Journey to Judah: Part 3 - Court
May 7, 2018
I was up early again after another restless night of sleep. The combination of jet lag, the desire to have our son in my arms again, and the nervousness about the day ahead was a recipe for being up at all hours of the night. If things went well today, Judah Mahesh would become a Mackey. If things did not go well.....well, I couldn’t bear to think about what that might mean. We already had a lot of strikes against us that a judge may not like: we are American and would be removing a child from his home country, Marcus is a Pastor in a country that is predominately Hindu, we already have biological children which (for them) raises suspicions about why we would really want to adopt a child.
I struggled with my outfit choice again, which is definitely not typical of myself. This time, it wasn’t because I was worried that a 13-month-old wouldn’t like my choice but because I didn’t want to add any more strikes against us. I knew I needed to look nice and dress very conservatively...but we would also be in a building with no a/c in the 110-degree heat. I put on the long sleeved dress that I had originally planned to wear (the one that I had carefully brought in my carry-on bag just in case my luggage was lost) only to realize that it was shorter than I had remembered. Even with leggings, I was afraid that it wouldn’t be quite conservative enough. I panicked and tried on 3 more dresses but found something the judge might critique about all of them. Y’all can roll your eyes right along with my husband because I dress conservatively in my everyday life, so I’m sure they would have all been fine. After a few tears and some rational thoughts from my Marcus, I decided on a sleeveless floral maxi dress with a short-sleeved cardigan on top. I wasn’t super confident in my choice and was kicking myself for not bringing a long-sleeved cardigan to this tropical climate. What in the world was I thinking by leaving that behind?!
After we were ready, we went downstairs to eat. We forced ourselves to eat a large breakfast because we knew we could be stuck in court until dinner time. We met Minal, our in-country guide and advocate, at breakfast. She went through some things that we should and should not do in the courtroom: do not talk, do not get your phone out, you cannot have food or drink in the courtroom, you should not cross your legs (my habit to break), you should not bounce your legs (Marcus’s habit to break), let Marcus answer most of the questions, Kayla should hold the child the whole time, Kayla should not speak unless directly spoken to, do not mention anything about your Faith, keep (Judah) Mahesh silent.
Then she went over some possible questions and how we should answer: Do not emphasize the fact that Marcus is a Pastor, but instead, discuss how he mentors children and plans activities for students. If asked why we are adopting, say that we have 2 daughters, but we want a son. This conversation did nothing to calm my nerves. Out of all of the topics, though, my biggest concern was, “How in the world would I keep a 13-month-old (who didn’t even know us) absolutely silent without food or toys?” That task seemed almost impossible.
Once we were prepped for court, we rented a hotel car again and headed to the orphanage to pick up (Judah) Mahesh. Marcus and I couldn’t wait to see our little boy again! We arrived at the orphanage at 9:45, and we needed to be at the courthouse by 11:00. The courthouse was about an hour away with traffic so we only had 15 minutes to get in, get our son, and head to court. Our advocate was a little nervous because NOTHING happens quickly in India.
When we stepped inside, we sat down on those same wooden benches from the day before while someone ran upstairs to get (Judah) Mahesh. Our advocate went to the office to get our son’s lab report, immunization record, and find the orphanage social worker so we could take him to court with us. She didn’t trust that the social worker would show up on his own or get there on time even if he came, so she wanted him in the car with us.
The orphanage was also sending one of the Ayahs to court with us. She came down the stairs carrying (Judah) Mahesh, and he raised his eyebrows when he saw us like maybe he remembered us. I took him from her arms and held him close. How could you miss someone so much in less than 24 hours? He was wearing an aqua blue and white striped t-shirt with some cartoon characters (which I had never heard of) on the front. He wore matching cotton aqua shorts, and the color looked good with his dark hair and dark eyes. He still wore his Hindu facial markings from the day before. I wondered if it mattered what he wore to court. I had brought some dressier clothes in our fully stocked diaper bag, but our advocate said he looked fine. It’s a good thing that our diaper bag was fully stocked, though, because the orphanage was only sending 1 bottle of formula, a hand towel, and an Ayah with us.
While we waited for our advocate to come back, several of the Ayahs came to hug (Judah) Mahesh, pinch his cheeks and take photos with him before he left. Shortly after we were matched, someone was able to discretely check on him at the orphanage, and they let us know that (Judah) Mahesh appeared to be a favorite among the Ayahs. I hated that there were favorites, but simultaneously....if there were going to be favorites, I was glad that our son might be one. I hoped that maybe he would get better care and more attention that way. The Ayahs lovingly referred to our son as “Mahesh Babu” as they said goodbye, which is the name of a famous heartthrob, Bollywood actor from this region of India.
Our advocate came back into the building with the necessary paperwork but was frustrated that the social worker wasn’t quite ready...like I said, no one is in a hurry in India. While we waited for him, Marcus and I gave some donations to the orphanage. Friends and family had purchased toys, blankets, and clothes to donate. We had also brought bubbles, chocolates, and suckers for the kids. After seeing just how many children were in the orphanage, though, we wished we would have brought more donations because it is impossible to donate to this orphanage at any other time. Upon meeting our son’s caretakers, we knew we also wanted to do something for them too. They had taken care of our boy for many months when we couldn’t, and we believe that they had done the best they could with their given resources and environment. We gave them saris, traditionally worn by Indian women, which our advocate had helped us purchase. It was one of the only things that we knew they would have use for themselves since only adult women wear them. They seemed very pleased with the donations and gifts.
The social worker finally showed up, and we all quickly piled into the SUV: the driver, our advocate, the Ayah, the social worker, us, and our (hopefully soon to be official) son. I sat (Judah) Mahesh on my lap and we began to drive away from the orphanage. I felt like such a hypocrite- as many car seat safety blogs as I had read and as many times as I had cringed at photos of kids buckled in car seats incorrectly - and here I was riding around in the crazy Indian traffic with a child on my lap.
It took about 45 minutes to get to court, and (Judah) Mahesh seemed to enjoy the ride. Marcus, however, felt carsick....just like every time we had to ride in a car in India. The traffic literally makes you praise God every time you reach your destination, which is probably how we should always live anyway, right? There are no real driving lanes or rules to follow as long as you honk at people to let them know that you’re cutting them off or about to run them over. Our guide said, “You can drive in India without brakes but not a horn,” and I feel like that’s a pretty accurate description of our experiences.
Upon arriving at the courthouse, we met our attorney for the first time. We had already heard great things about her, and we were very grateful that she successfully got us a court date in May before courts closed for a month. After proper introductions and getting photocopies of our driver’s licenses, she had us sit in chairs outside of the courtroom. She said she would let us know when we needed to come inside. She also let us know that only 1 judge was hearing cases that day and that we might be there for a while, especially since they tend to hear the international cases last.
We sat in a dimly lit hallway with many other people, and I wondered what brought them all to court. I hoped some of them were there for domestic adoption, but it is not very common in India and this civil court heard all kinds of cases so there was no way to tell. We were thankful to have a spot by a large fan since there was no air conditioning. The fan only worked for an hour before the electricity went out in part of the building, but we were thankful for that hour of cooler temps.
We sat on those chairs for hours, but it was the most enjoyable part of our court experience. There were no rules to follow while sitting outside the courtroom, and we got to spend more time with our son. We held him, we fed him snacks, we played with the little toys we brought, he saw how many times we would pick up the toys after he threw them, and we fed him some more snacks. When the snacks just weren’t cutting it anymore, the Ayah handed me his bottle and the hand towel. Our advocate explained that in India, they cover babies up if they are drinking bottles so no one else will be jealous of the milk. She told me that I didn’t have to cover him up with the towel if I didn’t want to though, and I was thankful since it was so hot and I just wanted to see his face. I got some stares from the people around us, but we were already getting those anyway as people mentally tried to fit all the puzzle pieces together.
I was thrilled at the chance to give my son a bottle for the first time. As I held him close and fed him, I thought about how amazing it was that he was even bottle fed in the first place. A lot of orphanages only use spoons and cups to feed kids milk. I hoped that at least meant that he was held and rocked while being bottle fed sometimes. I also thought about how, at 13 months old, he would be considered “too old” to have a bottle in the US, but being able to feed him like this would be so good for our bonding. He stared up into my eyes as I cradled his tiny body and fed him, and it made me feel like I hadn’t missed out on quite as much of his infancy. The Ayah smiled as she watched us, and I wondered if she felt a little bit of sadness mixed with her joy too. She had taken care of this baby boy for his whole life and then had to sit back and see him in someone else’s arms. She didn’t speak English, so we were unable to communicate with her at all that entire day as she just sat there with empty arms and no responsibilities. I was afraid the silence added weight to any feelings she may have had about the situation. (Judah) Mahesh finished most of his bottle, and I handed it back to the Ayah. They would need the bottle back at the orphanage.
Finally, at 1:25, we were called into the courtroom. We sat in the back, and I took in my surroundings while trying to keep Judah (Mahesh) quiet and trying not to break any rules. The judge and someone with a computer sat in the front in a little box, just like you’d expect. People sat quietly in the back to observe or wait their turns, just like you’d expect. But it was absolute chaos in the middle of that courtroom. There was a big table in the middle. Attorneys lined each side, shouting and waving papers every time the judge was ready to move on to the next case. Everyone was crowded together. I couldn’t tell if there was any sort of line or order at all. It just looked like the judge would listen to whoever yelled loudest or waved their papers highest. It sort of reminded me of what I imagine a stock exchange to be like on Wall Street. There was a man in the front near the bench, who was collecting papers, reading them for the judge, and handing them over to the judge. The judge barked out questions in Telugu, did a lot of yelling, and literally threw the papers back to the man at different intervals. Because it wasn’t in English, I had no idea what was really happening, but it all looked very intimidating, and the judge looked very angry. I think even Judah (Mahesh) was a little intimidated because he sat silently on my lap, taking it all in.
The judge didn’t actually hear our case until 1:35. We were waved to the front by our attorney, and our advocate followed us up as I tried to remember all the rules. It was so crowded, and no one moved out of our way. We literally had to push our way to the front so the judge could see us, and then the crowds pressed in on us the entire time. The man at the front yelled something to the judge, and I saw him hand over the giant stack of adoption paperwork that we had worked on for months. Our entire life story was in that stack in the judge’s hands....just as the future of our family was also in the judge’s hands.
The judge looked through the stack and then began asking Marcus questions. The chaos around us, our distance from the judge, and his accent as he spoke in English made it extremely difficult for Marcus to understand what he was asking. I knew I wasn’t supposed to talk, but the judge seemed angry that Marcus kept looking at our attorney to interpret. I tried to quietly translate for him as well. The first few questions were easy: When were you married? Where do you live? Then he asked about Marcus’s job. Marcus repeated what our advocate had coached him to say, “I am a mentor for students, and I plan activities for them.” The judge began furiously flipping through our stack of paperwork. He let us know that the word “mentor” was not on any of our documents.
“I feel like I’m not getting the whole story,” he said to the attorney. Then my heart started beating more quickly as he said, “You work at a church.” The words spewed out of his mouth like it was the worst occupation you could have, and I assumed he practiced Hinduism like most of India.
“Yes, sir,” said Marcus.
He just stared at us for a few seconds, but then moved on to the next question, “Why did you wait so long after marriage to adopt?”
Marcus let him know that we had 2 daughters at home. The judge began flipping through papers again and told the attorney that he didn’t know anything about our daughters, even though I could clearly see the color photos of our girls and our family on the top of the stack of paperwork. Besides, as much as I agonized over every single document in that stack, I knew there were at least 10 pages about our girls. The judge said something to our attorney in Telugu, threw our papers back to her, and then we were abruptly escorted out of the courtroom.
What had just happened?! My mind raced as we were ushered into the hallway. I knew we hadn’t passed court, but I wasn’t sure what this all actually meant. Would we get another shot? Would we have to come back another day? Could we still adopt this little boy? Our attorney let us know that the judge was asking her to amend the court affidavit to include more specific information, and she rushed off to complete the task. Our advocate let us know that the judge was essentially making us jump through hoops but that the attorney hoped to get us back in to be heard by the judge today.
We sat in the hallway quietly, both of us silently praying that we would still pass court today, praying that we would not be denied because of our belief in Jesus and our calling to spread the good news of the Gospel. Our advocate could see our worry and kept repeating, “It will be just fine,” but she looked a little worried herself.
For the past several months, our church had been going through a series called “Mark’s Gospel: The Story of Jesus.” As I sat in the hallway, the introduction video for that series, which I had watched almost every Sunday for months and months, echoed in my mind. Part of it says, “There's nothing so strong that Jesus doesn’t have power over it. There’s no tree, there’s no insect, there’s no animal, there’s no atheist, no Muslim, no Hindu, no Buddhist, no angel, no demon, no devil that isn’t inferior and under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s really the Lord of hosts.....I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of Lord I want to follow.” As I thought about it, God reminded me that He had ultimate authority and that He was in complete control. Whatever happened would not take Him by surprise, and I tried to rest in that promise.
Our attorney was trying to push for our case to be heard again before the court recessed for lunch at 2:30. If we didn’t get to appear by then, we would have to wait for 1-2 more hours until whenever the judge decided to hear cases again. Thankfully, she was able to get us back on the docket, and we were called back into the courtroom around 2:05. At first, we were told to go immediately to the front. We stood up there for a few minutes and then got pushed further and further back. Then we were asked to sit down in the back and wait.
By this point, (Judah) Mahesh was hot, hungry, and overly tired because it was hours past nap time and he was in an unfamiliar place being held by unfamiliar people. I can’t blame him, but he began to cry. The security guard in the corner yelled, “Silence in the court!!” For some reason, our 13-month-old baby, who had missed his nap, did not listen to that security guard. I panicked. I couldn’t stand up and rock him, I wasn’t supposed to feed him or give him toys, I couldn’t leave because our case was supposed to be heard any minute, but the judge (who already did not seem like our biggest fans) and everyone else in the courtroom was watching this baby cry loudly in my arms. I was afraid we were about to strike out. Thankfully, I didn’t know it yet, but we would soon learn that all of India seemed to believe that babies should NEVER cry for ANY reason.
“Silence!” the guard yelled again as he walked toward me. Just then, the social worker came back into the room and handed me the bottle hidden in the hand towel. I shoved it in (Judah) Mahesh’s mouth and covered his head with the towel, hoping no one would notice. I knew I was breaking the rules by having a drink in the courtroom, but what could I do? There was only one ounce of formula left in the bottle, and we didn’t have any more. I knew this could go one of 2 ways: either it would calm him down enough to help him sleep or it would make him twice as mad once the bottle was empty. He gulped as I prayed that we weren’t minutes away from being removed from the courtroom.
Thankfully, the small amount of milk and the darkness of the towel over his face was just enough to help him go to sleep. He continued sucking on the bottle in his sleep like a pacifier. As I was trying to rock him to keep him asleep, I worried that rocking a baby may be against the rules because it was similar to bouncing your legs up and down, right? I also realized that I had crossed my legs during this time, and I just hoped that I hadn’t pointed my feet at anyone as that is offensive in Hindu culture. Ugh...more strikes against us now.
We were called back up to the front at 2:15. Our paperwork was handed back to the judge. This time, the judge asked me to hold up the child. I gently uncovered (Judah) Mahesh’s face and pointed him toward the judge, trying to keep him asleep. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough because the judge yelled, “Hold up the child!” once more. I lifted (Judah) Mahesh in the air so the judge could get a good look at him. Once he seemed satisfied, I cradled him again and somehow put him back to sleep without rocking him too much.
Then the judge asked Marcus, “Why do you want to adopt him?” Marcus just sat there for a few seconds, and I panicked, afraid that he forgot what he was supposed to say when in all reality, he just didn’t hear the question. I whispered to Marcus, “We have 2 daughters, we want a son, and we love India.” (Such an oversimplified, extremely incomplete answer to this large question, but this is what we were coached to say.) Our advocate must have panicked too because she was whispering the same things to Marcus at the same time. This only caused confusion, and he had no idea what either of us said, so....in my panic.... I repeated my answer to the judge without really thinking. Gasp! Why did I do that!? I definitely broke the rules now. There was yelling and our papers being thrown back to the man in the front, and we were once again quickly ushered out of the courtroom.
We had no idea what had happened because most of it wasn’t in English. It was all very intense, and it didn’t seem like a positive exchange. We stood there, wide-eyed, staring at our advocate. “You can smile now, the order was given,” she said. We both just stared blankly at her, unsure if we had heard her correctly.
“You passed court,” she said, “Mahesh is your son.”
Marcus and I smiled at each other, tears in our eyes, mouths wide open in silent cheers as we stared down at the sleeping little boy in my arms. He had no idea that his life had just changed. He was an orphan no more. As of 2:20 PM on Monday, May 7th, he was a son. Our son.
We joyfully walked to the car, but we knew we still had one more battle to face that day. Minal had let us in on her surprising plan that morning. She was going to attempt to get us custody of Judah Mahesh MACKEY that night. On our original itinerary it said we wouldn’t take custody until the following day, and everyone we had talked to said that it took at least 24 hours to process the custody paperwork, which we hadn’t even filled out yet....but here we were on our way to a place our advocate called “The Department” to see if we could keep our SON with us that night instead of having him spend one more night in the orphanage. Could forever really begin today?