Jennifer De La Cruz holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and is a certified court interpreter for Spanish at both the California and federal levels, as well as an ATA-certified translator for Spanish into English. She has developed and taught interpreting and translation courses for over 10 years and has served on various advisory boards for college certificate programs in the field of interpreting and translation. She has been a professional interpreter and translator for about 15 years, spending a decade in the acute-care setting and now working as a staff interpreter at Riverside Superior Court in Southern California.
Of the many impactful experiences I encountered in my former career as an interpreter for an acute-care hospital, the one that stands out as the most emotional is “Adoption Day”.
The day started off as any other morning, awaiting my first calls to the inpatient wards and the early-shift surgery center. Soon came the call to the maternity ward, where nursing staff was concerned that a Spanish speaking mom was showing no interest in bonding with her new baby daughter. The nurse asking for my help to interpret their conversation led me to the room. I didn’t quite know whether to expect a case of the baby blues or perhaps an inexperienced new mother. To my surprise, during the conversation I interpreted, it was neither.
Mom already had several young children at home, and was probably in her thirties or later. She appeared to be struggling emotionally, but her message was clear: she had a busy life already, and this newborn was to be put up for adoption. Of course, this announcement came as a surprise to the nursing staff, who soon involved the ward social worker. It turned out that mom had not spoken to anyone about this decision, much less selected an adoption agency or adoptive parents. In fact, as quick as she recovered from the birth, she was anxious to be discharged home and was ready to leave the baby behind. Needless to say, the social worker’s task was to resolve the adoption, from A to Z, in one work shift.
The first task I was asked to perform was a series of sight translations. The agency that the hospital suggested to mom was accepted, and the representative showed up with some five letters from couples. Each letter had a photograph of the couples and, in some cases, other children. In preparing to sit with mom and do my task, I was touched deeply by the sentiment expressed in each letter and knew that I would have but one chance to transmit its message as heartfelt as it was written so mom could make a selection. No longer was I concerned with the perfect word as much as I was with the emotion behind each. I had to interpret with all the sentiment that each letter expressed, as these anonymous couples tried to put their best foot forward in hopes that a mom, this mom, would literally “pick” them.
Both the social worker and I were deeply moved by everything up to this point, and after the letters had been sight translated into Spanish for her, mom spread the letters out over her meal tray and contemplated the particulars of each couple. It didn’t take long for her to make her selection, and she expressed great relief when she considered her task complete. All that was left was some paperwork regarding known medical history and other things the new parents would want to know. The representative meanwhile left to try to contact the couple, to see if they could visit the hospital before mom was discharged. An appointment was set for the middle of the afternoon.
As expected, the call to return to the maternity ward finally came. The couple selected didn’t speak Spanish, and they desperately wanted to meet mom before they met their new daughter. I was thrilled to have the privilege of being the conduit for communication between people who would likely remember this conversation for the rest of their lives. It was a young and handsome couple, who were unable to have children of their own. Their voices trembled and their bodies quietly shook as they walked into mom’s room, holding each other tighter than I’ve ever seen.
The conversation was a thing of beauty. A little small talk, a few tears, many things understood without words. Mom was relieved. The couple was immensely grateful, and couldn’t stop thanking mom for giving them a daughter that day. They wanted so badly to get to know mom, just a little, and hung on to every word I interpreted as if they were receiving some divine gift.
The last thing I recall about this couple was after the goodbyes. I was being called to attend to other interpreting encounters, and mom was being discharged. The couple left mom’s room moments after I did. I couldn’t help but turn and look back at them, and I their image is engraved in my mind. New mom collapsed into new dad’s arms just outside the room. They wept silently, almost uncontrollably, just a few feet from the woman who made their dream come true.
As I write these words, tears come to my eyes and I feel warm inside, as it was a moment for me, too, that will last forever. Interpreters in the medical field are likely to encounter everything across the spectrum of life, but few are the truly beautiful moments that as humans we can hold precious in our hearts. Adoption Day will always be one such moment for me.