I remember the yellow hue of the hospital lights in Moscow. Not the warm, buttery kind of yellow that warms you up inside, but the dingy kind. The kind too dark to usher the relief that light usually brings into the dark.
I was there with my husband John, a translator, and our newly adopted son Arie. He wasn’t sick. We were there for his visa exam: the one that would grant us permission to go home.
For me and for John this was a momentous step forward: one of the last details to check off our long but dwindling list that would make our adoption complete.
For Arie this trip to the hospital was terrifying. He whimpered in my lap, fighting back the urge to cry with as much courage as his two-year-old body could muster. I held him tight, reassuring him as best I could as a relative stranger with a foreign tongue.
“It’s the smell,” said our translator, trying to explain the fear on our usually happy boy’s face. “It reminds him of getting his shots.”
Indeed, it did smell like alcohol swaps in that waiting area. Our translator whispered some encouraging words to Arie in Russian. He started sucking his thumb feverishly.
When at last it was our turn to see the doctor our boy’s demeanor turned around. The crinkle of the paper on the exam table and the happy tickles from the jolly Russian doctor distracted him from his fear. He laughed! Soon the exam was over and we were on our way back to our temporary apartment. Ever closer to home.
Two years have passed since that day, but I remain forever changed. Forever changed for having witnessed the inner turmoil of a child scared and alone. My husband and I were there with him of course, but oh how little Arie knew of us. He called us Mama and Papa, yet had no way to know what those names truly meant. He didn’t know we were going to be with him forever; to him we might have been two more faces in his ever changing sea of caregivers.
Today Arie knows exactly what Mama and Papa mean. He knows we are forever. He knows he is safe and secure. Just this morning I took him to the dentist and rather than wail in terror as he did at first, he climbed into the dental chair and laid back without hesitation. He giggled as the hygienist “tickled” his teeth with raspberry flavored toothpaste, glancing occasionally in my direction with a goofy grin.
These days when he is scared, Arie searches out my comfort. A normal action for most kids; a milestone for those who have had a lonely start like his. In the night, if he wakes up in the dark he cries out for me and my husband. Those suppressed whimpers we heard at the Moscow hospital have been replaced with loud cries for help. Where my foreign words formerly provided him with little relief, my simple presence is now his favorite comfort. He falls against my chest; the sound of my heart and the whisper of my voice quiet his wailing. He sighs deeply and snuggles in.
This is adoption. This is a picture of redemption. This is something that was lost, found. Broken, put back together. Injured, healed.
Adoption is not easy. Not for the child, not for the parents. When I say that I have been forever changed, I mean it. My eyes have been opened to a world I would rather have not seen. I know that today there are thousands of children just like my son who wait. Hundreds, at least, who have been brought to hospitals not by new parents and not for a simple visa exam, but by a nanny or caregiver- maybe known, maybe not- sick or for surgery or an extended stay.
The caregiver will leave when her shift is over and a new one take her place. Or maybe not. Maybe the child will be left alone, under the care of nurses and doctors who have to check his chart to remember his name. They do their best, I know it- those caregivers and medical staff- but they are not Mom. They are not the one he really needs to walk him through his fear. Not the ones to hold him in his time of need.
We do not adopt out of obligation or sympathy. We adopt because we long to hold the hand of the one who needs us. Because every child deserves to know the love of a family. We adopt because we were made to live for more than ourselves. Because we know what it means to be redeemed. We adopt because in Christ we know what it is to have been chosen.
We love because he first loved us.
Do you have more love to give?
Jillian Burden is still adjusting to this beautiful thing called motherhood; she and her husband are parents to a son by way of a Russian adoption. While her belly might not have expanded, her heart and her faith sure grew as her family did! You can read about this soul stretching journey to parenthood on her blog.