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Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Ethiopia?

It's one of the first questions people have about our adoption journey. Why Ethiopia?

I can tell you it did not start out that way. Brian says we sort of had the Forrest Gump Experience:  we just kept finding ourselves at different crossroads and we'd take one -- which would lead to the next and then the next. In the beginning, both of us felt that if we could help a child in our own backyard, so to speak, that would be best. (Sometimes we need to quit kidding ourselves that we actually have a clue what's best!)

In the summer of 2010, I attended an informational meeting about domestic adoptions. What I learned is that closed adoptions are almost non-existent. "Closed"means that the mother relinquishes all rights and identity and there is no contact once the adoption is finalized. Now what is common is that a birth mother will review a set of scrapbooks -- glorified marketing tools, if you will -- that have beautiful photographs of an adoptive family with lots of text describing why that family would be a perfect fit to raise her baby.  She chooses which family and she chooses the agreement about how much contact there will be.

When I talked with the director of the program after the meeting and told her briefly of our situation she said, "If this is what you feel led to do, don't let me talk you out of it. However, I feel I should tell you that in the 12 years I've worked here, I've never seen a birth mother choose a couple who had three birth children already."  Hmmm....

It began to become clear to me. Many of the couples in that room had no children and in fact had many failed attempts at fertility treatments over many, many years. I knew in my heart, if I were a birth mother reviewing the stories, I wouldn't choose me either.

So we took the lady's recommendation and went next door to the international adoption meeting.  At the time, our agency worked with maybe a half dozen countries. Each country's program had different requirements and policies.  For instance, to adopt from the Philippines, you must be part Filipino. News flash: we are not. Columbia requires you to live in-country for 6 - 9 weeks. We had three small children and Granddaddy at the time. Some countries only adopt out special needs children or older children. We just didn't feel like that was right for us. (Brian's heart is much bigger than mine, so by "we," I mean "I.") Due to corruption and the massive earthquake, Guatemala and Haiti had stopped their adoption programs all together. In reviewing their criteria and ours, we narrowed it down to Ethiopia.

Through subsequent education, we've learned much about adoption, our country, Ethiopia, our families and each other.

Our Country

"It seems to me, there are an awful lot of babies in need right here in our country," she said.

Yes, well since the proliferation of birth control pills and the Roe v. Wade decision, those numbers aren't nearly what you think they would be. There are many statistics out there, so I hope you'll do your own research. This from an American Progress article: "Abortion certainly played some role in the initial decline of the adoption rate when it fell from 19.2 percent for white women in 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided to 3.2 percent 15 years later."

And this pie chart from a 2010 Guttmacher Institute profile really stood out to me. What does that make my chances of adopting one of those 14,000?

Our Family and Friends

"If that money were sent directly to the orphanage, think what a difference it could make," they nodded at each other.

Yes! I ask -- so, is your $30,000 check in the mail?

"Aren't you worried about raising a black child in a white family?" asked a blue million people.

I think about the many challenges in parenting and find I could be worried about a lot of things. I know that helping my children be proud of who they are NOT by the world's standards is at the very top of the list. I want them to be known for their kindness, generosity, hospitality, gentleness, love and joy. In that, he will be learning just like my white kids. (This topic deserves many, many blog posts on its own and perhaps, some day, they will come.)


Let me tell you what I knew about Ethiopia before this journey: they had a massive famine when I was in elementary school and we told ridiculous jokes about it. That is quite literally all I knew.

I learned that estimates currently waver somewhere between 3 and 5 million orphans there, because of political unrest (did you know it was under communist rule for almost 20 years? -- that's after having fought back Mussolini time after time in the first half of the 20th century) and the HIV/AIDS crisis (did you know that while we had access to life-saving medications, due to patent laws and other craziness, they did not?) Let me put the zeros on that: 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 orphans. I'm not sure it matters which number is more accurate. Compare that to the 14,000 number in the pie chart.

I learned that Ethiopia has one of the lowest number of physicians per unit of population in the world, so their child mortality rate is staggering. By the year 2010 there was only 1 doctor per 25,000 population, a figure far below the African average of 1 doctor per 5000. Compare that to 1 doctor per 300 people in America.

I learned that the Queen of Sheba hailed from Ethiopia.  (Do you know how many times I've referenced her over the years?  Mostly in wanting to be treated like her.  GRIN.)

I learned it's just below Egypt -- the very edge of the Middle East as we know it. And yet, so far outside everything else as we know it.

I also learned that they love their children -- including the orphans. They are not put 3 - 4 to a crib and tossed a bottle to fight over. They are not turned out when they are ten to live on the streets. They are swaddled, cuddled, smiled at, played with, fed well and clothed.

I read two great books about Ethiopia. One is about the orphan crisis specifically, There Is No Me Without You and one is just a great novel called Cutting for Stone, about a set of twins who grow up in Ethiopia to be surgeons.

I never thought I'd voluntarily set foot on the African continent, yet here we are weeks away from going the second time to bring our son home.

I guess I end up answering, "Why Ethiopia?" with, "Why not?" There is a need and I can help. Our path has led this way. Where is your path leading you?