I missed my daughter's birth -- because I wasn't there. I was 8,000 miles away in Los Angeles when she was born. If I look back at my writing journal, on that day I find notes about a potential TV pitch -- Lethal Weapon "with a female." (Hard to believe I didn't sell that one.) I was working up TV pilot ideas as my daughter was being born. Possibly. I don't know if she was born in the morning or afternoon. I don't know anything about her mother or her mother's labor, but at some point on that day, my daughter was born and taken to I.M.H., the International Mission of Hope orphanage on Nimak Mahal Road in Kolkata. Did my daughter's mother cry? Did she kiss her baby girl on the cheek and wish her a good life?
I don't know. But eight months later my husband and I went to the international terminal at LAX where a woman from the adoption agency handed us a small, screaming baby wearing a fluffy pink dress. Did I mention the screaming? It was more like a banshee wail. "Here's your daughter," the adoption lady told me. "She was very well behaved for the first 18 hours of the flight. But she got a little cranky during the last four hours."
A 22-hour flight? I'd be screaming, too.
"Here's your daughter." My husband said later it was like getting a baby delivered by L.L. Bean. At the time we adopted, parents didn't travel to India to pick up their children. Babies were sent from the orphanage with adoption workers, the babies tucked into wicker baskets and flown to various airports around the world to meet their new parents.
I wasn't there to hear my daughter's first cry, to have her handed to me by a nurse, to feel her warm body cradled in my arms. To see her eyes open. To recognize the voice she'd been hearing for months -- "Hey, you. I'm your mom," I would have told her.
Instead I stood in an airport and tried desperately to comfort a shrieking 8-month old. A bottle, a pacifier, a toy. Nothing worked. We were strangers, an instant family she hadn't asked for.
I didn't give birth to her. I missed labor -- well, missed isn't exactly the right word. "Oh, it feels like period cramps," I said brightly to my husband as we were driving to the hospital to deliver our first child. (Women who have given birth, insert laughter here.) Fifteen hours of labor later (period cramps times a billion) and the option of a high forceps delivery or a C-section, we chose the C-section. Yep, it hurt. But worth it? Well, duh. And worth it enough to try again? Of course.
Except it didn't work out a second time. Our beautiful, much-loved son needed a sibling. After some forays into the tortuous land of fertility treatment, we gave up and embraced adoption, which offered its own version of torture. Paperwork, visits from social workers, more paperwork -- in a way, it was like a different kind of pregnancy. No morning sickness (hooray), but delays, complications, plenty of frustration. With the adoption in process, we awaited news. One day we received a Fedex package with a single sheet of paper inside. Stapled to the top, a tiny photo of a sweet-faced infant, her mouth open in an O. Information on the mother: unknown. At the orphanage the baby had been given the name Subhra. At birth she weighed three pounds four ounces and was 16 inches long.
"Present living conditions: At I.M.H. under the care of fully trained staff and 24-hour doctors."
We knew the children were well cared for at I.M.H. -- attended by massis (aunties in Bengali), touched and cuddled and fed. We have a few pictures of our daughter at I.M.H. -- one is marked, "Subhra's crib." In other photos she is being held by Urmela, her massi. They both look happy.
My daughter's entry into her new life was probably as confusing for her as it was for us. The surprise was her instant affection for her brother. He, naturally, was nervous about the sudden appearance of a sister. But she adored him and wanted to be with him all the time. Any apprehension he had -- poof -- it was gone.
Over the years I've talked with my daughter about her adoption. About her orphanage, the massis, the love and nurturing at I.M.H., the contact we've kept up with Bal Jagat, the wonderful adoption agency that brought our daughter to us.
"But you like my brother better because he was in your tummy," she would say to me.
"No, I love you both. You weren't in my tummy, you were here." And I put her hand on my heart. "I'm super lucky to have a birth child and a heart child."
I missed the day of her birth, but that's the only birthday I've missed.
Happy birthday, my heart child.