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A Day Makes A Difference

Anne Bentley | Wednesday, March 02, 2011 | Links to this post
Two adoptions have delivered two very different experiences. Although both resulted in something wonderful, there’s no doubt one experience greatly influenced the other. Despite being pragmatic through and through, I dove into our adoptions with an open heart. I believe that openness got me through my first day in Aktobe and home with our oldest daughter 3 years ago.

I dreamt about it and thought about it constantly, wondering what those magical moments would be like meeting my child for the first time. Then it happened and it wasn’t anything like I’d expected, even after reading about others’ experiences and being coached on all the plausible scenarios. Looking back, I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for that day or moment, really.

A few years later, and I can recall every precious moment of that first encounter with incredible fondness. But the first 24 hours afterward, I was hardly focused on the good stuff. I was devastated by what I couldn’t control and what wasn’t going to be based on the ill-conceived picture I’d painted in my head. Even then, I realized I should have known better because many things in life don’t go as planned.

Rewind to July 2007. Two near-missed flights, a couple of intense pat downs and 36 hours behind on sleep, we hit the proverbial ground running until we finally arrived in Aktobe, Kazakhstan. It seems like we slept for only an hour before we were on our way to the baby house to meet our daughter. The whole experience was surreal from the dusty, bumpy ride there to the eerie pre-Soviet-era building that housed our child. All this was hardly as intimidating as the raw emotions we encountered on the front steps of the door from a couple who had just learned that the child they'd met the day before was being adopted by another family. Because they hadn’t agreed to adopt the baby the day they'd met her, she was open to other families. They offered a warning about what we could expect inside, but I didn’t need it. The pain in their expressions scared me more.

Finally inside, we listened unintelligently as our team spoke in a ping pong of rapid Russian. Already a little disoriented by the language barrier, I remember the place smelling of heavy paint fumes and several very intense women walking by us with stern expressions and odd looking hats. Then there was a parade of at least ten babies for the Chinese couple in search of a son with long fingers – a sign of intelligence we were told. I think my excitement peeked here as I watched each of these beautiful little bundles cross my path. I assumed our experience would be much the same. I was wrong.

We quickly filed into a dark 8x8 ft. room, no bigger than my cubicle at work, with our coordinator, two translators, a nurse and a doctor. I remember feeling like an animal on display at the zoo. All eyes were on me and my reaction. I was nervous and my adrenaline was on overdrive. In comes a nanny with the first child. They place her tininess in my arms and I melt a little, until they tell me she's 16 months (9 months older than she looks) and suffers from infantile syphilis. Our coordinator, likely noting my sadness, tells our translator to say, "this child is not for you." With that, the nanny removes her from my arms and carries her out of the room. It all happens so fast that I barely manage the two words - she's beautiful - in the mix.

Still slightly in shock after meeting the first child, the second child enters the room. We never even had a chance to hold her. She was easily two years old, scared out of her mind, and rocking back and forth so violently in her caregiver’s arms that I thought she might fall to the ground. Like the first child, she also has an incurable illness; one I can no longer recall. Again, our coordinator announces "this child is not for you" and with that she’s gone. But the visual of her hadn't left me yet. It was probably at this point in the process (emotions and sleeplessness running high) that I wanted to call it off. Mentally, I was drained and didn’t think I could put on a strong front any longer. Our request for a child under 12 months with mild medical conditions we could support at home didn’t seem to be here. And this experience in no way matched up with the one I'd imagined, making everything more difficult to process.

All bad news for the next child we met. Toddling into the room, no sooner did we glance her way than she hid behind her nanny’s pant leg and cried. A couple minutes later she let me pick her up and quickly buried her head in my shoulder. She was terrified of my husband, but curious too. She'd peek, cry and hide. I don't think either one of us got to see her face for more than a few seconds at a time. In the midst of the baby's sobs, the doctor told us about her health, which was better than the previous children we'd seen. Assuming we'd see more children because her age range of 16 months fell outside of our paperwork, we didn't ask a lot of questions. No sooner did I mentally dismiss her than our translator said, "this child is for you." I think it was intended to be a question, but it sounded more like a statement. Not knowing how to politely ask if more children were on their way, the door closed and we were left alone to discuss our interest in this child - the last child we would meet. Our conversation was probably one of the most heartfelt and tearful we'd ever had. I wanted to run, but fortunately my husband wasn't ready to give up. Our team quickly reappeared sensing our anxiety and, stunned, my husband agreed that we would begin the bonding process with the baby the next day. We left the baby house in a state of shock and I cried more than I've ever cried in my life, trying to decide if I was willing to miss out on the baby time I so desperately wanted and bring home a toddler instead. Still undecided, I agreed to spend time bonding with the child the next day.

Thank God because within seconds of seeing our daughter walk into the room, I was absolutely in love. It’s hard for me to admit, even to myself, that I had this type of reaction. And I’ll never tell our daughter this. But what I do know from my experience is that sometimes a day makes a difference.

Here's what I would have missed out on had I said no that day. A kind-hearted, eternally happy, polite little girl with a passion for learning new things and an inquisitiveness that has helped her test out of her grade level on more than one occasion. She's a beautiful dancer, incredible soccer player and an aspiring little artist. Almost five, she dreams of growing up to become an ice-skating princess with magical powers. And I believe she’ll do it. And although the experience of meeting our younger child played out nothing like the first - we saw healthier infants and I knew my child the instant I saw her - we probably would have missed out on this child altogether because we wouldn't have pursued the adoption in the first place. To think my children wouldn't be mine had I never had this experience makes every part of it worthwhile.


--Melanie Hill

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