There are many reasons people adopt. Family members often adopt their nieces, nephews, or grandchildren when parents aren’t providing the basic needs for the child. These are amazing people whose lives were on one path, often having already raised their own children, and yet, when the need arises, they step in to literally rescue these children. My heart aches for them as I consider what it must feel like to have to protect your grandchildren from your child, or children from your sibling.
There are also altruistic people who adopt with the mindset that every child deserves a loving family and safe home. They may not have a lot, but they know they can provide the basics needed for a child to feel loved, cared for, and safe. They see beyond themselves and their own comfort and see the bigger need. They are giving people with the biggest hearts – and I am in awe of them.
I have to admit, my reason for adopting sounds rather shallow in comparison. It had nothing to do with the desire to rescue a child or being the answer to a child’s hopelessness. We adopted because we wanted a daughter to complete our family. I suppose, in the end, no matter where you or I start from, the journey itself has a way of bringing things into focus along the way.
We attended the necessary classes required for parents seeking to adopt. We were made aware of the challenges some of the available children have due to their histories…yet, I definitely believed that bringing home a young baby, we would bypass the more significant struggles. Once we received our referral, we did our due diligence and sent the 4-minute video clip to several specialists throughout the country. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get a full history of children in foster care or those available through international adoption, and these specialists were doctors who were familiar with the risk factors of certain regions. So they would spend hours reviewing these short videos, trying to gain an understanding of what health challenges a child might face. While doctors in other states were looking at this video repeatedly, I did the same, captured by those eyes…watching it enough so I knew every time a sneeze or coo was coming from this 6-month old baby. When the reports came in that they suspected she may have Cerebral Palsy, we started researching the disease….trying to determine what level the need was, and if we were capable of providing the care she would need. We knew that once the adoption had taken place, we would be 100% committed to providing what she needed, and yet also understood the need to not make a decision based on emotion. We had to take into account what we were able to provide and consider what the impact would be on our then-3-year old son. After much research, consultations, and prayer, we felt confident that we could handle what was given as the “worst-case scenario”…that after surgeries, she may require a leg brace and a cane to walk. We proceeded ahead with a renewed drive to bring her home as soon as possible, in order to provide her with the medical attention needed to give her the best chance at success. Once we were notified of our travel dates, we contacted the Children’s Hospital in Boston and arranged to stop in Boston on our way home, where a team would evaluate her, and help us make a plan to address the CP. In writing we can fast-forward a week or so, but you Moms who have ‘been there, done that’ know those last weeks seem to last for years. At that point, in my heart, she was already my child, and I felt such sorrow that a child of mine was in an orphanage. Just as I found that “focus” point when I was in labor for our son, getting to her and bringing her home was my intense focus and I could not rest until we had her out of the orphanage. I’ll never forget that day as we sat in the office of the orphanage director waiting…and they brought her in and explained that she was crying due to receiving shots. I watched her…..wanting desperately to hold her and yet trying to look like I was a good choice for her Mom, and could wait as long as needed for the well-being of this child. As she screamed, I studied the left side of her body, with her left arm and leg curled up tightly, and remember thinking of the reports, and being certain they were right….she did have CP, and we had some challenges ahead. She never did stop screaming that day; I rocked her, tried to feed her–she was completely inconsolable. It would take 4 days of visiting her in the orphanage to follow their procedures before we met before the judge. Each day we would sit and play with her, and to our amazement, each day her left arm and leg would loosen a bit. I remember thinking, “This is what it must be like to watch a flower blossom right in front of your eyes…” It was miraculous, and beautiful! While we were with the judge, a translator was quite helpful and he would repeat the questions the judge had for us, and then translate our questions back to the judge. One question was particularly difficult to understand because it wasn’t translating very clearly. After several attempts, the translator tried again, “If she gets sick, or you change your mind, will you mail her back?” – It was the first time my Mr. Steady would address the judge without the translator, he stood up and answered, “NYET!”…..meaning “NO!” No it does not depend on if she has Cerebral Palsy, or things get hard…she is ours forever, no matter what! As you might imagine, this story has brought delight to our daughter over the years. : ) We went back to the orphanage one final time, but this time, it would be much different. I took the old clothes that were shared by all of the other babies off my daughter, I washed her the best I could, before dressing her in her very own floral dress, cream colored tights, and adorable, shiny shoes. The look was completed by a hair bow placed on the top of her beautiful little head. I remember thinking that it was important for her to know she left in style. (Clearly, this was more for me than for her, but what a special moment!) I was thinking we were leaving these things behind, and moving forward….almost as though the cleaning of a body, and dressing in a beautiful dress would be all that was needed to declare the past was behind, and we were moving forward with a fresh, clean start. While the intentions and motives were pure, they were also naïve…at best! After we had been back to the States for a couple of weeks we watched the video of us being driven away, and it was only then, as we watched the video of us in the car leaving the orphanage, I realized I was holding our daughter close to me, saying over and over, “We got you out!, we got you out!”
Before we boarded the plane to head back to the States, we called Boston and told them we would like to postpone our scheduled appointment, and take her straight home to see how much more movement we could get from her left arm and leg. We discovered that the increased opportunities for her to crawl, move, play, and be loved was the most important ingredient, and she continued to progress to the point that she clearly did not need braces or a cane!
Isn’t it a lot easier for us to handle changes in expectations when we’re expecting something really difficult, and then discover we will be able to circumvent it, than when we expect calm waters, smooth sailing ahead, only to find ourselves crashing against the rocks? During one of our lowest times, a dear friend sent me this poem.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
Perhaps you are newly experiencing the realization that your journey will take you on a different path than what you were expecting. That is a hard place to be. When we are at various stages of realizing the losses involved, it’s important to let yourself feel those emotions. But when you’re ready, remember, we’re looking forward to you joining us Moms who have been in Holland maybe a bit longer. We can teach you a few words in Dutch—–show you some of the shortcuts through the land—–and take you to where you can experience the many lovely aspects about…..Holland! Until then, we are always ready to meet you in….
Trauma Mommas Corner