Thankful for special needs adoption
(In the midst of all my other writing projects, I’ve been writing down snapshots from Evangeline’s adoption in Ukraine . Plus, November is Adoption awareness month, which got me to thinking …)
In 2009, my husband Sergei, our older daughters Elaina and Zoya, and I all travelled to Ukraine to adopt a little girl we were to name Evangeline, who happened to have Down syndrome like our youngest daughter Polly.
Our special needs adoption from Ukraine was a bit different from others in the fact that we had lived in Kiev for four years before Polly was born as missionaries. So while there, we stayed with Sergei’s mom. We knew the city and we spoke Russian, which means we could converse with Evangeline’s caregivers while visiting the orphanage.
I’ve been thinking about those seven weeks in Ukraine a lot lately.
I’m thankful for Evangeline.
And although I probably couldn’t have said this the first year she was home with us and much of the second, I am thankful for special needs adoption.
Adoption is painful and adoption is beautiful.
In my experience, it is painfully beautiful. Adoption balances both attributes. It wouldn’t be the same without each. Adoption teaches me about myself, and God, and the world.
The first time we met Evangeline at the orphanage, we went to the backyard to get acquainted.
Kids from her group were inside a large, wooden structure, akin to a pack-n-play here in the States, only three times bigger. In the corner of the play area, a large blue and white striped umbrella shaded the space. The umbrella didn’t fit. Its rightful place was on a beach on Lake Michigan, but not there, in a broken down orphanage twenty kilometers outside of Kiev.
the umbrella isn’t in the shot, but you get the picture
Two workers watched the children. One sat nonchalantly on a stool. Her hot pink painted lips pursed together while she looked through us, bored. The other worker had a kitchen towel in her hand. She went from child to child, clucking in Russian, while methodically wiping each child’s nose or mouth, whatever needed it, with the community towel.
One boy, who looked to be about five, slouched in a baby cruiser outside of the wooden pack-n-play. Drool pooled in the corners of his mouth as he stared off into the distance.
A little girl in the pack-n-play let out a high-pitched giggle and put her arms up to be held.
Another child smiled up at me sweetly.
The orphanage worker holding Evangeline halted, turned towards me and pushed her into my arms. And I was holding her, this fictitious character who, in actuality, was flesh and bones and blood and bowel movements. My arms shook. It was surreal after having dreamt of her for nearly a year, to have this child in my arms.
Our first meeting in Ukraine
If I could write our story the way I hoped meeting my daughter would go, I’d say I fell in love with Evangeline as soon as she was placed in my arms. Back in Chicago I was sure she was mine. I’d fall instantly in love with her.
But in the backyard of her orphanage my heavy thoughts doubled her weight in my arms. Reality sliced emotion.
I had come full circle, from struggling, to wanting my biological child with Down syndrome, to adopting another. This was my shot at redemption.
And I out of fear, I was blowing it.
“Slow down, child.”
God whispered to me through the breeze. For a second, I thought the earth below me was quicksand. But, no. It was solid ground.
Our routine in Ukraine included daily treks to visit Evangeline while we waited for the adoption to finalize. We brought snacks. Elaina and Zoya played. Sergei and I took turns carrying Evangeline up and down the small, cracked sidewalk while a statue of Lenin hovered over us smack dab in the middle of the yard. His cold, stone face accused anyone who dared to meet his eyes.
It was June, and the days were hot in Kiev. The kids were stripped down to diapers and underwear. One day while visiting, I watched an orphanage worker break off a leaf or two and give it to a crying child to appease her.
Sergei and I talked to the workers while we played with Evangeline. It was difficult for me to understand some of them because they spoke surzhyk which translates to “an impure language,” a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian. Most of what the women said was lost on my ill-practiced, strictly Russian speaking brain.
But a few workers, upon realizing I could converse with them in Russian, spoke to me.
“Why do you want a sick child? We have several other children who are much better than her, ” one woman said while Evangeline sat in my lap, her face covered in dried snot. Her legs crusty with dirt. “She is an imbecile,” the worker coolly glanced away as her words hit me like rocks.
I wanted to snatch Evangeline up as the heat rose to my cheekbones. I was suddenly ready to take here home, bathe her, brush her teeth, clean out her ears, lather her up with baby lotion, and rock her to sleep.
I squeezed Evangeline to me and focused on the cement. I felt the worker’s eyes on us. I looked up at her face.
I asked God to help me forgive the hurtful words the worker said, and forgive my crappy heart response. Her job couldn’t be easy. We only ever saw two workers allotted to Evangeline’s group; usually ten to twelve kids, at a time. And they were probably paid the bare minimum, hardly anything to live on in Ukraine’s struggling economy.
I took another breath, and spoke.
“She is who God has for our family. We already love her. We can’t wait to take her home.”
Evangeline has been home for three years.
And God has taught me a lot about myself, and a lot about redemption.
Can I be honest? Adopting a child with Down syndrome from Ukraine was a feeble shot on my end at redemption.
Outwardly, I deemed myself altruistic. Adopting was the right thing to do. A life would be saved. But really, my intentions were selfish. I wanted a do-over. I needed a do-over because three years earlier, I had given birth to a child with Down syndrome, and grieved the child I expected, and held myself back from loving her at first.
I used to think of redemption as a one-time thing. People of faith talk about God redeeming us, buying us back through his Son. I subscribe to this theology. I buy into the idea that God liked me enough to trade his son for me.
But I also realize now that redemption happens all the time, over and over, everywhere.
We are all a work in progress. There’s a continuous need for redemption in my life. And even though my intentions weren’t entirely in the right place regarding the adoption of Evangeline, God, OF COURSE, knew better. He redeems me again and again as a person, and as a mother through the adoption of Evangeline.
I am thrilled to report that those little ones I talked about in her group:
The boy staring off into the distance,
the girl who raised her arms up for me to hold,
the sweetly smiling little thing who met my gaze,
Creation Speaks Photography
… They have all been ADOPTED, and are thriving.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to report that these children will enjoy turkey day with their parents and siblings here in the States through special needs adoption.
I know the families and I think each of them would say that adoption isn’t easy.
Adoption is painful.
Adoption is beautiful.
But mostly, adoption is redemption … For us all.
And I am thankful. Eternally thankful.
Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. ~Isaiah 1:17
*To read more about these wonderful adoptive families, click on their pictures.