Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Adoption and Navigating Through Unknown History

 

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A recent trip to a pediatrician’s office for a routine check up for my now second grader prompted a familiar question. 

“What do you know about your daughter’s birth parents?“

Any information I have will be shared with my daughter according to her best interests and already has been to a certain extent, but suffice to say, it’s limited. 

A minor symptom can prompt a doctor to speculate something that sounds to me like, “It could be a pimple, OR, it could be a rare, potentially fatal disease because…”

Here it comes. 

“… we really don’t know without the birth history.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a health care professional reiterate those stinging words, I’d be able to retire early.  While it’s always said with good intentions, it’s a jabbing reminder of one of my downfalls as an adoptive parent; one I have no control over, but something I’m lacking in nonetheless. 

To be clear, I do have medical records charting her early years in an orphanage in India. But what I don’t have is the medical history of her birth parents. 

This is something to ponder during the adoption process. In my experience, adoption agencies tout the obvious benefits of having that information when they champion open, domestic adoptions; i.e., an adoption that takes places here in the United States (domestic) and includes some on-going contact, to varying degrees, between the birth parents and the adopted child in his or her new home (open). In contrast, a closed adoption does not include continued contact after the adoption is finalized. 

There’s been growing interest in modern society in tracing our ancestry. This translates into DNA web sites and in adoption circles, there are more social media outlets to reconnect adoptees with long lost birth parents. It seems everyone wants to know their history. 

When those connections are made and it’s rewarding for all parties, that’s fantastic. 

It’s not unusual for parents in international adoptions to have zero information about their child’s background. 

And you know what, that’s ok too. 

That’s not to say I’m shrugging off the value of medical history. On the contrary, of course I’d welcome whatever information available that can contribute to a child’s upbringing.  But I’ve learned NOT having that background doesn’t take as big a toll on parenting as you might imagine. 

I have been to several pediatricians for various reasons in recent years. I’m fortunate that my daughter is healthy overall and like any parent, I pray that continues. 

The more I hear it, the more the line, “we really don’t know without the birth history” loses impact on me. Of course in response to certain symptoms, it’s an entirely valid concern. In other cases, I’m on guard that it could be an easy excuse to rack up insurance bills on genetic testing that may or may not be necessary. 

I entered into this process fully aware of how unaware I would be in the years to follow. While I’m curious about her birth parents, I feel confident my ignorance in this area doesn’t really make a difference in terms of how I parent. 

The past doesn’t always dictate the future. The truth is, NO parent knows what’s in store for their child. When it comes to health, wealth, employment, relationships, etc., even birth history only gets you so far. 

If I knew, for instance, that she had a tall birth mom with diabetes and a birth dad who was athletic and good at math, but suffered from allergies, would it change anything? Not at all. 

In response to any illness, I will always get my daughter the best medical care I can provide as it’s needed. Whether you birthed your child, adopted him or her knowing birth history or entered into a blind adoption, you would do the same. 

As I write this, my little angel is strumming her new guitar. She flips back and forth between the two songs she knows the words to: “Let It Go” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Never mind, that Christmas is months away. Never mind, that it sounds like, well, a seven year old who picked up a guitar for the first time. 

I’m not thinking about whether she comes from a musically-inclined birth line, instead I’m thinking it may be time for guitar lessons. 

Regardless of what I DON’T know, I watch in awe as she grows and blossoms into the darling young lady that she is, with little thought to her genetics. 

Maybe the reason her past is seemingly insignificant is because I feel in large part, both of our lives truly started when we came together. 

This is what I DO know about her birth parents: 

I know she was loved enough that they wanted her to have an opportunity at a better life. 

I’ve read varying estimates that range between two million and 18 million homeless children in India.  These are not the ones in orphanages, but rather street kids who wander around and are easy prey for pimps and all kinds of criminals. Wrap your mind around that. 

Millions of children.  

My daughter’s birth parents are to be applauded for making an incredible sacrifice.  They wanted to guarantee her a shot at a better life, even if it meant giving her up. 

Isn’t that the most important thing to know?

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Adoption and Hair

“Mommy, I want to get my hair cut short like yours.”

That sweet, beautiful statement from my daughter, 7, is far more complicated than it sounds.

My daughter has been saying this for awhile now and I’ve continually resisted. While I’m flattered that she wants to be like me, this could be the beginning of a lifelong, love-hate relationship with her hair that many of us women struggle with.

I have flashbacks of getting bad haircuts as a kid, being called a boy and trying to pull the hair out of my head to make it grow faster.

My daughter’s hair is currently just a few inches above her elbows. It’s thick, straight and shiny, the type of hair I’ve always dreamed of having while instead I’ve struggled with curly, coarse locks. The idea of chopping it off to around chin length makes me shudder.

As superficial as it sounds, hair is an inevitable topic that comes to play with adoption. Before I was matched with my daughter, I was briefly on a waiting list for a baby from Ethiopia. Some form of cultural sensitivity training is a common requirement with interracial adoptions. Like many of the classes required for adoption, you go in assuming you don’t need them, but inevitably leave feeling enlightened and grateful for the experience.

Prospective parents are often offered classes on how to style African American hair, if that’s something they are unfamiliar with.

I had to smile during a first season episode of “This Is Us” when Mandy Moore’s character was at a pool with her adopted black son when she was approached by a kind, African American woman who offered help with how to take care of his hair. Moore beautifully conveyed her character’s feelings of confusion, borderline resentment, followed by ultimate gratitude for the advice.

New adoptive moms can relate. Any ignorance is particularly frustrating when the desire is so strong to establish that bond and show the new love in your life that Mommy knows best about how to take care of her little one. That’s not always the case, especially when it comes to something like cross cultural hair care.

That scene was set a couple of decades ago, before there was such an emphasis on cultural sensitivity training and hair care classes for adoptive parents were common.

Although I was prepared to go in that direction, hair was not a major focus during my adoption prep, as I soon learned my daughter was in India.

When I was cleared to pick her up at her orphanage, she was four years old… and to my surprise, she had hardly any hair.

I learned that’s the case with most children at orphanages in India. Overworked caretakers shave the heads of all the kids. In addition to making life easier, another main reason is because lice is so prevalent and the lack of hair obviously prevents it from spreading.

After my daughter came home, she lived with her crew cut style for awhile and then had the inevitable growing out phase, which seemed to drag on forever. She never complained about it, but I couldn’t wait for her hair to get longer.

Flash forward to three and half years later and she has the most luscious locks you’ve ever seen. Strangers in stores stop me to compliment her shine. No products necessary. One of my favorite things to do is to brush and style her hair. She is truly my living doll and I get to play dress up with her.

Now this: “Mommy, I want to get my hair cut short like yours.”

This tugs at my heart so deeply because I know the sentiment behind it. My daughter is desperately searching for similarities between us. It’s not always easy to look differently than your adopted child. I don’t even notice our skin color- as far as I’m concerned we are connected through our hearts- but other kids do notice superficial differences…. and then my daughter does, too.

I always tell her she has the most beautiful brown skin I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t matter because it’s different than her mommy’s. She hears other kids being told they resemble their parents. A seemingly innocent question from a peer can trigger a sore spot.

So with that mind, how can I ever NOT agree to allow her to flatter me by trying to replicate my haircut? Yet… I can’t imagine cutting off and discarding that beautiful hair.

I asked her today, “How would you like to donate your hair to people who don’t have any?”

She looked confused and replied, “You mean, like Uncle Don?”

Nope, not my bald brother.

“There are kids who are sick and lost their hair,” I explained. “They would be so happy to get a wig made out of your gorgeous hair.”

Her eyes lit up. The idea of helping sick kids is now almost as appealing as looking more like her mother.

I love my sweet girl more than I can ever express.

Time to make a hair appointment.

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For information about hair donation: http://www.locksoflove.org

To see my other posts about adoption: http://www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com

 

 

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Thoughts on Being an Adoptive Mom This Mother’s Day:

Thoughts on Being an Adoptive Mom…

People who are interested in adopting sometimes approach me with questions. I love that. I help as much as I can, although any adoptive parent would agree that each case is very unique. I’ve shared my story here about my long road to becoming a mother. Now I can tell you what life is like on the other side, a few years later.

Highlights over the past three and a half years include countless days at the park, weekly outings with Nana and Papa, and snuggling together every night.

She went from being a terrified girl who knew just basic English words on her first day of pre-school to a confident, excellent reader and well socialized, soon-to-be second grader. We’ve had soccer games and Christmas plays and many play dates with friends who’ve become near and dear to both of us.

We’ve had two trips to Disney World and the same amount of trips to the emergency room. Suffice to say, I’ve aged a lot. My smile lines are more pronounced (that’s a good thing) and while I never felt like a grinch before, I’m sure my heart has grown a few sizes.

Being a mother changes a person in many ways. The obvious being, my whole world went from revolving around my needs and wants to revolving around what’s best for my daughter. She is in my thoughts 24/7 and every decision… from the smallest to the largest… is automatically weighed by how it will affect her.

As for the not always obvious changes….

I have never before experienced a confluence of joy, excitement, anxiety and dread, coupled with overwhelming responsibility. The joy and excitement come from watching her grow into the beautiful person she is. No matter what goes wrong during my day, I have her to come home to and that brings me a sense of peace and contentment that I have never experienced. She has filled my heart beyond imagination.

While she is the center of my universe, the same is true for her with me and that can be a heavy load. As a parent, your child is constantly learning from you, even when you’re not paying attention.

I picked her up from school the other day and before I could get a word out, she asks me, “How was your day, Sweetheart?” I melt.
I hate to admit this, but she’s also repeated some other words she’s heard me say that I wished she didn’t!

Being a parent means your little ones are going to duplicate your expressions and mannerisms, as well as your words. My signature dance moves, as embarrassing as they are, are now hers.

Don’t let anyone tell you that biology is responsible for the apple not falling far from the tree. I’d like to think she is my mini me. Only better.

Almost every parent would agree that all they want is for their children to be happy and healthy. This is where the anxiety and dread can come in. When she’s sick or hurting, there’s absolutely nothing worse.

We were driving the other day when I hear her start to cry because she saw a dead raccoon in the road that had been hit by a car. Not a pleasant sight, for sure, but she has real tears streaming down her cheeks and offers a prayer out loud, “Awwww, that poor guy….Jesus, please help him.”

Two days later, we drove on the same street and passed him again and she looked at me with profound confusion.

“Mommy, why didn’t Jesus take him to heaven yet?”

Ummmm… just another question I wasn’t quite prepared for. The challenges… and the chuckles… are endless.

I want her to stay innocent and untarnished forever, to always believe in happily ever after and that every raccoon has a family to go home to, but of course that won’t happen. As a parent, you dread whatever inevitable heart breaks and disappointments are to come in the future that no one escapes in this life.

Like never before, I’m learning the lesson of trying to live in the moment. For now, I’m savoring this magical time.

I definitely look at life differently. Even the stories I cover, I see through the lens of a mother.

My recurrent and automatic thoughts go to things like:
-A teachers’ strike means those poor parents have to find childcare…
-That fire fighter has a mom, I bet she’s worried about him right now….

Yes, I am a mom. And I love it.

Is it different being an adoptive parent versus a biological parent? I can’t speak about the latter, but my daughter and I are connected through our hearts and I can’t imagine any bond stronger. I know God brought us together for a reason.

To anyone thinking about adoption, these are just a few of the wonderful, endearing and even raw feelings and moments you have to look forward to.

I know the deep pain of longing to be a parent and hitting roadblocks. It hurts. You have my prayers. God has a plan. Hang in there. I often think about the many paths my life could’ve taken….how many times I thought a roadblock was the answer I didn’t want and it was simply a reroute to bring me to my daughter.

My REAL daughter.

The road getting there is often difficult but life on the other side is rewarding beyond your wildest imagination.

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

A Whole New World

In one way, finally coming home with my daughter after two years of searching and waiting for her is the end of the story. In another way, it’s just the beginning. Angel found herself in a foreign land with her new family and I was in my own foreign land, suddenly thrust into the amazing world of motherhood.

In the weeks that followed our arrival home, Angel was happy and curious to learn as much as possible about everything in her new environment. Communicating was much easier than expected. In practically no time, she was able to easily whip through picture flash cards with words like “spoon,” “water” and “blanket.” When we would watch TV, she didn’t hesitate to ask about words she didn’t understand. She was courageous and eager to explore new things. For instance, she was boldly ready to dig around in this curious substance outside called, “snow,” despite the extreme hot weather climate she had known all her life.

While she was joyfully bonding with her new grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, she was also, understandably, very shy around strangers. We spent every minute together, 24/7, during my eight week family leave from work. When that time off came to an end and I had to be away from her to go back to work, I felt like an emotional wreck, at least temporarily.

As a woman longing for a child for years, I had some preconceived notions of what being a mom was all about. Most of it was on target. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was the intensity in which it changes your heart. Of course, I looked forward to cuddling, laughing and playing together — all the fun stuff. But I never imagined the mundane tasks that the role also brings would be so enjoyable. I literally could not get enough of my daughter…and still can’t. I miss her every second when we’re apart. Perhaps it’s because we are making up for some lost time.

Eventually, we established a comfortable routine. I’m so grateful to have family and close friends nearby who are wonderful caretakers and Angel is settled in at a school we both love.

Her first day at school was a tough one…for me. I cried after dropping off this terrified child who had no clue what school even was, let alone having to face all these strangers for the first time. For several weeks, it was hit or miss at drop off time. On the tougher days, she would hide behind me and put a vise grip on my leg.

She might as well have put the vise grip on my heart. It was painful to pull her off and walk away, knowing how petrified she must’ve been, especially considering all the changes she had recently been through.

Flash forward to present day… I’m beaming with pride, tears again in my eyes, as Angel is all smiles accepting her diploma at Pre-Kindergarten graduation. After the ceremony, she is running, laughing and playing with her classmates. She talks about her friends at school nonstop and can’t wait for summer play dates. Her teachers, who have been remarkable, tell me what a joy it has been to watch her growth. She was the shy, silent kid in a cocoon, who right before our eyes, blossomed into a social butterfly.

(For those of you who hate moms who think their kid is the greatest, please skip the next two paragraphs!!) Now is my moment to brag about just how remarkable my little girl is. At the risk of sounding annoying, I have to marvel at all her accomplishments: latching onto a new family, moving to a foreign country, learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and now, successfully conquering her first year of school while making many new friends in the process. Angel really is an angel. She saved me as much as I saved her. She has brought more joy and laughter to my life than I ever thought possible. Not only for me, she also has changed the lives of my parents, siblings and entire family more than I ever could have imagined. You can’t help but smile when you look at her sweet face.

I’m constantly impressed by her courage, adaptability, intelligence and contagious laughter. The phrase I hear from her more than anything else is, “I’m happy! Mommy, are you happy?” Her little wheels are constantly turning in that brain and she is empathetic beyond her years. She is an old soul.

That being said, there have been a few rare moments of adjustment in which she wasn’t all smiles. It’s not uncommon for children coming from orphanages to have a fear of abandonment, for obvious reasons. Although these instances have been few and far between, they pack a punch. Something as simple as me taking out the garbage, going to get the mail, etc., has, at times, instilled panic. I always tell her if I have to step out of her sight for even a few seconds, but I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes she can be distracted in play and not hear me.

Those are the times she has come running out and angrily scolded me, “Mommy, don’t you ever leave me!” I also heard one time, “Mommy, I thought you were dead,” muffled through sobs.

It pains me deeply that her past life experience has allowed her mind to go there. Her fears are weakening however, and I know her security will continue to increase in time. As cliche as it sounds, all the child development experts agree — love really is the greatest healer. It’s also an important, comforting reminder for anyone considering adoption or just getting acquainted with a newly adopted child. Love heals.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know details about her life before the orphanage. I do ask her frequently about her life in India, because I don’t ever want her to forget about her heritage. I’ve learned just a few tidbits, including the fact that it stormed a lot during her years in Mumbai; many of the other kids didn’t always want to play and that made my daughter sad; and when kids cried, they were given chocolate to soothe them. The most impactful thing she told me about the orphanage, “I missed you, Mommy.” When I followed that up with a question about the other kids around her, she replied sadly, “They all miss Mommy’s.”

Gulp. I pray they all find loving homes.

We’ve been together for a year and a half now. My life has changed 180 degrees. Free time that used to be filled with social events downtown has been replaced by swimming lessons and soccer practice in the suburbs. Everyday is busy, stressful, chaotic, crazy, and a ball of fun. Everything and anything she goes through, I experience vicariously and my feelings are magnified. I’m constantly worried about her wellbeing, yet that newfound anxiety takes a back seat to the unexplainable joy in my heart. I never realized you could feel so many seemingly contradictory emotions simultaneously. Welcome to parenthood. I can’t imagine life without her.

The other night I was reading my daughter one of our favorite books, “I Wished For You,” which is the story of a Mama Bear without any cubs who struggled alone before she was finally able to adopt her own baby bear. I can never get through the whole story without getting choked up.

At the end of the book, Angel asked, ” Mommy, did you wish for me?”

“Yes! Yes, I did,” I told her. “Just like Mama Bear. You are my dream come true.”

“Mommy,” she said sweetly. “I wished for you, too.”

To see previous blogs, visit: http://www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com

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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.

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

For the latest information on international adoption requirements, go to:
https://travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en.html

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

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Long Days In Delhi

We remained in Delhi for about a week. It was an unusual time. While I was goofy in love with my new daughter, I was also overcome by the reality that we still had some hurdles to cross before we could leave.

 

First order of business, we had to take Angel to a medical facility to get tested for clearance to come to the U.S. This is standard procedure for international adoption, but extremely stressful for several reasons. First of all, Angel was terrified of whatever was going to happen to her; secondly, I was terrified of whatever was going to happen to her; and thirdly, the outcome could delay her release from the country… a frightening possibility I was unable to shut out of my mind.

 

Again, thank God I wasn’t alone. I had the support of my sister by my side and we had our guide, Anu, who was sent to us through the adoption placement agency and by this time, a few days into the trip, already felt like a close friend.  As an experienced escort for new, adoptive families, Anu provided us with guidance through the process and much needed explanation when things frequently got lost in translation, not to mention, her nearly constant, comforting presence.

 

Poor Angel ended up having to get a few vaccinations and medical tests. Nothing serious, but I literally had to hold her down as she screamed and kicked when she saw the needles…not the task I wanted to have as her newfound mom.

 

After her trip to the doctor, we laid low, as Angel wasn’t feeling too well. The visit was on a Thursday and it was a long wait until Saturday to get the results of her tuberculosis test. I must’ve checked her arm a million times to make sure there was no visible reaction, as any mark, even a false positive, would mean she would have to return to her orphanage in Mumbai instead of coming home with me. These medical results were required before we could move on to the next step. It was a tense two days with not much to do.

 

In addition to Anu, Aunt Laura and I made a few other new friends during our stay in India. Since we spent so much time on the grounds of our hotel, we got to know the staff pretty well. We fell into a pattern of hitting the same restaurant for breakfast daily and then the same “Italian” restaurant on the grounds of the resort for dinner.

 

We were enjoying the Indian food, but carefully heeded all the warnings not to drink the tap water.  One time I forgot to use bottled water when brushing my teeth and within hours felt nauseas. Fortunately, neither one of us ever got really sick.

 

At dinner, we were greeted by the same, friendly waiter each night.  We called him “CP,” because we failed miserably at articulating his real, multisyllabic name. He always had a big smile on his face, and a high five or kind word ready for Angel. Within a couple of days, he knew us well enough to have a bottle of red and a kiddie cocktail waiting for us before we even sat down. Clearly, we are predictable.

 

It got to the point that we looked forward to seeing him every night. I asked him all about Indian cultures. His face lit up when he talked about Diwali and he showed us pictures of the celebrations. On our last day in India, he brought us pins with a symbol of the Indian flag to take home. It felt a little sad to say goodbye to him.

 

That was also the way we felt about Anu. During the course of the trip, we had the pleasure of meeting Anu’s lovely, college-age daughter. Part of the guidance Anu gave to me was based on her experience and her knowledge of the country of course, but there was also another part of herself that she shared — the seasoned mom who was holding my hand through this entire process in a foreign land.

 

Aunt Laura also thought she became “friends” with the Indian merchants in the shops at the hotel. There was one she visited so often, he would hug her when she walked in the door. This guy saw my sweet, trusting sister coming from a mile away. He sold her multiple souvenirs, including scarves “marked down just for you, Laura.” I was a little more guarded with this charming salesman. At one point, Anu scolded us for buying anything out of her presence. She took us to a street market and tried to do all our bargaining for us, for which we were very grateful.

 

On one other occasion, we found ourselves venturing out alone and missing Anu very badly. That following Monday we had our first appointment at U.S. Embassy. The medical tests came back clear and I was thrilled to have that paperwork in hand to present as proof. But about an hour before Anu planned to pick us up, I found out we needed something else to bring to the embassy that I didn’t already have: passport size photos of Angel for her travel visa to come home. My new daughter wouldn’t technically be a U.S. citizen until more paperwork was processed several months later. For now, she needed a visa and in order to get one, we needed her photo.

 

The bellhop pointed us in the general direction of a photo shop. It wasn’t until we were well out of range from the hotel that we realized we had no idea where we were going. Nothing resembled a photo shop and the characters we encountered did not appear helpful. We asked one man and perhaps he didn’t understand us, but he simply pointed us in a new direction. We walked for a couple hundred yards, found nothing and then asked another person, who seemed to point us in the opposite direction. This was a stretch where there were no clear sidewalks, just huge buildings on top of very busy streets. We were walking behind and on the sides of various buildings, none of which had a lot of outdoor space.

 

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Angel always wanted to be carried everywhere we went. This was one of those occasions when my tired arms started to tremble, but I wouldn’t put her down. Not only did I love holding her, I was also a little nervous about our safety.

 

Then, the vicious barking started.

 

Wild dogs. The area was rampant with canines that were clearly not domesticated pets. They were probably just afraid of us and wanted to scare us away. It worked! Our heart rates soared. I held Angel tightly. We kept our distance and they didn’t attack.

 

Eventually, we stumbled upon a seedy-looking storefront where someone directed us to a back alley for passport photos. I had mixed feelings about going farther, but we were desperate to get those photos for her travel visa. The appointment had been set up weeks before we ever arrived in India and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything. Thankfully, even though it looked suspicious, the photo shop turned out to be legit. Somehow, we managed to find our way back to the hotel and catch our ride … in the nick of time.

 

Anyone who’s been to India knows how insane the traffic is. There are too many vehicles crammed into too little space and seldom do you come across clearly defined lanes. It’s a fight to get anywhere. On the drive to the embassy, our car was brought to a standstill multiple times. Immediately, panhandlers surrounded us, pounding on the windows.

 

One little girl, not much older than Angel, started doing cartwheels in the middle of the street to impress us. She then held out her hand to us. It was heart breaking. My sister reached in her purse before I reminded her that we were warned not to do that. Problem is, the visitors who give money typically get followed by the recipients pushing for more, and more, and more. And sadly, the money doesn’t often go to the person you give it to. Anu explained these poor kids are sent out on the street to collect money for some scammer who’s pocketing it all behind the scenes. It’s infuriating to realize these beautiful children, all of whom I wanted to rescue, were being used as pawns.

 

The worst image I saw that stays with me to this day was that of a little boy, probably three or four years old, with no pants on, just hanging out under a viaduct. His eyes were sweet and innocent. He looked like he didn’t have much to eat and desperately needed a bath. He walked around as if it were totally normal to be partially naked outside. This was his reality.

 

He wasn’t alone either. There were probably two dozen homeless people beside him. All ages. They weren’t begging for money. They were simply living underneath the viaduct. I had no clue if they were all members of one family, or if they had any connection at all. There wasn’t any conversation that appeared underway among any of them.

 

It saddened me deeply. I kept staring at this little boy and wanted to know his story. I thought about all the wonderful prospective parents I had met during my adoption journey who were struggling and longing to take care of a child. Then I looked at my daughter seated beside me. My arm was around her and my heart grew warm. It took me two long years to get here.

 

This could’ve been her reality.

 

I was immediately grateful for all the caretakers at her orphanage who provided for her until I was allowed to come get her. I also felt indebted to her biological family. Although I wasn’t told anything about them — in fact, I don’t even know if her biological parents are alive — but I do know that someone wanted her to have a better life and brought her to the right place to make that happen. That is an incredible act of love.

 

My sister and I were dumbstruck at the sheer volume of homeless children we encountered during our travels. The need is great and yet there are so many prospective parents who want a child. I wish I could fix the system to make it easier for more of these children to find loving families and safe homes.

 

All I could think about was bringing my daughter home. It felt like the weight of the world was still on my shoulders. I fantasized about our arrival back in Chicago and how wonderful it would feel to start our new lives together.

 

We were so close…but not there yet.

 

 

To see previous blog posts, click here: suddenlysinglemomblog.com

 

 

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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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