Becoming Evangeline’s mom, a snap shot of a special needs adoption from Ukraine
Since Sun Shine Down published, one of the greatest compliments I’ve received has come in the form of a question.
“Will there be more? We want to read more about Evangeline and her adoption. We want to read more about your family.”
November is National Adoption Month, and although our adoption is International, I’ve decided to share a snap shot of Evangeline’s story here on the blog.
*Disclaimer: I realize that every adoption story is different. I realize that there are more people involved than are mentioned (the birth parents, extended family, etc.). I realize that adoptions stories are tricky, and that for adoptees, reading them can be painful. In this situation, Evangeline’s parents forfeited their parenting rights when she was born with Down syndrome in Ukraine. Evangeline then spent the first two and a half years of her life in a baby home, an orphanage, where I believe those who worked there did what they could to care for the children with what they had. It’s been noted that in Ukraine, at least, once a child with a disability reaches a certain age in one of these baby homes, he or she is transferred to an institution where conditions are substantially worse: minimal food and medical care, hardly no interaction.
This is the framework for our adoption. I am also coming at this story as a Christian. My husband and I believe it was God’s will for Evangeline to join our family. I’m not saying this in a patronizing way, I generally can’t stand people like that. But for us, God is a big part of this tale.
Also, sorry this is a long post. It’s a blogging no no.
So the answer is yes… I am working on Evangeline’s story. I’m not sure when, or how, or if it will publish… but God willing, there will be more. I can’t help but write it down. I can always just share it here too!
To set the scene:
Sergei and are back in Ukraine, three years after Polly’s birth there (for those of you who are new, our third daughter was born in Kiev, Ukraine, my husband Sergei’s home town, while we lived there as missionaries. You can read more of that story in my memoir Sun Shine Down) . We are attending the court hearing that will rule if Evangeline will be our legal daughter.
The court room in Ukraine
At nine o’clock, we were summoned for our court hearing. The judge, a middle-aged woman with thick auburn hair piled on top of her head, wore a light beige coat and skirt, panty hose, sensible black shoes and bright, red lipstick. We walked into the room and I looked her in the eye and smiled. She responded with a curt nod, making me feel like I was in the principal’s office in grade school.
“Be seated,” the bailiff commanded. Sergei and I sat down at a long table with my interpreter, the District Attorney, the inspector for the region, and the director of the orphanage; a short, old man, who was sad around the eyes. His disheveled clothes, the way he hung his head, all pointed to the probability that he may have had a quick drink before coming to court.
Our adoption coordinator explained beforehand that the court appearance was perfunctory. It was already decided that we could adopt Evangeline. Now we needed simply to go through the motions. But it felt like we were on trial. I sat up straight in my chair and looked over at Sergei. His steel blue/green eyes were locked on the judge sitting behind her large desk.
Sergei and I had been in places of uncertainty and fear together many times; marrying each other, having children, moving to Ukraine, having a child with Down syndrome. I imagined us huddled together on an iceberg, floating slowly above icy water, fully aware that the ice could break. We could drown.
The judge reviewed the case.
She asked us to confirm our identities. “Gillian, stand up.” someone whispered. The proceedings were conducted in Ukrainian, a language different enough from Russian that when mixed with nerves, proved unintelligible to me.
After introductions, the judge spoke directly to Sergei. “Stavi, stavi,” stand up, stand up, the bailiff told to Sergei, who then shot up from his seat like a toy rocket.
“Tell me, Sergei Olexandrovich, why would you, a Ukrainian, want to adopt this child, when you already have three other children?” The judge asked, unflinching. I’m sure there are other countries who still deem people with disabilities less-worthy than the rest of us. But at that moment, I had to fight my inner thoughts: Ukraine was the worst country in the world.
Sergei cleared his throat, “We want to adopt this child because we believe it is God’s will for us to help orphans. We chose a child with Down syndrome because we already have a daughter at home, Polina, who has Down syndrome. We can provide opportunities and therapies and the medical care this child needs, like we are able to do for Polina.”
The judge stared a Sergei for a moment. Everyone else in the room was silent. What if she thinks Sergei is bluffing? What if she is even more suspicious of this adoption because he is Ukrainian? What if she denies us parental rights? Families in Ukraine include one kid. Hardly anyone adopted. You don’t want to care for someone else’s blood.
After a few moments, the judge nodded and turned her attention to me. I stood up. “Mrs. Marchenko, do you think you can be a good mother to this child?” All I had to do was say yes, ‘Da,’ one of the first words I had learned in Russian years ago. I even knew yes in Ukrainian: “Tak” Instead of saying anything, though, I burst into tears.
The last three years tumbled through my mind like the final spin on a dryer full of bathroom towels. Thoughts of struggle and fear heated my body.
I had a child in Ukraine. She was diagnosed with Down syndrome. I grieved. And now I am here. God is redeeming this part of my life. He’s using it for good. We are adopting a child with Down syndrome. With his help, I can be a good mother to her.
I reached up and wiped my forehead with a wadded Kleenex in my hand and patted at the tears on my cheeks.
Calm down, Gillian. Calm down.
The word ‘redemption’ has several definitions: to make up for, to rescue or ransom, to restore honor, worth, or reputation.
To make up for: Polly’s start in the world made up for in the love her mother now had for her.
To rescue or ransom: Evangeline rescued from living a life unloved in a crib.
To restore honor, worth, and reputation: the judge, our coordinator, the sad orphanage director, all helping to place a forgotten child in a family.
The reputation of Evangeline’s first mother made up for in a second mother stepping forward. The attitudes of the orphanage workers ransomed. The country of Ukraine’s restored reputation in their acknowledgment of the worth of a child.
It is embarrassing to admit, but adopting a child with Down syndrome from Ukraine was my feeble shot at redemption. And even so, God met me there, as a person, and as a mother through the adoption of Evangeline. In spite of me, God made sure redemption happened all over the place in that Ukrainian court room.
The judge’s face softened for the first time. Details about her came into focus. She wore a wedding ring and was a little overweight. She carried her extra pounds in the places women tend to carry weight after having children. There were tiny lines, crow’s feet, framing her hard, dark eyes.
She was a mother.
“Sit down, woman,” the judge looked down at her desk, picked up a piece of paper, and moved it to another position. Everyone else in the room became statues, full of cement, cold, superfluous. I sat, and Sergei took my hand in his.
“The answer is in your tears.”
Our story doesn’t end in the court room, or on the airplane, or at home in Chicago as a family of six. It is still being written. I am still learning the lessons God has for me, over and over. Redemption is still taking place. I suspect Evangeline’s story is enough to fill another book.
God willing, there will be more.
*If you would like to read more about our adoption, click on the adoption tab on this site to the right or click over to our adoption blog that chronicled the before, during and after. Thanks!
Also, I’m giving away two copies of Sun Shine Down on Goodreads. Check it out!