Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hallelujah Baby
Paola @ 16 months old
Paola arrived four days ago from Haiti.  She showed up on our doorstep with her bottle, blue ribbons in her hair, and two diapers.  She was wearing a pretty little blue dress with patent-leather shoes and frilly little socks.  The folks that brought her are volunteers for Mercy and Sharing, an organization that helps children in Haiti.   They had never met little Paola, but fell in love with her during the trip from Miami airport and are already planning a return visit.  We too fell in love with Paola immediately.  What a little doll she is!
Paola has a cleft lip and a cleft palate as well as some other birth defects. Her mother gave her over to the orphanage because in Haiti (where voodoo is a way of life) a child with such defects is considered cursed. She weighs a measly 16 pounds at sixteen months old.  She will have to undergo numerous surgeries to correct her problems.  But, it is not the imperfections that you see when you look at this little bundle of joy. You might expect to see a baby who’d be sad and cranky however, instead you see gorgeous brown eyes and a ready smile that lights up her whole face.    She laughs and interacts with everyone and everything around her.  She already has won over the hearts of our whole family.  Yesterday all the children were gathered around Paola breathlessly waiting for her to throw her arms up in the air and yell Hallelujah!  Oh the cheering the ensued when she finally did it!  The noise was deafening as the children clapped and laughed.
I watched this celebration and wondered to myself, “how does a baby with all these problems have reason to rejoice?”  Then I thought about the country where she came from where you are considered lucky if you end up in an orphanage.  In Haiti many of the children live in rat-infested streets where raw sewage runs freely.  At least in the orphanage they have someone to care for their basic needs.  In the orphanage they rejoiced over simple things that we take for granted in our country of plenty.  In the orphanage they yelled “hallelujah” when diapers or formula arrived.  They yelled “hallelujah” when a baby went to a new home.  They yelled “hallelujah” when they had fresh water.  They yelled “hallelujah” when a doctor or nurse came to minister to them.  I suspect that some may have even said a silent “hallelujah” when the sickest little ones stopped suffering and returned to God.  I am sure they all said “hallelujah” when little Paola left because they know that she will be loved unconditionally and she will thrive.
So now we have our little “hallelujah” baby, and together we celebrate smiles, laughter, crawling, standing, clapping, and swinging. We celebrate smelling flowers, picking up the telephone, and sleeping on freshly washed crib sheets.  We celebrate toes that wiggle and fingers that point.  We celebrate the sunrise and the sunset.  We celebrate rocking chairs and rocking horses.  We celebrate baths and baby powder.  We celebrate arms that hug and voices that soothe…You name it, we celebrate it!  Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!
Paola now @ age 10
Author's note: Hallelujah Baby was published in Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul in 2008.
Update:
Paola is 13 years old now and is thriving.  She has been our legally adopted daughter since she was 7.  The adoption process was very long and cumbersome because we were told we would have to take her back to Haiti.  After six years of explaining her medical issues and the dangers of traveling to Haiti where she could contract any number of infections, we were finally permitted to legally adopt Paola without leaving the US.  Now, seven years later we are back in a legal limbo.  She has been denied US citizenship because she entered our country on a visitor's visa for medical care.  Even though she is the daughter of two US citizens and she is under the age of 16 and the US is the only home she has ever really known, we are being told once again that we will most likely have to take her back to Haiti to the consulate in order to request citizenship on her behalf.  The absurdity of this dilemma is truly mind boggling!  I don't know what the future holds, but I know that Paola is and always will be our daughter and that I will fight whomever, wherever, whenever for as long it takes to ensure her legal right to be a US citizen.