In February of 2015, we made an announcement on this blog that we were growing our family by adoption. For the next 2.5 years, we posted our progress on our timeline, finally culminating in what happened June 19, 2017. Dhanya Sri Ann Nichols, once a child represented by a vintage globe in our family photos, came into our family.
I chronicled Evie’s early days home on this blog before moving it over to an Instagram page, and our early days with Dhanya Sri are every bit as important! Before Gotcha Day gets too far away, I’m kicking off this blog series in attempt to both hang on to these sweet memories, and also hope it will encourage others who are considering adoption or going through those early days with an adopted child.
I’ve got to get through some complicated backstory first, so hang with me. Without further ado…
As we approached our 3rd summer of the adoption process, we knew travel time was getting near. We had passed court, and were just waiting for passport to be issued. In India, travel approval is granted when the passport is processed, printed, and in the hands of the SAA (Specialized Adoption Agency). As it turns out, Dhanya, though she lived in a foster home in Hyderabad, Telangana, her legal process was through Ongole, Andhra Pradesh. See, Hyderabad and Ongole used to be in the same state of Andhra Pradesh. When she was transferred from Shishu Gruha in Ongole to Sarah’s Covenant Homes in Hyderabad, they were in the same state. But shortly after she moved, the state split. Hyderabad, once the capital of Andhra Pradesh, became the capital of the new state of Telangana. But, Hyderabad remained the de-facto capital of Andhra Pradesh until March of this year. Do you see how this is getting really complicated?
Let’s add to that complication. We were only the 3rd or 4th international adoption that Ongole had ever processed. I had become good friends with two sweet gals named Alicia and Kelly, whose children, Vignesh and Edi, were like Dhanya—legally processed through Ongole, but lived at SCH Hyderabad. Like us, they spent months waiting for their process to move forward but heard virtually nothing. Finally last fall, we all started to see some movement in our cases. Alicia and her husband traveled as soon as she found out they had a court date, spent one month in India, and came home with Vignesh at Christmas of last year. They had to apply for his passport in person in Hyderabad and wait for it to be processed and printed. Kelly and her husband went in May, and after a drive to Ongole and back to Hyderabad, found out that Edi’s passport had to be processed no, not in Hyderabad….passport operations for Andhra Pradesh had moved to a Vijayawada. Ongole and Hyderabad are 8 hours apart. It’s a hard drive through rural parts of India. If it hadn’t been for them blazing a path for our journey, we would have had no idea what all was in store for us. (More on that later!)
Once we got our written court orders on May 5, 2017 (news that was received in the form of a very tear-filled phone call from our Morgan, our caseworker!), we knew we were getting close, but still had no real clarity on passport. Were we supposed to go over there and apply for it in person? What if we got there and had to go back home and keep waiting? What if we got there and had to stay indefinitely? Traveling before passport is issued is completely against the norm in India, but after my agency got a follow up email from the DCPU (District Child Protection Unit) in Ongole that said, “PAPs [potential adoptive parents] are compulsory to attend passport office in Vijayawada”, and simultaneously getting feedback from Kelly about what they were experiencing with passport, we decided that that was our green light to travel, but knew it was still a risk. May 31, 2017: The day “covfefe” was born into American vernacular, and also the day we finally, finally, finally, got to book our tickets to India. Still seems incovfefeable that after all those years of waiting, this was actually happening.
Here are some videos of me sharing the big news! No one was at home, so I had to FaceTime Zack and my parents!
By the end of the day, we had 4 round-trip tickets to India booked, plus a 5th one-way ticket from New Delhi to Birmingham. Shout out to Matt at Adoption Airfare who secured a great deal for us, and was an absolute delight to work with. I highly encouraged them if you are planning any type of mission or adoption travel!
We spent the next three weeks getting as prepared as we could.
We got vaccinations and started a malaria preventative…
Ev and I had our last mommy-daughter breakfast date with it just being “us”, and we celebrated my parent’s anniversary with them…
I plowed through all the paperwork and appointments that we needed to get in order before we arrived, like calling MaxMed at 2:00 am and making an appointment, getting our big accordion file filled up with the right paperwork, emailing the US Embassy in New Delhi, sorting through our visa applications, and all kinds of fun stuff like that. This is basically the adoption equivalent of nesting! It was tedious, but it gave me a great sense of accomplishment!
Evie looked forward to updating our countdown each morning…
And Zack had his own way of getting ready to go…by printing t-shirts with his favorite Bollywood stars on them. He thought they’d be good conversation starters in India. He wasn’t wrong! Hahaha. I love this guy.
And I started putting together all of the little activities and supplies together for the girls’ travel packs. In the months leading up to travel, every time I went to Target, I picked up a couple more things for their packs. They were a Godsend at all of our appointments, waiting at the airports, the long stretches of air and car travel, and the time we spent in our hotel room.
The white packages in the photo below were given to the girls by my dear friend Jennifer Scott. She got Shopkins and other blind bag-type toys and wrapped them up for the girls to open on the trip. These were huge for Dhanya, because they helped us convey that we cared for her, even in those early days when communication was very difficult. So grateful for you, Jennifer!
Finally, it was June 17th. I woke up early, went downstairs and made my coffee, and had the realization that this would be my last quiet morning to myself for quite some time. I couldn’t believe this day was actually here. After getting a surprise visit from our friend Ian, eating some McDonalds (a slightly shameful “last meal” before a long trip away from the familiar!), we did a quick video tour of our house on the iPad for Dhanya to watch, loaded up the car, and drove to my parent’s house. They rented a big van and we—me, Zack, Evie, Zack’s mom, my mom and dad, plus my nephew and niece—headed to the Atlanta airport.
Let me break for a second to talk about my mom and Zack’s mom. My mom had been planning to go to India with us for a long time. It was a big step outside of anything she was really comfortable with, but she was there for us because she knew that we’d need help with Evie. It was very important that Evie go with us, because we wanted our family to all be together from the get-go, instead of waiting to come back home and then introducing E and D to each other.
Mom was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer last December, shattering any chance of her going to India with us. This past Spring was the hardest season of my life to date. The uncertainty of India, Mom’s health, church planting, being a first year teacher….it all took a pretty hard toll on me. I’m really close to my mom, she is literally my best friend, and to not have her with me on this journey was like being stabbed and having someone twist the knife. Our goodbye at the airport was pretty weepy!
Enter my mother-in-law. Pam is as intrepid and level-headed as any person you’d hope to meet, and she bravely stepped in when we realized that taking Evie without a support person would be very unwise. She had all of 5 weeks to make this decision, get her shots, prepare, and go. And she did. And we love her for it.
We went through security with ease (thanks to Pam), popped our malaria meds for the evening, grabbed a bite to eat, and settled in at the gate. It was about 10:00 pm when they called for early boarding—families with young children. Boom, that was us. We were the first ones in line ready to get on that plane. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see Evie and Pam fall to the ground. Pam was holding Evie’s hand so she wouldn’t run around like a maniac, when Evie decided she was going to start swinging around like she was a monkey and her grandmother’s arm was a vine. Down they went. Pam immediately grabbed her wrist and we knew something was wrong. 30 minutes later, boarding was complete with everyone but us. Paramedics were surrounding Pam trying to determine what had happened.
Should she get on the plane and hope she had merely sustained a sprain? What if the pressure of the cabin made it worse and we had to make an emergency landing? What if it was broken? What if it wasn’t? Could we get medical help during our layover at Heathrow if she needed it?
Finally, we had to make a decision. We had to get on the plane without Pam. She had to go to the ER, and we had to go to India. All of our appointments were lined up, and being delayed by even 24 hours would create a domino effect that would mess up everything. But what about Evie? Could Zack and I really manage BOTH girls, a 4 year old and a 3 year old, by ourselves in an unfamiliar country? What if Evie stayed with Pam? Pam had to get in a taxi and go to the ER and then find a hotel room in the middle of the night in Atlanta. Maybe they’d both be able to get on the flight the next night and meet us in Hyderabad?
We had about 3 minutes to think through this all. Finally, we got on the plane with Evie. I was sobbing. SOBBING. The flight attendants were loading me up with wine and water trying to settle me down! Zack was pulling every encouraging and sweet word out of the dictionary he could think of. I tried to not tell Evie, “this is all your fault!” Wow. What a night.
Once God supernaturally gave me the ability to calm the heck down, it ended up being a lovely flight. Evie slept most of it, and was a rock star when she was awake.
Here’s Evie and our super cute British Airways flight attendant. I mean, super helpful flight attendant!
We landed at Heathrow and prayed that we’d have a message from Pam that it was a small sprain and she’d been on the next flight. Turns out, her wrist was in fact, very broken. Zack and I had to go at this alone. I cried some more. It’s what I do.
The London to Hyderabad flight wasn’t nearly as lovely as the one to London. The crew was cranky, Pam’s seat was given away to someone on standby so we didn’t have room to stretch out, the food was bad, and Zack and I both were so riddled with anxiety that we didn’t even know which way was up. Um, the view of Eastern Europe were pretty though?
That said, looking at the seat-back monitor and realizing we were able to land in the same city as our daughter…surreal.
We landed in Hyderabad and things continued to go downhill. Evie was exhausted, and rightfully so, after two back-to-back trans-continental long-haul flights. It had been something like 29 hours since we had left our house after all. When we finally got out of customs and immigration, our suitcases were no where to be found. While Zack elbowed his way to the front of baggage claim just in case, I took Evie to the customer service counter to file a report. The baggage handlers kept telling me that they would watch Evie while I looked for my suitcases. “She is like a baby doll!” they told me. Now I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they were NOT child traffickers, but no way am I going to leave me kid alone with you in an airport, dude.
We spent about 2 hours trying to sort out luggage. 2 pieces were found, but the 3rd was not. That suitcase had most of Evie’s clothes, as well as gifts for Dhanya’s caregivers, the SCH staff, and government officials in there. It’d be a week before we saw it again.
We got to the other side of security and met our guide, Alex. (More on Alex later!) It was raining buckets, and we were soaked as we waited for our car to pull around. Yay, monsoon season! I told Zack I was only taking this photo so we could remember this part of the journey. It was a hard part. We hooked up to Alex’s personal hotspot and had a follow up message from Pam that her wrist was broken so bad that she had to have surgery and physical therapy. Jesus, come quickly.
Our driver got lost, but we made it to the hotel eventually. Alex kept trying to make jokes, but we were zombies. I also was still crying and texting things to my mom like, “please send Dad to pick up Evie and take her home” and “I can’t even remember why I’m here.” I was in a BAD PLACE.
We then had about 3 hours to shower, change into clean clothes, rest, eat, and get ready to meet Dhanya for the first time.
Luckily at this point, Evie was doing ok. Praise the Lord for our sweet little firstborn.
Our hotel was beautiful, but our nerves were completely shot. Satan was cranked up to 10 as he tried to diminish the beauty of what was about to happen.
But Satan lost.
Part 2 coming soon.