"When is she going to just tell us about meeting her daughter?!?! I wanna hear the sappy, happy, lovey stuff, dangit!!"
Right now! Get out the Kleenex.
Tuesday morning was the day we would finally be driving up to meet our little girl. We knew the drill, we would stay in a hotel near the orphanage. Every day we would be permitted two visits - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We also knew a bit more about our little girl. We had been told that she was very shy, that she cried in the presence of strangers.
Monday night, neither of us slept. It could have been the heat and humidity, or how loud Sofia is at all hours of the night, or maybe the jet lag, but on that particular night I figure it was the excitement. Tuesday morning we woke up barely awake and bursting with nervousness.
A new rep from the agency came to pick us up. It would be her job to drive us to the orphanage, get us settled in, bring us to and from our visits, and generally act as our interpreter and guide. By the end of the trip, we would also count her as a friend. Honestly, I will never forget Eti. She made an immediate impression on me when she came to pick us up. She told us right away that she was very excited because our little daughter was her favorite. She said she loved our little girl. I could have kissed her at that moment, honestly. I immediately told her that we truly love this child, that I promise we will take good care of her and give her everything in life that we can. She smiled and I saw her tearing up a bit. I loved her for loving my daughter.
The drive up was beautiful, but we weren't really paying attention. I was sitting up front and Nick was sitting behind me. (This was our M.O. for all car trips - put the Chatty Cathy in the front seat.) I kept thinking about falling asleep, even tried it, perhaps caught a few minutes of dozing but never fully fell asleep. I was too excited/nervous/worried/happy/numb with emotion. Nick told me that he was utterly terrified. He said, "I feel like I might throw up, I'm so scared. I was feeling this way on the plane out here, too."
We drove through some beautiful countryside, passed through a city that had potholes so big you could lose a truck in them. From now on, whenever anyone in the Springs complains about the potholes I will laugh at them. We saw some very run down places, some nicer places, some cows... looking out the window helped but it all seemed almost irrelevant. We talked with Eti a bit, mostly asking her questions about our daughter and the orphanage. There was really nothing new to add, she didn't have a lot of recent information. I realized at that point how many orphans and orphanages they must have to work with.
Finally, we were pulling into the hotel parking lot and getting out of the car. It was almost lunch time, so I figured we had missed out on meeting our daughter that morning. I asked and was happy and surprised to hear that we would still go to the orphanage as soon as we were settled in. We threw our bags upstairs, grabbed a musical rattle we had brought for our little girl, and walked to the orphanage.
It was hard not to run when we first saw the building. Towards it, not away. There was playground equipment outside, the building was nice looking, there was a fence with a white metal gate. We went inside and up the front steps onto a patio that ran the length of the building. We stopped to talk to the security guard and I looked to the right and there was a group of kids on the patio, hanging out in the fresh air outside their room. A nurse in a white uniform was sitting among the kids, leading them in a song. To her left, closest to us on the bench, was my daughter.
I squeezed Nick's arm and pointed and said "Isn't that her? I think that's her?" He said "I don't know. I can't tell." Eti said she wasn't sure either. I was certain of it. She was wearing pink shorts and a pink shirt. The nurse rubbed her shoulder and she smiled and then put her hands in her lap and rocked. I told Nick "That's her. I know it's her."
They led us inside and brought us into a common room to meet the director. She was a very nice woman, she wore a nurse's uniform but we were told that she is a doctor. We were given the opportunity to ask questions, but they said that our daughter would be brought in to have her lunch there and then she would go to nap with the other children. We started asking questions, but then I looked out the glass door and saw them walking our little girl down the hall towards us. She was wearing pink shorts and a pink shirt. It was her, I had known her when I saw her.
At first she was nervous about the room and ill at ease, but the nurse sat her on a couch across from us and began to give her lunch while the director continued to talk to us. I took video after video and several pictures. We talked about her diet, about her routine. I couldn't take my eyes off her. All this time waiting and there she was. She was so beautiful.
After she had eaten they told us that we could take her for a little walk. The nurse started to walk her down the hall and then gestured me over and made it clear that I should take our daughter's other hand and help walk her. At first she didn't want my hand, but after a minute it was just us. We had to turn around and walk back to the room because we had gotten ahead of Nick and the director and Eti, who were still talking. When we got back to the room she didn't want to go back out. I said "Can I pick her up?" I felt like I had never even seen a child before! They assented and I decided to give it a go, so I scooped her up into my arms bracing myself for screams and tears.
She smiled at me. I was so scared that she would be scared of me, but when I picked her up she just smiled. I talked to her and she giggled. She wasn't scared at all. Nick got a great video of that moment, of the utter shocked joy on my face. I carried her down the hallway to the outside doors so we could walk her around the playground a bit and she was fine. And she was mine.
The nurse and I walked her around the playground together a bit, and then she left and it was just me and Nick with her. She let me hold her a good portion of the time, and the rest of the time I just walked her around. I noticed quickly that she had several self-soothing behaviors, but I realized that I could interrupt them with nurturing. She was responding to me. She was accepting comfort and affection from me. I could sense an open-ness about her. We could still reach her. After being in an orphanage long enough kids just shut down. They turn off the outside world. Eventually, what is trapped inside begins to crumble. In the end, nothing is left. But I could feel that spirit still in this little girl. I could sense this light in her, something fragile but not yet lost.
In that first visit, she didn't really want much to do with poor Nick. She touched his hand a few times, but quickly withdrew. She seemed curious, but cautious and unsure. She was checking me out the whole time. Her vision is significantly impaired, but she has a way of tilting her head and looking at you out of the bottom of her eye that is one of the cutest things I've ever seen. Seriously.
The first visit passed way too quickly. Before we knew it, we were having to leave so she could take her nap. We would be back to see her in a couple of hours. She was very unhappy when we left, she cried saying "Ciao" to us, but everyone who spoke Bulgarian told her that we would be back. We told her in English, which really isn't worth much right now but it's all we've got. Leaving the orphanage that first time, I was suddenly very much awake and riding high.
We'd arrived with hearts full of fear, and we left full of joy and hope. We kept saying to each other "Wow, that went so well! I can't believe it went so well!" We tried to couch it in realism, to keep ourselves grounded, by saying "the afternoon could be different," but we knew that was crap. We had arrived expecting very little and been surprised with the best gift anyone could be given. We had thought we were there to meet a stranger who would, with time and patience and effort, become our daughter. We were so wrong.
We met a little girl who was already our daughter.