We recently crossed a very important milestone. Baby Bird has spent half her life with us: ten months as a member of our family following ten months living in an orphanage.
I’ve heard that adoptive parents should expect to see the biggest jumps in growth when a child has been with their family longer than they lived in an orphanage. In a literal sense this is true for our daughter. When we brought her home ten months ago, her height and weight fell in the 10th percentile as compared with babies in the U.S. Today she is in the 60th percentile.
There is no doubt Baby Bird is growing by jumps, leaps and bounds. Her hair, once a downy transparent fringe is now lush and curly. Cooing and baby babble have been replaced by an impressive vocabulary and three-word sentences. Yesterday I saw her perform a somersault on her own. She knows the difference between her belly and her nose, a snake and a zebra, and a fork and a spoon (though she still doesn’t use either very often).
But the biggest and most meaningful jumps are those that the casual onlooker would never see, and that most people—who have not adopted children, especially children who have spent time either in an orphanage or foster care—might never understand. For the past few weeks, Baby Bird has begun to tuck herself tightly between my legs when we first enter the daycare at the gym. Many mothers of a 21-month-old might not notice this or wish their child would be less “clingy,” whereas I relish these moments because they tell me Baby Bird is bonding to me.
A week ago she nestled her head into the crook of my neck and let her body sink into mine while I held her and danced the waltz in a movement class we take together. This simple gesture brought me to tears because it meant she felt safe and comfortable in my arms, that she trusted me, and maybe even loved me.
Ten months later, she is less likely to climb into a stranger’s lap, take someone’s hand at a park and walk off, or scream when Big Papa leaves the room. Most of the time, I am now the only woman she calls “Mama.”
That is why hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about what her life would have been like if she continued to live in the orphanage for another month, five months, two years or more. No matter how good the conditions were (and Baby Bird was very fortunate to have her own crib and be in a clean environment with access to medical care), and no matter how loving those nannies were (and most were caregivers who truly “cared”); an orphanage is not a home and nannies are not a family.
Ten months ago our daughter had neither. Today she has both.