I've compared pregnancy with adoption before. When we first started the process and people told me adoption was hard, I (very pridefully) thought "Sure, but I've given birth with no pain meds. It can't be harder than that."
Let me tell you, friends. Adoption is harder than birth with no pain meds. (okay, I have to qualify that - I had a birth where I intended not to have pain meds and was very prepared. I have a few friends who wound up with unmedicated births when they had no plans to do it that way.... that might be the hardest!!!). Or maybe it's all just hard. Becoming a mom is the most joyful and most difficult process you'll ever experience, regardless of how that child lands in your family.
Because I was sick Thursday night and Riley had been sick during the day, we asked Abey to pick us up a little later than usual for our last visit with our boy. We slept in a little bit and Rob woke up feeling bad. He managed not to actually get sick, but here's a little plug for bringing Cipro with you: If you're traveling to Addis - don't forget the Cipro!
Riley cried that morning as we were getting ready. He said, "I don't want this to be our last visit with A___." I just hugged him and told him I understood. We drove to the orphanage that morning in silence. I just kept wondering how in the world I was going to hold it together when it was time to leave. I had already burst into tears several times during the trip just thinking about it. As surreal as it was to finally be meeting him on that first day, it was just as surreal that we were actually going to have to say goodbye.
We got to the orphanage and spent another absolutely joyful hour playing with A. We played with the other kids in his room, who by now we really felt like we'd gotten to know. Another little boy was really interested in Riley that day, too. He's quite a hit in Ethiopia - ha ha. A is getting close to walking. He'll be walking by the time he's home, that's for certain! My bet is he'll be walking by the end of summer.
At one point I pulled A onto my lap, facing me. I put my forehead to his and whispered a prayer in my heart that God would bless this adoption, that we would not have to be apart for as long as I feared. I held him close and just tried to capture the feeling in my heart so that I could always remember how it feels to hold him during the long months when we are so far apart. I started to get teary so I had to let him go. I really didn't want to start crying any earlier than I had to.
And suddenly, the hour was over. Rob turned to me and said "It's about time to go." I lost it. There was no graceful goodbye, no tears-in-the-eyes sweet farewell. I took a deep breath, placed my hands on either side of A's face, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and I had to get out of there. I did NOT want to cry in front of all the kids. I said to the caregiver as the tears started down my cheeks and said, "It's time for us to go" and I was out the door.
A's room is on the 2nd level and there is a little landing outside his door before you get to the stairs. I went around the corner, put my face in my hands and just wept. There is no easy way to say goodbye to a child. It is so difficult to meet a child you love, one you desperately want in your family, and walk out the door, not knowing when you'll see him again. We have absolutely no idea how long it will be until we see him again.
Rob said one of the caregivers started crying when I left. I can't imagine how hard it is on their side. They love the kids but know they will leave. And they see the pain the adoptive parents go through when they have to walk out the door of the orphanage, leaving precious children behind.
I pulled it together long enough to get all of us in the car, only to start crying again as the car pulled away. By this time Rob was crying too. Riley very sweetly held out his arm and said "Hey Mommy, wanna use my fleece to dry your tears?"
Everyone's stomach was still recovering and we needed some comfort food, so we decided to eat American food for lunch. After a quick stop at Tomocca Cafe to buy some coffee to take home, we ate at Island Breeze. Their brick oven pizza was really good. And we ran into some Americans there. They were missionaries from Raleigh! It was great to get to talk with them and hear what they've been up to.
We pulled ourselves together, ate a good lunch and prepared for the afternoon. We were going to be visiting the government orphanages that afternoon. I have to say that's probably not the best activity just after saying goodbye. It was tough.
We only visited two of the three orphanages our agency supports. There was a new manager at Kolfe, the boys' home, so we weren't able to visit there that day. We visited Kebeteshaye, the orphanage for babies through age 8, and then Kechene, the Girls Home.
Before I tell you about our afternoon I want to make a quick note: I do not like poverty tours. The idea of traveling somewhere with the sole purpose of viewing the struggles of other human beings makes me shudder. There are trips in which you can travel to third-world countries and are guided around to see their misery, their brokenness. (Actually, I even heard of some of that going on in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina). I guess the point of things like that is to bring awareness. But in my opinion, it seems like a bunch of wealthy people sticking cameras in the faces of their brothers and sisters who are suffering. You can get a great "tour" of poverty by going and working alongside those in poverty. Be wary of trips where you aren't actually going to be doing any work.
So...going to the orphanages without any specific job we were there to do was very uncomfortable for me. However, I think it is important for adoptive families to see the reality for many kids in Addis. Our boy is in the Gladney care home - he has 6 children in his room with two caregivers. The baby room at Kebeteshaye had 45 babies in one room, 2 to a crib, with three caregivers. Big difference.
Our time in the baby room was a little frenzied. Forty-five babies. Three caregivers. We went around picking up crying babies; every baby we picked up was wet. It's not that the caregivers aren't doing their jobs - they are just vastly outnumbered. There were very few moments in there when I wasn't tending to more than one kiddo at a time - holding one, and rocking/patting another that was still in his/her crib. Most of the babies in there were less than 4 months old, but there were 4-5 who were older. The oldest stood up in his crib and held his arms up to me. I was already holding a baby, but I just shifted the baby to one arm and used the other to pick up the older one. He was soaking wet. We changed his diaper and he got right back into my arms and clung to me. He grabbed my shirt in his fist and did not let go the entire time I was there. When it was time to leave, I pointed to the picture of a couple that was above his crib - he was going to be adopted. He smiled at the picture but when I put him down, he just crumpled to the floor of his crib and cried.
Tell me how it could even be possible NOT to adopt again after being in that room. Forty-five babies. Most dropped off by the police because they'd been abandoned. And that was just one of the two baby rooms. We didn't spend much time in the other room but I did notice that one baby was in a carseat on a chair. No crib for that tiny one - just a carseat.
We went next to the girls home, Kechene. Many of the girls started out at the home for babies and younger children. There was a little boy there, Simon, who was a little older than Riley. Another family that was with us had brought their 6 year old and Simon just grabbed the boys' hands and let them around. Anbes, the Gladney in-country staff member, told us Simon had been there at least three years. I think he was at the girls home because he had an older sister. Simon showed us all around - showed us their bedrooms, which were lined with bunk beds all across every wall with a table in the middle. About 12 girls per room. I'm not sure how many adults are there at any given time.
The other thing about the older kids' homes is that kids are often there temporarily. For example, if a single parent goes to jail, the police take his/her kids and brings them to the orphanage. They stay there until their parent/s can come back to get them. Can you imagine how scary that would be for a child?
I am glad I went to see the government orphanages. I think it is important for adoptive parents to see it. You don't have to go, it's just something that our agency offers. I do wish there were something we could do while we're there, but I know Gladney doesn't have the staff to arrange for that kind of thing. I actually plan to ask if I can go back when we return to Ethiopia. Not because I want to see it again - trust me, seeing something like that once in a lifetime is enough. But because I want to go back in and love on those babies. Pick them up and cuddle them, pray for them and just let them feel loved even if for only 20 minutes. To take some of the burden off of those caregivers, even if it's just a little bit.
Needless to say, Friday was a tough day. We were exhausted. And honestly, once there was no longer an opportunity to go back and see our boy, I just wanted to go home. I missed Allyn. But we still had one more leg of our trip - traveling to Gondar to learn more about our boy's homeland.
And, oh my, was our Gondar trip a doozy... :)