There’s no doubt our year long wait to hold our daughter in our arms has been hard. But much harder than that is every time we visited her orphanage. Seeing just a few of the roughly one hundred children housed in her institution alone, broke my heart bit by bit. Seeing them wave and grin behind the glass of their rooms, where five to six children sleep, each in their own crib or toddler bed. Seeing the lanky teenagers with Down syndrome, all of whom could have been our daughter in ten years, waiting, still waiting. Some have parents who still visit, and so are not eligible for adoption. One darling, with sparkly shoes and pink painted nails, has a daddy who visits every week with gifts. Nikolina’s two best friends from her little baby room both also have parents who visit, not ready to take them home, and not ready to give up.
But there are the others. The ones that the caregivers keep telling us are available for adoption, with hopeful glances, wondering if maybe we could take two kids with us? I carry Nikolina on our way to the Snoezlen room, while one of the caregivers asks if Joey can walk a sweet, dark haired girl, who marches firmly down the hallway while he holds her hands. The institutes’ special education teacher tells us how far this girl has come, and again mentions, “she’s adoptable.” And my heart breaks just a bit more. Because our arms are full for now, with three kids 3 and under. But this is just one institution in Serbia. One of many. Serbia has five hundred families waiting for “healthy” kids, which means the orphanages have only special needs children. There is only one agency allowed to work in Serbia, and tho their heart is for children with special needs, they struggle to find families willing to take them.
And why? When I first laid eyes on Nikolina, through an intense haze of tears, all I saw was the most perfect, blond haired, deep blue eyed little cherub. From her drunken sailor walk to her almond eyed look of indignation she gives when she is annoyed, she’s entirely darling and utterly perfect. She may not be talking yet, but she gets her point across. She may make a mess eating, but she can do it on her own. Her little heart has had some troubles, but it doesn’t slow down this little fireball. She’ll knock you down if you look at her food even for a moment.
I know not everyone feels like they can take on special needs. I get that. It’s hard. But I think a whole lot more of us could do it than we like to admit. And so when I think about those precious children left behind, the ones who wait, all I see are children. They’re not a diagnosis or an age. They’re children, who belong in families.