Four years ago, my friend Hope Anne and I became very close phone friends as she prepared to travel to Ukraine to adopt her new daughter Katya. Let me tell you a bit about Katya.
Katya was born in Ukraine with a skull that was badly misshapen and in need of surgical reconstruction, not only for cosmetic reasons, but because her brain did not have room to grow. This early fusion of her skull plates caused Katya to suffer chronic, migraine level headaches. Luckily for Katya, she was living in a Ukrainian orphanage where she was severely neglected and malnourished. Since she wasn't growing neither was her brain. Luckily for Katya, she wasn't having headaches yet. Well at least not that anyone knew.
Because Katya was severely neglected and malnourished, and because the orphanage staff didn't actually talk to her, Katya never developed language. She didn't have the ability to tell anyone if her head hurt or not.
Luckily for Katya, she didn't really need language. Not only was she severely neglected and malnourished, but when she was adopted at the age of six, there was no such thing as "school" for her. She had never had even a tiny bit of exposure to anything educational. Katya had never seen a crayon, held a pen or pencil, or been handed a book.
Because she was severely malnourished and neglected, Katya was often the victim of assaults by the other orphan children who, though malnourished themselves, were much bigger than her. Survival of the fittest is something children who live in orphanages know well, and Katya was anything but fit.
Katya lived in a primal fight or flight mode. Without language her only way to communicate was through screaming, scratching, hitting or kicking. She wasn't a pleasant child to be around and the caregivers frequently bullied her for no reason other than to release their frustrations. Never loved and certainly never cared for, when her family arrived to adopt her Katya had no idea how to sit in a person's lap, much less accept love and affection.
Katya was a feral child.
Katya screamed, and screamed and screamed some more. She kicked, scratched, choked and bit. Katya fought for her life. She fought the family who promised to love her and care for her no matter what. Like a wild animal confined to a cage for years on end, Katya paced back and forth in her new home. Home one year when I first met her, Katya was still pacing. She was still screaming. She was still learning what it meant to be loved. She was still learning to feel love, and she was afraid of it.
I want you to understand the sacrifices an adoptive family makes when they choose to love a child like Katya, because I can tell you from experience, this is not a "love at first sight" type of adoption. When a family adopts a feral child, the family has to choose to love the child. They choose to accept scratches instead of hugs. They choose to confine themselves to home for weeks on end, all for the child who has never had exposure to the outside world and isn't yet ready to experience it. They to choose to listen to hours and hours of screaming, keening, and crying. The family chooses to watch their home be destroyed item by item as the child learns to function in the world. The family chooses to put the value of a child above the value of possessions, vacations, popularity or community status.
I want you to understand that a family adopts a feral child because they understand the child has value even when nobody else can see it. Even when the rest of society asks, "But why is this my responsibility?"
But as much as I want you to understand, I want you to see. Something so simple. Something so pure and innocent as a little girl having her very first piano recital at 10 years old. Four years of love and sacrifice. It is only a few short notes. Turn the volume up on your speakers and you may hear a tiny, shaky voice trying to sing along with those few short notes. Remember that these few short notes are possible because of all the sacrifices made by one family. But my favorite part of all the smile of pride as she runs back to her seat.
Pride. Sacrifice. Joy. Patience. Acceptance. Choice. Love. Katya.
If you would like to read more about Katya and her family, her mom Hope Anne blogs at Welcome Home Katya.