Sunday, June 01, 2008

an invisible red thread

connects those who are destined to meet,
regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.

- An ancient Chinese belief

Meet Andjela. She was born August 10, 2007 in Serbia weighing 7 lbs 13 oz and measuring 20" long. She has Down syndrome and she also has a complete AV Canal disorder of the heart. She was given up by her parents at the age of 3 months and has been in an orphanage in Belgrade ever since.

After endless discussion, debate, doubts and assurances, Matt and I have made the not-so-small decision to adopt her!

How we came to this place seems surreal now ... before we married we talked about one day adopting a few children; we were on our save-the-world kick and thought it would be wordly of us to rescue a child each from a different continent. The idea crept to the corners of the mind as life went on and our family grew biologically. After Dawson was born and the shock and rawness of his diagnosis gave way to awe and gratitude at being given such a privilege to have constant access to the deeper importances of life, we briefly talked about one day adopting a child with Down syndrome. I looked at Reece's Rainbow for a few minutes, saved it to my favorites for another day. We figured maybe a few years down the road, maybe when life got "easier."

About a month ago we got an email from a DS support network asking for donations for an international adoption. I gave a small donation and a few days later received a thank you from the family and a link to their blog. I can't resist those things ^_^ Seeing pictures of their little one, reading about their trials and their hope, I felt a soft draw. I went back to Reece's Rainbow and really started looking and reading. I showed Matt and we started talking about how badly we felt for these kids. It's hard to describe how it feels to watch prejudice from afar, knowing that it is a prejudice against something in your own child. I saw Dawson's face in each of those child's. A tug. We initially reaffirmed our decision to one day most definitely adopt one of these kids. But it was hard to walk away, knowing it wouldn't be one of these kids, because these kids would be gone, some adopted but most institutionalized, dead or dying. How do you walk away with a promise to help one day when there are so many that need help today?

When I first read Andjela's profile I moved on to another page; I couldn't imagine having the strength to take that on. But I kept thinking about her, a faceless profile on a website full of sad faces. Matt and I talked about her for days and a tug became a forceful pull. I hadn't even seen her picture but couldn't help feeling we were meant to help her. We finally asked for a picture and more medical information and that little face was pure entrapment. She looks nothing like Dawson and yet there is something about her that reminds me of him, something in her eyes... the clear calm of an old soul waiting to teach the world something amazing.

We realize how challenging this will be for our family. But we also realize that half of a challenge is perception, and that part at least is in our control. Half of all children born with a complete AV Canal disorder die before their first birthday without surgical correction. Andjela is nearly 10 months old. The other half at some point develop pulmonary hypertension, an early death sentence if untreated and often irreversible, even if the heart defect is corrected. It's quite possible she will die before we get to her. It's quite possible we will get to her and she will be unable to undergo the surgery because of dangerously high PHT. It's also possible she will undergo the surgery and still die from complications or PHT that cannot be reversed. And yet we still can't walk away without trying.

Life is busy for us but when we imagine adding this challenge to our already full plate we know we can make it work. We have given a lot of thought to how this will impact our other kids - can we add this ball to our juggling act without dropping the others? Can we take on the task of caring for another special needs child and still give enough quality attention to our other sweeties? Can we handle multiple in-home therapy sessions, medical appointments and procedures, Cade newly in preschool, activities for Parker and Macy, having time as a couple and as individuals working, cleaning, cooking, studying, writing? We think it will require even more planning, organization and simple hard work on our part, but that it's something we can manage.

When we first found out about Dawson having DS, I cried for the unknowns, for the uncertainty. I looked down every path I could conceive, saw the worst that could happen. I clung to "at least" like it was all I had left holding me above the water... at least he isn't in the NICU, at least he doesn't have an intestinal problem, at least he doesn't have a feeding problem, at least he doesn't have a heart defect... even as he was teaching me about unconditional love, I was still consoling myself with my escape from other possible conditions. But I guess all along he's been working on that; I know I can't live life in uncertainties and I can't be afraid to truly love unconditionally.

So as we embark down this road of unknowns, we do what Dawson has shown us so well - take each day as it comes, work with what we can, have patience with the rest and just trust that our love as a family will carry us through somehow.

We are still in limbo right now, having submitted a letter of request to Serbia seeking initial approval for adoption. If all goes well we will rename her Emerson Andjeline and we will bring her home around October. We're doing our best to move quickly, already nearly done with the paperwork aspect of the home study and in contact with the cardiac team at Children's Hospital in Philly and hopefully soon to be in contact with a heart surgeon pioneering a new robotic technique at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, thanks to a new friend also touched by adoption many times, one of whose little ones was thought to be a girl but turned out to be a boy - who they were to name Emerson.

It's hard not to get attached when we know this isn't yet definite, that something could fall through, but I feel sure that life will unfold as it's meant to, even if that means she won't be joining our family. She has already made such an impact.

Sometimes coincidences seem more like invisible red threads.