After a hard but not restful sleep, fueled by jet lag and interrupted by the noises of Bulgaria, a country where people seem to live outside, late dinners, excitable language echoing off of buildings old and solid, painted in the hues of Europe: yellow, faded red, shabby grey, doors of cabs opening, then closing, then idling while they await their next fare, I woke to darkness that would fade to a grey morning, air thick with impending snow, my heart beating loudly in my chest, stomach anxious and shaky.
Today was the day.
Breakfast began in the hotel at 7:00, so my translator arranged to pick me up at 7:15 to begin the long drive to Blageovgrad, Bulgaria, a tiny town nestled at the foot of the mountains, home to American University, Rika Monastery, and a massive, old, crumbling building known as the home for medical and social care of children.
And so I grabbed the staples of Bulgarian breakfast: tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta, toast and coffee and I loaded them precariously on top of a belly aching with nerves and excitement. On my person, a tee that exclaimed “best day ever!” and pink jeans. In my bag, an identical outfit for the little girl I had traveled 6600 miles to claim, just two hours left before forever.
This was a day that I had imagined many times, in many ways. It had fueled me through our pursuit of a child in Ethiopia. Through two foster care adoption attempts. When we picked ourselves back up after Lucas’s parents changed their minds and whispered “let’s try again.” It seemed (and still seems) surreal that it had arrived, both at last and so quickly. I stepped out into the cold Europe air and we were off, driving through cobblestone streets through dense fog.
During our summer visit, we had been met at the door of the orphanage by a small girl, maybe four or five years old, who excitedly pointed to us and said “mama! papa!!” I’ve thought of her daily, but my heart was not braced for her to again run over and declare me her mama. It reminded me of what I really want to forget: one child is something, but also nothing. Her bed won’t even have a chance to cool from the warmth of her body before another child replaces her. I felt tears stinging my eyes as I talked with her, waiting for the director to bring our girl downstairs.
I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected sadness to see Nadya leave, or excitement, or fulfillment of a job well done. Instead I was given a paper to sign saying I had “received the child” and handed our sweet daughter. I spend more time picking up my groceries. Dizzy with the swiftness and lack of emotion, I now climbed into the back seat with our daughter, who we strapped into a wholly unsuitable booster seat and headed to our medical appointment. The deep brown eyes of the girl at the orphanage weighing heavy on my heart, even as it floated with the joy of bringing Nadya out.
As we drove back to Sofia, snow began to fall quickly, as to be expected so close to the mountain. Nadya fell asleep, holding tightly on to my arm. I looked at her tiny, chubby hand and coached myself that I had to remember that for this little girl, we did something. We did something. I closed my eyes with her, and fought back tears on the way back to the city, haunted by the eyes of the child I left behind.
Our medical appointment should have been straightforward, but it quickly became evident that all of Rosie’s veins were collapsed and she was also incredibly dehydrated. In fact, it would be 48 hours before I would see a wet diaper from her. The blood test we were there for is mandatory and she could not have immigrated to the US without it, so we continued to hold her down, they continued to stick her, I continued to wait to see if they shrugged their shoulders in defeat again… and each time they did. Finally on the tenth attempt, blood flowed.. thick due to her lack of hydration. We finished the medical appointment, paid our bill and our translator dropped us off at the hotel with instruction to feed her four times a day, and that it was time for a meal of bread soaked in herbal tea. I opted for formula for obvious reasons.
It was immediately obvious that eating was going to be a challenge, which was expected (thankfully!). It took a little trial and error to figure out that she can really only manage very thick formula in a bottle with a hole cut in the nipple. “Trial and Error” belies the terror of watching her choke, then ultimately frantically searching the hotel room for something to cut a large hole in the nipple to accommodate the concoction that seemed to work best for her: formula, oatmeal, a jar of puree.
I was thrilled to see that she had mastered both sitting and scooting in our absence. I set her down on the hotel floor with the toys I had brought, and she happily moved from one to the next. I couldn’t, and honestly still cannot, believe she was really in my arms… forever.
The feelings were all over. It was sweet and sad and magic and amazing and hard. But still it was the best day.
Best. Day. Ever.