I have a rather comical relationship with one of the nannies at the orphanage. I’ve been back in the USA for about five months now (getting a 2nd degree in nursing, in case you were wondering) and this nanny (I’ll call her M Ayi) and I have had many a chat on weixin, a Chinese texting app.
“You there?” she’ll ask. Sometimes she has questions about children who were transferred to other NGOs for care… sometimes she wants to ask about how much it costs to purchase an iPhone 7 in the USA (which, I discovered, isn’t even possible yet. Hehe, sorry Ayi.) and sometimes she sweetly gives me updates on the kiddos I miss so much.
“Little B is going to get his passport tomorrow. He’ll be adopted next week.”
“Too wonderful! He will have a family soon!” I replied. (and I threw in some dancing penguin emojis because they’re cute.)
She replied, “We all wish him well.” And then, a few days later, “B went to America. I was working the night before. He cried when I left. He was amiable and polite… I loved him. Next week little Q goes.”
When an older child joined her family, M Ayi commented, “I’m not okay. She was so precious to me. I keep crying.”
When I saw that — when I read what she wrote – I really had no idea what to think, or what to say. Because for me, in my mind, adoption is 100% a good thing (also 100% a hard thing). But for some of the nannies who only know the sanctified daily grind of caring for children – sometimes 10 little ones all on their own for a 24 hour shift, adoption is an acute loss, a painful goodbye, and the sudden ending of what may have been an earnest attempt to fill up the love tank of a child, a tank pierced with holes of trauma.
It was less than a year ago when the first child ever to be internationally adopted from a particular orphanage left to join their forever family. The director of the orphanage commented on that day, “When a child leaves our side to be adopted, we feel very sad. But because we know that they will have a happier life and a beautiful future, we feel a sense of accomplishment. We have no regrets, we are proud of the investment we have made.”
No orphanage – no NGO or foster care center or even foster family, is going to be all sunshine, unicorns and rainbows. With orphan care we’re dealing with orphans. We’re trying to care for children who are often physically broken, and always, to some extent, emotionally broken.
I remember one day in November, years and years ago, when I got to help take a little girl to meet her forever family in a province far away. We gave her a bath that last night, the day before she met her mama and baba and joined their care forever, and her socks got wet. I set them in the window sill to dry in the sunshine, and couldn’t help but notice the tiny stitching, done by hand, on the toes of the socks. Her foster mama had done that.
Those tiny stitches, an attempt to mend a hole in a sock, were a perfect metaphor for the tiny stitches that this foster mama had stitched into the broken heart of the little one she loved on and cared for those months and months. The hole was gone, but the seams were not. Adoption mends hearts, but there will still be seams.
Thinking back to M Ayi… and the orphanage director… and all of the nannies and foster mamas and baby-lovin’, risk-taking souls who have traveled across the ocean to hold an orphan and tell them, “you are precious.” Each one of them is a seamstress, a stitch-maker in the heart of a child. Some sew tiny seams that stay tightly held together for years and years – the seam is visible, but only just visible. Some sew bigger, messier seams that need to be re-done, or are maybe really obvious.
“We all wish him well,” she said. I can’t get that out of my head. Two little ones will be adopted today, and three more next week. I’m thankful and thrilled that this orphanage has done the brave thing and leapt into the adoption world, but I’m also reminded of how hard it is.
I’m reminded that as adoptive parents, you get the privilege of holding these stitched-over little hearts in your hands. Some of the hearts nearly fall apart and maybe they’re still just hanging together by threads – the work of mending is going to be intense and exhausting. Sometimes the seams are hard to see at first, but when you get walking – moving forward with life, suddenly a thread snaps and the work of re-mending must begin. And sometimes the stitches hold together. Sometimes they all fall out.
Sometimes it’s really hard, but we’re all seamstresses. The needle is love and the pattern is the Gospel and these little sock-like broken hearts are going to be worn by some precious, beautiful feet.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” – Isaiah 52:7