Twenty-six hours after leaving our home, we arrived in Bucharest, Romania, to finish the adoption process of our fraternal, female twins, Ana and Maria, age 13 months. We had received training from Bal Jagat on what to expect and had chatted with other parents who had completed their adoption journey. Suddenly, it did not seem like enough. I was exceedingly anxious. Could we take care of twins? Could we adapt to being instant parents? I hope that this article will assuage similar fears of other prospective adoptive parents.
Vivi Illiescu (Copiii Lumii Foundation/Bal Jagat director in Romania) and Dan (a Copiii Lumii social worker) were waiting patiently outside the customs area when we arrived. Dan helped us with our luggage and Vivi seated us in her car.
It was our understanding that we would have a good night’s rest then pick up the children the next day. My husband, who has endured numerous business trips to Japan, was fairing better in the fatigue department than I was. I felt like I had narcolepsy. While driving to our apartment, Vivi surprised us by saying, “Uhh…We have to pick up the children tonight because tomorrow, May 1, is a national holiday.” My anxiety jumped threefold! Vivi was very reassuring. We only had two hours to pull ourselves together before traveling to the orphanage.
As we walked up the orphanage steps to the upper level, the overall appearance reminded me of a state hospital where I had once worked. There were pipes on the outside of the beige-painted walls; it was sparsely decorated, but clean and warm. The orphanage director and social worker were congenial women who smiled and nodded. Their English was limited but the director expressed kinds words.
The girls were brought in and Ana was handed to my husband, Mike. She promptly burst into tears. We were warned that the children are not used to males, given the fact that most of the attendants are female. Maria was then given to my husband and took to him much better, though she kept staring at his mustache! Ana was cuddled in my lap.
All the paperwork, expense, and worry was worth it! Just to hold those little dears in my arms. I was still anxious about our coping skills though. I had completed a fair amount of reading and I was expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised.
In response to the questions you might have:
· Some books mentioned the possibility of children grieving for their orphanages — the only homes they ever knew. With our girls, I did not find this to be true. They were very curious about their surroundings. Their attitudes seemed to be, “What took you so long?” However, it was very emotional for the orphanage staff when it came time to leave. They had truly loved those children.
· The psychologist’s report, which had been translated into English, was surprisingly informative. Since I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I was happy to receive this document.
· The children did receive some immunizations but the information was abbreviated on the paperwork. Only the month and year of the immunizations were listed. This caused difficulties when we returned to the States because the abbreviations are different here. For school entrance, an exact date is required.
· Don’t forget to bring all over-the-counter medications with you, including Orajel. You can purchase diapers in Romania but I discovered they were hard to find and they were very thick/bulky.
· My twins talked baby talk primarily and appeared to say one word each in Romanian. We spoke a few words to them as well. After a month, they appeared to understand English. Amazing!
· Also, I had read that rocking behaviors were prevalent in children who came from orphanages. Maria did not exhibit this behavior and Ana only rocked about 2-3 times in her crib at night. I would rub her back and the behavior would stop. Maria required a piece of cloth near her face in order to sleep.
· Bathing was a bit of an ordeal. I am not sure how they were bathed in the orphanage but they were very clean and did not even have a diaper rash! However, when we put them in the tub, they would scream and hold on to us. They tried to climb out, using us as ladders! One day, I gently splashed the water and this attracted Ana’s attention. There were no more screaming episodes after that. Now, I can’t get them to stop splashing!
· The twins were not walking independently when we were in Romania, though Ana took a few steps. They were active crawlers. Dan had informed us that this was common in children from the orphanage and that they usually caught up quickly. This proved to be true. One day, they were crawling around our condo; the next day they were running!
· Feeding: They preferred all food to be warm; the orphanage added sugar. Maria tended to gobble her food and choke. We had to give her one serving of each item at a time or she would exhibit anxiety and start to cry. I think she was afraid she was not going to get enough to eat. After a few months this behavior disappeared. Both children were somewhat underweight but not as underweight as I had expected.
· With regards to the accommodations, the apartment we stayed in was large, clean, and charming. Some drawbacks: it was on the fifth floor – no elevator. Electrical plugs were prominently displayed in the wall and were not safe. We put our luggage in front of them to ensure safety. Additionally, there were no laws about children being placed in car seats in Romania. They only needed to be placed in the back seat.
· Initially, the twins were afraid of grass. They would sit at the edge of our patio and blow “raspberries” at it. Eventually, they overcame this fear and now love the outdoors.
· Lastly, has anyone mentioned that children from orphanages can be “strong-willed”? It is my pleasure to confirm this suspicion. It can be frustrating at times but we try to remember that it was one of the traits that helped them make it through the first year of their lives.
Now, I look back at this journey and at times it seems like a dream. Other times, I marvel at how lucky we were to receive two sweethearts! Your fears may overwhelm you and you may feel like
throwing in the towel. But, trust me, it is all worth it!!!