Two days after we became family in the eyes of the court, we went to take our daughter out of the orphanage. Other than a few weeks in the hospital as a newborn, this was the only home she’d ever had. The eight nannies who tended to her every need were the only “moms” she’d ever known.
I’d thought about this moment for nearly four years. Sometime I’d get teary contemplating the enormity of it, but the perspective I always imagined was how I would feel when my baby was in my arms and we were embarking on our first steps as a family. I didn’t spend as much time thinking about the loss her caregivers would feel, and I now know I also underestimated the impact this transition would have on our child.
We sat, waiting expectantly, on a bench outside the orphanage director’s office, waiting for one of the nannies to bring our daughter to us. I was excited and sad at the same time. Excited because we were about to become a family, 24-7, and sad because we’d spent many hours in this building during our two trips to Gyumri, watching the nannies counting diapers in the doctor’s office, seeing the same smiling faces of the children laughing as they ran around the playground. I knew that one day we would bring our daughter back to her homeland, to Gyumri, and to the orphanage where she’d lived, but I didn’t know when that day would be, or if the nannies or doctor who cared for her would still be working there. So this goodbye could be the last goodbye for all of us.
I felt like we’d been sitting on that hard wood bench for a long time, when down the stairs came a nanny holding Baby Bird. She was dressed in the clothes we’d brought for her: a long-sleeved cotton onesie topped with a matching shirt and pants—brown with colorful elephants, a lavender cotton sweater over that, a green cotton cap on her head, a pair of red wool shoes on her feet and a fuzzy leopard print jacket with a hood. It was cold outside, but we knew that in Armenia children are always dressed in multiple layers, and we wanted her nannies to feel confident we’d take good care of her and keep her warm.
As the nanny handed her to me, I noticed a pair of navy blue tights peeking out from under her pants. The tights were decorated with woven buttons. Tights! Of course, the one thing I’d forgotten to bring with us. I felt momentarily embarrassed and then secretly elated, because I’d seen those same tights on Baby Bird on a few of our visits and realized they would be the only belonging from her life here that she would ever have.
There were—and always will be—unanswered questions about her days in the orphanage. Who were the children who fell asleep in the cribs beside our daughter? What are their stories and how did those stories end? How did the nannies soothe Baby Bird when she was frightened or woke up during the night? Which nanny did she like the best? Were there memories, even visceral, that she would tuck away in the corners of her psyche?
I had planned to tell our daughter’s nannies how much it meant to us that she was so well cared for. We left thank you cards for each of them with pictures of Seattle, and a photo of the three of us taken on our registration trip. But in the end, we weren’t able to say goodbye to them in person We were told there were important visitors at the orphanage so, after taking a photo with the director and signing our names in the book the orphanage keeps to record the names of adoptive parents, we were led out of the building.
We took a few photos together, standing on the steps, and then we walked through the blue gate. I glanced over my shoulder. Sun streamed into the courtyard, and the crisp breeze whipped my hair. The greeter dog we’d seen every day during our visits lay on the steps leading up to the front door of the orphanage. Behind him were the buildings where our daughter spent the first eleven months of her life. Inside were the wonderful nannies who watched over her. I closed my eyes and silently said thank you. As our daughter grows, we will share their names with her in a book we’ve made about her adoption, and make sure she knows these eight women watched over her until we were able to be a family.
Our driver was waiting beside the taxi. We crammed two suitcases in the trunk and strapped a third to the front passenger seat. Big Papa and I climbed into the backseat and looked at each other with that deer-in-the-headlights stare, because there in the back seat, nestled between the two of us, was a baby!
Then we drove off, heading south towards Yerevan, on our maiden voyage as a family, and the first leg of the journey that, in two weeks time, would take us HOME!
Having a place to go – is a home.
Having someone to love – is a family.
Having both – is a blessing.