There was one little girl who changed my life forever. Misty was my first profoundly retarded child. Before I adopted her, my family consisted of children who were either normal, or who, despite their disabilities, were all very self sufficient. When I looked for a new child to adopt, I looked for another who would be able to learn to take fairly good care of herself in adulthood.
After I adopted Misty, however, and grew to love her, I began to look for other children like her. The way I had planned my life had been revised forever. I've thanked God for Misty ever since, for blessing me with a whole new kind of love.
Misty sprang into our a lives a complete surprise! But not in the way one might expect.
It was March 11, 1981, in the wee hours of the morning.
After all the long and drawn-out anxiety, the home study, the money it cost, and finally being chosen for this beautiful fragile little girl in the picture, we were finally welcoming her home. It was a marvelous night.
Misty was two and a half years old, but only weighed twenty pounds!
Her new white Jenny Lind spindle crib, new white dresser, lamp like colored balloons, and every decoration you could buy a baby girl was waiting for her in her newly carpeted bedroom.
I couldn't wait to meet her. Her new brothers and sisters couldn't wait to meet her. I had found her, as I found all our children, in a book of pictures and descriptions of children waiting for adoption. Hard to place children. In those days, hard to place children included any child who was not white, even newborn and normal (!), or a white child ten or over, or a sibling group. Then, of course, there were the children who had problems of one kind of another.
Misty looked like she was sitting up in the picture we fell in love with. She was two and a half, but only 20 pounds. The small black and white photo showed her only from the waist up. There she was - slender and frail looking, with dainty hands with their slim long fingers raised up like they were about to conduct an orchestra, or, perhaps, drink tea - little fingers raised and curled. The picture of lovely daintiness.
And her face - her beautiful face was delicate and fine-boned with huge black eyes, fringed with long, gorgeous dark lashes. She looked like some kind of surprised princess, for her wide eyes, and pretty little lips, slightly parted, gave her a slightly startled look. Like a fawn, perhaps, having heard something unusual.
I had never seen a child I thought was more lovely in appearance. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and love her to pieces.
Many people have asked me to explain how a person can fall in love with a picture of a child they've never seen. I've never understood the question. People do it all the time, adopting from orphanages on the other side of the world. And now, almost every parent does it, when they receive ultrasound photos of their unborn child. Every parent I've ever known who had one, has shown it to everyone, having fallen in love with a tiny hand waving, a foot, the outline of a face, anything they can recognize. It is their own child. It is the child who is going to arrive. No matter what that child is going to be like, it is their own, and it is going to join their family.
With Misty, as with all my adoptions, it was the same. She was my own child. She was the child who was going to arrive. I studied that one picture endlessly.
Just before she came, we were sent two other snapshots, which were confusing, but no less sweet. She was dressed in odd-fitting, mismatched pants and a shirt, and slouched sideways in a baby seat with no expression on her face. I searched those snapshots for her personality; for a reason why she was slouching. I couldn't figure it out, but I didn't let it bother me. She must have been sleepy, I decided.
I couldn't wait to dress her like a princess, and hold her in my arms. I would teach her to crawl, to walk, to talk, to feed herself. I didn't mind if it took years. She was my child, my own. God had chosen her to be my daughter, as surely as though she were being born to me. For the adoption had been approved, and everything had worked out for her to come home at last. Hallelujah, and praise be to God! She was a black child with light skin. She had very little hair yet. Our large family was a multi-racial family, with children of color - black, white, Chinese, and Mexican Indian. Misty was like one lovely blossom in my beautiful bouquet of children.
Misty was said to be developmentally delayed. She had been born to a fourteen year old girl, and her father was her mother's seventeen year old brother. They had lived in such poverty, that the two had had to share a bed, in a room with two other siblings in the next bed. It was the incest, they said, that had caused her to be born delayed. But the foster mother, three thousand miles away, said she was beginning to crawl, she played with the other two year old in the home, who was normal, she ate baby food, drank from a bottle, and slept well. There was no reason not to believe her. Every other child I had adopted, had come in pretty much the condition described.
I wanted her! Oh, I wanted her! And the night had come at last! The caseworker brought her on a night flight, and she had slept all the way. She carried her off the plane, rather awkwardly, because she was long limbed, and completely limp. She was very difficult to hang onto. The caseworker was happy to deliver her into my waiting arms.
One limp baby she was, and still sound asleep. I said my thank yous, and because this time it was my own caseworker bringing her, we got to take her home alone, without any guests to watch over our initial meeting.
We drove the hour home from the airport, and she slept all the way. When we got home, still the middle of the night, I carried her in, laid her on the couch, and stood around her, just looking at her delicate beauty.
Then, slowly, she opened her eyes, and in a wonderful, magical way, how very magical we were yet to find out, she looked at us all. First she fastened her huge black eyes on one of us, stared a while, then the next one, and stared a while, and then the next.
All the while we were talking to her, telling her we loved her, and she was going to be so happy here, and hi, and how pretty she was, and how many toys we had waiting for her. Her face had no expression whatsoever, but her eyes latched on to one face after the other, as though she were memorizing us, one by one, for all time. Maybe she WAS memorizing us for all time. Then she closed those lovely eyes once more in slumber. We had no way of knowing that would never happen again.I finally sent the other children to bed, and was alone with my new daughter at last.
I sat and watched her sleep for a while, still wondering at her tininess. Though her arms and legs were long and very slim, she curled up and fit just right on one couch cushion. Her head was tiny, her body was delicate, and her eyes were too beautiful for this world. Then slowly and carefully, I began to change her diaper, and put her pajamas on her, and she awoke again, slowly, sleepily opening her eyes. I learned later that she had been drugged for the trip.
As I carried her across the living room, she began to cry, in a very high, very soft voice like a tiny preemie I heard years later. Her body quivered. I had offered her a bottle, with no results, so I thought maybe I should offer her a little baby food, just in case she was hungry.
I put her in her brand new high chair... well, I tried to put her in it. It was like trying to make a cooked noodle sit up. She slithered one way and then the other. I seat belted her in, and stuffed baby blankets on both sides of her, and still she was slipping and sliding, hanging limply over the edges, and whimpering all the while in that tiny, high cry.
I finally got her secured, opened a jar of what I had been told was her favorite baby food, put a little spoonful of it into her open mouth. And it simply fell back out on the tray. She gave no indication that she was even aware that it had been in there. She continued whimpering.
I sat and stared at her in complete bewilderment. Whatever could be the matter? In all my years of being a live-in babysitter, and in my nearly eleven years of parenthood, I had never seen a baby act like this before. I tried again. Same result. Her shrieking rose higher and more shrill. I decided she was not hungry, just tired. But it was with a heavy heart that I unbuckled her, carried her long, limp, sweet little body into her bedroom, and tucked her into her new white spindled crib fresh from Penneys. She felt like a feather, light and tender in my arms. I wasn't ever to feel her limp in my arms again quite like that. I didn't know she was drugged. I covered her up with her brand new quilt, and watched, as she fell asleep again in the soft light of her new lamp.
Walking slowly back out to the living room at perhaps 3 or 4 in the morning, I opened her one bag of possessions. Her foster mother who had had her since she was born, had sent her off to her new adoptive home with one paper bag filled with nothing but faded, ragged, filthy dresses, missing buttons and ties; some that were her size, some too small, and all of them, every one, splattered with old, dried baby food and spit-up. Every single one clear to the bottom. I walked into the kitchen, and placed the bag in the garbage can.
In Misty's bedroom hung a row of ruffled dresses of velvet, satin and lace. In her dresser there were rows of little socks, all with ruffles on the edges, little tights with ruffles on the bottom and little black patent leather shoes. There were containers of ribbons and barrettes. There were fuzzy sleepers, pajamas and ruffled nighties. There were little embroidered sweaters to match each dress. I had been having a lot of fun preparing for my new little daughter. Around her in her crib lay soft stuffed animals. Music boxes and busy-boxes were fastened to the edges of her crib. A musical mobile with bright colors hung over the crib, where she could watch it go round and round.
My precious new daughter was going to be dressed like a princess. She was my princess. And she was going to have every chance in the world to reach her full potential, as was my goal for each and every one of my children.
I went, and crawled into bed, but it was hard to sleep.