The hardest part of leaving South Africa is leaving Hannah* behind. It feels like I’m turning my back on her, like I am another person abandoning her. It feels wrong on every level of my being to leave my child in a country more than halfway across the world from where I will be.
But I have to trust that in the grander scheme of things, so to speak, that this is for the best. That my leaving, that my search for a job and a home, that my submission to the personal invasion of the adoption screening process, that all of this results in Hannah coming home sooner. Hannah home and my daughter forever.
It was a Friday afternoon when I picked her up from school. We drove to McDonald’s talking about the school day. She had made a new friend and her teacher had read a new book. McDonald’s was easy and I needed an easy place. We ordered our food, sat down to eat, and I picked at my fries as she chatted away and I worked up the courage.
And finally I told her.
I told her that I was moving back to America. I told her that Nana and Grandad—names we use to refer to my parents, but names that for now are meaningless to her—missed me and needed me. I told her that I had been away from my family for a long time and that it was time for me to go home. I told her that I loved her very much and that I would call and send emails and Skype. And I could feel my heart in my throat. My heart said the words that my mouth could not say—I’m going because I love you. I’m going because you are my daughter. I’m going because I am your mother. I’m going because it is the best way to make you mine forever.
I watched as Hannah’s seven-year-old brain tried to process what I was saying to her. “But I can come for sleepovers?”
“No, Hannah, I’m sorry. It‘s too far. It takes two days on a plane to get there.”
“Oh…but you’ll come back after a little while, like at Christmas, and then you’ll stay.”
“No, I’m going to live there. I won’t live here anymore, so I might come to visit sometime, but I won’t come back here to live.”
“But who will live in your room?”
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t think anybody will live in my room after I’m gone.”
I couldn’t tell if she really understood what I was telling her, but we needed to leave. We had to go home to tell the rest of the “family” that I was leaving. I hated this day.
When we got to the house we called a family meeting. Mommy Mary, Auntie Claire and I sat down in the floor of the playroom with all of the kids and I told them my news. Similar questions and a few mock tears from the silliest of the boys, and then Auntie Claire said, “You know how Auntie Amanda went away at Christmas and it seemed like a really, really long time. This is kind of like that, but it will be a lot longer and we don’t know for sure if she will ever come back.” That sunk in a little deeper.
Hannah looked up at me, “When you went away, I used to look at your window and it would make me so sad and I would cry.” And with that the full meaning fell on her. Her lip trembled, tears filled her eyes and she broke down into sobs. All I could do was hold my child and let her cry, knowing that I had no words that would take this pain away.
How do you leave your child behind? Even when you know it’s what is best for them, how do you leave them behind?
I think we’ve all gotten a bit more used to the idea now. The first few days were difficult as the idea settled in, and Paul still says to me, “Oh, I thought you were already gone,” every time I walk into the house—his way to deal with the hurt and rejection he’s feeling. But for the moment, there is an easy rhythm of knowing that we have today and a few more tomorrows together. And I don’t miss an opportunity to hold Hannah close and tell her that I love her.
I know there are more tears to come, and I wish, I wish I could tell her why. I wish I could tell her that I’m leaving because I want to be her mommy and that there are some things I have to do in the US to make that happen. But that would be confusing, and the waiting would be eternal, and if it doesn’t work out and I don’t get to be her mommy, it would be devastating.
Getting on that plane will be one of the hardest things that I will ever do, but I pray that it will be one of the best things that I ever do. I pray that it will be a sacrifice made that will be fully redeemed to the honor and glory of God because that prayer, that hope, will be the only thing that will give me the strength to board. And more than that, I pray that God will protect Hannah’s heart. That He will hold her and comfort her in a way that I cannot. Because I need Him to be that for her. And I need Him to whisper over and over and over to her—I will never leave you or forsake you.
*Hannah is a pseudonym. In order to protect her identity until she is fully and legally mine, I use "Hannah" in all posts regarding my one day daughter and her adoption.