With great innocence and naivety, our family set out on a quest.
We traveled to a foreign land and laid our lives at the feet of so many in order to prove ourselves worthy. We made great financial and emotional sacrifices with the hope of the immense gift this would bring to our lives. A daughter.
Many times in our adoption process we had our path blocked by huge obstacles; we were thwarted and dismayed.
With the most endurance I have ever mustered, and many prayers for the best outcome to fit our lives, we forged ahead into unknown territory, often blindly stumbling along. Many times I thought to turn back. Many times I feared I was going the wrong direction, but something in me refused to give up. I refused to let go of this dream. My will would not allow me to relinquish this quest, so I battled on through bureaucracy, lies, greed, fear, and somehow I never lost my hope.
After two years of frustration, heartbreak, struggle and worry, there was a call. A trip. A prayer answered, we believed.
In an old musty building that smelled of urine, there was silence, despite housing a huge amount of children. At long last, a baby was handed to me.
A tiny stranger.
In her eyes I searched to see if there was any recognition of my soul. I looked to see a sign of intuitive knowing, or any flicker of my soul’s voice telling me she is the one.
There was no such sign for me. No great leap of pulse; no feeling of sureness. There was fear and a tiny bit of doubt, but there was hope. A nagging little joy deep in my heart that this child would be the seed that grew into my daughter.
She was so small. Glossy brown eyes that looked at me with some sadness and fear, but what I thought was perhaps wonder, and maybe a bit of intrigue. She was underdeveloped and behind in her motor skills, but she was alert and aware of us. She was quiet and reserved yet, with a bit of effort, we could elicit a smile.
Her attention wandered from us to the happenings of her orphanage, and she seemed mesmerized by the other children. During our visits, she seemed to long to play with them and leave us, despite our best efforts to entertain her and hold her attention.
Was this a sign?
Each day we brought food and toys and worked to reveal this child’s true spirit. We watched intently as she interacted with us, to see if she seemed any more at ease.
Was there was chemistry?
It was impossible to know on the cold porch, so dirty and rickety. She always seemed distracted, but then she would smile, and my heart thought, perhaps. Perhaps she is our meant-to-be. Surely, with nurturing and love this seed will grow and blossom into my daughter.
Day after day, we spent 30 minutes to an hour with her, on that porch in the cold. It was uncomfortable. Communicating with her was impossible because of her age and then the added language barrier. We felt like outsiders who were disrupting a well-oiled machine.
I prayed each night for a sign. I prayed for the right answers and the truth to come to my soul.
Was this my daughter?
Finally, after three weeks of porch visits and much court time, we brought her home to the hotel. She was beautiful and peaceful, but frightened. She reminded me of a baby deer—so timid and frail.
She was engaged in exploration, but seemed completely detached from us. We watched and waited for this child to respond to us, for her spirit to awaken to human contact and interaction. In my heart I believed, with some freedom, warmth, attention, happiness and plenty of stimulus, she would begin to awaken—this tiny girl’s soul was damaged, but she would soon find her moxie and strength.
This child was now lawfully my daughter.
Fear would sometimes strike in my heart as I realized I did not know this child.
I didn’t know what she liked, or how she would react to different things. I seemed to be flailing, even though I had raised three babies of my own. I could not find a way to comfort her.
How could I help her understand our new relationship?
I felt scared and helpless often, yet I was in wonder and awe of this new child and the chance to parent her. This child who was now my daughter.
She was frightened by our touch, and her heart raced when I would try to rock her. I tried singing to her, but still her eyes filled with terror and she wanted to flee. I was torn over whether to try and continue to hold her, or offer her the relief of just putting her down.
Nothing seemed natural. My instincts unsure. I felt scared and unskilled.
“I am the mother of three children.”
I reassured myself with the hopes she just needed more time to adjust. I prayed for the strength to understand and to go on trying.
“I can do this. I can love this child and bring her to health. I can help her understand family and teach her trust and love. I am a good mother and I love my children. I have great emotional capacity and all the instinct of a empathic mother. I have always had an amazing rapport with children.”
After six months, we searched for a child therapist to help us, but it did not work
My hair had started to fall out, and I was putting all of my other children on the back burner. We decided we had no choice but to disrupt our adoption, (an ugly term used when an adoptive family is unable or unwilling to care for an adopted child).
Just writing it down, or saying it out loud is still too much for me.
Many people who hear our story cannot believe that we gave up our daughter. Many people feel that they could have never done such a thing, no matter what the circumstances.
I can’t blame them; I would have thought the same thing.
Our daughter now lives with a family experienced in working with children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder. She has the professional care that I could not provide.
I know she is in a home better equipped to care for her than I could, although it still feels like a knife through my heart. It has taken a lot of therapy to be able to admit this. However, I still ask myself:
“What was the lesson to learn from this?”
“What purpose did this nightmare serve?”
I had put my entire self worth into being a mother. I was confident and highly emotionally intuitive, believing with all of my heart that love conquered anything and everything. I believed it when the world said, you can do anything. The truth is that I couldn’t. I was too emotionally broken myself to be able to help this child through her trauma.
But I loved her enough to let her go.
My pride could have stood in the way of what was best for us all. Instead, I took the brutal judgement by the adoption community, and even withstood my own self-criticism for the failure to meet the expectations I had set for myself.
Without any doubt the most powerful, humbling, life-changing lesson in this whole thing has been: I no longer judge people for their decisions.
I realize I absolutely cannot know what I have not experienced.
I will admit that I used to naively believe I knew what I would do in any given situation, but I now know that there are some things, even about ourselves, we simply cannot foresee.
Author: Traci Burnam
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Deb Jarrett