The Arms That Held Me

Coming to terms with my time spent at an orphanage.

Sonia Billadeau April 09, 2014
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It amazes me how long and complicated my journey has been. The hows and whys are all answered now, but knowledge seems to be the only real difference in me. As I reflect back, I remember my mother telling me how I came to be adopted and what condition I was in when my parents first got me. All these years of knowing how sickly I was and how several pediatricians told my parents I would die . . . the reality just never registered until now. The doctors told my parents to give me back to the agency, that if I didn’t die, I would be a drain on them emotionally and financially.

One doctor thought I had cystic fibrosis and was certain I would never make it. I was frail and had lost weight, I screamed relentlessly and inconsolably and kept my mother pacing the floors night after night. In today’s world, I would be termed a “failure to thrive” baby but by the standards of 1959, they didn’t know any better.

To think that all my life I had an indescribable pain inside me, a bitter emptiness that I could find no words for, is horrible and yet it is an amazing relief to finally put words and reason to it.

I have read the notes from the orphanage countless times over the course of my life, that plainly state how I spent the first month and a half of my life. I was seldom held or given much of anything but the usual diaper change and bath. The notes they wrote describe how I guzzled the bottle they propped up for me in my bed, and then vomited.

But until just the other day, it never occurred to me that this pain and fragility that has always been mine to bear came from having little or no human contact in the first six weeks of my life. I had no one to bond with, no real nurturing, no touch to ease me, and I was dying, quite literally.

I am here today because my mother did not return me to the agency—she had faith that with time and love, I would pull through, and I did. Today I am able to make sense of it all after finding my birth family and delving into the many mysteries of science and the human condition.

There is so much that we seem to take for granted and ignore in the adoption arena but I, for one, am glad that we are making progress. It is astounding to me that my mind had no words or prior experience on which to base my pain, but my brain and my body kept a very accurate account. Every nerve ending remembers those first lonely days, that tremendous loss of “mother” that every infant needs to thrive. And I am grateful for the loving arms of one woman who never gave up and I praise her defiant and rebellious heart. If she were here today, I would say thank you, not only for adopting me . . . but for giving me life.

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Sonia Billadeau


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