The days, weeks and months that followed our daughters’ homecoming were joyous but incredibly difficult for all of us. For the first two weeks after we returned home, Roseline’s diarrhea rampaged unchecked as we struggled to pinpoint the source. Surprisingly, the initial tests revealed she was parasite free so our pediatrician began to explore other possible causes. Her diarrhea was so epidemic that sometimes it seemed all I did was change diapers and wash sheets. One night it was very late and I was downstairs cleaning the kitchen after the children were in their beds upstairs and I thought I smelled diarrhea. I thought to myself, “Great. I have changed so many diapers I am now experiencing olfactory hallucinations.” I did not think it was possible that I would be able to smell a dirty diaper all the way downstairs! I continued to smell the odor and as I walked upstairs it became stronger. I entered our room and went to Roseline’s crib. She was sleeping soundly….in more diarrhea than I would have imagined a 18 lb child could produce. Sinister tendrils of fear begin to wrap themselves around my heart.
“My God! Help us know what is wrong with this child!”
Wearily, I began the all too familiar routine of cleaning up the disaster. My little one never woke. I will never forget the night a week or so later when for the very first time, Roseline soiled herself in her sleep and woke crying. Tears of gratitude came to my eyes as I said, “Thank you, Jesus. She realizes she is dirty and she realizes that if she cries, someone will come.”
In the end, it was her Daddy who discovered what was wrong: a soy allergy. Many Haitian children are lactose intolerant and therefore, are fed soy formula. It had been Roseline’s main source of nutrition for the first two years of her life. She was so accustomed to it that transitioning her to whole milk was a gradual process in which we began to dilute the formula a little at a time with the milk. I was hesitant to begin the transition until I knew what was wrong because she was so tiny and needed all the nutrition she could get. Michael however, had a gut feeling that she was allergic to the formula and at his insistence, we began the switch. Almost immediately, the diarrhea lessened in volume and as she began to drink more and more cow’s milk and less soy, it ceased entirely.
Emotionally, she was very fragile. She clung to me and cried if a stranger spoke to her or attempted to touch her. When she was especially stressed, she instantaneously fell asleep. She fought the other children if they came near seeking my affection and I was constantly forced to make the judgement of who needed me most at the moment. It seemed no choice was ever really a good choice.
Claudine altered between clinging to me and shoving me away. One moment she wanted to be held and the next she would tell me I was not her mother, that the woman who had been her house mother in the orphanage for two years was her mother and that she was going to return to her.
Fortunately, our agency had required extensive pre-adoption education for us and we were somewhat prepared for the process of bonding. I strove to be objective and rational but it was still extraordinarily painful for me.
Once, when we were in Haiti, the orphanage director contemplatively looked at Claudine and said, “This one has a lot inside her. I am glad for her sake, the process is almost over.”
Yes, she had a lot inside her: a lot of loss, a lot of memories, a lot of brokenness, a lot of longing and need. There was so much more there however, for inside her was also an incredible capacity for love. It was this fierce love and loyalty for her house mother that made her homecoming so difficult but it was this same ability to give her heart fully to another that enabled her to heal.
One evening, months after Claudine and Roseline came home, the three of us were sitting on the chaise lounge in our living room. They were laying all over me. One girl was contentedly snuggled close while the other lovingly brushed my hair. Suddenly, to my surprise I realized, “This is it. They want me.” I was stunned to realize that ever so gradually, moment by moment over the past months as I had fed them when they were hungry, held them when they were sad, kissed skinned knees and cheered each hard won victory, that the walls between us had crumbled. They had always been daughters to me, but at last I was “mother” to them.
And so that is how I will end this story, with Claudine, Roseline and I cuddled together there in the living room. Just a simple scene, nothing dramatic or grand. It seems the most precious miracles are often right in front of us, just waiting. Just waiting to be noticed. Just waiting to be cherished.
Father. Mother. Sister. Brother.
The making of a family.