June 27, 2008

A Journey of the Heart - Epilogue

We’ve been home from Africa for four weeks and a few days. In some ways, life returned to normal. By normal I mean, we still have to do dishes, we still have to do piles of laundry, we still fold towels, we still go to work every day, and we still pay bills (ugh). But in so many ways – life is exponentially different from life six weeks ago.

Not only have we traveled to the other side of the globe, seen a whole other way of life, met amazing people there, and gained a huge life experience – but we met and held our first child, for the very first time. We brought him all the way back home and began forming a new life that included him.

Yes, life changed forever on May 19th, 2008. In lots of ways – because we had never been to Africa before and we had never held our son before that day. How do you forget something like that? You don’t, of course. You can’t. It changes you…

I’ve received lots of feedback about my posts on Ethiopiamany of them supportive and kind, but a couple not so good. And this is why there is an epilogue to my writings. You know what they say – one rotten apple ruins the basket. So, I’d like to tell you my closing thoughts on this story…

As I said at the beginning – the experience I had was my own. It was no one else’s to have or to experience but mine. Prior to leaving, I searched in vain for a blog or a family that might have written something in detail about their trip. Good or bad – I was open. I actually would have welcomed a very happy tale because I was very nervous about going. I didn’t find either. I looked high and low for the good and the bad – all I found was either silence or a “well, we made it and we have our child now, so moving on…” or “I guess the trip was good looking back now”.

I received a letter from an adoptive mom who basically said “thank you for saying this. All I ever heard after getting back was fairy tale trip after fairy tale trip, and my trip was extremely difficult. Now I’m comforted, know I’m not alone, and could actually go back again someday in retrospect.” Well, that made me feel good. People are affected differently, depending on perspective and the side of the trip you're on.

On the same day, I got a e-mail from a family that said they hoped I could someday "learn to appreciate the culture for what it is", that it’s not the US, and that they had nothing but a wonderful time. Total opposites of the same trip. It doesn’t bother me… much. Or maybe it does. And here’s why:

When I wrote these posts, I did it with the mindset that most would just appreciate the story – but knowing somehow that somewhere I would have readers who might offended by my lack of willingness to say “oh it was great, and everything was swell, and what a hoot and isn’t that Ethiopia just amazing?”. On our plane ride to Ethiopia, I was in conversation with a fellow passenger who was herself born and raised in Addis. I said to her “so tell me – is it wonderful? You’ve lived in the US and Addis – is it beautiful to you…like coming home and a comfort to you”. She smiled a wry smile and said “you’ve never been to Addis, have you?…Addis is not beautiful. It can’t be. It’s just…well, we’ll just say that it’s interesting. We’ll leave it at that.” And that, my friends – ended up summing it up for us, to be sure.

One detail I left out of my 4-part journey, was the amazing (and I mean amazing) family we traveled with - from the flight out - to the guest house stay - to every errand and place we went while there, to the orphanage to see our children for the first time, and back to the states on the very same plane. I left them out for their own privacy and also because I didn't want to impose my own experience onto theirs. We lived life together in those ten days, and bonded in a way that only families experiencing something like this together can. I miss T so much. I think of her almost everyday. Having her and B there was a lifeline of sorts for us - and we could not have made it through those tough days without them. They were so positive and helpful and their constant energy and positive outlook kept me sane. But even they began to crack just a bit those last four days and through each other, we all held on for that moment when we could...well, leave. Coming home for all of us, was an emotional and special moment. I could not have asked to share it with a better family and their 5 year old daughter was just incredible. When I look back on the trip, I realize they probably had a much better experience than we did in many ways - but they too felt the walls closing in, so to speak, and were ready to go home much sooner than we had all arranged. This gives me comfort now, in the wake of hearing different criticism's of my story.

I went to Ethiopia with the mindset that I would have no preconceived notions. I understood that I was leaving the US and venturing somewhere completely different. I told people we were going on a vacation – a quiet time where our family could explore, cocoon in, be together and enjoy ourselves. I was beyond excited. I did a two week mission trip in one of the poorest parts of Mexico and felt somehow this had prepared me on some level. I’m not so self indulgent that I expected to find an Olive Garden on the streets of Addis or a shopping mall on every other corner. Like I said before - Anton is a world traveler and lived in the jungle of Indonesia for years among the poorest of the poor – he’s lived it. And still, it did nothing really to quench the culture shock we both found ourselves in or to mend the need to leave when the trip was almost over.

There’s something wrong with applying your own experiences to those around you. If Family A goes to Disneyland and has a MAGICAL adventure and rides every ride…twice…and eats lunch with Mickey and Minnie, and the whole trip is comp’d, courtesy La’ Disney – well that’s an amazing trip. But if Family B goes and it’s rained out every day they’re there, and Mom slips and falls and hurts herself and has to limp around the rest of the day, cold and wet…and they all wait in 2 hour lines and accomplish about three rides in 9 hours, and never see hide nor hair of The Mouse Family, and as they leave – are told that while in the park, prices were raised by double – so they’ll now need to settle up before leaving… Do I need to go on to point out that these two families had different experiences? Of course not. Would it be just a tad short-sighted of Family A to say to Family B “well I hope you’ll be able to learn to appreciate Disneyland – we had a wonderful time”? Ahem. Wrong indeed. You must first walk a mile…and trust me…I’m guessing Family B really, really wanted what Family A had experienced.

Nobody wanted that trip to go beautifully more than AB and I did. Nobody wanted to absorb and enjoy the culture, the people, the sites, the smells and the experience more than we did. And it turns out that after four years of trying to be parents, and umpteen thousands of dollars, and a bazillion air-miles later, and putting all your freaking eggs in a Pollyanna sunshine basket of “it’ll be great”… whaddyaknow? Sh** still freaking happens – even when you’ve done everything in your power to make it perfect and travel thousands of miles to get there.

It bears repeating apparently: Baby was very sick. Mom got very sick. Dad felt left out and so he went and got himself sick too. Mom had excruciating jetlag and slept 20 hours in ten days. (which, if you do the math of 8 hours a day multiplied by ten days, that’s 80 hours – so I was only 60 hours off – how bad can that be for a first time mom with a new baby that she’s never met or held or cared for before? Just wonderin…). Being sick led to trouble for all of us. How much can you enjoy any trip when you’re sick? How much can you appreciate all the good that does pop up around you? Someone tell me. And then when you do feel well enough to leave the room to actually go somewhere and you’re surrounded by the most excruciating poverty – are you feeling like “this is great…sure am glad I came out for this”? No. You’re feeling…God, I feel bad for feeling sick. And then baby projectile vomits and you say “take us home…we’re just not up for this and we need medical attention”.

When I wrote my story down it was because I wasn’t seeing the blatant stories that I so desperately needed to hear before leaving. Not because I wouldn’t have gone – but because I might let the air out of my expectations just a bit. Might have helped – might not have – but I’ll never know because I never found it before I left. It never occurred to me in my right mind that we would all get sick. It was somewhere off in the deep recesses – but I shoo’d it away. Sick? All of us? Give me a break – not in my wildest imagination. I thought, worse case scenario – the baby might have a cold or something. But certainly not to find him dripping green puss from both ears. Not to find him with perforated eardrums. Not to see him covered in sores…or to watch him struggle to keep food down. Not to feel so terrible myself that the smell of dinner made me want to lose my lunch. Or to have sleep be so fleeting that I cried when nighttime came. Who would wish that on themselves? Who would want that instead of the adventure we came looking for.

Recently, Anton and I watched the video of our gotcha moment and moments of our time in Ethiopia –afterward he said “you know the video truly doesn’t capture in any capacity how difficult that culture was to absorb”. I felt like he’d just absolved me of all my guilt for having had such a rough experience. What if in retrospect, he said “I guess it wasn’t that bad” and left me feeling that I had imagined it had been so hard? He’s the world traveler of the two of us. I would be devastated to have miscalculated our experience in that way. And even more so to have misrepresented it here for you to read.

I wrote my story knowing full well that there were those reading who still had their referrals and travel ahead of them. Faithful readers who understood the depth of the challenge they took on when they began their journey. I could no more sugarcoat our experience than just flat out lie and say it was all wonderful. What about those families for whom the travel experience was not good? What about those families who did struggle, or didn’t find the culture amazing and wonderful? What about those who felt like a fish out of water and couldn’t wait to come home? What about them? Does every adoption story have to have a happy ending? Does every gotcha have to be magical and amazing? Does everyone have to appreciate, enjoy, or even love the culture? Is that even possible? Not even close. You will find, as we did – that even in the most planned, awaited, and anticipated moments…that’s right…I'll say it again…sh** happens.

If you traveled and had a great experience – I am nothing but happy for you. That is music to our ears, because we did not. I’m glad to know that there are families out there who lived the dream and had the trip of a lifetime. That’s what I wanted too. I’m relieved there are people willing to say they can’t relate to me. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? It was not a cultural comparison of bad vs. good for us. It wasn't US vs. Ethiopia. It was problem after problem compounding daily with interest and the inability to find elements of comfort in our surroundings. It was the removed opportunity to travel and see all the amazing things we had planned to see, because we were too sick. It's not about never wanting to go back or not being able to appreciate it for what it was. It's about still grieving that our trip wasn't all that we hoped it would be. Not even close, if I'm honest.

So here's the clincher – I would do it again in a heartbeat. That’s why there had to be an epilogue. (If some had just waited for it…)

The bottom line is not that we had a bad trip or that we barely made it, or that we struggled in Ethiopia. That was just our experience from top to bottom – start to finish – good, bad and ugly – just like I promised you at the beginning – no sugarcoating. Plain and simple. Do you like sardines straight out of the can? Yuck. Me neither. But AB does. LOVES them, in fact. To him, it’s heaven on a buttered piece of bread, bless his little heart.

Did we love Addis? Nope. But lots of adoptive families did. Nothing wrong with that either. To each his own...as my mother always says.

The TRUE bottom line is that good – bad – indifferent – wonderful – or crappy…the trip we made to our son and all the days there in Addis were at their very core – life changing and amazing. Yes, we were sick and miserable. Yes, we were tired and had a hard time eating, sleeping and many other things. No, we did not enjoy the culture as much as others who have gone. No, we did not leave feeling like we wanted to move there. No, not every Ethiopian we met was friendly. Yes, the people on the whole were warm and kind. No, we did not enjoy trying to find a way to feed our new son in the middle of the night with no electricity. No, we did not enjoy cold showers and contaminated water. And no, we did not enjoy seeing amplified poverty on every corner of every street. I’m sorry…

No, I just lied. I’m not.

That’s just the way it goes. That was the journey we had to take to get to our son. That was what God intended for us - and not a day went by that we faced a new challenge that AB would not say to me "we have to ask ourselves what God is trying to teach us here". And he was right. That was our road to walk, and we did - or crawled it anyhow...and we did learn amazing things. About our own strengths and weaknesses. About our ability to adapt. About a different way of life - love it or leave it. And most importantly about the place and the people with whom our son lived for a short time.

But I would do it again. Tomorrow.

Because, my friends - despite being uncomfortable in more ways than one – it was life changing. And not just for us. Think about Quint. What a difference a day made for that little boy. One day, alone and abandoned. The next day? Part of a family and loved, and cared for in every way. We were blessed the minute he was in our arms, and we knew it.

If I could leave you with one thought it would be DO IT. You know who you are. I'll be your little nagging voice. What are you waiting for? I walked through that orphanage and felt broken inside. What about them? What about the babies that are still there – or the ones that are brought in every day? What about their future. We may say that we’ll leave that to someone else – but what if we are that someone? I certainly didn’t think so – not even a year ago. Just one short year ago, you couldn’t have convinced me that I would have a son from Africa a year later – it was that far off my radar. What a difference a day makes…when I realized that I needed to do this.

So I’ll leave you with this: consider adoption for your family, if you haven't already. And if you're in line to adopt from China, and your LID is beyond July of '06 - consider adding to your brood. The first place to start is with a good agency who can answer your questions and our agency was STELLAR and I mean STELLAR. From beginning to end, we were taken care of in every possible way. They were kind, friendly, attentive, informative, and we never felt alone or out of the loop. They were professional and always made us feel like we were their only family. Information is free – and it cannot hurt to ask for some if you are even remotely interested. If you visit the website, you can request a packet of information to be sent to you – no strings attached.

Remember, it’s not the trip that marks your journey anyway – it’s the end result. When you are on the other side you may find yourself thinking the very same thing we do when we look at Quint… “we could have missed this”. And to that thought, I can do nothing but weep…

Dove Adoptions International

180 North Main Street, Suite A Banks OR 97106
Telephone: (503) 324-9010
Email: dove@adoptions.net

Website: http://www.adoptions.net/


frogglet said...

Thanks agian for sharing an honest view of your experiances. I truely appreciate it and someday I may need to come back to these posts to remind myself that not all trips are fantastic but the result is amazing.

Dena said...

Speechless, well almost. I just can't imagine a better post than that, honestly.

I can't imagine someone saying you should have felt this or that. Maybe your honesty was threatening to them? I don't know, I'm not in their shoes.

I just know that you have done a great service to the adoption community by being respectfully honest. Our trip to China was for the most part amazing. We stayed in a very nice hotel in the middle of a huge city much like New York City, vastly different from Addis. But I will say while we were in China I was afraid to post anything negative about the country, afraid big brother was reading and would somehow "punish" us for being so ungrateful. It's a weird feeling to be in a communist country. I'll leave it at that.

I still reflect on our trip and the changes it caused in my heart and mind. And as Piper grows new things come into memory. Life changing, like you said.

Look forward to the new blog look, mine is in need of a makeover too.

Great writing, thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your epilogue. You made a point with your Disney family example. Not everyone will have the same experience.

In China we did not have to fly our of Guanzhou, we stayed there the entire time. The A/C didn't work in the sweltering heat, but we were sweating anyways and who cared about a hot room.. Wen was sooo sick and didn't want anything to do with me. Guess who was tagged it? Her wonderful daddy. (Who by the way snagged a valium from a nurse on our trip and took it without my knowledge on the long way home. He and Wen were both drooling all over the place. Hee hee.)

Our hearts were touched by adoption in China and with Wen and by all the families we meet and continue to meet along the way. We are praying to God to find a way to financially adopt again.

But if I have a million dollars today, I would not choose to go to China to visit, adopt yes, visit, no. I tell everyone this. I would rather go to Brazil where I had friends made during the time I lived there. It may be the communist aspect, or the fact that China is just so dirty and polluted. Why be in that envirionment by choice. Choices, yes we did choose to adopt from China, so we had no choice but to follow their rules and travel.

I think that we are more world travelers than you. But I am glad that you shared the good, bad and ugly truth. Someone who needs this perspective before they travel, will benefit from your honesty.

You rock. Now please post more pictures of your little honey!

In Christ's Love,

Christy Bailey
mama to Wen

Kim said...

LOVE ~ ALL the posts... I would love to go to Africa.. it seems like an amazing journey.. Due to others things we can not..
I have enjoyed your journey..I cried and felt every moment..I truly believe you are the most honest.. And I appriciate it..
HUGS to you..
I am soooo HAPPY for you both..
And Quint is the cutest..
Have a Great Weekend..

Eloise said...

Your epilogue was beautiful. You are an honest, real person with a big heart and deep-felt emotions, and I thank you so much for sharing your story.

Go enjoy that cute boy!

Linda said...

Thanks for sharing your Heart and story. I hope people take your posts in the spirit it is written,..an honest account of YOUR experience and feelings. Going into anything without knowing the good, bad and ugly is deceiving yourself. Nothing is perfect, but the ending and having your child in your arms.. So happy i was able to share in your journey and will be here for your China trip also, rooting for it to be better. Linda

Norma said...

I wish more people would write authentic adoption stories. I thoroughly enjoyed yours. It was all about getting your son. Few people would chose Ethiopian as a tourist adventure I would think.
I took my eldest to China to volunteer at a foster home this year. It was an eye opener for us both but we wouldn't have missed it for the world. Next year I will take my two youngest to do the same.

Jennifer said...

Christie, it stinks that you got negative feedback to the point that you have to reiterate the points you made in your other blog posts. You should not have to apologize for or qualify your story in any way. Like you said, your experience is YOUR experience. Your recording of it is honest and it's from your perspective. And, like someone noted above, not many people head to Ethiopia as a tourist destination. Your story is the real deal.

Why should you sweeten it up so that other people will feel more comfortable with your assessment of experiencing a third world country while going through an utterly life changing experience? You shouldn't.

Even though am not going through adoption myself, your posts are informatve, absorbing and touching. And they're darn good reading!

Again, so happy for you all. Your little guy is so cute! Love to all...

Rebecca and Andrew said...

This afternoon our family sat and read together your blog. Your story on the travel to Quint was AMAZING. We too have searched high and low for detailed information on the travel...we too have not found much. SO, your blog is a much needed breath of fresh air.
Do not apologize for anything (and I'm glad to see you didn't! =). You are a very talented writer. We could visualize each detail. As we read, I felt a warm "splash" on my neck and looked around to see my husband crying. Tears streaming down his face while we pictured the baby area at the orphanage. We know that our two children will be in those same cribs if they aren't there already. They may have been ones who reached up to you as you passed by. We are so touched by your posts. If you only blessed one family (ours) it was SO worth you documenting this.
Thank you so much.

Stephanie said...

Your Epilogue was just perfect and apologies are NOT something you should be making to anyone. I truly can not believe that negative feedback landed in your "lap". What a shame. There are so many sides to people's INDIVIDUAL experiences and in no way can any one comment on your experiences unless they have walked a mile in your shoes. Esp. when it comes to adoption.... Hmph.

All that to say, I once again want to reiterate the fact that we have been so blessed by your journey. We have the same heart for our children and I appreciate every last detail of your experiences getting Quint. Thank you for being willing to put yourself "out there"... we are very thankful you did! :)

Unknown said...

I am sorry you received negative responses, but it doesn't surprise me. But I am sorry. I, on the other hand, appreciated your posts more than you will ever know. We leave in ONE WEEK to get Noah from the orphanage and to be honest, I am scared to death...scared that my babies will be sick, scared that we will be sick, and scared that I might not like it. (We have contemplated missions work in Africa and this is somewhat of a "test" since neither of us have been there.)
I linked your blog on mine because I wanted my family/friends to read it. It is REAL. It puts into words what non-adoptive families can never understand.
Blessings to you! Grace be on you! And bear with understanding (?) those who give you grief! No grief here...only thanks! Next post request: ADVICE FOR FUTURE TRAVELERS: WHAT YOU WISHED YOU HAD, DID, DIDN"T DO!

4D said...

Thank you.

Keep smilin!

Taylor said...

Any advice for those of us traveling in the next months? The retrospectoscope is such a valuable tool!!

We're thinking of staying at the Sheraton. I'm thinking of bringing every possible medication/comfort I can possibly pack. I'm even trying to garnish additional physical/psychological support hoping my sister will go with us.

With the wisdom you've acquired, what would you do differently that may have made your trip better?

Kayce said...

I will keep this post marked to remind myself of this journey and what it truly is about. Thank you to both you and A for writing this and for sharing this with all of us. It is refreshing and well worth reading again and again. Thank you Christy!