“At the age of 19, I heard about a volunteer opportunity in Quito, Ecuador. I spent three months there, working in various orphanages with the cutest little infants and babies. I traveled down with a group of 12 other volunteers, all of whom I had never met before. New Year’s Eve 2005 was our first night there. The program’s director requested a volunteer to spend the night with one of the babies who had special needs and was chronically ill at a local children’s hospital. She’d been in and out of that hospital for the whole of her first year. There were no hands rose to volunteer to accompany her. After all, who wants to spend the night at a New Year’s Eve party having fun and getting to know the other volunteers instead of volunteering to do that?
After no one offered to help, the director turned to face me and said, “I’m going to send you.”
I soon found myself at this little girl’s bedside in the old, run-down hospital. She shared a room with three other newborns, each with a mother at their bedside. I was terrified, alone, and, to be honest, disappointed that I had been picked. I didn’t belong, I didn’t understand the language, and I felt entirely unqualified to look after this youngster I’d never met. Why was I here when I could have been at the party? Why was it that I was the unlucky one who was chosen?
When I arrived, I was greeted by a small pink blanket-wrapped bundle. She had a tuft of wild black hair on top of her head. She appeared to be considerably smaller than her almost one-year-old age, resembling a typical three- or four-month-old. She was used to being alone, so she sat peacefully in her cot. I sat grudgingly by this young girl’s bedside for hours on end. I didn’t even look at her; instead, I peered out the window or counted the bugs on the floor. After a few hours, the little daughter started to wail quietly. I stood there watching her for a while before hesitantly picking her up and rocking her. She was fast asleep in my arms in no time.
My heart shifted during the night. Instead of feeling singled out, I felt grateful for the opportunity to spend these hours with this lovely child. I realized that this little child had no one in the world to call her own and that my ‘issue’ of missing the celebration was insignificant in comparison to everything she had been through in her short existence. I glanced into her dark brown eyes and felt a deep sense of sadness, knowing that this sweet kid had spent her entire life battling medical issues with no consistent caregivers. It was devastating to consider everything she had gone through as a young infant on her own.
I offered to spend the night with her every day after that until she was discharged from the hospital six days later, on her first birthday, January 6, 2006. I recall standing on the corner with this precious girl in my arms, hailing a cab with a fellow volunteer, and getting into the vehicle to take her back to her orphanage home. Halfway there, my buddy and I decided we needed to celebrate her first birthday, as turning one is a significant milestone. We also wanted to commemorate her discharge from the hospital. On the way, we stopped at a corner bakery and bought a cake, even though we knew she wouldn’t be able to eat it. In any case, we wanted her to feel special and appreciated.
I was immediately utterly enamored with this adorable little infant. When our shift at the orphanage began in the morning, I went straight to her. During our three months together, I spent all of my time with her and developed a bond with her that I didn’t fully comprehend and couldn’t articulate at the time. After I gave birth to my first child, I realized what I had been missing—the love I felt for my brand-new baby was identical to the love I had felt for that beautiful baby in Ecuador.
My fellow volunteers and I took a week off at the end of our three months in Quito to relax in the Ecuadorian jungles before returning to the United States. We had one day in Quito after our return before flying home the next morning. We all returned to the orphanage to bid our ‘kids’ farewell. I dashed in, sorely missing my sweet girl, only to discover she was nowhere to be seen. My little one had been transferred to a new orphanage during our time in the jungle. It was a better fit for her because of her specific needs. Even so, I was heartbroken, believing I’d never know where she was or how she was doing again.
Our director inquired about and discovered, through complete divine intervention, that she had been placed in an orphanage on the other side of town. A driver was organized to take me across the city to see her one final time, knowing how crucial it was for me to say goodbye. What I thought was a terrible occurrence turned out to be an incredible blessing. This lovely little lady had been placed in an orphanage administered by a woman from the United States. She knew English and let me take as many photos as I wanted, which was not permitted at the orphanage. She also utilized email, which was not permitted in the Catholic-run orphanage. She promised to stay in touch with me and update my kid. She did so for a long time. Only this baby, out of all the babies I met and loved throughout my time in Ecuador, was the only one I could keep track of over the years. I got a lot of pictures and short emails over the years explaining what milestones she reached, how far she’d come, and what activities the kids at the orphanage were doing.
When my future husband and I started dating, I told him I was a package deal and that we would adopt a little girl one day. I had no idea how difficult it would be, but I was set on adopting this young girl who had captured my heart. On the other hand, my now-husband was not surprised by the news. Because we had been friends before I left, I emailed him letters during my stay in Ecuador. I wrote actual letters and frequently mentioned the little girl I had fallen in love with. I had even sent him a picture of her when I came home at one point. When I told my now-husband about my intention to adopt her eventually when we first started dating, he was not startled but instead wonderfully supportive and encouraging.
My husband, Devin, and I married a few months later and started a family. When my husband gave me a very special gift on my 25th birthday, we had our daughter, Hallie, and I was pregnant with our son, Jace. After unwrapping my gifts, he pulled up the computer and told me he had one final thing for me. It took me a few moments to realize what I was looking at. Unbeknownst to me, it was a bank account with money in it that he had set aside for us to start the adoption process.
Ecuador’s adoption rules are exceedingly demanding, and the procedure took us 18 months. Still, thanks to a sequence of many miracles, we were able to pick up the baby who had fully stolen my heart years before in December 2011. One of the highlights of my life was seeing her for the first time in 6 years. I expected her to rush up to me and throw herself into my arms, but instead, she headed straight for my husband. Since the beginning, the two have had an exceptional bond.
Flor, our youngest daughter, left the orphanage for the last time on her seventh birthday. My husband, a three-year-old and nine-month-old infant, went ten weeks in Ecuador to complete our daughter’s adoption. I am always open and honest when it comes to the adjustment process. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies all the time. Each of us had to put in a lot of effort. Flor has spent time in a variety of places and, despite having amazing caregivers over the years, she still bears the wounds of her institutionalization. We put in a lot of effort as a family to develop strong bonds, and this took time. Flor’s presence in our family was and continues to be 100 percent worth the effort.
Flor, our lovely daughter, just celebrated her 16th birthday. She suffers from 1P36 Deletion Syndrome, which leaves her with severe mental and physical difficulties. Flor has a really pleasant, joyful, and loving personality. She is the light of our lives, and I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to have her. This story is full of coincidences, including that I was chosen to spend that first night with her in the hospital. Mountains were moved for Flor to be a part of our family because God is in the details. We have also gained another beautiful daughter from Ecuador, Mishell, in 2015 and another biological daughter, Lizzie, who is now four, since Flor’s adoption.
I would advise anyone thinking about adopting an older child to get as much education as possible. Take advantage of training opportunities, seek professional assistance, and learn everything you can about the attachment process. Love is wonderful, but it isn’t always enough to aid children in need due to circumstances beyond their control. Learn about the services available in your area and be willing to request assistance. There will be happiness and sorrow, but it will all be worth it to be blessed with the kid in your family.”
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