Jo’s Adoption Story
Let me light my lamp and never debate the darkness” -Rabhinath Tagore
I found myself divorced and wanting to share my life with children. It was not important to me to have a biological child. I attended the Vermont Adoption Fair in Colchester Vermont in the fall of 1984. Being single and feeling vulnerable, I attended workshops silently. At 4:25 pm, I passed by the India room and went in. Alice Seigriest, an adoption social worker was packing up from her long day of workshops on foreign adoption of Indian children from the International Mission of Hope Orphanage in Calcutta, India. She summoned and welcomed me into the room. I told her that I thought single parents could only adopt older children and handicapped or emotionally disturbed children. I told her I wanted to adopt a baby because I didn’t know much about caring for the handicapped and that I have a lot of love to give but only 24 hours in the day to give it and felt that older children and their needs are best provided for by two parents. So I thought that there was not an option for me. Alice said “That is not true; the Countries of Columbia, Brazil and India allow single parents to adopt babies”. India has a program where single parents may adopt infants and the only requirement is that “there is a loving home” for the child. She said India has closed right now, but if it opens up again, she’ll give me a call. I wrote my name and number on a napkin and gave it to Alice as we both walked out the door.
I had little support or blessing from my family who lived far away. My father thought I was crazy. My brothers were concerned about how I was to support a child and” what will you do when you are working and the daycare calls and says come pick up your child whose sick and you have no other parent to call to help. And another thing, don’t you realize you are cutting your chances greatly for getting married again? What man will want to take on a single mom and her child?” Little did my family know then that I had every intention of adopting two children so they could have each other if something happened to me prematurely. The desire to have a child was so strong in my heart and deep in my soul. There were many obstacles, yet I felt a stream of pure crystal clear water running through me; maybe a gift from God and my own mother (who died when I was just turned seven years old) telling me it would be okay and that it is the right thing to do. This decision was deeply personal and selfish. My goal was not to save a child. My goal was to soak in the nourishment I needed to live my life. During the months between November and February I went through “the dark night of soul” experiencing and imagining within me the best and the worst of my fateful future. It was painful and exhilarating.
By February I was clear that I did want to adopt and that I wanted to adopt an infant from India. On February 2nd, while away at a week-long work conference, I called the Vt. Children’s Aid Society and left a message for Alice saying that when India opened I definitely wanted to get on the list. You can imagine my surprise when I got home a week later and found a message on my dining room table from my roommate that an “Alice , Children’s Aid called. India is open. Interested? The phone message was dated February lst. Our messages had crossed. Vermont had a quota of 20 children. 19 families were signed up and I was next on the list. I was ready.
India represents red, brilliance, depth, ancient culture full of history, beauty and tradition. When my child would ask me, “Mom who is my mother and father?” I can say that we don’t know who and where they are but we do know that they loved you enough to make sure that you got safely home to me. We also know that they are beautiful, because you are beautiful. I can’t tell you much about them, but I can tell you and we can learn about India and all that your country, your ancestors are about.
Natessa arrived home to me in April of 1986 at 4 months old, eleven pounds. Jaimen arrived home to me and Natessa three years later in June of 1989, four months old, seven pounds. Today, Natessa is l8 and on her way to college and Jaimen is 15 entering his sophomore year in high school. When they were five and eight another miracle happened and Daniel Wetmore, a kind, sweet and wonderful man joined our lives and he became their loving father who adopted them after we married in l997. A Cinderella story to be told another time.
The International Mission of hope Orphanage was started by an American Woman from Colorado named Cherie Clark who married an India man and lawyer from Calcutta, India. Western doctors visited this orphanage and studied the lives of these babies from date of conception (little food), to premature birth (most induced at 7 months because they don’t have enough food to nourish themselves and because a pregnant Indian woman begins to show at that time and it is a social stigma for a single woman to be pregnant and not married) to the orphanage (lack of supplies and formula and where during monsoon season 80% of the infants die due to disease in the water), to the breaking of bonds along the way (handled by many caretakers) until they arrive home to their adoptive parent. The doctors concluded that there is no known medical reason why any of these babies should have lived. In fact only one out of every 200 babies survives. Because of this the orphanage uses a stamp “Miracle Baby” and stamps each baby’s paperwork. Jaimen and Natessa are survivors and are beautiful miracles in my and Dan’s life and all that are touched by them in their worlds.
I always dreamed of taking the children back to India, for them to experience their homeland. Every time Dan and I suggested or tried to make a plan, they both would say they did not want to go. Natessa, would say, “Mom, why would I want to go to India. I am happy here. I am thankful that I am adopted. I have a great life here with everything I could ever want. If I was in India, I would probably be living the life of a street girl”
Jaimen’s response would be that he was afraid. His imagination of India sees cobras slithering the streets. So years passed and we shared friendships with other adoptive families who have children also from India and we learned about India through books, artifacts, pictures and other people’s stories.
Then a special opportunity occurred out of the blue. Lars Torres, a man in our community wanted to take six high school students to the International World Social Forum and the International Youth Camp in Mumbai India. Natessa was up for going. I was desperate to have the opportunity to finally go to India. So we fundraised $10,000 in our community to send nine of us off. Our friends and neighbors supported Natessa and me to take this trip.
After 18 hours of air travel, the wheels of the plane hit the ground landing in Mumbai (formally Bombay). I found myself sobbing. Lars looked over at me and said “Ah Jo, is there something wrong”? I thought and cried for in that moment I felt Jaimen’s and Natessa’s birth parents presence like they were right there with me. And that I would come to know them through the sights, smells and ways of India that I was about to experience. I also cried out of happiness because I always wanted to get to India before I died and wasn’t sure if I would ever make it. When those wheels hit the ground, I was there “I made it – I am in India!” I was so thankful, happy, overwhelmed with the gift of joy. Being in India for me was like being a fish in water. I loved it and felt very connected there. I felt like I walked through a womb – a world of all that mattered – and came out the other end satisfied and complete as a woman, mother, and human being.
It was different for Natessa. Into the 3rd day in Mumbai, we were at the campsite when Natessa suddenly blurts out in front of everyone “This is not at all what I expected it to be, I feel no connection here, and I’m ready to go home!” I was shocked and tried to reason why. She could not tell me. I thought it was a reaction of the devastating poverty we were seeing, stepping over homeless sleeping Indians heads in order to cross the sidewalk to get to the street so we could cross it to fill our bellies with a dinner.
We were all in shock over the immense poverty we were seeing. “So that must be the reason for Natessa’s remark”. Just then, I realized something. I said to Natessa, “You know, Natessa, it is perfectly understandable that you feel no connection here. You were born here but you were brought up American. I bet you are feeling a lot of pressure from me and Dad and all those people who contributed to sending you to your homeland to feel something. You probably were anticipating feeling something for yourself; you got here and didn’t feel anything. Natessa, it’s perfectly fine and okay”.
Natessa had a wonderful trip to India; she spent time, sang, learned and laughed with thousands of Indian teenagers her age. She is a lover of people, all kinds of people, and says she does not need to return to India.
As for Jaimen, we’ll he is older now. I don’t think he is plagued by the cobra scene, yet he still does not choose to go to India. It is my hope that when he is 18, there will be an opportunity for him to go with other students like Natessa to see and experience his homeland in an indirect way.
As for me, well, my very being is rooted in India. I loved it and I want to go back. Dan and I want to go back and work with children there in any way that is helpful.
People used to say to me – “What a wonderful thing you did to adopt these children” and I would say “It is I who have received the most love, happiness and blessings”. I love my children and my husband and family. A dream came true and is still happening each day of my life. I am thankful to all who have shared the hardships and the happy times and for the village of Montpelier that has helped raise our children and care for our family. Without them it would have been so lonely.