Tuesday 29 December 2009

Welcome to the Club

One of the worst things about involuntary childlessness was the feeling that everyone else's life was proceeding at the proper pace, in the proper direction, while I waited on my own at a crossroads. Or at a dead end. Or, on the worst days, prostrate under a pile of rubble. If you have been there, you do not need me to describe the roaring pain and frustration that comes from being left out of every.single.conversation. that your friends are having, and the way that you feel invisible when you're standing in the same place as a group of people but they are discussing weaning again and you've just got nothing to add. Again. At that point, I always silently vowed to really put some effort into discovering teleportation, so that the next time it happened I could push a button and- poof - I could be away from the nightmare and on my sofa eating Doritos.

It never worked.

But now I have the babies home. I am officially a Parent. I am officially in The Club. I was really looking forward to this bit - suddenly, I would start going to mother and baby groups, and make friends on the bus! And at the library! And we would all have fun with our babies together! This club was going to be so much fun! But I've got to say - I am beyond disappointed. After all the waiting, it turns out that this is the worst club I've ever been part of.

The first hint that this might be the case was after I met up with two other mothers for a cup of coffee. First official mum-date. I was psyched. They were talking about weaning (of course!!) and I listened eagerly, thinking 'I have babies now! I could actually join in!' And the smile slowly slid from my face as it went on and I realised that I had been waiting to have this conversation for most of my adult life, and now that it was here.... it was really just incredibly boring.

Actually, scratch that. I wasn't just boring - it was boring and judgemental. And it's that second one that takes this motherhood club from tedious to terrible. This is how the conversation went:

[Scene - mothers in a cafe. One mother puts bib on child and gets out food]
Mother A: oh, what are you feeding her?
Mother B: a broccoli and blueberry puree.
A: Oh, that sounds nice. (Pause). But isn't the fruit a bit acidic?
B: No, it's got butternut squash in it as well
A: Oh. Isn't she still a bit young for blueberries though?
B: She's seven months, a month younger than your little Daisy. Isn't little Daisy eating blueberries yet?
A: No, she's not.
B: Oh well. Don't worry, She'll be ready for them soon. I suppose my little Susie was just ready a bit earlier.

And I'm finding that all the conversations - whether they are about sleep, food, development or whatever, follow pretty much the same pattern. It seems like every conversation is just an alpha-dog type jockeying for position - who is the best, most right-on mother? And who has the smartest, most advanced child? Who can slap the other person down with the biggest smile on their face? Who knows the most about how to cram the maximum number of celery sticks down their child's gullet? And who can top that by casually saying that actually, if you feed your child celery, you are putting them at serious risk of ear infections. Or hair loss. Or spontaneous combustion.

I've only had children for two months, and I am sick of it. I always assumed that those conversations I was shut out of were people offering each other support, but it turns out that isn't the case. A few times, I have opened up to someone to discuss some issue I was having with the babies, but every time I end up wishing that I hadn't. I say something like 'The babies are still at the very bottom of the weight chart' and get an answer like 'well, what you need to do is start giving them some baby rice' or (back when the babies weren't sleeping) 'The babies are waking up a lot during the night' and the answer was 'well, what you need to do is not talk to them or turn the lights on when you feed them at night'. And what made me most annoyed, during those particular conversations, was that the person never asked me if I actually WAS talking to them or turning the light on in the middle of the night (NO!) or if the babies were drinking enough milk yet to indicate they might be ready for solids (again, NO!)

And in any case, I only mentioned it because I just wanted to talk about it. I wasn't asking for advice. I'm a smart enough girl - If I want advice, I can get advice from the places I need to, like books, or people who have actual qualifications. Or Google. Or, I will end my sentence with 'What do YOU think I should do?' which I rarely do, because, well, I really hate advice. I just wanted to see if anybody had experienced what I had. And you know, how did it make you feel? I'm guessing those other mothers walked away from those conversations feeling 'wow, I really helped her!' but I felt like they were saying: You must be really stupid. I don't even need to listen to what your problem is to solve your problem, that's how much of a better mother I am.

Also, your kids are ugly.

It was just horrible. I mean, it is just horrible because even when I'm trying not to say anything at all, these conversations still happen. People say things to me like 'oh, considering what a hard start your babies had, they are doing really well, and I'm sure they will be doing [insert developmental milestone here] very soon. And I think 'hey! I wasn't worried about that developemental milestone' and then ten seconds later I think 'wow, should I be worried about that developmental milestone?' and then I can't believe they think my children are anything other than terrific just as they are, and I get upset and offended. Which is obviously very productive.

And at first I thought it was just me - that maybe people were treating me stupid because I adopted, and they thought I needed remedial mothering school. But then I realised that they are all doing it to each other all the time as well. Backhanded compliments abound. And to be honest, I am sick of the way that despite my best intentions, I have found myself being sucked in by the desire to do the same thing. A few days ago, I had to bite my own tongue and swallow my words when I realised: hey, nobody wants breastfeeding advice from YOU, Claudia.

All I can think of is this: when a woman becomes a mother, she becomes the autocrat in a little tiny empire. Suddenly, small people are entirely dependent on her, and the day is filled with the need to make tiny decisions and judgements. Most of these are trivial in themselves, and involve sleep, food or bowel motions. But she has to make every one of them, usually with no other adults around, and the sum of these tiny decisions adds up to a whole life. And when each decision is made thoughtfully, the decision-maker gets attached to those decisions, and her decision making process. In her empire, she alone is possessed of the wisdom to decide when it is nap time, when it is bath time, and whether or not the baby will eat blueberries. I think it becomes easy to forget that this sole possession of wisdom ends at her front door, and other adults do not usually see her as having the sum of all knowledge in the same way that her children do.

Well, I don't, anyway. And a cacophony of voices all finding different ways to say 'hey, I know a lot more about this mothering stuff than you do' just makes me want to retreat into my own little kingdom and lock the door and never go to one of these United Nations motherhood conventions at the coffee shop ever again.

And now I kind of feel stupid for expecting anything different.

Monday 21 December 2009


A while back, before we passed court, when I had already quit my job (well, temporarily. Maybe.) and had lots of time, I got all scrapbooky and posted what I hoped were 'safe' pictures of our babies with just their little feet / hands and no identifying features. These pictures also had their names - I'm not wanting to keep their names a secret, but I want them to be jpegs rather than text because I don't ever want this blog to be searchable by googling their names. This is what is behind the whole anonymity thing, actually - I don't want someone to type in my name, or J's name, into google (and considering the number of random people that *I* google, frankly everyone I went to school with and then some, it's not impossible that someone will one day do it) and find this blog. But if they do find it, despite my anonymising - it will be my fault, and I will deal with it. I write this blog after all. The babies, not so much. I think it will be a while before they write anything, and I don't want their peers at school finding what I have written in years to come and using it as a reason to make their lives difficult.

The pictures were originally part of this post, but in the end, I took the pictures down because I had a small freak out and realised just how badly I would NEVER forgive myself if those little innocuous pictures were seen as inappropriate and jeopardised our adoption. But now that the babies are home, I can post them again so here they are: (exactly the same - no faces. I can post whatever pictures I like now, obviously, but making scrapbook pictures has gone WAY down my list of priorities which is probably not a surprise).

So, why those names? Naming babies is so personal. I guess that's why it's so interesting making the choices. Crassly put, it's your opportunity to 'brand' your child - what is this name going to SAY about them? And you? Because naming is so personal, the opinions I'm going to share are exactly that - my personal opinions - and it's no surprise that not everybody is going to feel the same about these issues. I guess that's why we find the issues interesting, too. But that's one of the best (and worst) things about parenting - choosing a name, like making every other choice, is YOUR decision about what is best for YOUR child. These are my choices and my thoughts - I am absolutely not saying that everyone should come to the same conclusions.

When I started this adoption journey (o, long ago day!) I was adamant that having a family by adoption wasn't going to be any different from having a family the 'normal' way. I'm going to be cautious about what I say here (see above re: personal opinions - I'm really not trying to offend anybody) but this is what I've come to think of as the 'telling people you're paper pregnant' phase of adoption waiting. What I mean by this is - this is the phase when I was convincing myself that sure, the baby would come into the family differently, but otherwise it wasn't going to be a big deal that we were adopting. I think that maybe this is a necessary stage for those of us who come to adoption after fertility losses - I'm not sure that I could have faced starting the whole horrible process if I hadn't thought that in the end, the paperchase would get me to exactly the same point that a healthy pregnancy would have - home with a baby who was ALL MINE. We all know the poem, right?

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone
but still miraculously my own
Never forget for a single minute
You didn't grow under my heart
But in it

At this point, those were the kind of thoughts I was having. Except not usually in rhyme. So, J and I had always talked about having a little girl called Katy (full name Kathleen, maybe, after his mother) or a little boy called Peter (after his uncle and my father) and at this point, I guess I was thinking that little Katy or Peter was coming home, but they were going to have brown skin. .
And then time passed and I realised a few things. Firstly, this baby would not actually be born in my heart. This baby's existence would not begin when they started to have a relationship with me. They would not spring into full being in my arms. Instead, this baby would grow under somebody's heart - just not mine. Obvious, no? And yet it didn't really feel obvious to start with. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Don't misunderstand me - this baby was definitely going to be MY baby, or what's the point? I was definitely going to be his or her 'real mother'. But not his or her only real mother - there would always be another one who came first. And my love for this baby doesn't cancel that first real mother out.

Secondly - this baby would not be white. I mean, I always knew that the baby wouldn't be white, but it took me a long time to realise that this meant they would not be White. Again, this should really have been obvious. But to my shame, I need to admit that white was never a big thing for me - it just always felt 'neutral'. And normal. It was other people who had colours. And if white was the default, why would I think about it? And knowing that about my own previous attitudes is all the proof I need that my black child is going to find their path in life less smoothly paved than mine was. I wish it wasn't true, but I know that it is.

These two things had a big effect on how we started to rethink naming. Firstly, we decided that if our baby had a birth name given by a parent, we would keep it if at all possible. This was hard to decide (*I* wanted to name the baby!) but it felt like it would be wrong to take away the last thing their birthmother had given them. The second was that if this was not the case, we wanted to choose an Ethiopian name for the baby.

In the end, the second case is what happened: you can see from the names above that we chose Ethiopian first names for both of them. After all the thought we put into it, and number of hours spent making shortlists from My Ethiopian Name, it all made so much sense to us! And we're really pleased with their names - she has turned into L.u.l.u for short and the two of them now feel like they couldn't be anybody else. And of course, we have consciously decided that if at any point either of them want to use either of their middle names as their main name - that's great. There's a wonderful line in 'Does anybody else look like me', a book about raising biracial children, where the author's young son talks about how his three names are his 'three selves'. We had that very much in mind when we named them - their two middle names represent their past and their new family, and their first names are all their own. Whichever of their three selves they want to be at each point in their lives, I hope they find that they have a name that will help. (If they want to change their name altogether to Captain McSpaceranger, aged 4, I hope I will be equally understanding).

One thing that has surprised me, though, since we have had them home, is this: many of our friends seem wary of their names. I know they are unusual, but they aren't difficult - that was one of our criteria. And lots of people have been great about checking pronunciation with us. But others? Well, one thinks they are called Isaac and Lolita (errrr... no, especially not Lolita, thank you Nabokov). But much more surprising is that a few have outright rejected their Ethiopian names and refer to them as Heather and Peter. I cannot tell you how much this weirds me out - one said 'oh, I just assumed you would use their English names'. I find this really upsetting, because no, they are English kids for sure but they are Ethiopian-English, and it really worries me that some people seem, very gently, not deliberately, and probably quite unconsciously, to want us to erase the Ethiopian part of them. And while they are young, it would be so easy for us to do this, and pretend they were white babies in brown skin. It would be the path of least resistance, and I do not want to take it. And that is one of the reasons I am really glad that we did give them the names that we did - every time someone says 'so, how do you SAY that?' I get a small shock of discomfort and am forced to remember that yes, their names are unusual. They are Ethiopian names. Because, more fundamentally, so are they. And calling them Katy and Peter wouldn't change this. They are from a different place. They will have a different experience from me. They are part of our family now, but they didn't grow inside my heart and miraculously turn white in the process.

So, this is why they have the names that they do. But now I have to go and eat my dinner!

Sunday 13 December 2009

Here they are

Like most of Britain, I live in a small Victorian terrace- you've no doubt seen these in gritty English dramas. This means that we only have windows at the front and back of the house (since the side walls are shared with our neighbours). Also, it's always raining. This means that my house is dark. Like, DARK. As in, really, really dark. This has been driving me absolutely crazy because I've got these adorable babies, constantly doing cute things, and it is impossible to get decent photos when there is no light. (SLR users - when I say dark, I've set my portrait lens to f/1.8 and in the middle of the day I'm still needing a shutter speed of about 1/2 s in natural light. At f/1.8. So yeah, dark).

Anyway, long story short, I got myself a really bright light to combat the borderline SAD I always get around this time of year (possibly related to the very dark house? Hmmmm) and bingo! Two birds with one stone - not only do I feel lively, I now have some photos that aren't just a big blurry mess. (Note two for SLR users - I also pulled out my big flash, which helped a lot, and yes of course I should have done that earlier. But even using ceiling bounce, which is really my only trick, I find it hard to get nice light with this as my primary source. Any tips for home lighting setups that can be managed between naps would be much appreciated. And don't just say move somewhere sunny, I've thought of that one).

So anyway, less talking, more cuteness, yes? (And apologies, by the way, to anybody who is getting a thankyou card from me because these are the same photos. Pretend to be surprised, okay?)

I really, really underestimated how hard it is to get two babies looking at the camera at the same time. Or even with their heads facing in approximately the right direction. Trying for smiles as well? Or matching clothes? Hmmmm, not yet.

I'm so pleased about how chubby they are getting.

This is beautiful baby L.

and her little feet
She has found her hands
and loves to smile and shout
and this is her pirate face. She opens her mouth like this and makes a loud 'ARGGGHHH' sound, like a pirate. I wasn't really expecting a baby who was ready to sail the high seas.
Baby I wasn't really in the mood for smiling (he's still in his pyjamas, to my shame) but I got this one:
and this one:
but overall, he found the whole experience fairly confusing. I'll try again another day.
(Note three - does anybody know how to get around the issue of the blockiness of these photos on blogspot? They are not blocky in real life, and look completely different on flickr. I know some of you manage to post photos on blogspot that look razor sharp - any hints gratefully taken. It's not the resolution, because I tested with some hi-res photos and no change).

I don't really know what else to say now except 'hey! Check out my cute babies!' Next on my list of things I need to post about is their names - people's reactions to their names have been a bit unexpected. If I forget, remind me.

Friday 11 December 2009


Some real photos soon. I absolutely promise. With, you know, faces. But I couldn't resist posting this - I just LOVE their little tiny feet.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Give and Take

Well, except for me. For me, at the moment, it's all take-take-take.

I guess that's why it's taken me until today (December 8) to say THANK YOU to those who participated in NaBloPoMo. I hardly wrote a comment through all of November but it was wonderful to have so much to read. Really, really, really, really, thank you. I briefly considered participating myself - but then by the end of 01 November I realised that if I was going to commit to doing something every day, it should really be brushing my teeth.

On 01 November, we had only had the babies for 4 days. That is impossible to believe, for me - surely they have always been ours? Surely I have always known how to feed two babies with one hand and one elbow? Surely our tiny house has always been covered in primary-coloured plastic? Surely I have always had two hot fuzzy heads to nuzzle me at unexpected moments? It seems impossible that things haven't always been like this. Which is crazy, obviously, because only three weeks ago, or so, I was floundering madly and feeling absolutely certain I wasn't going to cope with this new life. And now... it just feels normal. And better than that - most days it actually feels good. Having been thrown right into the deep end, I feel like I have finally learned to swim and am even starting to enjoy it as much as I hoped I would. We had a visit from our new social worker (whose presence fills me with blistering shards of white-hot rage, but that's a whole different issue) and she kept probing " so how are YOU? How are you coping?" and I realised - actually, I'm coping fine. She kept needling and needling me - wanting to find some big problem so she could justify her supposed 'support' role and I realised - huh. Right now, I'm fine. I'm sure there will be difficult days ahead, but for now, things are o-kay. (This is no doubt helped by the fact that the babies are now sleeping infinitely better and I got over seven hours of sleep last night. Compared to two weeks ago, I feel like I could fly. Will update more about that later because the whole process has been... interesting. Although to warn you in advance, I think I have a low interestingness threshold right now).

(Not much point to this post, really. If you want to read something much more interesting, I really think you should read this instead).

Monday 30 November 2009


Or, lack of.

It's surely no news that babies bring lack of sleep. I've mentioned before that ours have awful trouble - not so much getting to sleep as staying asleep. And I knew that when we brought them home that I would be horribly sleep deprived. I used to have nightmares about it, literally - I would dream that I had to get up because my baby was crying, and then wake up for real and think 'phew! At least that's ONE good thing about having no children!' and snuggle back down.

So I was kind of prepared for the fact that I would never sleep again. What I wasn't prepared for was how it would affect me. When I've been sleep deprived before (exams, long hours at work, a thesis to write, etc etc) I've been upset, irritable, weepy and headachy. But this time... it's different. Instead of all that, I just feel like.... I'm fading away. To use a photoshop simile, I feel like I've had my opacity reduced to about 30%. I'm still here, but I'm feeling pretty...wispy. And.... unable to finish a sentence, or a thought. Or... something. (While in this weakened state, I will admit that YES I have probably been a bit too harsh on sleep-deprived new-parent friends in the past for some of the things they have done / said when I have been in particularly difficult phases of childlessness. Dangit, some of them have been crazy-insensitive, but I'm beginning to realise that hey, they were probably being equally rude to everybody - it's likely that the others just had the good sense to ignore them. I'm already freaking out a bit about who I must have already offended by both omission and comission in this twilight, catatonic state. Everybody, probably. If that includes anybody reading this, I'm really really sorry).

Anyway, this cannot continue. J has a job. I still have one or two friends left. They are waking up every HOUR. And since we've been home, their sleeping has just got worse and worse. They will only sleep on the bottle, or on my chest, and they are waking up, SCREAMING fit to shatter glass, then taking 1/2 oz and going back to sleep. Sometimes in the night they are genuinely hungry, but more often they just want to suck themselves back to sleep. And wow, I had absolutely NO idea how the whole twin-thing would just be a synergy of disaster in this area.

If someone else had written this post, say, four months ago, I would have read it, clicked my tongue and said 'oh well, adopted children, you know, I guess they are going to have sleep difficulties and you are just going to have to suck it up because of, you know, attachment and stuff'. And I'm sure that sleep and attachment are related. But I've begun to realise that other things that affect attachment are the ability to a) stand upright without wobbling b) play with my children on the floor without accidentally slipping into a coma c) have the energy to do all that attachment-therapy type talk that I memorised while I was waiting.

Oh yeah, and apparently bad sleep is at least as bad for the babies as it is for us. Worse, actually. And that's what tipped the balance for us.

(No, really).

(No, really, really).

We've bought this book (actually, we bought a few but this seems the best)

and we're going to sleep train them.

I know, I can't believe it either.

It feels like an admission of failure, even though I'm absolutely certain we're doing the right thing. I guess (like so much of the rest of this blog) I'm writing it down here because it's such an unexpected thing for me. Maybe rather than an admission of failure, it's an admission of 'maybe I didn't really know what I was talking about after all'. I'm sure it won't be the last.

But hey, did you see the bit where it says 'results in less than a week?' I'll keep you posted!

Monday 23 November 2009

They are Napping

I'd never realised just how magical those words really are. Especially in the plural - yes, they are BOTH napping, at the same time. It's my first day looking after them on my own, because J has gone back to work today, with his suit and his tie and his briefcase and his annual train ticket, back to the land where grownups do grownup things.

So far, it's been okay. The fact that I've fired up the computer means things must be okay. We have been for a walk, and delivered our official notification of adoption letter (hopefully to the right address! Failing to notify the authorities within 14 days of an international adoption turns out to be punishable by 12 months imprisonment, which seems a little over the top to me).

But anyway. Lately, here, it's all been about me-me-me when I know that the reason you are really here is to see the babies! I've been meaning to post photos, but have found it hard for two reasons - firstly, the two new little people in the house never letting me get near the computer, of course, but secondly - unexpected freaked-out-ness about their early little selves. I look at their early photos and they are still my beautiful babies, but honestly? They are so thin that I can't understand why I wasn't more scared at the time. Don't get me wrong - I was scared, especially after we went to a (wonderful, kind, local, cheap) doctor in Ethiopia who used words like 'serious malnutrition' but it's only now that they are filling out that I can really see how terrifyingly titchy they were. And that makes me feel all kinds of sad.

So, I am going to post the photos with a commentary about when they were taken, otherwise you'll think you're looking at different babies.

Stage one: This is the babies on their first day home. They are cute, but did I already say terrifyingly titchy? I can hardly bear to look at these photos, and that's not just because I look h.a.g.g.a.r.d. (By this point, we'd had a very difficult meeting with MO.WA, and had to attend court which was NOT fun (more about that, perhaps, another day) and we'd had my cancelled flight and pretty much no sleep and SURELY things were about to get easier, yes? Heh heh heh, says current-me to then-me. Definitely not).

No, it's because my beautiful girl and boy look like elf-children.

Stage two: The next few days. We've dressed them in tiny clothes that are somehow still way too big, and they are just beginning to figure out which way is up. We get some smiles, but there is a lot of uncertainty. As indeed there should be. (And that second to last picture? Yes we let my mother hold the babies. If she hadn't done all she did for us on that trip, I really have NO idea whether we all would have made it home. Not joking. While she was holding the baby, I was probably off in a corner either crying or throwing up. Or both).

Stage three: Ahhhh, this is more like what the babies are really like. They are starting to fill out and their personalities are really beginning to show. Tummy time is still a complete mystery to them, by the way.

Yes, baby girl, it's all been a bit of a shock to mummy too.
Stage four: A few weeks in. Is it just me, or are they starting to just look like ordinary spoiled children here? Maybe it's just the light, but I think they are starting to glow.

So, that's the baby pictures from Addis. They have woken up, so I must go. More later.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Day Four at Home

and this is the first time I have switched on my computer.

I'm guessing that probably tells you all you need to know about how upside-down things are here right now. (That, and I originally typed 'need' as 'kneed').

One of the things I was most looking forward to when I got home was catching up on everyone's blogs, saying hi, and finally leaving some comments - it's been driving me crazy not to be able to say things like - wow! You're travelling this week! (That's for you, T) Hi! Great to meet you! (for you, Amanda) Two of your recent posts made me cry! (for you, Emaye) and so on and so on. I think I planned to do this, ummmm, Saturday afternoon. Not so much, as it turns out - I spent at least 20 hours of Saturday in my pyjamas, taking it in turns with the other grownups to catch up on sleep and trying to convince the babies that they should take their turn too. I feel terrible about this, especially since you've all been so incredibly supportive while I've been away, but I'm going to have to crave your indulgence and ask you to accept my heartfelt apologies for my silence. I haven't stopped caring, I promise! Now, by day four, I've given up any idea that the babies will ever sleep so am trying to unpack a month's worth of detritus around them, (and just gave up resisting and switched the computer on too). I said that we didn't bring enough of some stuff (notably bottles, also formula) but we WAY overestimated on other things, which is why I have twelve packs of leftover antibacterial handwipes. I've spent a lot of the last few days just looking wildly around the house trying to find places to PUT all these things. Is there much of an ebay market for secondhand antibacterial handwipes? No, didn't think so.

I knew things wouldn't suddenly be easy when we got home, and they're not. The babies are hugely disoriented, again, which is perfectly reasonable. They are waking up 8 - 10 times at night and we are finding it tough. I know this won't last forever, and we are doing the things we've been advised to (eg no switching the light on, no talking at night, sleeping in our room etc etc) but this is probably going to take some serious time to settle down. They are still jetlagged, I'm sure, and the cold and the new smells and change in air pressure has got to be difficult for them. At the moment we are trying to make things as easy as possible for them, with lots of cuddles and all the milk they can imagine, whenever they want, even if that means waking at 4, again at 4.30 and again at 5. Which it does, every day. And we are tired.

Like every new adoptive mother, (and probably every mother, I guess) I'm struggling with the transition between wanting this thing and getting it. I knew that things would be hard, and they are, but knowing and experiencing are always two very different things. At the moment they feel more hard than rewarding, and I'm doing my best to let myself just be in that place without going into meltdown. I'm really glad that I read some books (like 'The Post-Adoption Blues') and some blogs (hi Julie, hi Julia!) that warned me that this might be the case. Knowing that this is somehow normal helps me to deal with it. I can deal with things being hard - I cannot deal with adding a layer of guilt about wishing things didn't feel so hard when I wanted them so much. Clearly, another thing I cannot do at the moment is construct a coherent sentence, but I'm just going to have to learn to live with that too.

And believe it or not, despite what I've written above, I know how blessed I am and I am so grateful. We put the babies in their bear suits today and took them for a walk - one in the sling, and one in the pram. They slept and smiled and none of us walked into a pole or fell in the river, despite our sleep deprivation, and it was so good to all be together, our family of four, in our little town. Now they are downstairs with J feeding them while I go through all the clothes that need unpacking (and type this).

It's going to be a while before things feel like they are anywhere near normal again, I think. But am I allowed to be really, really cheesy for a moment here? A month or so ago, while I was crying a lot and waiting for our court date, I went to an afternoon showing of the new version of Fame. I'll be frank - it's a pretty bad film. I don't want to ruin the plot for you, but basically, they want to live forever, they want to learn how to fly. (So you're not disappointed, I should probably let you know that none of them actually do learn to fly during the course of the film, which is a shame, I thought). But there's a really nice song near the beginning that Marco sings for his audition, and it's been stuck in my head for a month now. I would hate to think that I've sunk to the point where I'm getting philosophical input from a Disney film, but I keep looking at those babies and thinking - we're just ordinary people, kiddos. Maybe we should take it slow.

For now, I think slow is okay.

Friday 13 November 2009

And suddenly, things started to happen very fast...

We've had a very difficult and stressful few days trying to sort out
visas (the entire
casework team at the Home Office was down with Swine Flu). We wrote
many strongly worded emails, and made some strongly worded phone
calls, and finally got good news yesterday that they were being
processed. We picked them up this morning and then went across the
road to the Ethiopian Airlines office, where our skills at wording
things strongly turned out to be needed even more urgently.

We were told that we wouldn't be able to change our flights to any
date earlier than Wednesday, which would have meant that Mum was at
risk of missing her connecting flight to Australia on Thursday.
Fortunately, J has a very impressive ability to sit in a chair and
not move until someone does something helpful, and after 1 1/2 hours
of this we were told that we could fly tonight. I think they did this
just to guarantee we wouldn't come back tomorrow.

Anyway, this means that we are flying tonight! After weeks of not much
happening, we're about to go. We're going to miss lots of things about
Addis, but not the being-new-parents-in-a-hotel-room part. We'd
probably better go and finish the packing... more later.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

I kill technology

About three nights into the all-night-feeding marathon that has become
my life, my watch stopped. This was pretty annoying. If you're going
to be up for hours feeding, you want to know HOW many hours you were
up for, feeding, so you can claim the appropriate sympathy from your
spouse the next morning. [No OF COURSE I'm not doing all the feeding.
We're just not always up at the same time]. Also, you can find out
whether that cry really is for the next feed, or if you just fell
asleep out of sheer exhaustion for about sixty seconds and actually,
that cry is part of the same feed you were already doing and thought
you had finished but the baby was only faking being asleep and now
wants MORE MILK, darnit, MORE, NOW.

Anyway, after a few nights (and days) of no watch, and J getting a
little fed up with me saying 'what's the time, sweetie?' about every
ten minutes, I decided enough was enough. I bought a new watch, for
the princely sum of fifty birr. This was great! That night, I knew
that when I woke up, it was 12.30. And then, next time, it was
12.45.... what? That doesn't add up, especially since the first feed
had taken about an hour.

And that was when I found out that my second watch had stopped, too,
on the very first night I owned it. (And no, it wasn't a wind-up. We

So anyway. I think I have accepted the no-watch situation, until we
get back to the land of branded replacement batteries. But that is
really just my way of gently introducing the fact that today,
completely out of the blue and unexpectedly, my LAPTOP died. Utterly
and completely - I can't even turn it on. It was only three months
old, and I really loved that little machine. I loved that it enabled
me to send email. I loved that I could download my photos onto it. I
didn't, but I could. I loved that it had all my music on it, that I
could play through its tinny little speakers in the middle of the

For now, I'm typing on my mum's. But it will go back and live in her
room, and mine is staring at me blankly, with its empty screen mocking
me. What's the point of all this? No idea, really, except that I now
feel even more cut off from everything and everyone.

And since it seems my powers of killing technology are increasing... I
really, really hope that there are several spare engines on the plane
on the way home.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Me again...

It's really hard to know how to write at the moment, because my
thoughts are so jumbled up inside my head. Maybe one day I will be
able to make sense of all this, but at the moment, in the middle of
it, I definitely can't. Some of what I'm feeling seems really
negative, and I hate the fact that this sounds like I'm complaining.
I'm really not, I promise. I look at those two little faces grinning
at me, and I know I'm the luckiest woman in the world.

But. Parenting is famous for being something of an adventure. And
being in a foreign country, with (as it turns out) NO idea of when you
are going to be able to go home, is also something of an adventure.
And I've discovered that I like my adventures one at a time, please.
What's getting me down is just all the really boring stuff - we are
staying in a guesthouse that is mostly okay, but the bathroom door
doesn't close, the shower doesn't really work, the drainer doesn't
drain, there are loads of cockroaches, there is (obviously) no clean
water coming out of the tap and mostly we are just a looooooong way
from home. We had to pack our bags for our first month of parenting
with no freaking CLUE what we were really going to need. And now that
we have more of an idea, we can't get any of the stuff. I'm beginning
to obsess about how wonderful it would be to have MORE BOTTLES. I'm
going to embarrass myself here and admit that we only brought four.
Yes, you read that right! Four! For twins! We have the whole Playtex
drop-ins system, which is fine, and means the bottle bodies don't need
to be sterilised, but ack! This means that we can't make up any more
than four bottles at a time, which is absolutely no joke when we are
faced with two tiny malnourished panic-feeding babes. I'm sure there
are decent bottles somewhere in Addis, but I don't have any idea how
to find them, and I don't really have the time to scour the city - see
above, re: two tiny malnourished panic-feeding babes.

Last night I was asleep for long enough to get into a proper REM
cycle, and here's what I dreamed - I dreamed I went to the supermarket
and bought more bottles (and some chicken… sorry vegetarians). This is
how much I am missing having access to standard consumer goods - I am
dreaming about those fluorescent-lit aisles as if it was some kind of
paradise, rather than the kind of place I would normally spend a week
eating mouldy fridge leftovers to avoid.

In case it's not obvious, yes I do feel incredibly guilty for how much
I miss the comfortable bits of my life at home. I know how great it
is, technically, to be spending all this time in our babies' birth
country. But the thing is - we're not really in Ethiopia here, we're
in a hotel room. We have a view of Ethiopia from our windows, but it's
incredibly difficult to get out during the day (see above, re: two
tiny etc) so we're not really adding anything to our sum of fabulous
Ethiopian experiences during this trip, we're just trying to survive
our transition to a family of four and that feels like quite enough.
Last trip, and this trip, I've been hit hard by how much lower my
capacity for thrilling new experiences is than I had assumed it would
be. If you haven't travelled yet, I think my one piece of advice would
be - plan to take it slow. Becoming a parent to a child who has no
idea who you are is a huge and giant thing. And if you had gone into
labour and delivered a child in a hospital in Addis, you wouldn't even
be thinking about doing sightseeing during that same week, no matter
how physically great you were feeling. Getting to know Ethiopia is
hugely important, but I think we (as an adoption community) have
unrealistic expectations about combining this with parenting a new
child, especially if it is our first child.

Personally (and this little sidetrack is just my own personal opinion,
I'm sure others will disagree) I think this is part of the reason that
it's too easy to fall into one of two schools of thought on Ethiopia
travelling - a) it was horrible! I couldn't take a proper shower, and
it was impossible to get decent cheese! (or baby bottles, if you're
me, or whatever). Or b) Ethiopia was great! It is a wonderful land,
full of rich culture and beautiful friendly people! I'm exaggerating
a little, but I know that I personally can be prone to this, and I'm
sure I'm not alone. We get this strange, short time here, and all our
experiences are polarised through the lens of this bone-crunchingly
intense experience that is new adoptive parenthood. Like everywhere on
earth, this is an incomprehensible place, especially after a length of
time measured in days, or at best weeks. But things feel awful and
beautiful and it's all too hard to make sense of it. Our
cognitive-dissonance-o-meters are WAY in the red zone, and I think
that in order to get that one part of our brain labelled 'Ethiopia'
back into neutral, it can be easiest to just go with a or b.

I don't think I need to point out the dangers with a, especially since
that's the camp I'm most in danger of falling into right now, with all
my supermarket fantasies. I think option b is a little more subtle.
[ha, yes, 4 hours sleep and I used the word subtle with a straight
face. Don't worry,I think that's ridiculous too.] I started to think a
bit about this when I did the whole 'beautiful country rich culture'
speech to some Ethiopian friends and they basically told me that I had
to be kidding. I've come to think that the main risk with option b is
that it can just be us being wilfully, arrogantly ignorant of some of
the more difficult things that are going on here. As adoptive parents,
we have a vested interest in creating a happy theme-park version of
this place, (whether we give into that desire or not) and I've come to
believe that this is no less arrogant than choosing option a). I
mean, we're only able to adopt in the numbers that we are because of
endemic economic and health problems in this country. I hate that
fact, but we have to face it. I think that pushing option b too hard
sort of says: Hey guys! I have considered your social problems and
your poverty and I have decided that they are A-OK with me! And
really, in the end, I'm not sure that's any more respectful than a).

And no, I have no idea what the answer is, except that I don't really
think there is one. At the moment I'm trying to learn to just feel the
tensions and learn to live with them, which is harder than it sounds,
especially when people ask questions like 'so, how was Ethiopia?' I
think my stock answer is going to have to be 'complicated'. I'd be
very interested in other people's thoughts on this one, whether you're
yet to travel or did it ages ago. Those of you who are
na-blo-po-mo-ing, here's an idea for a post for you! A little gift
from Addis from me.


One last thing, since this post just got totally away from its
original intention (and in the end has taken about four days, see
above re two tiny etc!) . I wasn't kidding when I said I don't know
when we're going home. Having (finally) acquired for the babies their
court papers, translations of same, birth certs and passports, we were
able to apply for their visas yesterday. And, long story short, nobody
will commit to a processing time except to say it could take up to TWO
MONTHS. And of course it probably won't, but I wanted someone to
promise me it wasn;t going to be more than, say, another week and so
I'm just trying to adjust my expectations again and stop fantasising
about my house, my kitchen, and a shiny row of fifteen brand new baby
bottles by the middle of November. Prayers for a speedy process would
be much appreciated.

Saturday 31 October 2009


Here are some photos at last. The last few days have been, frankly,
pretty awful. But fortunately we are now all picking up from our
various ailments - baby boy has stopped vomiting every time we give
him his antibiotics, and we can all eat real food again (well, those
of us who are old enough to). We have been so
incredibly thankful to have my mum here - without her I really don't
know HOW we would have coped with the last few days. She has done our
washing and kept us supplied with enough sprite to keep going when we
couldn't hold down anything else - I don't think these attributes are
specifically mentioned in Proverbs 31 but I rather think they should

But who cares about us? What about the babies??!!!??? Thanks for
asking - they are doing incredibly well. Despite their hatred for my
new most-useful gadget, the infant nasal aspirator, we are definitely
making friends. I'm not making any crazy statements about attachment
yet, but they are very willing to be held and comforted but us and
this is a huge relief, and a great first step. We hardly recognise
them even from the babies they were a few days ago. They are eating
(and eating and eating) and we can see them gaining strength right
before our eyes. They are really delightful and we are so thankful
that they are finally with us.

Of course, if I'm to be honest, the first few days I was thinking
pretty much nothing but 'oh I cannot BELIEVE what I have done' but
already the person having those thoughts feels like someone other than
me. Thinking about how little sleep I will get tonight (and probably
forever) still makes me feel really fearful - HOW am I going to cope
with this? How am I going to cope with a flight? How will we get them
to the passport office? But I knew it wouldn't be easy. And it's not.
And that's normal. And today it feels just about, almost, nearly, the
right side of impossible. Ask me again after this night!

And they are pretty cute, huh??

Thursday 29 October 2009

Tuesday 27 October 2009

We Passed!

We have good news! This morning we attended the First Instance
District court and were officially declared to be parents.

We are thrilled and very thankful. We will be picking up the babies
later this afternoon, and will post pictures as soon as we get a
chance. Just wanted to pass on the good news now!

Right, off to Kaldi's for one last lunch...

Sunday 25 October 2009

The view from my window right now

I see a young man washing a 4X4
I see a bike leaning against a barbed wire fence
I see people working
I see people torpid
I see women walking down the street in long traditional dresses and
scarves, talking on mobile phones.
I see shacks made from corrugated iron and plastic.
In the distance I see skyscrapers.
I see the sun shining
I see planes taking off
I see the hills
I see a tiny child running in circles at breakneck toddler speed
I see donkeys and goats
I see the domes of Bole Mehdanealem church
I see bird after bird after bird after bird

I can't believe how good it is to be back. I had a cancelled flight
and a horrible journey but arriving felt like a strange kind of

And tomorrow's view will be even better. Tomorrow I see ...the babies!

Friday 23 October 2009

Got it.

Got snowsuits

Got bearsuits *

Got stripes Got wipesGot clothes for him **
Got clothes for his twin
Got books and toys***Got wishes for joy****Got homemade owls

Got baby towels*****Got suitcases packed
(Got help from the cat)

Got nappies******

Got happy

And so.

Let's go!!*******

* is this child cruelty? I sure hope not.
** check out the tacky but fabulous superman outfit!!
*** the cot is in our room, before you think we've forgotten something major here...
**** sorry about that rhyme.
***** and yes, the towel ALSO has an owl! I didn't make that one though.
****** if you were writing this in the states, what would you rhyme with 'diaper??'

******* 9.30 tonight! And yes, I'm ready! For the flight at least, if not for parenthood. Will post again from Addis as soon as I can.

Thursday 22 October 2009

It seems I always forget

To post the really important things, like dates.

Like the fact that I have to appear in court in person.

Like the fact that this means I'm flying tomorrow. On my own, because there was only one ticket left - J has to fly 48 hours later and touches down just a few hours before we need to go to our document checking appointment.

The last few days have been pretty intense. Once again, it's been an acceleration from zero to leaving the country in just a few days. You'd think I would have learned from last time and been more prepared, but no. Until we got that court date, I think that I didn't really believe these babies were going to make it home, so there wasn't much point making final preparations.

But now I finally do. You know, mostly. I keep looking at the baby clothes as I sort them and think: Hopefully, this time next week, this will have a baby inside. It makes me feel a bit teary and a bit scared.

Stuff for the babies is packed, although last night, late, I got an email from a friend who is there saying 'pack more clothes! The babies have exploding diarrhea!' So perhaps one more trip to the baby shop is in order...

Monday 19 October 2009

Attachment literature, anybody??

Just another plea for help from the interwebs here, folks!

After about two years of reading and thinking about adoption attachment, we've decided that nobody but us is going to hold / feed our babies for the first few weeks (at least) after we get home. Also, we've decided that for a while we won't have any visitors at our house - we want to keep this as a 'safe space' for the babies until they begin to understand that they are in a family, and we will always be there. This makes a lot of sense to us, and I know that everyone on this list, even if you have made different decisions for your own situations, will at least understand where we are coming from.

However! We are having difficulty working out how to communicate this information to family and friends. People have mostly been very supportive of us during the long process, and we know that they are all eager to meet and hold our twins. We want to explain to them that we are making these decisions, not because we dont' value the contribution that they will make to our children's lives, and not because we are overprotective and paranoid, but because our children have different needs and need to learn not just who their parents are but what a parent is. It turns out that this isn't easy for people to hear - basically they think we are crazy. Or stupid. Or both.

So, I'm wondering... has anybody got any tips for how to communicate this information? Has anybody written a letter (or found a good one on the internet!) that might be helpful for us to use as a template? In terms of information sheets, I've been able to find a lot about WHAT should be done to facilitate attachment, but much less successful finding bite-sized information on WHY, and I want people to understand that we really do have good reasons for these decisions! Any help gratefully received!

On a related topic - I do'nt really think I can ask our family to read weighty tomes on these issues, but one or two of the more interested have also asked for a recommendation of a short book or 'primer' on the topic of attachment (and particularly how attachment affects brain development). I've really, really enjoyed 'why love matters', but i think even that is probably too in-depth. Does anybody have any suggestions??

Thursday 15 October 2009

Exceedingly Abundantly

It's no secret that I have been feeling pretty discouraged lately. Yesterday I went out for lunch with a friend and ended up crying into my salad because I was so worried about the babies. (I've also been challenged a lot about my attitude towards all this by a book I've been reading, but events have somewhat overtaken the post I was planning on that topic. I've been fighting hard to stay trusting, especially in the last few weeks. I knew that God is powerful, but I was finding it hard to remember that he is good. I was probably going to have to quote from Job. It wasn't going to be pretty).

Then, last night - some wonderful news. Our babies are both up to 3.1kg! Finally, a weight that doesn't start with a 2! I know that people around the world have been praying for our little ones, and we are so grateful for this tangible answer to all of our prayers. Went to bed happy. I said to J - for the first time in a long time, I am starting to believe that these babies might actually make it home. Woke up happy.

And then, this morning - I don't know how to say this any other way than just stating the bare facts - we got our court date . It is:


October 27, people! Twelve days time! I am absolutely overwhelmed by God's kindness to me today. I was hoping and praying for the middle of November, but prepared for this to be way into December. Truly, he has done exceedingly abundantly above all that I had asked our thought. (Ephesians 3:20, way out of context, but you'll forgive me in my excitement, yes?)

We need to be out there October 25 so we can check all the paperwork is in order on October 26. I'm hoping to go out a few days earlier (hopefully with my mum) to visit a bit with the babies and remind them who I am.

I think it's finally, finally time for me to come out of nursery-avoidance mode. I'ts largely done, but there's no actual furniture. But today - no more excuses - today I'm buying a cot!!

(By the way, I'm painfully aware that I was not the only person in the universe waiting for a court date. Hurry up, Ethiopian courts, for court dates for Rana, and Evelyn, and Rebecca and Liz and Shannon and everyone else who is waiting! We've already waited out the closure! STAT! )

Monday 12 October 2009

The Babies

I've realised that I have written a lot lately about waiting, but I haven't really written much about the two big things: Ethiopia (after the first two days of shock) and the babies (ditto). So first: the babies.

The babies are beautiful. They are bright as little buttons, have wonderful eye contact and lovely little personalities. And if love can be measured by how miserable you are apart from someone, I can tell you now that I definitely love these babies.

The most noticeable thing about these babies is that they are SMALL. One of the things I was trying to think through and deal with during the year + that we were waiting was the fact that we might be referred an 'old' baby. Our age range was up to 12 months, and we knew that with time taken for court and travel that the baby could be considerably older than this by the time they came home. I'm not going to defend myself about finding this hard to process - I knew I should just deal with it, but dangit, I really, really love crunched up little newborns and that's what I think of when I think 'baby'.

So anyway, when our babies were matched with us, they were four weeks old. And twins. And a boy and a girl. This is a total jackpot situation, yes? Well, YES! Of course. And the babies themselves are unbelieveable, perfect, adorable. But suddenly I found myself faced with issues that I had never considered. I had been so concerned about the baby being big, that I never thought about what would happen if they were scarily small. As I write, the babies are 10 1/2 weeks old, and they are both only just past the 6 pound mark. Did I say they are 10 1/2 weeks old? They are not quite yet grown into 'newborn' size clothes. I know that 6 pounds isn't really tiny, in the scale of things, and there are much tinier babies than this out there, but we know about their new weights because we finally got a weight update on the weekend and we can now calculate that since their birth they have only put on 1 1/2 pounds (baby girl) and 1 pound (baby boy) and that doesn't feel like enough to me. It doesn't look like enough to the WHO growth chart, either, even when corrected for likely prematurity. I wonder - is this officially failure to thrive? Then I checked some definitions and wow yes, it is definitely failure to thrive. And then I think - why would I not expect failure to thrive under their current circumstances? I've been reading this cheery book , and institutional care is filed under the chapter entitled 'severe neglect'. And hey - I have to agree. I've been there. We have a great big album of photos from our trip that I bore people with, and I love to point out pictures of our babies' favourite nanny. "Look, there she is! She's pinching their little cheeks and talking to them!" And she is, and that's great, but let's face it, she has 10 other babies to look after too and I know that, pep talks aside, our babies are getting nutrition and hygiene but nothing that even remotely approaches mothering.

What will the long term effects be, I wonder? I know that brain damage is a risk. I don't want my babies to be brain damaged. I know they are being regularly fed, but if they aren't eating enough at each feed, or spitting it all up, or not absorbing it properly, I'm pretty sure they face malnutrition the same way as if food wasn't available. I can't bear to think about the fact that this is almost certainly unnecessary. With dedicated care, I know they could be bigger. I know they could be growing. I wish I could do that. It makes me feel dizzy just to think about it.

And I know that there is nothing that anybody can say to make this any better. Nothing that will fix this, now, and we probably won't know for years whether there has been any long term damage.

Hmmmmm. Not really an upper, is it?

Friday 9 October 2009

Small Things

Things I don't have, today:

  1. My babies at home
  2. A court date
  3. Any idea, at all, how the babies are doing

Things I do have, as of today:

  1. A colour-coded sweater drawer:
I almost wish I had my job back.