This is Florentina Nanu. In this picture she is about 2 1/2 months old. When I was in Romania in 2004, she was abandoned at the Victor Gomoiu Hospital at 2 weeks old. Already she was exhibiting signs of Reactive Attachment Disoder — little eye contact, no response to stimuli. All I saw were two beautiful dark eyes peering out from under her blanket. The hospital didn’t even know her Romanian name then yet.
My heart was captivated.
Whether I should have or not, I felt I couldn’t let this floundering infant remain nameless. So I named her.
Meet Kathleen Hannah… little Katie.
As I said, she wouldn’t respond to sound, touch or gaze. I drew a bath for her, got clean baby clothes ready, a fresh towel, soap and washcloth. I carried her tiny rigid form from the changetable into the wee tub; and it was there that Katie finally screamed bloody murder.
It was the most beautiful sound in the world!
She hated that bath! But this was music to my ears knowing that she was still responding to the world around her. She was still aching to bond. And thus began our journey together. I fed her, clothed her, followed the nurses to every single check up they took her to, changed her, bathed her, rocked her, massaged her, paced the floor with her — I became her mother. Even the nurses started calling me “Mama Erin”. When she wasn’t in my arms, they ached. When I wasn’t close by, I constantly worried for her, thought of her and loved her.
International adoptions were illegal in Romania at the time. I couldn’t take Katie back to Canada with me. Had I returned to Canada, applied for the correct visas, returned to Romania, lived there for a period of time, I could have adopted her. Possibly. She was still an abandonded child, after all, not orphaned. Her family still had all rights to her.
A few weeks into our bonding relationship, a grubby, smelling young teenage couple arrived to take Katie home. They couldn’t have been more than 14. I remember thinking: “God! I could care for Katie far better than these beggars! Don’t take her away from me!”
But she was never mine to begin with. And thus I began walking through the grief of saying goodbye to a child I had come to love with all my heart.
A week or so later, an enormous Roma woman entered the hospital with a dirty, stinky bundle of a quilt. The doctor screamed at her in Romanian, claiming that she was irresponsible for taking her baby out of the hospital just recently only to bring her back again. I was told to go prepare a crib, draw a bath, get a fresh diaper and clean clothes ready for the newcomer. The woman followed the nurse and I to our ward where the woman quite literally threw the bundle at me and stormed out.
The blanket felt like one of those decorative quilts: meant for hanging on walls and not wrapping up warm in. It fell open and there, naked except for a filthy, torn piece of cotton sheet tied around her neck, was Katie. She blinked up at me and I could have shouted for joy. On the one hand, I was devastated that this precious joy had been abandoned… again. But overall, I felt she had been brought back to me and she would be safe with me. She belonged with me.
That night was hell.
The nurses took her, poked her with needles that looked like they were made in the Dark Ages, and were horribly rough with her. The nurses refused to let me into the examination room but I could hear Katie’s screams and I could only slump to the floor and cry, begging God that her pain would be put onto me, that the pain would be over soon. The nurses only laughed at me as they shoved her into my arms once again. Roma children were not highly thought of, and Katie was Roma through and through. Immediatley, I held her close to my chest — her favourite position — and she snuggled in deeply, and instantly fell asleep. Even today, I feel how her body felt against my heartbeat. I would do anything for this child. I had no idea what was happening to me, but I didn’t care. I would love and defend Katie with my life.
As for responding to sensory stimulation, we were nearly back to square one. Once again, bath time saved the day. Katie screamed at the top of her lungs as I cleaned her up that night and dressed her in clean pajamas. To me, it was a minor setback. She came flying back to us the first time; she would do so again. In no time at all, she was making eye contact with me, turning her head to the sound of my voice, settling for me, falling asleep in my arms. The cribs over there were industrial strength and size, so I even crawled into her crib with her and slept there during naptimes.
I began to fret over how I would get Katie home. Surely if she had been abandoned twice, Romania would let me apply for custody if I followed the rules! Was I ready to move permanently across the ocean? Questions kept me awake at night, along with the worry that I would find Katie dead in the morning. The mattresses used while I was there were lumpy and more like straw mattresses than firm ones babies need to breathe properly. Katie wasn’t digesting the forumla the hospital provided so I would often turn around to find white goop all over her face after she threw up. Knowing she was lying there all night with such potential to choke to death scared me. But we weren’t allowed to do night shifts.
December 10, 2004… I walked onto the ward in the morning just as I always had. I called out for Katie just as I always did. I had even bought my own formula to try with her to see if she could digest it. But something wasn’t right. It wasn’t right at all.
If a child was re-claimed, we would often walk onto the ward to an empty crib where that child had once been. If a child died, we were usually told what happened. The sight of Katie’s empty crib didn’t register at first. My heart dropped into my stomach. The nurses had her… they were just doing more tests… that had to be it! I fled the ward and asked as many hospital staff who spoke English what had happened to Florentina Nanu. The morning staff shrugged, one even checked the night notes but even she shrugged. The only word that came through was:
My Katie had been taken during the night. Whether she was taken by family, friends, strangers or death, to this day I cannot say. Fellow workers investigated on my behalf but, as was common at the time, paperwork was lost or unavailable. But at the time I could have cared less. Someone had taken my daughter. Remembering now the shock I went into, I shudder. I couldn’t breathe… I couldn’t believe it… I couldn’t accept it. 3 days before I was set to leave for Canada, and my Katie was gone. Just gone.
It’s been 5 years to the day that Katie disappeared, and rarely a day goes by I don’t think of her. No one here could really relate to what I was going through when I returned since they hadn’t been there. I was even told by someone that I had “no right!” to love Katie as a mother because I was only her potentially adoptive mother and not her birth mother. This person was adopted herself so I’ve come to believe that perhaps she had some unresolved issues in terms of her own adoption. Adoptive parents are just as loving, bonded to, and fierce for their children as birth parents. I’ve seen it. And yes… I’ve lived it.
I spent 3 months of my life raising Katie, with the hope of signing official documents to make her mine. In my heart she already was. In hers, I’d like to think so to.
There’s still been no word as to what happened that night. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead, in a loving home that’s in a warm house or in a slum. If she’s alive, she’d be 5 years old… perhaps in kindergarten. I become so reflective this time of year, thinking on her beautiful life and all she has added to the world. I still miss her but I am able to carry on now without her memory drawing me to near devastation.
Make no mistake about it: I became Katie’s mother and she became my daughter and I suffered the grief any mother would go through losing a child to whatever or whomever it was I lost Katie to.
So today… wherever you are, Katie-Bear… Mama Erin is thinking of you, loving you, and remains excited to see you again. Whether it’s here on earth or with Jesus, I will see you again. You are thought about, you are wanted, you are longed after… and you are deeply, deeply loved.