Living in Loss

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July 21, 2011
I can’t remember the date we left last year. Was it July 20, 21 or 22? I don’t know. I’d have to look it up. Oddly, I have no interest in knowing for sure. It’s like my brain is preventing me from having the actual date be tainted for me for life. It’s like my brain knows an adoption is not a pinpoint in time, rather a process that unfolds across time. As I’ve learned, the only day that can be etched in stone and remembered forever is the day the child becomes yours. Until then … well, anything could happen. Anything happened to me.

July 6, 2011
It’s been almost a year since our adoption agency called saying, “It’s time.”

It’s been a year since my husband and I boarded a plane for Kiev.

It’s been a year since we touched the soil of our soon-to-be son’s native country.

It’s been a year since we shopped in a Ukrainian grocery store, lived in a Ukrainian apartment, rode through the streets of this former Russian countryside.

It’s been a year since we left that country with candle holders as our only additional cargo.

It’s been a year since I suffered my worst heartache.

And it’s been a year since I stood on that crowded beach in Sandbridge, Va., when we got THE email. The one from our adoption agency with our travel appointment. As I remember back on that moment, no shouts of joy escaped my mouth. Yet I’d been waiting for that exact moment for almost three years. Was it because ultimately I would find I had nothing to celebrate?

December 3, 2010
Decorating for Christmas. I unpacked Christmas trays, including an additional one I had bought for the child we were expecting to adopt. I had forgotten about those trays. I had bought them the previous year at an after-Christmas sale.

Instead, I used those trays to serve dinner to my two children. The two here. The two here who were helping me decorate. As I prepared the food, I prayed while I wiped down those trays. I prayed while I served the food. Prayer kept me from losing it. I know God has something good planned for me. I said that to myself over and over. Trying to believe it to be true.

Then I repeated those same prayers as I hung only four Christmas stockings.

I prayed again as we decorated our tree. As my daughter talked about how we should have had a little brother helping us.

November 1, 2010
Sometimes the loss creeps up my throat. Sometimes it pushes up to my eyes and spills down my cheeks. Sometimes I’m able to swallow it down. Sometimes I can’t. I hate the taste of loss.

October 17, 2010
Tough morning at church. Every time I walk in I feel like I’m missing a small hand in my own.

But our pastor gave a message that spoke to my heart. As a visual, he had an aerial shot of a maze. He said that our lives are like that maze. We take a turn here, a turn there. We can’t see where we are in our life, but God sees the full picture. God knows exactly where we are going.

I feel like I am surrounded by a wall of hedges right now. I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t even really understand how I got to where I am. I can’t remember another time in my life when I felt this confused and this lost.

But I have to trust I will be led through. Eventually. Right?

October 12, 2010
People talk about being positive. I’m afraid I don’t have that in me right now. September was a super hard month for me. I was not expecting all of the emotions. My two older kids were starting back to school and all of the church and sporting activities were starting up again. I was supposed to be doing all of that with our new son. I work from home, and he was supposed to be here with me. I miss him, and I didn’t even know him. I miss the dream and vision we had for our family.

I look at something, and it instantly reminds me of our ill-fated trip. The coffee we took for a gift still sits in our pantry. The lipstick case we took for a gift is in my purse. Heck, the first aid supplies we bought to take with us are in my medicine cabinet every time I open it. They are all constant reminders of our loss.

I have no idea where to go from here. It may or may not be an adoption. I just have to move forward and hope there is something better in store for us. Sometimes I feel that is true. Sometimes I don’t.

September 16, 2010
Everything is not OK today. Got an email from our adoption agency. I was told there is still no idea of when we could travel back to Ukraine for a second attempt at adoption. And if given the chance, would we? When the process has become so flawed and untrustworthy? I mean, another family also came back without a child. And another family is there now really struggling with their adoption. How much more proof do I need?

What does this all mean for me? I don’t know for sure. But what I will say is that we have a heart’s desire for adoption. Is that desire there to have a successful adoption or just to have the adoption experience? Did the door to our adoption shut permanently so we can focus on the family we do have, or did it shut temporarily? Will it be a Ukrainian child or some other child we don’t even know yet or no more children at all?

At this point, I am fairly certain we will not go back. It’s become a process we just can’t trust. Much of our paperwork has expired and would need to be redone. We’d have to start almost entirely new. I’m too spent. Too wrecked. But making that decision puts us on a heart-breaking path. We really wanted this. We have a room all set up for a child. We have things purchased for a child. Our friends gave us a baby shower before we went. It is as if we’ve had a stillborn.

Now that school is back in session and church programs have started back up, I’m seeing people who I haven’t seen all summer. I keep being asked what is happening, and it is getting redundant. I have nothing useful to say. Sometimes I can handle the questions well, sometimes I become a mess.

Moving on with life as normal with the four of us seems wrong. Hanging on to something that seems as if it won’t happen seems wrong. Moving on seems like we’re giving up and turning our backs on what we felt led to do. On the child we loved. Moving on seems like we are taking the hand dealt us and walking down this new path we hadn’t expected to be on. It is all very confusing, annoying and tiring.

We wanted this from after the birth of our second child. Instead of having a third child, we really wanted to bless and be blessed by an adopted child. We thought we had finally gotten that opportunity. We were wrong.

In my heart I feel like we just have to let go of this adoption and let it be over. Live one day at a time, taking care of the family I do have. I’m just afraid to pull the cord and miss out on something.

I’m sick of people saying “everything happens for a reason” or “it’s all in God’s time.” Well, we thought this was God’s time. And tell me, how is it reasonable that “our” child is with another family or any child remains in an orphanage and not in our home? I’m also sick of people saying, “There is another child for you.” Well, maybe there isn’t. Maybe this was the plan all along and we are just now finding out. Maybe this was all for the experience, and we just thought that an adoption journey would end with a successful adoption.

July 24, 2010
I sit on a Ukrainian airplane bound for New York. I’m helping the Ukrainian woman to my right fill out her customs form. We don’t speak a common language but she knows enough English that we get by. I can’t help but think that she shouldn’t be sitting next to me. It should be my 6-year-old son. I’d brought a selection of books, coloring books and Crayons, and some toy cars. That’s what I should have been doing on that nearly 10-hour flight back to the U.S. Instead, I’m pointing at a Ukrainian passport’s issue date.

The story of how we ended up on this flight about 40 pounds too light started just three days earlier …
 
We arrived in Ukraine on Wednesday, July 21. Excited, nervous. My first time in Europe. My first time really anywhere. Guided by an instruction sheet from our adoption agency, we picked our way through Boryspil airport and successfully gained entry into the country, the country of our soon-to-be son.

We don’t know Russian or Ukrainian. We were walking through the crowds welcoming their loved ones off flights. We were looking for a sign with our last name on it. Having faith that someone would be there to greet us, as our adoption agency had promised. Then we spotted the tall gentleman holding a single sheet of white paper with the name VAN ESSELSTYN typed in bold, block letters.

Relief.

We climbed into the back of Sergei’s red van as he slid behind the wheel. Sasha, our adoption coordinator, claimed the passenger seat. He welcomed us to Ukraine and told us what we would be doing for the next few hours. Checking into our apartment, getting money exchanged, going grocery shopping and getting settled.

As we rode into Kiev, this country girl from Spring Garden, Virginia, couldn’t believe she was actually here.

Our adoption journey had been a long one. Three years. Started with one country. Then moved to another. Paperwork completed. Paperwork expired. Paperwork amended. Fingerprinted, again and again. Medical exams. Blood tests. Money spent. Money saved. Money wasted.

But none of that mattered. It was finally time. The idea of meeting our son, a child we already loved beyond words, was almost more than we could bear. But we were about to learn in less than 24 hours that we would have a lot more to bear.

The next day we went to the government office to review our son’s paperwork. Only, it wasn’t there. It seems that he had been assigned to a different adopting family on the exact day we were flying to Ukraine. How could this be? It had to be some twisted, sick joke.

No. It was harsh reality. No one understood exactly how it happened. No one had a solution. Things were said.

Fingers were pointed.

Plan Bs offered.

“What about this boy?” they said, as we looked through a couple dozen profiles of children needing families. “No, sorry, never mind. He has three older siblings and can’t be separated.” And so it went, through the whole pile. I think I would have felt sick to my stomach at the action of discarding children, had I not been so floored by the loss of the one I thought was mine. How do you switch from loving one to accepting another in a matter of minutes? A parent’s heart can’t turn off and on like that. 

We had 60 minutes to decide on whether or not to pursue adopting another child. That’s it. And, honestly, the decision was rarely up to us. Often the child did not match the requirements set forth in our home study or immigration papers. Often the child would be older than our son, and our children’s birth order was something we wanted to preserve. 

So Plan Bs rejected.

No one, except my husband and I, knew that a part of our hearts died that day and would likely never heal.
We spent an agonizing two more days in a country that had so badly crushed our spirits. We watched our dream of adopting completely crumble before our own eyes. We couldn’t stop it. We were alone. Terrified. Humiliated. Livid. Devastated.

We went home. No child. No answers.

Present Day
We still have no real answers for why it happened. We never did go back to Ukraine. We still haven’t adopted. We still don’t understand it. There are times I wonder what makes me think I could have been a good mother to another child. Is that why the adoption didn’t happen? For all the times I find myself barely doing well with what I have?

But gradually, over time and through a lot of heartache, I have found some meaning in it all.

I can identify with people and their losses at a deeper and more intimate level. I am more moved by the struggles, crises and tragedies of individuals and the world. I can cry quite easily now; although, I’m not sure that is entirely positive.

I have figured out that I’m not nearly as in control as I thought. I’ve been humbled. I’ve been given a greater perspective.

I’ve learned to accept care from others unabashedly. My marriage grew stronger. I learned how resilient my children are. How inspiring they can be.

I experienced the tremendous love of my friends and family.

But the loss is still there.

At first I wanted it to go away. Now I don’t ever want to forget it.

The loss is part of me now. The loss reminds me that I still believe I should be someone else’s mother. The loss reminds me of how blessed I am to be a mother. The loss reminds me of how special it is to love, no matter the consequence. The loss reminds me that sometimes it has to be fine to just simply not know.

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