A Valentine’s Day Wish and Story of Unconditional Love
by Rachel Carroll, Executive Assistant to Co-Executive Director, Rita Shimmin
18 months is the gestational period of an elephant. It is also what I think of as mine. 18 months is what my adoption process took from the moment I started the paperwork until the moment I held my child. 18 months, 540 days, 12,960 hours… give or take a few. I would have waited longer, I wish it had been shorter, but ultimately the stars aligned and I was exactly where I was supposed to be at the correct moment.
It turned out that exactly where I was supposed to be was a hotel conference room in Guangzhou, China in October just over 11 years ago. When I thought about becoming a parent, this was not how I envisioned the scene but there I was standing with my family, so nervous and excited. I was worried I would fall over with the 50 cameras of the other families trained on us like paparazzi. Jetlagged from flying the day before, I wasn’t sure what day, time, or time zone I was in. I was breathing the overly air- conditioned air in a hotel conference room that could have been anywhere in the world except the signs on the walls were in Mandarin. This moment when time slowed down and all I could hear was my heartbeat, this was not what I had envisioned or what I had fantasized about when watching sappy romantic comedies.
And yet I knew in my bones that this was exactly how it was supposed to happen for me. Then around a corner and through the door came my child, my daughter, in the arms of her caretaker and accompanied by one of our guides. I know from later pictures and video that there was cheering, all sorts of flashes going off from the cameras, lots of crying as our cobbled together group of strangers with a singular purpose released some of the pent-up energy that was strumming through the room. Someone had their child, this was real. It was happening for all of us. I know this from pictures and reports. But I have no memory of it. The moment she came in the room all I saw was her.
This child with unruly hair, sticking up all over her head, who I ached to hug and hold. They brought her to me, introduced us, telling my 8 month old that I was her mother; and then, finally, I was able to hold her. I immediately felt the happy tears start as she settled on my hip and in my arms as though she had always been there. She looked up at me with such calm. She touched my face, and to me she seemed to be saying “what took you so long?”
I was aware of two other children coming into the room and being united with their families but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her for very long. I also became aware of a lot of crying but not from our corner of the universe. My daughter stared at me as I stared at her and an urge to be alone with her came over me. I whisked her away as soon as I could; first posing for pictures; asking questions I almost immediately forgot the answers to (thankfully my mother was there to write everything down) and then escaping to our room as quickly as I could. We had another 10 days with everyone else. I craved privacy, craved time alone with my child who was finally home with me. I was also finally home with her. In those few moments, we were joined, a unit, mother and child. In those first moments I was so grateful that she was there; that I was there; that the thread that connected our lives over the miles led me straight to her.
Cynics will tell you that there is no magic in this process, only bureaucracy, but you will never convince me of that. Out of all of the possible combinations in the world, she and I are together. For me, that is evidence of magic every day. In today’s world there is a lot of emphasis on genetics to answer the questions of who we are and where we come from. My daughter is the reminder for me every day that those questions are much more complicated than bloodlines much more universal than DNA. I was meant to be her mother, of that I am certain, but she carries none of my genetic material. Family is where you find it and who you create it with; it is unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, support in the hard times and laughter in the joy. It is finding those souls, wherever they are in the world, who connect with you, who see you and who love you. I look at my child and I am grateful that she is here; grateful that I am on this journey with her.
My Valentine wish for our GLIDE community is for every one of us to find and create that family; to extend our hands and our hugs to those that need it; to treat each other with respect and compassion; to celebrate the intersections that bring us all together from wherever we were to wherever we are going.