Mary R. Arno is a novelist and former journalist in Clarence Center.
Fifteen years ago, somewhere in Poland, you got pregnant. I’m sure it wasn’t convenient. It would’ve been easier for you to say “my body my life,” get an abortion and move on. But you didn’t. About six months along, you got on a train. You went into labor. The next stop was Czestochowa. You were taken to a hospital and gave birth to an infant weighing less than three pounds. You signed whatever they put in front of you to turn her over for adoption. Then you went home.
As far as I know, that’s the last you heard of our daughter. So I’ll fill you in:
She spent the next three months in the hospital, until she was big enough to be moved. Then she went to an orphanage for infants up to six months old. Because of her size and premature birth, she had a permanent disability, which made the director of that orphanage fear that if she were moved up to the toddler orphanage, she’d be overrun and lose all chance of adoption. So she was kept with the infants, one of many babies cared for by a small staff. The healthy ones were adopted quickly. Because of the disability, our girl couldn’t walk or even sit up unassisted. But from between the bars of her crib, she noticed everything. Her eyes darted around at each sound, and she immediately scrutinized whoever came into the room.
Fast forward two years. We applied to adopt both in the U.S. and internationally. Because of the many people of Polish heritage who live here, our agency had a special relationship with Poland.
In our time there before the adoption, we loved to walk around Czestochowa. It was soon after the death of Pope John Paul II, and a huge banner of him hung from bleachers in front of the Shrine of the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora.
Nine months and three visits after we first saw a picture of our little girl, we brought her home. I won’t pretend everything was perfect. Our girl struggled through many doctors and therapists and some surgeries. Many times I felt overwhelmed. One day, I got a call from our adoption liaison. “How’s it going, Mary?” she asked. I was at my desk, writing. Our girl was asleep in her carrier next to me. I looked outside, and saw my husband playing catch with our sons. For the first time, I felt all was well, and I told the liaison that. She laughed. “You see,” she said. “I told you it would take a year.”
Now, another decade and more has gone by. Our girl is a teenager, and can be a pain in the neck. But she is the fourth teenager I’ve dealt with, and she is no worse (and no better) than the sister and brothers who came before. She is an integral part of our large extended family, and loves to be with her aunts and uncles and cousins. She has gotten over Justin Bieber and One D. Though looking at pictures of her birthday party a few years ago, featuring her and her friends posing with a life-size cutout of Justin, I kind of long for those days. They all look so sweet and innocent. Even Justin.
Over the years, I have thought of you often. I had a plan once, to write you a letter and assure you that she is healthy and loved. I was told that wasn’t a good idea, that it could make you try to get her back, or at least open an emotional wound that might have healed over. I regret listening to that advice, because you are her mother too, and you deserve to know how she is doing. And to know that you have my deep thanks and daily prayers for choosing the hard way. For choosing life.