this is motherhood {too}: a journey through special needs adoption and loss in Haiti

May 2, 2014, This is Motherhood Too, 11 Comments

rp_Logo_04_21_2014_102726AM-265x300.pngBy Amanda Strain.

We had been traveling for about 18 hours. A red eye from Edmonton to Toronto, then to Montreal and finally to Porte Au Prince, Haiti.  We were driven up the mountain to her, for over an hour on roads that would be considered impassable by Canadian standards. We were driven through the gates, up to the balcony where she was waiting.

The 18 hour journey was not the most gruelling part of our journey. It was March 12, 2013, the day we had been anticipating since our adoption process began on July 29, 2009.  There had been many, many days over the past four years where we were sure this day would never come. 

First it was the earthquake of January, 2010 followed by all the uncertainty of whether we would be able to continue the process. Then the paperwork, the seemingly endless piles of required documentation – translation, notarization, legalization, organization that more than once made me want to quit the process altogether. But, finally we received the call to come get our referral.  They presented to us, the profile of a beautiful  baby girl. Tiny, perfect.  

We sat in the adoption agency and wept.  She was so lovely and we had waited so long to see her photo. She had Down Syndrome. Were we prepared for all that she would bring? Were we the right people to be her parents? We both knew in that moment that she was ours. She was meant to be our daughter, we were meant to be her parents.

We called our friends and family to come over and made the long awaited announcement on a sunny September day standing our our deck surrounded by love and tears. 

She was our daughter and we were thrilled.  

The next step was to go meet her, not to bring her home, just meet her, visit a judge (well, go to his office so they could verify that we had been in the country) fall deeper and madly and head-over-heels in love with her, then leave her for an undetermined amount of time until the next steps of the process were completed.

That day we met her in March was a dream. As we walked through the door of the balcony, the precious baby who had already sunk deep into my heart, was placed into my arms. “I know that face, I know that face,” was all I could manage to say. We held her and cuddled her and played with her and kissed her and took hundreds of photos of her and watched her sleep on our chests, heart to heart. We were in love.

haiti adoption loss

The orphanage embraced us and we fell hard for them too. Beautiful people giving all they could to change the lives of a few of the estimated 1 million orphans of Haiti.  

On March 17th, five days after arriving at the orphanage, we left. The thought of returning her to her crib was too much for me. One of the volunteers suggested that she take her back to the nursery, that it may be easier for us to say goodbye and hand her to someone else. My tender husband refused.  “I am her Daddy, I will take her back.”  So he did, he placed her in her crib and kissed her and I had never loved him more than in that moment.

And we left.

When we got home, we remained in a fog, we were so happy to be back with our son and kissed him and hugged him far too much, in his opinion. 

The hope that we would return to pick her up carried us through. We cried and prayed and missed her with every breath. 

Then on a pretty June day we received an early morning e-mail from our Orphanage, our girl was sick. There was a virus going around the nursery (a nasty RSV) and though there were many who had it, our girl had it much worse than the others. 

I wasn’t worried. She had been sick before. I knew the staff. I knew how vigilantly they cared for all those precious babies. I prayed, we asked our friends and family to pray, but I didn’t worry.

I had coffee with a dear friend, lingering over conversation. There was laughter, connection. I went for a massage, a rare treat. While I was in that quiet room, waiting for the massage therapist to come in, my phone rang. “Our agency just called. They want to meet with us. They want to come to our house,” my husband said on the other end.  

“Why? Did they say why? There is only one reason why? You know why?! Right?  Please tell me I’m wrong!!”  I cried. He comforted me, tried to reason gently with me as my breath shallowed and pulse raced. 

“They will be here at 4. Then we will know. Until then, try not to fill in the blanks.”  

He tried, but I knew. The massage therapist came in, I laid down with my face hanging through the strange hole. I didn’t put the phone away but rather called my dearest friend. “They want to meet with us! They haven’t been in touch with us since our referral!  Why else would they call… she is dead. I can’t believe it! I know it,” I cried while the massage therapist just kept going, asking if she should stop. I shook my head no.

There is something you should know about this friend of mine. She doesn’t lie. When it really counts, when you need the truth, she is the one to ask. I knew in that moment that she would tell me the truth and face whatever came right along side of me. “I can’t think of any other reason they would want to see you. I just can’t.” Her honest answer strengthened me. I didn’t want it to be happening, but I didn’t want to feel alone in my fear either.  

I wailed. She listened. “I can’t believe this is happening,” I repeated over and over. 

She held the space. She was present. She didn’t try to cheer me or fill the moment with trite ramblings, or even profound thoughts. She let me be fully in that moment and she was fully there with me.   

Around 4:00 that afternoon the Social Worker who had done our home study nearly 2 years earlier, walked up our front steps. A stuffed bear and flowers in her arms – a very, very bad sign.

We told our son first. “Buddy, your sister died. She got very sick and died this morning. We are so sorry.”  

He took a breath, his chin quivered, “It’s ok.  We didn’t need a sister anyways.” 

Breathe, just breathe.

We told our families and friends. We went to soccer.  (What? Why did we go to soccer?  I can’t believe we went to soccer).

We had received our monthly update just a few days before. This was part of the update that we received. I like to imagine that she actually wrote it. 

Hi Mom and Dad!

I have had a great month. You would be so proud of me if you could see how well I am doing in my standing skills. I pull myself to stand up in my crib almost every day and I can even stand for a short while without holding onto anyone’s hand. I was very excited to receive the photos and dress that you sent for me this month. Thank you for sending me gifts. Susie took photos of me getting the gifts on photo day. I liked them a lot. I loved looking at the photos of me with you from when you were here to visit me in March. I also liked the book that you sent. I continue to dress up in the yellow dress that is in my box, it is my favourite outfit. I have been getting the vitamins you sent for me each morning with my cereal. I love to spend time on my tummy more than anything else. I also love to watch what the other kids around me are doing, follow them around, and try to imitate what they are doing. The volunteers painted my hands and feet and put them on paper for you to have when you come and pick me up. It felt strange to have the paint on my hands and feet and I loved the feel of the paint on my feet.  It made me smile. I am so happy that you were here to visit in March and I am so excited for the day when you get to come and take me home to live with you.  

I LOVE YOU BOTH!

Your little girl.

Our precious girl was sick for only 36 hours. Then she was gone.

haiti adoption loss

We only had five days with our daughter. Five days in her presence, but four years waiting and loving her before we knew who she was. And now we will have a lifetime of loving her and missing and wishing that things had gone differently on that June day. This, this crazy, heartbreaking experience, that left our son without a sister and my sweet husband without a daughter. Those four years of striving and wishing and praying for her. Her last breaths. The memorial service we held for her. All of this is motherhood too.   

I am her mother. Yes, even today when the anhedonia and exhaustion of grief still fight for dominance and the memory of those five days seems to get hazier and hazier. I am her mother.  I always will be.

Last Christmas, the Christmas before our daughter died, a friend give me a scrabble board with our families names glued on to it, intersecting with each other. Her name fits so perfectly with ours. I won’t be removing her name from the scrabble board. It will remain there, always. She will be my daughter and I her mother, permanently.  

But what does that look like? What does that feel like? How do I explain it to others? How do I answer the perpetual questions of “Is he your only one?”  “Is it just him or do you have other children?”  Everything in me wants to reply “I have a daughter, but she died.”  Not because I am heartless and like to see people squirm, but because my heart remains full of love for her and she deserves to be remembered. She holds a place in our family tree, on our family scrabble board, that will not be erased.  

haiti adoption story lossI want to hear her name spoken. I want to tell her story. I want to see her photo when I look at the gallery on your fridge.  I want to keep being her mother even now, especially now, because being her mother is part of who I am, and that did not change when she died.

When I tell my story people are quite predictable, generally kind, yet predictable. I say that I lost my daughter and they are mortified. Once I explain the situation they take a big deep breath and although they never say it, I can see the relief pour over them. Their expression and body language say “Oh, I though you meant she was really your daughter – she wasn’t, not really, it’s not that big of a deal.” I know they don’t intend for that to feel like a punch in the throat but it does. Every time and I want to back peddle and explain that she had our last name when she died and we really did love her and we were just waiting for her passport to be printed. I want to convince them that she was our daughter, that our love for her was real, that I am justified in my grief. Usually I don’t say anything more. I accept their good intentioned condolences with a smile and a nod and join them as they change the subject.

This is motherhood too. Grief and loss and love that flows from me to a child who will never again receive it. This is motherhood {too}.

Written by Amanda Strain. You can find Amanda’s words at Just Enough Light.

This is from the collective writing project: this is motherhood {too}. Do you have a story you’d like to submit?

11 Comments

  • Reply Talayna Davis September 16, 2016 at 10:55 PM

    She died with a last name. Not as an orphan. As a girl with parents, who did and DO love her. That is beautiful.

  • Reply Gerrie Longueil May 3, 2015 at 8:26 PM

    Beautiful, touching, heart-breaking. We will always remember your little girl and the short journey you shared but will be in your heart forever.

  • Reply Jessie S May 3, 2014 at 8:37 PM

    I am weeping as I read this. I am so very sorry for your loss. May you feel God’s peace that passes understanding knowing that before she was yours, she was His. She is in the arms of a loving God now. While I am certain that that does not make the pain any less brutal, I hope it gives you moments of joy that one day you’ll get to see her again.

  • Reply Amanda Strain May 3, 2014 at 3:59 PM

    Oh Katrina! What heartbreak. I can only imagine! I am so sorry to hear your story. I am interested and I will watch the doc that you mentioned.
    Adoption is such a risk. It is so uncertain. The adoption mentioned in my post is our third. We lost another daughter in a “failed ” adoption before our son came to us. I don’t know that people who have not journeyed through adoption can understand what it is like. The risk our hearts take to even enter into the process!
    You are not alone. Your grief needs expression and I hope you have a safe place to express it. That is what my writing has been – grief turned into mourning.
    May your journey bring you empathy and a depth of love for others that only comes through suffering.
    Peace to you Katrina, thank you for sharing your story.

  • Reply Katrina May 3, 2014 at 3:40 AM

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I am also sorry people do not understand that this little girl is your daughter. I think I would just say that you had a daughter with Down syndrome that passed away and leave it at that. I would not clarify anything for them because most people really do not understand.

    I do somewhat understand as I have a similar story. My husband and I waited for a year to go and visit a little girl we consider our daughter in Russia. We finally traveled in July 2012 and spent 3 glorious days with her. She was 6 years old at the time. She is now 8.

    We came home and continued to gather up our court documents. The judges in Russia kept changing the requirements and so we got held up and were not scheduled to go back for court until January 2013. Unfortunately, on December 19, 2012, Natasha’s birthday, Russia introduced a law that would ban all American adoptions. So we were no longer allowed to go to court and finish our adoption.

    This little girl was never legally considered our daughter but she will forever remain my daughter in my heart. I went back to Russia in January 2014 in hopes of finding a Russian family for her but had no luck so far.

    There are very few people who understand the grief I have over losing her. I know she did not die but my heart aches every single day for her. I am constantly worried if she is doing ok. Does she wonder why we didn’t come back for her? Is she being treated ok? We do have contact with the orphanage and they are kind enough to send pictures every once in a while.

    Again, I am so sorry your daughter passed away. I wish I had some magic words to make the pain less but I know that there are none. I will pray for peace for you and that with time it will not hurt so much.

    Our family is featured in a Russian documentary about the adoption ban. Here is the link to the FB page that has a trailer to the documentary if you are interested in watching it.

    https://www.facebook.com/childrenofthestate

    • Reply michaelaevanow May 4, 2014 at 12:38 AM

      That’s quite a story. Wow, Katrina, thank you for sharing. This is a safe place for your story! If you ever want to expand, or share more, feel free to message me.
      Blessings and peace be upon you.
      xo

  • Reply Rhea Lynne Anderson May 2, 2014 at 11:37 PM

    Hi Amanada,
    We too lost a child while in process to adopt from Haiti. Thank you for sharing your story as it has touched me greatly. When our daughter died I had all kinds of crazy thoughts. Why did God bring us to her just to take her? I also felt so guilty for involving our children, family and friends and now had exposed them to unnecessary grief…as I said crazy thoughts. Our boys were so heartbroken. Than I realized that if she had just died in that orphanage, who would of known. We loved her and so did others and her life stood for something bigger than her. All our family and friends have grown to be more compassionate as a result. We’ve even had employees who have started to sponsor other children out Maclene’s death. What I’ve learned is sometimes the lessons and gifts attached to loss are not our own, they are meant for others. So rest in knowing that God will use the loss of your sweet girl for His Glory and you and her were blessed to love one another.
    Rhea Lynne Anderson

    • Reply Amanda Strain May 3, 2014 at 3:51 PM

      “We were blessed to love one another” Love that! Well said Rhea. It is really true. We had such an outpouring of love at her memorial service where people said how she had touched them even though they had never met her.
      St Theresa of Avila said “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
      Our love for our children had, has value. Our children did not die as orphans, they were part of a family.
      Peace to you Rhea. Thank you for your comment.

    • Reply michaelaevanow May 4, 2014 at 12:39 AM

      I’m so glad you both have an opportunity to connect through your loss. Thanks Rhea for sharing in this place. I have passed along your email to Amanda, as I deleted your phone number just for safety! If she decides to, she can contact you.
      xo

  • Reply Jen May 2, 2014 at 8:30 PM

    Ugh! Reading this was like a knife to my heart. Having adopted myself I am in full agreement with you that from the moment that we heard about her, she made me a mom. I can’t even fathom the grief that I would have felt losing her before being able to bring her home. Keep telling your story, people need to here that yes, this is motherhood too.

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