In less than 24 hours, we’ll be in the air between Eastern Europe, just about to land for our first layover in Vienna, finally on our way back to Cincinnati after nearly two long months of absence. Arturo and I left Cincinnati on Oct. 27, excited and nervous and incredulous that the day we had anticipated for so long had finally arrived. On Dec. 22, 5 days short of two full months, we’re finally returning to Cincinnati as a family of three, with our precious daughter by our side.
The past two months have been a roller coaster. The adoption process itself was fraught with tension and concern, thus our near-silence on the blog during the adoption proceedings. It was an experience that included some of the best days of my life and also some of the worst, a study in extremes. Since taking custody of Shanti on Dec. 6, the roller coaster has continued. Our days have been a mix of joyous laughter and precious family moments, scattered between mind-numbing experiences of grief, trauma, and loss.
Think, for a moment, of how grief-stricken you would be if, three weeks before Christmas, you were told that the wonderful Christmas you had anticipated is not going to happen, that you can’t spend Christmas with any of your family members and, piling more loss on top of this terrible news, that you will likely never see those family members ever again. This horrible scenario is exactly what Shanti is experiencing this Christmas.
Shanti may have a mama and a papa now, something she is definitely very happy about, but she’s only known us 2 months. We are “mama and papa” in name only at the moment. We are not yet “family” to her in the deep, emotional sense. She doesn’t yet fully trust us, and why would she? We can’t speak her language, at least not well, and she can’t speak ours, so while communication happens, it’s hardly effortless. On the relationship front, we’ve simply not had time to develop the deep bonded connection that, God-willing, will eventually grow between us. Right now, Shanti’s family are the 14 other children in her group at the orphanage, children who are her family in the deep, emotional sense that is currently lacking in our relationship. Every day, she runs through in her mind what specific Christmas celebration they are enjoying that day in her orphanage … without her.
When we started telling people what day we were traveling home to Cincinnati, the almost universal response was, “Hooray! You’ll be home for Christmas! What an amazing Christmas present! What a joyous Christmas you will have!” While I fully appreciate the wonderful wishes and sentiment behind this statement and while we are everlastingly thankful for the prayers these celebrants have said on our behalf, the trauma of adoption means that the joyous Christmas of these wishes is simply not our reality. This Christmas will likely be the hardest we will ever experience as a family. It is a Christmas of transition, of processing grief and coming to terms with loss, of pining for everything and everyone that is comfortable and familiar and known, of unwelcome adjustments and scary new experiences, of taking halting steps toward a new wholeness and healing that can only come with time.
Our last two weeks in this country’s capital city have been difficult ones. As I’ve said so often, nothing has come up that we didn’t expect or that, with God’s help, we couldn’t handle. Our homestudy training was excellent and prepared us for post-adoption life to the nth degree. But that doesn’t mitigate the difficulty of what we’re now experiencing. It’s still hard.
On Dec. 10, we left the city of Shanti’s birth, which we’ll call KR, to complete the US immigration process at the US embassy in this country’s capital, which we’ll call K-city. The difficulty of this seemingly simple transition took us by surprise. For the first time in this entire process, in K-city we’ve felt alone and isolated from any sort of support. Our friends and family in America suddenly seem so very far away. Arturo and I had no idea how helpful and life-giving the church in KR had been to us until they were no longer right there. The amazing people at this church tutor 1-2 days each week at the orphanage, and we also spent several hours in fellowship with them every Sunday. In the 6 weeks that we were in KR, they provided a constant offer of help, advice, and direction. They told us where we could shop and helped us navigate the city. They offered support and a friendly face each time we saw them. Don’t know where to go for a special dinner with Shanti? Call Tonya. Looking for a way to celebrate your first Thanksgiving as a family? Darrel and Molly are right there. Need a friend to chat with? Darlene is your girl. The value of the support these incredible people provided to us cannot be overstated. I certainly didn’t recognize how much they had done for us until we came to K-city, where we have none of those support networks established.
Perhaps in a sense we are also feeling the loss of the familiar that Shanti is going through. At least Arturo and I have each other to rely on right now, while Shanti is experiencing this loss to a much greater level and without a pre-established relationship of trust and mutual understanding to lean upon.
The good news in this somewhat dreary post is that, in less just over 36 hours, we’ll be landing at the Cincinnati airport. It’s not familiar or comfortable territory for Shanti, but it is for Arturo and me. That alone will be a huge stabilizing factor for all of us. Our friends and “family” in Cincinnati are our lifeblood, and we have missed them sorely. Returning home will be such a blessing.
Cincinnati may not yet be familiar to Shanti, but even she will have the assurance of knowing that this, this lovely little city we call our home, is the final stop on our pre-adoption journey, that here is where our life as an adoptive family will play out over the coming days, months, and years. That the time for putting down roots, for building relationships, for establishing lifelong emotional connections, for taking the hard steps that will eventually shape us into the family God built, has arrived.
Our pre-adoption journey is just about over. Life as an adoptive family is just beginning.