Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Mirzat and Her Mommy
Today is the day that I have the opportunity to introduce Mirzat and Teresa. I have "known" Teresa for almost 3 years now and in fact, she was one of the first people to help me with Altynai. God has a great way of making sure that the right people are in the right place at the right time. That was the case with Teresa!
Three years ago today, (October 26, 2008) I spent my forty-first birthday on two cramped flights from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to NYC, USA. NOT an ideal way to spend a birthday, but I easily dismissed the discomfort as a very small price to pay to have met my daughter, Mirzat six days earlier.
I have known from the time I was a teenager, dreaming about my future family, that I would adopt a child. I was deeply affected by the stories of the “dying rooms” for abandoned baby girls in China, and the plight of institutionalized children in former Soviet nations that appeared in the press in my early twenties. American, Canadian, and Western European families opened their hearts and their homes to these children, and inter-country adoption became a realistic and respected pathway for huge numbers of orphaned children to find loving families. When the time was right, I thought, I would join their ranks.
Many years passed before “the right time” arrived.
I spent my twenties and early thirties raising my son, Joshua, and in college, medical school, and residency training. As a student and indentured servant (Ooops! I meant resident) I was often exhausted, always broke, and focused on my son when I was home. There was no time, opportunity, or energy for dating. After I completed residency training, I spent the remainder of my thirties searching for a husband. It didn’t happen. At thirty-nine, after the last hurtful break-up, I decided to get off the relationship roller-coaster. In the stillness and the peace “the right time” finally arrived.
In fall of 2008, I shot an email to my agency to letting them know I would be at a conference in Southern California in early October, and would be partly unreachable while there. Almost a year after starting the adoption process; getting a home study, assembling dozens of notarized documents, and watching the families ahead of me in the queue get referrals and bring home their children from Kyrgyzstan, I was near the top of the list and wanted to be sure that Jackie, my agency’s director, could reach me.
One afternoon, after the day’s meeting adjourned, I decided to take a drive down Pacific Coast Highway. My rental car had been upgraded to a convertible, it was a beautiful day outside, and I desperately wanted to avoid any news or conversation about the coming presidential elections. I returned to the hotel after dark feeling refreshed. In my room, I opened my laptop to check my email. There was a message from Jackie, subject, Mirzat.
My heart pounded as I opened the email. Mirzat was a six month old girl with a bilateral cleft lip. Her mother was unmarried and had been a migrant worker in Russia. She had returned home to Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan to give birth. Initially, because of the birth defect, Mirzat’s mother decided to leave her child at the hospital. She returned six weeks later to fetch her baby, then, sadly, returned the baby to the hospital when she was four and a half months old. Mirzat was thin and weak from malnourishment, due to feeding difficulties caused by the cleft. There were no other noted health issues.
“When can I go see her?” I asked Jackie. “Whenever you want to.”
My sister Krista, and niece Taylor travelled with me to Kyrgyzstan three weeks later. We met Mirzat for the first time Monday, October 2nd. She gave me a great big smile when the caregiver presented her to me. She had sparkly brown eyes and was pinker and her cheeks were fuller than in her referral photos.
We visited Mirzat for six days straight, several hours per day. Alert and interested in the world at nearly seven months, she struggled to try and hold her head up. The developmental delays undoubtedly caused by the malnutrition she experienced. We became concerned when she developed a fever and congestion mid week. The doctor was summoned and Mirzat was placed on antibiotics. Late afternoon the last Saturday, I held my sleeping girl in my arms. I wouldn’t voluntarily leave; they would have to kick me out. My driver and interpreter arrived and exchanged greetings in Russian with the caregivers. They carefully looked my way and I held Mirzat tighter. Finally, the interpreter said “Time to go.” I nodded, held my baby closer and promised her I would come back and get her as soon as we could.
Literally, as we were on the plane home, an official in the Ministry of Education was sacked and the processing of adoptions, that had slowed to a trickle, abruptly came to a stop. Instead of bringing Mirzat home in January, the Prime Minister made reality official and declared a moratorium “for a year” on inter-country adoptions in early Feruary.
That one year stretched into two, then three. In sporadic pictures, I saw Mirzat pass through infancy, become a toddler, and now, turn into a little girl. This is a journey I share with over sixty other families.
In 2009, determined to not let the government of Kyrgyzstan decide whether I would ever be a mom again, I tentatively began pursuing a domestic adoption. I fell into a lucky match with an expectant young woman. After delivery, she decided to keep her baby. Angry and hurt, I decided I would let Kyrgyz finish playing out and then leave it at that. Three days later, I got a call from the domestic agency. Would I be interested in a healthy, Mexican-American boy born in Tucson the night before, June 16th, my mother’s birthday?
My son, Daniel Louis came home at two days of age. He was a perfect, peaceful little guy. We finalized his adoption when he was seven months old. During those months, Kyrgyzstan sputtered, rallied, passed adoption legislation, then imploded in a violent revolution. Watching him develop and experiencing our growing bond, I felt even worse for Mirzat for all that she lost: Someone to rock her at night, carefully feed her the first spoonfuls of solid food, encourage her to crawl, then walk, and to laugh at her tricks.
Exactly a year to the day that Danny came home, we flew to San Antonio to pick up his two week old sister, Vivienne Rose. Our little sissy was miserable and colicky which made the first months challenging. We changed formulas and bottle systems, and decided to not mess with different diapers. We tried massage, and de-gassing, and music, dark rooms, and swaddling and eventually she just grew out of it. This too, made me sad for Mirzat and the other children stuck in orphanages. Who takes the extra time to tend to a irritable baby? Do they ask others for advice and contemplate changing the baby’s routine? When all else fails, does someone just hold her until she cries herself asleep? Does anyone reassure her that someone loves her and wants her to feel better?
It may seem counter-intuitive, but having Danny and Viv, does give me the resolve I need to keep fighting for Mirzat. Watching them grow, develop, and form relationships with family members is a daily reminder of what a powerful unit a family is! It is my hope that every family that committed to a Kyrgyz child so long ago, can envelope their child in the healing love of a family. We all started this journey before the financial crisis and recession. Families are financially strained and lines of credit have dried up and many will need help. Please help our children come home! Donate to Altynai’s Fund!