We walked outside for the first time this day. Her eyes darted around and then squinted when the first sliver of sunshine touched her face. It hit me with the heaviest weight: she had never left those green and orange walls. She had never felt sunshine on her face or seen the green of the trees just steps from the door. To know that, which I am sure we did on some level, is one thing. To see it… that wind and sun was terrifying her, was another, and I started crying at how unfair this reality was.
We walked around the grounds with her, one over stimulated baby, one heart sick mommy, one daddy trying to keep us both from falling apart. It was stifling hot outside and the windows of the orphanage were open and every now and then we would hear the staccato conversation of one nurse to another but for three hours that day, and every other day that we were there, we never heard a child. Later we would learn there were 200 in that place. Two hundred children who had learned to not bother crying in pain or hunger or loneliness, and who had never had a reason to cry out in joy or delight, who instead lay silent in their hot beds. These are the lucky ones, here at the baby house. Their worst foe is apathy and neglect born in part from misunderstanding and in part from such severely limited resources. The luckiest ones will leave through the front door with Americans who aren’t scared by their almond shaped eyes or missing limbs or gaping holes in their spine, their over-sized heads that could have been fixed so easily but weren’t. The others will leave through the back door that we sat by that summer day. They will either be dead already or heading to the adult institution where neglect is often coupled with cruelty and abuse, ramping the misery of their lives up a notch from unintentional to methodical, sometimes from staff and often from others sentenced to the same fate, who were once tiny ones at the baby house and learned only hurting. A death sentence, even while they hang onto life because that is not living, anyway. It’s dying while still alive.
I think there are things in life that are black and white and I cling to them sometimes because black and white is easy… there is right and there is wrong. Some things, though, are painfully complex. I believed I would approach my child’s story one way, until I had her in my arms and knew that I had a responsibility to the kids we left behind. I had hard line views on many aspects of the adoption process born from my experiences to that point, sitting in a silent courtyard with a broken soul, but for the most part I don’t even remember anymore what they were. Life for me has a clear division: before visiting an orphanage in Eastern Europe and after. Before bringing home a child who at two years of age had to learn to be held, and after.
I’ve said before and I imagine I will be saying it for some time: I am not okay. Part of me wants to be able to simply pretend my work here is finished. Our daughter is here. She is beautiful and wonderful and perfection and so absolutely loved. I can’t do that, though.
We want adoptive parents to be the winners. After all… we got what we wanted, right? What could we possibly have to struggle with? We want the kids to be fixed. After all… their torment is over, right? But anyone who has walked this road know that it’s too complex. Black and white belong no where near our adoptions… it’s all complex.
Part of me broke in Eastern Europe and it aches constantly. It aches when I see my child hurting, trauma that should not exist in a toddler. It aches when I see my child thriving, because it was sheer luck that had her number pop up in the lottery and others left lingering. It hurts every time I try to go to sleep and see the face of the little girl that tried to leave with us, begging me to take her with me, dark brown eyes transcending the language barrier, a warm, olive toned hand holding mine and pulling me to the door. It hurts when I remember her face when they peeled her off of me and I remember her saying “mama!” It hurts.
I struggle often because I feel everything in a different way than others. I hold tight to my belief that if we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes we quite probably will end at the same destination, so I try to… often. And every mile that I walk in someone else’s shoes I absorb their hurts and challenges and sadness, too. I didn’t realize until very recently how heavy it’s become. I didn’t realize, either, until very recently how unwilling many are to try to travel my mile with me and absorbing constantly with out the opportunity to off load has left me feeling exhausted and also questioning why I believe that is my burden to bear.
We wonder sometimes why people cling to their echo chambers… people just like them with similar experiences. I am so emotionally spent that my body has given up. I just can’t give any more to walking someone else’s journey, so I’m picking up with those who’ve seen what I have seen and felt what I am feeling, to whom I don’t have to say anything except “it’s hard and it hurts” and they know. Maybe I won’t learn anything on this leg of the mile because I am walking in my own shoes, beside shoes just like mine, but my soul needs rest.
We paid 30,000 for our daughter’s freedom. We paid for legal fees and visas, we paid for airfare and a hotel. We paid for apostilles and a passport. But what we don’t always say is what is most true: We paid a ransom. Every bill a note from her captor… “pay this for her safety. Pay this for her freedom.” We paid the ransom for our child’s life, and the monetary costs are the least of what we’ve paid. The money pales in comparison to the cost of never being able to not know again.