What you see during the process and the journey to adopt your child can haunt you. This is a recent post I wrote for Grown in My Heart: An Adoption Network. I wanted to share it with you.
The Not Adopted
Sometimes I see them again. I am walking around the orphanage, wearing a baby carrier; my daughter is snugly and safely ensconced within. She is looking out, seemingly disconnected from the familiar scenes. I feel somber and sad. My arms are around her. I kiss her shorn head from time to time and softly stroke the bug-bitten pale face. My husband is close, quiet, and only I know that he struggles for composure.
We have been allowed into the welfare institute with cameras and camcorders. The director has left and we have been given permission to take pictures and tape discreetly. We look, wander, touch, and take in the essence of this sterile environment five stories above the concrete paved lot, just outside and under the small iron balcony that holds a wire contraption that resembles a complicated antenna. The contraption has cloth rags of diapers and permanently discolored baby clothing hanging from it, slowly drying in the humid south China autumn. We are in the nursery where my daughter spent the first year of her life. I stand next to the crib that she shared with another, bundled under quilts, padded jackets, and pants, out of the sunshine and other elements.
I break off from the group and wander down the wide hall and peek into a room. A TV is turned up high. Children with birth defects and disabilities fill the room. Some are playing games. Others rock or move repetitively; some lie around without any kind of stimulation or contact. Some stare at the walls and then there are those that just stare at each other or nowhere, without seeing. Young children, several around the age of my eight year-old son, appear to be watching over these children. A door opens behind me on the other side of the hall and a girl with a stunted leg and arm shuffles towards me, determined to get where she is going. I feel caught because I’m witnessing something I’m sure I shouldn’t. The girl disappears into another room and shuts the door. I don’t see any additional staff.
My husband is at my elbow ready escort me downstairs with the rest of the group. We arrive in a baby filled playroom with a puzzle-pieced primary-colored rubber mat that covers almost the entire floor. The mat looks familiar and I realize why; my daughter’s referral pictures were taken here. I walk a few steps and see the plastic pink pony that she sat on in one of the pictures. It is dirty, old, cracked.
I look around for my husband and then stop. The girl I saw upstairs comes into the playroom and sees me, but doesn’t acknowledge me. Instead she quickly looks away, bending down to take a baby who has held its hands up in the global language of “pick me up.” She smiles and rocks the baby and I can see that she is a well-seasoned rocker. It is impossible to determine the sex of the babies because they have on combinations of boys and girls clothes, however we are in China and I assume that the majority of these little ones are girls with shaved heads.
Did this young girl hold my daughter and rock her? Did she coo and sing to her and share exciting folktales of dragons and monkeys? I think so because my daughter is watching her and smiles. I catch the young girl’s eye and smile. She looks away.
Our Chinese facilitator tells us that the young girl is an orphan like the other girl in the room, who I hadn’t noticed because she is even older. I thought she was one of the regular caretakers. This young girl was never adopted. The welfare institute kept her on because she was good with the younger children. She will remain with them for the rest of her life, caring for others. The facilitator tells me she is fortunate because she has shelter, food, and a basic education. Many of the older orphans have to leave. And when I ask where, he just shakes his head.
I turn away from him and pull my precious baby deeper into my arms, safe, loved, going home. I ache a mother’s pain. I think of my older daughter, safe, loved, and at home and the tears come. I look over and I see my husband hugging himself in the corner, tears coursing down his cheeks. I walk over to him and we put our foreheads together, needing to connect in our anguish and for strength. He strokes our daughter’s sweet face and kisses her. After I have calmed down I look up and around the room. I see my daughter’s face on the young girl and I see my older daughter’s face on the older girl’s face.
I struggle up from the dream gasping for air. Too real. Too close. I run down to my daughters’ room. They sleep every which-way in their bunks. One is snoring. The other is cuddled up with the cats. My heart begins to quiet and I am overcome with tears. They are home, safe and loved beyond measure. But those, the not adopted, what of them?