by Christina Goldstone
The following essay was inspired by my daughter Daniela's most thorough evaluation right before her 10th birthday. Daniela was adopted in 1991 from an orphanage in Focsani, Romania. She has a number of learning disabilities and behavior issues. One of the questions the psychologist asked my husband and me, at the completion of the testing, is a familiar one. I have been asked this question on numerous occasions, since the publication of my book (Come to the Window) about our life with Daniela.
I wrote this essay and sent it to the other members of the post-adoption mailing list run by the web-site EEAC (Eastern European Adoption Coalition).We all have great days and horrible days and it is wonderful to be able to share them with families who understand what you are going through in a way that no one else can. I have also added an update to show Daniela's progress in the past five years.
"Would We Do It Again?"
Since we adopted our daughter Daniela almost nine years ago, from an orphanage in Romania, we have been asked this question many times - "If we had known all the challenges Daniela was going to have, would we still have made the decision to adopt her?" My answer has always been automatic. I say, "Absolutely, in a heartbeat". But, in truth, I don't think I ever stopped to really consider the question. Perhaps I was afraid to. Tonight, on the eve of Daniela's tenth birthday, I decided to answer the question truthfully.
Daniela has sometimes made life incredibly difficult for her dad, her big sister Marcy, and myself. Sometimes, when things get really hard I worry about what her life and our future is going to entail. Here are some of the heartbreaking issues that Daniela's life is full of. She has volumes of reports from countless different evaluations that were done over the years to help her get the extra services that she needs - the most painful one was the one recommending her to be placed in a class for educably mentally retarded children. She has scars all over her arms from picking at her skin in times of stress. She has, in her wake, left our house and it's belongings much in need of repairs. She is on three different medications, one of them scary.
We have received more than anyone's share of calls and notes from schools and daycare detailing Daniela's many offenses. They started when she was three years old. No one wants other children to be afraid of their child. Sometimes, Daniela has, impulsively, hurt and frightened other children, though never in anger. We, including Daniela, have heard countless cruel remarks about her, from other children and from adults who should know better - either directly, or when they think we don't hear.
Her immaturity is starting to mark her more now as she gets older. She is more obviously different than other children her age. It breaks my heart sometimes to see the disparity. It's so hard to try and teach her some small thing day after day, month after month, and even year after year and still know that she has no understanding of what you are talking about.
So, if we knew all these things, would we still have adopted her? Well, if we knew these things then I also assume we would know the positive things about Daniela, such as - Every new experience is a wonder and a delight to her. She revels in life as no one I have ever seen. She is so genuinely appreciative of any kind word, gift, or gesture. She can make the giver feel like they have done something for her that no one else could have. She is always full of words of encouragement to anyone who has succeeded at something or who just looks like they could use a kind word or a hug. She is the epitome of unconditional love. Each hard-earned lesson learned is such a triumph to her and to those of us who are her teachers. Her recent triumphs in reading and spelling are worth the world to all of us. She is beautiful, and funny, and as fast as the wind.
Daniela's most recent and very thorough evaluation by an experienced psychologist yielded new information about who Daniela is and why she has certain strengths and weaknesses. She again tested in the mentally retarded range on many conventional tests, but this person dug deeper and discovered that underneath all the learning disabilities is a child who may have started out in that orphanage bed ten years ago with average potential, and better yet, much of it is still there. We just have to keep trying to find ways to keep her on track. The doctor says that she thinks, (and she has examined many severely neglected kids), that Daniela's prognosis is good, that she'll be able to marry and have a career. I hope she'll be able to parent children of her own. She has impacted and inspired the lives of not only her family but people in our community, country, and even in other countries. She has a charisma and smile that can melt the stoniest heart. She makes us laugh every day, sometimes under our breaths, as she is engaging in, one of her over the top, antics. You can't help but love her, even when you are furious at her. She is so innocent and naive. She has no idea that she is such an incredible little being. She has made me reach inside myself and find strength that I never knew existed. She has changed me forever and made me a much better person for having her in my life.
I can't think of a better way to write a tribute to my daughter's 10th birthday than to say this statement - "Would we adopt Daniela Again?" I can say most assuredly, yes, absolutely, in a heartbeat.
Wishing you the best of futures with your own inspiring children,
UPDATE Summer 2005
Daniela is now a fifteen year old young woman who will be starting ninth grade in September. Much has happened in the past five years, most of it positive. Although she will always be greatly impacted by the neglect and abuse she suffered in the first part of her life, her progress gives us all cause for hope.
Daniela is still very immature for someone her her age, but her poise and self-assurance have grown immensely. People who don't see her for months at a time always comment on her growth with much surprise. She can still have difficulty when over stimulated, but she now recognizes when she is losing control and is able to regulate herself to a much greater degree. She lets me know when she is struggling and asks for help. Her medications are vital and she is now in control of making sure she takes them as needed. She does so willingly. She is mostly a joy to have at home and where ever we go with her. She is polite, caring, and helpful ( with only the occasional, typical teenage sullenness and sarcasm). She still has bouts of skin-picking which no medication or therapy is able to alleviate. She tries her best to control this but sometimes fails.
Academically, there has been much growth as well. She is now an avid reader, having recently finished the book Black Beauty and now trying to tackle a Harry Potter book (amazing!) Math is still and always will be a struggle. She uses a calculator well and can better handle money which is essential. She was in co-taught classes in eighth grade and learned a great deal. In high school, she will have more self-contained classes, which is just fine. The teachers are excellent and will work on her independent living skills and getting her into a vocational program. Her self-esteem is surprisingly good even though kids are sometimes cruel.
Daniela has sweet friends ( mostly younger) and enjoys hours on the phone, sleep overs, dances, and many typical teenage activities. She enjoys weekends away at church youth retreats and just spent a week at a drama camp. She is just recently able to spend hours at home at alone and is handling it with much pride and responsibility. She loves this new privilege and doesn't want to risk it being taken away.
Her future is bright, though only time will tell how she handles all the challenges of high school especially the social and emotional ones. She will always need someone to help her with money management and other issues, but overall we are just thrilled with how far she has come and where she is headed.