Friday, May 8, 2015

Spread More Love T-Shirts Are Back!!!

I've had quite a few people ask me they could purchase a Spread More Love t-shirt.  I contacted the company and they were able to transfer all of my info and design over to their new format!  WOOO HOOOO!!!  So, the fund is up and running!  All proceeds will help cover her medical bills from Children's Hospital International Adoption Clinic.  I need to sell 17 shirts in order for them to print the shirts.  You will ONLY be charged if the 17 shirt target is met.  Obviously, I'm praying for more than 17 :)  Another added bonus is that now they also have the ladies slim fit t-shirt!!

If you feel led to purchase one of these t-shirts, we would greatly appreciate it!  And I pray that you would feel blessed and a smile cross your face every time you wear it!

You can get YOUR Spread More Love t-shirt HERE!

If you would like to read the backstory on this t-shirt and how God moved mountains, click HERE
Thank you so much for all of your love and support!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Catching Up….

My poor neglected blog :(
My last post was in early November and highlighted the fashion show in which Munni participated.  I was praying and hoping for court dates.  Sure enough, I received written approvals on November 29th, 2014!!!  I felt like shouting her name from the rooftops!!!!!!!  This was the announcement I posted on Instagram and Facebook:


There is such a validation when you can be fully open about your child's picture and name!  We hoped that we would be able to travel and be home before Christmas, but that wasn't the plan that was in store for us :)  Instead, Munni and I celebrated one more Christmas as "MommyMunni."


We truly did enjoy Christmas together and I savored the last few moments of our "MommyMunni" era!

Right after New Year's, I got word from my caseworker that the orphanage where Roopa lived wanted to have a handing over ceremony.  She was their very first international adoption and on top of that, they didn't think that she would ever find her forever family since many Indian couples passed her over due to her nose.  They were very happy that someone was coming for her!  The ceremony was planned for January 31st.  She had told me that it was a big deal, but I didn't truly understand how big this ceremony was until it happened.

The first surprise was that they ended up meeting us at the airport, the day before the ceremony.  I was completely surprised when sitting in the Mumbai airport, my in-country coordinator told me they would be waiting for us when we landed!  My heart started racing and my mind was going a million miles a second!  I couldn't believe that in 2 hours I would finally see Roopa face to face!

When we landed and gathered our luggage, we started heading for the exit.  I was completely shocked,  There were so many people there!  News reporters, the people from the RIPA, other adoption VIPs, and spectators.  It was completely bizarre.  They kept asking me if I was a pop singer.  My coordinator and I thought they were joking since I was an American adopting an Indian girl.  Turns out there is a pop singer (who my friend Mer said looks like I must have looked in my twenties lol!) with my same name.  Anyway, the scene was pure chaos.  Roopa was extremely stressed and crying.  Everytime she looked at me, she would freak out screaming, crying, and turning away from me.  Not the "Gotcha!" moment you daydream about for the last 18 months.  At first, I was told that they were just going to meet us there.  But it turned out that they wanted me to take her with us back to the resort.  I kept asking if that was ok because I wanted to do what was best for her.  The reporters kept asking me questions and taking our picture all while I was trying to juggle making sure Munni was handling meeting her new sister and being sensitive to Roopa's emotional state.  I felt pulled in a million different directions.  We finally made it out of there and back to the resort.  We were there for maybe 10 minutes before all the reporters showed up again.  We were in such a remote place in Bhuj that it wasn't hard for them to find where we were staying.  Roopa finally stopped crying and I actually was able to get a smile out of her due to my mad juggling skilz.  

Forever Family!!

I was in disbelief that I was finally holding her in my arms!

The news story broke first on the local channels…


The next day, the orphanage called and asked if they could spend a few last hours with Roopa before the ceremony.  How do you say no?  So we dropped her off in the morning.  They were all eagerly waiting for her at the gate.  I know that she was deeply loved at her orphanage.

My coordinator had a friend with her who was visiting from Canada. This woman D was an incredible lifesaver for us.  She and Munni hit it off from the start.  I was very thankful because I did not expect the amount of grieving that Roopa experienced.  D was able to give Munni an out and some normalcy to a highly stressful situation.  In order to pass the time, we decided that we should all go out to the Great Rann of Kutch.  It is on the border of Gujarat and Pakistan and is considered the largest salt desert in the world.  It was breathtaking.
I felt like I was on the set of an Indiana Jones movie!
The world is her oyster!

After a few hours, we headed back to the resort to get ready for the ceremony.  D was gracious enough to use my camera to document the ceremony.  I'm so very thankful for her willingness to come along and be a part of such a special time for us.
Great friends!
 Once we were ready, we headed to the RIPA for the Handing Over Ceremony.  There were news reporters from all over, including London.  I spent several hours giving interviews before the ceremony.


Some of the reporters who were covering our story

Meeting the VIPs of the adoption world


Waiting for the ceremony to begin
The ceremony itself lasted 4.5 hours.  It was very hot and obviously, very emotional.  Much of the ceremony was conducted in Gujarati, so I just sat there and smiled.  I was fortunate enough to be seated next to the doctor who treated Roopa upon arrival and thereafter.  Our conversation was invaluable but also extremely difficult to hear all that he had to share with me.  I kept feeling like I was going to pass out, throw up, or have massive diarrhea.  And then, at the very end, they asked me to stand up and speak.  Oh my goodness, I prayed like never before that I wouldn't pass out and that I would make it to the podium!  There were at least 300 people there, including the Parliamentary Secretary!  He was seated on the other side of me.  Please queue David Bowie/Queen "Under Pressure!"  It was very difficult to articulate all I was feeling and at the same time be sensitive to the adoption community - there is always a fear in the back of your mind that you don't want to say anything negative that would jeopardize the program in any way.  International adoption is by far the most stressful, taxing, anxiety producing, desperate, maddening, and feeling out of control experience that has ever happened to me.  There are frustrations upon frustrations.  With this in mind, I wanted to express my sincere gratitude that I was finally at the finish line but I also wanted to be a voice for these children.  I had no idea that I would be asked to speak, so everything I said came from my heart.  My in-country coordinator said that the translator did an excellent job and she thought that I nailed it.  Thank you Jesus!

Wishing I spoke Gujarati!
At this point, they brought Roopa to the stage and handed her to me.  I felt so badly because she was completely traumatized and clinging to her ayah for dear life.
She definitely wasn't feelin' the moment
  I had reporters in my face asking questions, pictures being snapped, poor Roopa crying, and I was still trying to find Munni in all of the chaos.  When I finally found Munni, she was running towards me and I towards her when a man put his arm in front of her to hold her back.  I grabbed Munni's hand, pulled her towards me, and told him to never, ever put his hands on her or hold her back from me.  Oops.  They were a little stunned but then smiled and said something along the lines of how I'm a protective mother. Um, you could say that ;)

When we finally got the car, the reporters were still all around, shoving the microphones in my face, snapping pictures, and the children from the orphanage came running after us.  They were all sobbing watching us drive away.  It was surreal with such an extreme amount of emotions swirling all around me and in my heart.

When we got back to the resort, there was a women's group waiting for us.  There were probably 30 women or so.  They had gifts for Roopa, Munni, and me.  They were so very kind to us!  They prayed blessings over us and wanted to thank me for all I was doing for Roopa.  This whole experience felt so weird to me - that people were thanking me.  In my mind, I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to be Roopa's family!  But this is where the cultural differences come to the surface.  Based on my experience, it seems to me that the stigma of adoption is still so prevalent and strong that even for the Indians who are open to adoption, the tentacles of the stigma run too deep.  Several Indians have told me that even though they were open to adoption, they couldn't do it because their parents weren't open to it.  Or their in-laws weren't.  Or their neighbors weren't.  It's a very different culture in that regard.  In the US, we don't care what our neighbors do.  If our families disagree with our adoption plans, we keep pursuing it anyway.  But in that culture, the families are so intertwined that even distant relatives have the power to make decisions for family members they barely know.   I've thought about this stigma a lot and what I've come to compare it to how IN GENERAL people would react in the US to someone who adopts an HIV+ child.  Even though HIV was once considered a death sentence, experts now call it a chronic but manageable condition; even though it is now considered easier to manage than diabetes; even though according to the US Center for Disease Control, the 3 main methods of transmission are unprotected sex, needle sharing, and birth/breast feeding; even though in the past 34 years since tracking the virus, there has NEVER been a documented case of the accidental transmission in a normal family environment; even though the many children who are on medication today have a medically defined "undetectable" amount of HIV in their blood; even with all of this progress, the HIV stigma remains.  There is still to this day so much misinformation and ignorance out there about HIV.  Stigmas are a powerful wrecking ball and it takes generations of education to overcome them.  Unfortunately, adoption is still branded with a stigma in India.  I could see by the conversations I had with many nationals, that their hearts were softened toward adoption.  But, they are still chained to society's approval.  The people who thanked me were truly grateful and touched.  I could see it in their eyes.  I pray that our story would give them courage to take more of a stand for the children still waiting for families and to be a catalyst in breaking down the walls of such a wrong mindset.

The next morning, our story was all over the printed news… 

And then the Times of India picked up our story.

Everywhere we went from that moment on, people recognized us.  They would ask to take a picture with us and thanked me profusely.  It made me sad because I wish that the stigma with adoption didn't exist.  There are so many children in need of homes and they are jewels just like my daughters!  Probably the most impacting interaction we had was with an old man at the India Gate.  He was dressed in tattered clothes, it was obvious it had been a long time since he had bathed, he was missing teeth, and extremely thin.  He was begging for anything, really.  He caught sight of us and a smile spread across his face.  He came over to us and shook my hand and started talking very quickly.  I heard, "Namaste, Baby Durga, television…." and he kept on and on in a language I didn't understand.  It was clear he was thanking/blessing me and that Roopa's story brought him such joy.  I got choked up, hugged him, and turned and walked away.

Many people have wondered why all of the news articles kept referring to her as Durga.  The RIPA named her Durga- a very powerful Hindu name.  Munni and I wanted to name her something that would have great meaning for our family and our journey to her.  My very dear friend Jincy helped us with the meanings of the names we were thinking about.  I had also been praying about her middle name.  Munni's name and how she got her middle name was a very important story for us.  When Jincy and I were talking about what to name my new little daughter and how I wanted it to represent who she is, she suddenly said, "I know!  ROOPA!!! It means perfectly formed in beauty!"  Roopa was a name on the list I had compiled - I couldn't believe it!  I said it back, "Roopa!" and I heard God whisper, "Joy!" in my ear and I just knew that was supposed to be her middle name!

So while we were in India, we mostly called her Durga or Roopa Durga.  She was grieving so much, it was hard to watch and not be able to take away her pain.  Every day she sobbed endlessly.  If she wasn't sleeping, she was crying.  She would hold her few belongings from the RIPA in a ziplock bag I gave her and point to the door.  Her whole world had just been ripped out from underneath her and she didn't want any part of this new life.  It was such a different experience from Munni.  In fact, Munni and I discussed it quite a bit.  Munni told me that she was a little bit afraid but that she was excited to have a mom and new adventures :)  I love her heart!  It also shows the difference in their histories and the effects of that.  Every day Munni and I would pray for Roopa.  I will be honest, there were times when I thought I may have completely ruined Munni's life.  There was absolutely no respite for Roopa's grieving.  I kept praying that with each new day, there would be progress.  But it never came.

The day before we left, I received a phone call from a reporter in London.  We clicked right away and ended up having a wonderful conversation.  She really wanted to share our story with her London connections.  She did an excellent job interviewing me and was incredibly respectful.  She asked if we could meet her photographers the next day; two Saudis who lived in India.  I told her we had to leave at 9pm to go home.  She said she could make it work.

Our last day seems like a whirlwind.  We picked up Roopa's visa from the embassy, I re-packed the suitcases, and finally met the photographers at 5.  These two guys were awesome!  One of them had the nickname "Ziggybird" which Munni thought was hilarious since her nickname is "Munni Bird."  They did such a great job with us and with the girls and it was the best time that I had in Delhi.  It was fun to go where the locals go :)  They took us to a beautiful park and then we walked through a village that reminded me of something you would find in Europe.  Cobblestones, amazing architecture, cafes, the people who were there were on the trendy side… it was incredible.  After the photo shoot was finished, we made it back to the hotel with an hour to spare!

Our new friends and Roopa's same expression for the entire time in India

We made it to the Delhi airport and after another grueling experience with the immigration people, we had 3 hours to kill before our flight left.  This was not good since Roopa cried the entire time.
It was as if she had lost her will to live
 She slept a little bit on the plane and then woke up and cried for the rest of the 9.5 hour flight to France.  We had a 4 hour layover in Paris.  The ceiling in the terminal was dome shaped, so that made for really great acoustics as she wailed the entire 4 hour layover.  I got all kinds of stink eye but at this point, I was exhausted from all the grieving, the traveling, the not being able to comfort her, that I didn't even care.  When it was finally time to board the plane, we had to take a bus out to the aircraft.  I had a huge backpack, Munni had her backpack filled, I had a rolling carry-on and so did Munni and on top of that, Roopa was in the Ergo carrier on my front side and doing everything in her power to resist being there.  A very kind Brazilian man asked if he could help me.  I don't know why it was so hard to accept help, but I told him that I was fine and thanked him anyway.  Apparently, my answer wasn't that convincing.  He watched me for about a minute more and then just stepped in and grabbed the two carry ons.  At that point, I had my meltdown :)  In that high-pitched, squeaky voice, I told him, "It's just really hard" and that was all it took for the floodgates to open.  I sobbed all the way on the bus out to the plane.  Everyone was very nice and comforting to me.  I think I had been holding it together in India for so long with no let up of her grieving that when a kind soul stepped in to offer some relief, I just lost it.   He was in first class and came back to make sure we were O.K.  He brought two of the comfort bags for the girls.  This man was truly a godsend.  

Roopa cried for half of the flight and slept for the other half.  When we landed, the Brazilian came back and helped us off the plane.  He even helped me get through immigration.  While we were waiting, he told me that he travels a lot for his job and that his wife is a flight attendant.  They have a three year old and when he saw me, he thought about his wife and how she has to manage when he's away on business.  I was extremely grateful for his compassion!

Finally we were making that walk down the corridor to the baggage claim!  Again, Roopa was crying the entire time.  The airport homecoming for Munni versus the homecoming for Roopa couldn't have been more opposite.  Munni was so incredibly ill, but happy.  Roopa was perfectly healthy, but emotionally heartbroken.  
28 hours of traveling later….

So very thankful for all my friends and family who came to welcome us home!
As soon as we got in the car and started driving home, Roopa went from crying to whimpering.  We grabbed some take out and headed home.  Oh my goodness it felt so good to walk through our front door!

The next morning, we woke up and I made pancakes.  It was as if a switch turned on in Roopa because even though she was still sad, she didn't cry again.  Our good friends had hung a welcome home sign, punctuated with red balloons.  Those balloons were the catalyst to Roopa coming out of her grieving process.  She started smiling.  And then laughing.  And then dancing…. and she has never looked back!

About 3 weeks after we were home, the London journalist emailed me to tell me that the article was published in the Daily Mail.  Our story went viral!  I started getting messages from all over the world- Serbia, Albania, Spain, Australia, Saudi Arabia, India, England, Italy, Russia… it was incredible!  And then it was picked up by the New York Daily News! More and more emails flooded my inbox.  The television show The Doctors emailed me and so did The Rachael Ray show.  I was overwhelmed and humbled that our story had touched so many people.

The Doctors asked if we would come to Los Angeles to be on the show.  I couldn't believe it!!  It was such a blessing to be on the show!  The entire staff was incredibly kind to us.  As an added bonus, it was such a healing time for the three of us to be together like that.  It was the tipping point in our bonding and I will be forever grateful!

Our segment is set to air sometime in May :)  We were completely surprised by what the show has offered us!  I won't spill any details until after it airs but believe me, we are beyond blessed!!!!  I can't wait to see it myself!

Throughout this entire journey, God has never ceased to amaze me.  He truly is the author of the most incredible stories.  I think about all of the decisions I've made in my life to get me to where I am today.  Not all of them were good.  In fact, some of them were downright horrible.  But that is where the beauty of it comes to light.  Even in our darkest pit of despair, even when we think we have messed up to the point of no return, God has the miraculous ability to take our deepest regrets and bring forth beauty from ashes.  Every night when I go to bed, I look at my two beautiful, precious daughters sleeping next to each other.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude and humbled that I am so incredibly blessed to be their mom.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" - Ephesians 3:20