As an adoptive parent, meeting the child who might become your child, is an epic moment. There’s no way to describe the feeling, built from years of yearning, anticipation and uncertainty. And I had already experienced this moment before. Twice. Two times, yet no child. So you can imagine—this journey—half-way around the world to visit yet another baby at an orphanage, was fraught with tension. What if this child had additional medical conditions beyond the scope of what we felt we could manage? What if we encountered paperwork snafus and were unable to register our intent to adopt this child? What if it all fell through in the end?
You might think we were just overly nervous first-time prospective parents. Certainly this was true. I don’t know a single adoptive parent who doesn’t worry about the same questions we worried about. But in our case, there was an additional albatross around our necks. We’d been in this exact place in the process before, and knew meeting a child might not turn out the way we’d hoped. Because, for us, it hadn’t.
In fact when we visited Armenia’s Ministry of Justice department to file the necessary paperwork to meet this baby, the head of the department, Mr. S, shook his head and uttered, “Ohhh…Shepherds” in his deep baritone voice. This was our third visit to his office. Three times, because on our second trip to Armenia to meet the previous child, we found out that one of us would have to come back—one month later. Unbelievably, the child we’d hoped to register our intent to adopt on that trip, was not yet “off the database” meaning available for adoption by families outside the country.
These circumstances set the tone for the day and our moods. Pensive. Anxious.
I remember how I felt when my husband and I sat in that room, five years ago, like it was yesterday. I remember the couch, covered with a white, fringed throw, soft cushions, like my grandmother’s sofa. I remember looking around the room, memorizing every detail. The closet that stood ajar, every angle off, like a scene from a Dr. Suess’s book.
The floor, weathered from thousands of steps back and forth through this same room, where we sat. Waiting. Outside the window, the sun was shining, but I couldn’t stop thinking about life inside, the life a child would have if this were their “forever home.”
By this time I’d already been on the receiving end of hate mail on my blog, from people—one in particular—who felt non-Armenian families had no business adopting an Armenian child and taking that child from their birth family, culture, and country. I understand this and truly believe the first choice should always be to keep families together, whenever possible. But sometimes circumstances are such that it’s simply not possible, not for the immediate family and sometimes not even for the extended family. Angry commenters claimed children were “better off” remaining in the country of their birth, even if it meant they’d grow up in an orphanage.
This orphanage, along with the other two I’ve seen in Armenia, is run by caring people. The buildings and furniture might not be in the best shape but the orphanages are clean and tidy. Children have their own beds. Diapers, while in short supply, are changed regularly as are the children’s clothes. Nannies give the kids attention, as best they can, given the number of children in their care. I know they form attachments, especially to some of the children, and I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must be when children they’ve cared for leave. But I also know how much they want each of these kids to find a home, because no matter how good an orphanage may be, it is still an orphanage.
I stared at the desk, where the head nurse sat, a cup of tea abandoned, notebooks sitting off to the side, notebooks where she kept records of the children, their height and weight, any illnesses they had, little details. While I waited I thought about all the details we westerners log, the pictures we take, the celebrations we hold as we keep tabs on our kids’ development: when they held their head up by themselves or roll over for the first time, how old they were when they got their first tooth or haircut, when they said ‘Mama’ for the first time. I thought about how a child in an orphanage might never know any of these details, might not have a single photo of themselves as a baby. I thought about how these kids would reach milestones that might be barely noticed and rarely remembered, that they might never have a single keepsake or memento from these “firsts.”
Sitting in this room, taking it all in, I was really struck by how this could change the course of an entire life and create challenges, some that may never be overcome, memories they can’t fully express that might haunt them and influence their personality, habits, relationships, their ability to bond.
We waited a long time before a nanny appeared at the door, holding a baby. I sprang from the couch. Our translator walked over to the nanny and I could tell from her gestures and demeanor, something was wrong. In staccato Armenian words I did not understand she spoke with the nanny who then turned and left with the baby. What had just happened we asked? Our translator explained. She brought the wrong baby.
I wilted with despair even as we were assured that our baby did indeed exist. We paced the floor, waited and waited. At long last another nanny appeared at the door, holding a different baby. And in mere moments, there she was, in our arms for the first time.
It’s all about the journey,