Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adopting a Waiting Child: Prim's Story

Our journey is not unique. Like so many families across the world, we began trying to have a child shortly after being married. For four years we tried to conceive but eventually underwent infertility treatments which led to the miracle birth of our son. A year and a half later we tried again only to be disappointed. But we were happy-content even- as a family of three stationed overseas in Naples, Italy. My husband was the one who started beating the “let’s have more kids” drum. I was so thrilled to have been able to have a child at all that I was hesitant. I didn’t know if I could handle the emotional turmoil brought on by fertility treatments and my heart was in a different place. I carried a desire for adoption that so far my husband did not share. Imagine my surprise when one day months later my husband approached me and said, “I’ve been praying about it and I’m ready. Let’s adopt!”. You could have knocked me over with a feather but the determination and excitement in my his voice was contagious and we immediately applied to adopt from Vietnam-my husband’s country of birth.

Unexpectedly our time in Italy was a year shorter than we planned and one month after getting new orders we arrived in Monterey, California. After being back in the states for one week and living temporarily in our best friend’s camper until we found a new home, I decided to look on our adoption agency’s waiting child photo listing. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what I would see. I didn’t know what qualified a child as “waiting” but my curiousity got the best of me and soon I was looking at page after page of angelic faces. Older children, children with mild, physical, correctable disabilities. Children who would need permanent individualized care for life and children with chronic yet manageable illnesses. Children who were part of a sibling group and were more difficult to place and babies dealing with the effects of alcohol, tobacco and drug exposure in utero. Each of them in need of a forever family, including one little girl who’s large, expressive eyes captured my heart in an instant.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She reminded me so much of my son and I felt captivated by her seriousness. We immediately contacted our adoption agency and requested her file and soon learned that eight other families had done the same. This little girl had made quite an impression! So much so, in fact, that after being on the waiting child photo listing for less than twenty four hours the agency had to place a hold on any further requests for her personal information.

We waited with nervous anticipation for her file to arrive via FedEx the next day. When it arrived we were excited, ripping open the thin white envelope to find a stack of papers describing the details of a ten month old baby girl living in foster care in Thailand. According to her file she was active and healthy, the only concern and subsequent unknown for a future diagnosis was that the whites of her eyes (known as the sclera) where a bluish color instead of the normal milky white which could possibly indicate glaucoma or osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease). She needed a family who was open to the possibility of a serious diagnosis. There was no discussion, no hesitation. We knew that whatever care she needed, whatever challenges she faced we could provide them for her and she would have the opportunity to thrive with us as her parents.

The process took almost two weeks. Each family that applied to become her forever family had to go through a lengthy application process and hour long interview before being presented to a committee to find the family most qualified for this particular child. Although it was hard, we asked that this beautiful little girl be placed with a family that could bring her home the quickest. We knew that travel time could be almost a year because of where we were in the adoption process and we were told that there were other families further along which meant she could be home sooner. We were a military family that moved often and had and would experience deployments and separation. All we could do was be honest about the love we had to give, the sacrifices we were willing to make on her behalf and the desire we felt to be her mom and dad. As much as we wanted to be her family, we wanted the best for her more and we had to rely on a group of strangers to make that decision on her behalf.

I was driving home when I got the call from the waiting child coordinator. The committee had met and chosen us to be Prim’s family! I couldn’t believe it. To this day it still makes me smile to know that through it all, they saw our heart and believed we would raise her best. Our lifestyle was not considered a drawback and they thought we were worth the wait. Life as we knew it as a family of three was over and we were ecstatic.

It took eleven months to travel to our daughter. Our long wait meant that our little girl was getting older without us and it broke our heart. We missed her first steps, first words and first birthday. The monthly reports detailed a healthy, active, vibrant baby growing into a rambunctious toddler. She was walking, climbing, jumping and running. Her eyes had been checked under general anastesia and there was no sign of brittle bone disease or glaucoma. She would need to be followed up by a pediatric opthamologist once in the states but by all accounts she was healthy and thriving.

The dream of a waiting child, whether they are one month or twenty one months, is so much different than the reality that is bringing them into the home. As much as we tried to prepare ourselves for Prim’s reaction to us, we could not have comprehended the depth of her grief. She lost a family and was thrust into the arms of strangers. She lost her language, food, culture and routine right along with the foster family that she had called mom and dad since birth. She was broken and in the beginning I remember a very strong sense of guilt. Even though I knew that her foster family could not keep her, that our personal convictions led us to believe that she was meant to be in our family, my heart did not stop breaking to see her hurting and fearful. It took a very long time before she could sleep at night or let me out of her sight. And three years later I still think that sometimes she thinks that she will wake up and we will be gone and I believe that there is a place in her memory that holds on to those emotions from long ago.

Prim is our spirited, unyielding bundle of joy. She is now five years old and a force to be reckoned with. No one hugs harder or laughs louder in our family. She is sugar and spice and a gift from God that can not be put into words. Without her we would have an empty place in our hearts. Her coming home forced us to be better people, better parents. We had to learn what it meant to raise a child according to her needs and not our own ideals. We had to recognize that her loss is now our loss. At twenty two months she lost everything she knew and it may effect her forever. It’s our job, as her parents, as the people trusted to love her and care for her, to acknowledge that she has experienced a loss we can not understand. And while we pray that her life is not defined by her adoption, we understand that it is a part of who she is and will support her in her efforts to heal those wounds in any way that she needs. She is beautiful beyond compare and her strength is humbling.

That she loves us so fiercely, that she calls me mom and lets me hold her in my arms is nothing short of a miracle. And it’s all because of a picture...

April Cao

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