Friday, February 1, 2013

And now the fun begins!

There's probably no better day to introduce our daughter to the world then on her birthday!

Bailey Aimerance Cramer
Born: February 1, 2012
Forever in our arms: January 19, 2013

First things first:

Our first picture together as a family!

I am so overjoyed to finally be able to say that I'm writing a post in the midst of trying to figure this whole fatherhood thing out!! So, you'll understand why it might be somewhat brief for a recap of the last 2 weeks, and why I probably missed some of the auto-incorrects my iPad decided to make. :-)

The last 2 weeks have been a whirlwind! On January 15th our daughter's visa was issued, giving us the green light to travel to DRC to meet and bring her home. Once we received the news we started planning and figuring out when we'd be able to leave. Since I was in Texas for some meetings, we assumed we'd fly Saturday, Sunday, or maybe Monday.  Thankfully I was able to cut my time in Texas short and got home late morning on Wednesday. I was working with our travel agent (Thanks Tabitha from Adoption Airfares!!) to identify good (read: affordable!) itineraries and were having trouble. Except if we flew Thursday. AM. Of course...

So with 16 hours to spare before having to make our way to DIA to catch our AM flight, we booked our tickets and began our packing.  Thankfully for me my wife is SO FAR AHEAD OF ME ON JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING, she had already prepared much of what needed to be packed, especially for our daughter.  

Those 16 hours flew by but we got everything packed and ready to go. We even managed about 3 hours of sleep!  

The flights to Kinshasa (Denver-Newark-Brussels-Kinshasa) were uneventful. LONG, but uneventful. We were able to spread out a little and get some rest.  Thanks to my frequent business travel we had access to a lounge in Brussels that had showers.  A shower sure does make back to back 8-hour flights a little more tolerable, and we landed in Kinshasa not smelling too much like a locker room! 

Upon arriving in Kinshasa and getting off the plane, we were immediately hit with a new understanding of HOT AND HUMID. I'm sweating just remembering it! On average the temperature was in the mid 80s but with humidity at 70-80% it felt more like mid-90s.

We arrived around 7pm on the 18th, finally making it through passport control and collecting our bags by 9 or so. After waiting another 45 minutes for our agency's in-country coordinator to meet us, we were on our way to the hotel.

Quick note about luggage - I'm guessing that people travel out to Brussels from DRC to buy just about anything because its cheaper (or actually available) elsewhere.  I saw TVs and appliances coming off the conveyor. Even a toilet!! Most people had 6-8 pieces, so we felt right at home with our luggage! :-)

I mentioned on our private Facebook page that I have never experienced roads and driving conditions like those in Kinshasa. It was a little better when we were out during the day time, but not much.  Maybe it was the jet lag, but that trip from the airport to the hotel will stay with me. Any description will fail to capture it, but I'll try.

Paved roads turning into dirt roads, and then back to paved. And then back to dirt.  Massive potholes litter the roads, some disguised as puddles so there's no telling how deep they really are.  No light - no street lights, no signals, only the headlights of those cars with them on.  Microbuses, everywhere. Jammed with people, some hanging out of open doors.  People, everywhere. On the side of the road, in the road, dodging traffic.  Our coordinator said driving is like playing a video game, and that is probably the best comparison. At one point we were forced to get around a bus stopped in the middle of the road, its driver nowhere to be found.  As traffic slows down, we don't stop and wait for it to get going again. No, we dart out into oncoming traffic! To avoid them, we get back onto our side of the road, right? WRONG! We head further outside to the unofficial dirt road (shoulder?) further left of oncoming traffic.  I'd say it was our driver that was crazy, but a bunch of drivers were doing this! Chaos of people and cars wanting to get to their destination without any guidelines, rules, or restrictions. Achieve your goal at all costs, as quickly as possible. That's a scary mindset behind the wheel of a car!

We were quite relieved when we made it to our hotel for a good night's sleep before our big day on Saturday, the 19th: GOTCHA DAY!! 

Our last "Waiting for you" pic!

Gotcha Day
The day we've been praying for/dreaming about/anxiously awaiting finally arrived! We learned from others before us not to get our hopes up for some magical, beautiful experience.  We also learned not to expect to go get her very early, so we slept until we got a call early afternoon that it was time to go to the transition home to meet her!  We are so glad that another adoptive couple (with the same agency) was staying at the hotel, so we met up and made our way together to the transition home. They met their little boy the previous day but wanted to go back and spend time with the other kids at the home.  

After another "interesting" drive (not nearly as bad as the previous night) we made it to the transition home and were greeted by the 20+ kids currently there. Before we know it, one of the ladies is "crowd surfing" our daughter over the heads of the children on the steps to the house, delivers her to Jenny with a not-so-heartfelt "here's yours". 

Despite the lack of pomp and circumstance, we finally have our daughter in our arms!! We spent the better part of 4 hours at the home, primarily with our daughter.  It was fun to get to know her a little and to see how much the nannies and workers really love these kids. We're grateful for the love they gave to our daughter as we waited.  

After we picked her up we all returned to the hotel where we spent the next 8 days. 

The first night she fell asleep at around 7:30, with the lights on, and was out cold until 8am the next morning!

Unfortunately those sleep patterns haven't stayed the same.  More on that later...

Although we spent most of the 8 days locked away in the hotel room, we were able to get out a little.  

Let me stop and say that the workers at Hotel Royal took great care of us, especially Wilson the doorman and a couple of the receptionists. Christian & Callexte. The wait staff was also extremely kind and helpful!

One day a missionary in Kinshasa took a group of us out shopping to buy some local arts and crafts.  We bought a few things to incorporate some of the culture into our home so Bailey can enjoy a connection to where she was born.

We also took a trip outside of Kinshasa to a Bonobo sanctuary and had a private tour of the sanctuary and watched the Bonobos for a couple hours.  

We also spent a couple hours at a private rec club with a pool - Bailey's first pool experience! 

She was not a big fan of the water at first but slowly got used to it and started enjoying it. By the end of our time there she was comfortable swimming in our arms in the big pool!

Here are some more of our favorites from those days in the hotel:

Our departure day finally arrived, and it will go down as one of the longest days of my life.  Our flight out from Kinshasa to Brussels wasn't until 11pm, so we had all day to watch the clock, and it couldn't have gone by slower!

Our in-country coordinator picked us up from the hotel at 2:30pm and took us to Brussels Airlines' city office where we were able to check in and drop off our luggage. I've never heard of such an option, but it saved us from having to deal with checking our bags at the airport.

Once we were done with check-in we went straight to the airport and had to wait around for 4 hours or so until we could begin the exit process. A little after 7:30 one of the in-country workers guided us through a series of steps that I still don't quite know the purpose behind. The Kinshasa airport is a big, disorganized mess. I've never seen an airport so void of signs and instruction.  If we had been required to check in, get through passport control and get to the boarding area on our own, we'd probably still be there trying to figure it all out! 

Eventually we made it through all of the steps and were dropped off at the VIP lounge where we awaited the announcement that it was time to board.  

Thus began the first of three long flights home...

Bailey was a CHAMP throughout the brutal travel home. She was rarely fussy on the first 2 flights, or for 16 of the 21 hours we were in the air. She didn't have any serious meltdowns, no "blowouts", slept for a chunk of each flight, and made some friends around us, whether they were interested or not!  

The last flight from Newark to Denver...well, that was a different story. 

We were all running on empty, but she had had enough of being confined to a seat on a plane.  From the moment the plane took off she was never quite settled.  We managed to get her to fall asleep but she would wake up frequently and immediately start crying loudly.  We hadn't seen much (any) of this type of crying over the previous 8 days so it took us by surprise. Finally it exploded into a complete meltdown, so I took her to the lavatory in the back of the plane to change her and hopefully settle her down.

Now, I forgot to mention that this aircraft (thanks a lot, United...) was one that should be on the verge of retirement - falling apart, old school computer monitor-style TVs hanging from the ceiling, etc.  OF COURSE, this aircraft didn't have changing tables in their lavatories. Of course they didn't. 

So, I am faced with the task of getting a wailing, thrashing child to lay still on a toilet seat so I can change her. Not only does she wiggle around so much that her head falls off of the toilet seat and bumps the side of the seat, I find in her diaper the largest "collection" I've EVER seen in a diaper. (Mind you, I hadn't changed a diaper before Saturday/gotcha day!) 

Oh, and she wasn't done.  

Another OF COURSE - of course I forgot the changing pad at my seat, so I was relying on Bailey not providing any follow-up (maybe aftershock is a better description) once I had taken off her diaper. Bad move. Next thing I know, her onesie is FILLED, the floor is covered, and I'm pretty sure my shoe had some new accessories. Panic. 

Bailey is melting down and completely hysterical, the captain is telling me and all the other passengers to return to our seats because there's some turbulence coming, and I've got to figure out how to clean up a child and a bathroom.  I finally get the new diaper on Bailey, throw away the onesie and clean up the bathroom, but Bailey is still a mess. She has worked herself up so much that she throws up a little. After a couple more minutes she calms down and we make our way back to our seats, sans her clothing. I'm not sure there's a worse feeling than watching your child in pain and not being able to quickly make it go away.

Once we landed and got her changed into a new outfit she seemed to be in a better mood.  We had a nice welcoming party of family and friends, and a snow storm that I was hoping would hold off for a few more hours.  That added some additional "fun" to the drive home.  

Day one has come and gone, and I'd be lying if I said it was a great day for any of us. Jet lag, a pediatrician appointment that included Bailey receiving 5 immunization shots, new surroundings, first time in a crib, and on and on. But we're learning, we're adjusting, and we'll get into a rhythm that works for us.

Day two and three have been much better, and Bailey seems to be warming to our home, to her room, even to Abby! More stories to come in the days ahead!


  1. What an awesome story. It made my laugh, cry, and grin from ear to ear. My little boy is only months old, but I feel exactly what you felt on day one. At least Bailey had been doing her own thing for a little while. The pictures are great. Good luck and God bless you all.

  2. Laughed and cried and laughed again! You two are already such incredible parents and I know I speak for all of us when I say I am BLESSED to witness Bailey's journey home through your and Jenny's words! Couldn't be more thrilled for you that your baby girl is right where she belongs - HOME SWEET HOME! Congrats again, with all our love and prayers. -The Sepp Family

  3. So happy you finally have your baby girl! She is perfect. Sounds like you handled the travel home like a champ:)

  4. Loved reading all of this! Can't wait for the next installment!