Travel Day 2: US Embassy

We were still basking in the glow of our new children as we raced across town for our Embassy appointments. We piled out and went through two layers of security, giving up our cameras and cell phones.

We waited on benches with Ethiopians applying for working visas, student visas and other transactions with our government. Then we were called through to wait in another line, while they called our names, one at a time.

While we waited, we hung out with our kids in a shady courtyard with white flowers and a small lawn that was being cut by a maintenance worker with a pair of hedge trimmers.

We learned a bit more about the couple from Colorado, who were adopting a baby girl. This was a rough trip for them, as their daughter is in the hospital with pneumonia, so they are unsure when they can take her home. She was brought to the Embassy appointment with an i.v. still in her arm, and looking a little unhappy. They had not had a chance to really take over care of their daughter, and continue to be in a holding pattern.

He works as a commercial real estate developer, and she was a teacher, before having four kids. She taught for ten years in South Central Los Angeles, so has a patience and understanding beyond most parents. I found out that he went to the same college as me – Vanguard University of Southern California (called Southern California College in our time), and graduated several years before me. They have four other kids and really wanted to adopt to add on and care for another child who doesn’t have a family. Their patience, trust and faith have been inspirational to all of us, and we can’t help but feel for them while they travel with us to our different events and appointments, but without their girl in their arms.

The Embassy appointment was a lot of buildup for a two-minute interview across a plexiglass window. We were told that the adoption will be final, we raised our right hand and swore that the information in the documents was truthful. We vouched for the agency, that they had not given us a different child than was referred to us. We were asked what we know about the birth parents. The woman at the window was from Rochester, Michigan, and very friendly. She told us the Ethiopian passport would be ready in a couple of days (the agency would pick it up) and that we would need to do a re-adopt process in Michigan.

So we were off!

Abby slept as we drove back through Addis Ababa, taking in the palace, the university, the National Museum, home of Lucy. We saw donkeys and goats, Mercedes cars and Suzuki trucks. We saw Somali refugees and Muslims in burkas. We saw students in uniforms and colorful fruit stands.

Back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the day with our girl. We had a family nap together, we ate lunch and dinner in the hotel restaurant, with other families that would come and go. We tried some Doro Wat – very spicy Ethiopian food – with injera bread (made from teff, a grain endemic to Ethiopia). We watched kids in the field across the street in a three-hour soccer practice that only ended when it was pitch-black outside, and would resume the next day in the rain.

We inspected Abby’s hands and feet and belly and cheeks. We just hung out and enjoyed being new parents again.

Travel Day 2: Meeting Abby

Our daughter’s name is Abebech. We will call her Abby, but have not decided on first and middle names. This is the first we can legally share this with all of you online.

So, day 2.

We tossed and turned for what seemed like just a couple hours, then got up and got all of our stuff together. We felt completely unprepared. What to bring? What to expect? Will she like us? How will we feel about her?

We met up with the other families for breakfast, and then got to meet Almaz, the director of Hannah’s Hope. Almaz has been portrayed as a bit of a rock star in the AGCI world. She cares for the children, manages the staff and facilitates the adoption process with the government agencies. She was younger and had better English than we envisioned, and we had a great first impression all around, which would be reinforced throughout our time in Ethiopia.

However, we were a day behind because of the volcano, and the clock was ticking, so we didn’t have time to chat with Almaz. We met in a conference room and received a brief orientation for the day before beginning to fill out our final paperwork for the US Embassy appointments. At that time, we got to hear our children’s names pronounced. We also gave money to be changed to Birr and decided if we wanted to buy coffee to bring home (we did), which they later delivered for us.

We finally saw a little bit of Addis Ababa by daylight. It was a beautiful, sunny day with blue skies. We weren’t far from the Hannah’s Hope transition home. We went down a bumpy dirt road and passed several buildings under construction. We entered a big gate that opened for us by a young man, the security guard. In a small courtyard by the driveway were nine children, standing or being held by the “special mothers,” waiting to meet us. It was a bit overwhelming, as more than a year of planning, praying, hoping and learning came to a head in a very short time.

The van pulled forward into the driveway, and Almaz attempted to have one family come out at a time, starting with those with older kids. So before seeing Abby, we watched a few other families have their first moments with their kids. Amazingly, it was all smiles and hugs and tears all around (tears for the grown-ups). In fact, there were only a couple of kids who cried in their new parents’ arms, but even those soon warmed up.

The emotions of our first moments with Abby are indescribable. She was immediately smiling as she rolled her head around and kicked her little feet. She looked right into Kristi’s eyes as she held her. I think we were both in shock that she was finally in our arms. It felt very right.

Now, I know that all adoption meetings don’t go this smoothly, and that doesn’t mean that others aren’t meant to be. But it feels good when things go well right off the bat.

We’re finding that Abby is a happy, calm and smiley little girl. And we were kind of proud to hear that when one of the other families visited Hannah’s Hope the day before and tried to hold Abby, she got upset and rejected them. I guess she knows who her parents are.

In Ethiopia, names tend to be either biblical, or have some meaning to them. We have heard different interpretations of what Abebech means. On her government documents, it says that the name means, “Happiness.” When we looked it up online, it said, “Blossoming Flower.” When we talked to Was, he described it with a lot of different words, not a strict translation. The sense of his interpretation was like a new hope that comes with the blooming of a beautiful flower. I guess you can call that happiness, or blossoming, or hopeful.

Abby lives up to her name. She is happy, and hopeful and beautiful. She is calm and likes to be held and will smile at anyone who smiles at her. As we sit in the hotel, Kristi got her laughing for the first time.

We can’t wait to bring her home.

Travel Day 1: Grand Rapids to Addis Abba

We left the kids at Hannah’s soccer game on Saturday morning and rushed home to load up four suitcases, two roller bags and two hand bags into Wendy and Will’s truck for a ride to the Detroit airport. Two of our suitcases were completely filled with donations, thanks to friends and family who dropped off diapers, formula, clothes and hand-made bracelets. We left with plenty of time, which was good because we ended up going to the Detroit City Airport by mistake.

After reaching Washington D.C., we met up with six other couples (one brought their ten-year-old daughter too) and had some time to share a bit of our stories before the flight. They came from Oregon, Minnesota, Kentucky, Washington, and we would later meet another couple from Colorado who took a few days to visit Israel on their way. [Note to future Ethiopian Air travelers: they enforce 15-pound weight restrictions on carry-on bags, and actually use a scale to weigh them. If they go over, they will make you check the, so pack accordingly.]

The couple I talked to the most that day was from Portland, Oregon. They consider themselves too old to have their own children, so they decided to adopt. They were going to meet their two daughters, 5 and 6, who had corresponded with them over the past few months. They got their referral before even finishing the home study and other paperwork, so they had to wait seven months before finally getting to meet them in person.

This was extremely difficult, to know them and see pictures and videos, but to have to wait so long to bring them home. One interesting thing happened to them at an Ethiopian networking dinner in their area. They happened to sit by a couple who had adopted a girl from Ethiopia, and lived just a couple of blocks away. This girl would attend the same school as their daughters, and would be in the same grade as the older one. They felt this was a sign from God that they were on the right track, and made the wait a bit more bearable.

In between flights, Kristi did a phone interview with WZZM 13, a local television station. One of our friends whose husband worked at the station, read about our struggles following the volcano, and passed it along. We were able to pull up the print version of the news piece online just as we were boarding the plane. This was the cap to a frantic last couple of weeks, and we were a little relieved to get onboard and to unplug from the world for awhile.

The plane ride was long – nine hours to Rome, an hour or two fuel-up, and another six hours to Addis Ababa. The plane was full of beautiful Ethiopian people, and some other Africans making connections in Addis. We sat across from two little twin boys, around one or two years old, whose parents patiently held, fed, changed, bounced, comforted and entertained the whole way. The parents’ exhausted faces gave us a taste of what we might expect on the flight home. During stretches in between meals, people would stand next to their seats or walk the aisles, talking to each other or taking pictures, most speaking in Amharic. This was our first real taste of Ethiopian people, and of course we fell in love with them.

When we landed in Addis, everyone clapped and a few cheered. Some of the ladies made ululations in celebration. One woman behind us cried out, “Praise God. Thank you God for safe travels. God bless us and God bless Ethiopia.” It brought tears to our eyes. We were in Africa at last.

It took awhile to buy our visa, go through immigration and get our mounds of luggage. But we chatted with an Ethiopian from Los Angeles who was bringing his 6-year-old daughter to his home country for the first time. She was beaming and talked to all of us the whole way through the line.

It was a beautiful thing to see Was and Johanes with AGCI signs for us as we emerged from customs. They took us out into a warm, dark African night where the scent of flowers mixed with diesel fuel and the many languages of the airport changed to sounds of cars and buses. We loaded up in two big buses and made our way to the Riviera Hotel. Exhausted and elated, we checked into African-style rooms with big, ornate beds, huge carved wooden closets and dark hardwood floors. It lacked some of the comfort devices of US hotels, but made up for it in hospitality and charm.

By the time we settled in, got our stuff ready for the next day and checked in at home via email and Facebook (great internet that first day), it was after midnight. Because we had lost a day, we would start the next day early – breakfast at 6:00 a.m. It was a night of fitful sleep, with jet lag and thoughts of what would happen the next day keeping us tossing and turning.

Tomorrow would be a big day in our lives.

Disrupted by a volcano

Thursday morning, the day before we leave for Ethiopia. I’m at the bus stop with the kids, and one of the moms asks me if I heard about airports closing down. Something about volcano dust.

Interesting, I think. Not a big deal. Airports close down all the time. A lot can happen and get cleared up in 30 hours. No worries.

I hear a quick mention on NPR on the drive in. Volcano dust from Iceland. Not safe for planes to fly through. Airports closed in Britain, Germany. Hmm. What a bizarre event.

Get to work, plough through my emails. Gotta get things in order before the departure and lots to do today. Can I get it all done? Oh yeah, better check out that volcano story. Uh-oh, this doesn’t look good.

What a crazy couple of days this has been for us. Who would’ve thought that after all that waiting, after all the things that could hold us up, sailing through Ethiopian court, a quick referral, avoiding new regulations that require two trips … we get sidelined by a volcano. Really?

Thousands of flights. Millions of passengers. We’re just a statistic in all this and can’t expect special treatment, but I keep thinking that this is not a vacation or a business trip. Our baby is waiting for us.

So Thursday afternoon and all evening we slogged through phone calls with our travel agent and the airlines. The airlines confirmed that our flight would be cancelled. No more optimistic thoughts now.

We had to keep playing different scenarios. What if the sky cleared up tomorrow; would our flight resume? If we postpone a week, can we get the same flights? How do we work with the US Embassy, which is very strict with their appointments? What’s the cost to change? How about a different airline? How about a different city? Dubai? Cairo? Rome? Johannesburg? Tokyo?

Our options seemed to narrow to next to nothing. Europe became out of the question. Finally, one of the other families found a flight on a different airline leaving out of DC, going through Rome. It would get us there a day late, but still on time for the Embassy appointment.

Our travel agent confirmed it, then gave us the news that it would cost twice as much as the original tickets. We would have to take one airline on the way there (and find a ride to Detroit) and we could keep our current flight for the way back, assuming Amsterdam would be cleared up in a week.

We really felt this was the only option, and jumped on it. There are four other families (out of the eight scheduled) who will take the same flight.

It’s been a day of guessing, second guessing, and ultimately giving over to God and saying We Trust. Seems to be a theme for this whole adoption experience.

So here is the upside to this whole mess. We get to bring our baby home, and only lose one day. We had an extra day to get our house in order, finish up a few work projects, and pack our stuff. We had coffee with a friend, who surprised us with our favorite lattes. Also got some much-needed extra time with the kids, who were feeding on our stress and acting out. I took a run, exhaling and pushing the stress out. Along the way I watched spring coming through the wetlands and sun making its way around gigantic clouds. Kristi connected with other families. We have one less day to have to find people to watch the kids. And we have to trust more than we would on our own.

All good things.

So off we go tomorrow to continue the journey and start a great big new chapter. Look forward to posting pictures soon – watch for Facebook next week.

Thanks for all your prayers, well-wishes and support!


The plan for baby A

This post is more than a post. It’s our baby plan for the first few months, maybe more. And it will affect a lot of you who are close to us, because we’ll be doing things that you don’t normally do with a biological baby.

The primary plan is to go underground for awhile, so some of you may only see our little girl virtually during this time.

But let me step back. For those of you who have not spent the last year talking to social workers and reading the latest research on bonding and attachment in adopted children, I’ll try to sketch out the psychology.

There is a process of bonding that occurs with babies and their parents when they are still in the fetus. They connect with their mother and father, and as they are born and go through stages of development, they build this bond as a foundation of trust that their needs will be provided for. This allows them to explore new things and create new relationships.

They also experience attachement, which is more of a series of shared experiences that bring people close to each other. Think of the hundreds of interactions that happen between a baby and its parent throughout the day.

When a baby or child is bounced around between caregivers, they don’t get a chance to build that bond and attachment, and so they don’t have a foundation to build other relationships of trust. They are stuck in a defensive or reactive mode, with the brain wired to respond to an uncertain world.

In adopted babies, the best way to build that bond is to spend lots of time together to create attachments – to be there constantly, providing for the baby’s needs, which facilitates bonding. That means being the caregiver, promptly responding to cries, lots of holding, eye contact, touch, smiling. It also means toning down the stimuli, creating predictable patterns and schedules, and just being around all the time as the sole focus of the baby’s attention.

This is massivley simplified, but you get the idea. Here are a few good articles if you want to learn more:

Bonding and Attachment: When it Goes Right (

Your Baby Yourself (

Top Ten Tips for the First Year of Placement (Deborah Gray)

Working with our agency social worker, we have laid out some plans and parameters to facilitate the bonding and attachment with our little girl. While there may be some flexibility in the timeframes, we believe it is extremely important to make these investments now so we can give our girl the foundation of strong relationships for the future.

So here is the plan:

1. We’ll be on lockdown for the first 2-3 weeks. We won’t be inviting people to come over to see the baby (although we plan to post lots of pictures here or on Facebook), and family visits will be short. We will probably whisk the baby away to the bedroom soon after introducing her to her new extended family.

2. In an effort to maintain routines, we won’t be as quick to answer the phone (or the door) for awhile. That may be a good habit to break anyway. We’ll need to focus not only on the baby, but on our other kids. I’ll be trying to be at home as much as possible, while juggling work schedules.

3. We won’t be going out much, especially to events with lots of people, noise and stimuli, for 2-3 months. This means birthday parties, church, the mall and school functions are out for baby. It doesn’t necessarily mean indoors all the time, but we have to pick and choose our outings carefully. Again, predictability and comfort are important here. We’ll ease back into the craziness soon enough.

4. We will need to be the only people holding her for the first 3 months. This might be the hardest one, as it’s typically the most natural way to bring family and friends into the life of your child. However, this is also one of the most critical aspects of bonding and it is important not to confuse that process. So bear with us because she will have a lifetime for you to love on her.

5. Finally, we will be working with our social worker to evaluate the bonding and attachment process, so we may need to extend these times if we are not hitting certain milestones of development.

For some of you, these steps seem natural and understandable. For others, it feels like you are being shut out from someone you have been supporting, praying for and looking forward to meeting. Please trust us in this process and know that all of you are very important parts of the village that will raise our child, just like you have been with our other kids.

And please pray for us. This will be a beautiful, wonderful time, but it will be inconvenient and anxious and stressful too.

Can’t wait. Can’t wait. Can’t wait to get started.


I love surprises

I do love a happy surprise and did I ever get one this week. My sweet neighbors threw me a celebration. It all started a little over a week ago when my friend Stephanie so casually invited me over to do coffee over spring break. Sounded simple enough. She is a social butterfly and always opening up her home, so I didn’t think anything of it. In fact, I was looking forward to it all week. Thinking that it would be just the right thing to do on the last weekday of spring break. So the day before, she called to confirm that I was in fact going to be there. In retrospect, a bit fishy if you ask me, but honestly, my mind is in a zillion different places at one time so I didn’t give it a thought.

Now, Friday morning comes and I get all decked out in my cute Africa shirt from Whitney. The phone rings and Stephanie asked if I could bring over coffee creamer. Sure, no problem. Then she tells me she is just finishing feeding the baby so could I give her ten minutes. That should have given it away. She normally doesn’t care about that, but again, the mind all over the place thing.

Ten minutes passes and the kids hop on their bikes and we make the two-minute walk.  I see a van, a stroller, nothing out of the ordinary. Go to the door, go in and SURPRISE – my neighbors were all there to celebrate. Food, decorations, gifts … what a treat!

The coolest gift was a team effort.  My friend Kendra’s parents lived in Ethiopia several years ago.  When Kendra heard our story she asked if they would give something to us that they had brought back from their time in Ethiopia. So cool, right?! It gets better. Stephanie went around to the neighbor kids and traced their handprints on colored paper, cut them out and stapled them to colorful straws and turned them into a sweet bouquet to welcome our baby girl into the neighborhood. How cool is that?!!

Of course, I cried.  All these hands, all to welcome our daughter.

To say that I was touched by this would be an understatement.  Every time I look at that vase I am flooded with emotion.  Not just because of what my neighbor friends did for me but because what it shows me. That we are completely embraced by our community, friends, family. That our journey has touched others. That baby girl is so loved and we haven’t even held her in our arms. I am so humbled by this journey, that God would call on us to follow him in this way. That others show us so much compassion. We are blessed.


Out of the hospital

We found out on Tuesday that baby girl was out of the hospital. They said they are glad to have her back and that she is so happy and playful. She has recovered from severe pneumonia, thank goodness!

We also received updated pictures. Oh my word. She is not the tiny baby girl who was in the referral pictures in February. Oh no, she is pure CHUNK and I can’t wait to kiss those cheeks.  Let me tell ya, they are oh so kissable. I have actually requested that they double-check the measurements we were given last week because she looks like she weighs more than what we were told in the update.

So, the countdown continues. We have the crib assembled now in our room. The kids helped us clean it up and get it ready. We have all of our help in place to manage our kids. We have a call out to anyone in the area that might want to donate a can of soy formula or a package of diapers to add to our donations. Our daughter, Hannah, is collecting friendship bracelets to give to the older kids who are waiting for adoption. We are making progress on plans, but we are down to the wire now.

I will not get too stressed or too anxious about the details. I rely on my God to give me peace and comfort. Okay, so feel free to ask me next week if I’m freaking out. And if I am, remind me of this, please.

Much love to all of you!


So much

So much to be thankful for, so much to do, so much to pack, so much to plan, just … so …  much.

First, we did receive this update today:

Baby girl is still in the hospital, but she is doing a lot better. We hope that she will be discharged soon, sometime in the next couple of days. We are told that it was severe pneumonia and it takes a long time to feel well in infants. Today, all day she has not been on oxygen. And she has been feeding normally. So will for sure update you as soon as anything new comes up or/and when she gets discharged.

That helped to ease some major anxiety.  Jesse and I have not been having the best dreams the past few nights and I think it was because we had not received an update before the weekend. So today we are thankful for baby girl being on the mend.

So much to do, yes. We leave very soon and there is a lot to organize before then. Just making the lists and getting things crossed off is crazy. Not to mention getting our house in order for all the amazing people who have stepped up to help us. I haven’t even finalized the details for our people who are sacrificing their time to be with our kids at home. See what I mean?!

I wan’t so much to spend quality time with my awesome kiddos at home. I don’t want to get so caught up in the preparation for leaving that I don’t take to be in the moment with them. Their lives are about to change and I want to cherish everything with them.

So, there you have it. So much.


Things are starting to happen

The tone of our blog is about to change. We’re moving from the stage of thinking and dreaming to pure action. Every day we have more things to do, more steps in the process completed, more of the end (or the beginning) in sight.

We now have a confirmed travel date which is coming up quickly. We have purchased tickets for the trip through an international travel agent. It was disappointing that we could not use the 150,0000 frequent flier miles I had been banking. Those would get us from here to Amsterdam, but the ticket from Amsterdam to Addis Ababa would cost just as much.

That wasn’t the only thing that was counter-intuitive. We also have a layover of 45 minutes in Sudan on the way there. Apparently, it’s perfectly safe and just the way you have to go to get into Addis, but will make for an interesting pause on the tarmac.

We will travel with at least five other families with All God’s Children, although our travel agent told us to expect many more on the flight back. Good news in case we have a crying baby – it will be helpful to have sympathetic ears on board.

We had a “Travel Call” with the agency today, and they laid out the trip for us and some things to prepare for. Confidentiality was a big part of the discussion, protecting the stories and the adoption process of the other children we would see at Hannah’s Hope (the transition home run by AGCI).

Visa entry seems like it will be a breeze, and the US Embassy appointment in Ethiopia seems like more of a formality at this point in the process, although it will include some lines and waiting time.

The hotel seems nice: the Riviera International Addis Ababa. It has a bare bones website that shows clean rooms and amenities you would get in the States. Good internet access too, so hopefully we can keep up with blogs, tweets, Facebook posts.

Packing is going to be interesting. We’ll have to start making lists soon. Consider your typical trip, then add a baby who you have not met and don’t know her rhythms or even have a decent idea sense of her size. Then consider gifts to bring there, gifts to bring home, snacks in case you don’t like the food or wake up jetlagged in the middle of the night craving something familiar. Then there are medicines, paperwork, cameras, books, donations, cash. Whew! You get the picture.

We will get to meet the director of Hannah’s Hope, who has near cult status among AGCI and its families. It seems that a lot of good gets done through the power of her personality and passion for the mission. But there is an army of “special mothers” and caregivers that we also look forward to interacting with, as well as the other adoptive parents and the many kids we will see.

We’ll have a chance to do a bit of cultural stuff and some shopping, but much of the time is at the hotel, beginning to establish an attachment with our little girl. Some families will get to meet the birth families of their child, but we are not optimistic since our girl’s family lives quite a distance from the capital.

I’ve been reading a lot of modern literature from Ethiopian writers, but now it’s time to crack the tourist books a bit. Still lots of lists of things to do around the house (and at work) before we leave too.

Here we go!


Sick baby

Well, we got the phone call that no parent wants to receive, especially if it’s about your baby who is on the other side of the world. Sweet baby A is in the hospital. She was taken in Thursday night for rapid breathing and reduced feeding during the night. Friday we received word that she seemed okay and was being treated with IV antibiotics for severe infection including pneumonia. On a good note, they said she was back to eating normal.

It is such a hard place to be emotionally. We just want to be with her and hold her and advocate for her care. We were comforted by the fact that one of her “special mothers” has been with her the whole time at the hospital. Last night I broke down crying. How do I thank this woman who is caring for our daughter when I can’t? How do I thank her for staying by her side while she is so sick? I want her to know how special she is to us for being by her side when we can’t be there. I am so thankful for the care A is getting over there.

Many of my friends from our agency’s Yahoo group have sent us emails. They told us their stories about when they got the call about their babies. One family had six-week-old twins, one family had twins that were only four and six pounds. How they were sick, but got better. How they were so well cared for by their special mothers. How sometimes treating pneumonia is just like treating a bad chest cold and that they take the kids to the hospital because they know they can’t give them the best care they need. All of these wonderful people gave beautiful words of encouragement and shared their stories. Thank you for reaching out to us.

I want to thank all of you for lifting her up in prayer. Thank you for all of your encouraging words to Jesse and me.  It’s a hard place to be, but God has given us such peace to know that he is taking care of her.