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."