The context for this post is that on August 23, 2010, Geoff and I received a referral of two children from Ethiopia - children who were not Seth and Lizzie. It was over a year after the bankruptcy of our adoption agency (Imagine Adoption) and we were over the moon with excitement that our dreams had finally come true, seemingly against all odds. We shouted our news from the rooftops and were fully anticipating that four-almost-five-year-old little Mathewos (yes, he had the same name as our oldest!) and his two-almost-three-year-old little sister, Elfnesh (whom we decided to call Elfie), would be joining our family.
But it was not to be, for reasons that will be somewhat explained in the post I wrote a month after receiving that referral. It was a heart-breaking time.
Little did we know then that just three months after that referral, on November 23, 2010, we would receive another referral and that this referral would bring completion to our family unit. Seth and Lizzie were the faces we were introduced to on that day and the rest is history.
On Thursday, August 26, three days following our referral, I had a conversation with two physicians about the medical information that had been presented to us about the children we had been referred. Geoff and I had decided years ago that we would do this after receiving our referral, and thought of it mostly as a precaution...one that was likely not even necessary. So after receiving our referral we forwarded all of our information to two doctors: one who specializes in international adoption; and one renowned physician who has spent decades working in Africa.
The news started out well: despite clear nutrition issues and some wonky blood work resulting from these nutrition issues, we were assured that these things were reversible with time and good nutrition. But there was one area of concern identified by both doctors about one of the children. Both doctors suggested that, while things may well be ok for this child, there were one or two medical alternatives which, if true, posed a very serious and deteriorating health risk to the child and would likely involve institutional care at some point. Mostly likely, though, this would not be the case - either there would be no issues whatsoever, or ones that were far more manageable than this remote possibility. After the high of our referral of the previous few days, we were alarmed, and didn't know what to do with that information. I was a bit numb, and had to talk with a few friends and with Geoff before settling down and realizing that this likely appeared to be manageable. Still, questions remained. How could this be?? We had waited for so long, and had received the gift of these two beautiful children, only to find out that there might be a serious concern with one of them?? I wasn't thinking very clearly, but, fortunately, the physicians were great at making a few suggestions.
First and foremost amongst their suggestions was to ask our agency to have a battery of further medical tests completed. I immediately sent an email to Imagine and outlined the physicians' concerns and their suggestions. Within minutes of sending that email, I received a call from Imagine. That call was huge for me. She was empathetic and supportive, and she immediately reassured me that they would make it their top priority to complete all of the recommended suggestions; she even offered a couple of additional suggestions that were very practical and helpful. Imagine was all over it and, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, I was so impressed with their compassion and their commitment to immediate action. They connected with Ethiopia that same morning and plans were laid.
It was so hard waiting for the results of the further medical tests, even though they happened remarkably quickly when compared to how long these things would have taken in Canada. We waited for six days. I did not manage the wait terribly well, I admit. I couldn't sleep (even after the exhaustion resulting from the previous number of nights of insomnia), I had little interest in eating, I didn't shower for four days (not a good thing for a person who showers daily), and just felt like lying in bed thinking and stewing over what was happening. But of course, I couldn't just lie in bed, fretting - I had another child depending on me, one who knew nothing of what was going on. During those days, Geoff and I talked a lot about the possibilities, and agreed that we couldn't expect our children to be perfect, and that we wanted, too, to provide both children with opportunities here that they would likely not experience in their country of birth. To us, that included a child with some type of developmental disability.
On Thursday September 02, ten days after our referral, we received a call from Imagine, telling us that every suggestion had been implemented, every test completed. Though none of us were physicians, even we could tell by reading the pediatrician's report and looking at the test results that the news was not good. We were crushed. In a gesture reminiscent of actions taken after Imagine's bankruptcy, my brother-in-law immediately came to pick up Matthew for the next 24 hours, and I simply dissolved under the wave of pain. I felt gutted. I knew, without even having talked with our two physicians again (though we did that, too, and they confirmed the worst case scenario), that we were likely facing a choice that no parent should have to make. Do we accept the referral anyway, knowing that our lives would be significantly altered by the huge needs that one of our children would have? Or do we let go of the referral, and hope that another referral might come our way someday? Just noting this choice seems so...clinical. Cold. Hard.
The complexity, of course, was that we had come already to love these children, believing that they were God's chosen children for us. I had been staring at their pictures all day long, examining every nuance, memorizing every detail, planning their bedrooms and sorting through clothes...all in anticipation of the day that they would finally come home. And now this.
I hated myself for questioning whether or not I could handle the diagnosis, and thought of myself as a horrible person for thinking that I might not be able to. After all, if Matthew had been born with this condition, I of course would have managed...did not this child deserve the same of me? What would happen to the children if we refused the referral? Then we learned that even if we did accept the referral, our province might not allow the referral to stand. I hated myself, too, for feeling somewhat relieved that our province would likely take the decision away from us; but then determined to work through the issues anyway, regardless of what the province decided on our behalf.
More than anything, I was angry, and reeling with the pain of it. How could it be that one of these two precious and beautiful children could have such a serious and deteriorating condition? I didn't understand. We had waited more than eight years for that phonecall - for our referral, for these children. It had seemed like such a perfect referral for our family. I screamed at God and accused him of mocking me with our referral. I held my head in my hands and raged at the injustice of it all; wept with the grief that comes along with knowing how both of these siblings would be affected by the one's health and at the loss that we were experiencing. I told only a few people the details, needing support but simultaneously not wanting to talk. I curled up on the inside, and wanted to live in that place. I simply didn't know what to do.
But it turns out, we did know what to do. Somehow, life continues, things move on, and information continues to be processed. One of the things that stuck in my mind was hearing from our agency that if we declined this referral, or if our province did on our behalf, the children could and would be referred out to a family (in another country) which was equipped for a special needs referral of this nature, and who had been approved for a referral of such children. Our children. Oh, that hurts.
In the end, we gave up the referral, even before learning the decision of our province. We signed papers, declining. We decided that it was too big a diagnosis for us. We know that life is unpredictable and that we never know what will happen, but decided that we would not choose that life for ourselves, particularly knowing how it would impact the child we already had.
We also knew that, even under the remote possibility that the province allowed our referral to stand, we would likely still face immigration hurdles. By the time we would be faced with immigration issues, the children would already legally have been declared ours according to Ethiopian law; if Canada Immigration then refused their entry to this country, the children would then be caught between countries. Under Ethiopian law, the children (legally ours but unable to leave Ethiopia to come to Canada) would then remain in the orphanage in Ethiopia in perpetuity, rather than be referred to a family with a special needs request in the U.S. or Europe. That thought was/is unbearable.
I don't understand why this is the journey we're on. I cannot comprehend God's plan for our lives and I am both angry at, and accepting of, this uncertainty. Maybe someday we will look back on this time and say ahh, yes, now I understand why we had to experience that. And maybe we will never have that hindsight perspective.
What came to me a few nights ago as I lay sleepless and weeping on my lonely side of the bed was that life isn't about where we arrive at or the goals or dreams that we achieve. Ultimately, as painful as it is to say it, life isn't about whether I end up with one child or three, because life isn't about whether or not we achieve our dreams. Life is so very much about how we live the journey we're on. I've made some terrible and irreversible choices during some of the tough times of my life and those choices have had enduring implications. This time, however, I'm choosing differently. Ultimately, despite the support I have in my lives from friends and families, I am alone in having to choose how I am going to live life. It's about deciding, as I haven't always had the strength to do, that God is big enough to handle my questions and my pain and my screams of rage, and about knowing that I want to accept his plan for my life even in these moments. I'm choosing to believe that the One who made those beautiful children had a reason for placing them into my life's path, even for a short time. Their faces, their stories, their smiles, their past and their future are inside of me now and I understand how truly we can love and attach to the unseen. Given that, surely I can also continue to believe in and love their Creator. I want to live this the right way; I want the how of my journey to be one that reflects my faith.
I will grieve long for the siblings who stood side-by-side in the only picture we have of them together: Her with an impish look on her face looking somewhere beyond the camera; and him looking down at her with love and pride written all over his face. That picture, the faces of those children, the image that tears a hole into my soul, are etched into my heart's story.
It is also our choice to go back onto the wait list with Imagine and hope against hope that someday we will receive another joyous call, letting us know who else will be joining our family. I wonder already what that will be like, given recent events - whether the moment will hold fear as well as joy; whether I'll be ready to embrace two different children. My hope is that the moment of that call will be equally memorable, so that the children of my future will know that their entry point into our lives was, indeed, the right call at the right time...that they were meant to be ours forever.
Postscript from September 2012:
After we received our referral of Seth and Lizzie, and prior to our first trip to Ethiopia in February of 2011 (when we first met Seth and Lizzie and then attended court), I contacted Imagine Adoption's Ethiopia representative to see if she could investigate to see what had happened to the two children of our first referral. She was kind enough to do so and we learned when we arrived in Ethiopia that the children had been referred (together) to a family in another country; that family had received all of the medical information that we had obtained during the process that we went through and was therefore equipped with all that it needed in order to make an informed decision. That family was one approved for special needs of a significant nature and had access to the resources that would be required to care for the one child.
That information was huge for me and somehow freed me up more to engage the process that we were entering into with Seth and Lizzie. Knowing that those children were taken care of, knowing that the one would have access to what would be needed, enabled me to move on completely.
I still look at their pictures on a regular basis, and I pray for little Mathewos and Elfie often. They remain part of our journey.
But I am so thankful for Seth and Lizzie, and love them so. I can no longer imagine our family without them and, though it has been (and is) challenging to adjust to our new family life, they are perfect for our family. They and Matthew are our family. I'm not sure I'll ever know why we had to go through such a long and complicated journey to get to Seth and Lizzie but I know this: I'm more grateful for them because of it.