Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms, Uncategorized

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

2013 will not go down in my personal history book as my favorite year. As I detailed in my previous blog, I went through a string of unfortunate events, all while struggling through the adoption process with no prospects surfacing.

 

By July, I had landed two new jobs — which no doubt were a blessing from above– but they kept me extremely busy as I tried to prove financial stability as a prospective adoptive parent. In hindsight, maybe it was the perfect distraction I needed.

 

By Christmas time, I was exhausted after working seven days a week for several months straight. It was in December that I got a call from the adoption counselor I was working with at the international placement agency. No, she didn’t find me a “match,” which was the news I was hoping to hear. Just the opposite. She expressed newfound concern about me finding a child.

 

As it was explained to me, the adoption counselors have access to a secured database which has profiles of all the children in India who are eligible for adoption. It refreshes with new faces every two weeks. She had been searching to find me a match since spring — with no luck.

 

The only criteria I had was that I wanted a toddler or little girl, as healthy as possible. Unlike many other potential parents, I was not setting my sights on landing a newborn, as I knew this would greatly limit my match potential. On the other hand, I capped the age limit at five, because I was also warned about the lengthy waiting process after a match was made. It could take up to a year or more before you are cleared to travel to India to assume physical custody.

 

After months of searching the database, not a single child matched my criteria. This seemed to make zero sense, as I had heard orphanages in India were packed with children who needed homes. At this point, India had just opened its doors to allow foreigners to adopt earlier in the year and I’m guessing a lot of children got caught up in red tape as the process was changing.

 

I was heartsick yet again.

 

She went on to explain that she would continue to search every two weeks and in the meantime, she suggested I try another avenue. Ethiopia was also open to single parent adoptions. If I went on a waiting list to adopt from there, I could potentially get matched with a child in about a year. That was the average wait time for a match from Ethiopia and the length of time before you were allowed to assume physical custody after the match was much shorter than India’s.

 

While I was pleased to hear I might have an option somewhere else, this also meant starting all over to a certain extent, fulfilling paperwork requirements to adopt from Ethiopia, if and when I got an acceptable match.

 

It was a lot to digest. Most notably, something felt off. I had envisioned a little girl from India as my daughter for so long, it was hard to shake. My heart was set on this imaginary little person who already had taken on an identity. I don’t know where this vision came from, but it felt so real. It was crushing to hear the counselor say she didn’t know if my vision would come true. I felt like I was losing someone whom I never even met.

 

“I don’t want a whole year to go by with no match for you from India and THEN you decide to try Ethiopia,” she cautioned. “This way, you can already be on the waiting list for Ethiopia, so if a match comes up from there, you can say yes or no.”

 

Not exactly true. I knew darn well how hard it would be to say, “no” to any prospective match after years of longing for a child of my own. My prayer at this time was that God present me with the right match —  the first time around. I was very worried I’d be presented with a potential match I wasn’t sure was right for me, whether from India, Ethiopia or wherever, and that I’d have to make a tough decision.

 

The counselor was being very practical and looking out for my best interests. This was a good backup plan. I knew I would have a child some day…perhaps my instincts about the specifics of where she was born were wrong?

 

But even as I signed the papers to go on a waiting list to adopt from Ethiopia, something told me it was never going to happen. I would love my child no matter where he or she was born, but I knew in my heart I wouldn’t get a match from Ethiopia, even if it sounded more plausible to the adoption counselor. This was yet another case when I simply did not believe what I was being told. For whatever reason, I could not shake the idea of my imagined daughter in India.

 

The holidays were especially rough for me that year. I heard nothing more about any prospects. I replayed the counselor’s stinging words in my head over and over, “I don’t want a whole year to go by without a match for you from India,” but it wouldn’t sink it. I still believed it would happen. There are some moments in life that are totally out of your control and you just have to trust whatever happens is meant to be.  This was one of those moments.

 

Then the miracle started to unfold.

 

Less than two months after I was advised to seek a “Plan B,” I got my very first glimpse at my daughter’s picture… and she was exactly as I imagined. In early February of 2014, my counselor contacted me with the most exciting (and to her, surprising) news. She had located a potential match for me in the India database. The little girl I’ll call “Angel” in this blog was three years old and appeared relatively healthy.  The counselor wanted me to take a look at her picture and medical history and to report back if I was interested.

 

I couldn’t open my email fast enough. All of these thoughts were rushing through my head about what I would find in that attachment. I was excited, yet terrified something would feel off, or cause concern, and I’d have to think about it and make a decision. What if I said “yes” to the first potential match I received and it caused me to always wonder about what other matches I missed out on later? What if I said “no” and there were no other matches? My mind was racing.

 

As my index finger nervously tapped on the attachment, her face appeared and my heart just about burst.  It was HER.  I just knew it. The little girl I had in my heart… now  her face was finally, fully revealed. No decision making necessary. Angel was mine and I knew that in an instant. This, despite her baby picture with a runny nose, pout and crumpled brows that seemed to say, “Where are you, Mommy?! What’s taking you so long?!”

 

She seemed sweet, yet spunky. Adorable, yet unpolished. Curious. Expressive. Smart and a little sassy. It’s amazing how much you can gleam from a single photograph. It all fit with what I had felt in my heart from day one of this journey, as the vision of my daughter was slowly coming to fruition.

 

I called my family and the consensus was unanimous, “Yep, she’s a Carlson!” Everyone had the exact same reaction. We chuckled at her crinkled little eyebrows and were just ecstatic with the latest turn of events — to finally be able to see this beautiful little girl who we all knew was meant to be in our family.

 

The medical records revealed she had suffered from multiple ear infections and there was concern about minor hearing loss in one ear. She was also anemic, which is common in all the orphanages. For these very small reasons, she was labeled “special needs” and released for international adoption. For the record, my daughter has no significant hearing problems and doctors here have deemed her perfectly healthy.

 

I knew, without hesitation, this sudden match that seemed to fall into my lap out of nowhere, was my God-given daughter.  And just as I had prayed for, I was presented with the right match — on the first time around.

 

#Gratitude.

 

But even though it already felt like she was mine in every way, I wouldn’t be able to hold her in my arms for a very long time…

 

To see past blogs, click here: www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com

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SingleMoms, Uncategorized

When It Rains It Pours

As I’ve said before, I believe with all my heart that my daughter and I were meant to be together. I feel I was her real mother from the moment she was born even though it took us a little while to find each other. Looking back, I get choked up with gratitude thinking about all the obstacles that could’ve derailed our path.

It was late spring, 2013, and I was in the midst of the laborious but necessary process of paperwork and classes after signing with a placement agency seeking to adopt from India. This time around, the focus of courses shifted more towards the challenges of raising a child from another culture in America. At times, I would glance around the room and some of the other prospective parents seemed like their eyes were glazed over. Finishing these courses was a requirement to adopt. Yes, much of the information was common sense and sensitivity training. It wasn’t groundbreaking information but I was literally overjoyed to participate in every step of the process. It just felt right and that feeling reaffirmed my belief I was on the right path, despite some unexpected challenges and tough times ahead.

First things first…I soon learned I didn’t have the right home. Illinois state law requires an adopted child to have his or her own room. I was planning on moving from my one bedroom condo when my child came, but I didn’t realize this was an adoption requirement until my counselor came out to examine my property in what’s called a “home study.” This put things on the fast track. I promptly put my condo on the market. In the meantime, I contemplated how to rehab my condo in order to split my one bedroom into two, if that became necessary.

Actually, my condo sold pretty quickly. I put money down on a townhouse closer to my family in the suburbs and thought things were lining up in my favor. It wasn’t until I had packed up many of my belongings and was ready to move — that the whole deal collapsed just prior to closing. A mistake by the banks allowed my buyer to initially qualify for a mortgage that was rejected at the last minute. Ugh.

The real estate headaches weren’t the only problem. An even bigger, unexpected setback happened soon after. Something I really didn’t see coming.

One work day that started out like any other became a major life turning point in an instant. I was working at my dream job, anchoring the news in my home town of Chicago. Right after the show ended one morning, I was called into the boss’ office for some shocking and very bad news. That was the day I lost my job.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence in the media industry, and especially not uncommon at my old TV station, which was struggling in the ratings and frequently rearranged the on-air lineup. However, I always prided myself on my work ethic and deluded myself into believing that would give me job security. It didn’t. After nearly 11 years at the same station, I was politely told my contract was not being renewed and I had ten minutes to clear out my desk and leave the building.

All I could think about was how this would impact my prospect of adopting. While I didn’t yet have an ideal home and agencies kept telling me I wasn’t a desirable candidate as a single parent, the one thing I had in my favor was a stable income…until now.

The words of my boss sounded surreal. It was the proverbial, “We’ve just decided to go in another direction.”

I looked at the coffee cup in my hand which was trembling so hard I had to set it down.

Despite this unexpected blow, I kid you not when I say I heard a voice at that moment inside my head that kept telling me, “Everything’s going to be alright.” I remained calm. I don’t know where it came from. But that voice kept telling me the same thing… and it was louder than the voice of my former boss, or the human resources person, who has the grim task of collecting work badges on such dreadful occasions.

“Everything’s going to be alright.”

This still, small voice inside my head brought me some unexplained comfort. I calmly gathered as many of my things as possible and walked out the door of my workplace, which had felt like my home for more than a decade, for the very last time.

It was an unusually quiet time in my life in that followed. The typical, daily hectic pace I was used to – between my job, adoption paperwork and prepping my condo for sale – hit the brakes.

Sadly, things took yet another turn for the worse just a few weeks later when my aging cat suddenly became very ill and I had to put him to sleep. You have to understand the depth of my attachment here. My cat, Charlie, had been my “furry child” for many years. All of these unfortunate things were happening back to back. I’m not looking for sympathy and I realize my problems were small in comparison to many, but this was not my favorite time of life.

Aside from having to say the inevitable goodbye to my feline companion, everything else that happened in those few short months, as bad as it seemed, was a blessing in disguise. That little voice that brought me comfort the day I lost my job … proved true. Everything really did turn out alright. In fact, much better than alright.

Real estate dealings are stressful and never pleasant, as far as I’m concerned. My plans to move were forced to be put on hold for awhile, but it all worked out. Two years later, I ended up in a home that’s even closer to my family. My daughter and I are both happy, with our home and her school nearby. I know we ended up where we were meant to be.

As for the job situation, I was let go two months before my contract expired. During that time I received not one, but two job offers. Neither of which required me to move across the country, which is also common in the media industry, and neither of which conflicted with each other. The timing for these rare opportunities to present themselves right when I needed them most is almost unprecedented. I believe it was divine intervention. I accepted both positions. As soon as my contract ended, I began a full time radio job with former colleagues whom I love dearly, and I started working weekends at the TV station where I work full time now. I’m very happy at my current station. Yes, I lost my job at the worst possible time, but as fate would have it, I landed in a better place. I also never missed a weekly paycheck…not a single one.

As a prospective adoptive parent, I was very concerned about proving financial stability. Between the two jobs, I worked seven days a week straight for the next nine months. It was tough. But I’m so grateful I had those opportunities arise at the exact moment when I needed them.

My message in this week’s blog as I share this part of my journey is to trust your intuition. Even at times when I wasn’t sure I would be able to adopt, I never…not even for a nano second…considered giving up.

And sometimes when you’re in the midst of one of those “dark periods,” you don’t realize there’s a rainbow about to emerge.

It happened for me.

Next blog:
Getting “matched” with my daughter!

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SingleMoms

It’s a Long Road to India…

After a rough start on my adoption journey, I finally felt my prayers had been answered with doors opening to adopt from India. In what appeared to be miraculous timing, the U.S. State Department had updated its international adoption web site, lifting India’s restrictions on new applications from prospective parents in foreign countries. Yet, I would soon find out I still had some roadblocks and obstacles ahead.

Most adoption journeys are a veritable roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Mine was no exception.

I immediately began researching U.S. placement agencies which handled Indian adoptions. I called one of the most widely advertised agencies first, but did not get the rosy picture I envisioned. A counselor, who seemed very knowledgable and had clearly been handling Indian adoptions for several years, warned me it was unlikely I would be able to adopt a young, healthy child. The reason being, she explained, was that priority was given to adoptive parents within India, or at least of Indian descent. I have no Indian in my background.

Most countries follow that same precedent and reserve the healthiest children for prospective adoptive parents within their own culture. I had heard that before, and understood it, but I still believed it would happen for me.

She asked me what type of child I was open to adopt. For months, my mind kept giving me a picture of a cute, dark-haired little girl. I couldn’t see her face, but in my heart I knew she was in India. I told the adoption counselor I was open to adopting a toddler or little girl, probably up to the age of around 5. It’s not that I didn’t want a newborn, but it’s just not what I pictured. Plus, I figured this would greatly improve my chances since most adoptive parents seek infants.

Her response surprised me.

“You need to start thinking about adopting a much older child, maybe around 12 or 13,” she said. “And be open to severe disabilities. The wider you open your umbrella, the better chance you’ll be able to adopt.” She reminded me that India was only accepting foreign applications for children considered “special needs.”

Mind you, I would love my child unconditionally, regardless of any challenges he or she faced, and regardless at what age I was able to adopt him or her. However, as a single parent with a demanding job, this did not sound like an ideal scenario. More importantly, my instincts were telling me not to believe her. I knew I had a healthy, toddler girl out there and I had to find her.

I ended up signing in with another, much smaller international adoption placement agency based out of Colorado. They were honest and upfront enough to admit they hadn’t done Indian adoptions in years past and were just starting the process. Their lack of experience didn’t scare me away. They never promised me I’d get matched with a healthy child, or guaranteed anything. I simply clicked with the counsellors over the phone and went with my gut.

This is how I also zeroed in on the counselor and local adoption agency that handled my home studies. I still work with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois every few months for post adoption follow up reports.

So much of my adoption journey was a pure leap of faith. Somehow, I weeded out a lot of negativity that could’ve stopped me in my tracks multiple times. I kept my eyes on the prize and followed my instincts. It seems surprising to think about it now. It sounds like a simple case of wishful thinking and ignoring things I didn’t want to hear. The truth is, for some reason I can’t explain, I believed in my heart I had a little girl I had to get to in India…and I knew she was healthy. My first taste of a “mother’s instinct,” I suppose.

I have since come to the conclusion that perhaps some healthy children in orphanages around the world are labeled “special needs” in order to facilitate the process of getting them through the system to find homes in other countries.

Another very important point to keep in mind: something as simple as anemia can result in an child being labeled “special needs.” Sadly, many prospective parents may be scared off from adopting these children, not realizing that all they need is a nutritious diet and iron rich foods to reverse the anemia and by all other means, they’re healthy children!

My goal here is to clear up some misperceptions about international adoption. While it is true the most “perfect,” healthy newborns available for adoption are reserved for adoptive families within their own country, there are many other “very close to perfect” children without parents who are also available — many more than couples within their own country are willing or able to adopt.

In places like India, the number of children without families to take care of them is staggering. The poverty is so extreme, many children are living on the street.

Just this week, I covered the story of a baby abandoned at a hospital in Chicago. Police were searching for the parents. The baby was wrapped up in blankets, the umbilical chord still attached. A newborn baby girl. Fortunately, it was a warm night out and the baby was fine. It certainly wasn’t the first time I covered this type of story in my reporting career, but in the wake of my travels to South Asia, the irony struck me that this was a big news story here.

In India, it’s commonplace for children to be surrendered. Well meaning parents who often can’t afford them, drop off their babies at RIPAs (Recognized Indian Placement Agency), which would be the equivalent of what we would call an orphanage in the U.S. These are the more fortunate kids. Their parents cared enough to get them to a place where they’d be guaranteed shelter, food and a chance at a better life if they can get adopted.

I just had my nine month post visit from a social worker following up on the adoption of my (“perfect,” 🙂 by the way) little girl. This is a counselor I’ve worked with for years and greatly admire. I’m eternally grateful to her for the role she played in helping me bring my daughter home.

I learned the sad news that LSSI is cutting its adoption program and all of those associated with this branch are being let go. She explained there are two reasons for this. 1. The state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for months due to a political stalemate and as a result, their funding is depleted. 2. International adoption, overall, is on the decline.

Why would fewer people be adopting internationally right now?

My mind darts back to the original adoption agency I worked with, where I was discouraged from adopting overseas….and then, the first counselor I spoke with specifically regarding India, and her ominous warning about what I should expect. I encountered many players in this scenario, all perpetuating the myth that virtually no healthy children were available. The system is complicated, negativity abounds and misconceptions prevail, sometimes even generated by people who seem to be “in the know.”

Mine isn’t the only happy ending story. While the laws have changed in recent years, I’m pleased to say I have come to know multiple parents, like me, who shared the same joyful outcome after adopting internationally.

I can’t help but wonder how many prospective parents out there explored international adoption and gave up…not realizing they could’ve also had a happy ending.

I also wonder about how many children out there may have come close to finding a family…but didn’t.

Next Blog:
More unexpected twists and turns before I get “matched.”

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