The journey to Hyderabad was long, difficult, and draining. Not only the physical travel from Birmingham to there, but also the 2.5 years of red tape from two countries. We were so tired, so worn down, so emotionally and physically drained that I wasn’t sure if I even had it in me to process what was happening.
But then there we suddenly were. The moment we had been anticipating, in some ways, for almost a full decade. For a year and a half, we only knew a name, a face, and a medical record. All we had to do was step out of the car, round the corner, and she’d be there.
So we stepped out of the car…
…rounded the corner…
…and there she was.
In a little pink dress with 100 layers of tulle. Her pigtails had pink barrettes to match.
As I was walking up and holding Evie’s hand, I remember looking back at Zack with this big dumb smile on my face, because I couldn’t even process what was happening.
She was perched against the wall, just outside of her little room, and had her hand resting on a handle attached to piece of pipe. My voice went up about 10 octaves as I tried to find the right first words to say to my daughter. (Fun fact: my first words to Evie were “you’re not going to fit into the clothes we brought for you” because she was a lot bigger than we thought she’d be. I’m really glad that my first words to D weren’t the same, because she was a lot smaller than we thought she’d be!)
She did the cutest little tilt of her head while she looked at me like, “who is this lady with a big dumb smile?” I was so hesitant to pick her up, because I kept thinking about how you’re not supposed to pick up adopted children early on, because they have to bond and attach to their parents. So after a couple minutes, I looked at Merissa, an SCH volunteer, and asked permission to pick her up. Amama had to physically push her towards me because I was nervous. I guess it was a few seconds later as I was physically, actually, holding Dhanya Sri in my arms that I realized that it was me—ME—who was the parent, and holding her was exactly what I supposed to do.
I tried to sift through all the things we had been taught to do—how to bond, connect, establish that you are a safe place for them. It was such blur though. We were escorted into her room she shared with other beautiful little children her age, and then into their play room. We sat there under the watchful eye of Amama, Dhanya’s caregiver whom she loved, and who loved her. That had to have a been a hard moment for her too. We sat on the floor and I started pulling things out of my backpack—snacks, bubbles, little tactile toys. Again, just trying to think back to things we had learned through all of the education we had received through Lifeline.
The next few hours were a blur in a lot of ways. We saw her little bunk bed that she shared with her best little buddy, squeezed and loved on her foster siblings, and hopped in an auto rickshaw and drove from Courage Home to Joy Home, where she had spent most of her life. The older girls of Joy Home couldn’t get enough of her. They fed her biscuits, passed her from one set of arms to another, hugged on all of us, walked en-masse with us up to see her old bedroom where her crib used to be, and jumped on the trampoline with her. It was so wonderful to meet these sweet young women who loved her so much. I think I even remember someone telling me that they called her “Baby Dhanya”.
By time we got back to Courage Home, it was clear that she needed a break, and we did too. In some ways, leaving her that first—and last—time was hard, but I’m also glad that she got the evening to process the day’s events before we left for Ongole the next morning. I’m also glad that we got a night of rest too. The Lord gave us a peace as we spend the evening at the hotel and wrapped our head around the day. There were so many times that night that our emotions would surge and we’d just break down, then we were ok again. It was a crazy night.
We all went to bed really early that night, after a dinner of really boring American food room service—something that would become almost a daily ritual that we found to be immensely comforting!
We woke up the next morning to meet our caseworker Morgan, her newlywed husband Jeffrey, and our guide Alex, who was already starting to feel like family. (He likes telling corny jokes—we speak that language.)
As we drove back to SCH, stacked like sardines in a little car and zipping through the city center of Hyderabad and over to Jubilee Hills, there was such a different feeling. A night of rest, a day to process, having Morgan there, and some big prayers hanging over us from half a world away were really helpful. We walked back into Courage Home feeling no longer like strangers, but rather as the newest family in the Sarah’s Covenant Homes community, and more importantly, like our family was actually complete. For so long Dhanya was there, but not actually THERE…but now she was!
When we arrived, Dhanya was running around with her sweet little friends, but wasn’t so quick to rush to us. That was ok. We were prepared for that. She clearly knew that something was up. The story from here on out, I want to share just bits and pieces of, because I want her to hear the full experience of the day from us so that she can own her story.
Let me be very clear: no orphanage is good, because no child should be raised without a family. But Dhanya lived in a good place. A wonderful place. So good that sometimes I wonder if there will always be a twinge of guilt in my life, because if we had matched with a child in a bad orphanage, maybe we could have brought more hope to that child. In fact, the state-run orphanage in her city has had many terrible, gut-wrenching stories come out of it, and the place she lived for the first 4 months doesn’t even allow the families to go inside of it.
But I can’t live a life of what-ifs. I’m so grateful that my daughter knew love before us, and I’m so glad for all of the beautiful children who live there who simply will not be adopted, because even if they won’t know the love of an earthly mother and father, they will grow up knowing the love of a Heavenly one. SCH started as a vision of an American who had a dream of taking special needs children in India and loving them forever, rather than letting them age out of the system and into obscurity. We were able to visit both their Hyderabad and Ongole locations, and believe me when I say, the Hand of God is shown everyday through the workers there. There are a lot of ways to support them: you can sponsor a child’s birthday party, you can send Christmas bonuses to the caregivers, sponsor a child in part or entirely, order things off their Amazon wishlist, and more. Learn all you need to know by clicking here.
Anyway, all of that to say, leaving her home was going to be hard regardless, but leaving the people who have loved her unconditionally made it harder. The plan was to spend a couple more hours letting her play, letting Morgan make connections with SCH workers, having a goodbye party, and then finally giving out one more set of hugs before getting in the car and driving to Ongole.
The day went exactly as planned. We have so much good video and tons of adorable pics of that day, which I can’t post because we want to protect the identities of the children there. But this one of Jeffrey is too cute!
I especially loved hugging on Little V, who is Dhanya’s best friend, and will soon be living with her mommy and daddy in Seattle!
We gave her a little bear that my friend Abby had given us to give to her. It vibrates and makes soothing lullaby sounds, and is still a something she sleeps with almost every night, 5 months later! It was so sweet to see her holding it close and knowing that it belonged just to her!
The tradition at SCH is to get a cake for the little one who is going home, let them cut it, and then every feeds him/her a piece of cake! Amama made sure Evie got to share in the tradition too, which was so sweet.
As the kids happily ate their cake, I handed out small gifts to her caregivers. I gave them baskets filled with specialty chai tee, a couple of Moon Pies, and a hand-written note with some rupees clipped inside so they could have a sari made. I gave each of them the most genuine and heartfelt hug I’d ever given anyone. How do you adequately express gratitude to the people who RAISED YOUR CHILD before you physically get there to do it yourself?! Sweet Alekya, Mariya, Amama, and Prashanti: thank you. I don’t even know what to say besides that, because no other combination of words even start to touch how I feel. I also need to take this paragraph to extend my love and gratitude to Nikki and Merissa. Nikki is a long-time SCH volunteer who works tirelessly to advocate for the children and make sure they have mementos of their time at SCH when they leave, and Merissa was there to make sure that everything went smoothly. So grateful for every part of their ministry!
The last thing to do was to gather Dhanya and her foster siblings and explain to them that Dhanya is going with her mommy, daddy, and sister to America, and then say a prayer for her. Merissa explained so beautifully that while they’d miss her, it was a reason to be happy. Her nurse Prashanti then prayed in Telugu for her as we all sat in a circle together. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Finally, it was time to get in the car and leave. This was so, so, so hard. I’ll never forget Little V and Dhanya hugging each other one last time, or her caregivers lined up and waving goodbye, or the look on her face as she started to cry just a few minutes later.
The drive to Ongole was so long and so difficult. It never seemed to end. It was about 9 hours total, but it felt even longer. We held her as she slept, cried, and grieved. Several times we got choked up ourselves, as we continued to let it sink in that this day was here, and heaps of compassion for how hard that was for her, even if it was beautiful for us. In the picture below, you can see her tears on Zack’s shoulder. I didn’t even want to take that photo, but I’m glad I did. It’s so sweet to see that tiny little body in the big arms of her daddy who has loved her from afar for so long.
We stopped for lunch just outside of Hyderabad, and Sudhaker, the SCH caseworker who was sent with us, fed her “Indian style”—she wasn’t really having it, me putting a fork in her face. Sweet, precious Sudhaker, who we just fell in love with—he fed her just a bit too much, and a few hours later, I was wearing that entire dish of yellow fry dahl on my shirt. She puked on me just as Evie stuck a wad of hot pink slime in her hair. We were, um, conveniently (?) passing through a rural Indian village, and when we pulled over for me to change clothes, a crowd of Indians crowded around us and stared at us like we were Martians. (Worse—we were travel-weary Americans!). Walking down the street to a public toilet to change my outfit and wash puke off of my clothes is an experience I will never forget!
I had picked up a set of Sea-Bands before we left, and even though nothing was left in her stomach (or so I though—LOL) and we had given her a dose of Dramamine, I offered them to her to wear. She put them on, and didn’t take them off until we were back in Birmingham. So as you see photos of her from here on out, this is where her cool wrist accessories came from!
Another round of puke later, we finally we arrived in Ongole and settled in at what was probably a good hotel—but a very, VERY far cry from the swank Starwood property in Hyderabad! Nevertheless, we were grateful for the hospitality and to no longer be in a car. I’m also grateful for the pair of scissors they let me borrow, and for not looking at me with too much judgement as I snipped the matted mess of pink goop out of Evie’s hair. Our hotel room had one double-sized bed for all 4 of us, a window AC unit, and that was about it. We had a long night ahead of us, that much was clear.
That evening, before we crammed sideways into the bed (with Zack propping his feet on stacked suitcases), we tried our best to help her feel at ease. We offered her every bit of food we brought, coloring books, toys, and games, but she just looked at us terrified. Oh gosh, it was so hard. She was also freezing in the cold room (AC was not really part of her life, so far as we could tell), and after I put her in her little Sophie the First nightgown that SCH sent for her, I wrapped her in a bath towel for an extra bit of warmth.
As the girls slept and Zack and I sat in the dark, we whispered about how that was the most traumatic day that our daughter had probably ever experienced–at least cognitively. We watched her sleep and what seemed like a never-ending stream of hot tears kept running down my face. I knew with every fiber of my being that this was WORTH IT, but my brain was so fried that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
The next morning, we went to the restaurant next door for breakfast, but no one had an appetite. Dhanya just sat on my lap with her head on my chest, with the most miserable, anguished look. She also started spiking a low grade fever, and gagged several times as we sat there in the oppressing heat and humidity. I sat at the table and tried to get my emotions in check, but wow, it was hard. I remember shutting my eyes and clenching my jaw tight so I didn’t just lose it. Morgan and Jeffrey were sitting there with us, and I didn’t want to look like the lunatic with no handle on my emotions. (Luckily, Morgan and Jeffrey have a lot of grace and know that this is just part of it. Bless them. They were so good to us.)
Oh gosh, sitting here and typing this and remembering back to that morning almost makes me want to break down again. Normally, being at a far-flung corner of the earth in a little open-air café is what I live for, but as I held that tiny body in my arms, I wish I could have been transported to Waffle House with a hot plate of bacon. I’ve never wanted so bad to NOT be in a foreign country.
A few minutes later, we walked down to the DCPU office to complete the final few steps that would make her legally our daughter and Evie’s sister. Part 3 coming soon.