‘The feeling you know for a fact your child is out there on the other side of the world, is something I just can’t describe.’: Single woman details Indian adoption journey during COVID-19

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“If you were to ask me as a child, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said, ‘a mom.’ Being a mom was my biggest dream/goal in life for as long as I can remember. So much so, that in high school, I made a promise to myself I would begin looking into adoption by the time I turned 30, regardless of being married or single.

Single and adopting. Those two words when said together, for some reason, shock some people. Yes, I am consciously choosing to be a single parent by choice. To my family and very close friends, this likely came as no surprise. But, from others, I’ve gotten looks of judgment and concern. I’ve been asked odd, intrusive questions from people I hardly know. ‘Wouldn’t it just be easier to get married and have kids?’ ‘Why not just get a donor and have your own child?’

I’m learning to be better at having a quick comeback to people’s intrusive and inappropriate questions. I figure, unfortunately, it’s just practice for the rude questions we’ll get once I have my child. Here’s the thing, for me, adopting was not plan B or a second choice. Adoption always was in my story. Whether married or single, I knew I would be adopting. Someone’s decision toward parenthood is their decision, and theirs alone. You can bet though, it’s not a decision any of us came to lightly.

In the summer of 2015, after my 30th birthday, I began calling adoption agencies and reaching out for further information. I planned on starting the process for domestic infant adoption, after deciding maybe international was too far-fetched. After a few months of researching and really looking deep within, I decided to look into foster care instead of adoption for the time being.

In early 2016, I began the process of becoming a licensed foster home. By late April of 2016, I was fully licensed and ready to begin my chapter of being a mom, for however short or long I was needed to be in that child’s life. International adoption was still in my head, as that was a thought I’d had since I was young. I just always ‘knew’ my child was in another country. With each passing month, and still no foster placement, I grew more anxious.

Another Mother’s Day passed, another Christmas, and still no little one in my home. 2016 came and went with no placement. 2017 came and went with no placement. I grew frustrated, and honestly, headed toward depression. The desire to become a mom was growing too strong to deny. Toward the end of 2017, I began wondering if I was even supposed to be doing foster care at all.

After two years sitting and waiting for THAT phone call, I realized I wanted more than anything in the world to just be a mom. Not a temporary mom for an unknown amount of time, but a mom. A full-time, all the time, forever and always mom. I made the very difficult decision to close my foster license. It took me months of going back and forth, and it was a very emotional decision. I now choose to help those in the foster care trenches through volunteering at events or taking meals to help families when they first welcome a new child or children into their home.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

After I decided to close my license, I knew I would be shifting my focus onto adoption. It was clear to me, now was the time. Late February of 2018, I seriously started looking into different agencies I felt were reputable and had good morals and ethics in adoption. (This is of the highest importance to me when it comes to adopting). I then started looking at different countries to see which ones I qualified for – every country has different qualifications and being single, not religiously affiliated, and in my early/mid 30’s immediately knocked some countries off the list. At the time, everything was pointing to China. It had a pretty stable adoption program, and the process wasn’t too lengthy. However, things can, and do, change frequently and quickly in the adoption world.

In early March, I called an agency that kept coming up as recommended for their China program. I spoke with them over the phone and really liked what I heard. Yet, I was not 100% sold on the idea of China, due to some rules and regulations they require for prospective adoptive parents. In the meantime, I stumbled upon a second agency that kept coming highly recommended. I found out this agency also had an India adoption program. Their India program was actually their stronger program, as they had been working with India for over 20 years. To my surprise and delight, India was accepting single parent adoptions!

I decided to give this agency a call and see what type of feel I got for them. I LOVED them. It was clear very quickly during that hour plus phone call, India was the country I would be pursuing an adoption from, and this was the agency I would be using.

Courtesy of Meagan Meier
Courtesy of Meagan Meier

I began saving up to begin the first step of the process… the home study. I did a somewhat similar process to become licensed for foster care. Unfortunately, nothing from fostering transfers over, so I had to repeat much of the same steps. The adoption home study is much more in-depth, lengthy, and costly. (It’s free for foster care). My hope was to have enough saved up to be able to begin the actual home study early in the new year.

I was told adoption is a revolving door of paperwork; this could not be more accurate. I’ll have an entire forest by the end! For a while, I just felt like I was checking things off a big, giant list. Once I got that list done, another list would appear. Each step worth it, each step moving us one day closer.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

Once I received home study approval, my agency was able to get me registered with CARA (Central Adoption Resource Authority). This is the government agency in India that would need to approve me for adoption from India. At the time, the average wait for CARA approval was about 3-4 months. Though I saw some get approval in 10 weeks, while others were still waiting at 30+weeks. So, you just really never know! I also registered for i800a approval with the US government. This is the approval needed to adopt from a foreign country. The i800a approval typically isn’t much of a wait once your biometrics have been completed.

I knew this waiting period would not be the hardest one. Once I saw my first photograph of that face, and actually knew who they were, the wait to bring them home would be so much harder. The feeling you know for a fact your child is out there on the other side of the world, is something I just can’t describe. I don’t think it is something that can be fully understood unless you’ve been there. Every day I wonder…

Are they safe?
Are they being taken care of?
Are they getting food and water?
Do they have somewhere safe to lay their head at night?
Are they getting the medical care they need?
Are they scared?
The list goes on and on.

There is so much unknown in adoption, as well as surrendering to having no control… over just about everything it seems.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

I started to see people receive CARA approval. They had all been at the 21-29 week waiting point. It would have been 13 weeks for me, so I was not expecting to hear anything about approval for a few more months, at least! But, one morning, as I was walking into work, I looked at my phone and noticed an email from my agency. Seeing an email from them is not unusual. They email all of us weekly to give an update on what they’re seeing. However, that email was sent out over the weekend. Then, I saw the subject line: ‘CARA Approved.’ I could not believe what I was reading! There was no way I got approval already. I quickly emailed her back to clarify I was reading the email correctly. She confirmed and just said, ‘As you see, it’s not always in order.’

CARA approval is huge because it meant we could begin looking for my little one! My agency said, due to the changes they had been seeing with India, matches were typically taking 6-8 months – mostly because CARA was slowly uploading files back into the portal. It was mostly sibling groups and high/severe needs. I was able to log in to the portal, now that I had approval. That was both exciting and also heart wrenching. Looking at these precious children who, more than anything, deserve to be in a home and in a family is hard.

While this approval did bring a sigh of relief, it also brought on a whole other wave of worry and anxiety. It started feeling more and more real – which is a good and exciting thing. But, it also makes your mind begin throwing out a million questions and scenarios. It makes it even harder when you don’t have a set timeline of when everything will happen. Not knowing exactly when the next fee will be due or when the next step will happen is daunting. The unknowns and zero control over pretty much everything is hard. Again though, I am thankful for the community I have.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

The hopes of a match happening before the year ended was feeling further and further away as a possibility. Things were still seeming to move pretty slowly on the India side. I noticed a new file loaded onto the portal every few days, and I would get so excited to see that movement. But, the new files loaded were few and far between, and the medical needs I was seeing were pretty severe. It breaks my heart to even say that. All I can do is hope and pray their family finds them soon.

It had officially been one year since I began the paper chase. I was waiting for word on when all my forms would begin expiring. While I didn’t want to have to redo all that paperwork and pay for all of it again, I was, in a weird way, looking forward to feeling like I actually had something to do.

It’s a strange feeling, this period of the wait. You don’t have anything to really do while you just wait to be matched. It makes you feel like you’re missing something, forgetting something important that you should be doing. I tried to be thankful for this period of calm in the crazy adoption storm. I knew the next period of waiting would be hard and not so peaceful. Though it’s calm, the waiting has its moments of heartache. Things were moving VERY slowly on the India side. When I started the process, the average wait for a match was 3-4 months, but it turned into an 8-12 month average.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

At the end of February, I was sent a file. I woke up Thursday at 3 a.m. with an email from my agency, saying they pulled a file they thought fit my profile. They’d sent it over to their doctor to review. She gave me only very little details (age, gender, and medical need), and asked if I would be interested in reviewing. I VERY quickly responded with an absolute YES.

I waited VERY impatiently all day. I started playing the ‘I wonder if I saw them on the portal before’ game in my head. My mind instantly went to one little one I just had a gut feeling it may be. Finally, late that evening, she sent me the file. It WAS the little one I had felt like it could be. I had seen them on the portal earlier, but they were still under the 15-day hold (a time when only Indian families can review their file), and then they disappeared. She said the file popped back up in the middle of the night and was no longer on the 15-day hold, so she grabbed it.
So, the 30 days began! We requested some further information and miraculously received it overnight. After reviewing it, some further questions were brought up, so we requested additional medical information, as well as updated photos and video.

The stress and anxiety of waiting for that additional information was high. I finally received it when I literally only had a week left of my 30 days. Unfortunately, they still hadn’t sent over any videos or updated photographs. I hurried up and sent what I did have to a local adoption clinic for file review. Go figure, they wouldn’t be able to get to it until the next week – one day before my decision was needed! So, I decided to also send it to another review place (a free one because I was not paying twice!). But this place is made up of volunteer doctors, and because of all the fun stuff currently going on in the world, they were not able to review in the 48 hour window, like usual. They wouldn’t get back to me until likely… you guessed it, the day before my decision was required.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

The local adoption clinic doctor thankfully got in touch with me just a few days later! We spoke on the phone for a good hour, going over every detail of the medical information we had. She helped paint a good picture of what we could possibly be looking at – giving me worst case scenario, but also pointing out the very positive aspects as well. She gave me a list of questions she really felt were necessary to determine if this child was in the worst-case scenario status she was afraid they were in.

I had my agency send off those questions with another request for videos and pictures. Then, of course, days later, India went on a full shut down. My 30 days were supposed to be up at the end of March. However, with everything going on, anyone currently reviewing a file could keep the file for review until the end of May.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

Finishing up May and starting June, I received word we heard back from the orphanage with some answers. I was hopeful, but also preparing for the worst. I was not able to read much of what was written, so we sent it off to be reviewed by a doctor. Sadly, the worst-case scenario seemed to be confirmed. I won’t go into details, as it is not my story to tell. I just ask that you send prayers for this sweet little one.

India has extended their lock down through June, however, some areas are loosening up restrictions. CARA is still working from home, so what can be done is minimal. They have reopened the matching process it seems, so I am hopeful it might also mean they will be working on uploading new files to the online portal. No new files have been added during this whole time.

My home study finally expired a couple weeks ago. Luckily, I’ve gotten the okay to hold on updating for a bit, while I try and work on some things that would require another update. However, if I were to match anytime soon, I would need to get it updated pretty quick.

17 Months.

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

That’s roughly the amount of time that has passed since beginning the process of adopting from India. When I first reached out to begin this process, I was told the average time from start to finish was 18-24 months. When it comes to adoption, and especially international adoption, things change often and there is never a guarantee for anything. That 18-24 month time frame has obviously changed, and our current global state has only increased that time frame.

I sit often and think about what life will be like once little one is home. I watch friends with their little ones and dream of when I’m doing those activities with mine. I watch them in their happy moments, their frustrated moments, their worried moments, and all I can think about is how much I can’t wait to have those joys… and yes, even those struggles.

I watch and am also reminded of the things I won’t get to experience. Their first smile and laugh, their first steps and words, their first birthday. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t a little heartbreaking.

Then, I remember all the firsts I WILL get to be there for. All the milestones I will get to see them achieve, no matter how small they may seem to others. Each one of those milestones will be praised and cheered for. Their first English words, their first real bath, their first plane ride, and yes, even their first taco Tuesday! These don’t even include all the social and fine/gross motor milestones I will get to be a part of and see for myself.

I’m told time and time again, this wait will be a blur one day. I can’t see that right now, but I know eventually, I’ll understand. One day, I know I’ll be one of those encouraging others in their wait, reminding them they do indeed come home.”

Courtesy of Nicole Launhardt

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Launhardt. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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