Our Adoption Story

This is a long but still glorious story.  I hope I tell it well.  Prepare yourselves.

I am aboard our flight to Ethiopia, sailing along the coast of Albania. It is dinner time at home, night in Ethiopia. I am still considering all that has happened in the past nearly three years, from our decision to adopt to this day, when our third child will be placed in our custody permanently.

Our decision to adopt was born from infertility, infertility I suspected initially in my early twenties when my body just didn’t seem to work right. As I progressed though my medical education, I studied the detailed cyclical nature of women, the ebb and flow of hormones and blood, the precise and perfect release of an ovum, and I knew. We sought the advice of my physician two months after trying to start a family. For two years, we submitted to examinations and ultrasounds, provided temperature charts and fluid samples, tried pills and injections, inseminations. A process that is so simple, even accidental for so many, could not, would not be replicated in me. During this time, we moved to a new city, started new jobs, searched for a new church home. We only had each other since we had no established relationships in our new home.

We began exploring adoption even before our infertility treatments ceased. I think somehow I already knew that it wasn’t useful to continue. I did a lot of begging and pleading with God during this time, but I think I didn’t listen often. Sometimes I think if we had been more in tune with God’s desires for us, we wouldn’t have bothered. Adoption was such relief for me at first, a new process to pour my energy into, a break from each failed cycle. I had hope. I may not be able to ovulate, but I can handle paperwork. Our agency was very optimistic, promised an infant boy home in my arms in 9-12 months from our initial meeting. No one with our agency had requested a boy, all had requested girls, and there were boys waiting to be matched with families. We completed our home study and dossier in about 2 months. We prayed blessings over our stamped and sealed dossier and mailed it to Ethiopia.

By this time, we had waited almost three years for a child, and I was sinking. I avoided the mall because of the maternity store, blocked posts from a pregnant friend on Facebook, tried to avoid sending hateful glares towards strollers and bulging bellies. I attended to newborns in the hospital nursery every week, cupping each of their little heads in my hand and whispering, “God, I want this” while biting the inside of my cheek. Five staff members in my office were pregnant at this time, and I warred within my barren self. Infertility creates a bitterness that claws away any attempts to express joy over others’ good fortune. It was hard to pray, hard to know that God is omnipotent but wouldn’t do this one thing for us. I know the kind of prayer that has no words, the one that bubbles up out of dark places that no one wants to confess.

Six weeks after our dossier was mailed and after one long day on my knees, our social worker called with our referral. I stared and stared at that face, our son, the promised little boy, Mente. He was only 3 months old. I pictured him home in 2 months, thought about warming bottles, snuggling him up in sleepers, rocking him to sleep. Matt, overjoyed, showed everyone pictures of his boy.  We gave him a second name, bought a tiny pair of black high top Chuck Taylors. We expected a court date within a month, home with him in two. Weeks passed, and we received no calls. I didn’t want to be obnoxious mother, so I waited 6 weeks before trying to reach our social worker. She didn’t return calls or email. Our agency had changed ownership, but we were never notified. Another adoptive parent finally placed me in touch with the new owner who promised to look into it for us.

During this time, I participated with some friends in a chronological reading through the Bible in 40 days. It was an enormous challenge, but as the timing of our court date neared, The Lord showed me 19 different scriptures to encourage me in our wait. I wrote each one down, little sprinkles as I waited for the rains.

Two more weeks passed, and our new agency contact called. She said there was a problem, one she didn’t understand fully, but it had something to do with our son’s paperwork. She said he never should have been referred to us at all, that he did not have appropriate paperwork to proceed with a court date. Ethiopian Agency staff had assured her that this was correctable with time. I had traveled in Africa twice already by this time, and I knew a little about what Africans really mean when they say it will take time. If they say hours, they mean days, and if they estimate days, they mean weeks or months. This was extremely unsettling for me since no time frame was given at all. Our agency contact said not to worry, the agency feels badly about this delay. “If you would like, there are other children who will be paper ready in a few weeks. They will refer one of these children to you, and when your son’s papers are ready, you can adopt him also,” she assured.

We were terribly disappointed. Not only were we unable to conceive like most families, we were also somehow unable to adopt as well. I simply didn’t understand how God could promise this child to me and not deliver him. I held up the 19 promises I had read during my 40 day study, and argued with God, reminding him of each of those promises. Around this time, we learned that our son’s Ethiopian name means “God can do anything.” I rationalized this delay as God’s way of giving us two children instead of one.

About a month later, our agency called while I was in the midst of an international medicine course out-of-town.  “I have a referral for you,” she said, “a girl.”  How was that possible?  The waiting time for infant girls was nearly two years, and yet there she was, a petite, pink-lipped baby girl, my Lulu.  I spent the rest of the afternoon searching a photo listing where other adoptive parents place photos of the children still living in the orphanage for pictures of my baby girl.  I found only a few and studied her crown of shiny ringlets, the fuchsia birthmark behind her left ear, and her candlestick-thin wrists.  Within the month we were given a court date a few months away.  We packed and prepared, spent a weekend in New York babymooning, and relished our last few months without a child at home.

Finally, on September 24, 2010, we left the crisping, colored trees of our home and set off for Ethiopia, our third visit to this nation of coffee, injera, and incense.  On the flight, I studied scripture and prayed to pass the time.  These verses from the book of Haggai drowned out the engine noise:

” . . . from this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid . . . until now, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.  From this day on, I will bless you.”

Another promise, the barren now bearing fruit.  I believed our court date would be a success.  I am especially sentimental about Ethiopia because I first met Africa there.  Stepping out of the airport we received an assault by color and fragrance, woven scarves, bright blue taxis, cooking spices, soap and exhaust.  We rested that evening and arose early the next morning to meet our daughter.  When we arrived with five other adopting families, we found all the children asleep.  My Lulu was asleep in the first crib, her legs tucked under, fist clutching a square of pink satin.  I knelt by the crib to watch her, wanting desperately to hold her but not wanting to wake her.  She awoke as I snapped a picture, raised her little head, grinned, and then buried it in her lovey.  She popped up again, smiling wide.  I lifted her, held her close for a few minutes, whispering to her, then lifted her to her daddy.  We heard her growl and coo, watched her rake for toys that we offered and practice standing on our thighs.  We fed warmed bottles and held her when she napped.  We stood in the Federal Court of Ethiopia and a gentle Ethiopian judge pronounced, “She is yours.”  We had only to wait for her visa to be issued several weeks later by the U.S. Embassy.

While in Ethiopia, we visited the orphanage across town each day to see Mente, the child we believed to be our son.  The orphanage director was very optimistic, thought he and the social workers had nearly solved our paperwork problem.  We had very little time with him each day since visiting hours were limited and we also wanted to spend time across town with Lulu.

We returned home to await our Embassy appointment, bought dresses and patent leather shoes, invested in a baby carrier, and packed a bag for our daughter.  One month later, we were on our way back to Ethiopia to bring Lulu home.  We relished spending time with our daughter, and each day, we visited Mente in the orphanage.  This time, the orphanage director felt he had done it, repaired the paperwork awaiting only one more document.  We journeyed home optimistic for our future with our two children.

Three weeks after Lulu’s homecoming, our agency contact called to tell us that Mente’s paperwork was complete and had been submitted to Ethiopian court.  We eagerly shared this news with our family and friends.  Not long after, we were given a court date on February 14, 2011, Valentine’s Day.  Finally, this boy would be ours.  We bought a second crib, imagined our two kids playing together in our home.

We boarded our Ethiopian Airlines flight with the same optimism as our prior visits, sure that this time our promised son would be given to us.  He toddled after balls we tossed and played peek-a-boo from under the crib railing.  He played on a blanket spread across the grass of the transition house, the Ethiopian sun grazing us.  In court, the judge said, “Everything looks to be in order, but something is missing.”  We did not pass court, and we had no idea why.  The in-country agency staff didn’t know either but promised to tell us the following day.  I spent most of the night on my knees weeping and begging God to fix this.  What had I done wrong?  We returned to the transition home the next day and were informed that no staff was available as it was a holiday.  We departed Ethiopia that night, without a son and without knowing why.

For weeks we heard nothing from our agency despite calls and emails.  I prayed fervently, but God was also silent.  I felt no encouragement, no reassurance.  Nearly a month later, our agency contact phoned with devastating news: “You did not pass court because Mente’s extended family has been located.  They’ve spoken to his mother, and she has decided to parent him.”  There was such conflict inside me, this intense grief at losing this little boy and still gratitude that he would be united with his birth family.  I felt like he had died, except that he hadn’t.  I felt foolish for grieving a child who was never really mine, silly for owning two cribs but having only one baby.  I imagine this is a little like a miscarriage, a great loss of a child you love intensely but still never really knew, and there is no real support from others because you lost something you never really had.  They do not understand.

The agency promised us another referral within a few weeks since we’d already paid fees for two children and appeared in Ethiopian court for the adoption.  This felt so strange to us though, as if we were replacing one child with another.  My husband explained it to a friend this way:  “Imagine going to pick your child up from daycare.  Your child’s teacher meets you at the door and says, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not able to give your son to you, but if you like we have this adorable little boy you can take home instead.'”  I wrestled so much with my disappointment with God during this time.  After all, he promised Mente to me, and I believed in faith that he would come home, despite his paperwork problems.  The Bible instructs us to have great faith, and I had been obedient.  Why would he promise this boy to me and then allow this?  Did I misunderstand?  I was truly thankful that Mente would live with his birth mother; there is no better outcome for him, but why then, was he referred to us at all?  Why would God allow us to endure this heartache?  I could not understand how to balance having great faith and disappointment, and I could not make sense of any of it.

In May 2011, our replacement referral finally arrived, and I began the process of moving on from Mente and allowing myself to love another baby boy, Teme.  Teme’s paperwork was complete, and we were assured no problems with his adoption.  We did not have to travel for court, so we waited at home for things to progress in Ethiopia.  After already losing a child, I was anxious about falling in love with our new son.  I wouldn’t allow myself to look at his picture or imagine him in my home.  I called him “Maybe Baby,” afraid to get too close.  My reservations weren’t unfounded.  The Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs office (MOWCYA) must approve every adoption before it is granted by the judge, and they had announced that they would only process cases at a rate of 5% of their previous rate, which meant it was very difficult to pass court quickly.  There were rumors that Ethiopian adoptions may cease altogether.  Night after night, I prayed late into the evening, covering the morning hours in Ethiopia with prayer for Teme.  We fasted regularly.  It took two months for us to pass court in Ethiopia, and another four months before we had clearance from the U.S. Embassy to bring Teme home.

We traveled back to Ethiopia in December 2011 to bring Teme home.  We were horrified to find him malnourished, with sagging skin around his abdomen and thighs, dull eyes, and a silent cry.  His scalp had two painful infections that needed treatment.  We spent our first few days feeding him, holding him, hydrating him, spooning medications into his mouth, and he brightened quickly.  He clung to us constantly and fussed anytime food was nearby and not immediately in front of him.  I ached over his insecurity and promised him he would never hunger again.  On our third day in Ethiopia, we visited the orphanage to bring donations for the children there.  We were met at the door by Yacob, a man we hadn’t met before.  He informed us he was the new director.  He thanked us for our donations and then offered to allow us to visit the children.  In the first room we entered, my eyes fixed immediately on Mente.  I fell to my knees, reached for him, and he stared at me.  As Matt walked in the room Mente cried painfully.  He would not calm until Matt left the room.  Somehow, he remembered us.  It had been nearly a year since we were told that Mente was going to live with his birth family.  My mama anger rose up, and I demanded to know what had happened.  Yacob assured me he would go directly and look at the file.  I spent a few minutes with Mente, his hand resting on my shoulder, and returned to the office where Matt was waiting for Yacob.  Yacob poured over documents coated in Amharic script, Mente’s picture affixed to the top corner of each one.  We explained what we had been told by our agency.  Yacob exclaimed, “All lies!”  Our agency had done what every adoptive parent fears.  They had lied.  Mente lacked a critical document to be eligible for adoption.  Rather than go through proper channels in the Ethiopian government to obtain this document, our agency had substituted documents from a child who had died at the orphanage.  The courts had either recognized this falsehood or identified the family of the deceased child, so we could not adopt him.  Either option is terrible.  Yacob had other bad news.  The agency, the orphanage’s primary source of support, had ceased providing any financial assistance in July 2011, five months before.  They had mounting debts with the school, the hospital.  The rent was unpaid, and they had very little food for the 86 children who remained there, Mente included.

I spent the night on the floor in the bathroom of our guest house, fists clenched, begging God to tell me what to do next.  We couldn’t trust our agency, yet they were primarily responsible for Mente.  We knew nothing of Yacob other than what he told us.  My son was in a struggling orphanage.  How could I leave him?  I poured over my Bible for instruction and read, “By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God . . .” (1John 4:2).  Did God mean for me to have three children instead of two?  The following day, we met Yacob and bought groceries for the orphanage.  In the car he asked, “Miss Kelly, do you know Jesus?”  He told me that he is an educated man with a university degree in agriculture that could easily find work with a private company.  Instead he feels called to care for orphans, so he stays at the orphanage despite not having any regular pay or any guarantee of support for the children there.  He trusts God to provide for them.  Yacob pledged his support in helping to complete Mente’s paperwork and transferring him to another agency to facilitate the adoption.  Later that day, we went to the Embassy with Teme to obtain his visa.  I happened to be in line behind a woman holding an emaciated infant.  When asked by the Embassy guard which agency she was with, she responded, “None.  This is a private adoption.”  I chose a seat next to her in the waiting area and asked her to tell me her story.  Like us, she had been with a corrupt agency.  She broke all ties with the agency and hired a consultant to help her finish the adoption process, EthioStork, based in Virgina and run by an Ethiopian-born American woman, Duni Zenaye, fluent in both American and Ethiopian customs and intimately acquainted with all stages of the adoption process.  My prayers had been answered.  We at least had a plan.

I contacted EthioStork on Christmas Eve, the day after we arrived home.  A few weeks later I received a reply from Duni.  She agreed that Mente’s adoption was awful on many levels, and she wasn’t certain that she could help, but she offered to try.  I sent her some information and awaited her response.  Meanwhile, we mobilized other adoptive families to provide support to the orphanage.  Some missionary friends offered to facilitate providing food and helping to pay bills there.  Duni visited the orphanage on a trip to Ethiopia in March 2012.  At that point she understood Mente’s paperwork problems and knew how to fix them, but she needed the approval of several governmental officials for it to happen.  We contracted with her formally.  In May, she advised us to apply with a new agency, one she had selected for its reputation for ethical work in Ethiopia.  Mente’s paper problem was nearly resolved, but there was still no guarantee that he would be sent to the new agency.  I gathered signatures and notary stamps, pressed our friends for recommendation letters, and hired a social worker for a new home study.  On June 1st, Mente was transferred to our new agency’s transition home, and I could breathe again knowing that he was in a stable environment.  We completed our dossier in just 4 weeks, and Mente was formally referred to us by our new agency in June.

We had little hope of receiving a court date prior to the 6 week court closures of the Ethiopian rainy season.  Courts generally close for the season in the first week of August and reopen in October.  This year, the courts remained open until August 22, and we were given a court date on August 6th.  We returned to Ethiopia, this time certain that all was in order, and Mente became our son.  We received our Embassy clearance just over a month later, and now we return to Ethiopia to bring him home.  God can indeed do anything.

9 days

 

We leave for Ethiopia in 9 days.  I’m not nearly ready to go.  I’m working extra these next two weeks prior to and after our trip to make up for my time off, so there’s not near enough time to collect orphanage donations, clean the house, finish the laundry, decorate my little girl’s room, buy what we’ll need in Africa, etc. prior to our departure.  Our lives are full of other necessities, too, visiting friends at a nearby church camp, completing paperwork and charts, writing letters for my patients, sports physical forms, having Lulu’s hair braided.  I’m trying to focus on one task at a time.  Today, I’m painting Lulu’s shelves and tackling the laundry.  It would be lovely if my kids would nap all afternoon, but I already hear my girl lifting her head.

I want to be intentional about my time with my two before there are three.  I want Lulu and Teme to feel secure in their bond with us prior to leaving them (twice) for a week and bringing home their big brother.  This morning we played outside and read books and danced in the kitchen to my collection of African children’s music.  I still managed to do the dishes and cook two meals for them, and the laundry is still spinning.  This afternoon, I’m hoping to let the kids swim in our kiddie pool and maybe take a walk after Matt comes home.

After we pass court for M, there will be so much more urgency in getting our home ready for him.  We’ll need appropriate clothes and toys, more little cups and little bowls, another little toddler bed.  I’ve got to finish all that I can now before things become so much more complicated.

 

Five months home

My little bitty is growing so much.  This month, he has started combining words.  This past week he came to me and said “graham cracker please.”  He frequently combines words, and he talks in enormous strings of gibberish while nodding his head.  His sentence usually ends with “mama,” so I know he’s telling me something important.  He is desperate to climb the ladder to our big slide.  He can’t quite get his feet on the first rung, but if I help him there, he can climb the rest of the way up.  We played at a nearby park for the day on Mother’s Day, and he nearly walked off of the higher play equipment because he has no fear.  He has been in occupational therapy weekly for the past month.  He loves it.  He especially likes the net swing.  He gets to touch all kinds of things.  His therapist tapes his three fingers down to encourage him to use his pincer grasp.  He only tolerates this if she offers him a snack.  He’s getting much better at playing on his tummy, less afraid of finger paints.  We have a container full of rice in the basement.  Teme loves to sit in it, and Lulu has embraced it as well.  Teme always takes his pants off and plays in it in his onesie.  Now Lulu comes to the basement and takes her pants off so she can sit in the rice too.  She wants to feel it all over, digs her hands down and finds toys we’ve buried.  Lulu now can say her name, her age (two, with her thumb and first finger out), and identify herself as a girl.  I had no idea that she knew until I’d asked.  Teme and Lulu are both singing now.  Lulu is quite proficient with “itsy bitsy spider,” “twinkle twinkle,” “the wheels on the bus,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Frere Jacques.”  Teme sings “twinkle twinkle” and “Jesus loves me” also.  Papa came over the weekend and built a swing set onto our existing play place in the backyard.  Now both kids can swing at the same time.  There’s an open spot for a third swing for M when he arrives.

Four Months Home

So, it’s been four months as a family of four, and I think we’re doing well.  We have our good days and our better days.  I have come to accept that a general state of exhaustion is my new normal.  Teme has become increasingly sweet, increasingly precious, increasingly darling.  He tries so hard to impress, and he is desperate to be included in absolutely everything.  He is becoming much more proficient with a spoon.  He uses is right hand most of the time (unlike his sister) and eagerly slurps his spoon even if there’s nothing on it.  He usually nods his head while eating this way saying “I’ve got this.  I can do it Mama.”  He’s still terribly messy and delights is dropping food on the floor for Truman.  He is such a quiet little guy, but he’s got lots and lots of words.  He says spoon, bowl, lulu, sister, Truman, kitty, puppy, slide, swing, ball, bounce, please, thank you, amen, chicken, milk, water, yogurt, up, block, hi everybody, bye, banana, bread, stuck, help, car, beep (button), outside, go, no no, mama, dada, oh, yes, tickle, choo choo, hot, all done, all gone, grape, and more that I can’t think of.  He imitates Lulu in so many ways, assents in the same way (o-oh-o), uses many of the same expressions and gestures.  He likes to try and pray, bows his little head and mumbles a string of jargon.  Often a word sounding like “Jesus” comes out in the mix, and he finishes it all up with a confident “Amen!”  Isaiah got his first tooth since coming home this month.  It broke through on Good Friday, so now my little man has 5 teeth.  He is suddenly drooling continuously, so I hope more teeth are on the way.  His food related tantrums are becoming less and less, though if Teme is going to have a total melt down, it will generally be when he thinks he’s missing out on food of some kind.  He’s still a clumsy little guy, but he is more and more determined to go faster.  He loves to push his car in the backyard.  Lately he has been asking to see our car in the garage, mainly so that he can push the “beep” (the garage door button) to raise and lower the door.  He and Lulu fight over this privilege.  He still loves to swiffer.  He is working in occupational therapy and loves his therapist, Miss Elizabeth.  She swings him, chases him on his hands and knees, lets him play in buckets full of rice.  He seems to enjoy picking up beans and putting them in jars for her.  He’s afraid to play in shaving cream.  We’re still dealing with tummy troubles. After an uneventful trip to an ID specialist, we started him on probiotics and a multivitamin, but his tummy troubles have not improved.  We see the GI doc in a few weeks.  He has a bath almost daily at daycare, and we always have at least two changes of clothes available for him.  He loves to go bye bye, whether in the car or going for a walk in the stroller.  He is a sweet, sweet boy, loves to give kisses to us and to his sister.  He blows kisses to almost anyone who visits.  After I spend an hour doing Lulu’s hair, he plops into my lap immediately after she gets up for his turn.  I rub leave-in conditioner on his curls and squeeze him, and off he toddles to find another activity.

Three Months Home

I’ve loved on this little boy for three months already.  Three months of kissing plump cheeks and stealing noses, three months of climbing too high and stumbling, three months with only 4 sweet teeth grinning back at me.  Teme has astounded me with his quick progression.  He has been walking for two months, still a little drunk, especially on grass and our mulched playground where he wobbles and falls easily.  He articulates easily, waves and says “bye everybody” when leaving the room.  He asks for “grr” (grapes), “chicken,” “me-k” (milk), and occasionally shouts “amen” for no reason at all.  At home, he holds hands and bows to pray and at school he folds his hands together, always tiny head bowed.  He is surprisingly compliant (especially compared to his sister).  Generally a low-pitched “no” will stop him and he will toddle off to find something else.  He wants to receive praise.  When we work with Lulu on cleaning up, he pitches in to receive the same accolades.  He still loves his food, but he is becoming more choosy, accepting more fruits but refusing more vegetables.  He loves bread of any kind best.  Like Lulu, he adores bananas, so we are buying about 6 lbs of bananas per week.  He signs please eagerly.  He still cries if he thinks he is being left out or if he thinks I have food that I will not share.  This is most difficult when cooking because he sits at my feet and cries the whole time that I am preparing the food.  Teme is my problem-solver.  He turns toys over to climb on them and reach higher places.  He is fearless, willing to walk off the back deck despite the two-foot drop, desperate to climb up and then jump off of most anything.  When we first tried to swing him, he hated it and cried the entire time.  Now he asks “‘wing?”  He doesn’t particularly like to slide, but he wants to climb the ladder to the top and wander there, collecting fallen leaves and acorns for me.  He still loves to play with food, will sit contentedly in a chair on our back porch with a bowl of water and a spoon.  He also loves to drag my broom around the house.  He isn’t mindful of it though, so Lulu has been knocked in the head with it more than once when he opted to change directions.  He loves to sing.  In the car he howls along with my radio like a basset hound.  He likes “if you’re happy and you know it” best and especially likes to say “hooray” and “amen” during that song.   He doesn’t have much force for scribbling yet, but he tries.  He still keeps his thumbs tucked in most of the time, so I’ve asked for him to see an occupational therapist.  We have struggled with tummy troubles since we first met him in December.  We go to an infectious disease specialist next week, hopefully to sort it out.  Teme frequently climbs up on me and says “bounce” while bobbing up and down.  Then he climbs on my shins and giggles as I extend them out and back until I’m too tired.  I tell him I need to rest, and he presses his cheek to mine for a few minutes and then sits up, bobs, and says “bounce?”  He never grows tired of it.  He still loves his daddy who can calm him when no one else can.  Teme is a champ at taking medications (he’s been on 8 now, including one that came only as a tablet).  I was so proud of him when he swallowed the pill pieces that I offered whole with lots of water.  He loves to go bye-bye, often first to the door, and he seems to like going for walks.  He pounces on our kitty regularly and still occasionally pulls his tail, though I think he’s getting better about this.  In a skirmish for a particular toy, Teme generally wins and leaves Lulu pouting.  He will sometimes share with her spontaneously, if only for a few minutes.  He’s pretty good-natured with his sister, forgives her quickly when she tries shutting his head in doors.  When she is cruel to him, I ask her to say sorry and give him a hug.  She opens her arms wide, and he dives in, usually knocking her to the ground, and then they are rolling on the floor in a tight squeeze with belly laughs, such sweet babies.

Ethiopia #4–Blessings and Heartaches

I have two children, really.  I can show them to you now.  I’ve been saying that I’m a mom of two (sort of) for over a year now, and now, I really, really do have two children, and I am delighted, and exhausted, and humbled that God would see fit to bless me in this way.  We have been overwhelmed by his goodness and his grace.  God brought my little boy home for Christmas when it just didn’t seem possible.  He brought me out of my long wait.  My Teme is home.

In Ethiopia, we sunned ourselves in the joy of loving our son, this new little creature who clung to us, his espresso eyes following us as we shook bottles and spooned cereal into bowls for him, gathered diapers and offered toys.  We spent one day with him touring Emperor Melnik II’s palace (built in the late 1800s) and Maryam Church (an Ethiopian Orthodox Church built in 1876), and we did a little shopping in our favorite places.  We visited the Ethiopian Museum while awaiting our Embassy appointment (I liked seeing Hallie Selassie’s throne and loved the artwork).  We ate at Island Breeze (still my favorite restaurant in Ethiopia), Green Top (pizza), Lucy’s (themed after the skeleton), and a Chinese restaurant, and we sipped on drinks at the Sheraton.  We watched our son brighten and plump, daring to pull up and cruise and chase us around chairs and luggage.  He invented games while I packed, leaning over our bed until he nearly fell and then laughing when I swooped him back on the bed.  He is such a blessing, such a gift.

On our third day in Ethiopia, we visited the orphanage where each of our children has resided prior to their court dates.  We have visited the orphanage on each of our visits in Ethiopia (and played with our little M each time).  We generally bring crates full of medicine, clothing, toys, books, school supplies along with fresh fruit that we’ve picked up on the way for the kids.  Always, the needs of the children there crush me.  Most are undernourished.  The babies lie three to a crib.  Very few cry.  The toddlers swarm at my waist calling “mama,” and the older children smile shyly and hold out their hands for stickers, a sweet, crayons, or a toy.  We met the orphanage director, Yacob, when we arrived and asked if we could see the children.  We had been told that our little M had gone home with his birth family.  We asked about this many, many times.  Each time we were reassured that he had gone home.  Matt and I have both been skeptical about this, so I planned to search the orphanage to be sure that little M indeed had left.  We found him in the first room that we entered, and I knew immediately that he recognized us.  He stared and stared at us, and as soon as Matt tried to hold him he cried, a painful sort of cry, one like abandonment or betrayal.  I looked at Yacob and told him “I want this boy.  I want to adopt this boy.”  Yacob assured me that he would check his paperwork, and if it was possible, he would certainly allow me to adopt him.  I had so many questions.  Yacob is new to the orphanage, and he says that the orphanage is splitting from our agency because the agency has not provided any financial support to the orphanage since July.  There isn’t enough money for food or school fees for the children, and they have a large bill accumulating at the local hospital.  He is trying to help children be adopted out privately or transferred to other places for care because the orphanage is struggling so much.  He told us the story about M’s family coming for him is “all lies.”  His paperwork is still not ready.  There is still much to be done before M is even adoptable.  We did not pass court because the agency falsified his papers, not because he has a family.  Sadly, I am not surprised.  I am disappointed and frustrated and heartbroken, but not surprised.  I couldn’t contain myself for the rest of the afternoon, and I spent the night in the bathroom in our guest room on my knees asking God what he will do with little M.  Who should we trust?  How can we possibly bring him home?  I held him and kissed him while he stared at me and whimpered.  He held tight to my shoulder, and I told him that I will come for him just as soon as they will let me.  I told him that I am his mama and that he has a daddy and a sister and a brother, and we are his family.  I told him how much we love him.  I don’t know what will happen, but I have to try.  I can’t leave this little boy, my little boy, in a struggling orphanage in Ethiopia.  I have to try.  I know God sees him.  He loves my little M.  I don’t know the plan, but whether God desires that I love this boy and pray for him always or that I raise him also, I am tied to M.  We are family, whether in the same home or not.

So, I have two children or maybe three.  I think I have three children.  Time will tell whether all are ever in my home.  I have this great blessing, a daughter and a son, and yet Ethiopia is heavy on me, another child that I have loved since he was 3-months-old still waiting for me.  Oh be still my heart.

The New Normal

Teme has added a joyful and exhausting dimension to our lives.  He has changed so much in the month that we’ve known him. Teme took his first steps on January 13th when we were playing at Matt’s parent’s house.  He is now taking 2-3 steps at a time.  Lulu is eager to help him.  She likes to have me take one of his hands and she takes the other and leads him around the house.  Teme is able to say “mama,” “dada,” “no,” “boo,” “hi,” “bye bye,” “hot,” “tickle tickle,” “choo choo,” “kitty,” “puppy,” “woo woo” (the noise the puppy makes), “all done,” “up,” and he is imitating more and more.  He is proficient at waving hello and goodbye.  He’s fast at crawling and quite good at climbing.  He has mastered the stairs on the little slide at church, and he is able to get off of our couch without falling most of the time.  He loves to be bounced, thrown in the air, swung, rocked, tickled.  He seems to like rough play.  He isn’t particularly good at looking at books yet, just likes to close them.  He knows where his nose is.  We’re still working on other parts.  He cracks up at the “poo tinky toes” game, and he loves to play peek-a-boo.  He likes to play in our play kitchen, but he’d much rather empty out my drawers and cabinets.  Most of the day he carries a white rubber spatula around the house with him or some plastic silverware from the play kitchen.  I think he might be a chef one day.  He loves kitchen utensils, and he loves food.  He mimics Lulu quite a lot.  If she throws her cup, he does also.  He follows her around the house and gets frustrated when he can’t keep up.  He is still easily frustrated by meal times.  If food isn’t immediately in front of him when we put him in his chair, he cries.  If I try to feed him, he cries.  If the food is too hot and needs to cool some before I’ll let him have it, he cries.  He gets so upset that he gags and chokes and has trouble settling down enough to actually eat when it’s time.  If he thinks we have something to eat that he doesn’t have, he cries.  If the bowl is empty, he cries.  Teme is getting more aggressive with food also.  Yesterday I put Lulu in her chair for snack and gave her a banana.  I went back to the counter to get Teme’s snack ready.  Meanwhile, he crawled over to her, pulled up on the side of her chair, and took her banana right out of her hands.  He crawled away pretty quickly while she yelped.  He is much better with varieties of textures, and he is getting much better at chewing.  Like Lulu, Teme loves our kitties, but he isn’t very gentle with them.  He often crawls after Truman and pulls his tail.  Truman, fortunately, is a very docile kitty.

I’ve been surprised at how quickly he has picked up language since he only heard English for the first time about 3 weeks ago, but he has been learning new words every day.  I suppose it helps that he is so much older than Lulu was when she came home, and he gets to hear Lulu jabber all day long.  We listen to music most of the day.  Lulu likes to dance and clap.  Her favorites now are “if you’re happy and you know it,” “Limbs Akimbo,” “Sunlight,” “ABC,” “Bingo,” “The B-I-B-L-E,” and “The Wiggle Wiggle Song.”  I’ve been trying to structure our days some.  With two kids, it’s hard to know how to pass the time.  In the mornings, we have breakfast, and I let the kids play on their own while doing the breakfast dishes.  I try to get them ready for their day next, and then we have reading time (or run errands if needed).  We have lunch at about 11 am and then they take their naps at about noon.  After nap, we have snacks, coloring time (Lulu still eats crayons, so I have to supervise pretty closely), more book reading (especially if we didn’t have time earlier).  They have independent play time while I’m working on getting dinner ready.  After dinner, they play with me and daddy, and then we get ready for bed.  Bedtime is at 8:00 most nights.  This seems to work for us, and as I get more proficient at keeping up with them, I think I’’ll work on incorporating more purposeful activities into their day.  When it is warm, I try to take them outside.  This is a little difficult with Teme still since he doesn’t walk yet, and he and Lulu both tend to want to put acorns in their mouths.  I’m hoping that the double stroller that I want will be on sale soon so that I can take them for walks around the neighborhood on my own, but for now, we use our single stroller and my baby carrier when I need to go out with them both alone.  It isn’t easy getting them both in and out of the car, but I generally load one and then the other.  When we arrive at our destination, I get Teme out and put him in the carrier.  Then Lulu gets out and holds my hand while we walk into the store.  She sits in the shopping cart (difficult getting her in and out with a baby strapped to me, but we are getting better).  She has been so good about holding my hand and walking in the parking lots.  She’s growing up fast, such a big girl now.

Meeting Teme

We received confirmation of our Embassy date on 12/14, bought tickets that morning, and left our home bound for Washington D.C. on 12/15.  My mom and and my friend Alesha came over to help with all of the preparations.  My mom looked after Lulu and cleaned my house, and Alesha wrapped all of our Christmas presents while Matt and I ran around to finish packing.  We arrived in Ethiopia on the morning of 12/17 just before 7 am.  Our baggage all arrived intact, and we passed through customs uneventfully.  We headed to our guest home for naps and showers and then made our way to the Transition Home at about 2:00.  We were both exhausted but ready to have our little boy with us.  I couldn’t imagine waiting even a day longer for him.  The transition home moved to a different location about a month ago.  I am pretty disappointed with the new facility.  It is much smaller without any grass for the children to play on, just some uneven concrete.  The room where the children play is no bigger than my bathroom, and it is dark and damp.  They brought two small chairs in for us to sit on, and there is a dirty little mattress on the floor.  The office is quite large, has two desks and a couch (the one from the old transition home), and it is much brighter.  I found myself wondering why the children weren’t playing in there and the office in the darker and smaller room.  The old transition house was bright and clean, and there was plenty of room for the children to play both inside and outside in the grass.  We were immediately overwhelmed with 7 or 8 babies and toddlers, but none was my little boy.  One of the nannies left the room to get him.  We waited for 10 minutes or so and finally she brought him to us.  He was immediately terrified.  He only wanted to cry, but he held on to us tightly.  It was hard to soothe him.  We tried walking and bouncing a little bit, but he was only happy when I returned him to his nanny.  He sits up well and appears able to crawl and pull up, but he doesn’t seem to want to do much more than sit.  He is intermittently verbal, seems to know some words in Amharic because he was talking to his nanny and the door man a little bit.  He is so tiny.  He is very wrinkled with lots of extra skin.  I’m worried that he has lost weight recently, that maybe they didn’t feed him as much because they knew we were coming.  While we were there, they gave us a bowl of a clear jello-like substance, sort of like warm clear glue.  I can’t imagine that contains anything nutritious at all.  We spent several hours at the transition home.  The staff hardly acknowledged us (which is strange considering how friendly they have been with us in the past).  Once we left, Teme held on to me tightly and snuggled in close.  He didn’t say anything or smile for about a day.  It was hard to get him to eat much, and he would only take his formula from a bottle and eat some cereal.  He didn’t seem to like baby food at all.  He does enjoy peek-a-boo, and he likes to knock towers down that we build out of stacking cups.  He is pretty successful with a shape sorter, and he likes to chase a ball.  He fusses when we change his diaper and when we bathe him, and once he is upset, it takes 10-15 minutes to calm him again.  He has several medical issues that I have needed to address, all of which should get better fairly soon.    He seems like a very sweet baby.  We are trying to get to know him, to anticipate his needs, to learn how to make him smile and laugh.  I am trying to be a good mama to him, but it is difficult since I am so tired.  I haven’t been sleeping at night because of the jet lag.  Matt is also exhausted, so we have tried to keep to ourselves in our guest room and get plenty of rest.

Introducing Teme

“Sing praises to the Lord for he has done gloriously.”  Isaiah 12:5

 

It’s Christmas morning here in our household.  We received our travel clearance from the Embassy today.  We’ve requested an Embassy appointment next Tuesday, December 20th and hope to hear back in the morning from the Embassy.  We have gone to bed so many nights recently knowing that things were happening in Ethiopia.  I’ve stayed up late in prayer, hoping to cover those specific moments involving our case.  Every morning we have hoped for news, and today it finally came.  The wind blows, and I am breathing, taking deep gulps, filling my shrunken and dark hope-places with this new blessing.  These experiences never last long.  Soon I will be finished waiting, my little boy crawling after a soccer ball on my living room floor while my daughter dances to the songs on her little piano.  I have to breathe this sweet air long now because there’s always another desert coming.

 

Right now we are in a rush to finish packing, baby clothes and bibs all over the nursery.  I’ve used Teme’s empty crib to plan and lay things out that we need.  Fortunately, our donation boxes are already packed, so we just have ourselves to pack up.  We will make our travel arrangements as soon as we have a confirmed Embassy date.  I’m a little worried about space on flights so close to Christmas.  I’ve been asking God to have my baby boy home for Christmas, and it is possible!  We may celebrate the day of our Lord’s birth as a family of four.  The light is bursting out of me, and I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving, overwhelmed with preparation, and overwhelmed with anticipation.  My “Maybe Baby” is coming home!