Monday, June 27, 2011

Remembering Trip #2

We returned home from our first trip to Russia the last week of December and prayed for a quick court date. We ritually looked at the photos and videos from our first trip. Was this child really going to become our daughter and be here with us? The holidays came and went, and 2 1/2 months later we were given a less than one week notice of our court date. Things kicked into high gear. We scrambled to obtain visas, make travel arrangements, and get things squared away at our offices for a nearly month long absence. We packed smarter for ourselves and tried to anticipate what we would need for the nearly two weeks we would be with our baby in Russia. As first time parents, it was difficult to know what to bring.

Arriving in Russia for the second time felt great; it was so good to be back! We stayed at the same hotel as during our first trip, and ate at the same restaurants. The familiarity was comforting in the face of all the emotions that were swirling around in our heads. The next day, we went to visit Angelina. We were so nervous! Would she remember us (no, not really)? How has she changed from our first visit (not that much)? That night, our translator prepped us for court in the morning. We were expected to address the court about why we wanted to adopt Angelina and were provided with a bullet list of issues to be included in our speech. We stayed up late writing our speech, like a couple of college kids working on a paper at the midnight hour. Pure adrenaline.

Court was an emotional experience. We "plead our case" to the court, and the social worker, chief nurse from the baby home, and prosecutor all spoke in support of granting our petition to adopt Angelina. After the judge granted our petition, we held each other and wept in the court room. I will never forget that moment. From there, we went to visit our daughter. It was surreal.

According to Russian law, we had to wait 10 business days before we could officially sign Angelina out of the baby home. We decided to make the most out of this wait period and committed to having fun while overseas. We acted like tourists - we went sightseeing, saw an opera, dined at fancy restaurants and even hopped a train to nearby Latvia to see the land of my husband's ancestry (see our earlier posts about the details of these adventures). We visited Angelina nearly every day - save for our time in Latvia. We believed we had firm control over the transition that was taking place and there was nothing we couldn't handle. Ha!

Gotcha day finally came and things initially seemed to move along seamlessly, despite warnings from our agency to the contrary. As gotcha day moved into gotcha night, we realized our relief over Angelina's seemingly easy transition was premature. Angelina was clearly very distressed by the uprooting of her life. She cried - screamed - A LOT. The days and nights began to blur together as my husband and I handled the baby in shifts to allow the other person a bit of relief. It was utterly exhausting and - if I am being honest - I have never felt so pushed to the brink of my own sanity. It wasn't that we didn't love or care for our child, it was just we didn't know how to comfort her. She was so, so upset. The days and nights blurred together and sleep deprivation started to become a problem. That first week was really tough. I guess Angelina finally accepted the reality of the situation that yes, she was stuck with the two of us well-meaning, albeit novice, parents. Slowly, she came out of her funk and returned to the baby we had come to know and love. Throughout it all, we began to slowly evolve into a family.

Exhausted and ready to come home, the 3 of us traveled to Moscow to take care of the final bit of adoption related business (at the US Embassy), then onward to Orlando, Florida. The finish line was in sight! By that point, we were easily able to communicate with Angelina, even though she didn't understand English and we didn't speak Russian. Somehow, it all worked out.

We arrived home to Orlando on a Saturday night, covered in dried baby food and baby vomit and looking like we both rolled in a dumpster. We were parents! Our family met us at the airport. We were overjoyed to see them and proud to introduce our daughter, Angelina.

The next day, our families came from out of town for a quiet gathering to behold Angelina. Another day we will never forget.

Angelina has been with us for about 3 months now. We were told our lives would never be the same and that is indeed true. We are a pack of 3 now. A diaper bag full of baby snacks, a change of clothes, random toys and a spill-proof sippy cup is how we roll. We now know the words to all of the Wiggles songs and plan our weekends around Angelina's naps. We have settled into a comfortable life as a family, and we wouldn't change it for anything.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Remembering Trip #1

Angelina is now 17 mos. old. - I can't believe how quickly she is growing! How much she has changed in the short 2 1/2 mos. we've been home! I find myself reflecting a lot these days on our time spent in Russia, with Angelina.

I remember the referral pictures we received. Angelina was bright-eyed and smiling, she looked like a cherub. In December, we arrived in Russia to meet her. A caretaker carried her out to us. She was wearing a red, velvet dress with a pink bow headband and light pink leather sandals. She looked so much smaller than in her pictures. I remember focusing in on the petite baby being carried out to us and thinking "Oh my goodness, is that her? She is so small!" The handed her to us and led us into an office, to become acquainted with Angelina. During the first few moments, we all just looked at each other. Angelina was 10 1/2 mos. old. She was inquisitive, just learning to walk, and very, very sweet. She wasn't interested in most of the toys we brought for her to play with; we were the focus of her attention. I remember feeling a bit bewildered - I didn't have any children, and frankly, wasn't sure where to begin to get to know this child. Angelina sat on my husband, Eric's lap. She began playing with the buttons on his shirt. She was so curious about those buttons! At that moment, I touched the fine, brown hair on her head. I just couldn't believe we were finally meeting the child we dreamed about for so long, the reason we went mad over paperwork and other requirements for the last year. She was real and we were together! From there, our love for each other took root. Each visit during that trip was better than the last. By our third and fourth visits, the 3 of us were in our own world; we were already becoming a family.

After our third visit, we informed our agency representative that yes, we wanted to adopt this child, Angelina. We knew she was the child we were meant to parent. The morning of our fourth visit, we met with the social worker at her office. She shared with us the details surrounding Angelina's biological family. I openly wept; it was just so sad. Then we signed the first of many Russian documents required in order to adopt Angelina and headed to the baby home to visit our baby for the last time on this trip. During that last visit, I held and kissed Angelina repeatedly. In my mind, I was "loading her up" with love and affection that I veinly hoped would sustain her until we returned.

That trip was nearly perfect; in fact it exceeded our expectations. We left Russia with hearts full of love for that child, wondering how we were going to bide our time as we waited for our court date.

I gaze at the child who is now our daughter, and am filled with a sense of gratitude beyond words. When I hear her stir in the morning, my heart skips a beat with the anticipation of seeing, holding, smelling my child. I no longer feel bewildered by this tiny person who now occupies so much of my world and my thoughts. And with each passing day, I become more assured of my position as "Mom" in Angelina's heart.