'I like you and I love you and I ADORE you,' I answer, 'You are my everything! You are the best gift God ever gave me.'
'But do you really, really like me?' she seems suspect of my answer.
'I like you and I love you with all my heart and soul, and I don't know what I would do without you.' I remind her again.
'But I was your second choice.' She knocks me over with this one.
'What do you mean?' I ask.
'You didn't want me first, you wanted some other little girl named Katya. You didn't choose me first. I'm kind of like chopped liver. '
First I need to calm myself before responding. (And try not to laugh at the 'chopped liver' comment) It is so upsetting to me to know she has been carrying this thought around in her head for so long. I take a deep breath.
I explain how badly I wanted to be a mom. I explain about signing with an agency and knowing she was out there somewhere. I tell her about all the letters and journal entries I had written about her over the years. I told her about the empty spot in my heart.
'But you had a room set up for another girl. Not me.'
'I had a room set up for my daughter. I did not know where she was coming from yet, but I knew that God knew.' I reminded her.
'But I was still second.' She insists. 'You just took me because you had to.'
And then I remind her of the agency sending me referral after referral after Katya. I remind her of my looking at the countless photos and knowing that each beautiful child they sent me photos of was not my child. I tell her of the two year old boy with wispy hair and of the rosy-cheeked eight year old girl, I tell her of the dark haired toddler and the curly blond haired girl of seven. I tell her how I prayed each time a referral was sent to me, but none answered the call of my heart.
'until you.' I remind her.
'Why me?' She knows the answer. She has heard it a hundred times. But I delight in telling her even if she needs to hear it a thousand more.
'Because before I even saw your photo, or even read about you, my heart knew. Because when they told me there were no referrals left in that region, my heart told me they were wrong. You were still out there, and I begged them to check once more. Because when they finally called and told me they had found one last referral left in Prokopyevsk, but that she was out of my range -- over twelve years old -- I still knew it was you. And then, when they sent me your info and I read about you, my heart lept. And when, later that day they sent your photo and it slowly loaded on Grammy's computer and I saw your eyes for the first time, a light filled my heart. I knew you. I recognized you. I don't know how, but I did. There was my daughter staring back at me, for the first time.'
'I love you mommy.' she says and squeezes my face to hers.
I love you, too, daughter of my heart. More than words can ever say.