Today is the eighth anniversary of the day we got custody of you. You did not grow in my stomach, Katie, but you grew in my heart.
My labor with you did not last 18 or 24 or 48 hours. It lasted months, and it took more than doctors, midwives and nurses to deliver you safely into my arms. It also took birth parents, foster parents, judges, lawyers, adoption agencies, social workers, counselors, friends and family... in the end, we had an entire "Team Katie" working to bring you home.
Although you did not go to a permanent home immediately after your birth, it does not mean you were unwanted. I wonder if you can ever know how much we wanted you.
When you were in foster care, Daddy and I would finish the work-week each Friday, drive straight to the airport, take a plane to Missouri, rent a car and drive two hours to your town. We usually arrived around midnight, but I was too excited about seeing you the next day to sleep much.
We visited with you all day on Saturdays, and on Sunday mornings, we made the long trip back home.
Saying goodbye to you that first time was the hardest. Once a mother has held her baby, it is difficult to give her back. I pulled off the onesie you were wearing and clutched it in my arms all the way back to Chicago. I buried my face in it so I could smell your sweet baby scent, and I missed you terribly. I wept tears of resolve. I would fight for you because you could not fight for yourself.
Mondays and Tuesdays were numb days. Wednesdays and Thursdays were just a way to pass time until Friday, when we could return to you for our Saturdays together. Sundays were goodbye days. I was filled with joy from seeing you, and at the same time, I was empty from leaving you so many miles away.
Daddy and I traveled to Missouri a total of fourteen times while we waited for you. Bureaucracies move slowly. I would do it all over again because I love you so much.
I remember the day the guardian ad litem contacted me at work to tell me that the long, anxious wait was over and we were going to be able to adopt you. I called your birth mother to tell her, and we cried and celebrated together. The adoption plan she had lovingly made for you would finally be fulfilled, and I prayed it would bring her peace during a terrible time in her life. I hoped that her other two children would soon be able to leave foster care and return to her.
Good news traveled fast, and within thirty minutes, colleagues were streaming over to my desk, offering congratulations, hugs and high fives. My friend Jeff, who sat in the desk beside me, said, "I feel like our team won the Superbowl!"
I remember when Judge Augustine signed the transfer of custody order, and you became ours. You were already mine in my heart, unlimited by boundaries of law, time and place. Now you were mine on paper, too, and nobody could keep us apart. You were coming home.
I stayed with you in a hotel for another ten days in Missouri while we waited to receive interstate clearance to leave. Daddy needed to return to Chicago to his teaching job. When I finally received approval to leave with you, it was a feat to get you and all your stuff to the airport. Several kind people helped me get settled on the airplane, as I fumbled with your car seat, sling, blankets, bottles and diaper bag.
Word made its way to the pilot, who announced mid-flight that it was a special day because a little girl was flying home for the first time to be with her family. When the seatbelt sign went off, many passengers came over to us. They offered blessings upon your head and stroked your apple cheeks. We had a hard start, Katie, but the tide was changing.
When we finally arrived home, there was a banner hanging in our front hall that said "Welcome Home, Carrie and Katie!" It stayed up for the next four years, only coming down when we sold our condo.
Every time I walked in the door and saw the banner, it reminded me of that beautiful flight home with you. For many months, my heart had been broken, smashed to bits by grief and loss, but now it was whole again.
I am thinking today of our journey home together, how I sat looking out the airplane window at the wide blue sky. Sunlight drenched everything in sight, and you slept peacefully beside me. As we flew together through the air, high above the earth, I knew everything would be okay.
Happy Custody Day, my lovely daughter. We wanted you from the start.