This time last year, I had just returned from my first trip to Russia where I'd met the baby girl who would, several months later, officially become my daughter.
I will never, ever forget the exact moment I laid eyes on her for the first time. I was tired and very, very nervous. It was snowing like crazy outside, and the orphanage was extremely overheated. I'd been waiting all day to get there, and our trip had been delayed due to some "business" that was going on at the orphanage. So, it was now early evening and already dark outside. My facilitator ushered me inside where we removed our coats and put plastic booties on over our snow boots in a feeble attempt to keep the floors clean. They put me in the sparsely furnished, very warm Director's office and told me to wait. The walls were covered with photos of babies and toddlers who'd been adopted from there. Adoption announcements. Christmas cards. Birthday announcements. I looked at all of them at least 50 times. My palms were sweaty. I was lightheaded. Minutes seemed like hours. I could hear Russian being spoken and lots of movement in the hall outside the door. I kept thinking that they were about to open the door, but no. More waiting.
Then suddenly, a nurse walked in--a large woman dressed in all white--and thrust a baby out in front of her. The translator said, "Here she is. This is your baby." I gasped. All of the air went out of the room. My heart, beating impossibly loudly, leapt into my throat. Tears flooded my eyes. And, in that instant, that micro-second, my heart was hers. I would never, ever be the same after looking into those amazing, AMAZING blue eyes. Her eyes brightened the moment she saw me, as if she could feel my excitement to be in her presence. I timidly asked, "Can I hold her?" To which the translator brusquely replied, "Of course! Take her!" I spent the next few hours just holding her, gazing at her, touching her face, hands, hair. Memorizing every thing about her.
That's the first photo I ever took of her. She didn't smile. I don't think she knew how. No one had ever smiled AT her, so why would she? She was pale and tiny. 4 1/2 months old exactly. Wearing pajamas with bees on them and the words, "Fly away with me..."
I was completely bowled over by the enormity of it all, and the quiet intimacy of it. I was all by myself in this unfriendly foreign country holding this precious, precious child. I know that I will never know what it feels like to gaze upon the face of a child you've just given birth to, but I can't imagine that it feels any less amazing than what I felt on that night in that room.
I will also never forget the enormous pain and emptiness that I felt when I had to leave her there and come back home, not knowing when I would be seeing her again. Everytime I thought of her (which was at least 500 times a day), I felt like I'd been punched in the gut and hit in the heart. It physically hurt to think about her there in that godawful place, wondering if anyone had picked her up that day, if anyone had held her, if she'd had enough to eat, if she was sick, etc. It was mental torture. And as the weeks turned into months, the helplessness and deep ache just became more profound. All the while, I was physically ill, dealing with the intense cramping and bleeding that preceded (and necessitated) my hysterectomy. It was fucking awful.
Last Christmas was not joyous. It was lonely and sad. My stepfather had just died, and my mom was depressed and alone. I didn't have enough time off at work to go home to be with my mom, so I spent Christmas eve with a work friend eating popcorn, getting wasted drinking wine and watching DVDs.
This Christmas will be SO different: My mom, The Geej and me, all together. Hanging out and enjoying each other.
Thank you, Universe.