too late and too soon
Three years ago I became a mother again. At long last, we got the referral letter for our Chinese adoption. That meant it was finally time for us to be matched with a child who needed a family. We’d been waiting five long years for this email. But it came too late.
For reasons I am only beginning to understand, it was clear that with us was not the best place for this precious girl to be. She would have been somewhere between 6 months and a year old. She would have been small for her age after spending her first months in an orphanage and she’d have had dark, almond shaped eyes and shiny black hair cropped short. We would have scurried home from the airport where I’d read the email to wait for our adoption agency to send more about her. On the drive home, we’d have called our families and posted a barely coherent announcement followed by many exclamation points. We would have devoured grainy photographs and eagerly read reports of her development and health when we got there. And then, six weeks later, we would have gone to China to bring her home. It would have been early September by then.
As it was, none of these things happened. I read the email and quickly put my phone away, the loss and regret a solid thing in my chest. I didn’t tell a soul for days. I couldn’t make myself form the words. Our family and friends, for the most part, had stopped asking questions. They must have known by now that too many things were broken and falling apart for us to bring a child into our family. Some of them had probably forgotten we ever planned to adopt.
But we didn’t forget. She had a name. A few actually. Originally, we were going to call her Camille Rose. Then, one day during a walk, I was inspired to go with an original inclination and name her Camilla after one of my favorite characters from That Hideous Strength. Either way, we’d call her Milly or Cam when she was young. We planned to keep her Chinese name as well as one more connection point to her history. We’d seek as many of those as we could for her.
My mother gave me an ornate box for adoption keepsakes for Christmas the year we told everyone we were planning to adopt. I filled it with a journal, a picture book, and other treasures. Torey and I bought her first outfit together—a dark denim top adorned with silky roses that came with matching bloomers. An intricately carved teak cabinet in her room was filled with books, clothes, bedding (both for a crib and a ‘big girl’ bed), and gifts from her sister, aunt Lauren, and several friends. Her walls were painted pale green. I bought her a monogrammed teddy bear Christmas stocking that matched ours. Friends gave me a necklace engraved with her name. I’d read a whole shelf of books about attachment and adoption and planned on reading many more. My wonderful older daughter spent her entire senior year in high school researching and writing a thesis about international adoption that she dedicated to her sister. In the midst of all these preparations, the wait for Chinese adoptions which had been about eighteen months become two years and longer and longer and longer and…
myth and reality
Still, she was real. She was prayed for and loved. I remember one Christmas, as all my extended family sat in my living room after roasting marshmallows, suddenly being struck with the idea that someone was missing. I scanned the room and counted bodies. Had someone stepped out to make a call or take a walk or go to the bathroom? Finally, I realized I was looking for her—things were incomplete without little Camilla with us. Another time I dreamed I saw a figure dressed in red coming down the dim hallway toward our bedroom. It didn’t feel like a dream. Camilla couldn’t sleep or had had a bad dream or needed a drink of water. I turned to lift her up and hold her. But, of course, she wasn’t there.
As the years passed, she started to feel like a myth. Even then we didn’t give up. Kyle wanted to father a daughter who had been abandoned but now had a family who loved her and a place to call home forever. I wanted to be a mother who would pour love and grace and a passion for life into a child who only needed a chance. I couldn’t wait to see who she was meant to be begin to unfold.
But with excruciating inevitability, she slipped away from us. A couple of years after we received our official “Log in Date” from the Chinese government, all hell broke loose in our lives. And kept breaking. For years. I hoped against hope that everything was going to work out. This little girl had been a part of our family; a part of me since 2006. It felt like the world’s longest and most agonizing pregnancy.
I have truly loved seeing my friends bringing their children home from China, Haiti, and various African countries. And it was one of my best days when my godson arrived home from Memphis, Tennessee with his parents. But all these things have also been a reminder that my daughter isn’t with us. That there is a hole in my heart.
Through betrayals, a death threat, a house fire, and various other calamities, our lives continued to be upended in ways we didn’t understand and couldn’t have predicted. We were ravaged—God allowed nearly everything we’d poured our lived into to be destroyed or taken away. We are only now beginning to pick up the pieces and understand what we are to do in this new chapter.
giving her back
By the time I received the email that would have been our first step to finally bring her home, it was clear we weren’t in a place to be the best parents for a girl who needed extra love and care. We were still too devastated ourselves. So God asked us all—and asked me in particular—to give her back to him. He somehow gave me the strength to say, “she’s not mine; she’s yours” and mean it. I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It doesn’t seem good or right or fair. But more than I want to mother another daughter, I want her to have a family that is ready to love her abundantly well.
I still miss her although the shocks of pain are less frequent now. And I know that it is for the best—her best—that she is with another family. I pray she is strong and well and surrounded by siblings and pets and all the love she can handle. I pray her new family has the wisdom to help her through the hard days and walk with her when she feels the indescribable lack that comes with being separated from her biological family. That they’ll laugh with her and cry with her and do everything they can to help her grow into a strong and whole woman. I hope they’ll cut the crusts off her sandwiches, make sure she doesn’t have too much TV or computer time, that they’ll be patient when she is a grumpy teenager. I pray they’ll drive her to the middle school dance and take her out for ice cream after. I hope they’ll help her set up her college dorm room and be ready whenever it’s time to meet the man she thinks she might love. I pray they’ll love her until they are old and gray and surrounded by her kids.
And me? I will never forget her. I will pray for her and the many girls like her when God brings her to mind. I will keep on loving my precious Torey and continue to be a spiritual mother to others as God leads me. And someday in a new world, I’ll turn around and find her standing there. We’ll hug like we’re family and start catching up on a lifetime apart.