Note: This is part of a longer story. To read the earlier chapters, click on the category “Adoption Stories” (and read from the bottom up!)
The third time I brought up the idea of adopting another child, a loud and reflexive “NO!!” came shooting out of my husband’s mouth. The explosiveness of it was pretty effective in making me drop the subject. The second time I brought it up, though, his response was the opposite. Not only was he immediately open to the idea, but I was pretty sure he had already been thinking about it himself. The first time we had considered adoption, he had literally needed years to come around to yes, so it was something of a shock to realize within seconds that “We are going to do this.”
Where to begin? Since the pioneer work we had done to have Mitzi, the entire adoption landscape in Austria had changed. News had travelled like wildfire that Ethiopian adoptions were possible and couples were networking and sharing information all over the country. Mitzi had been the third Ethiopian child to come to Austria in this wave and since then, dozens and dozens more had already followed. Austria had quietly signed the Hague Convention which allowed agencies to be established and to begin “facilitating” adopting couples. We were even indirectly involved in the creation of one of these. Within a month or two, however, we were already questioning how involved we really wanted to be.
The first priority of this organization was declared to be promoting aid projects and adoption assistance came in a distant second. Generally that was fine with us, but the freshly elected functionaries had a conservative and paternalistic approach to their adoption tasks. One of the first decisions was to set age limits for applying couples – a maximum of 50 years old for the father and 45 for the mother. Up to that point, couples only had to meet the Ethiopian “rule of thumb” requirements that the combined age of the parents should not exceed 100 years. I wondered about the organization’s decision to make it just a little harder for couples. More galling was the fact that they were placing themselves squarely behind Ethiopia in terms of gender equality. What was the point of that 5 year difference between the sexes? It wasn’t a good sign.
My (own and vicarious) experience has been that every adoption brings its own unique troubles. With some couples they began with uncooperative social workers. Other couples created their own problems with unrealistic expectations or arrogant demands (after all, the “customer” is always right, right?). Each time a problem cropped up, the organization created a new blanket rule – a new loop for the next couple to jump through and a new fee to pay. Before long they officiously forbade couples from contacting their representative in Ethiopia directly while instituting a “Don’t call us; we’ll call you” policy. And, of course, the costs started going up and up – including a “mandatory donation” to their current aid project – while the waiting periods got longer and longer. And what did the adopting couples do every time a new rule or requirement was instituted? They did what everyone in this situation does (including us), they shut up, paid up, and did what they were told. Anything not to screw this chance up.
So when we decided to adopt again, we knew we didn’t want to do it via this new agency. But there was a hitch.
Two years earlier, when we had to find a representative for Mitzi’s adoption, two women were suggested to us: a Mrs. Monty and a Mrs. Herewego. Jean and Arthur at the Austrian Embassy in Addis knew “Monty” and highly recommended her. But, unfortunately, she was out of the country for a few months at the time and we were not willing to wait for her return. Herewego it was.
After our experiences with the first adoption, the following couples all hired Monty and had wonderful things to say about her. In the meantime, Monty had many connections to Austria and eventually became the representative for all couples adopting through the new agency. How could we get her and bypass the organization?
Once again, destiny smiled on us.
Monty’s son was going to be studying in Austria and they were trying to decide between universities in Vienna and Graz (where I worked). One evening, an Austrian man – who I will call “Marvin” and who had also adopted an Ethiopian child – called me out of the blue. He was helping Monty with arrangements for her son and needed to know some things about enrollment in Graz, accommodations, etc. My husband and I immediately offered to help in any way we could (and would have done so in any case), but to be honest, I also saw an opening.
So Monty and I started communicating back and forth and in one of those first conversations, I let her know that we were intending to adopt again. She thought that was wonderful news. Then I admitted that we didn’t really want to go through the agency and she immediately offered to do the work for us privately. Wouldn’t that be a problem for her, I asked? “Nooooo!” she answered, “I do not work exclusively for them!”
We had our representative. Let the paper chase begin!
Having gone through this process before, we were three times faster this time. Some of the documents we could use again and with others we saved ourselves a few “Ka-chings!” by getting originals already in English (so no translation costs were necessary). There were also couples flying regularly to Addis who could deliver files and down payments for us. At the same time, I was preparing the bureaucratic soil at the university for Monty’s son’s enrollment, and becoming friends with Marvin and his family who were officially sponsoring him. Meanwhile Monty was working at processing our adoption file in Ethiopia. In the midst of all this, she came to Austria for a short business trip and squeezed in a visit to us. She and Mitzi hit it off immediately and another lifelong friendship was formed.
The start of the university semester and the son’s arrival were fast approaching, when one evening the telephone rang. It was Monty. And she had news. A group of babies from an orphanage in northern Ethiopia had just been brought to Addis Ababa.
And Mitzi’s new sister was among them. She had seen this baby and was immediately reminded of Mitzi. She knew they were meant to be together.
We had a second daughter.
Oddly enough, my first question was exactly the same as the first time I got “The Call”.
“What is her name?”
Monty had to say it, pronounce it slowly and even spell it out several times. It was not exactly a name that just slipped off your lips. She told me it meant “Princess”. Princess Lily. I don’t remember everything about the rest of the conversation, but she told me her son would be bringing pictures when he arrived the next week. And that I could probably come and get Lily about two or three weeks after that – she would let me know as soon as she had the court date. She said that another of the northern babies was going to Austria too, and that maybe we two families could come together. Oh yeah, and we should choose a birthday for Lily and let her know what it was.
Suddenly, I couldn’t wait for the son to arrive. It was arranged that Marvin would pick him up from the airport and bring him to Graz. We would get a few details taken care of and then I would take him home with me.
We all met up in a university parking lot and the son’s big toothy smile made me like him immediately. I chatted a bit with Marvin and then noticed an envelope in my hand. “What’s this?” I thought in confusion. And then I realized my daughter was inside. I excused myself and walked about 10 yards away from them. I opened the envelope. I looked.
I looked again. And again. I quickly found my favorite picture and looked again. She was so beautiful. And so sad.
A year or two later, Marvin’s family was visiting us and we were having a nice dinner in a local wine tavern. We started reminiscing and he said, “I will never forget what you said after you saw those first pictures of Lily.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What did I say?” (I had no recollection of saying anything.)
He answered. “You said: ‘I have to see this little girl smile.’”
The next three weeks were a whirlwind of getting Monty’s son enrolled and settled, contacting the other adopting family, making decisions and travel arrangements. Mitzi kept a picture of her new “Sister Baby” by her at all times and the emails and phone calls flew back and forth between us and Monty almost daily. Things progressed fast and efficiently without a hitch until one evening about a week before my departure to Addis.
In a phone call, Monty informed me that she was visiting the babies daily now because they were sick. Chicken pox and fevers.
“Lily?” I asked.
“Oh, no! Not Lily.”
Three days before my departure, I gave Monty all our arrival information and then asked how the babies were doing. She said she was monitoring the situation and would be visiting them again the next day.
The next day, the phone rang. It was Monty. I was surprised because our last call had ended with “So . . . see you in Addis!!”
Her English was more convoluted than usual, but I got the message: that she was very worried about some of the babies. She thought I should know. It was the measles now, not chicken pox. She was not sure all of them would make it.
Measles in Ethiopia is bad. Measles, not Malaria, is the Number One Cause of Death for Ethiopian infants. It’s not like here where most babies are well fed, cared for, have access to doctors and antibiotics and where many are vaccinated so that the disease does not spread like wildfire.
“But . . . not Lily . . .?” I asked.
“Oh, No. Not, Lily.” she answered. And then there was silence.
Her voice was strange. She had said that strangely. And then there was the silence. I didn’t know what to make of it all. A question started to formulate in my mind . . . was she . . . telling me . . . ? But then I quickly and desperately stifled the thought.
Everything had gone so smoothly so far. This time around, there had been no obstacles, or confusion, or moments of desperation. I had not had to take any blind leap of faith.
I thanked Monty for the call and for letting me know how the other babies were doing. I told her how much I was looking forward to seeing her in just 48 hours. We hung up.
And then I leapt.