This weblog chronicled the adoption journey to our Ethiopian daughter, and now our lives with 5 amazing children
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Part II: Meeting Amelie/Sosena at Toukoul
The day we arrived in Addis, Saturday September 5th, was the day we were set to meet Amelie for the first time. We were completely sleep deprived and disoriented from the long flight we arrived on at 10am, but something kept us going at full capacity. It was the same when we landed in Mumbai on January 5th, 2007 and we were meeting Prasad that same day. Something kicks in, maybe adrenal glands, God's grace, maternal love, super-powers or all of the above.
We settled into our cramped little room, laid down for a short time and waited for the moment our driver would come by and drive us with three other families out to the Toukoul orphanage. I couldn't sleep. I think we were set to leave around 2:00pm, so we went down for a quick lunch. The dining area was down the stairs, through a long patio, through a few more rooms and across another patio. It was an interesting layout that utilized a lot of outdoor space. Ethiopia is tropical, but not hot. Addis sits at a very high elevation, so the air was so thin that we needed to be drinking water constantly or we got light headed. There were lush plants and trees all around us, and we could hear birds chirping every day. The dining room was warm and intimate, much like a B&B. There was always a young woman standing at the doorway in a small apron greeting us. She was very much at our service. We quickly realized the staff was there to meet our every single need, and they were so gracious, warm and humble with twinkling eyes and bright smiles.
I'm vegetarian, and it's always an issue when we travel. It's not a moral or spiritual thing for me, it's just that I cannot stand the feel and texture of flesh in my mouth. I've been that way since childhood. In India it was accepted (almost expected), so I felt very at home with the restaurants and menus. At the guest house they had an Italian trained Ethiopian chef who had also worked in Germany and I'd heard about how great he was from other families. I was told he'd prepare veg meals if necessary. I remember sitting down and being offered a sourdough type of bread at every meal, and that day there was no vegetarian option other than some light pasta with the bread, and salad. We stayed away from the vegetables as much as possible because we weren't supposed to eat anything that could have been washed in the water, so the tempting salad was off limits. This left my options low, but I didn't know how low at that point.
We all boarded the large van shortly after lunch and went for a more extensive ride through Addis before getting to the orphanage. It's a busy city, but the cars seem to stay in alignment with each other, and followed a certain order. We didn't see the mad swerving back and forth, in and out we experienced in India, so we relaxed a bit and took in all the sights. Everything began feeling surreal at that point because we were literally on our last leg of travel before we'd lay eyes on our daughter. We were really going to see, smell and hold her and the reality of that was too much to take in. As I stared out at the pedestrians they seemed to be walking in slow motion, and the shacks, slums, shops, all the goat herds that passed by seemed to be part of a set or backdrop that wasn't real. I was acutely aware of the moment, and time was standing still despite all the commotion. I could feel my heart beating, but it was slow, my breathing slow and my heart felt larger than the earth itself. Before I knew it we were winding down small dirt roads with potholes of mud bouncing our van around. The streets aren't marked and I recall wondering how our driver could maneuver around such a maze when each road looked alike.
We passed a sign reading "Le Toukoul" on the corner and ahead was the large blue privacy gate I'd seen in so many videos. I don't remember much after that, except standing outside the van taking pictures of everything I saw. The buildings, vines, flowers, the older children playing. I wanted to record everything about this day. I don't know how long it took for them to finally bring Amelie to us, but there was a building with a window and I could see a long hallway inside. There were women walking down the hall with babies in their arms, and Daniel got very excited saying "Oh I think she's there Christine!" It's all so foggy in my brain because it was such an intense moment. They started walking babies outside, one by one. I think the first two were Rebecca's babies, then a couple of twin girls, and then there was our Sosena.
She was bundled up in a thick acrylic sweater with a hoodie. Her dark skin contrasted heavily against the white fabric, while her bright eyes glistened. I had Daniel take a picture of her in the caregiver's arms, and then she was handed over to me. My whole body warmed up and it was a moment of completion. I can't describe it any other way because words are so limiting. She completes our family, and somehow there was a comfort that filled me. I couldn't stop touching her very soft, woolen hair. She was a dark beauty and I had a hard time believing that I had the honor of being her mother. She had such serious, focused and penetrating eyes. I felt like she knew some secrets about the universe that I was not yet evolved enough to understand.
We took her inside to a family room type of area with two other families and their babies. Daniel was holding her and we noticed she had a second sweater under the white one, along with two shirts under that. She was starting to perspire, so we removed the top sweater. Her breathing wasn't good. There was a loud rattling in her chest and we were concerned. Despite that, she smiled easily and seemed very peaceful. We could tell that she was accustomed to getting kisses and being talked to so we knew she'd gotten a lot of love. She was a very happy and secure child for an orphan. I looked over her body for scabies, lice, anything that may be a nightmare. She looked great. Her belly was bloated, but we later learned from the nurse that all the babies had that due to the very early stage of malnutrition. She was getting a bare minimum of formula 2X/day with two servings of porridge (potatoes). She consumes about 5 bottles a day at home with 2 meals, so it's hard to imagine how hungry she must've felt.
Her legs were limp like a rag doll. My stomach dropped when I noticed this. I kept trying to get her to stand up, but her legs just hung there like an old Raggedy Ann doll. My first thought was cerebral palsy, so my heart was racing. After several minutes of holding her I noticed she kicked with her legs and pushed off of me with her legs, so my worries subsided...she was using her legs, thank God. I started thinking about something I'd heard about called "crib syndrome" or something like that where babies are left too long in bed and they become lifeless and undertoned. My sense was that she hadn't been held enough upright so that she could use her legs, and that she was suffering from some dehydration. We tried giving her Pedialyte during that visit, but she was startled by the taste so we stuck a Pedialyte strip inside her mouth.
We stayed a few hours and then we had to leave because they closed at 5:00-5:30pm. The time flew by. We had a second visit planned for the next day and we couldn't wait to see her again. Little did I know I would be lying awake that evening seeing her tiny face, hearing her labored breathing and feeling her tiny body in my arms. It was so hard to say goodbye, but we couldn't check her out of the orphanage on a weekend because the office staff wasn't there. I think I was with her in other ways.... ways that transcend the physical form.
Next- More on visits, More on Addis and the people
This blog documents our lives, hopefully in a way that is open, honest and helpful to other families. Those are the ones that have helped me most, while realizing we all have a lot of the same experiences, just wrapped differently. We'll post the challenges and victories starting with the road to our fifth child, Amelie, in Ethiopia. Christine is a proud stay at home mama, artist, and yogini. While Daniel is a self-employed attorney who loves writing, meditation, collard greens and goofy adventures. As parents we do our best to be calm, peaceful, mature and competent adults. Some days we succeed at this, while most we simply fall flat on our faces; we never stop trying. We hope to raise spiritually aware children who have a deep compassion for people and a sense of connectedness with the rest of the world.
We have five children, two are homegrown: Sorin (17) and Liam (14) both of whom have special needs and are quite inspiring to us. Our three youngest are adopted from Guatemala, India and Ethiopia: Sky Bear (7) and Andrew Prasad (9), and little Amelie Lin Sosena (8 months) will complete our family when she comes home this year. We will have children from 3 major continents. It was never planned that way, but we sure are tickled by it and proud of the diversity!
You can peruse our old blog entries from 2006-February 2009 here.
Early October 2008 We made the exciting decision to adopt an infant/toddler girl Late October 2008 Decided on Ethiopia and applied with Children's Hope International Adoption Agency November 4, 2008 Received news we were approved for a girl, age 0-3 from Ethiopia November-December 2008 gathered Homestudy documents, visited with social worker, had to redo KBI fingerprinting for Sorin. January 28, 2009 Homestudy completed. January 29, 2009 Submitted I-600A to USCIS. Switched to Adoption Avenues Agency for placement, January 30 Redo of State Police clearance letters to obtain 'notarized' clearances for the new agency February 2009 Compiling dossier documents. Our goal is to have the dossier authenticated and ready by mid-late February 2009. February 3, 2009 Received letter from USCIS asking us in any Wednesday for fingerprinting. February 6, 2009 Submitting official Contract with Adoption Avenues. Acquired all birth certificates needed for the dossier. February 13, 2009 Received 'notarized' copies of State Police Clearance letters. February 18, 2009 Completed fingerprints at USCIS. February 24, 2009 Received USCIS I-171H approval letter March 5, 2009 Completed State authentication for Dossier, and mailed to adoption agency. March 11, 2009 Dossier sent to Washington DC for authentication March 19, 2009 Dossier arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia May 10, 2009 MOTHER'S DAY we received Amelie's Referral! May 11, 2009 Officially Accepted Referral June 24, 2009 Received our Court Date of July 14! July 14, 2009 Reassigned new Court date of July 30th due to MOWA closure July 30th, 2009 We passed Court!!! August 3, 2009- Got news that we have an Embassy appointment for September 8th! September 3, 2009 Leaving for Addis Ababa September 5, 2009 We'll hold, kiss, hug and tickle Amelie Lin Sosena for the very first time!!! September 12, 2009 Amelie's Homecoming!!!