were plastered to that big forehead. Sweat
rolled down my back, my short-sleeved top
glued to my skin.
The doctor had quickly reviewed Ryan’s
medical records, then turned his attention to
the eerily quiet toddler on the exam table.
“Boy wasn’t breathing when he was born.
Hospital gave oxygen,” he added.
I felt like I was fifty yards away. “How long?”
I mumbled from that far away place, looking
at the limp toddler on the table.
“Not so long.” The doctor moved our son’s
legs. “Boy’s legs are weak.”
The doctor scooped Ryan up off the table,
then set him on the floor, where he stood
looking at the wall. He spoke in Russian to
our son, who glanced at him for a split sec-
ond, then quickly away before he took slow
steps in his odd, Frankenstein-like gait. I
looked over at Brett. His face was ashen, eye-
“Pyramid insufficiency,” the doctor pointed
to Ryan’s legs. “This is problem.”
What was he saying? His words conjured
“Will he get better? Maybe he needs more
practice walking,” I said in a small voice.
Why wasn’t Brett saying anything? A knot of
anger formed in my chest. I looked at Ryan,
so eerily still.
What were we doing here? What about the
medical report they’d faxed that said Ryan
could “speak in full sentences”?
Just then, Brett, a strong, 6’ 5” man whose
height regularly brought stares, crumpled
onto the bench in a fainting heap.
The doctor slipped quickly out of the room
while I used a diaper to fan Brett. Ryan stood
there, eyes wide, meeting mine occasionally
with furtive, sideways glances. I reached out
to our boy, but he looked away, unmoving.
Brett sat up slowly but still looked pale.
Returning with a can of soda pop, the doc-
tor handed it to Brett. “Drink this. I need to
see next patient.”
“But, but—we have more questions,” I in-
sisted. “How can we help our son? His leg
“Get ultrasound of brain.”
“Can we get that here?”
“Ultrasound office closed,” he answered,
handing us Ryan’s records.
“When does it open?” we asked in unison.
We stared, open-mouthed. This was July.
“On waycation,” the doctor added, arms
wide in an expansive gesture as if to say ev-
eryone took long holidays. “Get ultrasound
in States. He is good boy. Only 25, mebbe 30
percent chance of real problem. Doctor will
tell you in America.”
Was Ryan OK, or wasn’t he? He’d gone to
sleep in my arms. We knew that institution-
alization could cause developmental delays,
but we hadn’t prepared ourselves for other is-
sues. Now, without understanding the extent
of his needs, how could we help him?
“I Think He’s Your Son”
Back in our hotel room, Brett called our pediatrician. Ryan stood stiffly near the edge of
the bed, eyes averted. Even the toy I offered
didn’t interest him.
“Does he what? Walk on tiptoe?” Brett was
saying. “No. He hardly walks at all. Stands
I looked at our son, remembering all the
warnings from well-meaning friends and
family. News of children adopted from East-
ern European orphanages had generated a
flurry of concerned phone calls and e-mails.
What were we doing here? What about
the medical report they’d faxed that said
Ryan could “speak in full sentences”?
Without understanding the extent of our
son’s needs, how could we help him?