In ten days, we get on an airplane to go to Elvie. Usually for an Ethiopian adoption, you travel twice, once for court to meet your child, and once for the embassy appointment, when you answer a few simple questions and receive your child’s visa. Between court and embassy processes, there can be months of wait, as the US Embassy investigates the case and ensures that the adoption is legal and ethical before issuing a visa for immigration into the US. In Elvie’s case, her medical needs tell much of the story, and her Ethiopian family will confirm the rest. By the time we arrive in Ethiopia, much of the work that needs to be done to ensure that she does indeed need to be adopted will already be done. So we will travel to meet her, say yes to being her family in court, and go through the embassy process within a very short time. It’s Ethiopian adoption on fast forward, and we couldn’t be happier. (A little frazzled, maybe, by the rush, but still unbelievably happy.)
When I look at photos of Elvie, I see the work we need to do. To make her happy, to get her healthy, to help her thrive as much as possible. I remember looking at Zinashi and thinking the same things. The care children receive in agency transition homes is generally excellent, but it’s not the same as being in a family. Having a family matters, and at the heart of it, this is why we chose adoption.
I can go back now and see how Zinashi transformed, from the time we first saw her face on a computer screen to our landing as a family on US soil. The difference is remarkable. Join me on a trip down memory lane, and see the difference for yourself.
The First Photo, the One That Still Breaks My Heart 1 of 9This is the photo that started it all. I looked into those intense eyes, and I saw my daughter. I saw hurt and I saw fear and I saw a little girl who I wanted to mother. A few days before this, Zinashi had been moved from an orphanage in her home region to our agency's transition home in the capital, where they could care better for her medical and basic physical needs. She was three years old, not quite twenty pounds, and terrified.
Fragile, but Growing Stronger 2 of 9Zinashi tells me now that the care center nannies woke her in the night to feed her. In the first ten days she was there, she gained five pounds. I saw the chub of her cheeks in this photo and rejoiced, saw the sadness still in her eyes and laid my head down on the desk and wept because I couldn't be there with her yet.
She Knew We Were Coming 3 of 9At this point, she had been at the care center long enough to be more comfortable. She had also been told that we were coming, that she had a mommy and a daddy who loved her and were coming soon. When I received this photo, I felt like we were finally seeing a little bit of her emerge from behind her sorrow and fear.
The First Smile 4 of 9The guards who worked at the care center were magic with the children, always able to bring out a smile or a laugh. Our Zinashi was a tough customer, but a tickle did the trick. We were less than a month out from traveling to meet her.
She Liked Us, I Think 5 of 9In our first hours together, she was reserved, and understandably so. We were strangers, after all. But she must have seemed comfortable enough with us, because we were told that we could take her back to our guest house for lunch.
An Unprompted Smile, With Teeth! 6 of 9At lunch, she pooped her pants a little because she wasn't ready to talk to us yet, and by the time I realized what was happening, it was too late to avoid needing a change. We took her upstairs to our room, cleaned her up, and showed her the suitcase full of clothes we'd brought. "Yanchi," I said. Yours. She chose the hat, and she wore it -- and her smile -- for the rest of the day.
Glee, Laughter, Joyous Noise 7 of 9When Zinashi was in the orphanage and care center, she stopped talking for the most part. From time to time she would speak aloud, but mostly she was quiet. When the power went out the second night we were with her, she felt bold. She started to talk, to laugh, then to yell. By the next morning, she had become a full blown ham, with a hundred funny faces and boundless energy. My heart swelled with joy.
The Softness Behind Her Eyes 8 of 9At this point, Zinashi had been with us for ten days. We had moved from the agency guest house to a separate guest house to wait out the time between court and embassy. She was ours, and we were hers, and we were proving it every day. Something in her relaxed and let go. She became visibly more relaxed and at peace.
Upon Arrival in the United States 9 of 9While we were in Ethiopia, we saw her relax into our family, but what we didn't realize was that there was a confidence to her that we hadn't seen yet. When we landed at Dulles, she suddenly didn't need to hold our hands all the time or be held. The companion to this photo is a video, showing her walking ahead, as if she owned the place. What we'd said had come true; she was in America. This was just the beginning.
World map clip art credit: Freepik
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