Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Okay, Wait, You're Doing What Now?!

It's been a little over a week since our secret's been out. We are very blessed to have so many people in our lives who are genuinely happy for our family! We have received a few quizzical looks, but I'm sure we'll get many more when we are finally out and about with our Ethiopian daughter!

Some very straight-shooting answers to some of this week's most frequently asked questions:

Why did you choose to adopt from Ethiopia?

We went through a big research/soul-searching process before we arrived at Ethiopia. Once we knew that we were going to parent again - this time, through adoption - the first question was whether we were going to adopt domestically or internationally. We talked to a few friends and family members on both sides of the coin, and quickly ruled out a domestic adoption, for various personal reasons. Then, we talked at length with my sister, who adopted a daughter from Russia about six years ago. That conversation really challenged us to evaluate the basics of why we wanted to grow our family through adoption.

Our next task was to determine which adoption agency to work with. We narrowed it down quickly, to just a few of the many agencies, based on the experiences of the friends and family members we spoke with who had adopted internationally. After speaking at great length with representatives at some of these agencies, we chose Children's Hope International (CHI), the one my sister had used.

Having chosen an agency, we had to look at what international programs they offered and go from there. There were some practical issues in determining our country choice: How long would it take for a child to be referred to us? (Russia and China now have five-year-long waits!) How long would we need to be "in country"? (Colombia requires you to be there for five weeks, for example - an impossibility for us because of Morrie's job, and of course because of Zachary.) How comfortable would we be adopting a child who looks very different from us? And what countries were left after all those questions were answered?

At that point, we were both tired, so we gave the conversation a temporary rest. Then, one day, Morrie came to me and said, "I think I found our country: Ethiopia." And though this sounds corny, it's true: One look at the babies on CHI's website, and that was that. And then, as we learned more about Ethiopia's culture and people, and the tremendous needs there, we simply knew that our daughter would be Ethiopian. It is a land of children in need of parents. And we are parents in need of a child.

Some of the statistics that stood out the most to us:
  • The life expectancy is 41.
  • Infant mortality is 10%.
  • About 20% of Ethiopian children die before age 5.
  • The average number of children borne to each woman: 6. (What must it be like, to be an Ethiopian woman, knowing the previous three statistics?)
  • There are six million orphans in Ethiopia.
  • Less than 50% of the population is literate.
  • 24% of the population has access to clean drinking water.
  • One million people living with AIDS.
  • The GNP per capita is $100. (How much did you spend at the grocery store or Target last week? We went out to dinner two nights ago and our bill was $78. Almost as much as the average Ethiopian lives on for a year.)
Another aspect of Ethiopia that was attractive to us - there are Ethiopian Jews (the Falashas). She will have a natural cultural connection. Ethiopian Jew will "make sense" to people as she grows older, something that not all internationally-adopted Jewish children have quite as easily. When she goes to Ethiopia someday, and in Israel, her Ethiopian-Jewishness will make sense to her as well. She will be able to feel a sense of belonging, in many different circles of community - within our home and family, in our Jewish community, in the Ethiopian community, in the Jewish Ethiopian community, and in Israel.

Will she be Jewish?

Will she be born Jewish? Probably not. The Falashas make up a very minute portion of Ethiopians. Will she be Jewish? Yes, just one dunk to the Teaneck mikvah will take care of that. Celebratory lunch at Veggie Heaven will probably follow.

What happens now?

Now we wait. CHI estimates that for a healthy girl under 12 months, the wait is 6 to 14 months until referral (when we get photos, medical records, and anything else that's available). The big time span is because people change their requests all the time. We are around #85 or so right now on the big list that CHI keeps for all of their Ethiopian adoptions. We don't know what types of kids (age/gender/health status/etc.) the 84 in front of us want. They might all want baby girls. They might all want older boys. You get the idea. We've been watching our agency list for the past few months, and generally speaking, for a healthy infant girl, it's taking 11-12 months on average to get a referral.

Upon accepting the referral, we'll travel over to get her about four months later. We will be there for a week to ten days. (Zachary will stay at home with Auntie Lee and Baba Marilyn, and probably do a lot of shopping for his sis.) During those four months, she'll be moved to House of Hope - CHI's wonderful transitional home for kids waiting for their "forever families" - from whatever orphanage she has been in up to that point. CHI's Ethiopian representative, Tsegai, will act on our behalf at the first of two court dates, about half way into that four months. When we go over to get our daughter, we will appear in court ourselves.

Is she born yet?

Probably not. We requested an infant under 12 months, and our current wait is about that long. So, do the math. She's either in utero or not conceived yet. It will be interesting at referral to trace back to see where we were in the process when she was born!

When did you tell Zachary?

Zachary has known about the adoption since we first decided to go for it. It was interesting to explain it to him. He was a little unsure at first about having a sister with brown skin, but as soon as we showed him some photos on the CHI website, he was in love. He's been a little loose-lipped about the news of his sister, but really only telling his cronies, who, since they are five and six years old, didn't really get it enough to find it juicy gossip to blab. He also told a few of his babysitters - all members of our synagogue, of course - who we had to swear to secrecy!

Zac has decorated his "sissy"'s room with little drawings of animals and fairies dropping hearts all over the place, and a cute little brown-skinned girl next to a very happy little house. (Not sure what our housekeeper thinks is going on, since we haven't clued her in yet!)

Zac also always includes his sis in every family picture that he draws. Here's one of my favorites, which is right over his bed:

Photo Explanation: We have been referring to the baby as Poof for a while, for the little poofs of hair that she'll definitely sport. That's why Zac is holding a child called "Poof Baby." Also note the heart in the upper-right corner with a baby crawling on Africa, and in the upper-left corner, a "superbaby" of sorts standing on the Earth. Munchkin looks as if he doesn't know what's hit him yet. And we all have big smiles!

To put it simply...


McMel said...

I think you've made a wonderful choice. There are so many children in this world without homes, and it's so selfless of you to give your home to a strangers child! We know many people who have adopted internationally- my cousin by marriage is adopted from the Philippines and she's just as much apart of the family as the rest of us! I applaud your decision, and have always wanted to adopt myself, I hope we will have the resources one day!

Rebekah said...

I'm very happy for all of you! I kinda thought the Jewish connection would be interesting! I took a class on Eastern Christianity and was exposed to some of the beliefs of the Ethiopians regarding Christianity and Judaism. I remember the particular belief by some Ethiopians that the Ark of the Covenant has always been in the country. Then there's the King Solomon/Queen of Sheba stuff too.

Anyway, it makes total sense for your family, your new addition, and your community! I'm very excited to watch your journey. Also, Rebekah is a wonderful Jewish name...

zimbalison said...

No, not really that selfless at all - we wanted another child, and after many years of "issues", we went this route. We don't see it that we are saving her - she's saving us.