After two days of spinning in dreamy-eyed circles, grinning at eachother like a couple of drunk high schoolers, Papa and I decided to behave responsibly. So I looked at the list of international adoption specialists in Texas and started leaving long-winded, circular messages on doctors' answering machines. We wanted to do our $500 worth of due diligence. Let's marvel over the kid's bravery and poise, coo over her cheeks and lashes, yadayada about her development and test results, and officially accept this referral already. We're usually more of an emotional, gut instinct, fingers-crossed type of couple so this routine felt a little strange to the both of us. But we were keenly feeling the need to act like grown-ups. We figured we owed it to the kid not to skip steps. So finally, after badgering a very gracious receptionist at a very fancy School of Medicine, we got the last appointment on Friday afternoon to go over the bun bun's medical records. We huddled up to the speaker phone, gave eachother a smug high-five, and got ready to hear only good news.
What a couple of dopes. The doctor, who was very nice to speak with us on such short notice, did her job. She, in a maddeningly bright, la la la! tone of voice, started pointing out red flags left and right. The manner in which Ava's parents died could be an indication that she was HIV positive. The fact that she had a dot or two of molluscum on her face was another HIV red flag. She'd tested negative once, but until we got her home and retested her, the risk was still there. It was a small risk. Five percent, the doctor guessed. But a risk. Why were we so surprised by this? Hadn't we read enough to know this could be her and thus our reality? The doctor went on, noting that Ava's development was average to high. Though she made a mistake at one point, marveling over one developmental hurdle, before I had to point out that she was reading the chart wrong. Grrrr. There came a point when I started gripping Papa's arm with a snarl on my face. If this woman used the word "normal" as a comparison measure one more time I would have to be restrained from reaching through the phone for her throat. Finally, exhausted by her officiousness, exhausted by the weight of red flags, I cut the poor woman off. "So what you're saying is that there are real risks we need to feel prepared and equipped for, but in general this child is extraordinary in every way?" Well, uh, um, the woman continued. "And what I think we would love to hear before this conversation ends is that, while we need to take all of these concerns seriously, and we need to seriously discuss them with eachother as adults, that this conversation is somewhat a typical one for people in our position." Well, um, yes, of course it is.
Darn it, we felt so sad when we got off the phone. Okay, get it together. If we fall into that 5% chance, and with our luck over the last two years, why wouldn't we? But if we did, the child would live a long, healthy life while together we managed her chronic condition. Right??? Cry, cry, cry. Here we'd been worrying over the possibility of a child for all this time. She arrived, as if in a dream of smiling sweetness. Two quick days we basked in that glow. Now we were scared again, with the possibility of staying that way until we could get this little child safely home and to a doctor's office for a second test. During a screening of I Love You, Man I would lean over and whisper in the Papa's ear. "This will all work out in the end, don't you think?"
The next morning, I called my Dad and Kathy. Kathy has a nurse's degree and she also works part-time as a college basketball referee. This is a woman you want in your lifeboat, shouting clear-headed instructions. So I cried out the whole story of the conversation, crying for little Ava and the possiblity of her life being harder than it deserved to be. Well, my Dad, who as my only parent has been my everything, kind of sing-songed in the background, preening over the news of Ava's excellent developmental progress. And Kathy, who is a soft-hearted rock in a crisis, told me to get it together in her inimitable take-no-guff tone. "Ava is still Ava, and you are still her parents. I think you need to stop worrying so much about this test and start worrying about the basics of parenting." Yes! I don't know how to change a diaper! Papa holds a baby like it was a bundle of his Mom's bras and undies that he's just pulled out of the dryer! Ava's Grandpa and her Grand Kathy came to the rescue, as I imagine they'll do again and again and again in the future.
Please be merciful when judging my weekend of whimpering. We woke up last Sunday morning and admitted to eachother that we had gone to bed liking Ava, but had been silently, shamefully worrying over our ability to be all she might need. We woke up, and realized that we no longer liked her. We kind of loved her, and needed her, and wanted to protect her. Overnight, she had stopped being the luck of a referral, or the possible bad luck of an abstract test result. I know some of you good people can see into the soul of your referral picture and deem it destiny. I was smitten with our referral, and felt deeply for this little girl's back story, and the losses that preceded her arrival in our lives. But it was the conversation with a doctor, and the threat of a manageable but loaded condition, and the realization that we could and would hack it, that cemented the deal with me. Ava is Ava, and we her parents.
Last Monday, we very gratefully accepted our referral for this 8-month-old baby girl. On Wednesday, we were surprised to hear from our case worker. It turned out that the Gladney on-site doctor had administered a second test screening for HIV. The kid is clear, definitively and conclusively. Oh baby Ava, I do think your life just got a lot easier. Good for you, child. But, just as importantly, I think your nincompoop parents got something real and valuable out of this experience. The truth is, we are going to do this life thing with you. And our hearts will inevitably grow equally more tender and sturdy with you in our lives. But here's what we decided that Monday morning. Whatever it is, we are on your side. So here's the deal, kid. You're stuck with us. Whatever path this world leads you down, we're going to walk it with you, as long as you'll have us.* Tulip will be there too, with the floppy-eared stuffed bunny that Mama bought for you in her mouth. Tuuuuuu-LIPPPPPPPPPP!!!!
*Or until a tender-voiced therapist insists to Mama Dog that it is time to learn to let go.