Recently, Real Simple magazine asked for essays concerning a time when “you discovered what love is”. It got me thinking. There are a lot of obvious answers. (The fact that they are obvious doesn’t diminish them.) These are the times we fell in love, had babies, etc. As I thought about my experience though, I realized there was one love in my life that has been an unexpected one, especially since the person it concerns is someone I have never met. Here is the essay I wrote. (I realize it’s longer than my other posts. Sorry about that.)
On May 22nd, my journal entry read something like this; “My heart is heavy with waiting. Our paperwork for this adoption has been complete and in Colombia for almost 18 months now and still no word. I sometimes feel as though this is not even going to happen.”
Just eleven days later on June second we got the call we had been longing for, the call that I did not think would come. A woman I had never met told me that the wait was over, that all that paperwork had been worth every minute, and that I was now the mother of a baby boy named Juan Camilo. He was four months old and waiting for us.
It was another month of wrapping up paper work, getting fingerprinted and waiting for an immigration paper. My husband, my five year old son, and I were incredibly excited and a little bit nervous about meeting Juan Camilo. We would be spending a month in Colombia with him while his adoption was finalized in the court system. Due to a delayed flight we were only able to get about four hours of sleep before getting up in preparation to meet him. Tired, emotional, and excited, we sat in a small room in Bogota. A social worker carried in a tiny human being and placed him in my arms. “Oh my,” I thought to myself, “I do not know this child and suddenly, he is mine.” Juan was crying. I was crying. My five year old was antsy to get out of the room. Social workers were hovering, suggesting I burp him, walk with him, or rock him. They wondered if maybe he was hot or cold or hungry or tired. I just wanted everyone to go away so I could process the confused mess of emotions that were rolling through me.
As we rode home in the taxi I held Juan as he fell asleep. (There were no car seats yet in Colombia). We carried him quietly into the bed-and-breakfast we were staying at. My husband held his finger to his lips as the other adoptive families staying there whispered their congratulations and smiled warm welcoming smiles. We lay Juan on the bed and we all curled up and fell asleep as a family. About an hour later, I woke and stared at his little face. The emotion I had been waiting for washed over me – the strong maternal ache of love that is so overwhelming it straddles the line between pain and bliss. “Mine,” I thought. “He is mine.” I couldn’t help but pick up the sleeping child. He woke in my arms, looked at his father and for the first time since we had met him that morning, gave us a wonderful smile.
The next month was pure bliss. We ate empanadas, sampled local beer, walked the streets, toured small towns nearby, and stayed a week at the beach, all while getting to know the little boy we were finding so easy to love. I had brought a baby pouch and toured much of the area with a sleeping Juan curled up on my chest.
Two days before we left the country Juan’s adoption was finalized in court and in a very unconventional move, the judge handed our lawyer a packet full of information on Juan’s birth mom. I sat on the bed that afternoon and read through this treasure. I learned that she had made an adoption plan from the moment she found out she was pregnant, and yet had nursed him for three days after giving birth, knowing she would soon have to say goodbye. I was struck by her generosity in this selfless act of love. The depth of the experience was made greater when I found a tiny picture of her. I knew we were lucky that Juan could have some closure and a very real chance of connecting with his birth mom if he ever wanted to. As I celebrated our growing family, I also mourned for Juan’s birth mother and for her loss. I mourned Juan’s loss of the Colombian culture, of extended family, and of living in a country and even a family where everyone looks similar. I came to accept that adoption is not always a perfect situation, but it is a chance to make something good out of what have often been sad stories.
Juan Camilo is five years old now. He has just started kindergarten. He is a sweet little heart who loves his siblings, his dog, and his parents with a tenderness and concern that I adore. He also has a fiery little temper, and all things considered, I kind of adore that too. Of course my love for Juan, like my love for all my children, is fierce, and strong, and often overwhelming, as is the love of any mother for her children. There is a love that hits me sometimes with Juan though that is different from my love for my other kids. It is the love I feel for his birth mother, and the love I feel she poured on him with her extremely difficult decision.
I lay in bed with Juan tonight and rubbed his back. He has strong muscles and smooth brown skin, and even though I really wanted to go read, I didn’t mind rubbing his little back as I know a day will come when he won’t ask me to anymore. During times like these, I reflect on the woman who had to make an enormous decision that would change her life, her child’s life and another family’s life forever. This young woman, knowing that she could not care for this child, gave him a chance to be a part of a family that could. Beyond that, she nursed him for three days before saying goodbye. Several times I have whispered thanks to her for starting off his life with such a gift of love.
My heart breaks for her, for Juan, for all of us in this broken and sad world where sometimes the hardest decisions are the most loving ones. I pray that the great love that gave me this child will inspire me to love greater and that at least in my little corner of the world, that love will abound.