told she no longer cried. She knew that no one would come if she cried, so she stopped. She no longer cried when she was hungry, on lonely, or in pain. She no longer cried when she was frightened. She no longer cried because she had learned that crying did not bring anyone to soothe her, or comfort her. So instead of crying out, she sat in a stroller facing a blank wall, with no stimulation but her hands, and slowly moving her head from side to side. Because crying out to let someone know where she was, would not bring help. I cried. I cried out for her. I cried out to our Almighty Father for all the days she’d gone without someone to care enough to hear her cry. I cried for all the hours she’d had no one to comfort her when she was frightened or lonely or in pain. I cried out to our God to protect our little girl, and hold her tightly in his arms until we could bring her home. And with those tears came the strength to fight for her until the day she was home! “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” ~~ Ephesians 6:11

The first hearing was in December of 2012, to determine if this was a case that could even be brought before the courts. The lower courts said it was not. Appeals were filed, and eventually it was heard by the Supreme court in Bulgaria.

They ruled this WAS a case that could be brought against the IAC and our case was transferred back to the lower courts to hear it. We had to hire a second attorney who was an expert in administrative law to attend court with our foundation attorney who was the expert in family law. We now had two attorneys fighting the spiritual battle we were locked into as we fought for this child’s life.

The next two years were a roller coaster of court decisions and appeals. Each small victory was dashed with an appeal from the IAC. They would win the appeal, and our attorneys would file another appeal. Each time the case went before a judge, we paid more court costs and attorney fees.

As the fight for Emma was being played out in court, we were also moving forward with our adoption of Cara. We traveled to Bulgaria in October of 2012 for our first visit with her. It was an exciting time, but also very stressful as the fear of the IAC cancelling her adoption was always in the back of our mind. We prayed for strength and stamina to get through this time, and were finally able to bring her home in February of 2013.

I cannot begin to express what a joy this little girl has brought to our family! We were strengthened by this little blessing, knowing we were doing the right thing in continuing our fight for Emma.

I wish I could say I never doubted that we were on the right path. I questioned what I’d heard God say more than once. Did I really hear Him right, or was my mind playing tricks on me? I listened too many times to others tell me I must have misunderstood. I was told “If you are her mother, God wouldn’t make this so hard.” I cried out to him “Why?” so many times. “Why is this taking so long? Why does she have to suffer more and wait? Why is she not home with us now?” And I would again be reminded that this was not my fight, but His, and it would all happen in His perfect timing. And so we waited… and put on our armor.

In December of 2013, the Supreme Court handed down their final decision. The IAC had no valid reason to deny us the opportunity to adopt Emma. Articles of the law clearly stated that there was no upper age limit for parents to adopt in Bulgaria. Parents must be at least 25 years old, and at least 15 years older than the child they chose to adopt, but there were no limits to upper age. We had proven we were qualified through the requirements of their country and the Hague Convention. It was the job of the IAC to place these children with families, not deny them. The IAC had 30 days to review our file again.

On the 30th day, our attorney was invited to their meeting to discuss the Monteleone Family. We were told it was a lengthy meeting with a very angry group of people who made up the International Adoption Council. It was their plan to make the conditions of receiving the referral impossible for us to meet. I don’t think they understood who was truly in charge of their meeting. I don’t think they knew who was also sitting at the conference table with them, along with our attorney. God in all his glory was right there at that table, keeping the promise He’d made me in May of 2012. “That is your child. Go and get her.”

It was decided that in order to receive the referral, we had to wait to receive new medical information. Emma now had several new diagnoses that we were not aware of. Besides the mental and physical delays, it had now been determined that she suffered from severe brain damage, cerebral palsy, and kyphosis. The IAC would also give us a written letter with the new medical report outlining what they wanted from us.

It was another 30 days before we received the new medical report and the list of conditions we had to complete. After reviewing the new and medical report, we had to take the report to each specialist that would need to be involved in Emma’s care and get notarized letters from each one of them stating what kind of care she would receive, and their opinion as to whether or not we would be capable of providing her with the social, developmental and emotional care necessary to parent this child. We also had to submit a personal letter from us, listing each one of the individual diagnoses, what this diagnosis was, and what it meant in the way of her care, and where she would be treated.

Over the next couple of weeks, we made appointments with therapists, a neurologist, and the pediatrician that would be her primary care physician. We spoke with doctors at Shriner’s Hospital about the cerebral palsy and kyphosis. We received notarized letters from each of them. Our pediatrician wrote a letter stating she would be directing Emma’s care, and would provide us with all the necessary referrals to the specialists she would need. We wrote our personal letter explaining the kind of care we would provide and the specialists we intended to take her too. We gathered all the letters from the specialists along with ours, sent them off for apostille, and then off to the IAC. And we waited… and we prayed… We prayed this would finally be the end. We prayed there would be nothing else the IAC could use to keep us from our daughter. We prayed for peaceful hearts and calm in the storm. We prayed for Emma, asking that He hold her in his arms, that she would know His love and that somehow she would know how much we loved her and were fighting hard to bring her home!

We waited 6 long weeks before finally hearing the news we’d waited two years to hear! We had the referral! Two years after asking to be the family that would love and cherish this child, we were finally going to meet her. There was a great deal of rejoicing in our home that day!

Three weeks later we were in Bulgaria meeting our daughter. We were shocked by what we saw. The roly-poly baby we had pictures of, now looked as if she were starving. She was limp and looked as if she could no longer control her neck muscles. She had deteriorated so much! My heart broke, and again became angry. Angry at a world that did not cherish it’s children. Angry at the pain and suffering she had experienced in her short life. Angry at the lack of care she’d received, and that no one seemed to notice that she was deteriorating! I could see the pain on Ron’s face too, and the confusion in Cara’s eyes. She did not understand why at age 4 1/2 Emma was not talking, and why she could not run and play with her.

We spent the required 5 days with Emma, signing the acceptance papers for her referral as soon as we could. We spent as much time as we were allowed with her every day. We learned that she is a determined little girl, with an incredible will to survive! We saw glimpses of improvement while we were there, a little more eye contact, glimpses of smiles, and a will of steel! We also discovered she has severe feeding issues which is why she deteriorating. Much of what she eats come out her nose. The staff doctor says they have to tried to find out why, but all tests come back negative. She had been taken off the bottle 5 months prior and put on mashed food, but very little got into her little belly. When I fed her lunch, she grabbed frantically at the spoon, trying to rush the food to her mouth. She was also dehydrated and drank too fast, forcing liquids out her little nose too.

It was so hard to leave her behind when we had to leave. Tears, tears and more tears. We knew it was going to be several months before we would be able to return to bring her home. Government shutdowns in the month of August and half of September were going to force this angel to wait even longer! I wanted so desperately to stay there and be with her every day, to show her we cared. To let our love wash over her each day, to let her know we would be there when she cried, when she was hungry or cold, or lonely. I worried that she would feel abandoned all over again after spending five days with the only two people who cared whether she was lonely, or cold, or hungry. We hated leaving, but knew we left her in the arms of her savior, trusting Him to continue to care for her, and hold her tight until we returned.

We have spent the last 5 months grateful that this is coming to an end. We spent the summer doing everything we possibly could to raise the funds needed to complete this adoption. Most of the funds we’d had set aside to pay Emma’s adoption fees were spent on attorney and court fees. We’ve done everything we knew how to do to replace those funds. As hard as it was, we humbled ourselves and asked for help. There are no words to express the gratitude my family feels at the outpouring of love that has been offered to us to bring our little girl home. I can’t say thank you enough.