Three years ago, the New Year became a significant celebration for my family. After seven weeks away from my family in Ukraine, I arrived with our new adopted daughter at the Minneapolis, MN airport. December 31st I was finally reunited with my girls and my husband, and we began the new year, January 1st, as a family of 5.
But the journey was not easy.
After many delays in Ukraine – including the quarantine in the country due to H1N1, or the “California flu” as they called it – Nina and I were stuck in the airport for 2 days due to a snow storm that shut down air travel for 2 days. By that point, I was already an emotional mess, not to mention the fact that I didn’t like my new child. The “fairytale” of adoption I had read so many times was not to be true for us, and I was barely holding it together.
A wheelchair waited for us to transport Nina as we made our way through the airport. I asked the man pushing it to, “Get me to my family as quickly as you can, please!” When we came out of the doors that led to baggage claim I spotted Andy waiting at the gate where the rest of our flight would be exiting from.
I took off running, yelling like a mad woman, “Andy! Honey! I am here!” I was probably flinging my arms violently as I waved and ran, and my voice was cracking a bit. The man pushing Nina did his best to keep up with me.
Ellie saw me first. She ran to me and gave me a big hug. It was so good to touch her again after 7 weeks away. Then Andy came to us and we clung together, sobbing, so relieved to be together once more.
Ellie was excited to meet her new sister. She had seen pictures of Nina, and seen her through a computer screen, but nothing compared to seeing her face-to-face. “She is real!” She kept saying, “She is really real!
Family came to greet us at the airport. My parents met their new granddaughter, my sisters their new niece, and Andy’s sister and her family stopped by also to meet the new addition to the family.
Our homecoming was exhausting. Traveling for 2 days had Nina and I already stressed out, and the reunion was emotionally charged. Although the picture above shows a smiling face, she was nervous, unsure about this place where everyone talked funny. As we got in the car, Nina lost it as we were strapping her in her car seat. She yelled, screamed, kicked, and scratched her eyes. In minutes, once she realized she could not get out, she fell asleep as a defense mechanism.
We carried her into the hotel room, where our family planned to spend the first night together before stopping by my mom’s house and heading back home. She slept while I changed her into pajamas and changed her diaper.
I was so glad to be home with my family, so glad to finally have them in my arms. I already had a broken relationship with Nina, and we had not yet began doing life together as a family, but at least I was back home with my girls, my husband, and a great support system. After the emotional journey I had endured (we had endured), I was not sure that adopting was worth it. I wondered if we had made a huge mistake, I even wondered if I had ruined my family. Not to mention the fact that we had taken an older child, and an older child with cerebral palsy.
But those thoughts were put to the side. My youngest was sick and I was there to care for her. I was there to hold my oldest, and I had my husband by my side.
January 1st greeted us as a family of 5. We were together, and we had to make this work. Maybe we could have a fresh start, maybe there was hope for our family as we invited a new member in and while I tried to heal from the journey that had led us to this day.
I did not expect the emotional journey of adoption to be as challenging and complex as it was. I thought it would be easy, that Nina would fit into our family right away and the transition would be fairly smooth. Somehow, I was led to believe that having difficulties in adoption was rare.
There was no fairytale.
It took more than a year for me to feel a real mother/daughter love for my child.
We struggled through many behaviors.
But this child has expanded my heart. She has taught me so much about what it means to love someone even when they are hard to love. She has challenged me to choose love, and to hold on to it regardless of my feelings, expectations, or desires.
And I can say with full confidence, that this child, my daughter, is a child of love. It has not been easy, but it has been good. And I would do this again, all over again if I had to. She is my very own.
So today I look back, with the significance of a New Year surrounding our family, because it has been 3 years since a little girl entered into our lives and came here to stay.
She has come a long, long way from that scared, self-injuring, frail and traumatized little girl. She is a courageous little girl, one I have the pleasure and honor to call my own. And I cannot wait for what the new year has in store for her.
Happy anniversary Nina, I love you more than you will ever know.
And if you are interested, go visit our adoption blog I kept during our time in Ukraine and some during the first year after we came home.
Disclosure: In that first year I was scared to be honest about my feelings or emotions. I felt like a failure as a mother and yes, even more so as a Christian, especially being a pastor’s wife. However, it is nice to have a chronicle of our journey before, during, and shortly after adoption.