A young man approached me in the main street of our small town recently.
He shook my hand, 'do you know where I'm from' he said.
'I think you might come from Chile' I said recognizing his accent. He was taken back. He was raising funds for UNESCO and wanted me to pay a certain amount each month to help the children of Mali.
He was most insistent that I help them, and so I tried to explain that we pledge assistance to many organizations and monthly sponsorships for children.
Did he believe me, or should I tried to have convince him, well probably not, but like many others we have a conscience.
We have so much in our home and I felt like a failure walking away without a pledge.
But the incident made me reflect.
I mentioned Callie in my blog a few weeks ago.
Some of you have wrote and asked me to share her story.
I've written down many of the experiences we had in the adoption of our children. But I felt sad that I didn't write Callie's down as it was happening.
For a good part of the time, we were going through incredible trauma, it was far too emotional and traumatic to document.
Now 34 years later Cal, here it is.
Ten of our thirteen children were born to other Mothers and in each instance their lives were precarious.
We adopted Joshua in 1975 and immediately applied to adopt again. Its a frustratingly slow process.
Years of waiting.
Years of uncertainty.
Years of interviews and Social Workers who want to know the innermost details of your lives.
Months of tears and anticipation.
Finally for the second time we were approved by the Govt of Australia to have our file sent to Sri Lanka.
We were aware that this was just an interim, the papers would sit in the Govt Offices of Child Welfare in Colombo for months, maybe years.
Keith and I worked for the aid organization on a voluntary basis and I had been to Sri Lanka several times in the role of sponsorship co-coordinator. I knew all the children we had on file and I developed a friendship with the families. It was an amazing and humbling experience.
I checked on our adoption file each time I visited there.
Our life was busy, we had 6 children and every day was filled with noise, activities and laughter, but there was the niggling thought that somewhere in Sri Lanka there was a small baby girl who was going to be ours. We knew that she wasn’t living the life we experienced. Would she make it, would she ever become ours?
Some nights I would imagine where she was and what she would look like. Trust me, my imagination was nothing compared to the reality of her situation.
Having waited 3 years with no information we began to lose hope and desperation set in.
We were at a local holiday camp with other adopted parents and an urgent phone call to a member of the Agency bought us the devastating news that due to corruption in the Govt of Sri Lanka all adoptions would cease. However if we located our own child in the coming few weeks our adoption could go ahead.
I still remember sitting outside under the gum trees by Lake Bonnie amid the heat and flies of our camp site a group of us decided that we would need to leave immediately for Sri Lanka.
Within a day, I left Keith home with 6 children and very emotionally I boarded the plane for Columbo. I traveled with friends of ours, and we formed a strong bond in our quest.
Our arrival in Sri Lanka was fraught with fear, you normally arrive at 2.00 am and we were whisked in a car with no headlights through crowded streets to our hotel.
There had been fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the Govt troops and no one drove with their lights on.
The next day, the Catholic sponsorship organization we worked for on a voluntary basis informed us that there was a World Health Organization Orphanage that had children with paperwork for adoption some 2 hours to the North.
Right then and there we hired a taxi and left.
Columbo was dirty, dusty and the buses spewed diesel right into the windows of the antique cabs. There were holes in the floor, you could see the road flying by as we traveled. If you had to stop, you were assaulted by crowds of people approaching the windows begging for money or food.
Our arrival at the Orphanage was emotional, would our daughter be here?
I’m not going to name towns or people in this format, but those images are still vivid in my mind.
Columbo is hot, very hot, the room where the babies were kept was stifling. Rows of metal cots with no mattresses stood like yellow drawers on legs.
We walked along the rows and the children stared at us with huge black, blank eyes. A small baby cried urgently and I stopped to pick her up.
“Thats your baby” they said.
And so she was.
Callie had huge eyes, a mop of black curly hair. Her tummy was distended and you could feel the worms. Her legs and arms were smaller than the width of my fingers and her back was cut and bleeding from laying on a metal cot bed.
She weighed no more than a newborn, but she looked older.
I was to find out that she was around 6 months old and weighed just 6lb.
Callie was abandoned at birth and left on a railway line to be killed by the train. Fortunately someone found her and took her to the hospital.
Against all odds she survived I’m sure she was waiting for me to find her.
One would imagine that this was the happy ending, but the story was only just beginning.
Its far too emotional and detailed to relate in this forum but It will be shared in our book.
All I can say is that I had to stay in Sri Lanka for almost 2 months.
My friends and I stayed in a less than salubrious guest house. We traveled on a local bus 4 hours each day to visit our babies.
I attended court five times but there was always a stay of decision and finally in desperation with legal guardianship given but no adoption orders I shifted her to the Catholic Orphanage I knew well and I flew home to Keith and the children.
Leaving Callie behind and waiting for the legal battles to be fought by our Lawyer was devastating and the closest I had ever came to breaking.
I can’t even explain the desperation.
A month passed and no news. Then one day a letter came from the lawyer to “Come and get your baby”
We were driving down the freeway when I opened the letter and Keith almost ran off the road.
He went to Sri Lanka to pick her up.
Now 9 months, Callie weighed 9 lb. and was fit to travel.
Thats also another story too long to relate here, but I always smile when I think of Keith in the mens toilets in Melbourne trying to bath this little mite in the hand basin.
He laid his jacket on the floor to change her on and used toilet paper as a towel just so she could be beautiful to meet us all at the airport.
He said men came in and out without mentioning a word, just a cursory glance.
At one year old, Callie walked and talked and hasn’t stopped since.
She’s our Princess.
Experiences such as these change the way you look at life.
It changes your perception and it made me less tolerant of minor problems that seemed huge for some.
4 Comments Add yours
I never get sick of hearing this story. Callie was a special girl right from the beginning! xoxo
What a beautiful story Pam! I am in awe of you raising 13 children – 10 of which are from other mothers. Since I was a young girl I have always known that one day I will adopt (having grown up with quite a number of adopted family members). I hate the fact that they make it so difficult to adopt in Australia, but I only hope that when the time comes and we are ready for children, I will be able to make it happen. Thank you for sharing Callie’s story.
Lara, thank you.
Its not easy, but certainly worth the effort.
You know us well honey.