My embassy day began innocently enough. Jacob and I arrived at our apartment and he seemed calm and happy to just be able to scoot around and explore. There was a small balcony so I stashed everything breakable outside and baby proofed the best I could. It was so fun to just see Jacob being an inquisitive little boy. He climbed on the sofa (a million times) tried on my boots, and drummed loudly on two empty 5 gallon water bottles.
We had to be at the embassy by 9am and before we knew it the time had flown by and our driver was there to pick us up. I packed my back pack full of snacks and diapers as well as folders full of documents and headed to our appointment. Traffic was terrible and the snowy roads were not helping matters. It took what felt like forever to arrive at the embassy. It probably was not very long, but Jacob was starting to be restless in the car. He was clearly close to his limit with all the traveling we had been doing in the last 24 hours.
The U.S. Embassy was a HUGE compound. My driver took me as far as he could, which was just inside the main doors. You have to have an American passport to get any farther inside. I was carrying Jacob and balancing backpacks (mine and his) and trying to get my coat off to go through security. One nice security lady finally took pity on me and just had me walk through with everything and scanned me with a hand wand. I set off the alarm because I forgot I had coins in my pocket, but thankfully that was quickly resolved. I was led outside across a courtyard, down two flights of stairs and into an impressively sterile building with rows of service windows and chairs for waiting. There was hardly anyone there but me. I was called to the window almost immediately and quickly realized that I had a serious problem on my hands. What was I going to do with Jacob?
I had to unpack several folders worth of very important and notarized documents...his birth certificate with his new name, the court decrees, proof that he was an orphan, etc…
I tried to balance Jacob on the ledge of the window and keep his little curious hand off the documents and listen to what the lady was asking me to give her. Jacob squirmed and fussed and pushed away from me and grabbed at documents and banged on the glass.
That is when my first of many guardian angels along with journey appeared. A Ukrainian lady who sitting in the waiting area came over and held out her arms to Jacob. She only spoke a few words of English but what she said next was music to my ears. “I am a grandmother.” She picked him up out of my arms, took the snack cookies I offered her and carried my overwhelmed squirmy son to the waiting area. I wanted to cry in gratitude and sheer relief. This was the start of what I call the great brain fog. I had very little sleep and felt like despite my best efforts, I just could not make sense of what the embassy worker was asking me. She was so nice and patient with me. Each time she asked me for a document I held up a piece of paper for her to look at...sometimes I got lucky and it was the correct one. Finally she suggested that I just give everything I had to her and she would find it. Sounded like a fabulous idea to me! I tried to listen and understand what she was telling me when she showed me each document that she was keeping and what she was going to do with it. Out of the corner of my eye I also saw my guardian angel grandmother doing her best to keep Jacob from flinging himself out of her arms in a desperate attempt to escape the building. (Have I mentioned that Jacob’s first autonomic response to perceived threats is ALWAYS flight?)
Finally it was over and she was handing me papers and telling me to be at my medical appointment by 2pm. I would have agreed to anything at this point. I collected Jacob from the miraculously still smiling grandmother who was now covered in chewed up cookie smears and thanked her from the bottom of my heart. I really wanted to hug and kiss her but wasn’t certain how that would go over.
Jacob and I climbed the 2 flights of stairs back up to the main security area and back out of the front door. It was freezing outside and I had not zipped up my jacket. Jacob only had one shoe on because the other would not stay on his foot. I rushed to where our driver had parked to drop us off and began to panic...he wasn’t there anymore. I walked back and forth up and down the side walk praying that he would see us. I wasn’t allowed to take my cell phone into the embassy with me so I couldn’t call him. We were starting to get a lot of disapproving stares. It was entirely too cold to have Jacob out with one shoe off and no hat...he had pulled it off and I didn’t have a free hand to put it back on his head.
Finally our driver rushed up the side walk yelling my name. Relief is too small of a word to describe what I was feeling.
He loaded us back into the car and began the trip to our medical appointment. Jacob crawled all over the backseat. There are no carseats in Ukraine and holding onto Jacob was proving to be a difficult task. He was agitated and overstimulated. It was good that we were barely crawling along with the bumper to bumper traffic. It was a miracle that Eugene didn’t get hit in the head with the toys and hats that Jacob kept bouncing off the front windshield.
We arrived at the medical facility and walked in the front doors. This is where time sort of stands still for me. I had Jacob in my arms and paused in the front foyer for Eugene to buy shoe covers we were required to wear. Jacob, who had been squirming and rocking in my arms suddenly went dead still. I looked at him and then looked where he was looking and realized then and there that we were in trouble. Jacob’s eyes looked panicked and glazed over. The women working in the medical facility had the same uniforms as the nannies wore in his institution. Jacob thought I was taking him to another institution. He clung to me in terror and I felt powerless to reassure him that I would never leave him. I kept repeating, “I am your Mama.” and “Don’t be afraid.” over and over in Russian. These were the only phrases that I knew.
As we walked further into the building Jacob (whose first instinct you remember is flight) decided that he was taking matters into his own hands and began desperately to try to get out of my arms. We were in a crowded and narrow hallway with floors wet with dirty melted snow. There was no way I could put him down. He pushed and twisted and threw his weight backwards out of my arms over and over again. He is not a large child for his age, but he is 30lbs. I finally just had to lock my hands together and hold on for dear life. I remember thinking to myself, I just won’t let go and we will get through this. It can’t last forever.
At the end of the hallway were 4 other adoptive families that I knew and I have never been so relieved. These were the same families that I had eaten dinner with at TGIFridays almost 6 weeks ago. Seeing their precious little babies in their laps was beautiful.
Five less orphans in the world.
I am sure I looked desperate. They kept telling me, “You are doing it!” and encouraged me to just hang on for a little longer. They showed me a small playroom and I was able (against my better judgement) to put Jacob down to play on the dirty but thankfully dry floor. I will wash his hands later, and who cares what all these people staring at us think!
Eugene was not only my driver, but also my translator for the day, and he came after what seemed like an eternity and told me the doctor was ready for me.
This next part is why this post is taking weeks to complete. It is why I am still walking around looking normal but still feeling traumatized. It might now seem like very much in the big scheme of everything, but it felt like I had an encounter with something very evil.
Eugene told me that this doctor was one of the good ones. At first I thought he meant compassionate but I realized later that I had misunderstood and that he really meant that she would not make it difficult to pass the physical and would basically sign off on anything.
I carried Jacob into the examining room and met a the doctor, a lady with very dark and dramatic eye-liner. It began with the normal height and weight check. She listened to his heart briefly. Jacob was still very panicked and the nurse watched him climb all over everything and try to tear down the walls to escape the room.
“Is he always like this?” the doctor asked me.
“No, he is just frightened.”
“Does he speak?” she wanted to know.
“Yes, but only a few words.”
“So he can’t speak then.” It was a statement and not a question.
I really didn’t know how to respond to this so I just stood there.
“Is he on any medication?”
“Not right now.” I went on to tell her that he had been on a sedating medication while at the institution.
What happened is still just so difficult for me. I am not certain why it was so hard. It’s not like I’ve never met stupid people before. I guess part of me was just not expecting it from a doctor...someone who is supposed to care about people.
She looked at Jacob with disgust and told me that I needed to sedate him again. She told me I was irresponsible and rude to have him around other people who might be bothered by his behavior. I tried to tell her that he was just afraid and that at the apartment he was actually very calm. She interrupted me to tell me that I needed to consider all the other paying passengers on the airplane who he would disturb and how is wasn’t fair to them for me to have him around them when he wasn’t sedated.
I realized that she was getting angry with me and started to be afraid that she would not give me the approval I needed to leave the country with Jacob. I finally stammered something about maybe I would try to give him benedryl to make him sleep on the plane.
I had heard about the intense prejudice and judgmental attitudes that many people in Jacob’s country have toward people with special needs, but I was just no prepared to have it so in my face. I felt and still feel, wounded by her words. I am heart broken for Jacob and all the other children like him who are seen as so worthless and hardly even human because of their special needs..
I took my papers and scooped Jacob up in my arms and walked like a zombie through the rest of my time at the clinic. I walked into the cafeteria where the other mom’s were eating with their kids and tried really hard to remain stoic. I knew that if I stared crying that I wouldn’t be able to stop. I took one look at all my Christian sister’s and realized that it is only because of the grace and mercy of God that I don’t have the same attitude as that doctor. Without Him I would be just as rotten to the core. Jacob was clearly out of control, but my sweet Sisters jumped into action. They were God’s hands and feet to me that day. One mom shouted encouragement from across the room, another told Eugene what to order Jacob and I for lunch, another plucked Jacob out of my arms to give me a break and gave me her sweet snuggly little baby boy who is blessed with an extra chromosome. He felt like a feather after holding Jacob for so long and I wanted to cry in relief. The muscles in my arms and shoulders were on fire from holding him for so long. Before I knew it, my food was in front of me and my driver, realizing how fried I was, opened my coke and poured it into a glass for me.
The Lord was with me. He knew I would need guardian angels and he sent me tons of them.
I finished the rest of my medical visit and arrived several hours later back at my apartment. I was so tired that I would barely climb the 5 flights of stairs with Jacob. I would climb one flight and lean against the wall with him. Then I would gather my strength and climb one more.
When I called Brad that night I think I cried for 20 minutes before I would even say any coherent words to him. I did it. I made it one more step. I survived.