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, 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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SingleMoms

It’s a Long Road to India…

After a rough start on my adoption journey, I finally felt my prayers had been answered with doors opening to adopt from India. In what appeared to be miraculous timing, the U.S. State Department had updated its international adoption web site, lifting India’s restrictions on new applications from prospective parents in foreign countries. Yet, I would soon find out I still had some roadblocks and obstacles ahead.

Most adoption journeys are a veritable roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Mine was no exception.

I immediately began researching U.S. placement agencies which handled Indian adoptions. I called one of the most widely advertised agencies first, but did not get the rosy picture I envisioned. A counselor, who seemed very knowledgable and had clearly been handling Indian adoptions for several years, warned me it was unlikely I would be able to adopt a young, healthy child. The reason being, she explained, was that priority was given to adoptive parents within India, or at least of Indian descent. I have no Indian in my background.

Most countries follow that same precedent and reserve the healthiest children for prospective adoptive parents within their own culture. I had heard that before, and understood it, but I still believed it would happen for me.

She asked me what type of child I was open to adopt. For months, my mind kept giving me a picture of a cute, dark-haired little girl. I couldn’t see her face, but in my heart I knew she was in India. I told the adoption counselor I was open to adopting a toddler or little girl, probably up to the age of around 5. It’s not that I didn’t want a newborn, but it’s just not what I pictured. Plus, I figured this would greatly improve my chances since most adoptive parents seek infants.

Her response surprised me.

“You need to start thinking about adopting a much older child, maybe around 12 or 13,” she said. “And be open to severe disabilities. The wider you open your umbrella, the better chance you’ll be able to adopt.” She reminded me that India was only accepting foreign applications for children considered “special needs.”

Mind you, I would love my child unconditionally, regardless of any challenges he or she faced, and regardless at what age I was able to adopt him or her. However, as a single parent with a demanding job, this did not sound like an ideal scenario. More importantly, my instincts were telling me not to believe her. I knew I had a healthy, toddler girl out there and I had to find her.

I ended up signing in with another, much smaller international adoption placement agency based out of Colorado. They were honest and upfront enough to admit they hadn’t done Indian adoptions in years past and were just starting the process. Their lack of experience didn’t scare me away. They never promised me I’d get matched with a healthy child, or guaranteed anything. I simply clicked with the counsellors over the phone and went with my gut.

This is how I also zeroed in on the counselor and local adoption agency that handled my home studies. I still work with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois every few months for post adoption follow up reports.

So much of my adoption journey was a pure leap of faith. Somehow, I weeded out a lot of negativity that could’ve stopped me in my tracks multiple times. I kept my eyes on the prize and followed my instincts. It seems surprising to think about it now. It sounds like a simple case of wishful thinking and ignoring things I didn’t want to hear. The truth is, for some reason I can’t explain, I believed in my heart I had a little girl I had to get to in India…and I knew she was healthy. My first taste of a “mother’s instinct,” I suppose.

I have since come to the conclusion that perhaps some healthy children in orphanages around the world are labeled “special needs” in order to facilitate the process of getting them through the system to find homes in other countries.

Another very important point to keep in mind: something as simple as anemia can result in an child being labeled “special needs.” Sadly, many prospective parents may be scared off from adopting these children, not realizing that all they need is a nutritious diet and iron rich foods to reverse the anemia and by all other means, they’re healthy children!

My goal here is to clear up some misperceptions about international adoption. While it is true the most “perfect,” healthy newborns available for adoption are reserved for adoptive families within their own country, there are many other “very close to perfect” children without parents who are also available — many more than couples within their own country are willing or able to adopt.

In places like India, the number of children without families to take care of them is staggering. The poverty is so extreme, many children are living on the street.

Just this week, I covered the story of a baby abandoned at a hospital in Chicago. Police were searching for the parents. The baby was wrapped up in blankets, the umbilical chord still attached. A newborn baby girl. Fortunately, it was a warm night out and the baby was fine. It certainly wasn’t the first time I covered this type of story in my reporting career, but in the wake of my travels to South Asia, the irony struck me that this was a big news story here.

In India, it’s commonplace for children to be surrendered. Well meaning parents who often can’t afford them, drop off their babies at RIPAs (Recognized Indian Placement Agency), which would be the equivalent of what we would call an orphanage in the U.S. These are the more fortunate kids. Their parents cared enough to get them to a place where they’d be guaranteed shelter, food and a chance at a better life if they can get adopted.

I just had my nine month post visit from a social worker following up on the adoption of my (“perfect,” 🙂 by the way) little girl. This is a counselor I’ve worked with for years and greatly admire. I’m eternally grateful to her for the role she played in helping me bring my daughter home.

I learned the sad news that LSSI is cutting its adoption program and all of those associated with this branch are being let go. She explained there are two reasons for this. 1. The state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for months due to a political stalemate and as a result, their funding is depleted. 2. International adoption, overall, is on the decline.

Why would fewer people be adopting internationally right now?

My mind darts back to the original adoption agency I worked with, where I was discouraged from adopting overseas….and then, the first counselor I spoke with specifically regarding India, and her ominous warning about what I should expect. I encountered many players in this scenario, all perpetuating the myth that virtually no healthy children were available. The system is complicated, negativity abounds and misconceptions prevail, sometimes even generated by people who seem to be “in the know.”

Mine isn’t the only happy ending story. While the laws have changed in recent years, I’m pleased to say I have come to know multiple parents, like me, who shared the same joyful outcome after adopting internationally.

I can’t help but wonder how many prospective parents out there explored international adoption and gave up…not realizing they could’ve also had a happy ending.

I also wonder about how many children out there may have come close to finding a family…but didn’t.

Next Blog:
More unexpected twists and turns before I get “matched.”

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SingleMoms

When One Door Closes…

…another one opens. We’ve all heard that before, but the beginning of my adoption journey is a perfect example of how true that is.

Near the end of 2012, I had dedicated myself to this life changing decision to adopt a child, but I spent the next few months hitting roadblocks at the most well known adoption agencies in the Chicago area. One after another, telling me it was highly unlikely I would get picked by a birth mother because single parents weren’t considered desirable.

After licking my wounds, it was time to explore other options. As I mentioned in my last blog, I had previously looked into foreign adoptions and foster care but found little hope of success there either. I specifically checked on adopting from India, but they were not accepting applications from prospective adoptive parents overseas.

With the odds against me for a domestic adoption, I decided to re-explore the international route. Countries that follow the Hague convention rules have all developed their own list of criteria for whom they will allow to adopt. They require things; like, a certain age range for adoptive parents, there are residency restrictions, health specifications, minimum income, how many children are allowed in the home and marital status.

I was surprised and disappointed to learn just how many countries would only consider adopting to married couples.

The decision to go it alone, which had felt so liberating, was turning into my biggest obstacle – no matter where I tried to adopt from.

One afternoon during this challenging time, I got a phone call from my sister. Her voice sounded inappropriately excited relative to my glum mood. She was passing along a message from her friend who suggested I try to adopt from India. Her sweet friend, of Indian origin, was discussing the sad state of all the homeless children encountered  during recent travels. That killed me. Frustrated, I told my sister that I had previously looked into India and they were not accepting foreign applications.

I don’t know what made me check again. What seemed to be a split second decision to surf the web changed my life.

My sister’s friend didn’t know this when she made her suggestion, but India had just reopened its doors to overseas applicants DAYS before. She had no insight into international adoption regulations, but was simply passing along what struck her heart. Had she not brought it up, it’s doubtful I would’ve pursued it because I didn’t think it was an option.

Additionally, consider this: India lifted its stay on foreign adoptions LESS THAN THREE WEEKS after I received a gut wrenching blow when I was “released” by another adoption agency that decided I wouldn’t find success there.

Furthermore, India was one of just a handful of countries I explored that allowed single parent adoption.

Two cliches ring true. Timing is everything and there’s no such thing as coincidence.

My fascination with India was actually piqued shortly before my daughter was born. I love to look back and marvel at where I was, and where my daughter was, at any given time before we met. A few years prior, while recovering from a breakup I found solace in yoga. I started attending regular classes, workshops and reading books about its origins. Suddenly, India was on my radar. Other “yogis” I talked to kept mentioning their travels to India. It seemed like I went decades without paying that much attention and suddenly everywhere I turned I was hearing or reading about India. I developed an intense curiosity and admiration.

Something clicked inside me when I saw the alert posted on the U.S. State Department’s web site about the change in status for Indian adoptions. I knew the little girl that I automatically kept picturing in my head was there.

However, the notice also indicated they were only allowing children classified as “special needs” to be adopted overseas. This didn’t deter me in the least. For some reason, I didn’t believe it. It wouldn’t have made a difference in my decision, but for the record, my daughter is healthy and not considered special needs.

This was just the beginning of my miracle slowly unfolding.

***India has since opened its doors to foreigners for adoption of all children available, not just those classified as “special needs.” Changes in the requirements and status of active foreign adoptions are updated frequently. For the latest information, check:

www.travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en.html

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SingleMoms

The Beginning

People often ask me why I chose to adopt a child from India. The most accurate answer is, “because that’s where my daughter was born.” Fairly soon into my adoption journey I knew this in my heart. I can’t explain it other than divine intuition.

Most adoptive parents I’ve talked to agree that their particular child was meant to be with them. I’ve heard, “Your child finds you,” “God matches you with your children,” etc. It doesn’t feel random at all. Although before your miracle happens, more often than not there are some bumps and bruises along the way that cast doubt and disappointment.

I started the process of trying to adopt at the end of 2012. I had previously been through a divorce and a couple of subsequent relationships that at one point I hoped would eventually lead to kids, but things didn’t work out. I never thought I would have the ability, time, resources, etc to be able to be a single parent. Thank God I was wrong.

For some reason, I mustered up the courage to go it alone. I had been pining for a child for years and suddenly decided I was going to the take steps to have one, regardless of my relationship status. Little did I know at the time, but just months prior, while the idea was coming to fruition in my brain, my daughter had been surrendered for adoption to an orphanage in India.

International adoption was not foreign to me. My teenage niece and nephew were both adopted, from Russia and Romania, respectively. Russia had just closed its doors to international adoption when I began my journey. I remember briefly looking into India out of curiosity but it was also closed at the time. Before checking much further on other countries, I started on the path for a domestic adoption. I signed with a well known agency that seemed to encourage that route, citing some concerns about Americans getting healthy babies overseas.

The initial phase involves some preliminary paperwork and classes. I was so excited once things got rolling! It finally felt real. From the get go, I had this vision of a little girl in my head. The agency told me that toddler and older children adoptions were rare for them. They typically helped pregnant young women find families to adopt their newborns to. Furthermore, adoptive parents could not specify a requested gender because, as we know, ultrasounds are not always accurate.

That prompted me to do a little research into the fostering-to-adoption route. What I discovered is while that may be the perfect path for some, it wasn’t for me. I was uncomfortable with the possibility of not being able to adopt a child I was fostering and became attached to, if the biological parents were able to regain custody. Everyone has a different adoption journey. You have to do the research and figure out what feels most right for you.

I happily continued on my path of classes and meetings for a couple of months until one day I had a request for a phone interview with someone from the agency. Of course! I spent nearly an hour on the phone with a top administrator answering questions about my intentions to adopt, my plans for childcare, raising my baby, etc.

At the end of the conversation she said, “I don’t think our agency is for you.” I was stunned, thinking I had answered every question to their liking. She went on to explain that the last single woman they had adopted to waited nine years. Nine years! She said young pregnant women typically are searching for a white picket fence scenario (or, what appears to be so) and would never consider a single woman to adopt to because they themselves feel unable to raise a child alone.

She then gave me the name of another agency and ended with, “You’re welcome to stay with us for as long as you’d like, but I don’t know if it will ever lead to the outcome you want.”

I was crushed.

I called the other agency she recommended and made an appointment asap. That meeting only confirmed my worst fear.

“I don’t know why they would recommend us,” I was told. “Why would you have any better luck here?” They described equally grim odds for single parent adoption. It felt cold, but these administrators were simply stating the truth, as they saw it. I’m sharing this not to discourage single parent adoption. Just the opposite. I’m hoping this information will spare someone from a setback of months and a lot of disappointment. There are other routes out there!

Regardless of my detour, I don’t regret any part of my journey because it led me exactly where I needed to be. The most poignant moment during my time with the first agency happened when a middle-aged man who was adopted as a baby came to a meeting of prospective adoptive parents. He shared his story of wanting to meet his biological mother. He didn’t want to tell his adoptive parents because he didn’t want to hurt their feelings. The agency arranged a private meeting. He described all his emotions leading up to this huge encounter. When he finally came face to face with the woman who gave him life and then put him up for adoption he said to her, “I just have two words for you.” At this point, he got choked up, his voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears.

“Thank you,” he said.

All the twists and turns, even the struggles, led me to the perfect child for me. My daughter. My heart. The little child I can’t imagine ever living without.

In the spring of 2013, I was struggling. I knew she was out there somewhere. I just didn’t know how to find her.

At least not yet…

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