Our story of how we came to bring Claire home is not like a lot of the adoption stories I read when I started my research.
Let me start by saying right off the bat, our adoption experience from beginning to end was nothing short of extraordinary and I’d have to say was rather easy. You should read this one if you are discouraged from the process and are concerned that it’s just simply too hard.
I think when Bob and I started out together we assumed we would have some bio children and would consider adoption as well. We have always been open to it. Of course I didn’t really know anything about it, and how it is different and how it will change your life and perspective on how you think forever. Of course, parenting in general will do this to you, but the adoptive process will alter your perspective even further.
Suffice it to say that during Thanksgiving of 2002, we were not pregnant and did not have any biological children running around the house. I didn’t fret this fact until this very thanksgiving because I always felt that it would happen, and in the meantime we could enjoy crazy ski vacations, eating out whenever we wanted, and the life that is afforded to married couples without kids. But on this particular day during the holiday I was gripped by this overwhelming urge. I don’t know how to describe it…It wasn’t to ‘have a baby’ it was to become a mommy. I don’t know if there really is a difference here, but it was unshakable for me, I was driven.
As Bob and I were driving to a holiday function, I finally told him that I didn’t want to wait any longer… I explained that there was no reason that we could not start our family now, through adoption. Bob, who is one of the easiest going people I know said, “I think it’s an excellent idea”. I am not sure if he really thought it was or was being supportive of something that I clearly wanted to do more than anything. Whatever the reason, I ran with his support!
When we got home that evening, we discussed it some more. We knew that we wanted to pursue an international adoption as the race of the child didn’t matter to us. When I suggested the Countries that were available he said, “if you are asking me to consider a Country that I want to have a connection to the rest of my life, I would pick Nepal” I am not kidding…We have both had a fascination with this Country for many years, but I just didn’t think that was an option. I explained that it was not one of the Countries that I have seen that allowed for US adoptions, but that I would research it further. Well, I ran upstairs did a search and…
I landed on the Florida Home Studies and Adoptions site and I got to Bonnie Loza’s story. That Monday I called her, and have never felt more right about anything. Here was this woman that I spoke candidly with, and who shared with me her insights and wisdom that can only be garnered by going through it a few times, and in her case quite a few times! Her passion for the children was tremendous and I knew that I was in good hands so 2 weeks later I was filling out my first ‘round’ of paperwork to apply for the Nepal program with FHSA. This is an interesting point because I received a lot of criticism about my ‘rigorous’ search of the right agency…or rather lack of rigor... What can I say, I am one that usually goes with what feels right, and then I do a lot of hoping and praying that I’m not wrong…In this instance I was right where I should have been.
By Christmas, we announced our intentions to adopt a baby from Nepal to our family. Honestly, I don’t know if everyone really knew where Nepal was, or what we were getting ourselves into. Many had some opinions, and every bad adoption story anyone knew was fair game for conversation, but in the end, we had the support of all of our friends and family.
Now I am not the most organized person in the world. In fact, I might be the worst. At first I was scared, but I’ll tell you, a lot of people complain about the paperwork. I say, enjoy it…every minute of it because it is the only part of the process that you have control of. When you are not pregnant, but still about to become a mommy, you don’t have the cues and sensations that pregnancy provides you. The paperwork is the care and feeding that will bring your baby home….and I loved it! It was like a great treasure hunt for me. A giant list of things I needed and I worked like a demon to set the record on its completion. I don’t know if I succeeded in any record, but by March 15th we received our 171-H (the coveted document that says all is a go to bring your baby home) and sent the packet off to Bonnie. I will never forget that day as long as I live. Bob and I were in Staples copying everything…He was like a proud Dad, he cleared off the biggest desk of it’s sales signs and pulled up two giant leather chairs and we sat piling, organizing and copying while people shopped around us. I was beaming, and he was shocked…I don’t think he really knew what it was I was gathering for months. Sure, he’d go to his appointments but when he saw my organizing the “DOSSIER” with the same pride that our forefathers probably put into the Declaration of Independence, I think he was rather moved…and then like that, we put it in the fed-ex box and it was gone. It was sort of sad…I didn’t want to part with it. It meant on to the next phase...waiting. As a consolation prize, we brought the 2 leather chairs home with us…we figured that we’d need to settle into work in the meantime!
If I can offer any advice to the waiting family it is this. When you are saving every penny for adoption, by all means bring on the nesting! I decided that we needed to re-do the kitchen and add on some space for a new mud-room and laundry. Now I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I actually think I was a good ‘waiter’. I think having your house ripped apart sure helps…and Bob was following my lead. I explained that it would take many months. I shared my prediction that it might be late fall before we would hear. I was hoping that by Christmas we’d have our child home. I still was preparing for the fact that something would go wrong. I had read every adoption story and knew that anything can happen to put a kink of some sort into the process. I was waiting for our kink, not necessarily our child, in the first few months of the wait.
We settled into work and the remodeling. Now the hardest part of the Nepal program, in that there is not a real predictor to when you might get your call. It doesn’t necessarily follow a ‘list’ based on when your Dossier gets over …it is really a huge unknown. The reason for this, is that in Nepal, we believe that they really do try to match the right child with the right family, so you may get your referral before someone whose paperwork has been over longer, or after. We were fortunate that we work for companies that were very supportive of this and willing to take the ‘unknown’…still, we knew we had some time.
In June my mother took the lead on preparing a shower for us. This can be a sensitive subject for the family members of the adoptive parents. When do we have it? Do we have it before or after the baby arrives? What will you need when you’re not exactly sure of the age or gender? (In our instance we did not specify gender). But in my opinion you have it before the baby comes home. There are plenty of items that you need that are not necessarily dependent on the very specifics…and you should have it to mentally ‘prepare’ for your child’s arrival.
We piled all of the stuff into the ‘baby’s room’ and waited some more. The ‘baby’s room’ was still serving a giant storage unit for us. It was on our list of things to do, but as I mentioned before, I think I was waiting for the ‘kink’
In July I flew down to FHSA for a Nepal family reunion. This was for the families that have returned home with their children and any waiting families to get together. Bob was unable to join me, but I felt it important to meet the people responsible for the biggest life-change in my adult life.
I met Bonnie Loza and her beautiful family and Susan and Jerry Ham and their wonderful children...I also met the families that returned from Nepal and was blown away by their demeanor, their beauty and the uncanny similarities they shared with their parents. While I had heard that Nepal takes great consideration in matching a child with the family, it was clearly evident when you saw these families together. I was so happy with our decision to work with this agency. Let’s face it; I didn’t even consider another one, so I was pretty thrilled that I found them all to be terrific! On this trip, Mark, one of the FHSA family members said to me. “Emily, you’d better start getting ready”…. Hmmm. That proved to be sage advice…
Now when you are in the waiting phase, the “call’ is obviously what you are waiting for. This call tells you that your child has been identified and you better get on a plane fairly soon to retrieve him/her.
After I returned from the reunion I felt like this might actually happen, they won’t shut down adoptions from Nepal and we really might become parents…”Bob, we should get painting!”
So we got the room painted and somewhat put together. There was still plenty to do.…
Now I suppose that most parents in the “wait’ have some romantic picture of how you will get the call. I was beginning to conjure up my romantic picture but it was in the fall. Do not get me wrong, I wanted the call, but I really believed that there were many families before me, and that surely it would be months.
On August 15th I left the office with 2 co-workers to attend a lunch meeting, which by the way was at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant and I was anticipating some great spicy food (perhaps the theory of spicy foods inducing labor might also work in adoption?) On the way, my cell phone rang with a number I did not recognize. Now my cell phone rings all the time, and usually if I don’t recognize the number I don’t answer it…But on this day I did. It was Bonnie. She said, “Can you talk” and like a rocket scientist I replied, “I don’t know”….I was stumped. Bonnie does this for a living, so I appreciated her next question; “Are YOU driving?..” “No, I’m a passenger.” This must make her feel better so she won’t be responsible for one careening off the road with the news! I knew why she was calling and I had 2 co-workers in the car, not Bob whom I thought I would be with when this happened... I suddenly realized that I did not know the appropriate protocol for receiving the ‘call’.
She explained the reason for her call was to let me know that I received my referral. To which I said, “what do I do, Bob is not with me: Do I call back with him?” Bonnie is one of the greatest women on the planet. I am sure she thought I was crazy, but said “you can call me back”… I giggle when I think of it, as if I was going to hang up the phone with the woman who held all the information, albeit only a little on my child. I said “can I ask what the sex is” and she said… “You have a daughter; I’m sending her picture to you right now” Well I got prickles on the back of my neck, and the adrenaline was taking over. I now needed to know what we had to do to get her! She said you need to travel ASAP..Blah, blah, blah…I didn’t hear much after that. During that time, someone was incessantly trying to click through, imagine that- I’m on the call of my life…and here
nd here, poor Bob is sitting at his computer and sees Bonnie’s email with the subject line: Your beautiful daughter. He has gone out to the car, because he doesn’t want to open this without me….I finally hang up with Bonnie, and talk to Bob. He is in his car, because he is getting welled up at the thought of what is happening. BUT he still hasn’t opened the picture. I insist that he go back into the office to open it, he does, and he loses it completely. We both agree that we need to get our stuff and get home to regroup. We’ll call Bonnie back together and get to Nepal!
I went back to the office to gather my things (the co-workers were kind enough to cut the meeting short, as I spent the entire time in the parking lot calling the family and friends to give them the news!)
I got back to my computer and saw the message….Now I was preparing myself for all the referral pictures that I have seen…and well, they’re not always great shots of your baby…but mark my words- it will be one of the greatest photos of your child that you will have. As the image opened before me and I finally was able to see her, I was overwhelmed…I can honestly say she was so familiar to me…Of course she was my daughter! It was as if I had known her. She had a mass of black hair and was just the cutest thing. It was my turn to well-up with tears at the sight of her…I could not stop staring at this black and white image. I had a tingling sensation…I think it is the sensation you get when you start to fall hopelessly in love…
Lucky for me, I have great friends at work who are witnessing this life-changing event, one of these co-workers also seems to be welling up with tears and proceeds to help me start to the process of printing these pictures off….We were printing these out like the NY Times…Big, small, medium. I start cutting them out, and putting her name on them. I leave them at the desks of everyone I know as I now realize that I am leaving today, and not coming back for 3 months! Interestingly, since we’ve been home, many people say that her referral picture does not look anything like her…Well, I disagree. To this day it is my favorite picture of our baby girl. Maybe because it was taken in a time when I was not with her, maybe it was that image that I started to fall in love with…whatever the reason, I think it is the best picture in the world!
As I said, my Company was very supportive of our adoption and when I explained that one day we would get a call and would need to travel very soon after that, I don’t know if they really got it until it actually happened: “When will you get the call Emily?”, “Well that’s just it, we have no idea”. It is beautiful when it actually happens! So that Friday, August 15th, we received the call. An announcement was made on the PA system announcing the news of my daughter and that I was leaving for Kathmandu! I was escorted out by my dear friend and photo helper, Rick. It was magical; the only thing that might have been missing was the theme song from an Officer and Gentleman, or some other drama where all the heroine’s dreams come true in the end. Mine sure did in a one hour’s time.
Claire, we’re on our way!
(as a side note: I say Claire, but at this point, her name to us was Bijeta . We hadn’t actually settled on the final name, we’d wait till we meet her to decide for sure.)
Bob and I finally met back at the house and I called the travel company. If anyone on the east coast remembers this weekend, it was when the Northeast power grid was down and NY was in a blackout. That didn’t help our flight situation at all. We were shooting to leave as soon as we possibly could, but we still needed to pack, and make arrangements for the dogs….a black-out only limited our options.
At this moment, the baby officially takes over your brain. I had 8 lists, and had started ‘packing piles’ in every room in the house. We had no clothes for the baby and no diapers, but that’s what the gift cards were for from our shower…. If in doubt, go shopping. Shopping we did, and in 25 minutes before the baby’s R us closed at 9:30 pm we had a full wardrobe for Bijeta.
We finally worked through some semblance of an itinerary to Nepal…it wasn’t great, but I was more concerned about our trip home…with Baby Bijeta’ in tow. We had arranged a first class trip home, with short lay-overs and business class the whole way. (Even the best laid plans can fail…we ended up delayed leaving Nepal, and missed all those great connections…it was a 4 day journey home!)
Finally, Tuesday morning at 10:00, fed-ex arrives with the tickets and we head to the airport for our 1:00 departure. We’re packed, as far as we can tell…we’re not sure what we are in for, so we hope and pray we did ok. I am actually not nervous about it. While I love to worry, I only like to worry to the point where it is not going to help anymore- and then I stop and enjoy what comes…
And that we did. Bob and I approached this with the right attitude. We were going to soak up and enjoy every moment of this journey. The extent of Bob and mine’s international travel was the ‘all inclusive’ kind at a beach resort…Let me tell you, the trip we were on wasn’t like those trips at all! We were going further from home than we have ever been before…and what an adventure.
We touched down in Kathmandu Nepal at 8:30 pm on Thursday evening and were met by 3 men who picked us out saying “Keefe! Keefe!” I didn’t know who they were, but we got in the vehicle and made it to the hotel. (Quite frankly, I was still reeling over the fact that our luggage was neatly waiting for us, and had managed 5 connections and appeared to be safe and sound. I was so busy secretly praying thanks for that little blessing that I didn’t notice we were whisked away…)
We were staying at the Yak and Yeti and it was wonderful…There was a note from our facilitator/guide that he would meet us the following morning…We were excited but tired, and we went to bed finally after 52 hours of travel. (side note: many people may wonder how you can sleep on the eve of meeting your daughter. And to that I say, God must have thrown us a bone because he knew it would be our last full night of sleep for the next 18 years… all I know is I slept like the dead and woke up feeling completely exhilarated)
On that Friday morning, I knew that I was going to meet her later that day. And boy was nervous, anxious and excited! We met with our facilitator/guide and he explained what our week was going to be like and off we went in the capable hands of our assistant and our driver.
For the sake of time I’ll omit the appointments and the busy day that we had, but at 3:45 in the afternoon we arrive at the orphanage. It is closed, as the day before was National Childrens Day in Nepal. Despite that, we wait outside for Bijeta. The orphanage looks sad to me. I know that it is clean and a nice place by Nepali standards, but I am overwhelmed by sadness. Sadness in that fact that I finally have this clarity of vision and realize what tragedy and heartbreak must have occurred for our dream of parenthood to come true. It is a surreal moment.
Finally, the ‘Didi’ or Nanny comes out with this baby in her arms. There is no mistaking this for Bijeta, because and I can see a mass of black curly hair…I am thrilled that it is not shaved! The Didi approaches us and I introduce myself. Our assistant and driver take over the video camera- after some dialogue the Didi hands Bijeta to me and I realize that she fits so perfectly into my the crook of my arm and leans into my chest. I look right into her eyes and say “Hello, I’m your mommy!” And to that she replied with a small grin. It had taken my breath away… I was prepared for some crying and angst, and then I said “and this is your daddy” and well…Bob will always win this one- she just broke out in a giggle and that still holds true to this day!
Now, I’d like to tell you that I was sobbing and that it was a magical moment. I’ll tell you it was the most magical moment, but it was numbing- Bob and I stared at each other in disbelief and then were ushered back into the car to go back to the hotel. I sat there clutching Bijeta as she just kept staring at us…this little 6 month old baby was so alert and excited and never once objected to being ‘handed over’…I don’t know if she knew she was home and with Mommy and Daddy, but she didn’t object a bit and was grinning and laughing the whole cab ride home. I know she was well cared for. Her weight was good and she bonded to us so quickly, it only speaks to the fact that while the conditions seem meager by our standards, they are ample and good and the care and environment is loving. I am grateful to the Didi’s that cared for Bijeta during her stay with them.
We spent our remaining 2.5 weeks in Nepal chasing down paperwork and enjoying the sites of Kathmandu. During our stay the ‘Cease fire’ ended and the Maoist activity started up. We were advised not to venture too far from the city limits. While we did want to do some exploring, we were also perfectly content to shop, and lounge around the hotel getting to know and enjoy our baby girl, whom we decided to call Claire Bijeta. This time in the Country was an extraordinary for us. And I don’t think I realized just how extraordinary until after we came home. For 2 weeks, we had no interruptions (except for the occasional appointments here and there) and we did not do any cooking, cleaning, paying bills etc. Life was on hold, while we focused solely on bonding with this new little addition…it was magical. And well, Bob and I were on our own to figure it out- no one there to tell you how to make the bottles, give the bath etc. It was a rather empowering road to parenthood. By the time we were state-side and had endured a 4 day journey home we felt like pro’s! (As for the 4 day journey home- that’s another story completely!)
On Friday, we were greeted at the Airport by mine and Bob’s parents. We allowed visitors that weekend and then ‘nested’ in…which meant that for the next few weeks I was going to spend time getting to know Claire and developing a routine, because we realized when we got home that the honeymoon was over so speak…we had to resume attending to life’s little details
My Final Thoughts:
One of my dear girlfriends said to me, “I am so sorry that you might not have the chance to know what pregnancy is and the feeling of carrying a child”. I realize that I am saddened too, for the fact that she will never know the absolute joy and have the experience we did! It was nothing short of miraculous and natural…in every sense…as becoming parents should be. But I guess she has such an experience, maybe it’s just the magic of becoming parents, no matter what the road is to get there!
Claire has been home with us for just about 7 months. She is in the 50 percentile for height and weight and seems to be making up for lost time. She is an extremely happy child who is quick to laugh and is very affectionate. She has recently turned 1 and tests Dad and Mom’s baby proofing skills daily.
We now have an unbreakable connection to this tiny Kingdom of Nepal. Adoption is different. There is just no getting around that, but it’s the differences that make it so special. We will always have ‘other’ considerations. Claire does not look like us; the adoption will always be out there. We will be tested as parents in different ways as Claire grows to ensure that she feels completely at ease and comfortable with her life circumstances.
I also can not say enough about the entire team at FHSA who helped make all this possible. Bonnie and everyone in that organization work everyday to help these children get home. We are so grateful.
As an adoptive mom, I also need to open my heart to a woman (and a man) who gave up this precious tiny being and it is through this dichotomy that I am able to receive the greatest gift…the gift of parenthood. Being thankful to this woman just doesn’t feel like enough, but I am so very thankful. Please know that she is being well cared for and is loved very deeply…
Reprinted with permission of Florida Homestudies & Adoption