Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Judgment: Our Day in Court

The dawn of Friday, February 11th could not come soon enough for me...I had a hard time sleeping until our alarm went off, given how my stomach was turning over with nerves.  It was court day - for us, as well as for three other Imagine families.  Earlier in the week, we had felt mostly pessimistic about the odds of our passing (given the issues about statutory declarations), but every other Imagine family had passed court so far that week, including those with the same statutory declaration issues as us.  In addition, the day before, on route to Adama, Germatchew expressed an optimistic feeling that we would all pass court; unlike the previous week, he said, this week had gone well in court, and he saw no reason why ours wouldn't follow the week's pattern.  He had personally taken a look at each family's file and could find nothing amiss with any of them.  He felt good about our odds.

As a result of all of the positive 'vibes' we had begun to feel encouraged.  Hopeful.  Too hopeful, as it turned out, but we didn't know that first thing that morning.

Well before our 8:00 pickup time, Geoff and I were waiting downstairs in our hotel lobby.  After Germatchew picked us up (still feeling optimistic), we headed over to the KVI Guesthouse (which also operates the KVI orphanage in Adama where our kids are), where the other three Imagine families were waiting.  It was very exciting to meet these other families, all of whom I had been in contact with previously because of our participation on the Yahoo adoption forum.  It was wonderful to put faces to names, and it felt like I knew some of them already.  One of the husbands greeted me with "you're Ruth, of Ruth's Rambles?"  Uhh, yup, that's me all right.  It's an odd experience, being known by what one writes on one's blog!

Anyway, it was an exciting moment: meeting everyone, and then piling into the van to head for court.  Though the picture below isn't the greatest, it does show the excitement we were all feeling as we headed out to pick up Marta (Imagine's representative at court) before driving to the courthouse a few minutes away.  I won't introduce the other families by name, because I don't have their permission to do that, but you can see Geoff sitting by himself in the second row, wearing a white shirt.

Mere moments later, it seemed, we reached Marta's place, and she came out to greet us.  Rather than getting into the van, however, she stood at the sliding door and told us that she had just been informed that our 9:00 court appearance had been, very unusually, postponed until 2:00 that afternoon.  Well, talk about letting the air out of the balloon - some of the adrenaline crackling through the air definitely fled the van.

A little more quietly than on the drive there, we drove back to the KVI Guesthouse, where Geoff and I 'crashed' until that afternoon.  Most of the others changed clothes and headed out to do a little shopping, but neither Geoff nor I had clothes along to change into and we didn't want to get our court clothes sweaty, so we decided to stay at the guesthouse.  It would have been lovely doing a little bit of visiting during that time, but we were grateful nonetheless to have somewhere to relax.  I read magazines and did a little bit of writing, while Geoff fell asleep in the common room of the KVI Guesthouse!

Around lunch time, the other families started trickling back in to the Guesthouse, and it was nice to visit for a while, and get to know each other a bit.  There were other familiar Imagine families there, too, one who had just passed court earlier that week, and two families who were in Ethiopia picking up their beautiful children.

Finally, the hour drew close, and we started to get ready to meet the van.  In the moments before the van arrived, we four families gathered close together in the common area of the guesthouse and prayed.  Hearts united by faith and purpose, it was a lingering and inspiring moment.

It was a moment that was overshadowed all too quickly.  When we went outside and piled again into the van, ready to head to court, Marta was there already, and waiting with further news.  She stood by the sliding door of the vehicle and pulled a piece of paper out of an envelope that she carried in her arms.  Though I don't remember her exact words, the paper she pulled out was an undertaking form that Geoff and I had signed years ago, and she proceeded to explain that Mowa had just made a rule that morning that appeared to be effective immediately, and which would most likely mean that we would not pass court on that day.  She indicated that the undertaking (which was a form on which Geoff and I had committed to sending updates on the children until their 18th birthday) was now to be a form signed by our agency, so that the agency was now to bear the commitment of ensuring that the annual updates were sent.  Because it was Geoff's and my form that she had pulled out, I remember asking whether this rule applied only to Geoff and me, or to everyone.  She said that everyone would be affected.  She promised to ask the judge to exempt us from the new rule, given that it had just been introduced, but it was easy to see that she was not hopeful.

It was a very somber group that drove those few minutes to the court building.  After parking, we headed towards the court building and walked up three flights of stairs (the elevator was broken).

The court building

The floor of the adoption court room.   The door on the left is the entrance to the waiting room, and the judge's office (not a court room at all) is entered through a door on the left side of the waiting room.

At that point, I stopped taking pictures, but oh, how I wanted to continue!  We walked into the waiting room and the room was full around the perimeter with birth parents and their social workers. We had expected this, knowing that in the days or weeks before the adoptive parents appeared in court, the birth parents routinely appeared in court to provide their official relinquishment before the judge.  All of the thirty-ish chairs around the room were full, and so we eight conspicuously-caucasian adoptive parents walked through the centre of the room to the opposite wall of windows.  As we walked, I let my eyes pass from face to face of the men and women seated against the walls, and I wondered what it must be like to be them in that moment.  I thought about what they must already have gone through to get to this point; my heart was heavy, and I wished that I wasn't quite so obviously an adoptive parent in that room.  What I was in no way prepared for, as I continued to look at these birth parents' faces, was suddenly being arrested by one face in particular - it was an older version of our children's faces!  I knew instantly who it was, given the incredible resemblance.  What??!!  I gasped, wondering what on earth our birth parent was doing there.  Geoff noticed, too.  But how was this possible!?  I immediately asked Marta about this, and she confirmed that the judge had a new rule of requesting the birth parents to appear before her immediately before the adopting parents.

I was, frankly, shaken.  For the next ninety minutes, while we waited for the judge to call on us, we had to stare across a not-large room directly into the face of our children's birth parent.  It was absolutely unbelievable to us.  Of course, we could have absolutely no contact, given that we were not yet legally the children's adoptive parents, but I am sure that the recognition was mutual, given how I gasped when I first recognized who this person must be.  I won't go into further detail than that, but I will say that I spent most of that waiting time trying to memorize everything I could about the parent our children will likely long for in days ahead.

Finally, finally, the birth parents were called in before the judge, and they emerged again less than five minutes later.  Next, Marta was called in and she, too, was in there for approximately five minutes.  When the door opened next, we four families were beckoned in and asked to sit on the eight chairs just inside the office door.  The office was long and narrow: the width of the eight chairs squeezed against one short wall of the room, and about twenty feet long.  The judge sat behind a large desk at the opposite end of the room, and asked for our passports.  Once she had validated them, she asked us a series of questions: whether we had other children; whether they knew about our plans to adopt; whether they were supportive; had we met the children we were adopting; were we prepared to proceed with our adoption, having met them; did we understand that adoption is irrevocable; etc etc.  They were all closed questions, requiring a 'yes' or 'no' answer.  She then explained that she would be setting a new court date for us, in order to give us opportunity to re-submit a document (ie. the undertaking) and that the next date available for mowa was on March 21.  And that was it.  We were ushered out of the room, sober and stunned that the primary purpose of our trip could be over so quickly and with such an unexpected ending.

The birth parents were waiting for us, to see if we had passed court, clearly wanting to talk to us.  Sadly, this proved to be an impossibility given the delay of process, and we had to pass by them in order to exit the room, and the building.  It was a difficult and abrupt end to a day that had been anticipated for so very long.

I have virtually no memory of getting back to our guesthouse: when or how.  I do remember that my eyes were dry and that my heart felt compressed - all of the emotions somehow condensed as they tried to process what had just happened.  To be honest, I wasn't completely surprised that we didn't pass court; after all, we had travelled to Ethiopia thinking that our stat.declaration issue would prevent it.  What shocked me was the reason for not passing; that a decision made just that morning, which required just a few simple words to be changed on a document (which made no difference to the ultimate requirement that Geoff and I will prepare post placement reports for our children), resulted in our children remaining in the orphanage.  I felt sick about having to cancel our plans to travel the next day to the region of our children's birth, and utterly dejected that the court decision meant that we would not be allowed to visit our children one more time before leaving Ethiopia.

I shed a few tears when we called my family to let them know of our news, but those would be the last tears to escape until exactly a month later.  We spent that evening of court in our guesthouse room and, when Geoff and I found ourselves snapping at each other out of our pent up frustration and grief, we retreated to our own cocoons of privacy; Geoff worked, and I watched a movie I'd brought from home.  The future suddenly seemed less certain.

In the thirty-two days that have passed since then, nothing has eased my mind about that indefinite future.  If anything, given the changing dynamics and rules in Ethiopia, I am more uncertain than a month ago.  Life continues in an insurmountable holding pattern, while we hope and pray for a miracle next Monday.  Because that's what it's going to take to get through court without further delays:  a miracle.


  1. Ruth...The plan is already done...He wouldn't have brought us this far...We just have to wait for His perfect timing! Thought I'd share my mantra with you...has helped me alot the last couple of weeks! I also appreciate all of the court details...It's good to know what we can expect...

  2. Hi, I just found you (Adoption Magazine) and started following you. We are a Canadian family adopting from Rwanda. I was interested to find out how the immigration process is going for other families in Canada and started reading your blog. I am shocked by the journey you have been endured and am hoping and praying for a positive outcome for your family very soon. It seems it is becoming increasingly difficult in almost every country-even within Canada- to adopt. It saddens me that families are made to go to such great lengths and through such emotional turmoil. So far we have been lucky, our process is going relatively smoothly (knock on wood!), but Rwanda has temporarily suspended new adoptions until they ratify the Hague convention- we made it just in time:)
    Please know we are rooting for you in your next court appearance and can't wait to hear the positive news you have been longing for!

  3. Hi Ruth. Great posting! Although I'm embarrassed at how bad my picture is! :-)

    Would you mind if I link to this on my blog? It captures so much of what I felt on that day as well.

    5 more days!

  4. Thanks folks...and thanks for following along now, Hollie...welcome!

    Praying for a Monday miracle.


  5. oh wow, this is a TOTALLY different building to where we went to court! I wonder why they have changed it.... we went before the rule came in about everyone needing to go, so maybe they needed a bigger building!

    What a difficult, emotion-filled day. My heart just aches for you that you weren't able to talk with your children's birth parent, even though they were RIGHT THERE. I just cannot, cannot understand that.

    Next monday... I really hope you will finally get the answer you are longing for!

  6. Ruth,
    LOVED the pics from KVI, it feels like I was just there with that same lovely batch of people yesterday!
    And we are praying for you Ruth, it is so very, incredibly hard. That was a really rough day...a miracle is needed, but a miracle can happen!


  7. dear ruth...i am reading every post..sorry for not commenting, just can't find the words. my heart is huge with hope for you, for all of you on Monday. praying praying praying. your posts are incredible..amazing and so bittersweet to read. love them. praying for YOU. darci

  8. Ruth,

    I wish you get the most wonderful call on Monday. You have waited too long already.
    I am really enjoying your posts.

  9. Wonderful timing for this post as it leads up to your upcoming court date and is a good reminder for me to be praying about that every day until then.

    Even though I knew the outcome of the day, I was stunned to read your account. Stunned that the birth parents were in the room. Stunned again that a ruling made just that morning, giving you no time to fix the wording affected all of those hopeful faces in the way that it did. So painful...

    Hang in there though, a new day is coming!

  10. Ruth,
    How heartbreakingly difficult for both you and your children's birthparents. I will keep praying for your miracle.

  11. Praying for great news on Monday!

  12. Hi Ruth -- Like Darci I'm reading too and having trouble finding the words to comment. With Monday coming, my heart is in my throat for you guys. I want it so much for all of you.