Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

The Realization of a Miracle

After our initial introduction, Angel and I spent the rest of our first afternoon together staring at each other. I wanted to drink in every, single detail of this magical day. She seemed very inquisitive about me and Aunt Laura and at the same time, very content to be with us. While she was nervous at first, she really started to relax once we were privately back in the hotel room.

One smile led to another, to another, and to another. Soon, she was all smiles and posing for pictures on command!

Everyone asks me how we were able to communicate at first with the language barrier,  but it was unexpectedly easy. Angel is a very expressive little girl and didn’t hesitate to let me know how she was feeling every step of the way. Once she got situated and started to loosen up, she pointed and grabbed at her wrists to let me know she was ready to take her bracelets off.  She would instinctively (and rather dramatically) frown or smile in response to everything I presented to her: food, toys, books, etc. She even let me know very clearly which outfits I bought for her that she didn’t approve of!

She didn’t say anything at all for about 24 hours, but seemed to clearly understand what we were saying. She would either nod or shake her head in response to any question we asked. Even though Angel spoke in her native language of Marathi at the orphanage, she never tried to speak Marathi to us. It helped that she was (and still is) incredibly adept at detecting context clues and picking up new words. It’s true what they say… kids really are sponges.

The first night we were together I had my first real taste of parenting when I asked her if she had to go to the bathroom (while pointing at the toilet) and she shook her head. Instead, she wanted to cuddle with me in bed. I was happy to accommodate… until I found out the hard way she DID have to go to the bathroom after all! I know all parents have had similar experiences, but somehow it’s more amusing when it happens to a new parent, as I was still clueless to many rude awakenings ahead. I was definitely in foreign territory…in more ways than one!

And I couldn’t have been happier to feel so befuddled.

The next day we were flying from Mumbai to Delhi, where we would stay for the remainder of our trip to take care of adoption business at the U.S. Embassy. While sitting at the airport waiting for our flight, she said her first word to us.

And, it was in English.

“Airplane,” she mumbled with a big smile on her face, as if she knew just how grand the accomplishment was for her to pick up a foreign word so quickly. Of course, we made a big fuss over it.

“What did you say?!?!” And her smile grew bigger.

Before the plane had landed, I heard her say, “Mama,” or at least, what sounded like, “Mama” to my very hopeful ears. There were new words flowing from her constantly in the days that followed. Her vocabulary blossomed just like that, and never stopped.

It was the first time for me to fly with a child and now I get what everyone complains about. The stress of security, boarding, etc.,  while keeping track of your belongings AND a child…sigh. Not fun at all. Every minute of the day was a fresh, confusing and fascinating experience.

At first glance, Delhi was just an dizzying as Mumbai… the colors, the atmosphere, the street people, the landmarks… and I was intrigued by all of it. However, while still focused on bonding, we didn’t venture out much.  Instead, we spent the rest of that day on the grounds of our new hotel and I tried to soak in the newness of being a mom to this impressive and captivating little girl.

When we did head out to restaurants, or just to walk around, Angel wanted to be carried constantly. I was pleased to oblige. It would get to the point where my arms would start to shake… but I would not put her down for anything. A year later, I still feel like I can’t get enough affection as we try to make up for the four years we missed being together.

As I laid in bed that night, again I couldn’t sleep. Something hit me and I found myself drawn to my laptop, compelled to record this moment in time. This is part of the email I wrote to my family and friends back home who were closely monitoring our journey.

It’s after midnight and Aunt Laura and Angel are fast asleep. I’ve hardly slept at all in days– partly because I’m so excited and honestly, still a little anxious — but mostly because I feel something so powerful going on and I don’t want to miss it. My soul is stirred. It’s hard to put into words how strongly I KNOW this child was divinely matched for me and my family. There’s the obvious…she’s a girlie-girl, loves her stuffed kitty cat, and is very sweet and delicate…but there’s also something much deeper. It’s like the bond between us has been there for a long time. The way she’s already clinging to me makes me hope she senses it too.

The reason why I was drawn to India is also so hard to explain. I know now that it’s because this is where my daughter was born. I developed a fascination with this country shortly before her birth. There’s something very spiritual here and I love that. It’s a mixture of religions, but all of them are universally revered in a way we seldom see in America. There’s a strong belief in God, regardless of the path to Him, and an overwhelming faith in destiny.

That especially hits home for me now, as I bond with my daughter whom I’ve been searching for for two years. Every path I took, even the diversions and disappointments, led me exactly where I’m supposed to be today. I marvel at the fact that India wasn’t even open to foreign adoptions when I started this journey…and that the doors miraculously opened when I thought I had hit a dead end with a domestic adoption. Everything happened according to plan, even though it was sometimes hard to recognize that through every step of the process.

The head of the orphanage told us he sees this miracle every day. For instance, he had an albino child with special needs who seemed unmatchable until his adoptive parents seemed to fall out of the sky and take him to his new home…in Norway. He couldn’t imagine a more perfect place where this unique boy would feel comfortable.

He also told us about a biological father who returned to the orphanage after surrendering his three children because he felt guilty about leaving them there. His wife had died and he was unable to raise them on his own. But when he returned, he was surprised to see his children seemed happy. They assured him, “We’re okay. You can go.” He left.

Two weeks later, the dad was found dead on the street of natural causes. A card with the name of the orphanage was still in his pocket. The three siblings were all adopted by loving parents who wanted to keep them together. Had the children left with their dad that day, they would’ve ended up as orphans on the street, and prey to all the perils that involves.

After meeting my “perfect” daughter, I was stunned that she hadn’t been adopted sooner. The head of the orphanage told me that was simply because, “God wanted her to be with you.”

I know many of you are already well aware of the miracle of adoption and how “your kids find you.” I certainly witnessed this firsthand many years ago with my niece and nephew. What I didn’t know at the time was that it sparked something deep within me that would eventually lead to my own miracle match. I’m feeling this in such a powerful way at this moment, I felt compelled to share it.

I tend to get goosebumps when I hear stories of destinies fulfilled. I hope in some way our miracle coming to fruition brings all of you comfort, hope or peace.

 

With that email message now on its way, I closed my eyes. The next day we had to appear at a medical facility so Angel could get tested for clearance to come home. I have never felt so fulfilled, intrigued and terrified at the same time.

To see previous blog posts, go to http://www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com

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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.

 

To view previous blog posts, go to: http://www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com

 

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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.

 

For previous posts, go to: www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com    Click the widgets at the top

 

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

A Very Long “Pregnancy”

You would think after getting matched with my daughter, the story of my adoption journey would soon be over. Far from it. There were many tense moments that followed, right up until the day when we arrived home at O’Hare airport…about a year later.

Even in the immediate days after receiving medical and background information about “Angel,” I was warned it might not be a done deal. My adoption counselor informed me of technical problems on the placement web site which could’ve meant that she was already promised to another family. The second I laid eyes on her, I fell in love with her and wanted to bring her home. My counselor advised me not to share my potential news until all was settled. (Too late)

A white-knuckled weekend followed.

Thank God, that confusion was cleared up within a few days and her status on the placement web site was then officially updated from “available” to “adoption pending” … by me.

From the moment we were matched, something inside me changed. The adoption was far from official, but in my heart, that’s when I became a mom. I automatically and immediately started to look at life with a new set of eyes. I’ve always been a heart-centered person, with emotion and instinct guiding my course… however, as a mom-to-be I went from being a “softy” to absolute “mush.” No kidding. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much in my entire life as I have in the past two years. And I’m not just talking about sad tears. Happy tears, too… Especially happy tears, now.

For those who don’t have experience with adoption, I equate getting matched with being pregnant. You know you have a child on the way, but there’s a wait time before you can meet. You’re hopeful, excited, scared and nervous.

I thought about her constantly. I set my phone to include the time and weather in Mumbai, where she lived. Often, I would marvel that the temperature there was well over 100 degrees while it was below freezing here in Chicago. Not a day went by that I didn’t wonder exactly what she was doing at any given moment. When I was getting up in the middle of the night for work it was already mid-afternoon at her orphanage. Was she playing with other kids? Was she napping? What was she eating? Was she scared? I felt so helpless to be so far away, but all I could do was pray for her to be happy and healthy.

I was filled with anxiety whenever severe weather struck India. Interestingly enough, I have since come to learn that my daughter hates storms and even now, she talks about her memories of being scared and alone at her orphanage during thunder and lightning. She tells me with a confused look in her eyes, “You weren’t there, Mommy.” No, I wasn’t. But I really, really wanted to be.

My new “mom mindset” also translated into a newfound concern about my own health and well being. It’s not like I ever lived recklessly, but suddenly I had a new sense of purpose and responsibility. This translated into little changes in my behavior, like suddenly wearing sunscreen, to bigger things. For instance, in the past when I boarded a plane and the inevitable thought of “what if…” would cross my mind, my immediate reaction was: I’ve had a good life. If it’s my time to go, so be it. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stop flying, but not without just a little bit of anxiety because I suddenly felt I was needed here in a bigger way than ever before. It’s amazing how your entire perspective can change in an instant.

The orphanage where Angel was staying would send occasional updates, which meant the world to me. It would just fill my heart to see her picture. The updates came infrequently, every few months or so.

The wait time before I could hold her in my arms, at times, felt excruciating. Even worse, during these months no one could tell me with certainty when I would be able to travel to India to pick her up. Her case had to move through the court system before she was cleared to leave the orphanage and with India’s recent changes to allow international adoption, no one really knew how long it would take.

We were matched in February, 2014, and my adoption counselor initially estimated I would travel to get her in August. It’s really hard to have your heart set on an expected “due date” only to find out your wait time is being delayed. And delayed again. And again.

As August was approaching and there was still no movement, my counselor estimated it would happen in October. My family planned an August shower for me. After the shower date was set, I was told it would be November – at the earliest. The shower went on regardless. My closest friends and relatives came to celebrate my impending daughter-to-be in one of the most touching days of my life. While opening presents, I got choked up while thanking loved ones for their support and as I looked around the room, I was struck by a powerful and moving sight. I was literally surrounded by people from all parts of my life, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It was a vision I will never forget because I truly felt their heartfelt empathy. It reminded me of how blessed I am to have these people to help carry me through the challenging times. I also knew my daughter so had much love waiting for her – whenever she finally would be cleared to come home.

I wasn’t able to reach out to Angel until her court date, which ended up happening October 8th. It was a momentous occasion that I previously detailed in my first blog post.*** At this point, I was told her caretakers would tell her that she was adopted and that I would soon be coming to get her. I sent her a photo album with pictures of my whole family and included a little letter that read, “You don’t know me yet, but I’m your Mommy. I have loved you from far away for a very long time.” I hoped that her caretakers would go through each page of the photo album and translate my words into her native language of Marathi.

Angel’s birthday is also in October. She turned four years old that year and I felt every mile of her distance from me, halfway around the world. The day came and went with no word from her orphanage. When my counselor inquired on my behalf, I was told they had a cake for her but the camera they tried to take her picture with didn’t work. About a month later, I got an email with pictures of my smiling daughter holding up a cake. The director of the orphanage staged a “reenactment” for my benefit and this time, the camera worked!

I assumed I would be able to travel to Mumbai within weeks of her court date, but Angel still needed her travel visa and there were more loose ends to be tied up there, before I was cleared to book my flight. I pictured our first Christmas home together with great anticipation, but the weeks passed by with no word. In the meantime, I had long ago obtained my travel visa to go to India and it was set to expire in mid January.

Then as December approached, I envisioned being in India during the holidays. I was afraid to make any plans, expecting at any moment I would get the call that I was cleared to come get my daughter. My bosses at work were extremely understanding of my situation during this time and thankfully, agreed to be flexible with my impending family leave.

My friends at work hosted a second shower for me, in yet another touching show of support and encouragement. This little girl, in an orphanage far away, was about to get a whole boatload of “aunties and uncles” just waiting to welcome her home.

Finally, I got the news. The director of the orphanage relayed to me, through my adoption counselor, that I should plan to come pick her up right after New Years. I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t be able to bring her home in time for Christmas, but now this Christmas, in 2015, is that much more special.

My sister kindly offered to travel with me. She had been through this before, having adopted my teenage niece and nephew when they were babies from Russia and Romania, respectively. I naively envisioned a simple trip and contemplated going alone.

Thank God, I reconsidered.

Finally, after two years of struggles and multiple delays, we were now set to travel to India to pick up my daughter right after the holidays!!

***To see previous blog posts, click here: SuddenlySingleMomBlog.com

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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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