Charleston photographers Erin and Ben Chrisman of Chrisman Studios traveled to Kolkata, India to photograph the adoption of Eden Kalveri Followell to Jessica and Robby Followell of Clinton, Mississippi.
“I just want everything to be perfect.”
Eventually, the conveyor belt stopped, and we were the only people left in baggage claim. Jessica and Robby had just flown from Jackson, Mississippi, through Atlanta and Dubai, to Kolkata, India, and it was obvious their bags had not made it. Yet we were supposed to stop by the hotel to freshen up, then go immediately to the orphanage to meet Kaveri, their soon-to-be-adopted daughter, for the first time.
Robby and Jess had imagined this scene many times. But with no sleep, and wearing the same clothes for the last 24 hours, their “first look” with Kaveri wasn’t going to be the joyful beginning they had hoped for. They wanted so much for everything to be perfect, but already it was becoming clear that India had other plans for us.
The first two days at the orphanage were heartbreaking, as Kaveri rejected Jess and Robby over and over, crying incessantly when they would get near her. Even so, the orphanage director felt confident enough to turn Kaveri over into their care two days earlier than expected, even though we had just visited with her for a couple hours each day. We took her back to the hotel with us on the third evening, and then something inside Kaveri switched. She floored all of us by settling into a peaceful, quiet, but curious state just as the car ride began. Perhaps it was just a defense mechanism, but we were relieved and took the opportunity to just soak her in, to stare at this marvel that Jess and Robby had seen only in photos until this trip.
To our relief, Kaveri and Jess were able to bond right away once we had her to ourselves, and Robby followed suit the next day. The 10 days in India were an exhausting emotional roller coaster of rejection, distrust, eventual acceptance, and, in the end, that beautiful smile that she so readily exhibits today. Even though Kaveri, whom Jess and Robby renamed Eden, had accepted her new circumstances with curiosity, she still distrusted us for the most part during the first few days in the hotel. Slowly, day by day, she came around and began to become more comfortable with each of us. And then two days before our departure, she smiled. And it felt like a huge wave of euphoria washing over us all. Around this time, she also let all of us hold her, not just Jess and Robby.
From that point, all of us – Jessica, Robby, the videographer Nathan Willis, and Ben and me – made it our mission to make this child smile more and maybe even laugh. We danced around like fools trying to impress a queen, and on our last full day and night in India, we got our wish. She was suddenly completely comfortable and in a great mood, laughing so much, and even playing these mischievous games with us to make US laugh too. She finally trusted us enough to reveal her true self to us, and we all fell in love. Hard.
Jessica, Robby and Eden were met at the Jackson airport by their parents and their daughter Meg, as well as 100 close friends and members of their community from the small town of Clinton, MS. So many arms reaching for her, our Eden, wanting to hold her and love on her. And selfishly, I didn’t want to share her yet. We had felt like such a family in India in our tiny hotel-room bubble. It was a transformative experience, but it was not real life. I knew that, but part of me still never wanted it to end.
Eden is now happily settled in with this amazing family whom we are so lucky to call friends. They keep us updated with constant photos, videos and notes about her progress, her upcoming surgeries, and just normal hilarious stuff she does that make us all adore her so much.
I will never forget those 10 days in India, and part of me will always long to return to them, even for just one moment. But life has bigger plans for this miracle of a child.
Or, I should say, Eden has bigger plans for this life.
If you are interested in international adoption, these are the agencies involved in the Followells’ adoption of Eden:
Children of the World in Fairhope, AL (http://childrenoftheworld.com)
Eden’s orphanage in Kolkata: ISSA – Indian Society for Sponsorship and Adoption
To see more family photography by Chrisman Studios, visit us here.