Abandoned children fill orphanages around the world. Too many little souls without a mom or a dad, without someone to call them their own. With a lack of stable and on-going relationships, many of these kids develop RAD (reactive attachment disorder) where they struggle to form lasting relationships with their caretakers or adoptive parents. They learn at an early age that there is nobody they can trust. The pathways that the brain creates the first three years of life are hard to break. Kids with RAD will not “grow out of it,” it is a reality for many adoptive parents that creates a challenging relationship.
When we first adopted Nina, she cried for one of her caretakers, “Nina want Ira!” At the time, I felt anger towards this woman. Now, I am incredibly thankful for her. Nina was able to bond with one of her caretakers, and I do believe that relationship made a huge difference in Nina’s ability to bond with me. Because Nina was loved, she was able to love back.
But there was another strong relationship Nina had in the orphanage. It was not with an adult, but with one of the other children. Nina had a best friend, the closest thing to a sister, to a family. Nina had Oksana. Both girls orphans, both girls with cerebral palsy.
When I visited Nina, Oksana would cry and ask to come with us. Most of the time she was silenced by the caretakers, but for one of the visits they allowed Oksana to play with us. During the first half of the visit, Oksana melted into my arms, resting her face on my chest, soaking in all the attention she could get. Eventually she ventured to play with Nina, and I watched their simple interactions. They talked to each other, Nina asked Oksana to get things for her, since Oksana’s mobility was much better than Nina’s. They played with a puzzle, looked at pictures, and often looked at each other, always with a smile.
After that visit I asked about Oksana, and the translator informed me they would soon be transferring her to a mental institution. I asked if the orphanage would allow me to find her a family, if they could hold her in the orphanage a little bit longer. There were no promises made, but that nightI wrote about Oksana on my blog, hoping that it would reach the right family.
Shortly after arriving home with Nina, I received an email asking about Oksana. Erin and her family committed to her adoption. I kept in contact with Erin through email, and eventually we began talking on the phone. We seemed to get along pretty well, and I wanted to offer as much help and support as I could. After all, Oksana had a special place in my heart. This was Nina’s closest relationship from her past. This was her “sister” finding a family.
Andy and I tried to be as available, open, and supportive as we could during their travel time, and after coming home. In no time, Erin and I became our “go to friend” when it came to our girls. It was only natural that at some point we would travel to finally meet the Loraine’s and reunite Nina and Oksana. That was a trip we will never forget (click on the link and check out Erin's post, there is a video of Nina and Oksana seeing each other for the first time after being adopted, it is awesome!). We finally got to meet some of our dearest friends. Our entire family clicked really well, and it felt as if we had known each other forever. And it was a treat to see Nina and Oksana together. Last Thanksgiving, Loraines came to visit for a few days. Again, we had a great time with friends.
First meeting during July 4th
Thanksgiving meeting, it was hard to get Oksana to smile for the camera, but she smiles all the time!
Last Monday, I shared with you a video of Nina jumping independently. I also posted it on facebook. When I picked Nina up from school I told her there were many messages for her from people cheering her on. She was happy, but she had only one question for me.
“Did Oksana leave me a message?”
“Not yet sweetie, but her mommy did and I am sure she will show her the video.”
“I hope so, because I know Oksana loves me more than anyone else, and I want her to be proud.”
I often think of Nina being alone at the orphanage, with no one that loved her like you love a family member. But I was wrong. Nina had someone, she had her best friend, Oksana. And I realize more and more how important that bond was for these girls, and how incredible it is that their bond has brought our respective families together. I count Erin as one of the closest friends I have ever had, and I met her thanks to Nina and Oksana.
What a blessing it is that Nina and Oksana will be friends for a lifetime and I realize now that the bond she has with her is also one of the strongest bonds she will ever have. Perhaps even closer than the one she has with her sisters. What a joy to continue to bring them together.
And who knows, maybe someday they will be roommates at Shepherd’s College and their story will be known!