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.

 

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

 

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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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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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