I’ve played the waiting game for just about everything in life; we all have. Wait—stalk—pounce. It’s primal.
As much as that’s true, though, I think we all can also sympathize with Inigo here.
And nowhere has this been more true than in adoption. You’d think publishing would have taught me to be patient. It has, to some extent. Mostly, I think publishing has taught me to ignore the slow-turning wheels of industry and focus on story-making. You always have the story when you have nothing else. And even when you’re on submission, you can work on something else. You should! Keep writing!
Not so with adoption, particularly with international adoption. With international adoption, there is nothing. Silence. Until the day you see that baby’s face in an email, you have no idea, nothing upon which to rest your mind. And there is nothing else you can do while you wait. Sure, you can get the nursery ready—up to a point. But finally, there is nothing. Only stillness.
In our first adoption, our wait of two years was relatively short, compared to what most families endure. There are horror stories of people waiting for nearly a decade. But we had been longing for over a decade to be able to adopt, so when the opportunity finally came, it frankly felt like we’d been waiting an eternity as it was.
It was after we received our log-in date (or LID as its commonly called in Chinese adoption circles) that I began to get increasingly antsy. Two months stretched to four. Four months stretched to six. Six to eight. And this was after we’d already spent fifteen months ensnared in paperwork.
I would walk into the room we’d designated as nursery at first. I’d sit in the glider. Sometimes I would hold the pink bunny I’d bought our daughter and stare at the empty crib. Eventually, I couldn’t even do that. One day, upon the advice of a mama who had been there, I had to quietly, firmly shut the door.
It was maddening not having anything on which to hang my love. No little face to adore. No little hands and feet to picture. I couldn’t even be certain that the name we hoped to give her would be a name that truly belonged to her. I had no idea if she’d need diapers, what size she’d wear, whether she’d fancy the stuffed bunny I’d bought her. I had no idea where she’d been born, when her birthday was, if she was eating solid food…nothing.
Eventually, I stopped imagining anything at all. It was just too painful.
Our first referral came in July when we were late to work. Due to a bizarre combination of circumstances, before we could review the little girl’s file, she had already been snatched up by someone else. I nearly drove off the mountainside on my way to work desperately trying to text our adoption agent to lock in her file so no one else could get her, but ultimately the message didn’t reach her in time.
That was a very bad day.
For a fleeting moment, I’d had a face, a name, a place. And then it was all gone again in an instant.
When our true referral came a month later, the circumstances again were bizarre. It was 9 pm. My husband’s grandmother was dying, and we expected the worst when we picked up the phone.
Instead our adoption agent said gleefully, “Check your email.”
That conversation is a blur, but I opened my email and saw this:
My heart gave a funny sideways leap, and broke into a million pieces that went fluttering around the room. I think I might have screamed.
It was only then, when I finally saw her face, that it all became real.
For some who’ve gone through this experience, the final wait between acceptance of a referral and travel is agonizing. Though I was impatient to be with our daughter, after I finally saw her, I was calm. I knew her face. I knew some things about her personality, her birthday, her medical history. I knew she was real.
There was a last, intricate paperwork dance to be performed, but we went through the turns in a whirlwind. Suddenly it was November. We were on a plane. And just before Thanksgiving, we were finally waiting in the chilly, smoke-wreathed Civil Affairs Office for our daughter to walk into our arms.
I do not know what it will be like with our son. He is becoming real to me, like a submerged island slowly rising from a faceless sea. But as he becomes more real, as we begin weaving him into the fabric of our lives, the urgency to see his face, to know his name and history, grows.
When I waited on my daughter, I did very little to mark the passing of the time, fearing that none of it was real. A dream so long held must be held in silence to the end, lest it break upon the harsh truths of the Universe, so all the old fairytales said.
This time, I’ve been able to trust the process. This time we light candles for him at night. We send him our love. When my daughter began drawing people for the first time last fall, she drew her little brother first. We walked together, smiling, all of us holding hands.
I have no image of him to keep in my mind, but I leave his door open, so he will know he is welcome. I surround him daily with my thoughts.
Hold on just a little longer, my son, as we are holding on. Soon, you will be here with us, holding our hands for true.