Her Mother

{by Gillian Marchenko}

photo credit

Last year in a Ukrainian court room, a stern looking judge asked me to rise. “Mrs. Marchenko, can you be a good mother to this child?” I had been coached beforehand by our adoption coordinator to answer ‘da,’ yes in Russian. Instead, though, I burst into tears.

My tears that day were a showcase of a medley of emotions: fear, insecurity, excitement, expectancy. The judge’s face softened as I stood weakly before her, sobbing. “Sit down, woman. The answer is in your tears.”


A year later, I am perched with my legs crisscross on scratchy gray carpet in an observation room with Evangeline, the little girl we adopted from Ukraine, on my lap. We just finished singing The Wheels on the Bus under the watchful eye of a social worker with a yellow pad of paper in one hand and a sharpened number two pencil tipped to take notes in the other.

Evangeline is being evaluated to determine if her behavior falls somewhere on the Autism spectrum or if what she does, stuff like eating dirt off the floor and rocking back and forth all day, are connected to her prior diagnosis of Down syndrome. I wonder internally, are these behaviors simply left over from being orphaned at birth?


A couple nights ago when all four of our children were tucked away in bed, I started working on a picture montage documenting Evangeline’s first year home. I scrutinized each picture we had of her and chose only the best: the ones where she looks happy, comfortable, content. While working on my project, I imagined friends and family commenting charitably. “Her hair is so long!” “She is so pretty!” And it’s true. She’s a beautiful girl. Her hair is as soft and shinny as corn silk. Her face is a plump, pink heart.

But so far, the montage falsely documents our first year together. I’ve left out the overarching theme; one of struggle and pain. Correct documentation would include a picture of me crying on my husband’s shoulder. “I can’t do this. She’s not who I expected her to be.” There would be another picture of Evangeline with a huge knot on her forehead from hitting herself on a crib bar at night to fall asleep. There would be a shot of me with scratches on my face from trying to hug her and probably another one with my back to her, my face blotchy and red from anger over her rejection.


Today at the evaluation, Evangeline surprises me by happily waving to the social worker when we first walk into the room. She bangs two plastic rings together, and flirts and laughs, this little girl who is typically suspicious of the world and traditionally closed off to me. Her actions both excite and anger me. I am overwhelmed to see her connect to her surroundings but I’m pissed off that she’ll wave hello to a stranger but won’t look me in the eye. If I would have seen these skills displayed earlier, we wouldn’t even be here.

“Give me five adjectives that describe your relationship with Evangeline compared to when you first brought her home” the social worker directs her attention to me after playing with Evangeline.          I did not expect this question. I thought the focus of our conversation would be Evangeline and her behavior. My mind folds out past me like a dry, cracked desert. I struggle to get words out. Finally I give her ten adjectives with little comprehension of what I am saying. I tug on the collar of my sweater in an effort to catch a breath.

“Do you feel like her mother?” The social worker asks, tapping her pinky on the pad of paper, blinking, her face flat and heavy looking, like a steel pan used to sizzle an egg.

The weight of Evangeline’s bottom presses into my thighs. I remember that she is sitting silently on my lap. My mind becomes a roman shade, flapping back to me, no longer a desert, but now a rolodex of memories from the past year. I think about the scratching and biting, about her hitting her head for comfort. I think about her moving away from the rest of us, finding a quiet place to rock while we watch a movie or play a family game.

But then, instances of connection emerge and intermingle with the painful memories: the time she came to me and raised her arms above her head so that I would pick her up. Her eyes locking with mine for a moment, before darting off to a distant land deep within her mind. Her high pitched laugh ringing out as her father tickles her under her arms.

I wrap my arms around her torso as a slow sob starts to form in the pit of my stomach. I am crying now, just like I did in the Ukrainian court room a year ago. I realize, unbeknownst to me, that a slow hum of trust has started to purr between us, as quiet and unidentifiable as white space.

“Yes. I am her mother. I feel it.”

The tears come hard now. I cry in front of the social worker not because Evangeline is being evaluated for a dual diagnosis. I cry not because at three-and-a-half years old she still does not talk or because the most recent scratch on my chin from her pointer finger still hasn’t crusted over.

I cry because I realize her gains. I cry because I realize our gains.

I cry because I’m the one who has farther to go.

As an adoptive mom, I cling to these moments of clarity like they are email from God. Today, in front of this social worker, the center piece of our puzzle, the one that gives me a hint of our future, has started to move to its place.

I am her mother.

Sit down, woman. The answer is in your tears.

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19 Comments to “Her Mother”

  1. Her Mother, “Yes. I am her mother. I feel it.” Featuring @gillianmarchenk http://t.co/v7LZlBAs

  2. "I cry because I’m the one who has farther to go." Wow. Just gorgeous stuff (as usual) from @GillianMarchenk: http://t.co/By0H9NDV #adoption

  3. Honored to be at Story Bleed Magazine writing about the ugly parts of adoption.http://storybleed.com/2012/05/her-mother/ via @storybleed

  4. Guess this is my week to bare my soul about the struggle we've had so far in our adoption. My guest post about the… http://t.co/DhzjMuBs

  5. Guess this is my week to bare my soul about the struggle we've had so far in our adoption. My guest post about… http://t.co/ykfY5mZD

  6. Studio 30+ says:

    Guess this is my week to bare my soul about the struggle we've had so far in our adoption. My guest post about… http://t.co/ykfY5mZD

  7. The inspiring @GillianMarchenk on @StoryBleed today. http://t.co/zFyPku6b On #adoption

  8. The ugly parts of adoption is up at Story Bleed Magazine. First time there. Please read, and comment. http://t.co/7EZwAg9N

  9. The ugly parts of adoption is up at Story Bleed Magazine. First time there. Please read, and comment. http://t.co/7EZwAg9N

  10. Her Mother | Story Bleed Magazine http://t.co/7EZwAg9N

  11. Crystal says:

    My mom dies when my daughter was 6 and it was very hard and i had no living grandma either one died befoe i was born and the other when i was in highschool. It was hard and sad because i couldnt pick up the phone an call her with questions when i wanted to or have her come over and show me how to bathe her right or just little tyhings in general. Also her death was hard becaus ei had to explain why God took grandma away and told her he needed another angel in heaven. You can still do it and just need some sort of support set up prior to if possible but most of us miss loved oned but we carry on. The process of life.

  12. Her Mother, “Yes. I am her mother. I feel it.” Featuring @gillianmarchenk http://t.co/3VKQwyI7

  13. Her Mother | Story Bleed Magazine http://t.co/7EZwAg9N

  14. Galit Breen says:

    Stunning, breath taking. – Her Mother http://t.co/LAxbTddH by @GillianMarchenk on @StoryBleed

  15. RT @galitbreen: Stunning, breath taking. – Her Mother http://t.co/zFyPku6b by @GillianMarchenk on @StoryBleed

  16. Rosemarie says:

    Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers!

  17. Olivia says:

    You must have been a very grateful mother. I salute you for being there with her and being the best mother you could be. How do you spend quality time together? Thank you for sharing this.