If you're a parent to an internationally adopted child there's this period of time in your child's life you can never get back. It's that moment from when they entered the world until the time they entered your arms.
For me, a really difficult aspect of my infertility and having adopted internationally is that I've never parented a newborn. Whenever I've shared this, people have told me that the newborn stage is no fun. They say it's fraught with worry, exhausting from lack of sleep due to feedings every couple of hours and that the baby doesn't do much of anything...Still, when I see a newborn I feel like I want to hold it for hours on end.
When my husband and I learned that our son even existed, he was four months old. We were supposed to receive him at six months old on a trip to Vietnam that, for all the reasons adoptions are delayed, didn't happen until he was nearly ten months old. For all the months in between one of my prayers for him was that there would be someone special in his life who would take a real shine to him and give him extra doses of love and cuddling. And I think it's the prayer of most an adoptive parent who adopts overseas that his or her child will be loved well so that he will be able to receive the love he gets when he comes home to his forever family.
One evening, after a brief visit to our hotel room to see how things are going with our baby Lucas, our translator Hai startles me with the news that, "Van will be coming to the hotel tonight to say good-bye to baby Long."
"She will?" I search her expression for some meaning behind this unorthodox proposition.
"She's in Ho Chi Minh City Hospital taking care of a baby getting surgery on the intestines," she says.
"Oh, great." I feign enthusiasm. I want to meet Van. I think she should get to say good-bye to Lucas. But I have to wonder if it is common for orphanage caretakers to show up at hotels to visit former orphans. It's certainly not something I've read about in anybody else's adoption story. This whole experience has been so good at surprising us. Until we're on the plane and homebound with our bundle of joy, I'll have this fear that around any corner lurks the threat of something or someone taking Lucas away. It's in the air here, in the weeks of sweating it out until we finally left the orphanage with him, in the way he almost died, in the recent swirling allegations of baby selling, in the way Le told us we were to be appreciative of these babies, in the way they all refer to him as baby Long instead of the name we've chose for him, Lucas.
"I'll call you when she gets here," says Hai.
"Right," I say, gently closing the door behind her. I roll my eyes at John, who reminds me, "Hang on just a little bit longer. We're out of here tomorrow."
As the hour of Van's seven o'clock visit approaches, I start to feel more curious about her. I want to meet this woman I'm beginning to believe really had a special bond with our little boy. Though I'm still a bit unnerved and angry that Lucas's serious illness was kept from us until we arrived, I am appreciative of Van's round the clock care for him during all that time. She must be a special person to be designated orphanage "nurse."
How to dress Lucas for this final farewell is important to me. I'm proud of our handsome baby and want to show him off. I don't know if it might be expected of us to dress him in traditional Vietnamese garb. Just as we've been referring to Lucas Benjamyn Rhyner as Long out of deference to his culture, I don't know if Van or Hai or Le would prefer he be dressed in native clothing. The day we met him he had on a Pokemon sweat suit. But was that out of any deference to our American culture?
I decide on western fashion. He's ours now, and John and I are an American couple bringing him home to live with us in the United States. But everything I packed for him is summery. With the hotel air conditioning, perhaps Van will think anything short of long pants, a sweater and hat won't be warm enough. We still haven't encountered a single sweating Vietnamese, even among those wearing long sleeves. One thing is sure--if I don't dress him soon, he's going to catch cold from his recently bathed nakedness in our lightly air conditioned room.
I put him in the blue and white checked overalls my mother gave me for my baby shower. On its white bib front float three colorful whales. Underneath this I put him in a white, collared shirt with blue trim around the short-sleeved arms and neck. Then I slip on the matching sandals and stand back to admire him.
"Watch him a sec," I say to John as I leave Lucas on the bed and run to the diaper bag for a soft, blue baby brush. Together, we attempt brushing down his wispy, black hair but stubbornly it keeps popping back up. No matter, he's adorable. I give him a blue, plastic fish to chew on that my mom gave us as part of the gift, and, as a last thought, put on his wrist, the tiny, gold bracelet we bought for him at the Ben Thanh Market. We purchased it as a celebration of both his Vietnamese and American heritages. I reason it should show Van she and his native country are important to us, and that we won't let Lucas grow up without knowledge of either.
Clicking on the TV, I try to blot out my anxious thoughts with a nature show. Once again, the television mesmerizes Lucas. Sappy music accompanies pictures of wild boar as I tell Lucas where we're about to go.
When Hai rings and tells us to come down to the hotel lobby, I hug Lucas against my pounding chest and trail John to the elevator. Feeling the descending tug of the cables, I shoot up to the Lord "rocket prayers" for Him to remove feelings of jealousy. I sweat despite the hotel's air conditioning, from the thought of meeting the woman who represents the closest thing to a birthmother Lucas knows. She exists in his infant psyche as the maternal connection intertwined with him during his needy, boundary-less months when she possessed all matriarchal rights. I not only want her to like me, a part of me wants her blessing to replace her.
The hotel lobby twinkles with the glow of heavy strands of white lights wrapped around chunky columns supporting the ceiling. The parquet floor gleams under the tap tap tap of my sandals as they give me surprising cooperation in getting me to what feels like the end of a ship's plank. Passing enormous vases overflowing with flowers, I see Hai standing by the sitting area where a huge window displays Ho Chi Minh City's evening glitz.
Sitting on a lustrously varnished chair cut from a large tree with its bark, trunk and gnarled branches left intact, I see her. Van is the only other person besides Hai in the lobby. There's no mistaking what she's waiting for as she smiles, claps her hands and reaches for my baby.
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