Part 6: Talking to strangers

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The plan for Saturday was first to  visit Julianna’s family, and then to do a little investigating to see if we could find anything at all about Emily’s family. Since all we knew about her was the police station where she’d been relinquished, that was a very big question indeed. We’d sent a searcher out a few weeks earlier to that town. He had spoken with a government official who had asked for $200 in exchange for information about the father, who he claimed to know.

Now, in Ethiopia small bribes are not uncommon at all. In fact, police pull drivers over regularly asking for money. But $200 is a very big bribe around here. And Sophie and John and I didn’t like the fact that the only information he had was about the father. Right or wrong, our instinct was that a man might claim to know something in exchange for money,  whereas a woman might be more motivated by the heart. What we were most hoping for was information about Emily’s mom.
So on that Saturday afternoon after leaving Julianna’s joyful family reunion, we were willing and eager to hunt for Emily’s family. But we all, including Emily, understood that the chances of finding good information were slim. Our searcher had been able to get the phone number of the man who claimed to be Emily’s father, which would enable us to talk to him without the government official’s involvement. But our searcher himself was not available that afternoon to talk with the supposed father.
Oh, we didn’t know what to do. But we had to leave Soddo in 36 hours, and we had come such a long way. I couldn’t stand leaving without trying for something at least. We decided to have our trusty driver Dawit call the man, and ask if we could visit him in the village where Emily had been relinquished. So on our way back to Soddo from Julianna’s village Dawit did so.
So there we were in the van, pulled over at the side of the road next to Sophie’s favorite hamburger place in Soddo, listening in on Dawit’s conversation with a stranger who might be Emily’s dad, but probably wasn’t. When asked if we could go to his village, the man said he was actually in Soddo working today, at the bus station. The same bus station that was just a few blocks from our location now. He could meet us there, he said.

At the bus station
A nervous conversation ensued between Sophie and me. We so much wanted to ensure we were getting reliable information for Emily. We didn’t like the idea of meeting this stranger at a bus station—we couldn’t quite even figure out why he was there since supposedly he lived out in the country. But maybe if we talked to him awhile, and everything seemed ok, he could take us to his village to meet more family? We were so uncertain. But what else could we do?
We drove to the bus station and then our driver Dawit called him again to tell him we were there. This time the man told Dawit that he was very close, that he was taking a bajaj to the bus station and would be there very soon. Again we were uncertain. First he’d said he was at the bus station and then he wasn’t. As we waited for him to show up, we realized we didn’t know his name, or anything really about him.
After a few nervous minutes of waiting, a young man appeared at the driver’s window. So young. Sophie and Lidya and I all guessed he was maybe 25. After a quick hi at the window, he appeared to reconsider, and stepped away from the van to use his phone. In seconds Dawit’s phone rang and we all laughed, even the young man. Apparently before talking with us, he had wanted to be sure he was approaching the right people.

Dawit opened the passenger front door and invited the young man into the van to talk with us. He pulled out the paper and the pictures that our searcher had shared with him.

We had decided before he even got into the van that we would not identify Emily to him unless we came to be reasonably sure that there might be a valid reason to believe he was a relative. And we were so eager to know the truth that thinking back I’m not sure we even introduced ourselves properly but just began asking him questions. What do you know about this baby? Why do you think you are the father? Tell us the story as you know it.

We were wanting to know if his story would match what we knew, and as he spoke, all of our intuition was on high alert, trying to judge if he seemed trustworthy and was telling the truth.  Above all, we wanted our precious girl not to be hurt. You can bet we were praying hard for all the wisdom and guidance that God could give us.

Part 1-We’re off to Ethiopia!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Here we are this morning with our 6 checked bags and 6 carry-on items. Yikes! So much for packing light. However, 2.5 of our checked bags are things we’re delivering for other people, and there are 5 of us, all girls, traveling for 16 days. I think we could have done worse.

At the airport this morning

As I write this, we’ve made it all the way to Houston. Julianna was getting a bit stir-crazy by the end of that 3 hour flight, so hopefully she will survive the next two flights, each of which is 9+ hours. Wow. I am very much hoping for seat-back TV’s to broaden the entertainment options. We also have some movies on my tablet, which should also help.

So far the only hitch we’ve had is that I managed to forget the plug that lets my Fitbit download onto my computer, which means that although it will still count my steps each day, it won’t tell me how well I sleep each night. (Sob.) Such a first-world problem. John wanted to go back and get it for me, but I decided I’d rather get to the airport 15 minutes sooner. And it turned out to be a good thing. The Boise airport was hopping this morning, and the security line was longer than I’ve ever seen it.

Anyway, we’re off! Next time I update you, we should be in Addis!

All packed up and ready to go

Four travelers. Four big bags to check. Three small bags to carry on. Not bad.
Next stop: Seoul, South Korea.

Adoption: Our little girls, part two

(Our little girls, part one)

We were matched to an expectant mom at Thanksgiving. We talked to her on the phone every few days, and it seemed that the talks went well. The time between then and her Christmas due date dragged. Could we really be getting a baby?

Finally a couple days before Christmas she called saying she was in labor. Could I come? Within a few hours I was on a plane to Chicago, bringing along my two oldest boys. I peeked in to say hello to her as she labored, then waiting with the boys in a hospital waiting room as she labored more. Hours passed. More waiting. I tried to imagine holding a baby soon, but it all seemed unreal.

Finally a nurse came out and let me come back to talk to the mom. One look at her face and I knew. She’d changed her mind. She apologized and said she couldn’t do it. I totally understood– I’d been wondering how she could do it too. But it felt like a bad dream, a bad dream in which I hugged her and smiled woodenly and told her I understood and it was okay, and went to look at an impossibly adorable newborn girl that wasn’t meant to be my daughter after all.

The boys and I went back to our hotel. I still held a tiny hope that she would change her mind, would call and say the baby was ours after all. No. It was done. The next day was Christmas Eve, which the boys and I spent in a hotel room because the first available flight home was on Christmas Day. John and the other kids saved their gift-opening til we got home on Christmas evening. I smiled and acted enthused, grateful to be home, but was all too aware of the newborn sized car seat sitting empty in the corner of the living room.

The brightest bit of that odd, sad Christmas was a picture on the fridge of our now 18-month old daughter, still waiting in Ethiopia.

Related posts
Adoption: The first time
Adoption: Our second son
Adoption: How we afforded it

Adoption: Our littlest daughters

Part 2 | Part 3

Way back when we first began discussing adoption, the picture in our heads was of a little girl from China. As we learned more about adoption, we realized that Korea was a better fit for our family at the time for all sorts of reasons, including Korea’s lower family income requirement and shorter adoption trip. We were delighted with the little boys who came to us from Korea. But after that, knee deep in raising little boys (four altogether), John and I both found ourselves wondering if there might be more little girls in our future.

In 2003, 3 years after our 6th child came home, we began to talk seriously about adopting another little girl — maybe even two, especially since we already had the pairs thing going at our house. Our first two biological kids were girls, then we gave birth to two boys, and then adopted two boys. We really liked the fact that each of our kids had a same-sex similar-age sibling.

The idea of adopting two little girls because even stronger in our heads when we realized that (due to our large family) we would not be allowed to adopt from Korea again. We investigated adopting an African American newborn, and we knew from past experience that we wanted our child to have a sibling who looked like her. But for now, we would just see what happened with one more child.

We updated our homestudy and pulled together a photo album to go with our ‘birthmother letter’. Right from the start, I found the birthmother letter to be difficult. It felt like we were trying to coax a baby from someone: showing our most picture-perfect side so that a woman in difficult circumstances would decide we were more fit to parent her baby than she. But that’s what you’re required to do, so we did it.

Our social worker said we’d probably be matched to a birth mom within 3 months. We pulled out the baby girl clothes and waited eagerly. Six months went by. Nothing. We began to wonder if we were on the right path. In August we heard of a baby girl in Ethiopia who was born missing her right hand. Since we already had one child with a limb anomoly, she caught our attention. We called her agency, Adoption Advocates International, and found out that there was a family interested in her, but if they backed out, we would be considered.

We did more research about Ethiopian adoption, and asked our social worker to update our homestudy for an international adoption. Within a couple weeks we found out that the Ethiopian baby had indeed been taken by the first family. By then, Ethiopia had caught our hearts. We decided to go ahead and be put on the list to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. And after talking things through with our social worker, we decided to also stay on the domestic adoption list just in case something happened there.

Both the domestic and the international agencies were okay with us going ahead with two adoptions at the same time if that turned out to work out–maybe we’d get our two little girls the same year. By then we were getting discouraged with the domestic route, and were starting to doubt it would work for us. But it didn’t cost any more to stick with it awhile longer, just to see what would happen.

By October, we had the referral of a beautiful little one year old girl from Ethiopia. (Ethiopian adoptions were going much faster back then!) Most of the pictures showed a stern-faced little girl– we worried that she was an unhappy baby. We were delighted when finally someone sent a picture of her smiling with a caregiver. Ironically, she turned out to be an optimistic, resilient and joyful little girl –just not too fond of orphanage life, I think!

In November we were notified that a birthmom in the US had finally chosen us. She was due at Christmas time. If everything worked out, we could have a newborn at Christmas time, then go to adopt our little girl from Ethiopia just a couple months later.

Other related posts
Adoption: The first time
Adoption: Our second son
Adoption: How we afforded it


I’ve been glum and off-balance and snappish and restless for no logical reason today. Except part way through the day, after pushing away the feelings a hundred times, I realized I did know why. My heart won’t quit aching for the loss that Steven Curtis Chapman and his family are facing. Maybe it is not terribly logical that I should be so very shaken up by something that happened to someone I mostly just know on the airwaves. But it is more personal than that.

You see, I have a five year old daughter too, as well as a son whom just yesterday got signed up for driver’s ed.

We have a driveway that the kids all play in. At the edge of it, about 8 feet back from the road, I’ve painted a line in white spray paint beyond which the little ones aren’t allowed to go. Drivers routinely check the driveway before backing out of the garage, then call out a warning to all children around. All the kids routinely go stand in the grass anytime there is a moving car in the driveway. Everything we can think of, we’ve done.

And yet still I know there are no guarantees. Still I know that terrible things can happen even with the best intentions and many safety precautions. A moment is all it takes. I am shaken and sad and so very aware of the gossamer nature of the thread we call life.

I am hugging my little ones more today. Feeling glad when I have each one accounted for.

Feeling grateful that I know there is hope for the future, and grateful that the Chapmans also have the promise and the knowledge that they will see their little one in heaven again someday.

But I also wish from the bottom of my heart that they could have her alive and well in their arms right now. To watch her grow up and have a normal life.

Just like I long to do with my own precious ones in the years that come.

And so I sit here in a swirl of emotions. Tenderness and gratitude and anger (Why, God, why?) and fear (please let my children live) and (YES!) faith and a wretched and overwhelming sadness for the loss that this family is facing.

Today, at least, there is no escape for me from the swirling cauldron of emotions.

And so I will pray.

So sad for this family

I am just heartsick over this news. Please pray for Steven Curtis Chapman and his family. His Cinderella went to be with Jesus today.

Do you know? The facts about HIV

I have a friend named Erin whose family looks a lot like mine: a mix of adopted African and Asian kids along with several kids born to her. One difference, however, is that two of her precious Ethiopian children, Belane and Solomon, are HIV+. She asked readers of her blog to share these facts about HIV with two other people. Maybe some of you will consider passing on this information as well.

Today I have heard from several different parents of HIV+ children who are facing negative reactions to their adoptions based on the stigma and ignorance surrounding HIV. It is extremely frustrating to me that in 2008 there is still so much unfounded fear caused by a lack of education, that results in nasty, ugly and mean treatment of people who are HIV+ and their families. The reason people in the U.S. are not educated about HIV is that most people don’t care, because most people in this country are not affected by it. People still see it as the problem of homosexuals, drug users and people in Africa.

The reality is, HIV/AIDS is everyone’s problem. It is a devastating problem in Africa and many countries, but there are many, many Americans living with this disease as well. In fact, new cases of HIV in the U.S. are now being seen in the largest numbers in heterosexual women. HIV/AIDS is a HUMAN problem.

Living with this nasty disease is hard enough, but compounding that with the misguided fear and judgment of society is beyond tragic, and as the mom of two HIV+ children, it is sad and frustrating.

So, if you are one of the many who check in to this blog every day, I am asking you to do me a favor. I want you to tell at least two people about HIV.

Spread the word that…

– HIV can NOT be spread through causal/household contact.

HIV is not spread through hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing toys, sneezing, coughing, sharing food, sharing drinks, bathing, swimming or any other causal way.

It has been proven that HIV and AIDS can only be spread through sexual contact, birth, breastfeeding and blood to blood contact (such as sharing needles).

– HIV is now considered a chronic but manageable disease. With treatment, people who are HIV+ can live indefinitely without developing AIDS and can live long and full lives.

– People who are HIV+ deserve to be treated with love, respect, support and acceptance as all people do.

If anyone wants more info on transmission, there is great info on the Center for Disease Control website at

Help me spread the truth about HIV, and take a tiny stab at the stigma against HIV. Tell your friend when you talk on the phone. Tell your spouse. Tell your parents. Post it on your blog and ask other people to tell their readers. Ask them to pass it on as well. I would love to see this spread beyond the adoption blogs.

Even if you have no real interest in HIV/AIDS, even if you are not involved in adoption, even if you don’t think you know anyone who is HIV+… education and knowledge are always a good thing. It is so easy to say to someone, “hey, guess what I learned today?” and it is even easier to put it on a blog or in an email.Do it for me. Do it for the other adoptive families and the HIV+ orphans that are waiting for homes. Do it for Belane and Solomon. Do it for all of the other people on this planet living with HIV. If everyone that reads this blog tells at least two people, that is a whole bunch of people we can reach and a little bit of difference we can make.