Like every adoptive family, our lives changed forever when we met our son – a tiny, blond, blue-eyed miracle born in the country of Poland. I am writing this story one year to the day from when we first learned about our Elliott Seth, and first saw his giant smile light up our computer screen from 4,000 miles away. He had just turned one, and we were in love from the very start. It was all we could do to keep ourselves busy for the months leading up to finally getting the green light to hop a plane around the world to his homeland.
Elliott lived with his foster family just outside the dazzlingly historic and beautiful city of Wroclaw. We arrived exactly one week before Christmas, eager to experience the holiday in Poland and receive the most incredibly gift of our lives – our first child. We didn’t expect to meet Elliott until just a day or so before Christmas, but wanted to arrive early to settle in and acclimate. Much to our surprise (and delight!) we discovered that Elliott’s foster family had invited us to spend Christmas in an upstairs apartment in their home, giving us all a chance to get to know each other better. Days ahead of schedule, we repacked our bags and excitedly made the trek to a small village outside of the city to meet our son and the family who had raised him from birth.
Meeting Elliott was a magical, jittery experience that we will cherish all of our lives. We brought him a wrapped teddy bear, which he delighted over in the charming way we would soon learn was his signature. We had an entire week ahead (including Christmas!) in the home of the foster family, so we took things slow with Elliott to allow him to become comfortable with us. Little by little, we began building a bond to last a lifetime.
At a time of year in Poland that is typically reserved for intimate family and friends only, Elliott’s foster family embraced us as their own. Though we could not speak their language – and vice versa – we learned our own ways to communicate. They showered us with love, even surprising Jessica with a party on her birthday and gifts for us both on Christmas. They made it their goal to teach us as much about the culture as possible so we could take it home with us to the United States. Elliott’s foster mother spent hours teaching Jessica the finer points of Polish cooking, including the grand Christmas meals, while his foster grandmother taught Alex Polish children’s games and words for Elliott’s favorite toys. That week was a life-changing experience in so many ways, and coming to the end of it was bittersweet.
We spent a total of nearly two months in Poland, soaking up the culture and tradition of this fascinating country. As eager as we were to come home and begin our life together as a family, we knew we would dearly miss Poland and its people. It was a long trip that originally intimidated us, but in the end we were incredibly thankful for those precious weeks of bonding alone together as a family, away from the busyness and distractions of home. We truly believe that this made all the difference in our attachment process with Elliott, and would not have wanted it any other way.
We arrived home with Elliott when he was 20 months old. After taking some time to settle in and allow him to become comfortable with his new surroundings, we resumed the medical care he had been receiving in Poland. Elliott’s birth mother suffered from a genetic disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU), which prevents the body from digesting protein. Although Elliott did not inherit the full version of this disease, he was diagnosed with Maternal PKU, which can have effects similar to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Similar to FAS, the mother’s exposure to something that wasn’t good for her (in this case – protein) caused Elliott to be born with many developmental delays. He received phenomenal medical care in Poland, and was thriving in the loving care of his foster family. Once we were home, we began weekly physical, speech, and occupational therapies both in-facility and in-home. We visited genetic specialists to advise us on Maternal PKU as well as specialists for his cleft palate.
Although he has a long way to go to be fully caught up with his peers, Elliott approaches every day with joyful persistence that has already taught us so much. He is an absolute delight, and it is incredible to watch him reach each new milestone. We still keep in contact with his foster family, sending them lots of pictures and updates about his progress. We call them “Baba” and “Jaja”, which is Polish for grandmother and grandfather. Every day we are thankful for the indescribable gift our son, and our life-changing experience in his birth country.