Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Our First Meeting

After a laborious and stressful 50-some hour journey to Mumbai, India I was exhausted…probably more tired than I’ve ever been. But I could barely sleep.

My meeting with my daughter had been delayed by a full day because of travel troubles, but now it would be just hours until I could finally assume physical custody of my little girl. A two year journey whittled down to just hours. Wow!

Our nighttime arrival put us on track for a meeting that had been rescheduled at the orphanage for the following afternoon. I was a ball of anticipation as I tried to quiet my mind to sleep that night.

I dozed a few times on and off in our hotel room until I was jolted wide awake by the “call to prayer” sirens that sounded loudly before dawn. That was the first time I had heard that startling and intriguing sound, kind of like what Chicagoans hear at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays when officials test the emergency sirens. The foreign sound to me was a delightful, musical wake up call because it meant this wasn’t a dream. We were really here in India about to meet Angel!! This lifelong Catholic heeded the call, although it’s not as if I needed a reminder to pray for things to go smoothly.

I glanced across the hotel room and marveled in amazement at my sister in the other bed, who was clearly dead asleep despite the blaring sirens. She suffered along with me through the same, exhausting travel nightmare which had clearly knocked her out. (However truth be told, she never has a problem sleeping through loud noises — one area where our DNA clearly went in two different directions!)

I paced around the hotel room, so anxious for the day ahead to unfold. I looked out the window and my jaw hit the floor. The night before, my sister and I were out on the hotel bar’s rooftop patio admiring the highrises along the beautiful, ocean skyline. The light of day revealed an entirely different picture. There were literally hundreds of dilapidated shacks stacked on top of each other on the ground below. There was so much about my daughter’s homeland I was intrigued to explore.


First on the agenda, figure out a way to get clothes and essentials that we left behind with our lost luggage in Abu Dhabi. We figured out how to get ground transportation to the nearest mall — which didn’t open until late morning — and power shopped like never before. Time was ticking now because there was no way I was going to be late for our escort’s pick up.

For weeks prior to this trip, I had contemplated exactly what to wear when meeting my daughter for the first time. I figured she would be nervous and I wanted to appear warm and inviting. Yet I still wanted to appear somewhat professional and polished as I met her caretakers and discussed the business of completing the adoption. Bottom line, I gave it way too much thought and arrived at what I determined to be the perfect outfit for this rare occasion. Of course the problem was, it was packed in my luggage — and probably somewhere over the Indian Ocean at this point.

With only about an hour to shop, I tried to replicate an outfit with the same feel, while my sister and I also frantically grabbed some other bare necessities to get us through the following week or two. To our dismay, we could not find hair products in any store! Neither one of us has the type of “wash and go” hair that’s so prevalent among the beautiful Indian women. Oh well.. time to go.. now!!

We were so pleased to meet our escort, Anu, who was generous, lovely and comforting. I had a lump in my throat the size of Texas as we got in her car. I didn’t know if I was going to throw up, cry or scream for joy. Almost as soon as we got in the vehicle, the driver pulled over to let us out. We were shocked to discover Angel’s orphanage was just blocks away from the luxurious five star hotel we were staying at. One quick turn down a desolate, unnoticed road and it looked like we had entered a different country. India has been described as a land of extremes. Agreed. I would just clarify that the extremes are literally on top of each other, unlike most other places  where cities and neighborhoods create parameters.

Upon our arrival we were greeted by the head of the orphanage, who was also very warm and kind. We spent almost an hour going over Angel’s papers, including medical records, her birth certificate and other key documents that I needed to bring to the U.S. Embassy before we could be cleared to come home.


After the business was taken care of, he then offered some advice: don’t come on too strong when they bring my four year old daughter in the room. The reason being, he explained, was that the caretakers were not allowed to give full hugs to the children; they could only put an arm around a child’s shoulder in a side hug. He thought a full on bear hug could scare her.

The thought of my daughter and the other children not getting some well deserved affection broke my heart, but I understood their rules and the reasoning behind them.
Then he also cautioned me that Angel was an “emotional child,” more than the others. …Huh?

“I have to warn you, there will be tears,” he said. I wasn’t sure what to expect as he flagged down a caretaker to bring her in the office.

Heart pounding.

Then, the moment I had waited for – for what felt like an eternity-happened. I didn’t even hear her enter, but I noticed my sister gasp and smile as she was looking across the room. I turned around to see this precious, little girl standing behind me along the wall. The sheer emotional impact of that moment I first laid eyes on her was one of the best and most powerful experiences I have ever been through.

My fast beating heart had now jumped, or moved, or something. It was a beautiful feeling so hard to describe.

She had clearly “dressed up” for the occasion, wearing a hot pink, lace dress with about dozen green bangle bracelets on each wrist. She appeared more tiny than she did in pictures, which didn’t do her justice. She was absolutely adorable.

But what struck me more than anything was how terrified she looked! I felt enormous empathy for this little child who had been through so much in her four, short years and was about to have her only security shaken by being taken from her home, as she knew it.

I wanted to squeeze her tightly so badly, but instead gave her a little side hug and told her, “I know you’re scared. It’s going to be ok.” I gently rocked her as she cocked her head sideways and stared at me with wide eyes. She didn’t speak English, but I figured she would pick up on my sentiment.

After just a few minutes, the magnitude of this moment started to sink in for both of us. Her look of panic evolved to tears welling up in her eyes. The head of the orphanage recommended we, “keep moving.” I questioned, “to another room?”

“No,” he said. “Time to head out.”

And just like that, I suddenly had full custody of this beautiful, delicate and scared little child.

She never did have the dreaded meltdown that we were warned about, though. She allowed me to pick her up and carry her outside and she snuggled into me during the car ride back to the hotel, my arm dangled around her.

The trip took all of about five minutes, but Angel managed to fall asleep as soon as she closed her eyes in the car. I gently woke her and picked her up as we walked back into our hotel. She seemed to relish being carried around.

Once inside our room, Aunt Laura called room service to order champagne, fruit, milk and cookies. While she was on the phone, I knelt on the floor and put my arms around Angel as she nervously sat on the edge of the bed. This time I gave her a real hug. She squeezed her shoulders together, glanced down shyly, and then slowly looked back up at me…and smiled.


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The Longest Trip of My Life


After taking a holiday hiatus, my adoption blog resumes on the heels of Christmas, New Years and “Gotcha Day.” For those who are unfamiliar, Gotcha Day marks the anniversary of assuming custody for many families who celebrate adoption.


So, my holiday season was extended for the first time this year… and will be forever more.


The holidays always seem to elicit strong emotions and after many difficult years without a child, I just had the chance to truly savor one of the most joyful and fulfilling times of my life. My daughter and I had our first Christmas together and watching Angel’s eyes open wide as she experienced the magic of the season has been such a thrill for me.


Then, for our first New Years together, we had an exciting countdown to ring in 2016 with my parents, complete with a toast and throwing streamers…at 6pm. Mommy had to be at work at 2am the next day, so we decided to ring in the new year on Dublin time!


Our Gotcha Day is January 6th and along with a family celebration, I started a new tradition with Angel of revisiting photos, videos and telling her stories about the most important day of my life.


Technically, our Gotcha Day was supposed to be January 5th, but a travel nightmare last year delayed our first meeting by 24 hours.


As I’ve mentioned before, my sister, Laurie, had previously adopted internationally. She had experience in this area and as the always protective big sis that she is, kindly offered to travel with me and “hold my hand” during the process. I didn’t think it was necessary, but I welcomed her company.


We were finally cleared to travel to India to get Angel and finish paperwork right after New Years in 2015. First stop… her orphanage in Mumbai. I cannot begin to describe the butterflies, excitement and nerves I was experiencing as we headed to O’Hare airport on that Saturday afternoon.


I had mentioned to my sister that I was hoping we could visit an ashram while in India to practice yoga at some point. After all, it was my research into the origins of yoga that initially sparked my attraction to Indian culture. (Right around the time Angel was born, by the way, which I don’t believe was a mere coincidence.)


She laughed hysterically.


I had no clue what to expect and the sheer amount of stress that accompanied the process that was about to unfold.


The headache began with difficulties leaving O’Hare. We had a brief layover scheduled in Abu Dhabi before catching a connecting flight to Mumbai. Late afternoon on that fateful Saturday, Chicago was blanketed in thick fog. Nearly all the arrivals and departures  were delayed for several hours. My sister and I passed the time in the airport buying Chicago souvenirs to bring to the orphanage, and we had a couple glasses of wine while speculating about the life changing journey that was about to begin. Finally, late that night, our flight departed for Abu Dhabi.


Now, if you’re flying to finally meet and assume custody of your child…who has been in your heart for two years…it would feel like a long trip if it was from Chicago to Milwaukee. The flight to Abu Dhabi was 14 hours and that was just the first leg of the journey. I could barely sleep. My mind was racing. It felt like we were on that plane for days.


I was hopeful many of the passengers had our same itinerary and the connecting flight would still be waiting when we finally arrived. No such luck.


All we needed was a ticket agent to rebook another flight to Mumbai. What seemed to be a simple, routine task, turned into a monumental feat.


The airport at Abu Dhabi was total chaos. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. It was very crowded and people were angry. We heard some other passengers grumbling about similar weather delays as they apparently also arrived late from other cities. We were feeling every bit the foreigners that we were.


Unlike most airports, there were no clear, orderly lines leading to counters with airline employees. It was basically a free for all and no one would give us the time of day. I spotted the closest semblance of a line of passengers I could find and parked my carry on bag in place while my sister explored other parts of the airport. I waited there for two solid hours. When I finally got near a ticket agent, I was shot down in a matter of seconds.


“Come  back in two hours,” he said. “We can’t rebook now.”

“Why not?” I pleaded. He just just shook his head at me and didn’t say another word. No explanation about what was going on, or why we were stranded there.


Keep in mind, with the time change, it was already Sunday night now and we were scheduled to meet Angel Monday afternoon. The importance of this mission and the frustration of not being able to get answers was weighing heavily.


We tried two other counters with masses of people but the lines didn’t budge. At all. We tried going online to rebook ourselves and the system was down. We were texting friends at home to see if they could try to book us on a flight… any airline… from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai. No one was able to.


Finally, we spotted our first smiles at the airport. They were other passengers holding tickets! We rushed to the counter they came from, which was in complete disarray. Again, there was no defined line for customers to stand in and wait their turn. Picture a small Irish pub packed on St Patrick’s Day with dozens of patrons on top of each other at the bar, all trying to flag down a single bartender for a drink at the same time. Then multiply that by ten.


The frustrated travelers were all screaming and waving their hands, desperate to get the attention of two airline employees behind that counter who kept disappearing into a secret back office. When they occasionally surfaced, everyone started elbowing each other and waving frantically again. The workers seemed unwilling, or unable, to help anyone. Yet this was the only spot in the entire airport that offered any sign of promise, based on the other ticketed passengers I spotted earlier.


I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I waited there for five and half hours. FIVE AND A HALF HOURS!!! At this point I knew I would never make our scheduled meeting at the orphanage. Heartbroken, I emailed the escort who planned to take us there and told her we would have to delay our meeting. I had a splitting headache and could barely see straight. I was in tears. One of the disappearing workers at the counter apparently took pity on me. I caught his attention, told him how long we waited and he agreed to try to help us rebook.  He took our expired tickets and walked away to that secret back office for what felt like another hour.


Finally, he emerged with two new tickets to Mumbai! Whew. Big sigh of relief. We were thrilled. Exhausted and starving, also. Time to finally get something to eat. We asked an airport worker if there was a restaurant not far from our departing gate and had another big shock when we showed him our tickets.


Turns out, we were booked on a departing flight to Mumbai…from another airport. Our flight was leaving from Dubai in a few hours. What?!?!?


Almost as quickly as it dissipated, the drama and stress returned with a vengeance. Next task… finding ground transportation to Dubai to catch our new flight. We were told all the luggage from our plane was in a holding area of the airport. We went there first to pick up our bags, but were told we couldn’t get them.  Again, no explanation was provided as to why we couldn’t retrieve our bags. The only thing we were allowed to do was fill out paper work with forwarding information about where we were staying. My sister and I were hesitant, especially considering we had more than one stop to make during this trip. We begged them to just give us our luggage. We had name tags on them. We described the suitcases and showed our passports, but they refused.


“The luggage will find you,” we were told. Skeptical, and strongly feeling the pressure to get where we needed to be, we simply gave up. I had packed many things for myself and my daughter anticipating our two week trip. We thought we would never see our bags again as we left the airport luggage department in search of a ride to Dubai.


The sun was just starting to come up. Out the cab window, there were miles and miles of desert. In the distance, a city began to emerge. Not just any city…a magnificent, spectacle of the tallest and shiniest buildings you’ve ever seen. The scenery changed from desert to cosmopolitan – in a heartbeat.


We had arrived at our departing airport, the largest airport in the world, in plenty of time to make our new flight to my daughter’s homeland.


Our journey to Mumbai took over 50 hours with no sleep or showers. When we walked off the plane, we had crunchy clothes on our backs and not much else.


But none of that mattered now. We were here!!! We arrived that Monday night at the beautiful Four Seasons hotel. We visited the rooftop bar and it was reminiscent of many hotel bars in Chicago. Swanky music, pricey drinks and an impressive skyline view.


The startling difference… metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs at the entrance of the hotel. We would find that to be commonplace throughout India. It was an unfortunate necessity in the wake of the terror attacks all over Mumbai in 2008. It was a stark  reminder of how very far we were from home.


Among the many emotions I was trying to process following the worst travel experience you can imagine, I had an excitement I couldn’t contain. We were going to Angel’s orphanage the next day!! Nothing could delay us now.


Our first Gotcha Day would be Little Christmas, or the Feast of the Three Kings, January 6th, 2015.


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