For many adoptive parents, the feeling of being a child’s parent doesn’t happen right away. With Zinashi, I felt connected to her throughout our wait to go and get her, and the emotion came as soon as I picked her up. With Elvie, however, our process was so fast that I didn’t have much time to think about her as a person; I was incredibly busy with paperwork and medical plans, and it all seemed surreal. When we first met, she was having her diaper changed by one of the care center staff, and when I finally picked her up, I just felt like I didn’t want to break her. It probably didn’t help that there were a lot of other people in the room. The moment that I truly felt I was her mother came later, when I realized how much she needed me, more than I knew from the medical reports we’d been sent in advance.
After we took custody of Elvie, we sat down in our hotel room to just hang out with her, to learn about her, to let her get used to us. To go from being in a room with several babies and a nanny to being in a room with three people who are at your beck and call seems like a good deal, but it also was a huge change for Elvie. We’d visited her twice, but we were still strange and new. So we held her and fed her and laid her on her back so we could talk to her. Her eyes were big and questioning, but somewhat amused. Before we knew it, it was bedtime, and we decided she was relaxed enough that a change into pajamas wouldn’t be too stressful. I slipped her shirt over her head and fought not to cry. Because what I saw wasn’t a normal baby chest, or even that of a baby who wasn’t particularly chubby. What I saw were her ribs, in detail, beneath the thinnest layer of skin. At that moment, I knew: this was my baby, and I would fight for her to get better.
Having a baby with such a glaring need has sped up the bonding process for me. I kept watch that first night over the rise and fall of her chest, afraid to go to sleep for fear that she wouldn’t make it. Two weeks of that and the mark of her on my heart is indelible. After such a short adoption process, I thought it would feel surreal walking through the airport to take her home, but instead I felt like my arms were always meant to carry her through those bright lights and ever closer to home, to help.
The shock of seeing Elvie’s ribs still hasn’t worn off. I can’t change her clothes without fighting back tears, and I can’t burp her without the feeling of her spine beneath my hand making me worry. Despite multiple doctor visits in which I have been assured that she will make it, I still stop to look for the rise and fall of her chest as she naps or sleeps at night. We are getting help for her, but it comes too slowly for me. Our international adoption specialist did a house call today, and our list of tasks to get her healthy is not small. But that’s okay, because I am her mother, and I will do whatever it takes.