After having two beautiful biological daughters, my husband and I decided to expand our family through adoption. We chose to pursue a foreign adoption, South Korea being our country of choice. We traveled to Seoul to meet our new daughters, biological sisters, ages 1 ½ and 2 ½. These adorable little girls had been found abandoned in the streets of a farming community, many miles south of Seoul. They were in poor physical condition with intestinal parasites, scabies, skin boils, and decayed teeth. The oldest, at 2 ½, weighed 17 pounds, her younger sister weighed 14 pounds. They were so ill that instead of staying in an orphanage, they were transferred into foster care to a family in Seoul. That small apartment, in a high rise in the city, is the place we first met our tiny daughters.
According to agency regulations, our daughters would be released to our custody for three days before departing the country. Thus, planning for our trip, we began to assemble every healthy thing we could possible carry in our luggage. Our family doctor in the U.S. provided us with any medicine he thought we might possibly need. Antibiotics, ointment for scabies, lotion for treating their skin, vitamin drops, medicated soaps and shampoos, anything that could help them in the few days we were required to stay in Seoul. If they were found to be ill during their final checkup by the agency physician on the last day before our journey home, we would not be allowed to leave Korea. We were vigilant!
What spaces in our luggage that were not filled with medicine were filled with healthy things to eat (raisins, applesauce, canned juice, milk powder, crackers and cookies) or diapers, clothes and a special outfit they could wear for their first meeting with the big sisters right off the plane.
Once in Seoul, and with great trepidation, we left the agency with our daughters, to begin the three day required stay in Seoul, at a downtown hotel, before we would be provided with their exit visas. We had no idea what to expect from these children … Would they be frightened of us? Would they cry all night? Could they feed themselves? Regardless of what our experience might be like, it was time to give them their first medicated bath and then proceed for our first meal together in our hotel dining room. YIKES!
We discovered at dinner that our oldest daughter, Hillary, could feed herself, but she would stop to search for even a grain of rice if it slipped off her spoon. Our youngest daughter, Samantha, could not feed herself, her fingers were bent and weak from malnutrition, she could not sit up alone or crawl. I fed her with a spoon at dinner, but we later discovered that she had saved food by stuffing it into the sides of her mouth. At 1 ½ she had developed survival techniques, methods for saving food in case there might not be another meal for the rest of the day. Clearly these little children had been starving!
But our greatest surprises were yet to come…
Following our early meal we left the hotel for a walk with our daughters using the umbrella strollers we had hauled half way around the world. I pulled out two tiny boxes of raisins, opening the first one to give to a child – both of them watching me closely – I handed the first one to Hillary, the oldest. She peered inside the box, took one raisin to put into her mouth and amazingly handed the entire box to her little sister! We were astounded!
To this day, it is the most impactful gift of sharing I have ever personally witnessed! This little hungry child, not knowing if or from where her next meal would come, shared everything she had, and what she needed most, her food, with another person in need. And there was more…
We returned to our hotel room to get ready for bed. We had two over sized twin beds for four of us. Have they slept in a western style bed, or any bed, before? Will they be afraid of the dark?
We put them down, side by side into the bed, we covered them, we talked and patted and soothed, we gave them their new stuffed toys brought from America. We climbed into the other small bed, less than three feet away and watched. They lay together and stared at us with bewilder looks on their faces, I’m sure they were wondering about what will happen next. We turned off the light and hoped they would settle. Samantha started to whimper. Before we could even react we watched Hillary get out from under the covers, she crawled to the end of the bed by her sister’s feet and began to rub and sooth her, speaking to her in Korean. Words we couldn’t understand.
And then gently, having soothed Samantha, she curled up at her sister’s feet and prepared to go to sleep.
We lay in our twin sized bed, humbled and amazed, wondering how a child so young could have the capacity to give so very much regardless of her own needs. In our few short hours together our two little daughters had taught us what it really means to Share!