Story by Chris Baumann
I am a true believer that things happen for a reason. On my very first Medical Mission trip to Nicaragua, in 1989, I had the privilege to visit the El Deviño Niño orphanage in Managua, Nicaragua. It was actually an old Samoza army barracks. I saw those sad but beautiful faces, peering out of the small crate like containments, as they wondered who we were. There were at least 100 kids, under 8 years old…that had little to no chance of ever having family of their own.
I always wanted kids, but due to all kinds of circumstances, it just never worked out. When I saw these children, I realized my dream of being a mom could come true. I knew I could give one of these kids a home! Soon after I returned to the US, I started researching the possibility of adopting one of those children.
I learned a lot about the Nicaraguan culture during the process of adopting. Nicaragua is a very family oriented country, with 3-4 generations usually living in one household. It was very frowned upon to be a single mother so this added more complexity. After contacting a Nicaraguan lawyer, I received a very long list of what I would need to complete the paperwork. Once I completed the documents, they had to be translated into Spanish, then authenticated, notarized, and sent to the Nicaraguan Embassy for their stamp of approval. There was a lot of back and forth, many unseen costs, and his was 20 years ago, no email, no social media…just plain old FAX and snail mail. The entire list took a full 18 months to complete.
There were a number of setbacks, the most difficult being my single mom status. I had references, proper forms, the whole thing, but it was clear this was not going to be easy.
I have no idea what the turning point was, but late one afternoon, while I was working late, a fax came over ….”If you are still interested, we have a little girl, 3 yrs old, who is available for adoption. If yes, you must be here within seven days”. I was elated, scared, every emotion you can think of came over me. I told my family and friends, got a leave of absence from work and off to Nicaragua I went, alone.
I went directly to the orphanage, and sat and discussed her situation…and were right in mid sentence…when walked in this little, tiny, shy, overwhelmed little girl…staring at the floor! They were saying…¡Aquí está tu mamá nueva! Here is your new Mama! This was a very powerful moment. I stood up, and walked over to her, tried to get her to look at me, then I handed her a little puppy Beanie Baby… and she brightened up, just a little bit. So I held her, and she held the puppy. It was sad, and scary, and happy, and confusing all at one time, and we had to communicate in Spanish. Her name was to be Julianna Eliseth! (Originally her name was Brenda Eliseth…but I wanted a beautiful Hispanic name)
So, off we went, hand in hand..she was all dressed up in a red dress with tiny white polka dots and lace! She was hobbling a bit in her shoes, but as soon as I checked, I could see her beautiful black maryjanes were at least two sizes too small. Additionally, because of poor nutrition for her entire 3 years, her teeth were rotting and her hair was very dry and an odd rust color. It was very sad.
The first few nights were rough, but on the third day, she was sitting at a table in the kitchen where we stayed, I gave her some vanilla pudding, that seemed to make a difference! She looked up at me, like “wow, what is this stuff”? So I reached down and tickled the bottom of her bare feet…and she giggled OUT LOUD, so I did it again, and again, and again, it was definitely a defining moment…she smiled, I hugged her…all was good from then on…we were best pals! It really didn’t matter that we spoke different languages, cause we both spoke.” love!”
We were supposed to be in Nicaragua for two weeks, but that turned out to be six weeks. I learned a lot about her culture, and some not so great lessons such as don’t feed a child with rotten teeth a popsicle because it was horribly painful for her. I felt awful. I was alone with my new child in a foreign country and did not want to make mistakes!
Every week we had to drive to Managua, 3 hours, to go to the US Embassy, to check on our paperwork so we could leave. After a lot of drama we finally got clearance to leave.
The next day finally came, after many many trials and tribulations, we flew to Miami and went thru the most horrendous customs experience… poor Julianna, was hungry, tired, stressed, dirtied herself, and still we were waiting in customs!
By the next early afternoon, we were in Saint Louis Lambert Airport, meeting the family! There were balloons, a new jacket with many zippers, and a hat and some mittens and a big sign that said Welcome Julianna. she loved all of it…tried all the zippers, then took it all off! Here it was, December in the midwest and very cold, something Julianna had never experienced and did not even have the concept of cold in her brain.
The next months were trying. We found that little Julianna had 7 types of intestinal parasites that had to be treated one by one. I learned another lesson, kids from other countries may not understand what a hot iron is, yes, while I was ironing she reached up and burned 3 fingers which required treatment. I felt like a failure, I had just never considered she had no concept of a hot iron.
When I think back on the entire journey, I am sometimes shocked we made it. With people telling me not to adopt from another country, that a single mom can’t adopt, all the tough times, I could have tossed in the towel. It was draining and very difficult, stressful, and very sad in many ways! But , when you realize that somehow, this little girl and I met each other by chance, and learned to love each other by trial and error, and build our little family into what we have today. It was worth all of the extra shifts, second jobs, midnight typing and crisis trips to the post office to get something sent.
Today Julianna is a lovely young lady, she loves dogs and other animals just like I do, and we share a bond that is eternal.
Thank you for reading. If you want to contact me to learn more about international adoptions my email is: firstname.lastname@example.org