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Adoption Blog: Man Up!

How Well Can You Prepare for an International Adoption?
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Lessons We Learned on Our Journey to India

My wife, Leslie, and I had been traveling for over 24 hours when we arrived in Bangalore, India, in the middle of the night. We flew in riding a wave of euphoria, after 14 months of paperwork and waiting, finally we were finally going to meet our son! We were so excited, if a little exhausted from the travel. After landing at the airport, our driver greeted us and told us he would be right back with the car. We waited nervously out in front, with uzi-toting security guards and the homeless sleeping on the streets at our feet. The local pool of taxi drivers repeatedly tried to lure us into their vehicles, promising speedy service and cheap rates, and just as I was about to consider one of them, our driver finally returned.

We had never been to India, and our travel brochures did not adequately prepare us for this, or for what we would yet see along the 30-minute drive to our hotel. Instead of the famed "Silicon Valley" of India, as one guide put it, it appeared that we had landed instead in a severely economically-depressed community. As we drove past many dilapidated buildings, on terrible roads, where traffic laws are apparently optional, choking on the heavily-polluted air, with our eyes burning, I began to wonder if we would make it through this trip alive; all of my previous excitement of finally holding my son was rapidly turning into an uneasy fear of the unknown. Upon arriving at our hotel at 3 a.m., a sleeping security guard and a hotel manager, with whom we had great difficulty in communicating, greeted us. Once in our room, the surreality of it all sank in and I began to panic a bit; never before had I been so far out of my comfort zone. Unlike adoptions from some countries, where groups are guided to and from as they travel together to meet their children, with our Indian adoption, Leslie and I were basically on our own. The adoption agency told us where to be and when to be there, and the rest was up to us. I felt helpless; we were only three hours into a two-week trip, and I wanted to go home. Thankfully, when the sun came up and our "gotcha day" began, the world looked a whole lot clearer.

Our journey to pick up our adopted son, Manu, was emotionally-charged. Pre-adoption preparations, counseling, and a seemingly endless wait all conspired to instill a sense of what it would be like when the day finally arrived, but nothing truly prepared us for that special moment when we held our new baby boy, and looked into his eyes for the first time. Suddenly, month’s worth of frustrations melted away, as did the panic of the previous night, and all seemed right with the world.

Armed with my "new daddy" courage, we jumped into Indian culture feet-first, and spent the next two weeks sightseeing and sampling local restaurants and shops. Thankfully, we were speaking the same language, as English is spoken almost everywhere, but because of heavy dialects, sometimes we and the locals had a hard time understanding each other. It became a running joke that, almost without fail, when our meals would arrive, they would be completely different than what I thought I had ordered. Rather than complaining, we used these opportunities to sample foods that we may not have otherwise discovered. Everything was going great, and panic only surfaced again when we realized that we had not packed the amount of food and diapers we would need. At one point, while looking for supplies, we found ourselves lost in the back alleys of New Delhi, two very white people with a very Indian baby, an object of attention to everyone we passed, a spectacle to behold!

Why am I telling you all of this? I want to convey a sense of how draining it was for me emotionally, as what was supposed to be an exclusively happy trip came with early frustrations and challenges. In the end, I think we did a great job navigating a culture so completely different than ours, and we were actually quite sad when it was time to leave. But there was one moment in particular that I was unprepared for, and still haunts me to this day.

We had taken Manu back to the hotel with us on our second evening in Bangalore, with promises to come back to Ashraya, Manu’s children’s home, the following day for a farewell reception. Immediately upon returning to the facility, Manu was taken from us and passed around by his Aunties: the wonderful ladies who care for the children. They loved him so much; there was more than one teary eye as he was about to leave. We took this opportunity to say goodbye to some of the older children, with whom we had spent time playing during our three day visit. These are amazing kids so full of life and optimism; we wish we could have taken them all with us. We then headed to the upstairs outdoor classroom where we were treated to tea, chocolate cake and samosa with sweet and hot chutneys. We talked with the director and staff about the weather, politics, and child rearing, and they gave us some good advice on adapting Manu to our routine. It was during this time that I started to get a little lump in my throat over our pending departure. After the party, we headed back downstairs, and we and Manu said our final goodbyes. Everyone was very happy to see Manu go, now a part of a loving family, but as we walked away, my wife and I were both saddened that Manu may never see his school, his classmates, or his loving caregivers again; and the visit to the children’s home that had been the focus of our thoughts for almost a year, was now over. It’s difficult to explain that mix of emotions; we were more happy than sad, but a phase of Manu’s life was now over, one that we will never be able to adequately describe to him, and that weighed heavily on my soul. For all of the other obstacles we faced throughout our journey, that final walk away proved to be the most difficult.

I realize that as adoptive parents we do not alter our children’s destinies, we augment them. Manu’s path was not determined by us—it was decided month’s earlier in a hospital only days after his birth. In all likelihood he would not have remained in India, being adopted by, if not us, someone, somewhere else in the world. Despite that, I can’t help but wonder what he would be like today had he remained with his birth family. I’m not sure how that would have turned out for him, but there would be a big hole in my heart.


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