The Wait and Again by Eleni Coffinas
Three years after filling out paperwork to adopt a baby from China, this NYC mother met her daughter—a moment in which time stood still, and the waiting finally stopped.
The Moment finally arrived on Oct. 8, 2007. The long wait that had begun three years earlier, when I filled out an application, was about to end. The 8,000-mile, 20-hour plane trip brought me to a gray building with an institutional-like feel in Guangzhou, China where my daughter was waiting. She too had endured a long wait and a long journey. I may never know exactly where her journey began, but her report indicates that at around 8 days of life she was left at an outdoor marketplace and then found and placed in an orphanage where she lived and waited for 14 months. On that day in October, after a five-hour car ride from the orphanage, she too had arrived at this somewhat mysterious waiting place.
The wait had the feel of “forever.” The seasons changed and returned. Life continued while it stood still. I was told by an angel here on Earth in Utah, named Stefani, the China program coordinator at my adoption agency, that I did a great job of waiting. I think this is because as the months became years I inwardly and deeply understood that the years would dissolve into hours and for just one moment, time would stand still and the waiting would stop. I replayed that Moment over and over and over again in my head. I lived it and breathed it. In many ways I became it. I watched it in my mind and convinced myself that through the intense fear of uncertainty and distance yet remaining in time not space, the Moment was on its way.
The wait became too long to allow my father to meet his seventh grandchild. She will know how much he loved her while he was waiting. She already knows that he gave her the gift of a beautiful name and blessed her with her very own angel. The good of the wait was that the man who would become her father showed up just in time. He too loved her before he met her, and this made the last part of the journey serene, sweet, and complete. He made it his mission to forever capture that very first Moment when my daughter would be placed in my arms and make me a mother. The photograph is proudly displayed in my young daughter’s princess room. She looks at it and she loves it. She understands that Moment and recently drew her own interpretation of it.
That first Moment played out for real, the way I dreamed it would. I had an overwhelming feeling of calm. And so did she. I watched as she was being carried by a woman whose face and language were familiar to her. As they approached, my arms stretched out waiting, ready to receive. She was so courageous, so cute and so calm. I believe from deep within my core that the instant she entered my arms, she understood that she was home. As I gently received her and placed her next to my heart, I whispered in her ear that I would hold her forever. And now, almost four years later, she will often announce, “Mom, today is holding day”—and every time she does, I still hold her and every time, I still think about that first promise.
She arrived without tears, but also without a smile. I found myself waiting yet again. And the minutes became hours and the hours became days. No smile. I remember on day three when I was even funnier than usual, she looked up at me and for less than a second started to smile, then quickly looked away with that almost-but-not-quite smile following her gaze, then fading away. She wanted to smile but intentionally held back. In that moment I understood that she had to make sure that this was for real. She had to be cautious, and that caution was probably one of the early instincts she learned to survive.
But then, finally it happened on day five. We were sitting together in the same chair in an ‘Italian’ restaurant in the White Swan Hotel, where she began a neverending love affair with mozzarella cheese. She just smiled. It was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. We all smiled and then laughed for hours and days and now years. That long wait truly ended, especially for her, with the sweet surrender of that first smile. She was at ease and at peace. It took her 14 months and me 46 years to find our “forever family.”
Eleni Coffinas is a partner at a Manhattan law firm. She resides in Brooklyn with her husband Michael and her daughter Nicole, almost 6, who was adopted from China when she was 14 months old. Michael, who has two grown sons ages 29 and 30, fell in love with Nicole at first sight in China and is now in the process of finalizing his adoption of her.
The above is excerpted from CARRIED IN OUR HEARTS: The Gift of Adoption: Inspiring Stories of Families Created Across Continents by Dr. Jane Aronson with the permission of Tarcher/Penguin. Copyright Jane Aronson 2013; the book is due in paperback on April 17.