Child of Mine: A Story of Adoption
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 2, March-April 2002, p. 48-49
I grabbed my backpack and stood at the front of the plane waiting for the door to open. As soon as it did, I could see my family in the window waving at me. They could see me too, and I waved at them and cried. I was so happy to be home from India this time. Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) is a harsh city, and although I began to love it because it was the birth city of my daughter, I was still homesick!
We were in a small jet so I had to walk down the flight of stairs from the airplane to the tarmac. My baby was in the sling, blocking my feet from view, so I couldn’t really see where I was going. It was a very slow walk down the stairs. As soon as my feet touched the ground, I ran straight to the door that led to the arrival gate; up the steps again, and finally, there was my family!
My son ran toward me screaming “Mommeeeeeeeee!” I was so happy to see him. My plan was to give my husband the baby and then I would hold my son. I began to pull our newest baby out of the sling, as she was tucked way down inside. As I tugged for the last time, she slipped out and at that moment I began to cry. I felt as though I was giving birth to her. It was such an emotional moment. She was all wrinkled up from being in the sling for the long flight and as soon as I took her out, she yawned and stretched out. Everyone was watching our family grow by one more, as I handed our baby over to my husband. We just hugged and cried.
He was in awe of her because she was such a tiny baby and looked like a newborn. My son was standing there, waiting for me. I bent down, hugged him, kissed his precious face all over, and cried some more because I missed him so much. Finally, I picked him up and we introduced him to his baby sister for the first time. He was so excited and amazed at how small she was. My parents, sister, brother, sister-in-law, and their children stood there, tears in eyes, supporting us as we merged as one family. Having Lakshmi home, safe in our arms, we were able to release our worst fears of losing this daughter. It was a healing moment which I will be thankful for the rest of my life.
Before we knew about Lakshmi, another baby girl had been referred to us for adoption. As soon as our paperwork went to India, I began pumping my breasts and taking fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel. I was hoping to be able to pump enough milk to freeze it in advance of the baby’s arrival. At the time, I was still nursing my four-year-old son at bedtime. I knew I had some milk, but unfortunately I couldn’t get even a teaspoon with the breast pump. I kept pumping and taking the herbs in hopes that it would help.
On July 10, 2000, we got the devastating phone call that our three-month-old daughter in India, Kuheli, had passed away. I became so depressed that I no longer used the breast pump or herbs. I just broke down and cried every few hours. After losing Kuheli, I felt it was important to protect my emotional health so I made a decision to put away all the baby clothes, breast pump, and herbs. I decided that if we actually got a baby, I would start again once the baby arrived.
Another three weeks passed and we got another referral, a baby girl by the name of Shohini. I stored her tiny black and white photo away and rarely looked at it except when I wanted to remind myself that we were still trying to adopt a child! Three weeks later we got a call from our agency. The adoption coordinator urged us to pull together our adoption travel funds because they felt we would be traveling very shortly. I was in shock. Although I really wanted to start preparing for breastfeeding, the thought of it made me ill. I was very afraid of losing this baby, too. Another call one week later and it was confirmed that we had been awarded guardianship of our baby girl.
I met Shohini, whom we named Lakshmi, for the first time in October 2000. She was only two-and-a-half months old. I was overwhelmed with happiness and counted her toes and fingers, examined her naked body, and found her to be perfect in my eyes! Oh, to actually see this tiny stranger who was my daughter! I tried to breastfeed her on and off. She had a very high palette and latching on was difficult. Still, I kept trying. Then I realized that trying to latch her on was interfering with our bonding, and I decided to wait until we were at home to try again.
Home at last from our journey, we celebrated the life and arrival of our three-month-old, Lakshmi Selena Rose Tummalapalli. I planned to breastfeed our daughter once our jet lag was gone.
The next few days were fuzzy with middle of the night bottle feedings, and Lakshmi had a bad cold that turned very quickly into croup. I periodically tried to get her to latch on, and she would do it for a few minutes, then arch her back and cry. I tried using a supplemental nursing system recommended by many adoptive mothers. Also, I started my herbal supplements again. Lakshmi refused the supplementer. She didn’t like the tiny tube in her mouth. She wouldn’t even latch on after a while. I called a friend who is a La Leche League Leader. She recommended that I finger feed her with the supplementer. Lakshmi immediately fed from my finger, and although it hurt my finger sometimes, I was glad we were making progress. Later I was able to move her from finger feeding to my breast when she was just barely asleep. Many times she latched on and breastfed, but she made lots of clicking sounds and would force her head away from my breast. I put in another call to my LLL Leader friend. She walked me through a checklist of things, and after much frustration I realized I was holding the back of her neck and causing her to push backward, thus unlatching. I had to re-evaluate how I held her and retrain myself.
I admit, there were difficult days, and both Lakshmi and I cried many tears as we got to know each other. Many days I felt so down that I thought it might be best to bottle-feed only, but my friend and husband constantly gave me support and encouraged me to keep trying. My husband was breastfed until he was four years old and still remembers how much he loved it. He wanted our daughter to experience it too.
Watching my precious daughter melt into my arms while breastfeeding or seeing her look up at me while latched on, giving me a beautiful smile, were small victories that kept me going. It seemed that we were finished with our difficulties until, six weeks into our breastfeeding relationship, Lakshmi and I developed thrush. It was painful and debilitating, but with helpful information from my LLL friend, careful medical treatment, and a daily regimen of home treatments, within a couple of weeks, we were both doing much better. At that time our breastfeeding relationship took off!
Lakshmi went for months before she was willing to take a bottle again. She loved nursing. Many people have been amazed to see her breastfeeding. Adults and children both always want to know how it is possible. My parenting style is “attachment parenting,” and I like to feed Lakshmi on demand, so naturally I breastfeed in public. I feel that besides showing off our breastfeeding success, we inspire adoptive parents and mothers who wish to relactate.
Lakshmi is sixteen months old as I write this and still breastfeeding several times a day. I still supplement and that is something that will always be a part of our breastfeeding. Breastfeeding two out of three of my adopted children has been the greatest joy of my parenting experience. It cures everything from skinned knees to a toddler’s anger, and it gives me the excuse to sit down and focus all my energy on my child. Adoptive breastfeeding has made my daughter a child of mine.