We have plans to move our family blog back to its old location, but with an extreme makeover from Blogs For a Cause. Our old blog dates back to 2006 with so much of our family's history. This adoption blog will become a great archive for Amelie, and will become her own, personal weblog like her brothers have. I'll be working at cleaning out and building up the new/old blog, and will give a new link when it's ready, so bear with me!
These shots were taken this weekend. We all think she's such a sweetheart!
I was amazed last evening when I sat Amelie on the floor, and she just sat there unassisted for several minutes. That was a first! Normally she was falling to either side or forward. This made me think about her bed at Toukoul. What struck me as odd was how her mattress was raised at the head, at least 6 inches or more. It was like a long slant board. This would make for some very difficult sitting, and she would probably have a tendency to fall forward like she was. I'm guessing it was raised to help her with the congestion while she slept, but we'll never know for sure.
As for the bronchitis, she is breathing better and it seems to have moved more into her sinus area. She'll be getting rechecked for the old ear infection on Friday. She's still pulling at her left ear and has started getting really annoyed with teething. Despite that, it's not affecting her sleep. She continues to sleep ALL night from around 7:30pm-8:00am and has been power napping all of this afternoon. It's great for healing and growth and she's been doing a lot of both these days!
We are having a blog makeover created by Blogs For a Cause. With the help of funds raised through this site, Nikki has traveled to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Ethiopia to do volunteer work. She has a passion for working with impoverished families and helping to improve their quality of life. I wanted to post a link to her website in case anyone else is interested in helping her out and getting an improved blog to boot!
This evening will mark exactly a week since we got home with Amelie, and she is doing so great. We took her to the doctor yesterday morning and they did x-rays on her chest because of the congestion that still lingers after two rounds of antibiotics. We're told the x-rays showed nothing significant, and the doc said she actually sounds worse than her lungs look. She has bronchitis. Instead of more antibiotics, she's taking a few days of prednisone (a steriod) to reduce the inflamation in her lungs, and we give her albuterol breathing treatments 3X a day. Her spirits are high and she's enormously joyful, eating and sleeping well. She's still sleeping through the night, approximately 12-14 hours each night, and takes two naps a day which total about 5 hours.
Amelie is a dream in so many ways! We've noticed that she's really warmed up to everyone in the family, and as a result she smiles a lot and we've seen a very goofy side of her come out. She likes to imitate what we do and shake her head back and forth after us...it gets her laughing up a storm. She also gets a big kick out of her two youngest brothers and their funny faces. Last night Sky had her rolling, which resulted in the whole family rolling!
We've worked hard at getting her to use her legs more. She sits in an ExerSaucer and a Jenny Jump Up several times a day, and I hold her and make her stand up using her legs for longer and longer periods. She gets very excited when she realizes what her legs can do! We raised the height of her Saucer and Jump Ups, so she has been jumping more wildly and with intensity these days. She is a crawler, too...when she rolled onto her tummy last night I placed a wooden spoon in front of her, just out of reach (she loves kitchen utencils). She reached for it and started pulling herself forward with her arms AND her legs! She literally crawled several inches and got the spoon! I was cheering wildly.
Amelie still loves to eat, and we have yet to find anything she dislikes. I'm going to introduce foods with slight texture to them (tiny chunks) so she can get used to more solids. Right now she needs everything to be smooth and creamy or she spits it out. Of course, it will be easier when she gets more teeth.
Her hair seems to have grown since we first met her, not to mention she's gained almost 1/2 pound already. She wears 3-6 moths clothing, and the 6-9 month clothes fit, but they're a little baggy. Her feet are Newborn size, so we've had a hard time finding shoes. Her hands and feet are both super tiny, while her head circumference is in the 'normal' range for her age. She has some healthy chub on her upper thighs, and the super bloated belly she had has gotten much smaller with the better nutrition. I get the feeling she will be a different baby in a month; we love watching her bloom in so many ways. Today we started putting her in gDiapers and it's been great just flushing her inserts down the toilet. No smell, no mess in the garbage, and best of all no plastic in the landfill.
It was so tough leaving Amelie when she was congested, and then wondering at night how she was doing. Now I know we could have taken her from the orphanage whenever we wanted to. She was legally our child, so we could have taken her to the guest house and then 'officially' checked her out through paperwork on Wednesday. At the time, Aster (the magnetic and energetic woman who oversaw the families, the guesthouse, and the transition process) had a set schedule we were supposed to follow, and to us it insinuated we had to wait at least until the staff was there Monday. She was very commanding; a matriarch who seemed to have the process down to a "t". She greeted us warmly at least twice a day, checking on us to make sure all our needs were being met, and she gave us the sense that she was really there for us. Whatever the case with any 'check-out policy', we'd planned to let Amelie warm up to us on her turf at Toukoul. To continue visiting her and spending time with her in familiar surroundings felt like a good plan. We were very happy to be able to visit her that next day, a Sunday, because our agency told us we wouldn't be able to. So many contradictions, but we weren't complaining!
One of the days before visiting her again we hopped over to the National Museum where they had a rich collection on the history of Ethiopia. The tour guide was outstanding, and we learned so much. It was so interesting that I could have easily stayed all day. The guide kept sweetly telling us "Welcome home, welcome home to Ethiopia" because it's where the earliest humans have been found. He was so warm, sincere and welcoming, and it filled my heart with a strong sense of unity. It is such a significant place in human history. We saw a huge throne that belonged to a Rastafarian prince, along with Lucy's bones. Lucy dates back 3.2 million years and we actually got to see the bones in person...we didn't expect that. Ethiopia was once such a thriving country, and as the guide discussed this he noted how symbolic the deteriorating relics are when compared to the current downfall of the country. "Ethiopia is like that" as he pointed to a crumbling vase... he noted that the much older vases were not falling apart, and that the newer things just didn't hold together as well, much like the modern problems with the country. Sounds similar to present day American products, only many of ours only last a few months!
The museum, and the rides around Addis in heavy smog are pretty much all the sightseeing we did. There were masses of people who varied greatly from those in business suits to people wearing draped cloth while herding large numbers of goats. There was a festive feeling because of the upcoming New Years celebrations taking place September 10th and 11th. We didn't feel as stared at as we were in India, and when we were looked it we received smiles of acceptance. Originally, we planned to explore outside Addis and view a lush countryside that I've heard rivals Alaska, but we ended up having a very hard time breathing and decided to focus more on Amelie and taking care of ourselves. That second day we had a very good visit, and her rattling chest sounded significantly better. She was more alert and started babbling a lot. She smiled and interacted with us, and recognized us from the first visit. She chugged a whole 7 ounces of organic soy formula we brought her, and we got the sense she could have taken much more. She ended up falling asleep on Daniel and he was in Heaven, talking about the bonding he could feel happening. It was also the very first day we heard her cry, and it was music to my ears. We had her for several hours and it just happened to be porridge time. She was extremely hungry, so we let her go to have her usual afternoon feeding. The group went back to the guest house and we all started talking about when we'd take our babies for good.
Should we take her tomorrow, should we wait another day or two? Amelie seemed okay, and was really warming up to us. We decided to play it by ear each day. One couple decided to take their twins that Monday, but Daniel and I were unsure how we'd be with the extreme time change and our severe lack of sleep. We really believed we would lose a significant amount of sleep had we taken her sooner, and we were still severely jet lagged. Waking up at midnight, unable to sleep for hours. We had not slept well in several days and wanted to start out with Amelie in good shape. Little did we know we had an angel/Zen/Buddha baby on our hands that would have slept like a dream!
By the time Tuesday rolled around we'd visited Amelie every day for several hours. It was one day before we were to check her out for good and she seemed extremely comfortable with us, not to mention we were very well rested after finally succumbing to sleeping pills. So, we took her with us that evening and she shocked us by sleeping all night in unfamiliar surroundings. Over 12 hours to be exact, and we had to wake her up in the morning. Imagine that, waking a sleeping baby! During the day, she seemed most comfortable in her crib, and took several naps. She was extremely mellow, easygoing, and seemed to study every detail around her with great focus. Looking into her eyes, we knew some major wheels were turning. She rarely got noisy unless she became bored, and then she entertained herself with interesting vowels and consonants.
When we went back to Toukoul Wednesday, a nurse came around and spoke to each family individually about the child's history and present condition. We thought, "finally we can ask for antibiotics!" For days we'd been asking about them, demanding them, but getting no where. Her chest was slowly sounding better, though, and we noticed all the kids had bad chest colds going around. The nurse sat down and said "Aaah, Sosena! She is known as our 'Black Diamond'." Daniel and I were so touched because she had such a reverence for Amelie and her dark color. She touched her face and gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. Daniel thanked her for telling us that, and told her it made him want to cry. Really, I could feel tears in my eyes. She went on to explain "Sosena is such good baby, and very smart, too." She mentioned her chest congestion, and said she'd been taking antibiotics and cough syrup. She left to get the bottles for us to take. When she brought them back they were new bottles, never opened and we still wonder if she was on them, or if she started taking them that day when we gave them to her.
Toukoul orphanage gave us a hand embroidered bag with her medical history and a beautiful traditional dress inside. They also gave us a tour of where Amelie spent her time eating and sleeping. The grounds were a mixture of gritty, dust covered asphalt with a few buildings and a garden area. Children's laundry hung everywhere- on trees, lines, playground equipment, anywhere they could hang it, there it was. We could hear the constant sound of older kids playing outside, some wearing only one shoe playing with a tattered soccer ball (it really didn't even look like a ball any more but they didn't care), and children were often singing songs. At one point I walked across a deck where toddlers were looking out of an all glass room. They clamored to the windows in a frenzy, almost as if they were anxious to get out or have the stimulation of seeing a new person. They were all so beautiful and bright-eyed. Daniel gazed at one child's almond eyes and decided he needed to get away before he got any ideas of wanting to take another one home! He spoke of that child's eyes a while, and I kept making him change the subject... Amelie is #5 and finished, not #5 and counting!
Every time we pulled into Toukoul there were kids happily greeting us at the gate. They waved, smiled, and I will never forget one young boy blowing us kisses. I looked at all of them and saw Amelie. I thought about her fate versus theirs, and I wondered how hard it must be for them to see us coming for little babies. I think of our Prasad and how many times he had to endure seeing babies leave, and it was never, ever his turn to go for almost 7 years. He watched people nurture those babies, holding and loving them in a way that he so desperately craved. It was no wonder he was waiting angrily at home, dreading the prospect of having a baby in the house. The resentment and pain are deep. I saw Prasad in all those boys, and knew that no matter how much love and kisses they blew our way, they felt left out. One boy sneaked into the family room area where we all sat and gave Daniel a zillion high-fives until they were both all giggles. It had to be a high point of his day, his month, or his year until a caregiver came in and scolded him. Those kids are etched in our hearts and minds.
Anyway, the room where Amelie stayed was on the very top floor of a 4 story building. It wasn't as clean and well maintained as Prasad's orphanage in India, but there was a vibration of love that filled the air. They really nurtured each and every baby, holding them while they were fed, kissing their cheeks and hands often, playing and interacting. The babies are given a great deal of human contact, which explained Amelie's strong and prolonged eye contact. Her bed was at the end of a very long row of beds that filled the entire wall. Three walls had cribs all around them with a mattress in the center of the floor where the babies laid and played. It didn't have the sour smell of giardia I remembered from Prasad's orphanage. They kept the babies very clean. Seeing her empty bed there was eerie, but in a bittersweet way. I imagined all the times she laid there, needing her family when she cried. I also rejoiced in seeing it empty, knowing she'd never lay in it again. When it was time to leave for that day, it was an amazing feeling knowing we would never return, and that her days at the orphanage were completely over. A new chapter in her life was just beginning.
Next- the Ethiopian New Year, and my food conundrum
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
Each child is adjusting and adapting very well to a new baby in the family, but each one is dealing with it differently.
Sorin: She has been so head over heels in love with Amelie that she has asked to be her mommy! When she wakes up in the mornings she always asks how Amelie is, where she is, etc. When she holds her it is with a gentle level of deep nurturing I have never seen in her. She told Daniel last evening that she adores Amelie more than anything in this world. She showers her baby sister with love constantly, and I have had to make sure Amelie knows who her mommy is by stepping in and making sure I do most or all of the feeding and care giving. We don't want a confused attachment.
Liam: Liam is adorable. He is all accepting, and has always been one to go with the flow and accept changes well. As long as his routine is in tact, anything else happening is fine with him. I noticed at first he would just walk up and stare at Amelie with curiosity. Today when I walked into his room and he saw Amelie in my arms he waved at her and smiled! He never waves at family members in the house, so it was very special....his way of saying "Hello, Amelie!"
Prasad: With Prasad it's a bit more complicated than it is with our other children. Prasad was the "latest" addition to our family, the newest member. Now he isn't. And seeing a baby every day getting babied and loved the way she does makes him sad for himself and the nurturing he thinks he didn't receive as an infant. He has stated that he wishes he could be a baby and get carried around and loved like that. We have been proud of his honesty and openness about his feelings, and we value them. We reassure him that he is our baby, no matter how old he gets, and that he is loved every bit as much as Amelie. Today was the first day in which he didn't feel shy with Amelie, and he started playing with her. She lights up at his antics because he's so animated and goofy. She's fascinated by him and he is so touched by that. He was SO PROUD of her in is classroom today, so he's starting to accept the change well.
Sky: What can I say? Sky is a "Baby Lovin' Fool" and therefore has become a serious Amelie FANATIC. He laughs at everything she does, enjoys watching me dress her, always comments on her outfits and how cute she is, wants to hold her, and seems completely obsessed with her every move. When I babysat Cecilia I used to wonder if his baby fascination would be the same if it were a family member who he sees 24/7. Well, he's completely smitten with Amelie and can't seem to get enough. He isn't going through the serious issues we see with Prasad because Sky has already experienced the addition of a child. He isn't feeling replaced or lost about what his role in our family is. Instead he feels a great deal of responsibility now. I overheard him telling Prasad "We have a VERY important job with Amelie. We will be teaching her so many things in life, and she will look up to us. It is a big responsibility to live up to, Prasad." Our little Mayan Shaman is so right.
Amelie got all dressed up for her debut at the elementary school this morning. Sky and Prasad were both begging me to bring her the last two days, so I walked them to school this morning with Amelie in my new, back saving Ergo carrier. She loves being carried around, tummy to tummy and stares at my face almost the whole time. The outdoors calms her so much that we've noticed she can sit outside for hours, just observing everything. Prasad has started calling her his "Observer" (he actually says 'osurbur' and it's cute) and keeps telling everyone how she likes to study everything. We'd all give anything to get inside her head and know what she's thinking because she gets so focused!
Last night she sat at the table and had dinner with Daddy and I, and she is still such a voracious eater. She's been wolfing down the porridge that Prasad and I prepared almost 2 months ago and we have yet to find anything she dislikes. As long as it's pureed enough she will eat it. She has two tiny bottom teeth that just emerged, so she's not able to chew textured foods yet. She constantly has two fingers in her mouth due to teething and a need to self-soothe. One of the first things we noticed about her is that she is a master at self-soothing...any time she gets upset or irritable she cries for a short burst and then sticks her fingers in her mouth with a calm sigh of relief. Her fingers seem to be her best friend, and I'm sure they helped her through some rough times at the orphanage.
We learned in Ethiopia that Amelie had excellent receptive language skills. She understood people in Amharic quite well, and was very responsive to them. People would comment on how much she seemed to understand, and how bright she was. Of course, now she seems almost oblivious to what we're saying but it's good to know that skill is there in her brain and she will probably regain it very fast. At the school today, teachers noticed how acutely aware she is of everything around her. I am so grateful for all these abilities and I find myself constantly trying to imagine a time when we'll be having endless conversations with her.
Meanwhile, she has continued to sleep through the night since the day we took her from Toukoul. She sleeps anywhere from 11-12 uninterrupted hours per night, and takes at least 3 naps a day. When we lay her in the crib she doesn't get upset at all, and always soothes herself to sleep. She seems extremely content in bed. She rarely cries unless there is something serious happening like hunger, fatigue or when Mommy gets her leg twisted in the Ergo, poor girl! Strangely, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop but it just isn't happening (yet). She is an amazing baby, a Buddha Baby, and I feel so blessed to have such a light transition from 4 to 5 children. The universe has been very kind to us this time around.
Meeting my sister, Stephanie, at the Chicago O'Hare airport to drop off Sky 9/3/09
Me getting some sun at the Toukoul guest house
The flight to Addis was uneventful with few delays. It was LONG, a couple hours up to Chicago so we could drop off Sky with my sister, a layover, then a couple hours to Washington DC, and another layover with a short delay until finally we got on our 16 hour flight to Addis. We stopped in Rome for refueling and I didn't realize that meant stopping for a full hour or more. It marked the half way point in our minds, but we were agonizing to get off the plane at that point. The hour felt like forever. We'd flown longer to Mumbai, India 2 1/2 years earlier (21 hours), but it's funny how the mind completely forgets the suffering of international travel. Overall it was about 30 hours of travel time, so when we arrived in Addis around 10:00am we didn't even know what day it was and were suffering from delirium. NO SLEEP on the plane. I think I fell asleep for a total of 20 minutes because I just cannot sleep sitting upright. Anyway, we left on September 3rd and when we arrived it was September 5th.
The airport was smaller than anticipated, and much cleaner than I'd imagined for a third world country. It was easy to find where to go, and there was a simplicity to the airport that took the usual fear and uncertainty out of the equation. When we landed in Mumbai, India it was a huge airport with masses and masses of people, grime everywhere and a grittiness that hummed through our bones, not to mention the sour smell of a bad sewer system, and indecribable public restrooms (I won't go there). Addis was surprisingly nice, even their bathrooms, and on the outside looked strangely space-age modern with all glass and metal construction. It had a lot of natural lighting. The air was filled with the smell of petro fumes and I knew it would only get worse once we got in the car.
We were able to stay with three other American families at the Toukoul guest house, and we met up with them at the airport. This gave us a sense of security we didn't have with our other adoptions in country. We all rode from the airport to the guest house together and spent days getting to know one another during meal times and outings. I'm not AT ALL a socializer by nature, and I have never spent so much time in conversation before, but it was very good for me. I never really tired of the interaction and it must have been because I was so grateful to share the experience with others who were going through the very same exciting but stressful, new experiences. There was the Waits family from Colorado who met their beautiful twin girls, then Gary and his 17 year old daughter, Morgan from Ottawa, Kansas who adopted a baby girl along with a boy who has Downs syndrome, and then there was the single mom, Rebecca from Seattle who really touched our hearts with her determination. She adopted two infant girls and traveled alone. The work she went through to take care of, and get those girls home ALL BY HERSELF showed the power of a mother's love. Her girls are amazing and we're hoping she made it home without too much trouble on her flights.
The drive from the airport to the guest house wasn't long, so we got a brief look at the city. It was sunny, around 70 degrees. Perfect weather. There are zillions of blue taxis and buses, along with small merchants and shops beside the road next to shanty corrugated metal buildings that remind me of something my son, Sky, would enjoy building with his Legos. There are modern structures and sometimes very nice homes next to what I'd call slum houses. This disparity between wealth and poverty is present in all third world countries, but Addis wasn't what I'd call terrible. Compared to what we saw and experienced in India it was mild. I found myself looking for the little rickshaw cars, the mangy and tattered clothing, religious symbols, the festively painted cars, dogs sleeping at the center of the roads, people lying in them, cows blocking them, the heavy traffic, and maimed beggars banging against the car at every turn, but it just wasn't like that. Addis, for us, was quite civilized with orderly traffic and a reasonably clean feel. The air was thick with smog, and the beggars who did come to the car windows were very happy to receive protein bars and food donations. The beggars in India wouldn't accept food and always demanded rupees (and were far worse off looking). They were often small children. My heart had already been torn to shreds seeing the severity of India's poverty, so I was better able to handle it this time around.
I think it's important to take it in, no matter how difficult it is to look at. To look poverty right in the face and see it as a reality cultivates a deeper compassion for mankind. I get upset when I hear people say things like "Oh, I just can't stand seeing the poverty and how people suffer, so I don't think I want to go back." That is not compassion. It helps no one to turn a blind eye. I know someone who really disliked the film "Slumdog Millionaire" for the same reason, but I think people are missing the core message when they view things purely on what they see with their human eyes. Poverty, scum and suffering bring us to a different level of consciousness if we're open to it. As Americans, we have grown so accustomed to physical comfort and wealth that we often don't want to know what exists on the other side of the world, and how most of the world has to live. For me, I have grown to appreciate every small bit of physical comfort we have. But physical comforts are not the only wealth in the world... in both India and Ethiopia I experienced a wealth that we don't have here. Both spiritual and psychological, and they have an authenticity we're severely lacking. That could be a whole post in itself, so I won't even go there. Let's just say we have a poverty of our own. One could say that the whole world is a mirror, and when we see something that makes us uncomfortable we need to ask ourselves "What is it in us that is lacking, or ugly or impoverished that we do not want to look at?" There are some beautiful lessons to be had when we leave our comfort zone.
After arriving at the guest house we had to notify our attorney that we arrived before venturing out to the orphanage. Our agency director had informed us several times that we'd definitely meet with the lawyer that day (Saturday), but the lawyer said "No, no, Saturday and Sunday are my days off. We meet Monday." This became a theme throughout the trip- being told one thing by someone and finding out something completely different by someone else. The communication barrier was huge, and we found ourselves lost and frustrated when trying to convey things, set schedules with staff, make requests, etc. It was comical, really. We laughed about it a lot. We also laughed about our TINY room. I think it was about 10' X 12' with two cribs and a full size bed squeezed in. No walking room! The other three families had large suites, but they all had 2 children so we didn't complain. We spent a great deal of time walking around the grounds, enjoying the patio and trees, and walking the quiet streets. The staff at the guest house was EXTEMELY warm and hospitable, and they went overboard trying to meet our every need. I recall at one point being told by the staff that Amelie was a very lucky baby because she was going to live in a country "with many comforts." I told them, "No, no, America is VERY lucky to be getting a beautiful Ethiopian girl like Amelie!" I was looked at with amazement. Their idea that we're so used to our 'comforts' gets them trying very hard to make sure that we are comfortable.
The guest house is affiliated with the orphanage, which made things pretty easy when it came to planning visits. We were encouraged by our agency to stay there, and had heard horror stories about families who hadn't stayed there. After arriving we realized that we could've saved a lot of money had we stayed at the Hilton, but we just didn't want any kinks during our stay. I'd heard about families having trouble with the lawyer and not being allowed to check their children out of Toukoul because they stayed elsewhere. Sounds very unfair, but no thanks. We avoided that one and had a flawless process, so we didn't mind spending the extra money. Sure, I would've liked a bigger room, different food, our own driver, etc. but overall it was a great place to stay with an amazing staff of loving people we will never forget.
I'm having trouble getting started on a post because I don't know where to begin, so I'll start by talking about what's happening RIGHT NOW, and do another post later about how the trip went. For now, Amelie continues to do great and she feels like such a natural part of our family. Thinking back to the days we didn't have her here gives me an odd and empty feeling. She is deeply secure about the world, so she has a calm and trusting way about her. This speaks volumes for her care and treatment at Toukoul. In Ethiopia they view children as great gems and value them so highly...they really walk their talk in that regard. Everywhere we went she was showered in love, smiles and kisses, and we could see she was accustomed to this treatment. She has always felt loved and adored, and that will be with her for a lifetime. She has a deeply inquisitive and serious side, almost as if she is doing calculus in her head, or pondering the origins of the universe. She studies everything so closely, and doesn't have that typical "google-eyed" look we see so often in babies. She has a very wise, old soul. This was so apparent to me when we first met her that I was somewhat intimadated by it...it REALLY feels like she knows more than I do on some level. It's hard to describe.
Her favorite toys are her plastic links and a Dachsund rattle from Cecilia's mother. She likes to take the links and bang them on the table, listening to all the noise she can make and then yelling about it in an excited way. She babbles often, and says "Da-da, Ma-ma, Ba-ba" along with making funny spit noises that the boys laugh about. She is extremely social and interactive, reaches for almost everything, and loves to examine the details on my hands. She reaches for our faces and touches them, and her favorite game is tug-of-war with yarn or fabrics (it always gets her laughing up a storm). Speaking of fabrics, she is very interested in textures and loves blankets. She falls asleep with her right index and middle fingers in her mouth, while her left hand pulls a soft blanket up to her cheek. I think she will be one of those toddlers with a blanket fettish!
Amelie is more like a 5-6 month old developmentally. She can sit up on her own for short periods, roll from back to tummy and tummy to back, and scoots backwards on her tummy. She isn't crawling and her legs are under toned from lying in a crib for so long. I was very concerned when we first met her because her legs just hung like a rag doll, but she is using them a lot now (kicking and pushing), so we'll be getting her a lot of things to help build strength. We got an Exersaucer yesterday that we're still struggling to put together, and we plan to get a bouncy type of seat to give her legs a workout.
Interestingly, when we met her the first three days at Toukoul she seemed somewhat lethargic and just too quiet. Since taking her she has started to blossom. At the airport in Washington DC she started squealing, talking, interacting more and bouncing up and down with her legs. I was shocked, but I think it helped her to get out of the Addis pollution and very high altitude. She was lacking oxygen already due to a chest and sinus infection, and the airplane and airport air (if you can believe it) were therapeutic. Not to mention the 24/7 stimulation and nutrition she was getting from us. She swigs down bottle after bottle of formula and never spits up...quite an eater.
Today she is recovering. The sinus, ear and chest infections have zapped her energy. We switched antibiotics when we got home, so we're hoping to see it all clear up in a few days, but we're thinking when it's all over she will be a different girl. She has always slept through the night, but we don't know if this is due to her illness or not. For a baby that feels so terrible she has been such a calm trooper...we look so forward to getting to know her more!
Amelie meets Aunt Stephanie, cousin Zoe, and her brother Sky at at the O'Hare airport after we landed from Washington Dulles & Addis
Daniel and I at O'Hare airport with Amelie, Sky and my niece Zoe (we still had 1 more flight left and were zonked!)
It was a beautiful trip and Amelie is a DREAM!!! We'll be posting pics and details soon. We all got home around 10:30 last night and are pretty wiped out. Our travel was over 31 hours with ZERO sleep. What a journey, and soooo worth every minute. When I walked inside our house last night and looked at our whole family together I couldn't stop thinking about what a beautiful and absolutely amazing family we have. I am so blessed. A post is coming soon, but seriously I have a hard time just finding the strength to type these days. Lots of rest is needed and Amelie has been sleeping through every night we've had her, so I'm sure we'll be rested up soon.
We're leaving the house tomorrow morning at 7:30am! A sitter will be here, Julie, who will stay with Prasad until school starts. I can't even imagine what it's going to be like being separated from him for 10 days. He's doing well, hanging in there and is trying so hard to stay positive. He keeps talking about "the adventure" he's going to have with his three babysitters and Grammy Lin. I told him to please keep the house in order, take care of the pets, and help out whenever the sitters need it. He loves feeling as if we left some responsibility in his hands.
Daniel worked 1/2 day yesterday and has today off (he's fielding calls at home). We're scurrying around finishing up last minute details- banking, sitter notes, packing for Liam's 2 visits to his dad's, packing for Sky, etc. Not to mention the last 2 loads of laundry I'm doing so we can come home to drawers full of clean undies!
We'll be attempting to e-mail and phone if/when possible, but communication from Addis is tricky unless we want to spend an arm and a leg.
We heard from another visiting family who met Amelie recently, and we were told:
message 1) "Amelie is PERFECT! She was happy and well cared for. When she went to get her passport I was there and she did not like having her picture taken."
message 2) "She looks about the same size as our babies. Ours are 12 and 14lbs, they fit in 3-6 month clothing. The 6 month clothing is a little large on them. I don't know about the hair because they keep them so covered all the time but I do know she had much more than ours. She is truly gorgeous you are so lucky! She seemed happy and well loved. She took the pictures several times [for the passport] but was never fussy. Each chlid had a nanny. They all came over on a big bus together not one child was crying! It was amazing."
This information was so precious, considering we haven't received an update or photos for over two months. It brought huge smiles to our faces. Thanks so muchto Ms. TracyLowery who recognized her in the orphanage and gave Amelie a kiss on the cheek for us! It means more than we can say. Amelie seems so real in our minds now, not just our hearts. It's starting to feel like she's here with us already.We're ALMOST THERE! Our next post will be filled with pictures of Amelie!
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!!!