No Teen Adoption – HUGE Disapointment

Late last week, we found out that we definitively couldn’t adopt the teens that we were hoping would join our family.

I was pretty devastated… I spent a couple of days crying. And then I didn’t talk to anyone about it, which is uncharacteristic of me. I just didn’t think most people would understand why I was so upset.

Partly, I was grieving the idea I had, and the plans I wanted to make with those kids. I wanted to take the girl to Paris one day, and set the boy loose in the woods with my dad to go live-trap wolves. I had plans for bedrooms and the next few years. I could see it.

But mostly, I was just so insanely disappointed and sad for the kids. The chances of them getting adopted by someone else, statistically, are miniscule. And although we were very interested and invested, we couldn’t get one BC agency to revise our homestudy to adopt the kids.

At the outset – let me be clear. I’m not mad at any of the agencies – I know they are all non-profits and trying to avoid risk, so they can continue to do the work that they do. They want kids adopted and they want the family placements to work.

It’s just such a dang shame that not one of them could step up to the plate.

One agency said they wouldn’t support adopting kids over 6 years old. The second had no problem with older children adoptions, but they wouldn’t consider an adoption out of birth order. The third and fourth didn’t have the capacity. One explained that they had a huge contract from the local ministry, and were busy with that, and the other had gone through a lot of staffing changes lately. The last agency commented that if it was 6 months from now, they might consider it, but at this time, no.

No blame – I’m certainly no upset with any of these caring individuals who make adoption their life’s work. Just so so so disappointing.

It stinks that it didn’t work for any of them. So these kids that have a place in my heart will never be able to be adopted by us.

I hope with all my heart that someone else might be able to add them to their family, and they will have the love and support that they deserve.

And as for us, well, after licking my wounds, I will get back to scrolling waiting children lists. For kids 6 and under…

Adoption update

So far, there isn’t much to report on the adoption front. We have four homestudy agencies in our province, and so far, three out of four of them have said no to updating our homestudy. I’m working on the third (again) and the fourth.

It’s proving extremely difficult to adopt any child over 7 years old. One agency has a “no kids over 6″ policy. Another is fine with older child adoption, but has a “no out of birth order” policy. (The third says they don’t have the capacity.)

As someone that runs a nonprofit, I understand risk management. I get that if you’ve been burned a few times, you put a policy in place to avoid the risk. I don’t blame the agencies at all. They are all great agencies…

BUT it seems a crying shame that no one wants to look at our particular case, or the particular kids we are interested in… We’ve been caught between policies, and two kids may or may not get adopted because of it.

Is it truly impossible to adopt a child over 6 years of age, out of birth order, into BC right now?

Guess well wait and see what agency #4 says….

Uphill battle to adopt teens from fostercare

Tonight I’m pretty bummed out. Life is generally good – the kids are doing well, our new business is picking up and Africa Sleeps is flourishing. I’m getting time with my husband to tango each week, and everyone in my immediate family is healthy.

BUT… I am so incredibly frustrated with our potential US fostercare adoption. It seems like a whole bunch of factors are against us, and I wonder why it needs to be this difficult.

First, we found them.

I watched their video late one night, by accident. I was trolling the waiting children lists for young boys to adopt. One of the county sites didn’t screen by age, and doing the scroll, I came across their video.

They were so lovely – I just couldn’t believe how much we had in common. We have so many similar interests, and our personalities seem to compliment. I laughed at their jokes, smiled ceaselessly to myself, and thought “these kids are perfect for us.”

A sister and a brother – both vibrant, funny, determined, and so supportive of each other. Lovely kids… in their teens.

The next day, I hesitantly showed Jason and the girls the video. I expected him to laugh in my face – these are teenagers that I was interested in. They were the furthest thing from our plans. But the girls’ said they thought the “big kids” were great… and soon after the girls went to bed, Jason started figuring out how to divide one of the rooms in our house. He’s not a hasty man. To the contrary – he’s always dragging his heels. But when he saw that video, and over the following weeks, he couldn’t help but he drawn in. IT was so obvious – the kids were perfect for us.

I was smitten – but I wanted to know more. The second time you adopt, you ask the hard questions. You know what you can handle and aren’t afraid to walk away. I spent the next couple of weeks on the phone with the kids’ adoption recruiter, our US adoption agency, and then the kids’ guardian ad litem and case worker. Jay and I made ourselves late for work in the morning several times, talking to the people who know them, and learning about the hell they have been through. Suffice to say, no children spend years in care without having been through a lot. But the more we learned, the more we were interested.

I talked at length with my friends, my sister, my mom. A few people thought we were nuts – but many, especially those that have a good understanding of adoption and teens, lent their support.

For the record, I know teen adoption has a large element of crazy – the transitions are extra rough and parents can never expect the same kind of relationship they’ve had with children grown in their care. But I truly believe that you can have an enormous influence on teens, even if they were parented by someone else. You can become family. I reflected on the teen exchange students and au pairs who had lived with us. One girl – I was second only to her immediate family in finding out she was pregnant. Another boy invited Jason and I to his wedding across the globe, because we mean that much to him, all these years after he lived with us. We’ve had a big influence on many of these kids. And most importantly – kids don’t stop needing parents when they turn 18. I’m 37, and I’m still being parented by my parents – it just looks different. But they are there for me, and their grandkids, whenever we need them. I want that for these teens.

There have been many obstacles since we saw the video two months ago. The biggest question we’ve been asking ourselves – do we really want to take this on, at this time in our lives? I mean, we are the most financially vulnerable we’ve ever been, and up to our ears with the new business. Jason’s practical side has since started to take over (as our bank accounts are dwindling..), and if you ask him now, he’d say they are the right kids for us, but it’s the wrong time. He’s on the fence. And this is one of those things where both parents have to be at least 80% on board.

The process – court, immigration… it’s all complicated. There is a reason few Canadians adopt through fostercare. There is no template, no program. Plus, with the older sister’s age, it is even more complicated. That said, our US agency put all the pieces together, and we’ve found a way. The process can work. We CAN adopt them. Check that box.

So then, two more big barriers… will our homestudy agency in Canada let us adopt teens? (We were approved for 2 children under 7.)

And then, will the kids go for it? I mean, it’s a huge decision – leave everything you know, and fly across the continent to start a new life, in a new country, with a new family? That’s one heck of a leap of faith.

Well, we may never know if the kids would go for it or not, since yesterday I found out that our Canadian agency isn’t on board. It’s just too out of the box for them, and they have a policy of no international adoptions over 6. These kids are way over 6…

There might be another agency who will support us, and update our homestudy. I’m waiting to hear back.

But time is ticking.

My husband is worried about money, trying to balance providing for his family and still interested in these American kids.

Ug.

Everything is saying “just throw in the towel. This is too hard.”

But I don’t WANT to. Dang it. I want to adopt these kids. I want to divide a room, and shuffle kids around the house, and register my new kids in highschool, update the family picture, and travel to Gramma and Grandpa’s with a near-death minivan. ( I would miss you, dear station wagon.) I want to parent these kids, and give them the family that thy deserve.

I just don’t know if I’ll be able to swing it or not.

8 years old! A look back through my twins’ birthdays

It seems like yesterday that we stepped off the plane and my daughters, clinging to me, arrived in Canada, on their third birthday. But it wasn’t yesterday… It was five years ago yesterday. How time does fly!

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In other ways, it does seem like the girls have been with us forever. I don’t think anybody in our family can imagine what it would be like without them. Not only have they completed Jason and I, but they have found irreplaceable places in our extended family’s heart.

It’s amazing to see how they have grown over the years… Mostly straight upwards. We look back to the pictures when they first arrived and they were so tiny, compact, and soft. Their skin is still like a baby’s bottom, but they are all arms and legs when they crawl into my lap now.

Enjoy the pictures from this time of year, for the last eight years. Most of the pictures were taken within a week or so of their birthday. Their “paper birthday,” that is. They came into care on August 28, and so that is their birthday on paper. (Their true birthday is on Meskerem 3, which is a couple of weeks ahead into September.)

Happy birthday, my darlings.

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A little bit of progress

Hmmmm… Looks like something may be happening with our US adoption after all. We’ve been talking with an adoption recruiter, and our homestudy has now gone to the kids guardian ad item and their case worker…. Excited to see if we will get to the next step!

Adoption tennis: Are they interested too?

Adopting through fostercare is very different that adoption through a traditional international adoption process. Most of our friends who have adopted from Ethiopia, China, etc. can relate to suddenly seeing your kids’ faces one day in an email, and then affirming that you do, indeed, want to adopt these children proposed to you.

(a little trip down memory lane..)

Fostercare adoption is more of a two-way street. Everyone has to be interested in each other, and it goes back and forth. We enquire – the kid’s case worker then asks for our homestudy. (We’ve put in several inquiries so far on waiting children, and only a few of the children’s case workers have asked back for a homestudy back. Are we so unattractive as a family? Nope – understandably, most case workers want their kids to be adopted in state.)

Last week we sent off our homestudy for the most interesting sibling group. We saw their video, and we couldn’t get enough of it. I think we’ve watch it 20 times now. We are pretty jazzed about them… it could be an amazing match. This Monday we had a long discussion with their adoption recruiter about the kids. The agency seemed pretty interested in us, and we are even more interested in the kids, knowing some more background. Now the ball is back in their court. Will the kids be interested in us? Would they want to move so far from what they know? Would they take a chance on a multiracial family? Would they like twin 8 year old sisters?

It would mean a new life, in a new culture, and to be in a family for the first time in many years. That’s a lot of change, and a big leap of faith to take, to become permanently a part of a family.

Mid week, and counting… hopefully we will hear something positive back at the end of the week, or early next. And then, the ball will be back in our court, finding out even more about the kids. It’s kind of like adoption tennis.

Natural Hair and Skin for Kids of Colour

Check out this interview with your truly, Arnica Rowan of Africa Sleeps, and Tamara of Natural Hair Rules, written by Rachel Garlinghouse on Adoption.net!

It’s great reading about another person’s perspective… :-) thanks Rachel and Tamara!

“Arnica: The biggest challenge is the learning curve about a totally different type of hair: picking knots out from the roots up, scheduling hair time, finding products that work and developing your styling skills.The other, less talked about challenge is scrutiny from other adoptive parents. I think often we are too quick to judge and not quick enough with encouragement. Hair isn’t a competition; it’s about community and care.”

Read more!

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Harambee 2014

Another year, another fabulous week long culture camp. This year had its truly special moments… And some unexpected surprises.

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The two biggest changes from previous years were events that took place right before camp. First, our regular location, the Naramata centre was embroiled in labor dispute, and the entire place was shut down three weeks before our camp. Can you imagine moving 88 families and 500 some odd people to a new location on three weeks notice? Well, that’s exactly what we did. We ended up in Sorrento, at the peaceful and quiet Sorrento center. It was very different than Narmata. Our former location is right in the middle of town, and we’ve had some positive and negative experiences being in a very small town with more than 300 children color. And I am not just talking about the heat graffiti that made provincial news. We also have 300 children on bicycles, and there can be a lot of clashes with the locals when you have 300 children getting about the village.

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In Sorrento, the center was outside of the hustle and bustle, in a secluded place to itself. There were no bikes allowed… Which was a total positive, if you ask me. There were very few locals to deal with, except for the very appreciative merchants who made special note of thanking our camp for the economic impact over the week. We stayed in very humble cabins, forgot to bring our dogs, which was a real treat. Maggie is getting too old to put in a kennel, and both of the dogs just really appreciate being with us. So we stayed in this little cabana with electricity, but no running water, and just have a lovely time.

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The other unexpected event before camp was a connection with a boy in Newfoundland. You may have heard about Torrence Collier, and the extreme bullying and racism he encountered in the small town he was living in in Newfoundland. Well, our Harambee families heard about him as well, and invited him and his mom and dad to come to camp. Together, we raised enough money for the flights and some expenses. I had a few discussions with his mom over the week, and it was so wonderful to see them be embraced by their peers, Torrence come out of his shell, and to hear about their plans for change in the future. It speaks to our community that we were able to fund raise, and welcome him and his family within two weeks of camp. I think it had a positive influence on a bunch of other children there… And you will see a picture below of him dancing up a storm and feeling very much part of our community. We hope they will return next year!

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As for the rest of camp, it was the same dizzying array of drumming, dancing, swimming, soccer, and other family and cultural activities. This year both Jason and I felt like we got a lot more time with the girls, even though we had to jail them in the cabana if we wanted to see them. They have a few super good friends there, and wanted to spend every waking minute. But a tip from the wise, (that’s us!) Little family time goes a long way to helping them cope with an extremely stimulating camp environment. We made them come home for every meal, and spend one hour in the afternoon, on their beds, just doing nothing. I swear that is what helps them keep it together over a week of complete excitement.

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We also trying to take a field trip every year, in an attempt to get a little break from camp. This year, our visit to Sorrento timed perfectly with my aunt, uncle and cousin seeing at the cabin down the lake. My little cousin S had just come back from Sierra Leone, where she lives, and it was wonderful to catch up with her. My uncle drove us around the lake in his boat and they made us supper too. Delightful!

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I brought some of my Africa Sleeps products with me, as a couple of people wanted to see what I had. Little did I know that there would be a vendor fair, on the short two weeks notice of moving camp, and countless others who were interested in my products. Many many thanks to those families that supported our organic haircare and skincare business! How are cabaña was like a revolving door of hair consultations and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

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There were some other joyful moments, just small things that made our visit. We got to hosting you family to supper, and it turns out that we have a ton in common with them and their Haitian kids/adoption. I also felt that I had more time to sit around and have drinks and visits with our friends, since it was not volunteering doing a lot of things this year. It was really lovely just relaxing and chatting with the people in our transracial adoption community.

If you are interested in joining us another year, please visit www.Harambee.ca

Groovin the Adoption Process


The last few months, I’ve made a bit of a hobby of adoption. I mean, we’ve been so completely busy with the clinic opening in (gasp!) three weeks, when I am too tired to sleep, and just need a topic switch, I troll the waiting children lists.

Like I said… a hobby. I’ve been cool and collected, and not too terribly crazy. This isn’t like our first adoption, where I didn’t breathe for a year. This time, despite all the bumps, I’m pretty relaxed about the whole thing. As far as my personality relaxes, anyway! I’ve been taking the search for our next kid/kids one bite-sized step at a time.

I’ve placed many inquiries, and a couple of social workers have  asked for our homestudy. But nothing has panned out so far.

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But today, as I sat in the salon waiting eternally for the girls’ braids to be finished (their annual visit) I was in the groove, and relaxed, and open… and I think I may have found the match for us.

8 hours later, when we finally came home with extensions swinging, I showed Jason and the girls, and they smiled and chuckled. It was so obvious.

Cross your fingers… it’s not exactly what we had planned. But it might just be the match for us…

Surprising Adoption News: a new file, a new country

Last year we were very excited to open our file to adopt again from Ethiopia, and now we are excited to say that we have opened a file in the USA for fostercare adoption as well.

Ethiopia was, in fact,to the third country we had tried for our second adoption. First, there was the DRC (Congo) that we pulled out of within a matter of months. I could see the writing on the wall, and sure enough, the program is closed now.

So we switched to Lesotho, a small boutique program run by a fantastic agency in BC. Due to the country’s elections, politics and eventual compliance with The Hague Convention, the adoption process slowed to a trickle. We were just poised to receive a referral, when, The agency for Ethiopia started accepting applications again.

So we made the hard choice, and jumped ship to Ethiopia. (A little summary of our adoption timeline.)

At first, it seemed like things were progressing well. But now I’m honestly not sure if anything is going to happen. We took a risk pioneering a special needs program, and it doesn’t look like it will pan out anytime soon. And the general waiting list has a very, very long wait time. Ethiopia is an outside bet, at the moment.

Anyway, the kids are getting older, and I’m feeling the urge more and more strongly to add to our family. Jason would be fine with just the two girls, but my urge to add kids isn’t going away… It’s intensifying.

We’ve had many discussions with the kids about their priorities, and most important to them is that they have a brother, and that he (or they) have brown skin. It’s very important to them that they outnumber us, and we are totally down with that. Since their are precious few kids (read: almost none) of colour in BC, and we aren’t up for a baby (I have changed one diaper in my life, and I’m not about to start now…) so that leaves US fostercare. And through a strange twist of adoption rules, we can have our file open in both the US and Ethiopia at the same time.

I’m actually very excited about adopting through US fostercare. Like most crazy adoptive mothers, I’ve spent late night trolling through the waiting child website, imagining kids faces superimposed in our family picture. There are so many beautiful kids, funny kids, shy kids, outgoing kids, and normal kids… And they all deserve a family. There are an inordinate amount of black children in fostercare, and black boys are most overrepresented.

I’d always been told that you can’t adopt through US fostercare to Canada… But that isn’t actually the case. It’s totally possible… It’s just hard. The individual child’s casework at the county level has to agree to work with one of the extremely few Hague-approved-for-outgoing-adoptions agencies that actually does fostercare adoptions. I can count these agencies on one hand, in the whole USA, by the way. And then our agency in Canada has to be cool with it, and have a good working relationship with a US agency.

Luckily, so far, the starts have aligned as far as agencies go. Now we just have to find the kid… And convince their county social worker that Canada is a good option! Lol

Wish us luck in this next leg of our adoption journey!

One (or two!) sons from America (or Ethiopia,) here we come!

Every Day Ethiopian Culture

One of my besties, M, got back from Ethiopia a few days ago. She has been visiting her family for the last two months, and it was long overdue that we should sit down and have a coffee.

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I was running horribly late on Friday, as I have been all week. But when I walked into my friend’s house, and out onto the back deck, I immediately felt calm and better.

My other bestie, T, and our new friend and neighbor Y, were sitting on the back deck munching away at some Ethiopian breakfast.

As we sat, and chatted, about work, family, and M’s recent trip to Ethiopia, I remarked on how infused Ethiopian culture is in our daily lives. It maybe just the small things… But isn’t culture like that?

We sat on mattresses and on the floor, around shared plates of food. M made us proper coffee, and we sat and chatted. I was the rude one… I only stayed for 45 minutes. Normally you sit and chat for hours. Visiting like this is this intricle part of Ethiopian culture, and it’s not only a part of my children’s lives. It’s a part of mine.

On a deeper level, it’s amazing how much of our lives have been enriched by adopting our daughters and subsequently connecting with Ethiopians. Not only have I gained family, friends, and a vocation… But we have more cultural touchstones, more traditions, and more community in our lives.

For any of those dear readers adopting a child from another culture, I heartily encourage you to reach out to that child’s birth community. You can’t manufacture friendships… Those simply happen. M and I are like sisters because we are, not because she is Ethiopian. But you can increase your chances of finding good friends, if you proactively seek out people of your child’s culture. Your children’s lives will be enriched, and their foundation solidified… But you might find special friends and hidden joys as well.
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5 Tips for Successful Adoption Homeland Travel in Ethiopia

By popular request, I have compiled some of our family’s tips on successful homeland travel in Ethiopia. Not that I am an authority on the subject!… Others travel much more often than we did. But we had an amazingly successful trip, with happy children, happy grandparents, happy parents, and happy birth family at the end of the trip.

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1.Plan your trip around your children’s wants and needs at this time.

We talked extensively with the girls about what their priorities were at this point in their lives, at seven years old, and 5 years from their adoption. Our recent trip was as much about reconnecting with Ethiopia, as it was about seeing family in person. So the girls made the priorities, and we executed them. We made sure that no one else’s priorities took precedent, and so we were able to do exactly what the girls needed on the trip. In our case, that was to go to the spa, spend time in the bush with wild animals, and see their family.

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2.Take only useful people.

When planning the trip, we really thought about who we should invite and take along. We decided to invite my parents, and it was a great move. First of all, my mother has been to Ethiopia many times, and is comfortable in most situations. My father, well I was a little worried about him! in advance… I didn’t know how he would handle the culture shock. He just got very quiet for a few days, and after that, was like a duck in water. But I knew that the girls feel safe around him, and he would provide muscle , if needed. (Complicated family stuff.) He was also very helpful keeping an eye on the girls, and breaking the ice with young Ethiopian family members. The flipside is to make sure you don’t invite anyone to go on vacation. Homeland travel is about the kids, and their priorities can even easily get overthrown by adult priorities, especially people who have spent a lot of money to fly across the ocean.My advice is to not to take anyone who needs babysitting themselves. If they are uncomfortable in other cultures, not well-traveled, or have other high needs, take them on a cruise some other time. So in a nutshell, my tip is to take only people who want to be there to support the kids, not people who have their own agenda. Harsh, but that’s my advice.

3.Run scenarios about birth family.

Everybody has a different story, and everybody has a different relationship with their extended family in Ethiopia, or the country of your child’s birth. We have an open adoption, and my mother and I have this did the girls family before. But the last time that the girls were in personal contact with their family was five years ago, when we picked them up. So we knew exactly which family members we were going to see, but we didn’t know how they would react with the girls. We ran 1000 scenarios… And one or two more right before we left. We talked to doctors, counselors, and Ethiopians about what might happen with various groups of family members, and all that consultation and scenario forecasting totally paid off. The important part of this is that we talked through each scenario with the girls. No matter what happened, we knew what our plan was. The girls knew that if they were overwhelmed, we would allow them to stay in a safe place with a parent or grandparent. They also knew that they were not allowed to run off, and knew some of the cultural events that might happen. I can’t stress enough how much this paid off. We have extremely complicated extended family, and it helped us navigate what would have been several overwhelming days. (A side note, some people object to us saying our family, but within our open adoption, that’s what our I feel can family calls us and that’s what we called them. Family. And the parents and grandparents are included!)

4.Expose your child to as many cultural practices as possible before you go.

Honestly, we didn’t plan this. It was a complete surprise, how much the girls connections with Ethiopian Canadian culture and my many visits and experiences from Ethiopia paid off. The girls learned a few words that they have heard before in short order, the language wasn’t the mean thing. The main thing was that they understood the basic intricacies of social interaction. They knew that anybody who was connected to them in anyway would scoop them up and smother them with kisses. They knew to make themselves scarce and quiet when adults were having coffee. They knew to take their food last after the adults, and that stuffing their faces was mandatory. All those little tiny things really paid off, and the girls felt completely comfortable in Ethiopia. Well not completely… Sugar did find Addis too busy for her. But aside from that, they were right at home. Fish in water.

5.Build in time for processing feelings.

My girls actually suggested that I put this on the list, because for them it was a huge part of the success of the trip. When we were planning our adventures, we made sure that we had time just as a family, without the excitement of Ethiopian family, friends, or volunteering. Even time away from the grandparents. For us, the times our little family feels closest is in remote locations with few distractions. Every family is different, but you know when you really gel and connect with each other: You need to make sure that this happens during the trip. My dad suggested that we go to the bush, Lake Langano, after our visit with the girls’ family, just in case they had big feelings to process. Well, the big feelings still haven’t arrived… But having that space and time with us together was wonderful. The girls also said they really appreciated having every evening together, with no distractions. We made sure that, when in Addis, we stayed at the same guesthouse each night, with private space and a little garden. That meant that there was consistency in location and in routine, even amongst our travels.

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Hopefully these tips and tricks for homeland travel are useful to you. Again, every situation is different, but I recommend going as soon and as often as you can afford. We told the girls that their next trip will be within five years, and they are happy with that. In closing, the second-biggest question I always get is about the fallout of our trip. “Do the girls have unresolved feelings, or big nagging doubts or questions?” We ran the scenarios! Lol, as you we’ll imagine. But the truth is, the culture shock and angst simply didn’t happen. Maybe because we were so prepared, or maybe because we were lucky, but our trip to Ethiopia was a highlight in the girls’ lives so far.

 

In February 2014, we took our daughters back to Ethiopia for the first time, since their adoption in 2009. This is one of many blog posts we have written about our family’s homeland trip. I also go to Ethiopia every year with our charity, Vulnerable Children Society, so there are additional blogposts from all my trips to Ethiopia to enjoy!

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