Saturday, January 24, 2009

The day I jumped in the Deep End

One year ago today we were in Aretmovsk Ukraine and we sat in the office of the orphanage director and reviewed Ava's medical files, learning the long list of things that were "wrong" with our child. We were asked if we were sure this is the child we wanted, after all, there were plenty of healthy ones available. We were told that her birth father had come to visit her and had decided he would take her back home to live with him in case we decided not to adopt her. Then we walked up the stairs and down the long hall and waited for them to bring us our child, my heart beating out of my chest the whole time.

I will never forget the intensity of emotions I had that day. I have honestly never witnessed anything like it before. When they brought her to me, I was filled with such an incredible love but also the greatest fear that I have ever experienced.

The thoughts that went through my mind: We've waited so long for this moment. She is so frail. So tiny. She looks like she is on the verge of death. I feel like I'm going to break her tiny bones when I squeeze her. She looks so unhealthy. She doesn't look anything like I imagined her. She doesn't feel like I imagined she would. Why is she so floppy? Why won't she look into my eyes? Why won't she smile at me? What if she never smiles at me? What if she can never look into my eyes and say I love you, mama? What if she never learns to roll over and I spend the next 40 years of my life changing her diapers and turning her and taking care of her bedsores? What if my kids resent this helpless little being I bring home? What if my marriage and my family suffer from all the hardship this child could bring to our family? What if this is the biggest mistake of my life? I am not sure I can go through with this. Then again, I certainly can't leave her here.

Long story short, after confessing my fears to John, the biggest relief came over me as he confessed his feelings to me. "I think she is perfect", he said. So what if she never walks? He would strap her on and carry her on his back, and besides, there are always wheelchairs. So what if she never looks into our eyes and says I love you, I'm sure she would tell us in her own way, he said. That was all I needed to hear from him. I just needed to know that his heart was there, and that I hadn't roped him unwillingly into this long term commitment of special needs adoption.

Last night during family movie night Ava sat on her daddy's lap and kept reaching over to me and patting me, signing "mama" and smiling at me. Words cannot even express how grateful I am that we did go through with it after all. She does tell me she loves me in her own way. I can't imagine life without her. She has really enhanced our family in so many ways. I always think of an article that was shared with me shortly after we adopted her and it is true in so many ways. It is by a mother of a child born with Down Syndrome. (You might want to grab a tissue before reading).

Notes From the Deep End
by Jennifer Enderlin Blougouras

...So picture this: Parenthood, to me, was like a giant swimming pool. I saw other people in the pool and they looked okay...

Other parents said to me, "Going into the pool can be really scary. But it is all worth it."
I thought to myself, If they can do it, so can I. And, tentatively, I put my foot in the water.

Suddenly, someone grabbed me from behind and threw me in the deep end of the pool. In the deep end! How unfair!...Throw another person in the deep end...!...

How did this happen? Who did this to me? Gagging and coughing and choking and sputtering, I railed against the shock of the cold water, the unfairness of it all. My head went under and panic set in. I am going to die, I thought. But instinct kicked in and clumsily, I moved my arms and legs. And I did not drown.

Now I was treading water. After a few big breaths I looked around and noticed there were other people in the deep end with me, and they were offering to help. But I didn't want to be in their Deep End Club. And besides, I didn't think I even belonged here. It was only a matter of time before someone told me it was all a mistake and I'd be pulled out of the pool to safety. I should have left well enough alone. I should never have tried to go into the pool, I thought. But since nobody came to my rescue, I continued to tread water. And I did not drown.

Soon I started to float. My panic subsided. I knew I could survive, although it surely wouldn't be pleasant being stuck at this end of the pool. I was able to rest for short periods, suspended on the surface of the water. I felt pretty much alone. Yet, I did not drown.

The I noticed that there was a little boy in the deep end with me, a little boy named Nicholas with eyes that crinkle up like half moons when he smiles. A little boy named Nicholas who loves Bruce Springsteen and Puccini's La Boheme and 1940 Big Band Music. And Nicholas could swim.
Looking at him, I realized that someday, I might be able to do more than float. I might be able to swim. And I might even enjoy it. Perhaps I'd even love it.

As I watched Nicholas I discovered that the deep end allows for underwater somersaults, and in the deep end, it's possible to dive. You can't do that in the shallow end. And I realized that perhaps someday, with Nicholas at my side, we'd both wave to the parents at the shallow end of the pool and say, "You don't know what you are missing, here in the deep end."


The Monroe 6 said...

I love this post.
Just beautiful!
Your Ava is a doll.
Our 1 year anniversary of our first trip to Russia is in 3 days. So I really understand all the feelings you mentioned. Soooo excited, yet sooooo scared.
Ava is just thriving! Congratulations! :)

Kelsie said...

This made me cry. :-) I'm so glad that the doubts didn't sway you from making a difference in Ava's life. :-)

Bethany said...

Ooh I have chills. Crap, they won't stop! LOL

I totally remember your post that explained your feelings. I cried. And then I cried again when you embraced Ava as your daughter. It was amazing for me to see that. John sounds like an amazing husband and human being.

Christina L said...


That's all I can say.

Tim Rovenstine said...

I'm very happy you didn't take the advice of your father on this occasion. I am very grateful you obeyed the Lord.

kirsten said...

I'm crying your story,'s incredible the Jesus in you-love it, and so glad Ava is doing well, blended into your family, a gift.

Jester 5 said...

WOW, one year?!?!!! It seems like Ava has always been part of your family.

If this is one year since you meet Ava, that must mean this is one year of me reading your blog. :)

AZmomto8 said...

I remember this all like it was yesterday, I followed your blog so intensely and looked for emails at RR while you were in Ukraine. Ava's transformation has been one of the most awe-inspiring I have witnessed (along with Emma and Xander), I shed so many tears of joy watching her come alive in your home with your family. I cannot believe it has been a year already, wow! Such a wonderful year too.

Christine said...

What a beautiful post. It was good to read this...... Ava has come so far.

Josh K said...

I remember following your story so closely every day when you were over there. You guys are an inspiration to us and we know God knew exactly when Ava was going to be brought home to the perfect family. I can hardly believe her progress over the last year, but then again I can. The Urban family is the best thing that ever happened to Ava and Ava the best thing that happened to you. Praise be to Him.

Traci said...
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Traci said...

I cannot believe Ava has been with your family for a whole year! Time flys when your having fun right?? Ava is so beautiful and perfect and I too am glad that you and your family have been so blessed by her. She is a true blessing from the Lord.

schoolmother said...

I remember this!! Isn't God amazing! Wow! Look what the Lord has done!

Stefanie said...

Oh Charissa, How I remember following your blog as you posted entering the orphanage and your honest honest reporting of your experience and raw emotions. How awesome to "take the plunge" when you could have so easily rationalized not taking Ava! How beautiful to see how the Lord worked in both you and your Husband to move forward. I know I've said this before, but your faith and tenacity encouraged me to push my own faith in our adoption. I am so glad you did because we wouldn't have 3 more little boys! Thank you for encouraging me to "take the plunge"! Stefanie

gillian said...