Last Friday, I took the T to South Station to meet a 12:15 bus from Northampton. I’d selected my outfit as carefully as I would on a first date. The person I was meeting text messaged me that morning to tell me she was wearing jeans, sunglasses, and a white cardigan. I wrote back and described my red headband, converse sneakers, blue t-shirt and brown eyeglasses.
Hurrying from the subway, I made my way to the bus depot and caught eyes with a beautiful young woman carrying a white overnight bag. We hugged, and as I gave her shoulder a squeeze, there was something comfortable and familiar about her. I took her bag and ushered her from the bus station down the street to the T stop, fumbling for tokens. I’d warned myself not to jump down her throat with a list of questions, but Anna was the one who pushed her sunglasses up on her head, reached for my arm on the jolting train, and said, in her surprisingly good English, “I’m so excited for you about your daughter, about your adopting her from India. Tell me everything!” By the time we arrived back at Harvard Square, we’d become fast friends.
* * *
Sometimes it’s hard not to believe in fate. When Neil and I were traveling in India, I received an email from my friend Jen, a new mom to twin boys. She and her husband Doug had applied to hire and host an au pair for the year and had come across the application of a nineteen-year old Swedish girl named Anna from the city of Malmo, a twenty-minute train ride from Copenhagen. Anna, it happened, had been adopted from an orphanage in Bangalore, India when she was nine months old. Her younger sister, sixteen, and brother, eleven, had been adopted from India too. Anna had arrived in the U.S. a month and a half ago to help Jen and Doug with their twins, and, with Jen’s blessing, I invited her to Boston for a visit.
After dropping off Anna’s bag in my Cambridge apartment, we returned to Boston. As we shopped on Newbury Street, discussing clothing purchases and enjoying a sushi lunch, Anna told me about her life and shared her thoughts on international adoption.
It was a sunny, warm day, and the trees blossomed pinks and reds and purples.
Anna’s first purchase was a navy and white striped short sleeved shirt with three delicate buttons by the collarbone. It reminded me of an old fashioned Parisian sailor’s shirt, and I was how struck by worldly Anna seemed for a nineteen year old. Born in India and raised in Sweden, with five languages under her belt, I couldn’t help but wonder what Anna thought about her cultural identity.
“I feel one hundred percent Swedish,” Anna said, “but I love India.” She’s returned to the subcontinent many times, going there with her parents to adopt her sister and brother, and returning subsequently for family vacations. Last year, the whole family visited the orphanages in Bangalore and Delhi where the children had spent their first few months. “I feel a connection to India,” Anna added, “but being there I felt more European than ever.”
As we tried on cigarette style skinny jeans, I admitted some of my fears about adopting a baby. “I had a hard time growing up,” I offered, “and I don’t want my daughter to feel a sense of loss because she was adopted.”
“I never felt anything like that,” Anna said, sounding surprised at my question. “My parents are my parents.” She told me she even looks like her mom and dad. “We have the same body language, the same expressions.” Anna took out her wallet and showed me photos of her family including a shot taken when her parents first met her at the orphanage in Bangalore. Anna was an adorable rag doll clinging to her mom’s arms. One look at the photo and it was clear they’d bonded instantly. “My mom just knew that I was her baby,” Anna said.
That evening, with shopping bags in hand, we met Neil for dinner in Cambridge. Anna suggested we eat Indian food, “because it’s us.” We headed for a crowded restaurant on Brattle Street in the heart of Harvard Square. Sitting in a corner booth, we ordered chana masala, dal mahkani, and tandoori shrimp. Over dinner, Anna told us more about her experiences with adoption: what it had been like for her to grow up looking different from the typical Swedish girl; how she never for a second regretted being adopted; how she wished she could convince every potential mother to consider adoption; how she wanted to go to law school and get involved with human rights work; how she eventually wanted to adopt her children from India too.
Walking home through Harvard Yard, Anna told us about her favorite childhood bedtime story. When she was a little girl, her mother would curl up with her in bed, and tell her about how much she and her father had wanted her, about how many years they’d waited for her, and how they’d traveled all the way to India to find her and bring her home.
* * *
Although Neil and I had been eagerly awaiting news about our adoption, I hadn’t been able to shake my last lingering fears and worries. It seemed like everything I read was about attachment problems and post-adoption depression, rather than the joys of parenting a wanted child. In our culture, the only “real” family is a biological one. It’s a belief I don’t put any stock in, but still it was hard for me to wave away all the negative stories. Meeting Anna, and hearing her talk in purely positive terms about adoption, was just what I needed.
Hugging Anna goodbye at South Station the next day, I didn’t want her to leave. I invited Anna to visit us the year after next in Paris, where Neil had a sabbatical planned, and Anna invited us to visit her and her family in Copenhagen. I found myself flushed by emotion, and surprised by how much I’d come to care for this teenage girl in less than forty-eight hours. She made me promise I’d call as soon as I heard word from the social worker about the baby — which might be any day or week now — and when I checked my cell phone the next morning, I smiled to see that Anna had already text messaged me from the bus ride home.
Jen wrote an email Monday morning thanking me for hosting Anna, but I was the one who needed to say thank you. Being with Anna gave me a rare and magical glimpse into what life might be like as a mom. In the coming years, I hope that Anna will be a special friend not just to me, but to my daughter too. For right now, I can’t wait to text message her back.