The October trees popped with red and gold and rich brown leaves, reminding us that the annual change of season was in full swing in upstate New York, as we made our way along the winding roads to our adoption support group’s annual Halloween party. My husband and I were both lost in thoughts of Halloween and adoption, gazing out the windows and taking in the view.

I’d woken up with one of those annoying headaches that slowly, but surely, pounds away like a woodpecker on your skull to the point you just want to curl up in bed and close your eyes until it’s over. Meanwhile, my husband was dealing with pain issues of his own–his back had gone out again (old hockey injury) and he was pretty crooked to the point of needing to lean on a cane for support. This would usually last for a week or two.

We arrived at the park and pulled into the lot, which was packed with cars; other families had already arrived for the festivities. Suddenly, we were surrounded by witches and superheroes and butterflies as toddlers to tweens ran around, excited to be with their friends and showing off their spooky and sparkly wear, while parents carried goodies and supplies and appropriately “Oohed, ahhed, and eeeked!”

This was our first time attending since having started our adoption journey the previous winter. We were about the last couple in our adoption “class” still waiting for a referral and it was nice to have so many people to lean on while we held out hope that someday soon, we, too, would have a trick-or-treater to bring to events just like this one.

But that day, we struggled a bit–blame it on our combined head-to-toe pain or maybe watching all the happy faces surrounding us and wondering if we would ever know what it felt like to be on “the other side.” Although our wait hadn’t been too long so far as waits go, when you’re in the midst of it, each passing moment can feel like forever.

Still, everyone was friendly and it honestly didn’t feel awkward to be among them that day or any day really. We’d volunteered to work the pizza table, and carefully snaked our way through the pavilion to our station.

The social chairwoman popped over to thank us for coming. She mentioned that we should keep an eye out because the younger kids were going to put on a performance. We kept busy slapping pieces of pizza on paper plates. I could see Mark was fighting off shooting pains in between wiping up the table and making small talk. I kept myself busy, when I heard some noise from the other end of the building and saw that someone was holding up a large poster board. The flickering image of a baby had caught my attention and my heart stopped as I realized what was going on.

Someone in the group was about to receive an adoption referral. Back before the international Hague Convention adoption requirements had been accepted in the United States so far as Colombian adoption was concerned, our group had maintained a tradition of sharing referral news pretty publicly–with everyone present. It may sound strange, but my husband and I had already been fortunate to have witnessed several and they had always left everyone feeling excited and hopeful for both the children receiving families and those anxiously awaiting children. These days, referrals are done more privately based on more strict guidelines, but are still shared with the group once it’s become official.

But that on that day, it was too late, the news was out. I’d dared to glimpse the oversized snapshot of what looked to be the most beautiful baby girl in the world. Her eyes shot straight across the pavilion and seemed to be staring straight into mine. I looked away just as quickly because I wasn’t ready to be disappointed–not with a headache going on. Not with my husband barely upright. Not today. And then I saw it–the special performance our social chair had told us about. One by one, 10 small children decked out in their Halloween best holding up large letters–that spelled out our last name.

Had we just received our adoption referral? At a Halloween party?

We had! And before I knew what was happening, my husband had taken my arm. Or maybe I had grabbed his, I’m not sure–but we we leaned on each other and moved together through the clapping crowd. And then we were in front of the room holding that large poster board, which also contained a name, date of birth, and birth weight on back. Our daughter. I was holding my baby girl for the very first time while my husband was saying something to everyone that I couldn’t quite make out lost in my own little world of what had just happened. Honestly, all I could think of were her eyes, her fierce and determined face, and her teeny tiny hand with the longest fingers you’d ever seen forming a fist–my daughter.

The rest of the afternoon is something out of a drama/sitcom with the two of us no longer focused on the leaves or feeling pain, but making plans for the next day and the next month and the rest of our lives, while speeding through traffic to literally chase down my parents and then making the rounds to surprise other family and friends at their homes to share the long awaited good news.

We were united with our daughter shortly after Halloween that year–no costumes other than a white presentation gown and another take-your-breath-away moment as the beautiful baby girl in the oversized photo was placed into our arms for the first time, those piercing eyes looking into mine for real this time.

Halloween has been just a tad bit sweeter since then, no candy required, and I guess it shouldn’t have come as a shock that it would prove to be one of our daughter’s favorite holidays ever since.