There are a lot of things about adoption that are similar to pregnancy and birth. In general, adoption is more about paperwork and less about a body changing to make a whole new person, but I have seen changes in my body, and my heart has certainly shifted to make space for each of our children. Adoption is by nature unpredictable, but at the same time, I find that I make plans for how my adoptions will go much like a physically pregnant woman makes a birth plan. And just like a woman must mourn what might have been when her birth plan falls apart due to circumstances beyond her control, so I find myself mourning the adoption experience I wanted but did not have.
It’s taken me awhile to come to the place where I can even recognize just how disappointed I am in many aspects of our adoption experience this time. Of course the most important aspect, that we brought home our sweet Elvie and that she is now healthy, turned out well and is what really matters. I don’t want to lose sight of that. At the same time, so that I can move forward with joy at Elvie’s place in our family, I want to recognize sources of disappointment and mourn those and let them go. As selfish as it feels to even give voice to these feelings, I know that if I do not deal with them, they will just surface in ways that are unhealthy for me and probably not good for my family either.
When we set out to adopt a second time from Ethiopia, we started making plans, imagining what it would be like this time around. We left some things open ended, knowing how much things can change in international adoption over time, and that things in Ethiopia were indeed rapidly changing as we began our process. Still, we thought there were a few things that were close to definite. In our case, all the definites fell by the wayside, and so did most of the probablys. We ended up with an adoption experience that was vastly different than what we thought we’d have and, in a couple of key ways, what we wanted.
The main thing I am grieving is that the process happened so fast that we did not get ample time in Ethiopia to truly soak up the country of our daughters’ birth. We spent a month in the capital with Zinashi when we completed her adoption, and we had hoped this time to extend either the court trip or embassy trip so we could see more of the countryside, including where Zinashi spent her first three years of life and possibly where our new baby was born. But when Elvie needed to come home quickly, and then when it turned out that she was malnourished and sick in addition to the birth defect we already knew about, none of that was possible. Instead of spending a lazy two weeks exploring Ethiopia as a family, we spent a strained and stressful two weeks in the capital, attending both our court date and embassy appointment within that time, trying to keep our baby well enough to fly and find a doctor that could confirm that she would be okay on the long flight. I didn’t realize until recently just how important being able to travel a bit more in Ethiopia was to me, but my heart aches knowing that it will be two more years before we can truly get to know the parts of the country our daughters came from.
The second thing I mourn is that we did not have time to cozy up together at home with the baby after we arrived back in the US from Ethiopia. Our original plan, before we knew about Elvie, was that Jarod would take his allotted vacation time both for trips to Ethiopia and for bonding time once we arrived home. When we decided to adopt Elvie, we knew that it would be wiser to save some vacation time to be used when she has her big surgery, so the plan became that Jarod would return to work as soon as possible when we returned home. I was comforted by the fact that we would have evenings and weekends together, and that Jarod might be able to work from home for additional family bonding time. When Elvie had to be admitted to the hospital just two and a half days after arriving back in the United States, most of our family time was eaten up by trying to keep one parent at the hospital at all times. What was to be a time of bonding and closeness was instead a time of stress and separation.
We did eventually get our homecoming, and then another hospital stay, and then another homecoming. Those homecomings were indeed full of joy, and we have taken some time to just enjoy each other as a family, with plans to do more as we catch up on all the things that fell by the wayside when Elvie was hospitalized. In 2014, we plan to travel to Ethiopia again and do all that we had planned before we knew we’d be mostly confined to our hotel, and only there for a very short stay. In a way, the things that were disappointing will be made right. I can’t get back the adoption experience I hoped I’d have, but I can look forward to the future. With a chubby, healthy baby in my arms, it looks pretty good from here.