Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Coming Home, At Last

The final days of the trip to my daughter’s homeland included a little sight seeing, a little more adoption business and a whole lot of waiting, wishing and praying. All I could think about was introducing this bright, beautiful little girl to her new grandparents, family and friends waiting for us back in Chicago.

Angel impressed us constantly. I had loaded an iPad with pictures of all the new, key players in her life and within days she practically had the names memorized, including her new cats, Arnold and Trixie! She was content and affectionate from the moment we met. I would simply stare at this remarkable child in sheer awe of her courage, trusting nature and contagious sense of humor.

I wish I could say I would be as admirable under the same circumstances, but that’s doubtful. I can’t imagine having some strange lady, who looks different from all the caretakers you’ve ever known, speaking in a foreign language, suddenly whisk you away from the place you knew as home. It sounds beyond terrifying. For me, it was easy. I knew from the very beginning with every cell of my being that this particular child and I were meant to be together… and I suppose on some level, even with her unstable start in life, she must have sensed it, too.

The strangest thing happened on one of our final days in Delhi. We were in our hotel room, getting ready for our nightly trip to our favorite “Italian” restaurant, when there was a knock on our door.

It was the bellhop.

“Your luggage has arrived,” he said with a friendly smile.

This announcement was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. We had already written off the contents of our bags, which had been detained at the airport in Abu Dhabi when we were unknowingly rebooked on a flight out of Dubai. As I detailed in a previous blog post, for reasons that are still unclear we were not allowed to take our luggage with us when we left the Abu Dhabi airport.

At any rate, now we had our suitcases back and all the contents were intact, including the special matching “coming home” outfits I had bought for Angel and me when we made our mother-daughter debut arrival at O’Hare. I could hardly wait!

We found ourselves with one day to play before we returned to the U.S. Embassy for our scheduled, mandatory exit interview. A trip to the Taj Mahal sounded like the perfect destination, but we decided the three hour drive was too far. Instead, we opted for the so-called, “Mini Taj Mahal,” which is a nearly exact replica in Delhi. From pictures, you’d never even know the difference… Well, almost never (…if you’re an American who has never seen the real thing.)

We also made a stop at the beautiful Lotus Temple, a stunning tourist attraction featuring a place of worship that symbolizes the resounding theme of many religions, one God. It was a beautiful, sunny day and there were long lines of people waiting to enter the temple to pray.

While standing in line, I couldn’t help but notice how many people were staring at us. It felt a little uncomfortable, but we were the minorities in a foreign land and I figured it came with the territory. One guy walked up to Aunt Laura holding his camera and politely asked, “Picture?”

“Sure, I’ll take your picture,” my sister replied.

“No,” he said with a shy grin. “We were hoping to get your picture.”

At this, my sister chuckled and obliged, but the confusion must have been written all over her face.

“Fair hair brings good luck,” he explained and pointed to my sister’s blond locks.

Then it hit me. All these people were not staring at the three of us…they were all staring at Aunt Laura. Others in the crowd who saw her getting her picture taken followed suit. One by one, they jumped in, putting their faces next to her and taking selfies. My sister and I were quite amused. She was flattered and enjoying her “rock star” status. I happily took more pictures of additional tourists who wanted to capture a shot with the blond phenom. I glanced down at my darling new daughter and couldn’t help thinking to myself that this brunette was pretty darn lucky herself.

The next day, we still had to make our final trip the U.S. Embassy to pick up Angel’s travel visa and complete our exit interview. We arrived to find massive crowds. The lines to get inside stretched out the door and around the block. Many of those waiting were destitute and hoping to come to America to find a better life. Our country is far from perfect, but scenes like that can only make your heart swell with gratitude that we live in a land of opportunity.

As U.S. citizens, we were permitted to enter through another door and were directed to another line, which was lengthy, but much more tolerable than the alternative. There, we were greeted by a life size cardboard cut-out of President Barack Obama. It cracked us up. I reached into my purse to snap a picture before I was reminded about the strict “no pictures” policy. We decided to leave our cell phones and most of our belongings with our escort Anu, who patiently waited for us with a driver until our business was finished.

I was carefully juggling piles of paperwork, including Angel’s birth certificate, medical records, proof of her adoption, etc., all while getting through the metal detectors to enter the building. Those precious documents, some of them given to me on tattered and worn papers, were our ticket home.

When we finally had our number called and went up to the counter, it was a huge relief to hear the worker tell us everything was in order and we were cleared to leave India with Angel. They handed us her new travel visa and signed off on more paperwork. I also learned that Angel had been staying at one of the better orphanages in the country. It had a reputation for excellent care and a ratio of 14:1 children to childcare workers, higher odds than most. That was comforting news and a year and half later, I continue to see evidence that she had a good start considering the circumstances.

Our final hours in India were bittersweet as we said goodbye to the fast friends we had made and prepared for a long journey home. We had a connecting flight in Abu Dhabi that departed from Delhi in the early morning hours. Of course, we allowed plenty of time and planned for a cab to pick us up shortly after midnight.

Poor Angel was not happy to be woken up after such a brief night of sleep and while Aunt Laura and I checked and rechecked that all of our belongings were packed, Angel was also very concerned that her backpack was going with us. It contained a beat-up looking plastic doll (that kind of scared me) but more importantly, her treasured pencil and sharpener. These were the items she chose to take with her from the orphanage and clearly they meant a lot to her. She would sharpen her pencil every day when we returned to our hotel room and periodically check to make sure it was still in the zippered compartment in her backpack. In fact, we started calling her sharpener, “Sharpie,” personifying it like a pet. Her attachment to these simple items both warmed and broke my heart.

Getting through the airport in Delhi was torturous, trying to keep tabs on all our luggage, paperwork, and of course, my new daughter. We were warned that we would be closely monitored and not allowed to get on any plane without security verifying the adoption papers along the way. With child trafficking a concern, I completely understood. However, it was painful to say the least.

The guard at the first security checkpoint gave us a look of disgust.

“Clearly, she is not your real daughter,” he said with a condescending chuckle.

Ouch. It stung then — just like it stings now when well meaning people ask me about her “real parents,” meaning birth or biological parents. In this age of political correctness gone into overdrive, it amazes me that sometimes things slip through the cracks and people just don’t realize that an adoptive parent is a REAL parent, in every sense of the word.

In this case, it didn’t feel like an oversight. It almost felt deliberate.

Aunt Laura’s face told me she was about to snap into protective big sister mode, so I gently squeezed her hand to bring her back down. I politely showed the adoption papers which he was not impressed with. He stared us down, as if using an intimidation tactic. I tried to cover up any facial expression and simply obliged with his demands to see more papers, keeping my focus on getting through these checkpoints as quickly as possible to get home. We stayed there for about 15 minutes as he continued to glance between us and the documents in front of him.

After several minutes of silence, he finally waved us to move forward without saying another word. Whew. One down. Next worry ahead: I was dreading being separated from those precious papers even for a moment to get through the metal detectors.

Eventually, we made our way to the gate only to discover our flight was delayed. Ugh. We entertained ourselves in the airport as much as possible and were happy to finally get on our way to Abu Dhabi, where we encountered similar resistance.

The security lines exiting the plane were like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We were funneled right into a checkpoint…and then into another… and another. This was the procedure for all the travelers, not just the foreigners. But with our unique circumstances of bringing my child home for the first time and having to keep pulling out the adoption papers, it was particularly grueling. The clock was ticking and I was overwhelmed with anxiety about catching our connecting flight to O’Hare.

At one point we ended up in a holding area where the lines dispersed and we were not given any information about why the security checks abruptly stopped. Travelers started roaming in all directions, everyone inquiring about the delay. Most of us had to get new boarding passes to our final destinations after the flight delays, but none were being issued that we knew of. I approached an airline employee who was walking by for answers and she said, “May I see your passport?” I handed it to her.

She then took it….and walked away.

My heart sank. All I could picture in my head was getting stranded in Abu Dhabi again, after our ordeal of getting stuck there when our journey began en route to Mumbai. I couldn’t even see where this employee walked to. She disappeared into a sea of frustrated travelers. Tears filled my eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be home so badly.

At least 20 minutes passed with no information about our connecting flight and no passport in my hand. During this time, my sister and Angel were directed to a counter and issued new tickets.

Then, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, the same woman reappeared out of nowhere with my passport and a new boarding pass. They do things a little differently at that airport. It was a stress inducing experience, but all that mattered now was getting home.

Alas, we were directed to YET ANOTHER LINE… this one, for U.S. Customs. Rather than handle that when we arrived at O’Hare, we had to take care of this before boarding. As I stood in line, I swelled with worry once again, afraid of missing our flight and consumed with thoughts of all our friends and family who I knew would be waiting for us when we finally arrived at O’Hare. I fired off a quick group email indicating we had yet another flight delay and gave them updated information.

When we finally made it to Customs, the agent needed to go through all our adoption papers once again, Angel’s birth certificate and all the medical clearance forms which would allow her to enter the United States. I also had to fill out application forms for her to become a U.S. citizen. My stress was evident as I told the agent we were nearing the departure time. She calmly replied, “the plane will wait for you.”

And it did.

Aunt Laura, Angel and I made our way to our cramped plane seats, checked again on all the contents and vital documents in our carry on bags, and then strapped in for the 15 hour flight to Chicago. I knew in my heart I would not be at peace until we got off this plane to the welcoming arms of our loved ones on the other side of the world.

I glanced over at poor little Angel who had been such a trooper through all of this. I put “Frozen” on my iPad to distract her, but she shook her head to indicate her lack of interest. This child had never been in temperatures cooler than 60 degrees and had no clue what snow even was at this point, so I guess it was not surprising she was not immediately impressed with an ice queen. (Although, she quickly caught on and picked up the typical, little girl “Frozen” obsession soon after our January arrival in Chicago!)

About an hour into the flight, I glanced over at Angel and watched a few tears stream down her face. My heart ached as I thought about how terrifying all of this must be for her. I tried to comfort her. We dozed a little off and on, but never really fell asleep. I watched the monitor tracking our plane’s ever changing location. My mind wandered. If there was a medical emergency on board and we had to land now…how hard would it be to get home from wherever we were? Turkey. France. Then the looong trek over the Atlantic.

The U.S. coastline has never looked better. I kid you not when I admit I was silently hearing Neil Diamond’s “America” in my head. I choked up with anticipation of the moments that were about to unfold.

Our plane landed at O’Hare on a Wednesday evening, several hours behind schedule. We had not been to sleep in two nights and not had a change of clothes since we left Delhi in the middle of the night some 60 hours before.

We made a quick stop in the restroom. As we were frantically trying to freshen up before heading downstairs to our waiting friends and family, my sister paused and turned to me.

“This is it,” she said. “This is the moment you’ve been fantasizing about for more than two years…your arrival home with your new daughter.”

I literally pictured this scene in my head at least a thousand times and now it was happening — only I loved Angel even more than I could have ever imagined. It felt surreal.

We hopped on the escalator heading to baggage claim. Little Angel was wrapped around my hips like a koala bear, holding tightly. Before we even got to the bottom of the moving stairway, I heard the cheers and screams of joy. Several dozen of my closest family and friends ran to greet us. They were snapping pictures and video with their cellphones. Others were holding up beautiful signs welcoming us home.

My eyes were not the only ones swelling with tears of joy.

As my sister’s husband and her two kids ran to embrace her, I spotted my mom and dad in the crowd. My dad was hobbling closer on his bad knee. Dangling from his hand was the cutest toddler-sized, pink, puffy winter coat for the little girl they had known only through pictures.

“Mom and Dad, this is your new granddaughter,” I said — all choked up.

They had enormous smiles on their faces and gently said hello to her. We hugged and knew we had a lot of catching up to do later at their home. Then I slowly introduced Angel to all of her new friends and family, who had been waiting so patiently for us to arrive.

She looked a little confused by all this newfound attention, but I was pleased she clung to me and appeared secure in my arms, albeit slightly overwhelmed.

There are moments in your life when it hits you just how blessed you are. After two days of frenzied travel woes, I was suddenly surrounded by so much love and support. It had actually been swelling through the entire, at times painful, two year ordeal. I leaned on so many people for their counsel, comfort, advice, and especially their prayers, to get to where I was — now safely back home with my new daughter. Our arrival home is one of my most treasured memories of all time.

There were so many hurdles and obstacles along the way, but none of that mattered now and none of that will ever matter again. In fact, in hindsight I am grateful for the unexpected “disappointments” in my journey because everything that happened led me to the one and only daughter I could ever imagine having. To anyone who’s in the midst of the struggle or just feeling the unfulfilled longing to have a child, I hope our story will inspire you.

I really did get my happy ending after all.

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Up next: An Update on Our New Lives Together!!!