A WACAP mom reflects on the unexpected process and adventure that brought their daughter Ila into their lives. Adopting a child with medical needs from India was not initially the family’s plan but as they waited to bring Ila home, their “whole family learned to love a stranger.” Today, they’ve found she’s taught them so much about what family means.
“Everything We Never Knew We Didn’t Know, We Learned From an Adventure We Didn’t Plan to Take”
By Sara Stratton, WACAP Adoptive Parent
46 months ago …
We submitted an application to adopt through WACAP. This caught us by surprise as much as it did our friends and family. This was not our plan. We were going to have one more little blonde biological child and go along our merry way. But, suddenly we were hit with a loud-and-clear call to adopt from India. How would we pay for it? But what about our plans? Despite the million questions running through our minds, we stepped out in faith and submitted an application.
37 months ago …
We accepted a referral for a 16-month-old girl in Mumbai with a medical rap-sheet about as long as our list of “what ifs”. As much as I’d love to say it was love at first sight and we just knew she was the one, it actually wasn’t like that.
We had already lost a match with a little girl whose file and face we fell in love with just to find out it had been a mistake and we were not yet eligible to be matched. My heart was still longing for that first little girl but knew it was time to match.
We were sent a few referrals that didn’t meet our family’s criteria and finally chose our daughter simply because her needs seemed less scary than the other child sent to us this day. We spent hours upon hours staring at the few photos we had and trying to feel as close as possible to this little girl across the world. Over time, our whole family learned to love a stranger and nearly lost our minds waiting out the rest of the process.
29 months ago …
Our daughter celebrated her 2nd birthday in her orphanage in India. I had prayed and hoped for months that she would be home by her birthday but that hadn’t happened and at this point the courts were closed for summer holidays. I prayed aloud that morning and asked that God would move mountains that day and let our girl know how loved she was.
I had no expectation of any updates as courts were closed for another month but I prayed anyway. A couple hours later, I received an email from WACAP with the subject “You’ve PASSED COURT.” She was our daughter and we were her parents! What better birthday gift for a child then a FOREVER family!
27 months ago …
I held my daughter for the first time. She cried, pushed me away and refused to look at me, but that was just fine by me. I knew that she was absolutely, without a doubt, the child who was meant for me. Three hours later when she woke from her nap, huge progress was made and on Day 3 she called me mommy.
I knew immediately that the other files we had reviewed and the lost match were not our children – they had other parents who were meant for them. But THIS little girl – she was ours and we were hers. She is the bravest person I’ve ever known and her capacity to love and be loved is truly a gift.
10 days later, we returned home to the rest of our family and she was finally able to meet her dad and two older brothers. She took a couple weeks to warm up to her dad (I’m certain it was due to an all female staff at her orphanage), but she and her brothers fell instantly in love and her dad was smitten from the start.
Now that she has been home over two years …
It is hard to even remember life before Ila. It has not always been easy (far from it at times) but we have learned so much from our sweet little girl and the process of bringing her home and weaving her into our family. Many of the lessons we’ve learned were not covered in any adoption trainings as they are the intangible pieces only gained from the incredible human experience that is adoption:
- Our life plan is often not the best plan. Taking a leap of faith and stepping outside the box we’ve created for ourselves is where the good stuff happens.
- Adoption does not always look like a Hallmark movie. The referral matching process isn’t always necessarily going to feel magical or divine, but that is okay. Don’t ever compare feelings for an adopted child to those for your biological child. One is not greater than the other but they are definitely different. While one is an immediate and physiological emotion, the other takes time and intention.
- We’re all stronger than we think. While in India without my husband and faced with a severe medical emergency with my daughter that took me to the scariest emergency rooms and a straight week without sleep, a fierce mama bear came out in me; I learned I had a strength I didn’t know existed and a willingness to do absolutely anything it takes to help my daughter whom I had only just met.
- Be an overly safe and wise traveler. (Something we learned: Just because your cab driver says they know how to find an address, doesn’t mean they actually do.)
- Biological families have a collective rhythm we may not be aware of until it is disrupted. Weaving a new child with their own set of experiences and programs into a family is not natural. It takes a lot of additional explaining and outlining. Explaining to and preparing a new child for each familial pattern is essential. Become hyper-aware of every detail of your family’s life and explain it to your new child for as long as it takes. It helps them feel in control of their own life and helps them feel like a vested part of things, not just like they are along for the ride. Trust me, the difference in behavior when they are included in planning and decision making is worth the extra steps.
- Jet lag is REAL. Accept every bit of help that is offered and ask for what is not. Meal train? Yes, please. Do I need help folding laundry? Absolutely!
- It is not the responsibility of adoptive parents to paint a picture-perfect image of adoption to the rest of the world. The beauty of adoption is often found in the mess and chaos of it all. The ugly stuff is where our children experience unconditional love for the very first time. Sharing your real-life experiences, even at their ugliest, is where our friends and family can see the true beauty of adoption.
- “Chatty toddler” takes on an entirely different meaning in children who have experienced trauma. Seriously, we went a year without a single second of silence. Let them work through it but give yourself breaks and find a quiet space. It becomes a survival mechanism on especially chatty days.
- Post-adoption depression (PAD) is definitely a real thing. Don’t think for a second that you are failing or in over your head. I had all those feelings despite our daughter having a super great attachment period. Connect with other adoptive parents and share what you’re experiencing. Just hearing someone acknowledge that PAD is real and that I wasn’t alone turned everything around for me. For moms and parents who struggle with this, I hope you find healing and reassurance in knowing that this phase is temporary and that you absolutely are equipped for this.
- Superheroes are sometimes disguised as tiny little malnourished toddlers and they have the power to turn your life upside down and grow your heart in ways you never knew possible.
Thank you to Sara and her family for sharing their experience and their journey.
About Sara Stratton: Cameron and Sara Stratton are loving a fun and busy life in the Pacific Northwest with their two biological sons (ages 9 and 5) and adopted daughter from India (age 4). They recall struggling through the fundraising portion of their adoption process and today, work to assist others on that part of their journey. Sara founded and manages Ragini Project, a 501(c)3 fair-trade e-commerce store that purchases handmade imports direct from artisans in developing countries all over the world, using net proceeds to support families pursing adoption and those working in orphan care.