Anyone who has gone through the adoption process knows about the endless waiting without hearing anything. Everyone starts out the same, waiting patiently and quietly, but as the time inevitably drags on people cope in one of two ways (or both ways). Some become obsessive, following referrals, other’s trips and spending hours and hours seeking solace with others in the myriad of online forums or blogs. The others just shut down any anticipation or expectation – getting on with their lives with the belief, either conscious or unconscious, that it’s never going to happen. I fell into the latter, my wife – the former.
Our Referral came mid-winter and we could not fathom how we were so lucky as to be referred two beautiful little girls. I joked to my wife that it was better that we adopted as my genes could never have produced anything so lovely. My wife and I began the whirl-wind process of determining everything we could about the children based on the scant information we were given. This process is a frantic, hectic and overwhelming task given that you have a short deadline to accept or reject the referral. We talked with doctors, other parents and each-other.
We thought we were lucky when my discovered that one of her online friends had did volunteer work at the same orphanage where our two girls had come from. This woman had pictures of the kids and their mother and knew lots about the children – she had fallen in love with their endearing personality. Our belief of how lucky we were would quickly change to a paranoid fear that we would have our referral revoked and be dropped by our facilitator.
You see, some of the pictures were of our two daughters, their mother and their baby sister and we made the mistake of asking our agency about their baby sister and sending them copies of the pictures.
“What is the status of the girls’ sister? Is she up for placement? We don’t want to split up the sisters – if the baby is up for adoption we would like to adopt her as well.” My wife and I asked our Agency.
Our Agency Responded, “Where did you get those pictures? Who gave them to you! You are not allowed to have those! This could cost you your referral!”
What would follow was a tense week of walking on egg shells and surrendering ourselves to an inquisition by our agency. My wife was genuinely concerned that her friend had done something wrong and was, as any friend would, trying to protect her friend. We kept trying to get our question about their sister answered but the only thing our agency cared about were the “unauthorized and illegal” pictures of the kids and their mother.
Great credit goes to my wife’s friend who came forward and dealt with the agency herself, taking the spotlight of the agency’s ire away from us. I doubt anyone who hasn’t gone through the adoption-referral process could imagine the stress and fear that we were experiencing. We came to the decision that we would accept the referral and just keep quiet until the girls were safely ours. We couldn’t imagine what we would find upon getting to Ethiopia.
Shortly after we arrived in-country we made arrangements to go to the orphanage where the children came from and to find the children’s birth-mother. It was September and the climate in central Ethiopia at that time of the year is quite pleasant and that helped buoy our mood for our upcoming trials. We found their birth mother, in the same village, and arranged a meeting, taking the hot, slow and sometimes frightening ride to meet her. It was one of the best experiences of our lives. Meeting their mother, talking with her, having her get to know us and us know her made everyone feel close. At the end of our time together, over coffee and dabbo-colo, I had gained a sister and her, a brother. We parted like family hearts heavy with loss but light with hope for our future. My wife and I talked long about this meeting on the flight back to Canada while our daughters slept in the seats beside us. Our daughters’ birth-mother is a strong woman, stronger than I for being able to survive what she has, and so much in love with her children.
You see, their mother had told us that she was notified that our daughter’s baby sister, Sintayehu, had been adopted by an American couple just two months before! On the drive home, we were both consumed with anger. We were not angry with the couple who adopted Sintayehu; we surmised that they probably didn’t know that the baby had sisters who were in the system. We were angry with the orphanage that had split the children up. We were angry with our Agency for going on a witch-hunt rather than address our valid questions.
It took a couple of days for us to work through the thickest of our anger and we resolved to unite the three sisters. We resolved to expand our family further, in the same way that our daughters’ birth-family is now part of our family; we would expand our family again by adding Sintayehu’s family to our family. We were lucky that or daughters’ birth-mother had been given some pictures of Sintayehu’s mommy and daddy. This would prove to be the only source of information we would get about them as the orphanage in Ethiopia closed its doors to our requests denied every request for information. Our agency told us that there was nothing that they could do and that we should just drop the issue and concentrate on our own family. They didn’t realize the strong bond that our eldest daughter had for her baby sister and she made me promise that I would do all that I could to find their baby sister.
So, Here we are now. We didn't want to go the government to help us search. We don’t want to harm a program that we truly believe is, for the most part, wonderful. For every bad story we hear, there are fifty positive stories. For every heartbreak, there are a hundred stories of love and growth. Our girls are happy and healthy and adjusting well and they say they are glad to be living in Canada. We don’t want to deny that opportunity to other children who have need. We decided to turn to the power of the social network and the strong ties that adoptive families have to spread the word of our search.
A Wonderful Surprise
When you start something like this, you can't but help getting excited. You check your blog and e-mail daily looking for that one message you are waiting for. Your addiction to the hope you have makes you ignore that little voice in your head that tells you to not get your hopes up. It tells you that this will take time and that you will drive yourself insane if you keep obsessing. As will all things that are born of passion, that little voice slowly wins and you check less and less; not giving up hope but accepting that you are in this for the long haul.
It had been several months since the blog went live and I had managed to put it out of my mind. I had just finished making the kids breakfast – scrambled eggs and peanut-butter toast when I absentmindedly turned on the computer to check my e-mail. I stood up and started to do my best impression of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever in the middle of the living room. My oldest daughter asked, “What ARE you doing?” All I could say was, “We found her!” She knew what I meant and jumped up and started to dance around with me.
Their sister was adopted by a wonderful family in the U.S. who were stunned to find out that their daughter had family so close to them. What was even more wonderful was that they were open to keeping these three girls close. When we established full contact I could see the tension in my daughter disappear almost overnight. I noticed her joy seemed to grow and became a little more carefree. It is times like these that make you realize that through all the pain and misery there are these luminous sparks of joy that make life, on the whole, good.