Once in Hungary, in a little town where no English is spoken amid austere Communist-era concrete buildings and where McDonald's offers the lowest-fat meals in town, one of the most stressful weeks of my life began. Type A personality that I am, I had asked for an accelerated process, but I would never do that again. Families aren't designed for drastic changes within a 48-hour period!
One day I visited my new little girl, Ellie, in her village foster home, and the next day I left with her in a car. I would never ever do this again. It was so hard on her, Michaela and me. I will never forget the surreal experience of meeting Ellie, walking her around town with her foster grandmother in tow, who watched my every move. That night, Ellie's foster family tried to stop the adoption, because I hadn't put a sweater on Michaela. Now, I know that Michaela is even warm in a snowstorm and gets miserable when bundled up, but Ellie's loving caretakers didn't. (Evidently sweater-wearing was the acid test for neglectful motherhood that day.)
George, our Hungarian facilitator, translated and straightened out the situation, and the next day we were all sitting in the living room as Ellie's foster family explained to her that I would be her new mother. Ellie turned to me and called me "Mom" in Hungarian, sending her foster mom into tears. Twenty minutes later -- all of us shell-shocked -- Michaela, Ellie and I pulled out of the driveway a new permanent family.
We had to stay in Budapest another week for papers to clear -- that was the good part. Budapest is a gorgeous city, with the Danube running through it. We stayed at the most American hotel I could find, a Marriott, because I wanted the lowest-stress situation possible; and I highly recommend this. You have the rest of your life to stay at charming local inns. We enjoyed a stunning view of the Danube and Budapest's castles and churches. The most striking memory I have was when Michaela taught Ellie to jump on the bed: It was their first sister moment.
Ellie did okay until nightfall, when she started crying and wailing for hours at a time -- and for good reason. Can you imagine how hard this was for her, away from the mommy she had known for two-and-a-half years, completely unable to communicate her needs and feelings to two strangers speaking in a strange language? Ellie clung to me in a way that made me feel claustrophobic, but I had to accept it, knowing I was the grownup here -- at least this was the theory. Truth is, I too felt like a scared child, filled with regret that I had done this rash thing. I remember looking at Michaela and feeling I had forever changed our relationship of soul mates by bringing this stranger between us. I later learned that all of these feelings are natural, but at the time I felt enormous guilt. On our third night together, feeling tired, scared and awful enough to think that I just couldn't do it, I connected to iVillage and posted a message: Unless I get help, I am going to back out of this. The next morning, half a dozen beautiful emails came back, telling me this would be the worst part, to just get through it and get home. The posts were also filled with many helpful, practical suggestions.