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Monday, December 10, 2012

My Husband

I know this post seems a bit odd considering this blog is all about adopting while living overseas.  But adoption wouldn't be possible (well it would be- but it would be a very different experience) if it wasn't for my husband.

For those of you that know Ron, you probably already know he's pretty awesome! :)  He's the nicest, kindest, warmest, most genuine man I have ever met.  He's also rather intelligent, funny and a bit handsome!  I could go on and on about him...

I knew I really, truly loved Ron while we were dating, engaged, and even when we were first married.  We talked about adoption on our first date and he "knew what he was in for" by sticking around.  He knew from the beginning that I only wanted to adopt- and that I wanted to adopt several children.  Still, he stuck around as he saw the world in the same way that I view it.

Since beginning this adoption process over a year ago (I attended the 1st adoption seminar in January, 2011 while in vet school and Ron was deployed), I have fallen more and more in love with my husband.  I know that sounds cliche and a bit cheesy, but it's true.

For starters, there is some crazy way that men are raised that makes them feel they "must" produce one of their own.  I'm going to argue against this being a primal instinct, but something that's actually based out of nurture.  To many men, and women, having biological children is the most important thing a couple could do and the only main way to have a family.  But not to Ron (or me).  Ron saw adoption as a way to significantly impact an innocent life in a positive way.  It's a way for Ron and I to devote ourselves to someone the world has essentially lost or forgotten.  It's a way not to make a life, but to save a life.  In that sense, Ron saw adoption as the most important way to have a family (music to my ears)!  There are days when I catch myself just looking at Ron thinking, "How on earth are you the way you are?"  I know he's seen a lot, especially with the military, but there's something else that let's us share in our view of family.  I have yet to figure that one out!

Ron is understanding- VERY understanding.  As I have never been pregnant, I'm not familiar with the wait and hormonal changes that occur in that process.  However, I have been a part of this adoption process, and I can say, it's not easy.  During our Dossier and HomeStudy, I was just a bit stressed out- which, added together with the wonderful weather found in Washington, made me not the most pleasant of all people.  But Ron understood and kept loving me!  During these past 3 months of waiting for a court date since our referral, Ron has watched me cry as often as everyday.  Mind you, this wasn't simple crying- it was very often crying fits as I was tired of waiting, not knowing and not having any control of our situation.  But Ron was there, understandingly wiping my tears away.  Ron convinced me not to fly suddenly to Ethiopia on 2 occasions.  He hasn't been mean, but is always honest.  And he's there for me!

Ron also trusts me.  When we were discussing adopting from Ethiopia for the first time in the spring of 2011, he never asked about the costs or anything.  Although we both work on our finances, I do the Garberson budget.  Ron knew this and figured that I wouldn't mention something we couldn't afford.  I don't think he's ever blinked at the cost of the adoption or has ever questioned/struggled with writing one of our hefty checks.  I honestly cannot say I know of any other man that could be so trusting and open.  He also trusted me to work on saving enough to afford the adoption without effecting our other expenses.  You know a man loves you and your life together so much that he's willing to sacrifice re-allocate the amount of money for a new car for an international adoption.  Again, I often find myself looking at Ron and just asking, "How?"  or "Why?"  But then I know...Ron doesn't see the adoption to having a price tag, but rather being a father as priceless.

Ron also knows me.  He truly knows me.  He knows when I'm on the verge of an emotional break-down and works to make everything ok.  He knows if I'm becoming impatient and finds ways to explain, re-explain, or re-re-explain the wait!  He knows when I want to go the orphanage to play with babies just by the look on my face.  He knows if I'm going to do a not-so-attractive happy dance whenever we hear good news about the adoption (he has actually taken some pictures of these secret moments).  He knows when to fight- for example, not letting me fly to Ethiopia a month ago and reasoning with me.  And he knows when to let go- like realizing me crying everyday wasn't healthy for either of us.  As a result, we'll be in Ethiopia with Aidan over Christmas.  Since the day our tickets were booked, I have had this immense sense of calm where I'm not longer sad, worried or scared as I know everything will be ok once we're together in Ethiopia where we can work on things there.  Ron knew that this would be the best thing for me and for us, and he made it happen!

Ron will also make one heck of an amazing dad!  When we first met, Ron didn't know much about kids at all!  I even remember him telling me a story about seeing a baby in a "baby cage" (otherwise known as a play yard).  Although he knew babies didn't go in cages, I'm not sure he knew much beyond that :).  Well, besides Ron having a calm, easy-going yet determined, patient personality, he has shown what an amazing father he will be.  He literally becomes larger than life with kids.  He will tell anyone here in Chiang Mai that his favorite thing to do on weekends is to go the orphanage and then the walking street afterwards for dinner (some crazy, fun Saturday night, I know- but luckily, that's my favorite, too)!  The first few days at the orphanage were interesting as we were learning our place and stride with the children.  However, now when we go, Ron is attacked by children who sprint up to him screaming, "PAPA!" He wrestles with them, carries them, plays with them, makes up stories for them, teaches them and cuddles them.  It is truly remarkable to watch your husband love and care for orphans.  I know the baby thing gets a lot of women- but try the baby thing when it's not his biological child.  WOW!  My favorite picture is of Ron lying on a bean bag in the nursery with a 10-month old girl he was able to rock/back-scratch to sleep.  And that's where he stayed for the next 2-hours...with a little girl who just needed him to be her dad for awhile since she doesn't have one of her own.

Ron knows this since I tell him a lot, but I really, truly, whole-heartily love him.  I have seen new sides to him and I am grateful they exist.  And I have seen him respond to me in ways that couldn't be written or performed any better, even for a romantic movie.  There aren't many men that would willingly adopt over having biological children, or chose to spend their Saturday loving on some orphans.  There are a lot of great men out there, but I think I got lucky- VERY lucky!

Ron- these next few weeks and months will be some of the best of our lives.  They'll also be the most emotional, scariest, nerve-wracking weeks as well.  There isn't a single person I would rather experience this crazy ride of adoption, family and marriage with and I am eternally grateful for you as my partner!!!!!  I LOVE YOU!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The E-Mail that Forever Changed Our Lives

I don't know why I didn't write about this earlier, but I'm glad I'm just now getting to it!  Thinking about this particular day and recording the journey allows me to relive one of the best days of my life!

Right before we moved to Thailand, Ron and I were able to have our USCIS fingerprinting done just days before we moved.  Our fingerprints were cleared and I-600A application was accepted on August 15!  Around August 25, our completed Dossier was sent to Washington DC to be authenticated and certified by the US State Department and the Ethiopian Embassy.  Around August 30, our Dossier was sent to Ethiopia!

On Saturday, September 8, Ron, Paige, Bleu, Kai'a and I moved into our new home!  We finally left the hotel we were calling home for just less than a month and into our beautiful house we would call home for the next 3 years!  Although we didn't have any furniture and were still living out of suitcases, being in a house with a yard again was heaven!

That Monday, September 10, Ron went to Big C (the Thai's version of a Wal-Mart) for mobile internet.  That evening, we were online!  Before we moved, Ron and I joked that every morning, we would wake up early to check our e-mail to see if THE E-MAIL arrived- our referral e-mail with information about Aidan.  Although we never discussed it, I figured that it wouldn't be until the end of September at the earliest before we received an e-mail.  I figured our Dossier had to be in Ethiopia for at least a month for anything to happen.  That evening, I sent our adoption agency manager an e-mail simply requesting if there was any update IF our Dossier was received in Ethiopia.

On Tuesday morning, September 11, Ron and I woke up to get ready for school/work.  Ron checked his e-mail that morning while I was still in bed.  I remember almost asking him for the computer to check my e-mail, but figured I could just check it as soon as I got to work.  Ron told me he almost asked me if I wanted to check my e-mail, just in case, but then figured it was too early the THE E-MAIL!  There honestly weren't too many days where I actively thought about our referral, but that day was one of them!

When I got to work on Tuesday, I checked my e-mail.  There were 2 e-mails from our adoption manager.  The first was a response to the e-mail I sent the previous day stating, "Please see following."  The 2nd e-mail was titled "Referral."  Now, I know this sounds dumb, but I thought, "There is NO way that this is our referral."  I had always imagined opening our referral e-mail together with Ron in a planned environment with the camera ready!

Still not sure what it was, I opened that e-mail and it said, "Please see below...the child is doing fine now".  There was a grid with a given name, weight, length and head circumference, as well as a list of medications he was on.  Below that were attachments-lots of them!  Attachments of medical records, biographical information and pictures.  LOTS of pictures!  I screamed!  I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!

It was 8:50.  Ron's class didn't start for 10 more minutes!  He would surely answer my call!  So I called and the phone rang and rang but no answer.  I called again and again and again.  Still no answer!  Out of all days Ron didn't answer his phone, this had to be THE DAY!  I sent texts...lots of texts!  "Call me!"  "We have our referral!"  "Call me now!"  Still nothing.

I know this wasn't romantic or perfect, but Ron, who knows me extremely well, thought that if I did anything else, it wouldn't represent how I really am...I'm IMPATIENT!  I can't stand surprises and waiting for things!  He knew there was no way I would wait and he later told me he was happy that I looked at the referral and things happened the way they did.  I somehow knew that.  So I clicked, "Display All Images" on my screen and waited.

Over 15 images displayed in full-view.  The first pages were informational- biographies, medical records, government letters, etc.  But I kept scrolling down until I reached the pictures.  There was Aidan's face- precious, perfect and more than I could have imagined!  He had hair- lots of hair- a full head of beautiful, thick, curly black hair.  And medium brown skin.  And brown eyes- big, adorable, precious big brown eyes. And a pout.  And a small furrow between his brow!  Everything I saw was perfect.  Beyond perfect.  There was my son, for the first time.  I started crying...and crying...and crying.  I kept scrolling.  When I got to the picture of him smiling I started to wail.

I was overwhelmed with more joy and emotion than I had ever felt.  I was a mom and that was my son- my beautiful son!  I stepped away from the computer to take a break.  I walked outside into the glorious sunshine and took a deep breath and smiled (still crying).  Of course, there were cleaning ladies outside the door when I walked out, who don't speak much English (and I didn't speak much Thai).  They looked at me to see what was wrong and had faces of concern- I'm sure I looked wonderful with all that crying!  So I motioned for them to come inside and I showed them Aidan's pictures.  I kept saying, "That's my son.  Isn't he beautiful?"  They looked at me with puzzled faces.  Finally one said, 'That not you baby," which made me laugh- typical Thailand!  Although we look nothing alike, there are not enough words to describe the amount of love I felt for that boy- my son- MY BABY!

I was then calm enough to read Aidan's initial biography, which has since changed.  But Aidan was and still is healthy.  He was small for his age for American standards, but big for Ethiopian babies.  The more I read, the more perfect he became!  I was able to send our family and friends an e-mail stating we received our referral and that details would come soon.  But first, Ron had to call.

I forwarded Ron our referral e-mail, and then sent a separate e-mail of just Aidan's pictures.  I didn't have class until 10:40 that day, so I just kept re-reading Aidan's paperwork.  Finally, at 10:02, Ron called.  He was on break and left his phone in the car.  He told me he actively thought, "I won't need my phone today."  Boy, was he wrong!  He was thrilled and surprised that we had our referral and glad I opened the e-mail instead of waiting- which I apologized at least 100 times for!  I started crying again, knowing I was going to be able to share this moment with my husband- Aidan's Dad!  Ron grabbed his kindle, went inside his school and got online.  We waited and waited.  Of course the internet here is slow!

Meanwhile, I described our perfect baby to Ron- his hair, smile, eyes, skin and history.  Ron loved everything he was hearing.  Finally, the pictures loaded and I heard a, "Oh wow, he's so perfect" on the phone!  It was music to my ears!  Ron loved Aidan as much as I did.  Ron kept looking, "He's so handsome!  Look at him!  Look at all his hair!"  He had a smile to his voice filled with excitement!  In fact, he was on the verge of tears he was so happy!  After looking at all of Aidan's pictures, we kept talking about how excited we were and how our answer to, "Do you accept this referral?" is YES!!!!

Ron had to get back to class and I had an e-mail to write.  I immediately wrote our adoption director that we accept our referral without question or hesitation.  He was perfect and our son.  I then sent the pictures to family and friends.  And then class started.  During my classes that day, I showed all of my students' Aidan's pictures and shared his story.  They couldn't have been more excited for me!

Of course, after lunch, I got sick from something I ate (something that happens commonly here).  I didn't want to move, was crampy, had a fever, and was miserable.  I was able to call Ron and he was headed up to my school to pick me up early when I was done teaching so that I didn't have to take the school bus home.  Although I felt awful, seeing Ron and finally being able to share our day together made everything better!  We hugged and hugged knowing we had a son in Africa who was perfect beyond words.

Once home, we were able to call our families to share the news!  They couldn't have been more excited!  Ron and I had our newly hired maid take our first family picture together- Ron and I, with Aidan on the computer screen!  That evening, we spent finishing our referral day video that highlighted our journey.

We celebrated our referral of Aidan by having our furniture arrive the next day!  The first thing we did was to unpack Aidan's room, build his crib, organize his clothes and find places for his toys.  We weren't just setting up our future son's room, but Aidan's room.

I never thought my life would change so drastically over one e-mail.  Ron and I became parents with that e-mail and our lives are eternally changed.  Meeting Aidan in 2 weeks will be a dream come true.  We will have our perfect, smiling, brow furrowing, finger playing, belly bulging son in our arms for Christmas!  And it all started with one e-mail with his face and story!  September 11 will always be our referral-versary!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I found this today and it is perfect in every way.  This really summarizes the power of being a mother, even in a bi (or even tri) racial family. 

What can I teach you about being Black?
Not much,
Because I'm not.
But I can teach you about pain,
And how to forgive peoples foolish words.
I can show you how to endure suffering,
So that through it Truth will be proclaimed.
I can love you and cry with you,
I can be the she-bear when you are threatened.
We can live where there is a rainbow of people,
and we can learn to love them together.
We can seek out the truth of history,
And not be afraid of the ugliness.
I can open your heart and your eyes
To the painful reality that comes clinging to the back of sin.
And in the end, I can release you into your destiny,
And wait for you to come home,
With a fuller understanding of who you are
and what you are to be in your life.
Then I can listen as you teach me,
What it means to be Black.

By: Dorothy Bode

Monday, November 12, 2012

Journey to Lanna....

Our journey to Lanna (and maybe Mali) has just begun!  I'm titling this post, "Journey to Lanna" as Lanna is the former name of the capital of Northern Thailand.  A journey to Lanna is not just a journey to our daughter(s), but about our journey here! 

Mali (Molly) means "flower" in Thai.  If we do adopt a sister/twin, then this will be her name.

Ron and I have been working on our Thai adoption since May, around the same time we started our adoption for Aidan.  Although both processes are international adoptions, they are so completely different that at times, it's hard to see similarities between the two!

For Thai adoptions, there are 2 options for adoptive parents:
1.  For parents in the US, an adoption agency should be used to facilitate the application and post-placement visits.
2.  For parents living in Thailand, parents are able to forgo the use of an adoption agency and apply to adopt directly through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSDW).  For Ron and I, this is the route we took.

Back in April, Ron met with the director of Thai adoptions in Bangkok during a day-long layover.  He was able to turn in our initial questionaire and obtained our application and check-list.  Luckily, almost all of the documents we acquired for Aidan's adoption were required for Lanna's.  As such, we didn't have to do everything twice!

Some examples of the documents needed for our Thai adoption are: marriage certificate, personal statement/biography explaining family history, statements of income, letters of employment, copies of our passports/visas, letters of recommendation background checks and passport pictures.  We also had to to have a physical performed by a Thai doctor and a formal letter completed (our doctor was more concerned with, well, puzzled by, why we wanted to adopt than he was with our health!  We now need to have a psychological evaluation by a Thai doctor- I can already imagine how this will be as we're "insane" for wanting to love a child that's not our own...)

On Thursday, Ron and I went to the DSDW to turn in our completed application and packet.  However, after waiting over an hour as the Department of Adoptions was closed for lunch, we briefly met with a social worker who didn't speak English.  She called her supervisor, who was off work that day.  After explaining the purpose of our visit, an appointment was made for the following day.

Although this was a bit frusterating, it wasn't too surprising.  A lot of things in Thailand change and happen at the last minute, and there's not always an explanation for things.

Ron and I took advantage of that afternoon and went to the US Embassy to get our final documentation- passport copies authenticated and a formal letter by the US Immigration Visa department stating that our adopted child/ren will receive US Visas after the adoption is finalized.  It all worked out and by 4PM, everything was completed!

The next morning, we took a 15 minute sky tram ride, followed by a 10-minute taxi ride and then a 10-minute walk to the DSDW.  We met with the director who spoke wonderful English.  After about an hour of going through our paperwork, we were told we were all set.  After initial approval, a social worker from Chiang Mai will come to our house to conduct a HomeStudy.  Then, our packet will be submitted to a board for approval.  Finally, we'll be put on a wait list and wait...

We learned the following...
There are about 300 families waiting to adopt from Thailand.
The wait is about 2-3 years from application approval to placement.
Last year, Thailand adopted out 350 children.  (I know, the numbers don't add up...)
The committee meets every month to match families with children.
Preference is given to families living in Thailand.
Preference is given to families open to adopting children with any degree of special needs.
The wait time is less for families open to adopting older children.

We we're on a waiting list of about 25 families living in Thailand...waiting for a referral of 1-2 children.

In Thailand, you cannot adopt unrelated children.  If you want to adopt more than 1 child, they must either be twins or siblings.  And Thailand doesn't like to adopt children to families who already have 2 children already in their home.  As Ron and I thought about this and what kind of family we wanted, we decided to request to adopt a single child OR twins or siblings.

We hope to adopt 2-4 children (or even more later on in life).  We are also open to gender, age and family background.  After working with many of the children at the orphanage who have mild to moderate special needs (almost all of which are correctible), we realized we are open to adopting children with special needs.  At first, Ron was hesitant.  But after discussing that even biological children could have a plethera of needs, he realized there wasn't much difference.  Plus, we have seen the life these children will have in here Thailand if they're not adopted...they will be shunned beggers on the street with their special needs not addressed.  Although Ron realized this may prevent us from getting a "perfect" child, we would be able to get a child or children "perfect for us" in exchange- ones that we could love and give a life that would otherwise be impossible to have and achieve.

So we sat down and made a list- what we would and wouldn't accept.  At first, Ron only wanted correctable special needs- umbilical hernias, correctable heart defects, etc.  He was hesitant about vision and hearing loss, mild limb deformities, birth marks, burns, etc.  However, we again had a discussion.  Ron's fear was that he didn't want our child to have a bad day because they lost their glasses and couldn't see at school.  My argument was that with us, that would be our child's only reason of worry, and if that was their worst day, it wasn't that bad of a day considering.  Soon, Ron began realizing the beauty of what we could offer a child.  Although the military doesn't have that many perks, it does have some...one of which is unlimited health care.  I know- this is a huge jungle of program and can be a pain to work with, but the fact that some of the best medicine is available to us and our children is a gift.  And it's a gift we can share with children in need.  With the military, our children will receive the best medical care available to help correct or address any need they have. 

After those discussions, we really sat down to determine what we could and couldn't accept right now.  A lot of it came down to the fact that we live in Thailand, where we don't have all of the educational and medical support that we would have in the US.  As such, this eliminated special needs such as Down's Sydrome and epilepsy.  However, it left a lot open- hearing and vision impairment, heart defects, limb abnormalities, etc.

We have no idea when our referral for our child/children from Thailand will come, or how old they will be, or what, if any, special needs they have.  What we do know is that we have learned a lot through each other, our time at the orphanage, and through Aidan.  We have realized that a child deserves love, no matter what.  And if we have that gift to give, then we want to give as much as that gift as we can. 

We won't be hearing much in terms in Lanna and Mali for awhile...but when we do, it will be a surprise, I'm sure! :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Mother's Wish...

I know it's been awhile since I last posted, and a lot has been going on.  This entire journey has been a roller coaster, but these past few weeks have been tough.

It's been 10 weeks since we first saw Aidan's pictures.  When we first received his referral, we knew the Ethiopian courts were closed, so we would have to wait for a court date.  The courts opened on October 8th, and we anxiously awaited a court date.... Once the courts re-opened, MOWA (Ministry of Women's Affairs) had to look over our paperwork and Aidan's.  Once they felt we matched, they would write an approval letter.  With that approval letter written, we could then be submitted to court for a court date...

But our MOWA letter never came, and we're still waiting.  By waiting, I mean I check my e-mail 20+ times a day, including right before I go to bed at at 6AM when I wake up early just to check my e-mail.  Everyday is a heart break.  Luckily I work to stay busy so the day goes by, but it's tough.  It's tough for me to wait and tough for Ron to watch.

Ron keeps telling me that he loves the fact that I care so much, but that it hurts him to see me in so much pain.  He keeps wishing there was a way to make it all better.  Today, he told me he wished there was a way for me to care, but not let it affect me.  I told him that was impossible- if I care, then it affects me.  He laughed and said I live and love with my whole heart!  

Two weeks ago, we received an update on Aidan (our Friday update).  Prior to this, he was "Kimaya" Garberson.  However, on this one update, his name was changed to "Bedessa" Garberson.  It was still Aidan in the pictures and his measurements fit with the previous ones we had received, but his name had changed.  I felt that something was wrong and it took Ron 2 hours to convince me not to fly to Ethiopia that day to figure it out.  So instead, we waited out the weekend until Monday when I could call the adoption director of our agency for more information.

I was told that yes, indeed, Aidan's name had changed.  At the time, our agency had been given the wrong paperwork and they were under the assumption that Aidan was Kimaya, but that Bedessa was his first given name.  I was told this happens sometimes and it's not a big deal.  Our agency was working on changing all of his documents to "Bedessa" and once that was done, THEN a MOWA letter could be written.

Again, waiting and waiting and waiting....

Yesterday afternoon, I finally received an e-mail with a new update.  Our agency had been given the wrong paperwork from the beginning, not just the wrong name.  We were first told that Aidan was 4-5 months old and was abandoned in a village east of Addis Ababa.  However, with the proper paperwork that came through, we got the truth.

Aidan's given name is "Bedessa."  He was relinquished by his mom in early May of this year when he was about 2 months old.  So Aidan is about 9 months old.  He was at an orphanage north of Addis until he became sick in July.  Then, he was hospitalized and moved to the Foster Home.  Aidan's mom is alive, his father is unknown.  We have the name of his village as well as his birth mother.

Prior to yesterday, I was grateful but sad that Aidan was abandoned.  I was incredibly sad that he was abandoned and he would have to deal with that his entire life.  However, I was grateful in that I wouldn't feel like I was taking anyone's child.  All that came crashing down yesterday.

An hour before the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Bangkok, I read the e-mail.  I burst into tears and grieved yet again.  Everything I had known about Aidan had changed.  It was almost like I was grieving the loss of a child I didn't know as everything I did know about him had changed.  I was also falling in love with the "new" Aidan and his story.

What hurt the most...well, it still hurts, is the fact that Aidan was relinquished.  There is a strong possibility his Ethiopian mom will be in court.  She will officially and legally give up her rights of her son to Ron and I.  WOW!

In Ethiopia, I know this happens all of the time.   Extreme poverty, lack of education, poor nutrition and scarce medical care make it difficult, if not impossible, to raise a child in much of the country.  I know Aidan's Ethiopian Mom is an incredibly strong woman.  She realized this and out of love for her son, surrendered him to an orphanage with the hopes that he would receive better care and a chance for a better life.

Ron and I are that chance.  However, it breaks my heart and causes a downpour of tears when I think of that.  This poor woman's life is so difficult that giving up her son is her only option.  I know some adoptive parents think poorly of such actions.  However, there is not a cell in my body that has negative feelings towards Aidan's birth mother- all I feel is love....immense love.

I was really shaken yesterday realizing all of this.  How was I going to handle being in court?  What would I tell her?  What would I do?  How could I ensure she knows how much I respect her?

I called my Mom on Skype at 4AM Michigan time.  I poured my heart out and cried- daughter to mother over the journey of my son's birth mother.

At dinner last night, we sat beside a wonderful family that has adopted 2 daughters from China who were abandoned.  After talking to them, they stated that they wish they knew their daughters' birth mothers as they could have more information to help their daughters today.  This was a relief to hear.  When I explained my concerns with meeting Aidan's birth mother in court and what I would do, should do and wouldn't do, they advised, "Just do what you would have wanted your mom to have done."

I thought about this all night.  In the middle of the night, I woke Ron up and we decided on the following.

I'm going to write Aidan's Ethiopian mom a letter and have it translated into Amharic.  It will be titled, "A Mother's Promise" and in that letter, I will explain how much I will love Aidan and give him the best life I can.  I will also explain how I will work to keep Ethiopia in his heart and raise him knowing how incredibly strong and loving his Ethiopian Mom is.  Ron will write a letter titled, "A Father's Promise."  That way, she will always know how much we love and cherish OUR son.

When I was thinking of what I would want my mom to do, I realized we need to help her.  There is absolutely NO WAY I think I could ever forgive my parents if they didn't help my birth mother who gave me up because she was too young/poor/uneducated to care for me.  Out of respect for Aidan, we'll find a way to help her in some capacity.  This has to be after we receive Aidan's Visa for the US.  However, after Aidan's Visa arrives, we'll travel to his village.  There, we will find a way to help his Ethiopian mom, whether it be food, clothes, livestock, something.  I couldn't live knowing that she wasn't ok.  It would eat me up inside.

It's a funny thing, this adoption.  Although our story has changed, it's still special and unique.  I once thought we would be giving a child a set of parents and grieving with abandonment.  That has grown to being given the gift of a connection of a beautiful baby boy with another woman.  Aidan will have 2 moms: me and his Ethiopian mom- his guardian angel.  I will forever be connected to this woman and love her with more respect and emotion that rivals any love I feel for anyone.  We will share the bond of our son and the love we share for him.

I have no idea how the court date will be...I think Aidan's Ethiopian mom will be grateful, excited, scared, hopeful, worried and maybe spiteful.  How can we live in a world with so much when she has so little?  Again, my heart aches and breaks.  I know on court day, she'll be the determining factor in everything we do- what information we receive, what pictures we take, etc.  I will vow to respect her and her wishes as I can only imagine what a difficult day that will be for her.  For us, it will be bittersweet- we will be gaining a son, but through poverty.

Whatever may come, I do know that Aidan is a lucky, lucky boy.  He was born to a mother who loves him so much she was willing to sacrifice her own pain for his future and well-being.  He also is one of the few that is adopted.  This will give Aidan a chance to go to school, have good health care, get a job and have a family of his own.  Many of us are grateful for having one Mom.  Aidan is lucky enough to have 2!  For that, I will be forever grateful for!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Night of the Scopion King


I know it’s been awhile since the last posting, but we’ve been busy with our move and settling in.  So far, we’re loving our new home of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  We’re slowly settling in and getting our to-do lists done!  We are familiar with the city, have moved into our house, unpacked our furniture, set-up Aidan’s room, and are exploring every nook and cranny of Chiang Mai.

The biggest challenge of the move so far has been the dogs!   Ron literally spent the last 6 weeks we were in the US talking to Delta Airlines about getting our dogs to Thailand.  Initially, it seemed so easy, but everyone at Delta that we talked to gave us different information.  It literally seemed that Delta never moved dogs before (which is not true).  Ron made several trips to the Seattle airport to talk to Delta staff in person, and he even brought the dogs and their carriers for a run-through/pre-approval.  After all of that, Ron ended up making a lion cage for Bleu- the wooden “room” is almost 6 feet long, 4 feet high and 3/5 feet wide (it doesn’t fit in our house so sits in the driveway and someone has yet to come over that hasn’t complemented it)!  It is rather impressive and was cleared through “inspections” of Delta Cargo!

Ron and I were extremely nervous the days up until we moved.  Not only were we moving to a new country, but we weren’t sure if the dogs would be on our flight or how we would get them out of Customs in Bangkok.  Ron called the Thai Embassy in Washington, DC, who then called Thai Quarantine and Customs.  They gave us the go-ahead with the dogs and said that our process would be expedited (which we foolishly believed).

On Sunday, the day we moved, Patton, Christie and Tony took us, the dogs and all 8 suitcases to the airport.  We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends who spent a good part of their day seeing us through!  It made leaving Washington that much more difficult knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing them as often as we would like!

Once at the airport, we were able to check-in without any issues!  Paige and Kai’a were checked as baggage in the airport.  Once they were all clear, we bid them our good-byes and wished them luck before heading to Delta Cargo to work with Bleu.  There were forms upon forms, but finally, Bleu was all set to go.  He was going to be on our flights, just in the cargo hold.

Ron and I couldn’t have been any more relieved that all 3 dogs were checked in and ready to go.  Finally, we could relax, laugh and take a deep breath!

The flights to Bangkok went really well.  The flight attendants updated us on the temperature of the cargo hold and they all knew the dogs were on board.  We even saw Bleu’s carrier on the tarmac in Tokyo!  I really wish I knew what they were thinking and what was going through their minds during this adventure!

Once we arrived in Bangkok, we were able to clear immigration without any issue.  Paige and Kai’a were at baggage claim, crying like crazy.  Poor girls- they had no idea what had just happened or where they were.  I brought all their forms to quarantine, where 2 quarantine officials worked to clear the dogs.  After multiple stamps on the same sheet of paper and $30.00 later, all 3 dogs were cleared without inspection or even a glance.

Once outside the airport, we were met by another Army officer that is stationed in Bangkok.  He was wonderful and had arranged for 2 vans to come pick us up.  After loading our 8 bags, 2 dog kennels, carry-ons and empty stroller (yes, we pushed that through the airport so we wouldn’t have to pay for another bag of checked baggage- we seemed crazy to the security personnel), we loaded in.  We then began the epic search of finding Bleu.

In Bangkok, Delta outsources its cargo to BFS: Bangkok Flight Services.  There isn’t a cargo area, but a “Free Zone”- a separate section of the airport that requires you to pay and show an id to enter.  After driving around the airport for almost an hour, we finally found the “Free Zone.”  Once inside, Ron was able to locate Bleu about an hour later (thank goodness for his Thai as no one spoke English). 

Bleu was safe and sound inside BFS.  Just as we were about ready to load him up, we were told we couldn’t because he wasn’t cleared through customs.  After discussions, showing the officials all of our pre-approved paperwork and offering bribes (a common thing to do here), we still weren’t allowed to take Bleu.  Ron and I had joked before our trip that if Bleu couldn’t leave the airport, I wouldn’t leave the airport….

Well, since Bleu couldn’t leave the airport and we had no idea where the customs office was or how we would locate/clear Bleu if we left the “Free Zone,” we decided that I would stay.  Ron had to in-process at the Embassy in 6 hours (it was now 1AM), so he headed to the hotel with Paige and Kai’a while I stayed.

At first, the employees were shocked that I was staying with my dog, but I kept saying I wouldn’t leave him (especially after some joked that he would taste good…although Thais traditionally don’t eat dogs, especially white ones (just black), I didn’t trust that something wouldn’t happen).  I was given a “Visitor’s Badge” and was lead to the “Live Animal Hold” room.

The room was actually a small closet that was air-conditioned.  I was told I needed to stay there with Bleu.  The staff brought me in a chair and a large sheet of paper that I could lay on.  In the corner, taking up about ½ of the room, were 4 stacked wooden crates.  Luckily, I didn’t look to see what was inside that night.

Bleu was restless in the room…he kept circling and insisted on lying between me and the crates.  Finally, we both laid down and I was able to get about 4 hours of sleep, using my purse as a pillow and my cardigan as a make-shift blanket.  Bleu didn’t sleep at all.

At 6AM, I went to the bathroom, only to come back to the Animal Hold to find the door locked.  Bleu had locked it accidentally!  It took over 30 minutes to find someone that had a key to the room, but finally, someone did!  That was a scary thought thinking Bleu was locked in that room without a key, which would’ve added just yet another complication to my day!

Once back in the “closet,” I turned on the light and really noticed the 4 crates.  The first thing I noticed was, “REPTILE.”  I thought, “Oh NO!  Snakes!”  Then, I read, “Non-poisonous snakes,” and I thought, “Oh, good.”  Then I saw, “500 live scorpions.”  My first thought after seeing that was, “Oh good, there aren’t any snakes in there” before I realized, “HOLY S***!!!!!!  I just slept in a room with 2,000 live scorpions!!!!!”

I then realized why Bleu was so restless and why he insisted on lying down between me and the crates.  I then loved on Bleu like crazy as he became an even more perfect dog that night!  I sat in the chair and for the next 2 hours, Bleu was able to finally get some sleep knowing I had taken over scorpion watch!

At 8AM, the customs office in the Free Zone opened.  I’ll spare the details, but I literally spent the next 3 hours going from building to building, office to office, trying to clear Bleu.  There were 2 Thais that were a significant help to me, and I’ll be eternally grateful!  After more forms, countless stamps (I’ll never understand all of the stamping), and a few fees (some I’m not sure I needed to pay), Bleu was cleared!  I literally did a happy dance!  But then…how was I going to get Bleu and his lion cage to Bangkok, which was 45 minutes away.

After asking a lot of people and using charades, I was finally able to find a driver that would drive Bleu, his kennel and I into Bangkok for $30.00 in the back of his covered pick-up.  We loaded Bleu in the back of his truck in his kennel and were off!

Keep in mind that all this time, Ron and I didn’t have cell phones so Ron had NO idea what was going on.  He spent the morning in-processing and asking everyone he could if they could call the airport customs to help me.  Somehow, someone at the hotel had told him I had checked in around 10AM, so Ron stopped worrying (even though I was still in the “Free Zone” at that point).  I’m glad this happened though so Ron could relax and not stress.

When we finally made it to the hotel, Ron was just getting back from in-processing around noon.  He saw me in the lobby and I just ran to him and gave him the biggest hug.  He was really confused why Bleu was in his cage in a truck outside until I explained the whole story to him.  He was shocked at how crazy my night had been, but was definitely very proud of me! :)

Once we had Bleu in the room, Ron told me that Paige and Kai’a had gotten out of the room that morning.  Our room had a latch door, which Kai’a knows how to open by jumping up using her paws.  Ron had gone to breakfast and 15 minutes later, he found Paige on the stairwell when he was going back to the room.  Paige was on the stairwell of floor #2, our room was on floor #4.  Kai’a was found on floor #6.  Thank goodness the girls didn’t make it down to the lobby or they would be loose in Bangkok with the hotel’s automatic doors!

The whole story made me laugh at our “kids.”  Despite all of the travel, they were still themselves….Bleu was beyond perfect and protective, Kai’a caused some trouble,  and Paige simply went along for the ride!

I think Ron and I will always laugh about the night we cleared Bleu through customs.  It is now known as the “Night we slept with 2,000 scorpions” and we call Bleu our Scorpion King! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

You MUST Be the Change...

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."  Mahatma Gandhi

This past weekend, Ron and I were reminded of just that.

Ever since we knew we were moving to Thailand, we were determined to find ways to volunteer in this country we now call home.  We wanted to get involved, learn about the less fortunate and give back after receiving so much.  After a month of exploring and settling into our new home, we were getting restless.  

We researched various orphanages and animal shelters in Chiang Mai before deciding on our big debut this past weekend!  Little did we know how much we would be touched by the other volunteers and staff we worked with!

Our first stop was Animal Rescue Kingdom, or ARK, in Chiang Mai (http://theark-cm.com/).  One of the rental agents that worked with us to find a house sent my information to his friend, Grant.  Grant eagerly e-mailed me, anxious to meet with me in person and show me around his project!  We were able to finally meet up this weekend.  On Saturday morning, Ron and I woke up early to walk the dogs and get ready.  We then drove 30 minutes north to a gated area with a large field.  Grant met us out front.

After passing through 2 gates, we were greeted by over 100 barking, tail-wagging, 4-legged friends.  The dogs at ARK are all rescues- they were abandoned or abused in some way.  In a pack that rivals Cesar Millan's in the Dog Whisperer, the dogs were all able to be rehabilatated and cared for.   There was a German Shepherd, several labs, and countless mutts.  The stragglier the fur, the cuter they were!  The dogs have about 4-5 acres of fenced land to run around and roam.  In the middle of the plot of land is a large pond- perfect for swimming.  At the far end of the property are some kennels for the new dogs, in-tact females and animals on the mend.  There is also a large house where 2 of the staff members live.

ARK is solely funded by Grant, who owns a restaurant in Pennsylvania.  He lives in Chiang Mai for about 1/2 of the year, caring for the dogs.  The other half he's back in the US, working on his business and raising funds.  It was amazing to see what one man's dedication and life's passion could do.

ARK currently must pay for a local veterinarian for their services, which includes about $60.00 for a spay.  ARK has an animal technician that does most of the treatments and dog neuters (keep in mind that this is Thailand- you can buy almost any medication at a pharmacy without a prescription and licensing requirements are very relaxed).  After discussing Grant's plans, we decided that I would be volunteering at ARK 1-2 times/month.

They are going to clean one of the rooms out for me and purchase more supplies.  I will then be able to do their surgeries for them, as well as other treatments.  It's not much, but it will help ARK out immensely AND help keep my surgical skills current.  After saying good-bye to Grant, I was told that I was a God-send for being able to help.  It was amazing to see how one e-mail could provide connections that will hopefully help so much!  I'm truly looking forward to my time at ARK!

Feeling satisfied, Ron and I knew we weren't done.  After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed on to our next destination- Baan King Kaew Orphange in the heart of Chiang Mai (http://www.baan-kingkaew-orphanage.org/).  I had e-mailed several orphanages about volunteering and playing with the children.  Baan King Kaew was able to facilitate Ron and I on weekends, and were eagerly awaiting our visit.

Upon our arrival, we were escorted to the 1-year old play area- a covered, fenced in area about 20 x 20 feet in size, full of soft toys, play mats and rocking horses.  Inside were 8, 1-year old children: 5 boys and 3 girls, along with 3 caretakers.  The majority of the children were abandoned- hospitalized first, and then brought to the orphanage.  Some still have their birth parents around, but they are too poor to care for their babies (they visit the orphanage 1-2 times/year, when finances permit travel).  One of the little boys has been matched with a family in Belgium...soon, he'll be at his forever home!

At first, the little ones were hesitant around Ron and I, but after about 5 minutes, they couldn't wait to be thrown in the air, cuddled or simply entertained with toys.  It was amazing to be able to get them to laugh and smile.  It was precious when they walked/crawled up to us, just to be held or sit on our laps.  They didn't need much- just love and attention.  It didn't take long before they were clapping their hands, jumping up and down and learning to give kisses :).

About half-way through our time with the children, I almost broke down in tears.  I was holding 2 of the babies and just had this overwhelming since of sorrow/joy/guilt/obligation/I don't know what.  Although I've been to orphanages before, I was never at a position where I could financially and mentally take care of a child.  But since Ron and I are almost completed with our adoption process, it's a different feeling now.  The children were utterly precious and it just broke my heart knowing that although they will always receive excellent care, almost all of them will never know what it's like to have a family, parents who love them, and a forever home.  That really is a helpless, hopeless feeling.  I know Ron felt it, too, as he had "quiet" moments just looking at the babies.  We decided we're going to continue adopting after Aidan and Lanna if feasible.

Despite this heartbreak, we were filled with utter joy and amazement!  We met another wonderful volunteer that day named Julie.  She's from Scotland and has been volunteering at the orphanage for the past 4 years.  At first, Julie came to Chiang Mai 4-months at a time for vacation.  But after her husband realized how depressed she would be at home from missing "her babies," he had her move to Chiang Mai 10 months ago (her sons are in college and her husband works on an oil rig).  Julie comes to the orphanage 5-6 days/week and helps play/feed/clean/clothe the 60 children.  They all love her and call her "Mama."  Julie's husband was also there and they all love him as well!

After talking to Julie and her husband later that day, we were awestruck by what they do!  Together, they helped start another orphanage for Hill Tribe children to go to school.  They fund this by selling Hill Tribe artisan crafts back in schools in Scotland.  Additionally, they help build wheelchairs and assist the disabled in Chiang Mai.  They said it doesn't take very much to make a huge difference in Thailand.

We were able to play with the children for about 2 hours before it was dinner time.  Dinner was a bowl of rice/banana/vegetable/chicken puree and a cup of water.  Each baby was to eat the whole bowl.  Ron took Mr. Belgium (who was quite rambuncious) and got to work.  After 15 minutes of trying to wrangle the little guy (including using a leg-lock), I asked Ron how he was doing.  Despite all his efforts, he was only 20% done with feeding!  I couldn't help but laugh at the sight of a 6'4" man be defeated by a 24" tall boy!  One of the nannies took over and got Mr. Belgium to eat within 5 minutes!  Good thing we'll have feeding practice before Aidan comes along! 

Once the feeding was done, it was time for us to go.  We're going to try to make it to the orphanage as many weekend days as we can!

We also found another orphanage today that's about 15 minutes away with 600 children!  We hope to visit there soon as well!

So after a very busy Saturday, Ron and I were extremely touched by the volunteers we had met who dedicate their lives and life's savings towards helping others.  It's wonderful to feel the positive energy of giving back and truly becoming part of the Chiang Mai community.

So this week, no matter what it is you decide to do, try to find time to "be the change you want to see in the world!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

And now we wait....

This must be the most difficult time in the adoption process- waiting.  Up until this point, although there was a lot of waiting, there were still lots to be done- more paperwork, more forms, more e-mails, more research, etc.  If those were done, there was always a follow-up e-mail to be sent, a "pretty please" phone call to be made or clarification on what was being done.

But now that our paperwork is done, and we've been referred Aidan (in record timing, according to Ron: 3.5 months from application to referral), we now wait.  We've been told that every week, we'll get a new report on Aidan- growth, weight, length and progress, as well as a picture or two.  In this way, we'll be able to keep track our of little man's progress and development from afar!


The next step of this process is being assigned a court date.  The Ethiopian government and court system are on their annual holiday, and won't reopen for another 2-4 weeks.  When that is exactly, we don't know.  This means that we won't be given a court date until the courts reopen.  Once the courts are open again, we'll be assigned a court date, which is essentially our travel date.


We'll travel to Ethiopia about 7 days before our court date to spend with Aidan and see his beautiful country.  Then, we'll go to Ethiopian court to appeal to legally adopt our son.  Once we pass court, he'll be ours to love forever :)


So now we wait.  At first, I thought this would be the most difficult aspect of the journey- knowing we have a son but we just can see/hold him yet.  However, I've learned that staying super busy helps.  Yesterday, Ron and I reviewed his development report that explained his ability to "coo," grasp fingers, lie on his stomach holding his head up, etc.  Initially, I became really sad as I thought, "I'm missing all of this."  But then I stopped myself.

Ron and I knew all along that we would "miss" a lot- the first "coo," the first time our baby tracks an object, recognizes a voice, smiles, etc.  That's part of the deal.  I then reminded myself of why we're really doing this- it's not so Ron and I can watch our son smile for the first time or first recognize a voice.  That's not it at all.

We're doing this, the adoption, for Aidan.  We're doing this so Aidan can actually smile for the first time and have so many things to smile and laugh about!  We're doing this so Aidan can be in a stable environment to actually be able to recognize voices.  We're doing this so Aidan can get proper nutrition so he can grow and be able to walk/run/play like a normal child.  Never have we been in this for us- it's about Aidan.


All along, we've wanted to adopt a child in need to help that child.  We've wanted to give children a chance at life they may never have had.  We want to make them happy, have them feel love, be endlessly supported, go to school and grow to be caring adults.



So now when I read Aidan's reports and updates, I smile.  I'm proud that my son is able to do those things and continue to develop and grow to do even more.  I'm so thankful the police found him abandoned on the side of a road before others did- animals, disease, etc.  I'm grateful for adoption agencies that have funding to hospitalize orphans and nurse them back to heal.  I'm thankful for nannies at orphanages/foster homes to care for all those babies and give them the attention they need.  I'm truly thankful that our son is alive, well and healthy.


So for the next 2-3 months as we wait to travel to Ethiopia to meet Aidan, I'm going to be proud and thankful.  I'll be proud of my son for doing what he's able to and thankful that there are so many people along the way caring for him and helping him grow.  I'll try not to think about what we're "missing," but rather, what Aidan is able to do and what we're giving!  Our little boy will go from having everything about his family and past being "abandoned" and "unknown" to having a sense of belonging, a family, and endless love!!!!!

And in the meantime, we'll just keep researching Ethiopia, the state/district Aidan was found (which is mountainous with only 2-3 roads and very small villages), and flights :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

PROGRESS!!!!!!

We hope you all had a wonderful weekend! 

We wanted to take the time and update you all on what's been going on with the adoption and the strides we've made these past few weeks!!!!!!  We also wanted to thank you all for the support you're showing us!  We hope this blog is informative and debunks a lot of myths about adoption!  If anything else, we hope it opens your eyes to adoptive families and they journey they took to achieve that!

For starters, our security clearances from every state we have lived in were finally completed on July 3rd!  This was a huge step as it was a timely process and frustrating!  The Army is great for a lot of things, but not for making you live in 8 different states in 12 years!  Luckily, our research and perseverance paid off!  In the end, we were able to have almost every state expedite our request to submit our clearances.  And no, we don't have any criminal activity in any of the states we've lived in!  This was such a huge step that Ron and I joked that Aidan was born in Ethiopia that day!!!!!

After our security clearances were in, our HomeStudy was completed by our Social Worker, Thea.  She then sent the HomeStudy to her agency for a board review.  After the board members reviewed and edited our HomeStudy, it was complete!  Thea notarized the HomeStudy and sent it to us.

We were then able to send the completed HomeStudy to USCIS (United States Customs and Immigration Services).  This completed our I-600A petition to adopt an orphan from a non-Hague country.  We received an e-mail today from our case worker/official saying our packet was complete and is being submitted for review!  Our fingers are crossed this clears in the next few weeks!

The USCIS was able to schedule our FBI fingerprints for August 9.  We'll be travelling to Seattle to the USCIS office to have these done.  Once these are cleared, our USCIS section should be done pending our application is approved at this time as well!

Then, everything will be sent to the State Department, then to the Ethiopian Embassy for final approval.  Once that is done, everything will be translated to Amharic.  Finally, it will be sent to Ethiopia!

We met with Adoption Avenues Agency's director yesterday.  The agency is located in Portland, so Ron and I took a day trip down there.  We met with the director for 1.5 hours and learned a lot!

First, we handed Radu our completed Dossier!  I have never been so proud of an application packet in my life!  Ron and I joked that the packet (45 forms) was my pregnant belly!  Radu said it all looked great and we're good to go!  Then Radu asked,

"How soon can you travel to Ethiopia?
We replied, "As soon as possible.  We really are flexible."
Radu said, "We have lots of children.  6 orphanages of children.  We have lots of babies.  What do you want?"
When we explained that we wanted to adopt a healthy baby boy ages 0-2, Radu said, "How old?  1 month?  2 month?  3 month?  You say."
Ron and I said as young as possible.  We had a brief discussion that many diseases aren't detectable at this age, but then again, many diseases aren't detectable at 6 months, or even 12 months of age.  So we're sticking with "as young as possible."  This way, we can get our son out of the orphanage setting sooner, and get him on good nutrition and health care as soon as possible!
Then Radu told us that the Ethiopian courts close from mid-August to mid-October for vacation.  Our packet will be received in Ethiopia around Sepetember 15.  We should receive a referral for our child between September 15 and October 1!!!!  Our court date will be scheduled once the courts re-open. 
Radu said, "You will have court date before end of this year!"

So if all goes well, Ron and I will know what Aidan looks like by October 1.  And we'll be in Ethiopia sometime in December to meet Aidan and to legally adopt him in Ethiopian courts.  If we can, we'll try to be in Ethiopia for Christmas to spend Aidan's first Christmas together, as a family!  HOW AMAZING IS THAT?!?!?!??!

We're trying not to have too many expectations as we know there's a lot that needs to happen between now and then.  But we're hopeful and we're going to keep on doing what we've been doing- working hard and following through!

We learned a lot yesterday...
1.  Once we pass Ethiopian court, Aidan is ours.  There is nothing that can take him away from us unless the Ethiopian Supreme Court reverts our adoption.  So may be parents by January 1!
2.  Once we pass court, Aidan is ours.  However, he can't enter the US.  That's why we have to wait for the Embassy to approve his visa, which could take about 5 weeks.
3.  We could stay in Ethiopia the whole time and care for Aidan.  But once we remove him from the Foster Care/Home, we can't really send him back.  Doing so, we'll disrupt his entire schedule and the system at the home.  As such, many families say good-bye to their kiddos for about 5 weeks and travel back to the US.  Once the Visa is cleared to bring them home, they travel back to Ethiopia to pick them up.  This is probably what we'll do, except our US will be Thailand.
4.  Ethiopian babies are tough (or orphan babies in general are tough).  They've gone through a lot and know how to soothe themselves/deal with the harshness of life (dirty diapers, not much attention) at a young age. 
5.  The babies are fed a banana pudding for their meals in foster homes.  This is a high calorie food to help them.  About 1-2 weeks before they're brought back to the US, the foster home begins feeding them formula to get the babies accustomed to their new food.

6.  WE'RE LUCKY!  Right now, the majority of agencies working in Ethiopia quote adoptive families 2-3 years from start to finish.  We worked our butts off to get the paperwork trail and HomeStudy completed in 3 months (takes most families 5-8 months).  Adoption Avenues has a strong relationship in Ethiopia and as such, they have a lot of orphanages they work with.  I think we definitely did our research and it's paying off!

So our fingers are crossed the next 5 months run smoothly!  We need the US government and Ethiopian governments to finally approve us for adoption and for us to be matched with our son!!!!  We're trying to keep our expectations low, but our hopes are high!!!!  :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Some Things We Wished Other People Knew (or didnt' ask)

During this journey, Ron and I have learned an immense amount of information and gained tremendous experiences.  Most of these experiences have been positive and most of the reactions we have received from others has been supportive.  However, along the way, we have encountered many questions and statements from others that caused us to have to think about how to react properly as they were hurtful (sometimes extremely hurtful).  So below is a list of things I wish others wouldn't say or ask, and my response to them! 

1.  Don't you want your own children?
Of course we do!  We want that with everything we are!  We want it more than anything!  Our children will be our own!  Whose else are they going to be?!?!?! 
*Although adoption is Ron and my "Plan A" for a family, can you imagine asking someone this if they had multiple miscarriages or couldn't become pregnant?!?!?  Talk about hitting a nerve with this question!  How personal and emotional for them to try to have to answer!  If you know others adopting in the future, just don't ask!  PLEASE!

2.  Don't you want your own natural children?
No.  Not now.  Maybe not ever.  This is our plan for a family.  It's no better or worse than any other plan for a family.  There's no cookie cutter family, and there shouldn't be a cookie cutter way to have a family either.  And if we did ever want natural born children, again, what a question to ask if we couldn't do so or were infertile!  Unless people openly tell you, don't ask!

3.  But Ron has such good genes!
Really, does he?!?!  Has he had a gene analysis performed?  I guess I never saw that test!  Last time I checked, his gene expression is his phenotype, so it appears he has a good phenotype, which may or may not be a reflection of his actual genes (genotype).  And his (and my) family are not void of medical and other conditions, so most likely, his genes aren't "perfect."  There's a possibility our natural born child could have genetic or congenital issues, so we're not perfect!  And I didn't marry Ron to be his breeding mate.  I married him as he's my best friend and I want to spend everyday with him.  I didn't marry him because it's the 1500s and I was raised that since I was a female I must breed with a suitable mate. 

4.  Don't you want to be pregnant?
No, not really.  I think it's a glorified idea until you talk to people that were/are pregnant.  Most of these women don't say that it was the best time of their life- being a mother is.  Although there are wonderful aspects of pregnancy, such as bringing a life into the world, it's not 9.5 months of pure bliss.  It's not something I have ever fantasized about.  I have dreamed about being a mom and a parent.  And that's what I'll accomplish.

5.  But you'll never really be a true mother/know the whole experience of being a full mother?
Really?  Since I'm not actually pregnant I'll never be a full mother?  You'll never know the full experience of being an adoptive mother with the ups and downs, piles of paperwork, folders of documents and crazy files!  My child will have an opportunity to love me just as much as your natural born will love you.  I will love my children endlessly, and isn't that the full experience of being a mother?  Devoting your life and soul to a child so that they may learn and grow? 

6.  You and Ron will never experience the bond of pregnancy...
Last time I checked, the female is pregnant, not the male.  The female has a fetus growing for 9.5 months, the man watches and tries to be supportive (if the woman is lucky).  But he doesn't have cravings, body changes and hormone influxes.  He doesn't give birth.  So it's not really something Ron would be a part of, he would be watching.  In our experience with adoption, every single step of the way, we have to do together.  It's not me doing the work with Ron at my side, watching.  Every document is signed by both of us, every HomeStudy meeting was attended by both of us.  Every penny earned was earned by both of us.  It's not me or Ron.  It's us.  So will we ever have the experience of pregnancy?  Who knows.  But what I can tell you is that we've bonded more over the adoption experience than I ever thought possible.

7.  Can't you have your own kids?
Again, please read my responses to 1 and 2.  What a personal question!  Don't ask unless you're told!  Don't ever ask.  Would you ask this to a stranger?  No!  So why does someone adopting give you the belief that it's ok to ask otherwise rude questions?  It doesn't!

8.  Your role in marriage is to have children.
Don't worry, we are.  We'll have a beautiful family and I'll fulfill that 1500s view of women and children!  Oh, you mean natural born?  Since when do you get to say what my role is and isn't?  You don't, so don't try!

9.  But your son will be black.  Your daughter will be Asian!
Really?!?!?!?  Wow, we had NO idea!!!!!  WOE!  OH MY GOSH!  You're kidding me!!!!!  What????
Please!  We're well aware of this and beyond excited for diversity in our family.  We have heard so many racist and mean comments regarding our multi-racial family that our guns are up and loaded.  We're pretty much to the point where if someone says one thing rude regarding color, they're out.  Life's too short to have to deal with comments like these and our society (in the year 2012) should be well beyond worrying about such things. 

10.   You're married.  You should have children.  The point of marriage is having children.
Thank you.  We are.  We'll have a beautiful family.  Thanks for feeling you should say what we should and shouldn't do!  But by the way, just because two people get married doesn't obligate them to have to have children.  Children should be a choice and be wanted- not a requirement.  By saying this though, are you implying that if you are infertile, you shouldn't get married?  Or you should remarry after menopause or a vasectomy?  After all, isn't the point of marriage to have children?  If you can't have children, why marry then?  What's the point??!?!  Exactly, I didn't think so.  :)

11.  You should....  You shouldn't.....  Don't you think......   Why don't you.....
Nope, we don't.  And no, we don't think so.  Just because we're adopting by NO means gives you ANY right to give your opinions in what we're doing.  Unless we ask, don't share.  You don't see Ron and I going around to every person we see sharing our thoughts of what they shouldn't and shouldn't do, so please don't do that to us.

12.  You're making Ron do this, or, It's all you, not him...
You're right.  This whole time, I've been holding a gun to Ron's head making him do this adoption process.  Oh wait- I'm terrified of guns and don't even know the code to our safe by choice.  Try again.  Ok- so I'm choke holding him to force him into this!  Yep, considering he only weighs 90 pounds more than I do and is just a wee bit stronger, that's easy for me to do!  And I'm just sitting here forcing him to all the meetings and I'm just writing the checks on my own!  And he's been lying at all of our meetings about wanting to adopt.  You're right.  I'm forcing him into this and taking things away from him.  In all honesty, if you knew Ron at all, you would know he's not one to give in and stands up to me.  I respect Ron, value our marriage, and cherish our teamwork.  Anything and EVERYTHING we have done with this adoption has been mutual between us and will continue to be.  We have been honest with each other all along and have given each other an "open" out if either of us changes our minds!

13.  Well maybe they (the naysayers) are more Christian/religious than you
First of all, Ron and I aren't really religious.  So yes, many others are more religious than us.  Second of all, Ron and I are strong Christians.  We just don't really believe in the isolation of a religion and the prejudice of churches.  We're not adopting to be "more Christian" than anyone.  This is our call and want to have a family.  But unless you're Jesus himself, please don't say we're not Christian for not having natural born children.  If you feel that way, I guess that the bible I've been reading, the churches I've been a part of, the schools I've attended and the values I was raised with are completely the about wrong Christianity.  Forgive me if I've been mistaken! :)

And lastly...
14.  Any racial comment.  At all.  About anything. 
See #9.  I truly feel that right now I feel like I'm pregnant with a black baby boy.  Don't tell Ron, but he's not the genetic father :).  My entire free time is devoted to this adoption- paperwork, research, e-mails.  They say in your final trimester, a baby grows a pound a week.  Well our stack of paper work and documents is growing a pound a week (I'm not kidding).  The piles of paper rival a growing belly and the weight of the paper is probably double a newborn.   So yes, anything racist that is said around Ron and I is EXTREMELY offensive.  We're not sitting here critizing your unborn baby or your child.  So please don't say anything offensive about ours.  Ever.  Even if it's not directed at our children, don't say it (if case you don't know, its 2012).  Times have changed and so should you!  And if you do say anything offensive, don't be surprised if Ron or I strongly verbally correct you, get up and leave, and/or remove you from our lives.  We will do everything and ANYTHING we can to prevent our children from experiencing racial prejudice from others.   We know we can't prevent everything, but if you say something, we will react.  So don't say it!

I know this blog really seems pestimistic.  In all honesty, this journey is truly amazing, but there have been bumps (or Mt. Everests) along the way.  Many of these derive from the opinions of others.  As we said before, we are doing this for us and our children, not for others.  But we don't live in an isolated world, and the words/actions of others do affect us.  Although we're strong and have learned a lot, we would appreciate it if these comments/questions stopped.

I encourage you all to share this with others.  There are 22,000 American families adopting this year, and the issues we have experienced are common across the board.  For the sake of other families adopting and for our friends considering adopting, please try to be considerate in what you say and ask.  Understand that words are hurtful and that the feelings they evoke can be prevented if the words simply aren't said.  Remember that just because a family is adopting doesn't give you the right to know all the details or share your opinions.  Wait until you're asked for your thoughts and don't ask insensitive/offensive personal questions unless you're told.  If the details are shared, great.  If they're not, respect their privacy and family choices and understand why.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Things We Wish We Knew!

As much research Ron and I have done prior to starting this process, there are many things we now know that we wish we knew earlier!  These things would have made our lives these past 5 months much easier and less stressful!  But we live and we learn, don't we?!?!?

BEFORE starting our HomeStudy...
 1.  It would have been great to have requested many of the required documents ahead of time: birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc.  All of these needed to be ordered online from the appropriate states, and then authenticated.  Having them at the start would have been nice. 
2.  Have the list of letters of recommendation ready and already ask friends (4) and family (1).  This way, they have a heads up with what's coming and aren't rushed.
3.  Contact USAA, our bank without true bank locations, and find out how to request notarized letters of good standing and account status.  It wasn't hard to do: we had to call, then e-mail, then call, but knowing this ahead of time would have been great!
4. Have copies of the deeds of our houses ready (not after they've been packed for a move) :)
5. Have a list of what states we have lived in over what dates.
             Example: Michigan: 1984-1999
6.  Have an evacuation plan for your house already written/drawn so you don't scramble to get it done to show the social worker :)

BEFORE working on our Dossier:
1.  Turns out, there are different types of notaries.  The military uses Judge Advocates, which are good, but they're not valid at the state certification level.  For Ethiopia, all of our documents needed to be STATE notarized (by a notary licensed in WA state, not licensed by the US military).  Then, these documents all needed to be taken to the Washington Secretary of State for Authentication of the notary ($15.00/form).  Then, these documents are all sent via courier to the US State Department for Authentication ($8.00/form).  Finally, they are hand delivered for approval by the Ethiopian Embassy ($94.00 total).  This is required for legal documents for countries not part of the Hague convention, such as Ethiopia.  All adoption documents are required legal documents, and thus, all of these certifications are required!  We had ALL of our documents notarized by a military notary (Judge Advocate).  As such, they were invalid at the Secretary of State in Washington.  So Ron and I ran around for 3 hours yesterday getting them restamped by a WA notary (thank goodness this was possible) so they could be authenticated!  Note to self: just have a WA notary do this the first time (and Ft. Lewis does have WA notaries at the JAG office who still notarize for free).
2.  Understand that everything needs a WA notary.  Even though all our documents from other states needed to be notarized in that state, Ron and I needed to do a "True Copy" statement for that document and have that notarized in Washington.  Only these could then be authenticated at the Secretary of State!  As such, many of our documents are double or tripled sealed/stamped.  Now that's official! :)

BEFORE submitting our USCIS Form:
1.  This form can actually be submitted before the HomeStudy is done.  It just needs to be submitted with the $800 fee, your birth certificates and marriage certificate, as well as a cover letter requesting early fingerprints.  Ron and I tried this, but even now, our finger prints aren't scheduled until August 9 as there's a 6-week back log.  Submitting this form earlier would have been our fingerprints could have been scheduled earlier, which would have saved time.

I know there's a lot more, but those are the biggies!  Needless to say, by the grace of God we were able to redo all of our documents yesterday with the CORRECT notary stamp and get them to the Secretary of State office by 3:30 so that they were authenticated by 4PM while working a full day!  Let's just say that was just a bit stressful and terrifying knowing we may have needed to start from scratch!  But it's done and on Monday, Ron and I are driving down to Portland to meet with our agency director to turn in our completed Dossier and our largest check in person!  Biggest day of the journey thus far :)


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What's In a Name

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend!  I am happy to announce that summer has officially arrived in Washington- we had an entire weekend with highs about 75 degrees, complete sun and no rain!  I know, that's crazy for Washington!  My fingers are crossed this weather sticks around for a bit as Ron, the dogs and I could use a chance to get used to sun and some warmth before our big move!

I'm sure you've seen/read/heard the names our our kiddos already, but I wanted to spend this week talking about the names we chose and why we chose them.

When we were first thinking about names, Ron and I initially thought that we would keep our children's given names.  We thought that these names would represent their past, their birth families and their birth country/culture.  However, after researching some of the names from Ethiopia and Thailand, we started to change our minds.  Many of the native names in both countries are long, difficult to pronounce and even more difficult to spell.  The last thing we wanted was for our kids to be made fun of in school or to be embarrassed by their names.  Ron and I want to do everything we can to have our children's pasts and birth cultures be a source of pride, not shame or resentment.  So we then got to thinking...

Our son will be Aidan, and his middle name will be his given name.

We started looking at traditional male Ethiopian names.  After searching through 100 or so, we found 10 that were easy to pronounce and spell, and weren't too unique.  Some of the names included Taye, Ahron, and Cain.  And then we found Aitan.  Aitan is a Hebrew name that is common in Ethiopia.  It means "firmness" and "long loved" in Hebrew.  My family is Irish and there is a Gaelic equivalent: Aidan.  Aidan in Gaelic means "little fire."  We thought the meaning of this name was perfect and we love how it combines our two cultures together into one name!

We are going to keep Aidans' given name as his middle name.  This way, he will never loose is complete birth identity and will always be connected with where he was born.

So if you hear Ron and I talk about Aidan, you know who we're talking about.  We have no idea where he is, or if he's even born yet.  All we know is that we can't wait to meet him and love him even more than we already do!  Oh yea- he has nicknames already, too!  So far, he's Mr. Aidan, Little Man and our Little Lion.  Lord knows what we'll come up with once he's ours!

For our little girl, her name will be Lanna Rain (yep, 2 names - the South did this to me)!  Her middle name will be Margaret.  She will mostly go by Lanna.

In researching Thailand, we read about Lanna Kingdom.  This was a dynasty/kingdom in northern Thailand that reigned for about 200 years.  It was very prosperous and progressive and placed a strong emphasis on the arts.  The capital of the Lanna Kingdom was Chiang Mai, where we will be living.  After hearing this, we thought Lanna would be the perfect name for our little girl.  We thought the name represents her native country, as well as a kingdom that accomplished great things. 

We decided to add Rain because it sounds poetic with Lanna.  I've always loved the name Rain, but after being in Washington, it has a different meaning.  And no, it's not because of my adoration of the massive amounts of endless precipitation this state receives :) .  Ron and I absolutely LOVE Mt. Rainer, which is only an hour from where we live.  On a clear and beautiful day, Mt. Rainer takes our breath away.  I know it's going to be a great, happy day when's she's out!  Mt. Rainer has bee a source of happiness for me in Washington, and I know our daughter will be so as well.  So we decided on Rain.

Margaret is the name we're asked most about.  My Aunt Lori's middle name was Margaret.  Aunt Lori was my mom's younger sister and my God-mother.  She was the perfect aunt and loved all of her nieces and nephews like they were her own.  Although my Aunt Lori never had her own kids, she loved her step children like they were hers.  Aunt Lori attended many sporting events, school plays and birthday parties while I was growing up.  She was there for my high school and college graduation.  She was such a large part of my life and a true friend.  Unfortunately, my Aunt Lori was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last March.  In May, just 3 months after her diagnosis, she passed away after an unsuccessful round of chemotherapy.  She died 1 week before my vet school graduation and 3 weeks before my wedding.  Although she wasn't there in person, she was definitely there in spirit. 

Although my Aunt Lori was proud of many things that I did in life, I know this adoption would have made her the proudest.  I could just imagine her face when she found out we were adopting and hear her voice and what she would say.  Through the ups and downs of this journey, Ron and I know that my Aunt Lori is leading the way for the adoption and making sure everything works out.  Although she left a large legacy behind, Ron and I thought that adding her name to Lanna's would increase the impact she already left.

Ron has been calling Lanna his Thai Princess.  Something tells me our daughter will be rather spoiled by her Dad!!!!!

So fingers crossed, in the next 6-12 months, we'll be proud parents of Aidan.  Then, when Aidan's crawling/walking/running around, we'll be able to welcome Lanna Rain into our family!


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is Adoption a Solution or the Problem?

I don't necessary want to ruin the huge high we're on from having our HomeStudy completed yesterday, but I wanted to present some questions, thoughts and opinions regarding the pros and cons of international adoption.

In an ideal world, 157 million adults would step in and adopt all of the orphans in this world.  At the same time, there would be a miraculous change in the world's economy, infrastructure, ability to treat infectious disease and view of children that would prevent any more children from becoming orphans.  If those 2 things magically happened, the world's orphan "issue" would be solved.  But that will never, ever happen- it's hocus pocus.

In our world, around 29,000 orphans are adopted internationally every year.  At the same time, the world's number of orphans increases every year, which means the orphan number doesn't really decrease despite efforts to do so.

Ron and I are obviously advocates for adoption.  By no means do I think it's a solution, but it's one aspect of the answer and is needed step in my mind.  Not everyone feels this way though.

There's a thought circling around that if there were no orphanages, there would be no orphans.  This is interesting to think about, but I disagree.  Even if there were no "formal" places for parent-less children to live, they would still exist.  They would just be hidden and unaccounted for.  I also don't think decreasing the number of orphanages is a good idea.  Orphanages are often times the only place children can receive shelter and food, and sometimes safety.  Taking that away could have a large negative impact on the poorest of the world's children.  However, reducing the number of orphanages may cause parents to see that giving them to an orphanage is not feasible, practical or right if the parents can still provide for their children.  I think that's the issue where this debate has arose.  Many parents living in impoverished countries will relinquish 1, 2 3 or more of their children to orphanages because they can't/don't want to financially care for them.  Having orphanages provides them with this option, having less orphanages would decrease this...

There's another valid debate regarding international adoption- countries that allow international adoption may inadvertently be encouraging child trafficking and children being "sold" into orphanages/adoption agencies.  This is an interesting thought and one that I'm still amazed by.  In Ethiopia for example, there are around 5 million orphans.  Every year, only 1,200 children are allowed to be adopted internationally.  Those numbers show that it should be "easy" to find orphans to meet the requests of the adopting parents, right?  Then why are children being trafficked or sold?  I don't have an exact answer, but my guess is that some adoption agencies want short wait times for their families to keep them "in business" and therefore, they go out and recruit children.  This is different than how most agencies function- they wait for children to become legally available either in their privately run orphanages or in government run orphanages.  For an adoptive parent, this is a hard issue.  We don't' want to wait 3 years for a referral, but at the same time, who wants their child to be "bought" into being an orphan from their birth family for a faster referral time?  We sure don't!  We'll wait!

Watch this video and let me know what you think....http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lerZI8OSns

It's interesting for sure!  Who's right?  Who's wrong?  Or is there a right or wrong?

Another issue and thought is that international adoption encourages orphans, rather than helps to reduce the number of orphaned children.  What?!?!!? you may ask!  Try thinking about this...you're a parent of several children and you know that if you give one of your children away (who you may or may not be able to care for) to an orphanage, they may be adopted into the US or Western Europe.  They may receive an excellent education, be raised in wonderful, loving environment, and maybe one day come back to help you.  Would you do it?  For many families, including the one highlighted in the video above, this is an interesting thought.  However, the reality is many of the adopted children may never go back and take over care for their birth family.  I think it's a myth that fuels dilemma and controversy, but is also one that encourages orphans.

Watch this video:  http://www.adoptioninafricafilm.com/

This amazes me because there are so many "true" orphans in this world- children without parents due to famine, disease and war.  It's sad to think that the adoption of these children truly in need is at stake because of rumors/perceptions on adoption and adoptions that were conducted poorly.

To add to the thought above, there's debate about donating to orphanages and the trend of volunteer tourism.  Many people travel to developing nations to assist in orphanages.  Many adoptive families bring boxes worth of baby items to the orphanage for the other children.  The orphanages at first greatly benefit from this.  There has been a study done in Cambodia looking at this.  If an orphanage improves too much (looks to nice, dresses its children too well) and doesn't look as "poor," it looses it tourism appeal, and thus the influx of money it is producing.  Westerners want to travel to "poor" places (at least those that look poor) to help out.  If an orphanage or other location looks too developed, our thought as tourists is that the orphanage is doing well on its own and doesn't need our assistance.  We feel "jipped."  So to counter this, it has been found that many orphanages with much to offer actually deny their children of these things.  They want the orphanage to look "poor" and their children to look in need so that aid continues to come.  Don't get me wrong- not all orphanages do this and many are wonderful.  However, there are a few out there that do use their children as an advertising ploy.

In response to these issues, the The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) published a statement.  "It (international adoption) must at all costs be discouraged. It should be a last resort and an exception rather than the normal recourse to solving the situation of children in difficult circumstances, as it seems to have now become," said David Mugawe, executive director of the ACPF in a press statement. 
For the complete article,visit: http://articles.cnn.com/2012-05-29/africa/world_africa_africa-child-adoption_1_international-adoptions-demand-for-adoptive-children-adoption-expert?_s=PM:AFRICA

The African Union has held yearly meetings over the past 5 years to address the above issues.  Their last meeting was in May, 2012 in Ethiopia.  They discussed adoptions in Africa, its benefits and its consequences. 
They looked at the following for "Trends in International Adoption": https://www.adoptioncouncil.org/publications/adoption-advocate-no-44.html
They published the following...https://www.box.com/s/185bf8ef0ad928bc8d85#/s/185bf8ef0ad928bc8d85/1/307749486  (f that doesn't work, click here http://www.africanchildforum.org/ipc/ , then click on "Conference Outputs").

In summary, the countries decided the following (these are just examples of their many points):
1.  All countries that are not currently Hague Accredited for adoption should take the appropriate steps to become Hague accredited (which calls for increased regulation on adoption)
2.  Countries that are not prepared for the legal and regulatory aspects of adoption should not permit international adoption
3.  Children should be reunified with their family if at all possible.  All efforts should be made for this to occur.
4.  "Consent for Adoption" must be given to all parents relinquishing their children before the child can be adopted
5.  Adoptive parents must be screened and found eligible to adopt before adoption can occur
6.  States and other agencies should not receive any financial gain from international adoption
7.  Countries should account for post adoption issues
8.  Adoption should be a last resort for orphaned children.  Every effort should be made to care for them in their birth country before international adoption is conducted

I think that this publication is incredible and a fantastic start/improvement to the current issues surrounding adoption in Africa.

In recent years, Ethiopia started making changes.  They are not Hague accredited but realized they were not capable of regulating the number of adoptions their country was conducting.  As a result, they drastically slowed their adoptions, causing them to be at a standstill for awhile (about 2 years ago) to figure things out.  Today, Ethiopia will not process more than 5 adoptions a day so that they can ensure they have enough time and resources to monitor and evaluate their adoptions.  This has limited their adoptions to roughly 1,200/year, but has greatly improved the success of their programs!

So what do I think after all of this?

I don't feel that adoption is the solution.  I know that countries must improve their care for their orphans and take ownership of their issues.  Developing countries must focus on education (birth control, preventive care, etc.) and work with NGOs to improve the health care in their poorest regions.  The world should continue to help these countries improve their infrastructure, economy and health care.  As these improve, the number of orphaned children will decrease.  This is a long-term, permanent change and solution.

However, in the meantime, I don't think adoptions should stop.  I don't think millions of lives should be "sacrificed for the greater good."   Not with children.  Not with people.  Will ongoing adoptions perpetuate the above problems?  Maybe.  But stopping adoptions will cause millions of children to never have a true chance at a future and an opportunity to strongly impact this world.  I strongly believe adoptions should continue IF they are regulated, controlled and used as a last resort for TRUE orphans.  At the same time, country development must occur so that the number of orphans in need of adoption decrease.

When Ron and I go to Ethiopia, we're not going to bring much to donate on the first trip, or even the second.  We're not going to ask for donations to bring either.  But we are selling adoption t-shirts to raise money to donate to UNICEF, a UN organization dedicated to the improvement of the child through education, human rights and health care that will benefit the orphanage Aidan comes from.  We want to help reduce the number of orphans but in a broad, permanent way.

Our t-shirts can be found at:  http://www.etsy.com/shop/HopeLoveEthiopia.  Please note, male and female shirts are available for purchase!

If you order, please specify male/female, size and color on the order form!  We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed making them!