Friday, July 1, 2011

Penny In My Arms-Part I

We are on our seventeen hour flight back from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - into hour 5 of 17 right now. Dustin is asleep in the seat next to met but I cannot turn off all the thoughts and emotions running through my mind and heart so I thought I'd pull out the old ipad and try to record a bit of what we have experienced in our daughter's homeland.

My emotions are so raw right now. There are moments that I feel like my heart is going to leap out of my chest. At other moments, I go over the details of our time in Addis with my heart set aside... neatly hanging on a post near the door of my soul. At times I feel that this dance between head and heart is the only way I can handle all the joy and pain, beauty and sorrow, that accompany the journey of adoption. As I recall our first moments with Penny, hang with me - I may move often between heart and hook.

Where do I begin?

Penelope Bamlak DeMaio .... our Ethiopian princess

I can barely say her name without smiling from ear to ear. What we saw in pictures did not hold a candle to how angelic she was in person.

After driving an hour and a half (a torcherous amount of time for this mama!) to see her at Acacia Village Orphanage Home, we finally arrived down a dirt road off of the main thoroughfaire. We passed thousands of people lining the streets along the way.... selling their wares, talking to neighbors and friends, sitting alone - Addis Ababa is the 3rd largest city in the world and the largest city in Africa. The streets were just a sea of people. But down the dirt road leading to the orphanage we saw very few people. A guard stood at the gate as we pulled up to the left side of the road and waited for the aluminum gate to open and reveal our children waiting inside. We were picked up at our guest home by a driver who worked with our adoption agency along with 2 other couples who also were seeing their children for the first time. We were on pins and needles waiting for the gate to be swept open.

My eyes welled up with tears and my stomach turned over as they rolled back those doors to show a large soccer field-sized dirt lot which was sitting in front of a four story building straight ahead. I just couldn't believe the day was finally here. I took deep breaths and as our driver opened the door to our van and my feet hit he soil, I thought I might not make it inside. I was standing only feet away and minutes apart from seeing our baby girl - the child that God had called us to 17 months ago. We didn't know who Penny was when we began the process but a year later when we were introduced to pictures of her, we found out that her birthday was the very same day as her birthday - God has big plans for this little girl!

Honestly, I don't remember much of walking into the building. We walked through double glass doors and down a short tile staircase and into a hallway with two large rooms - one on either side of the hall, that were revealed to us through glass. I looked into the room to our left where a group of toddlers were playing together with some toys and a few caregivers - could one of those children be Penny? I glanced through the children and didn't see her. I made my way over to the other side of the hallway to look through the glass of the other room and scanned the group of children, trying desperately to find Penny. Nope, not in that room either. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it inside my head. Maybe I wouldn't recognize her... Would I know which child matched the few pictures we had of her? Then I heard Dustin. "Heid, there she is! There's Penny!"

And there she was... her back turned to us, she was running over to reach out to a caregiver in the toddler room to our left. She looked so much like the pictures we had gotten from our agency but with life breathed into her, she was actually standing there and I could hardly believe it! There was that little nose and those chubby cheeks and those kissable lips - it was definitely our Penny.

The nurse scooped her up and brought her toward the window but the caregivers wanted us to go upstairs and meet her privately, out of the hustel and bustle of the crowd of children and families. We followed the orphanage director up a flight of stairs to a waiting area. The walls were cheerful, decorated with painted happy shapes of flowers and cartoon characters. The linoleum floor echoed and clicked as we walked up to wait for our daughter. We sat down in a small waiting area at the top of the stairs in chairs like those we sit in at the pediatrician's office - just waiting for them to bring her to us... a very loooong wait! (ok, so it was about 3 minutes but I had waited long enough!) I could hear them coming up the stiars and my eyes welled up again. I choked back tears as I saw her come around the corner up the stairs. The sonlight streamed in through the windows behind the staircase. A caregiver held her and I went to her to kiss the top of her head and stroke her arm. I expected to receive her from the caregiver but instead, she motioned "one moment please" to me and took Penny down the hall to change her diaper before Dustin and I would be formally introduced. It was like watching paint dry to wait for them to bring her back to us. A few minutes later, the nurse returned with her and handed Penny to me.

I squeezed her chubby legs and kissed the top of her head. I could just eat her up, she was just perfect! But she didn't feel quite the same about me ;) She began crying right away and reaching for her caregiver... Who is this crazy lady? - she showed her confusion and fear all over her face and I could feel it in her muscles as she tensed up - This woman smells funny, she talks funny, she even looks funny!... Thankfully Dustin and I had been fully prepared for her to be totally freaked out by us so all I could do was smile from ear to ear. Even her cries were beautiful! We were in love with her before we even met her but to feel her and hear her was something totally different.

Dustin rubbed her back and kissed her hands and head and then stepped back because she was clearly NOT excited about being taken away from someone familiar. I started to whisper to her and rock her while I held her.

"Hi sweet girl. Hi Bamlak! I love you baby girl. I'm so glad to see you. I know it is scary. I know you must be afraid. We love you. We love you... sssshhhh.." But then it dawned on me that every sound that I spoke sounded like gibberish to her and it was only making her more uneasy in my arms. My heart was pounding. I didn't want to frighten her. I wanted to make her feel safe. I made a concious effort to slow down my breathing so that she could match my rhythm and begin to relax.

On the plane ride to Addis I had spent several hours practicing some Amerhic phrases that I thought might be useful so that she could hear my speak in her language.

"Yili con ju." (my beautiful child)
"O het de shaloh." (I love you.)
"I zoosh." (don't worry) ....

I repeated those phrases over and over as I rocked her near an open window, cuddling her in a blanket that we had been sleeping with so that she could keep something with her that smelled like her family when we had to leave.

It was just moments before those words began to soothe her. I could feel her body relax into my body. Her legs curled around my waist. Her tiny hands wrapped around my neck and her head laid down on my shoulder as I whispered those words to her over and over again.

Penny, I will never know what your life was like before I held you. I have wept for you and for your Amaye who loved you enough to give you hope through adoption and in that moment - I wanted to take all that pain and fear and sadness away but I could not. I asked our creator to send you His peace and His comfort - mine is not enough - but His is more than sufficient and I am so grateful that He heard my prayer in that moment. Penny, may God always be your strength and your comfort.

It was heaven-sent. All the world melted away and all the months of waiting to come to Addis Ababa came down to this moment in time - when we united as father, mother and daughter and she began to feel safe.

Dustin came over and rubbed her back and whispered "sssshhhhhh" very sweetly as she just relaxed in her mommy's arms. After about 20 minutes of rocking her and whispering in Amheric, Dustin whispered to me, "She's asleep." We made our way to a small room with a big open window and cuddled her close with a cool breeze blowing through the open window at my back. Dustin studied her sweet face and gave me a moment by moment account of her features and movements - I still had not gotten a great chance to look at her.

I breathed in her scent and kissed her curly little head of hair while she rested. Her eyes slipped open and she studied Dustin. Her body completely relaxed. She watched him as he stroked her hair and arms. She and he kept eye contact without moving and speaking for about twenty minutes before she raised her head from my shoulder after her nap. She had slept for an hour.

As she woke up, I could hear the older girls beginning to sing from a room down the hall. I stood up and followed Dustin into a bedroom that held 8 bunkbeds - 16 beds altogether - for the oldest of the girls at the orphange. The special thing about this specific orphanage is that each of the children at Acacia are there as a transition to their forever families. Each child has already been matched with a family who will be coming soon to take them home. As the girls sang with loud voices, Penny picked her head up and watched with intense interest. That's my girl! I handed her to Dustin and he moved her to the music as we watched them sing. I wish we could have gotten those sweet voices on camera or audio. Unfortunately, the orphanage does not allow cameras or recording so we don't have much footage from our time at the orphanage. I may slip a cell phone into my pocket on our next trip so that we can get the audio to play for Penny once we are home. I think it would be great to have a recording of those joyful songs in her first language.

I asked the director what they were singing about and she said, "They are singing 'Jesus is my life. He is my rock." So cool to hear those words in Amheric!

1 comment:

  1. Oh...I am reading, crying over your experience, amazed at how very different our adoption experiences have been and yet how much the same the thoughts and feelings are. What a smart mommy you are to learn the words in her language to make her comfortable. Can't wait to hear more about your trip.