Journey to Judah: Part 4 - Custody
May 7, 2018
As we drove away from the courthouse, our SON still sleeping in my arms, it all hit me at once: the immense joy, the gratitude, the magnitude of this responsibility, the number of prayers answered in a single moment, the redemptive story of adoption set in motion thousands of years before through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. After 5 years and 2 months of praying and dreaming, we now had a son. After 1 year in an orphanage, our son had a family. Adoption is bred from loss and trauma, but thankfully beauty can come from the ashes.
As beautiful as that moment was, and as much as I will forever remember the words, “Mahesh is your son,” fatigue- both mental and physical- hit me as well. It was nearing 3:00, and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We had brought some snacks, but in the chaos of the day, neither of us had remembered to eat anything. I grabbed a granola bar from my bag and silently ate it while my son slept in my arms. I knew we still had another looming battle to face today. Did we have the energy for it?
We were on our way to a place our advocate, Minal, called “The Department.” It’s basically the organization responsible for handling all the adoption-related paperwork in this area of India. Our mission was to file foster care paperwork with them and take custody of our son. If you read the last blog post, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait...what? You passed court. He is now officially your son. Why are you filling out foster care paperwork?” Yeah, I was thinking the same thing too.
We passed court with “verbal approval” from the judge, but until we had our written court order listing us as Judah Mahesh Mackey’s parents, we couldn’t prove that he was really ours. Until then, he was still Mahesh FNU (Family Name Unknown). Because of that, it’s required to fill out a foster care agreement and get approval to take custody of a child in order to remove them from the orphanage. Most people we had connected with had told us that they filled out the paperwork and were able to take custody 24-48 hours later. Our advocate, though, was telling us that we would go the office, file the paperwork, and get approval to take custody that same day...all in a matter of hours. We weren’t sure if she was confident or crazy at that point. I really hoped she knew what she was talking about though because I could not imagine saying goodbye to our [now official] son and have him spend another night in the orphanage. It was hard enough saying goodbye the day before. I prayed all along the 45 minute drive to The Department while (Judah) Mahesh continued to sleep in my arms. I begged God not have to say goodbye to our son again and asked that He would work it out so that we could take custody of him that same day somehow, someway.
We pulled up to the building, and I took a deep breath as I got out of the car. “Here goes nothing,” I thought. We headed upstairs, and as soon as I reached the top of the stairs I could see that there was already a big problem. The entire 2nd floor was cloaked in darkness. We walked into the office and could barely see the people who, for some reason, were just sitting at their desks in the dark. Our advocate somehow weaves through the rows to find the correct desk, and we made our introductions in the dark. Then Minal asked what was going on with the lights. I couldn’t make out anyone’s face, but the woman sitting there let us know that the power had been off more than it had been on that day. She also let us know that the files we needed for foster care were on the dark desktop computer next to her and still needed to be edited to include our information before they could be printed. Minal was a little irritated because she had already let them know in advance that we would be filing for custody today, so she had expected the forms to be completed. We had heard that power outages were common in India and were told to pack a flashlight. Unfortunately, a flashlight was not going to help us in this situation, and this kind of darkness was not what I expected to be fighting against at The Department today. It added 1 more layer to the already seemingly impossible task before us.
We sat in some office chairs and decided to try to wait it out. Checking my phone, I saw it was already after 4:00 and wondered what time this office closed. I sat there in the dark, my son in my arms, listening to him breathe rhythmically in his sleep, and I finally realized that it was the first time I’d ever seen him sleep. At 13 months old, it was also the first time I had held him while he slept. After seeing all those babies in the orphanage, sleeping anywhere from mattresses to tile floors, I wondered if anyone had ever held him while he slept. He had been asleep for well over an hour at this point, but it was the first time I had just been able to sit and really think about it. The darkness was definitely an unwanted obstacle, but it was also calming and reverent somehow. I sat and prayed and thanked God for allowing us to pass court. I thanked him for this little boy in my arms. I thanked him for being a light in the darkness. I prayed that he would move this mountain like He had moved so many mountains in this 5-year adoption process. I also prayed that we could somehow be a light in the darkness in India. Most of all, though, I begged God to turn those lights back on.
After about 20 minutes of darkness, the lights flickered...a ray of hope.
Then, suddenly, they came bursting back on. I could hear the hum of computers starting back up as I silently thanked God and praised Him for bringing this light into the world too. Our advocate did not waste any time. She got right to work, immediately asking for the foster care paperwork as I took in my surroundings. It looked like a typical office building: rows of desks, cubicles, computers. I could now see the faces of the three women who were handling our case. They could see us now too, and they smiled as they said, “Mahesh looks like his mom and has his dad’s color.” Because our son spent most of his life in his room, I don’t think he had ever really been in the sun, and he was very pale. We quickly learned, though, that he loves being outside. He closes his eyes, smiles, and stretches toward the sun like he’s trying to soak it all up. You should also hear him giggle in surprise when the wind blows his hair.
Once the computer was up and running, the representative asked us for several documents, which we knew they already had in their files somewhere. But, not wanting we to waste any time, we dug them out of our backpack and handed them over so the information could be added to the document. She typed everything into the foster care agreement form and asked me to check it over. I double checked the address of the apartment we’d be moving to on Wednesday and then gave her the all clear. Just as she was about to click print, the office went dark again. The power went out, the computer went black, my heart sank, and I heard her mumble something about not saving that document.
I wanted to cry. The joy of the lights coming back on, quickly fading into disappointment as we sat in the dark once more, no closer to getting custody of our son than we had been 40 minutes ago. Frustrated with the situation, the ladies in the office told us to leave and come back the next day. They hoped the power would be more reliable tomorrow. I could not believe it. We were so close and now we were going to have to drive back to the orphanage and say goodbye to our baby boy again for another night. The highs and lows of this day were about to come spilling out of my eyes until our advocate spoke up and said, “No, we will continue to wait.” There was a little push back from the people at The Department pressing us to leave, but she simply said, “We will wait and see.” I was relieved by her decision and her ability to take command of the situation. I immediately began praying again. “God, please turn the lights back on,” was pretty much on repeat for the next 15 minutes while the office workers made small talk with Marcus and our advocate. By this point, (Judah) Mahesh had been sleeping for over 2 hours in my arms, and - even though he was only a mere 16 pounds and 25 inches - my arms were beginning to burn. I successfully transferred him to Marcus, and he continued sleeping in his daddy’s arms, probably the only one enjoying the darkness.
Until....praise God, the lights clicked and the power came back on once more. Afraid to get too excited, I wondered how long would it last this time.
The computer rebooted and unfortunately, it was just as the office worker had suspected: the file had not saved. She had to start the document all over. This time, instead of just sitting and rejoicing that the lights were back on, I continued to pray, “Father, please keep the power on until we get our custody agreement.” She typed. I prayed. The lights remained on. She typed some more. I prayed. She stopped to ask someone a question. I cringed, wanting her to hurry up but prayed some more. She typed a few more things, and said, “It’s finished. I need you to check it again.”
My heart raced as I read it as quickly as I could. Would the power stay on?
We were so close.
Did she save it yet?
I continued reading. Oh, no. “Our US address is wrong,” I said.
“Tell it to me again,” the worker said. I rushed to get it out. She misheard and typed the house number incorrectly again. I tried to correct her, and she got confused. I knew the power could literally go out any minute, and I almost commandeered her keyboard. Instead, she asked me to write my address down. Thankfully, I had already handed the (still sleeping) baby boy off to Marcus so I could write with ease.
Did we really have time for this!?
I wrote as quickly and clearly as I could and checked her work as she typed it. “Yes! That’s correct!” I said. But in my mind, I was screaming, PRINT IT! JUST PRINT IT!!!!” I started praying again as she calmly looked for a thumb drive to save the document.
Why is no one ever in a hurry in India?
I felt like my heart was going to beat right out of my chest. Had she even saved it to the computer yet?
I breathed a small sigh of relief as she finally saved it to a thumb drive. My relief was short lived, though, because just as she was about to print....
The power went out again.
“Ahhhhhhhh! Are you kidding me!?” I wanted to scream. I could not believe this was happening. Was this a nightmare? If so, I wanted to wake up immediately. “At least she saved it,” I thought to myself, “IF the power will come back on, she won’t have to start all over again. Right?”
Then I heard our advocate say, “Is there anywhere else we can print it?” We were told we could take it down the street to an attorney’s office, which would be perfect (if that office had power) because we needed to get it notarized anyway. We grabbed the thumb drive, walked out of the darkness, headed down the stairs, and hoped that we would see the lights on in the next building.
As we walked into the first floor of the next building, everything appeared to be okay. We headed up the stairs and were relieved to see the lights on up there as well. We made our way to the attorney’s office, and I hoped things would go a little more smoothly from here on out. It was nearing 5:00. How late do people work in India?
The attorney was able to print the copies we needed from the thumb drive, and thankfully their notary was present as well. Things were looking up! We signed the documents and prepared to pay the small fee. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any rupees small enough for the fee because they were out of small bills at the airport where we exchanged money, and the office did not have change. We tried to tell them they could just keep the change, but apparently, that could seem like some sort of bribe, and they refused to take it. Until we gave them exact change, they would be holding our precious notarized foster care paperwork hostage.
Still feeling like we were in some sort of alternate reality, we went a few offices over and decided to get (Judah) Mahesh’s passport and visa photos taken. We would need them for upcoming appointments anyway, and we hoped this place could give us the exact change we needed to ransom our documents from the attorney’s office. (Judah) Mahesh was still sleeping, and I was hesitant to wake him up, knowing he was exhausted after such a long day. Thankfully I was getting a feel for how things worked in India, and I waited for confirmation that these photos were really happening before waking him up. Of course, the man in the photo studio was “taking a break” (ie surfing the internet on his computer), so we sat in chairs watching him look around YouTube and waiting for him to finish his break. After 15 minutes, he decided he was ready to take the photos. (Judah) Mahesh had just woken up, and he was not very happy about posing for these photos. In fact, he was a little disoriented and wouldn’t even hold his head up straight. Some serious cropping, rotating, and editing had to be done before the photos could be printed. Now knowing his smiley, happy personality, these photos make me laugh every time I look at them. He looks exactly how Marcus and I felt at that point in the day.
Once our 8 photos were printed in 2 different sizes, we paid, got our change, and went back to the attorney’s office, hoping they hadn’t packed up for the day. We were successfully able to pay the notary fee and get our precious paperwork back in our hands. Feeling accomplished, we walked back to The Department to finally officially file for custody of our son.
When we arrived back at The Department, the lights were back on, and (of course) they remained on for the rest of our time in that building. Adoption is just difficult like that sometimes. I firmly believe that Satan hates adoption because it is such a tangible picture of the Gospel. You just have to learn to laugh about the set backs and know that God is greater, or you might lose your mind.
We had been instructed to bring some chocolate to The Department because it is a traditional gift given to celebrate a “sweet” occasion. Our advocate passed the chocolate out to all the workers, and we handed a notarized copy of our paperwork to someone to file for us. We kept the other copy to give to the orphanage director, hoping she would sign off on it as well and let us take our son with us that day. We were about to leave to go find out when the main person at The Department decided she needed to take a photo with us. We went into her office, she took (Judah) Mahesh from my arms and staged the photo. She held him out toward me, and I was instructed to reach out my arms like I was about to take him from her as we smiled for the photo. As you can imagine, (Judah) Mahesh looked thrilled. Then she handed him to me and we took another photo with him in my arms. These were our “handing over” photos and they would be used in a newsletter or newspaper showcasing the successful completion of our adoption. As I held my son, I wondered what the headline might read, perhaps: “American couple adopts boy child from Telangana?” (I have yet to locate these photos in any online publication so far.) How would it be received by it’s audience? Adoption, especially international adoption, has such strong opinions surrounding it on both sides.
After locating the social worker and the Ayah who had come with us that day, we climbed back into the car and headed to the orphanage. We still weren’t sure if the orphanage would allow us to take (Judah) Mahesh with us that day. On the drive there, our advocate handed the foster care paperwork to the social worker and instructed him to take it to the main office for us and tell the Madam that The Department had already signed off on it. Her plan was to just drop everyone off and leave quickly before anyone tried to stop us. The paperwork had been filed, the proper channels had been followed, so she didn’t see why we needed to extend Mahesh’s stay for 1 more night.
Once we arrived at the orphanage, however, the social worker told the security guard to keep us there while he went to talk to the Madam, the main person in charge at the orphanage. Our advocate advised us to stay in the car because taking (Judah) Mahesh inside and having him see his caretakers again might make his transition more difficult. It was good advice, but it didn’t work because multiple Ayahs and an older boy, one of the Ayah’s nephews, came out to the car to tell (Judah) Mahesh goodbye again. He was excited to see them and let out that same high pitched coo, one of the only sounds he made again that day. The caretakers hugged him, pinched his cheeks, and took more photos with him. One of them kissed his forehead and whispered, “I know now you will be okay,” as she wiped a tear from her eye. No matter what I had heard about this orphanage, it was evident that these women loved him.
The social worker came back and told us that we needed to talk to the Madam. We had heard about her. She had a reputation for being difficult. I really didn’t want to get out of the car....afraid she’d tell us to come back and get him tomorrow, but what choice did we have? We weren’t about to kidnap a baby, although everything in me wanted to just take him. We got out and walked with the social worker down the dirt road to another white building. When we got to the building, the Madam was in a meeting and seemed very irritated that we had interrupted her. We quickly realized that the social worker hadn’t even told her we were there. Introductions were done pretty quickly, and then she just stared at us, wondering what we were doing there. I clutched (Judah) Mahesh in my arms as our advocate nonchalantly let her know that we were taking our son to the hotel with us.
The Madam simply stated, “You cannot take him.”
Minal replied, “The court order was given, and we filed the foster care agreement.”
She seemed very surprised by this statement, further proving that the social worker had not spoken with her yet.
“Before you take him, I need his papers. I will get them tomorrow. You come back tomorrow,” the Madam said as my grip tightened on my son.
“The Department has a copy, and he has a copy,” Minal said, pointing to the social worker.
His hands were empty, and he began checking his pockets.
“Where are the papers?” our advocate demanded.
You could easily see that he had no idea where those precious papers were located at that moment. Rushing back to our car, he found them in the back seat where he had left them. Once he handed them to the Madam, she looked at us with a tight smile but didn’t say anything.
“Anything else?” Minal asked her.
She bobbled her head side to side. I was unsure of what that meant because we had learned that this gesture could mean almost anything in India. Our advocate seemed to take it as, “You are free to go” because she started walking toward the car. We followed suit.
I reached out my hand to open the car door when I heard it. “Stop!” The social worker yelled. Afraid that the orphanage had changed their mind, I contemplated pretending I didn’t hear him and getting in the car anyway.
“We need a photo,” he said. Reluctantly, we walked back to the building to get a photo with us, our son, the social worker, and the Madam. As soon as the photo was taken, we briskly walked back to the car and got inside before anyone could stop us again. Thankfully, this time, no one tried.
(Judah) Mahesh sat on my lap as our car drove back down the dirt road, heading for our hotel. As we pulled away, I could see the Ayah who went to court with us crying and waving from the balcony. My heart was torn as we drove (Judah) Mahesh away from everything he’d ever known, but forever had officially begun.
We were too busy celebrating to think about it at that point, but now that we had taken custody of our son, one of us would have to remain in India with him....no matter how long the rest of the adoption process took us. Best case scenario: a couple more weeks. Worst case scenario: timeframe unknown.