As many of you know, Masha and Autumn are adopted. We got them in the late summer of 2010 from Kyiv, Ukraine. Autumn was 10 months old and Masha was 3 years and 5 months old... to the day when the judge decreed them our daughters.
We knew very little about them when we chose them. We knew that Masha was healthy and that her paternal grandparents were still visiting her regularly. We knew that Autumn had an unfixed complete AV Canal heart defect that was possibly killing her and likely causing permanent damage to her lungs if she did live until we could get her home and into surgery. We knew they were cute.
We also knew that it would take about $32,000.00 to complete the entire adoption process. Half came from our family members and the other half was donated from people in our real and virtual lives, and even from strangers. We are forever grateful to those people.
We also had no idea how many adoptions end in regret and even disruption. Yes we took the class that warned us that some orphans may not bond well and that there were other negative possibilities but we didn’t dwell on those things. There are many reasons why adoptions can sour, and one of the least talked about is that adoption is not the same for the children as it is for the adopting family. While that might seem obvious, the consequences of it can be devastating.
It dawned on me the day I met Masha... though the future we were saving her from was bleak, her present was just fine with her. She was a very happy, well adjusted child who had absolutely no idea that the nice people who were visiting her were about to take away from her everything she had ever known and loved. She had a life. She had a language. She had people she adored. She had children around her who were like siblings. She had a routine, and well-developed senses for taste and smell and sounds. She had preferences. She had a life, and we took it away from her.
From her perspective, we were not rescuing but rather abducting her. She must have been terrified. She must have missed her grandparents, doting groupas, and orphan siblings. She must have missed her home, her routine, her crib, her swing. She must have been frustrated and lonely for the things she understood.
Looking back, I think we did ok. We got it pretty early on and we did everything possible to keep what we could of her world. I cooked some Ukrainian dishes that Masha would recognize (though God only knows if they tasted close enough.) We kept the few ratty stuffed animals, and all the clothes and shoes the groupas gave us for her. We bought Russian lullabies for her. We showed her pictures and told her how much everyone still loves her. We called her by her Russian lovey name, and used all the Russian words we learned and could remember. Most of all, we tried to respect her will.
As it turns out, Masha is probably one of the most resilient orphans there ever was. She learned some signs before she even left Ukraine, and once home she drank up the English language. She literally spent hours on the iPad touching pictures and hearing the words. She immediately adjusted to the new routine and overcame her fears (of the bath, of losing food, etc.) within months. She watched everything, and she participated in everything. But what really made all the difference was that she fell in love with all of us.
Autumn, too, had been loved. In fact, if not for the love of her house doctor, Tatiana, I don’t know if she would have lived. Tatiana saw to it that Autumn finally got the heart surgery that she so desperately needed, even though she already knew that Autumn had a family coming for her. She also oversaw round the clock feedings because, as it turned out, Autumn was suffering from severe reflex and needed to be fed every two hours. More than half of what she ate came back out. I cannot imagine how hard it was pre-surgery to get a baby who was in failure to thrive and congestive heart failure to eat, but they did it. Autumn was not an easy baby, but she was an adored baby.
For precious Autumn the uprooting must have been even harder... because we even took her name from her. There was nothing I could cook for her that resembled anything they fed her, and our clumsy attempts at Russian utterances were met with stares. We had none of her lovey dolls or toys. And, sadly we assumed that since she was just a baby that her attachments would be easily replaced. Not so. She began sucking her thumb so intently that she eventually sucked the nail right off. She woke up crying every night, on and off all night. All of our affection and attention probably kept her alive, but it wasn’t until she grew into us and forgot her past that she was able to bloom.
We feel very fortunate. Our daughters are healthy and happy, and they have given to this family just as much as they have received. Our daughter Kimani has been blessed immensely by having two sisters who do everything with her. Those two little orphans were just right for us, and for each other.
Over the past three years, we have heard many unsettling things about adopted children, the adoption process, adoption organizations, and so on. We know that our story is one of the happy ones. We still believe that Reece’s Rainbow is a good organization, and we are still thankful for the roles it played in bringing us to our girls. We still think our facilitator Oleg is one of the best. We still think our girls came from a place that while poor, provided them with loving care. We still think that the seven weeks we spent in the capital city of Ukraine were some of the best times of our lives. We still think that our adopted daughters are two of the most wonderful people in the world. In fact, three years into this journey, there is not one bad thing I can think of to tell you about our adoption.
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