Birth Country: Ethiopia
Decade of adoption: 2000 or later
As I type this in our basement office, my husband John is upstairs with our new four-month-old baby Lili, who came home to us a month ago from Ethiopia. I can hear her cry and hear the creak of the floorboards as John stands up to try to appease her, and I think, "How normal and yet how exquisitely exotic this whole experience has been for us."
(John just opened the door to report Lili is officially "Miss Cranky Pants" today.)
When we entered into this process, we knew it would be harrowing, but I was surprised by what the challenges turned out to be. The big ones were the inside challenges, not so much the ones inside the system, but inside the hearts and minds of John and myself. The questions that arose were so raw and revealing: "Am I capable of parenting a dark skin child? What sort of notions do I have about how the shape of my life will change, and am I up to the task of all that will be required?" And on my most sarcastic days: "Why don't we just pocket the money and go to Ireland?"
Finally, the pile of "Why we shouldn't do this's" got so ridiculously high that John and I had to get a grip and say, "Look, we either do this or we don't." And then something graceful and calm came into our lives.
And the reasons we shouldn't became less important than the reasons we should do this: because we want to love a child, because we want to parent, because we can do this. Our motto has been, "People do it!" When it seemed like I could not lift my hand to write out another piece of paperwork, that's what went through my mind: "People do it! They've parented, they've adopted, they've lived to tell about it."
We are fortunate to have a large community of international adoptees here in the Twin Cities area. More Ethiopian adoptees are also coming in to the metro. We've been to a few events where families are present and that has been so valuable and helpful. Knowing that the support is there for us has made a huge difference in how we feel about this process.
We can't say enough good about our agency, Children's Home Society, and how positive and clear they've been during the murkiest of times.
Travelling to Ethiopia was the highlight of the process. We encountered so many beautiful, wise people. Too many stories to tell here, but I'll give you one that comes to mind.
The care center where our daughter was placed is amazing. The nurses hold the infants constantly and love them with deep mother love. Lili was an abandoned baby and when she was found she weighed four pounds. With limited resources, these women brought this baby to life. The head nurse actually carried Lili around, as she said, "Like a kangaroo," next to her body to keep her warm. They don't have access to an incubator.
Lili was quite sick when we arrived to get her, so I rarely slept while we were in country. We were housed in the care center, so at night I would go downstairs and hang out with the babies and see if Lili was still breathing. The night staff was so lovely, especially one nurse who I could tell had a special bond with my Lili. Her name was Tigist.
Because my Amharic language skills are so not even there, we had challenges around talking, so mostly we smiled and I did the dance of trying to act things out. The question, "Has she been coughing?" became me dramatically hacking and pointing to Lili. Tigist would smile and she always said, "No," even though I thought maybe Lili had been coughing but Tigist wanted me to feel OK. I tried my best to let Tigist know that I wanted to learn from her and know more about what gave Lili comfort. She watched me feed her and reluctantly and lovingly stepped aside as I would lift Lili out of her crib. My attempts at calming my daughter were met with gentle smiles by Tigist who would take her and demonstrate what might work better. She knew my baby much better than I did.
The day we left to come back home was a very tearful day for us. She hugged me tightly and told me, "I love Lili." I told her that I knew that, and that she would never be forgotten. Whether she understood the words or not, I think she got the feeling. The fact that this lovely woman would place her heart on the line for my child will never be forgotten.