Sunday, October 7, 2012

Anticipating the Great Unknown: A Guide

As of Friday, we are now #1 on the wait list, which is a wonderful and humbling place to be.  It signifies a long climb from where we started and reiterates the reality that we will be parents to a beautiful baby boy.

Frequently in our society, being #1 is an end state, a goal and pinnacle of achievement.  This is not true with international adoption.  Instead, being #1 signifies a great unknown and frequently the starting line for the hardest part of the journey.

You know that feeling when you get on a huge, old, wooden roller coaster?  The excitement builds and you start the slow, creaky climb to the top.  Eventually you feel that the cars level out and are getting ready to fall down on the other side -- the anticipation builds even more.  This is where we find ourselves today, stuck in between the great expectations and the great unknown.  So, we thought we'd share a bit about how we view this journey and give you some insight from our perspective on where we are and where we think this ride may take us.  The reality is that for all the excitement we feel, we are just as scared.
Let us begin by saying we are so thankful for all who follow our story and the support each of you gives us along the way, no matter what form that takes (a phone call, text, an email, a Facebook message, or just a kind thought). You are our support and our village.

Besides our point of view, we love and recommend the following blog post from a family that has already been through this process, it is called "How to be a Village" ( We know we will be leaning on our village a lot in the coming months.  We write this post not to be grumpy grouches unable to receive your love, concern, enthusiasm, but because we KNOW we will mess up and we don't want to offend and run off our village when we need you most.  We know the emotional fatigue will leave us thin skinned, hearts aching and open, with our brains on overload.  So please be patient with us.  If you ask us a simple question and get an impassioned diatribe, we are sorry.  Or if we simply fall apart, or don't act the way you think a family with a beautiful child on the way should act please give us just a little slack because we are elated one moment and freaked out the next. Hopefully this email will help you navigate some of our complicated emotional waters.

So you're #1. What does that mean exactly?
  • Great question.  It simply means more waiting.  The call with a referral COULD come any day now, or it COULD come months from now.  We have no way of knowing.

What exactly is a referral? Does that mean he's YOUR child.
  • No. It simply means we have been matched and will await a court date.  It is not binding and referrals do fall through...we know of several personally. You bet, that freaks us out.

Do you have to go to Ethiopia?
  • Yes. Twice. Two trips...That's right, we have to go, meet our son, swear in front of an Ethiopian judge to be his parents, and then leave him in a care center for an undetermined amount of time while we wait in Raleigh for a US Embassy appointment.  We might call this time period Crazy Town.  You are welcome to come put this sign in our yard to warn any passersby.  If you see one of us eating ice cream by the carton, rocking in dark corners, or scrubbing the bathtub at 3am you'll know which phase we're in.
Let us break this down a bit.

Before receiving a referral:
  • What you might expect: "You are #1, I'm sure you'll get the referral any day now", "You must be so excited"
Reality of the unknown: The reality is that just because we are #1, adoption referrals aren't handed out on a nice standard timeline.  Sure, we could get a call on Monday... or, Monday 6 months from now.  We have no visibility to the number of orphaned baby boys at the care center in Ethiopia, nor can we wish there were more given the painful reality of what that implies for that little boy's family situation.  Once at the care center, we have no visibility to their paperwork and when they will be ready for a referral.  We also have no visibility to other families on the wait list that are currently "on hold" in front of us and whether they will become ready to accept a referral before we get our opportunity.  All we ask, and need, are your thoughts and prayers both of us and for that little boy 7,447 miles away from us. Yes, we're excited, feel free to be excited with us and for us!
Receiving a referral:
  • What you might expect: "You have your son now, he is yours", "You should have him home by Christmas"
Reality of the unknown: Once we receive a referral, we will have up to 2 weeks to accept.  We may let you know we got the referral or we may only let you know once we accept.  At this point we know his face, we know his name, and some of his history.  We have scratched the surface.  That said, please refrain from the above statements, we know...we REALLY know how great it would be to have him home by Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Kysa's Birthday, etc, but we find time goals destructive to our mental health.  The great journey is still just getting started and timelines are still far too fluid to a "your family is in our thoughts and prayers" or "we are so excited for you" will be just fine.  As you'll read below, even if we are fortunate to get a referral in the near future even that doesn't guarantee anything... certainly not a timeline.  We will hope for the best and plan for the unexpected each step along the way.  Our son will be home with us at some point, but we prefer not to put targets on it.  I think it goes without saying, we all hope it will be as soon as possible.

Trip #1 - heading to Ethiopian court, meeting our son:
  • What you might expect: "I'm sure you'll pass court, it's a formality right?", "I knew a family once that adopted and I never heard them having issues"
Reality of the unknown: Somewhere around 4-6 weeks after accepting a referral, we will be given a court date in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  We will be arranging complex travel plans, paying sky-high prices for airfare, looking for a dog-sitter, making arrangements with work and much more.  That's the easy part. We will also be going through emotional gymnastics as we are about to travel half way around the world to meet a child we've only seen in photos not knowing if we will actually pass court that allows the process to continue as planned.

In court that morning a family member must be present to formally relinquish this child for adoption.  We can't imagine this... will it be a parent, an uncle or a grandparent?  Will we get to meet them?  Will they travel several hundred miles by bus for this (sad? emotional?) moment?  What must they be thinking and going through... not to mention what that means for them financially to take day(s) off work.

Then there is us.  That afternoon we will show up in court, in front of a judge, to acknowledge that we plan to go through with this adoption.  Oh, and yes.. we'll actually be meeting our son during this trip.  Who is he? What does he enjoy? What is he scared of? What has be been through? Will he cry when we pick him up?  Will he laugh when we laugh?  Will he appear healthy?  What is his favorite food?  Will he accept us? How will Kysa react?  Becoming this boy's family is not a formality, it is not a right... it is an honor and a privilege that we have to earn.

Nonetheless, we are one step closer to this unknown.  This, by the way, is the best case scenario.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we have also known families to lose their referrals even while they are in country during this trip.  In these cases, the biological family member could decide that they want their child back, perhaps purely as a result of deep emotional reflection, or an improvement in a family member's health or a change in their financial situation.  While that must be immensely difficult for the adoptive families, we will never WISH for our son or another child to be taken away from their families and their country if there is some opportunity for them to stay together.  We simply hope we can become the next best option for this child, and if given that opportunity we will love and embrace them in every way possible just like we do with Kysa.  Until then, we hope to practice LOVING WITHOUT ATTACHMENT.

The interim wait between trips (aka Crazy Town):
  • What you might be tempted to say but shouldn't: "Just a few more weeks, soon you'll have your son home"...or anything about God's perfect timing.
Reality of the unknown: We will likely be home without our son, awaiting our return trip to Ethiopia, for about 1-2 months.  How should we expect to feel after meeting our son and spending time with him, then leaving him at the care center and waiting for our chance to return?  We don't know, but imagine "emotional basket cases" will be accurate.  Somehow Allison should just go about her day, go to yoga, engage in dance class and rehearsals and support Kysa.  Somehow I should go straight back to the intense day-to-day work schedule I love and had before with no lack of concentration.  Somehow Kysa should go about her daily curiosity without wondering why we left her baby brother in Ethiopia.  We have no idea how this is going to work. And it's not that we don't believe in the Universe's/God's's just a bit like telling a woman in the middle of a contraction in active labor how much she's going to love being a mother. She might really believe you, AND she may just punch you.
Trip #2 - appointment at U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia and picking up our son:
  • What you might expect: "You and your son are so lucky to finally have each other", "What a lucky little boy he is"
Reality of the unknown: We are looking forward to this second trip, the one where we will be united with our son and actually be able to have him with us all day, in our hotel, etc, and then bring him home. The primary purpose of this trip -- besides the obvious of being united with our son -- is to formalize the U.S. paperwork at the Embassy and being cleared to bring our son home into the U.S.  Now we can really begin life as our new, young, multi-racial, multi-cultural family.
That said, please don't think about this as a "lucky" situation for anyone, particularly our son. Our son isn't lucky. He has already endured circumstances in his young life that most of us can't imagine, and as a result opportunities to remain with his biological family or in his native homeland haven't presented themselves.  He won't be loved any less and maybe no more (we are sure his biological family love him tremendously)... but we certainly love him like we do Kysa, in that all-consuming unconditional parental way.  We will do our best to present him with an opportunity to live up to his full potential and pursue his dreams wherever those may take him in life, just like we want for Kysa.  If anyone is lucky it's us. But we like to think we are honored, privileged and HUMBLED to have this little being in our lives.  He is now truly and forever, OUR SON!

Having our son home:
  • What you might expect or be tempted to say or ask: "Congratulations, it's clear your son was meant to be with you", "Finally, now you can enjoy being together/happily ever after", "Are his birth parents parents alive, did they die of AIDS? or "How could anyone give up this child?", "We can't wait to meet him, hold him, hug him..." 
Reality of the unknown: Wow, will this day actually come?  Once it does, you'll know the roller coaster it will have taken to get here.  But if you compare this to having biological children, this is the day your child is born, the day you start your life as a family of (insert your new family # here).  Now life together starts.  Life at home, the daily grind, the routine.  We will need your love, your support (aka - drop off a quiche or any vegetarian sustenance/bottle of wine/pan of brownies on our porch steps) and also some distance.  Simply asking "What do you all need?" will be HUGE, much appreciated and probably the biggest gift of all!!! If all the previous steps had unknowns, you all know this phase will bring even more.  This will be HARD.  Aside from the typical "get to know you" experiences any new family goes through, adoption brings a whole other set of considerations related to attachment.  This attachment has to be built up over time and will be sacred to all of us as we build the bond with our son.

As for some of the above questions... these are tough and big, but here are our thoughts on the above statements and questions.  We're happy to talk about our son and our experiences. What we do believe is that no child is MEANT to lose their parents and experience such monumental loss at such a tender age. Agreeing that our child is MEANT to be with us also implies that our child was meant to suffer great hurt and loss...we can't seem to wrap our heads around that.
Please don't ask about his birth story or be offended if we don't tell you, or don't give you a satisfying amount of information about his history.  We have decided to honor his privacy and we will reveal his story to him as he grows.  It will be up to him to tell his story when and how he chooses. And as for how anyone could give up this child?...please don't judge his birth parents or culture.  It takes a tremendous amount of love and courage to acknowledge your limitations for providing basics like food or shelter. We view giving up this child either by his biological family and/or country as an act of selfless love. We have been entrusted with a treasure, and know we are not his best option, we are his only option. Please don't misinterpret this as saying we don't view our role in his life as important or us being "less than" as a family unit.  Once we are allowed to have that baby boy in our arms forever...he (and Kysa) will be our world and the air that we breathe.  We will be a REAL family in the truest sense of the world....and we simply can't wait for that moment.

So be prepared that it may be many months before you are invited to our home, before you can hold him or hug him, before you see all of us in clothes that are clean and matching.  If you see the pizza delivery guy at our house several nights in a row please don't judge us too harshly. We'll be huge fans of you giving high fives and fist bumps with our little dude, we KNOW you'll want to hold him so thanks in advance for obliging us this request. Please know we aren't being crazy overprotective parents.  Okay, crazy maybe...but this type cocooning is recommended for healthy attachment. Regardless of age, this child has in reality been abandoned -- whether out of love or tragedy -- and at his young tender age is being asked to trust, to love, to bond after having lots of caregivers in his short life.  We know he will mourn the life he left behind in Ethiopia. Our job is to establish attachment as his parents, the practice has finally turned to LOVING WITH ATTACHMENT and we understand it won't happen overnight. We imagine we will be happy, scared, tired, rewarded and so much more.

So...what CAN you do, you ask?

We know we must be freaking you out, dear village.  And maybe you might feel we're asking you to walk on egg shells around some crazy overly sensitive parents. What we could use is to just ask simply..."How's it going?" "How are you all doing?" "Are you Okay?" Let us fall apart if we need to. Come have a drink with us on our porch, make us laugh, give us a hug, distract us, let us know you're thinking of us, or just simply keep us in your thoughts/prayers.

Anyone who loves roller coasters, looks forward to the big drop on the other side of the climb.  We do too.  We know that the ride ahead will be full of twists and turns, stops and starts, laughs, tears and possibly screams...and hopefully a short pause in Crazy Town.  We are so excited, humbled, freaked out, and scared, to be on this journey.  Thanks for taking part of it with us.

With love and gratitude,
Allison and Fredrik
*a truly collaborative post


  1. Beautifully written - - I read every word & every bit is ever so true! I only wish that the whole world could read this & be sensitive to adoption issues. It is hard work, but y'all are well prepared! It would be great if you could print this on t-shirts to really "spread the word"!!!!