In the coming weeks I’ll begin to share the basic story of how we brought Yoselin home. In this series I want to specifically focus on our experiences from the week we spent in Guatemala. This first post is about the days leading up to travel.
You have no warning. You really don’t.
When you adopt internationally, the call to tell you your adoption is done comes completely out of the blue, and the email six weeks later containing your appointment date in Guatemala and giving you permission to travel almost stops your heart, even though you’ve been waiting for it every day. Ours came three days before we met our daughter for the first time.
The notification that you can buy tickets, hop on a plane and get your American butt to Guatemala in a matter of days comes through email, which seems stupid to me. How hard is it to call someone? Email is impersonal and may never get to you, and there is really no good way to confirm the message has been read and understood. Another adoptive couple we know never got their email. They got a call the day before they were supposed to be at the embassy in Guatemala confirming they would be there. If that had happened to me, I would have been calling in air strikes on everyone even remotely associated with the process, and their relatives.
The three days between finding out we could travel to Guatemala to pick up Yosi and actually stepping foot on Central American soil were simultaneously a blur of motion and the slowest three days of our lives. We packed, did laundry, assembled paperwork that should have been assembled weeks in advance, and answered lots of well-intentioned but none the less annoying questions. The only fitting way to respond to So, are you excited? is just to stare back at the person until they stop smiling.
I ordered plane tickets. Since there is no way to know the dates of travel until get permission to travel, you generally have less than a week to get your tickets, which makes said tickets much more expensive than they might be if they could be purchased well in advance. This is fine though because as everyone knows we adoptive parents have excess money growing out of our nipples and toenails. Yessiree. Lots of it. Seriously though, at this point you’re just thinking, “What’s another fifteen hundred?”
Friday evening, after three days of shopping, packing and planning, we met some friends and family at our favorite local coffee shop, since they would not be present when we left for the airport at 4:00 a.m. the following morning. Sitting in the high chairs by the window in the downtown cafe it was surreal to look around at this collection of people and think of how long we had waited and how long they had waited with us, praying and giving and cheering along. It seemed bizarre that in eighteen hours we would be on foreign soil, holding a baby we had never met and would never again be parted from. There is no real way to process something like that in advance. Mostly we just joked around and made small talk until it was time to go home and sleep a few hours before our flight, which took off around quarter to hell a.m.
There really is no way to prepare for going to get your baby. We had spent so much time and money and emotion in the previous year to become parents, most of it with the knowledge that we were going to become Yoselin’s parents. I would be lying to say we had just tried not to think about it, because we had thought about it every day, studying her pictures and imagining her life with us. But the imminent reality of having your child is startling when you prepare to travel.
When you look ahead to meeting for the first time you wonder almost daily if she will dislike you and cry. But when you are staring the possibility down from close range you realize the hurt you must steel yourself for. That child doesn’t know you from Adam, and has no idea how much you have invested in this meeting and everything that follows, and she might not like you at all for a while. Still, you pray she will.
A pregnant couple can see the progress of their child’s development as the woman’s tummy swells with the months, and their lives begin to change in preparation gradually as the date nears. I imagine in the final days and weeks their senses are heightened unconsciously like an animal before an earthquake. It’s coming. And when it does, even the birth itself takes time and trauma sufficient to announce such a momentous arrival and scrubs raw the heart of both the mother and father to make them both broken and beatified as they hold that little life for the first time.
No such process exists for the adoptive parent. It is all very remote until right at the end, and then it is sudden. You see your child a matter of seconds before they become your child. In fact, they were legally yours weeks earlier, when you still lived in different countries. Sitting in the coffee shop not even a full day before I would become permanently and irrevocably a father, it was easy not to believe it was really happening. Nothing had changed at all in my life in preparation. My schedule was the same, my wife looked no different. Maybe that’s why I felt so sickeningly scared the first morning after we got Yosi. The enormity of what we had been striving for and had been granted was more than I had prepare myself for. It is its own type of birth pain.