One year ago today:
Two beautiful little boys, out of the laying down room for the first time since their transfer over a year earlier. Every other day of their lives, up until that point, they basically waited in their cribs for the days to pass by. Every day, exactly the same. January 2, 2012 was the beginning of something amazing and different. Bundled up, scrubbed clean, and brought down the long hallway into a visiting room. Oh, what must they have been thinking?
Gideon was wide-eyed and tense, his limbs stiff with anxiety, alternating between nervous giggles and full-body rocking and moaning. Micah was screaming in terror, fighting against the foreign feeling of arms carrying him, arching his back and scratching and clawing, as though he were fighting for his life. And then finally stopping to stare in stony silence once he was laid down on the couch in the visiting room.
And if I can be perfectly honest, Derek and I were just as full of anxiety. It was the moment we had been waiting for, all those months. The paperwork, the social workers, the notarizing, the appointments, the fundraising, the travel. All of that had brought us to this moment in time, in a small mental institution on the outskirts of a bedraggled, muddy village in eastern Europe. It was the moment I had dreamed about a hundred times, and in some ways, it was just what I was expecting. The boys looked much like their referral photos. They were tiny, as I had expected, they were dressed in layer-upon-layer of mismatched, ill-fitting clothes, and they were just as nervous and confused as I expected. There had been some concerns raised shortly before we traveled, concerns that caused us a LOT of lost sleep and late night prayer sessions, and until this moment we did not have clear answers. But finally, here were our answers: They were alive, they were available for adoption, and we were being allowed to meet them, and those three facts being made clear to us . . . I think that's the first time I was able to breathe deeply for weeks. We did not share much about our concerns at this time last year, for reasons that are complicated, so any of you dear readers that have been along on this journey with us since the beginning may just have gotten a hint that there were potential problems, but we were very concerned because of things we had heard. We had been advised to have a back-up plan, and to be prepared for bad news. So this moment . . . meeting the boys, seeing that they were alive, and being told that we would be allowed to adopt them, was an amazing moment.
And yet the moment was not exactly what I had imagined. Micah was so weak. So scared. So tiny. He didn't want to be touched. I had imagined myself hugging him and holding him, but he was horrified at my attempts to cuddle. He barely wanted to look at me. He banged his head over and over again, and clearly just wanted me to leave him alone. And . . . can I be perfectly honest? He smelled terrible. Mostly his breath. Like something had died, or a really awful dirty diaper, perhaps. I am not good with smells, and I felt instantly sick to my stomach. His teeth were brown and orange. His skin was flaky and rough. His lips were cracked and peeling. There were two huge scabby areas on the back of his head. His hands trembled, and he was too weak to lift his head or sit up for more than a moment.
And in the midst of all of this, Gideon was getting more and more wound up. He was anxious and tense, giggling hysterically, grabbing at everything within reach and flinging anything he could get his hands onto across the room. Derek and I tried to get him to sit on our laps, accept a hug, focus on a toy or a crayon or a book . . . and he was just getting more and more hysterical and tense, pushing away from us, happy but scared, laughing but with nervous eyes . . . no idea what to think about all of these people gathered around him, reaching for him, talking about him.
Oh, and as if this was not all enough to take in, within about one minute of the boys being brought in, with the director, the social worker, two nannies, and our facilitator all crowded in around us, talking in rapid-fire Russian, then the doctor came in, opened up her files on the boys, and began to read the boys' medical information to us. No joke. We had our one and only chance to ever learn the boys' medical information, spanning their entire first five and half years of life, in that brief instant, in the midst of that chaos, through an interpreter who was simultaneously trying to interpret for the doctor, the director, the nannies, and us as we tried to talk to our sons for the first time. We heard the very basic facts about our new sons. Age, city of birth, record of abandonment and transfer to the orphanage, diagnoses. Then we were asked, "Do you have any questions?" My questions right about then were how to get Gideon to stop pulling my hair, shrieking, and climbing the wall, and if somebody could please keep Micah from falling off the couch, since he was intent on squirming away from us and if that meant plunging off the edge of the couch to the hard floor below, then so be it. That list of questions that I had so carefully tucked away in my suitcase in the taxi outside went forever unanswered, and the doctor quickly slipped out of the room.
"So? Do you want to go forward with these adoptions?" we were asked. It was suggested that nobody would blame us if we just turned around and went home. I could see how the other people in the room shook their heads in disbelief and averted their eyes at the shape of Micah's enlarged skull, flattened and bald across the side and back, bulging on the other side, large flaky greenish scabs and tiny red bug-bites, the shunt jutting out from beneath his skin. Everybody fussed at Gideon and scolded him, telling him what a naughty little boy he was. I remember them shaking their fingers in his wide-eyed face, and him cringing as they berated him. We were informed that there were healthier children we could meet, better behaved children. "No, no," we insisted, "We came for these boys." They shrugged their shoulders and stepped back to watch us as we stared at each other, and then at the boys, then at each other again.
We were told we could take a few more minutes to get to know the boys before we answered, and some of the crowd backed off a bit, which perhaps helped to decrease the frantic anxiety level in the room. Gideon was still incredibly tense, but Derek managed to coax a few giggles out of him:
. . . and then even dear little Micah started to relax. He let us hold his hands, and he flashed us a few sweet, shy little smiles, and I saw what I had been looking for. A spark. A little glimpse of spunk. A ray of hope. That was all I needed.
Suddenly my heart was flooded with the Lord's peace, and I knew that it was no mistake that we had made it this far. These boys were our sons, and He had brought us here for a very clear purpose. What the future would hold we had no idea. Micah's health seemed very intimidating, and we worried that we were getting in way over our heads. He would rather bang his head than accept a snuggle. Gideon had no idea how to snuggle either; he was wild and intense, had no idea what to do with a toy other than shove it in his mouth or fling it across the room. He bounced from one thing to the next faster than a ping-pong ball. But they were real, live little boys, in desperate need of a family, and we were not going to turn away from this place to which the Lord had brought us. So we plunged ahead into one of the most fantastic, amazing years of our lives.