The Answer for Evangeline

12 11 2010

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Her Mother

Last year in a Ukrainian court room, a stern judge asked me to rise.  “Mrs. Marchenko, can you be a good mother to this child?”

I was taught to say ‘Da’ (yes) in Russian.  Instead, I burst into tears. The judge’s face softened. “Sit down, woman. The answer is in your tears.” I slumped down and attempted to hush my sobs.  What a difficult, life-changing question.  This little stranger was suddenly supposed to be flesh of my flesh.  I was afraid of her; the two and a half year old not yet walking, with no words, and a profound desire to be left alone.Quick tongued Russian spun around the room.  Court business continued.  And then finally, a little girl abandoned at birth by her parents because of her diagnosis of Down syndrome officially became our daughter, Evangeline Sergeyevna Marchenko.
A year later, I sat in an observation room with Evangeline on my lap.  We just finished singing The Wheels on the Bus under the watchful eye of a social worker taking notes. Evangeline was evaluated to determine if, in addition to Down syndrome, she was autistic.  Her unusual behavior, like eating dirt and rocking back and forth most of the day, was either a symptom of autism or simply part of her being orphaned. At home earlier I had started a montage of pictures documenting her year with the plan to post it on-line. Friends and family will ooh and ahh and talk about how much Evangeline has changed. “Her hair is so long!” “She is so pretty!”  It’s true. She’s beautiful.  Her hair is like corn silk. Her face is shaped like a heart.

But if I were to document her first year honestly, the pictures would be different. There would be a picture of me crying on my husband Sergei’s shoulder. “I can’t do this. She’s not who I expected her to be.”  Another picture would be of Evangeline with a huge knot on her forehead from hitting her head on the crib.  There would be shots of me with scratches on my face from trying to hug her.  Probably another one of me with my back to her, my face bright red and sweating from anger over her rejection. But who wants to watch a montage like that?
At the evaluation she waved ‘hi.’  She banged two plastic rings together, flirted and laughed with me, this little girl who is closed off to the world.  If those skills would have emerged before, I would not have made the appointment to have her evaluated.  My heart split open.We had seen a change in Evangeline recently though.  She had a tonsillectomy two weeks ago. After recuperation she started seeking me out.  Sometimes when I picked her up, she’d smile. She would wrap her chunky arms around my neck and squeeze. I loved these changes but it scared me too. I was afraid of waking up the next day and seeing Evangeline hiding and rocking, back in her own world.

“Give me five adjectives that describe your relationship with Evangeline compared to when you first brought her home” the social worker said. I muddled around, struggled to get words out. Finally I give her the allotted adjectives with little comprehension of what I was even saying.  I couldn’t breathe. “Do you feel like her mother now?” The social worker asked, tapping her pinky on the clipboard, blinking, her face a dead pan. I wrapped my arms around Evangeline, still on my lap, and started to cry just like I did in the Ukrainian court room. “Yes. I am her mother. I feel it.” It struck me.  I cried. Not because Evangeline was being evaluated for a dual diagnosis. I cried not because at three and a half she was still non-verbal. I cried because I realized her gains.  She has come so far. I cried because I’m the one who has farther to go. As an adoptive mom, I cling to those times like they are email from God.  This was his plan for Evangeline to be my daughter. There’s a profound beauty in the bumpy up and down-ness of this path. Our relationship grows through the hard times. I am convinced this depth of joy would not be experienced otherwise. The center piece of our puzzle, the one that gives me a hint of how it will look when completed, has started moving to its place.

I’m her mother.

By: Gillian Marchenko

This was The Answer for Evengeline, be The Answer for other children in need by watching the video below, sharing it with five people and asking them to join the campaign by signing up to learn more about our work in Kyrgyzstan by clicking here.  Make sure you’ve signed up too!



4 responses

12 11 2010

God bless you. … and blessed you.

12 11 2010

To see a picture Evangeline and her family, go to

12 11 2010

Tears here. Tears of joy!

13 11 2010
Mary Sue Storie

What a beautiful story God is writing.

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