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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Not all sunshine and rainbows

I've debated for a long time about posting this... I keep asking myself what the point of it would be? I don't want sympathy, I don't want people to worry that I've gone bananas, so why do it? Well, there are a lot of families in the adoptive world at various stages of the process, a few that I have followed from the "beginning" are now awaiting court days and travel dates. Others have been through the process and will understand what these feelings are. That it is okay to feel this way. That it is okay not to be okay.

One year ago today, my child's birthmom stood in front of a judge and told him that she did indeed relinquish her child for an American to adopt and take half a world away from her. I agonized that day...I knew that my Mari's birthmom had not seen her baby for 3 months and was now reuniting with her at the House of Hope, holding a much healthier (and fatter!) baby. Would she change her mind? Would she have gotten her life situated to a point where she could provide? She didn't change her mind, she gave up her parental rights forever. I didn't pass court that day due to some missing paperwork from the orphanage, but I passed the biggest hurdle. So on the anniversary of that momentous day, I'll give you this post. It is basically a journal entry I wrote myself over the last couple months to try to "get my head around" some of the things I was feeling. It took a lot of questioning to understand why I didn't cry for gotcha day or on the day I met Mari's birthmom. I often wondered if I was callous, I've come to realize that the feelings were so strong and deep that I just refused to acknowledge them. So here they are:

"Apathy, not empathy. How did I reach a state of apathy? Is it a defense mechanism, selfishness, an inability to deal with reality? When I made the decision to adopt, I chose international adoption because I did not want to meet a birthmom, did not want to have ongoing contact, did not want to run the risk of having my child ripped away from me by a change of heart. International adoption sounded safe; babies left on doorsteps in the early hours before dawn, neighbors finding children left alone after disease/starvation/natural disaster claimed their parents, kids without backgrounds or identities.

When I learned more about Ethiopian adoption and the possibility of meeting my child’s birthmom, I was worried. Did I want to face that? Could I face that? It would be okay, I told myself. Children are relinquished for many reasons but all out of desperate hope. My child’s birthmom would be desperately, terminally ill seeking a solid future for her child while she could still make those decisions. She would be a person so poverty-stricken that her child could not survive due to starvation and disease, adoption was the only choice. She would be a woman so broken of spirit that she could not raise herself up enough to care for her own child. I would be giving a child a future. She would be better off with me, I would be desperately needed.

When I got my referral, Mari’s info listed her birthmom as having no income, her father disappeared. I could handle that. Her basic needs would be unmet: shelter, clothes, food. Mari would need me, I was getting the child I had always dreamed about and she was getting a mother who could fulfill her every unmet need. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting Mari’s birthmom but I knew that I needed to. I needed to have pictures and memories to reassure a confused little girl that her birthmom made the only decision possible, that she loved her enough to give her to me.

Where did the apathy come? Or rather, when did it come? I was so freaked out by the journey itself; just flying to a foreign land…I was petrified. After 15 hours on a plane, I was suddenly immersed in a culture so different, hearing a language that I had never heard uttered before, hoards of people trying to push their way through customs and grabbing their bags, throngs of people surrounding me in the airport with no thought given to personal space—for the first time in my life, a true minority, an oddity—beggars with babes in arms tapping on the car windows “my baby is hungry.” All that in the dark of night. By the first light of dawn, I got a glimpse of what my coming days would bring. I stood on the balcony of our 5th floor hotel room, looking at the “neighborhood” across the street. Constructed out of sheets of corrugated metal, mud, cardboard…this was the poverty I had heard about, right across the street from my“Americanized” hotel room. Surely this was the “bad section” of town, the “ghetto.” It wasn’t; it was a cross-section of what the rest of the city looked like…it was everywhere we went, overwhelming, stifling.

Driving to the House of Hope was disheartening. Beggars, young children everywhere, people laying alongside the road (drunk or sleeping or dead, no one seemed to check), livestock being herded to and fro, random broken-down animals wandering the dirt streets looking for a blade of grass, people everywhere walking anywhere, games of foosball being placed in the dirt median on machines that we would’ve have put in the garbage dump, 8 cars squeezed into 2 lanes with no traffic signals all honking horns and jockeying for position amongst the pedestrians and animals, heavy diesel fumes, the streets lined with stands selling everything from fruit to clothes to shoes to orange soda. I think this is where I started shutting off emotions, it was too much too quickly; just too much to process and too much to deal with.

When we were safely behind the walls of the House of Hope compound, my daughter was brought to me. Did I feel that instant “click,” that zing all new parents say they feel? No. Honestly, I don’t remember feeling anything. My dad cried. He could feel it, he could look past everything he had just seen, he could process and move on. I was stuck, or maybe struck. Mari was sick; feverish, coughing, wheezing, rashy. I immediately shifted into my comfort zone, nursing. I could handle that, take care of her. I pulled out the Tylenol, mentally calculating the dosage for her weight; estimating how long the antibiotics I had waiting at the hotel would take to kick in. Instead of my mothering instinct kicking in, I just dealt. Yes, I loved my little girl; she was smart and sweet and charming and her smile lit up the room. I was happy and excited but completely detached from myself.

The days ahead got harder and I hit rock bottom one night. I was so tired, so devoid of emotion, so homesick, so desperately needing my mommy. Thank goodness my dad was with me. That night he became “daddy” again—rubbing my back, settling me down, just being there and helping me through. By the time I woke up the next morning, I was better. Not healed, but shielded. Ready to face the world without feeling anything. Ready to face my daughter’s past.

The drive to Mari’s orphanage was over 3 hours. We left in the cool of the morning, driving south on a really nice highway built by the Chinese. The scenery was beautiful, Africa at its best, almost cliché because it looked just how I had imagined Africa. Stretches of desolate land with twisted trees, people working alone in fields—just a dark figure among light grasses, thatched huts with little kids standing outside, a herd of camels, gorges, mountains in the distance. The beautiful Rift Valley. We approached the city of Asela, driving by roadside villages made of mud concrete, corrugated metal—some surrounded by concrete walls that were made with glass bottles sticking out of the tops, then broken off exposing sharp, tearing shards of glass—homeland security at its most minimal. The roads leading into the orphanage spoke volumes about why “the rains” shut down the country for months at a time; ruts that would swallow small cars,rocks jutting out above bumper level. We had to turn around several times before we reached Mari’s orphanage. People were walking everywhere, getting to their destinations without having to turn around.

Mari’s orphanage was small, dimly-lit, hot, with a handful of kids lazing around. Very quiet, cozy, sad but filled with hope. We waited, I felt guilty looking at these older children—maybe 3, 4, 5 years old—and I chose a baby. Everyone chooses babies, why not them… We waited for what seemed like a long time, wondering if she would come. And finally she arrived. As I saw her pass by the window, I was astounded by how short she seemed, bent over hopping on a stick. When she came through the doorway, I did not notice that stick or the leg so badly deformed that she had trouble sitting easily. I noticed her smile, shy but full of spark. She was dressed nicely, she was clean, she held herself proudly…she was not at all what I had imagined. She had walked part of the way to the orphanage that day, a slow and arduous journey on her stick. We had passed her on the road, she saw and knew who I was, she said. I wish I had seen her,had known, had offered her a ride…spared her that journey that was probably more difficult than usual. She brought her daughter with her. Mari’s 4-year-old sister. Mari’s sister. A sister. She was clean, dressed like a typical kid, braided hair, a shy and timid smile, clinging to her mother. Did she understand? How much will she remember? Does she think about her sister now, the sister that she named?

I felt nothing. I just couldn’t, I told myself. Apathy. I told Mari’s birthmom thank you and I love you in her own language like I had practiced a hundred times. She smiled, seemed okay with things, she too seemed devoid of emotion. There we were, two single moms from very different backgrounds both focused on one task…getting through one of the hardest days of our lives. Accepting what was, what is, what will be. Yes, Mari’s birthmom is crippled, she has no income. But she’s alive, really alive. There is a spark there, a vitality, a hope. She’s not desperately ill, not broken-spirited, not hopelessly deprived. So is my child really better off with me? It was supposed to clear-cut, concrete, so definable—her need for me.

So, what to do now? We have been home over 10 months now. How do I deal with the pain? Knowing now what it feels like to overwhelmingly, unconditionally love a child, how do I go about dealing with the decision Mari’s birthmom had to make? And the sister, oh that little girl. My heart rips open every day thinking about her. I know what having siblings means to me; what will Mari’s life be like knowing she has a sister on the other side of the world? How will she feel? What do I say when she asks why her birthmom kept her sister and not her? How can I answer this?

Now the guilt comes. I want Mari’s sister. I want them to be together. It is not unheard of in Ethiopian adoption for siblings to be relinquished at different times and be reunited later…these are usually families ravaged by disease, devastating poverty. My agency knows; they know to contact me if something happens, they know I’ll move mountains to bring her home. My days revolve around dwelling on this hope and dealing with the guilt of what that would mean for a beautiful, brave, generous woman thousands of miles away. A woman that has already had her heart broken. How can I even think about wanting to bring Mari’s sister home when that would mean devastating a woman that is so much like me?

I get by with daily tear-fests, uplifted by encouraging notes from fellow adoptive moms who share the same heartaches; I make conscious efforts to move on. I seek empathy but I’m so afraid of what that means and whether I can handle it, that I chose apathy. Slowly, I’ll heal. My daughter needs me to. If I don’t learn to heal, how will I help her when she begins to hurt? Slowly, but surely, I’m learning to feel again."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I know, it's been forever.

I'm a bad blogger. Blame it on facebook. Blame it on a debilitating hand malady. Blame it on having a monster instead of a little girl these days.

Mari has been nuts the last little bit. She had another rough day at school on Friday, just throwing unprovoked tantrums. I think it may be a potty-training thing...she started fussing and stamping her feet for me this weekend and we either went to the potty or she had a wet diaper a few minutes later. She's also finally getting some molars, all four I think...I felt at least three that were just about through the surface. So who knows. But her halo definitely needs some polishing lately.

On the other hand, when she is happy...she's a hoot. She is growing up SO fast and it learning things left and right. Her vocabulary has really picked up lately although I've noticed her not enunciating as well (maybe her ears are bothering her or maybe she's just going too fast these days). She's also made some great strides in her motor skills; loves climbing, is running, trying to jump, can get herself off the couch and my bed, loves to help get dressed (and takes her coat off all the time). The spoon/fork thing is going slowly...literally. She is just in too big a hurry to eat, but she is doing better with it. She LOVES drinking out of an open cup. She pooped in the potty today (and it was a regular toilet at my parents house...still freaked her out again but she stayed put instead of panicking and running through the house pooping like the last time).

My cousins Juli and Christy came from KY last weekend with all the kids (Logan almost 5, Brendan 4.5, and Callie 1.5). We had a lot of fun and boy was my house crazy!

Yesterday, we had our first meeting of our Playgroup with a Purpose. See that blog for pix and info.

Enjoy the montage...it's a little long but there are some cute video clips in there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Let's Vote


Hmmmm...for the next Presidential election, Mari will be in Kindergarten. WHOA! There's a thought to scare you!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bye-Bye Boo Day!

Halloween is over, finished, done. I love Halloween...fall leaves, apple cider, pumpkins, candy.

Monday, Mari had Harvest Hoedown at school, complete with games and a bounce-house. She came home with a tattoo and a little pumpkin that she "found" in the haystack. She loves that pumpkin (about the size of a grapefruit) and carried it around for 2 days. The first thing she asks for in the morning is her "bumpkin."

I took Friday off and took Mari to school for her Halloween party (after stopping by the ER to see some old friends) and came home to clean house. I was feeling a little guilty about that (taking the day off but still taking her to school). She must have felt out-of-sorts with all the happenings and daycare called me after 2 hours because she was crying uncontrollably and they had never really seen her cry, other than regular toddler-tantrums (major GUILT now!). But they were okay with her there, just wanted to check with me to see if I thought she might be getting sick or if she had a bad night. She was okay for lunch and nap and I got there right as nap was finishing and stayed for the Halloween snack.

She was definitely not herself the rest of the day (although the look on her face when I showed up at naptime was worth every bit of guilt earlier in the day!). We skipped the trick-or-treating, other than to visit our neighbors, and went to dinner with my parents. Mari was not real thrilled with the waitresses in their costumes and she wasn't too sure about Uncle Todd's costume when we stopped by there. All in all, a confusing and probably upsetting day.

She fell asleep almost immediately on the way home but was rudely awoken by what would have probably been a very horrific accident. Someone pulled out in front of us (I was going 60) with no lights on, I had to stand on the brakes. Luckily, the brakes worked. Poor Ollie-dog slammed into the dash (he's fine) and Mari woke up screaming (thank God for carseats!). Besides shaking uncontrollably, I was fine too. My shoulders were a little sore, the left from the seatbelt, the right from my attempt to grab Ollie. I'm already a pretty nervous driver on Halloween, the rest of the 20 minute drive was intense.

Anyway, today was much better. Mari had swim lessons again this morning (LOVES them) and then took an almost 3 hour nap (did I mention that I LOVE swim lesson days too!). When she woke up, she was her normal self again. Thank goodness. Uncle Todd came down and mowed, weed-eated, packed up the hose for winter, etc. because he was "bored and it was a nice day." Big THANKS for that one. Now if I could get the inside of the house looking as good as the outside.

Onto some Halloween pix (there are a few other in here too).