It all happened with little fanfare. There was no seeing his groupa, where he had spent his first 8 months of life. There was no time spent with nannies who had cared for him. There was no dressing him together in the clothes I had brought to change him into. I signed the final papers in the director’s office and passed on his clothes for them to dress him. He was unceremoniously handed to me in the directors office and we were walked to the door. That’s it. There were no pictures. I just wanted out of there. Looking back I realize how spent I was. I had been in Ukraine 6 weeks by that point, most of that time alone save for other adopting families. I will always be grateful for those dear friends who I met and spent so much time with during those long, monotonous weeks. But by the time Cadman’s gotcha day came around I was emotionally drained and just wanted my baby safe in my arms forever.
Reality quickly slapped me back into survival mode shortly after being back at the apartment. His breathing was seriously labored and he was so congested. The facilitation team’s warnings were echoing in my head and l started questioning if my push to get him out was a mistake after all. I was able to catch my mom just before she left for the airport and send her a video so she could show the pediatrician and pick up meds for him on her way. It was hard to tell how much of the labored breathing I was seeing was from infection and how much was from possible withdrawal from sedation meds he was likely given in the orphanage. He had needle marks but I have no idea what he was given. If he was having withdrawals from sedation meds he only had the physical symptoms and thank god never had some of the more serious issues and emotional distress that is usually seen.
Overall, he didn’t seem bothered by the symptoms causing my medical concerns. He was happy and eating and sleeping. Or that’s what I thought at the time. And compared to others’ experience I had heard about, he was handling the transition well. That’s not the same as being “okay”. I quickly realized he stuck his tongue out when stressed or overwhelmed. Even when “happy” and smiling, his tongue was out quite a bit those first few days. Imagine having never known anything but white walls and silence. You’d think orphanages would be loud places, filled with the noise of the hundreds of toddlers and babies who live there. But no. It’s the eeriest silence you’ll ever experience...and you’ll never forget it. The devastating reality of that silence is simple. The babies learn crying means nothing. No one is ever coming. And they may be punished for making noise in general, so they remain quiet. Or they are simply sedated.
My mother arrived late the following day. The original plan was to pick her up from the airport and go bust Hammy out of the orphanage. But Her flight was delayed and there just wasn’t enough time in the day so Hammy’s gotcha day was pushed another day. Most of that day is a blur. We pretty much just ooooed and ahhed over Cadman, his crazy Mohawk and his glorious smile.
We arrived to quite halls, shut office doors and nannies who knew nothing about us picking up Hamilton. They said no, to come back next week. By that point there was no way in hell I was leaving my baby there one more second. I sat my mom down on a bench with Cadman and marched back out to the car to get my facilitator. He got on the phone with the director and insisted he come in and handle the situation. In that moment I was glad I didn’t question the orphanage donation. Had I pushed back about that, there is no way he would have come in on his day off. Maybe the Cubans Bill gave him on his last visit helped too. Who knows, but people in Ukraine do not do anything they don’t feel like doing.
What transpired when the director arrived at the orphanage was nothing short of an ass kicking. I do not understand Ukrainian or Russian and have no idea which he was speaking but I am confident he was saying very bad words. Sitting on a bench, taking in the eerie silence, then listening as the director’s ranting and raving echo through the otherwise silent halls was almost enough to send my mother running. But she stayed with me and waited. The director came back out of the office and apologized for the assistant director leaving early and not having everything ready to go. Nothing in Ukraine happens quickly. So we waited and waited and waited for him to prepare the paperwork. I left my mom and Cadman on the bench and went to the director’s office, hoping to speed him along. He had placed a plate of refreshments out and was visiting with my facilitator. They insisted I join them. So I had tea and ate smoked fish and cucumbers with them, smiling and nodding as they chatted while very slowly shuffling papers. It was torture. I walked back down the hall to check on my mom and I could tell she couldn’t take much more. I had spent weeks enduring those quiet halls but to be thrown into that and to just have to sit with it, realizing what the silence means, it’s enough to unnerve anyone. I went back to the office only to find more refreshments I was expected to partake in. To this day I have no idea what I ate. I just wanted my baby and to get my mom and my other baby out of there. A nanny came and took from me the clothes I had brought for Hamilton. Once again there would be no ceremonial tour of his groupa or dressing him together. There would be no tearful goodbyes from nannies that had grown to love him. They handed him to me and we left. Once again, that idea I had in my head of how the day would go and the lifelong memories we would make couldn’t have been further from the reality of the day. My mom was emotionally exhausted, I was just relieved it was over. I would never have to walk away from him again, leaving him in that place to wonder if I’d ever come back.
When I look back every year over the course of these three days, I’m awash in gratitude and sorrow, having learned to let my heart ache for all that my boys have lost and all that they went through in those first few months of life, to let it wash over me, to acknowledge it and feel it and to let it transform into deeper gratitude for the gift and privilege of being their mother.