The Adoption Secret



During a recent trip to a playground, a well-meaning mom approached me with a surprising question. 

“Does your daughter know she’s adopted?” 

I looked at her quizzically and she continued, “My child asked if your daughter was adopted and I told her I didn’t know because I didn’t want her to say anything.” 

I certainly appreciate her sensitivity to the matter, but the thought struck me as amusing that my daughter wouldn’t know she’s adopted. This family was not aware that I didn’t get custody until she was a cognizant four year old, but I figured the fact that we have two different skin colors is pretty much a dead giveaway. 

That obviousness is not always welcome because sometimes we get double takes from strangers and frankly, how our family came together is no one else’s business. 

But I would never be motivated to keep her adoption a secret… especially from her. 

Why would I? There’s nothing to hide. I want it to be something she’s proud of…. the fact that she was chosen specifically and I worked so hard to make her my daughter. 

Social workers advise adoptive parents tell their child his or her “adoption story” often and from the start. I have a photo album of memories from our process in India that we look through every year on my daughter’s Gotcha Day, the anniversary of the date adoptive parents gain custody. 

Today happens to be the Gotcha Day of my niece, now 22, who was adopted as a baby from Russia. I’ve grown up in a family where adoption is something to be celebrated, not kept a secret. 

When children know their origin from the start, there’s no bombshell to drop later which can be shocking or interpreted as negative because it was kept hidden for years prior.  

Particularly in previous generations, many adoptive parents felt compelled to not tell a child whether he or she was adopted under the guise of protecting them. 

Let me tell you about a man named John. He was born and raised in Chicago with his parents who immigrated from Ireland at some point. His teenage cousin back in Ireland wanted to come to the U.S. to start a new life here and upon arrival, she stayed with her relatives in Chicago. 

Ann, 17, clicked with her cousin, John, who was just a few years older. In fact, they had such an apparent connection that it compelled John’s mother to have a sit down discussion with her son. 

His mother told him that he was adopted, which he had no knowledge of before. It was a shock to both John and Ann that they were not biologically related. 

It was not long after that, I’m told, that John and Ann were married…. My maternal grandparents had quite a story. The adoption roots run deep in my family. 

I know my great grandparents only had my grandfather’s best interests at heart. They most likely didn’t want him to feel different in any way. Adoption was something that was typically kept a secret back then. 

It’s taken decades for society as a whole to transform its thinking and embrace adoption. 

The current trend not only favors open communication, but complete open adoption, in which the adoptive family maintains contact, in varying degrees, with the birth parent(s).

Opinion on this and the extent of contact with the birth parents varies. That’s a personal decision which should be based on the unique needs of each individual child and all the players involved. 

But I’m surprised to hear there are still some adoptive families who currently choose to keep their child’s adoption a secret from him or her. 

I have a friend who works at a pediatrician’s office. One of her young patients has a note in her medical file advising all personnel who come in contact with her not to reveal to this child that she is adopted. It’s her parents’ request and completely their right up until the child is 18. 

From the outside we shouldn’t judge this situation. I’m not a fan of pointing fingers at other parents, but for medical reasons alone this is a secret waiting to be told, not to mention the emotional processing to come. 

My hope would be for all adopted children to be proud of the fact that their parents wanted them so badly that they went out of their way to make it happen even though biology or life circumstances didn’t cooperate. 

It hurts when some people still don’t get that. Ignorant comments differentiating between birth and adoptive children can strike a nerve. It doesn’t happen often, but I have an acquaintance who feels the need to point out having a “real child” (versus adopted.)

Biology and chromosomes don’t make a family. A family is defined by the love that binds them. 

My daughter is my REAL daughter in every way, legally and otherwise. I couldn’t possibly love her any more. It’s doesn’t matter that our skin color is different or that she didn’t grow in my tummy. 

We are connected in the most powerful way… through our hearts and souls. 

And I want her to know, that’s no secret. 



The Longest Trip of My Life


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


She laughed hysterically.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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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.




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…


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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!