meeting our daughter

So I guess if I’m really going to catch you up on things I should start with our time in Ethiopia. It’s taken me awhile to post this because it wasn’t the experience I was expecting and that was hard for me to process. This trip was our third to Ethiopia in the last 18 months. I was feeling very much like a seasoned veteran and like I knew exactly what to expect. I was so excited because our first two trips were AMAZING! But a lot has changed since then (a lot stayed the same too.)

The first big difference was that this time we were there in their winter and “rainy season.” It was in the low 60’s and rainy every single day. Mud everywhere. I actually liked the cooler weather, but forgot the hotel doesn’t have central air so at night when it dipped down into the 50’s I was freeeezing! Now I know to bring sweats for trip #2. Lesson learned!

The second big difference was that we are using a different agency this time around and they are much more “hands off” in country than our previous agency was. There was no schedule, no bus, no special outings… we hired our own driver based on a friend’s recommendation and hoped he could find the transition house. We came and went as we wanted. We had to figure out how to go shopping on our own and things like that. I’m very thankful for our previous experiences there because we knew just what to ask for and how to go about doing things. But I realized that I do like having a schedule and having things planned out for me. In addition – we were there with about 17 other families from our agency when we traveled to meet Mareto. It was like one giant party! I loved it – it was great to have people there who were experiencing the same thing and made me feel very safe and comfortable to have lots of other Americans around. I know that we were never in any danger this time, but it was a little unnerving to be the only family there and the only American’s around. At times I think we felt a little lonely and would have enjoyed having other families to hang out with.

Meeting Arsema was a dream. Truly. Our flight landed on Friday night, so we planned to go meet her on Saturday morning. My dear friend Wynne met us in the hotel restaurant around 9am. She’s living in Ethiopia for the summer while she waits for the embassy to clear her babies. Wynne was my roommate for Created for Care (and will be again this year) and we’ve been close for awhile. She also happens to be a professional photographer – BONUS! We had coffee with her and caught up for almost an hour.

(in the hotel restaurant getting our buna on!)

Then we piled into a car with a driver we’d never met (he ended up being great) and headed over to the transition home. It was raining so Wynne let me borrow her jacket when we were outside. She said I shouldn’t let my hair get messed up for the pictures. Girl after my own heart. ; ) Who are the geniuses who travel to Ethiopia in the rainy season and don’t bring rain jackets or umbrellas? Um that’d be us.

(outside the transition home… getting ready to climb the stairs and meet our girl!)

Meeting Arsema was surreal. She already felt like she’d been part of our lives forever, but we hadn’t even held her yet. It was so quiet when we walked in the door. We saw a nanny in the hall and just said, “Arsema?” She pointed to a door labeled “baby room 1” and we walked in. There were 4 cribs and a bed for the nanny. She was standing there with another baby and again I just said, “Arsema?” and her nanny pointed to her crib. I was standing right next to it! I looked down and there she was. Wrapped in blankets head to toe and looking up at us. I scooped her up and held her close just wanted to kiss her and smell her and feel her and look at her all at once. I was laugh/crying the whole time. I couldn’t believe how small she was. It was amazing. She let me kiss all over her and look at every inch of her and all she did was just stare at us wide eyed.

That first day with Arsema was amazing. Shortly after we met her she needed a diaper change, so we changed her into a cute little outfit I had brought with me too. She didn’t appreciate being undressed in the cold, but as soon as we put clothes on her she was her content little self again. In fact we only heard her cry 3 times while we were there. We just spent our time taking turns holding her and marveling over this little person God entrusted to us. We fed her, rocked her, and she slept in our arms. It was so much like our first meeting with Mareto.

She is simply precious. She has enormous brown eyes and light brown skin. She has big black silky curls – nothing like Mareto’s tiny cork screw curls. Both types are equally delightful to me but I am relieved that her hair will be easier to brush than Mareto’s. She’s very small. Two weeks ago we were updated that she is weighs just over 9 lbs at 3 months old. She was still wearing newborn size clothes while we were there (and they were a little big on her). She smells like heaven. One of the first things I said about her when I held her was, “she smells just like Mareto!” They must use the same baby lotion we do. I loved it – both my kids smelling the same brand of deliciousness.

When we left the transition home that day my arms took on that familiar empty aching. It was the same way I felt every time we left Mareto. To say that I miss her is the understatement of the century. It’s a constant gnawing at my heart. Sometimes I close my eyes and just remember how she felt against my chest. There’s no way to understand the pain of this separation unless you’ve done it. I can’t think of an adequate way to describe it. I thought about saying it was like having to leave your baby in the NICU for 2-3 months after you’ve spent a week bonding with her… but then you would still see her every day and the NICU isn’t in Africa. So I really can’t describe it. Just please pray for us. It’s very very hard.

**all photos taken by Wynne Elder

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