Monday 31 August 2009

Okay, so this is how it all went down

I think this is going to be the short version of this story, because even now, a week and a half later, when I know this story has a happy ending, I still feel slightly sick thinking about it. So anyway, here's the scoop:

We first heard about our twins on August 11. Yes, that's right - a full two weeks before I posted anything. Was I so happy that I couldn't tear myself away from baby shopping to post? Um, no. Here's how it happened. I was sitting at our breakfast bar, eating (rather appropriately) my breakfast, doing the compulsive first-thing-in-the-morning email check that I started as soon as our papers arrived in Addis (which is when our 'window' opened). As always, I looked at my inbox, and scanned the 'from' list to see if there was anything from the orphanage. As always, no. As always, kicking disappointment. Okay, I thought, I'll read my other emails. There was one from a fellow UK adopter that I'd become friendly with - she had just returned from meeting her daughter for the first time in Addis. And: I hope I'm doing the right thing by telling you this ........ but the last day we were at the orphanage (Monday), twins came in. A little girl and boy. I spoke to [orphanage director] about them, and she is just settling them and having the HIV test done. You are next on the list for a twins match!!!! They are tiny and incredibly beautiful - I hope you hear from [orphanage director] very soon...... Let me know. We took photographs of them!

I read this, and the whole world turned upside down. In that one instant: joy. I got down from my chair, left the house (you know? Not really certain that I brushed my teeth that morning) and called J. TWINS! Incredibly beautiful! Tiny! Boy and Girl! Us, next on the list! US! We could hardly breathe. We agreed that we wouldn't tell anybody at ALL at this point . In that moment, we were both sure that we would hear super-soon and then we could share our joy with the world. We hung up. A minute later, I felt compelled to call straight back - what would we CALL them, J? I swear, when I asked that, I heard a grown man giggle with happiness. I floated into work and beamed at everyone all day. I emailed my friend back to say - are you SURE we're next on the list? She emailed back to say YES! It's definitely you! Joy.

It took me a good few hours to get past the TWINS! Incredibly beautiful! Tiny! Boy and Girl! Us, next on the list! US! bit of the email to the she is just settling them in and getting the HIV tests done bit. I mean, I read it first time around, but was mostly thinking 'oh, I hope the tests don't take very long because then we will hear really soon'. It wasn't until the initial endorphins wore off that I realised - hey there, slow down, they are getting these tests for a reason. They could come back positive.

They could come back positive.

And I know that HIV is a manageable condition, but it's not on our list of approved medical conditions (almost impossible in the UK), so it's not that we wouldn't have wanted to adopt them if they were HIV+, it's that we wouldn't have been allowed to. I know people fall in love with referral photos, but I had fallen in love with three sentences in an email, and suddenly I realised in way that I never, ever had before that our adopted babies don't spring into being after their medicals declare them adoptable, but that for all the children without parents, but are healthy and destined for a new family, others DO have HIV or something equally awful and while I know some people are able to adopt HIV+babies, most don't, and.... what? What happens to these babies? Would I ever even know? If it was good news, we would probably hear soon, but if it was bad news, what? I could feel two parallel futures spinning away from me. In one, the babies are healthy, we get an official referral and we become a family. In the other? Well, I guess we are referred a different child, but what about the babies?

I don't have anything like the words to explain what all of this realisation was like. I should have known this before, right? I mean, I'm not actually stupid. But knowing it and KNOWING it turned out to be two completely different things. And of course, I knew, and I know, that even if our own story had a happy ending, that didn't erase the reality of this. I remember thinking - how can I continue to live in a world where tiny babies are born with illnesses that they won't be able to get treatment for? How is this possible? And what kind of a God lets this happen? I found myself reading my bible with a fierce anger that I'd never really felt before. And I found what I already knew, but desperately needed reminding of - God is a God of passionate justice, and my anger at the suffering of the innocent is nothing - nothing - compared to his. Which is strangely comforting, but doesn't make the realities of this broken world magically go away. To the question - how can I continue to live in this world? the answer comes back - well, you don't have a choice. You can disengage, but you can't make this go away.

A week passed. I thought a lot about Schroedinger's cat, about how there was already a certain outcome, although I didn't know what it was. At this point, I lost all hope about our babies. This was the only way I could cope with not hearing anything. Time was passing, and all was silent. Surely, if all was well, we would have heard? Every time I stood up, I could feel the hope draining away from my body. It was leaking from the ends of my fingers and gushing from the soles of my feet - I was ankle deep in it, and still it kept draining away. Sometimes I would quietly whisper to myself TWINS! Incredibly beautiful! Tiny! Boy and Girl! Us, next on the list! US! but always, echoing back was HIV tests. You would have heard by now if it was good news. And I began to build a fence around my heart, plank by spiky plank. I kept telling myself - these aren't our babies. We know about them, that's all. But nobody owes us any information about them.

At the end of the week, I called. I hesitatingly mentioned the babies, and the orphanage director said 'do you want to know if they are for you?' and I said YES and felt a little ripple of residual hope surging up, just in time to hear her say that she hadn't made a decision yet, about what would happen to them and that she would write to me soon if it was yes for us. And that was the end of the conversation.

Of course, I had no idea what she meant. Did she mean that she wasn't sure if they were healthy? Or she wasn't sure if they were for us?

I will spare you an account of the second week, except that it was very similar to the first. By this time, I was starting to crack a bit under the strain of the not-knowing, but we still hadn't told a single soul. To start with, it was because we wanted people to be surprised and pleased, but by this point it was because I couldn't make my fingers type the words that we had hoped to adopt two little babies who were probably, since we hadn't heard by now, HIV positive.

And then. We had agreed that, if we hadn't heard more in a week, we could call the orphanage again. We tried in the morning, but couldn't get through. We tried five more times. Eventually I had to go to work. I was trying to deal with the fact that it would be bad news, but that it would be better to know for sure. J tried again. He got through, but the director wasn't there. He spoke to me and we agreed that he should call her on her mobile, even though we knew the connection would be really bad. He tried. She didn't answer. We spoke again - I was sitting on a bench near the building where I work, pretty much trying not to throw up from all the stress. He agreed to try again.
We hung up. The minutes ticked away - I watched them change on my phone. As more minutes passed, I realised that he had probably got a connection. And then he sent a text to say: Good news. I'm coming up to see you.

It happened early last week, and I still can't take in that the text said good news. I was so sure it was all over. I asked and asked him - are you SURE she said they are for us? Are you absolutely certain? Yes, yes, yes - I'm sure. And then she sent us a picture -and then their medical reports. And I am finally convinced, I think, that it's not all a mistake. But in the middle of the night, I'm still waking up sweating and sure that we'll find out it was. I guess I built that fence a little too high.

So, that's how it happened. Not what I expected at all.

Sunday 30 August 2009

This is us

In Austria.

On the day that we think our babies were born.

We had no idea.

I took the cow photo the same day.

Adoption, huh?

Every time I think about it, it blows my mind in a completely new way.

Friday 28 August 2009


Thank you so much for all your lovely comments! They gladden my heart. It means to much to hear people cheering for us (and our BABIES!!) from afar :)

The last few days have been incredibly overwhelming. I know this is happening in my head, but I still can't make my heart believe it. I feel like the places in my brain where the unicorns and rainbows live have atrophied over the last few years, and I'm having to repeat over and over and over to myself - this IS happening! They really will be OUR babies! I'm not just a wild fantasist, making this all up! I keep waking in the middle of the night, sure we're going to get a phone call saying 'sorry guys, big mistake, sorry for the mixup, these babies are for the OTHER Claudia'. But it hasn't happened yet, and I'm beginning to trust that it won't. I think. Although typing 'our babies' above still feels like I'm writing fiction. Please bear with me as I adjust!

Have I mentioned how beautiful they are? We have a photo of the two of them together, and I have to admit that we're not 100% sure which is which. We think the boy is the one in blue, but they are so bundled up, and there is absolutely no way of telling for sure. We also have no idea whether either of them have any hair (although I think we can see a trace of pretty spectacular baby sideburns, so there is hope). The strangest thing, though: I have no idea what they are going to look like when they grow up, or even in a month's time. Guess that shouldn't really surprise me, huh? At the moment, their most noticeable feature is just how tiny they are, and I assume they're going to grow out of that - what next? I'd known in my head, but it had never really hit me before that, with most babies, you have some kind of an idea about how they will turn out, because barring unexpected recessive genes, they will be some kind of mix of mum and dad. But these two? We don't even know (yet) where in Ethiopia they are from. I've always known that, as I grew up, I would fight a losing battle with widening hips and need to apply lots of suncream to avoid the family legacy of skin cancer. At 30, my mother looked a lot like I do now, so it's a pretty fair guess that I will look like her at 55. But my daughter will look like neither of us, and looking at us won't help her to work out what the future holds. It's so strange to look at these little tiny faces and have absolutely no idea what sort of image they bear. What a joy it will be to find out as they grow.

This is the first moment that I've had to draw breath since we found out. I've been working on a giant project at work, which in a moment of stunningly bad timing was due this week and was absolutely non-negotiable. So I've been staying late and doing overtime, collating a whole load of data when all I want to be doing is googling 'double pushchairs' and 'cute outfits for twins' and screaming 'I don't CARE about all this! Don't you know we've got BABIES?' . That's done now, though, and I'm finally beginning to feel like I can breathe again.

I'll post the 'here's how it all went down' story soon. Because it has a lot to do with why I'm finding this all so hard to believe. And why I've been curled into a little knot lately, and not beeing commenting or emailing as I should. But not right now... I've got some googling to do!!

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Birthday Presents

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about my birthday.

And then this morning, a photo was emailed to us. Two tiny little babies - twins - a boy and a girl, about four weeks old.

We know almost nothing about them, except that they are beautiful. And they will be ours.

And today? Today is J's birthday.

Thursday 20 August 2009

I just don't know what to do with myself

I don't really know what I'm meant to be doing at the moment, what I'm supposed to be thinking or feeling. J's answer to this is that, Claudia, you don't need to be feeling something ALL THE TIME. Obviously, that's the Y chromosome talking, because what kind of crazy is that? We're probably looking at somewhere between days and weeks before we see our baby's face and our whole world turns upside down - I'm sure I'm feeling something, I'm just not entirely sure what it is.

In the meantime, I've pretty much regressed to being a teenager. I lie around the house and listen to sad music, and I've gone back to listening really hard to lyrics and being sure that they mean something. Girl sailor? By the Shins? You know the lines that go: A stronger girl would shake this off in flight, / and never give it more than just a frowning hour / But you have let your heart decide/ Loss has conquered you... I'm sure that's about me! And if I had a pound for every time I've listened to this , my adoption would have funded itself. (Eternally grateful to Lori for sending me that last song, by the way).

While I'm lying moodily on the sofa bonding with my ipod, I wonder. Does this huge weight of anticipation mean that I'm not allowed to find things difficult once the baby actually arrives? Jana Wolff, in her great book 'Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother' has a chapter entitled 'Adopted poop doesn't smell any different' and I'm thinking about this a lot at the moment. Not just the poop, but the fact that I will have waited so long for this child, and I really hope he or she will change my life for the better, but the concensus seems to be that parenthood involves a lot of hard work and sleepless nights and is not just about the cashmere blankets and the smell of baby head. And while it's true that when I hear people complaining about their children, I want to beat them with a stick them until they realise how lucky they are*, I also know that sleep deprivation is awful, and vomit is gross, and there will be days when I just want to scream, and at the moment I just can't reconcile that knowledge with my intense longing to finally meet my child. And the heartache that I don't even know when that will be.

I guess part of the problem is this: in order to adopt, you have to be so determined to do it. You have to be totally convinced that it's a good idea. You have to want that child so badly in order to cope with the adoption process rollercoaster of humiliation and despair. You have to put all your plans on hold and move to Liminal State. But then, the baby comes, the goal is achieved, and... what then?

I have no idea.

*(Not as effective as you might think!)

Wednesday 12 August 2009

So it turns out

There is a level of self-pity that I cannot bear to even inflict on the blogosphere. I've been hiding (OKAY, wallowing) for the last week or so, just feeling devoid of hope.

I haven't planted any mint
My eyebrows are a mess
(I have done some amharic practise though).

As is usually the case, though, after a few days of feeling intensely sad, things are beginning to look up a bit. Nothing has actually changed, it just all feels a bit more manageable. If we have to wait until October, when courts open again, to find out about our baby, I will live.

After all, that's only 8 weeks, and I've been alive for about 1564 weeks, so it's only about half a percent of my life. A drop in the bucket, really.

If our baby lives to be seventy, it's only 0.2 percent of their total life. Hardly noticeable. The turn of a page.

It would mean waiting 14% longer than we already have, and that feels like a long time. But we've managed so far.

And we'll get through this last bit.

I'm sure of it.

Tuesday 4 August 2009


While on holiday, I found myself making all kinds of resolutions. When I got back, life would be different. I would deal with all my faults and become a new, kinder, cleverer, more efficient person. My resolutions included the following:

"I will learn to speak fluent Amharic!"
"I will always be well groomed, and never have stray eyebrow hairs again!"
"I will buy an ice-crusher, grow my own mint and be known for my fabulous mojitos!"

Of course, now that I'm back, it's more like

"I will boil some spaghetti, defrost some bolognese and eat it on the sofa!"

and so I suppose life goes on. Holiday was great, but I'm the same me I ever was, just with a bad case of peeling sunburn. And you know what? I'm just as stupid as ever. Part of me really thought that we would get our referral while on holiday. Because it would have been inconvenient, and annoying, and expensive to change our plans, and fabulous and wonderful and why did I think I was going to get that lucky? I'm afraid I've reached that point in The Wait when I really don't think it's going to happen. When I got back to work this morning, I had to start a new diary for 2009-10 because the old one finished at July, and it was physically painful to look at those pristine new pages. I was really hoping not to have to touch that diary. I wanted my 2009-10 diary to say playdate! naptime! building blocks! rather than 'income / expenditure ratio scenario planning'.

While I was on holiday, I took this picture:

Which I think illustrates how I've been feeling. Right now, all the difficulties of our situation feel like that great big cow in the foreground. At the moment, this waiting is all that I can see. This uncertainty is all that I can think about. Last night I even dreamed that someone sent me a baby girl through the post. (She was fine after her journey, thanks for asking). How long can this top-of-the-list, edge-of-my-seat not-knowningness go on, do you suppose, before I lose it completely? No matter how hard I try to look away, I can't ignore the fact that there is a giant cow in my field of vision. As time goes on, that cow is looming bigger and bigger. It's now August and I want so much to move into the next phase of my life that it's hard to see anything else. The landscape around is beautiful, but - hey, there's that cow again. And I do keep wondering whether I'll ever really recover from what we've been through. That cow looks pretty immovable. When the baby is home, will I suddenly not care any more about all the sadness? I can't believe this will be the case. I don't want to place that burden of expectation on a grieving baby. Their role in life must not be to heal me.

As time goes on, I think I'm reconciling myself to the fact that this cow isn't ever going to disappear. I think I'll always have this cow of past sadnesses grazing somewhere on my mental pastures, no matter how great life becomes in the future. But I'm hoping there will come a day when she takes a walk and becomes more like the cow on the horizon. Still there, but further away and feeling a lot smaller. Maybe not even immediately noticeable. I don't really expect her to go away, but I hope that in time she won't be filling my field of vision anymore. She won't be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning.

She'd better watch out though. I'm not sure how much more of this I can take right now. If she gets too much closer... I'm firing up the barbeque. Who wants a steak?