“How’s your baby?” a friend asked at a recent holiday party. Neil and I looked at each other and laughed. “Not here!” I said. “But doing well in India, we hope,” Neil added. Our baby is out there somewhere, eating and sleeping and learning and growing as well as she can in an orphanage, or so we like to imagine. But we don’t yet know who she is.
“The wait can be very difficult,” our Boston social worker said to us more than a year ago, back when we sat in her sunny office and had our introductory meeting about adoption. “But when it comes to adoption, A + B + C = D and eventually you will end up with your baby.” A math-phobe, I liked the simplicity of the equation and repeated it like a mantra in the car on the way home.
All we’d have to do was fill out a mountain of paperwork and then wait. “How hard could that be?” I thought to myself. I’d waited before — waited to get out of an unhappy childhood home, waited to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, waited to get published, waited to find a loving and healthy relationship, waited to get pregnant. In the Jewish cadences of my great uncle Leo: with waiting, I was familiar.
“Okay,” I said to myself. We were told we’d wait up to a year for a referral, and then a few more months before traveling to India. I decided I ‘d have the best year possible. And I did — traveling, writing, teaching, growing into the woman and mother I wanted to be. And then the year was up. We were told that we’d get a referral any day.
That was last summer, six months ago. Fall came and still no referral. Friends started wondering if something was wrong. “Do all adoptions take this long, or just adoptions from India?” one friend asked in an email. “Have you thought about trying another adoption agency?” another wondered aloud in a recent phone call.
Delays are the norm, I tell them, when it comes to international adoption, trying hard to reassure myself, too. But this doesn’t stop the worries from flooding into my head. What if Indian adoptions have ground to a halt? What if we really should be working with another agency? Another country?
For Thanksgiving, we decided to drive from Cambridge to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. Neil and I had spent our first year as a couple living together in a small town there, and had gotten married in the backyard of our rented house. The ride into the countryside usually settles me, but that Wednesday morning I felt more anxious with each passing mile on the Massachusetts turnpike, as each seemed to scream the obvious: here I was again, spending another holiday without my baby.
This was supposed to be a vacation. Neil looked more depressed with every doubt I threw at him. “What if I never become a mother?” I asked. “What if we have to start over at the infertility clinic, and I’ve lost two years on my eggs?” “Will you still love me if we never have children?”
“Of course,” Neil said, again and again, “I will love you no matter what. We will have an amazing life no matter what. But we’ll definitely have children; we’re going to get the referral this winter.”
A part of me believed him. Our social worker was leaving for India in December, and the president of her agency would travel to India in January. Between the two trips, we’d been told, a referral would come our way. But another part of me was imagining what life without children might be like over the long-term.
We checked into an historic inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts with our dog and dropped off our weekend bags. Later that afternoon I went to the Kripalu Yoga Center, where I’d booked a decadent ninety-minute deep tissue massage. Before my appointment Neil and I and our dog Salem went for a hike on the Center’s beautiful grounds. I found myself considering a move from anxiety and worry and fear back into a cautious hope.
The Kripalu Center is the kind of place where you whisper and make a cup of tea or cider as soon as you enter the lobby. I poured mine and headed up to the Healing Arts area, where I met Bart, my massage therapist. “How are you feeling? What’s going on?” he asked.
Normally I’d have talked about the semi-permanent knot residing in my right shoulder, but instead I started pouring my worries out to him. “We’re adopting a baby,” I said. “But it’s taking a long time. I’m not sure if it’s going to be okay.” Bart nodded. “It’s a new moon,” he said, pointing to the window and the sliver of moon that already hung on the horizon. “A good time to set your intention.”
I decided to surrender myself to his hands and new age-isms. I breathed in slowly and exhaled with every push he made into my back and limbs. “Now would be a good time to think of your intention,” he said. “Visualize it.”
I started, tentatively. “I will be OK,” I said with each inhalation, letting go on the exhalation. “Picture it,” Bart urged. I found myself unable to hold back. I imagined a year old baby in my arms, clinging to me, needing me to not give up hope. Calling me Mommy. Tears dripped down my cheeks and onto the carpeted floor through the face frame of the massage table.
That Thanksgiving we hiked in the rain, ate a vegetarian supper, read books by the fireplace, and played ball with Salem, who kept my feet warm at night in the inn’s bed. I was loved, and much more than lucky. I hoped that by next Thanksgiving our family would be one small person bigger, but, for now, I had to be grateful for Neil and Salem and our magical time in the woods.