The adoption of my daughter happened so suddenly and quickly, that for a while I joked I had accidentally adopted. At 38 and single, I was still undecided about having kids. Some days I couldn’t wait to start a family; other days I gave it no thought. I had a demanding job that I loved. I lived in a trendy loft in the heart of a vibrant city. I spent many hours each week volunteering as a wilderness search and rescue canine handler. Where would kids fit in?
I’ve found, though, that the big decisions cannot always be decided by reasoning but by letting go. When I was out on a search for a probable suicide victim, a careless jump over a stream resulted in a badly sprained ankle. Home from work, sitting on the couch for hours on end, I kind of let go. When I heard about a little girl far away somewhere (I didn’t know where), of some indeterminate age (was she 2 or 5?), with a whole range of diagnoses (her doctor said cerebral palsy; a Shriner’s report said Muscular Dystrophy), I took an immediate leap of faith and followed my heart. The decision was easy and I didn’t care what the consequences were. I started to love her, the thought of her anyway, right away.
Six months later, after spending several weeks with her on the other side of the world, the two of us sat in a courtroom together and became a family. She was five, but the size of an 18 month old. She was just starting to walk, but the contractures in her hips and knees caused a slow, painful gait. She was weak. She was spirited. She was absolutely delightful. Her name was Bakha.
I knew full well (or thought I knew anyway) that Bakha had a life of walkers and wheelchairs, medical appointments, surgeries, and therapies in front of her. Before I knew her, I was okay with that fate as she was an abstract little being to me, a few blurry photos, some video clips, a medical chart. I would help her through her surgeries, encourage her in her therapies, sit through IEP meetings at school. I even tried to envision her as an adult, maybe bagging groceries down the street at Whole Foods.
But once I knew her, once I was charmed by her sense of humor, and awed by her willingness to let me mother her, my heart seized up at the unfairness of what I thought was her future. I wanted her to play outside with the other kids instead of sitting on the windowsill watching. I wanted her to have a fair chance.
On the long flight home I mentally prepared myself for her first doctor’s appointment and the news that she had something bad, something incurable, worst of all, something progressive. She, on the other hand, sat like a queen in her airplane seat 40,000 feet in the air, pointing at the door, demanding to be let out. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Throughout this week, I will continue this story about my adoption and how it led me to co-found the nonprofit organization SPOON Foundation. SPOON works to improve nutrition for international orphans and for adopted children in the US. A video of my daughter, Bakha, is available online at http://www.spoonfoundation.org/.