Although the Adoption Portraits series was originally intended to include only 30 portraits, I decided to squeeze in one more from my Portrait of an Adoption co-blogger, Candice Warltier. If you are wondering why Candice has written so infrequently in the past year, read on!
We Did It! Surviving the First Year . . .
By Candice Warltier
We drove up to the large house surrounded by a tall steel gate. My driver had taken me on this hour-long, grueling drive through the congested streets of Kathmandu each day for the past ten days. It was 90 degrees, and my mom and I were sweating.
I looked out the back window of the old car with no air conditioning at the hectic streets. There were homeless children begging under the bridges and cows trying to make their way through the dense traffic. My heart was beating fast, full of nervous excitement mixed with great anxiety.
When I left for the orphanage this morning, I told myself to cherish this day and not let my mind wander to the uncertainty of what lay ahead. I had hoped that this day would only be filled with bliss. But that wasn’t the case, and the day was clouded by bureaucracy now standing in our way.
I didn’t know what the future would hold…would I make it home in a few weeks or would I have to live in Nepal for two years? I was frightened, surrounded by uncertainty, but one thing I knew for sure – I wasn’t leaving Nepal without my daughter.
I adopted Antara today. It was a very special day and one that I will remember the rest of my life. We brought a cake and gifts for the nannies and other children. Everyone was happy to see us, but there was a sadness in the air as Anu (Antara’s nickname) would be leaving the family she had known.
Her nanny at the orphanage wrote a letter to Anu that I will one day share with her. We had the cake and said our long goodbyes. The nanny then held Antara and wept. She also took me in her arms and wouldn’t let go as the tears continued to run down her eyes.
I had to imagine what it would be like to say goodbye to a baby who you held in your arms every day for a year. I promised the nanny that I’d always remember her and that we’d come back one day to visit.
* * * *
That was one year ago. It’s amazing how much has changed. The past year, defined by adjustment, has been filled with tremendous joy, frustration, disbelief and amazement. The first few months were literally spent getting used to being back in the U.S. after living in Nepal with complete uncertainty as to when we’d be granted Antara’s visa and allowed to come back to the U.S.
I didn’t see it at the time, but those months spent in Nepal (before coming home to a hectic lifestyle, where I feel little time to breathe) were instrumental in my bonding with my little girl.
When we first got back to the U.S., it felt so good to be home, but it was very stressful introducing Antara to everyone, finding childcare, getting back to work and just being a new, single mom.
My focus was on ensuring Antara’s adjustment to her new life was as smooth as possible. I saw her as a blossoming flower. This was a child who spent the first months of her life living in four walls, a child characterized by her dark, sullen eyes and infrequent smiles. She now giggles with delight and is a social little girl who loves being with her grandma, papa and nana, and little cousins.
I still find it amazing that I traveled across the world and was handed a gift that I had dreamed of for such a long time. People continue to comment that Antara is such a wonderful child and so lucky that she was adopted and will have a better life.
Yes, she will have a better life than growing up with no family in an orphanage. But the reality is that my little girl has saved me as much as I saved her. She saved me from just existing. She gave me a purpose to live. I realize this more than anyone can imagine.
She and I bonded quickly and continue to do so…my love for her grows each day. She’s got this big personality and is such a funny kid. She loves to sing and dance and finds it quite humorous when she yells “Mama, sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’,” from the back seat in the car. Never having been known to carry a tune, I was happy someone would listen to me. So, Mama begins “Baa Baa Black Sheep Have You Any Wool,” and unexpectedly gets cut off when she screams “Mama, stop. Mama, stop!”
The latest book she pulled from the shelf was the Giving Tree. A beautiful book, but not one that I’d think a two-year-old would get through easily; it has turned out to be one of her favorite books. When we get to the page where the tree is sad, she puts her beloved blankie down on the book and says “Tree okay” and my heart just melts.
I didn’t expect it to be easy.
The months continued to pass and I witnessed her grow taller and taller, begin to speak in sentences, and push her limits and then I realized she wasn’t a baby anymore. It’s astonishing how quickly she has changed from my little baby to a sweet girl who is extraordinarily independent. I found myself having to get through the frustrations of her “no bath” phase (well she loved the bath just yesterday?), losing her blankie, or the battle over her only wanting to wear pink.
I’d continue to tell myself and others that I was still adjusting. I can still hear myself “it’s been an adjustment,” or “oh, we are adjusting.” Friends would just smile and say “welcome to motherhood.” The reality is that Antara is adjusting just fine. She is a perfectly happy child and in many ways it feels like we have been together for years and not the mere months that have quickly gone by.
While Antara was adapting to her new life, I realized that it was her forty-two-year-old single mother who was having challenges adapting to her new life.
My life was turned upside down. I came back from Nepal thinking I could do it all - raise Antara, run a PR business, date, see my friends and family, and make it to the health club.
I managed to keep the PR business going and even add a few clients with the help of exceptional colleagues, very supportive clients and great child care. Although there are those days I find myself running from meeting to meeting completely disheveled, barely making it out of the house – quick check… did I forget my deodorant? Or the time I sat down in a client’s board room, reached into my bag searching for a pen to take notes and pulled out an orange Crayola. Then there was the time when I took off my jacket during a meeting and noticed that people were staring at my arm. I finally glanced down at a rainbow sticker that Antara had planted on me earlier that morning.
While I don’t miss the pressure to meet someone, worrying about if I’d ever be a mother, or the bar scene, there are things that I do miss….dating, conversations with friends that aren’t interrupted, weekly workouts, and spontaneously meeting up with friends.
I found myself dating someone when I first returned from Nepal. I thought wow, a new, single mother who could date and run a business. I have it all. It wasn’t too long into the relationship that I realized I couldn’t do it all and that despite his understanding of our time commitments, I needed to work on continuing to bond with my baby and strengthen our relationship before I added someone else into our lives.
I had visions in my head of taking her out in the jogging stroller, so I could finally get some exercise. I missed those weekly workouts with a trainer first thing in the a.m. and I could feel my body getting softer and softer. There was a reason I never bought cheddar fish and teddy grahams. Someone should have told me I couldn’t just eat what I give her! Where was that in all the parenting books?
When the weather began to get warmer, I put my running shoes on, grabbed my iPod and pushed the stroller out the door. About two blocks into the run, I heard a little voice from below… “Walk, Walk”…I attempted to ignore the voice until it became louder and the stress of her eagerness to get out and explore seemed to win.
And, will I ever have a long conversation with a friend over the phone again? I miss the conversations where I wasn’t interrupted at every other sentence or I didn’t find myself talking in the third person.
There are times it is so overwhelming when I think about what is to come…potty training, kindergarten, boys, college, difficult conversations like the time just recently when my four-year-old niece asked “Where is Antara’s daddy?” and followed it up the next day with “If you die, can Antara live with us?” Wow. These are questions I knew I’d have to answer, but now?
I often wonder, how will I make it through?
I can’t pinpoint what happened but I hit a turning point over the last couple months. A colleague, with college-aged kids, mentioned to me that the road ahead will be filled with challenges and the only way to enjoy the ride is to always look at the good things - the fact that her wanting to walk and not sit in the stroller is about her expressing her independence.
So there are still days when I am frantically trying to get work done, the phone is ringing, I am faced with grueling deadlines and I just stop. Literally I can’t move. I am paralyzed. And I think “Wow. I am a mom…I am mommy, mama and sometimes lately just mom.” I still can’t believe it.
While the first year of motherhood was filled with laughs, tears and a lot of love, it wasn’t easy. But it is a lot sweeter. And as Dora would say “We did it!”