Thursday 10 September 2009

Three Days in Addis- updated

***updated in 2011 to add - blogger tells me that a few people seem to be visiting my blog by clicking on this page but never finding their way off it. Just in case that's you, you can get to more recent posts by clicking on the banner above that says 'my fascinating life'. Okay, now back to the original post....***

Here it is - warts and all. I started writing this just for me and then thought - huh, might as well post it. This will stop me writing a sanitised version later.
Tuesday 08 September - Day 1.

Arrived at 7.30 after a pretty awful flight, then had long wait for visa, baggage, customs. Met by friends of friends of ours. They had arranged accommodation for us, and we said yes because we didn't know how to say no. One of those incredibly awkward situations where they were (I think) putting themselves to great inconvenience, and we would have much preferred that they hadn't. We actually already knew where we wanted to stay, but the mutual friends had asked them to arrange this without really checking with us, and we were too English and constricted to say - please don't. We had a suitcase full of - actually who knows what - for them, from the mutual friends. Luckily Ethio air didn't ask the 'did you pack your own baggage' question.

By the time we got out the airport, I was dim with fatigue and beginning to vibrate with stress about meeting our children for the first time. They decided that we needed to stop for breakfast, which we did and I managed not to say Please I just want to get where we're going and then I want to meet my babies because I'm afraid we won't like each other and I need to know, I need to know.

They asked lots of questions about our stay, but it turned out they thought I was out here to do volunteer work, and picking up the babies was just one more good deed to tick off my list. Leaving me with plenty of time for more. What kind of work was I going to be doing? Was I interested in coming to work with them? I became increasingly high pitched as I tried to say well, there's really one big reason I'm here, and that's to get to know our babies, and I'm not really sure I'm going to have time for a volunteer job as well. A few people asked similar questions about volunteer work, and it made me feel sad - partly because I hated having to justify spending time with our new children, but also because - is this what they think of us in the west? That we only come to Ethiopia if we think we can do some 'good'? That doesn't really reflect well on us, if it's true.

We got back in the car. No matter what we asked, we didn't seem to be able to get across the fact that we wanted to know where the accommodation was located. Not before we left the UK, and it turned out that we still couldn't find out now that we had arrived. We had a rough idea of where the orphanage was located, and more than anything we wanted to be close by so that we could visit the babies easily and often. But the car drove, and drove, and we knew that each mile, full of fascinating sights (okay, mostly goats) was taking us further and further from where we needed to be. I was just managing to keep myself together, telling myself this-is-okay-I-am-okay-it-doesn't-matter-where-we-stay-not-really-after-all-I'm-only-here-for-THREE MONTHS and trying to keep all the horror thoughts of the babies hating us, us not liking the babies and so on out of my head. Then we arrived at the place they had booked for us, and it was stupidly far away, and awful, and dirty, and astonishingly unfriendly, and as soon as they drove away I sat down on the narrow little bed and cried and cried and cried. No way, I said no way are we staying here. We've wasted the entire morning when we could have been seeing our babies and I cannot take this anymore. J agreed - our politeness had been stretched past its limit and we agreed to do a bunk. It took a few hours to arrange, but by 3 we were in our originally chosen clean guesthouse within walking distance of the orphanage.

And from there - on to the orphanage. I have dreamed about the first time I would meet my child (although it turned out to be children) for a long, long time. I think I was expecting far too much of myself, and of the moment. I even knew I was expecting far too much, but all those stories! Those pictures! The two souls, meant to be together, meeting for the first time! The emotion, the tears! How could I possibly not want that? But now that the time had finally arrived, it turned out that I felt panicked, and unsure, and curiously blank all at the same time. Did this mean it wasn't meant to be? Had we made a huge, huge mistake? Was I about to ruin my own life, and that of two innocent tiny babies??

I wish I could say that as soon as my daughter was placed in my arms, and I saw my son in J's arms, all my fears and doubts melted away. In fact, I considered writing that anyway because I so much wanted it to be true. But you know what? It didn't happen like that - not for me. I picked up my girl, and I could see that she was beautiful. Tiny, vulnerable, perfect, and beautiful. But I felt… not much. Just strangeness - like it was happening to someone else. She looked at me curiously, and I looked at her curiously, and I knew that I would love her, but I also knew that it hadn't happened yet. She was wrapped up incredibly tightly, in three layers of blankets, so all I could see was her teeny tiny face frowning at me from a huge log of rolled fabric. I remember thinking it's kind of hard to bond with a burrito with a face. And the same with our beautiful, perfect tiny little son. I'm trying to go easy on myself with the self-loathing about this. (Easy to say now, with a few days distance - after it happened, I got back to the nice clean guesthouse and cried and cried and cried for the second time that day). I'm telling myself that motherhood is going to be a lifetime project, and it's not really about the big moments, but I know that if I don't write it down now then I will deny it later, and say that as soon as we four all looked into each others' eyes we knew.

(break from journal-mode to ask the blog-world a question- Is this normal? Or at least normal-ish? I certainly hope so. For those of you who have met your babies, did any of you feel like this? I'd be glad to know if I'm not the only one. In fact, part of the reason I'm writing this is so that if anyone after me reads it, and faces the same thing, they won't feel quite as horror-struck as I did).

Day 2

Everything looks much better today. These babies are really growing on me. Also we found some excellent coffee.

Day 3

Baby girl falls asleep in my arms and makes adorable snuffling noises. Baby boy spends about an hour just staring at J, and occasionally poking out his little tongue. Without a doubt, these are the cutest babies I've ever seen! It's the strangest thing to leave them behind at the orphanage when we go back to our guesthouse. I'm really beginning to miss them. It hurts, but I also feel incredibly ...relieved.


  1. Oh, my dear one... my heart is so full for you right now.

    We all see too many movies about this sort of thing, don't we? I'm not a mom, but I've had friends who gave birth tell me they experienced something very similar when they first held their children: Who is this? Why am I holding her? What am I supposed to do now? As exhausted and stretched past the breaking point as you were, I think you did remarkably well. It'll get better and better as time goes on, is my bet.

    Also -- hooray for coffee!! I LOVE Ethiopian coffee, it's one of my gourmet splurges.

  2. I have no time to substantively comment because I am running late for something...but wanted to say, thank you for posting because I was planning on sending flares or some type of signal to you across the continents to signify that I desperately needed to hear from you and can't stop wondering how things are going...[exhale] and out of here.

  3. I think what you're feeling is normal. We had months to bond with pictures and videos of our little ones before finally getting to hold them. You get so tied up in waiting for the big moment and then it's almost as if ok now what. The bond will grow and you will soon not remember having not loved them. They will become your greatest loves. Be patient. I'm glad to hear that all is well and that you are now happy with where you are staying. Looking forward to hearing more.

  4. Oh Claudia,
    I have had to re-sign up for a blogger account for the third time because I really, really must respond and am apparently too unorganized to ever remember my password.
    From a bio-mother's stand point, your feelings when you held your baby were perfectly, totally normal, not necessarily what everyone experiences, but certainly what lots of us experience. I am so grateful that one of my friends let me in on this secret before my baby was born or I would still be feeling like the worst mother ever. I am sure it is exactly the same for adoptive parents. Some feel that connection instantly - the one that feels like "love", others feel something different. When I held my daughter for the first time it felt surreal, much like you described. Just like you, I knew I would love her and that I did love her but not in the rose- petals-falling-from-the-ceiling, nurses-bursting-into-song, tears-streaming-down-my-face, you-complete-me way that pop culture led me to believe I should feel.
    I am so glad you have arrived safely. I am so glad that you have met your beautiful children. I am so glad that you blog about things that happen to you that seem exactly like things that would happen to me (I could feel and relate to every emotion you had about the accommodation snafu.)
    Soon the rose petals will fall from the ceiling for you and I can't wait to read about it.

  5. Totally normal (from my point of view). I'm still not quite there at 2 months home. I was talking to another a-mom a couple of weeks ago at Little Bit's party and she kind of whispered "Do you love him like a mom yet?" To which I replied "I'm getting there." She said "Good, you admit it. It took me 3 mo with my bio son & 6 mo with my a-daughter, don't worry about it."

    And I totally would have gone with those people and then sat and cried too. Although I might have also felt obliged to stay there for a couple of days too. Perhaps I'm part Brit.

  6. Oh, my goodness, C! So much happening so fast! I love the progression of the different days. I also love your honesty. I've often wondered how I will feel. It helps to read a version of parents meeting children that is not saccharine induced - which, by the way, sounds perfectly normal to me (your version, that is)!

    I hope you get time to write more in the next three months. It sounds amazing to me.


  7. I am so happy you posted. And thank you for posting so honestly. I know that many bio-moms experience the same thing with their children. And it feels awful and they feel guilty and then everything feels wonderful ... once it settles. It's so normal.
    It kind of reminds me of my first date with Colin. I fancied him for so long and we had seen each other a few times before our first date but that time had spanned over like six months. Anyways, it was love at first sight- so I built him up- I built up all of the romance and the wonderment- and then we had our first date ... which was perfect but I felt totally numb and freaked out. I had a crisis session with my roommates and they just told me to chill out and to go out with him again ... which I did, the next night. And then it really was romance and wonderment.
    He's my soul mate. I recognized that but it took me awhile to feel comfortable with that once we were together. It took me awhile to strip away the fantasy to see the person. It's worked so far. I don't know if this is the right comparison. Maybe it's not a comparison at all. Maybe it's just a reflection on the fact that sometimes our hearts and our minds aren't in sync. Sometimes the things that are most wonderful still feel difficult and awkward and bring about the greatest doubt.

    All I know is that you are normal. You are brave. You are being honest and I think in the long run this is going to help you more than anything. You need time to adjust, to a new role, a new country, a new culture, a new time zone, to two new human beings. You have been on a crazy roller coaster and you have just boarded another.
    It sounds like you are finding your way. And I know you will find your way. This is a major transition time but I think that in the long run that this time will mark such a great time of self discovery. I also think that the time you spend in Addis together with your children will make the transition back home so much easier.
    Thanks for sharing. Be well. Get some rest. Give yourself time and try not to apply too much mom guilt or self guilt. Everything will work out.

    extra hugs and kisses,

  8. I was totally going to suggest rest and Ethiopian coffee until I saw your Day 2 post. :) Moms must have some rest and coffee before feeling good about anything in this world. So, yes, you are perfectly perfectly perfectly normal! So, you have now embarked on the journey that I have yet to embark, so you have to tell me what it feels like. I love that the attachment person at our agency told me, "B is going to be roughly 18 months old when she comes home, so expect it to take about 9 months to feel motherly love for her and for her to feel daughterly love towards you." That made perfect sense. And I'm so glad someone said that outloud. So, about half of her months in age AT LEAST to start feeling that strong connection. So your timeframe is obviously going to feel much shorter, but it is still very real and takes time. Do me a favor and just let yourself feel however you need to feel without feeling guilty about it. Or if that is too hard, because well it is way too hard, then just say it to yourself over and over. "It's okay that I feel this way." and "This too will pass." Those are 2 mommy phrases to live by. I am thrilled for you by the way and I am SO stinking glad that you aren't in a crappy hell hole too far away from your babies. :)

  9. Dearest, I couldn't imagine any circumstances where your first responses weren't cdddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddij (I'm leaving that in because it was an intervention from your happy healthy cat walking across my lap. Guess he says hi.)

    Anyway, after everything you'd been through in the build up, numb was pretty much a given. You are doing so so well. Love is always something you learn. Relax, go with the flow. Love will come. I am so proud of you and so relieved to hear from you!

  10. Oh yes, perfectly normal. Lots of people say that they feel like they are babysitting at first. I remember feeling fiercely protective, and amused by his antics, and so on - but certainly nothing like I felt after a few months, or now.

    Sleep also really, really helps. Plus the coffee of course. :)

  11. Oh you, you wrote so honestly and I so appreciate it. And I get what you said about denying that numb feeling later. I relate completely to what you talked about because it sounds like the inside of my head, too.

    I agree with the other commentors, that these feelings are very normal. It's not the same for everyone. I felt much the same way with my bio son, this enormous feeling of responsibility for this little person (burrito), but I was oddly disconnected. I did not cry tears of joy, I didn't kiss him, I just retreated back into my head and wondered about my odd feelings, or lake thereof. When we came home with him, I distinctly remember that my husband picked him up and held him high and kissed his cheeks madly. And I felt a deep sense of relief, ah, there's the love, thank god it's here. But me, it took months before I found him to be delightful. I think for me it was the juxtaposition of responsibility versus adoration. How do you let yourself love something so much that you have to take such responsibility for? I doubt that makes sense.

    You have struck such a chord with me this morning. I will be fiending to hear anything, everything from you.

    Do you think that, if you have time, you could explain the adoption process on your end, how it is that you will be there for three months?

    Here's my whopper hug, I only pull it out for special occasions.

  12. omg, of course you felt OVERWHELMED and didn't have the rainbows and butterflies response shown in the movies!! When I met Jacob, I thought I was going to be super emotional and cry, but I didn't at all. I was very calm and just cuddled him up from the nanny and said thanks. I felt like a freak because all of the other families were crying and so emotional. But I love Jacob more than life itself, so it is not reflective of anything! We are thinking of you and know you will do great!

  13. I think it is impossible NOT to build up these moments in our minds, after all, we've been tortured and tortured and TORTURED for so long waiting for things to happen, hoping and praying and wishing and crossing everything and then it all boils down to one single moment. Of course you would feel strangeness--the whole process is certainly strange, BEAUTIFUL but strange. And you're right--from what I've observed (no direct experience here yet) motherhood isn't about the big moments, but rather all the stuff/time in between. I'm so glad it is already starting to get better--and I'm sure if those little babies could talk they'd be saying how they are starting to miss you, too.

    Keep us updated!

  14. I'm going to echo the other comments too... you're very normal, all mums (bio or adoptive) respond so differently to getting their babies (often differently to different babies too, so don't freak out if you like one of the twins more than the other!) etc. Some days I still don't actually *feel* that love for my kids (did I just say that??!!) but it's all part of the big picture. Oh and babies / kids are always soooo much cuter when they're sleeping - make the most of sleep time for bonding I say!

    So glad you've posted... was wondering what was happening. Are you getting emails atm?

    Praying for you and J xxx

    PS Christine, C has written a bit more about the process on her other blog (just remember not to comment there ;) ).

  15. I am so glad to see an update from you, C. You have been in my thoughts all week.

    What you are experiencing sounds so normal. I think it takes a really secure mom to admit it too. You are doing a beautiful job, my dear. You all will soon be so head over heals for one another, you will forget what life was like before.

    Can't wait to "hear" your next update.

  16. When i gave birth to our son they washed him up, wrapped him up and then sewed me up. a few hours later they put him in my arms. I thought "really? him? it's him? are you sure? he looks nothing like either one of us." i was numb and not from the drugs - just from the 'well we only just met an hour ago and now i'm suppossed to take you home - can't we get to know each other first. he screamed no!!!! he was a screamer.

    it comes, mother hood and love in fits and spurts and burps and mistakes and accidents and meals and kisses and not one little bit of it looks like anything you've seen.

    normal? yes, very very normal.

  17. I'm with Julie.

    And proud of you for standing up for yourselves and going back to that original guest house.

    And oh my gosh: three months?

  18. I still remember the first time that I told our little man "I love you." It was true, I did, because I knew that I would actually feel it...someday. And I did love him, but I had NO emotions about it. I am so thankful for that whole process of walking through the whole adoption to realize that it was not about my emotions, as real and valid as they were. I am absolutely head over heels crazy in love with our son now, and I actually "feel" it too.
    It is so so so normal. And just like your whole adoption to date, it is a process! And it will get better!
    I am so thrilled that you are there with your babies. Enjoy that beautiful time and country as much as you possibly can, even though there will be times that you definitely don't want to.

  19. I am thinking of you often and praying for you! I went back to read my posts when we met David to make sure. Yep! I felt much of the same things. Surreal was my word for it. I had 4 months to of looking at his picture, watching him grow, getting updates, etc. so part of who he was had already become familiar to me. However we were not familiar to him and it took time to feel like family (for him and us) even though we knew we were right off! I imagine it is much harder when you find out who your babies and meet them so soon afterward. It must be soo hard to leave them and not be able to care for them all the time or at least more than it sounds you are able to now. I will be praying for God's peace to completely cover you and J during this time and that you would have His perspective, that you would have great moments of processing all that is going on in your hearts right now. heart is full for you. There are no more words. So I am promise to to pray. That is how I am loving you from afar my friend! :-)

  20. Normal? Not sure it is for everyone, but what you describe certainly was my "normal." It took a very long time for me to stop feeling like I was my son's babysitter and ease into being his mom. Not really sure when it occurred, actually, but it clearly did at some point within the first couple of months (it took me a while).

    I really appreciate your honesty in your post. I suspect more APs feel like this, but are concerned that if they give the whole story they'll be bad mothers or doing a disservice to their children. I think it's helpful for other adoptive parents to know that the bond might not be immediate, so they can feel less like failures if they don't experience it right at first.

    Looking forward to hearing more of your story.

  21. This note is a little late in coming, but I just found your blog and I love it!

    I'm a mom to 4 children- 2 bio and 2 adopted- and I felt exactly the same way you describe when I had each of them (all 4)...numb, empty, terrified I'd ruined everybody's life.

    It just takes a while to feel normal again and then things really change. I hope you will be easier on yourself and kind to yourself. I'm so glad that anxiety is behind me and it will be behind you as well. It sucks!

    Good luck,

    Pam (a really happy mom)


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