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Adoption Blog: Man Up!

Are You My Mommy? The Question That Inspired Us to Adopt an Older Child

We had been at Ashraya, our son Manu’s Children’s Home in India, for two days when my perspective about adoption changed. Our journey thus far had been a mixed bag of emotions. The pre-adoption anticipation, the stress of international travel, the thrill of meeting our son for the first time, and a fear of the unknown were all converging on this one moment in time. The feelings were intense and at times nearly overwhelming—like an e-ticket ride on a psychological rollercoaster. But finally we had our son and it was all worth it—nothing could dampen our spirits now. 

After an amazing first day getting to know Manu, followed by a hard-earned good night’s sleep—shaking off a bit of our jet lag—we returned to the children’s home better grounded and ready to continue our new life as a family. When we arrived at the facility we observed some of the older children, 4 to 6 years old, lined up in the courtyard between the two main buildings, five rows of six or seven children each, sounding off in cadence, repeating the words of their teachers in what appeared to be a morning ritual of song and instruction. The children all seemed to be happy and enjoying the affair, and I was surprised by their advanced level of grammar and the clarity of their spoken English, which seemed to indicate they had been there learning for some time. As we approached, a few of the kids spotted us, and decorum fell apart completely as they all started waving and wishing us good morning. We smiled, waved back, and made our way to the entrance of the nursery. By the time we reached the door, the teacher had regained control and the children went on with their song. I thought to myself,This must be a very special place; these children seem so happy.

The nursery was a large and bright room, with a hodgepodge of wooden cribs of different styles—mostly very old and of a type that would be considered unacceptable by today’s safety standards—lined against the walls. Many layers of paint could be seen in the teeth marks left on the rails by the countless children who have slept there over the last 25 years. Behind the cribs, large open windows let in a warm, tropical breeze and illuminated the brightly colored walls. Stacks of donated books, clothes, and toys filled every available space. On the floor was a large, outdoor-type plastic rug where small children socialized and played during the day. This is where we spent most of our time, on the floor coddling our new son and doting on the other babies, whose families had not yet come to get them. This was a very busy place, bustling with workers and children constantly passing through. Though we barely noticed; we were in our own little world.

Around mid-afternoon, while sitting on the floor, captivated by our new son, my wife, Leslie, got a gentle tap on her shoulder. She turned around to find an adorable little girl, maybe 4 years old, in a cute blue crocheted sweater over a little white dress, her eyes wide with curiosity, though too shy to look at us directly. Timidly she asked, “Are you my mommy?” Leslie and I looked silently at each other for what seemed like an eternity—a panicked gaze between us. Leslie turned back to the little girl, took her hand and said gingerly, “No honey, I’m Manu’s mommy.” Almost instantly the girl’s eyes turned lifeless as her shoulders sank and she dropped her head in disappointment. Discouraged, she slowly turned and left the room, leaving us to process what had just happened.

We realized what this happy homecoming spectacle must be like for the other waiting children—our joy and excitement quickly tempered by this simple, honest, heart-wrenching question. The babies in Manu’s room didn’t know any better, but the older children must have seen this type of reunion play out over and over again. I had never considered that our celebration might have a negative effect on anyone, and I felt guilty for our good fortune.

The revolving door of adoption had to be hard on these kids, I realized. New parents arriving must surely provide a sense of hope that they too will have a family someday. And if that never happens, are they left to wonder why they are not selected, as they watch their good friends depart with their new families? The administrators of the children’s home told us that, though it is much easier to find families for the babies, most of the older children they care for do ultimately find homes, but some will remain residents of the children’s home for many years before being selected; and they only expect the odds of placement to go down and the length of placement to increase as international laws grow more cumbersome and international adoption declines.

I’ll admit that when we first began considering adoption, the focus for us was on babies. We had only recently discovered our infertility and still wanted to experience parenthood in as close to a normal fashion as possible. Also, being first-time parents, it just seemed like it would be easier starting our family with a baby; we wanted to grow as parents along with our child. We also didn’t want to be burdened with the potential learning and behavioral issues that institutionalization can bring. I’m not sure if there is anything that could have changed my mind back then; I do believe that this was a perfectly normal and natural response for the life circumstances and perspective I had at the time. I have absolutely no regrets about the adoption of our son—who was 9 months when we met him in India—but I believe it was in that very moment that our eyes were opened to how wonderful it could be that, if we decided to adopt again, we could be the family for an older child who needs us as much as we need her.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what happened to that precious little girl whose only desire was to find her mommy. I can only bring myself to imagine that she is now part of a loving family somewhere; the alternative is simply too painful to consider. It isn’t fair that the most innocent among us are left behind to pay for society’s mistakes. It isn’t fair that she has to spend so much longer at the children’s home than my son, and that every new day she begins is yet another day without a family. It isn’t fair that she might get overlooked by a family, even one like mine, just because she isn’t a baby anymore.

I think about those kids—my son’s friends and classmates—often. We’ve been lucky enough to watch several of them come home to their forever families, and we keep in touch as much as possible. We recently had a small reunion of families whose children were all classmates at the same time. I really hope that our little group grows larger at future gatherings.

To us, the families of these wonderful kids, Ashraya was indeed a very special place. Though it lacked sufficient funding and even basic resources taken for granted here in our country, it provided a safe learning environment for our children until we could reach them. The young residents of the children’s home are in many ways very lucky to be there—we personally saw many children, some as young as that little girl, begging and suffering on the streets, whose prospects for a better life seem even worse than that of these institutionalized kids—and I’m very thankful to everyone there involved in caring for the children. But a special place is no long-term substitute for a family.

That little girl, whose name I will never know but whose face I can never forget, affected me deeply that day. Since that encounter we have become advocates for international adoption, older-child adoption, and programs that improve the ability for children to stay within their family structure so that they never have need of a children’s home.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


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By mrowensxyz on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 4:05 pm.

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